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Undine. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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KAROO, red sand, great mounds of round iron stones, and bushes never very beautiful to look at and now almost burned into the ground by the blazing summer's sun. An old Dutch farmhouse built of the brightest red brick to match the ground and stones; an old stone wall broken down here and there at irregular intervals, as if to allow for the ready ingress and egress of the hundred enterprising goats, whose delight it is daily to regale themselves on the deformed peach trees and leafless cabbage stalks which the enclosure contains; an old tent-waggon, whose tent and floor have long gone the way of all flesh—wood flesh—into the fire; an ancient willow tree, which stands vainly trying to reflect itself in a small pond of thick red fluid, and under which may at all times be seen a couple of dirty and benighted ducks, who there disport themselves under the happy delusion of its being water.

All these parts compose a picture in which, when looked at by daylight, it were hard work to find the slightest trace of beauty; but tonight, penetrated in page: 2 every nook and corner by the cold white light of an almost full moon, there is a strange weird beauty, a beauty which the veriest sheep-souled Boer that ever smoked pipe or wore vel-skoen, might feel if he had but one ray of light left in him.

It was a silent night. Even the great dogs had crept to sleep under the old tent-waggon, and nothing living or moving was to be seen except a small child and a smaller ape who were perched in one of the gaps of the stone wall.

There they had sat for the last hour, never moving but very busy cogitating, if one might judge from the grave expression of both faces. Likely the smaller pondered on the dire injustice of tying him up all day and giving him orange peel in place of orange pulp, and uncracked almonds, which all the world knew he could not break. His thoughts might have been the most profoundly philosophical, however, if judged by the appearance of his small black countenance—abstruse inquiries into the nature, origin, and destiny of the moon, whose course he was following with eyes hardly less grave and earnest than the large brown pair above him.

He was wrapped up in the end of the small blue pinafore which the child had on, the only parts visible being the small wizard-like face and a small black hand, with which he held his chin and every now and then raised for a soft sympathetic pat of the little white hand that served as chin-rest page: 3 to the white, dark-eyed face above him. The child might have been ten years old, but she looked much less as she sat there, perched on the top of a large round stone with her thin little legs drawn up under her in a queer little fashion of her own.

“Socrates,” she said, presently. The monkey turned his soft brown eyes and fixed them full on hers.

“I wish we knew,” said the child.

Socrates gave a long sigh in answer and turned the gaze of his great sad eyes back to the slowly moving moon.

“Come to prayers, come to prayers,” shouted a stentorian voice from one of the back windows, and Socrates' reflections for that night were ended. He was tied up to his stand; and with a kiss on the crown of his little grey head the owner of the blue pinafore left him and went into the house.

The house, as we have said, was Dutch, built in the true Dutch style, with one large front room, from which opened six or eight cabin-like apartments to serve as bedrooms; and with that indispensable of all Dutch farmhouses overhead—a great loft.

In the front room were two large glass cupboards let into the wall, which in the days of their old Dutch proprietor had been wont to contain dolls, earthenware, and all the wealth and glory of the household, and which even now, in spite of their page: 4 being filled with books, had an uncomfortably Dutch appearance. The room was well furnished, and lighted by a great lamp standing on the centre-table. Before it, with an open Bible and Prayer Book, sat the farmer: an English Africander with nothing worthy of remark about him, if it were not the unusually fine development of his tall muscular figure and the unusually large amount of yellow hair upon his face. There were five others in the room—his wife, a delicate, refined, fair little woman who reclined on the sofa—his son, handsome and bright-eyed, and now home for the holidays—and two little Dutch girls, grey-eyed, yellow-haired, pudding-faced, who were here to share with his step-daughter the instruction of the very stiff and upright individual who sat on a chair near the door. This individual wore three curls on each side of her head and carried a large wart on the tip of her chin.

“Late for prayers again, Undine,” she said, as the owner of the little blue pinafore slipped in at the door and took her way to the nearest seat.

No one else took any notice of her entrance, and the chapter being finished they kneeled down to pray. Undine did not listen to the prayer but to the great red clock overhead, that was ticking away such solemn words, the child thought, as she bent below it:

“Another week gone, another day gone. What page: 5 have you done? We never come back, we moments; we fly, but we never return, never, never, tick, tick. What have you done with us? If you do the best you can with all the rest of us, you can never bring one of us back, never, never, tick, tick.”

Undine tried to listen to the prayer, but the old clock's voice was louder.

“Tick, tick,” cried the inexorable old clock, “what good have you ever done? How are you better able to die now than you were last week? You are nearer death, but are you ready, ready, ready, tick, tick, tick?”

Undine tried to listen to the prayer again, and she caught these words: “Thousands, O Lord, are going to destruction every moment.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said the clock, “tick, tick, hell, hell, going, going, going, thousands, thousands, thousands, tick, tick, tick, tick.”

She could kneel there while the old clock told only of her own sins and fate, but now—when every tick talked of half the world, for whom there was no help, no hope, who were going, going, going—she felt as though she were being suffocated and the walls and roof were throbbing and coming down on her. She leaped up from her knees, and was recalled to a sense of things present only by being very sharply pulled onto them again. Fortunately the prayer was almost ended, and when they rose there were at once so many human voices trying to page: 6 make themselves heard that the voice of the old wooden prophet was quickly drowned.

“Undine, my dear, I really must report your conduct to your mamma; it really is most reprehensible,” said the stiff and upright individual. “You surely have time enough in which to run about; you might forget your play and worship God, when you come here. Your mamma thinks so. Do you not?”

The lady thus appealed to not only fully endorsed the opinion, but also, on hearing the nature of the offence, ordained that henceforth the offender's seat should be in the centre of the room, beside her stepfather, and so to speak under the eye of the assembly. This was intended as a direful chastisement, but the child's thoughts were still occupied with the ominous tickings of the old clock, and she would have cared nothing just then if they had sentenced her to sit next some savage king of Timbuctoo who makes his meals off little girls. She stood there before them, with the end of the blue pinafore twisted round one small arm which the other was nursing and patting as tenderly as if it had been Socrates.

“Really, Undine, you are the hardest child to manage. There is no need to put on that look of proud indifference; go to bed at once and let me see no more of you tonight,” said her mother; and the child took up her light and went. Soon she had put it out and crept into bed, but she could not forget the old clock; and how dark the room was! Perfect, page: 7 boundless, endless darkness it might be, for anything she could see; like that silent darkness which surrounds poor lost souls and is all the answer they get when they cry aloud to God. She pulled the cover over her head and buried it under the pillows; but whoever has tried these means of dodging disagreeable thoughts knows how signally they always fail. She found this out; for by and by a small white face showed itself above the blankets and a pair of troubled eyes looked out into the surrounding darkness.

“Dear God! great God!” cried the little child, covering her face with both hands, “You who are so very happy and great and strong, who can do all things, O dear God! save them. They are going, going, forever, forever, O God! God!”

She lay still for some minutes and then burst forth again, this time in a perfect agony:

“O God! great God! save just one soul tonight because I pray. I know that I am wicked and will never be saved, but I pray with faith; save, oh save one soul, for my prayer. Great God! God! God!”

She sat up and buried her face in both her trembling hands. What was the use of her praying—she who did not love God, who could not believe, who could never be saved? How easy it was to understand how the great Son of God could come down to die for souls. The child felt that night as though she, too, could have died to save only a few, a few page: 8 souls from the great company of the God-hated who were passing over the edge to darkness. How many had gone since she came into that room tonight! How many through the long dim ages of the past! The old Greeks and Romans, and the wild millions of Asia; and how many would pass over long after she had taken her place in the great company and vanished into sin and woe forever! Before and behind her seemed to stretch a chain of endless pain and anguish.

After a time she lay down and tried to close her eyes and drop asleep; but now it seemed as if already she had passed into that unknown land, prepared by God for the souls at whom he laughs. In Dante's hell there were fire and fellowship, earth and pain, but in hers there was nothing so merciful or so material. She seemed in a wide void in which there was only endless space and blackness, and she had not even two hands, the one of which might touch the other and in touching find fellowship; and when she cried aloud her voice fell dead upon the air. There was only emptiness, and black space, above, around, below, and she was one alone. Oh, how the silence ached! One throb of pain, one touch, one sound, how blessed they would be.

An indescribable terror seized the child. Such must be death, eternal death, the death of the wicked, changeless and everlasting as the throne of the God who made it. She crept out of bed trem- trembling page: 9 bling and lay down on the cold mud floor; that at least was hard and solid, and it seemed to calm her. She pressed her face onto it, and a few burning tears fell on it; then she lay as still as though she were asleep. How comforting it was, that solid earth; but it was dead and cold, and she would like the touch of something warmer; so after a time she got up and, noiselessly opening the door, stood in the large front room. It was dark and quite still but for the ticking of the old clock and the sound of her own breath. She stood for a minute listening; then she crept on till her fingers touched a door at the far end of the room. After a little pressure it opened, and she went in. There were two beds in the room, both occupied, and she kneeled down at the foot of the nearest and stretched out her hand. It came in contact with what she was in search of—a small foot, soft and warm and full of life. She held it for some moments in both hands, and then, afraid of waking the sleeper, rose to go, noiselessly and softly as she had come.

How the owner of the foot—one of the grey-eyed, cheese-faced little Dutch girls—would have wondered and been mystified, could she have watched the proceedings of her little white-nightgowned visitor, who, feeling her way softly by chairs and tables, soon found herself again in her own room.

She was comforted, but not sufficiently; so she page: 10 drew from between the mattresses on her bed a small brown New Testament. Pressing it close to her side with one little arm, with the other she dragged a large wooden chair to the window; and with its aid, and that of a stool, climbed up into the window seat. Pushing her hand through a broken pane, she sent the heavy wooden shutter flying back on its hinges. A flood of white moonlight fell into the room, and the face of the moon herself looked in—on the little tumbled bed and the whitewashed walls and the mite of a thing, with its little white nightgown and bare feet, perched up in the window.

The mite of a thing closed her eyes tight and opened her book, turning the leaves over and over again, and at last brought down a small finger upon one of them. She opened her eyes and stooped down to read by the moonlight the words on which it had alighted; they were these—“Which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Addi, which was the son of Cosam, which was the son of Elmodam, which was the son of Er.”

She closed the book and sat looking at the cover in silence, with very much the expression of Socrates when lost in the contemplation of a nut he had vainly endeavoured to crack. Faith is strong, however, and reason weak, at ten years; so the brown comforter was opened again; and, after the fashion of the Apostles and good men of old, Providence was appealed to.

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This time the words were these—“Strive to enter in at the straight gate, for many I say unto you shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

She did not close the book this time but sat looking at its open pages with her eyebrows slightly bent; then she caught the book up tightly in one hand and flung it from her with such force that it left the story of its journey written in a large brown dent on the whitewashed wall opposite. She threw her head down on the window seat and cried long and bitterly; but by and by, when she grew quieter, she sat up and pressed her little burning cheek against the window pane. How calm and still the outside world was; so far removed from all passion and strife, damnation, fire and brimstone; so strong, so self-contained. How peacefully the great round stones lay resting on each other. Through that subtle sympathy which binds together all things, and to stumps and rocks gives a speech which even we can understand, the night spoke to the little child the sweet words of comfort which she had looked for in vain in the brown Testament. She left off thinking and only sat and listened, and the sweet night wind blew in through the broken pane and touched her softly, till the weary eyelids closed and the little head found rest once more on the window seat.

Of course Undine was late next morning, late even for Sunday morning. Socrates, in despair of ever getting his breakfast, sat disconsolate on the page: 12 top of his box, making believe to eat his tail, and every now and then raising his hands to his head and slowly rubbing them across his forehead, as if still suffering from the effect of too much moonlight thought.

It was going to be a sweltering day; even now it gave one an unpleasant sensation to look at the little hills of red round stones scattered here and there and acting the part of great reflectors; as though man and herb were not desiccated and burnt red enough without their help. Indoors the blue flies buzzed. In spite of the soothing effect of more than half-closed shutters all sat down to breakfast feeling mortally aggrieved, though hardly knowing in what respect, and, according to their several dispositions, desiring to have it out with some one or lapsing into silence.

When Undine came to the table she was met with the usual: “Late again, my dear; surely going to bed when you do, you might get up a little earlier. It is this sleeping so much that makes you so incurably stupid. Sannie and Annie were up hours ago,” said the governess, casting an approving glance at the two little maidens opposite, who by their earnest patronage of mutton chops and fat were incontrovertibly proving their Africander origin.

“They went to bed much later than you and were up earlier, and have done their hair much better than you,” continued her instructress, whose ideas were so truly correct, feminine, and orthodox, that page: 13 they might all have been placed in an ordinary breakfast saucer and left there forever, without the least fear of their ever running over.

The meal being ended, the farmer went out to bully the herdsmen for not having let the sheep out earlier, and to saunter about till the heat should drive him in; while his wife hied to the nether regions, where bitter and clamorous war was being waged between Hendrik and Gobalee as to the possession of the sheep's-head-and-feet. The two little Dutch girls stood in the kitchen doorway, and for once the dawning of a light, which if it had arisen might have been called animation, shone in their placid countenances as they drank in every word and even now and then inserted one.

Undine collected some bits of bread, took half a green mielie 1 and a cup of water, and, putting on her great brown kappie, went out to visit Socrates in the yard. He was glad of the contents of cup and plate, but quickly satisfied himself and began playing with his mielie, 2 now throwing it from him with disdain and gazing up into the sky with an air of deep abstraction, as though completely unconscious of its existence, then seizing it up, taking a bite and hugging it to him, with an expression of earnestness so comical it might have set a Methodist

1 The mielies (“corn”) being on the cob.

2 Used them in S. Africa both for a single “pip” and for the cob with the pips on. Here it is obviously used in the latter sense.

page: 14 parson laughing on his way to class meeting. Undine did not laugh; she sat down on the ground beside him and looked at him, wondering if he really felt so happy, or only played so wildly because his heart was heavy. She wondered if he ever wished to be anything in the wide world but himself, and yet didn't see anything that he liked better; wondered if he ever longed to die, and yet wished never to die, and nothing in the world ever to die; wondered if it made him feel queer to look up at that little white fleecy cloud in the blue sky overhead; wondered what the little cloud meant and how it came there and why it came there, and why anything was where it was, and why the world was the world, and the sun the sun, and she, she; and why— She could not wonder any more, for two strong hands were shaking her so that the little white cloud, Socrates, the blue sky and red earth, were all jumbled up together.

“Do you wish to ruin your complexion completely, you wicked child, that you sit here staring up into the sky as if you had never seen it before and were bereft of all your senses? Get your kappie from that ape and come into the house at once.”

For Mr. Socrates had possessed himself of the large brown kappie and seemed in no hurry to restore it. Finds are keeps according to the code, and it was only after a world of persuasion had been lavished upon him that he very gingerly descended page: 15 from his box and, with an air of melancholy resignation and a touch of condescension, delivered it to its owner. Then he sat gravely following with his eyes the little blue pinafore and brown kappie as they vanished into the house, and, there being nothing left worth his looking at, he then clambered up into his box to take a doze.

The sheep's-head-and-feet quarrel had been settled, and when Undine entered the front room she found the two little Dutch girls demurely seated on two chairs with their hymn books in their hands, learning their Sunday lessons. Undine, too, got her hymn book down from the shelf, but instead of following the virtuous example before her, she placed her book on the floor, laid herself across a chair, and in this very highly unorthodox position had just composed herself to learn, when she was asked if she had not yet rested enough and were going to sleep again. Of course there was nothing for it but to sit up and learn away steadily till the hour arrived at which, every Sunday morning, the three scholars were marched off into a side room to receive such religious instruction as was suited to their limited capacities and tender years. The first part of the program, which consisted in the recitation of lessons, was soon over. Then bibles were produced. The little brown Testament was not one of them—false friend it might sometimes be, but friend for page: 16 all that, and not to be brought out for common eyes to gaze on.

The stiff and upright individual sat in a large armchair, and before her the two little Dutch girls on high-backed riem-bottomed chairs, while Undine took possession of a green waggon-chest that stood near the door.

The chapter chosen for their perusal and consideration was the twenty-fifth of Matthew, and when it was concluded each was in turn required to ask some question bearing on its contents. The eldest of the Dutch girls—on whom the heat, the darkness of the room, and the exertion of spelling out the long English words had had an almost stupefying effect—sat for some moments gazing at the face of her oracle with an expression of hopeless vacancy. At length a happy thought occurred to her: Were the virgins men or women? The mental effort required for the birth of this question seemed so completely to have exhausted all her powers of mind as to make it highly probable that the reply of the oracle was lost upon her and that she remained forever in total ignorance on the momentous subject of her inquiry.

It was now the turn of number two, who, with astonishing brightness, asked if the bridesmaids wore white muslin dresses and carried eau-de-Cologne bottles in their pockets. This searcher after truth having been satisfied, it was Undine's turn to in- inquire page: 17 quire and learn. But that young lady sat upon the green box, noiselessly tapping it with her heels and fixing on the skin carpet that attention which should have been bestowed on her worthy instructress.

“Well, Undine, my dear, what have you to ask?”

“I understand that chapter,” said Undine, without raising her eyes to the face of her interlocutor.

“You do, my dear! Well, then I suppose we had better reverse the order of things and I will question you. What was the oil which was generally burnt on all such occasions in the East?”

“I don't know,” said Undine, very composedly.

“I thought that you understood everything that this chapter contained. I very soon find that you do not. You are wofully ignorant, my dear,” said the teacher.

“I did not notice that there was anything said about the kinds of oil,” responded Undine; “otherwise I should not have said that I understood it.”

The questioner was fairly at her wits' end, but she shifted her ground. “What does the thirty-first verse speak of, my dear?”

“The judgment of the world,” said Undine.

“And what does he say to the good people on his right and the bad on his left hand?”

“He says to the good people, ‘Come, you blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’; and to the others, ‘Go, you cursed, into the everlasting fire’.”

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“And what lesson does this teach us, my dear?”

“That God has prepared a heaven for the people he means to save and a hell for the people he means to burn,” said Undine, very gravely, never raising her eyes from the carpet on which they rested.

There was a pause; then came the remark: “Hardly the right way of putting it, my dear. It teaches you that you should be a very good little girl, so that when you die God may take you to heaven and not send you to hell to burn forever and ever.”

“I would much sooner be wicked and go to hell than be good only because I was afraid of going there,” said Undine, now raising her eyes from the carpet and fixing them on the horror-stricken countenance of her instructress.

“Undine!” gasped forth that unfortunate individual. “Undine, what do you mean? You were always an evil and wicked child, but you grow viler every day.”

“Yes,” said Undine, getting off the box, with a face alternately as red as the sprigs on her little print dress and as pale as her little white pinafore—“yes, I don't want to go to heaven, and, if God wants to, he can send me to hell and I will never again ask him not to, never. I know I'm very wicked, but I'm not half so wicked or so cruel as he is. Nothing is, not even the devil. The devil is glad when we go to hell, but he did not make us page: 19 on purpose to send us there, and he did not make hell, and he did not make himself, and I'm sorry for him. I believe he tries to be good and God won't let him, that's what I believe,” said Undine, who, with her wild dark eyes and clenched hands, looked more like some spirit who had just arrived from the regions of which she spoke than a carefully-brought-up little Christian receiving her Sunday lesson.

If she had been Medusa her gaze could not more completely have paralysed her opponent, who sat there as if turned into stone; while the two little pudding-faces looked from one to the other with wild astonishment in their big grey eyes.

Undine clasped her little hands behind her and walked slowly out of the room.

It was the first time that she had ever given utterance to the evil thoughts with which her small and, as she believed, devil-ridden soul was haunted; they were fiendishly evil thoughts, all of them, she knew; but, if they were hers, why should she not give them utterance?

Her little heart swelled so it well nigh suffocated her, but it was with a sense of freedom and strength that she was pacing up and down her little room, when she heard the key turn in the door.

It was pleasant enough to think of having a day all to herself with no fear of interruption and no company but her books; but to think of that clink of the key and know that, wishing it or not, she was page: 20 a prisoner, made her stamp her feet upon the ground as she walked up and down and to rebel in her bitter little heart against all powers, human and divine.

The world was not the place for her, she was feeling persuaded; she was not fit for it. Why then had she been made so bad, and put into it? It was no use saying she ought to be good; she couldn't. The devil did not come to other people and make them think such thoughts as he made her. She felt herself very much aggrieved by these attacks from the infernal regions, and presently became very wrathful. Then reaction set in and she grew sleepy. Lying down upon the floor, she was soon sound asleep, dreaming of the glorious time when she would be a woman and would know everything and be loved by everyone, and when she would be free.

The ringing of the dinner bell wakened her; and, finding that nothing in the shape of food was sent her, she kneeled down before her little bookshelf in search of refreshment of another order. There were delicious fairy tales—Arabian Nights whose old torn pages seemed to emit an odour of myrrh and roses caught from the gardens of Bagdad—Hans Andersen's beautiful song in prose about the mermaid and the young prince—but these and others were of course not to be looked at. It would have hurt the child's conscience as much to have read a fairy tale on Sunday as to have told a lie; one of the crimes which always came to haunt her in the dark watchful page: 21 hours of the night was her having read, on one never-to-be-forgotten Sunday afternoon, a part of that story of “The Mermaid and the Prince.”

So Undine, rebel though she was, touched not, looked not, at the wicked thing, but from its hiding-place behind the other books brought forth a large, dull-coloured, leather-bound volume.

It was A Careful and strict Enquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of the Freedom of Will, which is supposed to be essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame, by Jonathan Edwards, A.B. They would have laughed at her for reading such an old man's book and one with so grandiloquent and lengthy a title, so it was always stowed safely away behind the others where there was no fear of its being discovered by prying eyes. The faded ribbon place-marker had already found its way into the middle of the book, and the child was soon deeply absorbed in sections eight, nine and ten of section two, in part three. She did not get through more than these, for each sentence was found so pregnant with profound and misty thoughts that she was obliged to read it carefully, and often re-read it, before it could be dismissed.

There was a strange contrast between the little reader and her great brown book as she sat there on the floor on that Sunday afternoon. The child so warm, with the wild blood dancing in every vein, page: 22 looking out so eagerly into the world, so ready to give and take—the book so old, so dead, with the life thoughts of another generation petrified in its old yellow leaves, now probably being read for the last time.

The book had belonged to her own father, who, much to the grief of his father, had turned aside from the paths of truth and Arminianism, to the ways of Calvinism and error, and in those evil ways had died.

About three o'clock the key turned and one of the little Dutch girls put her face in at the door.

“You can come out when you like,” she said. Undine did not even raise her eyes from the book, determining to show that she by no means objected to being made a prisoner in her own room; and she would in all probability have remained where she was until called to tea, had she not suddenly remembered Socrates. Of course pride must be swallowed and his wants attended to; so with an air of extreme indifference she made her way through the front room and, having got a mug of water and thrown a large damp towel over the brown kappie, went out into the yard.

She found Socrates lying on the floor of his box, quite exhausted with the heat and very glad to get under the shade of the damp towel. Loosening him from the stand, she carried him down to the little dam, where, under the scant shade of the willow- page: 23 tree, her brother Frank lay reclining on his back. He had thrown open his jacket and waistcoat, more from force of habit than from reason, one would think; for the wind, like the breath from an oven, seemed, in place of cooling, to blight and desiccate all it touched. He was a fine specimen of an English Africander, tall and broad, with a fair handsome face, though rather sleepy-looking just now as he lay with his legs raised against the trunk of the old tree and his hat pulled half over his eyes. With one hand he kept it there while with the other he picked up small bits of baked earth wherewith to pelt the miserable ducks who, red, dirty, and hot, were endeavouring to swim in diluted mud by way of improving their condition.

Undine sat down close to the trunk of the tree, for that cast a small shadow if the branches did not; and for some minutes nothing was said.

“Had him that time,” muttered Frank at last, as a more than usually lucky hit caught the old drake in the eye.

“I wonder why you do that,” said Undine; “everything is miserable in the whole world.”

The only response to this observation was another throw, but presently he said, “So you've been in the wars today, little woman, eh?”

Undine made no reply, but stroked Socrates softly the wrong way.

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“Too bad to make you go without your dinner, little woman, wasn't it?”

“I don't mind that one bit,” said Undine, “but I wish I had never been born. I'm miserable, and nobody loves me.”

“Why, I do, and we all of us do, though you are such a queer little coon,” answered Frank lazily.

“Yes, that's just it,” said Undine, gravely tying Socrates' tail into a knot as she spoke, much to that gentleman's dissatisfaction. “Yes, that's just it; you only care about me because I'm your sister; you call me queer and strange; you don't like me one bit—only Socrates.”

“Well, that is good. How do you know that Socrates likes you, and not the bread and butter you bring him?” asked Frank.

“I know he likes me,” answered Undine, very indignantly. “Can't I see it? Don't I know it? When we sit together of an evening, I can feel he is thinking just what I am, and when I talk to him he understands me. That is what I hate,” said Undine, twisting at the tail more vigorously than ever; “people don't know anything about it, and they say he hasn't got a soul. How do they know, I should like to know? If only people would not talk till they knew, I think the world would be a much nicer place.”

Frank said nothing, but laughed, and directed a bit of mud straight at the tip of Socrates' black nose, page: 25 who merely opened his eyes and closed them again very solemnly.

“I wish I were one of those ducks,” remarked Undine, presently.

“I don't; they look hot,” said Frank; “and I thought you said, just now, everything in the whole world was miserable.”

“Yes, but not so very miserable because they don't think; at least, perhaps they do; but they've no bibles, you see, and I don't think the devil ever tempts them. It would not be worth his trouble, they are so small.”

“If he paid visits only on account of size, I expect you would not see much of him,” said her brother, with an amused expression on his face. “Are bibles your great trouble?”

“Yes,” said Undine, unhesitatingly. “Sometimes I feel quite good, and I am sitting and reading, and I come to something that is quite different from what it was somewhere else. Then the devil makes me think, How can two things that say the opposite both be true? And then I feel wicked and I can't go on reading any more. Sometimes, too, when I'm praying and I feel as though I loved God very much, I remember all at once how it says in the Bible that he never forgives anyone for nothing, but always makes some one suffer pain first; and I remember all the other cruel things it tells about him; and then I hate him, and for a long time I can't pray again. page: 26 Oh dear!” she said after a little pause. “I wish the world belonged to me. I would make it much better; I would let all the devils out of hell and love them and make them good, so there would be no one to tempt the people any more. Did you ever feel so wicked as I do when you were little like me?” asked Undine, looking earnestly at him, as though with the vague hope that his answer might be in the affirmative.

“No, I should rather think not,” was the answer. “I used to make little clay oxen and train kids in an old box and enjoy myself; that is what I used to do when I was your age.”

Undine heaved a little weary sigh and looked at the ducks. “I wonder if there are any people in the world who feel like I do and who have such wicked thoughts,” she said at last.

“Of course there are, and much wickeder, too; there are people who don't believe the Bible is true, or anything else, and they write books also.”

“Do they?” said Undine. “I wish I could read them. Have you ever?”

“No,” said Frank; “it's too much bother; but I will, when I'm a man;” and pulling his hat lower over his eyes, he either made believe to do so or really went to sleep.

Undine did not go away, but sat at his feet, nursing Socrates and watching the ducks, till the koppies page: 27 began to cast long shadows and the fast cooling air told that sunset was not far off.

By and by the back door of the house opened and the whole family appeared equipped for their Sunday evening walk—all, with the exception of the smallest Dutch girl, who, complaining of a headache, was left to keep Undine company.

“Take care of everything; get into no mischief; and above all remember that it is Sunday,” were the parting injunctions which they received as the group, which now included Frank, moved off.

The two children stood still watching them till they passed out of sight. Then Undine, after crying and praying half the night, and reading Edwards and meditating half the day, began to discover that, she was neither anchorite nor saint, but only a very young animal with much wild blood in its young veins that needed circulating. It may have been the evening's cool that made her conscious of this, for it seemed to have an inebriating effect upon Socrates, who leaped, grinned, and turned somersets in a manner truly astonishing.

“I wonder,” said Undine, “if Socrates and I were to run a race, which of us would beat”; and without waiting for a reply, she set about testing the matter at once. With one end of his chain held firmly in her hand they set off, but had not gone thirty paces when it had slipped out and Socrates, chain and all, was making his way to the nearest koppie, with page: 28 jingling, screeching and leaping, much to the mingled horror and delight of his little pursuer. The delight soon vanished, however, for, the koppie reached, Mr. Socrates felt himself quite in his own element, and absolutely refused to be cozened by soft words or specious promises. Seating himself on the top of a large round stone, he would very leisurely stretch out his legs, scratch himself, and then look up into the blue sky with an air of melancholy abstraction; this till his breathless pursuer was within half a foot of him; then, with a whirl, a cry, and a somerset, off to another and more inaccessible stone, round which his little pursuer might dance and beseech in vain, leaping to catch the tip of the chain he left hanging almost within reach of her fingers. It is uncertain how long this game might have continued had not the idea entered Socrates' small head that more fun might be got from scampering over the roofs at home than by remaining where he was.

Accordingly, he was off like an arrow, while Undine followed him breathlessly, minus one shoe and with more rents in her garments than could well be counted. Arrived at the house, she found the exemplary Sennie standing exactly where and as she had left her; except that she had placed one finger in her mouth and partly turned her head to look at Socrates, who was now on the roof of the house, page: 29 busily occupied in pulling out thatch and working away with the greatest dispatch and precision.

Undine quickly saw that, if this were allowed to go on for many minutes, he would have worked his way into the loft and perhaps to a bloody death as the reward of his evil deeds.

What was to be done? She looked at the little Dutch girl in despair; the little Dutch girl looked at her.

“He is naughty,” said that little maiden at length, and then slowly replaced the finger she had taken out of her small mouth. Undine turned away in disgust; there was no help to be got from her, and nothing for it but to climb the roof herself and capture him.

With much difficulty a long ladder was brought which reached just to the top of the wall; and this was soon mounted. Once there, how to get on to the ridge was the question; for at every touch the old thatch crumbled away by handfuls, and she had not crawled many inches before it seemed inevitable that she should soon find herself deposited among the skins in the loft or with the thatch upon the ground.

“You will fall down and die,” said the little Dutch girl, very deliberately, as she watched Undine's perilous ascent with almost as much interest as Socrates, who had now taken his seat on one of page: 30 the gables, and with his chin resting on his hand was contemplating her movements most attentively.

Undine took no notice of either, but continued to climb, doing more harm at every move than Socrates in twenty. The ridge was gained at last, after infinite trouble, but not so Socrates. He waited till her fingers touched his tail; and then, with that appendage cocked high in air, walked off very quietly to the other gable, where he ensconced himself far more comfortably than his little pursuer found it possible to do at hers. There was no getting down again, for the first step down would have been on the ground; there was nothing to be done but sit still and wait. Consequently the appalling and shocking spectacle which met the eyes of the upper powers, on their return home, was Undine, shoeless, kappieless and torn, seated on the ridge and holding on with one arm to the gable, while at the other end Socrates, with clanking chain and tail in air, was dancing a true devil's quadrille. Never were worthy parents and instructors, on their return from a quiet Sabbath ramble, met by so horrific and wrath-rousing a sight.

A second ladder was quickly got and Undine safety deposited upon the ground, where she was instantly marched off into the house to answer for her evil conduct.

“How did you get into this plight, you wicked, wicked little girl?” said her mother.

page: 31

Undine stood with her hands crossed and her eyes fixed on the one little white toe that had forced its way out of the stocking.

“I did not mean to,” she said, feeling very contrite and not a little ashamed of herself.

“Did not mean to! Of course not! You never mean to do anything that you do. The wind loosened Socrates and blew you both up onto the roof of the house! Of course it did; we all know that it did.”

Undine felt very much inclined to say that she was sorry and was not going to do so any more; then she remembered that saying so might make her punishment less, so she stood still and looked down at her toe.

The lean and lanky individual now struck in her note.

“Undine, my dear Undine,” she said in a very low and subdued voice, “if you continue this course of action, what will become of your immortal soul? What will become of it?”

This was too much for Undine who had stood still to receive her bullying, filled with contrition and repentance; it raised all the evil in her nature. “I know I'm wicked and I don't care, and I don't care what becomes of my soul, and I'm not afraid of anything,” said Undine, lifting up her face and throwing back her long tangled hair defiantly.

“Was there ever in this world so evil disposed page: 32 and ungodly a child?” said her spiritual guide, shaking her head solemnly. “Go to bed, Undine; go to bed; I shall say no more to you.”

“Good-night,” said Undine and she walked off to her room with almost a smile upon her face. But once there and alone, she flung her tired little body across the foot of the bed and cried bitterly.

“Oh, I wish I was dead! I wish I was dead! There is nobody like me, and nobody loves me. Oh, I wish I was dead!” And at last, without undressing, fell asleep.