Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


The Story of an African Farm, vol. 2. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
previous
next
page: 183
page: 184

CHAPTER XI.

AN UNFINISHED LETTER.

GREGORY ROSE had been gone seven months. Em sat alone on a white sheepskin before the fire.

The August night-wind, weird and shrill, howled round the chimneys and through the crannies, and in walls and doors, and uttered a long low cry as it forced its way among the clefts of the stones on the “kopje.” It was a wild night. The prickly pear tree, stiff and upright as it held its arms, felt the wind's might, and knocked its flat leaves heavily together, till great branches broke off. The Kaffirs, as they slept in their straw huts, page: 185 whispered one to another that before morning there would not be an armful of thatch left on the roofs; and the beams of the waggon-house creaked and groaned as if it were heavy work to resist the importunity of the wind.

Em had not gone to bed. Who could sleep on a night like this? So in the dining room she had lighted a fire, and sat on the ground before it, turning the roaster-cakes that lay on the coals to bake. It would save work in the morning; and she blew out the light because the wind through the window-chinks made it flicker and run; and she sat singing to herself as she watched the cakes. They lay at one end of the wide hearth on a bed of coals, and at the other end a fire burnt up steadily, casting its amber glow over Em's light hair and black dress, with the ruffle of crape about the neck, and over the white curls of the sheepskin on which she sat.

Louder and more fiercely yet howled the page: 186 storm; but Em sang on, and heard nothing but the words of her song, and heard them only faintly, as something restful. It was an old, childish song she had often heard her mother sing long ago—
  • “Where the reeds dance by the river,
  • Where the willow's song is said,
  • On the face of the morning water,
  • Is reflected a white flower's head.”
She folded her hands and sang the next verse dreamily—
  • “Where the reeds shake by the river,
  • Where the moonlight's sheen is shed,
  • On the face of the sleeping water,
  • Two leaves of a white flower float dead.
  • Dead, dead, dead!”

She echoed the refrain softly till it died away, and then repeated it. It was as if, unknown to herself, it harmonized with the pictures and thoughts that sat with her there alone in the firelight. She turned the cakes over, while the page: 187 wind hurled down a row of bricks from the gable, and made the walls tremble.

Presently she paused and listened; there was a sound as of something knocking at the back-doorway. But the wind had raised its level higher, and she went on with her work. At last the sound was repeated. Then she rose, lit the candle and the fire, and went to see. Only to satisfy herself, she said, that nothing could be out on such a night.

She opened the door a little way, and held the light behind her to defend it from the wind. The figure of a tall man stood there, and before she could speak he had pushed his way in, and was forcing the door to close behind him.

“Waldo!” she cried in astonishment.

He had been gone more than a year and a half.

“You did not expect to see me,” he answered, as he turned toward her; “I should have slept in the out-house, and not troubled you to-night; page: 188 but through the shutter I saw glimmerings of a light.”

“Come in to the fire,” she said; “it is a terrific night for any creature to be out. Shall we not go and fetch your things in first?” she added.

“I have nothing but this,” he said, motioning to the little bundle in his hand.

“Your horse?”

“Is dead.”

He sat down on the bench before the fire.

“The cakes are almost ready,” she said; “I will get you something to eat. Where have you been wandering all this while?”

“Up and down, up and down,” he answered wearily; “and now the whim has seized me to come back here. Em,” he said, putting his hand on her arm as she passed him, “have you heard from Lyndall lately?”

“Yes,” said Em, turning quickly from him.

page: 189

“Where is she? I had one letter from her, but that is almost eighteen months ago now—just when she left. Where is she?”

“In the Transvaal. I will go and get you some supper; we can talk afterward.”

“Can you give me her exact address? I want to write to her.”

But Em had gone into the next room.

When food was on the table she knelt down before the fire, turning the cakes, babbling restlessly, eagerly, now of this, now of that. She was glad to see him—Tant' Sannie was coming soon to show her her new baby—he must stay on the farm now, and help her. And Waldo himself was well content to eat his meal in silence, asking no more questions.

“Gregory is coming back next week,” she said; “he will have been gone just a hundred and three days to-morrow. I had a letter from him yesterday.”

page: 190

“Where has he been?”

But his companion stooped to lift a cake from the fire.

“How the wind blows! One can hardly hear one's own voice,” she said. “Take this warm cake; no one's cakes are like mine. Why, you have eaten nothing!”

“I am a little weary,” he said; “the wind was mad to-night.”

He folded his arms, and rested his head against the fire-place, whilst she removed the dishes from the table. On the mantel-piece stood an ink-pot and some sheets of paper. Presently he took them down and turned up the corner of the table-cloth.

“I will write a few lines,” he said; “till you are ready to sit down and talk.”

Em, as she shook out the table-cloth, watched him bending intently over his paper. He had changed much. His face had grown page: 191 thinner; his cheeks were almost hollow, though they were covered by a dark growth of beard.

She sat down on the skin beside him, and felt the little bundle on the bench; it was painfully small and soft. Perhaps it held a shirt and a book, but nothing more. The old black hat had a piece of unhemmed muslin twisted round it, and on his elbow was a large patch so fixed on with yellow thread that her woman's heart ached. Only his hair was not changed, and hung in silky beautiful waves almost to his shoulders. To-morrow she would take the ragged edge off his collar, and put a new band round his hat. She did not interrupt him, but she wondered how it was that he sat to write so intently after his long weary walk. He was not tired now; his pen hurried quickly and restlessly over the paper, and his eye was bright. Presently Em raised her hand to her breast, where lay the letter yesterday had brought page: 192 her. Soon she had forgotten him, as entirely as he had forgotten her; each was in his own world with his own. He was writing to Lyndall. He would tell her all he had seen, all he had done, though it were nothing worth relating. He seemed to have come back to her, and to be talking to her now he sat there in the old house.

“— and then I got to the next town, and my horse was tired, so I could go no further, and looked for work. A shop-keeper agreed to hire me as salesman. He made me sign a promise to remain six months, and he gave me a little empty room at the back of the store to sleep in. I had still three pounds of my own, and when you just come from the country three pounds seems a great deal.

“When I had been in the shop three days I wanted to go away again. A clerk in a shop has the lowest work to do of all the people. It is page: 193 much better to break stones; you have the blue sky above you, and only the stones to bend to. I asked my master to let me go, and I offered to give him my two pounds, and the bag of mealies I had bought with the other pound; but he would not.

“I found out afterward he was only giving me half as much as he gave to the others—that was why. I had fear when I looked at the other clerks that I would at last become like them. All day they were bowing and smirking to the women who came in; smiling, when all they wanted was to get their money from them. They used to run and fetch the dresses and ribbons to show them, and they seemed to me like worms with oil on. There was one respectable thing in that store—it was the Kaffir storeman. His work was to load and unload, and he never needed to smile except when he liked, and he never told lies.

page: 194

“The other clerks gave me the name of Old Salvation; but there was one person I liked very much. He was clerk in another store. He often went past the door. He seemed to me not like others—his face was bright and fresh like a little child's. When he came to the shop I felt I liked him. One day I saw a book in his pocket, and that, made me feel near him. I asked him if he was fond of reading, and he said, yes, when there was nothing else to do. The next day he came to me, and asked me if I did not feel lonely; he never saw me going out with the other fellows; he would come and see me that evening, he said.

“I was glad, and bought some meat and flour, because the grey mare and I always ate mealies; it is the cheapest thing; and if you boil it hard you can't eat much of it. I made some cakes, and I folded my great coat on the box to make it softer for him; and at last he came.

page: 195

“‘You've got a rummy place here,’ he said.

“You see there was nothing in it but packing-cases for furniture, and it was rather empty. While I was putting the food on the box he looked at my books; he read their names out aloud. ‘Elementary Physiology,’ ‘First Principles.’

“‘Golly!’ he said; ‘I've got a lot of dry stuff like that at home I got for Sunday School prizes; but I only keep them to light my pipe with now; they come in handy for that.’ Then he asked me if I had ever read a book called the ‘Black-eyed Creole.’ ‘That is the style for me,’ he said; ‘there where the fellow takes the nigger-girl by the arm, and the other fellow cuts it off! That's what I like.’

“But what he said after that I don't remember, only it made me feel as if I were having a bad dream, and I wanted to be far away.

“When he had finished eating he did not page: 196 stay long; he had to go and see some girls home from a prayer-meeting; and he asked how it was he never saw me walking out with any on Sunday afternoons. He said he had lots of sweethearts, and he was going to see one the next Wednesday on a farm, and he asked me to lend my mare. I told him she was very old. But he said it didn't matter; he would come the next day to fetch her.

“After he was gone my little room got back to its old look. I loved it so; I was so glad to get into it at night, and it seemed to be reproaching me for bringing him there. The next day he took the grey mare. On Thursday he did not bring her back, and on Friday I found the saddle and bridle standing at my door.

“In the afternoon he looked into the shop, and called out,

“‘Hope you got your saddle, Farber. Your bag-of-bones kicked out six miles from here. I'll send you a couple of shillings to-morrow, page: 197 though the old hide wasn't worth it. Good morning.’

“But I sprung over the counter, and got him by his throat. My father was so gentle with her; he never would ride her up-hill, and now this fellow had murdered her! I asked him where he had killed her, and I shook him till he slipped out of my hand. He stood in the door grinning.

“‘It didn't take much to kill that bag-of-bones, whose master sleeps in a packing-case, and waits till his company's finished to eat on the plate. Shouldn't wonder if you fed her on sugar-bags,’ he said; ‘and if you think I've jumped her, you'd better go and look yourself. You'll find her along the road by the “aas-vogels” that are eating her.’

“I caught him by his collar, and I lifted him from the ground, and I threw him out into the street, half-way across it. I heard the book-keeper say to the clerk that there was always page: 198 the devil in those mum fellows; but they never called me Salvation after that.

“I am writing to you of very small things, but there is nothing else to tell; it has been all small and you will like it. Whenever anything has happened I have always thought I would tell it to you. The back thought in my mind is always you. After that only one old man came to visit me. I had seen him in the streets often; he always wore very dirty black clothes, and a hat with crape round it, and he had one eye, so I noticed him. One day he came to my room with a subscription-list for a minister's salary. When I said I had nothing to give he looked at me with his one eye.

“‘Young man,’ he said, ‘how is it I never see you in the house of the Lord?’ I thought he was trying to do good, so I felt sorry for him, and I told him I never went to chapel. ‘Young man,’ he said, ‘it grieves me to hear such page: 199 godless words from the lips of one so young—so far gone in the paths of destruction. Young man, if you forget God, God will forget you. There is a seat on the right hand side as you go at the bottom door that you may get. If you are given over to the enjoyment and frivolities of this world, what will become of your never-dying soul?’

“He would not go till I gave him half-a-crown for the minister's salary. Afterward I heard he was the man who collected the pew-rents, and got a per centage. I didn't get to know any one else.

“When my time in that shop was done I hired myself to drive one of a transport-rider's waggons.

“That first morning, when I sat in the front and called to my oxen, and saw nothing about me but the hills with the blue coming down to them, and the karroo bushes, I was drunk; I laughed; my heart was throbbing till it hurt page: 200 me. I shut my eyes tight, that when I opened them I might see there were no shelves about me. There must be a beauty in buying and selling, if there is beauty in everything: but it is very ugly to me. My life as transport-rider would have been the best life in the world if I had had only one waggon to drive. My master told me he would drive one, I the other, and he would hire another person to drive the third. But the first day I drove two to help him, and after that he let me drive all three. Whenever we came to an hotel he stopped behind to get a drink, and when he rode up to the waggons he could never stand; the Hottentot and I used to lift him up. We always travelled all night, and used to ‘out-span’ for five or six hours in the heat of the day to rest. I planned that I would lie under a waggon and read for an hour or two every day before I went to sleep, and I did for the first page: 201 two or three; but after that I only wanted to sleep, like the rest, and I packed my books away. When you have three waggons to look after all night, you are sometimes so tired you can hardly stand. At first when I walked along driving my waggons in the night it was glorious; the stars had never looked so beautiful to me; and on the dark nights when we rode through the bush there were will-o'-the-wisps dancing on each side of the road. I found out that even the damp and dark are beautiful. But I soon changed, and saw nothing but the road and my oxen. I only wished for a smooth piece of road, so that I might sit at the front and doze. At the places where we ‘out-spanned’ there were sometimes rare plants and flowers, the festoons hanging from the bush-trees, nuts and insects, such as we never see here; but after a little while I never looked at them—I was too tired. I ate as much as I could, and then lay down on my page: 202 face under the waggon till the boy came to wake me to ‘in-span,’ and then we drove on again all night; so it went, so it went. I think sometimes when I walked by my oxen I called to them in my sleep, for I know I thought of nothing; I was like an animal. My body was strong and well to work, but my brain was dead. If you have not felt it, Lyndall, you cannot understand it. You may work, and work, and work, till you are only a body, not a soul. Now, when I see one of those evil-looking men that come from Europe—navvies, with the beast-like, sunken face, different from any Kaffir's—I know what brought that look into their eyes; and if I have only one inch of tobacco I give them half. It is work, grinding, mechanical work, that they or their ancestors have done, that has made them into beasts. You may work a man's body so that his soul dies. Work is good. I have worked at the old farm from the page: 203 sun's rising till its setting, but I have had time to think, and time to feel. You may work a man so that all but the animal in him is gone; and that grows stronger with physical labour. You may work a man till he is a brute. I know it, because I have felt it. You will never understand the change that came over me. No one but I will ever know how great it was. But I was never miserable; when I could keep my oxen from sticking fast, and when I could find a place to lie down in, I had all I wanted. After I had driven eight months a rainy season came. For eighteen hours out of the twenty-four we worked in the wet. The mud went up to the axles sometimes, and we had to dig the wheels out, and we never went far in a day. My master swore at me more than ever, but when he had done he always offered me his brandy-flask. When I first came he had offered it me, and I had always refused; but now I page: 204 drank as my oxen did when I gave them water—without thinking. At last I bought brandy for myself whenever we passed an hotel.

“One Sunday we ‘out-spanned’ on the banks of a swollen river to wait for its going down. It was drizzling still, so I lay under the waggon on the mud. There was no dry place anywhere; and all the dung was wet, so there was no fire to cook food. My little flask was filled with brandy, and I drank some and went to sleep. When I woke it was drizzling still, so I drank some more. I was stiff and cold; and my master, who lay by me, offered me his flask, because mine was empty. I drank some, and then I thought I would go and see if the river was going down. I remember that I walked to the road, and it seemed to be going away from me. When I woke up I was lying by a little bush on the bank of the river. It was afternoon; all the clouds had gone, and the page: 205 sky was deep blue. The Bushman-boy was grilling ribs at the fire. He looked at me and grinned from ear to ear. ‘Master was a little nice,’ he said, ‘and lay down in the road. Something might ride over master, so I carried him there.’ He grinned at me again. It was as though he said, ‘You and I are comrades. I have lain in a road, too. I know all about it.’ When I turned my head from him I saw the earth, so pure after the rain, so green, so fresh, so blue;—and I was a drunken carrier, whom his leader had picked up in the mud, and laid at the roadside to sleep out his drunken booze. I remember my old life, and I remember you. I saw how, one day, you would read in the papers—‘A German Carrier, named Waldo Farber, was killed through falling from his waggon, being instantly crushed under the wheel. Deceased was supposed to have been drunk at the time of the accident.’ There page: 206 are those notices in the paper every month. I sat up, and I took the brandy-flask out of my pocket, and I flung it as far as I could into the dark water. The Hottentot boy ran down to see if he could catch it; it had sunk to the bottom. I never drank again. But, Lyndall, sin looks much more terrible to those who look at it than to those who do it. A convict, or a man who drinks, seems something so far off and horrible when we see him; but to himself he seems quite near to us, and like us. We wonder what kind of a creature he is; but he is just we, ourselves. We are only the wood, the knife that carves on us is the circumstance.

“I do not know why I kept on working so hard for that master. I think it was as the oxen come every day and stand by the yokes; they do not know why. Perhaps I would have been with him still; but one day we started with page: 207 loads for the Diamond Fields. The oxen were very thin now, and they had been standing about in the yoke all day without food, while the waggons were being loaded. Not far from the town was a hill. When we came to the foot the first waggon stuck fast. I tried for a little while to urge the oxen, but I soon saw the one ‘span’ could never pull it up. I went to the other waggon to loosen that ‘span’ to join them on in front, but the transport-rider, who was lying at the back of the waggon, jumped out.

“‘They shall bring it up the hill; and if half of them die for it they shall do it alone,’ he said.

“He was not drunk, but in bad temper, for he had been drunk the night before. He swore at me, and told me to take the whip and help him. We tried for a little time, then I told him it was no use, they could never do it. He swore louder and called to the leaders to come on with their whips, and page: 208 together they lashed. There was one ox, a black ox, so thin that the ridge of his backbone almost cut through his flesh.

“‘It is you, devil, is it, that will not pull?’ the transport-rider said. ‘I will show you something.’ He glowered like a devil.

“He told the boys to leave off flogging, and he held the ox by the horn, and took up a round stone and knocked its nose with it till the blood came. When he had done they called to the oxen and took up their whips again, and the oxen strained with their backs bent, but the waggon did not move an inch.

“‘So you won't, won't you?’ he said. ‘I'll help you.’

“He took out his clasp-knife, and ran it into the leg of the trembling ox three times, up to the hilt. Then he put the knife in his pocket, and they took their whips. The oxen's flanks quivered, and they foamed at the mouth. page: 209 Straining, they moved the waggon a few feet forward, then stood with bent backs to keep it from sliding back. From the black ox's nostrils foam and blood were streaming on to the ground. It turned its head in its anguish and looked at me with its great starting eyes. It was praying for help in its agony and weakness, and they took their whips again. The creature bellowed aloud. If there is a God, it was calling to its Maker for help. Then a stream of clear blood burst from both nostrils; it fell on to the ground, and the waggon slipped back. The man walked up to it.

“‘You are going to lie down, devil, are you? We'll see you don't take it too easy.’

“The thing was just dying. He opened his clasp-knife and stooped down over it. I do not know what I did then. But afterward I know I had him on the stones, and I was kneeling on him. The boys dragged me off. I wish they page: 210 had not. I left him standing in the sand in the road, shaking himself, and I walked back to the town. I took nothing from that accursed waggon, so I had only two shillings. But it did not matter. The next day I got work at a wholesale store. My work was to pack and unpack goods, and to carry boxes, and I had to work from six in the morning to six in the evening; so I had plenty of time. I hired a little room, and subscribed to a library, so I had everything I needed; and in the week of Christmas holidays I went to see the sea. I walked all night to escape the heat, and a little after sunrise I got to the top of a high hill. Before me was a long, low, blue, monotonous mountain. I walked looking at it, but I was thinking of the sea I wanted to see. At last I wondered what that curious blue thing might be; then it struck me, it was the sea! I would have turned back again, only I was too tired. I page: 211 wonder if all the things we long to see—the churches, the pictures, the men in Europe—will disappoint us so! You see I had dreamed of it so long. When I was a little boy, minding sheep behind the ‘kopje;’ I used to see the waves stretching out as far as the eye could reach in the sunlight. My sea! Is the idea always more beautiful than the real?

“I got to the beach that afternoon, and I saw the water run up and down on the sand, and I saw the white foam breakers; they were pretty, but I thought I would go back the next day. It was not my sea.

“But I began to like it when I sat by it that night in the moonlight; and the next day I liked it better; and before I left I loved it. It was not like the sky and stars, that talk of what has no beginning and no end; but it is so human. Of all the things I have ever seen, only the sea is like a human page: 212 being; the sky is not, nor the earth. But the sea is always moving, always something deep in itself is stirring it. It never rests. It is always wanting, wanting, wanting. It hurries on; and then it creeps back slowly without having reached, moaning. It is always asking a question, and it never gets the answer. I can hear it in the day and in the night; the white foam breakers are saying that which I think. I walk alone with them when there is no one to see me, and I sing with them. I lie down on the sand and watch them with my eyes half shut. The sky is better, but it is so high above our heads. I love the sea. Sometimes we must look down too. After five days I went back to the town.

“I had glorious books, and in the night I could sit in my little room and read them; but I was lonely. Books are not the same things when you are living among people. I cannot tell page: 213 why, but they are dead. On the farm they would have been living beings to me; but here, where there were so many people about me, I wanted some one to belong to me. I was lonely. I wanted something that was flesh and blood. Once on this farm there came a stranger; I did not ask his name, but he sat among the karroo and talked with me. Now, wherever I have travelled I have looked for him—in hotels, in streets, in passenger waggons as they rushed in, through the open windows of houses I have looked for him, but I have not found him—never heard a voice like his. One day I went to the Botanic Gardens. It was a half-holiday, and the band was to play. I stood in the long raised avenue and looked down. There were many flowers, and ladies and children were walking about beautifully dressed. At last the music began. I had not heard such music before. At first it was slow and even, like the everyday life, when page: 214 we walk through it without thought or feeling; then it grew faster, then it paused, hesitated, then it was quite still for an instant, and then it burst out. Lyndall, they made heaven right when they made it all music. It takes you up and carries you away, away, till you have the things you longed for; you are in their own world. The walls about you break, and you spread out, you are shut in on no side. I could not see anything while it was playing; I stood with my head against my tree; but, when it was done, I saw that there were ladies sitting close to me on a wooden bench, and the stranger who had talked to me that day in the karroo was sitting between them. The ladies were very pretty, and their dresses beautiful. I do not think they had been listening to the music, for they were talking and laughing very softly. I heard all they said, and could even smell the rose on the breast of one. I was afraid he would page: 215 see me; so I went to the other side of the tree, and soon they got up and began to pace up and down in the avenue. All the time the music played they chatted, and he carried on his arm the scarf of the prettiest lady. I did not hear the music; I tried to catch the sound of his voice each time he went by. When I was listening to the music I did not know I was badly dressed; now I felt so ashamed of myself. I never knew before what a low, horrible thing I, dressed in tancord, was. That day on the farm, when we sat on the ground under the thorn-trees, I thought he quite belonged to me; now, I saw he was not mine.

“At last they turned to go to the gate, and I walked after them. When they got out he helped the ladies into a phaeton, and stood for a moment with his foot on the step talking to them. He had a little cane in his hand, and an Italian greyhound ran after him. Just when page: 216 they drove away one of the ladies dropped her whip.

“‘Pick it up, fellow,’ she said; and when I brought it her she threw sixpence on the ground. I might have gone back to the garden then; but I did not want music; I wanted clothes, and to be fashionable and fine. I felt that my hands were coarse, and that I was vulgar. I never tried to see him again.

“I stayed in my situation four months after that, but I was not happy. I had no rest. The people about me pressed on me, and made me dissatisfied. I could not forget them. Even when I did not see them they pressed on me, and made me miserable. I did not love books; I wanted people. When I walked home under the shady trees in the street I could not be happy, for when I passed the houses I heard music, and saw faces between the curtains. I did not want any of them, but I wanted page: 217 some one for mine, for me. I could not help it.

“Only one day something made me happy. A nurse came to the store with a little girl belonging to one of our clerks. While the maid went into the office to give a message to its father, the little child stood looking at me. Presently she came close to me and peeped up into my face.

“‘Nice curls, pretty curls,’ she said; ‘I like curls.’

“She felt my hair all over, with her little hands. When I put out my arm she let me take her and sit her on my knee. She kissed me with her soft mouth. We were happy till the nurse-girl came and shook the little one, and asked her if she was not ashamed to sit on the knee of that strange man. But I do not think my little one minded. She laughed at me as she went out.

page: 218

“If the world was all children I could like it; but men and women draw me so strangely, and then press me away, till I am in agony. I was not meant to live among people. Perhaps some day, when I am grown older, I will be able to go and live among them and look at them as I look at the rocks and bushes, without letting them disturb me, and take myself from me; but not now. So I grew miserable; a kind of fever seemed to eat me; I could not rest, or read, or think; so I came here. I knew you were not here, but it seemed as though I should be nearer you; and it is you I want—you that the other people suggest to me, but cannot give.”

He had filled all the sheets he had taken, and now lifted down the last from the mantelpiece. Em had dropped asleep, and lay slumbering peacefully on the skin before the fire. Out of doors the storm still raged; but in a fitful manner, as though growing half weary of itself. page: 219 He bent over his paper again, with eager flushed cheek, and wrote on.

“It has been a delightful journey, this journey home. I have walked on foot. The evening before last, when it was just sunset, I was a little footsore and thirsty, and went out of the road to look for water. I went down into a deep little ‘kloof.’ Some trees ran along the bottom, and I thought I should find water there. The sun had quite set when I got to the bottom of it. It was very still—not a leaf was stirring anywhere. In the bed of the mountain torrent I thought I might find water. I came to the bank, and leaped down into the dry bed. The floor on which I stood was of fine white sand, and the banks rose on every side like the walls of a room. Above there was a precipice of rocks, and a tiny stream of water oozed from them and fell slowly on to the flat stone below. Each drop you page: 220 could hear fall like a little silver bell. There was one among the trees on the bank that stood cut out against the white sky. All the other trees were silent; but this one shook and trembled against the sky. Everything else was still; but those leaves were quivering, quivering. I stood on the sand; I could not go away. When it was quite dark, and the stars had come, I crept out. Does it seem strange to you that it should have made me so happy? It is because I cannot tell you how near I felt to things that we cannot see but we always feel. To-night has been a wild, stormy night. I have been walking across the plain for hours in the dark. I have liked the wind, because I have seemed forcing my way through to you. I knew you were not here, but I would hear of you. When I used to sit on the transport waggon half-sleeping, I used to start awake because your hands were on me. In page: 221 my lodgings, night after night I have blown the light out, and sat in the dark, that I might see your face start out more distinctly. Sometimes it was the little girl's face who used to come to me behind the ‘kopje’ when I minded the sheep, and sit by me in her blue pinafore; sometimes it was older. I love both. I am very helpless; I shall never do anything; but you will work, and I will take your work for mine. Sometimes such a sudden gladness seizes me when I remember that somewhere in the world you are living and working. You are my very own; nothing else is my own so. When I have finished I am going to look at your room door—”

He wrote; and the wind, which had spent its fury, moaned round and round the house, most like a tired child weary with crying.

Em woke up, and sat before the fire, rubbing her eyes, and listening, as it sobbed about the page: 222 gables, and wandered away over the long stone walls.

“How quiet it has grown now,” she said, and sighed herself, partly from weariness and partly from sympathy with the tired wind. He did not answer her; he was lost in his letter.

She rose slowly after a time, and rested her hand on his shoulder.

“You have many letters to write,” she said.

“No,” he answered; “it is only one to Lyndall.”

She turned away, and stood long before the fire looking into it. If you have a deadly fruit to give it will not grow sweeter by keeping.

“Waldo, dear,” she said, putting her hand on his, “leave off writing.”

He threw back the dark hair from his forehead and looked at her.

page: 223

“It is no use writing any more,” she said.

“Why not?” he asked.

She put her hand over the papers he had written.

“Waldo,” she said, “Lyndall is dead.”

previous
next