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The Story of an African Farm, vol. 1. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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page: 11

The Sacrifice.

THE farm by daylight was not as the farm by moonlight. The plain was a weary flat of loose red sand, sparsely covered by dry karroo-bushes, that cracked beneath the tread like tinder, and showed the red earth everywhere. Here and there a milk-bush lifted its pale-coloured rods, and in every direction the ants and beetles ran about in the blazing sand. The red walls of the farm-house, the zinc roofs of the out-buildings, the stone walls of the “kraals,” all reflected the fierce sunlight, till the eye ached and blenched. No tree or shrub was to be seen far or near. The two sunflowers that stood page: 12 before the door, out-stared by the sun, drooped their brazen faces to the sand; and the little cicada-like insects cried aloud among the stones of the “kopje.”

The Boer-woman, seen by daylight, was even less lovely than, when, in bed, she rolled and dreamed. She sat on a chair in the great front room, with her feet on a wooden stove, and wiped her flat face with the corner of her apron, and drank coffee, and in Cape Dutch swore that the beloved weather was damned. Less lovely, too, by daylight was the dead Englishman's child, her little step-daughter, upon whose freckles and low, wrinkled forehead the sunlight had no mercy.

“Lyndall,” the child said to her little orphan cousin, who sat with her on the floor threading beads, “how is it your beads never fall off your needle?”

“I try,” said the little one gravely, moistening her tiny finger. “That is why.”

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The overseer, seen by daylight, was a huge German, wearing a shabby suit, and with a childish habit of rubbing his hands and nodding his head prodigiously when pleased at anything. He stood out at the kraals in the blazing sun, explaining to two Kaffer boys the approaching end of the world. The boys, as they cut the cakes of dung, winked at each other, and worked as slowly as they possibly could; but the German never saw it.

Away, beyond the “kopje,” Waldo his son herded the ewes and lambs—a small and dusty herd—powdered all over from head to foot with red sand, wearing a ragged coat and shoes of undressed leather, through whose holes the toes looked out. His hat was too large, and had sunk down to his eyes, concealing completely the silky black curls. It was a curious small figure. His flock gave him little trouble. It was too hot for them to move far; they gathered round every little milk-bush, as though they page: 14 hoped to find shade, and stood there motionless in clumps. He himself crept under a shelving rock that lay at the foot of the “kopje,” stretched himself on his stomach, and waved his dilapidated little shoes in the air.

Soon, from the blue bag where he kept his dinner, he produced a fragment of slate, an arithmetic, and a pencil. Proceeding to put down a sum with solemn and earnest demeanour, he began to add it up aloud: “Six and two is eight—and four is twelve—and two is fourteen—and four is eighteen.” Here he paused. “And four is eighteen—and—four—is—eighteen.” The last was very much drawled. Slowly the pencil slipped from his fingers, and the slate followed it into the sand. For a while he lay motionless, then began muttering to himself, folded his little arms, laid his head down upon them, and might have been asleep, but for the muttering sound that from time to time proceeded from him. A curious old ewe came to sniff at him; but it was page: 15 long before he raised his head. When he did, he looked at the far-off hills with his heavy eyes.

“Ye shall receive—ye shall receive—shall, shall, shall,” he muttered.

He sat up then. Slowly the dulness and heaviness melted from his face; it became radiant. Mid-day had come now, and the sun's rays were poured down vertically; the earth throbbed before the eye.

The boy stood up quickly, and cleared a small space from the bushes which covered it. Looking carefully, he found twelve small stones of somewhat the same size; kneeling down, he arranged them carefully on the cleared space in a square pile, in shape like an altar. Then he walked to the bag where his dinner was kept; in it was a mutton chop and a large slice of brown bread. The boy took them out and turned the bread over in his hand, deeply considering it. Finally he threw it away and walked to the altar with the meat, and laid it down on page: 16 the stones. Close by in the red sand he knelt down. Sure, never since the beginning of the world was there so ragged and so small a priest. He took off his great hat and placed it solemnly on the ground, then closed his eyes and folded his hands. He prayed aloud.

“Oh, God, my Father, I have made Thee a sacrifice. I have only twopence, so I cannot buy a lamb. If the lambs were mine, I would give Thee one; but now I have only this meat; it is my dinner-meat. Please, my Father, send fire down from heaven to burn it. Thou hast said, Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou cast into the sea, nothing doubting, it shall be done. I ask for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

He knelt down with his face upon the ground, and he folded his hands upon his curls. The fierce sun poured down its heat upon his head and upon his altar. When he looked up he knew what he should see—the glory of God! For fear his very heart stood still, his breath page: 17 came heavily; he was half suffocated. He dared not look up. Then at last he raised himself. Above him was the quiet blue sky, about him the red earth; there were the clumps of silent ewes and his altar—that was all.

He looked up—nothing broke the intense stillness of the blue overhead. He looked round in astonishment, then he bowed again, and this time longer than before.

When he raised himself the second time all was unaltered. Only the sun had melted the fat of the little mutton chop, and it ran down upon the stones.

Then, the third time he bowed himself. When at last he looked up, some ants had come to the meat on the altar. He stood up and drove them away. Then he put his hat on his hot curls, and sat in the shade. He clasped his hands about his knees. He sat to watch what would come to pass. The glory of the Lord God Almighty! He knew he should see it.

page: 18

“My dear God is trying me,” he said; and he sat there through the fierce heat of the afternoon. Still he watched and waited when the sun began to slope, and when it neared the horizon and the sheep began to cast long shadows across the karro karroo , he still sat there. He hoped when the first rays touched the hills till the sun dipped behind them and was gone. Then he called his ewes together, and broke down the altar, and threw the meat far, far away into the field.

He walked home behind his flock. His heart was heavy. He reasoned so: “God cannot lie. I had faith. No fire came. I am like Cain—I am not His. He will not hear my prayer. God hates me.”

The boy's heart was heavy. When he reached the “kraal” gate the two girls met him.

“Come,” said the yellow-haired Em, “let us play ‘coop.’ There is still time before it gets quite dark. You, Waldo, go and hide on the page: 19 ‘kopje’; Lyndall and I will shut eyes here, and we will not look.”

The girls hid their faces in the stone wall of the sheep-kraal, and the boy clambered half way up the “kopje.” He crouched down between two stones and gave the call. Just then the milk-herd came walking out of the cow-kraal with two pails. He was an ill-looking Kaffir.

“Ah!” thought the boy, “perhaps he will die to-night, and go to hell! I must pray for him, I must pray!”

Then he thought—“Where am I going to?” and he prayed desperately.

“Ah! this is not right at all,” little Em said, peeping between the stones, and finding him in a very curious posture. “What are you doing Waldo? It is not the play, you know. You should run out when we come to the white stone. Ah, you do not play nicely.”

“I—I will play nicely now,” said the boy, page: 20 coming out and standing sheepishly before them; “I—I only forgot; I will play now.”

“He has been to sleep,” said freckled Em.

“No,” said beautiful little Lyndall, looking curiously at him; “he has been crying.”

She never made a mistake.

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