A TALE OF THE GREAT TREK
H. RIDER HAGGARD
Ditchingham, 20th May, 1898.
My dear Clarke,
Over twenty years have passed since we found some unique opportunities of observing Boer and Kaffir character in company; therefore it is not perhaps out of place that I should ask you to allow me to put your name upon a book which deals more or less with the peculiarities of those races—a tale of the great Trek of 1836.
You, as I know, entertain both for Dutchman and Bantu that regard tempered by a sense of respectful superiority which we are apt to feel for those who on sundry occasions have but just failed in bringing our earthly career to an end. The latter of these admirations I share to the full; and in the case of the first of them, as I hope that the dour but not unkindly character of Vrouw Botmar will prove to you, time softens a man's judgment. Nor have I ever questioned, as the worthy Vrouw tells us, that in the beginning of the trouble the Boers met with much of which to complain at the hands of English Governments. Their maltreatment was not intentional indeed, but rather a result of systematic neglect—to use a mild word—of colonies and their inhabitants, which has culminated within our own experience, only, thanks to a merciful change in public opinion, to pass away for ever. Sympathy with the Voortrekkers of 1836 is easy; whether it remains so in the case of their descendants, the present masters of the Transvaal, is a matter that admits of many opinions. At the least, allowance should always be made for the susceptibilities of a race that finds its individuality and national life sinking slowly, but without hope of resurrection, beneath an invading flood of Anglo-Saxons.
But these are issues of to-day with which this story has little to do.
Without further explanation, then, I hope that you will accept these pages in memory of past time and friendship, and more especially of the providential events connected with a night-long ride which once we took on duty together among the "schanzes" and across the moon-lit paths of Secocoeni's mountain.
Believe me, my dear Clarke, Your sincere friend, H. Rider Haggard.
To Lieut.-Colonel Sir Marshal Clarke, R.A., K.C.M.G.
WHY VROUW BOTMAR TELLS HER TALE
It is a strange thing that I, an old Boer vrouw, should even think of beginning to write a book when there are such numbers already in the world, most of them worthless, and many of the rest a scandal and offence in the face of the Lord. Notably is this so in the case of those called novels, which are stiff as mealie-pap with lies that fill the heads of silly girls with vain imaginings, causing them to neglect their household duties and to look out of the corners of their eyes at young men of whom their elders do not approve. In truth, my mother and those whom I knew in my youth, fifty years ago, when women were good and worthy and never had a thought beyond their husbands and their children, would laugh aloud could any whisper in their dead ears that Suzanne Naude was about to write a book. Well might they laugh indeed, seeing that to this hour the most that I can do with men and ink is to sign my own name very large; in this matter alone, not being the equal of my husband Jan, who, before he became paralysed, had so much learning that he could read aloud from the Bible, leaving out the names and long words.
No, no, I am not going to write; it is my great-granddaughter, who is named Suzanne after me, who writes. And who that had not seen her at the work could even guess how she does it? I tell you that she has brought up from Durban a machine about the size of a pumpkin which goes tap-tap—like a woodpecker, and prints as it taps. Now, my husband Jan was always very fond of music in his youth, and when first the girl began to tap upon this strange instrument, he, being almost blind and not able to see it, thought that she was playing on a spinet such as stood in my grandfather's house away in the Old Colony. The noise pleases him and sends him to sleep, reminding him of the days when he courted me and I used to strum upon that spinet with one finger. Therefore I am dictating this history that he may have plenty of it, and that Suzanne may be kept out of mischief.
There, that is my joke. Still there is truth in it, for Jan Botmar, my husband, he who was the strongest man among the fathers of the great trek of 1836, when, like the Israelites of old, we escaped from the English, our masters, into the wilderness, crouches in the corner yonder a crippled giant with but one sense left to him, his hearing, and a little power of wandering speech. It is strange to look at him, his white hair hanging upon his shoulders, his eyes glazed, his chin sunk upon his breast, his great hands knotted and helpless, and to remember that at the battle of Vechtkop, when Moselikatse sent his regiments to crush us, I saw those same hands of his seize the only two Zulus who broke a way into our laager and shake and dash them together till they were dead.
Well, well, who am I that I should talk? For has not the dropsy got hold of my legs, and did not that doctor, who, though an Englishman, is no fool, tell me but yesterday that it was creeping up towards my heart? We are old and soon must die, for such is the will of God. Let us then thank God that it is our lot to pass thus easily and in age, and not to have perished in our youth, as did so many of our companions, the Voortrekkers, they and their children together, by the spear of the savage, or by starvation and fever and wild beasts in the wilderness. Ah! I think of them often, and in my sleep, which has grown light of late, I see them often, and hear those voices that none but I would know to-day. I think of them and I see them, and since Suzanne has the skill to set down my words, a desire comes upon me to tell of them and their deeds before God takes me by the hand and I am borne through the darkness by the wings of God.
Also there is another reason. The girl, Suzanne Kenzie, my great-granddaughter, who writes this, alone is left of my blood, since her father and grandfather, who was our adopted son, and the husband of our only child, fell in the Zulu war fighting with the English against Cetywayo. Now many have heard the strange story of Ralph Kenzie, the English castaway, and of how he was found by our daughter Suzanne. Many have heard also the still stranger story of how this child of ours, Suzanne, in her need, was sheltered by savages, and for more than two years lived with Sihamba, the little witch doctoress and ruler of the Tribe of the Mountains, till Ralph, her husband, who loved her, sought her out and rescued her, that by the mercy of the Lord during all this time had suffered neither harm nor violence. Yes, many have heard of these things, for in bygone years there was much talk of them as of events out of nature and marvellous, but few have heard them right. Therefore before I go, I, who remember and know them all, would set them down that they may be a record for ever among my descendants and the descendants of Ralph Kenzie, my foster-son, who, having been brought up amongst us Boers, was the best and bravest Englishman that ever lived in Africa.
And now I will tell of the finding of Ralph Kenzie many years ago.
To begin at the beginning, my husband, Jan Botmar, is one of the well-known Boer family of that name, the most of whom lived in the Graafreinet district in the Old Colony till some of them trekked into the Transkei, when I was still a young girl, to be as far as they could from the heart of the British power. Nor did they trek for a little reason. Listen and judge.
One of the Bezuidenhouts, Frederick, was accused of treating some black slave of his cruelly, and a body of the accursed Pandours, the Hottentots whom the English had made into a regiment, were sent to arrest him. He would not suffer that these black creatures should lay hands upon a Boer, so he fled to a cave and fought there till he was shot dead. Over his open grave his brethren and friends swore to take vengeance for his murder, and fifty of them raised an insurrection. They were pursued by the Pandours and by burghers more law abiding or more cautious, till Jan Bezuidenhout, the brother of Frederick, was shot also, fighting to the last while his wife and little son loaded the rifles. Then the rest were captured and put upon their trial, and to the rage and horror of all their countrymen the brutal British governor of that day, who was named Somerset, ordered five of them to be hanged, among them my husband's father and uncle. Petitions for mercy availed nothing, and these five were tied to a beam like Kaffir dogs yonder at Slagter's Nek, they who had shed the blood of no man. Yes, yes, it is true, for Jan, my man, saw it; he saw his father and his uncle hanged like dogs. When they pushed them from the beam four of the ropes broke—perhaps they had been tampered with, I know not—but still the devils who murdered them would show no mercy. Jan ran to his father and cast his arms about him, but they tore him away.
"Do not forget, my son," he gasped as he lay there on the ground with the broken rope about his neck, nor did Jan ever forget.
It was after this that the Botmars trekked into the Transkei, and with them some other families, amongst whom were the Naudes, my parents. Here in the Transkei the widow Botmar and my father were near neighbours, their steads being at a distance from each other of about three hours upon horseback, or something over twenty miles. In those days, I may say it without shame now, I was the prettiest girl in the Transkei, a great deal prettier than my granddaughter Suzanne there, although some think well of her looks, but not so well as she thinks of them herself, for that would be impossible. I have been told that I have noble French blood in my veins, though I care little for this, being quite content to be one of the Boers, who are all of noble blood. At least I believe that my great-grandfather was a French Huguenot Count who fled from his country to escape massacre because of his religion. From him and his wife Suzanne, so it is said, we women of the Naudes get our beauty, for we have always been beautiful; but the loveliest of the race by far was my daughter Suzanne who married the Englishman, Ralph Kenzie, from which time our good looks have begun to fall off, though it is true that he was no ill-favoured man.
Whatever the cause, in my youth, I was not like the other Boer girls, who for the most part are stout, heavy, and slow of speech, even before they are married, nor did I need to wear a kapje to keep a pink and white face from burning in the sun. I was not tall, but my figure was rounded and my movements were as quick as my tongue. Also I had brown hair that curled and brown eyes beneath it, and full red lips, which all the young men of that district—and there were six of them who can be counted—would have given their best horse to kiss, with the saddle and bridle thrown in. But remember this, Suzanne, I never suffered them to do so, for in my time girls knew better what was right.
Well, among all these suitors I favoured Jan Botmar, the old cripple who sits yonder, though in those days he was no cripple but the properest man a girl could wish to see. My father was against such a match, for he had the old French pride of race in him, and thought little of the Botmar family, as though we were not all the children of one God—except the black Kaffirs, who are the children of the devil. But in the end he gave way, for Jan was well-to-do; so after we had "opsitted" together several times according to our customs, and burnt many very long candles,[*] we were married and went to live on a farm of our own at a distance. For my part I have never regretted it, although doubtless I might have done much better for myself; and if Jan did, he has been wise enough not to say so to me. In this country most of us women must choose a man to look after—it is a burden that Heaven lays upon us—so one may as well choose him one fancies, and Jan was my fancy, though why he should have been I am sure I do not know. Well, if he had any wits left he would speak up and tell what a blessing I have been to him, and how often my good sense has supplied the lack of his, and how I forgave him, yes, and helped him out of the scrape when he made a fool of himself with—but I will not write of that, for it makes me angry, and as likely as not I should throw something at him before I had finished, which he would not understand.
[*] It is customary among the Boers for the suitor to sit up alone at night with the object of his choice. Should the lady favour him, she lights long candles, but if he does not please her she produces "ends," signifying thereby that she prefers his room to his company.—Author.
No, no; I do not regret it, and, what is more, when my man dies I shall not be long behind him. Ah! they may talk, all these wise young people; but, after all, what is there better for a woman than to love some man, the good and the bad of him together, to bear his children and to share his sorrows, and to try to make him a little better and a little less selfish and unfortunate than he would have been alone? Poor men! Without us women their lot would be hard indeed, and how they will get on in heaven, where they are not allowed to marry, is more than I can guess.
So we married, and within a year our daughter was born and christened by the family name of Suzanne after me, though almost from her cradle the Kaffirs called her "Swallow," I am not sure why. She was a very beautiful child from the first, and she was the only one, for I was ill at her birth and never had any more children. The other women with their coveys of eight and ten and twelve used to condole with me about this, and get a sharp answer for their pains. I had one which always shut their mouths, but I won't ask the girl here to set it down. An only daughter was enough for me, I said, and if it wasn't I shouldn't have told them so, for the truth is that it is best to take these things as we find them, and whether it be one or ten, to declare that that is just as we would wish it. I know that when we were on the great trek and I saw the kinderchies of others dying of starvation, or massacred in dozens by the Kaffir devils, ah! then I was glad that we had no more children. Heartaches enough my ewe lamb Suzanne gave me during those bitter years when she was lost. And when she died, having lived out her life just before her husband, Ralph Kenzie, went on commando with his son to the Zulu war, whither her death drove him, ah! then it ached for the last time. When next my heart aches it shall be with joy to find them both in Heaven.
HOW SUZANNE FOUND RALPH KENZIE
Our farm where we lived in the Transkei was not very far from the ocean; indeed, any one seated in the kopje or little hill at the back of the house, from the very top of which bubbles a spring of fresh water, can see the great rollers striking the straight cliffs of the shore and spouting into the air in clouds of white foam. Even in warm weather they spout thus, but when the south-easterly gales blow then the sight and the sound of them are terrible as they rush in from the black water one after another for days and nights together. Then the cliffs shiver beneath their blows, and the spray flies up as though it were driven from the nostrils of a thousand whales, and is swept inland in clouds, turning the grass and the leaves of the trees black in its breath. Woe to the ship that is caught in those breakers and ground against those rocks, for soon nothing is left of it save scattered timbers shivered as though by lightning.
One winter—it was when Suzanne was seven years old—such a south-east gale as this blew for four days, and on a certain evening after the wind had fallen, having finished my household work, I went to the top of the kopje to rest and look at the sea, which was still raging terrible, taking with me Suzanne. I had been sitting there ten minutes or more when Jan, my husband, joined me, and I wondered why he had come, for he, as brave a man as ever lived in all other things, was greatly afraid of the sea, and, indeed, of any water. So afraid was he that he did not like the sight of it in its anger, and would wake at nights at the sound of a storm—yes, he whom I have seen sleep through the trumpetings of frightened elephants and the shouting of a Zulu impi.
"You think that sight fine, wife," he said, pointing to the spouting foam; "but I call it the ugliest in the world. Almighty! it turns my blood cold to look at it and to think that Christian men, ay, and women and children too, may be pounding to pulp in those breakers."
"Without doubt the death is as good as another," I answered; "not that I would choose it, for I wish to die in my bed with the predicant saying prayers over me, and my husband weeping—or pretending to—at the foot of it."
"Choose it!" he said. "I had sooner be speared by savages or hanged by the English Government as my father was."
"What makes you think of death in the sea, Jan?" I asked.
"Nothing, wife, nothing; but there is that fool of a Pondo witch-doctoress down by the cattle kraal, and I heard her telling a story as I went by to look at the ox that the snake bit yesterday."
"What was the story?"
"Oh! a short one; she said she had it from the coast Kaffirs—that far away, up towards the mouth of the Umzimbubu, when the moon was young, great guns had been heard fired one after the other, minute by minute, and that then a ship was seen, a tall ship with three masts and many 'eyes' in it—I suppose she meant portholes with the light shining through them—drifting on to the coast before the wind, for a storm was raging, while streaks of fire like red and blue lightnings rushed up from her decks."
"Well, and then?"
"And then, nothing. Almighty! that is all the tale. Those waves which you love to watch can tell the rest."
"Most like it is some Kaffir lie, husband."
"May be, but amongst these people news travels faster than a good horse, and before now there have been wrecks upon this coast. Child, put down that gun. Do you want to shoot your mother? Have I not told you that you must never touch a gun?" and he pointed to Suzanne, who had picked up her father's roer—for in those days, when we lived among so many Kaffirs, every man went armed—and was playing at soldiers with it.
"I was shooting buck and Kaffirs, papa," she said, obeying him with a pout.
"Shooting Kaffirs, were you? Well, there will be a good deal of that to do before all is finished in this land, little one. But it is not work for girls; you should have been a boy, Suzanne."
"I can't; I am a girl," she answered; "and I haven't any brothers like other girls. Why haven't I any brothers?"
Jan shrugged his shoulders, and looked at me.
"Won't the sea bring me a brother?" went on the child, for she had been told that little children came out of the sea.
"Perhaps, if you look for one very hard," I answered with a sigh, little knowing what fruit would spring from this seed of a child's talk.
On the morrow there was a great to do about the place, for the black girl whose business it was to look after Suzanne came in at breakfast time and said that she had lost the child. It seemed that they had gone down to the shore in the early morning to gather big shells such as are washed up there after a heavy storm, and that Suzanne had taken with her a bag made of spring-buck hide in which to carry them. Well, the black girl sat down under the shadow of a rock, leaving Suzanne to wander to and fro looking for the shells, and not for an hour or more did she get up to find her. Then she searched in vain, for the spoor of the child's feet led from the sand between the rocks to the pebbly shore above, which was covered with tough sea grasses, and there was lost. Now at the girl's story I was frightened, and Jan was both frightened and so angry that he would have tied her up and flogged her if he had found time. But of this there was none to lose, so taking with him such Kaffirs as he could find he set off for the seashore to hunt for Suzanne. It was near sunset when he returned, and I, who was watching from the stoep, saw with a shiver of fear that he was alone.
"Wife," he said in a hollow voice, "the child is lost. We have searched far and wide and can find no trace of her. Make food ready to put in my saddle-bags, for should we discover her to-night or to-morrow, she will be starving."
"Be comforted," I said, "at least she will not starve, for the cook girl tells me that before Suzanne set out this morning she begged of her a bottle of milk and with it some biltong and meal cakes and put them in her bag."
"It is strange," he answered. "What could the little maid want with these unless she was minded to make a journey?"
"At times it comes into the thoughts of children to play truant, husband."
"Yes, yes, that is so, but pray God that we may find her before the moon sets."
Then while I filled the saddle-bags Jan swallowed some meat, and a fresh horse having been brought he kissed me and rode away in the twilight.
Oh! what hours were those that followed! All night long I sat there on the stoep, though the wind chilled me and the dew wet my clothes, watching and praying as, I think, I never prayed before. This I knew well—that our Suzanne, our only child, the light and joy of our home, was in danger so great that the Lord alone could save her. The country where we lived was lonely, savages still roamed about it who hated the white man, and might steal or kill her; also it was full of leopards, hyenas, and other beasts of prey which would devour her. Worst of all, the tides on the coast were swift and treacherous, and it well might happen that if she was wandering among the great rocks the sea would come in and drown her. Indeed, again and again it seemed to me that I could hear her death-cry in the sob of the wind.
At length the dawn broke, and with it came Jan. One glance at his face was enough for me. "She is not dead?" I gasped.
"I know not," he answered, "we have found nothing of her. Give me brandy and another horse, for the sun rises, and I return to the search. The tide is down, perhaps we shall discover her among the rocks," and he groaned and entered the house with me.
"Kneel down and let us pray, husband," I said, and we knelt down weeping and praying aloud to our God who, seated in the Heavens, yet sees and knows the needs and griefs of His servants upon the earth; prayed that He would pity our agony and give us back our only child. Nor, blessed be his name, did we pray vainly, for presently, while we still knelt, we heard the voice of that girl who had lost Suzanne, and who all night long had lain sobbing in the garden grounds, calling to us in wild accents to come forth and see. Then we rushed out, hope burning up suddenly in our hearts like a fire in dry grass.
In front of the house and not more than thirty paces from it, was the crest of a little wave of land upon which at this moment the rays of the rising sun struck brightly. There, yes, there, full in the glow of them, stood the child Suzanne, wet, disarrayed, her hair hanging about her face, but unharmed and smiling, and leaning on her shoulder another child, a white boy, somewhat taller and older than herself. With a cry of joy we rushed towards her, and reaching her the first, for my feet were the swiftest, I snatched her to my breast and kissed her, whereon the boy fell down, for it seemed that his foot was hurt and he could not stand alone.
"In the name of Heaven, what is the meaning of this?" gasped Jan.
"What should it mean," answered the little maid proudly, "save that I went to look for the brother whom you said I might find by the sea if I searched hard enough, and I found him, though I do not understand his words or he mine. Come, brother, let me help you up, for this is our home, and here are our father and mother."
Then, filled with wonder, we carried the children into the house, and took their wet clothes off them. It was I who undressed the boy, and noted that though his garments were in rags and foul, yet they were of a finer stuff than any that I had seen, and that his linen, which was soft as silk, was marked with the letters R. M. Also I noted other things: namely, that so swollen were his little feet that the boots must be cut off them, and that he was well-nigh dead of starvation, for his bones almost pierced his milk-white skin.
Well, we cleaned him, and having wrapped him in blankets and soft-tanned hides, I fed him with broth a spoonful at a time, for had I let him eat all he would, he was so famished that I feared lest he should kill himself. After he was somewhat satisfied, sad memories seemed to come back to him, for he cried and spoke in England, repeating the word "Mother," which I knew, again and again, till presently he dropped off to sleep, and for many hours slept without waking. Then, little by little, I drew all the tale from Suzanne.
It would seem that the child, who was very venturesome and full of imaginings, had dreamed a dream in her bed on the night of the day when she played with the gun and Jan and I had spoken together of the sea. She dreamed that in a certain kloof, an hour's ride and more away from the stead, she heard the voice of a child praying, and that although he prayed in a tongue unknown to her, she understood the words, which were: "O Father, my mother is dead, send some one to help me, for I am starving." Moreover, looking round her in her dream, though she could not see the child from whom the voice came, yet she knew the kloof, for as it chanced she had been there twice, once with me to gather white lilies for the burial of a neighbour who had died, and once with her father, who was searching for a lost ox. Now Suzanne, having lived so much with her elders, was very quick, and she was sure when she woke in the morning that if she said anything about her dream we should laugh at her and should not allow her to go to the place of which she had dreamt. Therefore it was that she made the plan of seeking for the shells upon the seashore, and of slipping away from the woman who was with her, and therefore also she begged the milk and the biltong.
Now before I go further I would ask, What was this dream of Suzanne's? Did she invent it after the things to which it pointed had come to pass, or was it verily a vision sent by God to the pure heart of a little child, as aforetime He sent a vision to the heart of the infant Samuel? Let each solve the riddle as he will, only, if it were nothing but an imagination, why did she take the milk and food? Because we had been talking on that evening of her finding a brother by the sea, you may answer. Well, perhaps so; let each solve the riddle as he will.
When Suzanne escaped from her nurse she struck inland, and thus it happened that her feet left no spoor upon the hard, dry veldt. Soon she found that the kloof she sought was further off than she thought for, or, perhaps, she lost her way to it, for the hillsides are scarred with such kloofs, and it might well chance that a child would mistake one for the other. Still she went on, though she grew frightened in the lonely wilderness, where great bucks sprang up at her feet and baboons barked at her as they clambered from rock to rock. On she went, stopping only once or twice to drink a little of the milk and eat some food, till, towards sunset, she found the kloof of which she had dreamed. For a while she wandered about in it, following the banks of a stream, till at length, as she passed a dense clump of mimosa bushes, she heard the faint sound of a child's voice—the very voice of her dream. Now she stopped, and turning to the right, pushed her way through the mimosas, and there beyond them was a dell, and in the centre of the dell a large flat rock, and on the rock a boy praying, the rays of the setting sun shining in his golden, tangled hair. She went to the child and spoke to him, but he could not understand our tongue, nor could she understand his. Then she drew out what was left of the bottle of milk and some meal cakes and gave them to him, and he ate and drank greedily.
By this time the sun was down, and as they did not dare to move in the dark, the children sat together on the rock, clasped in each other's arms for warmth, and as they sat they saw yellow eyes staring at them through the gloom, and heard strange snoring sounds, and were afraid. At length the moon rose, and in its first rays they perceived standing and walking within a few paces of them three tigers, as we call leopards, two of them big and one half-grown. But the tigers did them no harm, for God forbade them; they only looked at them a little and then slipped away, purring as they went.
Now Suzanne rose, and taking the boy by the hand she began to lead him homeward, very slowly, since he was footsore and exhausted, and for the last half of the way could only walk resting upon her shoulder. Still through the long night they crawled forward, for the kopje at the back of our stead was a guide to Suzanne, stopping from time to time to rest a while, till at the breaking of the dawn with their last strength they came to the house, as has been told.
Well it was that they did so, for it seems that the searchers had already sought them in the very kloof where they were hidden, without seeing anything of them behind the thick screen of the mimosas, and having once sought doubtless they would have returned there no more, for the hills are wide and the kloofs in them many.
THE STORY OF THE SHIPWRECK
"What shall we do with this boy whom Suzanne has brought to us, wife?" asked Jan of me that day while both the children lay asleep.
"Do with him, husband!" I answered; "we shall keep him; he is the Lord's gift."
"He is English, and I hate the English," said Jan, looking down.
"English or Dutch, husband, he is of noble blood, and the Lord's gift, and to turn him away would be to turn away our luck."
"But how if his people come to seek him?"
"When they come we will talk of it, but I do not think that they will come; I think that the sea has swallowed them all."
After that Jan said no more of this matter for many years; indeed I believe that from the first he desired to keep the child, he who was sonless.
Now while the boy lay asleep Jan mounted his horse and rode for two hours to the stead of our neighbour, the Heer van Vooren. This Van Vooren was a very rich man, by far the richest of us outlying Boers, and he had come to live in these wilds because of some bad act that he had done; I think that it was the shooting of a coloured person when he was angry. He was a strange man and much feared, sullen in countenance, and silent by nature. It was said that his grandmother was a chieftainess among the red Kaffirs, but if so, the blood showed more in his son and only child than in himself. Of this son, who in after years was named Swart Piet, and his evil doings I shall have to tell later in my story, but even then his dark face and savage temper had earned for him the name of "the little Kaffir."
Now the wife of the Heer van Vooren was dead, and he had a tutor for his boy Piet, a poor Hollander body who could speak English. That man knew figures also, for once when, thinking that I should be too clever for him, I asked him how often the wheel of our big waggon would turn round travelling between our farm and Capetown Castle, he took a rule and measured the wheel, then having set down some figures on a bit of paper, and worked at them for a while, he told me the answer. Whether it was right or wrong I did not know, and said so, whereon the poor creature grew angry, and lied in his anger, for he swore that he could tell how often the wheel would turn in travelling from the earth to the sun or moon, and also how far we were from those great lamps, a thing that is known to God only, Who made them for our comfort. It is little wonder, therefore, that with such unholy teaching Swart Piet grew up so bad.
Well, Jan went to beg the loan of this tutor, thinking that he would be able to understand what the English boy said, and in due course the creature came in a pair of blue spectacles and riding on a mule, for he dared not trust himself to a horse. Afterwards, when the child woke up from his long sleep, and had been fed and dressed, the tutor spoke with him in that ugly English tongue of which I could never even bear the sound, and this was the story that he drew from him.
It seems that the boy, who gave his name as Ralph Kenzie, though I believe that really it was Ralph Mackenzie, was travelling with his father and mother and many others from a country called India, which is one of those places that the English have stolen in different parts of the world, as they stole the Cape and Natal and all the rest. They travelled for a long while in a big ship, for India is a long way off, till, when they were near this coast, a storm sprang up, and after the wind had blown for two days they were driven on rocks a hundred miles or more away from our stead. So fierce was the sea and so quickly did the ship break to pieces that only one boat was got out, which, except for a crew of six men, was filled with women and children. In this boat the boy Ralph and his mother were given a place, but his father did not come, although the captain begged him, for he was a man of some importance, whose life was of more value than those of common people. But he refused, for he said that he would stop and share the fate of the other men, which shows that this English lord, for I think he was a lord, had a high spirit. So he kissed his wife and child and blessed them, and the boat was lowered to the sea, but before another could be got ready the great ship slipped back from the rock upon which she hung and sank (for this we heard afterwards from some Kaffirs who saw it), and all aboard of her were drowned. May God have mercy upon them!
When it was near to the shore the boat was overturned, and some of those in it were drowned, but Ralph and his mother were cast safely on the beach, and with them others. Then one of the men looked at a compass and they began to walk southwards, hoping doubtless to reach country where white people lived. All that befell afterwards I cannot tell, for the poor child was too frightened and bewildered to remember, but it seems that the men were killed in a fight with natives, who, however, did not touch the women and children. After that the women and the little ones died one by one of hunger and weariness, or were taken by wild beasts, till at last none were left save Ralph and his mother. When they were alone they met a Kaffir woman, who gave them as much food as they could carry, and by the help of this food they struggled on southward for another five or six days, till at length one morning, after their food was gone, Ralph woke to find his mother cold and dead beside him.
When he was sure that she was dead he was much frightened, and ran away as fast as he could. All that day he staggered forward, till in the evening he came to the kloof, and being quite exhausted, knelt upon the flat stone to pray, as he had been taught to do, and there Suzanne found him. Such was the story, and so piteous it seemed to us that we wept as we listened, yes, even Jan wept, and the tutor snivelled and wiped his weak eyes.
That it was true in the main we learned afterwards from the Kaffirs, a bit here and a bit there. Indeed, one of our own people, while searching for Suzanne, found the body of Ralph's mother and buried it. He said that she was a tall and noble-looking lady, not much more than thirty years of age. We did not dig her up again to look at her, as perhaps we should have done, for the Kaffir declared that she had nothing on her except some rags and two rings, a plain gold one and another of emeralds, with a device carved upon it, and in the pocket of her gown a little book bound in red, that proved to be a Testament, on the fly leaf of which was written in English, "Flora Gordon, the gift of her mother, Agnes Janey Gordon, on her confirmation," and with it a date.
All these things the Kaffir brought home faithfully, also a lock of the lady's fair hair, which he had cut off with his assegai. That lock of hair labelled in writing—remember it, Suzanne, when I am gone—is in the waggon box which stands beneath my bed. The other articles Suzanne here has, as is her right, for her grandfather settled them on her by will, and with them one thing which I forgot to mention. When we undressed the boy Ralph, we found hanging by a gold chain to his neck, where he said his mother placed it the night before she died, a large locket, also of gold. This locket contained three little pictures painted on ivory, one in each half of it and one with the plain gold back on a hinge between them. That to the right was of a handsome man in uniform, who, Ralph told me, was his father (and indeed he left all this in writing, together with his will); that to the left, of a lovely lady in a low dress, who, he said, was his mother; that in the middle a portrait of the boy himself, as anyone could see, which must have been painted not more than a year before we found him. This locket and the pictures my great-granddaughter Suzanne has also.
Now, as I have said, we let that unhappy lady lie in her rude grave yonder by the sea, but my husband took men and built a cairn of stones over it and a strong wall about it, and there it stands to this day, for not long ago I met one of the folk from the Old Colony who had seen it, and who told me that the people that live in those parts now reverence the spot, knowing its story. Also, when some months afterwards a minister came to visit us, we led him to the place and he read the Burial Service over the lady's bones, so that she did not lack for Christian Burial.
Well, this wreck made a great stir, for many were drowned in it, and the English Government sent a ship of war to visit the place where it happened, but none came to ask us what we knew of the matter; indeed, we never learned that the frigate had been till she was gone again. So it came about that the story died away, as such stories do in this sad world, and for many years we heard no more of it.
For a while the boy Ralph was like a haunted child. At night, and now and again even in the daytime, he would be seized with terror, and sob and cry in a way that was piteous to behold, though not to be wondered at by any who knew his history. When these fits took him, strange as it may seem, there was but one who could calm his heart, and that one Suzanne. I can see them now as I have seen them thrice that I remember, the boy sitting up in his bed, a stare of agony in his eyes, and the sweat running down his face, damping his yellow hair, and talking rapidly, half in English, half in Dutch, with a voice that at times would rise to a scream, and at times would sink to a whisper, of the shipwreck, of his lost parents, of the black Indian woman who nursed him, of the wilderness, the tigers, and the Kaffirs who fell on them, and many other things. By him sits Suzanne, a soft kaross of jackal skins wrapped over her nightgown, the dew of sleep still showing upon her childish face and in her large dark eyes. By him she sits, talking in some words which for us have little meaning, and in a voice now shrill, and now sinking to a croon, while with one hand she clasps his wrist, and with the other strokes his brow, till the shadow passes from his soul and, clinging close to her, he sinks back to sleep.
But as the years went by these fits grew rarer till at last they ceased altogether, since, thanks be to God, childhood can forget its grief. What did not cease, however, was the lad's love for Suzanne, or her love for him, which, if possible, was yet deeper. Brother may love sister, but that affection, however true, yet lacks something, since nature teaches that it can never be complete. But from the beginning—yes, even while they were children—these twain were brother and sister, friend and friend, lover and lover; and so they remained till life left them, and so they will remain for aye in whatever life they live. Their thought was one thought, their heart was one heart; in them was neither variableness nor shadow of turning; they were each of each, to each and for each, as one soul in their separate spirits, as one flesh in their separate bodies. I who write this am a very old woman, and though in many things I am most ignorant, I have seen much of the world and of the men who live in it, yet I say that never have I known any marvel to compare with the marvel and the beauty of the love between Ralph Kenzie, the castaway, and my sweet daughter, Suzanne. It was of heaven, not of earth; or, rather, like everything that is perfect, it partook both of earth and heaven. Yes, yes, it wandered up the mountain paths of earth to the pure heights of heaven, where now it dwells for ever.
The boy Ralph grew up fair and brave and strong, with keen grey eyes and a steady mouth, nor did I know any lad of his years who could equal him in strength and swiftness of foot; for, though in youth he was not over tall, he was broad in the breast and had muscles that never seemed to tire. Now, we Boers think little of book learning, holding, as we do, that if a man can read the Holy Word it is enough. Still Jan and I thought as Ralph was not of our blood, though otherwise in all ways a son to us, that it was our duty to educate him as much in the fashion of his own people as our circumstances would allow. Therefore, after he had been with us some two years, when one day the Hollander tutor man, with the blue spectacles, of whom I have spoken, rode up to our house upon his mule, telling us that he had fled from the Van Voorens because he could no longer bear witness to the things that were practised at their stead, we engaged him to teach Ralph and Suzanne. He remained with us six years, by which time both the children had got much learning from him; though how much it is not for me, who have none, to judge. They learnt history and reading and writing, and something of the English tongue, but I need scarcely say that I would not suffer him to teach them to pry into the mystery of God's stars, as he wished to do, for I hold that such lore is impious and akin to witchcraft of which I have seen enough from Sihamba and others.
I asked this Hollander more particularly why he had fled from the Van Voorens, but he would tell me little more than that it was because of the wizardries practised there. If I might believe him, the Heer Van Vooren made a custom of entertaining Kaffir witch doctors and doctoresses at his house, and of celebrating with them secret and devilish rites, to which his son, Swart Piet, was initiated in his presence. That this last story was true I have no doubt indeed, seeing that the events of after years prove it to have been so.
Well, at last the Hollander left us to marry a rich old vrouw twenty years his senior, and that is all I have to say about him, except that if possible I disliked him more when he walked out of the house than when he walked in; though why I should have done so I do not know, for he was a harmless body. Perhaps it was because he played the flute, which I have always thought contemptible in a man.
THE SHADOW OF THE ENGLISHMEN
Now I will pass on to the time when Ralph was nineteen or thereabouts, and save for the lack of hair upon his face, a man grown, since in our climate young people ripen quickly in body if not in mind. I tell of that year with shame and sorrow, for it was then that Jan and I committed a great sin, for which afterwards we were punished heavily enough.
At the beginning of winter Jan trekked to the nearest dorp, some fifty miles away, with a waggon load of mealies and of buckskins which he and Ralph had shot, purposing to sell them and to attend the Nachtmahl, or Feast of the Lord's Supper. I was somewhat ailing just then and did not accompany him, nor did Suzanne, who stayed to nurse me, or Ralph, who was left to look after us both.
Fourteen days later Jan returned, and from his face I saw at once that something had gone wrong.
"What is it, husband?" I asked. "Did not the mealies sell well?"
"Yes, yes, they sold well," he answered, "for that fool of an English storekeeper bought them and the hides together for more than their value."
"Are the Kaffirs going to rise again, then?"
"No, they are quiet for the present, though the accursed missionaries of the London Society are doing their best to stir them up," and he made a sign to me to cease from asking questions, nor did I say any more till we had gone to bed and everybody else in the house was asleep.
"Now," I said, "tell me your bad news, for bad news you have had."
"Wife," he answered, "it is this. In the dorp yonder I met a man who had come from Port Elizabeth. He told me that there at the port were two Englishmen, who had recently arrived, a Scotch lord, and a lawyer with red hair. When the Englishmen heard that he was from this part of the country they fell into talk with him, saying that they came upon a strange errand. It seems that when the great ship was wrecked upon this coast ten years ago there was lost in her a certain little boy who, if he had lived, would to-day have been a very rich noble in Scotland. Wife, you may know who that little boy was without my telling you his name."
I nodded and turned cold all over my body, for I could guess what was coming.
"Now for a long while those who were interested in him supposed that this lad was certainly dead with all the others on board that ship, but a year or more ago, how I know not, a rumour reached them that one male child who answered to his description had been saved alive and adopted by some boers living in the Transkei. By this time the property and the title that should be his had descended to a cousin of the child's, but this relation being a just man determined before he took them to come to Africa and find out the truth for himself, and there he is at Port Elizabeth, or rather by this time he is on his road to our place. Therefore it would seem that the day is at hand when we shall see the last of Ralph."
"Never!" I said, "he is a son to us and more than a son, and I will not give him up."
"Then they will take him, wife. Yes, even if he does not wish it, for he is a minor and they are armed with authority."
"Oh!" I cried, "it would break my heart, and, Jan, there is another heart that would break also," and I pointed towards the chamber where Suzanne slept.
He nodded, for none could live with them and not know that this youth and maiden loved each other dearly.
"It would break your heart," he answered, "and her heart; yes, and my own would be none the better for the wrench; yet how can we turn this evil from our door?"
"Jan," I said, "the winter is at hand; it is time that you and Ralph should take the cattle to the bush-veldt yonder, where they will lie warm and grow fat, for so large a herd cannot be trusted to the Kaffirs. Had you not better start to-morrow? If these English meddlers should come here I will talk with them. Did Suzanne save the boy for them? Did we rear him for them, although he was English? Think how you will feel when he has crossed the ridge yonder for the last time, you who are sonless, and you must go about your tasks alone, must ride alone and hunt alone, and, if need be, fight alone, except for his memory. Think, Jan, think."
"Do not tempt me, woman," he whispered back in a hoarse voice, for Ralph and he were more to each other than any father and son that I have known, since they were also the dearest of friends. "Do not tempt me," he went on; "the lad must himself be told of this, and he must judge; he is young, but among us at nineteen a youth is a burgher grown, with a right to take up land and marry. He must be told, I say, and at once."
"It is good," I said, "let him judge;" but in the wickedness of my heart I made up my mind that I would find means to help his judgment, for the thought of losing him filled me with blind terror, and all that night I lay awake thinking out the matter.
Early in the morning I rose and went to the stoep, where I found Suzanne drinking coffee and singing a little song that Ralph had taught her. I can see her now as she stood in her pretty tight-fitting dress, a flower wet with dew in her girdle, swinging her kapje by its strings while the first rays of the sun glistened on the waves of her brown and silk-like hair. She was near eighteen then, and so beautiful that my heart beat with pride at her loveliness, for never in my long life have I seen a girl of any nation who could compare with my daughter Suzanne in looks. Many women are sweet to behold in this way or in that; but Suzanne was beautiful every way, yes, and at all ages of her life; as a child, as a maiden, as a matron and as a woman drawing near to eld, she was always beautiful if, like that of the different seasons, her beauty varied. In shape she was straight and tall and rounded, light-footed as a buck, delicate in limb, wide-breasted and slender-necked. Her face was rich in hue as a kloof lily, and her eyes—ah! no antelope ever had eyes darker, tenderer, or more appealing than were the eyes of Suzanne. Moreover, she was sweet of nature, ready of wit and good-hearted—yes, even for the Kaffirs she had a smile.
"You are up betimes, Suzanne," I said when I had looked at her a little.
"Yes, mother; I rose to make Ralph his coffee, he does not like that the Kaffir women should boil it for him."
"You mean that you do not like it," I answered, for I knew that Ralph thought little of who made the coffee that he drank, or if he did it was mine that he held to be the best, and not Suzanne's, who in those days was a careless girl, thinking less of household matters than she should have done.
"Did Swart Piet come here yesterday?" I asked. "I thought that I saw his horse as I walked back from the sea."
"Yes, he came."
She shrugged her shoulders. "Oh! mother, why do you ask me? You know well that he is always troubling me, bringing me presents of flowers, and asking me to opsit with him and what not."
"Then you don't want to opsit with him?"
"The candle would be short that I should burn with Swart Piet," answered Suzanne, stamping her foot; "he is an evil man, full of dark words and ways, and I fear him, for I think that since his father's death he has become worse, and the most of the company he keeps is with those Kaffir witch-doctors."
"Ah! like father, like son. The mantle of Elijah has fallen upon Elisha, but inside out. Well, it is what I expected, for sin and wizardry were born in his blood. Had you any words with him?"
"Yes, some. I would not listen to his sweet talk, so he grew angry and began to threaten; but just then Ralph came back and he went away, for he is afraid of Ralph."
"Where has Ralph gone so early?" I asked, changing the subject.
"To the far cattle-kraal to look after the oxen which the Kaffir bargained to break into the yoke. They are choosing them this morning."
"So. He makes a good Boer for one of English blood, does he not? And yet I suppose that when he becomes English again he will soon forget that he was ever a Boer."
"When he becomes English again, mother! What do you mean by that saying?" she asked quickly.
"I mean that like will to like, and blood to blood; also that there may be a nest far away which this bird that we have caged should fill."
"A nest far away, mother? Then there is one here which would be left empty; in your heart and father's, I mean;" and dropping her sun-bonnet she turned pale and pressed her hands upon her own, adding, "Oh! speak straight words to me. What do you mean by these hints?"
"I mean, Suzanne, that it is not well for any of us to let our love wrap itself too closely about a stranger. Ralph is an Englishman, not a Boer. He names me mother and your father, father; and you he names sister, but to us he is neither son nor brother. Well, a day may come when he learns to understand this, when he learns to understand also that he has other kindred, true kindred far away across the sea; and if those birds call, who will keep him in the strange nest?"
"Ah!" she echoed, all dismayed, "who will keep him then?"
"I do not know," I answered; "not a foster father or mother. But I forgot. Say, did he take his rifle with him to the kraal?"
"Surely, I saw it in his hand."
"Then, daughter, if you will, get on a horse, and if you can find Ralph, tell him that I shall be very glad if he can shoot a small buck and bring it back with him, as I need fresh meat."
"May I stay with him while he shoots the buck, mother?"
"Yes, if you are not in his way and do not stop too long."
Then, without more words, Suzanne left me, and presently I saw her cantering across the veldt upon her grey mare that Ralph had broken for her, and wondered if she would find him and what luck he would have with the hunt that day.
Now it seems that Suzanne found Ralph and gave him my message, and that they started together to look for buck on the strip of land which lies between the seashore and the foot of the hills, where sometimes the blesbok and springbok used to feed in thousands. But on this day there were none to be seen, for the dry grass had already been burnt off, so that there was nothing for them to eat.
"If mother is to get her meat to-day," said Ralph at length, "I think that we must try the hill side for a duiker or a bush-buck."
So they turned inland and rode towards that very kloof where years before Suzanne had discovered the shipwrecked boy. At the mouth of this kloof was a patch of marshy ground, where the reeds still stood thick, since being full of sap they had resisted the fire.
"That is a good place for a riet-buck," said Ralph, "if only one could beat him out of it, for the reeds are too tall to see to shoot in them."
"It can be managed," answered Suzanne. "Do you go and stand in the neck of the kloof while I ride through the reeds towards you."
"You might get bogged," he said doubtfully.
"No, no, brother; after all this drought the pan is nothing more than spongy, and if I should get into a soft spot I will call out."
To this plan Ralph at length agreed, and having ridden round the pan, which was not more than fifty yards across, he dismounted from his horse and hid himself behind a bush in the neck of the kloof. Then Suzanne rode in among the reeds, shouting and singing, and beating them with her sjambock in order to disturb anything that might be hidden there. Nor was her trouble in vain, for suddenly, with a shrill whistle of alarm by the sound of which this kind of antelope may be known even in the dark, up sprang two riet-buck and dashed away towards the neck of the kloof, looking large as donkeys and red as lions as they vanished into the thick cover. So close were they to Suzanne that her mare took fright and reared; but the girl was the best horsewoman in those parts, and kept her seat, calling the while to Ralph to make ready for the buck. Presently she heard a shot, and having quieted the mare, rode out of the reeds and galloped round the dry pan to find Ralph looking foolish with no riet-buck in sight.
"Have you missed them?" she asked.
"No, not so bad as that, for they passed within ten yards of me, but the old gun hung fire. I suppose that the powder in the pan was a little damp, and instead of hitting the buck in front I caught him somewhere behind. He fell down, but has gone on again, so we must follow him, for I don't think that he will get very far."
Accordingly, when Ralph had reloaded his gun, which took some time—for in those days we had scarcely anything but flintlocks—yes, it was with weapons like these that a handful of us beat the hosts of Dingaan and Moselikatse—they started to follow the blood spoor up the kloof, which was not difficult, as the animal had bled much. Near to the top of the kloof the trail led them through a thick clump of mimosas, and there in the dell beyond they found the riet-buck lying dead. Riding to it they dismounted and examined it.
"Poor beast," said Suzanne; "look how the tears have run down its face. Well, I am glad that it is dead and done with," and she sighed and turned away, for Suzanne was a silly and tender-hearted girl who never could understand that the animals—yes, and the heathen Kaffirs, too—were given to us by the Lord for our use and comfort.
Presently she started and said, "Ralph, do you remember this place?"
He glanced round and shook his head, for he was wondering whether he would be able to lift the buck on to the horse without asking Suzanne to help him.
"Look again," she said; "look at that flat stone and the mimosa tree lying on its side near it."
Ralph dropped the leg of the buck and obeyed her, for he would always do as Suzanne bade him, and this time it was his turn to start.
"Almighty!" he said, "I remember now. It was here that you found me, Suzanne, after I was shipwrecked, and the tigers stared at us through the boughs of that fallen tree," and he shivered a little, for the sight of the spot brought back to his heart some of the old terrors which had haunted his childhood.
"Yes, Ralph, it was here that I found you. I heard the sound of your voice as you knelt praying on this stone, and I followed it. God heard that prayer, Ralph."
"And sent an angel to save me in the shape of a little maid," he answered; adding, "Don't blush so red, dear, for it is true that ever since that day, whenever I think of angels, I think of you; and whenever I think of you I think of angels, which shows that you and the angels must be close together."
"Which shows that you are a wicked and silly lad to talk thus to a Boer girl," she answered, turning away with a smile on her lips and tears in her eyes, for his words had pleased her mind and touched her heart.
He looked at her, and she seemed so sweet and beautiful as she stood thus, smiling and weeping together as the sun shines through summer rain, that, so he told me afterwards, something stirred in his breast, something soft and strong and new, which caused him to feel as though of a sudden he had left his boyhood behind him and become a man, aye, and as though this fresh-faced manhood sought but one thing more from Heaven to make it perfect, the living love of the fair maiden who until this hour had been his sister in heart though not in blood.
"Suzanne," he said in a changed voice, "the horses are tired; let them rest, and let us sit upon this stone and talk a little, for though we have never visited it for many years the place is lucky for you and me since it was here that our lives first came together."
Now although Suzanne knew that the horses were not tired she did not think it needful to say him nay.
A LOVE SCENE AND A QUARREL
Presently they were seated side by side upon a stone, Suzanne looking straight before her, for nature warned her that this talk of theirs was not to be as other talks, and Ralph looking at Suzanne.
"Suzanne," he said at length.
"Yes," she answered; "what is it?" But he made no answer, for though many words were bubbling in his brain, they choked in his throat, and would not come out of it.
"Suzanne," he stammered again presently, and again she asked him what it was, and again he made no answer. Now she laughed a little and said:
"Ralph, you remind me of the blue-jay in the cage upon the stoep which knows but one word and repeats it all day long."
"Yes," he replied, "it is true; I am like that jay, for the word I taught it is 'Suzanne,' and the word my heart teaches me is 'Suzanne,' and—Suzanne, I love you!"
Now she turned her head away and looked down and answered:
"I know, Ralph, that you have always loved me since we were children together, for are we not brother and sister?"
"No," he answered bluntly, "it is not true."
"Then that is bad news for me," she said, "who till to-day have thought otherwise."
"It is not true," he went on, and now his words came fast enough, "that I am your brother, or that I love you as a brother. We are no kin, and if I love you as a brother that is only one little grain of my love for you—yes, only as one little grain is to the whole sea-shore of sand. Suzanne, I love you as—as a man loves a maid—and if you will it, dear, all my hope is that one day you will be my wife," and he ceased suddenly and stood before her trembling, for he had risen from the stone.
For a few moments Suzanne covered her face with her hands, and when she let them fall again he saw that her beautiful eyes shone like the large stars at night, and that, although she was troubled, her trouble made her happy.
"Oh! Ralph," she said at length, speaking in a voice that was different from any he had ever heard her use, a voice very rich and low and full, "Oh! Ralph, this is new to me, and yet to speak the truth, it seems as old as—as that night when first I found you, a desolate, starving child, praying upon this stone. Ralph, I do will it with all my heart and soul and body, and I suppose that I have willed it ever since I was a woman, though until this hour I did not quite know what it was I willed. Nay, dear, do not touch me, or at the least, not yet. First hear what I have to say, and then if you desire it, you may kiss me—if only in farewell."
"If you will it and I will it, what more can you have to say?" he asked in a quick whisper, and looking at her with frightened eyes.
"This, Ralph; that our wills, who are young and unlearned, are not all the world; that there are other wills to be thought of; the wills of our parents, or of mine rather, and the will of God."
"For the first," he answered, "I do not think that they stand in our path, for they love you and wish you to be happy, although it is true that I, who am but a wanderer picked up upon the veldt, have no fortune to offer you—still fortune can be won," he added doggedly.
"They love you also, Ralph, nor do they care over much for wealth, either of them, and I am sure that they would not wish you to leave us to go in search of it."
"As for the will of God," he continued, "it was the will of God that I should be wrecked here, and that you should save me here, and that the life you saved should be given to you. Will it not, therefore, be the will of God also that we, who can never be happy apart, should be happy together and thank Him for our happiness every day till we die?"
"I trust so, Ralph; yet although I have read and seen little, I know that very often it has been His will that those who love each other should be separated by death or otherwise."
"Do not speak of it," he said with a groan.
"No, I will not speak of it, but there is one more thing of which I must speak. Strangely enough, only this morning my mother was talking of you; she said that you are English, and that soon or late blood will call to blood and you will leave us. She said that your nest is not here, but there, far away across the sea, among those English; that you are a swallow that has been fledged with sparrows, and that one day you will find the wings of a swallow. What put it in her mind to speak thus, I do not know, but I do know, Ralph, that her words filled me with fear, and now I understand why I was so much afraid."
He laughed aloud very scornfully. "Then, Suzanne," he said, "you may banish your fears, for this I swear to you, before the Almighty, that whoever may be my true kin, were a kingdom to be offered to me among them, unless you could share it, it would be refused. This I swear before the Almighty, and may He reject me if I forget the oath."
"You are very young to make such promises, Ralph," she answered doubtfully, "nor do I hold them binding on you. At nineteen, so I am told, a lad will swear anything to the girl who takes his fancy."
"I am young in years, Suzanne, but I grew old while I was yet a child, for sorrow aged me. You have heard my oath; let it be put to the test, and you shall learn whether or no I speak the truth. Do I look like one who does not know his mind?"
She glanced up at the steady, grey eyes and the stern, set mouth and answered, "Ralph, you look like one who knows his mind, and I believe you. Pray God I may not be deceived, for though we are but lad and girl, if it prove so I tell you that I shall live my life out with a broken heart."
"Do not fear, Suzanne. And now I have heard what you had to say, and I claim your promise. If it be your will I will kiss you, Suzanne, but not in farewell."
"Nay," she answered, "kiss me rather in greeting of the full and beautiful life that stretches before our feet. Whether the path be short or long, it will be good for us and ever better, but, Ralph, I think that the end will be best of all."
So he took her in his arms, and they kissed each other upon the lips, and, as they told me afterwards, in that embrace they found some joy. Why should they not indeed, for if anywhere upon the earth, if it be given and received in youth before the heart has been seared and tainted with bitterness and disillusion, surely in such a pledge as theirs true joy can be found. Yes, and they did more than this, for, kneeling there upon that rock where once the starving child had knelt in bygone years, they prayed to Him who had brought them together, to Him who had given them hearts to love with and bodies to be loved, and the immortality of Heaven wherein to garner this seed of love thus sown upon the earth, that He would guide them, bless them, and protect them through all trials, terrors, sorrows, and separations. As shall be seen, this indeed He did.
Then they rose, and having, not without difficulty, lifted the riet-buck ram upon Ralph's horse and made it fast there, as our hunters know how to do, they started homewards, walking the most part of the way, for the load was heavy and they were in no haste, so that they only reached the farm about noon.
Now I, watching them as we sat at our mid-day meal, grew sure that something out of the common had passed between them. Suzanne was very silent, and from time to time glanced at Ralph shyly, whereon, feeling her eyes, he would grow red as the sunset, and seeing his trouble, she would colour also, as though with the knowledge of some secret that made her both happy and ashamed.
"You were long this morning in finding a buck, Ralph," I said.
"Yes, mother," he answered; "there were none on the flats, for the grass is burnt off; and had not Suzanne beaten out a dry pan for me where the reeds were still green, I think that we should have found nothing. As it was I shot badly, hitting the ram in the flank, so that we were obliged to follow it a long way before I came up with it."
"And where did you find it at last?" I asked.
"In a strange place, mother; yes, in that very spot where many years ago Suzanne came upon me starving after the shipwreck. There in the glade and by the flat stone on which I had lain down to die was the buck, quite dead. We knew the dell again, though neither of us had visited it from that hour to this, and rested there awhile before we turned home."
I made no answer but sat thinking, and a silence fell on all of us. By this time the Kaffir girls had cleared away the meat and brought in coffee, which we drank while the men filled their pipes and lit them. I looked at Jan and saw that he was making up his mind to say something, for his honest face was troubled, and now he took up his pipe, and now he put it down, moving his hands restlessly till at length he upset the coffee over the table.
"Doubtless," I thought to myself, "he means to tell the tale of the Englishmen who have come to seek for Ralph. Well, I think that he may safely tell it now."
Then I looked at Ralph and saw that he also was very ill at ease, struggling with words which he did not know how to utter. I noted, moreover, that Suzanne touched his hand with hers beneath the shelter of the table as though to comfort and encourage him. Now watching these two men, at last I broke out laughing, and said, addressing them:
"You are like two fires of green weeds in a mealie patch, and I am wondering which of you will be the first to break into flame or whether you will both be choked by the reek of your own thoughts."
My gibe, harmless though it was, stung them into speech, and both at once, for I have noticed, however stupid they may be, that men never like to be laughed at.
"I have something to say," said each of them, as though with a single voice, and they paused, looking at one another angrily.
"Then, son, wait till I have finished. Almighty! for the last twenty minutes you have been sitting as silent as an ant-bear in a hole, and I tell you that it is my turn now; why, then, do you interrupt me?"
"I am very sorry, my father," said Ralph, looking much afraid, for he thought that Jan was going to scold him about Suzanne, and his conscience being guilty caused him to forget that it was not possible that he should know anything of the matter of his love-making.
"That is good," said Jan, still glaring at him; "but I am not your father."
"Then why do you call me son?" asked Ralph.
"Almighty! do you suppose that I sit here to answer riddles?" replied Jan, pulling at his great beard. "Why do I call you son, indeed? Ah!" he added in a different voice, a sorrowful voice, "why do I when I have no right? Listen, my boy, we are in sore trouble, I and your mother, or if she is not your mother at least she loves you as much as though she were, and I love you too, and you know it; so why do you seek to make a fool of me by asking me riddles?"
Now, Ralph was about to answer, but Suzanne held up her hand, and he was quiet.
"My son," went on Jan with a kind of sob, "they are coming to take you away from us."
"They! Who?" asked Ralph.
"Who? The English, damn them! Yes, I say, damn the English and the English Government."
"Peace, Jan," I broke in, "this is not a political meeting, where such talk is right and proper."
"The English Government is coming to take me away!" exclaimed Ralph bewildered. "What has the Government to do with me?"
"No," said Jan, "not the English Government, but two Scotchmen, which is much the same thing. I tell you that they are travelling to this place to take you away."
Now, Ralph leaned back in his chair and stared at him, for he saw that it was little use to ask him questions, and that he must leave him to tell the tale in his own fashion. At last it came out.
"Ralph," said my husband, "you know that you are not of our blood; we found you cast up on the beach like a storm-fish and took you in, and you grew dear to us; yes, although you are English or Scotch, which is worse, for if the English bully us the Scotch bully us and cheat us into the bargain. Well, your parents were drowned, and have been in Heaven for a long time, but I am sorry to say that all your relations were not drowned with them. At first, however, they took no trouble to hunt for you when we should have been glad enough to give you up."
"No," broke in Suzanne and I with one voice, and I added, "How do you dare to tell such lies in the face of the Lord, Jan?"
"——When it would not have been so bad to give you up," he went on, correcting himself. "But now it seems that had you lived you would have inherited estates, or titles, or both."
"Is the boy dead then?" I asked.
"Be silent, wife, I mean—had he lived a Scotchman. Therefore, having made inquiries, and learned that a lad of your name and age had been rescued from a shipwreck and was still alive among the Boers in the Transkei, they have set to work to hunt you, and are coming here to take you way, for I tell you that I heard it in the dorp yonder."
"Is it so?" said Ralph, while Suzanne hung upon his words with white face and trembling lips. "Then I tell you that I will not go. I may be English, but my home is here. My own father and mother are dead, and these strangers are nothing to me, nor are the estates and titles far away anything to me. All that I hold dear on the earth is here in the Transkei," and he glanced at Suzanne, who seemed to bless him with her eyes.
"You talk like a fool," said Jan, but in a voice which was full of joy that he could not hide, "as is to be expected of an ignorant boy. Now I am a man who has seen the world, and I know better, and I tell you that although they are an accursed race, still it is a fine thing to be a lord among the English. Yes, yes, I know the English lords. I saw one once when I went to Capetown; he was the Governor there, and driving through the streets in state, dressed as bravely as a blue-jay in his spring plumage, while everybody took off their hats to him, except I, Jan Botmar, who would not humble myself thus. Yet to have such clothes as that to wear every day, while all the people salute you and make a path for you, is not a thing to be laughed at. See boy, it just comes to this: here you are poor and little, there you may be rich and much, and it is our duty not to stand in your road, though it may break our hearts to lose you. So you had best make up your mind to go away with the damned Scotchmen when they come, though I hope that you will think kindly of us when you get to your own country. Yes, yes, you shall go, and what is more, you may take my best horse to ride away on, the thoroughbred schimmel, and my new black felt hat that I bought in the dorp. There, that is done with, praise be to God, and I am going out, for this place is so thick with smoke that I can't see my own hand," and he rose to go, adding that if the two Scotchmen did not want a bullet through them, it would be as well if they kept out of his way when they came upon the farm.
Now in saying that the room was thick with smoke Jan lied, for both the men's pipes went out when they began to talk. But as I knew why he lied I did not think so much of it. To tell the truth, at that moment I could see little better than he could, since, although I would have poisoned those two Scotchmen before I suffered them to take Ralph away, the very thought of his going was enough to fill my eyes with tears, and to cause Suzanne to weep aloud shamelessly.
"Wait a bit, father—I beg your pardon, Jan Botmar," said Ralph in a clear and angry voice; "it is my turn now, for you may remember that when we began to talk I had something to say, but you stopped me. Now, with your leave, as you have got off the horse I will get on."
Jan slowly sat down again and said:
"Speak. What is it?"
"This: that if you send me away you are likely to lose more than you bargain for."
Now Jan stared at him perplexedly, but I smiled, for I guessed what was to come.
"What am I likely to lose," he asked, "beyond my best horse and my felt hat? Allemachter! Do you want my span of black oxen also? Well, you shall have them if you like, for I should wish you to trek to your new home in England behind good cattle."
"No," answered Ralph coolly, "but I want your daughter, and if you send me away I think that she will come with me."
THE COMING OF THE ENGLISHMEN
Now on hearing this Suzanne said, "Oh!" and sank back in her chair as though she were going to faint; but I burst out laughing, half because Ralph's impertinence tickled me and half at the sight of my husband's face. Presently he turned upon me in a fine rage.
"Be silent, you silly woman," he said. "Do you hear what that mad boy says? He says that he wants my daughter."
"Well, what of it?" I answered. "Is there anything wonderful in that? Suzanne is of an age to be married and pretty enough for any young man to want her."
"Yes, yes; that is true now I come to think of it," said Jan, pulling his beard. "But, woman, he says that he wants to take her away with him."
"Ah!" I replied, "that is another matter. That he shall never do without my consent."
"No, indeed, he shall never do that," echoed Jan.
"Suzanne," said I in the pause that followed, "you have heard all this talk. Tell us, then, openly what is your mind in the matter."
"My mind is, mother," she answered very quietly, "that I wish to obey you and my father in all things, as is my duty, but that I have a deeper duty towards Ralph whom God gave me out of the sea. Therefore, if you send away Ralph without a cause, if he desires it I shall follow him as soon as I am of age and marry him, or if you keep me from him by force then I think that I shall die. That is all I have to say."
"And quite enough, too," I answered, though in my heart I liked the girl's spirit, and guessed that she was playing a part to prevent her father from sending away Ralph against his will.
"All this is pretty hearing," said Jan, staring from one to the other. "Why, now that I think of it, I never heard that you two were more than brother and sister to each other. Say, you shameless girl, when did all this come about, and why do you dare to promise yourself in marriage without my consent?"
"Because there was no time to ask it, father," said Suzanne, looking down, "for Ralph and I only spoke together this morning."
"He spoke to you this morning, and now it seems that you are ready to forsake your father and your mother and to follow him across the world, you wicked and ungrateful child."
"I am not wicked and I am not ungrateful," answered Suzanne; "it is you who are wicked, who want to send Ralph away and break all our hearts."
"It is false, miss," shouted her father in answer, "for you know well that I do not want to send him away."
"Then why did you tell him that he must go and take your roan horse and new hat?"
"For his own good, girl."
"Is it for his own good that he should go away from all of us who love him and be lost across the sea?" and choking she burst into tears, while her father muttered:
"Why, the girl has become like a tiger, she who was milder than a sheep!"
"Hush, Suzanne," broke in Ralph, "and you who have been father and mother to me, listen I pray you. It is true that Suzanne and I love each other very dearly, as we have always loved each other, though how much we did not know till this morning. Now, I am a waif and a castaway whom you have nurtured, and have neither lands nor goods of my own, therefore you may well think that I am no match for your daughter, who is so beautiful, and who, if she outlives you, will inherit all that you have. If you decide thus it is just, however hard it may be. But you tell me, though I have heard nothing of it till now, and I think that it may be but idle talk, that I have both lands and goods far away in England, and you bid me begone to them. Well, if you turn me out I must go, for I cannot stay alone in the veldt without a house, or a friend, or a hoof of cattle. But then I tell you that when Suzanne is of age I shall return and marry her, and take her away with me, as I have a right to do if she desires it, for I will not lose everything that I love in the world at one stroke. Indeed nothing but death shall part me from Suzanne. Therefore, it comes to this: either you must let me stay here and, poor as I am, be married to Suzanne when it shall please you, or, if you dismiss me, you must be ready to see me come back and take away Suzanne."
"Suzanne, Suzanne," I interrupted angrily, for I grew jealous of the girl; "have you no thought or word, Ralph, for any save Suzanne?"
"I have thoughts for all," he answered, "but Suzanne alone has thought for me, since it seems that your husband would send me away, and you, mother, sit still and say not a word to stop him."
"Learn to judge speech and not silence, lad," I answered. "Look you, all have been talking, and I have shammed dead like a stink-cat when dogs are about; now I am going to begin. First of all, you, Jan, are a fool, for in your thick head you think that rank and wealth are everything to a man, and therefore you would send Ralph away to seek rank and wealth that may or may not belong to him, although he does not wish to go. As for you, Ralph, you are a bigger fool, for you think that Jan Botmar, your foster-father here, desires to be rid of you when in truth he only seeks your good to his own sore loss. As for you, Suzanne, you are the biggest fool of all, for you wish to fly in everybody's face, like a cat with her first litter of kittens; but there, what is the use of arguing with a girl in love? Now listen, and I will ask you some questions, all of you. Jan, do you wish to send Ralph away with these strangers?"
"Almighty! vrouw," he answered, "you know well that I would as soon send away my right hand. I wish him to stop here for ever, and whatever I have is his; yes, even my daughter. But I seek what is best for him, and I would not have it said in after years that Jan Botmar had kept an English lad not old enough to judge for himself from his rank and wealth because he took pleasure in his company and wished to marry him to his girl."
"Good," I said. "And now for you, Suzanne; what have you to say?"
"I have nothing to add to my words," she replied; "you know all my heart."
"Good again. And you, Ralph?"
"I say, mother, that I will not budge from this place unless I am ordered to go, and if I do go, I will come back for Suzanne. I love you all, and with you I wish to live and nowhere else."
"Nay, Ralph," I answered sighing, "if once you go you will never come back, for out yonder you will find a new home, new interests, and, perchance, new loves. Well, though nobody has thought of me in this matter, I have a voice in it, and I will speak for myself. That lad yonder has been a son to me for many years, and I who have none love him as such. He is a man as we reckon in this country, and he does not wish to leave us any more than we wish him to go. Moreover, he loves Suzanne, and Suzanne loves him, and I believe that the God who brought them together at first means them to be husband and wife, and that such love as they bear to each other will give them more together than any wealth or rank can bring to them apart. Therefore I say, husband, let our son, Ralph, say here with us and marry our daughter, Suzanne, decently and in due season, and let their children be our children, and their love our love."