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Undine. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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page: 241
page: 242

XV.

IN AN OX WAGGON

“GOLD! What is Gold?” So we ask scornfully in the days of our ignorance. “Gold! What is Gold?” We ask it derisively.

King Gold sits on his throne and laughs secure, for well he knows that sooner or later, if he withhold his cold light, the proud knee will bend and the stubborn hands will rise and the old prayer of humanity will come from the derisive lips:

“Oh, Gold, thou art King and Lord; if not the God, yet a God forever, in whose hands lie health oftentimes, and joy oftentimes, and the desire of the heart and of the eyes. Pour down upon us the light of thy countenance we beseech thee, O Lord!”

But the God of Gold is growing old and deaf now, like the other gods, and he often lets our prayers rise and die unanswered.

“Gold! What is Gold?”

Undine had asked it and laughed her glad mocking laugh in the frosty lane years before. She had thought it with a bitter heart and envy, as she looked in at the broken window of the wicked woman who page: 243 had her baby. She had asked it of herself, when two months before she had thrown it from her and made up her mind to wander free over the world and enjoy life and learn. And she was wandering free and learning, but the enjoyment was still yet on the hills before. Yet she had not bowed her knee to King Gold—only thought that a purse heavier, a little heavier, were an improvement.

She was walking through the streets of Port Elizabeth, her head bent down to preserve her eyes from the rain of sand and fine stones that fell on the flat roofs with a sound as dismal and disheartening as the fall of sand on a coffin lid.

She had sat in the hotel till she thought it was better to go out and face it than sit there listening to its dreary music. Moreover, no work or any other good thing would find her while she sat there, and her money was surely taking wing at the rate of twelve-and-sixpence a day; so she went out into the street to escape the tap-tapping and to seek her fortune.

Africa, as it appeared in that desolate and sand-smitten seaport, was not the Africa of her memory. The old Africa with its great grass and karoo flats and rough rock-crowned mountains, unridden and un-man-defiled old Africa, was little like the sand-smothered town in which she stood, which might have been in any country in Europe but for the ragged niggers slouching about the streets and the page: 244 dark, dirty, half-clothed fish-boys who dragged their wares along with tails draggling in the sand.

One thing was certain, here she would not stay; though how to get away remained as yet an unsolved problem. One of her pounds was already gone, and four pounds take one nowhere in a country where all locomotion is at the expenses of muscle and sinew. She was attracted, like all others who were near enough to feel its influence, by the great magnet that draws to itself all who are good-for-nothing vagabonds, wanderers, or homeless—the Diamond Fields. 1 Three hundred miles of bush flat and karoo are not to be bridged over by four pounds, however. Cobb and Co., as it tore past her as she laboured up the street, made thicker, if it were possible, the thick cloud of dust around her; but it was not for beggars with four pounds to enter its red swollen body or perch on its crowded roof. Presently she stopped to take breath in front of a large store, before which was standing an ox waggon with a long span of red oxen. She stood resting and considering what was next to be done.

Why should a woman not break through conventional restraints that enervate her mind and dwarf her body, and enjoy a wild, free, true life, as a man may?—wander the green world over by the help of hands and feet, and lead a free rough life in bond- bondage


1Kimberley. The distance is 485 miles. Cobb & Co. was the line of horsedrawn coaches.

page: 245 age to no man?—forget the old morbid loves and longings?—live and enjoy and learn as much as may before the silence comes?

So she had asked herself on the first morning of her freedom, the morning after her husband's death, as she lay back in the velvet armchair of her boudoir while the maid stood behind her combing out her hair.

Now she had broken through conventional restraints and was free—free to feel that a woman is a poor thing carrying in herself the bands that bind her. Now she was free, but how to extract enjoyment from the present state of things was more than she could accomplish at that instant; and how long would she be able to maintain herself without getting under some one's thumb?

If she had been a man she might have thrown off her jacket and set to work instantly, carrying the endless iron buckets and coils of rope and wire with which the waggon beside which she stood was being laden. She might have made enough in half an hour to pay for a bed at one of the lower hotels, might have wandered about the town, seen something of life, and enjoyed herself in a manner. As it was, being only a woman and a fine little lady with the scent not yet out of her hair nor the softness rubbed from her hands, she stood there in the street, feeling very weak, bodily, after her illness, page: 246 and mentally, after her long life of servitude and dependence—very weak and very heartsick.

Two men passed her carrying a large packing-case, and even through the dust that descended before them her eyes could distinguish the “New Rush Diamond Fields” 1 that was painted in great black letters on its lid. She stood still a moment to consider, and then stepped up to the back of the waggon, on the back of which a small tent was fixed. Between a gap in the closed sails a woman's kappie 2 was visible. Undine raised one corner of the flap and looked in.

The part of the waggon occupied by the tent was not more than six feet square, and was one great bed covered by a vel-kombaars 3 on which were seated the owner of the kappie and two fat children. The former held in her arms a great baby whose clothes she pulled quickly down to hide its not over-delicate feet. It was a shrewd, bright face that was concealed by the kappie, the face of a woman of about thirty-two, which would not have been without its claims to beauty had it not been for the marvellous display of stumps made visible whenever her thin sharp lips moved. She was dressed in a black-and-white print, as was the fat


1The Kimberley mine of “the Diamond Fields” was, on discovery in 1871, called “Colesberg Koppie,” then “New Rush,” before the town was officially named Kimberley in 1873.

2Kappie—sunbonnet.

3Skin rug.

page: 247 and dirty baby at her breast. The two children were busy wrangling over a brown paper of sweets which their father had just thrown in for them, but they stopped as soon as the strange face presented itself under the sail.

“Is this waggon going to the Diamond Fields?” inquired Undine, while the woman, not best pleased at being found in her waggon trim by a stranger, was busy pulling down her sleeves. She answered in the affirmative graciously enough, but stared curiously at the intruder and wondered what could bring a lady to the back of her waggon on such a day with such a question.

“Do you know what the owner of the waggon would charge for taking a passenger to the Fields?” Undine asked again, with no hope that the contents of her purse would be sufficient, but thinking hurriedly that her shawl and one or two good clothes might bring her something.

“The waggon belongs to my husband,” answered the woman, “and I'm sure he can't take anyone. You see, there is me and the three children, and the tent is small, and I could not undertake to care for anyone else. I would rather try and get some one to help me.”

“I would do all I could to assist you,” said Undine, “and I have very little luggage. If you could make it convenient to take me I would pay four pounds and should not mind doing anything.”

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The woman looked at her very shrewdly now. There was nothing visible except a pretty pale face and a little black velvet hat, but they were scrutinized closely. She could not quite make up her mind, so resolved to solve this difficulty as she did many others by finding what view her husband took of the matter. She poked her head out in front, between the tent and a great box, and hailed him.

Mr. Snappercaps, a huge, sluggish English Africander, with mild light eyes and a red beard, approached, and she proceeded to inform him of the offer.

“You don't mean to take her, do you? You don't know what sort of a character she may be,” said Mr. Snappercaps. “If she's dressed up it does not say much for her that she's knocking about by herself and wants to go to the Fields. Is she married?”

“I suppose she can mind the children just as well if she's married or unmarried,” said Mrs. Snappercaps, “but you never think I need any help.”

“I don't expect it's much help you'll get from her, but do as you like,” he said, and walked off to his work. His wife drew her head in, and, it being evident that he was decidedly opposed to her accepting the offer, all hesitation on the subject was at once put an end to.

After plying her with half a dozen questions, Mrs. Snappercaps informed her that, if she would have page: 249 her box there and be ready to start in fifteen minutes, she might come.

The tone and manner in which this information was conveyed contrasted somewhat sharply with that of ten minutes before; but when first the little black hat made its appearance she could not tell that its owner was not possessed of a phaeton and a score of silk dresses; now she was wiser, and acted accordingly.

In the middle of the afternoon a day or two after, the great buck waggon, with its long span of red oxen and heavy freight of wires and buckets, was creeping slowly along the sandy road. It was a sweltering day, and the small oven-like tent at the back of the waggon was buzzing and alive with little black flies of every shape and a pair of droning blue-bottles.

The oxen, reluctant as they were to lift their weary feet only to put them down again on the burning road, and leisurely as they ploughed up the heavy sand with the great waggon wheels, yet raised a cloud of the finest dust which, covering hands and face and clothes with a thick red coat, seemed to enter the very windpipe. Undine was seated at the extreme edge of the waggon, Mrs. Snappercaps having declared that under any other state of affairs she could not possibly find room to extend herself. She lay now with her arms and legs stretched out, her head on one pillow and another on her face page: 250 to keep off the dust. Very fast asleep she was, if judged by the periodical snorts that at regular intervals proceeded from beneath it; but in truth very wide awake, with a small cylindrical curve made in the pillow straight from her eyes to the little black hat, now fast changing to a reddish brown.

Ferdinando Shakespeare and Algernon Sidney were fast asleep, the former with the piece of fat mutton still between his lips which he had been engaged in consuming when overpowered by the heat and the motion of the waggon. It attracted to his countenance a score of black flies and one of the blue-bottles, making it, if possible, a more interesting scene of animal activity than that of Master Algernon Sidney, whose infant charms were totally concealed by a coating of syrup, coffee, sand and flies.

The baby, otherwise Master John Wesley, was not asleep, however, but awake and endeavouring with furious kicks and struggles to precipitate himself into the road, or at the best on to the “trap.” 1 It seemed hardly impossible that he would ultimately succeed, for he was fat and powerful and there was not much strength in the “bits of paws” that held him—“bits of paws” being Mrs. Snappercaps' designation for those useful appendages in the object of her scrutiny.


1(Pronounced “trop.”) “Trap”: the little movable stepladder at the back.

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The baby was dirty, astonishingly dirty, several days of ox-waggon dirt having accumulated on him. Mrs. Snappercaps saw this, and saw that some one else hated dirt, was always washing her hands and trying to rub the grease spots off her clothes; and so, by way of bringing down the things that are mighty and do exalt themselves exceedingly, Mrs. Snappercaps ordained that no ablution should be performed on the person of Master John Wesley, and, moreover, that except when absolutely necessary, he should never be out of the “bits of paws” for a moment.

Now also Mrs. Snappercaps was desirous of ascertaining whether her employee would, when thinking herself unobserved, maintain that serene urbanity of manner which irritated and exasperated her yet more than her constant ablutions and her good English. Would she still keep her leg curved in that most awkward posture, to prevent it from touching Ferdinando Shakespeare's face? Would she yet do her best to keep the baby from bumping its head against the bottle bag, though it was clearly to be seen that she loathed it to the tips of her fingers?

To discover all this Mrs. Snappercaps snored and breathed hard and looked out from under the pillow, only to see that, as far as any desired result was concerned, she might as well have saved herself the trouble. Ferdinando Shakespeare's face was not pressed nor the baby allowed to knock its head.

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She was just about to throw off the pillow and declare that she didn't know when she had had such a sound sleep, when Mr. Snappercaps, who was engaged in putting a new lash to his whip, dropped behind the waggon.

He was a great, good-hearted fellow, though he was fond of a glass of brandy and water when in pleasant company; so, when he looked up and saw the pale little woman endeavouring to manage his great baby and sitting on the very edge of the waggon and looking worn out and weary, his good nature and his ignorance led him up to the back of the waggon, and he said, “Expect you're pretty near done up; not used to riding in an ox waggon and minding babies.”

These were the first words he had ever addressed to her, and, his conversational resources being exhausted by them and his whip being needed, he stepped out in front to try it on the backs of his oxen.

Mrs. Snappercaps threw the pillow off her face, sat up and rubbed her eyes. John W. had screamed himself stiff by this time, so she took him and, having pacified him, proceeded to loosen the comb-and-brush bag and, putting its not very delicate contents into the “bits of paws,” remarked that there was nothing so wretched as having nothing to do and that Undine had better clean them. “It's miserable to have nothing to do,” said Mrs. Snappercaps, asserting a fact the truth of which she had had ample page: 253 opportunity for verifying during the last few days, during which the sum of her own labours had been to eat, sleep, and slap the children. Truly, Mrs. Snappercaps had underestimated her own ability and womanliness when she imagined she might fail to extract her bread-and-meals' worth of labour from her passenger. Not that she was a hard woman, or a cruel one. Mrs. Snappercaps was looked upon among her female acquaintances as an exceptionally kind-hearted and generous woman, better than the run of themselves, and no doubt they were right. She shut her eyes and ran away screaming if she heard they were going to kill a sheep; and she used to call Mr. Snappercaps a cruel beast when he lashed his sticking 1 oxen—except she were very anxious to get on, when she sat still in the waggon and thought he did not cut half deep enough.

No, she was not a hard woman, only a woman, and she envied her white-handed soft-voiced little dependent as one feminine thing envies another. She was the daughter of a Lower Albany farmer who had sent her to a Grahamstown boarding-school, where Miss Sarah Jane had taught her to play the piano and make slippers and caps and use long dictionary words without the slightest idea of their meaning, and long words that are not found in any dictionary and whose meaning was known only to herself.


1When the waggon “sticks fast” (in mud or deep sand, for instance), it is said to be “sticking.”

page: 254 When she went home she was regarded by her elder sisters with mingled awe and envy and by her mother with unfeigned admiration. She reigned supreme, and only in her own mind was there a dim perception that, after all the money that had been expended on her, she was not quite the lady, not quite the genuine article.

Her mother never let her make bread or salt the meat, her sisters ironed her petticoats, and her father gave her an extra pound whenever they went into town, yet she ended by marrying Will Snappercaps, who rode transport and was the son of a neighbour. When she met in the street any of her old schoolfellows who had since married attorneys or merchants, they always looked up into the sky, onto the ground, or at the houses, at anything but the particular spot of earth on which she stood. They were out of her reach, that upper ten who talked good English, dressed in taste, and went to balls; she could never retaliate on them. But now, good fortune had put into her hands one of the order, soft-voiced, white-handed, and refined as any of them, and for many stiff bows and for many clear cuts Mrs. Snappercaps had to indemnify herself. Her heart rejoiced as the heart of a homeopathic quack might do who held under his thumb a licensed practitioner. Mrs. Snappercaps' faith in the efficacy of vicarious atonement was not stronger than in other uncultivated minds, so she did not allow her joy to page: 255 express itself clearly in her own mind, but it was there all the time as she sat on that sweltering afternoon watching the “bits of paws” at their comb-cleaning. She was certain, she remarked inwardly, that there was something wrong about her; there always was about people who were so agreeable and never got out of temper, never got savage with the flies, never were ruffled or put out by the jolts or the grouty 2 coffee or any of the innumerable evils attendant on an ox-waggon journey. And then, to be sure, as her husband had remarked, would a woman who was good for anything be knocking about in that way by herself? No, there was no doubt of it, she was a bad character, a very bad character; and her own—Mrs. Snappercaps'—great goodness of heart had prompted her to do a very foolish thing in taking her. If she were not a sinner, where did she come by that diamond ring? If she had friends of the right sort, rich enough to give it her, would they not have looked after her? And a nice story this was about her husband being dead and her having no relations. Mrs. Snappercaps was not a child and she was not born yesterday; no, not she!

“You had better leave the combs alone,” she said; “you don't seem to understand it; you sprang a tooth again without cleaning it. If a thing is not well done I would rather it wasn't done at all.” With which remark, the combs being now fully cleaned,


2 Grouty: full of coarsely ground coffee grains.

page: 256 Mrs. Snappercaps seized them and the brushes and with great energy put them into the bag and hung them up; while Undine, her hands empty for the first time that day, sat watching the deep oscillating track of the waggon wheels in the red sand.

After a time Mrs. Snappercaps found the heat and closeness becoming something really unbearable, and she was about to direct Undine to loosen the front clap by way of producing a current of air, when that individual proceeded on her own responsibility to roll it up. Mrs. Snappercaps instantly discovered that her neck was stiff, that she had neuralgia in all the teeth on one side of her head, both of which complaints would be infinitely aggravated by such a proceeding; so the clap was carefully fastened down again, and Mrs. Snappercaps endured suffocation for the rest of the afternoon with a martyr's fortitude.

But even Mrs. Snappercaps must sometimes really sleep, and so it came to pass that night that she and her three children were snoring in chorus, while Mr. Snappercaps plodded along at the side of his oxen, calling out to them every now and then drowsily as they stepped on steadily in the cool night air.

Up above the still stars glittered and gave out just light enough to make visible the great round clumps of bush through which they passed.

Undine crouched down in her corner at the back of the waggon and listened to the rink, tink of the page: 257 tin coffee pot and mug that were tied to the roof and the tom, tom of the great iron kettle and gridiron that were fastened on the trap, and the creak, creak of the waggon. She could rest her head on the wooden blackboard and look out and feel herself again a little child, Socrates curled close in her arms. Frank's clear light-hearted whistle came from the front box, her mother's voice sang the evening hymn as they rode home in the starlight from the town, and the loves and passions of her womanhood looked strange and unreal to her in the creaking waggon, under the light of her childhood's stars—the still, unchanging stars that shine on unaltered while our poor little systems go to ruin and desolation—the silent stars that can hold so many memories, which but for them would be forgotten, that we sometimes dread to look up at their white, faraway lights, for fear of hearing whispers and feeling the touch of fingers that can bring only coldness now.

Yes, the old faiths and the old loves, they are written up there; and when we have put them from us and buried them deep, the night sky gives them all back to us.

About eleven the waggon stopped, and Mrs. Snappercaps, by no means in the best of humours after being roused from her slumbers, allowed Undine and Mr. Snappercaps to spread a skin counterpane at the side of the waggon and make as page: 258 comfortable a seat as might be with half a dozen pillows against the hind wheel. Here she bestowed herself and her baby, while Undine took out of the back box the coffee, bread and ribs of mutton that were to form their repast.

Mr. Snappercaps, worn out with his day's work, flung himself down at full length on that part of the counterpane which his wife had not appropriated, and in five seconds was sound asleep. Undine, when all was finished, sauntered off to a little distance among the bushes, where she could have a good view of the waggon as it showed in the light of the blazing fire.

It looked picturesque enough, the great red waggon with its little white tent and rows of iron buckets that glittered in the firelight. A little further on the tired oxen were dimly visible, lying down just where the yokes had been taken off their necks, too weary to look for food. Even Mrs. Snappercaps, as she sat in her spotted print and white kappie hushing her baby, added to the scene; and her husband also, lying close to the fire with his hat drawn down and his head resting on his crossed shirt-sleeved arms. Among the bushes, a little to the right, the driver and leader had made their fire. The driver, a great heavy Basuto, lay in his master's fashion on the ground; the leader, a sprightly little Hottentot, sat watching the meat on the roaster with his wicked little black eyes. He had a more than usually apish page: 259 appearance as he sat there with his knees drawn up to his chin.

After some time, when the meat was ready and the coffee made, Undine returned to the waggon.

“I thought you were inside,” said Mrs. Snappercaps.

“No,” said Undine, “I was walking about.”

“Walking about?” said Mrs. Snappercaps. “What on earth for?”

“It looks so nice at a little distance, the waggon and the fire,” said Undine.

Mrs. Snappercaps gave her long flexible lips a little screw.

“I should think you had seen enough of ox waggons and fires by this time,” she said, and looked upon this proceeding as an additional proof of the badness of her employee's character; though why she did so she could not very easily have explained to herself. She could hardly fancy that Undine had made love to the green bushes, or galavanted with the dry stumps even in the dark. But Mrs. Snappercaps was unable to assign any reason for her walking off in the dark, and the story about the beauty of the waggon was on the face of it a lie; and, as there must incontrovertibly have been some reason, she felt sincerely persuaded it must have been a bad one.

Undine's wandering about in the dark proved her a bad woman; and that being proved, one did her page: 260 no injustice in suspecting her of evil, even though there might be no harm in her wandering about.

Mrs. Snappercaps' logic was conclusive, so she gave the coffee-pot an energetic shake as she poured out Undine's basin, by way of winning her disapproval. She could hardly drink her own cup when she saw with what apparent unconsciousness and exasperating indifference the contents of the basin were drunk, grounds and all. “All put on. What a hypocrite! That's the worst part of her,” thought Mrs. Snappercaps, as with her stumps she tried to masticate a piece of tough mutton. “It's worse than her immorality; I could get over that. Thinks she looks beautiful now, with her head on her hand, staring into the fire, and her hair flying about like a mad thing's.”

Whether she thought so or not, great good Mr. Snappercaps, as he sat drinking his coffee, thought she looked tired and sad, and felt sorry for her, as he did for his Hottentot leader when he thought he was overworked.

When he had finished he rolled himself up in his blanket under the waggon.

“There's no use to tie the oxen,” he said to his driver. “They are too tired to stray tonight.”

The morning came and brought woe to him who had trusted to the weariness of his oxen's legs, and double woe to him who hoped to recover them through those of his Hottentot.

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The oxen had vanished and Jan was sent to look for them. He had followed on their spoor 1 for a little distance, when it suddenly came to his recollection that he had not had his sleep out. Accordingly, he ensconced himself snugly under a large stone, and in three minutes was wandering amid quids of tobacco as large as himself and brandy the very fumes of which made him merry.

From these visions he did not return till the sun, now inclining to the west, had burnt him out of his hole, when he rose and instantly retraced his steps. He appeared before the waggon with a limp and an air of extreme dejection. He had searched up hill and down kloof, but had seen no trace of them, and he rubbed his weary feet with his right hand as he spoke.

Mr. Snappercaps saw there was nothing for it but to give him a good feed and himself to set off on the search.

“The poor devil of a Hottentot must be tired,” he remarked.

Mrs. Snappercaps smiled a mingled smile of pity and contempt. She was not a child, and she was not born yesterday, and she was up to Hottentots at least.

Mr. Snappercaps returned late that night after a fruitless search; and neither on that day nor on the next nor on several after that was there any sign of the oxen. It was weary work, waiting there day


1Spoor—footprints.

page: 262 after day. Sunday morning came. It was six days since they had decamped—six days of endurance of half the plagues of Egypt: six days of flies; six days of water red as blood, alive with monstrosities of every shape; six days of being devoured by red ants if one sought for shade under the bushes; six days passed in the care and company of three wretched, screaming, sun-oppressed children.

They had wellnigh exhausted everyone's patience and had made Mrs. Snappercaps very desirous of improving others, and very virtuous. Her desire to improve others was made manifest by the copious corrections she administered to the Masters Ferdinando Shakespeare and Algernon Sidney; her virtue, by the petty but constant mortification of the flesh which she caused to be felt by the immoral person whom chance had placed in her hands.

On this Sunday morning Mrs. Snappercaps woke early and poked her head softly out at the back of the waggon to take, unperceived, a survey of her antagonist's proceedings. That individual, in happy unconsciousness, sat on the trap just below her, reading a small shabby book.

“A Bible, no doubt,” soliloquized Mrs. Snappercaps, as she drew her head softly back into the waggon. “I could get over anything else, but her pretending to be religious—it's too much.”

She prepared a nice little homily to be delivered at breakfast-time on the duty of serving God in page: 263 secret and unseen; and when she had finished lacing her boots, she poked her head cautiously out again.

On a second and closer inspection the book appeared to be no Bible, but, judging from its long words and dry look, she concluded it to be a volume of sermons. It was not so good as if it had been the Bible, but still, if judiciously modified, the homily might still be delivered with great effect.

At this moment Mr. Snappercaps, who had been to the top of the mountain to see if any signs of the men or oxen were visible, returned.

“Having a read?” he said, wishing to say something kindly but not exactly knowing how.

“Yes,” said Undine, smiling and closing her book.

“No going to church today,” he said again. “I don't mind it. I'm used to it. But I expect it won't seem like Sunday to you without.”

Undine made no answer, so, wishing to be very agreeable, he continued: “What church do you belong to? Now I like the Methodists.”

“I belong to no church,” said Undine as she climbed off the trap and, slipping the unfortunate book, cause of many sorrows, into her pocket, proceeded to make the fire.

Now, making a fire seemed a particularly easy and pleasant occupation when watching a nimble little nigger throw a dozen sticks on one another and in half a minute produce a blaze big enough to roast a lamb by; but when once the sticks were in page: 264 her own hands it seemed a very different matter. Surely they must be wet or of the wrong kind; for after she had expended a whole box of matches, two Grahamstown Journals, and all her breath in trying to blow them into flame, they remained as obstinately cold as though there were no combustibility about them.

Undine, having blown herself red and dizzy, was about to give up in despair when Mr. Snappercaps' good nature brought him to the rescue. He handled the sticks with as much science as his own Hottentot could have shown, and in no time produced a roaring blaze.

Mrs. Snappercaps from her spy point in the waggon saw all that passed and, perceiving a weak point in the enemy, she proceeded to place her artillery accordingly.

Presently the baby cried. Undine climbed up into the waggon and took him, but he was not easily pacified. “Of course he cries, and he will cry till you take the hard thing out of your pocket,” said Mrs. Snappercaps; “it hurts his leg.” Undine took the book out; Mrs. Snappercaps took it up.

“‘Spencer's First Principles.’ Who wrote these sermons?” asked Mrs. Snappercaps.

“Spencer,” said Undine.

“Spencer, of course; I know that,” said Mrs. Snappercaps, perceiving for the first time that Spencer was the name of the author and not of the page: 265 book. “Of course I know his name's Spencer, but who is he? What is he? What does he believe?”

“I shall be glad to lend you the book,” said Undine, “if you care to read it.”

“Not unless I know who he was,” said Mrs. Snappercaps, combing the hair down over her eyes. “What church does he belong to?”

“None,” said Undine.

“None! No church!” cried Mrs. Snappercaps. “What church do you belong to?”

“To no church,” said Undine, quietly.

“To no church, no church! But of course you don't mean to say you never go to chapel anywhere.”

“It's a long time since I last went,” said Undine.

“Why, surely you're not a Roman Catholic, are you?” asked Mrs. Snappercaps, putting down the comb and brush and dividing the hair that hung over her face with both hands.

“No,” said Undine, and prepared to follow Ferdinando Shakespeare, who had just descended from the waggon. But her interlocutor scented a rat and was not to be thus eluded. “You must be something; everybody is something,” continued Mrs. Snappercaps, fixing her dark eyes on her antagonist to make her words more impressive. “You must be something; nobody's nothing. You aren't a Unitrinitarian nor anything of that sort, are you?”

Undine very gravely disclaimed all knowledge of page: 266 or participation in the errors of so deluded and extraordinary a body as the Unitrinitarians; but Mrs. Snappercaps was not satisfied.

“Well, what are you, then?” she asked. “You are not an atheist, or a deatheist, like Shakespeare or Votter or that wicked Bishop Colso who lives at Delagoa Bay, are you? You believe the Bible, don't you?”

“Ferdinando will be getting into the fire,” said Undine, quietly slipping down onto the trap, and showing her astonished catechiser that there really were limits to what she would endure in return for her bread and meat.

At night, a corner not big enough for a rat to crouch in; grouty coffee; meat which John Wesley had mauled; work to which the amen was never said:—all these she accepted with smiling indifference; but Mrs. Snappercaps had spoken with a woman's own shrewdness when she remarked that it was those very agreeable quiet people who have the devil's will and spirit in them in spite of all their softness.

“There is no need to rush away in a rage,” she continued, speaking very rapidly and her lips becoming very moist. Undine, who stood leaning against the trap with the baby in her arms, might have edged in some answer, but Mrs. Snappercaps' speech was as voluble as it was energetic and carried all before it.

page: 267

“Of course you'll try to get away, of course you don't like to speak about it, when you know it's true. If it wasn't true, wouldn't you be glad to disown it, wouldn't you be glad to disclaim it, when charged with it? If that book you've got in your pocket was not some monotheistical nonsense, would you read it alone on the sly, in secret when there was no eye to see you? Oh! no! no! I wonder you are not afraid to say such dreadful, terrible things lest the God you don't believe in should strike you dead. I wonder that you weren't afraid, when the waggon went over the bridge, that God would break it down and let you tumble into the water. I wonder you weren't. If it wasn't—if it wasn't that I want to act like a Christian by you, I would not let my oxen take you one step further. How do I know how you may divert my poor innocent little children. Give me the baby!” said Mrs. Snappercaps. Undine gave it, with all the more alacrity as Algernon Sidney had just fallen over the pole, to the great damage of his skin and nose.

At breakfast Mrs. Snappercaps maintained a rigid silence; she ate with a purpose and drank copiously and with energy, and her husband clearly perceived that evil was approaching. He picked his chop and drank his coffee in silent uneasiness, though in what direction the storm would burst he could form no conjecture.

Breakfast being ended, Mrs. Snappercaps climbed page: 268 into the waggon, and after some trouble produced from one of the lowest boxes a great red bible and a copy of Wesley's hymns with great shining clasps. Armed with these weapons, she again descended, and took her seat on a camp-stool that stood against the back wheel on the shady side of the waggon. Her husband, having already assumed his favourite posture, lay at full length on the ground, with his head resting on his arms.

“Mr. Snappercaps, do you intend to listen?” said his wife.

“Listen to what?” asked Mr. Snappercaps, looking up sleepily.

“To the word of God,” responded Mrs. Snappercaps. When the question was converted into these terms it was impossible to reply in the negative, so he picked himself up and, leaning back against the front wheel, pulled his hat low over his eyes and wondered what on earth this new turn of affairs portended. Six years he had been married, and never yet had she used such instruments for administering to him the reward of his numerous transgressions; but today he felt a vague yet strong conviction that the books were to become the instruments of his correction for some as yet unknown dereliction from the path of duty. To Undine, who sat on the ground nursing the baby, she said, “You, no doubt, will not wish to remain; you may go. I compel no one to stay,” she continued. “The worship and the love of page: 269 God flow from the inner mind, from the outer soul—it must be free—it must be like the rays of heaven. I compel no one to stay.”

“If you have no objection, I shall remain,” said Undine, who felt no inclination to leave the shade of the waggon and march off into the broiling sun with Master John Wesley in her arms.

Mrs. Snappercaps now seized Masters Algernon Sidney and Ferdinando Shakespeare, and seating them with great force very flat on the ground on each side of her proceeded to loosen the clasps of her Wesley's hymns. Having given out in the most approved style the whole of Hymn 1, she proceeded to sing it with great energy. Mr. Snappercaps pulled the hat yet lower over his eyes and reckoned out for the hundred and fiftieth time how much he was losing by this delay with the oxen. Nor were the rest of the audience very attentive. Ferdinando Shakespeare was engaged in counting his fingers, Algernon Sidney in catching the ants that ran up his legs, while Undine sat wondering for how long a time John Wesley might be counted upon to remain quiet. That young gentleman sat motionless, with a finger hooked in his mouth, staring with wide-open eyes and rapt attention at the marvellous display of maternal stumps made visible on Mrs. Snappercaps' upper and lower jaws during her vocal effort.

The last verse having at last been reached, Mrs. Snappercaps put the hymn-book down on the ground page: 270 exactly in front of her with great precision, and proceeded to open the red book. From its pages she made a careful and apt selection of passages applicable, she deemed, to the case of at least one of her hearers. These she read with much emphasis and many a long and ominous pause; denunciations against Pharisees, hypocrites and unbelievers she delivered with equal fervour and point. Having brought this part of the proceeding to a termination, she went on to part two of the programme. This consisted in reading the eleventh and twelfth chapters of the second book of Samuel, wherein is recorded how the amorous King of Israel walked on his roof at evening tide and beheld the limbs of the beautiful wife of Uriah the Hittite; how for love of them he caused the faithful soldier to meet his death before the walls at Rabbah; how the wife of Uriah the Hittite, when she heard that her husband was dead, mourned for him many days, and when the days of her mourning were ended went to the arms of the king.

Mrs. Snappercaps had just reached this point in the very appropriate narrative she had selected, when John Wesley, no longer entertained by the dental display, made the most emphatic demonstrations of disapproval and obliged his nurse to carry him off.

Mrs. Snappercaps now turned one eye on her husband, otherwise King David, and beheld him, much to her wrath, either pretending to be or really fast page: 271 asleep. Preferring to act upon the assumption that he was pretending, she addressed him thus, but in a tone loud enough to awaken him, however far gone in the land of dreams:

“Thank you, Mr. Snappercaps, thank you, but I'm not quite such a child as you fancy me, no, not by a long, long way.”

Mr. Snappercaps opened his eyes.

“No, I'm not a child! I was not born yesterday! You are no more sleeping than I am, Mr. Snappercaps; but I wonder, yes, I do wonder that you can act as you do. I wonder you can act so. You can sit there still, you can listen, when even that vile, lowly, venomous outcast felt it; she could not sit still and hear it; she had to get up and go away; but you, you have no more heart than a stone, than a Kaffir, than an adamantine. When David heard the voice of the Prophet he repented, but you, you have no faith, no pity, no affection. Ho-o-o! Ho-o-o! Ho-o-o!”

This latter sound was as the whistling of the wind through a keyhole, produced by drawing her lips into the smallest possible circle and moving her head to and fro.

It was her way when she reached a climax and language failed her, and Mr. Snappercaps was accustomed to it; but waking suddenly he felt confused, and looked out over the still Sunday landscape, the clear blue sky, the hazy brown hills clothed with clumps of dark green bush, looked out and wondered page: 272 whether he were still asleep, whether Sarah Jane had taken leave of her senses, or whether he had.

“Oh, it's very nice to put on that innocent look,” said Sarah Jane. “Very nice, so nice; but it won't do with me, no it won't. You think I've not seen it, do you? I've never heard you call my baby heavy, have I? I never saw you go down on your knees to blow the fire for her. I was asleep, fast asleep, of course, in the waggon. Oh yes—no, don't speak, don't try and deny it; it's no use, William, it's no use. It's not once, it's not twice; it's four times: it's four times that I've seen you with these eyes turn the chops over to find a raw one because she said she liked them raw. I saw it once”—Mrs. Snappercaps' tone was now low and subdued—“I saw it once, and I kept still. I said, ‘I'll see if he does it again, and you did it again, and you did it again. No, don't speak; I don't wish you to take more guilt upon your guilty soul. That puff-adder, 1 that ringhals 2 has caused you to do sins enough without adding any more to them. Oh, William! William! how can you? How can you? How can you?”

“I don't know what you are talking about, Sarah Jane. You've gone mad,” said her husband, staring stupidly at her.

“That's right, Mr. Snappercaps; say I'm mad, send me to Roben Island,3 slaughter me, murder me, as


1 A snake.

2 A snake, one of the cobras.

3 Where lunatics used to be kept.

page: 273 David did Uriah. There'll be no one to trouble you then. But you shan't, no, you shan't; for the sake of my children I mean to live.” So saying, she raised the Masters Ferdinando and Algernon from the ground, with each arm and with as much energy as she had seated them.

“The man who stabs my body I can forgive,” said Mrs. Snappercaps; "but the man who runs a sword into your soul—no-o-o! no-o-o!”

“Oh, damn it all, Sarah Jane!” said Mr. Snappercaps, rising, “what confounded nonsense you do talk!”

“Curse and swear, Mr. Snappercaps, curse and swear; that's right. They cursed the prophets and apostles, but it didn't hurt them. You can't deny what I've said; you know it's true; you love her, you know you do!”

“Oh, hang it! Damn it! Confound it all!” said Mr. Snappercaps. “I wish the woman would go to blazes, to the devil.”

“There is no need to wish that,” responded Mrs. Snappercaps; “every step that your oxen take they are bringing her nearer to him. What do you think she's going to the Fields for, if it's not to go to him?

“Oh, don't try and defend yourself any more, William,” seeing he was about to speak; “don't, don't.”

“Look here, Sarah Jane,” said her husband as he page: 274 turned to go away, “if you give me any more of this nonsense I'll put the woman down at the first hotel we come to.

“No, you won't,” said Mrs. Snappercaps, who had no intention of losing her drudge, and he well knew it. “No, you won't. Vile as she is, I'll act to her as a Christian should. I've said I would take her to the Fields, and I shall take her there.”

“Didn't know Christians took folks to the devil,” said Mr. Snappercaps under his breath, as he walked off in the direction of the muddy kloof 1 from which they got their water, to seek for a sleeping-place under some brush.

It was near evening, and as he had not returned, Mrs. Snappercaps, after dozing all day in the wagon, descended to resume her old seat on the camp stool, and took her baby. Undine, now her arms were free, sat with the children at the side of the road, making houses in the sand for them.

As mischance would have it, Master Ferdinando Shakespeare bethought him at this moment of getting a mug of water from the iron bucket that stood under the waggon, the better to moisten their sand. Stumbling over the disselboom 2 with the mug in his hand, its contents were deposited on his person, drenching his begrimed white pinafore.

“That is what comes of playing on a Sunday,”


1Ravine.

2Pole of the waggon.

page: 275 said his mother. “You wicked little boys! Leave that sand alone.”

“It was my fault; I began the play,” said Undine.

“Well, I wish you would take his pinafore and wring it out; and if you have his, it would not be more trouble to take Algernon Sidney's and the baby's and give them a rub,” said Mrs. Snappercaps, loosening the pinafore as she spoke.

Undine rolled them up with a piece of soap, and was just starting off in the direction of the kloof when Mrs. Snappercaps, speaking in a high shrill voice, detained her.

“Oh yes, do go to him, go at once. I don't wish to hinder you, not at all. Go to him! Go! Go!”

“Go to whom?” asked Undine, looking round in blank astonishment, for she had been out of earshot when the little encounter of the morning took place, and imagined that Mr. Snappercaps had gone in search of his oxen.

“Oh, you sweet little thing!” said Mrs. Snappercaps. “You don't know that he is over at the kloof, do you? You never sit with your head stuck on your hand staring at the fire, just to try and look sentimental and make him feel sorry for you. You never do, do you? You would not do such a thing! And you never pretended you could not make a fire on purpose to get him to come and help you! And you don't get up early,” continued Mrs. Snappercaps, speaking very rapidly, with the solitary page: 276 canine, the only complete tooth she boasted, looking very strangely like a fang; “you don't get up in the grey dawn and sit on the trap and try and look melancholy till he comes to talk with you. You would not think of doing such a thing! I'm glad to see you don't deny it; you can't,” said Mrs. Snappercaps, rocking herself and her baby energetically to and fro.

The true state of affairs now dawned on Undine, who stood irresolute with the soap and pinafores in her hand, half inclined to laugh, half to enter a protest.

It ended in her doing neither, but asking very quietly whether Mrs. Snappercaps could tell her in which kloof she would find the little fountain the driver had discovered that morning.

This cool manner of receiving her attack brought yellow spots to the corners of Mrs. Snappercaps' mouth. Her only reply was a passionate and often repeated injunction to go to him, go to him, go, go, at once.

In direct opposition to these kindly instructions, Undine walked off through the bush in the direction of a small kloof where, instead of the great clumps of elephants-food 1 and coonie with which the hills were covered, a thin line of forest trees showed, at least sometimes, the presence of water.

The sun was almost setting; his rays made the great round clumps cast long oval shadows, and the


1Elephants-food and coonie are hardy shrubs.

page: 277 busy red and black ants were hurrying home with their last load of sticks. Undine killed many of them as she walked on quickly, and her heart was not very light as she passed in and out among the bushes. She had worked till she felt as though she had no head left, and no soul, and the golden glory of the sky and the still beauty of the bush said nothing to her. In her ears rang the yells of a baby; with its weight her arms ached, and her whole body too, from head to foot, for want of rest. She was tired; she was wretched; she was finding out that there are aches other than those of the heart, and weariness unutterable that is not of the spirit. May a man's soul be tapped out through his muscle? Are there things more enervating and destructive to its life than being the idle plaything of a rich man? Is it crueler pain to be pricked by a woman's pins than lashed by a great affliction? When we labour like brutes, do our hearts become like theirs, till to eat and have rest becomes all our ambition?

The busy ants as they hurried home had no answer for her question, nor the still green bushes. Only one feathery outstretched arm of wild asparagus caught at her dress as she passed by and tore it, because she would not stay to loosen it, but hurried on angrily, petulantly. She was tired, she was wretched, she was disappointed.

To rush the world over seeking for happiness is a fool's work. Is it also a fool's to look for a life page: 278 which, however hard and rough, shall be high and noble, a life worth living?

From being the useless plaything of a man, from dressing and eating and lounging on sofas, to nursing another woman's children, to making another woman's bed! Will life's changes be always so, shall we never get any higher? Oh, the things of life are very little, and the soul is great.

She walked on till, just as the sun set, she reached the little kloof and, forcing her way through the rocks and trees, came to the bed of the mountain torrent. She clambered down its steep bank and leaped on to the smooth white sand that lined its bottom. Then she paused to take breath and leaned against one of the great dark boulders that lay about on every hand. Long years ago the rushing torrent had torn them down from their home on the mountain-side, but they lay very quiet and unmovable now on their bed of white sand. Over one of them, a little higher up in the bed of the torrent, a tiny stream of water trickled. The drops as they fell down slowly on the face of the flat stones below had the soft silver sound of far-away evening bells, and everything else was very silent. The silver band of water as it crept through the sand made no sound, and the long low tremulous bank of maiden-hair fern, though it heaved and swayed to and fro in the stillness, made no sound. High on the western bank of the stream against the white dreamy evening sky, page: 279 the branches of the oliven 1 trees were visible, with pale, quivering, up-pointed leaves. All the dark trees around lay glittering and motionless, but the air stirred those pale green upward-pointing leaves till they shook against the still white night sky; and on Undine, as she stood looking up at it, a great hush came and a great joy; for heaven is not a long way off, nor the beautiful for which we thirst. She dropped the pinafores she held in her hand and knelt down on the smooth white sand, and when she rose, just above the treetops the first star was shining.

She washed out the pinafores and then walked back with them to the wagon.

Mrs. Snappercaps wondered that she sang so softly to the baby as she put it to sleep and sat half smiling in the firelight with only the remnants of their supper before her.

“She's a fool and out of her senses,” said Mrs. Snappercaps as she leaned back against the wheel, munching the last biscuit.

Aye, and a fool sees more than a wise man, sometimes.

1 Oliven—wild olive.

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