The Tale of Balen

第5章 CHAPTER II(1)

Plans and Bushman Paintings

At last came the year of the great drought, the year of eighteen-sixty-two.

From end to end of the land the earth cried for water. Man and beast turned their eyes to the pitiless sky, that like the roof of some brazen oven arched overhead. On the farm, day after day, month after month, the water in the dams fell lower and lower; the sheep died in the fields; the cattle, scarcely able to crawl, tottered as they moved from spot to spot in search of food. Week after week, month after month, the sun looked down from the cloudless sky, till the karoo-bushes were leafless sticks, broken into the earth, and the earth itself was naked and bare; and only the milk- bushes, like old hags, pointed their shrivelled fingers heavenward, praying for the rain that never came.

It was on an afternoon of a long day in that thirsty summer, that on the side of the kopje furthest from the homestead the two girls sat. They were somewhat grown since the days when they played hide-and-seek there, but they were mere children still.

Their dress was of dark, coarse stuff; their common blue pinafores reached to their ankles, and on their feet they wore home-made velschoen.

They sat under a shelving rock, on the surface of which were still visible some old Bushman paintings, their red and black pigments having been preserved through long years from wind and rain by the overhanging ledge; grotesque oxen, elephants, rhinoceroses, and a one-horned beast, such as no man ever has seen or ever shall.

The girls sat with their backs to the paintings. In their laps were a few fern and ice-plant leaves, which by dint of much searching they had gathered under the rocks.

Em took off her big brown kapje and began vigorously to fan her red face with it; but her companion bent low over the leaves in her lap, and at last took up an ice-plant leaf and fastened it on to the front of her blue pinafore with a pin.

"Diamonds must look as these drops do," she said, carefully bending over the leaf, and crushing one crystal drop with her delicate little nail.

"When I," she said, "am grown up, I shall wear real diamonds, exactly like these in my hair."

Her companion opened her eyes and wrinkled her low forehead.

"Where will you find them, Lyndall? The stones are only crystals that we picked up yesterday. Old Otto says so."

"And you think that I am going to stay here always?"

The lip trembled scornfully.

"Ah, no," said her companion. "I suppose some day we shall go somewhere; but now we are only twelve, and we cannot marry till we are seventeen.

Four years, five--that is a long time to wait. And we might not have diamonds if we did marry."

"And you think that I am going to stay here till then?"

"Well, where are you going?" asked her companion.

The girl crushed an ice-plant leaf between her fingers.

"Tant Sannie is a miserable old woman," she said. "Your father married her when he was dying, because he thought she would take better care of the farm, and of us, than an English woman. He said we should be taught and sent to school. Now she saves every farthing for herself, buys us not even one old book. She does not ill-use us--why? Because she is afraid of your father's ghost. Only this morning she told her Hottentot that she would have beaten you for breaking the plate, but that three nights ago she heard a rustling and a grunting behind the pantry door, and knew it was your father coming to spook her. She is a miserable old woman," said the girl, throwing the leaf from her; "but I intend to go to school."

"And if she won't let you?"

"I shall make her."

"How?"

The child took not the slightest notice of the last question, and folded her small arms across her knees.

"But why do you want to go, Lyndall?"

"There is nothing helps in this world," said the child slowly, "but to be very wise, and to know everything--to be clever."

"But I should not like to go to school!" persisted the small freckled face.

"And you do not need to. When you are seventeen this Boer-woman will go; you will have this farm and everything that is upon it for your own; but I," said Lyndall, "will have nothing. I must learn."

"Oh, Lyndall! I will give you some of my sheep," said Em, with a sudden burst of pitying generosity.

"I do not want your sheep," said the girl slowly; "I want things of my own.

When I am grown up," she added, the flush on her delicate features deepening at every word, "there will be nothing that I do not know. I shall be rich, very rich; and I shall wear not only for best, but every day, a pure white silk, and little rose-buds, like the lady in Tant Sannie's bedroom, and my petticoats will be embroidered, not only at the bottom, but all through."

The lady in Tant Sannie's bedroom was a gorgeous creature from a fashion- sheet, which the Boer-woman, somewhere obtaining, had pasted up at the foot of her bed, to be profoundly admired by the children.

"It would be very nice," said Em; but it seemed a dream of quite too transcendent a glory ever to be realized.

At this instant there appeared at the foot of the kopje two figures--the one, a dog, white and sleek, one yellow ear hanging down over his left eye; the other, his master, a lad of fourteen, and no other than the boy Waldo, grown into a heavy, slouching youth of fourteen. The dog mounted the kopje quickly, his master followed slowly. He wore an aged jacket much too large for him, and rolled up at the wrists, and, as of old, a pair of dilapidated velschoens and a felt hat. He stood before the two girls at last.

"What have you been doing today?" asked Lyndall, lifting her eyes to his face.

"Looking after ewes and lambs below the dam. Here!" he said, holding out his hand awkwardly, "I brought them for you."

There were a few green blades of tender grass.

"Where did you find them?"

"On the dam wall."

She fastened them beside the leaf on her blue pinafore.

"They look nice there," said the boy, awkwardly rubbing his great hands and watching her.

"Yes; but the pinafore spoils it all; it is not pretty."

He looked at it closely.

"Yes, the squares are ugly; but it looks nice upon you--beautiful."

Algernon

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