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- Jess - 4/58 -


looking at. How should I?

"'Is your name Croft?' he said.

"'Ay,' I answered.

"'So is mine,' he went on with a sort of drunken leer. 'I'm your brother.'

"'Are you?' I said, beginning to get my back up, for I guessed what his game was, 'and what may you be after? I tell you at once, and to your face, that if you are my brother you are a blackguard, and I don't want to know you or have anything to do with you; and if you are not, I beg your pardon for coupling you with such a scoundrel.'

"'Oh, that's your tune, is it?' he said with a sneer. 'Well, now, my dear brother Silas, I want my children. They have got a little half- brother at home--for I have married again, Silas--who is anxious to have them to play with, so if you will be so good as to hand them over, I'll take them away at once.'

"'You'll take them away, will you?' said I, all of a tremble with rage and fear.

"'Yes, Silas, I will. They are mine by law, and I am not going to breed children for you to have the comfort of their society. I've taken advice, Silas, and that's sound law,' and he leered at me again.

"I stood and looked at that man, and thought of how he had treated those poor children and their young mother, and my blood boiled, and I grew mad. Without another word I jumped over the half-finished wall, and caught him by the leg (for I was a strong man ten years ago) and jerked him off the horse. As he came down he dropped the /sjambock/ from his hand, and I laid hold of it and then and there gave him the soundest hiding a man ever had. Lord, how he did holloa! When I was tired I let him get up.

"'Now,' I said, 'be off with you, and if you come back here I'll bid the Kafirs hunt you to Natal with their sticks. This is the South African Republic, and we don't care overmuch about law here.' Which we didn't in those days.

"'All right, Silas,' he said, 'all right, you shall pay for this. I'll have those children, and, for your sake, I'll make their lives a hell --you mark my words--South African Republic or no South African Republic. I've got the law on my side.'

"Off he rode, cursing and swearing, and I flung his /sjambock/ after him. This was the first and last time that I saw my brother."

"What became of him?" asked John Niel.

"I'll tell you, just to show you again that there is a Power which keeps such men in its eye. He rode back to Newcastle that night, and went about the canteen there abusing me, and getting drunker and drunker, till at last the canteen keeper sent for his boys to turn him out. Well, the boys were rough, as Kafirs are apt to be with a drunken white man, and he struggled and fought, and in the middle of it the blood began to run from his mouth, and he dropped down dead of a broken blood-vessel, and there was an end of him. That is the story of the two girls, Captain Niel, and now I am off to bed. To-morrow I'll show you round the farm, and we will have a talk about business. Good- night to you, Captain Niel. Good-night!"

CHAPTER III

MR. FRANK MULLER

John Niel woke early the next morning, feeling as sore and stiff as though he had been well beaten and then wrapped up tight in horse- girths. He made shift, however, to dress himself, and then, with the help of a stick, limped through the French windows that opened from his room on to the verandah, and surveyed the scene before him. It was a delightful spot. At the back of the stead was the steep boulder- strewn face of the flat-topped hill that curved round on each side, embosoming a great slope of green, in the lap of which the house was placed. It was very solidly built of brown stone, and, with the exception of the waggon-shed and other outbuildings which were roofed with galvanised iron, that shone and glistened in the rays of the morning sun in a way that would have made an eagle blink, was covered with rich brown thatch. All along its front ran a wide verandah, up the trellis-work of which green vines and blooming creepers trailed pleasantly, and beyond was the broad carriage-drive of red soil, bordered with bushy orange-trees laden with odorous flowers and green and golden fruit. On the farther side of the orange-trees were the gardens, fenced in with low walls of rough stone, and the orchard planted with standard fruit-trees, and beyond these again the oxen and ostrich kraals, the latter full of long-necked birds. To the right of the house grew thriving plantations of blue-gum and black wattle, and to the left was a broad stretch of cultivated lands, lying so that they could be irrigated for winter crops by means of water led from the great spring that gushed out of the mountain-side high above the house, and gave its name of Mooifontein to the place.

All these and many more things John Niel saw as he looked out from the verandah at Mooifontein, but for the moment at any rate they were lost in the wild and wonderful beauty of the panorama that rolled away for miles and miles at his feet, till it was bounded by the mighty range of the Drakensberg to the left, tipped here and there with snow, and by the dim and vast horizon of the swelling Transvaal plains to the right and far in front of him. It was a beautiful sight, and one to make the blood run in a man's veins, and his heart beat happily because he was alive to see it. Mile upon mile of grass-clothed veldt beneath, bending and rippling like a corn-field in the quick breath of the morning, space upon space of deep-blue sky overhead with ne'er a cloud to dim it, and the swift rush of the wind between. Then to the left there, impressive to look on and conducive to solemn thoughts, the mountains rear their crests against the sky, and, crowned with the gathered snows of the centuries whose monuments they are, from aeon to aeon gaze majestically out over the wide plains and the ephemeral ant- like races who tread them, and while they endure think themselves the masters of their little world. And over all--mountain, plain, and flashing stream--the glorious light of the African sun and the Spirit of Life moving now as it once moved upon the darkling waters.

John stood and gazed at the untamed beauty of the scene, in his mind comparing it to many cultivated prospects which he had known, and coming to the conclusion that, however desirable the presence of civilised man might be in the world, it could not be said that his operations really add to its beauty. For the old line, "Nature unadorned adorned the most," still remains true in more senses than one.

Presently his reflections were interrupted by the step of Silas Croft, which, notwithstanding his age and bent frame, still rang firm enough --and he turned to greet him.

"Well, Captain Niel," said the old man, "up already! It looks well if you mean to take to farming. Yes, it's a pretty view, and a pretty place too. Well, I made it. Twenty-five years ago I rode up here and saw this spot. Look, you see that rock there behind the house? I slept under it and woke at sunrise and looked out at this beautiful scene and at the great veldt (it was all alive with game then), and I said to myself, 'Silas, for five-and-twenty years have you wandered about this great country, and now you are getting tired of it; you've never seen a fairer spot than this or a healthier; be a wise man and stop here.' And so I did. I bought the 3,000 /morgen/ (6,000 acres), more or less, for 10 pounds down and a case of gin, and I set to work to make this place, and you see I have made it. Ay, it has grown under my hand, every stone and tree of it, and you know what that means in a new country. But one way or another I have done it, and now I have grown too old to manage it, and that's how I came to give out that I wanted a partner, as Mr. Snow told you down in Durban. You see, I told Snow it must be a gentleman; I don't care much about the money, I'll take a thousand for a third share if I can get a gentleman--none of your Boers or mean whites for me. I tell you I have had enough of Boers and their ways; the best day of my life was when old Shepstone ran up the Union Jack there in Pretoria and I could call myself an Englishman once more. Lord! and to think that there are men who are subjects of the Queen and want to be subjects of a Republic again-- Mad! Captain Niel, I tell you, quite mad! However, there's an end of it all now. You know what Sir Garnet Wolseley told them in the name of the Queen up at the Vaal River, that this country would remain English until the sun stood still in the heavens and the waters of the Vaal ran backwards.[*] That's good enough for me, for, as I tell these grumbling fellows who want the land back now that we have paid their debts and defeated their enemies, no English government is false to its word, or breaks engagements solemnly entered into by its representatives. We leave that sort of thing to foreigners. No, no, Captain Niel, I would not ask you to take a share in this place if I wasn't sure that it would remain under the British flag. But we will talk of all this another time, and now come in to breakfast."

[*] A fact.--Author.

After breakfast, as John was far too lame to walk about the farm, the fair Bessie suggested that he should come and help her to wash a batch of ostrich feathers, and, accordingly, off he went. The /locus operandi/ was in a space of lawn at the rear of a little clump of /naatche/ orange-trees, of which the fruit is like that of the Maltese orange, only larger. Here were placed an ordinary washing-tub half- filled with warm water, and a tin bath full of cold. The ostrich feathers, many of which were completely coated with red dirt, were plunged first into the tub of warm water, where John Niel scrubbed them with soap, and then transferred to the tin bath, where Bessie rinsed them and laid them on a sheet in the sun to dry. The morning was very pleasant, and John soon came to the conclusion that there are many more disagreeable occupations in the world than the washing of ostrich feathers with a lovely girl to help you. For there was no doubt but that Bessie was lovely, looking a very type of happy, healthy womanhood as she sat opposite to him on the little stool, her sleeves rolled up almost to the shoulder, showing a pair of arms that would not have disgraced a statue of Venus, and laughed and chatted away as she washed the feathers. Now, John Niel was not a susceptible man: he had gone through the fire years before and burnt his fingers like many another confiding youngster but, all the same, he did wonder as he knelt there and watched this fair girl, who somehow reminded him of a rich rosebud bursting into bloom, how long it would be possible to live in the same house with her without falling under the spell of her charm and beauty. Then he began to think of Jess, and of what a strange contrast the two were.

"Where is your sister?" he asked presently.

"Jess? Oh, I think that she has gone to the Lion Kloof, reading or sketching, I don't know which. You see in this establishment I represent labour and Jess represents intellect," and she nodded her head prettily at him, and added, "There is a mistake somewhere, she


Jess - 4/58

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