"May I come in? I hope I do not disturb you, my dear friend," said Bonaparte, late one evening, putting his nose in at the cabin door, where the German and his son sat finishing their supper.
It was now two months since he had been installed as schoolmaster in Tant Sannie's household, and he had grown mighty and more mighty day by day. He visited the cabin no more, sat close to Tant Sannie drinking coffee all the evening, and walked about loftily with his hands under the coat-tails of the German's black cloth and failed to see even a nigger who wished him a deferential good morning. It was therefore with no small surprise that the German perceived Bonaparte's red nose at the door.
"Walk in, walk in," he said joyfully. "Boy, boy, see if there is any coffee left. Well, none. Make a fire. We have done supper, but–"
"My dear friend," said Bonaparte, taking off his hat, "I came not to sup, not for mere creature comforts, but for an hour of brotherly intercourse with a kindred spirit. The press of business and the weight of thought, but they alone, may sometimes prevent me from sharing the secrets of my bosom with him for whom I have so great a sympathy. You perhaps wonder when I shall return the two pounds–"
"Oh, no, no! Make a fire, make a fire, boy. We will have a pot of hot coffee presently," said the German, rubbing his hands and looking about, not knowing how best to show his pleasure at the unexpected visit.
For three weeks the German's diffident "Good evening" had met with a stately bow; the chin of Bonaparte lifting itself higher daily; and his shadow had not darkened the cabin doorway since he came to borrow the two pounds. The German walked to the head of the bed and took down a blue bag that hung there. Blue bags were a speciality of the German's. He kept above fifty stowed away in different corners of his room–some filled with curious stones, some with seeds that had been in his possession fifteen years, some with rusty nails, buckles, and bits of old harness–in all, a wonderful assortment, but highly prized.
"We have something here not so bad," said the German, smiling knowingly, as he dived his hand into the bag and took out a handful of almonds and raisins; "I buy these for my chickens. They increase in size, but they still think the old man must have something nice for them. And the old man–well, a big boy may have a sweet tooth sometimes, may he not? Ha, ha!" said the German, chuckling at his own joke, as he heaped the plate with almonds. "Here is a stone–two stones to crack them–no late patent improvement–well, Adam's nut-cracker; ha, ha! But I think we shall do. We will not leave them uncracked. We will consume a few without fashionable improvements."
Here the German sat down on one side of the table, Bonaparte on the other; each one with a couple of flat stones before him, and the plate between them.
"Do not be afraid," said the German, "do not be afraid. I do not forget the boy at the fire; I crack for him. The bag is full. Why, this is strange," he said suddenly, cracking upon a large nut; "three kernels! I have not observed that before. This must be retained. This is valuable." He wrapped the nut gravely in paper, and put it carefully in his waistcoat pocket. "Valuable, very valuable!" he said, shaking his head.
"Ah, my friend," said Bonaparte, "what joy it is to be once more in your society."
The German's eyes glistened, and Bonaparte seized his hand and squeezed it warmly. They then proceeded to crack and eat. After a while Bonaparte said, stuffing a handful of raisins into his mouth:
"I was so deeply grieved, my dear friend, that you and Tant Sannie had some slight unpleasantness this evening."
"Oh, no, no," said the German; "it is all right now. A few sheep missing; but I make it good myself. I give my twelve sheep, and work in the other eight."
"It is rather hard that you should have to make good the lost sheep, said Bonaparte; "it is no fault of yours."
"Well," said the German, "this is the case. Last evening I count the sheep at the kraal–twenty are missing. I ask the herd; he tells me they are with the other flock; he tells me so distinctly; how can I think he lies? This afternoon I count the other flock. The sheep are not there. I come back here: the herd is gone; the sheep are gone. But I cannot–no, I will not–believe he stole them," said the German, growing suddenly excited. "Some one else, but not he. I know that boy. I knew him three years. He is a good boy. I have seen him deeply affected on account of his soul. And she would send the police after him! I say I would rather make the loss good myself. I will not have it; he has fled in fear. I know his heart. It was," said the German, with a little gentle hesitation, "under my words that he first felt his need of a Saviour."
Bonaparte cracked some more almonds, then said, yawning, and more as though he asked for the sake of having something to converse about than from any interest he felt in the subject:
"And what has become of the herd's wife?"
The German was alight again in a moment.
"Yes; his wife. She has a child six days old, and Tant Sannie would turn her out into the fields this night. That," said the German rising, "that is what I call cruelty–diabolical cruelty. My soul abhors that deed. The man that could do such a thing I could run him through with a knife!" said the German, his grey eyes flashing, and his bushy black beard adding to the murderous fury of his aspect. Then suddenly subsiding, he said, "But all is now well; Tant Sannie gives her word that the maid shall remain for some days. I go to Oom Muller's tomorrow to learn if the sheep may not be there. If they are not, then I return. They are gone, that is all. I make it good."
"Tant Sannie is a singular woman," said Bonaparte, taking the tobacco bag the German passed to him.
"Singular! Yes," said the German; "but her heart is on her right side. I have lived long years with her, and I may say, I have for her an affection, which she returns. I may say," added the German with warmth, "I may say, that there is not one soul on this farm for whom I have not an affection."
"Ah, my friend," said Bonaparte, "when the grace of God is in our hearts, is it not with us all? Do we not love the very worm we tread upon, and as we tread upon it? Do we know distinctions of race, or of sex, or of colour? No!
"'Love so amazing, so divine,
It fills my soul, my life, my all.'"
After a time he sank into a less fervent mood, and remarked:
"The coloured female who waits upon Tant Sannie appears to be of a virtuous disposition, an individual who–"
"Virtuous!" said the German; "I have confidence in her. There is that in her which is pure, that which is noble. The rich and high that walk this earth with lofty eyelids might exchange with her."
The German here got up to bring a coal for Bonaparte's pipe, and they sat together talking for a while. At length Bonaparte knocked the ashes out of his pipe.
"It is time that I took my departure, dear friend," he said; "but, before I do so, shall we not close this evening of sweet communion and brotherly intercourse by a few words of prayer? Oh, how good and how pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the dew upon the mountains of Hermon; for there the Lord bestowed a blessing, even life for evermore."
"Stay and drink some coffee," said the German.
"No, thank you, my friend; I have business that must be done tonight," said Bonaparte. "Your dear son appears to have gone to sleep. He is going to take the wagon to the mill tomorrow! What a little man he is."
"A fine boy."
But though the boy nodded before the fire he was not asleep; and they all knelt down to pray.
When they rose from their knees Bonaparte extended his hand to Waldo, and patted him on the head.
"Good night, my lad," said he. "As you go to the mill tomorrow, we shall not see you for some days. Good night! Good-bye! The Lord bless and guide you; and may He bring you back to us in safety and find us all as you have left us!" He laid some emphasis on the last words. "And you, my dear friend," he added, turning with redoubled warmth to the German, "long, long shall I look back to this evening as a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, as an hour of blessed intercourse with a brother in Jesus. May such often return. The Lord bless you!" he added, with yet deeper fervour, "richly, richly."
Then he opened the door and vanished out into the darkness.
"He, he, he!" laughed Bonaparte, as he stumbled over the stones. "If there isn't the rarest lot of fools on this farm that ever God Almighty stuck legs to. He, he, he! When the worms come out then the blackbirds feed. Ha, ha, ha!" Then he drew himself up; even when alone he liked to pose with a certain dignity; it was second nature to him.
He looked in at the kitchen door. The Hottentot maid who acted as interpreter between Tant Sannie and himself was gone, and Tant Sannie herself was in bed.
"Never mind, Bon, my boy," he said, as he walked round to his own room, "tomorrow will do. He, he, he!"