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The Story of an African Farm, vol. 1. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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CHAPTER II.

WALDO'S STRANGER.

WALDO lay on his stomach on the red sand. The small ostriches he herded wandered about him, pecking at the food he had cut, or at pebbles and dry sticks. On his right lay the graves; to his left the dam; in his hand was a large wooden post covered with carvings, at which he worked. Doss lay before him, basking in the winter sunshine, and now and again casting an expectant glance at the corner of the nearest ostrich camp. The scrubby thorn-trees under which they lay yielded no shade, but none was needed in that glorious June weather, when in the hottest part of the afternoon the sun was but pleasantly warm; and page: 282 the boy carved on, not looking up, yet conscious of the brown serene earth about him and the intensely blue sky above.

Presently, at the corner of the camp, Em appeared, bearing a covered saucer in one hand and in the other a jug, with a cup in the top. She was grown into a premature little old woman, ridiculously fat, and wearing long dresses. The jug and saucer she put down on the ground before the dog and his master and dropped down beside them herself, panting and out of breath.

“Oh, Waldo! as I came up the camps I met some one on horseback; and I do believe it must be the new man.”

The new man was an Englishman to whom the Boer-woman had hired half the farm.

“Hum!” said Waldo.

“He is quite young,” said Em, “and he has brown hair, and beard curling close to his face, and such dark blue eyes. And, Waldo, page: 283 I was so ashamed! I was just looking back to see, you know, and he happened just to be looking back too, and we looked right into each other's faces; and he got red, and I got so red.”

“Yes,” said Waldo.

“I must go now. Perhaps he has brought us letters from the post from Lyndall. And you know he will have to stay with us till his house is built. I must get his room ready. Good-bye!”

She tripped off again, and Waldo carved on at his post. Doss lay with his nose close to the covered saucer, and smelt that some one had made nice little fat cakes that afternoon. Both were so intent on their occupation, that not till a horse's hoofs beat beside them in the sand did they look up to see a rider drawing in his steed.

He was certainly not the stranger whom Em had described. A dark, somewhat French-looking little man of eight-and-twenty, rather stout, page: 284 with heavy, cloudy eyes and pointed moustaches. His horse was a fiery creature, well caparisoned; a highly-finished saddle-bag hung from the saddle; the man's hands were gloved, and he presented the appearance—an appearance rare on that farm—of a well-dressed gentleman.

In an uncommonly melodious voice he inquired whether he might be allowed to remain there for an hour. Waldo directed him to the farm-house, but the stranger declined. He would merely rest under the trees, and give his horse water. He removed the saddle, and Waldo led the animal away to the dam. When he returned, the stranger had settled himself under the trees, with his back against the saddle. The boy offered him of the cakes. He declined, but took a draught from the jug; and Waldo lay down not far off, and fell to work again. It mattered nothing if cold eyes saw it. It was not his sheep-shearing machine. With material loves, as with human, we go mad once, love out, and page: 285 have done. We never get up the true enthusiasm a second time. This was but a thing he had made, laboured over, loved and liked—nothing more.

The stranger forced himself lower down in the saddle and yawned. It was a drowsy afternoon, and he objected to travel in these out-of-the-world parts. He liked better civilized life, where at every hour of the day a man may look for his glass of wine, and his easy-chair, and paper; where at night he may lock himself into his room with his books and a bottle of brandy, and taste joys mental and physical. The world said of him—the all-knowing, omnipotent world, whom no locks can bar, who has the cat-like propensity of seeing best in the dark—the world said that better than the books he loved the brandy, and better than books or brandy, that which it had been better had he loved less. But for the world he cared nothing; he smiled blandly in its teeth. All life is an aimless dream; if wine page: 286 and philosophy and women keep the dream from becoming a nightmare, so much the better. It is all they are fit for, all they can be used for. There was another side to his life and thought, but of that the world knew nothing and said nothing, as the way of the wise world is.

The stranger looked from beneath his sleepy eyelids at the brown earth that stretched away, beautiful in spite of itself in that June sunshine; looked at the graves, the gables of the farm-house showing over the stone walls of the camps, at the clownish fellow at his feet, and yawned. But he had drunk of the hind's tea, and must say something.

“Your father's place, I presume?” he inquired sleepily.

“No; I am only a servant.”

“Dutch people?”

“Yes.”

“And you like the life?”

The boy hesitated.

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“On days like these.”

“And why on these?”

The boy waited.

“They are very beautiful.”

The stranger looked at him. It seemed that as the fellow's dark eyes looked across the brown earth they kindled with an intense satisfaction; then they looked back at the carving.

What had that creature, so coarse-clad and clownish, to do with the subtle joys of the weather? Himself, white-handed and delicate, he might hear the music with shimmering sunshine and solitude play on the finely-strung chords of nature; but that fellow! Was not the ear in that great body too gross for such delicate mutterings?

Presently he said,

“May I see what you work at?”

The fellow handed his wooden post. It was by no means lovely. The men and birds were almost grotesque in their laboured resemblance page: 288 to nature, and bore signs of patient thought. The stranger turned the thing over on his knee.

“Where did you learn this work?”

“I taught myself.”

“And these zigzag lines represent—”

“A mountain.”

The stranger looked.

“It has some meaning, has it not?”

The boy muttered confusedly,

“Only things.”

The questioner looked down at him—the huge, unwieldy figure, in size a man's, in right of his child-like features and curling hair a child's; and it hurt him—it attracted him and it hurt him. It was something between pity and sympathy.

“How long have you worked at this?”

“Nine months.”

From his pocket the stranger drew his pocket-book, and took something from it. He could page: 289 fasten the post to his horse in some way, and throw it away in the sand at safe distance.

“Will you take this for your carving?”

The boy glanced at the five-pound note and shook his head.

“No; I cannot.”

“You think it is worth more?” asked the stranger with a little sneer.

He pointed with his thumb to a grave.

“No; it is for him.”

“And who is there?” asked the stranger.

“My father.”

The man silently returned the note to his pocket-book, and gave the carving to the boy; and, drawing his hat over his eyes, composed himself to sleep. Not being able to do so, after a while he glanced over the fellow's shoulder to watch him work. The boy carved letters into the back.

“If,” said the stranger, with his melodious voice, rich with a sweetness that never shewed page: 290 itself in the clouded eyes, “if for such a purpose, why write that upon it?”

The boy glanced round at him, but made no answer. He had almost forgotten his presence.

“You surely believe,” said the stranger, “that some day, sooner or later, these graves will open, and those Boer-uncles with their wives walk about here in the red sand, with the very fleshly legs with which they went to sleep? You believe it, do you not? Then why say, ‘He sleeps forever?’ You believe he will stand up again?”

“Do you?” asked the boy, lifting for an instant his heavy eyes to the stranger's face.

Half taken aback, the stranger laughed. It was as though a curious little tadpole which he held under his glass should suddenly lift its tail and begin to ask questions.

“I?—no.” He laughed his short thick laugh. “I am a man who believes nothing, hopes page: 291 nothing, fears nothing, feels nothing, trusts nothing. I am beyond the pale of humanity; no criterion of what you should be who live here among your birds and bushes.”

The next moment the stranger was surprised by a sudden movement on the part of the fellow, which brought him close to the stranger's feet. Soon after he raised his carving and laid it across the man's knee.

“Yes, I will tell you,” he muttered; “I will tell you all about it.”

He put his finger on the grotesque little mannikin at the bottom (Ah! that man who believed nothing, hoped nothing, felt nothing; how he loved him!), and, with eager finger the fellow moved upward, explaining over fantastic figures and mountains, to the crowning bird from whose wing dropped a feather. At the end he spoke with broken breath—short words, like one who utters things of mighty import.

The stranger watched more the face than the page: 292 carving; and there was now and then a show of white teeth beneath the moustaches as he listened.

“I think,” he said blandly, when the boy had done, “that I partly understand you. It is something after this fashion, is it not?” (He smiled.) “In certain valleys there was a hunter.” (He touched the grotesque little figure at the bottom.) “Day by day he went to hunt for wild-fowl in the woods; and it chanced that once he stood on the shores of a large lake. While he stood waiting in the rushes for the coming of the birds, a great shadow fell on him, and in the water he saw a reflection. He looked up to the sky; but the thing was gone. Then a burning desire came over him to see once again that reflection in the water, and all day he watched and waited; but night came and it had not returned. Then he went home with his empty bag, moody and silent. His comrades came questioning about page: 293 him to know the reason, but he answered them nothing; he sat alone and brooded. Then his friend came to him, and to him he spoke.

“‘I have seen to-day,’ he said, ‘that which I never saw before—a vast white bird, with silver wings outstretched, sailing in the everlasting blue. And now it is as though a great fire burnt within my breast. It was but a sheen, a shimmer, a reflection in the water; but now I desire nothing more on earth than to hold her.’

His friend laughed.

‘It was but a beam playing on the water, or the shadow of your own head. To-morrow you will forget her,’ he said.

But to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow the hunter walked alone. He sought in the forest and in the woods, by the lakes and among the rushes, but he could not find her. He shot no more wild fowl; what were they to him?

‘What ails him?’ said his comrades.

‘He is mad,’ said one.

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‘No; but he is worse,’ said another; ‘he would see that which none of us have seen, and make himself a wonder.’

‘Come, let us forswear his company,’ said all.

So the hunter walked alone.

One night, as he wandered in the shade, very heart-sore and weeping, an old man stood before him, grander and taller than the sons of men.

‘Who are you?’ asked the hunter.

‘I am Wisdom,’ answered the old man; ‘but some men call me Knowledge. All my life I have grown in these valleys; but no man sees me till he has sorrowed much. The eyes must be washed with tears that are to behold me; and, according as a man has suffered, I speak.’

And the hunter cried—

‘Oh, you who have lived here so long, tell me, what is that great wild bird I have seen sailing in the blue? They would have me believe she is a dream; the shadow of my own head.’

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The old man smiled.

‘Her name is Truth. He who has once seen her never rests again. Till death he desires her.’

And the hunter cried—

‘Oh, tell me where I may find her.’

But the old man said,

‘You have not suffered enough,’ and went.

Then the hunter took from his breast the shuttle of Imagination, and wound on it the thread of his Wishes; and all night he sat and wove a net.

In the morning he spread the golden net upon the ground, and into it he threw a few grains of credulity, which his father had left him, and which he kept in his breast pocket. They were like white puff-balls, and when you trod on them a brown dust flew out. Then he sat by to see what would happen. The first that came into the net was a snow-white bird, with dove's page: 296 eyes, and he sang a beautiful song—‘A human-God! a human-God! a human-God!’ it sang. The second that came was black and mystical, with dark, lovely eyes, that looked into the depths of your soul, and he sang only this—‘Immortality!’

And the hunter took them both in his arms, for he said—

‘They are surely of the beautiful family of Truth.’

Then came another, green and gold, who sang in a shrill voice, like one crying in the marketplace,—‘Reward after Death! Reward after Death!’

And he said—

‘You are not so fair; but you are fair too,’ and he took it.

And others came, brightly coloured, singing pleasant songs, till all the grains were finished. And the hunter gathered all his birds together, and built a strong iron cage called a new creed, and put all his birds in it.

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Then the people came about dancing and singing.

‘Oh, happy hunter!’ they cried. ‘Oh, wonderful man! Oh, delightful birds! Oh, lovely songs!’

No one asked where the birds had come from, nor how they had been caught; but they danced and sang before them. And the hunter too was glad, for he said—

‘Surely Truth is among them. In time she will moult her feathers, and I shall see her snow-white form.’

But the time passed, and the people sang and danced; but the hunter's heart grew heavy. He crept alone, as of old, to weep; the terrible desire had awakened again in his breast. One day, as he sat alone weeping, it chanced that Wisdom met him. He told the old man what he had done.

And Wisdom smiled sadly.

‘Many men,’ he said, ‘have spread that net page: 298 for Truth; but they have never found her. On the grains of credulity she will not feed; in the net of wishes her feet cannot be held; in the air of these valleys she will not breathe. The birds you have caught are of the brood of Lies. Lovely and beautiful, but still lies; Truth knows them not.’

And the hunter cried out in bitterness—

‘And must I then sit still, to be devoured of this great burning?’

And the old man said,

‘Listen, and in that you have suffered much and wept much, I will tell you what I know. He who sets out to search for Truth must leave these valleys of superstition for ever, taking with him not one shred that has belonged to them. Alone he must wander down into the Land of Absolute Negation and Denial; he must abide there; he must resist temptation; when the light breaks he must arise and follow it into the country of dry sunshine. The mountains of page: 299 stern reality will rise before him; he must climb them: beyond them lies Truth.’

‘And he will hold her fast! he will hold her in his hands!’ the hunter cried.

Wisdom shook his head.

‘He will never see her, never hold her. The time is not yet.’

‘Then there is no hope?’ cried the hunter.

‘There is this,’ said Wisdom: ‘Some men have climbed on those mountains; circle above circle of bare rock they have scaled; and, wandering there, in those high regions, some have chanced to pick up on the ground, one white, silver feather, dropped from the wing of Truth. And it shall come to pass,’ said the old man, raising himself prophetically and pointing with his finger to the sky, ‘it shall come to pass, that when enough of those silver feathers shall have been gathered by the hands of men, and shall have been woven into a cord, and the cord into a net, that in that page: 300 net Truth may be captured. Nothing but Truth can hold Truth.

The hunter arose. ‘I will go,’ he said.

But Wisdom detained him.

‘Mark you well—who leaves these valleys never returns to them. Though he should weep tears of blood seven days and nights upon the confines, he can never put his foot across them. Left—they are left forever. Upon the road which you would travel there is no reward offered. Who goes, goes freely—for the great love that is in him. The work is his reward.’

‘I go,’ said the hunter; ‘but upon the mountains, tell me, which path shall I take?’

‘I am the child of The-Accumulated-Knowledge-of-Ages,’ said the man; ‘I can walk only where many men have trodden. On these mountains few feet have passed; each man strikes out a path for himself. He goes at his own peril: my voice he hears no more. I may follow after him, but cannot go before him.’

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Then Knowledge vanished.

And the hunter turned. He went to his cage, and with his hands broke down the bars, and the jagged iron tore his flesh. It is sometimes easier to build than to break.

One by one he took his plumed birds and let them fly. But when he came to his dark-plumed bird he held it, and looked into its beautiful eyes, and the bird uttered its low, deep cry—‘Immortality!’

And he said quickly, ‘I cannot part with it. It is not heavy; it eats no food. I will hide it in my breast; I will take it with me.’ And he buried it there and covered it over with his cloak.

But the thing he had hidden grew heavier, heavier, heavier—till it lay on his breast like lead. He could not move with it. Then again he took it out and looked at it.

‘Oh, my beautiful! my heart's own!’ he cried, ‘may I not keep you?’

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He opened his hands sadly.

‘Go!’ he said. ‘It may happen that in Truth's song one note is like yours; but I shall never hear it.’

Sadly he opened his hand, and the bird flew from him forever.

Then from the shuttle of imagination he took the thread of his wishes, and threw it on the ground; and the empty shuttle he put into his breast, for the thread was made in those valleys, but the shuttle came from an unknown country. He turned to go, but now the people came about him, howling.

‘Fool, hound, demented lunatic!’ they cried. ‘How dared you break your cage and let the birds fly?’

The hunter spoke; but they would not hear him.

‘Truth! who is she? Can you eat her? can you drink her? who has ever seen her? Your birds were real: all could hear them sing! page: 303 Oh, fool! vile reptile! atheist!’ they cried, ‘you pollute the air.’

‘Come, let us take up stones and stone him,’ cried some.

‘What affair is it of ours?’ said others. ‘Let the idiot go,’ and went away. But the rest gathered up stones and mud and threw at him. At last, when he was bruised and cut, the hunter crept away into the woods. And it was evening about him.”

At every word the stranger spoke the fellow's eyes flashed back on him—yes, and yes, and yes! The stranger smiled. It was almost worth the trouble of exerting oneself, even on a lazy afternoon, to win those passionate flashes, more thirsty and desiring than the love-glances of a woman.

“He wandered on and on,” said the stranger, “and the shade grew deeper. He was on the borders now of the land where it is always night. Then he stepped into it, and there was no light there. With his hands he groped; page: 304 but each branch as he touched it broke off, and the earth was covered with cinders. At every step his foot sank in, and a fine cloud of impalpable ashes flew up into his face; and it was dark. So he sat down upon a stone and buried his face in his hands, to wait in the Land of Negation and Denial till the light came.

And it was night in his heart also.

Then from the marshes to his right and left cold mists arose and closed about him. A fine, imperceptible rain fell in the dark, and great drops gathered on his hair and clothes. His heart beat slowly, and a numbness crept through all his limbs. Then, looking up, two merry wisp lights came dancing. He lifted his head to look at them. Nearer, nearer they came. So warm, so bright, they danced like stars of fire. They stood before him at last. From the centre of the radiating flame in one looked out a woman's face, laughing, dimpled, with streaming yellow hair. In the centre of the other were merry page: 305 laughing ripples, like the bubbles on a glass of wine. They danced before him.

‘Who are you,’ asked the hunter, ‘who alone come to me in my solitude and darkness?’

‘We are the twins Sensuality,’ they cried. ‘Our father's name is Human-Nature, and our mother's name is Excess. We are as old as the hills and rivers, as old as the first man; but we never die,’ they laughed.

‘Oh, let me wrap my arms about you!’ cried the first; ‘they are soft and warm. Your heart is frozen now, but I will make it beat. Oh, come to me!’

‘I will pour my hot life into you,’ said the second; ‘your brain is numb, and your limbs are dead now; but they shall live with a fierce free life. Oh, let me pour it in!’

‘Oh, follow us,’ they cried, ‘and live with us. Nobler hearts than yours have sat here in this darkness to wait, and they have come to us and we to them; and they have never left page: 306 us, never. All else is a delusion, but we are real, we are real. Truth is a shadow; the valleys of superstition are a farce: the earth is of ashes, the trees all rotten; but we—feel us—we live! You cannot doubt us. Feel us how warm we are! Oh, come to us! Oh, live with us!’

Nearer and nearer round his head they hovered, and the cold drops melted on his forehead. The bright light shot into his eyes, dazzling him, and the frozen blood began to run. And he said—

‘Yes, why should I die here in this awful darkness? They are warm, they are warm!’ and he stretched out his hands to take them.

Then in a moment there arose before him the image of the thing he had loved, and his hand dropped to his side.

‘Oh, come to us!’ they cried.

But he buried his face.

‘You dazzle my eyes,’ he cried, ‘you make my heart warm; but you cannot give me what page: 307 I desire. I will wait here—wait till I die; but I will not follow you. Go!’

He covered his face with his hands and would not listen; and when he looked up again they were two twinkling stars, that vanished in the distance.

And the long, long night rolled on.

All who leave the valley of superstition pass through that dark land; but some go through it in a few days, some linger there for months, some for years, and some die there.

At last for the hunter a faint light played along the horizon, and he rose to follow it.’

The boy had crept closer; his hot breath almost touched the stranger's hand; a mystic wonder filled his eyes.

“He reached that light at last, and stepped into the broad sunshine,’ said the stranger. “Then before him rose the almighty mountains of Dry-facts and Realities. The clear sunshine played on them, and the tops were lost in page: 308 the clouds. At the foot many paths ran up. An exultant cry burst from the hunter. He chose the straightest and began to climb; and the rocks and ridges resounded with his song. They had exaggerated; after all, it was not so high, nor was the road so steep! A few days, a few weeks, a few months at most, and then the top! Not one feather only would he pick up; he would gather all that other men had found—weave the net—capture Truth—hold her fast—touch her with his hands—clasp her!

He laughed in the merry sunshine, and sang loud. Victory was very near. Nevertheless, after a while the path grew steeper. He needed all his breath for climbing, and the singing died away. On the right and left rose huge rocks, devoid of lichen or moss, and in the lava-like earth chasms yawned. Here and there he saw a sheen of white bones. Now too the path began to grow less and page: 309 less marked; then it became a mere trace, with a footmark here and there; then it ceased altogether. He sang no more, but struck forth a path for himself, until it reached a mighty wall of rock, smooth and without break, stretching as far as the eye could see. ‘I will rear a stair against it; and, once this wall climbed, I shall be almost there,’ he said bravely; and set to work. With his shuttle of imagination he dug out stones; but half of them would not fit, and sometimes half a month's work would roll down because those below were ill chosen. But the hunter worked on, saying always to himself, ‘Once this wall climbed, I shall be almost there. This great work ended!’

At last he came out upon the top, and he looked about him. Far below rolled the white mist over the valleys of superstition, and above towered the mountains. They had seemed low before; they were of an immeasurable height now, from crown to foundation surrounded by page: 310 walls of rock, that rose tier above tier in mighty circles. Upon them played the eternal sunshine. He uttered a wild cry. When he rose from the earth on which he had fallen, his face was white. In absolute silence he walked on. He was very silent now. In those high regions the rarefied air is hard to breathe by those born in the valleys; every breath he drew hurt him, and the blood oozed out from the tips of his fingers. Before the next wall of rock he began to work. The height of this seemed infinite, and he said nothing. The sound of his tool rang night and day upon the iron rocks into which he cut steps. Times and times, and again times, passed over him, yet he worked on; but the wall towered up above him to heaven. Sometimes he prayed that a little moss or lichen might spring up on those bare walls to be a companion to him; but it never came.

And the years rolled on; he counted them page: 311 by the steps he had cut—a few for a year—only a few. He sang no more; he said no more, ‘I will do this, or that’—he only worked. And at night, when the twilight settled down, there looked out at him from the holes and crevices in the rocks strange wild faces.

‘Stop your work, you lonely man, and speak to us,’ they cried.

‘My salvation is in work. If I should stop but for one moment you would creep down upon me,’ he replied. And they put out their long necks further.

‘Look down into the crevice at your feet,’ they said. ‘See what lie there—white bones! As brave and strong a man as you climbed to these rocks.’ And he looked up. He saw there was no use; he would never hold Truth, never see her, never find her. So he lay down here, for he was very tired. He went to sleep for ever. He put himself to sleep. Sleep is very tranquil. You are not lonely when you page: 312 are asleep, neither do your hands ache, nor your heart. And the hunter laughed between his teeth.’ And the hunter laughed between his teeth.

‘Have I torn from my heart all that was dearest; have I wandered alone in the land of night; have I resisted temptation; have I dwelt where the voice of my kind is never heard, and laboured alone, to lie down and be food for you, ye harpies?’

He laughed fiercely; and the Echoes of Despair slunk away, for the laugh of a brave, strong heart is as a death blow to them.

Nevertheless they crept out again and looked at him.

‘Do you know that your hair is white?’ they said, ‘that your hands begin to tremble like a child's? Do you see that the point of your shuttle is gone?—it is cracked already. If you should ever climb this stair,’ they said, ‘it will be your last. You will never climb another.’

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And he answered, ‘I know it!’ and worked on.

The old, thin hands cut the stones ill and jaggedly, for the fingers were stiff and bent. The beauty and the strength of the man was gone.

At last, an old, wizened, shrunken face looked out above the rocks. It saw the eternal mountains rise with walls to the white clouds; but its work was done.

The old hunter folded his tired hands and lay down by the precipice where he had worked away his life. It was the sleeping time at last. Below him over the valleys rolled the thick white mist. Once it broke; and through the gap the dying eyes looked down on the trees and fields of their childhood. From afar seemed borne to him the cry of his own wild birds, and he heard the noise of people singing as they danced. And he thought he heard among them the voices of his old comrades; and he saw far off the sunlight shine on his early home. And great tears gathered in the hunter's eyes.

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‘Ah! they who die there do not die alone,’ he cried.

Then the mists rolled together again; and he turned his eyes away.

‘I have sought,’ he said, ‘for long years I have laboured; but I have not found her. I have not rested, I have not repined, and I have not seen her; now my strength is gone. Where I lie down worn out other men will stand, young and fresh. By the steps that I have cut they will climb; by the stairs that I have built they will mount. They will never know the name of the man who made them. At the clumsy work they will laugh; when the stones roll they will curse me. But they will mount, and on my work; they will climb, and by my stair! They will find her, and through me! And no man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.’

The tears rolled from beneath the shrivelled eyelids. If Truth had appeared above him page: 315 in the clouds now he could not have seen her.

‘My soul hears their glad step coming,’ he said; ‘and they shall mount! they shall mount!’ He raised his shrivelled hand to his eyes.

Then slowly from the white sky above, through the still air, came something falling, falling, falling. Softly it fluttered down, and dropped on to the breast of the dying man. He felt it with his hands. It was a feather. He died holding it.”

The boy had shaded his eyes with his hand. On the wood of the carving great drops fell. The stranger must have laughed outright, or remained silent and somewhat solemn.

“How did you know it?” the boy whispered at last. “It is not written there—not on that wood. How did you know it?”

“Certainly,” said the stranger, “the whole of the story is not written here, but it is suggested. And the attribute of all true art, the highest and page: 316 the lowest, is this—that it says more than it says, and takes you away from itself. It is a little door that opens into an infinite hall where you may find what you please. Men, thinking to detract, say, ‘People read more in this or that work of genius than was ever written in it,’ not perceiving that they pay the highest compliment. If we pick up the finger and nail of a real man, we can decipher a whole story—could almost reconstruct the creature again, from head to foot. But half the body of a Mumboo-jumbow idol leaves us utterly in the dark as to what the rest was like. We see what we see, but nothing more. There is nothing so universally intelligible as truth. It has a thousand meanings, and suggests a thousand more, all true. Though a man should carve it into matter with the least possible manipulative skill, it will yet find interpreters. It is the soul that looks out with burning eyes through the most gross fleshly filament. It is that which is universal. Whosoever should page: 317 portray truly the life and death of a little flower,—its birth, sucking in of nourishment, waxing, reproduction of its kind, withering and vanishing,—would have shaped a symbol of all existence. All true facts of nature or the mind are related. Your little carving represents a mental fact as it really is, therefore fifty different true stories might be read from it. What your work wants is not truth, but beauty of external form, the other half of art. Skill may come in time, but you will have to work hard. The love of beauty and the desire for it must be born in a man; the skill to reproduce it he must make.”

Having delivered himself of these paradoxes, for the purpose of observing their effect upon his listener, the stranger broke off the end of a cigar and lit it.

“All my life I have longed to see you,” the boy said.

He lifted the heavy wood from the stranger's knee and drew yet nearer him. In the dog-like page: 318 manner of his drawing near there was something superbly ridiculous, unless one chanced to view it in another light. Presently the stranger said, whiffing, “Do something for me.”

The boy started up.

“No; stay where you are. I don't want you to go anywhere; I want you to talk to me. Tell me what you have been doing all your life.”

The boy slunk down again. Would that the man had asked him to root up bushes with his hands for his horse to feed on; or to run to the far end of the plain for the fossils that lay there; or to gather the flowers that grew on the far low hills; he would have run and been back quickly—but now!

“I have never done anything,” he said.

“Then tell me of that nothing. I like to know what other folks have been doing whose word I can believe. It is interesting. What was the first thing you ever wanted very much?”

The boy waited to remember, then began page: 319 hesitatingly, but soon the words flowed. In the smallest past we find an inexhaustible mine when once we begin to dig at it. We stare ourselves at the things we draw forth when for another we disturb the days of old.

A confused, disordered story it was—the little made large and the large small, and nothing showing its inward meaning. It is not till the past has receded many steps that before the clearest eyes it falls into co-ordinate pictures. It is not till the I we tell of has ceased to exist, that it takes its place among other objective realities, and finds its true niche in the picture. The present and the near past is a confusion, whose meaning flashes on us as it slinks away into the distance.

The stranger lit one cigar from the end of another, and puffed and listened, with half-closed eyes.

“I will remember more to tell you if you like,” said the boy.

page: 320

He spoke with that extreme gravity common to all very young things who feel deeply. It is not till twenty that we learn to be in deadly earnest and to laugh. The stranger nodded, while the fellow sought for something more to relate. He would tell all to this man of his—all that he knew, all that he had felt, his inmost sorest thought. Suddenly the stranger turned upon him.

“Boy,” he said, “you are happy to be here.”

Waldo looked at him. Was his delightful one ridiculing him? Here, with this brown earth and these low hills! while the rare wonderful world lay all beyond them! Fortunate to be here!

The stranger read his glance.

“Yes,” he said; “here with the karroo-bushes and red sand. You wonder what I mean? To all who have been born in the old faith there comes a time of danger, when the old slips from us, and we have not yet planted our feet on the new; when the voice from Sinai page: 321 thunders no more, and the still small voice of reason is not yet heard. We have proved the religion our mothers fed us on to be a delusion; in our bewilderment we see no rule by which to guide our steps day by day; and yet every day we must step somewhere. We have never once been taught by word or act to distinguish between religion and the moral laws on which it has artfully fastened itself, and from which it has sucked its vitality. When we have dragged down the weeds and creepers that covered the solid wall and have found them to be rotten wood, we imagine the wall itself to be rotten wood too. We find it is solid and standing only when we fall headlong against it. We have been taught that all right and wrong originate in the will of an irresponsible being. It is some time before we see how the inexorable ‘Thou shalt and shalt not,’ are carved into the nature of things. This is the time of danger.

“In the end experience will inevitably teach page: 322 us that the laws for a wise and noble life have a foundation infinitely deeper than the fiat of any being, God or man, even in the groundwork of human nature. She will teach us that whoso sheddeth man's blood, though by man his blood be not shed, though no man avenge and no hell await; yet every drop shall blister on his soul and eat in the name of the dead. She will teach that whoso takes a love not lawfully his own, gathers a flower with a poison on its petals; that whoso revenges, strikes with a sword that has two edges—one for his adversary,—one for himself; that who lives to himself is dead, though the ground is not yet on him; that who wrongs another clouds his own sun; and that who sins in secret stands accursed and condemned before the one Judge who deals eternal justice—his own all-knowing self.

“Experience will teach us this, and reason will show us why it must be so; but at first the world swings before our eyes, and no voice cries page: 323 out, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it!’ Boy, you are happy to be here! When the suspense fills you with pain you build stone walls and dig earth for relief. Others have stood where you stand to-day, and have felt as you feel; and another relief has been offered them, and they have taken it.

“When the day has come when they have seen the path in which they might walk, they have not the strength to follow it. Habits have fastened on them from which nothing but death can free them; which cling closer than his sacerdotal sanctimony to a priest; which feed on the intellect like a worm sapping energy, hope, creative power, resolution, all that makes a man higher than a beast—leaving only the power to yearn, to regret, and to sink lower in the abyss.

“Boy,” he said, and the listener was not more unsmiling now than the speaker, “you are happy to be here! Stay where you are. If you ever pray, let it be only the one old prayer— page: 324 ‘Lead us not into temptation.’ Live on here quietly. The time may yet come when you will be that which other men have hoped to be and never will be now.”

The stranger rose, shook the dust from his sleeve, and half-ashamed of his earnestness, looked across the bushes for his horse.

“We should have been on our way already,” he said. “We shall have a long ride in the dark to-night.”

Waldo hastened to fetch the animal; but he returned leading it slowly. The sooner it came the sooner would its rider be gone.

The stranger was opening his saddle-bag, in which were a bright French novel and an old brown volume. He took the last and held it out to the boy.

“It may be of some help to you. It was a gospel to me when I first fell on it. You must not expect too much,” he said; “but it may give you a centre round which to organize page: 325 your confused ideas. We of this generation are not destined to eat and be satisfied as our fathers were; but to search, and be hungry.”

He smiled his automaton smile, and rebuttoned the bag. Waldo thrust the book into his breast, and while he saddled the horse the stranger made inquiries as to the nature of the road and the distance to the next farm.

When the bags were fixed Waldo took up his wooden post and began to fasten it on to the saddle, tying it with the little blue cotton handkerchief from his neck. The stranger looked on in silence. When it was done the boy held the stirrup for him to mount.

“What is your name?” he inquired, ungloving his right hand when he was in the saddle.

The boy replied.

“Well, I trust we shall meet again some day, sooner or later.”

He shook hands with the ungloved hand; then drew on the glove, touched his horse, and page: 326 rode slowly away. The boy stood to watch him.

Once when the stranger had gone half across the plain he looked back.

“Poor devil,” he said, smiling and stroking his moustache. Then he looked to see if the little blue handkerchief were still safely knotted. “Poor devil!”

He smiled, and then he sighed wearily, very wearily.

And Waldo waited till the moving speck had disappeared on the horizon; then he stooped and kissed passionately a hoof-mark in the sand. Then he called his young birds together, and put his book under his arm, and walked home along the stone wall. There was a rare beauty to him in the sunshine that evening.

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