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him the while I busied myself like sin, you can never undo with the last turn of the cook- it, whatever forgiveness you ing and set the table to rights. win. But a leaf or two bruised But he glanced at me from between two clean pebbles, and time to time with something the pebbles boiled with the of surprise and disapproval: stew, spices the whole thing perhaps a white woman with as a touch of devil spices a no Kafir servant had never met his eyes before. Kornel did not miss the expression of his face.
"Well,' said Kornel, ragout is a fowl cooked Christina has cooked it. It is a very favourite dish among the rich men in Johannesburg. If you will draw up your chair to the table you shall see.'
"It is true that I had a good hand with a fowl, stewed in a fashion of my own, which was mainly the outcome of ignorance and emergency; but it was very fortunate that on that day of all days the contrivance should have turned out so well. It was tender, and the flesh was seasoned to just the right flavour by the stuff I stewed with it-certain herbs, Katje, and a hint of a whiff of garlic. Garlic is a thing you must not play with:
"You may be sure I was anxious about it, and watched Kornel and my pa as they started to eat. Kornel swallowed his first mouthful with an appearance of keen judgment; then he winked swiftly to me, and nodded slightly. It was his praise of the dish. Oh, if you had known my man, you would not need telling that that was enough for me. My father commenced to eat as though curious of the food before him. He gave no sign of liking or otherwise; but presently he squared his shoulders, drew his chair closer to the table, and gave his mind to the matter.
"That's right, walk into it,' said Kornel.
"It is very good indeed,' said my father, eating thoughtfully, and presently I helped him to some more. Kornel gave him soda water with whisky in it, and thereafter there were other things to eat
nearly thirty shillings' worth. After that they sat and smoked, and drank the strong coffee I made for them, and passed the whisky bottle to and fro between them. All the while Kornel babbled amiably of foolish things, sunsets, and Shakespeare and the ways of women,- till I caught myself wondering whether indeed he relished the change from the
wide clean veld of the farm to this squalid habitation of toil.
"I suppose,' said my father at last, when Kornel had finished talking about sunsets, -'I suppose a ragoo, as you call it, is very expensive to make?' "I really couldn't say,' answered Kornel. 'But should think not.'
"H'm; and you think a Kafir could not be taught to make them?'
"Kornel laughed. 'I should be sorry to try,' he said.
"My father pondered on that for a while, smoking strongly and glancing from time to time
"I'm growing an old man,' he said at last, and old men are lonely at the best."
do not take the bread out of the mouths of Kafirs.'
"I see,' answered Kornel briefly; and I, who watched him, knew from his voice that there was to be no truce after that, that we should still earn our livelihood by the mud bricks.
"You will come?' asked my father.
"Good Lord, no!' replied Kornel. 'You would weary me to death in a week. I don't mind being civil when we meet, but live with you! It would be to make oneself a vegetable.'
"My father heard him out with a grave face, and then rose to his feet. There was a stateliness in his manner that
"Some seem to wish it,' grieved me, for when a man meets a rebuff with silence and dignity he is ageing.
"I say they are lonely,' repeated my father sharply. 'I have no wife, and I cannot be bothered with getting another at my time of life.' He shook his grey head sadly. 'Not that I should have to look far for one,' he added, however.
"Kornel laughed, and my father looked at him angrily.
"If it had not been for you,' he said, 'I should still have had my daughter Christina to live with me. I am tired of being alone, and I cannot nurse the wrong done me by my own flesh and blood. You and Christina had better come out to the farm and live with me.'
"And leave my business?' asked Kornel.
"Oh, there is mud and water on the farm, if your business pleases you,' retorted my father. 'But out there we
"You are right, perhaps,' he said. 'I don't know, but you may be. Anyhow, I have enjoyed an excellent meal, and I thank you. Goodbye, Christina !'
"When he was gone, Kornel turned to me.
"It is evident you cannot have both a husband and a father,' he said; 'but I am sorry for the rudeness, kleintje. He is a greater man than I.'
"I think you might have made it otherwise,' I answered, for my heart ached for my father.
"He shrugged his shoulders. 'You must manage to forgive me,' he said. 'I have a thousand dozen bricks to make, and that will be punishment enough.'
"But you will not start
again to-night!' I cried, for it was already the thin end of evening, and he was taking off his clean clothes.
"A thousand dozen is a big handful,' he answered, smiling. There's nothing like getting a grip on the work ahead."
"So in a few minutes he was down in the water again, and the mud flew as he worked at the heart-breaking task he had taken upon him. After all, the 'ragout' was expensive to make. It came dearer than we expected.
"Late into the night he held on, though thrice I went out to the bank of the stream to beg him to quit it and come to bed. There was a great pale moon that night, which threw up the colours of things strongly, and I have yet in my mind and my heart-that picture, the stained water, and the bank of grey mud over it, and between the two my Kornel bent over the endless boxes, vehemently working with no consideration for the limits of his strength. His arms gleamed with the wet, and were ceaseless he might have been dumb machine, without capacity for weariness. If he had toiled before, now he toiled doubly there was a trouble in his mind to be sweated out and a debt of money to be repaid. And also, like a peril always near at hand, there was the thin margin that stood between us and starvation.
beside me with the limpness of a man spent to the utmost ounce. He slept without turning on his side, his worn hands, half-closed, lying loosely on the quilt. Yet within an hour after daylight he rose with narrow, sleep - burdened eyes, fumbled into his clothes, and staggered out to the spruit again, to resume his merciless work with the very fever of energy. The Kafirs that worked leisurely on the next plot stopped to look at him and to wonder at the speed with which the rows of drying bricks lengthened and multiplied. I saw them pointing as I stood at the door, heavyhearted and anxious, and envied the ease of their manner of life, and the simplicity that could be content with such work at such a wage. Yes, I have envied Kafirs, Katje: there are times for all women when we envy the dead.
"But it was the day after that that the trouble came upon us, great and violent and unawaited. Kornel had been up at daybreak again, working as strongly as ever, though his a mouth was loose with the strain and his face very yellow and white. The drying and the dry bricks were lying on the ground in long rows, and some which were hard were already stacked to make room for others. It was a tremendous output for one man in the time it had taken; and when the Kafirs turned out, gabbling and laughing as usual, they stopped to look in surprise at our plot and the great quantity of bricks. They
"When he came to bed at length, he lay down without the greeting he was wont to give me-lapsed into his place
VOL. CLXXVIII.—NO. MLXXXI.
gathered in a group, and talked among themselves and pointed, and presently I was aware there was something toward. One of them in particulargreat brown brute, with bulky shoulders and huge armsseemed to be concerned in the affair he stared continually towards Kornel, and talked loudly, his voice running up into the squeak of a Kafir when he is excited, or angry, or afraid; and presently he stepped over our border line and walked down to the bricks. He was jabbering to himself all the time as he stooped and picked up bricks and examined them closely, and glanced down to the spruit where Kornel was still working.
"I watched him, but I said nothing, hoping he would go away before Kornel saw him; but he kept on, and presently my man looked up.
"He saw the Kafir at once, and climbed up the bank pretty quickly. There was something like a smile on his face, a look as though he had found the relief he needed. He walked swiftly over to the Kafir.
"What are you doing here?' he demanded, keeping his eyes unwinkingly on the staring eyes of the Kafir.
"The latter held a dried brick in his great paw, and now he thrust it forward and broke into a torrent of speech. He accused Kornel of having trespassed in the night and stolen the bricks of the Kafirs. No man, he said, could have made so many by himself; and then he began to call names. I shuddered and put my hands
before my face, and took them down again in time to see Kornel's fist fly up and out, and the great Kafir reel back from a vicious blow in the face. "But he gave way for a moment only. Next instant he recovered and his huge arm rose, and I screamed and ran forward as the brick, dry and hard as a stone, struck Kornel on the head and tumbled him, loosely like a dead man, among the rows of bricks about him. I did not see the Kafir run away, I saw only the thin white face of my man turned up to the sun, and the blood that ran from his brown hair. I lifted his head and called to him; but his head lolled on his shoulders, and I let him lie while I ran out crying to find help.
"It was some of the yellow folk who carried him in for me, and brought the German doctor. Kornel was on the bed when he came, and he caused the cut to be bandaged, and then spoke abstrusely of the effect of the blow, so that I understood nothing at all. I learned, however, how I was to tend him, how feed him, and how he would lie unconscious for long intervals when there would be nothing at all to do for him. But he told me I had nothing to fear in the end. Indeed, he had a kind of cheeriness which seems to belong to doctors, which did much to comfort me and steady me for what was to come. Kornel would not die, he said; and it was that assurance I chiefly needed.
"The day went slowly for
me, I can tell you. There was yet food enough in the house to last us a little while, and I made a mess for Kornel, and ate what I wanted myself. He recovered his sense of things once or twice, but when night came he dropped off again into a stupor from which he was not to be roused, and it was then I left him. I felt as though I were a traitor to him in his weakness; but my mind had buzzed hopelessly all day about the problem of our mere living, and I saw nothing else for it, so down I went to the spruit to earn what I might for my sick husband.
"The moon gave me light, and I had watched Kornel often enough to know how to go about the work. But the water, as it flowed about my legs, bit me with a chill that made me gasp, and the effort of the work, the constant bending and lifting, tried every muscle in my body. I had seen the cruelty of the work in its traces on Kornel, and knew how little it gave and how much it took; but with this first trial of it came the realisation, never lost since, of how gallant a man I had chosen to stand between me and the world, and how much I owed him. I had not time to think a great deal, for the torture of brickmaking is partly in the fact that while it wrenches the body, it joins the mind to its infinite triviality. If you think, you do not pack the mud as it must be packed, and the sun crumbles your bricks to dust. It is no task for a real man at all; even
for a woman, it debases, it unmakes, it breaks.
"I worked hard at it, husbanding my strength, and within an hour I was weak and foolish with the effort. Twice I had left it to go in and see if all was well with Kornel, and this rested me; but I was now resolved that I must rest no more, if ever our debt was to be paid and bread earned for the grim days to come. So I stayed in the bitter water and worked on, till even the sense of pain was dulled and it seemed that I was past the capacity of feeling.
"I was toiling thus (never mind my old troubles, Katje dear; this is years ago) when a sound came to my ears that caused me to look up. It had been going on for some time, persisting till it gained my notice, and suddenly I became aware that there were men on our ground among the bricks. I climbed half-way up the bank to look at them, where they could not see me; and I saw several dark figures bent to some business or moving here and there. I caught the sound of hushed voices, too, though no words; and then the hot wrath set my blood racing as I realised what was going on. The Kafirs, who knew my man was wounded and helpless,the very beast who had felled him, were stealing the bricks he had laboured so stoutly to make. My head swam with a delirium of vivid anger at the meanness of the crime, and without calculation, with no thought of fear, I scrambled up and ran at them, shouting.