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"I have a piece of waste on the dorp road, near the spruit,' answered Kornel. 'There is a kind of hut on it. That is all. It is only two morgen' [four acres].
"My father sat shaking his head in silence for a long time, while Kornel clenched and unclenched his hands and stared at the floor and frowned. put my hand on his shoulder, and he trembled.
"It is an affliction,' said my father at last, and no doubt you know very well what you have done to deserve it. But it might be worse. You might have had a wife, and then what would you have done?'
"One is wise to honour one's parents always, but one cannot be blind. I think my father might sometimes have spoken less and done better for it.
"We have talked about Christina yonder,' continued my father, pointing at me with the stem of his pipe. 'It is a good thing it went no further than talk.'
"But it did,' I said quickly. 'It went much further. It went to my promise and Kornel's; and if I am ready to keep mine now, I shall not look to see him fail in his.'
"Ah! He never needed any but the smallest spur. Your true man kindles quickly. At my word he sprang up and his arm folded me. I gasped in the grip of it.
"When one's bed is on the veld,' he said, 'it is not the time to remember a promise to a girl. It is easier to find a bedfellow than a blanket sometimes. And then, I am to be considered, and I cannot suffer this kind of thing.'
"I think you will have to manage it,' answered Kornel. "Do you?' said my father. 'Well, I have nothing to give you. Christina, come here to me!'
"Kornel loosed his arm and set me free, but I stayed where I was.
"Father,' I cried, 'I have promised Kornel.'
"Come here!' he said again. Then, when I did not move, disobeying him for the first time in my life, his face darkened. 'Are you not coming?' he said.
"No!' I answered, and my man's arm took me again, tight-tight, Katje.
"Well,' said my father, 'you had better be off, the two of you. Do not come here again.'
"We can do that much to please you,' answered Kornel, with his head very high. 'Come, Christina !'
"And I followed him from my father's house. I had not even a hat for my head.
"We were married forthwith, of course-no later than the next day,-and the day after that I rode with my man to the plot beside the dorp spruit to see our home that had to be. That was a great day for me; and to be going in gentle companionship with Kornel across the staring veld and along the empty road was
a most wonderful thing, and its flavour is still a relish to my memory. I knew that he feared what we were to seethe littleness and mean poverty of it, after the spaciousness of the farm; but most of all it galled him that I should see it on this our first triumphant day. He was very gentle and most loving, but shadows grew on his face, and there was a track of worry between his brows that spurred me. I knew what I had to do, now that our fortunes were knitted, and I did it.
"The plot was a slope from the edge of the dorp to the little spruit, not fenced nor sundered in any way from the squalid brick which houses the lower end of Dopfontein. Full in face of it was the location of the Kafirs; around it and close at hand were the gross and dirty huts of the offcolours [half-castes]. The house, which was in the middle of the plot, was a bulging hovel of green brick, no more stately or respectable than any of the huts round about. As our horses picked their way through the muck underfoot, and we rode down to it, the off-colours swarmed out of their burrows and grinned and pointed their fingers at us.
"Kornel helped me from my saddle, and we went together to see the inside of the house. It was very foul and broken, with the plain traces of Kafirs in each of its two rooms, and a horrid litter everywhere. As I looked round I saw Kornel straighten himself quickly, and my eyes went to his.
"This is our home,' he said
bluntly, with a twitching of the cheek.
"Perhaps,' he said in the same hard tone, as if he were awaiting an onslaught of proach,-'perhaps I was wrong to bring you to this, but it is too late to tell me so now. It is not much
"I broke in and laughed. 'You will not know it when I have set it to rights,' I answered. 'It shall be a home indeed by the time I am through with it.'
"His cheek twitched yet, as though some string under the flesh were quivering with a strain.
"It's you and me against all the evil luck in the world,' he cried, but his face was softening.
"I cowered within the arm he held out to me, and told him I was all impatience to begin the fight. And he cried on my shoulder, and I held him to me and soothed him from a spring of motherhood that broke loose in my heart.
"Within a week we were living in the place, and, Katje! I hope you will feel yet for some roof what I felt for that, with all its poorness. It was the first home of my wifehood: I loved it. I worked over it as later I worked over the children God bestowed on me, purging it, remaking it, spending myself on it, and gilding it with the joy of the work. From the beams of the roof to the step of the door I cleansed it with my hands, marking it by its spotlessness for the habitation of white folk among the yellow people all around.
Kornel did little to aid me in that for the most part he was seeking work in the town; and even when he was at home I drove him sharply from the labour that was mine, and mine alone. The yellow people were very curious about it all, and would stand and watch me through the door till Kornel sjamboked them away; and even then some of their fat talkative women would come round with offers of help and friendship. But though we were fallen to poverty, we had not come so low as that; and few came to me a second time, and none a third.
"Very well,' I said; but, remember, we sink or soar together, and in neither case will I blame you. If you get white man's work, you shall have a white man's wife; but if you are going to do the work of Kafirs'
"Yes,' he said; and what then?'
"In that case,' I answered, 'I shall do washing to eke it out and be a level mate for you.'
"By God, you won't!' he cried, and his hand came down hard on the table. There was no mistaking his face; the command and the earnestness of it lighted up his eyes. I stared at him in a good deal of surprise, for though I had known it was there, this was the first I had seen of the steel strain in my man.
"Call it Kafir work, or what you please,' he went on, with a briskness of speech that made answer impossible. 'You will keep this house and concern yourself with that only. The gaining of money is my affair. Leave it to me, therefore.'
"I cast down my eyes, knowing I must obey, but a little while after I asked him again what the work was to be.
"Making bricks,' he answered. 'Here we have the spruit at our door and mud for the picking up. It needs only a box-mould or two, and it will be funny if I can't turn out as many good bricks in a day as three lazy Kafirs. Old Pagan, the contractor, has said. he will buy them, so now it only remains to get to work.'
"As he said this, I noticed
the uneasiness that kept him from meeting my eye, for in truth it was a sorry employ to put his strength to,-a dirty toil, all the dirtier for the fact that only Kafirs handled it in Dopfontein, and the pay was poor. From our door one could always see the brickmaking going on along the spruit, with the mud-streaked niggers standing knee-deep in the water, packing the wet dirt into the boxes, and spilling them out to be baked in the sun or fired, as the case might be. There was too much grime and discomfort to it to be a respectable trade.
"But Kornel went to work at once, carrying down boxmoulds from the contractor's yard, and stacking them in the stiff grey mud at the edge of the spruit. I went with him to see him start. He waded down over his boots, into the slow water, and plunged his arms elbow-deep into the mud.
666 "Here's to an honest living,' he said, and lifted a great lump of slime into the first box and kneaded it close. Then, as he set it aside and reached for the next, he looked up to me with a smile that was all awry. My heart bled for him.
"But there's no time to be polite,' he said, as the mud squelched into the second box. 'Here's the time to prove how a white man can work when he
goes about it. So run back to the house, my kleintje, and leave me to make my fortune.'
"And forthwith he braced himself and went at that sorry work with all his fine strength. I had not the heart to stay
by him: I knew that my eyes upon him were like offering him an insult, and yet I never looked at him save in love. But once or twice I glanced from the doorway and saw him bowed still over that ruthless task, slaving doggedly, as good men do with good work.
"When the evening meal was due he came in, drenched from head to foot, and patched and lathered with the pale sticky mud; but though he was so tired that he drooped like a sick man where he stood, his face was bright again and his eyes were once more a-twinkle with hope and confidence.
"As he changed his clothes and washed himself, he talked cheerily to me through the wall, with a spirit like a boy's.
"I've begun, at any rate,' he called out, and that's a great thing. If I go as far forward as I've gone back, I shall be satisfied. Where did you say the comb was?'
"And all through supper he chattered in the same vein, rejoicing in the muscles that ached with work and in his capacity to do more and bear more than the Kafirs who were his rivals. For me, I was pleased enough and thankful to hear the heart of him thus vocal, and to mark the man I knew of old and chose to be my mate come to light in this labourer, new from his toil.
"We did not sit late that night, for, with all his elation and reawakened spirits, Kornel was weary to the honest bone of him, and swayed with sleep as he stood on his feet. He rolled into my clean, cool sheets with a grunt of utter satis
faction. 'This is comfort indeed,' he said drowsily, as I leaned over him, and he was asleep before I had answered.
"At daylight he rose and went forth to the spruit again, and there all day he laboured earnestly. Each time that I looked towards him I saw his back bent and his arms plunging in the mud, while the rows of wet bricks grew longer and multiplied. I heard him whistling at it-some English melody he had gathered long before at a wapenschauw-with a light heart, the while he was up to his knees in the dirty water, with the mud plastered all over him.
"By-and-by I went down to the bank and asked him how he did. He straightened himself, grimacing humorously at the stiffness of his back, and answered me cheerily.
"To-morrow old Pagan will come down and pay for what I have done,' he said. 'I think he will be surprised at the amount. His Kafirs have no such appetite for it as I.' And he laughed.
"It was a dreadful business he had taken in hand, and work hard beyond believing. The boxes stood in a pile above the stream, and each had to be reached down as one was filled, and as soon as two were full Kornel must climb the bank to set them aside. When all were full, they had to be turned out on the level ground, and all this, as you can see, meant that he must scramble up and down in the heavy mud, taxing every spring in his poor body. Yet he toiled ceaselessly, attacking the job with a kind of
light-hearted desperation that made nothing of its hardships, bringing to it a tough and unconquerable joy in the mere effort, which drove him ever like a spur.
"As I watched him delving, I thought that here a woman could render some measure of help, and as he turned from talking to me I began to empty out the boxes that were ready and to stack them again on the pile. I had not yet turned out ten bricks when he saw me, and paused in his melancholy work.
"Stop that!' he cried, and scrambled out of the spruit to where I stood. 'I suppose,' he went on, 'you would like your father to know that I had suffered you to work for me like a Kafir.'
"Kornel!' I cried in horror. "But he was white on the cheekbones and breathing hard, and I could not soften him.
"Rich man's daughter or poor man's wife,' he said, 'you are white, and must keep your station. It is my business to sell myself, not yours. Get you back to the house I have given you, and stay there.'
"And with that he picked up the soft bricks I had turned for him, and threw them one by one into the spruit.
'Poverty and meanness and all,' he added, 'it shall not be said at your father's house that you worked for me. Nor that you lacked aught it became you to have, neither,' he added, with a quick heat of temper. Get to your house.'
"I slunk off, crying like a child, while he went back to the mud-and the labour.