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The Story of an African Farm, vol. 1. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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Then a new time.

Before us there were three courses possible—to go mad, to die, to sleep.

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We take the latter course; nature takes it for us.

All things take rest in sleep; the beast, bird, the very flowers close their eyes, and the streams are frozen in winter. All things take rest in sleep; then why not the human reason also? So we drop asleep, and in that sleep a beautiful dream rises for us. Though you hear all the dreams of men, you will hardly find a prettier one than ours. It ran so:—

In the centre of all things is a Mighty Heart, which, having begotten all things, loves them; and, having born them into life, beats with great throbs of love towards them. No death for His dear insects, no hell for His loved men, no burning up for His dear world—His own, own world! In the end all will be well. Do not ask us how we make our dream tally with facts; the glory of a dream is this—that it despises facts, and makes its own. Our dream saves us from going mad; that is enough.

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Its peculiar point of sweetness lay here. When the Mighty Heart's yearning of love became too great for other expression, it became the sweet Rose of heaven, the beloved Man—God.

Jesus! you Jesus of our dream! how we loved you; no Bible tells of you as we know you. Your sweet hands held ours fast; your sweet voice said always, “I am here, my loved one, not far off; put your arms about Me.” We found Him in everything in those days. When the little weary lamb we drive home drags its feet, we seize on it, and carry it with its head against our face. His little lamb! We feel we have got Him.

When the drunken Kaffir lies by the road in the sun we draw his blanket over his head, and put green branches of milk-bush on it. His Kaffir; why should the sun hurt him?

In the evening, when the clouds lift themselves like gates, and the red lights shine through them, we cry; for in such glory He will come, page: 260 and the hands that ache to touch Him will hold him, and we shall see the beautiful hair and eyes of our God.

“Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and our King of glory shall come in!” The purple flowers, the little purple flowers are His eyes, looking at us. We kiss them, and kneel alone on the flat, rejoicing over them.

And the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for Him, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as a rose. If ever in our tearful, joyful ecstasy the poor, sleepy, half-dead devil should raise his head, we laugh at him. It is not his hour now.

“If there should be a hell, after all!” he mutters. “If your God should be cruel! If there should be no God! If you should find out it is all imagination! If—”

We laugh at him. When a man sits in the warm sunshine, do you ask him for proof of it? page: 261 He feels—that is all. And we feel—that is all. We want no proof of our God. We feel, we feel!

Do we believe in our God because the Bible tells us of Him? We believe in the Bible because He tells us of it. We feel Him, we feel Him, we feel—that is all! And the poor, half-swamped Devil mutters—

“But if the day should come when you do not feel?”

And we laugh and cry him down.

“It will never come—never, never,” and the poor Devil slinks to sleep again, with his tail between his legs. Fierce assertion many times repeated is hard to stand against. It is most wisely met by silence. Time separates the truth from the lie. So we dream on.

One day we go to town and to church. The townspeople rustle in in their silks, and the men in their sleek cloth, and settle themselves in their pews, and the light shines in through the windows on the artificial flowers in the page: 262 women's bonnets. We have the same miserable feeling that we have in a shop where all the clerks are very smart. We wish our Father hadn't brought us to town, and we were out on the karroo. Then the man in the pulpit begins to preach. His text is “He that believeth not shall be damned.”

The day before an atheist has died in the street, struck by lightning.

The man in the pulpit mentions no name; but he talks of “The hand of God made visible among us.” He tells us how, when the white stroke fell, quivering and naked, the soul fled, robbed of his earthly filament, and lay at the footstool of God; how over its head has been poured out the wrath of the Mighty One, whose existence it has denied; and, quivering and terrified, it has fled to the everlasting night.

We, as we listen, half start up; every drop of blood in our body has rushed to our head. He lies! he lies! he lies! That man in the page: 263 pulpit lies! Will no one stop him? Have none of them heard—do none of them know, that when the poor, dark soul shut its eyes on earth it opened them in the still light of heaven? that there is no wrath where God is? that if one could once creep to the footstool of God, there is everlasting peace there? While the atheist lay wondering and afraid, God bent down and said, “My child, here I am—I, whom you have not known; I, whom you have not believed in; I am here. I sent My messenger, the white sheet-lightning, to call you home. I am here.”

Then the poor soul turned to the light—its weakness and pain were gone for ever.

Have they not known, have they not heard, who it is rules?

“For a little moment have I hidden My face from thee; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.”

We mutter on to ourselves, till some one pulls page: 264 us violently by the arm to remind us we are in church. We see nothing but our own ideas.

Presently every one turns to pray. There are six hundred souls lifting themselves to the Everlasting Light.

Behind us sit two pretty ladies; one hands her scent-bottle softly to the other, and a mother pulls down her little girl's frock. One lady drops her handkerchief; a gentleman picks it up; she blushes. The women in the choir turn softly the leaves of their tune-books, to be ready when the praying is done. It is as though they thought more of the singing than the Everlasting Father. Oh, would it not be more worship of Him to sit alone in the karoo and kiss one little field flower that He had made? Is it not mockery? Then the thought comes, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” We who judge, what are we better than they?—rather worse. Is it any excuse to say we are but a child and must come? Does God allow any soul to step in page: 265 between the spirit he made and himself? What do we there in that place, where all the words to us seem lies of the All Father, and the worship a seeming. Filled with horror, we turn and flee out of the place. On the pavement we smite our foot, and swear in our child's soul, never again to enter those places where men come to worship. We are questioned afterwards. Why was it we went out of church?

How can we explain?—we stand silent. Then we are pressed further, and we try to tell. Upon that a head is shaken solemnly at us. No one can think it wrong to go to the house of the Lord; it is the idle excuse of a wicked boy. When will we think seriously of our souls, and love going to church? We are wicked, very wicked. And we—we slink away and go alone to cry. Will it be always so? If we hate and doubt, or believe and love, to our dearest, are we to seem always wicked, wicked, wicked? Nothing else!

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We do not yet know that in the soul's search for truth the bitterness lies here; the striving cannot always hide itself among the thoughts; sooner or later it will clothe itself in outward action; then it steps in and divides between us and our nearest. All things on earth have their price; and for truth we pay the dearest. We barter it for love and sympathy. The road to honour is paved with thorns; but on the path to truth, at every step you set your foot down on your own heart.