Olive Schreiner's
The Story of an African Farm

Chapter 2.X. Gregory Rose Has An Idea.

Gregory Rose was in the loft putting it neat. Outside the rain poured; a six months' drought had broken, and the thirsty plain was drenched with water. What it could not swallow ran off in mad rivulets to the great sloot, that now foamed like an angry river across the flat. Even the little furrow between the farmhouse and the kraals was now a stream, knee- deep, which almost bore away the Kaffer women who crossed it. It had rained for twenty-four hours, and still the rain poured on. The fowls had collected–a melancholy crowd–in and about the wagon-house, and the solitary gander, who alone had survived the six months' want of water, walked hither and thither, printing his webbed footmarks on the mud, to have them washed out the next instant by the pelting rain, which at eleven o'clock still beat on the walls and roofs with unabated ardour.

Gregory, as he worked in the loft, took no notice of it beyond stuffing a sack into the broken pane to keep it out; and, in spite of the pelt and patter, Em's clear voice might be heard through the open trap-door from the dining room, where she sat at work, singing the "Blue Water:"

"And take me away,
And take me away,
And take me away,
To the Blue Water"–

that quaint, childish song of the people, that has a world of sweetness, and sad, vague yearning when sung over and over dreamily by a woman's voice as she sits alone at her work.

But Gregory heard neither that nor yet the loud laughter of the Kaffer maids, that every now and again broke through from the kitchen, where they joked and worked. Of late Gregory had grown strangely impervious to the sounds and sights about him. His lease had run out, but Em had said, "Do not renew it; I need one to help me; just stay on." And, she had added, "You must not remain in your own little house; live with me; you can look after my ostriches better so."

And Gregory did not thank her. What difference did it make to him, paying rent or not, living there or not; it was all one. But yet he came. Em wished that he would still sometimes talk of the strength of the master- right of man; but Gregory was as one smitten on the cheek-bone.

She might do what she pleased, he would find no fault, had no word to say. He had forgotten that it is man's right to rule. On that rainy morning he had lighted his pipe at the kitchen fire, and when breakfast was over stood in the front door watching the water rush down the road till the pipe died out in his mouth. Em saw she must do something for him, and found him a large calico duster. He had sometimes talked of putting the loft neat, and today she could find nothing else for him to do. So she had the ladder put to the trap-door that he need not go out in the wet, and Gregory with the broom and duster mounted to the loft. Once at work he worked hard. He dusted down the very rafters, and cleaned the broken candle-moulds and bent forks that had stuck in the thatch for twenty years. He placed the black bottles neatly in rows on an old box in the corner, and piled the skins on one another, and sorted the rubbish in all the boxes; and at eleven o'clock his work was almost done. He seated himself on the packing-case which had once held Waldo's books, and proceeded to examine the contents of another which he had not yet looked at. It was carelessly nailed down. He loosened one plank, and began to lift out various articles of female attire–old-fashioned caps, aprons, dresses with long pointed bodies such as he remembered to have seen his mother wear when he was a little child.

He shook them out carefully to see there were no moths, and then sat down to fold them up again one by one. They had belonged to Em's mother, and the box, as packed at her death, had stood untouched and forgotten these long years. She must have been a tall woman, that mother of Em's, for when he stood up to shake out a dress the neck was on a level with his, and the skirt touched the ground. Gregory laid a nightcap out on his knee, and began rolling up the strings; but presently his fingers moved slower and slower, then his chin rested on his breast, and finally the imploring blue eyes were fixed on the frill abstractedly. When Em's voice called to him from the foot of the ladder he started, and threw the nightcap behind him.

She was only come to tell him that his cup of soup was ready; and, when he could hear that she was gone, he picked up the nightcap again, and a great brown sun-kapje–just such a kapje and such a dress as one of those he remembered to have seen a sister of mercy wear. Gregory's mind was very full of thought. He took down a fragment of an old looking-glass from behind a beam, and put the kapje on. His beard looked somewhat grotesque under it; he put up his hand to hide it–that was better. The blue eyes looked out with the mild gentleness that became eyes looking out from under a kapje. Next he took the brown dress, and, looking round furtively, slipped it over his head. He had just got his arms in the sleeves, and was trying to hook up the back, when an increase in the patter of the rain at the window made him drag it off hastily. When he perceived there was no one coming he tumbled the things back into the box, and, covering it carefully, went down the ladder.

Em was still at her work, trying to adjust a new needle in the machine. Gregory drank his soup, and then sat before her, an awful and mysterious look in his eyes.

"I am going to town tomorrow," he said.

"I'm almost afraid you won't be able to go," said Em, who was intent on her needle; "I don't think it is going to leave off today."

"I am going," said Gregory.

Em looked up.

"But the sloots are as full as rivers; you cannot go. We can wait for the post," she said.

"I am not going for the post," said Gregory, impressively.

Em looked for explanation; none came.

"When will you be back?"

"I am not coming back."

"Are you going to your friends?"

Gregory waited, then caught her by the wrist.

"Look here, Em," he said between his teeth, "I can't stand it any more. I am going to her."

Since that day, when he had come home and found Lyndall gone, he had never talked of her; but Em knew who it was who needed to be spoken of by no name.

She said, when he had released her hand:

"But you do not know where she is?"

"Yes, I do. She was in Bloemfontein when I heard last. I will go there, and I will find out where she went then, and then, and then! I will have her."

Em turned the wheel quickly, and the ill-adjusted needle sprung into twenty fragments.

"Gregory," she said, "she does not want us; she told us so clearly in the letter she wrote." A flush rose on her face as she spoke. "It will only be pain to you, Gregory: Will she like to have you near her?"

There was an answer he might have made, but it was his secret, and he did not choose to share it. He said only:

"I am going."

"Will you be gone long, Gregory?"

"I do not know; perhaps I shall never come back. Do what you please with my things. I cannot stay here!"

He rose from his seat.

"People say, forget, forget!" he cried, pacing the room. They are mad! they are fools! Do they say so to men who are dying of thirst–forget, forget? Why is it only to us they say so! It is a lie to say that time makes it easy; it is afterward, afterward that it eats in at your heart!

"All these months," he cried bitterly, "I have lived here quietly, day after day, as if I cared for what I ate, and what I drank, and what I did! I care for nothing! I cannot bear it! I will not! Forget! forget!" ejaculated Gregory. "You can forget all the world, but you cannot forget yourself. When one thing is more to you than yourself, how are you to forget it?

"I read," he said–"yes; and then I come to a word she used, and it is all back with me again! I go to count my sheep, and I see her face before me, and I stand and let the sheep run by. I look at you, and in your smile, a something at the corner of your lips, I see her. How can I forget her when, whenever I turn, she is there, and not there? I cannot, I will not, live where I do not see her.

"I know what you think," he said, turning upon her. "You think I am mad; you think I am going to see whether she will not like me! I am not so foolish. I should have known at first she never could suffer me. Who am I, what am I, that she should look at me? It was right that she left me; right that she should not look at me. If any one says it is not, it is a lie! I am not going to speak to her," he added–"only to see her; only to stand sometimes in a place where she has stood before."