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The Story of an African Farm, vol. 1. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
page: 246


Then a new time comes of which the leading feature is, that the shrewd questions are asked page: 247 louder. We carry them to the grown-up people; they answer us, and we are not satisfied.

And now between us and the dear old world of the senses the spirit-world begins to peep in, and wholly clouds it over. What are the flowers to us? They are fuel waiting for the great burning. We look at the walls of the farmhouse and the matter-of-fact sheep “kraals,” with the merry sunshine playing over all, and do not see it. But we see a great white throne, and Him that sits on it. Around Him stand a great multitude that no man can number, harpers harping with their harps, a thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands. How white are their robes, washed in the blood of the Lamb! And the music rises higher, and rends the vault of heaven with its unutterable sweetness. And we, as we listen, ever and anon, as it sinks on the sweetest, lowest note, hear a groan of the damned from below. We shudder in the sunlight.

page: 248

“The torment,” says Jeremy Taylor, whose sermons our father reads aloud in the evening, “comprises as many torments as the body of man has joints, sinews, arteries, &c., being caused by that penetrating and real fire, of which this temporal fire is but a painted fire. What comparison will there be between burning for a hundred years' space and to be burning without intermission as long as God is God?”

We remember the sermon there in the sunlight. One comes and asks why we sit there nodding so moodily. Ah, they do not see what we see.
  • “A moment's time, a narrow space,
  • Divides me from that heavenly place,
  • Or shuts me up in hell.”
So says Wesley's hymn, which we sing evening by evening. What matter sunshine and walls, men and books?

“The things which are seen are temporal, but page: 249 the things which are not seen are eternal.” They are real.

The Bible we bear always in our breast; its pages are our food; we learn to repeat it; we weep much, for in sunshine and in shade, in the early morning or the late evening, in the field or in the house, the Devil walks with us. He comes to a real person, copper-coloured face, head a little on one side, forehead knit, asking questions. Believe me, it would be better to be followed by three deadly diseases than by him. He is never silenced, never satisfied—without mercy. Though the drops of blood stand out on your heart he will put his question. Softly he comes up (we are only a wee bit child, mark you); “Is it good of God to make hell? Was it kind of Him to let no one be forgiven unless Jesus Christ died?”

Then he goes off, and leaves us writhing. Presently he comes back.

“Do you love Him?”—waits a little. “Do page: 250 you love Him? You will be lost if you don't.”

We say we try to.

“But do you?” Then he goes off.

It is nothing to him if we go quite mad with fear at our own wickedness. He asks on, the questioning Devil; he cares nothing what he says. We long to tell some one, that they may share our pain. We do not yet know that the cup of affliction is made with such a narrow mouth that only one lip can drink at a time, and that each man's cup is made to match his lip.

One day we try to tell some one. Then a grave head is shaken solemnly at us. We are wicked, very wicked, they say we ought not to have such thoughts. God is good, very good. We are wicked, very wicked. That is the comfort we get. Wicked! Oh, Lord! do we not know it? Is it not the sense of our own exceeding wickedness that is drying up our page: 251 young heart, filling it with sand, making all life a dust-bin for us?

Wicked? We know it! Too vile to live, too vile to die, too vile to creep over this, God's earth, and move among His believing men. Hell is the one place for him who hates his master, and there we do not want to go.

And once again we try to seek for comfort. This time great eyes look at us wondering, and lovely little lips say,—

“If it makes you so unhappy to think of these things, why do you not think of something else, and forget?

Forget? We turn away and shrink into ourself. Forget? and think of other things? Oh, God! do they not understand that the material world is but a film, through every pore of which God's awful spirit world is shining through on us, poor miserable little wretches that we are? We keep as far from others as we can.

One night, we kneel in the window; every one page: 252 else sleeps, but we kneel reading by the moonlight. It is only a chapter of the prophets, telling how the chosen people of God shall be carried on the Gentiles' shoulders. Surely the Devil might leave us alone; there is not much to handle for him there. But presently we hear him.

“Is it right there should be a chosen people? If you should be chosen out, would it be right, fair?”

How can we answer him? We were feeling so good till he came. We put our head down on the Bible and blister it with tears. Then we fold our hands over our head and pray, till our teeth grind together. Oh, that from that spirit-world, so real and yet so silent, that surrounds us, one word would come to guide us! We are left alone with this devil; the angels do not come. Suddenly we seize the Bible, turning it round and round, and say hurriedly,—

“It will be God's voice speaking to us; His voice as though we heard it.”

page: 253

We yearn, oh, so hugrily, for a token from the inexorably silent One.

We turn the book, put our finger down on a page, and bend to read by the moonlight. It is God's answer. We tremble.

“Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.”

For an instant our imagination seizes it; we are twisting, twirling, trying to make an allegory. The fourteen years are fourteen months; we are Paul and the devil is Barnabas, Titus is— Then a sudden loathing comes to us: we are liars and hypocrites, we are trying to deceive ourselves. What is Paul to us—and Jerusalem? Who are Barnabas and Titus? We know not the men. This is no answer. Before we know we seize the book, swing it round our head, and fling it with all our might to the farthest end of the room. We put down our head again and weep. Youth and ignorance yearning for light: page: 254 is there anything else that can weep so? It is as though the tears were drops of blood congealed beneath the eyelids; nothing else is like those tears. After a long time, when we are weak with crying, and lie silent, by chance we knock against the wood that stops the broken pane. It falls. Upon our hot stiff face a sweet breath of wind blows. We raise our head, and with our swollen eyes look out at the beautiful still world, and the sweet night wind blows in upon us, holy and gentle, like a loving breath from the lips of God. Over us a deep peace comes, a calm, still joy; the tears now flow readily and softly. Oh, the unutterable gladness! At last, at last we have found it! “The peace with God.” “The sense of sins forgiven.” All doubt vanished, God's voice in the soul, the Holy Spirit filling us! We feel Him! we feel Him! Oh, Jesus Christ! through you, through you, this joy! We press our hands upon our breast and look upward with adoring gladness. Soft waves of bliss break page: 255 through us. “The peace with God.” “The sense of sins forgiven.” Methodists and Revivalists say the words, and the mocking world shoots out its lip, and walks by smiling—“Hypocrite!”

There are more fools and fewer hypocrites than the wise world dreams of. Hypocrites are rare as icebergs in the tropics; fools common as buttercups beside a water-furrow: whether you go this way or that you tread on them; you dare not look at your own reflection in the water but you see one. There is no cant phrase, rotten with age, but it was the dress of a living body; none but at heart it signifies a real bodily or mental condition.

After hours and nights of frenzied fear of the supernatural, desire to appease the power above, a fierce quivering excitement in every inch of nerve and blood-vessel, there comes a time when nature cannot endure longer, and the spring long bent recoils. We sink down emasculated. Up creeps the deadly delicious calm.

page: 256

“I have blotted out as a cloud thy sins, and as a thick cloud thy trespasses, and will remember them no more for ever.” We weep with soft transporting joy.

A few experience this; many imagine they experience it, one here and there lies about it. In the main, “The peace with God; a sense of sins forgiven,” stands for a certain mental and physical reaction. Its reality those know who have felt it.

And we, on that moonlight night, put down our head on the window, “Oh, God! we are happy, happy; thy child forever. Oh, thank you, God!” and we drop asleep.

Next morning the Bible we kiss. We are God's forever. We go out to work, and it goes happily all day, happily all night; but hardly so happily, not happily at all, the next day; and the next night the devil asks us, “Where is your Holy Spirit?”

We cannot tell.

page: 257

So month by month, summer and winter, the old life goes on—reading, praying, weeping, praying. They tell us we become utterly stupid. We know it. Even the multiplication table we learnt with so much care we forgot. The physical world recedes further and further from us. Truly we love not the world, neither the things that are in it. Across the bounds of sleep our grief follows us. When we wake in the night we are sitting up in bed weeping bitterly, or find ourself outside in the moonlight, dressed, and walking up and down, and wringing our hands, and we cannot tell how we came there. So pass two years, as men reckon them.