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Undine. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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EVERY grace must come to an end, so philosophises the hungry child; and even the dominion of a Mrs. Snappercaps has a limit and a termination. She and her little soul and her little tortures may shut out all the great varied world for a little time; she may seem to engulf everything for a little time, till all above, around, below is Mrs. Snappercaps and her babies; but land must be gained at last, if it be only the land of death.

For Mr. Snappercaps that land might be the only one in which his poor good old soul should find refuge; but Undine's deliverance came near at hand when the white tents of Du Toit's Pan 1 came in sight, gathered like a flock of white birds round their monster sandheap.

The next evening, free and emancipated, she stood before a store in New Rush, where Mr. Snappercaps had just unloaded his wires and buckets. She felt very strong and very free as she stood there, with her box at her side and two shillings in her pocket, and

1 Du Toit's Pan—now a suburb of Kimberley.

page: 281 watched the wagon roll slowly up the street and out of sight.

It was glorious to be alone again. Alone, though the street was so thronged with the streaming crowd of niggers and diggers returning home from the work that they kicked up the red sand into a lurid cloud over their heads—stark-naked savages from the interior, with their bent spindle legs and their big-jawed foreheadless monkey-faces, who, though they were going home to fire and meals, could hardly get out of their habitual crawl—colonial niggers half dressed, not half civilized, and with some hundred per cent more of evil in their black countenances than in those of their wilder brethren—great muscular fellows, almost taller and stronger than their masters, the white diggers, who formed a thin sprinkling in the crowd and who, in spite of the thick dust that enveloped them, might be distinguished by their more quick and energetic movements.

Undine stood watching the crowd as it rolled past, till the sound of some one closing the window just behind her made her look round. A very swell nigger with a real gold chain and a black cloth suit was putting up the bars.

He was a gentleman who made his living principally at night, but he found it useful to have some ostensible employment which might serve to account for his gold chain and black cloth, if ever he found himself in the close hand of the law.

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She asked whether she might leave her box there till the morning.

“No,” was the prompt rejoinder, “not if you don't give me a shilling.”

She gave it, for it was impossible to carry it with her or yet to leave it there in the street. She saw it safely deposited in the store, and then walked off in search of a bed of some kind, nothing doubting but that her shilling would gain her a resting-place, if it were only a little square of hard ground in the corner of a tent.

She went to a greasy-looking yellow canvas house with some kind of sign over it, in front of which half a dozen men were lounging. In the house there was only one woman, very gaudily dressed and very florid, whose eyes Undine imagined saw right through her pocket and purse and beheld the one poor shilling that lay there in solitude. She wished herself out in the street again, but it was too late now.

“Can I get a bed here for tonight?” she asked.

“She's a bad one,” thought the woman, who, being one herself, ought certainly to have judged rightly.

“You can get a bed for four and six,” she said; and Undine with her shilling made a very speedy exit.

Out in the street once more, she plodded on through the wilderness of canvas, past round tents, square tents, torn tents, and whole tents; past canvas page: 283 houses and wooden houses and iron houses, and non-descripts. There were places enough and people enough, but just no place for her. The fresh night breeze as it crept among the tents struck her chill and made her feel cold and heavy to her heart. She was now in the poorest and most wretched part of the camp which lay around the Circus, and was walking on slowly when an empty scotchcart, coming home from the Kop 1 and tearing down the street in the gathering darkness, caused her to step quickly out of its road and almost into a small open tent.

It was hardly dark yet but there was a candle alight in it, and at a great packing-case a dark bright-eyed Malay woman stood ironing white shirts. On another case close at her side, a heap of articles, still waiting to be done, lay piled. There was little else in the room except a torn red curtain covered with lions, which marked off the sleeping-place. On the floor sprawled the woman's brood, forming a motley forest of dusky arms and legs. She was so engrossed in her work that she did not notice the intruder's presence till she had wished her good evening, then she looked up quickly and curiously.

“Could you tell me where I could get lodgings for tonight?” inquired Undine when her salutation had been returned.

“No, not in this part of the Camp,” said the

1Colesberg Koppie, now the Kimberley Diamond Mine.

page: 284 woman; then eyeing her sharply, “Have yer been long in New Rush?”

“No,” replied Undine. “I arrived this evening.” A pause followed, then Undine said:

“Perhaps you would be so kind as to tell me where I might be able to get work. I should be very much obliged to you if you could.”

“Work?” said the woman. “There's work enough if there were only hands to do it. What sort of work do yer want?”

“Ironing—any kind of work,” said Undine. “I don't care what.”

The woman looked at the great pile of ironing on the case beside her. She must get it done that night though she stood over it till morning. So she said:

“If yer can iron, yer can come in and help me get these things done and stay here tonight, but I can't give yer a bed; we've only one and that's only sacks.”

So Undine stepped into the tent, to pass her first night at New Rush in ironing gentlemen's pocket handkerchiefs and nightshirts, leaving the other shirts for the more experienced iron of Mrs. Snods, which glided over them with marvellous rapidity and ease, leaving no singe or crease in its track. By-and-by the noise and squalling of the children ceased as one by one they fell asleep on the ground or crept off to the sacks; only the eldest, whose occupation it was to carry the irons in and out, remained awake. page: 285 He was an over-worked, under-grown boy of about nine years, with a very solemn face and a pair of squinting bead-like eyes that were always trying to see each other across his nose. He wore a narrow-brimmed crownless hat, from the top of which his curly black hair rose in a great bunch; the tattered remains of a red tancord jacket and trousers covered his body; on his feet he carried a solitary boot, whose sole was loose and, at every step, flapped solemnly as he passed in and out with the irons. When not so occupied he stood bolt upright before the packing-case, with his hands clasped in front of him, slowly twirling his thumbs, always in the same direction and always very regularly.

About twelve the last shirt was finished, and Undine, half asleep, crept into one of the great packing-cases and slept soundly till morning. When she awoke she found the woman already busy putting fresh clothes into starch, and Tommy just starting off with last night's work. It was agreed that Undine was to remain there that day, and in consideration of her assistance was to get food and a bed in the packing-case that night. Before setting to work, however, she started off in search of her box. It was a real New Rush morning. The fresh air seemed thrilling with a life that even in the close man-defiled camp it could not be robbed of; it crept among the tents and houses and brought back for the moment the roses to the sunburnt sallow page: 286 faces of the dirty children, and made Undine feel brave and able to face anything. She was almost sorry when, after wandering about for a little while, she discovered the store at which her box had been left. Before it stood a digger examining some picks that had been placed outside and a couple of naked niggers who were gazing affectionately at a row of guns. In the doorway leaned the swell nigger with his legs crossed, playing with his watch chain.

“I've come for the box I left here yesterday evening,” said Undine. The nigger pointed with his thumb over his shoulder.

“There it is,” he said.

Undine went in and saw it standing against the counter.

“Is there anyone here I could get to carry it?” she asked. “It's not very heavy.”

“No,” said the nigger.

“Can't you? It's not very far,” she said, holding out the shilling.

He took it without making any reply, and spreading out his white handkerchief upon his shoulder to prevent the nap from rubbing off his coat, he raised the trunk.

Undine led the way; he followed close behind; but they had not gone very far when the sound of his loudly creaking boots suddenly ceased, and looking round she was astonished to behold her box depos- deposited page: 287 ited in the middle of the street, and the tall black form of the nigger disappearing round the corner.

“This is not the place; you have made a mistake,” she said.

The nigger was not a man of many words, so he merely screwed up one eye very tight and opened the other very wide, and walked off. Undine went back to her box and stood by it, looking at the passers by, but none were available for her purpose. There were troops of niggers going to work at the Kop, 1 and sharp little diamond-buyers going to look for the worm, 2 and busy diggers in a desperate hurry, with their sleeves rolled up above their elbows. To none of them could she apply. At last a good stupid-looking Kaffir made his appearance. He had no bucket or pick and seemed to have nothing to do, and though he stared stupidly at her English and broken Dutch, he soon comprehended the meaning of the scarf she held out to him; and the trunk was shouldered once more, Undine taking care to walk behind him. When she reached the tent Tommy had just returned with three loaves of bread, and the solitary knife of which the establishment boasted not being forthcoming, Undine opened her box and produced a handsome silver-mounted penknife. The bright black eyes of the Malay woman marked it eagerly, and marked also the rich red shawl that

1Kop: an abbreviation for “Colesberg Koppie” (the Mine).

2 Presumably the “worm” that the “early birds” were out to “catch.”

page: 288 covered the contents of the box. She watched the knife as it cut the bread and watched it as it went back into the box, and then began ironing again. Presently she called to Tommy to come out with her to the back of the tent and help her chop some wood. Tommy went, but there was no sound of chopping, nor, when they came in a few moments after, was there any wood to be seen.

Undine, who was busy ironing, never noticed this; something in one of the children's faces had reminded her of what lay in a little English grave far over the water.

The woman began ironing, too, but presently she stopped and, leaning both elbows on the table and fixing her bright eyes on her companion's face, she said:

“I've been thinking that perhaps yer'd like rather to get work on yer own account; if yer would, why, I knows a Mr. MacCuligan who pays well, he does, and he's not over-particular neither. I would not give him up, but, yer see, I've got more work than I can manage, as 'tis. You see, everybody knows me, that's the thing; they know that I'm a honest woman, would not touch a button. It's the character as brings the work. If nobody knows yer, why, yer won't get a shirt to iron,” said the woman, still fixing her bright eyes on Undine's face.

Undine wondered, if that were the case, how anyone ever came to be known, but she answered that, page: 289 until she got irons and a place of her own and knew something of ironing, it was useless for her to think of taking work.

“Oh, yer could use some of my irons; I've got a lot yer see; and wood and such like yer could pay for, yer know, and Mr. MacCuligan he don't care how his shirts are neither.”

Somehow Undine did not take vastly to this idea of doing Mr. MacCuligan's ironing, but she felt touched by the woman's kindness; she could not pain her by refusing to take advantage of it.

It was very hard to be a stranger at the Fields, the woman said; she had known what it was; but when once a person got known, why, there was more work than they had hands for.

“It's an awful paying thing, ironing is,” said the woman, “awful paying. It's as good as having a claim in New Rush Kop, it is”; and when she saw Undine cast a glance round the empty tattered tent she added quickly:

“To yer it would be, of course, I mean. I've got so many brats, what I makes goes.”

After a little more conversation it was decided that Undine, with Tommy for a guide, should set off to Mr. MacCuligan's to fetch the ironing.

“It's a long way,” said the woman, “and perhaps yer'll think it round about, but the ways in this Fields is round about. Tommy, he knows the way to page: 290 Mr. MacCuligan's well, he does. Don't yer, Tommy?”

Tommy nodded his head very confidently and was soon pattering along the road in front of Undine, the flying sole of his boot flapping up and down at every step.

They turned in the direction of the West End, and Undine, as she trudged behind him, tried to be profoundly philosophical and to place before herself very clearly her own advanced ideas on the subject of labour.

How superficial were the general ideas on the subject. Is not all work, if it be earnestly done, noble and ennobling? Is not all labour worship, be it only scraping a carrot or ironing a shirt? No longer would she be bound by prejudice, but, leading a life based on reason, she would enjoy the greatness of the man who labours.

They had now reached the West End, that most desolate wilderness of gravel-heaps 1 and tents, the tents for the most part not arranged with any attempt at order but forming acute and obtuse angles of every degree. They with their gravel-heaps are pervaded by a melancholy air of decayed greatness. To Undine it seemed a more desolate spot than the most barren plain of the Karoo as they wandered in and out among the gravel-heaps on which the blaz- blazing

1The “débris” heaps—the residue after the diamonds have been washed and sifted from the diamondiferous “earth” in which they occur.

page: 291 ing sun was now pouring down dazzling light—blue gravel-heaps and yellow gravel-heaps, new gravelheaps beside tents, old gravel-heaps, where once, in better days, tents had been. Up them and down them, over them and round them, before them and behind them, their course was like that of the wind which goeth to the south, and turneth to the north, and whirleth about continually.

“Are you sure this is the right road?” she inquired of her dilapidated little guide, who was trotting on steadily before her.

“It's the way,” he answered confidently, turning his head but not his body, and with both eyes still fixed most solemnly on his nose; “it's the way.” So Undine plodded on.

“Why, I thought we passed this tent with the barrel before it a little while ago! Are we not almost at Mr. MacCuligan's yet?” she asked again after a little time.

“It's the way,” said Tommy, shaking his head confidently three or four times, but not even looking round; and soon they found themselves in the Circular Road.

The Road was lively and busy enough, and the glare of the sun on the white road was almost blinding. A scotchcart drawn by a wretched mule and containing a huge barrel of water rattled past them. It leaked, and some ragged little savages, one white and the rest black, were clinging to the cart with page: 292 their mouths wide open and upturned to catch the drops as they fell.

“Where can I get a drink of water?” inquired Undine of her guide, the bright drops making her more thirsty than ever.

“You can buy some at the well,” was Tommy's answer.

Buy some! Undine walked on and tried to forget she was thirsty, and wondered what the charm of these strange Fields might be that drew all to them.

“If we're not near Mr. MacCuligan's yet,” said Undine, “I think I shall turn back. I can't go on any more.” She was growing dizzy from the fierce heat of the sun, and the white tents seemed to throb before her, and the burning sand into which they sank ankle-deep at each step blistered her feet.

“It's the way, but yer don't get there if yer don't keep on,” said Tommy, looking back over his shoulder but never pausing for an instant.

Undine, fixing her eyes on the flapping sole of his shoe, followed on.

They were in the best part of the Camp now, where tents were scarce and pretty little canvas houses with verandas and reed fences lined the road on every side.

Before one of these Tommy stopped.

“There's Mr. MacCuligan's,” he said, “and I'll run round to the back and see if he's in.”

While Undine stood waiting for his return, she page: 293 leaned against the reed fence of the house that stood at her right and looked over into the enclosure. There was a new canvas house with a pretty veranda, at the ends of which hung great Venetian blinds to keep off the sun and wind. On the veranda were some green garden benches and two large cane armchairs. In one of them sat a lady, a delicate milk-white thing dressed in pale blue, with rippling gold hair that was simply gathered into a knot at the back of her small head. Undine looked at her breathlessly. Women as beautiful, more beautiful, she had often seen, but none had ever looked to her as that woman did, contrasted with the coarse clay she had looked at for so many weeks, and contrasted with the boiling, toiling, sandy, grimy world around them. The lady's white slender hands were crossed softly over the gamboge cover of the novel that lay in her lap, and she leaned back with closed eyes, looking like some fairy queen whom a strange chance had transported into the land of dust and diamonds. Undine leaned long against the fence, watching her till she slowly opened her eyes and looked up. They were straight-out-looking, cloudless baby-blue eyes; there was not much expression in them when they fixed themselves on the head and battered hat that showed themselves over her fence; but Undine limped away quickly and looked down at her own “bits of paws,” already brown and rough, and at her own dust-begrimed garments, and felt a little page: 294 ashamed of them. What are fine clothes, and a fine skin? Well, nothing, just nothing, when you come to reason about them, and just everything when you come to look at them.

Undine limped away as quickly as might be to the back of Mr. MacCuligan's compound, but when there she was astonished to find no opening by which Tommy could have gained an entrance to make his inquiries, and no Tommy was to be seen. The fence was very high, but, mounting on a gravel heap that lay against it, she was able to look over. A coolie was squatting in the shade, cleaning a pair of boots. Undine inquired whether he had seen anything of her guide and whether the compound were Mr. MacCuligan's. To both these questions the coolie replied by shaking his head and staring. Did he know where Mr. MacCuligan lived? The coolie shook his head again. Didn't live in that part of the Camp. Didn't know him if he did.

Undine dropped down on the ground in the shade of the high fence and held her throbbing head between her hands. She tried to think, but before she knew she had dropped into a heavy sleep.

When she awoke it was almost evening and the cool breeze was blowing in her face. She felt better after her sleep, though her feet were still blistered and her legs trembled a little. She made her way back into the street, and after not many inquiries found herself once more in the neighbourhood of the page: 295 Circus, and was soon in sight of the iron 1 canteen, that she knew stood next the tent she was in search of.

When she stood before it, Undine raised her hand to her forehead, for surely the terrible heat of the day had touched her reason. She looked and looked again. There was the iron canteen on this side; there was the shoemaker's tent on the other; but the tent she looked for and the box she came for were nowhere to be seen. A good-natured man who stood at the door of the canteen noticed her bewilderment and called out: “If you're looking for the Malay woman who used to take in ironing, she's shifted early this morning. If she's got work of yours there's not much chance of your seeing it again, I'm afraid. She was a bad lot,” said the man, stepping back into his house to serve a customer.

It took her a moment fairly to understand her situation, and then she soon persuaded herself that it was a most fortunate occurrence that had befallen her and freed her from her possessions. Were they not more trouble than they were worth? And had not experience taught her a lesson which, as that bitter dame teaches nothing for nothing, left her nothing to complain of?

She began slowly to retrace her steps, thinking the while that she clearly perceived where her mistake had been. She had allowed her pride to keep her

1Corrugated iron.

page: 296 from her own class, from the white-handed, silver-voiced people of refinement and polish—that was the only reason why she had fared so ill.

With that cool veranda and its milk-white blossom in her eye, she pressed on through the now crowded and busy evening streets till she came in sight of it once more.

Just as she had sat there in the morning, the lady sat there now, only that she had now a pure white dress, and in place of the gamboge-covered book she held now a small china cup. A few rays of the setting sun had found their way under the veranda and played on the rippling hair till it glittered like burnished gold.

When Undine's dusty figure and battered hat appeared before her, she raised her clear blue baby-eyes from her teacup and looked at her—looked very straight, and said: “What do you want? Work? Yes, I have plenty of work.”

Undine's eyes followed her tall graceful figure as it moved into the house.

She returned in a moment with a small child's garment in her hand and held it out.

“You can take this first,” she said. “If it is well made I will give you two shillings for making it—if it is well made,” she said in a clear measured voice, and, without giving the dusty little figure before her a second glance, sank down into her chair and resumed her teacup.

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Undine hesitated and spoke again, for work, without needle or thimble or cotton to do it with, would be small help.

“I will give you needles and cotton, if you wish it,” the lady said, “but not a thimble. I never do that; and sixpence must be taken off for the needle and cotton.”

The little reed gate closed behind Undine, and soon she was again threading her way through the crowded streets—crowded with home-goers. They were all going to a place of their own; even the naked Mahoras 1 had a pot of mielie 2 pap and a skin waiting for them; but she wandered on till she found herself at the entrance of the Kop 3 they had just deserted. She sat down to rest on the side of one of the mountains of gravel 4 between which the road passed, and, when the camp below was aglow with evening lights, and the noise and stir in its tents and streets became louder and stronger, she rose up and walked into the Kop in the bright moonlight. It was like entering the city of the dead in the land of the living, so quiet it was, so well did the high-piled gravel heaps keep out all sound of the seething noisy world around. Not a sound, not a movement. She walked to the edge of the reef and


2Pap of ground maize.

3The Kop was the actual site of the mine.


page: 298 looked down into the crater. 1 The thousand wires that crossed it, glistening in the moonlight, formed a weird, sheeny, mistlike veil over the black depths beneath. Very dark, very deep it lay all round the edge, but, high towering into the bright moonlight, rose the unworked centre. She crouched down at the foot of the staging and sat looking at it. In the magic of the moonlight it was a giant castle, a castle of the olden knightly days; you might swear, as you gazed on it, that you saw the shadows of its castellated battlements, and the endless turrets that overcrowned it: a giant castle, lulled to sleep and bound in silence for a thousand years by the word of some enchanter. You might gaze until you almost saw the ivy clinging to its yellow crumbling walls, till you almost saw the figures of brave knights and lovely ladies, whom the death-like sleep had overtaken as they wandered on the castle terraces, till the motionless horse and the small arched window and the mighty dragon resting in the gateway were all visible.

Undine, as she crouched beneath the staging, looking at that silent moonlight wonder world, forgot she was hungry and forgot she was weary, and, when she grew drowsy, dropped asleep on the ground with her head resting on her work.

1The mine was then worked by surface haulage. This immense circular hole is now claimed to be the largest hole ever sunk into the earth by man. The diamonds are found on a huge perpendicular pipe, not in the reef surrounding it.

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The next morning the turning of the wheel 1 overhead aroused her. It was hardly light, but the Kop wakes early, and there were many men at work already among the staging. None of them seemed to notice her, and she got up feeling a little stiff and a little cold. There was nothing of beauty about the scene before her now; that had gone with the moonlight. It was nothing now but a great oval hole in the ground where worshippers of King Gold burrow and scrape and scratch, all in his service.

Very dull, and very prosaic now—unless indeed one had happened to be so high mounted above earth that all things fell into perspective, when even Colesberg Kop with its grovelling and grasping might, like niggers and blue-bottle flies and rouge pots, have a charm, a beauty of its own.

But Undine was not high mounted nor was her soul inclined to soar that morning; rather to grovel very pitiably. She was cold, she was stiff, she was hungry, and she held the creed of the hungry—that ideas are a delusion and sentiments a snare, that the way of the world is the wise way and leads to bread and butter, and that all ways which lead elsewhere are inventions of the devil and must be forsaken. She made her way into Main Street, and as she turned the corner she saw a great naked nigger devouring a huge lump of mielie-meal pap which he held in both hands as he passed down the street on

1A haulage wheel on the rim of the mine.

page: 300 his way to work. She thought him the happiest soul she had passed that morning as she walked on looking for a place where she might sit down and work.

No such presented itself till she found herself free of tents and houses on the long low grassy ridge that separated New Rush from Du Toit's Pan. There she sat down, screened by the low scraggy bushes, and began to work.

She stitched as one stitches who stitches for bread, but the calico was stiff, and without a thimble the needle hardly went through, and it made long stitches and little ones, and worked a small hole in her finger which stained the work with little drops of blood. Yet she worked away, without pausing, for an hour, then she sat still for a moment and lay down upon the ground.

It was so strong and drawing, that earth; she stretched out both her hands and clung to it as she used when a little child, as we can cling only when we are weary and heartsick and lonely, as we must cling to something if it be only a tree stump or a stone, feeling as if we were not then so forsaken.

It was a bright warm morning, but she was cold from hunger, and underneath the ground it must be warm, so warm. The earth, the dear old earth that has been mother to us all and must cover us all again sooner or later—it would be so easy to page: 301 drop asleep upon it, so much better than to go on living with nothing worth living for.

“I will die,” she thought. “Why should I go on like a fool, labouring and striving to keep a life that is worthless? I will lie still and die.”

She turned her face round and looked at the grass on which she lay. Mingled with it were tiny blue and red bells and a bright creeper with yellow flowers. The sunshine came through the low bushes and danced on their golden faces, and up above the bushes she could see the clear blue sky.

It is not all dark, it is not all evil in this life; while the sky hangs overhead and the many-tinted earth lies at our feet, there will always be what is beautiful, always be what makes life worth the battle; and her heart grew strong again. Very empty life may be, very useless, but worth having while there is sunshine.

Hour after hour Undine sat there stitching, and the work became more stained and the stitches bigger and her hands trembled more. At last by mid-day it was finished. She rolled it up and sought her way back to the canvas house with its cool veranda and green Venetian blinds. The lady was inside and opened the door, looking as fresh and fleecy-white as she had done the day before. She took the work from Undine and examined it carefully.

“I don't take such work,” she said, raising her round baby-blue eyes to Undine's face. “You must page: 302 take it back and unpick it carefully and wash it, or if you wish you can leave it here; but of course I can't pay you for it. It is for a bazaar and should have been kept very clean.”

They were so pitiless, those baby-blue eyes.

Undine felt the tears starting to her own; so without giving any answer she turned round quickly and went out again to the hot sandy street.

As bad as a beggar! Crying for sixpence! Faugh! She hated herself.

She had undertaken to do the work, she had done it badly, she had got what she deserved. Besides, was it not for a bazaar that was to pay for a church? There should be no stains or long stitches in work intended for such a purpose. She was in fault, no one else.

“Old clothes bought here,” was written in large letters on a piece of battered cardboard that hung at the door of a little wooden house. Undine noticed it and went in. She had nothing to sell but a fine white handkerchief, for which the woman gave her sixpence, which at the next shop she exchanged for a drink of water and a small piece of bread, such a small piece. When she sat down on the shady side of some gravel heaps that lay behind the houses, she held it in her hand and sat looking at it for a long time before she began to eat. She had felt so hungry in the morning, she could have made friends with the naked Kaffir for the sake of page: 303 his mielie-meal pap; and now she sat there with the lump of bread in her hands and could hardly eat it. Slowly breaking off little bits of crust here and there, she got through half, and with the remainder still in her hand laid her head drowsily on the gravel and for half an hour lay there almost sleeping, but hearing always the rumbling of the carts as they passed in the street. When she aroused herself she felt gnawingly hungry and very glad of the bread, which she still ate very slowly to make it go the farther.

Not far from her, crouching on the ground with his head between his paws, was a great brown dog; surely the leanest and lankest that walked New Rush. While she had slept he had crouched there, watching the piece of bread in her hand, and now with half-closed eyes he looked at it still.

Undine looked at it too and then at him, and then took another bite, and then looked at him again, and then at the bread in her lap; and feeling sure that if she waited it would not be there much longer, she took it up and threw it from her straight into the hungry jaws that were opened wide to receive it.

Almost without a gulp it was gone, and, resuming his old posture, the dog waited for more, but none came. Picking up the crumbs that lay in her lap, she rose to go. The dog sprang up too, and, sidling nearer to her, proceeded to perform around her page: 304 a grotesque dance, at every step of which the sharp bones threatened to protrude through the brown skin.

When she walked away he tried to follow her, but she drove him from her again and again. “Go away,” she said. “Go away. Do not follow me. If you do I shall learn to love you, and I am tired; I have had pain enough.”

The afternoon light was beginning to grow old and yellow when Undine, passing among the tents at the North Side, was attracted by a small figure seated on the ground between two tents. 'Twas a child of it might be twelve years. She was leaning back against an old box, with her naked feet stretched out in front of her, and the afternoon sun looked full into her face and on the great shock of red hair that hung around it. Everyone else Undine had passed had seemed so hard at work and so engrossed, even the little children in their play and the women in their talk; but here sat some one alone and doing nothing except gazing down at the half of an old iron three-legged pot which she held in her lap.

Undine came near her.

“What have you got there?” she asked, softly.

The girl raised her head quickly and looked up. It was a broad freckled face with very little forehead, and that little wrinkled and knit in every page: 305 direction, with a great heavy mouth and a pair of clear grey eyes.

Before she answered Undine she fixed them on her, and then said in a low, sullen tone, “Looking at my plant.”

Undine stooped down and saw, surely enough, growing in the broken pot, the tiniest of rose slips not half an inch high and crowned with two tiny green leaves.

“Do you like flowers?” Undine asked.


For a moment the sullen look vanished and a smile that parted the heavy lips showed a set of dazzling white teeth; then it settled down on the child's face again and she looked at her pot.

“It's the first flower I have seen growing here,” said Undine, touching it softly with her finger.

“A gentleman threw it away one day. It had a withered rose on it then; but I put a white bottle over it, and I hold it in the sun all day, and now it's growing, you see.” She touched its little leaves softly and caressingly with her finger as she spoke.

“Don't you get very tired of sitting still with it all day?” asked Undine.

A very black look came over the child's face as she answered shortly, “I can't walk; my back's hurt.”

“And so you sit here alone all day nursing your flower.”

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“Mostly, but sometimes the woman who stops with father don't always go out. I wish she always did. When mother was here she always stayed in, but she's dead,” said the child. There was infinite satisfaction in the tone in which the last three words were uttered.

“Have you been long unable to walk?” said Undine, laying her hand softly on the red head.

“Since she beat me the night before she died.” She spoke more sullenly than ever and twitched her little brown toes backwards and forwards.

“What do you do to try and get better?”

“Nothing,” said the child. “One of those gentlemen that go about with the little black bags and the sugar pills, he stopped and talked to me one day and he gave me something to rub with, but I can't rub it and there is no one can.”

“Can't I rub it for you?”

The child looked up half suspiciously, then her eyes brightened a little.

“It's in the tent, and Mary Jones would be angry if anyone went in when she's gone out. Do you live far from here?”

“I don't live anywhere,” said Undine. “I am looking for work.”

The child scrutinized her from head to foot, with the shrewd suspicious old woman's look that the faces of Field children so soon learn to wear. Then she said:

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“What kind of work?”

“Anything—ironing.” She would have added, “Needlework,” but a short experience had made her very wise, and she knew that a man's dog is an animal more enviable than a woman's friend if so be the one is mistress and the other maid. Needlework must be done for women, ironing might be for men, so she decided in favour of the ironing.

Her red-headed little companion meditated for a time, then she said, “Mary Jones has lots of ironing in the tent, and she always drinks too much to do it. If you stay till she comes I think she'll let you get some.

So Undine sat down on the ground beside her and waited.