Waldo lay on his stomach on the sand. Since he prayed and howled to his God in the fuel-house three years had passed.
They say that in the world to come time is not measured out by months and years. Neither is it here. The soul's life has seasons of its own; periods not found in any calendar, times that years and months will not scan, but which are as deftly and sharply cut off from one another as the smoothly-arranged years which the earth's motion yields us.
To stranger eyes these divisions are not evident; but each, looking back at the little track his consciousness illuminates, sees it cut into distinct portions, whose boundaries are the termination of mental states.
As man differs from man, so differ these souls' years. The most material life is not devoid of them; the story of the most spiritual is told in them. And it may chance that some, looking back, see the past cut out after this fashion:
The year of infancy, where from the shadowy background of forgetfulness start out pictures of startling clearness, disconnected, but brightly coloured, and indelibly printed in the mind. Much that follows fades, but the colours of those baby-pictures are permanent.
There rises, perhaps, a warm summer's evening; we are seated on the doorstep; we have yet the taste of the bread and milk in our mouth, and the red sunset is reflected in our basin.
Then there is a dark night, where, waking with a fear that there is some great being in the room, we run from our own bed to another, creep close to some large figure, and are comforted.
Then there is remembrance of the pride when, on some one's shoulder, with our arms around their head, we ride to see the little pigs, the new little pigs with their curled tails and tiny snouts–where do they come from?
Remembrance of delight in the feel and smell of the first orange we ever see; of sorrow which makes us put up our lip, and cry hard, when one morning we run out to try and catch the dewdrops, and they melt and wet our little fingers; of almighty and despairing sorrow when we are lost behind the kraals, and cannot see the house anywhere.
And then one picture starts out more vividly than any.
There has been a thunderstorm; the ground, as far as the eye can reach, is covered with white hail; the clouds are gone, and overhead a deep blue sky is showing; far off a great rainbow rests on the white earth. We, standing in a window to look, feel the cool, unspeakably sweet wind blowing in on us, and a feeling of longing comes over us–unutterable longing, we cannot tell for what. We are so small, our head only reaches as high as the first three panes. We look at the white earth, and the rainbow, and the blue sky; and oh, we want it, we want–we do not know what. We cry as though our heart was broken. When one lifts our little body from the window we cannot tell what ails us. We run away to play.
So looks the first year.
Now the pictures become continuous and connected. Material things still rule, but the spiritual and intellectual take their places.
In the dark night when we are afraid we pray and shut our eyes. We press our fingers very hard upon the lids, and see dark spots moving round and round, and we know they are heads and wings of angels sent to take care of us, seen dimly in the dark as they move round our bed. It is very consoling.
In the day we learn our letters, and are troubled because we cannot see why k-n-o-w should be know, and p-s-a-l-m psalm. They tell us it is so because it is so. We are not satisfied; we hate to learn; we like better to build little stone houses. We can build them as we please, and know the reason for them.
Other joys too we have incomparably greater then even the building of stone houses.
We are run through with a shudder of delight when in the red sand we come on one of those white wax flowers that lie between their two green leaves flat on the sand. We hardly dare pick them, but we feel compelled to do so; and we smell and smell till the delight becomes almost pain. Afterward we pull the green leaves softly into pieces to see the silk threads run across.
Beyond the kopje grow some pale-green, hairy-leaved bushes. We are so small, they meet over our head, and we sit among them, and kiss them, and they love us back; it seems as though they were alive.
One day we sit there and look up at the blue sky, and down at our fat little knees; and suddenly it strikes us, Who are we? This I, what is it? We try to look in upon ourselves, and ourself beats back upon ourself. Then we get up in great fear and run home as hard as we can. We can't tell any one what frightened us. We never quite lose that feeling of self again.
And then a new time rises. We are seven years old. We can read now–read the Bible. Best of all we like the story of Elijah in his cave at Horeb, and the still small voice.
One day, a notable one, we read on the kopje, and discover the fifth chapter of Matthew, and read it all through. It is a new gold-mine. Then we tuck the Bible under our arm and rushed home. They didn't know it was wicked to take your things again if some one took them, wicked to go to law, wicked to–! We are quite breathless when we get to the house; we tell them we have discovered a chapter they never heard of; we tell them what it says. The old wise people tell us they knew all about it. Our discovery is a mare's-nest to them; but to us it is very real. The ten commandments and the old "Thou shalt" we have heard about long enough and don't care about it; but this new law sets us on fire.
We will deny ourself. Our little wagon that we have made, we give to the little Kaffers. We keep quiet when they throw sand at us (feeling, oh, so happy). We conscientiously put the cracked teacup for ourselves at breakfast, and take the burnt roaster-cake. We save our money, and buy threepence of tobacco for the Hottentot maid who calls us names. We are exotically virtuous. At night we are profoundly religious; even the ticking watch says, "Eternity, eternity! hell, hell, hell!" and the silence talks of God, and the things that shall be.
Occasionally, also, unpleasantly shrewd questions begin to be asked by some one, we know not who, who sits somewhere behind our shoulder. We get to know him better afterward.
Now we carry the questions to the grown-up people, and they give us answers. We are more or less satisfied for the time. The grown-up people are very wise, and they say it was kind of God to make hell, and very loving of Him to send men there; and besides, he couldn't help Himself, and they are very wise, we think, so we believe them–more or less.
Then a new time comes, of which the leading feature is, that the shrewd questions are asked louder. We carry them to the grown-up people; they answer us, and we are not satisfied.
And now between us and the dear old world of the senses the spirit-world begins to peep in, and wholly clouds it over. What are the flowers to us? They are fuel waiting for the great burning. We look at the walls of the farmhouse and the matter-of-fact sheep-kraals, with the merry sunshine playing over all; and do not see it. But we see a great white throne, and him that sits on it. Around Him stand a great multitude that no man can number, harpers harping with their harps, a thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands. How white are their robes, washed in the blood of the Lamb! And the music rises higher, and rends the vault of heaven with its unutterable sweetness. And we, as we listen, ever and anon, as it sinks on the sweetest, lowest note, hear a groan of the damned from below. We shudder in the sunlight.
"The torment," says Jeremy Taylor, whose sermons our father reads aloud in the evening, "comprises as many torments as the body of man has joints, sinews, arteries, etc., being caused by that penetrating and real fire of which this temporal fire is but a painted fire. What comparison will there be between burning for a hundred years' space and to be burning without intermission as long as God is God!"
We remember the sermon there in the sunlight. One comes and asks why we sit there nodding so moodily. Ah, they do not see what we see.
"A moment's time, a narrow space,
Divides me from that heavenly place,
Or shuts me up in hell."
So says Wesley's hymn, which we sing evening by evening. What matter sunshine and walls, men and sheep?
"The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." They are real.
The Bible we bear always in our breast; its pages are our food; we learn to repeat it; we weep much, for in sunshine and in shade, in the early morning or the late evening, in the field or in the house, the devil walks with us. He comes to a real person, copper-coloured face, head a little on one side, forehead knit, asking questions. Believe me, it were better to be followed by three deadly diseases than by him. He is never silenced–without mercy. Though the drops of blood stand out on your heart he will put his question. Softly he comes up (we are only a wee bit child); "Is it good of God to make hell? Was it kind of Him to let no one be forgiven unless Jesus Christ died?"
Then he goes off, and leaves us writhing. Presently he comes back.
"Do you love Him?"–waits a little. "Do you love Him? You will be lost if you don't."
We say we try to.
"But do you?" Then he goes off.
It is nothing to him if we go quite mad with fear at our own wickedness. He asks on, the questioning devil; he cares nothing what he says. We long to tell some one, that they may share our pain. We do not yet know that the cup of affliction is made with such a narrow mouth that only one lip can drink at a time, and that each man's cup is made to match his lip.
One day we try to tell some one. Then a grave head is shaken solemnly at us. We are wicked, very wicked, they say we ought not to have such thoughts. God is good, very good. We are wicked, very wicked. That is the comfort we get. Wicked! Oh, Lord! do we not know it? Is it not the sense of our own exceeding wickedness that is drying up our young heart, filling it with sand, making all life a dust-bin for us?
Wicked? We know it! Too vile to live, too vile to die, too vile to creep over this, God's earth, and move among His believing men. Hell is the one place for him who hates his master, and there we do not want to go. This is the comfort we get from the old.
And once again we try to seek for comfort. This time great eyes look at us wondering, and lovely little lips say:
"If it makes you so unhappy to think of these things, why do you not think of something else, and forget?"
Forget! We turn away and shrink into ourself. Forget, and think of other things! Oh, God! do they not understand that the material world is but a film, through every pore of which God's awful spirit world is shining through on us? We keep as far from others as we can.
One night, a rare clear moonlight night, we kneel in the window; every one else is asleep, but we kneel reading by the moonlight. It is a chapter in the prophets, telling how the chosen people of God shall be carried on the Gentiles' shoulders. Surely the devil might leave us alone; there is not much to handle for him there. But presently he comes.
"Is it right there should be a chosen people? To Him, who is father to all, should not all be dear?"
How can we answer him? We were feeling so good till he came. We put our head down on the Bible and blister it with tears. Then we fold our hands over our head and pray, till our teeth grind together. Oh, that from that spirit-world, so real and yet so silent, that surrounds us, one word would come to guide us! We are left alone with this devil; and God does not whisper to us. Suddenly we seize the Bible, turning it round and round, and say hurriedly:
"It will be God's voice speaking to us; His voice as though we heard it."
We yearn for a token from the inexorably Silent One.
We turn the book, put our finger down on a page, and bend to read by the moonlight. It is God's answer. We tremble.
"Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also."
For an instant our imagination seizes it; we are twisting, twirling, trying to make an allegory. The fourteen years are fourteen months; we are Paul and the devil is Barnabas, Titus is– Then a sudden loathing comes to us: we are liars and hypocrites, we are trying to deceive ourselves. What is Paul to us–and Jerusalem? We are Barnabas and Titus? We know not the men. Before we know we seize the book, swing it round our head, and fling it with all our might to the further end of the room. We put down our head again and weep.
Youth and ignorance; is there anything else that can weep so? It is as though the tears were drops of blood congealed beneath the eyelids; nothing else is like those tears. After a long time we are weak with crying, and lie silent, and by chance we knock against the wood that stops the broken pane. It falls. Upon our hot stiff face a sweet breath of wind blows. We raise our head, and with our swollen eyes look out at the beautiful still world, and the sweet night-wind blows in upon us, holy and gentle, like a loving breath from the lips of God. Over us a deep peace comes, a calm, still joy; the tears now flow readily and softly. Oh, the unutterable gladness! At last, at last we have found it! "The peace with God." "The sense of sins forgiven." All doubt vanished, God's voice in the soul, the Holy Spirit filling us! We feel Him! We feel Him! Oh, Jesus Christ, through you, through you this joy! We press our hands upon our breast and look upward with adoring gladness. Soft waves of bliss break through us. "The peace with God." "The sense of sins forgiven." Methodists and revivalists say the words, and the mocking world shoots out its lip, and walks by smiling–"Hypocrite."
There are more fools and fewer hypocrites than the wise world dreams of. The hypocrite is rare as icebergs in the tropics; the fool common as buttercups beside a water-furrow: whether you go this way or that you tread on him; you dare not look at your own reflection in the water but you see one. There is no cant phrase, rotten with age, but it was the dress of a living body; none but at heart it signifies a real bodily or mental condition which some have passed through.
After hours and nights of frenzied fear of the supernatural desire to appease the power above, a fierce quivering excitement in every inch of nerve and blood vessel, there comes a time when nature cannot endure longer, and the spring long bent recoils. We sink down emasculated. Up creeps the deadly delicious calm.
"I have blotted out as a cloud thy sins, and as a thick cloud thy trespasses, and will remember them no more for ever." We weep with soft transporting joy.
A few experience this; many imagine they experience it, one here and there lies about it. In the main, "The peace with God; a sense of sins forgiven," stands for a certain mental and physical reaction. Its reality those know who have felt it.
And we, on that moonlight night, put down our head on the window, "Oh, God! we are happy, happy; thy child forever. Oh, thank you, God!" and we drop asleep.
Next morning the Bible we kiss. We are God's forever. We go out to work, and it goes happily all day, happily all night; but hardly so happily, not happily at all, the next day; and the next night the devil asks us, "where is your Holy Spirit?"
We cannot tell.
So month by month, summer and winter, the old life goes on–reading, praying, weeping, praying. They tell us we become utterly stupid. We know it. Even the multiplication table we learnt with so much care we forgot. The physical world recedes further and further from us. Truly we love not the world, neither the things that are in it. Across the bounds of sleep our grief follows us. When we wake in the night we are sitting up in bed weeping bitterly, or find ourself outside in the moonlight, dressed, and walking up and down, and wringing our hands, and we cannot tell how we came there. So pass two years, as men reckon them.
Then a new time.
Before us there were three courses possible–to go mad, to die, to sleep.
We take the latter course; or nature takes it for us.
All things take rest in sleep; the beasts, birds, the very flowers close their eyes, and the streams are still in winter; all things take rest; then why not the human reason also? So the questioning devil in us drops asleep, and in that sleep a beautiful dream rises for us. Though you hear all the dreams of men, you will hardly find a prettier one than ours. It ran so:
In the centre of all things is a mighty Heart, which, having begotten all things, loves them; and, having born them into life, beats with great throbs of love towards them. No death for His dear insects, no hell for His dear men, no burning up for His dear world–His own, own world that he has made. In the end all will be beautiful. Do not ask us how we make our dream tally with facts; the glory of a dream is this–that it despises facts, and makes its own. Our dream saves us from going mad; that is enough.
Its peculiar point of sweetness lay here. When the Mighty Heart's yearning of love became too great for other expression, it shaped itself into the sweet Rose of heaven, the beloved Man-god.
Jesus! you Jesus of our dream! how we loved you; no Bible tells of you as we knew you. Your sweet hands held ours fast; your sweet voice said always, "I am here, my loved one, not far off; put your arms about me, and hold fast."
We find Him in everything in those days. When the little weary lamb we drive home drags its feet, we seize on it, and carry it with its head against our face. His little lamb! We feel we have got Him.
When the drunken Kaffer lies by the road in the sun we draw his blanket over his head, and put green branches of milk-bush on it. His Kaffer; why should the sun hurt him?
In the evening, when the clouds lift themselves like gates, and the red lights shine through them, we cry; for in such glory He will come, and the hands that ache to touch Him will hold him, and we shall see the beautiful hair and eyes of our God. "Lift up your heads, O, ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and our King of glory shall come in!"
The purple flowers, the little purple flowers, are His eyes, looking at us. We kiss them, and kneel alone on the flat, rejoicing over them. And the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for Him, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as a rose.
If ever, in our tearful, joyful ecstasy, the poor, sleepy, half-dead devil should raise his head, we laugh at him. It is not his hour now.
"If there should be a hell, after all!" he mutters. "If your God should be cruel! If there should be no God! If you should find out it is all imagination! If–"
We laugh at him. When a man sits in the warm sunshine, do you ask him for proof of it? He feels–that is all. And we feel–that is all. We want no proof of our God. We feel, we feel!
We do not believe in our God because the Bible tells us of Him. We believe in the Bible because He tells us of it. We feel Him, we feel Him, we feel- -that is all! And the poor, half-swamped devil mutters:
"But if the day should come when you do not feel?"
And we laugh and cry him down.
"It will never come–never," and the poor devil slinks to sleep again, with his tail between his legs. Fierce assertion many times repeated is hard to stand against; only time separates the truth from the lie. So we dream on.
One day we go with our father to town, to church. The townspeople rustle in their silks, and the men in their sleek cloth, and settle themselves in their pews, and the light shines in through the windows on the artificial flowers in the women's bonnets. We have the same miserable feeling that we have in a shop where all the clerks are very smart. We wish our father hadn't brought us to town, and we were out on the karoo. Then the man in the pulpit begins to preach. His text is "He that believeth not shall be damned."
The day before the magistrate's clerk, who was an atheist, has died in the street struck by lightning.
The man in the pulpit mentions no name; but he talks of "The hand of God made visible amongst us." He tells us how, when the white stroke fell, quivering and naked, the soul fled, robbed of his earthly filament, and lay at the footstool of God; how over its head has been poured out the wrath of the Mighty One, whose existence it has denied; and, quivering and terrified, it has fled to the everlasting shade.
We, as we listen, half start up; every drop of blood in our body has rushed to our head. He lies! he lies! he lies! That man in the pulpit lies! Will no one stop him? Have none of them heard–do none of them know, that when the poor, dark soul shut its eyes on earth it opened them in the still light of heaven? that there is no wrath where God's face is? that if one could once creep to the footstool of God, there is everlasting peace there, like the fresh stillness of the early morning? While the atheist lay wondering and afraid, God bent down and said: "My child, here I am–I, whom you have not known; I, whom you have not believed in; I am here. I sent My messenger, the white sheet-lightning, to call you home. I am here."
Then the poor soul turned to the light–its weakness and pain were gone forever.
Have they not known, have they not heard, who it is rules?
"For a little moment have I hidden my face from thee; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer."
We mutter on to ourselves, till some one pulls us violently by the arm to remind us we are in church. We see nothing but our own ideas.
Presently every one turns to pray. There are six hundred souls lifting themselves to the Everlasting light.
Behind us sit two pretty ladies; one hands her scent-bottle softly to the other, and a mother pulls down her little girl's frock. One lady drops her handkerchief; a gentleman picks it up; she blushes. The women in the choir turn softly the leaves of their tune-books, to be ready when the praying is done. It is as though they thought more of the singing than the Everlasting Father. Oh, would it not be more worship of Him to sit alone in the karoo and kiss one little purple flower that he had made? Is it not mockery? Then the thought comes, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" We who judge, what are we better than they?–rather worse. Is it any excuse to say, "I am but a child and must come?" Does God allow any soul to step in between the spirit he made and himself? What do we there in that place, where all the words are lies against the All Father? Filled with horror, we turn and flee out of the place. On the pavement we smite our foot, and swear in our child's soul never again to enter those places where men come to sing and pray. We are questioned afterward. Why was it we went out of the church.
How can we explain?–we stand silent. Then we are pressed further, and we try to tell. Then a head is shaken solemnly at us. No one can think it wrong to go to the house of the Lord; it is the idle excuse of a wicked boy. When will we think seriously of our souls, and love going to church? We are wicked, very wicked. And we–we slink away and go alone to cry. Will it be always so? Whether we hate and doubt, or whether we believe and love, to our dearest, are we to seem always wicked?
We do not yet know that in the soul's search for truth the bitterness lies here, the striving cannot always hide itself among the thoughts; sooner or later it will clothe itself in outward action; then it steps in and divides between the soul and what it loves. All things on earth have their price; and for truth we pay the dearest. We barter it for love and sympathy. The road to honour is paved with thorns; but on the path to truth, at every step you set your foot down on your own heart.
Then at last a new time–the time of waking; short, sharp, and not pleasant, as wakings often are.
Sleep and dreams exist on this condition–that no one wake the dreamer.
And now life takes us up between her finger and thumb, shakes us furiously, till our poor nodding head is well-nigh rolled from our shoulders, and she sets us down a little hard on the bare earth, bruised and sore, but preternaturally wide awake.
We have said in our days of dreaming, "Injustice and wrong are a seeming; pain is a shadow. Our God, He is real, He who made all things, and He only is Love."
Now life takes us by the neck and shows us a few other things,–new-made graves with the red sand flying about them; eyes that we love with the worms eating them; evil men walking sleek and fat, the whole terrible hurly-burly of the thing called life,–and she says, "What do you think of these?" We dare not say "Nothing." We feel them; they are very real. But we try to lay our hands about and feel that other thing we felt before. In the dark night in the fuel-room we cry to our Beautiful dream-god: "Oh, let us come near you, and lay our head against your feet. Now in our hour of need be near us." But He is not there; He is gone away. The old questioning devil is there.
We must have been awakened sooner or later. The imagination cannot always triumph over reality, the desire over truth. We must have been awakened. If it was done a little sharply, what matter? It was done thoroughly, and it had to be done.
And a new life begins for us–a new time, a life as cold as that of a man who sits on the pinnacle of an iceberg and sees the glittering crystals all about him. The old looks indeed like a long hot delirium, peopled with phantasies. The new is cold enough.
Now we have no God. We have had two: the old God that our fathers handed down to us, that we hated, and never liked: the new one that we made for ourselves, that we loved; but now he has flitted away from us, and we see what he was made of–the shadow of our highest ideal, crowned and throned. Now we have no God.
"The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." It may be so. Most things said or written have been the work of fools.
This thing is certain–he is a fool who says, "No man hath said in his heart, There is no God."
It has been said many thousand times in hearts with profound bitterness of earnest faith.
We do not cry and weep: we sit down with cold eyes and look at the world. We are not miserable. Why should we be? We eat and drink, and sleep all night; but the dead are not colder.
And we say it slowly, but without sighing, "Yes, we see it now; there is no God."
And, we add, growing a little colder yet. "There is no justice. The ox dies in the yoke, beneath its master's whip; it turns its anguish-filled eyes on the sunlight, but there is no sign of recompense to be made it. The black man is shot like a dog, and it goes well with the shooter. The innocent are accused and the accuser triumphs. If you will take the trouble to scratch the surface anywhere, you will see under the skin a sentient being writhing in impotent anguish."
And, we say further, and our heart is as the heart of the dead for coldness, "There is no order: all things are driven about by a blind chance."
What a soul drinks in with its mother's milk will not leave it in a day. From our earliest hour we have been taught that the thought of the heart, the shaping of the rain-cloud, the amount of wool that grows on a sheep's back, the length of a drought, and the growing of the corn, depend on nothing that moves immutable, at the heart of all things; but on the changeable will of a changeable being, whom our prayers can alter. To us, from the beginning, nature has been but a poor plastic thing, to be toyed with this way or that, as man happens to please his deity or not; to go to church or not; to say his prayers right or not; to travel on a Sunday or not. Was it possible for us in an instant to see Nature as she is–the flowing vestment of an unchanging reality? When the soul breaks free from the arms of a superstition, bits of the claws and talons break themselves off in him. It is not the work of a day to squeeze them out.
And so, for us, the human-like driver and guide being gone, all existence, as we look out at it with our chilled, wondering eyes, is an aimless rise and swell of shifting waters. In all that weltering chaos we can see no spot so large as a man's hand on which we may plant our foot.
Whether a man believes in a human-like God or no is a small thing. Whether he looks into the mental and physical world and sees no relation between cause and effect, no order, but a blind chance sporting, this is the mightiest fact that can be recorded in any spiritual existence. It were almost a mercy to cut his throat, if indeed he does not do it for himself.
We, however, do not cut our throats. To do so would imply some desire and feeling, and we have no desire and no feeling; we are only cold. We do not wish to live, and we do not wish to die. One day a snake curls itself round the waist of a Kaffer woman. We take it in our hand, swing it round and round, and fling it on the ground–dead. Every one looks at us with eyes of admiration. We almost laugh. Is it wonderful to risk that for which we care nothing?
In truth, nothing matters. This dirty little world full of confusion, and the blue rag, stretched overhead for a sky, is so low we could touch it with our hand.
Existence is a great pot, and the old Fate who stirs it round cares nothing what rises to the top and what goes down, and laughs when the bubbles burst. And we do not care. Let it boil about. Why should we trouble ourselves? Nevertheless the physical sensations are real. Hunger hurts, and thirst, therefore we eat and drink: inaction pains us, therefore we work like galley-slaves. No one demands it, but we set ourselves to build a great dam in red sand beyond the graves. In the grey dawn before the sheep are let out we work at it. All day, while the young ostriches we tend feed about us, we work on through the fiercest heat. The people wonder what new spirit has seized us now. They do not know we are working for life. We bear the greatest stones, and feel a satisfaction when we stagger under them, and are hurt by a pang that shoots through our chest. While we eat our dinner we carry on baskets full of earth, as though the devil drove us. The Kaffer servants have a story that at night a witch and two white oxen come to help us. No wall, they say, could grow so quickly under one man's hands.
At night, alone in our cabin, we sit no more brooding over the fire. What should we think of now? All is emptiness. So we take the old arithmetic; and the multiplication table, which with so much pains we learnt long ago and forgot directly, we learn now in a few hours, and never forget again. We take a strange satisfaction in working arithmetical problems. We pause in our building to cover the stones with figures and calculations. We save money for a Latin Grammar and Algebra, and carry them about in our pockets, poring over them as over our Bible of old. We have thought we were utterly stupid, incapable of remembering anything, of learning anything. Now we find that all is easy. Has a new soul crept into this old body, that even our intellectual faculties are changed? We marvel; not perceiving that what a man expends in prayer and ecstasy he cannot have over for acquiring knowledge. You never shed a tear, or create a beautiful image, or quiver with emotion, but you pay for it at the practical, calculating end of your nature. You have just so much force: when the one channel runs over the other runs dry.
And now we turn to Nature. All these years we have lived beside her, and we have never seen her; and now we open our eyes and look at her.
The rocks have been to us a blur of brown: we bend over them, and the disorganised masses dissolve into a many-coloured, many-shaped, carefully- arranged form of existence. Here masses of rainbow-tinted crystals, half- fused together; there bands of smooth grey and red methodically overlying each other. This rock here is covered with a delicate silver tracery, in some mineral, resembling leaves and branches; there on the flat stone, on which we so often have sat to weep and pray, we look down, and see it covered with the fossil footprints of great birds, and the beautiful skeleton of a fish. We have often tried to picture in our mind what the fossiled remains of creatures must be like, and all the while we sat on them, we have been so blinded by thinking and feeling that we have never seen the world.
The flat plain has been to us a reach of monotonous red. We look at it, and every handful of sand starts into life. That wonderful people, the ants, we learn to know; see them make war and peace, play and work, and build their huge palaces. And that smaller people we make acquaintance with, who live in the flowers. The bitto flower has been for us a mere blur of yellow; we find its heart composed of a hundred perfect flowers, the homes of the tiny black people with red stripes, who move in and out in that little yellow city. Every bluebell has its inhabitant. Every day the karoo shows us a new wonder sleeping in its teeming bosom.
On our way back to work we pause and stand to see the ground-spider make its trap, bury itself in the sand, and then wait for the falling in of its enemy.
Further on walks a horned beetle, and near him starts open the door of a spider, who peeps out carefully, and quickly pulls it down again. On a karoo-bush a green fly is laying her silver eggs. We carry them home, and see the shells pierced, the spotted grub come out, turn to a green fly, and flit away. We are not satisfied with what Nature shows us, and we see something for ourselves. Under the white hen we put a dozen eggs, and break one daily, to see the white spot wax into the chicken. We are not excited or enthusiastic about it; but a man is not to lay his throat open, he must think of something. So we plant seeds in rows on our dam-wall, and pull one up daily to see how it goes with them. Alladeen buried her wonderful stone, and a golden palace sprung up at her feet. We do far more. We put a brown seed in the earth, and a living thing starts out– starts upward–why, no more than Alladeen can we say–starts upward, and does not desist till it is higher than our heads, sparkling with dew in the early morning, glittering with yellow blossoms, shaking brown seeds with little embryo souls on to the ground. We look at it solemnly, from the time it consists of two leaves peeping above the ground and a soft white root, till we have to raise our faces to look at it; but we find no reason for that upward starting.
We look into dead ducks and lambs. In the evening we carry them home, spread newspapers on the floor, and lie working with them till midnight. With a started feeling near akin to ecstasy we open the lump of flesh called a heart, and find little doors and strings inside. We feel them, and put the heart away; but every now and then return to look, and to feel them again. Why we like them so we can hardly tell.
A gander drowns itself in our dam. We take it out, and open it on the bank, and kneel looking at it. Above are the organs divided by delicate tissues; below are the intestines artistically curved in a spiral form, and each tier covered by a delicate network of blood-vessels standing out red against the faint blue background. Each branch of the blood-vessels is comprised of a trunk, bifurcating and rebifurcating into the most delicate, hair-like threads, symmetrically arranged. We are struck with its singular beauty. And, moreover–and here we drop from our kneeling into a sitting posture–this also we remark: of that same exact shape and outline is our thorn-tree seen against the sky in mid-winter: of that shape also is delicate metallic tracery between our rocks; in that exact path does our water flow when without a furrow we lead it from the dam; so shaped are the antlers of the horned beetle. How are these things related that such deep union should exist between them all? Is it chance? Or, are they not all the fine branches of one trunk, whose sap flows through us all? That would explain it. We nod over the gander's inside.
This thing we call existence; is it not a something which has its roots far down below in the dark, and its branches stretching out into the immensity above, which we among the branches cannot see? Not a chance jungle; a living thing, a One. The thought gives us intense satisfaction, we cannot tell why.
We nod over the gander; then start up suddenly, look into the blue sky, throw the dead gander and the refuse into the dam, and go to work again.
And so, it comes to pass in time, that the earth ceases for us to be a weltering chaos. We walk in the great hall of life, looking up and round reverentially. Nothing is despicable–all is meaning-full; nothing is small–all is part of a whole, whose beginning and end we know not. The life that throbs in us is a beginning and end we know not. The life that throbs in us is a pulsation from it; too mighty for our comprehension, not too small.
And so, it comes to pass at last, that whereas the sky was at first a small blue rag stretched out over us, and so low that our hands might touch it, pressing down on us, it raises itself into an immeasurable blue arch over our heads, and we begin to live again.