Vrouw Grobelaar and Her Leading Cases - Seventeen Short Stories
by Perceval Gibbon
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Copyright, 1906, by McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO.

Published, January, 1906





















The Vrouw Grobelaar, you must know, is a lady of excellent standing, as much by reason of family connections (for she was a Viljoen of the older stock herself, and buried in her time three husbands of estimable parentage) as of her wealth. Her farms extended from the Ringkop on the one side to the Holgaatspruit on the other, which is more than a day's ride; and her stock appears to be of that ideal species which does not take rinderpest. Her Kafirs were born on the place, and will surely die there, for though the old lady is firmly convinced that she rules them with a rod of iron, the truth is she spoils them atrociously; and were it not that there is an excellent headman to her kraals, the niggers would soon grow pot-bellied in idleness.

The Vrouw Grobelaar is a lady who commands respect. Her face is a portentous mask of solemnity, and her figure is spacious beyond the average of Dutch ladies, so that certain chairs are tacitly conceded her as a monopoly. The good Vrouw does not read or write, and having never found a need in herself for these arts, is the least thing impatient of those who practice them. The Psalms, however, she appears to know by heart; also other portions of the Bible; and is capable of spitting Scripture at you on the smallest provocation. Indeed she bubbles with morality, and a mention of "the accursed thing" (which would appear to be a genus and not a species, so many articles of human commerce does it embrace) will set her effervescing with mingled blame and exhortation. But if punishment should come in question, as when a Kafir waylaid and slew a chicken of hers, she displays so prolific an invention in excuses, so generous a partiality for mercy, that not the most irate induna that ever laid down a law of his own could find a pretext for using the stick.

She lives in her homestead with some half-dozen of nieces, a nephew or two, and a litter of grandchildren, who know the old lady to the core, cozen and blarney her as they please, and love her with a perfect unanimity. I think she sometimes blames herself for her tyrannical usage of these innocents, who nevertheless thrive remarkably on it. You can hardly get on your horse at the door without maiming an infant, and you can't throw a stone in any direction without killing a marriageable damsel. They pervade the old place like an atmosphere; the kraals ring with their voices, and the Kafirs spend lives of mingled misery and delight at their irresponsible hands.

I do not think I need particularize in the matter of these youngsters, save as regards Katje. Katje refuses to be ignored, and she was no more to be overlooked than a tin- tack in the sole of your foot. She was the only child of Vrouw Grobelaar's youngest brother, Barend Viljoen, who died while lion-hunting in the Fever Country. At the time I am thinking of Katje might have been eighteen. She was like a poppy among the stubble, so delicate in her bodily fabric, and yet so opulent in shape and coloring. She was the nicest child that ever gave a kiss for the asking (you could kiss her as soon as look at her), but she was also the very devil to deal with if she saw fit to take a distaste of you. I saw her once smack a fathom of able- bodied youth on both sides of the head with a lusty vigor that constrained the sufferer to howl. And I have seen her come to meet a man—well, me, with the readiest lips and the friendliest hand in the world. Oh, Katje was like a blotch of color in one's life; something vivid, to throw the days into relief.

A stranger to the household might have put down Katje's behavior towards the Vrouw Grobelaar as damnable, no less; and in the early days of my acquaintance with the family I was somewhat tempted to this opinion myself. For she not only flouted the old lady to her face, but would upon occasion disregard her utterly, and do it all with what I can only call a swagger that seemed to demand a local application of drastic measures. But Katje knew her victim, if such a word can be applied to the Vrouw Grobelaar, and never prodded her save on her armor. For instance, to say the Kafirs were overdriven and starved was nothing if not flattery—to say they were spoiled and coddled would have been mere brutality.

With it all, the Vrouw Grobelaar went her placid way, like an elephant over egg-shells. Her household did her one service, at least, in return for their maintenance, and that was to provide the old lady with an audience. It was in no sense an unwilling service, for her imagination ran to the gruesome, and she never planted a precept but she drove it home with a case in point. As a result night was often shattered by a yell from some sleeper whose dreams had trespassed on devilish domains. The Vrouw Grobelaar believed most entirely in Kafir magic, in witchcraft and second sight, in ghosts and infernal possession, in destiny, and in a very personal arch-fiend who presided over a material hell when not abroad in the world on the war-path. Besides, she had stores of tales from the lives of neighbors and acquaintances: often horrible enough, for the Boers are a lonely folk and God's finger writes large in their lives.

I almost think I can see it now—the low Dutch kitchen with its plank ceiling, the old lady in her chair, with an illustrative forefinger uplifted to punctuate the periods of her tale, the embers, white and red, glowing on the hearth, and the intent shadow-pitted faces of the hearers, agape for horrors.

There was a tale I heard her tell to Katje, when that damsel had seen fit to observe, apropos of disobedience in general, that her grandfather's character had nothing to do with hers. The tale was in plaintive Dutch, the language that makes or breaks a story-teller, for you must hang your point on the gutturals or you miss it altogether.

"Look at my husband's uncle," said the old lady. "A sinful man, forever swearing and cursing, and drinking. His farm was the worst in the district; the very Kafirs were ashamed of it when they went to visit the kraals. But Voss (that was the name of my husband's uncle) cared nothing so long as there was a horse to ride into the dorp on and some money to buy whiskey with. And he drank so much and carried on so wickedly that his wife died and his girls married poor men and never went to stay with their father. So at last he lived in the house, with only his son to help him from being all alone.

"This son was Barend Voss, a great hulking fellow, with the strength of a trek-ox, and never a word of good or bad to throw away on any one. But his face was the face of a violent man. He had blue eyes with no pleasantness about them, but a sort of glitter, as though there were live coals in his brain. He did not drink like his father; and these two would sit together in the evenings, the one bleared and stupid with liquor, and the other watching him in silence across the table.

"They spoke seldom to one another; and it would often happen that the father would speak to the son and get not a word of answer—only that lowering ugly stare that had grown to be a way with the boy.

"I think those two men must have grown to hate each other in the evenings as they sat together; the younger one despising and loathing his father, and the father hating his son for so doing. I have often wondered how they never came to blows—before they did, that is.

"One morning old Voss rode off to the dorp, and Barend watched him from the door till he went out of sight in the kloof. All the day he was away, and when he came back again it was late in the night. Barend was sitting in his usual place at the table scowling over his folded arms.

"Old Voss had not ridden off his liquor; and he staggered into the house singing a dirty English song. He had a bottle in his hands, and banged it down on the table in front of his son.

"'Now, old sheep's head,' he shouted, 'have a drink and drop those airs of yours.'

"Barend sat where he was, and said not a word—just watched the other.

"'Come on,' shouted old Voss; 'I'm not going to drink alone. If you won't take it pleasantly I'll make you take it, and be damned to you!'

"Barend sat still, scowling always. I dare say a sober man would have seen something in his eyes and let be. But old Voss was blind to his danger, and shouted on.

"The younger man kept his horrid silence, and never moved, till the father was goaded to a drunken rage.

"'If you won't drink,' he screamed, 'take that,' and he flung a full cupful of the spirit right in the young man's face.

"Then everything was in the fire. The two men fought in the room like beasts, oversetting table and lamp, and stamping into the fire on the hearth. Barend was mad with a passion of long nursing, and hewed with his great fists till the old man fell heavily to the ground, and lay moaning.

"Barend stood over him, glowering. 'Swine!' he said to his father; 'swine and brute! get you out of this house to the veld. You are no father of mine.'

"But the old man was much hurt, and lay where he had fallen, groaning as though he had not heard.

"'I will have you out of this,' said the son. 'If you are come to die, die on the road. I had wished you dead for years.'

"So he wound his hand, with the knuckles all over blood, in the old man's white hair, and threw open the door with his other hand.

"'Out with you!' he shouted, and dragged him down the step and into the yard. Yes, he dragged him across the yard to the gate; and when he unfastened the gate the old man opened his eyes and spoke.

"'Leave me here,' he said, speaking slowly and painfully. 'Leave me here, my son. Thus far I dragged my father.'"

The Vrouw Grobelaar, to point a weighty moral, turned her face upon Katje. But that young lady was sleeping soundly with her mouth open.


"I wish," said Katje, looking up from her book—"I wish a man would come and make me marry him."

The Vrouw Grobelaar wobbled where she sat with stupefaction.

"Yes," continued Katje, musingly casting her eyes to the rafters, "I wish a man would just take me by the hand—so— and not listen to anything I said, nor let me go however I should struggle, and carry me off on the peak of his saddle and marry me. I think I would be willing to die for a man who could do that."

The Vrouw Grobelaar found her voice at last. "Katje," she said with deep-toned emphasis, "you are talking wickedness, just wickedness. Do you think I would let a man—any man, or perhaps an Englishman—carry you off like a strayed ewe?"

"The sort of man I'm thinking of," replied the maiden, "wouldn't ask you for permission. He'd simply pick me up, and away he'd go."

At times, and in certain matters, Vrouw Grobelaar would display a ready acumen.

"Tell me, Katje," she said now, "who is this man?"

Then Katje dropped her book and, sitting upright with an unimpeachable surprise, stared at the old lady.

"I'm not thinking of any man," she remarked calmly. "I was just wishing there was a man who would have the pluck to do it."

The Vrouw Grobelaar shook her head. "Good Burghers don't carry girls away," she said. "They come and drink coffee, and sit with them, and talk about the sheep."

"And behave as if they had never worn boots before, and didn't know what to do with their hands," added the maiden. "Aunt, am I a girl to marry a man who upsets three cups of coffee in half an hour and borrows a handkerchief to wipe his knees?"

Now there could be no shadow of doubt that this was an open-breasted cut at young Fanie van Tromp, whose affection for Katje was a matter of talk on the farms, and whose overtures that young lady had consistently sterilized with ridicule.

The Vrouw Grobelaar was void of delicacy. "Fanie is a good lad," she said, "and when his father dies he will have a very large property."

"It'll console him for not adding me to his live stock," retorted Katje.

"He is handsome, too," continued the old lady. "His beard is as black as—"

"A carrion-crow," added Katje promptly.

"Quite," agreed the Vrouw Grobelaar, with a perfect unconsciousness of the unsavoriness of the suggestion.

"And he walks like a duck with sore feet," went on Katje. "He is as graceful as a trek-ox, and his conversational talents are those of a donkey in long grass."

"All that is a young girl's nonsense," observed the old lady. "I was like that once myself. But when one grows a little older and fatter, and there is less about one to take a man's eye,—a fickle thing, Katje, a fickle thing,— one looks for more in a husband than a light foot and a smart figure."

Katje was a trifle abashed, for all the daughters of her house, were they never so slender, grew tubby in their twenties.

"Besides," continued the worthy Vrouw, "your talk is chaff from a mill. It must come out to leave the meal clean. Perhaps, after all, Fanie is the man to carry you off. I think you would not take so much trouble to worry him if you thought nothing of him."

The Vrouw Grobelaar had never heard of Beatrice and her Benedick, but she had a notion of the principle.

"I hate him," cried Katje with singular violence.

"I think not," replied the old lady. "Sometimes the thing we want is at our elbows, and we cannot grasp it because we reach too far. Did I ever tell you how Stoffel Struben nearly went mad for love of his wife?"

"No," said Katje, unwillingly interested. "He was something of a fool to begin with," commenced the Vrouw Grobelaar. "He chose his wife for a certain quality of gentleness she had, and though I will not deny she made him a good wife and a patient, still gentleness will not boil a pot. He was a fine fellow to look at; big and upstanding, with plenty of blood in him, and a grand mat of black hair on top. He moved like a buck; so ready on his feet and so lively in all his movements. He might have carried you off, Katje, and done you no good in the end.

"He was happy with his pretty wife for a while, and might have been happy all his life and died blessedly had he but been able to keep from conjuring up faces in his mind and falling in love with them. Greta, his wife, had hair like golden wheat, so smooth and rippled with light; and no sooner had he stroked his fill of it than he conceived nut- brown to be the most lovely color of woman's hair. Her eyes were blue, and for half a year he loved them; then hazel seemed to him a better sort. I said he was a fool, didn't I?

"So his marriage to Greta became a chain instead of a union, while the poor lass fretted her heart out over his dark looks and short answers. He was shallow, Katje, shallow; he had the mere capacity for love, but it was a short way to the bottom of it. You will see by and by that the men who deserve least always want most. Stoffel had no right to a woman at all; when he had one, and she a good girl, he let his eyes rove for others.

"So he went about his farm with his mind straying and his heart abroad. If you spoke to him, he paused awhile, and then looked at you with a start as though freshly waked. He saw nothing as he went, neither his wife with the questions in her eyes that she shamed to say with her lips, nor the child that crowed at him from her arms. He was deaf and blind to the healthy world, to all save the silly dreams his poisoned soul fed on.

"Well, wicked or not, it is at least unsafe not to look where one is going. This was a thing Stoffel never did: since he overlooked his wife, it was not to be expected he would see a strand of fencing-wire on the ground. So he rode on to it, and down came his horse. Down came Stoffel too, and there was a stone handy on the place where his head lit to let some of the moonshine out of him. He saw a heavenful of stars for a moment, and then saw nothing for a long time. Save—one strange thing!

"When life came back to him he was in his bed very sore and empty, and very mightily surprised to see himself alive, after all. He was exceedingly weak and somewhat misty as to how it all had happened. But one thing he seemed to remember—more than seemed, so strong, so plain, so deep was his memory of it. He thought he recalled pain and blindness, and a sudden light, in which he saw a face close to his, a girl's face, pitiful, tender, loving, and charged with more than all the sweetness of beauty that his sick heart could long for. The thing was like one of those dreams from which one wakes sad and thoughtful, as when one has overstepped the boundary mark of life and cast an eye on heaven.

"It was no face that he knew, and he turned on his pillow to think of it. He could not believe it was a dream. 'It was a soul,' he said to himself. 'I knew, I was sure, that somewhere there was such a face, but it only came to my eyes when I was on the borderland of death. If ever God gave a thing to a mortal man, he should have given me that woman.'

"So with such blasphemous thoughts he idled through the days of his sickness, very quiet, very weak, and kind to his wife beyond the ordinary. Of course she, poor woman, knew nothing of the silly tale, and when her husband gave her those little caresses one would not withhold from an affectionate dog, she blessed God that he was come to himself again. You see, Katje dear, that as a man demands more than he can claim with right, a woman must often make shift with less. It is well to learn this early.

"Stoffel grew well in time, and got about again. But the stone had made less of a dent in his skull than the face in his heart, and he was changed altogether. He served a false god, but served it faithfully. He was very gentle and patient with every one, almost like a saint, and he took infinite pains with the work of his farm. He would hurt no living thing—not even so much as lash a team of lazy oxen. You would have thought Kafirs would have done as they pleased with him, but they obeyed his least word, and hung on his eyes for orders as though they worshipped him. Kafirs and dogs will sometimes see farther than a Christian.

"Meanwhile Greta came to die. It was a chill, perhaps, with a trifle of fever on top of that, and it carried her off like a candle-flame when it is blown out. She died well— very well indeed. None of your whimpering and moaning and slinking out of the back-door of life when nobody is looking; nor that unconscious death that shuts out a chance of a few last words. No; Greta saw with her eyes and spoke with her mouth to the last, then folded her hands and died as handsomely as one would wish to see. She prayed a trifle, as she should; forgave her brother's wife for speaking ill of her, and hoped her tongue would not lure her to destruction. I have heard her brother's wife never forgave her for it.

"On the last day she sent everybody out of the room save only Stoffel, and him she held by the hand as he sat beside the bed. She knew she was drawing to her end (the dying always know it) and feared nothing. But there was a matter she wanted to know.

"'Stoffel,' she said when they were alone, won't you tell me now who that woman is?'

"'What woman?' said Stoffel amazed, for of his dream in his sickness he had spoken to no living soul.

"She stroked his hand and shook her head at him. Ah, Stoffel,' she said, 'it is long since I first made place for that woman, and if I grudged her you, I never grudged you her. I was content with what you gave me, Stoffel; I thought you right, whatever you did, and I go to God still thinking so. All our life, Stoffel, she prevailed against me, and I submitted; but now, at this last moment, I want to have the better of it. Tell me, who was it?'

"And Stoffel, looking on the floor, answered, 'I swear to you there was no woman.'

"She replied, 'And ere the cock crows thou shall deny me thrice.' She turned her head and looked at him with a pitiful drawn smile that would have dragged tears from a demon. 'Was she dark, Stoffel? I am fair, you know; but my hair—look at it, Stoffel,—my hair is golden. Did you never notice it before? She was tall, I suppose? Well, I am something short, but, Stoffel, I am slender, too. Will you not so much as tell me her name, Stoffel? It is not as if I blamed you.'

"A truth, hardly won, is always set on a pile of lies. 'How do you know there was a woman?' asked Stoffel.

"'How?' she repeated. 'How I know! Stoffel, you never had a thought I did not know; never a hope but I hoped it for you, nor a fear but I thought how to safeguard you. I never lived but in you, Stoffel.

"'Let us speak nothing but the truth now,' she went on. 'You and I have always been beyond the need for lies to one another, and as I wait here for you to tell me, I have one hand in yours and the other in Christ's. Let me not think hardly of her as I go.'

"'You would not curse her?' he said quickly. "'Not even that' she answered, smiling a little. 'And if you will not tell me, I will die even content with that, since it is your wish.'

"'Listen,' said Stoffel then. And forthwith, looking backwards and forwards in shame and sorrow, he told the tale. He told how he saw a face, which laid hold on his life ever after, how it governed and compelled him with the mere memory, and hung in his mind like a deed done. And he also told how he hoped after death to see that face with the eyes of his soul, and dwell with it in heaven.

"When he had finished he cast a glance at his wife. She was lying on her back, holding his hand still, and smiling up to the ceiling with a pleasant face of contentment.

"'Can you forgive me?' he cried, and would have gone on to protest and explain, but she pressed his hand and he was silent.

"'Forgive you!' she said at last. 'Forgive you! No; but I will bless you for all of it. So it seems I have won after all, but now I wish I had let be. It was no spirit you saw, Stoffel. There was a woman there, and while you lay white and lifeless she held you in her arms, and bent over you. And just for one moment you opened your eyes and saw her, while her face was close to yours. Then you died again, and remained so for a day and a night Was there love in her eyes, Stoffel?'

"'Love!' cried Stoffel, and fell silent.

"In a minute he spoke again. 'I am helpless,' he said, 'and you are strong. But, curse and hate me as you will, you must tell me who this woman was.'

"'A little time since it was I that asked,' she said, 'and you would not tell me.'

"'I beseech you,' he said.

"'You shall never ask twice,' she answered gently. 'I will tell you, but not this moment.'

"So for a while they sat together, and the sun began to go down, and blazed on the window-panes and on the golden hair of the dying woman. She lay as if in a mist of glory, and smiled at Stoffel. He, looking at her, could not lack of being startled by the beauty that had come over her face and the joy that weighed her eyelids.

"She stirred a little, and sighed. Stoffel cast an arm round her to hold her up, and his heart bounded woefully when he felt how light she was. Her head came to his shoulder, as to a place where it belonged, and their lips met.

"'Shall I tell you now?' she said in a whisper.

"Stoffel did not answer, so she asked again. 'Will you know, Stoffel?'

"'No,' he answered. 'I'm cured.'

"'I will tell you, then,' she cried. 'No,' he repeated. 'Let it be.'

"So together they sat for a further while, and the time grew on for going. She was to die with the sun; she had said it. And as they sat both could see through the window the sun floating lower, with an edge in its grave already, and the rim of the earth black against it. The noises of the veld and the farm came in to them, and they drew closer together.

"Neither wept; they were too newly met for that. But Stoffel felt a dull pain of sorrow overmastering him, and soon he groaned aloud.

"'My wife, my wife,' he cried.

"She rested wholly on his arm, and shivered a little.

"'Stoffel,' she said in a voice that henceforth was to whisper forever, 'Stoffel, you love me?'

"'As God sees me,' he answered. "'Listen,' she said, and fought with the tide that was fast drowning her words. 'That face—you—saw . . . was . . . mine!'

"She smiled as his arm tightened on her, and died so smiling."

There was silence in the shadowy room as the tale finished, until it was broken by the Vrouw Grobelaar.

"You see?" she said.

"Yes," replied Katje, very quietly.


The Vrouw Grobelaar entered in haste, closed the door, and sat down panting.

"If my last husband were alive," she said—"if any of them were alive, that creature would be shot for looking at an honest woman with such eyes," and she cast an anxious glance over her shoulder.

"What is it?" demanded Katje.

"That old Hottentot hag." responded the old lady. "She looks like a witch, and I am sure she is a witch. I would make the Kafirs throw her on to the veld, but you can't be too careful with witches. Why, as I came in just now, she was squatting by the door like a big toad, and her eyes made me go cold all through."

Katje made a remark.

"What! You say nonsense!" The old lady pricked herself into an ominous majesty. "Nonsense, indeed! Katje, beware of pride. Beware of puffing yourself up. Aren't there witches in the Bible, and weren't they horrible and wicked? Didn't King David see the dead corpses come up out of the ground when the witch crooked her finger, like dogs running to heel? Well, then!

"Oh, I know," continued the old lady, as Katje tossed a mutinous head. "They've taught you a lot in that school, but they didn't teach you belief. Nor manners. You're going to say there are no witches nowadays."

"I'm not," said Katje.

"Yes, you are," pursued the Vrouw Grobelaar. "I know you. But you're wrong. You don't know anything. Young girls in these days are like young pigs, all squeak and fight, but no bacon. Didn't the brother of my half-brother's wife die of a witch's devilry?"

"I'm sure I don't know," returned hapless Katje.

"Well, he did. I'll tell you." The old lady settled herself comfortably and lapsed into history.

"His name was Fanie, and he was a Van der Merwe on his father's side, but his mother was only a Prinsloo, though her mother was a Coetzee, for the matter of that. He wasn't what I should call good—at least, not always; but he was very big and strong, and made a lot of noise, and folk liked him. The women used to make black white to prove that the things he did and said were proper things, although they'd have screamed all night if their own men-folk had done the same. They say, you know," said the Vrouw Grobelaar, quoting a very old and seldom-heard Dutch proverb, "that when women pray they think of God as a handsome man.

"What I didn't like about him was his way with the Kafirs. A Kafir is more useful than a dog after all, and one shouldn't be always beating and kicking even a dog. And Fanie could never pass a Kafir without kicking him or flicking his whip at him. I have seen all the Kafirs run to their kraals when they saw him riding up the road.

"There was one old Kafir we had,—very old and weak, and no use at all. He used to sit by the gate all day, and mumble to himself, and seem to look at things that weren't there. His head was quite white with age, which is not a common thing with Kafirs, as you know; and he was so foolish and helpless that his people used to feed him with a spiked stick, like a motherless chicken. And in case the fowls should go and sit on his back while he crouched in the sun, as I have seen them do, there was a little Kafir picaninny, as black as a crow, that was sent to play about near him every day. Dear Lord! I have seen those two sitting there, looking at each other for an hour on end, without a word, as though both had been children or both old men. Nobody minded them: we used to throw sugar to the picaninny, and watch him fighting with the fowls for it, rolling about on his little black belly like a new-hatched duckling himself.

"Well, Fanie, ... it was horrible. . . .

"I don't like to think of it to this day. He came over one day in a great hurry to tell us that August de Villiers, the father of the Predikant at Dopfontein, was choked with a peach-stone. He was riding very fast, and as he came near the house he rode off the road and jumped his horse at the wall. And as he came over, up rose the little picaninny right under his horse's hoofs. 'Twas a quick way to die, and without much pain, no doubt; but a most awful thing to see. The horse stumbled on to him, and I can remember now how his knee, the near knee, crushed the little Kafirs chest in. The little black legs and arms fought for a moment, and then the horse struggled up, and he was dead.

"Fanie seemed sorry. He couldn't help killing the picaninny, of course, and perhaps we had grown rather foolish about him, having watched him and laughed at him so long. So Fanie got off his horse and came in to tell us the news.

"When we went out the horse was standing at the door where Fanie had left it. But the old Kafir was kneeling by the steps fingering its hoofs, which were all bloody, and as Fanie came forward he put out his hands and left a little spot of blood on Fanie's shoes.

"Fanie stood for a moment, and his face went white as paper over his black beard. He knew, you see. But in a flash he went red as fire, and lashed the old man across the face with his whip. The old man did not move at all; but my brothers held Fanie and called to the Kafirs to come and fetch the old man away. Oh, but I promise you Fanie was angry, as men will be when they are obliged to be good by force.

"Well, that was all that happened that day. Fanie went away, and we all saw that he galloped the horse as fast as it could go. But down by the kraals the Kafirs who were carrying the old man stopped and watched him as he went.

"Well, in a few days most of us forgot the ugly business, though the little picaninny used to walk through my dreams for a time. Still, blood-kin are blood-kin, and Kafirs are Kafirs, and one day Fanie came over to see us again and we gave him coffee. He told us a story about a rooinek that bought a sheep, and the man gave him a dog in a sack, and he paid for it and went away, and we all laughed at it. He was very funny that day, and said that when he married he would choose an old woman who would die quickly and leave him all her farms. So it was late and dark before he up- saddled to go away.

"Well, he was gone a quarter of an hour when we heard hoofs, galloping, galloping, hard and furious, coming up the road. And as we opened the door a horse came over the wall and Fanie tumbled off it and came rushing in.

"We all screamed. He was white like ashes, and wet with sweat, and trembling so that he could not stand.

"'Fanie,' cried my sister, 'what is it?' and he groaned and put his face in his hands.

"By and by he spoke, and kept glancing about him and turning to look behind him, and would not let one of us move away.

"'There was something behind me,' he said.

"'Something?' we all asked.

"'Yes,' he said. 'Something . . . dead I It followed me up here, and I could not get away from it, spur as hard as I would. I think it is a death-call.'

"Then we were all frightened, but we could not help wanting to hear more.

"'No,' said Fanie, 'I did not see it, nor hear it even, but I knew it was there.'

"'It was a sign,' said my mother, a very wise old woman. 'Let us all thank God.'

"So we thanked God on our knees, but I'm sure I don't know what for.

"Then Fanie told us all he knew, and that was just nothing. As he came to the kloof he was afraid of something in front of him. He said he felt like a man in grave-clothes. So he turned, and then the ... whatever it was . . . seemed to come after him; so he galloped and galloped as hard as the horse could lay hoof to the earth, and prayed till his heart nearly burst. And then, not knowing where he was going, he jumped the wall and came among us. We were all silent when he had told us.

"Then Oom Jan spoke. He was very old, and seldom said anything.

"'You have done murder!' he said.

"'If I talk till my mouth is stopped with dust I shall never be able to tell how cold I felt about the heart when I heard that. For the little picaninny came plain before my eyes, and oh! I was all full of pity for Fanie. I liked him well enough in those days.

"He stopped with us that night. He would not go away nor be alone, so he slept with my brothers, and held their hands and prayed half the night. In the morning they took him home on one of our horses, for his own was fit to die from the night's work.

"That was the last I ever saw of Fanie. It was as though he went from us to God. He kissed me on both cheeks when he went away; he kissed us all, but me first of all, and held both my hands. I think he must have liked me too,—don't you think so, Katje?" "'Yes," said Katje softly.

"He went down the road between my brothers with his head bent like an old man's, and I watched him out of sight, and I was very, very sorry for him. I don't think I cried, but I may have. He was a fine tall man.

"One night my brothers came in just as I was going to bed, and one stood in the door while the other whispered to my mother. She looked up and saw me standing there.

"'Go to bed,' she said.

"'What is it?' I asked.

"'Go to bed,' said my brother.

"'No.' I said. 'Tell me, is it Fanie?'

"My brother looked at me and threw up his hand like a man who can do no more. 'Yes,' he said.

"Then I knew, as though he had shouted it out, that Fanie was dead. I cannot say how, but I knew it.

"'He is dead,' I said. 'Bring him in here.'

"So they went out and carried Fanie in with his clothes all draggled and his beard full of mud. They laid him on the table, and I saw his face. . . . Dear God! . . There was terror on that face, carven and set in dead flesh, that set my blood screaming in my body. Sometimes even now I wake in the night all shrinking with fear of the very memory of it.

"But there is one thing more. We went about to put everything in order and lay the poor corpse in decency, and when we started to pull off his veldschoen, as I hope to die in my bed, there was a little drop of blood still wet on the toe.

"I think God's right hand was on my head that night that I did not go mad.

"I heard the tale next morning. My brothers, coming home, found him ... it . . . in a spruit, already quite dead. There was no horse by, but his spoor led back a mile to where the horse lay dead and stiff. When it fell he must have run on, ... screaming, perhaps, . . . till he fell in the spruit. I would like to think peace came to him at the last; but there was no peace in the dead face."

The Vrouw Grobelaar dropped her face on to her hands, and Katje came and passed an arm of sympathy and protection around her.


The Vrouw Grobelaar had no opinion of Kafirs, and was forever ready to justify herself in this particular.

"Kafirs,' she said, 'are not men, whatever the German missionaries may say. I do not deny we have a duty to them, as to the beasts of the field; but as for being men, well, a baboon is as much a man as a Kafir is.

"Kafirs are made to work, and ought to work. Katje, what are you laughing about? Did not the dear God make everything for a purpose, and what is the use of a Kafir if he is not made to work? Work for themselves? Katje, you are learning nothing but rubbish at that school, and I will not have you say such things. How could the Burghers work the farms if they had not the Kafirs? Well, be silent, then.

"Oh, I know the Kafirs. I have seen hundreds of them—yes, and for the matter of that, thousands. Just beasts, they are,—nothing—else. Did you hear how the Vrouw Coetzee came to die? Well, I will tell you, and you will see that we must hold the Kafirs with a hand of iron or they will destroy us.

"It was a time when Piet Coetzee was away making laws in Pretoria, and the Vrouw Coetzee, who was only married one year, was alone on the farm with her little baby. There were plenty of Kafirs to do the work; but, you see, there was no man to have an eye to them, and take a sjambok to them when they needed it. So one day the Kafirs came in from the lands and would not work any more.

"Why wouldn't they work? How should I know? Who can tell why a Kafir does anything? Perhaps a witch-doctor had come among them. Perhaps the German missionaries had been talking foolishness to them. Perhaps it began at a beer- drink with some boasting by the young men before the girls. Who can say? But however it was, they came in and sat down before the house, and just waited there.

"Vrouw Coetzee came out with her baby on her arm and spoke to them; but not one moved a finger or answered a word. They sat still where they were and watched her, and others came from the huts and sat down too, until there were close on a hundred Kafirs before the house. Vrouw Coetzee watched them come, and as she stood in the door the two Kafir girls who worked about the house pushed her aside and went and sat down too.

"Then Vrouw Coetzee, looking at the dumb black faces and white eyes, got frightened and went backwards into the house and closed the door. She put down the baby and drew the iron bar across the door inside. From there she went to the door at the back, and to all the windows, and closed and secured them as far as possible. Then she took down the old elephant-gun from the wall, and finding Piet's pouch and the bullets, she loaded it and laid it on the table. All the time the Kafirs made no sign, and from the keyhole she saw them still sitting in silence, watching the house.

"When midday came she made some food ready to eat, and then came a bang at the door.

"'What is it you want?' she cried, without opening.

"'Liquor!' cried one of the Kafirs. 'You have some brandy in the house. Give it to us, or we will come and take it and kill you at the same time.'

"'I have no brandy,' she cried, 'and when my husband comes back I will tell him to shoot you all.'

"The Kafirs laughed, and one of the house-girls called out, 'There is brandy; we have seen it.'

"Then the Kafirs all began to shout together, and banged the door with their knobkerries. 'Give us the brandy!' they shouted, and she heard a stone smash through a window against the shutters.

"The Vrouw Coetzee was a brave woman, and she hated Kafirs; but, looking at the baby, she thought it best to give them the brandy.

"'Stand away from the window,' she cried, 'and I will put the brandy outside; but if one of you comes near me I will shoot.'

"So she placed the brandy on the sill outside the window. The Kafirs were standing about in groups, looking very fierce, but they saw the elephant-gun and did nothing. But as she barred the shutter again, she heard them rush up and snatch the bottles.

"Watching through the keyhole of the door, she saw them troop off to the huts, shouting and capering and waving the bottles in the air. They came to the door no more that day, but she heard them howling in the kraal as the brandy began to inflame them.

"When it got dark she sat down with her face to the door, her child in her arms. The howling of the Kafirs was wilder than ever, and shrieks of women mingled with the uproar. The Vrouw Coetzee trembled there in the dark as she remembered stories of the Kafir wars, and how the Kafirs had treated the white women and children they caught on the farms.

"Late in the night the Kafirs came back and commenced to hammer on the door again.

"'Give us more brandy,' they shouted.

"'I have no more,' she said. 'I have given you all.'

"'You lie!' they screamed. 'If you do not give us more we will come and kill you and tear your baby to pieces.'

"Then the Vrouw Coetzee began to tremble, and, putting down the child, took the big gun in her hands.

"'That is you, Kleinbooi,' she cried out, recognizing the voice of one of the Kafirs. 'Why do you behave like this? What will the baas say when he comes back?'

"'We do not care for the baas,' they replied. 'If you do not give us the brandy we will break in your door.'

"'I have no more,' she said again, and straightway the Kafirs commenced to hammer at the door.

"The Vrouw Coetzee raised the gun to her shoulder and pointed it at the door. Her arms were trembling so that she could not keep it steady; so, going close up to the door, she rested the muzzle on the iron bar. Then she pulled the trigger.

"The gun went off with a roar and filled the room with a stifling smoke. The baby began to cry, but she paid it no attention till the gun was loaded again. Then, as she snatched up her child and soothed it, she heard wailing and screaming from outside, where the heavy bullet had done its work.

"The Kafirs left her at peace for about an hour, and the noise of the wounded sank to a sobbing. At last a voice hailed her again.

"'We will kill you now,' it said. 'You have shot two men,' and she was assailed with a string of horrid names such as only a Kafir can think of.

"'Where are you?' she called, terrified.

"'Here,' came the reply, and a little stone fell down the chimney.

"'I will shoot!' she screamed, taking up the gun; but the Kafir on the roof answered with only a laugh.

"'It will do no good,' he replied. 'We shall kill you, burn you in a fire slowly, scald you with boiling water, cut you in little pieces,' and he went on to threaten the lone woman with the most fiendish and ghastly outrages, such as I dare not even give a name to.

"The low devilish voice on the roof went on. 'And your baby, vile thing! You shall see it writhe in the flames, and hear it cry to you, and watch the blood spout from its skin. You shall see the dogs tearing it, while you lie in anguish, powerless to aid it. Yes, we will kill the child first, and slowly—slowly! It shall cry a long time before it shall die at last.'

"Then the Vrouw Coetzee, calling aloud on God, pointed the gun and fired through the roof. There was a laugh again, and before the smoke cleared a big Kafir dropped down the wide chimney and rushed at her.

"Her gun was empty, but the Vrouw Coetzee was the worthy wife of a good Boer, and she raised the heavy weapon and struck him down. He rolled, face upward, on the floor, and as he lay she struck him again. He kicked once or twice with his legs and clutched with his hands; and then he lay still and died.

"It was their plan, you see, that she should fire off her gun and then be taken before she had time to recharge it.

"'Have you got the woman, Martinus?' called a Kafir from outside.

"'No,' cried the Vrouw Coetzee; Martinus has not got the woman, for I have killed him. Who comes next?'

"There was a while of silence then, till she heard them moving about again and talking among themselves. Not daring to think what they would do next, she stood hearkening, with the great gun on her arm. At length came a sound that froze the blood in her body. She heard the sheet-iron on the roof grate as it was dragged off. Then she dropped the gun at her feet and knew that her time was come.

"I cannot tell you in so many words what she did in the next minutes, for my tongue refuses the tale. But the Kafirs did not get into the house. By this time the news of their doings was gone abroad, and as the roof was being taken off the house, some Burghers arrived with guns, and with them my husband. Of course they shot most of the Kafirs that they could find, and then, being unable to get any answer to their shouts, they broke in the door of the house and entered.

"My husband used to weep as he told of what they found. The Vrouw Coetzee was sitting in a chair, smiling with her eyes closed, and her baby was lying in the crutch of her left arm. Her right hand was on his little soft throat—his face blue and swollen, and his little arms stretched out with tight closed fists. He was quite dead, but warm yet, for he had missed life by but a few minutes.

"No, the Vrouw Coetzee was not dead. She died a year after; but all that while she went witless, always smiling and seeming to look for something.

"So you see that, after all, a Kafir is—Katje, what are you crying about?"


On Sunday afternoons the Vrouw Grobelaar's household gave itself up, unwillingly enough, to religious exercises. The girls retired to their rooms in company with the works of certain well-meaning but inexpressibly dreary authors, and it is to be inferred they read them with profit. The children sat around the big room with Bibles, their task being to learn by heart one of the eight-verse articulations of the 119th Psalm, while the old lady meditated in her armchair and maintained discipline. Those were stern times for the young students: to fidget in one's seat was to court calamity; even to scratch oneself was a risky experiment. David got little credit as a bard in that assembly.

But the work once done, the stumbling recitation dared and achieved, there were compensations, for the Vrouw Grobelaar was then approachable for a story. To be sure, the Sunday afternoon stories were known to all the children almost by heart, but what good tale will not bear repetition? The history of Piet Naude's Trek was an evergreen favorite, and bore a weighty moral.

The old lady began this story in the only possible way. "Once upon a time, long before the Boers came to the Transvaal, there lived a man named Piet Naude. He was a tall, strong Burgher, with a long beard that swept down to his waist, and a moustache like bright gold that drooped lower than his chin. His eye was so clear that he could see the legs of a galloping buck a mile away; his hand was so sure that he never wasted a bullet; and his heart was so good and true that all the Burghers loved him and followed him in whatever he did.

"Well, when the English came to the Burghers and wanted them to pay taxes for their farms that they had won in battle from the Kafirs, all the men in Piet Naude's country were very angry and said, 'Let us take our guns and shoot the English into the sea, so that the land will be clear of them.' Everybody was willing, and but for Piet Naude there would have been a great and bloody war, and all the English would have been killed.

"But Piet Naude said, 'Brothers, have patience. When we fought the Kafirs we beat them, but many of us were killed also. If we fight the English, many more will be killed, and we are not too many now. But I will tell you what we will do. We will not pay this tax. We will inspan our oxen and load up our wagons, and we will take our sheep and our cattle and our horses, and trek to the north until we find a place where we can live in peace; and thus we shall have a country of our own and pay no taxes to anybody.'

"As soon as the Burghers heard this they were agreed, and chose out Piet Naude to lead them to the new country. So when the English came to collect the tax they found nobody to pay, but only an empty country, with trampled cornlands and burned homesteads, and wild Kafirs living in the kraals.

"But Piet Naude and his Burghers trekked steadily on with the wagons and the cattle,—sometimes through a fine level country full of water and game, and sometimes through a savage wilderness of rocks and dangerous beasts. The sun scorched them by day and the mists froze them by night; some died by the way, and some were killed by lions, and some bitten by snakes. But month after month they held on, crawling slowly over the desolate face of that great new country, till at length the ragged weary men cried out and said they would go no farther.

"'Let us go back to the grass-lands and water,' they said, 'and let us live there, else we shall die, forgotten of God, in this inhospitable wilderness.' But Piet Naude wrought with them, saying, 'Let us keep good hearts and hold on. In time we shall surely come to the best place of all, where we shall gain cattle and sheep and prosper all our lives.' And after he had talked with them for a long time, and shamed them with their weakness, they were persuaded, and once again they faced the great unknown country and trekked on.

"But one hot day one of the Burghers who had ridden away to look for meat came galloping back. 'Over yonder,' he said, pointing with his hand, 'there is a wide kloof, with a stream in it. There is grass there as long and thick as the best pasture of our farms, with trees and wild fruit, and everything plentiful and beautiful. Without doubt it will lead us to such a place as we have been seeking.'

"So the wagons were turned aside, and they went forward to the kloof, all the Burghers uplifted with hope, and the very oxen pulling their best. But Piet Naude said nothing, for he had a strange doubt in his heart, and he rode on anxiously. And when they came to the kloof they saw that all the Burgher had said was even less than true. The veld underfoot was soft and tender as satin, and the grass was fresh and green. On each side the tall hills cast back the sun, so that the beautiful cool shade fell like a blessing on their scorched faces. There was wild hemp {dagga} for the Kafirs to smoke; and wild apricots running over the stones; water splashing, clear and fresh, beside the way; mimosa-trees to give wood for the fires; and everywhere they saw the spoor of every kind of buck. The Burghers were overwhelmed with gladness, and pushed on gaily.

"On the next day the kloof widened out, and they came forth into a most wonderful plain girt round with steep cliffs, and all overgrown with grass and trees. At a little distance they saw cattle grazing wild, and big herds of buck roaming in the open. Birds started without fear from under their feet, and in the streams fish swam plain to see.

"Then Piet Naude said, 'Brothers, let us go away from this place. I am afraid of all I see. God did not send all this wealth easy to our hands at no cost of labor. Let us go away lest we be entrapped into some devilishness.' But the others laughed him down and would not listen to him, saying his brain was rotten in his head with the long trek and the sun.

"So there they stayed and built themselves houses and kraals, and set about gathering the hay and catching cattle. But everything fell out so easily and all they needed came so plentifully that there grew over them a sort of sloth, and they slept without shame in the hours of work, and gave no attention to the future.

"Then by degrees it began to be noticed that they were growing fat. Soon they had bellies like sows, and their necks and their limbs became so great that they were obliged to go about without clothes, like the wild Kafirs and the brutes that perish. And when one of them would lie down, his fatness so burdened him that without help he could scarcely rise to his feet. None were spared: even the godly Piet Naude was as great as an ox; but the difference was, he felt shame for it all, whereas the others felt none.

"Many a time he implored them to inspan and leave the place; but each time they cried him down. And when he said he would go himself, they reminded him that it was he who had urged them to trek, and asked him if he would now desert them. So for a while he stayed.

"But at length he resolved he would no longer be bound, and he called to know who would go with him. But as he spoke a storm came up, and the wind screamed and the rain threshed, and the poor fat creatures waddled off to their houses, and of all that people only one stayed to go with Piet Naude. It was a young Burgher whose name was Hendrik Van der Merwe, a decent lad; and the two set off together.

"But when they came to the beautiful kloof they were amazed at the work of the storm. The wind had torn great boulders from the hills and rolled them down; and the rain had churned the earth into mud, and washed the roots of the trees loose; so that where everything had once been so fair and orderly there was now a crazy wilderness of rocks and thorns and mud.

"But they breasted the obstacles gallantly, those two alone; and at hazard of their lives they climbed over and under great rocking crags, cutting their hands and tearing their feet with the sharp stones and the thorns of the mimosas. But as they went they saw with delight that their fatness dwindled from them, and their limbs fell back to their old shapeliness, while the blubber on their cheeks retreated from their eyes and left them free as before.

"So after three days of climbing and slipping and scrambling, the rain and the wind ceased, and they came forth into the country beyond, tall and slender as they were before."

This, in reality, is the end of the story, but the children are wont to ask in chorus what the two heroes did next.

"They went back," says Vrouw Grobelaar, omitting all details of how the return was accomplished; "and when the Burghers went forth on the Great Trek, they went with them, and lived long, had many children, and then died happy and were buried."

"And what is the moral?" asked little Koos, who supplies the part of the Greek chorus.

"The moral," replies the old lady in her most impressive manner, "is that you should obey your elders, learn your psalms, get up early, shut the door after you, tell the truth, and blow your nose."

It will thus be seen that for a truly comprehensive parable the above would be hard to beat.


For the most part the Vrouw Grobelaar's nephews and nieces were punctually obedient. Doubtless this was policy; for the old lady founded her authority on a generous complement of this world's goods. However, man is as the grass of the field (as she would constantly aver); and it fell that Frikkie Viljoen, otherwise a lad of promise, became enamored of a girl of lower caste than the Grobelaars and Viljoens, and this, mark you, with a serious eye to marriage. Even this, after a proper and orthodox reluctance on the part of his elders and betters, might have been condoned; for the Viljoens had multiplied exceedingly in the land, and the older sons were not yet married. But, as though to aggravate the business, Frikkie took a sort of glory in it, and openly belauded his lowly sweetheart.

"Mark you," said the Vrouw Grobelaar with tremendous solemnity, "this choice is your own. Take care you do not find a Leah in your Rachel."

Frikkie replied openly that he was sure enough about the girl.

The Vrouw Grobelaar shook a doubtful head. "Her grandfather was a bijwohner," she said. "Pas op! or she will one day go back to her own people and shame you."

The misguided Frikkie saw fit to laugh at this.

"Oh, you may laugh! You may laugh, and laugh, until your time comes for weeping. I tell you, she will one day return to her own people, bijwohners and rascals all of them, as Stoffel Mostert's wife did."

The old lady paused, and Frikkie defiantly demanded further particulars.

"Yes," continued the Vrouw Grobelaar, "I remember all the disgrace and shame of it to this day, and how poor Stoffel went about with his head bowed and looked no one in the face. He had a farm under the Hangklip, and a very nice farm it was, with two wells and a big dam right up above the lands, so that he had no need for a windmill to carry his water. If he had stuck to the farm Stoffel might have been a rich man; and perhaps, when he was old enough to be listened to, the Burghers might have made him a feldkornet.

"But no! He must needs cast his eyes about him till they fell on one Katrina Ruiter, the daughter, so please you, of a dirty takhaar bijwohner on his own farm. He went mad about the girl, and thought her quite different from all other girls, though she had a troop of untidy sisters like herself galloping wild about the place. I will own she was a well-grown slip of a lass, tall and straight, and all that; but she had a winding, bending way with her that struck me like something shameless. For the rest, she had a lot of coal-black hair that bunched round her face like the frame round a picture; but there was something in the color of her skin and the shaping of her lips and nostrils, that made me say to myself, 'Ah, somewhere and somewhen your people have been meddling with the Kafirs.'

"Black? No, of course she wasn't black. Nor yet yellow; but I tell you, the black blood showed through her white skin so clearly that I wonder Stoffel Mostert did not see it and drive her from his door with a sjambok.

"But the man was clean mad, and, spite of all we could do,— spite of his uncle, the Predikant; spite of the ugly dirty family of the girl herself,—he rode her to the dorp and married her there; for the Predikant, godly man, would not turn a hand in the business.

"Now, just how they lived together I cannot tell you for sure; for you may be very certain I drank no coffee in the house of the bijwohner's daughter. But, by all hearings, they bore with one another very well; and I have even been told that Stoffel was much given to caressing the woman, and she would make out to love him very much indeed.

"Perhaps she really did? What nonsense! How can a bijwohner's baggage love a well-to-do Burgher? You are talking foolishness. But anyhow, if there was any trouble between them, they kept it to themselves for close upon a year.

"Then (this is how it has been told to me) one night Stoffel woke up in the dark, and his wife was not beside him.

"'Is it morning already?' he said, and looked through the window. But the stars were high and bright, and he saw it was scarcely midnight.

"He lay for a while, and then got up and drew on his clothes—doing everything slowly, hoping she would return. But when he was done she was not yet come, and he went out in the dark to the kitchen, and there he found the outer door unlocked and heard the dog whining in the yard.

"He took his gun from the beam where it hung and went forth. The dog barked and sprang to him, and together they went out to the veld, seeking Katrina Ruiter.

"The dog seemed to know what was wanted, and led Stoffel straight out towards the Kafir stad by the Blesbok Spruit. They did not go fast, and on the way Stoffel knelt down and prayed to God, and drew the cartridges from the gun. Then they went on.

"When they got to the spruit they could see there was a big fire in the stad and hear the Kafirs crying out and beating the drums. The dog ran straight to the edge of the water, and then turned and whined, for there was no more scent. But Stoffel walked straight in, over his knees and up to his waist, and climbed the bank to the wall of the stad.

"Inside the Kafirs were dancing. Some were tricked out with ornaments and skins and feathers; some were mother-naked and painted all over their bodies. And there was one, a gaunt figure of horror, with his face streaked to the likeness of a skull, and bones hanging clattering all about him. They capered and danced round the fire like devils in hell, and behind them the men with the drums kept up their noise and seemed to drive the dancers to madness.

"And suddenly the figures round the fire gave way, save the one with the painted face and the bones; for from the shadow of a hut at the back of the fire came another, who rushed into the light and swayed wildly to the barbarous music. The newcomer was naked as a babe new born; wild as a beast of the field; lithe as a serpent; and crazy to savageness with the fire and the drums.

"Madly she danced, bending forwards and backwards, casting her bare arms above her, while the horror who danced with her writhed and screamed like a soul in pain.

"Stoffel, behind the wall, stood stunned and bound—for here he saw his wife. He thought nothing, said nothing; but without an effort his hand ran a cartridge into the gun, and leveled it across the wall. He fired, and the lissome body dropped limp across the fire."

Frikkie Viljoen rose in great wrath.

"This is how you talk of my sweetheart, is it?" he cried. "Well, I will hear no more of your lies." And he forthwith walked out of the house.

"Look at that!" said the Vrouw Grobelaar. "I never said a word about his sweetheart."


THE horizon to the west was keen as the blade of a knife, and over it all the colors swam and blended in an ecstasy of sunset.

"There is more blood than peace in a sky like that," observed the Vrouw Grobelaar from her armchair on the stoop. "When I was a child, I never saw a mess of fire in the west but I thought it betokened the end of the world. Ah, well, one grows wiser!"

"Green is for love," said Katje. "Do you see any green in the sunset?" I saw a mile of it edging on a sea of orange and a mountain of azure.

"Where?" demanded the old lady. "Oh, that—that's almost blue, which means sin in marriage. But naming the colors in the sky is a wasteful foolishness, and the folk that are guided by them always tumble in the end. When Jan Uys was on his death-bed, he said Dia had always been counting the colors with the Irishman, and that's what caused all the trouble."

Katje sighed.

"He was a man of sixty," the unconscious Vrouw continued, "and a Boer of the best, with a farm below the Hangklip, where my cousin Barend's aunt is now. He was a rich and righteous man, too, and as upstanding and strong as any man of his age that I ever saw. He had buried four good wives, so nobody can say he wasn't a good husband, but he had a way with him—something heavy and ugly, like a beast or a Kafir—which many girls didn't like. His fifth wife was Dia, who came from Lord knows where, somewhere down south, and she was only sixteen.

"I believe in fitting a girl with a husband when she is ripe, and sixteen is old enough with any well-grown maid. But in the case of Dia, it is a pity somebody did not stop to think. She was more than half a child; just a slender, laughing, running thing that liked sweets and peaches better than coffee and meat, and used to throw stones. She threw one at my cart, with her arm low like a boy, and hit my Kafir on the neck, and then squeaked and ran to hide among the kraals. Yes, somebody should have stopped to think before they coupled her to big Jan Uys, with his scowl and his red eyes and white beard, and his sixty hard years behind him."

"I should think so, indeed," was Katje's comment.

"What you think is of no importance," retorted the old lady sharply. "I think so, and that settles it. Well, it did not take long for Dia to lose all the froth and foolishness that were in her. The child that was more than half of her nature was simply trampled to death, for Jan Uys had a short way of shaping his women-folk. She used to cry, they say, but never dared to rebel, which I can understand, knowing the man and the way he had of giving an order as though it were impossible for any one to disobey him. In particular, she could not learn to make cheese, and spoilt enough milk to feed a dorp on.

"'Very well,' he said, 'if you cannot make the cheese the Kafir woman shall do it. And you shall do her work at the churn-handle. I want no idlers in my house.'

"And there he had her at the churn, grinding like a Kafir, for three days in every week, a white woman and his wife. Once she came to him and held out her hands.

"'Look,' she said. That was all: 'look!'

"Her fingers and her palms were flayed and raw and oozed blood, but he simply glanced at them.

"'You should have learned to work before,' was all his answer. 'Every one pays for learning, and you pay late. Go back to the churn.'

"The next thing', of course, was that she was missing, but Jan Uys was not troubled. He mounted his horse and rode out along the Drifts Road, going quietly, with his pipe alight. It was the road by which he had brought her from her home, and he knew the girl would try to go to her mother. In a few miles he picked up her spoor, and found some of the sole of one of her shoes. A mimosa carried a shred of her dress, and in another place she had sat down. As he went farther, he found she had sat down in many places.

"'Good,' he said. 'She is tired, and soon I shall catch her.'

"He came up with her twenty miles along the road, sitting down again. Her hair was all about her shoulders, and her face was white, with the great eyes burning in it like those of a woman in a fever.

"'You are ready to come back?' he asked, sitting on his horse, smoking and scowling down on her.

"'What are you going to do with me?' she asked in a trembling voice.

"He laughed that short ugly laugh of his. 'You are a child,' he answered. 'I shall whip you.'

"Then she commenced to plead with him to let her go, to return without her, to spare her, to kill her. In the middle of it he leaned from the saddle, and caught hold of her arms and lifted her before him.

"'All this may stop,' he said, turning the horse. 'You have brought disgrace on me; you shall be punished.' And he carried her back.

"He did whip her—not brutally or terribly, I believe, as a man might do from wounded pride and revenge, but as a child is whipped, to warn it against future foolishness. And from the time of that beating the course of their life changed. She was no longer a child, but a very grave and silent woman, not prayerful at all, as might have been hoped, but just still and solemn. Dreadful, I call it. Then the young man Moore entered their lives.

"Jan Uys was making a dam right below the Hangklip. You know the dam: half of it is cut from the rock, and the water all comes into it from the end. It was not a matter of half a dozen Kafirs with spades, like most dams, but a business for dynamite and all kinds of ticklish and awkward work. So Jan wisely did not put his own fingers to it, but sent to the Rand for an Uitlander to come out and burst the rocks; and they sent him this young fellow, the Irishman Moore. He was a tall youth, with hair like some of the red in that sunset over yonder, and a most astonishing way of making you laugh only by talking about ordinary things. And when he joked anybody would laugh, even the Predikant, who was always preaching about the crackling of thorns under a pot. With him, in a black box like a little coffin, he had a machine he called a banjo, upon which he would play lewd and idolatrous music which was most pleasing to the ear; and he would sing songs while he played, which all ended with a yell. He was good at bursting the rocks, too. He would load holes full of dynamite in three or four places at once, and fetch tons of stone and earth out with each explosion. Jan Uys was pleased with him, for the young man cared nothing at all for his savage looks and ugly ways, and called him the Old Obadiah, who was a writer of the Bible.

"'My wife,' he told him, 'is a young woman, and sad. You must talk to her in the evenings and make her laugh.'

"The Irishman looked at him with a strange face. 'The poor creature needs a laugh,' he said.

"So he used to talk to her on the stoop in the evenings, while Jan sat within at his Bible, and heard the murmur of their talk without. More than once, too, he heard a sound that was no longer familiar to him—the sound of Dia's pleasant childish laughter, and he scowled at his book and told himself he was satisfied. I think, perhaps, he had sometimes seen himself as he was, an old hard man crushing the soul of a child. Vaguely, perhaps, and unwillingly, but still he saw it sometimes.

"This went on. The Irishman blew up his dynamite and talked with Dia and played with her. Jan, watching, saw the color had returned to her cheeks and the life to her eyes. He came into the kitchen once and she was singing. She stopped suddenly.

"'Why do you not go on?' he asked, with his little red eyes staring at her.

"She had nothing to say, and he went away, to go down to the dam. The Irishman was sitting on an ant-heap away in the sun, and Jan passed him without speaking, and walked down to the place of explosions. He was looking at the marks of fire on the rocks, when it seemed to him he heard a shout, and he saw, as he turned his head, that the Irishman was standing up. But he made no beck, and Jan walked along. When he looked again the young man had both hands to his head. Jan shaded his eyes to watch him.

"Moore walked a few paces to and fro, stood still, and then, with a start, commenced to run furiously down to where Jan was standing. He ran with long strides and very fast, and was soon beside the old man, and seized him by the arm.

"'Out of this!' he cried. 'Out of this! The holes are loaded, and ye've sixty seconds to save yer life.'

"Jan stood still. 'Why did you not tell me before?' he asked; but the other did not answer, but only dragged at his arm.

"Jan shook his hand off. 'I have a mind to stay,' he said in a calm voice. 'If Dia is made a widow, you will know how to look after her.'

"'And that's true!' cried the Irishman. 'But you shan't make a murderer of me.'

"And he drew back his fist and knocked the old man down. Catching him by the collar, he dragged him to the shelter of a big boulder, flung him close to it, and lay down on top of his body. In the next moment the blast went off, and the gust of fire and rocks and earth roared and whistled through the air above them. The sound struck them like a bludgeon, and they lay for a while, stunned and deafened, while pieces of stone slid and tinkled on the boulder that had sheltered them. At last they rose.

"'I made a mistake and I am glad,' said Jan.

"'Will you shake hands with me?'

"'I will not,' was the answer.

"'So be it. But there can be no need to tell Dia of this.'

"The Irishman nodded, and that afternoon, again, he and Dia were in the garden, throwing stones at a sardine-tin on a stick to see who could hit it first. Dia knocked it down easily, and Jan, sitting indoors with his coat off, heard them laughing.

"At supper that night he looked up to Dia.

"'This coffee has a sour taste,' he said.

"'Mine hasn't,' said the Irishman.

"'Try mine, then,' said Jan, and passed Dia his cup to hand to him. She fumbled in taking it and dropped it on the floor. The new cup that she poured out for him had no sour taste.

"For several days after that there was a sour taste in many things that he ate and drank, and he complained of it each time.

"'You must be getting ill,' Dia said.

"'It is possible,' he answered, watching her. 'I have felt very strange of late days.'

"He saw the color leave her cheeks, and a light come into her eyes.

"'What can it be?' he said. 'Should I have a doctor, do you think?'

"'I am afraid of doctors,' she answered. 'Let me give you some of my herb medicine.'

"He drank what she brought him and put the cup down.

"'I was hard to you once. Dia,' he said, 'I have been sorry since.'

"That night he sent a mounted Kafir for his brother, and when, at noon next day, that brother came, Dia and her Irishman were already gone. But Jan would not have them hunted.

"'I whipped her once,' he said, 'and I am paid for it.'

"His brother, a great simple soul, was dumbfounded.

"'Do you mean that she has poisoned you?' he demanded.

"The dying man shook his head.

"'They used to count the colors,' he said. 'There was much of love in the colors, but there was nothing of me. Let them go!'

"And so," concluded the Vrouw Grobelaar impressively, "he died, and it all came of counting the colors in the sunset, which is a warning to you, Katje—"

"To count colors," interrupted that maiden hotly. "I think the old wretch got just what he deserved."


The old yellow-fanged dog-baboon that was chained to a post in the yard had a dangerous trick of throwing stones. He would seize a piece of rock in two hands, stand erect and whirl round on his heels till momentum was obtained, and then—let go. The missile would fly like a bullet, and woe betide any one who stood in its way. The performance precluded any kind of aim; the stone was hurled off at any chance tangent: and it was bad luck rather than any kind of malice that guided one three-pound boulder through the window, across the kitchen, and into a portrait of Judas de Beer which hung on the wall not half a dozen feet from the slumbering Vrouw Grobelaar.

She bounced from her chair and ballooned to the door with a silent swift agility most surprising to see in a lady of her generous build, and not a sound did she utter. She was of good veld-bred fighting stock, which never cried out till it was hurt, and there was even something of compassion in her face as Frikkie jumped from the stoop with a twelve-foot thong in his hand. It was, after all, the baboon that suffered most, if his yells were any index to his feelings. Frikkie could smudge a fly ten feet off with just a flick of his whip, and all the tender parts of the accomplished animal came in for ruthless attention.

"He ought to be shot," was Frikkie's remark as he curled up the thong at the end of the discipline. "A baboon is past teaching if he has bad habits. He is more like a man than a beast."

The Vrouw Grobelaar seated herself in the stoop chair which by common consent was reserved for her use, and shook her head.

"Baboons are uncanny things," she answered slowly. "When you shoot them, you can never be quite sure how much murder there is in it. The old story is that some of them have souls and some not: and it is quite certain that they can talk when they will. You have heard them crying in the night sometimes. Well, you ask a Kafir what that means. Ask an old wise Kafir, not a young one that has forgotten the wisdom of the black people and learned the foolishness only of the white."

"What does it mean, tante?" It was I that put the question. Katje, too, seemed curious.

The old lady eyed me gloomily.

"If you were a landed Boer, instead of a kind of schoolmaster," she replied, witheringly, "you would not need to ask such a question. But I will tell you. A baboon may be wicked—look at that one showing his teeth and cursing—but he is not blind nor a fool. He runs about on the hills, and steals and fights and scratches, and all the time he has all the knowledge and twice the strength of a man, if it were not for the tail behind him and the hair on his body. So it is natural that sometimes he should be grieved to be such a mean thing as a baboon when he could be a useful kind of man if the men would let him. And at nights, particularly, when their troop is in laager and the young ones are on watch among the high rocks, it comes home to the best of them, and they sob and weep like young widows, pretending that they have pains inside so that the others shall not feel offended and turn on them. Any one may hear them in the kloofs on a windless night, and, I can tell you, the sound of their sorrow is pitiful."

Katje threw out a suggestion to console them with buckshot, and the Vrouw Grobelaar nodded with meaning.

"To hate baboons is well enough in the wife of a Burgher," she said sweetly. "I am glad to see there is so much fitness and wifeliness about you, since you will naturally spend all your life on farms."

Katje's flush was a distress signal. First blood to the Vrouw.

"Baboons," continued the old lady, "are among a farmer's worst enemies. They steal and destroy and menace all the year round, but for all that there are many farmers who will not shoot or trap them. And these, you will notice, are always farmers of a ripe age and sense shaped by experience. They know, you may be sure. My stepsister's first husband, Shadrach van Guelder, shot at baboons once, and was so frightened afterwards that he was afraid to be alone in the dark."

There was a story toward, and no one moved.

"There were many Kafirs on his farm, which you have not seen," pursued the Vrouw Grobelaar, adjusting her voice to narrative pitch. "It was on the fringe of the Drakensberg, and many spurs of hill, divided by deep kloofs like gashes, descended on to it. So plenty of water came down, and the cattle were held from straying by the rocks, on one side at any rate. The Kafirs had their kraals dotted all about the land; and as they were of the kind that works, my stepsister's husband suffered them to remain and grow their little patches of mealies, while they worked for him in between. He was, of course, a cattle Boer, as all of our family have always been, but here were so many Kafirs to be had for nothing, that he soon commenced to plough great spaces of land and sow valuable crops. There was every prospect that he would make very much money out of that farm; for corn always sells, even when cattle are going for only seven pounds apiece, and Shadrach van Guelder was very cheerful about it.

"But when a farmer weighs an ungrown crop, you will always find that there is something or other he does not take into account. He tells of the weather and the land and the Kafirs and the water on his fingers, and forgets to bend down his thumb to represent God—or something. Shadrach van Guelder lifted up his eyes to the hills from whence came the water, but it was not until the green corn was six inches high that he saw that there came with it baboons. Armies and republics of them; more baboons than he had thought to exist,—they swooped down on his sprouting lands and rioted, ate and rooted, trampled and wantoned, with that kind of bouncing devilishness that not even a Kafir can correctly imitate. In one night they undid all his work on five sown morgen of fat land, and with the first wink of the sun in the east they were back again in their kopjes, leaving devastation and foulness wherever they passed.

"It was my stepsister's husband that stood on one leg and cursed like a Jew. He was wrathful as a Hollander that has been drinking water, and what did not help to make him content was the fact that hardly anything would avail to protect his lands. Once the baboons had tasted the sweetness of the young corn, they would come again and again, camping in the kloofs overhead as long as anything remained for them, like a deaf guest. But for all that, he had no notion of leaving them to plunder at their ease. The least one can do with an unwelcome visitor is to make him uncomfortable; and he sent to certain kraals on the farm for two old Kafirs he had remarked who had the appearance of cunning old men.

"They came and squatted before him, squirming and shuffling, as Kafirs do when a white man talks to them. One was quite a common kind of Kafir, gone a little gray with age, a tuft of white wool on his chin, and little patches of it here and there on his head. But the other was a small twisted yellow man, with no hair at all, and eyes like little blots of fire on a charred stick; and his arms were so long and gnarled and lean that he had a bestial look, like a laborious animal.

"'The baboons have killed the crop on the lower lands,' said Shadrach, smacking his leg with his sjambok. 'If they are not checked, they will destroy all the corn on this farm. What is the way to go about it?'

"The little yellow man was biting his lips and turning a straw in his hands, and gave no answer, but the other spoke.

"'I am from Shangaanland,' he said, 'and there, when the baboons plague us, we have a way with them, a good way.'

"He sneered sideways at his yellow companion as he spoke, and the look which the latter returned to him was a thing to shrink from.

"'What is this way?' demanded Shadrach.

"'You must trap a baboon,' explained the old Kafir. 'A leading baboon, for choice, who has a lot to say in the government of the troop. And then you must skin him, and let him go again. The others will travel miles and miles as soon as they see him, and never come back again.'

"'It makes me sick to think of it,' said Shadrach. 'Surely you know some other way of scaring them?'

"The old Kafir shook his head slowly, but the yellow man ceased to smile and play with the straw and spoke.

"'I do not believe in that way, baas. A Shangaan baboon'—he grinned at his companion—'is more easily frightened than those of the Drakensberg. I am of the bushmen, and I know. If you flay one of those up yonder, the others will make war, and where one came before, ten will come every night. A baboon is not a fat lazy Kafir; one must be careful with him.'

"'How would you drive them away, then?' asked Shadrach.

"The yellow man shuffled his hands in the dust, squatting on his heels. There! There! See, the baboon in the yard is doing the very same thing.

"'If I were the baas,' said the yellow man, 'I would turn out the young men to walk round the fields at night, with buckets to hit with sticks, and make a noise. And I—well, I am of the bushmen—' he scratched himself and smiled emptily.

"'Yes, yes?' demanded Shadrach. He knew the wonderful ways of the bushmen with some animals.

"'I do not know if anything can be done,' said the yellow man, 'but if the baas is willing I can go up to the rocks and try.'


"But he could tell nothing. None of these wizards that have charms to subdue the beasts can tell you anything about it. A Hottentot will smell the air and say what cattle are near, but if you bid him tell you how he does it, he giggles like a fool and is ashamed.

"'I do not know if anything can be done,' the yellow man repeated. 'I cannot promise the baas, but I can try.'

"'Well, try then,' ordered Shadrach, and went away to make the necessary arrangements to have the young Kafirs in the fields that night.

"They did as he bade, and the noise was loathsome,—enough to frighten anything with an ear in its head. The Kafirs did not relish the watch in the dark at first, but when they found that their work was only to thump buckets and howl, they came to do it with zest, and roared and banged till you would have thought a judgment must descend on them. The baboons heard it, sure enough, and came down after a while to see what was going on. They sat on their rumps outside the circle of Kafirs, as quiet as people in a church, and watched the niggers drumming and capering as though it were a show for their amusement. Then they went back, leaving the crops untouched, but pulling all the huts in one kraal to pieces as they passed. It was the kraal of the old white-tufted Shangaan, as Shadrach learned afterwards.

"Shadrach was pleased that the row had saved his corn, and next day he gave the twisted yellow man a lump of tobacco. The man tucked it into his cheek and smiled, wrinkling his nose and looking at the ground.

"'Did you get speech of the baboons last night among the rocks?' Shadrach asked.

"The other shook his head, grinning. 'I am old,' he said. 'They pay no attention to me, but I will try again. Perhaps, before long, they will listen.'

"'When they do that,' said Shadrach, 'you shall have five pounds of tobacco and five bottles of dop.'

"The man was squatting on his heels all this time at Shadrach's feet, and his hard fingers, like claws, were picking at the ground. Now he put out a hand, and began fingering the laces of the farmer's shoes with a quick fluttering movement that Shadrach saw with a spasm of terror. It was so exactly the trick of a baboon, so entirely a thing animal and unhuman.

"'You are more than half a baboon yourself,' he said. 'Let go of my leg! Let go, I say! Curse you, get away—get away from me!'

"The creature had caught his ankle with both hands, the fingers, hard and shovel-ended, pressing into his flesh.

"'Let go!' he cried, and struck at the man with his sjambok.

"The man bounded on all fours to evade the blow, but it took him in the flank, and he was human—or Kafir—again in a moment, and rubbed himself and whimpered quite naturally.

"'Let me see no more of your baboon tricks,' stormed Shadrach, the more angry because he had been frightened. 'Keep them for your friends among the rocks. And now be off to your kraal.'

"That night again the Kafirs drummed all about the green corn, and sang in chorus the song which the mountain-Kafirs sing when the new moon shows like a paring from a fingernail of gold. It is a long and very loud song, with stamping of feet every minute, and again the baboons came down to see and listen. The Kafirs saw them, many hundreds of humped black shapes, and sang the louder, while the crowd of beasts grew ever denser as fresh parties came down and joined it. It was opposite the rocks on which they sat that the singing men collected, roaring their long verses and clattering on the buckets, doubtless not without some intention to jeer at and flout the baffled baboons, who watched them in such a silence. It was drooping now to the pit of night, and things were barely seen as shapes, when from higher up the line, where the guardians of the crops were sparser, there came a discord of shrieks.

"'The baboons are through the line,' they cried, and it was on that instant that the great watching army of apes came leaping in a charge on the main force of the Kafirs. Oh, but that was a wild, a haunting thing! Great bull-headed dog-baboons, with naked fangs and clutching hands alert for murder; bounding mothers of squealing litters that led their young in a dash to the fight; terrible lean old bitches that made for the men when others went for the corn,—they swooped like a flood of horror on the aghast Kafirs, biting, tearing, bounding through the air like uncouth birds, and in one second the throng of the Kafirs melted before them, and they were among the corn.

"Eight men they killed by rending, and of the others, some sixty, there was not one but had his wound—some bite to the bone, some gash, where iron fingers had clutched and torn their way through skin and flesh. When they came to Shadrach, and woke him wearily with the breathless timidity of beaten men, it was already too late to go with a gun to the corn-lands. The baboons had contented themselves with small plunder after their victory, and withdrew orderly to the hills; and even as Shadrach came to the door of the homestead, he saw the last of their marshaled line, black against the sky, moving swiftly towards the kloofs.

"He flung out his hands like a man in despair, with never a word to ease his heart, and then the old Shangaan Kafir stood up before him. He had the upper part of his right arm bitten to the bone and worried, and now he cast back the blanket from his shoulder and held out the quivering wound to his master.

"'It was the chief of the baboons that gave me this,' he said, 'and he is a baboon only in the night. He came through the ranks of them bounding like a boulder on a steep hillside, and it was for me that his teeth were bared. So when he hung by his teeth to my arm and tore and snarled, I drew my nails across his back, that the baas should know the truth.'

"'What is this madness?' cried Shadrach.

"'No madness, but simple devilry,' answered the Shangaan, and there came a murmur of support from the Kafirs about him. 'The leader of the baboons is Naqua, and it was he who taught them the trick they played us tonight.'

"'Naqua?' repeated Shadrach, feeling cold and weak.

"'The bushman,' explained the old man. 'The yellow man with the long lean arms who gave false counsel to the baas.'

"'It is true,' came the chorus of the Kafirs. 'It is true; we saw it.'

"Shadrach pulled himself together and raised a hand to the lintel of the door to steady himself.

"'Fetch me Naqua!' he ordered, and a pair of them went upon that errand. But they came back empty; Naqua was not at his hut, and none had news of him.

"Shadrach dismissed the Kafirs to patch their wounds, and at sun-up he went down to the lands where the eight dead Kafirs still lay among the corn, to see what traces remained of the night's work. He had hoped to find a clue in the tracks, but the feet of the Kafirs and the baboons were so mingled that the ground was dumb, and on the grass of the baboons' return there remained, of course, no sign. He was no fool, my stepsister's first husband, and since a wild and belly-quaking tale was the only one that offered, he was not ready to cast it aside till a better one were found. At any rate it was against Naqua that his preparations were directed.

"He had seven guns in his house for which ammunition could be found, and from among all the Kafirs on the land he chose a half dozen Zulus, who, as you know, will always rather fight than eat. These were only too ready to face the baboons again, since they were to have guns in their hands; and a kind of ambush was devised. They were to lie among the corn so as to command the flank of the beasts, and Shadrach was to lie in the middle of them, and would give the signal when to commence firing by a shot from his own rifle. There was built, too, a pile of brushwood lying on straw soaked in oil, and this one of them was to put a light to as soon as the shooting began.

"It was dark when they took their places, and then commenced a long and anxious watch among the corn, when every bush that creaked was an alarm and every small beast of the veld that squealed set hearts to thumping. From where he lay on his stomach, with his rifle before him, Shadrach could see the line of ridge of rocks over which the baboons must come, dark against a sky only just less dark; and with his eyes fixed on this he waited. Afterwards he said that it was not the baboons he waited for, but the yellow man, Naqua, and he had in his head an idea that all the evil and pain that ever was, and all the sin to be, had a home in that bushman. So a man hates an enemy.

"They came at last. Five of them were suddenly seen on the top of the rocks, standing erect and peering round for a trap; but Shadrach and his men lay very still, and soon one of these scouts gave a call, and then was heard the pat! pat! of hard feet as the body of them came up. There was not light enough to tell one from another, except by size, and as they trooped down among the corn Shadrach lay with his finger throbbing on his trigger, peering among them. But he could see nothing except the mass of their bodies, and waiting till the main part of them was past him, so that he could have a shot at them as they came back, should it happen that they retired at once, he thrust forward his rifle, aimed into the brown, and fired.

"Almost in the same instant the rifles of the Zulus spoke, and a crackle of shots ran up and down their line. Then there was a flare of light as the bonfire was lit, and they could see the army of baboons in a fuss of panic dashing to and fro. They fired again and again into the tangle of them, and the beasts commenced to scatter and flee, and Shadrach and his men rose to their full height and shot faster, and the hairy army vanished into the darkness, defeated.

"There was a guffaw of laughter from the Zulus, but ere it was finished a shout from Shadrach brought their rifles leaping up again, The baboons were coming back,—a line of them was breaking from the darkness beyond the range of the fire, racing in great leaps towards the men. As they came into the light they were a sight to terrify a host, all big tuskers, and charging without a sound. Shadrach, aiming by instinct only, dropped two as they came, and the next instant they were upon him. He heard the grunt of the Zulu next him as a huge beast leaped against his chest and bore him down, and there were screams from another. Then something heavy and swift drove at him like a bullet and he clubbed his rifle. As the beast flew, with hands and feet drawn in for the grapple, he hewed at it with the butt and smashed it to the ground. The stock struck on bone, and he felt it crush and fail, and there was the thing at his feet.

"How they broke the charge, with what a frenzy of battle they drove the baboons from them, none of the four who spoke again could ever tell. But it must have been very soon after Shadrach clubbed his rifle that the beasts wavered, were beaten, and fled screaming, and the farmer found himself leaning on his weapon and a great Zulu, shining with sweat, talking to him.

"'Never have I had such a fight,' the Zulu was saying, 'and never may I hope for such another. The baas is a great chief. I watched him.'

"Something was picking at Shadrach's boots, and he drew back with a shudder from the form that lay at his feet.

"'Bring a stick from the fire,' he ordered. 'I want to see this—this baboon.'

"As the man went, he ran a cartridge into the breach of his rifle, and when the burning stick was brought, he turned over the body with his foot.

"A yellow face mowed up at him, and pale yellow eyes sparkled dully.

"'Tck!' clicked the Zulu in surprise. 'It is the bushman, Naqua. No, baas,' as Shadrach cocked his rifle, 'do not shoot him. Keep him and chain him to a post. He will like that less.'

"'I shoot,' answered Shadrach, and shattered the evil grin that gleamed in the face on the ground with a quick shot.

"And, as I told you, my stepsister's first husband, Shadrach van Guelder, was afraid to be alone in the dark after that night," concluded the Vrouw Grobelaar. "It is ill shooting baboons, Frikkie."

"I'm not afraid," retorted Frikkie, and the baboon in the yard rattled his chain and cursed shrilly.


The business was something before my time, but I can remember several versions of it, which were commonly current when I first came into the Dopfontein district. It was not much of a tale as a general thing, except that, if you happened to have a strain of hot blood in you, it discovered a quality of very picturesque pathos. However, as you shall see, only the tail end of the story was generally known, and it was the Vrouw Grobelaar, the transmitter of chronicles, who divulged it to Katje and myself one evening in its proper proportions.

As I first heard it the tale was about thus. The drift across the Dolf Spruit, below the Zwaartkop, was a ragged gash in the earth, hidden from all approaches by dense bushes of wacht een beetje thorn. The spruit was here throttled between banks of worn stone, and the water roared over the drift at a depth that made it impassible to foot- farers. Its name Morder Drift (Murder Ford), was secured to it no less by its savage aspect than by the incident associated with it.

One morning a Kafir brought news to a farm of a strange thing at the drift, a tale of violent death at criminal hands. Straightway four men got to horse and rode over. Arriving, they found their information justified in a strange fashion. Seated in the deep southern approach to the water was a Boer woman, a young one, pillowing on her lap the head of a murdered man, whose body oozed blood from a dozen wounds. The woman paid no heed to the approach of the Burghers, and they, on nearing the body, observed that her eyes were fixed across the spruit, and that a smile, a dreadful twisted smile of contempt, ruled her face as though frozen there.

The woman was recognized as a girl of good Boer family who had recently married in opposition to the strong objections of her family; the dead man at her feet was soon identified as all that was left of her husband.

That was the tale: it ended there like a broken string, for while the matter was under investigation at the hands of the feldkornet, a Kafir chief in the Magaliesberg commenced to assert himself and the commando of the district was called out to wait on him. And there the matter dropped, for during the two years that elapsed before she died the woman never uttered a word. But (and here, for me, at any rate, the wonder of the story commenced) every day and all day, come fine or rain, sun or storm, there she would sit in the drift, damning the traitor's road of escape with that smile the Burghers had shuddered at. The scene, and the unspeakable sadness of it, used to govern my dreams.

I was telling Katje the story, for she said she had never heard it, but this I since learned to have been untrue. At first the conversation had been varied even to the point of inanity, but in time it turned—as such conversations will, you know—to the wonder and beauty of the character of women in general. I think it must have been at this stage that the Vrouw Grobelaar, who had been dozing like a dog, with one ear awake, commenced to listen; and I have always thought the better of the good lady for not annihilating the situation with some ponderously arch comment, as was a habit of hers.

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