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Stories, Dreams and Allegories. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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page: 27

II

Six years passed; and all was as it had been at the little house among the slopes. Only a new piece of land had been ploughed up and added to the land before the house, so that the ploughed land now almost reached to the ridge.

The young mother had grown stouter, and lost her pink and white; she had become a working‐woman, but she still had the large knot of flaxen hair behind her head and the large wondering eyes. She had many suitors in those six years, but she sent them all away. She said the old woman looked after the farm as well as any man might, and her son would be grown up by and by. The grandmother’s hair was a little more streaked with grey, but it was as thick as ever, and her shoulders as upright; only some of her front teeth had fallen out, which made her lips close more softly.

The great change was that wherever the women went there was the flaxen‐haired child to walk beside them holding on to their skirts or clasping their hands.

page: 28

The neighbours said they were ruining the child: they let his hair grow long, like a girl’s, because it curled; and they never let him wear velschoens like other children but always shop boots; and his mother sat up at night to iron his pinafores as if the next day were always a Sunday.

But the women cared nothing for what was said; to them he was not as any other child. He asked them strange questions they could not answer, and he never troubled them by wishing to go and play with the little Kaffirs as other children trouble. When neighbours came over and brought their children with them he ran away and hid in the sloot to play by himself till they were gone. No, he was not like other children!

When the women went to lie down on hot days after dinner sometimes, he would say that he did not want to sleep; but he would not run about and make a noise like other children—he would go and sit outside in the shade of the house, on the front door‐step, quite still, with his little hands resting on his knees, and stare far away at the ploughed lands on the slope, or the shadows nearer; the women would open the bedroom window, and peep out to look at him as he sat there.

The child loved his mother and followed her about to the milk house, and to the kraals; but he loved his grandmother best.

page: 29

She told him stories.

When she went to the lands to see how the Kaffirs were ploughing he would run at her side holding her dress; when they had gone a short way he would tug gently at it and say, “Grandmother, tell me things!”

And long before day broke, when it was yet quite dark, he would often creep from the bed where he slept with his mother into his grandmother’s bed in the corner; he would put his arms round her neck and stroke her face till she woke, and then whisper softly, “Tell me stories!” and she would tell them to him in a low voice not to wake the mother, till the cock crowed and it was time to get up and light the candle and the fire.

But what he liked best of all were the hot, still summer nights, when the women put their chairs before the door because it was too warm to go to sleep; and he would sit on the stool at his grandmother’s feet and lean his head against her knees, and she would tell him on and on of the things he liked to hear; and he would watch the stars as they slowly set along the ridge, or the moonlight, casting bright‐edged shadows from the gable as she talked. Often after the mother had got sleepy and gone in to bed the two sat there together.

The stories she told him were always true stories of the things she had seen or of things she had heard. Sometimes they were stories of her own childhood: page: 30 of the day when she and his grandfather hid among the bushes, and saw the wagon burnt; sometimes they were of the long trek from Natal to the Transvaal; sometimes of the things which happened to her and his grandfather when first they came to that spot among the ridges, of how there was no house there nor lands, only two bare grassy slopes when they outspanned their wagon there the first night; she told of a lion she once found when she opened the door in the morning, sitting, with paws crossed, upon the threshold, and how the grandfather jumped out of bed and reopened the door two inches, and shot it through the opening; the skin was kept in the round storehouse still, very old and mangy.

Sometimes she told him of the two uncles who were dead, and of his own father, and of all they had been and done. But sometimes she told him of things much farther off: of the old Colony where she had been born, but which she could not remember, and of the things which happened there in the old days. She told him of how the British had taken the Cape over, and of how the English had hanged their men at the “Slachters Nek” for resisting the English Government, and of how the friends and relations had been made to stand round to see them hanged whether they would or no, and of how the scaffold broke down as they were being hanged, and the people looking on cried aloud, “It is the finger of God! They are page: 31 saved!” but how the British hanged them up again. She told him of the great trek in which her parents had taken part to escape from under the British flag; of the great battles with Moselikatse; and of the murder of Retief and his men by Dingaan, and of Dingaan’s Day. She told him how the British Government followed them into Natal, and of how they trekked north and east to escape from it again; and she told him of the later things, of the fight at Laings Nek, and Ingogo, and Amajuba, where his father had been. Always she told the same story in exactly the same words over and over again, till the child knew them all by heart, and would ask for this and then that.

The story he loved best, and asked for more often than all the others, made his grandmother wonder, because it did not seem to her the story a child would best like; it was not a story of lion‐hunting, or wars, or adventures. Continually when she asked what she should tell him, he said, “About the mountains!”

It was the story of how the Boer women in Natal when the English Commissioner came to annex their country, collected to meet him and pointing toward the Drakens Berg Mountains said, “We go across those mountains to freedom or to death!”

More than once, when she was telling him the story, she saw him stretch out his little arm and raise his hand, as though he were speaking.

One evening as he and his mother were coming page: 32 home from the milking kraals, and it was getting dark, and he was very tired, having romped about shouting among the young calves and kids all the evening, he held her hand tightly.

“Mother,” he said suddenly, “when I am grown up, I am going to Natal.”

“Why, my child!” she asked him; “there are none of our family living there now.”

He waited a little, then said, very slowly, “I am going to go and try to get our land back!”

His mother started; if there were one thing she was more firmly resolved on in her own mind than any other it was that he should never go to the wars. She began to talk quickly of the old white cow who had kicked the pail over as she was milked, and when she got to the house she did not even mention to the grandmother what had happened; it seemed better to forget.

One night in the rainy season when it was damp and chilly they sat round the large fireplace in the front room.

Outside the rain was pouring in torrents and you could hear the water rushing in the great dry sloot before the door. His grandmother, to amuse him, had sprung some dried menlies in the great black pot and sprinkled them with sugar, and now he sat on the stoof at her feet with a large lump of the sticky sweetmeat in his hand, watching the fire. His grandmother page: 33 from above him was watching it also, and his mother in her elbow‐chair on the other side of the fire had her eyes half closed and was nodding already with the warmth of the room and her long day’s work. The child sat so quiet, the hand with the lump of sweetmeat resting on his knee, that his grandmother thought he had gone to sleep too. Suddenly he said without looking up, “Grandmother?”

“Yes.”

He waited rather a long time, then said slowly, “Grandmother, did God make the English too?”

She also waited for a while, then she said, “Yes, my child; He made all things.”

They were silent again, and there was no sound but of the rain falling and the fire cracking and the sloot rushing outside. Then he threw his head backwards on to his grandmother’s knee and looking up into her face, said, “But, grandmother, why did He make them?”

Then she too was silent for a long time. “My child,” at last she said, “we cannot judge the ways of the Almighty. He does that which seems good in His own eyes.”

The child sat up and looked back at the fire. Slowly he tapped his knee with the lump of sweetmeat once or twice; then he began to munch it; and soon the mother started wide awake and said it was time for all to go to bed.

page: 34

The next morning his grandmother sat on the front doorstep cutting beans in an iron basin; he sat beside her on the step pretending to cut too, with a short, broken knife. Presently he left off and rested his hands on his knees, looking away at the hedge beyond, with his small forehead knit tight between the eyes.

“Grandmother,” he said suddenly, in a small, almost shrill voice, “do the English want all the lands of all the people?”

The handle of his grandmother’s knife as she cut clinked against the iron side of the basin. “All they can get,” she said.

After a while he made a little movement almost like a sigh, and took up his little knife again and went on cutting.

Some time after that, when a whe an trader came by, his grandmother bought him a spelling‐book and a slate and pencils, and his mother began to teach him to read and write. When she had taught him for a year he knew all she did. Sometimes when she was setting him a copy and left a letter out in a word, he would quietly take the pencil when she set it down and put the letter in, not with any idea of correcting her, but simply because it must be there.

Often at night when the child had gone to bed early, tired out with his long day’s play, and the two women were left in the front room with the tallow candle page: 35 burning on the table between them, then they talked of his future.

Ever since he had been born everything they had earned had been put away in the wagon chest under the grandmother’s bed. When the traders with their wagons came round the women bought nothing except a few groceries and clothes for the child; even before they bought a yard of cotton print for a new apron they talked long and solemnly as to whether the old one might not be made to do by repatching; and they mixed much more dry pumpkin and corn with their coffee than before he was born. It was to earn more money that the large new piece of land had been added to the lands before the house.

They were going to have him educated. First he was to be taught all they could at home, then to be sent away to a great school in the old Colony, and then he was to go over the sea to Europe and come back an advocate or a doctor or a parson. The grandmother had made a long journey to the next town, to find out from the minister just how much it would cost to do it all.

In the evenings when they sat talking it over the mother generally inclined to his becoming a parson. She never told the grandmother why, but the real reason was because parsons do not go to the wars. The grandmother generally favoured his becoming an advocate, because he might become a judge. Some‐ page: 36 times they sat discussing these matters till the candle almost burnt out.

“Perhaps, one day,” the mother would at last say, “he may yet become President!”

Then the grandmother would slowly refold her hands across her apron and say softly, “Who knows?—who knows?”

Often they would get the box out from under the bed (looking carefully across to the corner to see he was fast asleep) and would count out all the money, though each knew to a farthing how much was there; then they would make it into little heaps, so much for this, so much for that, and then they would count on their fingers how many good seasons it would take to make the rest, and how old he would be.

When he was eight and had learnt all his mother could teach him, they sent him to school every day on an adjoining farm six miles off, where the people had a schoolmaster. Every day he rode over on the great white horse his father went to the wars with; his mother was afraid to let him ride alone at first, but his grandmother said he must learn to do everything alone. At four o’clock when he came back one or other of the women was always looking out to see the little figure on the tall horse coming over the ridge.

When he was eleven they gave him his father’s page: 37 smallest gun; and one day not long after he came back with his first small buck. His mother had the skin dressed and bound with red, and she laid it as a mat under the table, and even the horns she did not throw away, and saved them in the round house, because it was his first.

When he was fourteen the schoolmaster said he could teach him no more; that he ought to go to some larger school where they taught Latin and other difficult things; they had not yet money enough and he was not quite old enough to go to the old Colony, so they sent him first to the High‐veld, where his mother’s relations lived and where there were good schools, where they taught the difficult things; he could live with his mother’s relations and come back once a year for the holidays.

They were great times when he came.

His mother made him koekies¹ and sasarties² and nice things every day; and he used to sit on the stoof at her feet and let her play with his hair like when he was quite small. With his grandmother he talked. He tried to explain to her all he was learning, and he read the English newspapers to her (she could neither read in English nor Dutch), translating them. Most of all she liked his Atlas. They would sometimes sit over it for half an hour in the evening tracing


¹Koekies: little cakes.

²Sasarties: meat prepared in a certain way.

page: 38 the different lands and talking of them. On the warm nights he used still to sit outside on the stool at her feet with his head against her knee, and they used to discuss things that were happening in other lands and in South Africa; and sometimes they sat there quite still together.

It was now he who had the most stories to tell; he had seen Krugersdorp, and Johannesburg, and Pretoria; he knew the world; he was at Krugersdorp when Dr. Jameson made his raid. Sometimes he sat for an hour, telling her of things, and she sat quietly listening.

When he was seventeen, nearly eighteen, there was money enough in the box to pay for his going to the Colony and then to Europe; and he came home to spend a few months with them before he went.

He was very handsome now; not tall, and very slight, but with fair hair that curled close to his head, and white hands like a town’s man. All the girls in the country‐side were in love with him. They all wished he would come and see them. But he seldom rode from home except to go to the next farm where he had been at school. There lived little Aletta, who was the daughter of the woman his uncle had loved before he went to the Kaffir war and got killed. She was only fifteen years old, but they had always been great friends. She netted him a purse of green silk. He said he would take it with him to Europe, and page: 39 would show it her when he came back and was an advocate; and he gave her a book with her name written in it, which she was to show to him.

These were the days when the land was full of talk; it was said the English were landing troops in South Africa, and wanted to have war. Often the neighbours from the nearest farms would come to talk about it (there were more farms now, the country was filling in, and the nearest railway station was only a day’s journey off), and they discussed matters. Some said they thought there would be war; others again laughed, and said it would be only Jameson and his white flag again. But the grandmother shook her head, and if they asked her, “Why,” she said, “it will not be the war of a week, nor of a month; if it comes it will be the war of years,” but she would say nothing more.

Yet sometimes when she and her grandson were walking along together in the lands she would talk.

Once she said: “It is as if a great heavy cloud hung just above my head, as though I wished to press it back with my hands and could not. It will be a great war—a great war. Perhaps the English Government will take the land for a time, but they will not keep it. The gold they have fought for will divide them, till they slay one another over it.”

Another day she said: “This land will be a great page: 40 land one day with one people from the sea to the north—but we shall not live to see it.”

He said to her: “But how can that be when we are all of different races?”

She said: “The land will make us one. Were not our fathers of more than one race?”

Another day, when she and he were sitting by the table after dinner, she pointed to a sheet of exercise paper, on which he had been working out a problem and which was covered with algebraical symbols, and said, “In fifteen years’ time the Government of England will not have one piece of land in all South Africa as large as that sheet of paper.”

One night when the milking had been late and she and he were walking down together from the kraals in the starlight she said to him: “If this war comes let no man go to it lightly, thinking he will surely return home, nor let him go expecting victory on the next day. It will come at last, but not at first.” “Sometimes,” she said, “I wake at night and it is as though the whole house were filled with smoke—and I have to get up and go outside to breathe. It is as though I saw my whole land blackened and desolate. But when I look up it is as though a voice cried out to me, ‘Have no fear!’”

They were getting his things ready for him to go away after Christmas. His mother was making him shirts and his grandmother was having a kaross of page: 41 jackals’ skins made that he might take it with him to Europe where it was so cold. But his mother noticed that whenever the grandmother was in the room with him and he was not looking at her, her eyes were always curiously fixed on him as though they were questioning something. The hair was growing white and a little thin over her temples now; but her eyes were as bright as ever, and she could do a day’s work with any man.

One day when the youth was at the kraals helping the Kaffir boys to mend a wall, and the mother was kneading bread in the front room, and the grandmother washing up the breakfast things, the son of the Field‐Cornet came riding over from his father’s farm, which was about twelve miles off. He stopped at the kraal and Jan and he stood talking for some time, then they walked down to the farm‐house, the Kaffir boy leading the horse behind them. Jan stopped at the round store, but the Field‐Cornet’s son went to the front door. The grandmother asked him in, and handed him some coffee, and the mother, her hands still in the dough, asked him how‐things were going at his father’s farm, and if his mother’s young turkeys had come out well, and she asked if he had met Jan at the kraals. He answered the questions slowly, and sipped his coffee. Then he put the cup down on the table; and said suddenly in the same measured voice, staring at the wall in page: 42 front of him, that war had broken out, and his father had sent him round to call out all fighting burghers.

The mother took her hands out of the dough and stood upright beside the trough as though paralysed. Then she cried in a high, hard voice, unlike her own, “Yes, but Jan cannot go! He is hardly eighteen! He’s got to go and be educated in other lands! You can’t take the only son of a widow!”

“Aunt” said the young man slowly, “no one will make him go.”

The grandmother stood resting the knuckles of both hands on the table, her eyes fixed on the young man. “He shall decide himself,” she said.

The mother wiped her hands from the dough and rushed past them and out at the door; the grandmother followed slowly.

They found him in the shade at the back of the house, sitting on a stump; he was cleaning the belt of his new Mauser which lay across his knees.

“Jan,” his mother cried, grasping his shoulder, “you are not going away! You can’t go! You must stay. You can go by Delagoa Bay if there is fighting on the other side! There is plenty of money!”

He looked softly up into her face with his blue eyes. “We have all to be at the Field Cornet’s at nine o’clock to‐morrow morning,” he said. She wept aloud and argued.

His grandmother turned slowly without speaking, page: 43 and went back into the house. When she had given the Field Cornet’s son another cup of coffee, and shaken hands with him, she went into the bedroom and opened the box in which her grandson’s clothes were kept, to see which things he should take with him. After a time the mother came back too. He had kissed her and talked to her until she too had at last said it was right he should go.

All day they were busy. His mother baked him biscuits to take in his bag, and his grandmother made a belt of two strips of leather; she sewed them together herself and put a few sovereigns between the stitchings. She said some of his comrades might need the money if he did not.

The next morning early he was ready. There were two saddle‐bags tied to his saddle and before it was strapped the kaross his grandmother had made; she said it would be useful when he had to sleep on damp ground. When he had greeted them, he rode away towards the rise: and the women stood at the gable of the house to watch him.

When he had gone a little way he turned in his saddle, and they could see he was smiling; he took off his hat and waved it in the air; the early morning sunshine made his hair as yellow as the tassels that hang from the head of ripening mealies. His mother covered her face with the sides of her kappie and wept aloud; but the grandmother shaded her eyes with both her page: 44 hands and stood watching him till the figure passed out of sight over the ridge; and when it was gone and the mother returned to the house crying, she still stood watching the line against the sky.

The two women were very quiet during the next days, they worked hard, and seldom spoke. After eight days there came a long letter from him (there was now a post once a week from the station to the Field Cornet’s). He said he was well and in very good spirits. He had been to Krugersdorp, and Johannesburg, and Pretoria; all the family living there were well and sent greetings. He had joined a corps that was leaving for the front the next day. He sent also a long message to Aletta, asking them to tell her he was sorry to go away without saying good‐bye; and he told his mother how good the biscuits and biltong were she had put into his saddle‐bag; and he sent her a piece of “vier‐kleur” ribbon in the letter, to wear on her breast.

The women talked a great deal for a day or two after this letter came. Eight days after there was a short note from him, written in pencil in the train on his way to the front. He said all was going well, and if he did not write soon they were not to be anxious; he would write as often as he could.

For some days the women discussed that note too.

Then came two weeks without a letter, the two page: 45 women became very silent. Every day they sent the Kaffir boy over to the Field Cornet’s, even on the days when there was no post, to hear if there was any news.

Many reports were flying about the country‐side. Some said that an English armoured train had been taken on the western border; that there had been fighting at Albertina, and in Natal. But nothing seemed quite certain.

Another week passed.... Then the two women became very quiet.

The grandmother, when she saw her daughter‐in‐law left the food untouched on her plate, said there was no need to be anxious; men at the front could not always find paper and pencils to write with and might be far from any post office. Yet night after night she herself would rise from her bed saying she felt the house close, and go and walk up and down outside.

Then one day suddenly all their servants left them except one Kaffir and his wife, whom they had had for years, and the servants from the farms about went also, which was a sign there had been news of much fighting; for the Kaffirs hear things long before the white man knows them.

Three days after, as the women were clearing off the breakfast things, the youngest son of the Field‐Cornet, who was only fifteen and had not gone to the page: 46 war with the others, rode up. He hitched his horse to the post, and came towards the door. The mother stepped forward to meet him and shook hands in the doorway.

“I suppose you have come for the carrot seed I promised your mother? I was not able to send it, as our servants ran away,” she said, as she shook his hand. “There isn’t a letter from Jan, is there?” The lad said no, there was no letter from him, and shook hands with the grandmother. He stood by the table instead of sitting down.

The mother turned to the fireplace to get coals to put under the coffee to rewarm it; but the grandmother stood leaning forward with her eyes fixed on him from across the table. He felt uneasily in his breast pocket.

“Is there no news?” the mother said without looking round, as she bent over the fire.

“Yes, there is news, Aunt.”

She rose quickly and turned towards him, putting down the brazier on the table. He took a letter out of his breast pocket. “Aunt, my father said I must bring this to you. It came inside one to him and they asked him to send one of us over with it.”

The mother took the letter; she held it, examining the address.

“It looks to me like the writing of Sister Annie’s Paul,” she said. “Perhaps there is news of Jan in page: 47 it”—she turned to them with a half‐nervous smile—“they were always such friends.”

“All is as God wills, Aunt,” the young man said, looking down fixedly at the top of his riding‐whip.

But the grandmother leaned forward motionless, watching her daughter‐in‐law as she opened the letter.

She began to read to herself, her lips moving slowly as she deciphered it word by word.

Then a piercing cry rang through the roof of the little mud‐farm‐house.

“He is dead! My boy is dead!”

She flung the letter on the table and ran out at the front door.

Far out across the quiet ploughed lands and over the veld to where the kraals lay the cry rang. The Kaffir woman who sat outside her hut beyond the kraals nursing her baby heard it and came down with her child across her hip to see what was the matter. At the side of the round house she stood motionless and open‐mouthed, watching the woman, who paced up and down behind the house with her apron thrown over her head and her hands folded above it, crying aloud.

In the front room the grandmother, who had not spoken since he came, took up the letter and put it in the lad’s hands. “Read,” she whispered.

And slowly the lad spelled it out.

page: 48

‘MY DEAR AUNT,

‘I hope this letter finds you well. The Commandant has asked me to write it.

‘We had a great fight four days ago, and Jan is dead. The Commandant says I must tell you how it happened. Aunt, there were five of us first in a position on that koppie, but two got killed, and then there were only three of us—Jan, and I, and Uncle Peter’s Frikkie. Aunt, the khakies¹ were coming on all round just like locusts, and the bullets were coming just like hail. It was bare on that side of the koppie where we were, but we had plenty of cartridges. We three took up a position where there were some small stones and we fought, Aunt; we had to. One bullet took off the top of my ear, and Jan got two bullets, one through the flesh in the left leg and one through his arm, but he could still fire his gun. Then we three meant to go to the top of the koppie, but a bullet took Jan right through his chest. We knew he couldn’t go any farther. The khakies were right at the foot of the koppie just coming up. He told us to lay him down, Aunt. We said we would stay by him, but he said we must go. I put my jacket under his head and Frikkie put his over his feet. We threw his gun far away from him that they might see how it was with him. He said he hadn’t much pain,


¹Khakies: soldiers.

page: 49 Aunt. He was full of blood from his arm, but there wasn’t much from his chest, only a little out of the corners of his mouth. He said we must make haste or the khakies would catch us; he said he wasn’t afraid to be left there.

‘Aunt, when we got to the top, it was all full of khakies like the sea on the other side, all among the koppies and on our koppie too. We were surrounded, Aunt; the last I saw of Frikkie he was sitting on a stone with the blood running down his face, but he got under a rock and hid there; some of our men found him next morning and brought him to camp. Aunt, there was a khakie’s horse standing just below where I was, with no one on it. I jumped on and rode. The bullets went this way and the bullets went that, but I rode! Aunt, the khakies were sometimes as near me as that tent‐pole, only the Grace of God saved me. It was dark in the night when I got back to where our people were, because I had to go round all the koppies to get away from the khakies.

‘Aunt, the next day we went to look for him. We found him where we left him; but he was turned over on to his face; they had taken all his things, his belt and his watch, and the pugaree from his hat, even his boots. The little green silk purse he used to carry we found on the ground by him, but nothing in it. I will send it back to you whenever I get an opportunity.

page: 50

‘Aunt, when we turned him over on his back there were four bayonet stabs in his body. The doctor says it was only the first three while he was alive; the last one was through his heart and killed him at once.

‘We gave him Christian burial, Aunt; we took him to the camp.

‘The Commandant was there, and all of the family who are with the Commando were there, and they all said they hoped God would comfort you.’

The old woman leaned forward and grasped the boy’s arm. “Read it over again,” she said, “from where they found him.” He turned back and re‐read slowly. She gazed at the page as though she were reading also. Then, suddenly, she slipped out at the front door.

At the back of the house she found her daughter‐in‐law still walking up and down, and the Kaffir woman with a red handkerchief bound round her head and the child sitting across her hip, sucking from her long, pendulous breast, looking on.

The old woman walked up to her daughter‐in‐law and grasped her firmly by the arm.

“He’s dead! You know, my boy’s dead!” she cried, drawing the apron down with her right hand and disclosing her swollen and bleared face. “Oh, his beautiful hair—Oh, his beautiful hair!”

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The old woman held her arm tighter with both hands; the younger opened her half‐closed eyes, and looked into the keen, clear eyes fixed on hers, and stood arrested.

The old woman drew her face closer to hers. “You ... do ... not ... know ... what ... has ... happened!” she spoke slowly, her tongue striking her front gum, the jaw moving stiffly, as though partly paralysed. She loosed her left hand and held up the curved work‐worn fingers before her daughter‐in‐law’s face. “Was it not told me ... the night he was born ... here ... at this spot ... that he would do great things ... great things ... for his land and his people?” She bent forward till her lips almost touched the other’s. “Three ... bullet ... wounds ... and four ... bayonet ... stabs!” She raised her left hand high in the air. “Three ... bullet ... wounds ... and four ... bayonet ... stabs! ... Is it given to many to die so for their land and their people!”

The younger woman gazed into her eyes, her own growing larger and larger. She let the old woman lead her by the arm in silence into the house.

The Field‐Cornet’s son was gone, feeling there was nothing more to be done; and the Kaffir woman went back with her baby to her hut beyond the kraals. All day the house was very silent. The Kaffir woman wondered that no smoke rose from the farm‐house page: 52 chimney, and that she was not called to churn, or wash the pots. At three o’clock she went down to the house. As she passed the grated window of the round out‐house she saw the buckets of milk still standing unsifted¹ on the floor as they had been set down at breakfast time, and under the great soap‐pot beside the wood pile the fire had died out. She went round to the front of the house and saw the door and window shutters still closed, as though her mistresses were still sleeping. So she rebuilt the fire under the soap‐pot and went back to her hut.

It was four o’clock when the grandmother came out from the dark inner room where she and her daughter‐in‐law had been lying down; she opened the top of the front door, and lit the fire with twigs, and set the large black kettle over it. When it boiled she made coffee, and poured out two cups and set them on the table with a plate of biscuits, and then called her daughter‐in‐law from the inner room.

The two women sat down one on each side of the table, with their coffee cups before them, and the biscuits between them, but for a time they said nothing, but sat silent, looking out through the open door at the shadow of the house and the afternoon sunshine beyond it. At last the older woman motioned that the younger should drink her coffee. She took a little, and then folding her arms on the


¹ Unsifted: unstrained.

page: 53 table rested her head on them, and sat motionless as if asleep.

The older woman broke up a biscuit into her own cup, and stirred it round and round; and then, without tasting, sat gazing out into the afternoon’s sunshine till it grew cold beside her.

It was five, and the heat was quickly dying; the glorious golden colouring of the later afternoon was creeping over everything when she rose from her chair. She moved to the door and took from behind it two large white calico bags hanging there, and from nails on the wall she took down two large brown cotton kappies. She walked round the table and laid her hand gently on her daughter‐in‐law’s arm. The younger woman raised her head slowly and looked up into her mother‐in‐law’s face; and then, suddenly, she knew that her mother‐in‐law was an old, old, woman. The little shrivelled face that looked down at her was hardly larger than a child’s, the eyelids were half closed and the lips worked at the corners and the bones cut out through the skin in the temples.

“I am going out to sow—the ground will be getting too dry to‐morrow; will you come with me?” she said gently.

The younger woman made a movement with her hand, as though she said “What is the use?” and redropped her hand on the table.

page: 54

“It may go on for long, our burghers must have food,” the old woman said gently.

The younger woman looked into her face, then she rose slowly and taking one of the brown kappies from her hand, put it on, and hung one of the bags over her left arm; the old woman did the same and together they passed out of the door. As the older woman stepped down the younger caught her and saved her from falling.

“Take my arm, mother,” she said.

But the old woman drew her shoulders up. “I only stumbled a little!” she said quickly. “That step has been always too high”; but before she reached the plank over the sloot the shoulders had drooped again, and the neck fallen forward.

The mould in the lands was black and soft; it lay in long ridges, as it had been ploughed up a week before, but the last night’s rain had softened it and made it moist and ready for putting in the seed.

The bags which the women carried on their arms were full of the seed of pumpkins and mealies. They began to walk up the lands, keeping parallel with the low hedge of dried bushes that ran up along the side of the sloot almost up to the top of the ridge. At every few paces they stopped and bent down to press into the earth, now one and then the other kind of seed from their bags. Slowly they walked up and down till they reached the top of the land almost on page: 55 the horizon line; and then they turned, and walked down, sowing as they went. When they had reached the bottom of the land before the farm‐house it was almost sunset, and their bags were nearly empty; but they turned to go up once more. The light of the setting sun cast long, gaunt shadows from their figures across the ploughed land, over the low hedge and the sloot, into the bare veld beyond; shadows that grew longer and longer as they passed slowly on pressing in the seeds ... The seeds! ... that were to lie in the dank, dark, earth, and rot there, seemingly, to die, till their outer covering had split and fallen from them ... and then, when the rains had fallen, and the sun had shone, to come up above the earth again, and high in the clear air to lift their feathery plumes and hang out their pointed leaves and silken tassels! To cover the ground with a mantle of green and gold through which sunlight quivered, over which the insects hung by thousands, carrying yellow pollen on their legs and wings and making the air alive with their hum and stir, while grain and fruit ripened surely ... for the next season’s harvest!

When the sun had set, the two women with their empty bags turned and walked silently home in the dark to the farm‐house.

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