Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options

View Options

Undine. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
page: 307
page: 308



SIX months after, Undine stood in her own little tent, sorting and piling into heaps the ironing she had just finished.

'Twas a New Rush winter's morning; in the blue sky there was not a cloud, and if it was cold and numbing in the inside of tents and on the shady side of gravel-heaps, out in the sunshine it was warm and genial.

She was hurrying to get out into it, and truly to impartial eyes there was nothing very alluring in the interior of the little tent. 'Twas a small place, six feet by eight, and held three packing-cases. The largest was a table, covered over with shirts. The second was a bed; it had low sides which lay flat on the ground and served to keep off the wind which at night blew in chill under the skirting. The smallest had a kind of tick; it was a desk and general repository. It did not lock, but that mattered less, as its only contents were paper scribbled over and clothes that would not have paid a Kaffir the time it took to steal them. It was an empty place, and cheerless it would have looked to other eyes; but to page: 309 Undine not a yellow water stain in the canvas nor a mark in the cracked poles, nor a knot in the rough cases but had its own story, and a pleasant familiar face showed itself in each of them. Even the old black bottle stood in the corner made home, more home. She might have changed it now for a candlestick, but so many pleasant thoughts hung round its old black neck that the bottle kept its ground.

Placing on a tray one of the piles of ironing, and putting on the huge white kappie which had replaced the battered silk hat and very much added to the respectability of the ironing woman, she went out into the sunshine, buttoning down the door after her.

The tent stood in a quiet corner of the Camp on the outskirts of the North End. The only very near neighbours were a family of Dutch Boers who camped on the right. On all other sides it was surrounded by low gravel-heaps, 1 among which the tent nestled like a white bird in a yellow nest, as Undine said when describing it to her little broken-backed friend.

She went to visit her this morning before taking her work to its destination, and found her basking in the warmth at the back of the tent, a veritable Diogenes, with only her head and shoulders sticking out of the great tub in which she had ensconced herself.


page: 310

In answer to her visitor's look of inquiry, she said, “The ground's so wet I can't lie on it, and in here it's so nice. I can rock from side to side. Just see!” And she put the tub in motion, leaning heavily first on one elbow and then on the other.

“And the rose?”

“Oh, it"s all right, but it seems as though spring would never come,” said the girl, touching with her thick little forefinger the still leafless and brown slip that stood in the side of the old three-legged pot.

“You only stayed such a little while yesterday, you must not go soon today,” she said; and Undine put down her tray and sat down on the ground beside her.

“I can"t stay very long today,” she said. “I must try and find the owner of those shirts. Three months ago they were brought me, and no one has ever called for them; I am afraid the person to whom they belong must be poor and need them, they are so fine and so old and worn.”

“He's waited so long, he won't mind waiting a little longer,” said the girl, resting her head in her companion's lap and looking up into her face with her clear grey eyes.

“Tell me what you wrote about last night,” she said.

Undine's hand rested on the same great shock of wild red hair, and the broad freckled face that looked up at hers was the same that six months page: 311 before she had seen for the first time; yet it resembled that face only as a face awake resembles the same face asleep. It was like a dark room into which the sunshine had looked.

“I did not write anything,” said Undine, as she passed her finger tenderly along the lines in the low forehead; “I was so tired I went to sleep with the pen in my hand, and when I woke the candle had quite burnt out.”

“And have you not anything to tell me?”

“No. I have been so busy all the morning.”

“And can't you think while you work?”

“Sometimes, not often; but yesterday evening, when I was putting the collars into starch, a little story came to me that seemed beautiful then, though it does not now. Shall I tell it to you?”

The child nodded; and Undine, running her fingers through and through her coarse hair, began:

“A mother was lying on her bed, dying, and at her side was a very little baby. The people who stood round her thought she knew nothing, saw nothing; and truly she saw none of them. She felt only the touch of the little baby's fingers upon her breast, but she saw what no one else could see—in the far end of the room were two, drawing balls from a box which had no bottom; and Death's balls were the pure white and Life's were the blood red.

“Death was very tall and calm and his face was smooth and white, like a face cut out of marble; his page: 312 eyelids were half closed and in the eyes beneath them lay the shadows of wonderful dreams. Round him was a mantle of many cold grey tints, and his wings were folded close against his side.

“A ball was drawn, and it was Death's white ball; so the mother knew that she must go to him; but when they were going to draw again, she prayed and said:

“‘Stay! stay! O Death; give Life my child!’ For she feared him, he was so still and cold, and they were strange wonderful dreams that wandered beneath his eyelids.

“And Life said, ‘Let the mother see what we have to give it, and she shall decide who is to have the child.’

“And Death bowed his head slowly.

“Now Life was very beautiful; her hair was like the yellow glory of the sunset, and her limbs were strong and soft and round, and her breast was as white as an open lily. Her cheeks were red, so red that the tear traces could hardly be seen on them, and her white dazzling wings were always quivering and expanded, yet they never raised her or took her from the earth. She was very lovely, and the bright robe she wore was of spotless tender green, the colour of the first shoots on the white-thorn tree; only here and there, where it turned up a little, the lining showed it was red and had clots on as though it had been dipped in blood. She was very beautiful; but page: 313 when the mother looked at her forehead, knit with thought and pain, and at her large wide-open eyes through which the light and darkness chased each other endlessly, she feared her also.

“Life spoke first, and her voice was like the singing of the birds in spring-time, and the murmuring of the crowd in a great city, and the weeping of a lonely woman at a graveside, all strangely blended.

“‘Look in my eyes,’ she said, ‘and see what I have to give’; and the mother looked.

“In the streets of a great city rolled the carriage of a rich man, and the mud from its wheels sprang up into the faces of two who were poor and hungry and stood at the corner of the street talking.

“‘Whose carriage is that?’ asked the one.

“‘The man who rides in it is the richest and most fortunate man in all this city,’ answered the other. ‘From his boyhood upwards all that his hand has touched has turned to gold. Misfortune has never crossed him. His very dogs live longer than another's and die easier deaths. We were friends once in our youth, but now he counts his gold by millions, and I have nothing but a starving wife.’

“‘And why do you not go to him for help?’

“‘Because how should he pity me who has never known want, and how should he remember me who has entertained lords and princes?’ But still when they parted the poor man turned his steps towards the house of the great.

page: 314

“‘If I had but half that one of his horses eats I would be happy,’ he thought.

“The fortunate man was walking in his garden. He was very fat, and the only walk he ever took was up and down its gravel paths. The air was rich with the scent of the flowers, and the light of the afternoon sun made the drops of the leaping fountain sparkle more brightly than the diamond on his finger. A small bird was bathing itself in the water.

“‘Now,’ said the rich man, ‘if it were not too much trouble, and the shot worth more than the fruit it eats, I would kill that bird.’

“Then he thought of the grand dinner he was to give the next day, and how his beautiful daughter was to marry one of the great lords who would be there.

“Then he thought how they all envied him his grand old mansion and his priceless horses; then he looked up and saw the poor man standing between him and the sun. He did not know him, for it is very hard to remember people who are so shabby, and so he asked him who he was. The poor man told his story, and when he had finished went back out of that beautiful garden sorry that he had entered it.

“Then the rich man walked up and down again and basked in the sunshine. It was a man's own fault if he had trouble and was poor and friendless, page: 315 for the world was a good world. There was no help for him but in the grave, the poor man had said, and the fortunate man thought, as he walked up and down, what a very great fool he must be. It was such a nice pleasant world this, with its great red sun warming one on a chilly afternoon all for nothing, and ripening one's fruit and vegetables and asking for no pay. It was such a nice pleasant world this, with such a nice pleasant sea, over which pleasant ships could bring pleasant wines and turtles from other pleasant lands. He moistened his lips when he thought of his old, old wines; and then he thought of another disagreeable dark place that the man had spoken of, where there were great cobwebs which were not round old bottles and living things that were not gay horses. That was the place he did not like to think of; it made the sweat stand in great drops on his red neck. Life had been so good to him; she had given him all the sweet and kept back all the bitter; she had brought no tear to his eye since he had been old enough to tell a sixpence from a penny; it would be hard to leave her now, when all men envied him. So he pulled out his watch with its setting of jewels and wondered when the dinner hour would come, and tried to forget that other hour. And at last the dinner hour came, with its guests and its laughter and its wine. And at last that other hour came also—the only hour of which we are all sure; and the page: 316 fortunate man, who had never suffered and never wept and never pitied, went to the place he feared where the living things and cobwebs were. Nobody missed him, nobody wanted him back again—not his pretty daughter, for she had all his money.

“Now, when the mother saw all this, she would have given the child to Death, for she said, ‘It were as well he had died a baby.’

“But Life prevented her: ‘I have other things to give,’ she said.

“And the mother looked. It was a garden again, a wild neglected garden where the flowers and creepers grew rank and free in each other's arms, and beauty was not measured out. At the root of a great tree, almost enfolded and hidden by the shrubs that grew around it, stood a man. His face was young and one to be pitied by the old and wise, for it was very glad and full of hope. In his arms, pressed close to him, was a woman, and not one of the flowers had a face so fair as hers; but, deep in her eyes, crept a look like the look which crept in the eyes of the serpent in that First Garden long ago. They were sweet long kisses; and the words she spoke to him were sweet, the sweet old words of love and faith which women speak to men; and he believed her.

“His heart grew very strong and great through the mighty love that came to him, and their life path lay before him in a mist of light and beauty. Truly page: 317 God's world was good, and the life He gave great and beautiful, and only the pure and true of heart were worthy of it. So he thought; and looked in the eyes of the woman he loved, and pressed his lips to hers, and drew her closer to him, for he never saw the serpent's look that glided in them.

“But the day came, at last, when he did see it—when she looked into his face and laughed, and he knew that when he pressed the woman he loved to his heart it was only the grey old father of lies he had held. Now, life being for him that woman and that woman being evil, he became evil too. For the sake of what he had once loved, he deceived all women, and drank and cursed, and gained gold by evil, and spent it in sin; and men said that, wherever he passed, you might trace him by the ruin and evil he left behind. Yet they envied him, for the women loved him, and where other men would have starved he made gold. He might eat of the fruit of the earth and satisfy himself: its gold, its wine, or its women—they were all free to him who had no conscience to restrain and no faith in a higher power.

“The woman he had once loved was told of him—how the devil befriended his own, how he sinned and came to no evil, and enjoyed life as other men could not.

“Then she said, softly: ‘It was well that I deceived him, very well’; but in her inmost heart she feared to meet him, and when she knew that he was page: 318 dead the world seemed larger to her and her breath came lighter.

“‘I have that to give,’ said Life.

“‘And I have sleep,’ said Death.

“And the mother would have given the child to him, but Life said: ‘I have yet other things to give’; and again she looked.

“There was a street with great and noble houses, and out at the door of one of them came a young man. His shoulders were bent and, as he walked, his eyes were fixed upon the ground; only once he looked up at the great houses at his side and saw the faces of two soft women looking out of a large window. Then he clenched the fingers of the hand that hung at his side till the nails went into the flesh, and clenched his teeth and swore under his breath a bitter oath.

“'Twas a strange presumptuous oath for a man to swear who wore brown threadbare clothes out at elbow and boots that were split and who lived in a garret; for he swore that the day should come when those rich men should ask him to their tables and he would refuse to come, when those white proud women whom he cursed in his bitterness should covet a smile or a word from him, when the world should know him and call him great. This he swore and went home to his garret.

“It was a dreary empty place where the sunlight never entered and where dry bread was eaten and page: 319 where nothing pleasant ever came except only a young girl with hard work-worn hands. She was the landlord's daughter, and she crept in every day to rub the dust off the rotten table and turn the straw mattress and carry out the ashes, if there were any. In the long evening, when to save light he would sit there thinking in the dark, she would sit there too, close beside him with her hard little hand in his, just as she had done when he came there three years before. She had been a child then; she was a woman now; but it made no difference to her.

“One evening she did not come, and he sat there alone, thinking, thinking. The room was very quiet, but there was a great war raging in the man's heart. At last he brought his hand down on the table and swore between his clenched teeth, as he had sworn that day before the rich men's houses.

“‘She will not help me in my work,’ he said; ‘she and her children will be a weight on me, dragging me down. If I stay here it will conquer me. I must leave her, I must leave her, for she cannot help me.’

“So in the grey dawn of the winter morning he stood in the door of his room, ready to leave it for the last time. She was labouring up the stairs with a great heap of coals in her arms.

“‘These are for you,’ she said, her breath coming quick with pleasure: ‘the lodger belowstairs gave them to me. See, how many!’

page: 320

“There were burning drops under his eyelids, but he let her pass into the room; then he said, ‘I am going away.’

“She looked up into his face, for his voice sounded strange, but it was too dark to see him.

“‘Will you stay long?’ she asked.

“Then he told her he was going away forever, that he would never come again; and he shut the door behind him very quickly for fear he might turn back. Quickly he shut it, but it was not quick enough, for he heard the coals fall on the floor, and a low short cry that followed him out into the street and on and on into the long years that followed.

“Years came, years went; his hair grew whiter; his shoulders stooped lower yet; and alone and in bitterness he laboured on.

“‘Oh, you rich and noble,’ he said, ‘you who think no more of me than of the dogs in your kennels; when you vanish and your names are as forgotten as theirs I shall live on, my name shall be immortal!’ And then he pressed his lips together and worked on.

“And at last it came. The world called him great; it wrote of him in its papers; men talked of him on the street, and women in their houses. The children learned to lisp his name; rich men asked him to their dinners; noblewomen came to visit him, only that they might say that they had seen him.

“He was very great, and his fame was very great, page: 321 and his riches were very great; but he was old with work and his life was done.

“‘Put me in my great chair beside the fire,’ he said to his servants, ‘and leave me. You say I am dying—why should you stay for that? You cannot help me.’ So they went out and left him.

“Nodding, dozing in the firelight, he looked up and saw before him, sitting in a velvet armchair, an old man with cap of crimson and a silver silken tassel that was shaking in the firelight. 'Twas the phantom of himself who sat there, nodding in the golden firelight.

“‘You have been fortunate,’ said the phantom; you have succeeded as few men in the world succeed. You are very rich, and all men pray for riches.’

‘I never cared for gold,’ said the great man. ‘Of what use is it to me, alone? Once—’

“He had grown a little deaf of late, and now he could hear less; there was often a low short cry ringing in his ears.

“‘Fools pray for gold,’ he said, ‘not wise men.’

“The phantom nodded. ‘In your youth,’ he said, ‘you swore you would be great and that the high and noble should receive you into their houses, fair women should covet your notice and proud men your visits. You have gained all that; surely you are blessed. It is true you have paid something for it—a little—some pleasure, the rest of a few thou- thousand page: 322 sand nights, the woman you loved—but what is that! Many pay all that and die in a garret, or on a dung-heap. You are blessed!’

“‘If that were all, then better never have been born,’ said the great man, bitterly. ‘They write of me in their papers; I never read their praises now. My house is better—why should I go to theirs! Fair women come to see me—what are fair women to me! They only disturb me with their childish chatter; and sometimes, if they have blue eyes—Ha! if that were all, better to have died a baby.’

“The phantom leaned his hands upon his knees and leered across the firelight.

“‘What has it been for then? All this battling, all this striving, all this heartache? Surely it has not been for nothing?’

“‘No,’ said the great man; ‘it has not been for nothing. The man who looks for happiness in this life is a fool. I live for the future. I would be immortal. Immortal!’

“The phantom leaned back in his armchair and laughed till the silvered tassel of his red cap trembled again in the firelight!

“‘Immortal! I thought you were a great man, yet you juggle with this word immortal, like the rest of your kind. What do you mean by it now? That your name shall live after you are dead? Well, if that is all you seek, you shall have it. They will give you a grand funeral, and write of you in papers page: 323 bordered deep with black, and for a few days, a very few, everyone will speak of you. But there will be no woman to wear one flower the less in her hair, and no man to drink one glass less of wine, because you died that morning. You are a great man, a very great man, so perhaps they will raise a statue of you, and for a few hundred years, now and then, some one will speak of you, oftenest in praise at first, oftenest in blame at last; for to men of the new ideas and the new light the great men of old look very small. Immortal! Ha! Ha! Who are you? What are you?’ laughed the phantom. ‘A paltry two thousand years has dimmed the radiance of her redeemers and prophets; how long do you think earth will remember you?’

“The phantom laughed again and looked into the fire: ‘That coal that is burning there: Five million years ago or so it was a great tree growing in the green old forests. Perhaps it thought it was to be immortalised—immortalised into coal. And so it was, for five million years; but in five minutes it will be ashes now. In five million years where will you be?—Immortal—Ha! Ha! Ha!’ laughed the phantom. ‘Fool! Fool! Fool!’

“With his hands clasped over his face and his head bowed down to his knees, the old man sat.

“‘Oh, my life,’ he cried, ‘my life! I have given it, I have given it, and I have gained nothing.’

“Three days later the great man died, and the page: 324 noble and the great followed him to his grave, and they wrote of him in their papers. They said, ‘Weep, weep, for a great man is dead; weep, weep!’ But for all that, no one wept. Only one half-starved man who lived alone in the garret where he laboured and toiled, he wept for envy, for he said, ‘Why should he have all the good, I all the evil?’

“Then Life dropped her lids for a moment.

“‘And I have rest,’ said Death.

“And the mother would have given him her child, but Life said: ‘Look again, once more;’ and the mother looked for the last time.

“It was four o'clock in the morning, and beside a table, with his forehead resting in his two hands, a man was sitting. The candle was almost burnt out, and soon it would be time for him to go out to his day's work; for all day he stood behind a counter, selling yards of print and muslin to the ladies that came in.

“The other clerks called him fool; if they had known how his nights were spent they would have called him so more often. When their day's work was over they went out to amuse themselves, but he only shut himself up in his room and walked up and down and prayed and wrote himself half mad before the morning came.

“It was well there was no living thing to see him but the little brown mouse that looked out of its hole and wished it could have nibbled at the candle. page: 325 But the candle stood safe and did nothing but devour the bits of paper scribbled over with songs that were always being put to her. She had just devoured two great blue pages, on which was much of such hot talk as comes from young pens at four o'clock in the morning.

“She would get no more, however, for the pen was lying under the table, and the man looked very disconsolate as he sat beside it.

“If he had written anything just now, it would have been: ‘Yes, I'm a great fool, as they say. Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Let us do as the sheep do; they only are wise. Beauty is an angel that no man ever caught; truth is a deception that changes to falsehood while you finger it. We are shadows among shadows. Why be so in earnest? Why make oneself so hot about it all? Why strive and pray and make so great a bluster? Life isn't worth it. Something, nothing, here, gone; let us make the best of it, wear the nicest clothes, eat the nicest meat, and love the easiest love, and believe what comes to hand; tread on, steady and safe, step by step, in the narrow sandy path our fathers cleared from stones and bushes long ago. If this cannot be, why, curse life and die—it is the best thing left.’

“So he thought then, for he was weary, and threw himself down on his bed. Perhaps he slept, but his eyes were heavy and red the next morning as he stood behind the counter, selling ribbons and prints.

page: 326

“So this poor clerk went on, month after month, praying and writing all night and measuring off dresses by the yard all day; but at last it happened that one of his dreams took a human shape, and a pair of clear still eyes looked into his life and made him richer than the great princes of the Golden Isles, whose houses and whose shoes are covered with jewels. It was true, as men speak, that the eyes belonged not to him but to a woman who was nothing to him—a woman who was high above him and who would surely be carried, some day, to another man's home. Yet when he was beside her she spoke to him kindly, and in her face he found the beauty in her mind, the truth he dreamed of. He knew that she was his though she did not love him, for he loved her, and no one could ever take her from him, not she herself.

“He heard at last that she was going to be married, and then he left the town and went far, far away, and for a little time there was a heavy aching at his heart all day as he stood behind the counter or sat alone in his silent room. But at last the aching went, and there was only gladness left. He had not her body, it was true, but her beautiful soul was living somewhere and it was true and real, and the earth was never again quite empty for him.

“The years passed on, and they still called him a fool, for he made no money. He never stayed long enough in any place, but wandered on from town page: 327 to town and land to land, just when the longing seized him. Sometimes a child's face, or a reach of sea beach, or the charm of snow-crowned mountains made him pause a little, but having got all they had to give, he wandered on again.

“He made no money and no friends, this poor fool of a clerk. Only sometimes, when pain or sorrow would draw people to him, they would enter his life for a little time; but when they were comforted they would go out of it again, and he would go on with his wanderings and sing his songs and smile and love the beautiful green old earth.

“Sometimes his songs were sad, but oftener they were glad, for it did not take much to make him happy—a little stream of sunlight breaking in through the goods within the window, or the shadows which the trees cast as he passed below them on his way to work or to lie on the grass on Sunday morning and watch the rippling in the pool of water; that was enough to make life sweet to him—so sweet that, when the death he had once longed for came to him, he was almost sorry to leave it. Yet it seemed so pleasant to think of lying deep in the soft old earth he loved, and he was glad he had lived. There was not one night of sleepless agony, nor one hour of bitterness he would have missed, even if he might. It was all good, looked at from the end. Life lay very beautiful behind, and death was not terrible, only very strange.

page: 328

“He died young and they buried him in the earth he loved; but there was not a tear shed over him. For why? What had he done all his life? Sold a few yards of print and ribbon, cast up a few accounts, suffered a little agony, prayed a little, doubted a little, comforted a few people who were sad; and for the rest lived much as the birds live, singing and loving and revelling in the sunshine.

“‘I have that to give,’ said Life.

“And the mother said: ‘Take my child. Your best is bitter sweet, but it is sweet.’

“So Death took the mother and Life the child.”

When Undine had finished her story they sat quiet for a little time. Then the girl said, “It's because such beautiful stories come to you that you are never miserable and are always smiling. I like this story.”

“I like them too,” said Undine, “when they come to me as I am at my work. They seem so beautiful, they make the blood run all through my body with little throbs; but when I try to write or tell them I wonder what I liked in them. But I must be going now, Diogenes, or Mr. William Brown will be without a shirt and dying of the cold.” And Undine got up and put her tray upon her arm.

“Diogenes—what does that mean?”

“Why, Diogenes was a man who lived in a tub, as you are doing today; and I call you Diogenes be- because page: 329 cause I like to call my friends by names that no one else has for them.”

“Am I your friend?” A strangely bright look came into the little freckled face that looked up at her out of the tub.

Undine answered, “Yes, my only little friend.”

She was turning to go when Diogenes stopped her:

“Do you really think people do nothing but dream after they are dead? You said Death's eyes were full of dreams.”

“No, I don't think so,” said Undine, trying to balance the tray on her head and finally returning it to her arms. “The stories come to me just as they like. I never think about them.”

“I'm sorry,” said Diogenes, still resting her folded arms on the ground and looking up. “Last night I dreamt my rose bush had a great white rose and you had it in your hair, and you and I were walking over little sandhills. The air was so cool and it was dark as though there was going to be a great storm; I was looking up into your face, and you were looking straight out before you, and your eyes were so strange. And at last we came to the sea, and you said you were going over it. It was a sad dream, but I liked it, and when I woke up father was drunk and they were all quarrelling and I wished I had never woken up any more. It's so nice to dream.”

page: 330

“Yes, dreams are nice. Good-bye.” And the little ironing woman trudged off with her shirts, leaving Diogenes with enough food for reverie, conjecture and enjoyment for the rest of the day.

The owner of the shirts, she had been told by the Kaffir who brought them, lived near the Circus; that his name was W. Brown the shirts themselves told her; but to discover his whereabouts seemed a hopeless task.

Most people answered her shortly enough. One old woman, in answer to her questions, began the long story of one Bill Brown, who might be the Bill Brown she was in search of, who had lived at Graaff Rienet, who had set out for the Fields, but who, as turned out in the sequel, had died before reaching them.

He could hardly be the owner of the shirt, nor yet the widow Brown to whose tent some well-disposed digger sent her. Undine was giving up the quest when a Kaffir woman, hearing her question, directed her to a small tent the top of which was just visible behind its larger compeers.

Making her way between the tents over broken bottles, empty tins and rubbish of all kinds, Undine soon found herself before it, and a glance through its open door convinced her that she had found the right place at last.

'Twas a tent of about the size of her own, but its interior presented an infinitely more comfortless ap- appearance page: 331 pearance, though it was furnished with a wooden stretcher, two camp stools and a huge padlocked sea-chest.

The gravel that covered the floor was trodden into mounds and heaps of all sizes. More laths of the wooden stretcher hung down broken than were left to support the red sand-coloured bedding that lay on it. On the sea-chest that stood in the middle of the tent was such a multifarious and miscellaneous collection of articles as surely never sea-chest bore before. There were tins and bottles of every description, the latter crowned with the remains of half burnt candles; there were old newspapers and shoe blacking, books and a pepper caster, pens and cigar ends, a paint box and a broken looking-glass, a microscope and combs, hair brushes, tooth brushes, boot brushes, nail brushes and a papier-mache desk on which was a silver-clasped album across which lay the broken head of a pick; these with an infinitude of other smaller and larger articles covered it. On the ground at its side lay an empty meal sack, the last of whose contents had evidently been used to compose the great leadeny-looking roaster-cake that was standing beside a tin mug of water on the sea-chest; the look of the roaster-cake was not inviting, except it were to throw at the head of an enemy, yet some one had evidently tried to put it to some other use, for there were small pieces chipped off every here and there.

page: 332

Close beside the sea-chest, on one of the camp stools leaning against the central pole, with his head hanging on his breast, sat a man. He was in digger trim, with his shirt sleeves rolled up above his elbows, perhaps to hide their frayed and worn condition, certainly not for work, for the long arms they left uncovered seemed hardly strong enough to raise themselves, still less to handle sieve or pick. His eyes were closed, but a very light tap at the door-post caused him to raise his head and look up heavily at the white-clad figure that stood in his doorway.

If he were Mr. Brown, she said, she had brought his shirts.

A slight flush came into his face.

“I don't want them; you had better take them and keep them as payment,” he said; then he drooped back into his old posture.

He was greatly changed, but, when he looked up, Undine at once recognised him as the passenger who, on that first morning on board the steamer had seemed the only glad thing in harmony with the fresh breezy water and the sweeping sea-birds.

He was in harmony with his surroundings now also, for the broken tins and bottles and the old stretcher did not look more hopelessly down-and-out and good-for-nothing than their master.

Undine looked at his wasted arms, at the empty meal sack, and the leaden roaster-cake, and listened to his hollow cough, and wondered where the long- page: 333 whiskered captain and his brilliant sister might be. Perhaps they were only of the sunflower species whom only fools think to find growing in the shade.

She watched him in silence for a minute, then she stepped lightly into the tent and, putting her tray down on the floor, came and stood beside him. It was not till she had spoken twice and touched him softly on the shoulder that he seemed to hear her.

“You are very ill,” she said. “Have you much pain?”

“No,” he answered, heavily, without raising his head or opening his eyes.

“Have you been ill long?”

“Yes—no—I don't know;” and a long hollow cough followed.

“Would you not feel a little better if you tried to lie down? It must be very hard to sit up here,” she said, gently.

“I would, but it's such a long way.”

He raised his head again and looked with his heavy eyes across the three feet that separated him from his stretcher as a man might to a land of promise across an ocean.

Undine shook out the pillows and smoothed the blanket, and putting his hand on her shoulder helped him to reach it.

He did not thank her, but dropped down on it with a weary sigh. He had bonny light curls like page: 334 some one she had cared for long ago, and he had broken boots and stockings so old that the red flesh showed through. She hardly knew which drew her to him most, the curls or the boots, for there is something achingly pitiable in broken boots.

When a man who has called himself a gentleman falls to that, he can fall no lower.