He dreamed of being a Rhodes scholar years before it came off that Rhodes scholarship of his. It came in the fullness of time a thing of many struggles and prayers, of star-led hopes and paths steep with uphill climbing.
Then at last it was that I agreed to go with him on his yearly pilgrimage, in September, the month of his sailing for home. May used to be a Canterbury month in England, the hawthorn month that pricked men in their courages and sent them out on the Kentish road. September had been Edgar's pilgrimage month every year a spring month in our southern country. The masasa leaves were taking many tints then in Mashonaland. Speaking generally, the dominant note of our woodland world was rose-color as we tramped together to the station. Matabeleland by contrast seemed rather drab and drouthy, yet she was showing signs of spring. One great rock stood up very beautiful in a pink lichen garment. It was hard by the path that led to the last hill-climb, ere you reached the burial-place. We camped out close beside it, two Mashona boys who had come to seek their fortunes in Bulawayo, and Edgar and I.
When the morning light came I was up. When the sun rose I had all but finished my service. There, on his own ground, so to speak, it seemed easier to pray for the Patron with a sanguine heart, and to give thanks for him with a clear conscience. Over our breakfast we sat on and talked, and looked about us. Edgar seemed to me to be growing in discernment. Once he had seemed so provocatively cock-sure about his mighty patron. To pray for him as we had prayed that morning in the language of a race he had contemned might have sounded to him in years past mere clerical impertinence. Now he seemed to suffer me rather gladly.
But he said little. We had scant time to spare just then; there were so many miles to go to the railway. He was to leave for Oxford that very night. While the carriers were cooking their breakfast he came with me to the grave and knelt at the head, looking northwards. I said nothing aloud, nor did he. The rocks bulked dark in the bright air, the hills wore mystic colors, the sun shone passionately in a setting of tender blue. Words seemed a presumption just then, too much of a time or nation or age that passes. That which may or may not take shape in words remained the untied power of silent prayer. That morning among the many-colored hills I looked to sight the faith that can remove such as these. And I prayed there quietly, in prayer that seemed to need no words, for Edgar. I asked for him that he might see those visions without which! people are apt to perish.
He did not write much, and he did not come for five years. When he came he was not at first communicative. He seemed to take more interest than he used to do in the Mission, I noticed. He had always been a hero among the Mashona boys: that was no new thing. And I was thankful indeed to see that he had not lost his old artless art of making friends with them. So many things might have conspired to rob him of it. He stayed but a month in all at the Mission, and he said little all that time, but his eyes were full of thought as I talked to him passing on to him hopes, disappointments, joys of battle unabating and enhanced. He was a good listener. I did not try to force the pace with him. But for all that I was eager to know his mind. And it seemed a long while waiting and waiting, thinking he might be going to speak day after day. Then at last the time did come for him to speak, but it was after he had left the Mission.
History repeated itself, and we camped in the old place once more. The camp-fire shone out, and the moon rose broad and golden over the grave of pilgrimage. There he lay with his feet to the north on the height above us the founder and name-giver of our State. It was strange how his patronage seemed to dominate us. We said our evensong rather northwards than eastwards; we scanned the northern horizon as though seeking a sign. The wind blew that way as we paced to and fro afterwards, and our thoughts went the way of the wind.
At last I broke the silence. We were resting on a ledge of rock then, smoking, staring away north-wards among the moonlit kopjes. There he sat beside me, fair-haired and tall, strong and rejoicing in his strength, always courteous but strangely dumb. He was going to-morrow. Would he go without a revealing word?
'So many worlds, so much to do, So little done, such things to be.'
I paused doubtfully.
He turned to me, and his eyes sparkled as they looked into mine. 'Listen,' he said. Then he told me his heart. Little I knew what it was. I trembled for my crusade, yet not without hope. I had preached to him little, but I had prayed for him much. Now I learned that his heart was as my heart, his desire as my heart's desire, yet, like wine to water, like sunlight to moonlight. I sat at his feet, so to speak, and listened on and on.
The next morning broke very brightly, yet there were clouds enough on high to mystify its clear shining. There had been a thunder-shower on the day before yesterday: our former rains had sent on an advance-guard. We had finished our service before the day grew hot, in the prime and cool of the morning. The place had been kept very sacred all that service-time. No hoot of a motor-car had scared the sleep of those lonely hills. Afterwards it was different. People came out in crowds from Bulawayo. There was a special excursion from the Transvaal, I believe, that arrived on that day of all days. We had breakfasted by our camp-fire. Then we came up the hill to the shrine once more, while the boys were clearing up. 'Listen,' said Edgar. A stout Bulawayo bourgeois was holding forth on the crankiness of Cecil Rhodes in choosing to be so lonely. 'He might have considered the town and trade of Bulawayo' seemed to be the burthen of his song. A pioneer shut him up rather roughly. 'He knew best,' he said. 'Where would your town and trade be if he hadn't cleared the path?' Edgar went up to the old fellow, ruddy, stalwart, more or less spirituous, indomitably good-humored. 'Tell me about it please, sir the burial; you were here for it, weren't you?' The old fellow complied with great goodwill.
Bareheaded we stood looking north while he told us of the great camping-out, with the many twinkling fires, by the dam some miles away, on the eve of the entombment. He told, too, of the concourse of Matabele at the place itself next day, and of the auspicious climbing of the yoked cattle as they drew the body. 'They never turned. They went straight up,' he said. 'You can see the track-way up the rock now. It meant luck surely, and we took it so, both black and white of us.'
Then he told us of him who lay there, in words of rugged tenderness the hero of the old era who brought on the new era so fast; he who had tasted the old and knew the old was better, testifying the same by his choice of a burying-place.
We were grateful, indeed, to that guide. A few yards in front of us two beaked Afro-Hebrews were arguing as to what the hero's leavings had been.
'What did he die worth?' was to one of them a subject of earnest enquiry. A few yards in front of them again, as we passed, some bar-loungers foregathered. 'He stood no nonsense about niggers,' one was saying as we went by him. Edgar nudged me. 'We all have our different views of him,' he said, 'haven't we? He gave us views and visions. Thank God that he distrusted himself, and sent us straight to learn where he learned, haply to learn what he missed learning from Oxford, his Mistress of Vision, so far to the west and the north.'
'You see, it's this way,' he said, when the place had grown quiet again in the drowsy noonday. They had gone off then, the Jo'burgers, three wagonettes and a motor-car crowded with them. 'We must keep the road open to the north, mustn't we?—-the way his feet lie, the way that goes beyond his vision into bigger visions.'
'I'll try and do something,' I said humbly. 'There are plenty who want to travel far, or think they do.' I glanced at the three Mashonas by the fire. One was teaching the other two. They were spelling out Saint John's Gospel together. 'Is he one of the most adventurous?' Edgar asked. 'He's very willing,' I muttered. 'You ask him whether he'd like to go to school down south.'
The boy's face lighted up when Edgar asked him. It was a rounded, soft-featured Mashona face with large bright eyes. The lips were not so very thick; the nostrils were cut like an Arab's.
'Tell him I'll pay for him and for another who wants to go,' Edgar said. 'He's probably got a particular friend. What about Atiwagoni?' 'He might be keen to go,' I said, 'and he's quicker than most of them.'
We began to smoke a last pipe silently. The time was drawing near to strike our camp. We must start for Bulawayo at once if we would catch Edgar's midnight train easily.
I reached for my wallet, and brought out an Oxford anthology.
I turned over the pages and began to read rather sadly
Yet half a beast is the great god Pan, To laugh as he sits by the river, Making a poet out of a man: The true gods sigh for the cost and the pain For the reed which grows nevermore again As a reed with the reeds in the river.
'There's that point of view to consider,' I said. 'I'm fond of Arcadia and Arcadians, and there's loss entailed if you send Arcadians on the way of Athens.' Edgar sighed. 'I know what you mean,' said he; 'and I feel it as you do. But Arcadia's got Lacedaemon at her throat, a southern state not much troubled with scruples, neither very philosophic nor very literary. The way has been opened by him we wot of to Oxford, to the Athens of the north. It was opened, as men thought, for the benefit of young Lacedaemonians. The man that was hand-in-glove with Africanders, with our Lacedaemonians of the south, did that. He imperiled Lacedaemonian stability by opening the way to northern stars and their influences to Shelley, Burke, and Mill, and to all manner of people dangerous to the back-veld views of Lacedaemon. He opened the way to Tolstoy's rediscovery of the Christian Law, amongst other northern treasures, didn't he? And I, with the Arcadian taint in my veins, saw the way open and went northwards. Now it has come to pass that I remember my own people as Moses did, and use the wisdom of Oxford as he used the wisdom of Egypt, to help one's own people towards a promised land. They want leaders, don't they? Is there not a cause? Is it healthy for Lacedaemon to go on as she does in Arcadia, setting aside Arcadia's own happiness?' 'I'll be back again next year,' Edgar said, 'to compare notes and report progress, should all fall well. If I forget thee, O my Darien-peak, let my right hand forget her cunning!' We knelt long at the grave with the feet of its sleeper laid true north; then we said 'Good-bye' to it. 'Bless him,' Edgar said to me as we turned away.' He opened a wider way than he knew perchance; God prosper the Great North Road, the Road to Oxford rather than to Cairo!'
THE LEPER WINDOWS
Its Cathedral was rising at last in a small South African capital. For many years a pro-Cathedral of corrugated iron had sufficed. Now the first stage of a noble design in ruddy sandstone was all but completed.
The new Bishop who had been called to sit in its Cape-oak throne was complacent of its charms. Chancel and Lady-chapel were provided; transepts and tower might be expected in due course of time. The Bishop was long and lean and dark-haired, very closely shaven. He came from Oxford, yet he was wise enough to obtrude that fact but seldom on South Africa. He watched and listened intently and said strangely little; nevertheless, when he did speak, he seemed to have no lack of things to say. His speech to the Cathedral Building Committee after a three months' silence was not without its interest. He spoke well of both design and execution.
He turned to the shyer subject of the raising of the funds. How had they attained to such wealth as their secretary announced? Mainly by means of three fancy fairs and a cafe chantant. Alas! that it should be so. Yet he did not propose to hold inquests. Let the dead bury their dead! Let them, however, set their hearts as the nether millstone against the adding of transept or tower save only by alms made to God. He went on to ask with whose memory the Lady-chapel was to be associated. Was it not the fact that they had associated the chapel of Christ's Mother with the memory of a visionary statesman? There seemed to be want of consideration for the great dead shown in their popular decision, inasmuch as he had not seen his way to accept her Son. Was it not something of a felony to have stolen the dead man's name—a felony that had assisted their funds very lavishly? But, likely enough, the Committee had had some noble thought in mind when they gave to the dead such reckless honor. The last touches were now being given to the nave. He wished to make a personal request of his own. He understood that colored persons and natives were not to be encouraged to frequent this mother of churches. Their status within was, to say the least, precarious and hard to reconcile with due respect for the second chapter of Saint James. He asked to put in at his own expense five windows after the likeness of leper windows in England windows that colored persons and natives might use freely and without reproach. By this means someone at least of them from without the walls might be made free of the vision of the services within.
The irony of the speech escaped its hearers for the most part. After the usual type of debate on such a subject as viewed in South African Church circles, the request was granted.
Now it happened that Mr. Conyers Smythe, the most prosperous man in the whole community, was not present at that Committee meeting. He was a Master of Arts of a South African University, and a real scholar, not a mere qualifier. He was, moreover, both sufficiently educated to understand the irony of a critical friend, and habitually inclined to resent it. He spoke fierily to certain of his intimates when the Bishop's speech was reported to him. He went to see him himself next day in the evening time.
His host came and sat with him on the stoep, lighted the lamp to show him a new book of his, and gave him coffee and a cigar. The hour was about half-past seven, and the week was Christmas week. There was a new moon of very dim silver in the West looking through the rose trellis upon them, and masses of inflammatory cloud were heaped about her. The host looked at the guest meditatively as he lighted his pipe.
The guest was fair-haired and well-featured, as well as magnificently built; but his deep color was not exactly the hue of health. His eyes had been glowing when he had first come on the scene, prepared to open battle. But when his host masterfully gained an armistice they became dull and rather worn eyes, that seemed not to be seeing good days somehow.
Their possessor only grew eager by flashes now and again as the Bishop showed him a second new book one that they both deemed highly delectable turning the passages and discussing various phases of its general subject the cults of the Greek States.
They had come together, these two, in a very tiny and remote city each an enthusiast as to this same by-path of erudition.
It was not until he had shown his guest the road on to a large extent of commonage—commonage of mutual delight that the Bishop led the way to a spot therein convenient for the desired engagement. He began to discuss the relations of Xanthos, the fair god, and Melanthos, the dark god, in Hellenic society.
'That's the trouble here,' he said. 'I hope you won't draw the line even at my leper windows. They may at least ease the isolation of our two cults here. I find established so to speak in this Christian city the cult of Xanthos, tribal god of the fair-skins at the Cathedral, or for the present the Pro-Cathedral. Also I find the cult of Melanthos multiplying itself at the tin temple of Saint Simon the Cyrenian.'
Mr. Smythe's cheeks became more deeply empurpled and his eyes danced.
'You must know,' went on the Bishop, 'I don't believe in tribal-gods at this time of day. I believe in Someone bigger. So it was that leper windows, modeled on those of the Middle Ages, seemed to me possible easements. There, at least, Lazarus may feel at home and join in worship, as his forerunners in the Middle Ages did, at their own wall-slits. Thus at least one step will be taken towards the supercession of Xanthos. As to the cult of Melanthos, I hope to help to infuse more of the joy of the Universal into it, so help me God!!! Yes, let me hear your objections.'
Mr. Smythe began quite conclusively. Yet there was more moderation and more argument in his rather indistinct beginning than in the flowing harangue that followed, when his voice cleared and his periods found their stride. The speech fell from level to level. Ere the end it fell to the level of that sort of invective against natives one hears so often where mean whites forgather a not very dizzy level, believe me!
Finally, Mr. Smythe vowed to give no penny for the future to Church purposes, and never to darken the doors of the new Cathedral, should the concession of those leper windows be confirmed. He would agree to forfeit a thousand pounds should he break his word, he said. Thereupon they closed the subject. The host tried to lead back to the cults of the Greek States, but the guest was now too rapt and breathless to follow to much purpose. Soon, by mutual consent, they ended the interview, not without private friendliness, but with civic war at heart.
This was in Christmas week, and things went much as might have been expected during the months that followed. The concession had been granted by the Committee, and the concessionaire thought it his duty to be grateful for that small mercy and to act upon it. The malcontent repeated his vow, and it rang throughout the village-city. A good many of the natives who worshipped at the tin temple managed to hear of it, and laughed to one another; they would watch for the darkening of the doors.
The Cathedral was to be dedicated to Saint Mark as a saint who was martyred in Africa, but lacked a cathedral in the south.
His day was chosen for the hallowing. On the eve some pomp of Procession, Recession, and Anthems had been prepared, and the Bishop was to preach. He had been away much of these last months to north, south, east and west. So custom had not staled his variety of appeal to the outer circle of citizens or villagers. They, as well as the devotees, thronged the nave. At the leper windows there were knots of dark participants in the service.
The windows gave; a few the chance of sight, but they were only five in number, and it would seem that many had to be content with very scanty views. It is questionable whether a number of the smaller folk nurse-boys, kitchen boys and telegraph messengers got any sort of a glance ere the pageantry was over.
The night was very clear; the autumn wind was somewhat bitter.
The hymn after the Blessing had been reached 'Brief life is here our portion' and the banners streamed down the central aisle in glory. The leper windows grew very starry with observation.
One boy who had come late had no chance of a view now. He was the Bishop's coachman, a lanky Bechuana, and he stood humming the hymn's air with his back to a window a window near the western door. Suddenly he started. Somebody was striding up to the porch. Surely there was no mistaking Mr. Conyers Smythe's fine shoulders in that figure nor the jaunty carriage of his massive head. Now he drew near, and the light of the porch-lamp fell upon him.
The coachman caught the arm of his stable-boy, who was standing next to him a rather Jewish-looking Mashona.
'Look! look!' he cried.
They both watched the churchgoer as he passed up the steps. Then he was gone from their view.
In the afternoon of the next day, when the triumphal services of Dedication were over, the Bishop was being driven to a farmhouse not very far distant. It was not till his mule-cart had almost reached home again that his driver ventured to question him. He had seemed rather preoccupied that driver all the dusty journey. Now he asked a question that was being wildly debated in native circles that very afternoon. 'My lord, has Mr. Smythe paid all the thousand pounds yet?'
The Bishop started and stared; then he laughed. 'What do you know of Mr. Smythe's thousand pounds?' he asked. Then he answered, 'No, Jack; why should he?'
Why indeed? So Mombe, the ox-man to give him his native name was trying to evade his obligations, was he? Almost bursting with importance, Jack told his master what Jim and he had seen last night. The Bishop listened carefully, and asked two or three questions. Then he told Jack that he might want him and his stable-boy later on that evening. He felt sure that the story was no mere willful fiction. When they were home he wrote a letter to Smythe asking him if he could come over and smoke after dinner. Then he went off to his sunset Evensong.
Conyers Smythe came about an hour afterwards. The Bishop and he had had but two bookish evenings together since that rather bizarre one in Christmas week. They met cordially enough on this April night.
Smythe was looking far from well. He had been worried about his wife's health she was away in England. The last news of it had been rather disquieting. Smythe was glad enough of sympathy; he was in no truculent mood.
They smoked by the fire in the Bishop's study as the night was cold. The Bishop had some new books to show and points to debate.
The two began with Greek pagan cults, but passed on to Christian hagiology, and discussed the legend of St. Mark with a fair measure of agreement. Then, when the coffee had come in, and they had I become friends at ease and amity, the Bishop told Smythe the boys' tale.
Smythe grew curiously white and seemed angry.
Then he laughed. 'Let's have 'em in and hear their yarn!' he said.
So Jack and Jim were sent for, and, after some slight delay, appeared. They were well washed and in their Sunday clothes. They were disposed to be deferential enough, but withal very confident, both of them. They cast somewhat awed glances at Smythe in his armchair, but they told their tale clearly on the whole, in fair Biblical English, Jack first, slowly, and Jim, at a great pace, after his superior. Smythe appeared to be busily consulting a reference while Jim was ending. There was a pause. Then the guest looked up from his book and stated his alibi: 'I was in my stable, sitting up with a sick horse,' he said. 'I came away long after the church service was over when the poor beast died with frothing at the nose. You can ask my stable-boy.'
Jack bowed his head respectfully. 'Your stableboy, Mutenu, has told me so this evening,' he said. 'But, O master, why should we lie? Is it not known that people have been seen in two places at one time'?'
Smythe frowned. He was not anxious to discuss hypotheses with natives. Then the Bishop told the boys that he had heard enough. Let them think that although they had spoken truth, they had been mistaken.
'How do you explain it?' said the Bishop rather eagerly when they had gone out.
'O,' said Smythe with a rather bitter smile, 'supposing it not to be a native lie—natives have been known to lie, my lord—it's the sort of story one reads about in the Middle Ages, the sort of legend likely to linger. He was seen going into a church on a certain ill-starred night.'
The Bishop gave a start and interrupted him. 'Do you know what yesterday evening was? Why, it was Saint Mark's Eve.'
Smythe smiled a queer livid smile. 'Yes, I thought of that all along, since the boy mentioned the porch,' he said. 'I've just been looking up the old belief in that new book of yours. I was seen going in, therefore I must look to go out in these next twelve months.
A year, a month, a week, a natural day That Faustus may repent and save his soul! O lente, lente currite, noctis equi! The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike, The devil will come, and Faustus will be damn'd.
The Bishop smiled at the quotation, but looked anxiously at his guest. Was he really taking his subliminal self's choice of date to heart? He proceeded to recount his own unfaith in thirteen's black magic, also in the traditional properties of salt and broken mirrors. He gave instances of disproof in his own unended career.
But Smythe, though he laughed with him, seemed rather restrained and silent: the last hour of that evening appeared to hang fire somehow. Towards the end of it, Smythe talked of his wife. 'She is at her old home,' he said, and mentioned a village very near to Oxford.
'I know,' said his host, looking into the wood fire. He was watching the Cherwell swirl through a narrow archway. He was conscious of heavenly blue in the white limbo ceiling above him, and the cushions of his chair had a grassy feel.
'She's gone home,' said Smythe, 'and she's not well, and I've not been well.'
'You look as if you want rest and change,' said the Bishop uneasily.
'I think of going a trip to the old country,' said Smythe. 'I was born out here, and haven't ever seen it. I'd like to see it once.'
'O, do go,' said his host. 'It is worth going far. Yes, all that long way.'
Not many minutes after they said good-night.
But the Bishop did not go to bed at once after his guest had gone. He reached for his Keats, and read, 'The Eve of Saint Mark'; then he reflected.
'Strange are the uses of leper windows,' he thought. 'How I should like to know what I may know this time next year, if only I didn't know I'd better not know it now! Well, be it a sign or a mock sign, God see him through with it!'
Conyers Smythe started home by the next mail boat save one. The same boat carried a letter in the Bishop's handwriting to a pastoral divine in Oxford.
'He's a sick sheep, anyhow,' said the writer, 'and I've a presentiment that he mayn't last out a year.'
As it befell, Conyers Smythe died rather suddenly in England before November was over. People remarked on the dreadfulness of the event. But Mrs. Smythe bore the shock bravely, as if she had been well prepared to bear it. It seemed that she had known the truth about his heart-disease in May, almost as soon as he was told it by the London doctor. Smythe had grown to be intimate in those last months with two or three English scholars one was an expert in tribal cults, and the other was that pastoral divine. It was one or other of these Oxford friends of his who sent on his last letter to the Bishop in December after he had gone away. Among other messages, the letter brought this one:
'There was something in that Saint Mark's Eve business I suppose. But I had had my warnings before of an event that is likely enough to occur this very week. I am glad indeed that I came home and saw things from other sides before the end. Perhaps those crowded-out Kaffirs by your leper windows hurried me up with their intelligence. I am grateful to them for that. Otherwise I might have delayed, and never started on the home voyage.
'You must make some allowance for my old point of view, as I was born into it. But now I want to give both Transepts to the Glory of God on condition that colored folk and natives shall, have them to themselves undisturbed. Forgive my narrow-mindedness, but I'd rather have it so than have all races mixed up together, and perhaps they'd rather have it so themselves! No, I really don't think I'm dying in the creed of the tribal god Xanthos, but in the faith of Someone bigger. I can trust you to befriend me at some altar of His. . . . I wish I could afford the Tower.'
'Alms!' said the Bishop. 'Thank God they'll not be built now by bazaars or fancy fairs or even by cafes-chantants. Poor base-born little churches out here, that one so often hears of, aren't they only too likely to grow up into the temples of the tribal god?'
Thus the Transepts were destined to be of purer lineage than Chancel or Nave or Lady-chapel. Only the Leper Windows are their equals in descent as yet among their fellow-buildings. But there is good hope of an honorable birth for the yet unborn Tower.
THE BURNT OFFERING A SEQUEL TO 'THE LEPER WINDOWS'
['The Headman made it generally known that he expected all the men, both Christian and heathen, to subscribe to the funds. One man refused to give anything, and was taken before the Magistrate in consequence.' Extract from a South African Church paper, December 22, 1910.]
The transepts had been built and blessed, the five leper windows were no longer over-crowded. Xanthos and Melanthos, gods of the fair and the swart skins, had in a measure met together, and in a sense kissed each other. Much remained to be achieved in the matter of mutual good understanding, and much more again in the supercession of these tribal deities by a Greater.
On the other hand, something had been done to teach the devotees of Xanthos toleration and a spirit of alms. The Bishop now turned his attention towards Melanthos more particularly what could he do to ennoble the aims and methods of his clients? He had made a journey to England and back not long before the blessing of the transepts. He regretted leaving his flock at the time. Yet certain observations he had made just ere he started gave him much food for thought on the voyage. And when he was home in the old country he was glad to find time and occasion to observe afresh, supplementing Africa by Europe, intuitions by research.
The Rev. Charles Topready, a keen missionary, had asked him to visit him the week before he went homewards. It was the season when that countryside threshed out its millet-grain in a revel of rhythmic labor. The Bishop delighted in some of those airs that the sticks beat time to. He was greedy of fantastic interpretations as he wrote their voweled refrains down in a note-book.
'We may have a Harvest Thanksgiving in church, may we not, this coming Sunday?' he said.
Now Harvest Thanksgivings were as red rags to Topready. 'Why should we bind upon Africa a burden that irks England?' he groaned. 'Surely it is a mercy that we can start afresh on the veld with no tradition of a Feast of Pumpkins.'
The Bishop smiled and smoked and argued by the hour. His point was that festivals of the soil were serviceable for sons of the soil. That agricultural festivals were serviceable for husbandmen, pastoral feasts for shepherds and goat-herds, hunting commemorations like that of Saint Hubert, for those who hunted. His knowledge of Greece and Rome, pagan and Christian, of mediaeval England and modern Brittany helped him with many apt illustrations. Topready stuck out his chin and kept bravely to his two points the danger of materialism and the menace to the spiritual cults and festas of Holy Church as by law established in the England of to-day.
'All right,' said the Bishop, 'let us have no Harvest Thanksgiving for the tillage of African earth. That is to say not this year. But keep an open mind.' Topready promised dubiously.
That struggle and waiving of victory had put the Bishop on his mettle. He had thought out the subject to some purpose before they met again.
Here are some pages from his English diary:
Sept. 21. Preached at a Thanksgiving in Essex. 'Happy harvest fields,' quiet tints in the Vicarage garden. A sun that seemed to make better use of a short day than an African sun would of a long one. What a festival Topready might have just about this time if he only liked. The masasas tinted with copper, crimson; mauve, and pink, and other leaves showing faery green and gold.
Saint Matthew's Day. The festival of the foolery of riches when Spring is everywhere and the sun is shining.
Oct. (date illegible). Preached at the blessing of the boats in a small Sussex harbor the herring season just beginning. What glorious girls' names some of the boats had that we prayed for 'Diana Elizabeth,' for instance, might have sailed out of the 'Faerie Queene.'
Nov. 1 (All Saints'). Went to church at Saint Paul's in a side chapel.
Nov. 2 (All Souls'). Went to pray in a cemetery chapel.
Both were misty mornings, but the sun each day came out before we had done, and broke through the dingy windows in a carnage of color. How fine a side of death, November, the month of the dead, presents here. Damp and fog and fall of the leaf doubtless the sorryness of the bad business of decay and punishment but on the other hand what bravery of sunlight at times, and what colors for the sun to shine upon. In Africa it's so different. There the month is a spring month. The gay side of death as a release from Africa's plentiful curses and bondages is happily prominent. All Saints' Day our May Day our Feast of Flora and the Rosa Mystica! What a day for converts suckled in animism! Let us commemorate the African Saints with garlands of spring flowers as well as with palms in their hands. Have written to Topready to suggest a May-Day Festival with African drums to dance to, if no English May-pole to plait.
Jan. 21 (St. Agnes' Day). Went to a down church, where they had a sort of special service. Lambing-time among the South Downs just coming on. The sacrifice pleaded with one main request in view the blessing on the flocks. If they had only brought some lambs in! I hope to live to see some pied African lambs and kids in church yet.
June 21. Went to Stonehenge on the longest day. Would have camped out there on the eve if the policeman would have let me. Took observations as to Flame-Stone. Compared notes with those I took at Zimbabwe this time last year on my way to Topready's.
June 24 (Saint John). Yes, in African Mission Stations we should have St. John's Fires or fires corresponding to them about Christmas time.
Then in Mashonaland, summer is at height. Yes, the other Saint John's Day, or its Eve, would do. Let us give thanks for the Light of the World and the Sun of Righteousness symbolized by things seen and enjoyed. What did Saint Patrick do about the sacred fire? He kept it going, didn't he? Let us light our bonfires with a good will this coming Christmastide we who live by sun-time so often.
Back from England came the Bishop full of the lore of early missions. He had enriched his zeal for broad-basing the people's worship on their own everyday earth, and for enlightening things opaque with effulgences invisible. He saw his way more clearly to further what he had at heart. Topready had had many letters, and they had had their effect. But he had not capitulated yet. He capitulated at a price, as we shall see.
'Church ready by Christmas,' wrote Topready, 'please come and consecrate.' 'Expect me the day after,' telegraphed the Bishop. He thought about a bonfire as he rode along on that Saint Stephen's Day. 'The kopje above the Mission!' he reflected. 'A magnificent place for a beacon-fire.'
To his delight the new church crowned the very kopje he had been thinking of. There it stood on the sky-line, its gold of fresh thatch crowned a huge pole building, and was itself crowned by a white cross.
'How fine!' said the Bishop to himself, 'but there's no room up there for a bonfire as well, alas!'
Topready did not look over-cheerful when his leader greeted him with congratulations on the building of the church.
'It's all very well, or rather it might have been ever so much better,' he said, as they went in.
In the evening there was much time to talk. They sat on the stony rise above the house with a wide valley view. The starlight was brilliant above them eager, perfervid, passionate. They were on the rocks smoking, the Bishop between Topready and Manners, who was not a parson, but a policeman.
'It's like this,' said Topready. 'Holy Innocents' is the first church that has been built since I came here. It was built on a system.'
He explained roughly how it worked. The native teacher used his personal and official majesty for what it was worth. The people on the Mission ground were asked for poles, grass, work, &c. 'These were given,' said Topready, 'or at least "given" is the word that I understand my predecessor would have chosen. The headman proclaimed that his will coincided with the will of the native teacher. They wanted a church built that would compare favorably with churches erected under the auspices of other native teachers and other headmen.
'The contributions came in plentifully, sylvan or grassy. People who never come to church, heathens who do not seem much overjoyed with the Gospel, gave just as handsomely as Church officers. No one was paid. The church is cheap and big, and the headman and native teacher are both unhealthily contented.'
'Well, what's the matter?' said Manners; 'it's the way we do these little things in Africa. White men don't build churches from base to spire on ideal principles exactly, do they. Bishop?'
'At least we haven't had a cafe chantant lately,' the Bishop said.
'Well, don't you be too sure one isn't going on in some outlying parish while we sit here. As it happens, I know of one advertised for next month.'
'Be sure of your facts,' said the Bishop.
'Anyhow, before you came, plenty of the society lash used to be applied to get church-building doles out of Europeans. Moreover, if you look into it, generally you'll find things at Missions much as you find them here. These gloriously "given" Mission churches on Mission lands that the home magazine ecstasizes over are not given so very freely, to say the least of it. They are put up by a sort of social pressure immensely effective,' Topready broke in.
'They say most of the churches this side of the river are built the one way and I don't like the one way. Archdeacon Maynard used to advocate the one way, and impress it on his missionaries black and white. It was he who started the church-rate and debarred defaulters from Easter Communion. I've stopped that, and I want to stop the one way.'
The Bishop groaned. 'Archdeacon Maynard's a vice-president of the Free and Open Churchmen in England. I heard him speak eloquently, if a little floridly, on the right of the poor to the House of God.'
Manners chuckled. 'England's some way off,' he said.
Topready spoke from his heart. 'I don't like it. I told the people that the proper way was for Christians and philo-Christians to build accordingly as they could spare money and time. But they said that they were too few. I answered "Then let them wait in the old church awhile." They said they wanted a new church this year, and that the heathen should be called to help the faithful as in other places. They said they ought to have a kraal levy as other places did it saved a great deal of trouble. They thought me mad, I think. Azariah, the teacher, practically told me so.'
The Bishop lit his pipe again.
'We'll think about it,' he said. 'The consecration is fixed for the day after to-morrow, is it not? It was to be christened Holy Innocents' Church on Childermas Day, was it not? Will you have it consecrated on the Eve instead, Saint John's Night? Time Sunset.'
Topready started. 'Rather late, is it not?' he asked.
It was a great concourse that lined the hillside on the morrow when the sun was going down. The Bishop had spoken that morning in the old plain church of how he wished them to observe certain days of prayer and thanksgiving.
He asked them to keep a festival of flocks on Saint Agnes' Day.
He asked them to keep a festival of herds on Saint Luke's Day.
He asked them to keep the feasts of Loaf-Mass in August and Wood-Mass in September as feasts of Harvest and Forestry.
He asked them to keep a thanksgiving for summer after Christmas on the night of Saint John, if they and their priest thought good.
He spoke of how the heathen had worshipped the sun in the grey northern lands. Then Christians better taught had thanked Christ, the Light of the World, for the glory of the sun, and lighted their joy-fires to a better purpose.
Doubtless, some in this land long ago, not only at Zimbabwe, but on many hills and high places, had honored the strong sun of the South. He asked them as Christians to be glad for that same sun's blessings at Christmas time. It seemed to him good for those who wished it (he gave no law) for those to light their bonfires to-night and to thank God not only for the summer, but for the Sun of righteousness. He himself had a mind to light a fire on that Saint John's Night to the glory of God.
Topready looked thoughtful after church. 'If I adopt your calendar loyally as far as may be, do you see your way to help me against the system?' he asked of a sudden. His grey-blue eyes were full of fight.
The Bishop nodded. He talked with him quietly a little while.
'The pact is made, then?' said Topready. 'No, I don't think we have sold our convictions, either of us. I don't feel penitent about my side of the bargain.'
'I feel it's a holy alliance,' said the Bishop, and his face glowed. 'People will keep this night, and remember what was done on it, may be, long after we are forgotten.'
That sunset a mighty crowd was there among the rocks. Much dead wood had been brought. Fathers, mothers, and children in costumes that ranged from skins to European fashions shouldered or headed their faggots.' A grim thought obsessed the Bishop as he watched them. These people, so quiet and yielding as to the selling of sacrament, and levying of church vote how easily they might be swayed to more sinister reminiscences of the Middle Ages! If he and Topready and Azariah and the headman enjoined it, what would save certain aged heathen neighbors from an auto-da-fe for alleged witchcraft one of these nights? Were not some of those old scenes at the stake much like this scene before him? Did not country people come together much as these, with dark impassive faces and bundles of firewood? Did not they listen and listen so, until the time came to pile faggots to the glory of God?
He stood on a rock and looked down on the faces. Topready stood close beneath him looking cheerful, the native teacher was near looking dubious, next to him stood the headman with his white beard, looking amused. Around them the crowd poised and posed itself among the rocks with innate grace and imposing silence. Even the babies in the goatskins were quiet.
The Bishop spoke of alms-giving. He said he did not like their plan of raising a house for Christ. Let people who loved Christ build churches if they wished to, but let them build churches according to their power to give! Let them not seek the labor or money of others, careless how it came! Rather let them worship in the old and the small, than build a new and great church anyhow! He, their Bishop, wished to buy their new church from them, paying back those who had helped to build, giving to each his due. He asked them, would they sell this church to him, to do with it as seemed to him good? If, when they built, they had made, as it were, a false start, let them start again, and this time so run that they might obtain the Promises of Christ. Would they sell their church to him?
He waited for an answer.
There was a hush. The eyes that watched him seemed almost overwhelming in their vigilance.
His eyes went wistfully off to the sky in front of him. What beaches of gold and weed-tangles of rose-color those were to the north-west the way of England.
Suddenly the silence was broken.
Azariah spoke out bravely. He had heard the words of his herdsman, and he knew that he had' gone astray, even like a lost bull. As for this thatched cattle-byre that they had built, let him who asked for it have it! Was it not his own?
One after another spoke. Their speeches all had the same import let the church be handed over to him that asked.
A roar of acclamation worth many speeches went up from the hill-side Then the Bishop asked those who carried faggots to follow him to the consecration. His shepherd's staff went before him. An earthen vessel smoked with incense in front of that again. He followed up the steep path in his shining robes. Behind him came blazing grass torches, and behind them again wood-carriers. When they reached the hill's crown there was some delay in the gathering dusk. They were stacking the wood for the sacrifice. At last Topready turned to his chief with a happy face. All was prepared. The Bishop's voice rang out in one sonorous prayer of oblation. Then someone handed him a grass torch and he kindled the thatch above the altar. The church that misbegotten innocent flamed up toward heaven amber and grey and crimson under the stars.
EIGHT-EIGHT IN LAVENDER
Andrew Vine came out to Africa this year as a pilgrim, and was disappointed. He did not go about his pilgrimage in the right way to my thinking. For to begin with, on his own confession, he put himself in the hands of a born organizer, who was making up a party of fellow-travelers.
Of course they were provided with first-class tickets for the boat, and enjoyed for sixteen days and more, in a same and narrow scene, an amplitude of the luxuries they were used to, and tired of. Then, dogged by a diet befitting that state to which it had pleased Providence to call them, they rode the Great North Road for some days in a northern express. Vine said that the Victoria Falls were all right, but that their surroundings were, many of them, perversely wrong. It was so very stale, the hotel business, with the moonlight river excursions and the Livingstone trips, far too much sleeked and smoothed by foresight, and tamed by taking of thought. If one had only traveled up with pack donkeys, provisioned with leathery meat and leathery damper! For Vine had known better times in Africa. He had known pioneer adventures in his headstrong youth but had fallen out of his Column after three crowded months. Tempted of fever, he had made a great refusal. And now in this year, twenty-four years after, the sense of having seen better days at a tithe of the expense, oppressed him.
However, the tickets had been taken, and the splendidly null organization of their party had him in its grip. He went back from the Falls to Bulawayo, and was whisked out to Khami. Only an hour was allowed him to see the river. At the grave of the Matopos, he was allowed two hours. There a brooding Presence grappled with the languors of his pilgrimage. The demoniac discontent of that savage scene made great play with him, during the two hours he was there, but two hours are not a very long time. Soon they were scorching back again with an interval for tea at a well (or ill) appointed hotel. Vine was disposed to give up the dreary pilgrimage-game that very night, he told me. But the born organizer, coming to him after dinner, persuaded him to play it out. He offered to release him after the next lap the lap of Great Zimbabwe. When that was once finished to time, he proposed that the party should have a breather, a short spell of civilized life at Salisbury, should it so seem good to them. Vine could be spared for the space of that interlude. Afterwards he would doubtless take boat with them for a cruise up the East Coast. He would be sufficiently reinvigorated to rough it out with them rigorously to the end. The East Coast route might not entail quite so many hardships. Vine sighed, but he was a man of his word. He went to Zimbabwe without a murmur. He had longed for seventy-five miles of the dusty Umvuma post-cart, but alas, the day was the third of the new month! The railway extension to Victoria had been opened on the first. The organizer rubbed his hands as he told them the glad news: 'We can have a dining-car and sleeping berths now to within sixteen miles odd of the ruins. We shan't need to fare so ruggedly after all. A lunch at the "Apes and Peacocks" Hotel is about the worst of it. But we can take out a Fortnum and Mason's hamper in the road-car that meets us.'
So they went to the ruins. Vine, who, as a pioneer had seen the 'Temple's' torso shaggy in bush and long grass, hardly knew it again. It had been shaven and shorn rather ruthlessly. Some of the ruins, he noted ungratefully, were numbered to correspond with a catalogue. There was, moreover, the glamorous sheen of a wire fence about the whole place.
A curator participated as guide by special arrangement. A local celebrity accompanied him; he stood for the faith of Ophir, and smote the Egyptologist adversary not once nor twice alone. He confessed to the ladies of the party his conviction that the theory of an African origin was too inconceivably squalid. He stood for the gorgeous East, he said, as against Kaffirdom. He would not insult the culture that they brought with them by bothering them with detailed arguments.
Meanwhile another local celebrity was employed in bossing up some restoration work. Primitive walls were receiving trained modern attention, and medical attendance, regardless of expense.
Vine came to me at Umvuma when the Zimbabwe visitation was over and done. He was seeing his party off by the Salisbury train when he caught sight of me on the platform. That night he smoked and slept by an ox-wagon. Bread was to hand in rather frugal measure, but there was great plenty of monkey-nuts. There was also bush-tea, and Vine brought much tobacco. We smoked till long after the moon set, and that was near midnight. He told me of disappointments that had come to him through his pilgrimage being over well-appointed.
'After all,' I said, 'you might try again next year.'
'But a year's a lot at my age. I was forty-five last month, and I don't mean coming out again.
'So little done, so much to do, So many worlds, such things to be.'
'Where shall we go to this week?' he went on. 'I've got a week off from the Cook's combination. You'll give me the one week, won't you Shall we go to Dhlo-Dhlo or Nanatali or Sinoia Caves? It's the curse of our Cook's tour that it's mopped up the sacred places I did want to see in a decent way the Grave, and the Temple, and the Falls.'
'Yours is the very snobbery of pilgrimage,' I told him sternly. 'There are surely shrines on the veld that have never yet got into a Chartered Company's guide-book.' I told him of a modest set of ruins out our way. I couldn't well come with him in any direction, north, south, or east or west, as he seemed to think I could. I might get in five days between Sunday and Sunday, if he chose our own neighborhood. He seemed glad enough to agree.
We cut food down and loads, and we started. We camped within the precincts of the shrine, hard by a place where a fire-fused chalice had been dug out. Ours was a fair camping-ground. A ring of kopjes about it wore the sun's colors. To the east a spruit was in sight, overhung in that autumn month by the mists of morning. Within those precincts we dreamed some temple-dreams on two golden afternoons, and slept temple-sleep on two very shiny nights.
'My reformed pilgrimage has justified itself,' Vine told me on the morning that we left, when we were making for my station.
'Wait a bit,' I said. 'We are arriving if all falls well, this very night at another shrine. We have not done with our Pilgrims' Way.'
That night we came to the farm-house where the Kents farmed and missionized. I had expected Vine to like it and them, but I had not guessed how much attracted he would be. The Kents were not up-to-date, and they dressed as some people dressed in England twenty-five years before in the period of their leaving home.
So Mrs. Kent wore on that night a chocolate-brown Liberty costume of a Burne Jones pattern. Miss Kent was only twenty-two, and wore rose-color, but the design of her dress was her mother's own. Kent wore an eighties collar with old-oak plaid and a red tie, I did not like his taste.
Vine sat and watched them with a reverential sort of gaze. He asked Kent when they were going home, thoughtfully. But Kent told him that they did not think of going home again, only up the coast to Zanzibar, or down to Inhambane, when they wanted change and holiday. 'That's splendid,' said Vine emphatically. 'Don't go home. It's not what it used to be. I feel sure you would not like it.'
After supper we had music, and Kent kept on singing, at Vine's particular request. I did not take much notice of what he was singing till Vine came and spoke to me. Then I saw how excited he was, and I listened with attention.
'Do you remember that?' he said. 'It was the song that Oriel man used to sing.' Then I recognized 'Our Last Waltz,' and afterwards 'In Sweet September.' I remembered both as the songs of a man whose wedding we both had attended, in the very year that we went down.
We shared a hut behind the mission homestead, and shared much converse before we slept.
'It's purple and gold,' Vine said. 'I came out to find a beastly ruin.'
'And you find the Victorian Sixth Decade mummified,' I said.
'Well, pressed in lavender,' I amended.
For early did'st thou leave the world, with powers Fresh, undiverted to the world without, Firm to their mark, not spent on other things; Free from the sick fatigue, the languid doubt, Which much to have tried, in much been baffled, brings.
'That describes Kent's Hegira, doesn't it? He's stopped where we two were, when we went down, in ever so many ways.'
'Hurray!' cried Vine, tossing his boot up, 'I came out to find a beastly ruin, and I've found my lost youth, nothing more nor less! Bless you!'
But his ecstasy was to culminate on the following morning. Kent had mounted him on one of his two mules, and piloted him on the other to see some Bush paintings three miles away.
I grew a little uneasy, they were so long gone, for I knew well what a lot of country lay between us and my own mission station. I was due there by sunrise or soon after, on the morrow. Mrs. Kent was strumming away on the piano old dance tunes that I remembered barrel-organ melodies of now remote days, days when a bi-weekly shave sufficed me. I stood in the doorway and beat time. Whenever were we going to get started at this rate? At last the mules came cantering up the wagon-road.
'Get a move on,' I shouted to Vine as he pulled up before the door. But just at that moment Mrs. Kent began on 'The Reign of the Roses.' Vine, who had kicked a foot out of its stirrup, did not dismount. He sat drinking in the dance-measure. Louder and louder she played the air, and, humming it over, he drove his foot home. Shaking up the reins, he cantered his mule round and round the sun-dial in front of the door. Round and round he went, still humming, while those wiry and sun-burnt wrists pounded away at the dance-music.
'How long is this going on?' I pleaded. I began to see the humor of the thing when I watched our carriers. They were gaping as at a new kind of circus. At last Mrs. Kent gave over, not very soon, however; the melody was evidently a favorite of hers.
'Is there not a cause?' pleaded Vine, when he had dismounted lingeringly, and was facing my reproaches for his wanton delay. He muttered something about a merry-go-round. Afterwards he explained, when we were making up for lost time along the big vlei.
'It was that night when we got to Goring,' he reminded me, 'when we went down to Henley in that double-sculler at the end of our first summer term 1888, the first week in July. There was a village fair on that night, and we rode round on the horses, ever so many pennyworths. That was the tune I remembered best of all the tunes that the steam-organ played. Don't you remember?' And strange to say, I did.
He played the game with the organizer, rapt though he was by his memory of the steam-organ, I will say that much for him. He took the trouble to go all the way up to Salisbury, and to beg him to have him excused. And he was successful. I don't quite know what excuse he gave. It was scarcely likely to be so crude as the excuse I guessed at, 'I want to marry a wife, and therefore I cannot go.' He unbosomed himself to me engagingly when he came back from Salisbury. He appealed to my compassionate sympathy.
'Just fancy! Forty-five and no real home!' he said, 'And here I've come on pilgrimage, and found just what I've unconsciously craved youth and beauty up-to-date, not this date but the date of my own unforgotten youth 1888 in lavender, so to speak.'
I wished him luck in his wooing of Miss Kent. If Mrs. Kent had been a widow, I should have thought her much more suitable. He gave the bridle-reins a shake, and rode away on an old salted horse he had bought, walking had grown much too slow for him.
He won Joan Kent, and fixed it up with her late-Victorian parents to their mutual content.
The wedding date is chosen already it is June 20th a day hallowed enough, having twice been Jubilee Day. I think Vine would have preferred May 24th as having been Victoria Day. But Joan objected to her wedding taking place in Our Lady's May month.
I have a friend who lives some miles away, among fantastic rocks and crimson-flowered Kaffir trees. I was over at his homestead one day in Christmas week last year and found that he was absent. He was sleeping at a trading-station to east, the boys said, and would not be back for a day or so. But he had left word with them to give me supper should I come. So I had time to notice a change.
Three or four very cool and fresh water-colors adorned his walls. They were pinned up there under a trophy of harness. Under each oblong of paper was a title in old English characters. One was named 'Sundown.' another 'Sun-up' these both showed the homestead not as it was now in mid-summer, but as I remembered it in late winter or early spring, with some of the trees in full flower.
The other picture showed a charming group of children variously colored among the rocks. I feasted my eyes on it for quite a long while, noting its detail, which bewildered me. Surely no such scene had been witnessed lately in all South Africa. Yet I knew the rocks of the scene; they were close by, and the children were painted some of them with familiar-looking faces. The title underneath was 'Innocents.'
I did not see my friend for a week or so after that, and when I did I did not think at first to ask about the pictures. However, he began to tell the story of them himself. He was talking about men on the road, a class with which he had a large acquaintance, having lodged many of them. 'I had one here last week,' he said, 'a white man in clean white ducks. He stopped two nights, and went outside painting most of the days. He gave me three pictures. He could paint, couldn't he? I couldn't catch his name, and he said he wasn't sure where he was going to stop next. But he went up the Rosebery Road, and seemed to know his way about. He hadn't got a bag, and he traveled very light just a blanket or so and a loaf of bread and a cup. I shouldn't think he'd come to much harm, would he?' I shook my head. 'He could paint, couldn't he?' he said, glancing up at the pictures. I nodded. 'That's a fancy picture,' I said; 'that of the children a pretty fancy. I wonder what it means.' My friend Dick meditated. 'I don't see much wrong in the painting anyhow,' he said.
The picture was indeed a pretty fancy there were children white and black in it, and lambs and kids. The white children were mixed up with the black curiously. One little sturdy Mashona carried a white child in his arms. A white boy with fair hair, aged nine or ten, carried a Mashona baby in a goat's skin strapped to his back. The light of dawn was in the picture a cool summer dawn. Between the rocks and the red-sprayed trees of our country was, as it were, a lawn, close-bit by much feeding into a fair copy of an English lawn. I looked hard at the picture.
'Those two Mashonas are like the children that were burnt in a kraal this way,' I said pointing. 'I tried to dress their burns but they both died.' Dick looked up as I pointed, but he said nothing. He eschews dwelling on painful subjects very often, I notice. 'Don't you think that they are like?' I asked.
'Kaffir children favor one another,' Dick said sagely. He stood watching the picture on the faded wall in silence. Then we dropped the subject. But the mystery of it remained for me.
A week or two after, that mystery multiplied. Dick was expecting visitors, and he asked me over to meet them. The male visitor was an official I used to know of old; he was to bring his sister with him this time, and the sister I did not know. She was a charming person; one who had been in the country a long time ago and left it, but had come back again now to be married and to make a home in Rosebery. She had reached the homestead about mid-day, the same day that I came over in the late afternoon.
After tea and before dinner we walked down to the cattle-kraal, all four of us. Then, when Dick and her brother were ahead she began to question me about that water-color on the wall. I told her what Dick had told me. 'He told me that himself,' she said, 'but I didn't understand.'
'I thought I knew two of the children,' I said, 'but Kaffir children seem much alike to our English eyes, don't they? They seemed to me to resemble two quite little children I used to come and see. They were badly burnt near here.'
'Did they get better?' she asked. I shook my head. She started again. 'Listen,' she said. 'Two children to whom I used to be nursery-governess were murdered in the "Rebellion" on a farm close to this very place. They were staying with their mother's elder sister. Please do try and tell me this. Why are these portraits, life-like portraits, of those two children in this picture?'
I stared at her rather stupidly. Then Dick came to us we, were close up to the cattle-kraal and called us to come and see his young stock, and talked to us about them.
'I don't think I'll tell the children's mother,' she said to me. I was then saying good-night to her in the bright moonlight outside the homestead door some hours afterwards. 'They live in the colony now, she and her husband. Telling her might reopen deep wounds. It wouldn't do any good at all probably, would it?'
'That depends,' I said, 'on the mother's point of view. You're sure about the likeness?' She gave a sort of sob.
'Trust me for that,' she said. 'I was very fond of them of Claude and Polly.'
This last dry season, by the ordering of God, that mother came our way herself. She was on a pilgrimage of her own. Dick sent over a messenger hot-haste to tell me that a lady was at his place and had asked for me. She wanted me to spare the morning to-morrow if I possibly could. She would have me come on an expedition with her and talk over something that she had in her mind to do. Couldn't I sleep at Dick's homestead that night?
I could. I came over about nine o'clock I suppose, walking in a fresh south-easter with a half-moon to light me. Dick was smoking outside in the yard when I came.
'The lady's tired,' he told me. 'She's turned in already. She's got a lad with her. He's inside. Come in and have some supper.'
The stranger rose up as I came in, and I greeted him. He was a tall, fair boy, whose face I seemed to know. He told me that he had driven his mother down, as I sat over my supper. I glanced up at the wall curiously before I had finished. The picture was not there.
'I thought it was better out of the way,' Dick said when his guest had gone to bed. 'I didn't know how she might take it. It's the mother of those poor little Scotch children come to see the place. Wants to put up a gravestone or monument or something, poor lady!'
Then I knew where I had seen the stranger boy's face. It was the image of his dead brother's face in the picture, the white piccaninny that carried the Mashona baby. I whistled softly.
'Who painted that picture?' I said. 'I know all yon told me. But did that chap ever come down the road again? I never asked you.'
'No,' said Dick, 'I don't know to this day any more about him.'
I sat silent.
'She wants you to go over to the place with her to-morrow,' Dick said. 'You know the place, don't you? It's only about three miles away up the old wagon road; you've been there, haven't you?'
'Yes,' I said. 'There's a wooden cross where they're buried or should be. I had it renewed two years ago. Didn't I ever tell you about it? Haven't you been there yourself lately?'
'No,' said Dick. 'I don't fancy the place somehow. But I was asking about it only this afternoon. The boys tell me there are some trees there still; white men's trees.'
'Yes,' I said, 'yellow peach-stocks and one gumtree you get it against the skyline looking up from the spruit. The old pole and daub house dropped to pieces long ago. I do hope that cross is standing all right still. I blame myself for not having seen about it this last year or two.'
The cross had fallen down and the place looked generally forlorn when we reached it next day. I was troubled about my companion. She was fair and tall and quiet. When she did talk on the way she talked about commonplace subjects. But when she saw the forsaken place and the displaced cross the veil fell. She clutched her son's arm hard, and I left them together. I went off with the Mashona boy and the mules out of the way. I had no inspiration at the moment what to say or what to do. I did not come back for half an hour.
She told me on the drive back that she wanted to provide somewhat of a memorial. 'It's been left too long,' she said. 'But you can understand how sore I was before and how I shrank from coming.'
She told me that one great grief of hers was that she had no good likeness of her children as they were at that dreadful time. I was embarrassed and silent. 'What can I do to help you?' I was thinking over and over again, 'Shall I show the picture? Yes, right or wrong, I must.'
I didn't know how to begin to tell her about it. I prayed for words. Then I began in curt crisp sentences to tell her. 'You may not like it. You must not be disappointed,' I said. 'Why?' she asked. But I did not try to explain. I would let the picture plead its own point of view. When we were back I asked Dick for it, and I knocked at her room door and gave if to her.
Then I went out and watched a team ploughing, till Dick called me in.
At lunch the guests were very quiet and subdued, but seemed quite cheerful. Afterwards, before I started for home, she came and talked to me alone.
'Is this the scene of the picture?' she asked me, as she led me across the yard. 'This grass plot between these rocks and those trees?'
'Yes, it's just here apparently,' I said. 'You see that great tree there. One can hardly mistake it.'
'I remember the spot long ago,' she said. 'I came down to my sister's to leave the children with her for a country holiday just before that time. We were staying at that place we went to this morning; they called it Happy Valley, and we drove over to this place where there was a store. It was only a month or two before the time May Day, I think. I remember my children playing hide-and-seek here with the piccaninnies; yes, playing other games too.' Her lips quivered, but she went on quite steadily.
'Those piccaninnies in that picture do you know any of their faces?'
'Yes,' I said, 'I knew two that were burnt, and did not get better; two I used to come and see. And Dick says he recognizes two or three little chaps that have died since he came here to live after the "Rebellion" was over.'
'And how do you explain it?' she asked gently, 'this vision of dead children so charmingly colored, so color-blind from a South African point of view?'
I thought before I spoke.
'It is, I believe, a real Vision,' I said. 'The one who painted it, whoever he was, saw more than we most of us see. Possibly he was the seventh son of a seventh son. Very apparently he had a pure heart. The picture was painted on Innocents' Day. I have verified the date. You see he has called it "Innocents." It was painted in the children's old playing-place. He saw them in their new life with the beauty of things South African like a good dream about them, and the stupidity of things South African passed from them like a bad one.'
She did not speak for quite a long time. I feared I had hurt her somehow. But at last she spoke and reassured me.
'Yes, I think you understand how the picture came to be and what it means. I used to be dreadfully bitter about the Mashonas. I try not to be now. Couldn't you build on my account a little school or a little church in that forlorn place? There are some villages near by, aren't there? Couldn't you call it for me the Mission of the Innocents? I'd like to ask my host if he'll give you the picture for the church should you build it for me. In my house I should be shy about hanging it. I am afraid people might scoff at it behind my back in their South African way, and I couldn't bear that easily. I know in my heart of hearts it's true that Picture as true as it's beautiful. They're all happy now, likely enough happy together. They were not likely to have been happy in the same ways had they grown up in South Africa.'
I. THE SOP
Julian Borne was going to leave the Mission that had been his home for three years. He was a spruce-looking person with quite pleasantly colored red hair and a turned-up moustache. A Bishop had commended him, and a Canon Superintendent had delighted to honor him. His immediate superior, a weather-beaten Missionary, had, however, partially dissented from the chorus of approval. He had discriminated. He credited Julian with fine gifts of organization, but he submitted that he had proved himself lacking in qualities of heart far too often. His discrimination had been received coldly by the Canon Superintendent, and liberally discounted on the scores of dullness, crankiness, want of vision, yes jealousy. Now at last something had happened to disturb the Canon Superintendent in his optimism, in his forecast of Julian's brilliant usefulness to the Mission.
Julian had suddenly decided to leave his work. He had the offer of a congenial berth and a rising salary in the Cathedral city. He put the thing very kindly to the Canon Superintendent. He would help the Mission of course, wouldn't he just, when he should climb into the seats of the mighty? He would be a volunteer henceforward the Cause could count upon him with a sound commercial position for his jumping-off ground. Yet the fact remained that he was leaving his work, having loved this present world.
It was the day of farewell to the surroundings of the last three years. Julian was to ride into town that afternoon.
He went to lunch with Dick Hunter, the weather-beaten one, and talked to him as he imagined he wanted to be talked to. He had always liked his host's Bohemian ways very well, he was only impatient of his preoccupation with native postulants. There was his usual fly-swarm of them, that day as other days, about his threshold, and lunch was late, as usual. At last they began. Julian had the first two courses to himself for the most part, while his host was busy once again outside. Then came a third course. 'I had this for you,' said the host rather pathetically, as he settled down to his bread and cheese. 'It seemed the right thing for the farewell banquet of a Mission. It's the food of the country.'
Sure enough under the cover was a platter of brown millet with a savory side dish of beans for relish. Julian flushed up. 'No thanks, I've never tried millet pap yet, and I don't mean to,' he said.
His host smiled, 'As you will,' said he. 'You won't mind my having some, will you?' He helped himself sparingly, then he called the Mashona boy to take the dishes away. Julian the callous felt a shade remorseful.
'Here, let me try what it's like,' he said. His host took a piece of the millet-food on a fork, and dipped it in the side dish. He gave the result to Julian on a plate. 'For old sake's sake,' he murmured. Julian nibbled away rather delicately. 'It's not so awful,' he said.
He was riding into Rosebery that afternoon when the incident recurred to him.
He had a great grip of his subjects whatever they were so long as they were payable propositions, to use his own phrase.
The textual study of the Bible had been accounted such a proposition until recently. Bible-words they were now that buzzed in his ears.
'He it is to whom I shall give the sop when I have dipped it. And when He had dipped the sop. . .'
The sop, the dipping, yes, he remembered now. He had read the words in Church two or three evenings ago.
'He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.' He started. 'And after the sop, Satan entered.' He shuddered.
He wished that incident at lunch-time had never occurred. Of course it was pure chance, but still it was bizarre.
Was it pure chance? 'I'm not so sure,' reflected Julian. 'I wish Hunter'd mind his own business.'
That farewell banquet at the Mount Pleasant Mission had left an ill taste behind.
II. THE SYMBOL OF THE SPURNED
Some five years after, Julian Borne came up to Rosebery by the early train. He awoke at dawn and threw up the window. He was traveling in a sleeping compartment deluxe. He had appearances to keep up now.
The sun had tilted up a golden arc and the withered landscape took a lavish glory.
Julian's eyes fell on some shabby thatched roofs that the blaze was brightening. 'Mount Pleasant Mission!' he said to himself. 'and to think I wasted three good years of my life there. Three bob a day with rations and no drinks. Good Lord!' He filled his pipe as the poverty-stricken homestead passed out of sight. 'Yet it wasn't all waste,' he went on. 'I got to know the country and its questions. I got to know how to manage men.' He laughed a little to himself complacently. 'No, I couldn't manage Hunter. They told me last week he was nearly dead with blackwater. I wonder if he's dead by now. Not one head of cattle to bless himself with, I'll bet, and no banking account ever opened in his name. He was quite unmanageable.'
'Ah! But I managed some of them. What about the Canon Superintendent?' A white-haired vision, creasy-chinned and rosy, passed before his eyes. 'Toad!' he muttered and kicked the foot-warmer. 'Even so,' he growled. 'Butter for the clergy, palm-oil for the laity, big stick for the incorruptible!' His face grew hard as he thought over some contemplated applications. His face was little changed in five years save for the wrinkles about the eyes.
The train drew up at the platform. Julian found a good many acquaintances as he passed along it. But he was not disposed to make himself too cheap. Some got a wintry nod, others a summer smile. One high official who represented big interests got two minutes' talk and a drink. Then Julian jumped into his mule-cart, and drove away. He reflected with satisfaction on the quantity and quality of the greetings that morning. Meanwhile his Cape-boy coachman whipped up the mules and took him along the main street in style.
Julian had not been in Rosebery for six months now. He had made great strides in those months the most momentous of his life. From being a coming man he had reached the summit of arrival. He had arrived without a doubt. His company's shares had risen super-excellently. He had made a big coup at the end of last year. The fullness of time had now brought to him the prospect of another. As he whirled on into Suburbia, he fell to considering relative prosperities. He set names to the houses he was passing. No, he wouldn't change with any one of their owners. Not one stood better just now. Not one was more the man of the moment. He could give points and a beating to how many!
He drove through a gate and up a drive. He was at home again. His house had been enlarged and re-decorated since he was last there. It looked solidly prosperous. Its second floor shouted 'money' in a country where most houses could boast no first floor. Its critics might have called its colors harrowing and its architecture the reverse of inspired, but Julian cared not a jot for that sort of up-in-the-air criticism. He sat down to breakfast with a thankful heart, and made himself quite amiable to Tommy Bates.
Tommy Bates was five years older than Julian, and had acted as his Secretary these two years past. He had small eyes set in a rather big pasty face. His goatee beard was trim, but scarcely pleasing.
Julian got through his letters at breakfast and after, breakfast with Tommy's help. Amongst the letters was one from Mount Pleasant Mission enclosing a card. 'Hunter's mad,' said Julian crossly. He tore up the envelope viciously, but he did not tear up the card it contained. He placed that in his pocket-book carefully. Tommy looked at him in interrogation, but Julian was not communicative.
After they had discussed a business letter or two, and had a drink together, Julian started for the Club. He made himself agreeable to one or two, and got a deal of pleasure out of snubbing another. Then he gathered some important news from a business acquaintance. It was great news. He wanted time to think over it. He sent off two or three wires to labor agents and one to a Native Commissioner.
He must have boys at any cost, and quickly, to develop certain properties. He
"... turned an easy wheel That set sharp racks at work, to pinch and peel."
Then he interviewed an agent in an office, and did some very delicate work indeed in the drafting of a prospectus. He had earned a drink by then. His brain interested him he was inclined to self-analysis of a sort its chiaroscuro of limelight effects and faint nuances indicated rather than expressed. It was good to be alive to-day, and to pull as many strings as he was pulling.
He did not stop at one drink; over the second, the expert made a proposition to him. It dazzled him, but he would not give an answer just then. To-morrow morning would do.
After that he lunched at the Club with Sir Charles Guestling who was just back from England, and had brought a younger brother out with him to see the country. It would have been a pleasanter lunch without that brother, Julian thought at the time. The brother said nothing offensive, indeed he hardly opened his mouth, but his eyes embarrassed Julian strangely. He had curious blue-grey eyes that contrasted with his black hair, and he would fix Julian with these eyes just as he and Sir Charles were deep in shares and options and the scarcity of labor. Perhaps it was that Julian was overwrought with anxieties of success. The eyes seemed to him clairvoyant, he imagined that they saw more than they ought to see, when they looked him over, as he made some highly technical statement. It was extraordinary that a conventional man about town like Sir Charles should have such a brother.
After lunch Julian relaxed.
He gave himself the indulgence of a call on Mrs. Puce.
He had put her husband on to a good thing or two a year ago now. They had been great friends, he and the wife.
To-day he was a little anxious as to how she would receive him. Things had altered since they last met. 'He had got engaged a business-like engagement.
But she was very gracious in her welcome. Moreover she was more decorous this afternoon than he remembered her a few months back. He told her about his contemplated coup.
'I'll consult planchette for you,' said she. 'Yes, and I'll let you know to-night.'
She was a pretty woman with rather too high a color. But she grew pale enough now.
'I forgot, though, it's against my principles,' she said. 'I've given up lots of things. I'm much more particular.' Something roused Julian. He spoke masterfully.
'Just this once,' he said, 'Let me know to-night. I may know of something gilt-edged that I won't keep to myself if I hear to-night without fail. No, I won't be refused. I want proof of good-will.'
It was a sunny afternoon, with none of that southeast wind which is the bane of our winter. Julian told his coachman to drive him up to his new farm. The homestead was about five miles out of town in the Mount Pleasant direction.
Julian drew out the draft of the prospectus, and began to work hard at its revision. They had stopped at the house ere he thrust pencil and paper into his pocket. He stepped out of El Dorado let himself down, not without a jar, on to more humdrum earth.
The farm-house was an iron shanty newly hammered together. The bailiff a full-bearded Colonial stood in the front doorway. Julian gave him a perfunctory handshake. He talked farming business to him quickly. He was tired, and eager to be through with it.
They were almost through with it in half an hour. They smoked their pipes and had coffee on the stoep together.
'About that Mission Church,' said the Bailiff, 'You know the notice is just up that you gave them last year. The boy that used to teach there is gone, and the kraal's moving. The building still stands empty. They don't use it now.'
'Let's have a look at it,' he said. 'We can drive round that way when Bob's inspanned. Meanwhile let's have a drink.'
The Church was very small wattle and daub. It had done three years' service.
'No value,' pronounced Julian. He was rather angry with such a mere shed for wasting his valuable time.
'That grass wants burning,' he muttered. 'If you set a light to it and the Church catches, I shouldn't think there'll be any harm done.'
'Right,' said the bailiff. Julian stepped inside the building.
'Nothing left,' he said. 'Nothing but this box. You'd better keep it. They can have it if they send for it.'
There were some red and black candlesticks and vases packed away in the box works of art in their way, but that way was not Julian's.
'Cheap and nasty,' was his comment. 'Ah! What's that?'
'It was on the Communion Table,' said the bailiff.
Julian took up a clay cross and regarded it curiously.
'A cross with a snake on it!' he exclaimed.
'One of the boys said it meant the Brazen Serpent,' said the bailiff.
'Holy Moses!' laughed Julian. 'Well I'm going to jump this, it's quite a curiosity. You may give the boy five bob from me if he asks what we've done with it.'
'Right,' said the bailiff, and went off with the box to the cart.
Julian looked at the twisted symbol with an intent fascination. 'As Moses lifted up the Serpent in the Wilderness,' he murmured to himself. 'Even so shall the Son of Man be lifted up. How well I remember preaching outside a kraal, on a boulder under a flowering kaffir tree, on that very text. I liked preaching that day more than I did most days. It wasn't half bad. That's Christ all over that reptile that Worm and no man! The Worm that I tread on with impunity that's Christ! I expect Hunter might say it would be better for me if the Worm would turn and bite better for my eternal interests. Perhaps the Worm will, one of these fine days. It's a rather clammy notion! The notion would be rather a nuisance, if I believed in the Worm.'
III. THIS NIGHT
As he drove along the veld twenty minutes after, Julian looked back at the burning Church. 'What would the Canon Superintendent say?' he muttered with a grin. A fantastic shape started up from the grass in front of him. The mules shied at it, and broke into a gallop. 'Pull up!' he shouted. At last the mules were pulled up. He sprang out and walked back along the road. The figure stood stock-still by the road-side, as if waiting to greet him.