KAFIR STORIES SEVEN SHORT STORIES
WILLIAM CHARLES SCULLY
"POEMS," ETC., ETC.
T. FISHER UNWIN
COPYRIGHT BY T. FISHER UNWIN for Great Britain and the United States of America.
KATE FREILIGRATH KROEKER
J. H. MEIRING BECK THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED.
"So geographers, in Afric maps, With savage pictures fill their gaps, And o'er uninhabitable downs Place elephants for want of towns."
Boomslang, an innocuous colubrine snake
*Donga, a gully with steep sides
Drift, the ford of a river
*E-hea, exactly so
Hamel, a wether sheep
*Icanti, a fabulous serpent, the mere appearance of which is supposed to cause death
*Impandulu, the lightning bird. The Kafirs believe the lightning to be a bird
*Impi, an army or any military force on the war path
*Induna, a Zulu councilor or general
Kapater, a wether goat
Kerrie, a stick such as is almost invariably carried by a Kafir
Kloof, a gorge or valley
Kaffirboom, a large arboreal aloe
Kopje, an abrupt hillock
Kraal, (1) an enclosure for stock; a fold or pen. (2) a native hut, or collection of huts
Krantz, a cliff
*Lobola, the payment of cattle by a man to the father of the girl he wants to marry
*Mawo, an exclamation of surprise
Op togt, on a trading trip
Ou Pa, grandfather
Outspan, to unyoke a team
Reim, a leather thong
Reimje, diminutive of foregoing
Schulpad, a tortoise
Sjambok: a heavy whip made of rhinocerous hide
Stoep, a space about two yards, in width along the front or side of a house. Usually covered by a verandah in the case of South African houses
Taaibosch, "tough bush," a shrub. Rhus lucida
*Tikoloshe, a water spirit who is supposed, when people are drowned, to have pulled them under water by the feet
"Ukushwama, the feast of first fruits;—celebrated by the Bacas and some other Bantu tribes
Veldt. unenclosed and uncultivated land. The open country
Veldschoens, home-made boots such as those in general use amongst South African Boers
Voor-huis, the dining and sitting-room in a Dutch house
*Kafir terms are marked by an asterisk.
I. THE EUMENIDES IN KAFIRLAND
II. THE FUNDAMENTAL AXIOM
III. KELLSON'S NEMESIS
IV. THE QUEST OF THE COPPER
THE EUMENIDES IN KAFIRLAND.
"Fate leadeth through the garden shews The trees of Knowledge, Death, and Life; On this, the wholesome apple grows,— On that, fair fruit with poison rife. Yet sometimes apples deadly be. Whilst poison-fruits may nourish thee."
SHAGBAG'S Advice to Beginners.
THIS is how it all happened. They met at the canteen on Monday morning at eight o'clock—Jim Gubo, the policeman, and Kalaza, who had just been released from the convict station where, for five long years, he had been expiating a particularly cruel assault with violence upon a woman. 'Ntsoba, the fat Fingo barman, leant lazily over the counter, but as the regular customers for the morning "nip" had all departed, and no one else had yet come, he went outside and sat in the sunshine, smoking his oily pipe with thorough enjoyment. He did not in the least mind leaving Jim Gubo in the canteen, because Jim and he had long since come to an understanding, and this with the full approval of the proprietor. Jim was, so to say, free of the house, and got his daily number of tots of poisonous "dop" brandy measured out in the thick glass tumbler, the massive exterior of which was quite out of proportion to the comparatively limited interior space. These tots (and an occasional bottle) were Jim's reward for not exercising too severe a supervision over the canteen, and for always happening to be round the corner when a row took place. Moreover, the till, besides being as yet nearly empty, was well out of reach; the counter was high and broad, and the shelving, sparsely filled with filthy looking black bottles, was fixed well back, so as to be out of the way of the whirling kerries which were often in evidence, especially on Saturday afternoons. The great brown, poisonous looking hogsheads—suggestive of those very much swollen and unpleasant looking fecund female insects which are to be found in the nethermost chamber of the city of the termites, and which lay thousands of eggs daily—had safety taps, of which 'Ntsoba's master kept the keys.
Jim Gubo and Kalaza talked about many things—of life at the convict station, for Kalaza was the nephew of Jim's father's second wife, and Jim consequently knew all about his companion; of the decadence of the times, in which it was so difficult for a poor man to live without working; of the strictness with which the locations were managed; of how the inspectors inquired inconveniently as to strangers therein sojourning, and chiefly about the decline in Jim's particular line of business.
"Son of my father," said Jim, "times are very bad indeed. There is little or no stock-stealing going on. The farmers come to the office and report losses of sheep; we are sent to hunt for the thieves, but instead of catching them, we find that the sheep have simply strayed into some other farmer's flock. Will you believe it; for two months we have not run in a single thief?"
"Mawo," replied Kalaza, "how very discouraging."
"Yes, and Government thinks we are not doing our duty, and my officer says we are no good."
"But can you not make them steal, or make the magistrate think they do?" rejoined Kalaza, after a pause.
"Wait a bit, that is what I am coming to," said Jim, in a low tone. "There is one man whom I know to be a thief, but though I have tried to, over and over again, I cannot catch him."
"Who is that?"
"Maliwe, the son of Zangalele, the Kafir whose brother Tambiso gave evidence against you when you were tried by the judge."
Here the beady eyes of Kalaza gave a kind of snap, and he leant forward with an appearance of increased interest.
"Tell me about Maliwe," he said.
"Maliwe," replied Jim, "is the shepherd of Gert Botha, whose farm is near the Gangili Hill, where the two rivers join."
Kalaza pondered for a few seconds, and then asked:
"But what makes you think he steals?"
"Well, you know what a Kafir is. Maliwe lives alongside the sheep, in a hut on the mountain—all alone. The kraal is far from the homestead. Gert Botha never gives his servants enough to eat, and Maliwe must often be hungry. There you have it—a man hungry night after night, and close to him a kraal fall of fat sheep. You know!"
"Does Maliwe ever go to beer-drinks?"
"Not often, for being a Kafir, the Fingoes would most likely beat him to death. No, he lives quietly and to himself. He has been in Botha's service since just after he was circumcised, three years ago. He gets a cow every year as wages, and each cow as he receives it is given to old Dalisile, who lives on another part of Botha's farm, and whose daughter Maliwe is paying lobola for. They say he means to earn two more cows and then to marry the girl. But I fear he is hopeless."
Kalaza again pondered, his beady eyes twinkling incessantly.
"Do you ever employ detectives now?" he asked.
"Oh, yes," said Jim lightly, "we do so now and then. But he that is hired must prove that duty has been done before he gets paid."
"By making some one guilty, and causing him to be sentenced by the magistrate. When he has done this, the detective gets fifteen shillings. Well, I must go to the camp. Have a drink?"
'Ntsoba came lazily in at Jim's call, and handed him a tot. This Jim took into his mouth. He rolled it round his gums, he wagged his tongue in it. He let it flow far back into his throat, and then brought it forward again. Kalaza came and stood before him, and opened his mouth wide. Into this, Jim deliberately, and with an aim so sure that not a drop was lost, squirted about half the tot. Kalaza thereupon wagged his tongue, rolled the liquor round ins gums, and then swallowed it slowly.
At the door of the canteen they parted.
"Good-bye, son of my father," said Kalaza.
"Yes, my friend," replied Jim, and walked away slowly towards the police camp.
Kalaza shouldered his stick and went off quickly in the direction of the native location.
Maliwe drove home his flock at sunset, and penned them safely in the kraal, which was constructed of heavy thorn bushes. The old kapater goat, which acted as bellwether of the flock, strode proudly into the enclosure, well ahead of the others, and took his station on a rock which rose up in the middle. On this he lay down, chewing his cud and surveying the sheep which lay thickly around him. Maliwe then closed the gate, tied it securely with a reim, and pulled several large bushes against it. He then walked on to his little hut, situated only a few yards distant. He had carried in from the veldt a small number of dry sticks, and he now placed a few of the smallest of these in a little heap on the raised stone which served as fireplace. He then drew out his tinder-box from the leather bag which he always carried. This bag was simply the skin of a kid, the head of which had been cut off, and the body drawn out through the aperture at the neck thus made. He struck a spark with his flint, and when the tinder glowed, he shook out a little of it on to some dry grass, which soon blazed up, and which he then placed under the twigs. In a few minutes he had a cheerful fire, and then he untied his little three-legged pot from where it hung from one of the wattles of the roof. This pot was half full of mealies already cooked, and which he simply meant to warm for his supper. The remainder of his week's ration of meat (the skinny ribs of a goat that had died of debility down near his master's homestead) was also hanging from the roof, but with a sigh he determined to reserve that delicacy for the morrow, remembering that two days would elapse before a fresh supply was due. His dog, Sibi—a starved looking mongrel greyhound—lay at his feet and gazed up with expectant eyes, waiting for the handful of tough mealies which would be flung to him when his master had finished supper.
It was a clear starlit night in Spring. Supper over, Maliwe sat on the ground just outside the floor of the hut, and thought of Nalai, the daughter of old Dalisile, for whom he was paying lobola. In a month more, another year's service would be completed, and another cow would be his. This he meant to take as he had taken the two already earned, and deliver to his prospective father-in-law. His mother had promised him the calf of her only cow as soon as it should be weaned, and then he hoped that old Dalisile, skinflint as he was, would deliver the girl, trusting him for payment of the fifth and last beast in course of time. In two or, at the outside, three months this calf would be weaned. It was a red bull with white face and feet—he knew every mark, and one might almost say every hair on the animal, having looked at it so often. It was a remarkably fine calf, but Maliwe thought it took a strangely long time in growing up. He lit his pipe, and dreamt dreams. Soon he would be no longer alone in his hut. He loved the girl Nalai, and she seemed to love him, so the future was bright. She was tall and straight, still unbent by that toil which is the portion of the female Kafir. Her teeth gleamed very white, and her breast swelled each year more temptingly over the edge other red blanket. As boy and girl they had grown up together, and long before she was of a marriageable age, he had determined eventually to marry her. So he went away and worked for three long years; his strong, self-contained nature needing nothing but this one fixed idea to steady it. Maliwe was not what is known as a "School Kafir." He was quite uncivilised in every respect, and was utterly heathen. He could speak no word of any language except his own, and he believed implicitly in "Tikoloshe" and the "Lightning Bird."
His pipe finished, Maliwe arose and fetched a musical instrument from the hut. This consisted of a stick about three feet long, bent into a bow by a string made of twisted sinews. About eight inches from one end was fixed a small dry gourd, with a hole large enough, to admit a five shilling piece cut out of the side furthest from the point of attachment. Music is made on such an instrument by holding it so that that part of the gourd where the aperture is, is pressed against the naked breast, and then twanging on the string with a small stick. About four notes can be extracted by a skilful player. The result is not cheerful, and to the civilised ear the strains of a Jew's harp are preferable. But the twanging eased the burthen of longing which Maliwe bore, and no lute-player in passionate Andalusia ever poured out his love in melody with more genuine feeling than did this savage on his "U-hade."
Maliwe had waited through these long years—and how long are not the years under such circumstances?—with a kind of contented impatience, and as time went by, the impatience waxed and the contentment waned. With the premonition of genuine love he had seen the budding woman of today in the child of three years ago. He had worked and waited. His reward was now near, and anticipation was sweet. In imagination he saw the little brown babies with the weasel-tooth necklets, tumbling about the hut and toddling up the path to meet him when he drove home his nock in the evening, whilst Nalai stood at the door looking with pride on their progeny.
Sibi, the dog, gave a low growl, and then rushed along the footpath barking furiously. A man emerged from the darkness, keeping the dog at bay with his kerrie. Maliwe, seeing nothing suspicious about the stranger, called off the dog, which retired still growling into the hut. The man approached.
"Greeting, Maliwe," he cried. "Do you not know me?"
"Greeting," replied Maliwe, "but I do not know you. Where are you thinking of?" [A native idiom. It means "Where are you going to?"]
"Hear him," cried the visitor. "He does not know me. He does not know Kalaza, the only Fingo his father Zangalele ever made a friend of. He does not know the man who used to cut sticks for him when he was a little boy."
"Sit down, Kalaza," replied Maliwe, "I meant no offence. I do not remember you, but if you were my father's friend, you are mine."
So they went into the hut, and they refreshed the fire, and they talked, and they put some dry mealies to roast with fat in the three-legged pot, and they talked of Maliwe's relations, of old Dalisile, and of his daughter Nalai whom Maliwe was going to marry.
Kalaza said that he lived in Kwala's location beyond the Keiskamma, that he was a very rich man with a large herd of cattle, and that he was now seeking two cows lately received as lobola for one of his daughters from a man in the Albany district, and which were supposed to have strayed homewards. He also said, that although a Fingo, he always preferred the society of Kafirs, and that for this reason he had come to spend the night with Maliwe instead of with the Fingoes in the village location.
By and by the mealies began to "pop" in the pot, so guest and host began to chew them. "It is sad to be old and have such bad teeth," said Kalaza, as he paused in his chewing. "Have you not got a little meat?"
Maliwe stood up, and reaching to the roof of the hut, handed down the emaciated ribs of the goat. Kalaza took the meat, turned it over critically, and handed it back.
"That is the meat of an old, tough goat," he said, "I could no more chew that than the mealies."
"I am very sorry," replied Maliwe, "but I have none other."
At this Kalaza sighed, said he was an old man, and he supposed times had changed since he was young, but in his day no old man would be so treated by the son of his best friend. Maliwe remained silent for some time, and then said politely that he was a servant, and had to be content with what food his master gave him. Breaking up some tobacco in his hand, he reached it over to Kalaza, asking if he cared, to smoke. Kalaza refused the offer, saying that since becoming old he had been unable to enjoy tobacco on an empty stomach. He then sighed heavily, and sat looking at the fire until the silence became oppressive.
By and by Maliwe asked if he would not go to sleep, and then Kalaza began to wax indignant.
"You call yourself a man," he said, "and you let your father's best friend die of hunger. Did I not know you had been circumcised, I should think you were still a boy."
"Friend of my father," replied Maliwe, "I have given you all I have. Do you want to eat my dog?"
"Given me all you have? What are those animals that I hear bleating outside?"
"My master's sheep."
"Your master's sheep? Ho! ho! When hungry men are about, sheep have no master. Would your father have let me die rather than take a hamel from the flock of a rich, lazy boer, who never counts his sheep. Many a sheep your father and I have lifted in the old days. We never wanted meat. If my son were to let your father hunger, I would break his head."
In the foregoing remarks the tempter had accidentally hit upon a fact. Gert Botha, after a three years' experience of Maliwe's honesty and carefulness, very seldom took the trouble to count his sheep.
"Friend of my father," said Maliwe, "I have never yet taken what belonged to another. If you say my father stole, it may be so—but such must have happened when he was young. He is now dead. When I was a lad he told me he would kill me if I stole."
"Just as you say, when he was young," rejoined Kalaza. "And are you, then, old? I wonder does old Dalisile know what a coward he is giving his daughter to. In the good old days he would have sent you to show that you could steal like a man—a young man—before you got your wife. But it does not matter, I shall not die tonight, although I am old."
All this time Maliwe sat looking fixedly at the speaker, who, after a pause, continued:
"My son Tentu wants a wife. I will go to Dalisile tomorrow and see whether seven fat oxen will not tempt him to return your three skinny cows, and send his daughter to my kraal across to Keiskamma, I have heard of Nalai, and I think she will suit Tentu; at my kraal she will never want milk."
Here again chance favoured the tempter. The one dread of Maliwe's life was the rivalry of a rich suitor.
Maliwe bent his head over his knees, and remained in this posture for a few minutes. He then stood up suddenly and strode out of the hut. Just afterwards a sound as of sheep rushing about might have been heard coming from the direction of the kraal. Kalaza heard it, and smiled. A few minutes elapsed, and then Maliwe returned, carrying a young sheep with its throat cut on his shoulder. This he flung down on to the ground before Kalaza, saying:
"Friend of my father, here is meat. Eat!"
Maliwe then seized his stick, called Sibi the dog, and left the hut. Kalaza skinned the sheep, and eat about a third of the meat, selecting the choicest parts. He then buried the remainder of the carcase, with the skin, in the loose, dry dung at the side of the kraal. Having done this he walked off quickly in the direction of the village.
After leaving the hut, Maliwe climbed a rocky ridge, which rose steeply for about a hundred yards at the back of the kraal. On the comb of the ridge stood an immense boulder, and Maliwe spent the rest of the night sitting to lee-ward of this, Sibi, the dog, curled up at his feet, growling at intervals, and every now and then looking in the direction of the hut, which was, like the kraal, out of sight, with cars cocked and nostrils dilated.
Just before dawn, Maliwe suddenly fell into the deep sleep of nervous exhaustion. His knees were drawn up, and his head, bent forward, rested on them sideways, He was still asleep when the sun arose and warmed his chilled limbs. He was wakened suddenly by the loud barking of the dog, so he bounded to his feet and ran round the boulder, to a spot from whence he could see the hut and the kraal. Some people on horseback had just reached the hut, and one dismounted and looked in. He recognized them all. There was his master, Gert Botha, on his old grey mare; there was the European sergeant, of the Cape Police; there was private Jim Gubo of the same force, and there was Kalaza, the "friend of his father" and his guest of the previous night.
As he stood looking, some one called out, "There he is!" The wretched man then realised his situation. His first impulse was to fly—all the savage in him prompting towards an escape into the bush, which lay temptingly near. He sprang back and ran—fleet as a bush-buck towards the cover. But after running a few yards he stopped dead still, and then, turning round, walked slowly back over the ridge in the direction of the hut. As he crossed the comb, he was met by the sergeant and Jim Gubo, breathless from running up the steep hill. By them he was promptly hand-cuffed, and then led down to where his master was standing, between the hut and the kraal. The old goat was walking up and down inside the kraal gate, tinkling his bell and wondering why he and his flock had not been let out at the usual time. Kalaza pointed out to Gert Botha the blood stains which were to be seen plentifully distributed over the floor and poles of the hut, and then walked round the kraal. When he reached a certain spot he paused, and began probing in the loose dung with his stick. He then called out to Jim Gubo, who joined him, and the skin and other remains of the slaughtered animal were soon brought to light.
Maliwe, when confronted with his master, looked him straight in the face. Gert Botha lifted the heavy sjambok which he usually carried, and struck the prisoner heavily over the bare head and face. A thick, grey wheal immediately followed the blow, but Maliwe did not even wince. "Jou verdomde parmantig schepsel," cried the irate Boer. "Ik neuk jou uit jou hartnakigheid." (You infernal, insolent fellow, I will have you out of your stiff-neckedness.) Botha would have struck him again, had not the sergeant interfered.
So Maliwe was marched, carrying the corpus delicti, in to the gaol. Within an hour after his arrival, the magistrate sentenced him to receive twenty-live lashes with a cat o' nine tails on the bare back, and to pay a fine of five pounds, being five times the value of the slaughtered sheep according to Gert Botha's computation. In levying the fine, the two cows which he had given as lobola were seized—much against the will of old Dalisile. Out of the proceeds, Gert Botha was paid the value of the sheep, and Kalaza received fifteen shillings, which he, in company with Jim Gubo, spent the same day at the canteen.
Sibi, the dog, hung about the gaol howling, until he was driven away with stones. He then returned to his master's hut, and howled there all the afternoon and through the night. Next morning, Gert Botha's son Andries shot him.
Maliwe received his twenty-five lashes, and was discharged from prison, after his back had, under the superintendence of the District Surgeon, been well washed with brine, to prevent evil results. Neither under the flogging nor the pickling did Maliwe exhibit the slightest sign of the torture which he suffered.
On the same evening Maliwe went to a certain tree, just at the back of old Dalisile's huts, and gave a long, low whistle, which was the established signal between himself and Nalai. Unfortunately, however, Nalai did not hear him, but her two big brothers, Kawana and Joli, did. Old Dalisile, anticipating Maliwe's visit, had kept Nalai out of the way, and put his two sons to watch. These fell upon Maliwe and smote him so hard with their kerries, that he lay for a long time senseless on the ground. When he regained consciousness, he limped quietly away.
He has not since been heard of in the neighbourhood.
THE FUNDAMENTAL AXIOM.
The wild ass of the desert knows, By inborn knowledge, friends from foes. The tame ass of the village browses Contentedly between the houses. He has no foes, he has no friends, He toils and eats until he ends.
But this time, Fate, on grim jokes bent, A wild ass to the village sent. Oh, what a tempest shook the village, 'Twas worse than flood, or fire, or pillage!
Now if an ass I needs must be, The desert's joys and pains for me.
It was evening. In the old mission house the frugal supper was over, and the missionary, his wife, the two lady-teachers, the eleven native female boarders and the native probationer, all knelt down to prayers. The eleven boarders and the probationer had come in at the sound of the bell, the eldest boarder leading, and the probationer bringing up the rear.
A few seconds later, the old black housemaid and cook combined strode heavily in and knelt down just inside the door. Prayers over, Miss Elizabeth Blake, the senior lady teacher, sat down to the harmonium and played the first few bars of a hymn. Then the little congregation stood up and sang. They kept good time, and their singing was fairly in tune, but the voices of some of the native girls were very harsh and shrill, and somewhat spoilt the general effect. The probationer, Samuel Gozani, led the singing from his place close to the instrumentalist. The choir stood facing the right-hand end of the harmonium, and the leader stood just on Miss Blake's left hand, and to see the choir he had to look over her head. The hymn happened to be Luther's "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott"; it was sung in English, but the Reverend Gottlieb Schultz, the missionary, forgetting the English words, drifted into the original German at the second verse, rather to the detriment of the performance. Miss Blake sang out her clear, simple soprano tones, very rich in the low notes. She was a handsome girl, rather stout, with blue eyes and dull yellow hair. Her face was somewhat pale from overwork and want of fresh air. Altogether, she had a strongly Teutonic look, and was, in fact, almost an exact counterpart of what her German mother had been at her age. Of her Irish father she showed absolutely no trace in either appearance or character.
Whilst the hymn was being sung, the probationer's earnest eyes rested as often on the yellow-haired girl at the harmonium as on his particular charge, the dusky choir. The eleven girls stood in a crescent, some modest and demure enough, but others looking bold, their wanton, roving eyes and generously developed figures being much in evidence. The youngest girl might have been twelve years of age, and the eldest twenty. The latter, a girl named Martha Kawa, was of a much lighter colour than any of her schoolmates, but her physiognomy was of the usual Kafir type. Her father was an Englishman, and her mother a Gaika Kafir; she had passed her childhood in a native hut, and when, five years previously, she was sent to the mission, she was in a condition of absolute savagery. In the mission school her Aryan blood told; she kept easily ahead of the other girls, and took all the best prizes.
The hymn over, the girls curtsied "good-night" to the missionary and his wife, and went to the dormitory escorted by the junior teacher. This room was the very picture of neatness. The whitewashed walls were decorated with Biblical pictures and illuminated texts, and the beds, with blue counterpanes and snow-white linen, were without crease or wrinkle. On each bed, near the foot, the occupier's shawl was folded, and the manner of folding varied considerably. Small prizes were given for the best folding designs, and considerable individuality was shown in the competition. Several of the designs were marvels of ingenuity, and indicated a true artistic faculty.
In a few moments, eleven dusky heads were reposing on eleven snowy pillows.
The Reverend Gottlieb Schultz was far more intellectual and cultivated than the average of his class. Sent to labour in the Lord's Vineyard in reclaiming the heathen of South Africa, immediately after his ordination as a minister of the German Evangelical Church, at the age of twenty-four, he had spent thirty-five years at his task. His wife Amalia, selected for him by the Missionary Society, was sent out under invoice five years after his arrival. She had thus been his helpmeet, and a faithful one, for thirty years. Although childless, she was of a placid and contented disposition; so much so that her smile became rather wearisome from its very continuousness.
The good old missionary had outlived many illusions, and of the few still remaining, the larger proportion related to the Fatherland he had left so long ago and which he never more would see. His passionate loyalty to the Hohenzollerns was, long after the events now recorded had happened, the cause of his removing a resplendent portrait of Bismarck from a prominent place in the dining-room; and hiding it ignominiously behind a book-shelf, where it remained until 1893, when the reconciliation between Emperor William and the ex-chancellor took place. Then the portrait was again brought forth, and hung next to that of Count Caprivi which had supplanted it.
On his top bookshelf, triumphant over a dreary jungle of theological literature, might have been found the works of Goethe, Schiller, Lessing and Freiligrath, and in a secret receptacle behind his little drug cabinet reposed a complete edition of Heine. He was very well read in English theological literature. He thought Luther the greatest of all theologians, but his favourite reading was Tauler. He had an emotional understanding of, and sympathy with, the "Friends of God."
And what illusions had he not outlived! Had he not seen the natives, for whose benefit his blameless and strenuous life had been ungrudgingly spent, sinking lower and lower, exchanging the virtues of barbarism for the vices of civilisation? Had he not seen the chosen lambs of his flock sink back into the savagery that surrounded them, lured by those tribal rites which bear a fundamental resemblance to the ritual of the worship of the Cyprian Venus? Had he not seen the land covered with plague-spots in the shape of canteens from which poisonous liquor was set flowing far and wide, ruining the natives, body and soul? All this and more he had seen; all this and more he had prayed and struggled against through the weary years. He still prayed, but he had almost ceased from struggling.
One illusion he still retained. This was the firm belief that the average barbarian was fully the equal of the average civilised man—an illusion so common amongst the missionary fraternity early in this century, that this equality was almost, if not quite, a fundamental axiom in all missionary reasoning. In Mr. Schultz's case, this illusion had paled from time to time in the face of striking experiences, but it was too deeply ingrained in his character ever to disappear. Experience after experience faded out of his memory, but the fundamental axiom remained. These experiences he, so to say, preached away, for whenever he found the fundamental axiom waxing dim, he polished it up with a liberal administration of theological logic, abstruse reasoning, and illustrations from standard authorities.
Samuel Gozani, the probationer, was in several respects a remarkable character. Son of a native headman of the Gealeka tribe, which considers itself as forming, as it were, the Kafir aristocracy; he had, fourteen years previously, been placed at the mission school. For six years he was as backward in acquirement as he was unsatisfactory and troublesome in conduct. But a change came. A native revivalist visited the mission, and, behold—a shaking! Amongst the dry bones that moved, none showed so much energy as Samuel. His whole life changed, and he at once declared his intention of entering the ministry. He took to theological study with the greatest avidity, and for several years was looked upon as the coming man of the mission. Suddenly he again changed; his moral conduct remained free from reproach, but his faculty for serious study appeared to have left him. He brooded deeply, taught the junior pupils in an irregular and, on the whole, very perfunctory manner, and seemed to be consumed by a deep and abiding sadness. It was afterwards noticed that this change dated from about a year after Miss Blake had taken up her residence at the mission.
Samuel possessed A rich, full baritone voice, and he seemed to regain his old vigour and enthusiasm only on those occasions when he sang in the choir. There his voice rang out clear above the others as he led; his eye flashed, and his countenance lit up. He was a tall and strongly built man, with a face unlike the usual Kafir type. His lips were thin, his nose narrow and prominent, and his eyes large and somewhat protruding. In point of physiognomy, he somewhat resembled a North American Indian.
It was on a warm night in late Spring that Miss Elizabeth Blake sat under the verandah which ran along the whole front of the mission house. A slight thunderstorm had just passed, and another was following on its trail. Summer lightnings were gleaming through the soft haze, and distant thunders muttered from time to time. Brown, furry beetles dashed themselves violently against the windows of the dining-room, where a lamp still burned, and the pneumoras wailed their melancholy love-songs from the willow trees along the water-furrow. The junior teacher was seeing her charges to bed, for prayers were just over, and Miss Blake was enjoying a few moments' rest in the mild air before taking up her task of preparing the next day's work. The missionary and his wife were away, visiting at the next-neighbouring mission, and were not expected back until the following afternoon.
Hearing the sound of approaching footsteps, Miss Blake looked round, and saw Samuel Gozani approaching. He came slowly up the steps, and stood silently before her, leaning against one of the verandah poles.
"Good evening, Samuel," she said.
"Good evening, Miss Elizabeth; you do not often take a rest."
"I seldom have time."
Samuel remained silent, and the girl regarded him intently. She had long noticed his demeanour, and had often wondered as to what was on his mind.
"Samuel," she said, sympathetically, "why have you been so strange of late? Is anything the matter with you?"
Samuel cleared his throat as if to speak, shifted his feet, but said nothing.
"Do you not know," she continued, "that your class is going backward, that you often forget to set the lessons, and that half the time you are teaching you appear as if you do not know what you are doing? Tell me, is there anything on your mind? Have you done anything you are sorry for?"
Samuel again cleared his throat, shifted his feet, and with an evident effort replied:
"I have not committed any sin, but I know my work is done badly. My heart is so heavy that I can hardly bear the weight."
"What is this heaviness?"
Samuel did not reply, but after a pause asked this question:
"Miss Elizabeth, do you believe that all men, white and black, are equal?"
The girl paused for a moment. In her heart of hearts she knew she did not think so, but the fundamental axiom weighed heavily on her, the well-worn arguments of the missionary arose and threatened her, pointing with skinny fingers at the abyss which lay in the road of the opposite view, so she muffled her answer up carefully in a platitude, and handed it to her hearer, trusting that the muffler would somewhat conceal its nakedness.
"Of course," she said, "the bad are not equal to the good; but if God holds that otherwise all men are equal, it would be wrong of any one to think differently."
"But white people never really think that we blacks are equal to them," said Samuel, speaking in a strained tone, "no matter what they say."
Miss Blake felt unable to reply, so after a short pause Samuel continued:
"When a black man walks in the ways of the whites, he becomes a stranger to his own kind, and he has really no friends. The white man says 'Come here to us,' and when the black man comes as near as he can, there is still a gulf that he cannot pass. I am a lonely man, Miss Elizabeth; I have left my own people, and there is no one that I can call a friend. Even you only tolerate me because you think it pleasing to God that you should do so; but you would never be my friend or let me be yours."
"There you are wrong, Samuel," replied the girl, moved by a sense of great pity; "I have the warmest friendship and regard for you, and I like you as well as if you were white."
Samuel then did an unusual thing—he held out his hand to the girl, who took it and pressed it cordially.
"Good night. Miss Elizabeth," he said. "I will do my duty better, and try to be worthy of your friendship. You have lightened my heart."
Miss Blake went in to the empty class-room and arranged the morrow's work. She was filled with a vague sense of uneasiness, and she felt that in her conversation with Samuel she had not been quite ingenuous; especially in her closing remark.
Samuel went to his room, and, as was his wont, read several chapters of the Bible before going to bed. On this occasion his choice fell upon the Song of Solomon. This he read right through. He began it again, and read until he reached the words, "I am black but comely." He went to sleep with these words on his lips, and with a strange dream at his heart.
The mission was perplexed by another change in Samuel. He bought a new suit of clothes; he parted his hair on the left side, teasing it up into two high, unequal ridges; he became redolent of cheap scent; he applied himself anew to his studies, with feverish activity, and he pulled his disorderly class together so effectively, that when the school inspector again came to the mission, that official dealt out almost unstinted praise instead of the censure which was usually Samuel's well-deserved portion.
Moreover, Samuel notified his intention of qualifying forthwith for his next step towards the ministry. In the choir, his voice rang out with an almost birdlike rapture that astonished all hearers.
It was then noticed that Martha Kawa began to lose her place at the top of the class. It should be mentioned that all the boarders, as well as the senior day pupils, were taught by Miss Blake, and that Samuel taught the second class. The very small pupils were instructed by the second lady-teacher. Martha grew thin and ill-tempered. On several occasions she was very impertinent to Miss Blake. In church, or when singing after evening prayers, she hardly ever took her eyes from Samuel. This was, of course, remarked by the other girls, but a chaffing allusion to the fact was met by such a burst of fury, that the experiment was not repeated.
Samuel hardly ever spoke to Miss Blake; in fact he appeared to avoid her. His usual taciturnity was unchanged, but it did not convey the idea of moroseness. His general demeanour was as that of one in a dream, but in Miss Blake's presence he became alert, with almost an expectant look; and he gave, generally, the idea of being under the influence of strong, but suppressed excitement.
Miss Blake was very fond of flowers, and on the hills around the mission, watsonias, purple orchids, and other flowers grew; whilst on the edges of the kloofs, sweet-scented clematis trailed. Samuel got into the habit of gathering flowers—generally on Saturday afternoons, when he was free from duty. After one of his rambles, a bouquet would generally be sent to each of the teachers and to Mrs. Schultz, but it was noticed that the choicest selection always reached the senior teacher.
The Reverend Robley Wilson, a young Wesleyan minister who had been ordained three years previously, became a more or less constant visitor at the mission. He was in charge of a station about thirty miles distant. A tall, spare man, with dark eyes and hair, he had the reputation of being extremely shrewd. Belonging to the more modern school, the fundamental axiom did not weigh heavily upon him; in fact it was hardly a burthen at all, but rather a cloak that could be donned or doffed as occasion demanded.
Mr. Wilson's attentions to the senior teacher became somewhat marked. Strange to say, this fact appeared to be quite unnoticed by Samuel, who still pursued his course of feverish study, and became more and more abstracted in his manner. The unhappy man was consumed by a passionate love. It was for Miss Blake that he was striving to qualify as a minister; it was of her that he thought all day and dreamt all night. Into his wild and elemental nature, in which hereditary savagery was simply covered by a thin veneer of civilisation, this strong love for a woman of an alien race had struck its roots deep down, and absorbed all into itself. But instead of the savage element being transmuted into gentleness, his love absorbed into itself the savage, and thus became savage in its character. This resultant was a highly explosive psychic compound. He never spoke to another being of what his mind was full of, and the repression which he had to exercise at all natural vents caused tidal waves of passion to roll back on his soul, fraught with destruction to himself and to others.
Martha Kawa was as passionately attached to Samuel, as he was to Miss Blake. In Martha, the Aryan element manifested itself mainly in force of character, and ability; for in her tastes and desires, as in her physiognomy, she followed her mother's race. Whilst Samuel was secretive by nature, she was rendered so by force of circumstances; she had hardly any opportunities of communicating with the man she loved, and on the rare occasions when she diffidently attempted to gain his confidence and friendship, she was met by a cold and impenetrable indifference, She was not on terms of intimacy with any of the other pupils, the fact of her being partly of another race preventing anything of the kind.
It will be seen that the moral and social atmosphere of the mission was heavily charged with tragic potentialities.
In course of time, Miss Blake went away to spend her Christmas holidays at a distant town, her native place. The Reverend Robley Wilson took a holiday shortly afterwards, and followed her. He asked her to be a helpmeet unto him, and she agreed. Whatever love existed between them was mainly on his side. She came back to the mission engaged, but by agreement the fact was to be kept secret for a time, even from the Missionary and his wife.
During the holidays, Samuel had continued his course of feverish study. His face had become thin and drawn, and his eyes looked unnaturally bright and prominent. Martha was more ill-tempered and sulky than ever, and repeated disobedience had led to talk of her expulsion. During the holidays she had volunteered to stay at the mission rather than go back to her mother's kraal. She was allowed to stay on condition that she did the house-work, helping the old domestic, who was far from well. She thus had many opportunities of cultivating Samuel's acquaintance, and it was not long before her suspicions as to his passion for Miss Blake were fully confirmed. Samuel allowed her to talk to him, but he said very little in reply.
About a week after Miss Blake's return, Mr. Wilson managed to get an invitation to preach at the mission on the following Sunday. He arrived on Friday, and then, for the first time, Samuel began to suspect the true state of affairs. On Saturday evening Miss Blake and her lover were sitting together in a little summer-house in the garden, Samuel had watched them enter and then, stealthily as a cat, had crept up to the trellis, and taken a position where he could hear every word spoken. What he heard left no room for any doubt as to the true state of affairs. At first he felt as if stunned by the shock, the very force of the blow precluding suffering for the time being. The mention of his own name brought him to himself, and every word of the conversation that followed burned itself into his brain.
"What a strange character that Samuel Gozani is," said Mr. Wilson; "I have sometimes thought him slightly mad."
"So have I," replied the girl, and she then gave a rapid sketch of Samuel's career at the mission.
"Has it never struck you that he may have presumed to fall in love with you?"
"I do not like to speak about such a thing, but it has; and for some time back I have hardly been able to bear his presence. I shudder whenever he comes near me."
"I think it is such a mistake to let these fellows think they can be on an equality with us," said Mr. Wilson, after a pause; "it always leads to unpleasantness. The idea of his presuming even to think of you in that way."
"I often recall his asking me such a strange question one night last year. He asked if I thought all men, black and white, were equal, It was not so much the question, as his manner of putting it, that struck me as being strange."
"And what did you say in reply?"
"Oh, I said that before God all men were equal. He then asked whether I thought one who was white could ever look on a black man as really his equal. I did not like to say what I truly thought, and felt, so I made an evasive answer."
"I know old Schultz and his school teach a lot of nonsense on that point," said Mr. Wilson, scornfully, "although none of them truly believe what they say. The equality idea is quite an exploded one, and the black savage, superficially civilised, is no more the equal of the European, than a Basuto pony is equal to a thoroughbred horse. But I hope you will keep that fellow in his place!"
"Yes, of course I will. But I pity him nevertheless."
"Do you? I cannot say that I do. But after all, he is not so much to blame as is the system which filled his head with nonsense. These old missionaries have done a lot of harm in giving the natives false notions as to equality, and making them generally conceited."
Samuel had heard enough. He crept away as noiselessly as he came.
Next day the Rev. Robley Wilson preached one of his very best sermons. His preaching was ex tempore, and full of vigour. He discoursed of righteousness, of temperance, and of judgment to come on the unrighteous and the intemperate. He waxed more and more didactic. He called upon his hearers to thank the Lord that such men as he, the Reverend Robley Wilson, had thought fit to devote their lives to the service of the children of Ham, instead of shining in metropolitan pulpits and pouring vials of saving grace over the heads of the elect of the children of Shem. He dwelt on the inconveniences of mission life in South Africa, and drew a moving picture of the contrast between such, and existence in a civilised, European city—comforted by the appliances of Science and cheered by the achievements of Art. He again called upon the children of Ham to thank their common Maker for the blessings bestowed on them by the children of Shem, and he wound up with a prayer so audaciously comprehensive, that had all thereby asked for been granted, the members of the congregation, and all their friends and relations—to say nothing of the whole human race which was included in a general clause—would have had nothing more to hope for, and must have succumbed to sheer repletion. It was a rousing sermon, but it contained not a single reference to the fundamental axiom.
Whilst the blessings conferred upon the natives by the Europeans were being enumerated, Miss Blake (quite involuntarily) thought of the canteens in the village close at hand, coming from which, drunken men and women often staggered past; the mission, and during the fascinating description of life in a European city, she could not help recalling certain accounts she had recently read of the experiences of venturesome persons who explored regions called slums, said to exist to a considerable extent in most large British cities. But it was a rousing sermon; and well delivered.
Samuel led the choir, and his voice had, if possible, a more exultant and triumphant ring than usual.
At evening service, the old missionary preached—or rather read his sermon. His was a much humbler effort than that of his locum tenens of the forenoon, but it left a more salutary and peaceful impression. None of the ideas were original, the illustrations were commonplace, and what passed for argument was rather threadbare. The fundamental axiom was there, but was not aggressively flaunted: it was rather implied than expressed. But in spite of all this, the hearers, or most of them, were the better of the discourse, for the simple loving kindness and faith of the old man permeated the congregation as a gentle and soothing influence.
It was noticed that Samuel withdrew quietly from the church just at the close of the last hymn, and before the final prayer and blessing. When the junior teacher assembled the girls a few minutes later, in the dormitory, Martha Kawa was missing.
The Reverend Robley Wilson and Miss Blake lingered in the church for a few minutes after the congregation had left, and strolled together across the grass plot to the Mission House. At the door, Mr. Wilson excused himself, and walked down through the shrubbery towards the visitors's house—a little one-roomed building, set apart for guests. He meant just to leave his Bible and hymnbook on the table, brush his hair, and then rejoin Miss Blake and the others in the dining-room, where supper awaited them. He softly whistled the tune of a hymn as he went along the path, thinking how very inconvenient it was that he had to return home on the following day. It had been agreed that the engagement was to be announced that evening to the kind old missionary and his wife. He also thought of the inevitable opposition to a short engagement, as he knew how difficult it would be to find a suitable successor to Miss Blake. He had just begun to compare the sermon he had just been listening to with his own of the morning—much to the disadvantage of the former, through which he could perceive the fundamental axiom protruding like a cloven foot, when he suddenly ceased thinking for ever, for a blow from the heavy knob of a strong stick crushed his skull in on his brain like an egg-shell, and he sank, a limp mass, to the ground.
Then Samuel Gozani, for it was his arm that had struck the blow, sprang from the footpath into the thickest part of the shrubbery, and there came into violent physical contact with Martha Kawa, who had been a witness of his murderous deed.
They waited in the dining-room, expecting the arrival of the guest, and wondering at his long absence. Suddenly a loud shriek was heard coming from the direction of the shrubbery, and the missionary left the dining-room and walked quickly down the passage to the front door, which Stood wide open. There he met Martha Kawa, whose demeanour showed signs of the most frantic terror. Her face was of a dull, ash colour; her mouth hung open and her eyes were dilated. She gasped for breath, pointed towards the visitors' house, and then sank senseless to the ground. The missionary returned to the dining-room, seized a candle, and walked quickly down the shrubbery path, the flame of the candle hardly flickering in the breathless night air. There was the body, a huddled mass, lying on its face, with the arms stretched out at right angles, and the palms of the bands turned upwards. A trickle of blood ran down the slope for a few inches, and then formed a pool. The poor old man stood for a few moments transfixed with horror, and then staggered back to the house.
Shortly afterwards the shrubbery was full of blanched faces, rendered doubly ghastly by the faint glimmer of the lanterns and candles. Samuel was there, taciturn as usual, and the most self-possessed person present. He came direct from his room when the alarm was given. Miss Blake was led by Mrs. Schultz into the house. Then hands, tremulous with terror and pity, lifted tenderly what had so recently been a human being brimming with youthful, healthy life, and exalted with anticipation of the crown of happy love, and laid it on the little white bed. Later, when the officials came to view the body, they opened the door softly and shrinkingly, and the drip, drip, drip on the clay floor sounded on their tense brains like strokes from the hammer of doom.
When Martha Kawa had sufficiently recovered to be capable of answering questions, she told a strange story. She had heard, so she said, a voice raised as though in anger, but had been unable to distinguish the words, and just afterwards a dull thud. She then walked quickly towards where these sounds had come from, and was just able to distinguish two men running away. This was all that could be elicited from her.
Suspicion at once fell upon Samuel. In his room was found a large knobbed stick, such as might have caused the wound, with the knob still damp, apparently from recent washing. Foot-marks corresponding with his were found in suspicious localities in the shrubbery. He was arrested and tried for the crime, but was acquitted on the evidence of Martha Kawa. When, shortly after the trial, Samuel and Martha disappeared simultaneously, every one felt that Samuel was surely guilty, and that his acquittal, which was irrevocable, had involved a terrible miscarriage of justice.
Miss Blake left the mission and returned to her family. Mr. Schultz shortly afterwards retired from active work, and went to live in one of the larger colonial towns. He drew a small pension which, with the interest upon the scanty savings of his charitable life, was sufficient for his moderate needs. He still holds by the fundamental axiom.
About three years after the tragedy just related, a native man and woman lived together in a lonely hut close to the mouth of the Bashee river, They were clad in the savage garb common to the uncivilised natives. The woman was of a much lighter complexion than the man, and she carried, slung on her back, an emaciated child with a badly deformed spine. On her face and body were many scars, most of them healed up, but some still raw, and evidently of recent infliction. Samuel Gozani and Martha Kawa had wandered far since leaving the mission. They had gone together to the kraal of the headman, Samuel's father, in Gealekaland, but Samuel's violent temper had led to his being driven away. His father gave him a few goats, and his other relations told him to depart and return no more. So he and Martha built a hut far from other men, and cultivated a small field of maize, millet, and pumpkins. Samuel's temper grew worse under the stress of his solitary life, and Martha suffered much from his ill-treatment. Shortly after an act of particularly brutal violence on his part she was confined, and the poor little baby, a boy, was found to be hopelessly deformed. According to native custom, such a child would have been destroyed, but when Samuel suggested this, the mother blazed out into such wrath that he did not refer to the subject again. It soon became apparent that Samuel—sometimes, at least—was insane. He seemed hardly ever to sleep, and he remained days without speaking, One day, on entering the hut, he savagely kicked the child, which was lying on a mat just inside the door, to one side. The poor little thing set up a thin, piteous squeal, which, when the mother heard it, roused her to a pitch of tiger-like fury. She rushed at Samuel and flung him backwards out of the door. Incensed to madness, he sprang at her, dashed her down on the floor, and held her with his hands at her throat, and his knees pressing violently on her stomach. He held her thus for some seconds, then sprang up, rushed out of the hut, and disappeared into the bush.
The wretched woman lay senseless for some time, and when she regained consciousness she felt that she had sustained some serious internal injury. It was early in the forenoon when the deed was done, and in the afternoon her body began to swell, and she suffered violent pain. She had, as a matter of fact, sustained a severe internal rupture. She managed to crawl over to where the child lay, still wailing, and she gave it the breast to still it. Then she began to suffer from violent thirst, but there was neither water nor milk in the hut. Owing to Samuel's bad reputation no one ever came to his dwelling, and thus Martha had no chance of succour before his return, which she now longed for. The sun went down, and she lay in agony, watching the dying daylight. She lay through the long, slow hours of the night, unable co move, and with the poor little child tugging at her in vain, and fitfully wailing from hunger and cold, for the fire had long since gone out. When morning broke she became delirious; later on she became unconscious, and remained so all day. When Samuel returned at sundown, driving home the little flock of goats, she appeared to be at the last gasp. He was, to do him justice, much shocked at what he saw. Samuel at once ran down to the river and fetched some water, a little of which, poured down Martha's parched throat, restored her to consciousness. He lit a fire and sat down near her, giving her a sip of water now and then. He even wrapped the child up in a tanned calf skin, and then went out and caught a she-goat, which he flung to the ground, and tied by its extended legs to two poles of the hut, which were about six feet apart. He then placed the chilled and starving child where it could suck one of the teats. The goat struggled and withheld its milk, but Samuel held it down and kneaded the udder until the draught came, and the child drank long and deeply.
When the mother saw this, she smiled faintly, and just afterwards she fell quietly asleep. The child also slept, so Samuel released the goat and returned to his seat.
The fire flickered up and showed by fits and starts the inside of the hut. There lay the dying woman, her deathlike face drawn and haggard from her long agony, breathing very shortly, the beginning of the death rattle being audible. There lay the child, half covered by the skin, its lips parted in the ghastly semblance of a smile which was due to the indigestion caused by a heavy meal of unusual food, and there sat Samuel with wide open eyes, looking down into the fire without seeing it.
Outside the stars glittered down through the cool June air upon the lovely valley, rich in forest and flanked by gently-swelling, grassy hills. The tinkling murmur of the river which, after rainless months, had shrunk to the dimensions of a streamlet, except in the long, deep reaches, stole up from where it ran, crystal clear, over a low, rocky bar.
Suddenly Martha opened her eyes and spoke in a thin, far-away voice—
He started, and, moving to where she lay, bent over her.
"Samuel," she said, "I am dying—now! now!" (She spoke English, a thing neither of them had done since they had left the mission.) "Perhaps it is true—what they used to teach us—perhaps Jesus did die for us.—Samuel—I love you—and you have killed me—but if I find— Jesus—I will ask—him—to let you come!"
She gasped, and stopped speaking, and just then the child woke up and wailed. This seemed to electrify her.
"Oh, God! the child!" she screamed. "Give him to me!"
Samuel arose, gently lifted the wailing baby, and laid it on her left side, between her arm and her body, with its head on her shoulder.
"Samuel—Samuel," she gasped, "I lied—to save—you. It is—your— child. We have been—bad—but Jesus—will forgive. He will—forgive—us both—if you—take care——"
Here her breath failed, and she struggled painfully to speak, her eyes becoming dim and bright by turns. She tried to lift her right hand, but could not, so she turned it on its back and beckoned with the forefinger. Samuel gently laid his hand in hers, and she slowly grasped his fingers. She lay still like this for a time; hardly breathing, and with that strange, fitful gleam coming back at longer intervals to her dimming eyes. Suddenly her eyes flashed almost fiercely, and, with what must have been a terrible effort, she drew his hand across her body until it rested on the child's head. She held it there until she died.
In the morning Samuel again caught the she-goat, carried it into the hut, laid it down, and bound its legs as he had previously done. But the child would not drink. About midday the poor little thing began to scream violently, and at sundown it died in strong convulsions, Samuel holding it tenderly in his arms.
At midnight Samuel buried the two bodies together in a shallow grave, over which he piled a quantity of heavy stones to keep off the jackals. He then went to the little kraal where the goats were kept, and pulled away the bush which served as a gate, thus leaving the entrance open. He then divested himself of every article of clothing and ornament, and placed them in the hut. The fire had gone out, but, after raking about deep down in the pile of ashes, he found a few embers still alight. These he placed carefully on a bent wisp of dry grass which he pulled out of the roof, and which blazed up in a few seconds. He then set fire to the hut in several places, and went outside. In a few minutes the hut, being built of wattles and grass, all now as dry as tinder, blazed up. Samuel stood and watched the fire until the last flame flickered out. He then turned his back on the heap of glowing embers, and walked away in the direction of the river.
There is a deep pool in the river a few hundred yards from the spot where Samuel's hut used to stand, and at one side of it the bank rises precipitously for about twenty feet. Upon this bank stood Samuel Gozani, naked as he was born, and he lifted up his voice and spake:
"The white men told me about a God that died for all men, and that rewards the good and punishes the wicked, but the white man lied about other things, so I cannot believe him. My father told me about Tikoloshe, who lives in the water, and pulls people down by the feet into the darkness. I never knew my father to lie; I want to reach the darkness, so I will go to Tikoloshe."
He sprang into the pool, and Tikoloshe pulled him down by the feet into the darkness.
"Take Sin's empty goblet, fling it Hurtling from some sheer cliff's height, Winds will bear it up and wing it Back to thee in devious flight. Smash it against the rocks—before thee Laming fragments strew thy path. Swamp it deep—the waves restore thee What thou gav'st them, brimmed with wrath."
SHAGBAG'S Soliloquy on the Boomerang.
Night had fallen, although the red glow had not yet quite faded out of the west, when John Jukes Kellson, the newly appointed Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistrate of Marsonton, drove down the hill into the village in which he would henceforth reside and exercise his official functions. The cart drawn by four horses, which conveyed him, had been hired at a town over ninety miles away, and Kellson had driven that distance in two broiling hot days. As the cart went slowly down the hill, the moon was rising over the eastern mountains, and a breathless stillness reigned, broken only by the rumble of the vehicle. How familiar it all was; he knew every curve of the road and every ant-heap; every bush looming in the twilight seemed like an old acquaintance. Nineteen years had passed since Kellson had last seen the village. A clerk in the local public offices, he had left it on promotion, and now he was returning as chief Government functionary. How strange it seemed.
The cart reached the hotel and stopped before the front door. It was Sunday night. Having a constitutional distaste for public functions of all kinds, outside the established official routine, Kellson had purposely left the inhabitants of the village and district in the dark as to the date of his intended arrival, so as to avoid the agonies of a public reception, involving an address and a reply, both couched in the irritating platitudinous phraseology deemed indispensable on such occasions.
He entered the hotel at which he had formerly boarded and lodged for several years as a bachelor. The faces he saw were all strange, but the building was just the same. It was evident that neither the doors, the windows, nor the verandah had been renewed since he had seen the place last. The same atmosphere of mustiness permeated the premises; the ill-laid flags forming the floor of the stoep still with lifted edges lay in wait for unaccustomed feet. He knew those flags, and the old habit of stepping high when he walked on them returned. He even remembered, as he walked along, the places where it was safe to tread and those to be avoided.
The servant showed him to his room, the same he had occupied twenty years ago. Twenty years; good God! what a long time. He was then twenty-six years old—and now. How many things had happened in those years. The servant lit the candle, and Kellson looked round the room. Yes; just as he had expected; there was the same furniture. The wall-paper was different, that was all. He passed his hand over the foot of the iron bedstead and drew out one of the slides of the old, rickety chest of drawers. How many people had slept in that bed since that morning when he had here packed his portmanteau before carrying it out to the post-cart.
He went to supper, and recognised familiar objects at every turn. These recognitions hurt him so much that he could hardly keep from crying out. He feared to lift his eyes lest he should see some old acquaintance in the shape of a fly-blown picture grinning at him. The proprietor of the hotel and his family were all absent at church, and for this small mercy Kellson was devoutly thankful. Supper over, he strolled out into the silent village street. He could not, however, endure the sensations which he experienced, so he hurried back to his room. The transfiguring moonlight had conjured up the ghost of his youth, and it mocked and gibed at him cruelly.
Kellson was a bad sleeper, but he went to bed early so as to rest his weary limbs. He lit his pipe, and then tried to read, but the mists of nineteen years gathered between his eyes and the page, so he blew out the candle and lay still with his eyes wide open and no thought of sleep. The whole weight of the past seemed to press on and crush him, whilst the stress of the present prevented his dropping the load and resting. Moreover, numbers of those wretched cur dogs that swarm in most South African villages were now barking in all directions, the full moon and the warm night drawing out more than the usual contingent.
Kellson's official residence was on a hill just beyond the other end of the village, and he determined, without waiting for the arrival of the waggons with his effects, to buy next day enough furniture for one small bedroom which he would occupy, still taking his meals at the hotel. He would thus be away from the horrible dogs. He meant to board at the hotel until the arrival of his wife. His wife t why must he think of her with such bitterness? Why must he look forward to her return from her trip to Europe with uneasiness and dissatisfaction? It was the old story—incompatibility of temper, or rather of temperament. He had married at the age of thirty-eight, nine years ago. His wife was now twenty-eight. She was one of those women who can be got at only through their feelings—never through their reason. In her a passionate longing for motherhood had absorbed every other wish. She had money of her own and had gone to spend a year in Europe. When she left, Kellson experienced a deep sense of relief; a whole year's freedom seemed endless at the beginning, but now two-thirds of the time had gone by swiftly, and in about four months she would be back. How he dreaded her return and the recommencement of the old discordant life. Kellson was, no doubt, in some respects a difficult man to live with, but he nevertheless would have made a reasonable, sympathetic woman moderately happy. His habit was to act reasonably according to his lights in all his daily relations, both official and domestic. His wife was an extremely emotional person, who could be persuaded to do a thing, or leave it undone, as the case might be, by arguments based upon conventionalism or generosity, but never by those drawn from justice or reasonableness. Kellson had at first set himself the task of showing her the saving graces of reasonableness, but he soon gave the attempt up in disgust. But things would have come all right between them had there only been a child.
Kellson had not been a successful man. At the beginning, his career promised well. Fifteen years previously he had been ahead of most men of his own term of service, but now others—some of them considerably his juniors—had forged past him. He had noticed all his life that he seldom carried any important enterprise to a successful conclusion. Up to a certain point, he usually achieved rapid success, but then difficulties unseen before arose one after the other, and failure, or else only success very much qualified, resulted. He had often endeavoured to find out the reason of this, but had not been able to do so. He came to the conclusion that there was some weak strand in the fibre of his character, but where this lay, or how to strengthen it, he was unable to discover or devise.
His transfer to Marsonton, although it involved no curtailment of salary, was really a reduction in point of status. At his last station he had taken a. stand upon a matter in which the prejudices of a large and influential class had been against him. The Government considered he had been injudicious, and transferred him. He did not much mind; all that troubled him, was the nuisance involved in packing up and moving his books and furniture. His conscience was quite clear; he had done what he thought: to be his duty. Yet he was honest enough to admit that however right the abstract principle was, its application in the particular circumstances involved may have been injudicious. His ideal of official responsibility was a very high one, and during the whole twenty-seven years of his service he had never done a shady thing; neither had he ever allowed fear of the consequences to deter him from pursuing what he considered to be the right course.
All things come to an end, and so did that Sunday night which Kellson spent at the hotel. In the early morning he took a brighter view of things. After breakfast he went up to the Public Offices, and, to the astonishment of the clerks, introduced himself as their new chief. He had not mentioned who he was at the hotel, and consequently no one knew of his arrival. It being Monday, there was a heavy roll of cases for trial, and when the one attorney and the two agents saw Kellson take the bench, they were much chagrined at having been done out of the pleasure of presenting the usual florid address.
Of the criminal cases to be heard, only one was of any importance, namely that of a young coloured man charged with burglary. His name was John Erlank. He had evidently more of European than of any other blood in his veins; his hair was straight and black, and his complexion light yellow. But the most striking thing about him was the beauty of his eyes. They were black, large and deep. Although clearly showing signs of vice and dissipation, there was something prepossessing in his appearance; a kind of natural refinement was visible through his evident degradation and in spite of his obviously cringing manner. Kellson could not imagine whose face it was that the prisoner's suggested. Although little more than a lad, Erlank had a bad record. From early youth upwards he had been a criminal, and several convictions for different crimes were now formally proved against him. He had in this particular instance been committed to take his trial before the circuit judge by the previous magistrate, before whom he had fully admitted his guilt, but the Attorney General had now remitted the case hack to the magistrate's court for disposal under the "Extended Jurisdiction Act." Guilt being fully admitted by the prisoner, all Kellson had to do as magistrate was to read over the depositions and pass sentence. He considered the case to be one in which severity was due, so after telling the man he was one on whom exhortation or advice would be thrown away, he passed the highest sentence allowed by law, that is two years' imprisonment with hard labour and a flogging of thirty-six lashes. It was characteristic of Kellson that the prisoner's prepossessing appearance had the involuntary effect of making the sentence more severe, or rather, perhaps, of making the magistrate more stern in his estimate of the criminality.
At about four o'clock, Kellson had disposed of all the cases, and was thus free for the rest of the afternoon, so he left the office and walked up towards his official residence. He had asked the Chief Constable to see to the fitting up of his room, and he now went to look over the premises. For a long time he was unable to dismiss the face of the prisoner Erlank from his memory, it seemed to be almost as familiar to him as the houses of the street along which he was walking.
The village had hardly changed since he had last seen it. It is one of those places that do not grow because they happen not to be on any one of the great highways to the North. One or two old fogeys came up and greeted Kellson in the street—men he had known well in the old days, now so changed as to be almost unrecognisable. He passed the little room which had been used in the old days as a public library and reading-room. It was now shut up, and almost in ruins. He thought of how he used to run over from the office and flirt with the librarian, a very pretty girl, long since married. He passed another house and caught his breath short. It was that in which she had lived—the girl he had loved in his youth, and who had loved him. He had left her in a state of uncertainty as to his intentions, and after keeping up a warm correspondence for some time, they had gradually become estranged, the estrangement commencing on his side. Why had he acted like this, he asked himself bitterly. He had dreaded something or another, he could not quite define what it was. He remembered how she, who had been as Steel to others, was like wax in his hands. He remembered——Ah, God what a lot he remembered.
He arrived at the residency after walking up the hill. The exercise made him puff. In the old days he used to run up steeper gradients, now it sometimes distressed him to walk on level ground.
The gate and the fence were new, but the verandah, the door and the windows, as in the case of the hotel, were the same he had known in the old days. He opened the door and walked in, his footsteps sounding hollow in the empty house.
Kellson stood in the passage. He had left the front door wide open so as to admit the light. The air of the empty house seemed dense with the essence of the past. He went into every room, pausing for a few seconds in each, and then entering the next on tip-toe. He stood in the dining-room, before the fireplace. He had sat where he now stood on so many evenings of winter days whose suns had set with his youth. The barren hearth was full of ghostly flames which struck a chill into his heart. There was the room opening to the left, which Mabel and Vi, the little twin daughters of his former chief, used to occupy. He seemed to hear the laughter of the children echoing from some far-off paradise of the past, before the portal of which a stern-browed Fate stood to prevent his entering. The shutters of the dining-room window had been thrown open. A memory-ghost prompted him to unfold one of them. On its inner surface, painted over, he found the heads of the tacks with which he had nailed the programme of the farewell dance given in honour of his promotion by his chief. Where were the dancers? Gone like the music to which their feet had kept time.
His bed had been placed in the room formerly occupied by the children. This pleased him; the ghosts of Mabel and Vi were more bearable than the other ghosts. He looked in to see that all he required had been provided, and then he walked over the premises outside, old recollections smiting him like whips at every turn. He went into the stable and touched the ring to which "Bob," an old pony, the joint property of the two little girls, used to be tied. The tennis-ground was over-grown with grass—his predecessor's family evidently had not cared about tennis. He recognised most of the trees in the garden. The old vine at the side of the house was green and full of unripe grapes. It was the only thing that had a cheerful look.
Kellson returned to the hotel, and found that several of the inhabitants of the village had called and left cards. After supper, he walked up again to the residency, and found the Chief Constable there, he having come to see whether the arrangements made were satisfactory. Kellson was much relieved to find he had company. He had dreaded entering the house alone in the dark. There was an old rustic seat under the verandah, and on this Kellson and the Chief Constable sat and talked for half an hour. Then the latter said "Good night" and left.
Kellson remained sitting on the rustic seat, feeling in a better frame of mind. The Moon rose over the big mountain in front of the house and distant about five miles. The soft moonlight made the landscape wonderfully beautiful. The whole mountain was draped in snow-while, clinging mist, except the very summit, over which the Moon was hanging. The peacefulness of the hour stole into his heart, and his brain calmed down. The mountain suggested to him the past, and the pure, white mist shrouding it seemed like vapour risen from the merciful waters of Lethe. The Moon suggested hope, vague and undefined, lint still hope. With the swing as of a pendulum his consciousness swept back from the dark night of despondency and bathed its wings in light. Then his soothed spirit felt the need of sleep, so he entered the house and began to prepare for bed.
The waggon-road from the village scarped around the slope at the back of the house, and he heard the clatter of a waggon passing along it. The noise irritated him sorely—he could not tell why. Soon it ceased, and he wondered why the waggon should have stopped where it did. A few minutes afterwards he heard the sound of approaching footsteps, so he paused in his undressing, wondering irritably who was coming to disturb him. Then he heard a light tap at the front door.
Taking a candle, he went to the door and opened it. He saw before him a woman. She was coloured, but of mixed race, the European element evidently preponderating. She was elderly—certainly over forty years of age—very thin; and she stooped somewhat. Her face was drawn and haggard, but her eyes were still beautiful—black, large, and deep. She was decently but poorly dressed.
"Good evening, sir," she said, speaking Dutch.
"Good evening," replied Kellson. "What do you want?"
"I beg your pardon. Sir, coming at this time to trouble you. I only came because I am in great grief. But do you not know me?"
"No," said Kellson, after scanning her features carefully; "I do not remember you. What is your name?"
"I am Rachel, sir."
"Rachel," he said, sharply; "not Rachel Arends?"
"Yes, Sir, I was Rachel Arends, but I married Martin Erlank, the blacksmith of Ratel Hoek, just after you left, long ago."
Kellson turned sick at heart. Here was a reminder of a thing he had fain forgotten, come to drive away the peace he had just acquired. Here was the ghost of a sin of long ago, which had put on flesh and blood and come back to haunt him. It was horrible. He looked at the woman— she returned his gaze timidly for a moment, and then humbly drooped her head. Her manner and attitude suggested woe and utter humility. Then a wave of kindness and pity swept through him. Here was a fellow-creature with whom he had tasted the sweets of sin, long ago. Her youth, and all of her that he remembered, had been left behind by the hurrying years. Only one thing was clear, she was in trouble and she wanted his help. He would succour her if he could.
"Come in," he said to her kindly; and she followed him into the empty dining-room. He closed the shutters, and placed the candle on the window-sill. Then he fetched the only two chairs out of his bedroom. He placed one for her, and sat in the other himself.
"Now, Rachel," he said in a kind voice, "what can I do for you?"
Rachel tried to speak, but sobs choked her. Kellson sat and watched her, trying to imagine the course of the change in her appearance through the nineteen years. Where had her beauty gone to—the clear yellow of her cheeks, through which the red seemed to burn, making them look like ripe nectarines. Where was her graciously curved bosom? Ah! "Where are the snows of yester-year?"
"Oh, Sir," she said at length, "I have come to you about my son whom you punished today."
Kellson now for the first time remembered that the surname she had given him was the same as that of the prisoner whom he had so severely sentenced. He could now decipher the suggestion in the eyes, which had so puzzled him.
"Was that your son?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir. I know he is bad, and it is his conduct that has made an old woman of me. But I thought you might do something for him. I do not mind about the two years' imprisonment—that may do him good—but the thirty-six lashes."
"Oh, Sir, his skin has always been so tender, ever since he was a little baby. It is quite white and soft under his shirt. For the love of God, do not flog him. I did not know he was to be tried to-day, or I would have come before. When I heard you were coming I felt sure he would have had mercy."
"My poor woman," said Kellson, his heart pierced by Rachel's agony, "what can I do? I have no power to alter the sentence. He had been convicted so often before that I felt bound to punish him severely."
"I know. I know he deserves it, but for the love of God, take off the lashes. Oh, Sir, you cannot flog him. Bad as he is, I love him best of all my children, and all the others are good."
"What can I do?" said Kellson, deeply distressed. "The sentence is passed. I have no power to change it."
"Oh, Sir, do you not understand—must I tell you? I thought you would have known."
"What do you mean?"
Rachel again burst into violent weeping, and swayed to and fro in her chair. For some time she could not speak, Kellson sat and looked at her, a vague feeling of uneasiness stirring in him. At length she became calmer, and sat still—her hands pressed to her face. She stood up, looked fixedly at Kellson for a moment, and then fell un her knees before him.
"Save him, save him from the flogging," she said hoarsely, "he is your son."
Kellson sprang to his feet and looked down at the kneeling woman; his eyes stony with horror, and his face white and rigid. He knew in a flash that what she said was true. The face that the prisoner's reminded him of, and that he could not localise, was his own. Several peculiarities in the prisoner's appearance now struck him. It was quite clear—as sure as death and as obvious as his sin. He had sentenced his own son.
For a. while there was no change in the position of either the man or the woman. Then the woman swayed forward, and laid her face on the man's feet.
"Save him, save him," she gasped.
Kellson stooped, lifted her from the ground, and placed her in the chair. He was struck by her extreme lightness.
"Rachel," he said, "I never knew of this. What can I say to you now but, 'God help us both—or all three of us.' I can give you no hope, but come and see me to-morrow morning at the Office."
This seemed to comfort her. She stood up, faltered a "Good night," and went out of the house with feeble steps.
Kellson sat down in his chair and thought. His brain was quite calm, and his mind was clear, He heard the rumble of the waggon, and the voice of the boy shouting to the bullocks as he drove the team. He stood up, and mechanically seized his hat and stick. He wondered where the keys of the Office were kept. He would go down to the Office, find the record, and strike the lashes out of the sentence. No—the sentence must stand. The one stainless record which his conscience held up to him, was that of his public life. He had never yet done a deed in his official capacity of which he was ashamed. He must not, at the close of his career, be guilty of a dishonourable action. The prisoner richly deserved his sentence. Let him undergo it.
"At the close of his career." Yes, for Kellson felt that he could no longer live. His limit of endurance had been reached. Life had for some years past been a sore burthen, and now he could carry it no longer. Had he not longed for a child—for a son? Did he not know that such would have made his wife a happy woman and him a contented man? To live, to know of that degraded thing, for whose existence he was responsible, being there at the convict station amongst the other human animals, and becoming lower and more degraded every day. To look forward through two long years of misery and apprehension to the return of—his son. His son—a strange yearning towards the vicious creature he had carelessly glanced at that morning, took possession of him. He started up again, and seized his hat. He would go down, even though it were nearly midnight, and get the gaoler to admit him to the prisoner's cell. He made a few steps towards the door, and then stopped. No, better not. Reality would blast the delicate glamour-bloom with which his imagination had clothed for the moment that sordid form. It was the beauty of the eyes that haunted him. He knew that these imaginings were false. In another moment they were gone. What—after two years to meet that horrible cringing creature with the angel's eyes, in the street, and know him as his son—his son that he had asked God for in the days when he used to pray. Better a hundred deaths.
Suicide. Why not? Suicide was said to be disgraceful. Why? Other nations, more civilised in some respects than ours, had held it to be honourable. Not if one has responsibilities. His wife—well—he shrewdly suspected that she would be glad of her freedom. He had no child——Oh, God! Yes he had.
Disgrace to his wife and to his other relations. Ah! here came in the beauty of his plan. Suicide would never be suspected.
Kellson went into the bedroom and opened his portmanteau. From the pocket of the partition he took a little bottle of chloral hydrate, a drug which he was in the habit of using when insomnia pressed heavily upon him, as it periodically did. The chloral was in five-grain tabloids. His usual dose was three tabloids or fifteen grains. He now counted twenty tabloids into a tumbler, which he half filled with water.
The front door was still open, and Kellson, remembering this, went to shut it. The moon had now soared high above the mountain, and a spectacle, wonderfully and wildly beautiful, was revealed. Kellson walked into the garden and gazed on it. The mist, no longer smooth and clinging, but drawn and curled into fantastic wreaths, was rising slowly into the windless sky. The tired-out man took one lingering look, and then walked quickly into the house. He locked the front door and went into the bedroom.
He undressed quietly and got into bed, after laying his clothes tidily on one of the chairs. The chloral had not yet quite melted, so he took his tooth-brush and stirred the contents of the tumbler with the handle. In a few moments the last tabloid had dissolved.
Kellson blew the candle out and took a sip of the chloral mixture. It was so strong that it made him cough. He lit the candle and added more water. It then struck him that the room might smell close when the people entered it on the morrow, so he got up and opened the window wide. He then returned to bed, drank off the contents of the tumbler, and lay down.
For one wild moment terror at the lowering face of Death took possession of his soul. It was as though he could sec the awful features taking form out of the darkness. The dread destroyer that he had with daring hand roused unseasonably from his lair, seemed to fill the room—the house—the sky—and call him forth in tones of thunder to the black and freezing void. Light! Light!