THE STORY OF AN AFRICAN FARM
by (AKA Ralph Iron) Olive Schreiner
I have to thank cordially the public and my critics for the reception they have given this little book.
Dealing with a subject that is far removed from the round of English daily life, it of necessity lacks the charm that hangs about the ideal representation of familiar things, and its reception has therefore been the more kindly.
A word of explanation is necessary. Two strangers appear on the scene, and some have fancied that in the second they have again the first, who returns in a new guise. Why this should be we cannot tell; unless there is a feeling that a man should not appear upon the scene, and then disappear, leaving behind him no more substantial trace than a mere book; that he should return later on as husband or lover, to fill some more important part than that of the mere stimulator of thought.
Human life may be painted according to two methods. There is the stage method. According to that each character is duly marshalled at first, and ticketed; we know with an immutable certainty that at the right crises each one will reappear and act his part, and, when the curtain falls, all will stand before it bowing. There is a sense of satisfaction in this, and of completeness. But there is another method—the method of the life we all lead. Here nothing can be prophesied. There is a strange coming and going of feet. Men appear, act and re-act upon each other, and pass away. When the crisis comes the man who would fit it does not return. When the curtain falls no one is ready. When the footlights are brightest they are blown out; and what the name of the play is no one knows. If there sits a spectator who knows, he sits so high that the players in the gaslight cannot hear his breathing. Life may be painted according to either method; but the methods are different. The canons of criticism that bear upon the one cut cruelly upon the other.
It has been suggested by a kind critic that he would better have liked the little book if it had been a history of wild adventure; of cattle driven into inaccessible kranzes by Bushmen; "of encounters with ravening lions, and hair-breadth escapes." This could not be. Such works are best written in Piccadilly or in the Strand: there the gifts of the creative imagination, untrammelled by contact with any fact, may spread their wings.
But, should one sit down to paint the scenes among which he has grown, he will find that the facts creep in upon him. Those brilliant phases and shapes which the imagination sees in far-off lands are not for him to portray. Sadly he must squeeze the colour from his brush, and dip it into the gray pigments around him. He must paint what lies before him.
"We must see the first images which the external world casts upon the dark mirror of his mind; or must hear the first words which awaken the sleeping powers of thought, and stand by his earliest efforts, if we would understand the prejudices, the habits, and the passions that will rule his life. The entire man is, so to speak, to be found in the cradle of the child."
Alexis de Tocqueville.
Several Dutch and Colonial words occurring in this work, the subjoined Glossary is given, explaining the principal.
Alle wereld!—Gosh! Aasvogels—Vultures. Benauwdheid—Indigestion. Brakje—A little cur of low degree. Bultong—Dried meat. Coop—Hide and Seek. Inspan—To harness. Kapje—A sun-bonnet. Karoo—The wide sandy plains in some parts of South Africa. Karoo-bushes—The bushes that take the place of grass on these plains. Kartel—The wooden-bed fastened in an ox-wagon. Kloof—A ravine. Kopje—A small hillock, or "little head." Kraal—The space surrounded by a stone wall or hedged with thorn branches, into which sheep or cattle are driven at night. Mealies—Indian corn. Meerkat—A small weazel-like animal. Meiboss—Preserved and dried apricots. Nachtmaal—The Lord's Supper. Oom—Uncle. Outspan—To unharness, or a place in the field where one unharnesses. Pap—Porridge. Predikant—Parson. Riem—Leather rope. Sarsarties—Food. Sleg—Bad. Sloot—A dry watercourse. Spook—To haunt, a ghost. Stamp-block—A wooden block, hollowed out, in which mealies are placed to be pounded before being cooked. Stoep—Porch. Tant or Tante—Aunt. Upsitting—In Boer courtship the man and girl are supposed to sit up together the whole night. Veld—Open country. Velschoen—Shoes of undressed leather. Vrijer—Available man.
Chapter 1.I. Shadows From Child Life.
Chapter 1.II. Plans and Bushman Paintings.
Chapter 1.III. I Was A Stranger, and Ye Took Me In.
Chapter 1.IV. Blessed is He That Believeth.
Chapter 1.V. Sunday Services.
Chapter 1.VI. Bonaparte Blenkins Makes His Nest.
Chapter 1.VII. He Sets His Trap.
Chapter 1.VIII. He Catches the Old Bird.
Chapter 1.IX. He Sees A Ghost.
Chapter 1.X. He Shows His Teeth.
Chapter 1.XI. He Snaps.
Chapter 1.XII. He Bites.
Chapter 1.XIII. He Makes Love.
Chapter 2.I. Times and Seasons.
Chapter 2.II. Waldo's Stranger.
Chapter 2.III. Gregory Rose Finds His Affinity.
Chapter 2.IV. Lyndall.
Chapter 2.V. Tant Sannie Holds An Upsitting, and Gregory Writes A Letter.
Chapter 2.VI. A Boer-wedding.
Chapter 2.VII. Waldo Goes Out to Taste Life, and Em Stays At Home and Tastes It.
Chapter 2.VIII. The Kopje.
Chapter 2.IX. Lyndall's Stranger.
Chapter 2.X. Gregory Rose Has An Idea.
Chapter 2.XI. An Unfinished Letter.
Chapter 2.XII. Gregory's Womanhood.
Chapter 2.XIII. Dreams.
Chapter 2.XIV. Waldo Goes Out to Sit in the Sunshine.
THE STORY OF AN AFRICAN FARM
Chapter 1.I. Shadows From Child-Life.
The full African moon poured down its light from the blue sky into the wide, lonely plain. The dry, sandy earth, with its coating of stunted karoo bushes a few inches high, the low hills that skirted the plain, the milk-bushes with their long finger-like leaves, all were touched by a weird and an almost oppressive beauty as they lay in the white light.
In one spot only was the solemn monotony of the plain broken. Near the centre a small solitary kopje rose. Alone it lay there, a heap of round ironstones piled one upon another, as over some giant's grave. Here and there a few tufts of grass or small succulent plants had sprung up among its stones, and on the very summit a clump of prickly-pears lifted their thorny arms, and reflected, as from mirrors, the moonlight on their broad fleshy leaves. At the foot of the kopje lay the homestead. First, the stone-walled sheep kraals and Kaffer huts; beyond them the dwelling-house—a square, red-brick building with thatched roof. Even on its bare red walls, and the wooden ladder that led up to the loft, the moonlight cast a kind of dreamy beauty, and quite etherealized the low brick wall that ran before the house, and which inclosed a bare patch of sand and two straggling sunflowers. On the zinc roof of the great open wagon-house, on the roofs of the outbuildings that jutted from its side, the moonlight glinted with a quite peculiar brightness, till it seemed that every rib in the metal was of burnished silver.
Sleep ruled everywhere, and the homestead was not less quiet than the solitary plain.
In the farmhouse, on her great wooden bedstead, Tant Sannie, the Boer-woman, rolled heavily in her sleep.
She had gone to bed, as she always did, in her clothes, and the night was warm and the room close, and she dreamed bad dreams. Not of the ghosts and devils that so haunted her waking thoughts; not of her second husband the consumptive Englishman, whose grave lay away beyond the ostrich-camps, nor of her first, the young Boer; but only of the sheep's trotters she had eaten for supper that night. She dreamed that one stuck fast in her throat, and she rolled her huge form from side to side, and snorted horribly.
In the next room, where the maid had forgotten to close the shutter, the white moonlight fell in in a flood, and made it light as day. There were two small beds against the wall. In one lay a yellow-haired child, with a low forehead and a face of freckles; but the loving moonlight hid defects here as elsewhere, and showed only the innocent face of a child in its first sweet sleep.
The figure in the companion bed belonged of right to the moonlight, for it was of quite elfin-like beauty. The child had dropped her cover on the floor, and the moonlight looked in at the naked little limbs. Presently she opened her eyes and looked at the moonlight that was bathing her.
"Em!" she called to the sleeper in the other bed; but received no answer. Then she drew the cover from the floor, turned her pillow, and pulling the sheet over her head, went to sleep again.
Only in one of the outbuildings that jutted from the wagon-house there was some one who was not asleep.
The room was dark; door and shutter were closed; not a ray of light entered anywhere. The German overseer, to whom the room belonged, lay sleeping soundly on his bed in the corner, his great arms folded, and his bushy grey and black beard rising and falling on his breast. But one in the room was not asleep. Two large eyes looked about in the darkness, and two small hands were smoothing the patchwork quilt. The boy, who slept on a box under the window, had just awakened from his first sleep. He drew the quilt up to his chin, so that little peered above it but a great head of silky black curls and the two black eyes. He stared about in the darkness. Nothing was visible, not even the outline of one worm-eaten rafter, nor of the deal table, on which lay the Bible from which his father had read before they went to bed. No one could tell where the toolbox was, and where the fireplace. There was something very impressive to the child in the complete darkness.
At the head of his father's bed hung a great silver hunting watch. It ticked loudly. The boy listened to it, and began mechanically to count. Tick—tick—one, two, three, four! He lost count presently, and only listened. Tick—tick—tick—tick!
It never waited; it went on inexorably; and every time it ticked a man died! He raised himself a little on his elbow and listened. He wished it would leave off.
How many times had it ticked since he came to lie down? A thousand times, a million times, perhaps.
He tried to count again, and sat up to listen better.
"Dying, dying, dying!" said the watch; "dying, dying, dying!"
He heard it distinctly. Where were they going to, all those people?
He lay down quickly, and pulled the cover up over his head: but presently the silky curls reappeared.
"Dying, dying, dying!" said the watch; "dying, dying, dying!"
He thought of the words his father had read that evening—"For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction and many there be which go in thereat."
"Many, many, many!" said the watch.
"Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
"Few, few, few!" said the watch.
The boy lay with his eyes wide open. He saw before him a long stream of people, a great dark multitude, that moved in one direction; then they came to the dark edge of the world and went over. He saw them passing on before him, and there was nothing that could stop them. He thought of how that stream had rolled on through all the long ages of the past—how the old Greeks and Romans had gone over; the countless millions of China and India, they were going over now. Since he had come to bed, how many had gone!
And the watch said, "Eternity, eternity, eternity!"
"Stop them! stop them!" cried the child.
And all the while the watch kept ticking on; just like God's will, that never changes or alters, you may do what you please.
Great beads of perspiration stood on the boy's forehead. He climbed out of bed and lay with his face turned to the mud floor.
"Oh, God, God! save them!" he cried in agony. "Only some, only a few! Only for each moment I am praying here one!" He folded his little hands upon his head. "God! God! save them!"
He grovelled on the floor.
Oh, the long, long ages of the past, in which they had gone over! Oh, the long, long future, in which they would pass away! Oh, God! the long, long, long eternity, which has no end!
The child wept, and crept closer to the ground.
The farm by daylight was not as the farm by moonlight. The plain was a weary flat of loose red sand, sparsely covered by dry karoo bushes, that cracked beneath the tread like tinder, and showed the red earth everywhere. Here and there a milk-bush lifted its pale-coloured rods, and in every direction the ants and beetles ran about in the blazing sand. The red walls of the farmhouse, the zinc roofs of the outbuildings, the stone walls of the kraals, all reflected the fierce sunlight, till the eye ached and blenched. No tree or shrub was to be seen far or near. The two sunflowers that stood before the door, out-stared by the sun, drooped their brazen faces to the sand; and the little cicada-like insects cried aloud among the stones of the kopje.
The Boer-woman, seen by daylight, was even less lovely than when, in bed, she rolled and dreamed. She sat on a chair in the great front room, with her feet on a wooden stove, and wiped her flat face with the corner of her apron, and drank coffee, and in Cape Dutch swore that the beloved weather was damned. Less lovely, too, by daylight was the dead Englishman's child, her little stepdaughter, upon whose freckles and low, wrinkled forehead the sunlight had no mercy.
"Lyndall," the child said to her little orphan cousin, who sat with her on the floor threading beads, "how is it your beads never fall off your needle?"
"I try," said the little one gravely, moistening her tiny finger. "That is why."
The overseer, seen by daylight, was a huge German, wearing a shabby suit, and with a childish habit of rubbing his hands and nodding his head prodigiously when pleased at anything. He stood out at the kraals in the blazing sun, explaining to two Kaffer boys the approaching end of the world. The boys, as they cut the cakes of dung, winked at each other, and worked as slowly as they possibly could; but the German never saw it.
Away, beyond the kopje, Waldo his son herded the ewes and lambs—a small and dusty herd—powdered all over from head to foot with red sand, wearing a ragged coat and shoes of undressed leather, through whose holes the toes looked out. His hat was too large, and had sunk down to his eyes, concealing completely the silky black curls. It was a curious small figure. His flock gave him little trouble. It was too hot for them to move far; they gathered round every little milk-bush, as though they hoped to find shade, and stood there motionless in clumps. He himself crept under a shelving rock that lay at the foot of the kopje, stretched himself on his stomach, and waved his dilapidated little shoes in the air.
Soon, from the blue bag where he kept his dinner, he produced a fragment of slate, an arithmetic, and a pencil. Proceeding to put down a sum with solemn and earnest demeanour, he began to add it up aloud: "Six and two is eight—and four is twelve—and two is fourteen—and four is eighteen." Here he paused. "And four is eighteen—and—four—is, eighteen." The last was very much drawled. Slowly the pencil slipped from his fingers, and the slate followed it into the sand. For a while he lay motionless, then began muttering to himself, folded his little arms, laid his head down upon them, and might have been asleep, but for the muttering sound that from time to time proceeded from him. A curious old ewe came to sniff at him; but it was long before he raised his head. When he did, he looked at the far-off hills with his heavy eyes.
"Ye shall receive—ye shall receive—shall, shall, shall," he muttered.
He sat up then. Slowly the dulness and heaviness melted from his face; it became radiant. Midday had come now, and the sun's rays were poured down vertically; the earth throbbed before the eye.
The boy stood up quickly, and cleared a small space from the bushes which covered it. Looking carefully, he found twelve small stones of somewhat the same size; kneeling down, he arranged them carefully on the cleared space in a square pile, in shape like an altar. Then he walked to the bag where his dinner was kept; in it was a mutton chop and a large slice of brown bread. The boy took them out and turned the bread over in his hand, deeply considering it. Finally he threw it away and walked to the altar with the meat, and laid it down on the stones. Close by in the red sand he knelt down. Sure, never since the beginning of the world was there so ragged and so small a priest. He took off his great hat and placed it solemnly on the ground, then closed his eyes and folded his hands. He prayed aloud:
"Oh, God, my Father, I have made Thee a sacrifice. I have only twopence, so I cannot buy a lamb. If the lambs were mine, I would give Thee one; but now I have only this meat; it is my dinner meat. Please, my Father, send fire down from heaven to burn it. Thou hast said, Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou cast into the sea, nothing doubting, it shall be done. I ask for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen."
He knelt down with his face upon the ground, and he folded his hands upon his curls. The fierce sun poured down its heat upon his head and upon his altar. When he looked up he knew what he should see—the glory of God! For fear his very heart stood still, his breath came heavily; he was half suffocated. He dared not look up. Then at last he raised himself. Above him was the quiet blue sky, about him the red earth; there were the clumps of silent ewes and his altar—that was all.
He looked up—nothing broke the intense stillness of the blue overhead. He looked round in astonishment, then he bowed again, and this time longer than before.
When he raised himself the second time all was unaltered. Only the sun had melted the fat of the little mutton chop, and it ran down upon the stones.
Then, the third time he bowed himself. When at last he looked up, some ants had come to the meat on the altar. He stood up and drove them away. Then he put his hat on his hot curls, and sat in the shade. He clasped his hands about his knees. He sat to watch what would come to pass. The glory of the Lord God Almighty! He knew he should see it.
"My dear God is trying me," he said; and he sat there through the fierce heat of the afternoon. Still he watched and waited when the sun began to slope, and when it neared the horizon and the sheep began to cast long shadows across the karoo, he still sat there. He hoped when the first rays touched the hills till the sun dipped behind them and was gone. Then he called his ewes together, and broke down the altar, and threw the meat far, far away into the field.
He walked home behind his flock. His heart was heavy. He reasoned so: "God cannot lie. I had faith. No fire came. I am like Cain—I am not His. He will not hear my prayer. God hates me."
The boy's heart was heavy. When he reached the kraal gate the two girls met him.
"Come," said the yellow-haired Em, "let us play coop. There is still time before it gets quite dark. You, Waldo, go and hide on the kopje; Lyndall and I will shut eyes here, and we will not look."
The girls hid their faces in the stone wall of the sheep-kraal, and the boy clambered half way up the kopje. He crouched down between two stones and gave the call. Just then the milk-herd came walking out of the cow-kraal with two pails. He was an ill-looking Kaffer.
"Ah!" thought the boy, "perhaps he will die tonight, and go to hell! I must pray for him, I must pray!"
Then he thought—"Where am I going to?" and he prayed desperately.
"Ah! this is not right at all," little Em said, peeping between the stones, and finding him in a very curious posture. "What are you doing Waldo? It is not the play, you know. You should run out when we come to the white stone. Ah, you do not play nicely."
"I—I will play nicely now," said the boy, coming out and standing sheepishly before them; "I—I only forgot; I will play now."
"He has been to sleep," said freckled Em.
"No," said beautiful little Lyndall, looking curiously at him: "he has been crying."
She never made a mistake.
One night, two years after, the boy sat alone on the kopje. He had crept softly from his father's room and come there. He often did, because, when he prayed or cried aloud, his father might awake and hear him; and none knew his great sorrow, and none knew his grief, but he himself, and he buried them deep in his heart.
He turned up the brim of his great hat and looked at the moon, but most at the leaves of the prickly pear that grew just before him. They glinted, and glinted, and glinted, just like his own heart—cold, so hard, and very wicked. His physical heart had pain also; it seemed full of little bits of glass, that hurt. He had sat there for half an hour, and he dared not go back to the close house.
He felt horribly lonely. There was not one thing so wicked as he in all the world, and he knew it. He folded his arms and began to cry—not aloud; he sobbed without making any sound, and his tears left scorched marks where they fell. He could not pray; he had prayed night and day for so many months; and tonight he could not pray. When he left off crying, he held his aching head with his brown hands. If one might have gone up to him and touched him kindly; poor, ugly little thing! Perhaps his heart was almost broken.
With his swollen eyes he sat there on a flat stone at the very top of the kopje; and the tree, with every one of its wicked leaves, blinked, and blinked, and blinked at him. Presently he began to cry again, and then stopped his crying to look at it. He was quiet for a long while, then he knelt up slowly and bent forward. There was a secret he had carried in his heart for a year. He had not dared to look at it; he had not whispered it to himself, but for a year he had carried it. "I hate God!" he said. The wind took the words and ran away with them, among the stones, and through the leaves of the prickly pear. He thought it died away half down the kopje. He had told it now!
"I love Jesus Christ, but I hate God."
The wind carried away that sound as it had done the first. Then he got up and buttoned his old coat about him. He knew he was certainly lost now; he did not care. If half the world were to be lost, why not he too? He would not pray for mercy any more. Better so—better to know certainly. It was ended now. Better so.
He began scrambling down the sides of the kopje to go home.
Better so! But oh, the loneliness, the agonized pain! for that night, and for nights on nights to come! The anguish that sleeps all day on the heart like a heavy worm, and wakes up at night to feed!
There are some of us who in after years say to Fate, "Now deal us your hardest blow, give us what you will; but let us never again suffer as we suffered when we were children."
The barb in the arrow of childhood's suffering is this: its intense loneliness, its intense agony.
Chapter 1.II. Plans and Bushman Paintings.
At last came the year of the great drought, the year of eighteen-sixty-two. From end to end of the land the earth cried for water. Man and beast turned their eyes to the pitiless sky, that like the roof of some brazen oven arched overhead. On the farm, day after day, month after month, the water in the dams fell lower and lower; the sheep died in the fields; the cattle, scarcely able to crawl, tottered as they moved from spot to spot in search of food. Week after week, month after month, the sun looked down from the cloudless sky, till the karoo-bushes were leafless sticks, broken into the earth, and the earth itself was naked and bare; and only the milk-bushes, like old hags, pointed their shrivelled fingers heavenward, praying for the rain that never came.
It was on an afternoon of a long day in that thirsty summer, that on the side of the kopje furthest from the homestead the two girls sat. They were somewhat grown since the days when they played hide-and-seek there, but they were mere children still.
Their dress was of dark, coarse stuff; their common blue pinafores reached to their ankles, and on their feet they wore home-made velschoen.
They sat under a shelving rock, on the surface of which were still visible some old Bushman paintings, their red and black pigments having been preserved through long years from wind and rain by the overhanging ledge; grotesque oxen, elephants, rhinoceroses, and a one-horned beast, such as no man ever has seen or ever shall.
The girls sat with their backs to the paintings. In their laps were a few fern and ice-plant leaves, which by dint of much searching they had gathered under the rocks.
Em took off her big brown kapje and began vigorously to fan her red face with it; but her companion bent low over the leaves in her lap, and at last took up an ice-plant leaf and fastened it on to the front of her blue pinafore with a pin.
"Diamonds must look as these drops do," she said, carefully bending over the leaf, and crushing one crystal drop with her delicate little nail. "When I," she said, "am grown up, I shall wear real diamonds, exactly like these in my hair."
Her companion opened her eyes and wrinkled her low forehead.
"Where will you find them, Lyndall? The stones are only crystals that we picked up yesterday. Old Otto says so."
"And you think that I am going to stay here always?"
The lip trembled scornfully.
"Ah, no," said her companion. "I suppose some day we shall go somewhere; but now we are only twelve, and we cannot marry till we are seventeen. Four years, five—that is a long time to wait. And we might not have diamonds if we did marry."
"And you think that I am going to stay here till then?"
"Well, where are you going?" asked her companion.
The girl crushed an ice-plant leaf between her fingers.
"Tant Sannie is a miserable old woman," she said. "Your father married her when he was dying, because he thought she would take better care of the farm, and of us, than an English woman. He said we should be taught and sent to school. Now she saves every farthing for herself, buys us not even one old book. She does not ill-use us—why? Because she is afraid of your father's ghost. Only this morning she told her Hottentot that she would have beaten you for breaking the plate, but that three nights ago she heard a rustling and a grunting behind the pantry door, and knew it was your father coming to spook her. She is a miserable old woman," said the girl, throwing the leaf from her; "but I intend to go to school."
"And if she won't let you?"
"I shall make her."
The child took not the slightest notice of the last question, and folded her small arms across her knees.
"But why do you want to go, Lyndall?"
"There is nothing helps in this world," said the child slowly, "but to be very wise, and to know everything—to be clever."
"But I should not like to go to school!" persisted the small freckled face.
"And you do not need to. When you are seventeen this Boer-woman will go; you will have this farm and everything that is upon it for your own; but I," said Lyndall, "will have nothing. I must learn."
"Oh, Lyndall! I will give you some of my sheep," said Em, with a sudden burst of pitying generosity.
"I do not want your sheep," said the girl slowly; "I want things of my own. When I am grown up," she added, the flush on her delicate features deepening at every word, "there will be nothing that I do not know. I shall be rich, very rich; and I shall wear not only for best, but every day, a pure white silk, and little rose-buds, like the lady in Tant Sannie's bedroom, and my petticoats will be embroidered, not only at the bottom, but all through."
The lady in Tant Sannie's bedroom was a gorgeous creature from a fashion-sheet, which the Boer-woman, somewhere obtaining, had pasted up at the foot of her bed, to be profoundly admired by the children.
"It would be very nice," said Em; but it seemed a dream of quite too transcendent a glory ever to be realized.
At this instant there appeared at the foot of the kopje two figures—the one, a dog, white and sleek, one yellow ear hanging down over his left eye; the other, his master, a lad of fourteen, and no other than the boy Waldo, grown into a heavy, slouching youth of fourteen. The dog mounted the kopje quickly, his master followed slowly. He wore an aged jacket much too large for him, and rolled up at the wrists, and, as of old, a pair of dilapidated velschoens and a felt hat. He stood before the two girls at last.
"What have you been doing today?" asked Lyndall, lifting her eyes to his face.
"Looking after ewes and lambs below the dam. Here!" he said, holding out his hand awkwardly, "I brought them for you."
There were a few green blades of tender grass.
"Where did you find them?"
"On the dam wall."
She fastened them beside the leaf on her blue pinafore.
"They look nice there," said the boy, awkwardly rubbing his great hands and watching her.
"Yes; but the pinafore spoils it all; it is not pretty."
He looked at it closely.
"Yes, the squares are ugly; but it looks nice upon you—beautiful."
He now stood silent before them, his great hands hanging loosely at either side.
"Some one has come today," he mumbled out suddenly, when the idea struck him.
"Who?" asked both girls.
"An Englishman on foot."
"What does he look like?" asked Em.
"I did not notice; but he has a very large nose," said the boy slowly. "He asked the way to the house."
"Didn't he tell you his name?"
"Bonaparte!" said Em, "why that is like the reel Hottentot Hans plays on the violin—
'Bonaparte, Bonaparte, my wife is sick; In the middle of the week, but Sundays not, I give her rice and beans for soup'—
It is a funny name."
"There was a living man called Bonaparte once," said she of the great eyes.
"Ah yes, I know," said Em—"the poor prophet whom the lions ate. I am always so sorry for him."
Her companion cast a quiet glance upon her.
"He was the greatest man who ever lived," she said, "the man I like best."
"And what did he do?" asked Em, conscious that she had made a mistake, and that her prophet was not the man.
"He was one man, only one," said her little companion slowly, "yet all the people in the world feared him. He was not born great, he was common as we are; yet he was master of the world at last. Once he was only a little child, then he was a lieutenant, then he was a general, then he was an emperor. When he said a thing to himself he never forgot it. He waited, and waited and waited, and it came at last."
"He must have been very happy," said Em.
"I do not know," said Lyndall; "but he had what he said he would have, and that is better than being happy. He was their master, and all the people were white with fear of him. They joined together to fight him. He was one and they were many, and they got him down at last. They were like the wild cats when their teeth are fast in a great dog, like cowardly wild cats," said the child, "they would not let him go. There were many; he was only one. They sent him to an island on the sea, a lonely island, and kept him there fast. He was one man, and they were many, and they were terrified at him. It was glorious!" said the child.
"And what then?" said Em.
"Then he was alone there in that island with men to watch him always," said her companion, slowly and quietly. "And in the long lonely nights he used to lie awake and think of the things he had done in the old days, and the things he would do if they let him go again. In the day when he walked near the shore it seemed to him that the sea all around him was a cold chain about his body pressing him to death."
"And then?" said Em, much interested.
"He died there in that island; he never got away."
"It is rather a nice story," said Em; "but the end is sad."
"It is a terrible, hateful ending," said the little teller of the story, leaning forward on her folded arms; "and the worst is, it is true. I have noticed," added the child very deliberately, "that it is only the made-up stories that end nicely; the true ones all end so."
As she spoke the boy's dark, heavy eyes rested on her face.
"You have read it, have you not?"
He nodded. "Yes; but the Brown history tells only what he did, not what he thought."
"It was in the Brown history that I read of him," said the girl; "but I know what he thought. Books do not tell everything."
"No," said the boy, slowly drawing nearer to her and sitting down at her feet. "What you want to know they never tell."
Then the children fell into silence, till Doss, the dog, growing uneasy at its long continuance, sniffed at one and the other, and his master broke forth suddenly:
"If they could talk, if they could tell us now!" he said, moving his hand out over the surrounding objects—"then we would know something. This kopje, if it could tell us how it came here! The 'Physical Geography' says," he went on most rapidly and confusedly, "that what were dry lands now were once lakes; and what I think is this—these low hills were once the shores of a lake; this kopje is some of the stones that were at the bottom, rolled together by the water. But there is this—How did the water come to make one heap here alone, in the centre of the plain?" It was a ponderous question; no one volunteered an answer. "When I was little," said the boy, "I always looked at it and wondered, and I thought a great giant was buried under it. Now I know the water must have done it; but how? It is very wonderful. Did one little stone come first, and stop the others as they rolled?" said the boy with earnestness, in a low voice, more as speaking to himself than to them.
"Oh, Waldo, God put the little kopje here," said Em with solemnity.
"But how did he put it here?"
"But how did the wanting bring it here?"
"Because it did."
The last words were uttered with the air of one who produces a clinching argument. What effect it had on the questioner was not evident, for he made no reply, and turned away from her.
Drawing closer to Lyndall's feet, he said after a while in a low voice:
"Lyndall, has it never seemed to you that the stones were talking with you? Sometimes," he added in a yet lower tone, "I lie under there with my sheep, and it seems that the stones are really speaking—speaking of the old things, of the time when the strange fishes and animals lived that are turned into stone now, and the lakes were here; and then of the time when the little Bushmen lived here, so small and so ugly, and used to sleep in the wild dog holes, and in the sloots, and eat snakes, and shot the bucks with their poisoned arrows. It was one of them, one of these old wild Bushmen, that painted those," said the boy, nodding toward the pictures—"one who was different from the rest. He did not know why, but he wanted to make something beautiful—he wanted to make something, so he made these. He worked hard, very hard, to find the juice to make the paint; and then he found this place where the rocks hang over, and he painted them. To us they are only strange things, that make us laugh; but to him they were very beautiful."
The children had turned round and looked at the pictures.
"He used to kneel here naked, painting, painting, painting; and he wondered at the things he made himself," said the boy, rising and moving his hand in deep excitement. "Now the Boers have shot them all, so that we never see a little yellow face peeping out among the stones." He paused, a dreamy look coming over his face. "And the wild bucks have gone, and those days, and we are here. But we will be gone soon, and only the stones will lie on here, looking at everything like they look now. I know that it is I who am thinking," the fellow added slowly, "but it seems as though it were they who are talking. Has it never seemed so to you, Lyndall?"
"No, it never seems so to me," she answered.
The sun had dipped now below the hills, and the boy, suddenly remembering the ewes and lambs, started to his feet.
"Let us also go to the house and see who has come," said Em, as the boy shuffled away to rejoin his flock, while Doss ran at his heels, snapping at the ends of the torn trousers as they fluttered in the wind.
Chapter 1.III. I Was A Stranger, and Ye Took Me In.
As the two girls rounded the side of the kopje, an unusual scene presented itself. A large group was gathered at the back door of the homestead.
On the doorstep stood the Boer-woman, a hand on each hip, her face red and fiery, her head nodding fiercely. At her feet sat the yellow Hottentot maid, her satellite, and around stood the black Kaffer maids, with blankets twisted round their half-naked figures. Two, who stamped mealies in a wooden block, held the great stampers in their hands, and stared stupidly at the object of attraction. It certainly was not to look at the old German overseer, who stood in the centre of the group, that they had all gathered together. His salt-and-pepper suit, grizzly black beard, and grey eyes were as familiar to every one on the farm as the red gables of the homestead itself; but beside him stood the stranger, and on him all eyes were fixed. Ever and anon the newcomer cast a glance over his pendulous red nose to the spot where the Boer-woman stood, and smiled faintly.
"I'm not a child," cried the Boer-woman, in low Cape Dutch, "and I wasn't born yesterday. No, by the Lord, no! You can't take me in! My mother didn't wean me on Monday. One wink of my eye and I see the whole thing. I'll have no tramps sleeping on my farm," cried Tant Sannie blowing. "No, by the devil, no! not though he had sixty-times-six red noses."
There the German overseer mildly interposed that the man was not a tramp, but a highly respectable individual, whose horse had died by an accident three days before.
"Don't tell me," cried the Boer-woman; "the man isn't born that can take me in. If he'd had money, wouldn't he have bought a horse? Men who walk are thieves, liars, murderers, Rome's priests, seducers! I see the devil in his nose!" cried Tant Sannie shaking her fist at him; "and to come walking into the house of this Boer's child and shaking hands as though he came on horseback! Oh, no, no!"
The stranger took off his hat, a tall, battered chimneypot, and disclosed a bald head, at the back of which was a little fringe of curled white hair, and he bowed to Tant Sannie.
"What does she remark, my friend?" he inquired, turning his crosswise-looking eyes on the old German.
The German rubbed his old hands and hesitated.
"Ah—well—ah—the—Dutch—you know—do not like people who walk—in this country—ah!"
"My dear friend," said the stranger, laying his hand on the German's arm, "I should have bought myself another horse, but crossing, five days ago, a full river, I lost my purse—a purse with five hundred pounds in it. I spent five days on the bank of the river trying to find it—couldn't. Paid a Kaffer nine pounds to go in and look for it at the risk of his life—couldn't find it."
The German would have translated this information, but the Boer-woman gave no ear.
"No, no; he goes tonight. See how he looks at me—a poor unprotected female! If he wrongs me, who is to do me right?" cried Tant Sannie.
"I think," said the German in an undertone, "if you didn't look at her quite so much it might be advisable. She—ah—she—might—imagine that you liked her too well,—in fact—ah—"
"Certainly, my dear friend, certainly," said the stranger. "I shall not look at her."
Saying this, he turned his nose full upon a small Kaffer of two years old. That small naked son of Ham became instantly so terrified that he fled to his mother's blanket for protection, howling horribly.
Upon this the newcomer fixed his eyes pensively on the stamp-block, folding his hands on the head of his cane. His boots were broken, but he still had the cane of a gentleman.
"You vagabonds se Engelschman!" said Tant Sannie, looking straight at him.
This was a near approach to plain English; but the man contemplated the block abstractedly, wholly unconscious that any antagonism was being displayed toward him.
"You might not be a Scotchman or anything of that kind, might you?" suggested the German. "It is the English that she hates."
"My dear friend," said the stranger, "I am Irish every inch of me—father Irish, mother Irish. I've not a drop of English blood in my veins."
"And you might not be married, might you?" persisted the German. "If you had a wife and children, now? Dutch people do not like those who are not married."
"Ah," said the stranger, looking tenderly at the block, "I have a dear wife and three sweet little children—two lovely girls and a noble boy."
This information having been conveyed to the Boer-woman, she, after some further conversation, appeared slightly mollified; but remained firm to her conviction that the man's designs were evil.
"For, dear Lord!" she cried; "all Englishmen are ugly; but was there ever such a red-rag-nosed thing with broken boots and crooked eyes before? Take him to your room," she cried to the German; "but all the sin he does I lay at your door."
The German having told him how matters were arranged, the stranger made a profound bow to Tant Sannie and followed his host, who led the way to his own little room.
"I thought she would come to her better self soon," the German said joyously. "Tant Sannie is not wholly bad, far from it, far." Then seeing his companion cast a furtive glance at him, which he mistook for one of surprise, he added quickly, "Ah, yes, yes; we are all a primitive people here—not very lofty. We deal not in titles. Every one is Tante and Oom—aunt and uncle. This may be my room," he said, opening the door. "It is rough, the room is rough; not a palace—not quite. But it may be better than the fields, a little better!" he said, glancing round at his companion. "Come in, come in. There is something to eat—a mouthful: not the fare of emperors or kings; but we do not starve, not yet," he said, rubbing his hands together and looking round with a pleased, half-nervous smile on his old face.
"My friend, my dear friend," said the stranger, seizing him by the hand, "may the Lord bless you, the Lord bless and reward you—the God of the fatherless and the stranger. But for you I would this night have slept in the fields, with the dews of heaven upon my head."
Late that evening Lyndall came down to the cabin with the German's rations. Through the tiny square window the light streamed forth, and without knocking she raised the latch and entered. There was a fire burning on the hearth, and it cast its ruddy glow over the little dingy room, with its worm-eaten rafters and mud floor, and broken whitewashed walls. A curious little place, filled with all manner of articles. Next to the fire was a great toolbox; beyond that the little bookshelf with its well-worn books; beyond that, in the corner, a heap of filled and empty grain-bags. From the rafters hung down straps, riems, old boots, bits of harness, and a string of onions. The bed was in another corner, covered by a patchwork quilt of faded red lions, and divided from the rest of the room by a blue curtain, now drawn back. On the mantelshelf was an endless assortment of little bags and stones; and on the wall hung a map of South Germany, with a red line drawn through it to show where the German had wandered. This place was the one home the girls had known for many a year. The house where Tant Sannie lived and ruled was a place to sleep in, to eat in, not to be happy in. It was in vain she told them they were grown too old to go there; every morning and evening found them there. Were there not too many golden memories hanging about the old place for them to leave it?
Long winter nights, when they had sat round the fire and roasted potatoes, and asked riddles, and the old man had told of the little German village, where, fifty years before, a little German boy had played at snowballs, and had carried home the knitted stockings of a little girl who afterward became Waldo's mother; did they not seem to see the German peasant girls walking about with their wooden shoes and yellow, braided hair, and the little children eating their suppers out of little wooden bowls when the good mothers called them in to have their milk and potatoes?
And were there not yet better times than these? Moonlight nights, when they romped about the door, with the old man, yet more a child than any of them, and laughed, till the old roof of the wagon-house rang?
Or, best of all, were there not warm, dark, starlight nights, when they sat together on the doorstep, holding each other's hands, singing German hymns, their voices rising clear in the still night air—till the German would draw away his hand suddenly to wipe quickly a tear the children must not see? Would they not sit looking up at the stars and talking of them—of the dear Southern Cross, red, fiery Mars, Orion, with his belt, and the Seven Mysterious Sisters—and fall to speculating over them? How old are they? Who dwelt in them? And the old German would say that perhaps the souls we loved lived in them; there, in that little twinkling point was perhaps the little girl whose stockings he had carried home; and the children would look up at it lovingly, and call it "Uncle Otto's star." Then they would fall to deeper speculations—of the times and seasons wherein the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and the stars shall fall as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, and there shall be time no longer: "When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all His holy angels with Him." In lower and lower tones they would talk, till at last they fell into whispers; then they would wish good night softly, and walk home hushed and quiet.
Tonight, when Lyndall looked in, Waldo sat before the fire watching a pot which simmered there, with his slate and pencil in his hand; his father sat at the table buried in the columns of a three-weeks-old newspaper; and the stranger lay stretched on the bed in the corner, fast asleep, his mouth open, his great limbs stretched out loosely, betokening much weariness. The girl put the rations down upon the table, snuffed the candle, and stood looking at the figure on the bed.
"Uncle Otto," she said presently, laying her hand down on the newspaper, and causing the old German to look up over his glasses, "how long did that man say he had been walking?"
"Since this morning, poor fellow! A gentleman—not accustomed to walking—horse died—poor fellow!" said the German, pushing out his lip and glancing commiseratingly over his spectacles in the direction of the bed where the stranger lay, with his flabby double chin, and broken boots through which the flesh shone.
"And do you believe him, Uncle Otto?"
"Believe him? why of course I do. He himself told me the story three times distinctly."
"If," said the girl slowly, "he had walked for only one day his boots would not have looked so; and if—"
"If!" said the German starting up in his chair, irritated that any one should doubt such irrefragable evidence—"if! Why, he told me himself! Look how he lies there," added the German pathetically, "worn out—poor fellow! We have something for him though," pointing with his forefinger over his shoulder to the saucepan that stood on the fire. "We are not cooks—not French cooks, not quite; but it's drinkable, drinkable, I think; better than nothing, I think," he added, nodding his head in a jocund manner that evinced his high estimation of the contents of the saucepan and his profound satisfaction therein. "Bish! bish! my chicken," he said, as Lyndall tapped her little foot up and down upon the floor. "Bish! bish! my chicken, you will wake him."
He moved the candle so that his own head might intervene between it and the sleeper's face; and, smoothing his newspaper, he adjusted his spectacles to read.
The child's grey-black eyes rested on the figure on the bed, then turned to the German, then rested on the figure again.
"I think he is a liar. Good night, Uncle Otto," she said slowly, turning to the door.
Long after she had gone the German folded his paper up methodically, and put it in his pocket.
The stranger had not awakened to partake of the soup, and his son had fallen asleep on the ground. Taking two white sheepskins from the heap of sacks in the corner, the old man doubled them up, and lifting the boy's head gently from the slate on which it rested, placed the skins beneath it.
"Poor lambie, poor lambie!" he said, tenderly patting the great rough bear-like head; "tired is he!"
He threw an overcoat across the boy's feet, and lifted the saucepan from the fire. There was no place where the old man could comfortably lie down himself, so he resumed his seat. Opening a much-worn Bible, he began to read, and as he read pleasant thoughts and visions thronged on him.
"I was a stranger, and ye took me in," he read.
He turned again to the bed where the sleeper lay.
"I was a stranger."
Very tenderly the old man looked at him. He saw not the bloated body nor the evil face of the man; but, as it were, under deep disguise and fleshly concealment, the form that long years of dreaming had made very real to him. "Jesus, lover, and is it given to us, weak and sinful, frail and erring, to serve Thee, to take Thee in!" he said softly, as he rose from his seat. Full of joy, he began to pace the little room. Now and again as he walked he sang the lines of a German hymn, or muttered broken words of prayer. The little room was full of light. It appeared to the German that Christ was very near him, and that at almost any moment the thin mist of earthly darkness that clouded his human eyes might be withdrawn, and that made manifest of which the friends at Emmaus, beholding it, said, "It is the Lord!"
Again, and yet again, through the long hours of that night, as the old man walked he looked up to the roof of his little room, with its blackened rafters, and yet saw them not. His rough bearded face was illuminated with a radiant gladness; and the night was not shorter to the dreaming sleepers than to him whose waking dreams brought heaven near.
So quickly the night fled, that he looked up with surprise when at four o'clock the first grey streaks of summer dawn showed themselves through the little window. Then the old man turned to rake together the few coals that lay under the ashes, and his son, turning on the sheepskins, muttered sleepily to know if it were time to rise.
"Lie still, lie still! I would only make a fire," said the old man.
"Have you been up all night?" asked the boy.
"Yes; but it has been short, very short. Sleep again, my chicken; it is yet early."
And he went out to fetch more fuel.
Chapter 1.IV. Blessed is He That Believeth.
Bonaparte Blenkins sat on the side of the bed. He had wonderfully revived since the day before, held his head high, talked in a full sonorous voice, and ate greedily of all the viands offered him. At his side was a basin of soup, from which he took a deep draught now and again as he watched the fingers of the German, who sat on the mud floor mending the bottom of a chair.
Presently he looked out, where, in the afternoon sunshine, a few half-grown ostriches might be seen wandering listlessly about, and then he looked in again at the little whitewashed room, and at Lyndall, who sat in the doorway looking at a book. Then he raised his chin and tried to adjust an imaginary shirt-collar. Finding none, he smoothed the little grey fringe at the back of his head, and began:
"You are a student of history, I perceive, my friend, from the study of these volumes that lie scattered about this apartment; this fact has been made evident to me."
"Well—a little—perhaps—it may be," said the German meekly.
"Being a student of history then," said Bonaparte, raising himself loftily, "you will doubtless have heard of my great, of my celebrated kinsman, Napoleon Bonaparte?"
"Yes, yes," said the German, looking up.
"I, sir," said Bonaparte, "was born at this hour, on an April afternoon, three-and-fifty years ago. The nurse, sir—she was the same who attended when the Duke of Sutherland was born—brought me to my mother. 'There is only one name for this child,' she said: 'he has the nose of his great kinsman;' and so Bonaparte Blenkins became my name—Bonaparte Blenkins. Yes, sir," said Bonaparte, "there is a stream on my maternal side that connects me with a stream on his maternal side."
The German made a sound of astonishment.
"The connection," said Bonaparte, "is one which could not be easily comprehended by one unaccustomed to the study of aristocratic pedigrees; but the connection is close."
"Is it possible!" said the German, pausing in his work with much interest and astonishment. "Napoleon an Irishman!"
"Yes," said Bonaparte, "on the mother's side, and that is how we are related. There wasn't a man to beat him," said Bonaparte, stretching himself—"not a man except the Duke of Wellington. And it's a strange coincidence," added Bonaparte, bending forward, "but he was a connection of mine. His nephew, the Duke of Wellington's nephew, married a cousin of mine. She was a woman! See her at one of the court balls—amber satin—daisies in her hair. Worth going a hundred miles to look at her! Often seen her there myself, sir!"
The German moved the leather thongs in and out, and thought of the strange vicissitudes of human life, which might bring the kinsman of dukes and emperors to his humble room.
Bonaparte appeared lost among old memories.
"Ah, that Duke of Wellington's nephew!" he broke forth suddenly; "many's the joke I've had with him. Often came to visit me at Bonaparte Hall. Grand place I had then—park, conservatory, servants. He had only one fault, that Duke of Wellington's nephew," said Bonaparte, observing that the German was deeply interested in every word, "He was a coward—what you might call a coward. You've never been in Russia, I suppose?" said Bonaparte, fixing his crosswise looking eyes on the German's face.
"No, no," said the old man humbly. "France, England, Germany, a little in this country; it is all I have travelled."
"I, my friend," said Bonaparte, "I have been in every country in the world, and speak every civilised language, excepting only Dutch and German. I wrote a book of my travels—noteworthy incidents. Publisher got it—cheated me out of it. Great rascals those publishers! Upon one occasion the Duke of Wellington's nephew and I were travelling in Russia. All of a sudden one of the horses dropped down dead as a doornail. There we were—cold night—snow four feet thick—great forest—one horse not being able to move the sledge—night coming on—wolves.
"'Spree!' says the Duke of Wellington's nephew.
"'Spree, do you call it? says I. 'Look out.'
"There, sticking out under a bush, was nothing less than the nose of a bear. The Duke of Wellington's nephew was up a tree like a shot; I stood quietly on the ground, as cool as I am at this moment, loaded my gun, and climbed up the tree. There was only one bough.
"'Bon,' said the Duke of Wellington's nephew, 'you'd better sit in front.'
"'All right,' said I; 'but keep your gun ready. There are more coming.' He'd got his face buried in my back.
"'How many are there?' said he.
"'Four,' said I.
"'How many are there now?' said he.
"'Eight,' said I.
"'How many are there now?' said he.
"'Ten,' said I.
"'Ten! ten!' said he; and down goes his gun.
"'Wallie,' I said, 'what have you done? We're dead men now.'
"'Bon, my old fellow,' said he, 'I couldn't help it; my hands trembled so!'
"'Wall,' I said, turning round and seizing his hand, 'Wallie, my dear lad, good-bye. I'm not afraid to die. My legs are long—they hang down—the first bear that comes and I don't hit him, off goes my foot. When he takes it I shall give you my gun and go. You may yet be saved; but tell, oh, tell Mary Ann that I thought of her, that I prayed for her.'
"'Good-bye, old fellow,' said he.
"'God bless you,' said I.
"By this time the bears were sitting in a circle all around the tree. Yes," said Bonaparte impressively, fixing his eyes on the German, "a regular, exact, circle. The marks of their tails were left in the snow, and I measured it afterward; a drawing-master couldn't have done it better. It was that saved me. If they'd rushed on me at once, poor old Bon would never have been here to tell this story. But they came on, sir, systematically, one by one. All the rest sat on their tails and waited. The first fellow came up, and I shot him; the second fellow—I shot him; the third—I shot him. At last the tenth came; he was the biggest of all—the leader, you may say.
"'Wall,' I said, 'give me your hand. My fingers are stiff with the cold; there is only one bullet left. I shall miss him. While he is eating me you get down and take your gun; and live, dear friend, live to remember the man who gave his life for you!' By that time the bear was at me. I felt his paw on my trousers.
"'Oh, Bonnie! Bonnie!' said the Duke of Wellington's nephew. But I just took my gun and put the muzzle to the bear's ear—over he fell—dead!"
Bonaparte Blenkins waited to observe what effect his story had made. Then he took out a dirty white handkerchief and stroked his forehead, and more especially his eyes.
"It always affects me to relate that adventure," he remarked, returning the handkerchief to his pocket. "Ingratitude—base, vile ingratitude—is recalled by it! That man, that man, who but for me would have perished in the pathless wilds of Russia, that man in the hour of my adversity forsook me." The German looked up. "Yes," said Bonaparte, "I had money, I had lands; I said to my wife: 'There is Africa, a struggling country; they want capital; they want men of talent; they want men of ability to open up that land. Let us go.'
"I bought eight thousand pounds' worth of machinery—winnowing, plowing, reaping machines; I loaded a ship with them. Next steamer I came out—wife, children, all. Got to the Cape. Where is the ship with the things? Lost—gone to the bottom! And the box with the money? Lost—nothing saved!
"My wife wrote to the Duke of Wellington's nephew; I didn't wish her to; she did it without my knowledge.
"What did the man whose life I saved do? Did he send me thirty thousand pounds? say, 'Bonaparte, my brother, here is a crumb?' No; he sent me nothing.
"My wife said, 'Write.' I said, 'Mary Ann, NO. While these hands have power to work, NO. While this frame has power to endure, NO. Never shall it be said that Bonaparte Blenkins asked of any man.'"
The man's noble independence touched the German.
"Your case is hard; yes, that is hard," said the German, shaking his head.
Bonaparte took another draught of the soup, leaned back against the pillows, and sighed deeply.
"I think," he said after a while, rousing himself, "I shall now wander in the benign air, and taste the gentle cool of evening. The stiffness hovers over me yet; exercise is beneficial."
So saying, he adjusted his hat carefully on the bald crown of his head, and moved to the door. After he had gone the German sighed again over his work:
"Ah, Lord! So it is! Ah!"
He thought of the ingratitude of the world.
"Uncle Otto," said the child in the doorway, "did you ever hear of ten bears sitting on their tails in a circle?"
"Well, not of ten exactly: but bears do attack travellers every day. It is nothing unheard of," said the German. "A man of such courage, too! Terrible experience that!"
"And how do we know that the story is true, Uncle Otto?"
The German's ire was roused.
"That is what I do hate!" he cried. "Know that is true! How do you know that anything is true? Because you are told so. If we begin to question everything—proof, proof, proof, what will we have to believe left? How do you know the angel opened the prison door for Peter, except that Peter said so? How do you know that God talked to Moses, except that Moses wrote it? That is what I hate!"
The girl knit her brows. Perhaps her thoughts made a longer journey than the German dreamed of; for, mark you, the old dream little how their words and lives are texts and studies to the generation that shall succeed them. Not what we are taught, but what we see, makes us, and the child gathers the food on which the adult feeds to the end.
When the German looked up next there was a look of supreme satisfaction in the little mouth and the beautiful eyes.
"What dost see, chicken?" he asked.
The child said nothing, and an agonizing shriek was borne on the afternoon breeze.
"Oh, God! my God! I am killed!" cried the voice of Bonaparte, as he, with wide open mouth and shaking flesh, fell into the room, followed by a half-grown ostrich, who put its head in at the door, opened its beak at him, and went away.
"Shut the door! shut the door! As you value my life, shut the door!" cried Bonaparte, sinking into a chair, his face blue and white, with a greenishness about the mouth. "Ah, my friend," he said tremulously, "eternity has looked me in the face! My life's thread hung upon a cord! The valley of the shadow of death!" said Bonaparte, seizing the German's arm.
"Dear, dear, dear!" said the German, who had closed the lower half of the door, and stood much concerned beside the stranger, "you have had a fright. I never knew so young a bird to chase before; but they will take dislikes to certain people. I sent a boy away once because a bird would chase him. Ah, dear, dear!"
"When I looked round," said Bonaparte, "the red and yawning cavity was above me, and the reprehensible paw raised to strike me. My nerves," said Bonaparte, suddenly growing faint, "always delicate—highly strung—are broken—broken! You could not give a little wine, a little brandy my friend?"
The old German hurried away to the bookshelf, and took from behind the books a small bottle, half of whose contents he poured into a cup. Bonaparte drained it eagerly.
"How do you feel now?" asked the German, looking at him with much sympathy.
"A little, slightly, better."
The German went out to pick up the battered chimneypot which had fallen before the door.
"I am sorry you got the fright. The birds are bad things till you know them," he said sympathetically, as he put the hat down.
"My friend," said Bonaparte, holding out his hand, "I forgive you; do not be disturbed. Whatever the consequences, I forgive you. I know, I believe, it was with no ill-intent that you allowed me to go out. Give me your hand. I have no ill-feeling; none!"
"You are very kind," said the German, taking the extended hand, and feeling suddenly convinced that he was receiving magnanimous forgiveness for some great injury, "you are very kind."
"Don't mention it," said Bonaparte.
He knocked out the crown of his caved-in old hat, placed it on the table before him, leaned his elbows on the table and his face in his hands, and contemplated it.
"Ah, my old friend," he thus apostrophized the hat, "you have served me long, you have served me faithfully, but the last day has come. Never more shall you be borne upon the head of your master. Never more shall you protect his brow from the burning rays of summer or the cutting winds of winter. Henceforth bare-headed must your master go. Good-bye, good-bye, old hat!"
At the end of this affecting appeal the German rose. He went to the box at the foot of his bed; out of it he took a black hat, which had evidently been seldom worn and carefully preserved.
"It's not exactly what you may have been accustomed to," he said nervously, putting it down beside the battered chimneypot, "but it might be of some use—a protection to the head, you know."
"My friend," said Bonaparte, "you are not following my advice; you are allowing yourself to be reproached on my account. Do not make yourself unhappy. No; I shall go bare-headed."
"No, no, no!" cried the German energetically. "I have no use for the hat, none at all. It is shut up in the box."
"Then I will take it, my friend. It is a comfort to one's own mind when you have unintentionally injured any one to make reparation. I know the feeling. The hat may not be of that refined cut of which the old one was, but it will serve, yes, it will serve. Thank you," said Bonaparte, adjusting it on his head, and then replacing it on the table. "I shall lie down now and take a little repose," he added; "I much fear my appetite for supper will be lost."
"I hope not, I hope not," said the German, reseating himself at his work, and looking much concerned as Bonaparte stretched himself on the bed and turned the end of the patchwork quilt over his feet.
"You must not think to make your departure, not for many days," said the German presently. "Tant Sannie gives her consent, and—"
"My friend," said Bonaparte, closing his eyes sadly, "you are kind; but were it not that tomorrow is the Sabbath, weak and trembling as I lie here, I would proceed on my way. I must seek work; idleness but for a day is painful. Work, labour—that is the secret of all true happiness!"
He doubled the pillar under his head, and watched how the German drew the leather thongs in and out.
After a while Lyndall silently put her book on the shelf and went home, and the German stood up and began to mix some water and meal for roaster-cakes. As he stirred them with his hands he said:
"I make always a double supply on Saturday night; the hands are then free as the thoughts for Sunday."
"The blessed Sabbath!" said Bonaparte.
There was a pause. Bonaparte twisted his eyes without moving his head, to see if supper were already on the fire.
"You must sorely miss the administration of the Lord's word in this desolate spot," added Bonaparte. "Oh, how love I Thine house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth!"
"Well, we do; yes," said the German; "but we do our best. We meet together, and I—well, I say a few words, and perhaps they are not wholly lost, not quite."
"Strange coincidence," said Bonaparte; "my plan always was the same. Was in the Free State once—solitary farm—one neighbour. Every Sunday I called together friend and neighbour, child and servant, and said, 'Rejoice with me, that we may serve the Lord,' and then I addressed them. Ah, those were blessed times," said Bonaparte; "would they might return."
The German stirred at the cakes, and stirred, and stirred, and stirred. He could give the stranger his bed, and he could give the stranger his hat, and he could give the stranger his brandy; but his Sunday service!
After a good while he said:
"I might speak to Tant Sannie; I might arrange; you might take the service in my place, if it—"
"My friend," said Bonaparte, "it would give me the profoundest felicity, the most unbounded satisfaction; but in these worn-out habiliments, in these deteriorated garments, it would not be possible, it would not be fitting that I should officiate in service of One whom, for respect, we shall not name. No, my friend, I will remain here; and, while you are assembling yourselves together in the presence of the Lord, I, in my solitude, will think of and pray for you. No; I will remain here!"
It was a touching picture—the solitary man there praying for them. The German cleared his hands from the meal, and went to the chest from which he had taken the black hat. After a little careful feeling about, he produced a black cloth coat, trousers, and waistcoat, which he laid on the table, smiling knowingly. They were of new shining cloth, worn twice a year, when he went to the town to nachtmaal. He looked with great pride at the coat as he unfolded it and held it up.
"It's not the latest fashion, perhaps, not a West End cut, not exactly; but it might do; it might serve at a push. Try it on, try it on!" he said, his old grey eyes twinkling with pride.
Bonaparte stood up and tried on the coat. It fitted admirably; the waistcoat could be made to button by ripping up the back, and the trousers were perfect; but below were the ragged boots. The German was not disconcerted. Going to the beam where a pair of top-boots hung, he took them off, dusted them carefully, and put them down before Bonaparte. The old eyes now fairly brimmed over with sparkling enjoyment.
"I have only worn them once. They might serve; they might be endured."
Bonaparte drew them on and stood upright, his head almost touching the beams. The German looked at him with profound admiration. It was wonderful what a difference feathers made in the bird.
Chapter 1.V. Sunday Services.
Service No. I.
The boy Waldo kissed the pages of his book and looked up. Far over the flat lay the kopje, a mere speck; the sheep wandered quietly from bush to bush; the stillness of the early Sunday rested everywhere, and the air was fresh.
He looked down at his book. On its page a black insect crept. He lifted it off with his finger. Then he leaned on his elbow, watching its quivering antennae and strange movements, smiling.
"Even you," he whispered, "shall not die. Even you He loves. Even you He will fold in His arms when He takes everything and makes it perfect and happy."
When the thing had gone he smoothed the leaves of his Bible somewhat caressingly. The leaves of that book had dropped blood for him once; they had taken the brightness out of his childhood; from between them had sprung the visions that had clung about him and made night horrible. Adder-like thoughts had lifted their heads, had shot out forked tongues at him, asking mockingly strange, trivial questions that he could not answer, miserable child:
Why did the women in Mark see only one angel and the women in Luke two? Could a story be told in opposite ways and both ways be true? Could it? could it? Then again: Is there nothing always right, and nothing always wrong? Could Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite "put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workman's hammer?" and could the Spirit of the Lord chant paeans over her, loud paeans, high paeans, set in the book of the Lord, and no voice cry out it was a mean and dastardly sin to lie, and kill the trusting in their sleep? Could the friend of God marry his own sister, and be beloved, and the man who does it today goes to hell, to hell? Was there nothing always right or always wrong?
Those leaves had dropped blood for him once: they had made his heart heavy and cold; they had robbed his childhood of its gladness; now his fingers moved over them caressingly.
"My father God knows, my father knows," he said; "we cannot understand; He knows." After a while he whispered, smiling—"I heard your voice this morning when my eyes were not yet open, I felt you near me, my Father. Why do you love me so? His face was illuminated. In the last four months the old question has gone from me. I know you are good; I know you love everything; I know, I know, I know! I could not have borne it any more, not any more." He laughed softly. "And all the while I was so miserable you were looking at me and loving me, and I never knew it. But I know it now. I feel it," said the boy, and he laughed low; "I feel it!" he laughed.
After a while he began partly to sing, partly to chant the disconnected verses of hymns, those which spoke his gladness, many times over. The sheep with their senseless eyes turned to look at him as he sang.
At last he lapsed into quiet. Then as the boy lay there staring at bush and sand, he saw a vision.
He had crossed the river of Death, and walked on the other bank in the Lord's land of Beulah. His feet sank into the dark grass, and he walked alone. Then, far over the fields, he saw a figure coming across the dark green grass. At first he thought it must be one of the angels; but as it came nearer he began to feel what it was. And it came closer, closer to him, and then the voice said, "Come," and he knew surely Who it was. He ran to the dear feet and touched them with his hands; yes, he held them fast! He lay down beside them. When he looked up the face was over him, and the glorious eyes were loving him; and they two were there alone together.
He laughed a deep laugh; then started up like one suddenly awakened from sleep.
"Oh, God!" He cried, "I cannot wait; I cannot wait! I want to die; I want to see Him; I want to touch him. Let me die!" He folded his hands, trembling. "How can I wait so long—for long, long years perhaps? I want to die—to see Him. I will die any death. Oh, let me come!"
Weeping he bowed himself, and quivered from head to foot. After a long while he lifted his head.
"Yes; I will wait; I will wait. But not long; do not let it be very long, Jesus King. I want you; oh, I want you—soon, soon!" He sat still, staring across the plain with his tearful eyes.
Service No. II.
In the front room of the farmhouse sat Tant Sannie in her elbow-chair. In her hand was her great brass-clasped hymn-book, round her neck was a clean white handkerchief, under her feet was a wooden stove. There too sat Em and Lyndall, in clean pinafores and new shoes. There too was the spruce Hottentot in a starched white kapje, and her husband on the other side of the door, with his wool oiled and very much combed out, and staring at his new leather boots. The Kaffer servants were not there because Tant Sannie held they were descended from apes, and needed no salvation. But the rest were gathered for the Sunday service, and waited the officiator.
Meanwhile Bonaparte and the German approached arm in arm—Bonaparte resplendent in the black cloth clothes, a spotless shirt, and a spotless collar; the German in the old salt-and-pepper, casting shy glances of admiration at his companion.
At the front door Bonaparte removed his hat with much dignity, raised his shirt collar, and entered. To the centre table he walked, put his hat solemnly down by the big Bible, and bowed his head over it in silent prayer.
The Boer-woman looked at the Hottentot, and the Hottentot looked at the Boer-woman.
There was one thing on earth for which Tant Sannie had a profound reverence, which exercised a subduing influence over her, which made her for the time a better woman—that thing was new, shining black cloth. It made her think of the predikant; it made her think of the elders who sat in the top pew of the church on Sundays, with the hair so nicely oiled, so holy and respectable, with their little swallow-tailed coats; it made her think of heaven, where everything was so holy and respectable, and nobody wore tancord, and the littlest angel had a black-tailed coat. She wished she hadn't called him a thief and a Roman Catholic. She hoped the German hadn't told him. She wondered where those clothes were when he came in rags to her door. There was no doubt, he was a very respectable man, a gentleman.
The German began to read a hymn. At the end of each line Bonaparte groaned, and twice at the end of every verse.
The Boer-woman had often heard of persons groaning during prayers, to add a certain poignancy and finish to them; old Jan Vanderlinde, her mother's brother, always did it after he was converted; and she would have looked upon it as no especial sign of grace in any one; but to groan at hymn-time! She was startled. She wondered if he remembered that she shook her fist in his face. This was a man of God. They knelt down to pray. The Boer-woman weighed two hundred and fifty pounds, and could not kneel. She sat in her chair, and peeped between her crossed fingers at the stranger's back. She could not understand what he said; but he was in earnest. He shook the chair by the back rail till it made quite a little dust on the mud floor.
When they rose from their knees Bonaparte solemnly seated himself in the chair and opened the Bible. He blew his nose, pulled up his shirt collar, smoothed the leaves, stroked down his capacious waistcoat, blew his nose again, looked solemnly round the room, then began.
"All liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
Having read this portion of Scripture, Bonaparte paused impressively, and looked all round the room.
"I shall not, my dear friends," he said, "long detain you. Much of our precious time has already fled blissfully from us in the voice of thanksgiving and the tongue of praise. A few, a very few words are all I shall address to you, and may they be as a rod of iron dividing the bones from the marrow, and the marrow from the bones.
"In the first place: What is a liar?"
The question was put so pointedly, and followed by a pause so profound, that even the Hottentot man left off looking at his boots and opened his eyes, though he understood not a word.
"I repeat," said Bonaparte, "what is a liar?"
The sensation was intense; the attention of the audience was riveted.
"Have you any of you ever seen a liar, my dear friends?" There was a still longer pause. "I hope not; I truly hope not. But I will tell you what a liar is. I knew a liar once—a little boy who lived in Cape Town, in Short Market Street. His mother and I sat together one day, discoursing about our souls.
"'Here, Sampson,' said his mother, 'go and buy sixpence of meiboss from the Malay round the corner.'
"When he came back she said: 'How much have you got?'
"'Five,' he said.
"He was afraid if he said six and a half she'd ask for some. And, my friends, that was a lie. The half of a meiboss stuck in his throat and he died and was buried. And where did the soul of that little liar go to, my friends? It went to the lake of fire and brimstone. This brings me to the second point of my discourse.
"What is a lake of fire and brimstone? I will tell you, my friends," said Bonaparte condescendingly. "The imagination unaided cannot conceive it: but by the help of the Lord I will put it before your mind's eye.
"I was travelling in Italy once on a time; I came to a city called Rome, a vast city, and near it is a mountain which spits forth fire. Its name is Etna. Now, there was a man in that city of Rome who had not the fear of God before his eyes, and he loved a woman. The woman died, and he walked up that mountain spitting fire, and when he got to the top he threw himself in at the hole that is there. The next day I went up. I was not afraid; the Lord preserves His servants. And in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest at any time thou fall into a volcano. It was dark night when I got there, but in the fear of the Lord I walked to the edge of the yawning abyss, and looked in. That sight—that sight, my friends, is impressed upon my most indelible memory. I looked down into the lurid depths upon an incandescent lake, a melted fire, a seething sea; the billows rolled from side to side, and on their fiery crests tossed the white skeleton of the suicide. The heat had burnt the flesh from off the bones; they lay as a light cork upon the melted, fiery waves. One skeleton hand was raised upward, the finger pointing to heaven; the other, with outstretched finger, pointing downward, as though it would say, 'I go below, but you, Bonaparte, may soar above.' I gazed; I stood entranced. At that instant there was a crack in the lurid lake; it swelled, expanded, and the skeleton of the suicide disappeared, to be seen no more by mortal eye."
Here again Bonaparte rested, and then continued:
"The lake of melted stone rose in the crater, it swelled higher and higher at the side, it streamed forth at the top. I had presence of mind; near me was a rock; I stood upon it. The fiery torrent was vomited out and streamed on either side of me. And through that long and terrible night I stood there alone upon that rock, the glowing, fiery lava on every hand—a monument of the long-suffering and tender providence of the Lord, who spared me that I might this day testify in your ears of Him.
"Now, my dear friends, let us deduce the lessons that are to be learnt from this narrative.
"Firstly: let us never commit suicide. The man is a fool, my friends, that man is insane, my friends, who would leave this earth, my friends. Here are joys innumerable, such as it hath not entered into the heart of man to understand, my friends. Here are clothes, my friends; here are beds, my friends; here is delicious food, my friends. Our precious bodies were given us to love, to cherish. Oh, let us do so! Oh, let us never hurt them; but care for and love them, my friends!"
Every one was impressed, and Bonaparte proceeded:
"Thirdly; let us not love too much. If that young man had not loved that young woman, he would not have jumped into Mount Etna. The good men of old never did so. Was Jeremiah ever in love, or Ezekiel, or Hosea, or even any of the minor prophets? No. Then why should we be? Thousands are rolling in that lake at this moment who would say, 'It was love that brought us here.' Oh, let us think always of our own souls first.
"'A charge to keep I have, A God to glorify; A never-dying soul to save, And fit it for the sky.'
"Oh, beloved friends, remember the little boy and the meiboss; remember the young girl and the young man; remember the lake, the fire, and the brimstone; remember the suicide's skeleton on the pitchy billows of Mount Etna; remember the voice of warning that has this day sounded in your ears; and what I say to you I say to all—watch! May the Lord add his blessings!"
Here the Bible closed with a tremendous thud. Tant Sannie loosened the white handkerchief about her neck and wiped her eyes, and the coloured girl, seeing her do so, sniffled. The did not understand the discourse, which made it the more affecting.
There hung over it that inscrutable charm which hovers forever for the human intellect over the incomprehensible and shadowy. When the last hymn was sung the German conducted the officiator to Tant Sannie, who graciously extended her hand, and offered coffee and a seat on the sofa. Leaving him there, the German hurried away to see how the little plum-pudding he had left at home was advancing; and Tant Sannie remarked that it was a hot day. Bonaparte gathered her meaning as she fanned herself with the end of her apron. He bowed low in acquiescence. A long silence followed. Tant Sannie spoke again. Bonaparte gave her no ear; his eye was fixed on a small miniature on the opposite wall, which represented Tant Sannie as she had appeared on the day before her confirmation, fifteen years before, attired in green muslin. Suddenly he started to his feet, walked up to the picture, and took his stand before it. Long and wistfully he gazed into its features; it was easy to see that he was deeply moved. With a sudden movement, as though no longer able to restrain himself, he seized the picture, loosened it from its nail, and held it close to his eyes. At length, turning to the Boer-woman, he said, in a voice of deep emotion:
"You will, I trust, dear madam, excuse this exhibition of my feelings; but this—this little picture recalls to me my first and best beloved, my dear departed wife, who is now a saint in heaven."
Tant Sannie could not understand; but the Hottentot maid, who had taken her seat on the floor beside her mistress, translated the English into Dutch as far as she was able.
"Ah, my first, my beloved!" he added, looking tenderly down at the picture. "Oh, the beloved, the beautiful lineaments! My angel wife! This is surely a sister of yours, madame?" he added, fixing his eyes on Tant Sannie.
The Dutchwoman blushed, shook her head, and pointed to herself.
Carefully, intently, Bonaparte looked from the picture in his hand to Tant Sannie's features, and from the features back to the picture. Then slowly a light broke over his countenance, he looked up, it became a smile; he looked back at the miniature, his whole countenance was effulgent.
"Ah, yes; I see it now," he cried, turning his delighted gaze on the Boer-woman; "eyes, mouth, nose, chin, the very expression!" he cried. "How is it possible I did not notice it before?"
"Take another cup of coffee," said Tant Sannie. "Put some sugar in."
Bonaparte hung the picture tenderly up, and was turning to take the cup from her hand, when the German appeared, to say that the pudding was ready and the meat on the table.
"He's a God-fearing man, and one who knows how to behave himself," said the Boer-woman as he went out at the door. "If he's ugly, did not the Lord make him? And are we to laugh at the Lord's handiwork? It is better to be ugly and good than pretty and bad; though of course it's nice when one is both," said Tant Sannie, looking complacently at the picture on the wall.
In the afternoon the German and Bonaparte sat before the door of the cabin. Both smoked in complete silence—Bonaparte with a book in his hands and his eyes half closed; the German puffing vigorously, and glancing up now and again at the serene blue sky overhead.
"Supposing—you—you, in fact, made the remark to me," burst forth the German suddenly, "that you were looking for a situation."
Bonaparte opened his mouth wide, and sent a stream of smoke through his lips.
"Now supposing," said the German—"merely supposing, of course—that some one, some one, in fact, should make an offer to you, say, to become schoolmaster on their farm and teach two children, two little girls, perhaps, and would give you forty pounds a year, would you accept it? Just supposing, of course."
"Well, my dear friend," said Bonaparte, "that would depend on circumstances. Money is no consideration with me. For my wife I have made provision for the next year. My health is broken. Could I meet a place where a gentleman would be treated as a gentleman I would accept it, however small the remuneration. With me," said Bonaparte, "money is no consideration."
"Well," said the German, when he had taken a whiff or two more from his pipe, "I think I shall go up and see Tant Sannie a little. I go up often on Sunday afternoon to have a general conversation, to see her, you know. Nothing—nothing particular, you know."
The old man put his book into his pocket, and walked up to the farmhouse with a peculiarly knowing and delighted expression of countenance.
"He doesn't suspect what I'm going to do," soliloquized the German; "hasn't the least idea. A nice surprise for him."
The man whom he had left at his doorway winked at the retreating figure with a wink that was not to be described.
Chapter 1.VI. Bonaparte Blenkins Makes His Nest.
"Ah, what is the matter?" asked Waldo, stopping at the foot of the ladder with a load of skins on his back that he was carrying up to the loft. Through the open door in the gable little Em was visible, her feet dangling from the high bench on which she sat. The room, once a storeroom, had been divided by a row of mealie bags into two parts—the back being Bonaparte's bedroom, the front his schoolroom.
"Lyndall made him angry," said the girl tearfully; "and he has given me the fourteenth of John to learn. He says he will teach me to behave myself when Lyndall troubles him."
"What did she do?" asked the boy.
"You see," said Em, hopelessly turning the leaves, "whenever he talks she looks out at the door, as though she did not hear him. Today she asked him what the signs of the Zodiac were, and he said he was surprised that she should ask him; it was not a fit and proper thing for little girls to talk about. Then she asked him who Copernicus was; and he said he was one of the Emperors of Rome, who burned the Christians in a golden pig, and the worms ate him up while he was still alive. I don't know why," said Em plaintively, "but she just put her books under her arm and walked out; and she will never come to his school again, she says, and she always does what she says. And now I must sit here every day alone," said Em, the great tears dropping softly.
"Perhaps Tant Sannie will send him away," said the boy, in his mumbling way, trying to comfort her.
"No," said Em, shaking her head; "no. Last night when the little Hottentot maid was washing her feet, he told her he liked such feet, and that fat women were so nice to him; and she said I must always put pure cream in his coffee now. No; he'll never go away," said Em dolorously.
The boy put down his skins and fumbled in his pocket, and produced a small piece of paper containing something. He stuck it out toward her.
"There, take it for you," he said. This was by way of comfort.
Em opened it and found a small bit of gum, a commodity prized by the children; but the great tears dropped down slowly on to it.
Waldo was distressed. He had cried so much in his morsel of life that tears in another seemed to burn him.
"If," he said, stepping in awkwardly and standing by the table, "if you will not cry I will tell you something—a secret."
"What is that?" asked Em, instantly becoming decidedly better.
"You will tell it to no human being?"
He bent nearer to her, and with deep solemnity said:
"I have made a machine!"
Em opened her eyes.
"Yes; a machine for shearing sheep. It is almost done," said the boy. "There is only one thing that is not right yet; but it will be soon. When you think, and think, and think, all night and all day, it comes at last," he added mysteriously.
"Where is it?"
"Here! I always carry it here," said the boy, putting his hand to his breast, where a bulging-out was visible. "This is a model. When it is done they will have to make a large one."
"Show it me."
The boy shook his head.
"No, not till it is done. I cannot let any human being see it till then."
"It is a beautiful secret," said Em; and the boy shuffled out to pick up his skins.
That evening father and son sat in the cabin eating their supper. The father sighed deeply sometimes. Perhaps he thought how long a time it was since Bonaparte had visited the cabin; but his son was in that land in which sighs have no part. It is a question whether it were not better to be the shabbiest of fools, and know the way up the little stair of imagination to the land of dreams, than the wisest of men, who see nothing that the eyes do not show, and feel nothing that the hands do not touch. The boy chewed his brown bread and drank his coffee; but in truth he saw only his machine finished—that last something found out and added. He saw it as it worked with beautiful smoothness; and over and above, as he chewed his bread and drank his coffee, there was that delightful consciousness of something bending over him and loving him. It would not have been better in one of the courts of heaven, where the walls are set with rows of the King of Glory's amethysts and milk-white pearls, than there, eating his supper in that little room.
As they sat in silence there was a knock at the door. When it was opened the small woolly head of a little nigger showed itself. She was a messenger from Tant Sannie: the German was wanted at once at the homestead. Putting on his hat with both hands, he hurried off. The kitchen was in darkness, but in the pantry beyond Tant Sannie and her maids were assembled.
A Kaffer girl, who had been grinding pepper between two stones, knelt on the floor, the lean Hottentot stood with a brass candlestick in her hand, and Tant Sannie, near the shelf, with a hand on each hip, was evidently listening intently, as were her companions.
"What may be it?" cried the old German in astonishment. The room beyond the pantry was the storeroom. Through the thin wooden partition there arose at that instant, evidently from some creature ensconced there, a prolonged and prodigious howl, followed by a succession of violent blows against the partition wall.
The German seized the churn-stick, and was about to rush round the house, when the Boer-woman impressively laid her hand upon his arm.