Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


The Story of an African Farm, vol. 1. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
previous
next
page: 85

SERVICE NO. II.

IN the front room of the farmhouse sat Tant' Sannie in her elbow-chair. In her hand was her great brass-clasped hymn-book, round her neck was a clean white handkerchief, under her feet was a wooden stove. There too sat Em and Lyndall, in clean pinafores and new shoes. There too was the spruce Hottentot in a starched white “cappje,” and her husband on the other side of the door, with his wool oiled and very much combed out, and staring at his new leather boots. The Kaffir servants were not there because Tant' Sannie held they were descended from apes, and needed no salvation. But the rest were gathered for the Sunday service, and waited the officiator.

page: 86

Meanwhile Bonaparte and the German approached arm in arm—Bonaparte resplendent in the black cloth clothes, a spotless shirt, and a spotless collar; the German in the old salt-and-pepper, casting shy glances of admiration at his companion.

At the front door Bonaparte removed his hat with much dignity, raised his shirt collar, and entered. To the centre table he walked, put his hat solemnly down by the big Bible, and bowed his head over it in silent prayer.

The Boer-woman looked at the Hottentot, and the Hottentot looked at the Boer-woman.

There was one thing on earth for which Tant' Sannie had a profound reverence, which exercised a subduing influence over her, which made her for the time a better woman—that thing was new, shining black cloth. It made her think of the “predikant;” it made her think of the elders who sat in the top pew of the church on Sundays, with the hair so nicely oiled, so holy page: 87 and respectable, with their little swallow-tailed coats; it made her think of heaven, where everything was so holy and respectable, and nobody wore tan-cord, and the littlest angel had a black tail-coat. She wished she hadn't called him a thief and a Roman Catholic. She hoped the German hadn't told him. She wondered where those clothes were when he came in rags to her door. There was no doubt, he was a very respectable man, a gentleman.

The German began to read a hymn. At the end of each line Bonaparte groaned, and twice at the end of every verse.

The Boer-woman had often heard of persons groaning during prayers, to add a certain poignancy and finish to them; she would have looked upon it as no especial sign of grace in any one; but to groan at hymn-time! She was startled. She wondered if he remembered that she shook her fist in his face. This was a man of God. They knelt down to pray. The Boer-woman page: 88 weighed two hundred and fifty pounds, and could not kneel. She sat in her chair, and peeped between her crossed fingers at the stranger's back. She could not understand what he said; but he was in earnest. He shook the chair by the back rail till it made quite a little dust on the mud floor.

When they rose from their knees Bonaparte solemnly seated himself in the chair and opened the Bible. He blew his nose, pulled up his shirt collar, smoothed the leaves, stroked down his capacious waistcoat, blew his nose again, looked solemnly round the room, then began,—

“All liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Having read this portion of Scripture, Bonaparte paused impressively, and looked all round the room.

“I shall not, my dear friends,” he said, “long detain you. Much of our precious time has page: 89 already fled blissfully from us in the voice of thanksgiving and the tongue of praise. A few, a very few words are all I shall address to you, and may they be as a rod of iron dividing the bones from the marrow, and the marrow from the bones.

“In the first place: What is a liar?”

The question was put so pointedly, and followed by a pause so profound, that even the Hottentot man left off looking at his boots and opened his eyes, though he understood not a word.

“I repeat,” said Bonaparte, “what is a liar?”

The sensation was intense; the attention of the audience was riveted.

“Have you any of you ever seen a liar, my dear friends?” There was a still longer pause. “I hope not; I truly hope not. But I will tell you what a liar is. I knew a liar once—a little boy who lived in Cape Town, in Short Market page: 90 Street. His mother and I sat together one day, discoursing about our souls.

“‘Here, Sampson,’ said his mother, ‘go and buy sixpence of “meiboss” from the Malay round the corner.’

“When he came back she said: ‘How much have you got?’

“‘Five,’ he said.

“He was afraid if he said six and a half she'd ask for some. And, my friends, that was a lie. The half of a ‘meiboss’ stuck in his throat and he died and was buried. And where did the soul of that little liar go to, my friends? It went to the lake of fire and brimstone. This brings me to the second point of my discourse.

“What is a lake of fire and brimstone? I will tell you, my friends,” said Bonaparte condescendingly. “The imagination unaided cannot conceive it: but by the help of the Lord I will put it before your mind's eye.

“I was travelling in Italy once on a time; page: 91 I came to a city called Rome, a vast city, and near it is a mountain which spits forth fire. Its name is Etna. Now, there was a man in that city of Rome who had not the fear of God before his eyes, and he loved a woman. The woman died, and he walked up that mountain spitting fire, and when he got to the top, he threw himself in at the hole that is there. The next day I went up. I was not afraid; the Lord preserves His servants. And in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest at any time thou fall into a volcano. It was dark night when I got there, but in the fear of the Lord I walked to the edge of the yawning abyss, and looked in. That sight—that sight, my friends, is impressed upon my most indelible memory. I looked down into the lurid depths upon an incandescent lake, a melted fire, a seething sea; the billows rolled from side to side, and on their fiery crests tossed the white skeleton of the suicide. The heat had burnt the flesh from off page: 92 the bones; they lay as a light cork upon the melted, fiery waves. One skeleton hand was raised upward, the finger pointing to heaven; the other, with outstretched finger, pointing downward, as though it would say, ‘I go below, but you, Bonaparte, may soar above.’ I gazed; I stood entranced. At that instant there was a crack in the lurid lake; it swelled, expanded, and the skeleton of the suicide disappeared, to be seen no more by mortal eye.”

Here again Bonaparte rested, and then continued—

“The lake of melted stone rose in the crater, it swelled higher and higher at the side, it streamed forth at the top. I had presence of mind; near me was a rock; I stood upon it. The fiery torrent was vomited out and streamed on either side of me. And through that long and terrible night I stood there alone upon that rock, the glowing, fiery lava on every hand—a monument of the long-suffering and tender providence of page: 93 the Lord, who spared me that I might this day testify in your ears of Him.

“Now, my dear friends, let us deduce the lessons that are to be learnt from this narrative.

“Firstly: let us never commit suicide. The man is a fool, my friends, that man is insane, my friends, who would leave this earth, my friends. Here are joys innumerable, such as it hath not entered into the heart of man to understand, my friends. Here are clothes, my friends; here are beds, my friends; here is delicious food, my friends. Our precious bodies were given us to love, to cherish. Oh, let us do so! Oh, let us never hurt them; but care for and love them, my friends!”

Every one was impressed, and Bonaparte proceeded.

“Thirdly; let us not love too much. If that young man had not loved that young woman, he would not have jumped into Mount Etna. The good men of old never did so. Was Jeremiah page: 94 ever in love, or Ezekiel, or Hosea, or even any of the minor prophets? No. Then why should we be? Thousands are rolling in that lake at this moment who would say, ‘It was love that brought us here.’ Oh, let us think always of our own souls first.

  • “‘A charge to keep I have,
  • A God to glorify;
  • A never-dying soul to save,
  • And fit it for the sky.'

“Oh, beloved friends, remember the little boy and the ‘meiboss’; remember the young girl and the young man; remember the lake, the fire, and the brimstone; remember the suicide's skeleton on the pitchy billows of Mount Etna; remember the voice of warning that has this day sounded in your ears; and what I say to you I say to all—watch! May the Lord add his blessings!”

Here the Bible closed with a tremendous thud. Tant' Sannie loosened the white handkerchief page: 95 about her neck and wiped her eyes, and the coloured girl, seeing her do so, sniffled. The did not understand the discourse, which made it the more affecting. There hung over it that inscrutable charm which hovers forever for the human intellect, over the incomprehensible and shadowy. When the last hymn was sung the German conducted the officiator to Tant' Sannie, who graciously extended her hand, and offered coffee and a seat on the sofa. Leaving him there, the German hurried away to see how the little plum-pudding he had left at home was advancing; and Tant' Sannie remarked that it was a hot day. Bonaparte gathered her meaning as she fanned herself with the end of her apron. He bowed low in acquiescence. A long silence followed. Tant' Sannie spoke again. Bonaparte gave her no ear; his eye was fixed on a small miniature on the opposite wall, which represented Tant' Sannie as she had appeared on the day before her confirmation, page: 96 fifteen years before, attired in green muslin. Suddenly he started to his feet, walked up to the picture, and took his stand before it. Long and wistfully he gazed into its features; it was easy to see that he was deeply moved. With a sudden movement, as though no longer able to restrain himself, he seized the picture, loosened it from its nail, and held it close to his eyes. At length, turning to the Boer-woman, he said, in a voice of deep emotion,—

“You will, I trust, dear madam, excuse this exhibition of my feelings; but this—this little picture recalls to me my first and best beloved, my dear departed wife, who is now a saint in heaven.”

Tant' Sannie could not understand; but the Hottentot maid, who had taken her seat on the floor beside her mistress, translated the English into Dutch as far as she was able.

“Ah, my first, my beloved!” he added, looking tenderly down at the picture. “Oh, page: 97 the beloved, the beautiful lineaments! My angel wife! This is surely a sister of yours, madame?” he added, fixing his eyes on Tant' Sannie.

The Dutchwoman blushed, shook her head, and pointed to herself.

Carefully, intently, Bonaparte looked from the picture in his hand to Tant' Sannie's features, and from the features back to the picture. Then slowly a light broke over his countenance, he looked up, it became a smile; he looked back at the miniature, his whole countenance was effulgent.

“Ah, yes; I see it now,” he cried, turning his delighted gaze on the Boer-woman; “eyes, mouth, nose, chin, the very expression!” he cried. “How is it possible I did not notice it before?”

“Take another cup of coffee,” said Tant' Sannie. “Put some sugar in.”

Bonaparte hung the picture tenderly up, and page: 98 was turning to take the cup from her hand, when the German appeared, to say that the pudding was ready and the meat on the table.

“He's a God-fearing man, and one who knows how to behave himself,” said the Boer-woman as he went out at the door. “If he's ugly, did not the Lord make him? And are we to laugh at the Lord's handiwork? It is better to be ugly and good than pretty and bad; though of course it's nice when one is both,” said Tant' Sannie, looking complacently at the picture on the wall.

In the afternoon the German and Bonaparte sat before the door of the cabin. Both smoked in complete silence—Bonaparte with a book in his hands and his eyes half closed; the German puffing vigorously, and glancing up now and again at the serene blue sky overhead.

“Supposing—you—you, in fact, made the page: 99 remark to me,” burst forth the German suddenly, “that you were looking for a situation.”

Bonaparte opened his mouth wide, and sent a stream of smoke through his lips.

“Now supposing,” said the German—“merely supposing, of course—that some one, some one, in fact, should make an offer to you, say, to become schoolmaster on their farm and teach two children, two little girls, perhaps, and would give you forty pounds a-year, would you accept it?—Just supposing, of course.”

“Well, my dear friend,” said Bonaparte, “that would depend on circumstances. Money is no consideration with me. For my wife I have made provision for the next year. My health is broken. Could I meet a place where a gentleman would be treated as a gentleman I would accept it, however small the remuneration. With me,” said Bonaparte, “money is no consideration.”

“Well,” said the German, when he had taken page: 100 a whiff or two more from his pipe, “I think I shall go up and see Tant' Sannie a little. I go up often on Sunday afternoon to have a general conversation, to see her, you know. Nothing—nothing particular, you know.”

The old man put his book into his pocket, and walked up to the farmhouse with a peculiarly knowing and delighted expression of countenance.

“He doesn't suspect what I'm going to do,” soliloquized the German; “hasn't the least idea. A nice surprise for him.”

The man whom he had left at his doorway winked at the retreating figure with a wink that was quite indescribable.

previous
next