At last came the year of the great drought, the year of eighteen-sixty-two. From end to end of the land the earth cried for water. Man and beast turned their eyes to the pitiless sky, that like the roof of some brazen oven arched overhead. On the farm, day after day, month after month, the water in the dams fell lower and lower; the sheep died in the fields; the cattle, scarcely able to crawl, tottered as they moved from spot to spot in search of food. Week after week, month after month, the sun looked down from the cloudless sky, till the karoo-bushes were leafless sticks, broken into the earth, and the earth itself was naked and bare; and only the milk- bushes, like old hags, pointed their shrivelled fingers heavenward, praying for the rain that never came.
It was on an afternoon of a long day in that thirsty summer, that on the side of the kopje furthest from the homestead the two girls sat. They were somewhat grown since the days when they played hide-and-seek there, but they were mere children still.
Their dress was of dark, coarse stuff; their common blue pinafores reached to their ankles, and on their feet they wore home-made velschoen.
They sat under a shelving rock, on the surface of which were still visible some old Bushman paintings, their red and black pigments having been preserved through long years from wind and rain by the overhanging ledge; grotesque oxen, elephants, rhinoceroses, and a one-horned beast, such as no man ever has seen or ever shall.
The girls sat with their backs to the paintings. In their laps were a few fern and ice-plant leaves, which by dint of much searching they had gathered under the rocks.
Em took off her big brown kapje and began vigorously to fan her red face with it; but her companion bent low over the leaves in her lap, and at last took up an ice-plant leaf and fastened it on to the front of her blue pinafore with a pin.
"Diamonds must look as these drops do," she said, carefully bending over the leaf, and crushing one crystal drop with her delicate little nail. "When I," she said, "am grown up, I shall wear real diamonds, exactly like these in my hair."
Her companion opened her eyes and wrinkled her low forehead.
"Where will you find them, Lyndall? The stones are only crystals that we picked up yesterday. Old Otto says so."
"And you think that I am going to stay here always?"
The lip trembled scornfully.
"Ah, no," said her companion. "I suppose some day we shall go somewhere; but now we are only twelve, and we cannot marry till we are seventeen. Four years, five–that is a long time to wait. And we might not have diamonds if we did marry."
"And you think that I am going to stay here till then?"
"Well, where are you going?" asked her companion.
The girl crushed an ice-plant leaf between her fingers.
"Tant Sannie is a miserable old woman," she said. "Your father married her when he was dying, because he thought she would take better care of the farm, and of us, than an English woman. He said we should be taught and sent to school. Now she saves every farthing for herself, buys us not even one old book. She does not ill-use us–why? Because she is afraid of your father's ghost. Only this morning she told her Hottentot that she would have beaten you for breaking the plate, but that three nights ago she heard a rustling and a grunting behind the pantry door, and knew it was your father coming to spook her. She is a miserable old woman," said the girl, throwing the leaf from her; "but I intend to go to school."
"And if she won't let you?"
"I shall make her."
The child took not the slightest notice of the last question, and folded her small arms across her knees.
"But why do you want to go, Lyndall?"
"There is nothing helps in this world," said the child slowly, "but to be very wise, and to know everything–to be clever."
"But I should not like to go to school!" persisted the small freckled face.
"And you do not need to. When you are seventeen this Boer-woman will go; you will have this farm and everything that is upon it for your own; but I," said Lyndall, "will have nothing. I must learn."
"Oh, Lyndall! I will give you some of my sheep," said Em, with a sudden burst of pitying generosity.
"I do not want your sheep," said the girl slowly; "I want things of my own. When I am grown up," she added, the flush on her delicate features deepening at every word, "there will be nothing that I do not know. I shall be rich, very rich; and I shall wear not only for best, but every day, a pure white silk, and little rose-buds, like the lady in Tant Sannie's bedroom, and my petticoats will be embroidered, not only at the bottom, but all through."
The lady in Tant Sannie's bedroom was a gorgeous creature from a fashion- sheet, which the Boer-woman, somewhere obtaining, had pasted up at the foot of her bed, to be profoundly admired by the children.
"It would be very nice," said Em; but it seemed a dream of quite too transcendent a glory ever to be realized.
At this instant there appeared at the foot of the kopje two figures–the one, a dog, white and sleek, one yellow ear hanging down over his left eye; the other, his master, a lad of fourteen, and no other than the boy Waldo, grown into a heavy, slouching youth of fourteen. The dog mounted the kopje quickly, his master followed slowly. He wore an aged jacket much too large for him, and rolled up at the wrists, and, as of old, a pair of dilapidated velschoens and a felt hat. He stood before the two girls at last.
"What have you been doing today?" asked Lyndall, lifting her eyes to his face.
"Looking after ewes and lambs below the dam. Here!" he said, holding out his hand awkwardly, "I brought them for you."
There were a few green blades of tender grass.
"Where did you find them?"
"On the dam wall."
She fastened them beside the leaf on her blue pinafore.
"They look nice there," said the boy, awkwardly rubbing his great hands and watching her.
"Yes; but the pinafore spoils it all; it is not pretty."
He looked at it closely.
"Yes, the squares are ugly; but it looks nice upon you–beautiful."
He now stood silent before them, his great hands hanging loosely at either side.
"Some one has come today," he mumbled out suddenly, when the idea struck him.
"Who?" asked both girls.
"An Englishman on foot."
"What does he look like?" asked Em.
"I did not notice; but he has a very large nose," said the boy slowly. "He asked the way to the house."
"Didn't he tell you his name?"
"Bonaparte!" said Em, "why that is like the reel Hottentot Hans plays on the violin–
'Bonaparte, Bonaparte, my wife is sick;
In the middle of the week, but Sundays not,
I give her rice and beans for soup'–
It is a funny name."
"There was a living man called Bonaparte once," said she of the great eyes.
"Ah yes, I know," said Em–"the poor prophet whom the lions ate. I am always so sorry for him."
Her companion cast a quiet glance upon her.
"He was the greatest man who ever lived," she said, "the man I like best."
"And what did he do?" asked Em, conscious that she had made a mistake, and that her prophet was not the man.
"He was one man, only one," said her little companion slowly, "yet all the people in the world feared him. He was not born great, he was common as we are; yet he was master of the world at last. Once he was only a little child, then he was a lieutenant, then he was a general, then he was an emperor. When he said a thing to himself he never forgot it. He waited, and waited and waited, and it came at last."
"He must have been very happy," said Em.
"I do not know," said Lyndall; "but he had what he said he would have, and that is better than being happy. He was their master, and all the people were white with fear of him. They joined together to fight him. He was one and they were many, and they got him down at last. They were like the wild cats when their teeth are fast in a great dog, like cowardly wild cats," said the child, "they would not let him go. There were many; he was only one. They sent him to an island on the sea, a lonely island, and kept him there fast. He was one man, and they were many, and they were terrified at him. It was glorious!" said the child.
"And what then?" said Em.
"Then he was alone there in that island with men to watch him always," said her companion, slowly and quietly. "And in the long lonely nights he used to lie awake and think of the things he had done in the old days, and the things he would do if they let him go again. In the day when he walked near the shore it seemed to him that the sea all around him was a cold chain about his body pressing him to death."
"And then?" said Em, much interested.
"He died there in that island; he never got away."
"It is rather a nice story," said Em; "but the end is sad."
"It is a terrible, hateful ending," said the little teller of the story, leaning forward on her folded arms; "and the worst is, it is true. I have noticed," added the child very deliberately, "that it is only the made-up stories that end nicely; the true ones all end so."
As she spoke the boy's dark, heavy eyes rested on her face.
"You have read it, have you not?"
He nodded. "Yes; but the Brown history tells only what he did, not what he thought."
"It was in the Brown history that I read of him," said the girl; "but I know what he thought. Books do not tell everything."
"No," said the boy, slowly drawing nearer to her and sitting down at her feet. "What you want to know they never tell."
Then the children fell into silence, till Doss, the dog, growing uneasy at its long continuance, sniffed at one and the other, and his master broke forth suddenly:
"If they could talk, if they could tell us now!" he said, moving his hand out over the surrounding objects–"then we would know something. This kopje, if it could tell us how it came here! The 'Physical Geography' says," he went on most rapidly and confusedly, "that what were dry lands now were once lakes; and what I think is this–these low hills were once the shores of a lake; this kopje is some of the stones that were at the bottom, rolled together by the water. But there is this–How did the water come to make one heap here alone, in the centre of the plain?" It was a ponderous question; no one volunteered an answer. "When I was little," said the boy, "I always looked at it and wondered, and I thought a great giant was buried under it. Now I know the water must have done it; but how? It is very wonderful. Did one little stone come first, and stop the others as they rolled?" said the boy with earnestness, in a low voice, more as speaking to himself than to them.
"Oh, Waldo, God put the little kopje here," said Em with solemnity.
"But how did he put it here?"
"But how did the wanting bring it here?"
"Because it did."
The last words were uttered with the air of one who produces a clinching argument. What effect it had on the questioner was not evident, for he made no reply, and turned away from her.
Drawing closer to Lyndall's feet, he said after a while in a low voice:
"Lyndall, has it never seemed to you that the stones were talking with you? Sometimes," he added in a yet lower tone, "I lie under there with my sheep, and it seems that the stones are really speaking–speaking of the old things, of the time when the strange fishes and animals lived that are turned into stone now, and the lakes were here; and then of the time when the little Bushmen lived here, so small and so ugly, and used to sleep in the wild dog holes, and in the sloots, and eat snakes, and shot the bucks with their poisoned arrows. It was one of them, one of these old wild Bushmen, that painted those," said the boy, nodding toward the pictures– "one who was different from the rest. He did not know why, but he wanted to make something beautiful–he wanted to make something, so he made these. He worked hard, very hard, to find the juice to make the paint; and then he found this place where the rocks hang over, and he painted them. To us they are only strange things, that make us laugh; but to him they were very beautiful."
The children had turned round and looked at the pictures.
"He used to kneel here naked, painting, painting, painting; and he wondered at the things he made himself," said the boy, rising and moving his hand in deep excitement. "Now the Boers have shot them all, so that we never see a little yellow face peeping out among the stones." He paused, a dreamy look coming over his face. "And the wild bucks have gone, and those days, and we are here. But we will be gone soon, and only the stones will lie on here, looking at everything like they look now. I know that it is I who am thinking," the fellow added slowly, "but it seems as though it were they who are talking. Has it never seemed so to you, Lyndall?"
"No, it never seems so to me," she answered.
The sun had dipped now below the hills, and the boy, suddenly remembering the ewes and lambs, started to his feet.
"Let us also go to the house and see who has come," said Em, as the boy shuffled away to rejoin his flock, while Doss ran at his heels, snapping at the ends of the torn trousers as they fluttered in the wind.