717 Views

The Grass is Singing Main Text

Shape Shape

The Grass Is Singing is a notable literary work by Doris Lessing. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of The Grass Is Singing.

main text

The Grass is Singing

DORIS LESSING (1919 – 2013)

 

CHAPTER I

MURDER MYSTERY
By Special Correspondent

Mary Turner, wife of Richard Turner, a farmer at N^esi, was
found murdered on the front veranda of their homestead yester-
day morning. The houseboy, who has been arrested, has con-
fessed to the crime. No motive has been discovered. It is
thought he was in search of valuables.

T HE newspaper did not say much. People all over the country
must have glanced at the paragraph with its sensational head-
ing and felt a little spurt of anger mingled with what was al-
most satisfaction, as if some belief had been confirmed, as if
something had happened which could only have been ex-
pected. When natives steal, murder, or rape, that is the feeling
white people have.

And then they turned the page to something else.

But the people in the ‘district’ who knew the Turners,
either by sight or from gossiping about them for so many
years, did not turn the page so quickly. Many must have
snipped out the paragraph, put it among old letters or between
the pages of a book, keeping it perhaps as an omen or a warn-
ing, glancing at the yellowing piece of paper with closed,
secretive faces. For they did not discuss the murder; that was
the most extraordinary thing about it. It was as if they had a
sixth sense which told them everything there w’as to be known,
although the three people in a position to explain the facts said
nothing. iThe murder was simply not discussed. ‘A bad busi-
ness,’ someone would remark; and the faces of the people
round about would put on that reserved and guarded look. ‘A
very bad business,’ came the reply – and that was the end. of it.
There was, it seemed, a tacit agreement that the Turner case

9

 

about, but never, never mentioned? It was their livelihood,
their wives and families, their way of living, at stake.

But to the outsider it is strange that Slatter should have been
allowed to take charge of the affair, to arrange that everything
should pass over without more than a ripple of comment.

For there could have br^en no planning; there simply wasn’t
time. Why, for instance, ^■•hen Dick Turner’s farm boys came
to him with the news, did i e sit down to write a note to the
Sergeant at the police camp? He did not use the telephone.

– Everyone who has lived in the country knows what a
branch telephone is like. You lift the receiver after you have
turned the handle the required number of times, and then,
click, click, click, you can hear the receivers coming off all
over the district, and soft noises like breathing, a whisper, a
subdued cough.

Slatter lived five miles from the Turners. The farm boys
came to him first, when they discovered the body. And
though it was an urgent matter, he ignored the telephone, but
sent a personal letter by a native bearer on a bicycle to Den-
ham at the police camp, twelve miles away. The Sergeant sent
out half a dozen native policemen at oned, to the Turners’
farm, to see what they could find. He drove first to sec Slatter,
because the way that letter was worded roused his curiosity.
That was why he arrived late on the scene of the murder. The
native policemen did not have to search far for the murderer.
After walking through the house, looking briefly at the body,
and dispersing down the front of the little hill the house stood
on, they saw Moses himself rise out of a tangled ant-heap in
front of them. He walked up to them and said (or words to
this effect): ‘Here I am.’ They snapped the handcuffs on him,
and went back to the house to wait for the police cars to come.
There they saw Dick Turner come out of the bush by the
house with two whining dogs at his heels. He was off his head,
talking crazily to himself, wandering in and out of the bush
with his hands full of leaves and earth. They let Itim be, while
keeping an eye on him, for he was a white man, though mad.

 

and black men, even when policemen, do not lay hands on
white flesh.

People did ask, cursorily, why the murderer had given him-
self up. There was not much chance of escape, but he did have
a sporting chance. He could have run to the hills and hidden
for a while. Or he could have slipped over the border to Por-
tuguese territory. Then the District Native Commissioner, at
a sundowner party, said that it was perfectly understandable.
If one knew anything about the history of the country, or had
read any of the memoirs or letters of the old missionaries and
explorers, one would have come across accounts of the society
Lobengula ruled. The laws were strict; everyone knew what
they could or could not do. If someone did an unforgivable
thing, like touching one of the King’s women, he would sub-
mit fatalistically to punishment, which was likely to be im-
palement over an ant-heap on a stake, or something equally
unpleasant. T have done wrong, and I know it,’ he might say,
‘therefore let me be punished.’ Well, it was the tradition to
face punishment, and really there was something rather fine
about it. Remarks like these are forgiven from native commis-
sioners, who have to study languages, customs, and so on;
although it is not done to say things natives do arc ‘fine’. (Yet
the fashion is changing: it is permissible to glorify the old
ways sometimes, providing one says how depraved the natives
have become since.)

So that aspect of the affair was dropped, yet it is not the
least interesting, for Moses might not have been a Matabele at
all. He was in Mashonaland ; though of course natives do wan-
der all over Africa. He might have come from anywhere:
Portuguese territory, Nyasaland, the Union of South Africa.
And it is a long time since the days of the great king Loben-
gula. But then native commissioners tend to think in terms of
the past.

Well, having sent the letter to the police camp, Charlie
Slatter went to the Turners’ place, driving at a great speed
over the bad farm roads in his fat American car.

13

 

who was Charlie Slattcr? It was he who, from the begin-
ning of the tragedy to its end, personified Society for the
Turners. He touches the story at half a dozen points; without
him things would not have happened quite as they did, though
sooner or later, in one way or another, the Tumors were
bound to come to grief

Slatter had been a grocei ’s assistant in London. He was fond
of telling his children that if > had not been for liis energy and
enterprise they would be running round the slums in rags. He
was still a proper cockney, even after twenty years in Africa.
He came with one idea: to make money. He made it. He made
plenty. He was a crude, brutal, ruthless, yet kindhearted man,
in his own way, and according to his own impulses, who
could not help making money. He farmed as if he were turn-
ing the handle of a machine which would produce pound
notes at the other end. He was hard with his wife, making her
bear unnecessary hardships at the beginning ; he was hard with
his children, until he made money, when they got every-
thing they wanted; and above all he was hard with his farm
labourers. They, the geese that laid the golden eggs, were still
in that state where they did not know there were other ways
of living besides producing gold for other people. They know
better now, or are beginning to. But Slatter believed in farm-
ing with the sjambok. It hung over his front door, like a motto
on a wall: ‘You shall not mind killing if it is necessary.’ He
had once killed a native in a fit of temper. He was fined thirty
pounds. Since then he had kept his temper. But sjamboks are
all very well for the Slatters; not so good for people less sure
of themselves. It was he who had told Dick Turner, long ago,
when Dick first started farming, that one should buy a sjam-
bok before a plough or a harrow, and that sjambok did not do
the Turners any good, as we shall see.

Slatter was a shortish, broad, powerful man, with heavy
shoulders and thick arms. His face was broad and bristled;
shrewd, watchful, and a little cunning. He had a crop of fair
hair that made him look like a convict; but he did not care for

14

 

appearances. His small blue eyes were hardly visible, because
of the way he screwed them up, after years and years of South
African suilshinc.

Bent over the steering wheel, almost hugging it in his deter-
mination to get to the Turners quickly, his eyes were little
blue chinks in a set face. He. was wondering why Marston, the
assistant, who was after all his employee, had not come to him
about the murder, or at least sent a note. Where was he? The
hut he lived in was only a couple of hundred yards fronr the
house itself Perhaps he had got cold feet and run away? Any-
thing was possible, thought Charlie, from this particular type
of young Englishman. He had a rooted contempt for soft-
faced, soft-voiced Englishmen, combined with a fascination
for their manner and breeding. His own sons, now grown up,
were gentlemen. He had spent plenty of money to make them
so ; but he despised them for it. At the same time he was proud
of them. This conflict showed itself in its attitude towards
Marston: half hard and indifferent, half subtly deferential. At
the moment he felt nothing but irritation.

Half way he felt the car rock, and, swearing, pulled it up.
It was a puncture: no, two punctures. The red mud of the
road held fragments of broken glass. His irritation expressed
itself in the half-conscious thought, ‘Just like Turner to have
glass on his roads!’ But Turner was now necessarily an object
of passionate, protective pity, and the irritation was focused on
Marston, the assistant who, Slatter felt, should somehow have
prevented this murder. What was he being paid for? What
had he been engaged for? But Slatter was a fair man in his own
way, and where his own race was concerned. He restrained
himself, and got down to mending one puncture and changing
a tyre, working in the heavy red slush of the roads. This took
him three-quarters of an hour, and by the time he was finished,
and had picked the pieces of green glass from the mud and
thrown them into the bush, the sweat was soaking his face and
hair.

When he reached the house at last, he saw, as he approached

15

 

through the bush, six glittering bicycles leaning against the
walls. And in front of the house, under the trees, stood six
native policemen, and among them the native Moses, his
hands linked in front of him. The sun glinted on the handcuffs,
on the bicycles, on the masses of heavy wet leaves. It was a
wet, sultry morning. The sky was a tumult of discoloured
clouds: it looked full of billowing dirty washing. Puddles on
the pale soil held a sheen c^sky.

Charlie walked up to the policemen, who saluted him. They
were in fezes, and their rather fancy-dress uniform. This last
thought did not occur to Charlie, who liked his natives either
one way or the other: properly dressed according to their
station, or in loincloths. He could not bear the half-civilized
native. The policemen, picked for their physique, were a fine
body of men, but they were put in the shade by Moses, who
was a great powerful man, black as polished linoleum, and
dressed in a singlet and shorts, which were damp and muddy.
Charlie stood directly in front of the murderer and looked
into his face. The man stared back, expressionless, indifferent.
His own face was curious: it showed a kind of triumph, a
guarded vindictiveness, and fear. Why fear? Of Moses, who
was as good as hanged already? But he was uneasy, troubled.
Then he seemed to shake himself into self-command, and
turned and saw Dick Turner, standing a few paces away,
covered with mud.

‘Turner!’ he said, peremptorily. He stopped, looking into
the man’s face. Dick appeared not to know him. Charlie took
him by the arm and drew him towards his own car. He did
not know he was incurably mad then; otherwise he might
have been even more angry than he was. Having put Dick
into the back seat of his car, he went into the house. In the
front room stood Marston, hiS hands in his pockets, in a pose
that seemed negligently calm. But his face was pale and
strained.

‘Where were you?’ asked Charlie at once, accusingly.

‘Normally Mr Turner wakes me,* said the youth calmly.

i6

 

‘This morning I slept late. When I came into the house I found
Mrs Turner on the veranda. Then the policemen came. I was
expecting you.’ But he was afraid: it was the fear of death that
sounded in his voice, not the fear that was controlling CharUe’s
actions: he had not been long enough in the country to under-
stand Charlie’s special fear.

Charlie grunted: he never spoke unless necessary. He looked
long and curiously at Marston, as if trying to make out why it
was the farm natives had not called a man who lay asleep a few
yards off, but had instinctively sent for himself. But it was not
with dislike or contempt he looked at Marston now; it was
more the look a man gives a prospective partner who has yet
to prove himself.

He turned and went into the bedroom. Mary Turner was a
stiff shape under a soiled white sheet. At one end of the sheet
protruded a mass of pale strawish hair, and at the other a
crinkled yellow foot. Now a curious thing happened. The
hate and contempt that one would have expected to show on
his face when he looked at the murderer, twisted his features
now, as he stared at Mary. His brows knotted, and for a few
seconds his hps curled back over his teeth in a vicious grimace.
He had liis back to Marston, who would have been astonished
to see him. Then, with a hard, angry movement, Charhe
turned and left the room, driving the young man before him.

Marston said: ‘She was lying on tlie veranda. I lifted her on
the bed.’ He shuddered at the memory of the touch of the cold
body. ‘I thought she shouldn’t be left lying there.’ He hesi-
tated and added, the muscles of his face contracting whitely:
‘The dogs were licking at her.’

Charlie nodded, with a keen glance at him. He seemed in-
different as to where she might be lying. At the same time he
approved the self-control of the assistant who had performed
the unpleasant task.

‘There was blood everywhere. I cleaned it up … I thought
afterwards I should have left it for the police.’

‘It makes no odds,’ said Charlie absently. He sat down on

17

 

one of the rough wood chairs in the front room, and remained
in thought, whistling softly through his front teeth. Marston
stood by the window, looking for the arrival of the police car.
From time to time Charlie looked round the room alertly,
flicking his tongue over his lips. Then he lapsed back into his
soft whistling. It got on the young man’s nerves.

At last, cautiously, aln ost warniiigly, Charlie said: ‘What
do yon know of this?’

Marston noted the emphasized you, and wondered what
Slatter knew. He was well in control of himself, but as taut as
wire. He said, ‘I don’t know. Nothing really. It is all so difli-
cult . . .’ He hesitated, looking appealing at Charlie.

That look of almost soft appeal irritated Charlie, coining
from a man, but it pleased him too: he was pleased the youth
deferred to him. He knew the type so well. So many of them
came from England to learn farming. They were usually ex-
public school, very English, but extremely adaptable. From
Charlie’^ point of view, the adaptability redeemed them. It
was strange to see how quickly they accustomed themselves.
At first they were diffident, though proud and withdrawn;
cautiously learning the new ways, with a fine sensitiveness, an
alert self-consciousness.

When old settlers say ‘ One has to understand the country,’
what they mean is, ‘You have to get used to our ideas about
the native.’ They are saying, in effect, ‘Learn our ideas, or
otherwise get out: we don’t want you.’ Most of these young
men were brought up with vague ideas about equality. They
were shocked, for the first week or so, by the way natives were
treated. They were revolted a hundred times a day by the
casual way they were spoken of, as if they were so many cattle;
or by a blow, or a look. They had been prepared to treat them
as human beings. But they could not stand out against the
society they were joining. It did not take them long to change.
It was hard, of course, becoming as bad oneself. But it was not
very long that they thought of it as ‘bad’. And anyway, what
had one’s ideas amounted to? Abstract ideas about decency and

t8

 

goodwill, that was all: merely abstract ideas. When it came to
the point, one never had contact with natives, except in the
master-servant relationship. One never knew them in their
own lives, as human beings. A few months, and these sensitive,
decent young men had coarsened to suit the hard, arid, sun-
drenched country they had come to; they had grown a new
manner to match their thickened sunburnt limbs and tough-
ened bodies.

If Tony Marston had been even a few more months in the
country it would have been easy. That was Charlie’s feeling.
That was why he looked at the young man with a speculative
frowning look, not condemning him, only wary and on the
alert.

He said: ‘What do you mean, it is all so difficult?’

Tony Marston appeared uncomfortable, as if he did not
know his own mind. And for that matter he did not: the
weeks in the Turners’ household with its atmosphere of
tragedy had not helped him to get his mind clear. The two
standards – the one he had brought with liim and the one he
was adopting – conflicted still. And therp was a roughness, a
warning note, in Charlie’s voice, that left him wondering.
What was he being warned against? He was inteUigent enough
to know he was being warned. In this he was unlike Charlie,
who was acting by instinct and did not know his voice was a
threat. It was all so unusual. Where were the police? What
right had Charlie, who was a neighbour, to be fetched before
himself, who was practically a member of the household?
Why was Charlie quietly taking command?

His ideas of right were upset. He was confused, but he had
his own ideas about the murder, which could not be stated
straight out, like that, in black and white. When he came to
think of it, the murder was logical enough; looking back over
the last few days he could sec that something like this was
bound to happen, he could almost say he had been expecting
it, some kind of violence or ugliness. Auger, violence, death,
seemed natural to this vast, harsh country … he had done a lot

19

 

of thinking since he had strolled casually into the house that
morning, wondering why everyone was so late, to find Mary
Turner lying murdered on the veranda, and the police boys
outside, guarding the houseboy; and Dick Turner muttering
and stumbling through the puddles, mad, but apparently
harmless. Things he had not understood, he imderstood now,
and he was ready to talk about them. But he was in the dark
as to Charlie’s attitude. I ’^ere was somctliing here he could
not get hold of.

‘It’s like this,’ he said, ‘when I first arrived I didn’t know
much about the country.’

Charlie said, with a good-humoured but brutal irony,
‘Thanks for the information.’ And then, ‘Have you any idea
why this nigger murdered Mrs Turner?’

‘Well, I have a sort of idea, yes.’

‘We had better leave it to the Sergeant, when he comes
then.’

It was a snub ; he had been shut up. Tony held his tongue,
angry but bewildered.

When the Sergeant came, he went over to look at the mur-
derer, glanced at Dick through the window of Slatter’s car,
and then came into the house.

‘I went to your place, Slattcr,’ he said, nodding at Tony,
giving him a keen look. Then he went into the bedroom. And
his reactions were as Charlie’s had been: vindictiveness to-
wards the murderer, emotional pity for Dick, and for Mary,
a bitter contemptuous anger: Sergeant Denham had been in
the country for a number of years. This time Tony saw the
expression on the face, and it gave him a shock. The faces of
the two men as they stood over the body, gazing down at it,
made him feel uneasy, even afraid. He himself felt a little dis-
gust, but not much; it was mainly pity that agitated him,
knowing what he knew. It was the disgust that he would feel
for any social irregul^^gBB^more than the distaste that comes
from failure of t^^^fegfciiaJ^nSThis profound instinctive
horror and fear^^^^shed him.^<^^^

 

The three of them went silently into the living-room.

Charlie Slatter and Sergeant Denham stood side by side like
two judges, as if they had purposely taken up this attitude.
Opposite them was Tony. He stood his ground, but he felt an
absurd guiltiness taking hold of him, simply because of their
pose, standing like that, looking at him with subtle reserved
faces that he could not read.

‘Bad business,’ said Sergeant Denham briefly.

No one answered. He snapped open a notebook, adjusted
clastic over a page, and poised a pencil.

‘A few questions, if you don’t mind,’ he said. Tony nodded.

‘How long have you been here?’

‘About three weeks.’

‘Living in this house?’

‘No, in a hut down the path.’

‘You were going to run tliis place while they were away?’

‘Yes, for six months.’

‘And then?’

‘And then I intended to go on a tobacco farm.

‘When did you know about this business?’

‘They didn’t call me. I woke and found Mrs Turner.

Tony’s voice showed he was now on the defensive. He felt
wounded, even insulted that he had not been called: above all,
that these two men seemed to think it right and natural that
he should be by-passed in this fashion, as if his newness to the
country unfitted him for any kind of responsibility. And he
resented the way he was being questioned. They had no right
to do it. He was begiiming to simmer with rage, although he
knew quite well that they themselves were quite unconscious
of the patronage implicit in their manner, and that it would be
better for him to try and understand the real meaning of this
scene, rather than to stand on his dignity.

‘You had your meals with the Turners?’

‘Yes.’

‘Apart from that, were you ever here – socially, so to
speak?’

21

 

‘No, hardly at all. I have been busy learning the job.

‘Get on well with Turner?’

‘Yes, I think so. I mean, he was not easy to know. He was
absorbed in his work. And he was obviously very unhappy at
leaving the place.’

‘Yes, poor devil, he had a hard time of it.* The voice was
suddenly tender, almost maudlin, with pity, although the Ser-
geant snapped out the v itds, and then shut his mouth tight,
as if to present a brave fac*^ to the world. Tony was discon-
certed: the unexpectedness of these men’s responses was taking
him right out of his depth. He was feeling nothing that they
were feeling : he was an outsider in this tragedy, although both
the Sergeant and Charlie Slatter seemed to feel personally im-
plicated, for they had unconsciously assumed poses of weary
dignity, appearing bowed down with unutterable burdens,
because of poor Dick Turner and his sufferings.

Yet it was Charlie who had literally turned Dick off his
farm; and in previous interviews, at which Tony had been
present, he had shown none of this sentimental pity.

There was a long pause. The Sergeant shut his notebook.
But he had not yet finished. He was regarding Tony cau-
tiously, wondering how to frame the next question. Or that
was how it appeared to Tony, who could see that here was
the moment that was the crux of the whole affair. Charlie’s
face: wary, a little cumiing, a little afraid, proclaimed it.

‘See anything out of the ordinary while you were here?’
asked the Sergeant, apparently casual.

‘Yes, I did,’ blurted Tony, suddenly determined not to be
bullied. For he knew he was being bullied, though he was cut
off from them both by a gulf in experience and belief. They
looked up at him, frowning; glanced at each other swiftly –
then away, as if afraid to acknowledge conspiracy.

‘What did you see? I hope you realize the – unpleasantness
– of this case?’ The last question was a grudging appeal.

‘Any murder is surely unpleasant,’ remarked Tony dryly.

‘When you have been in the country long enough, you will

22

 

understand that we don’t like niggers murdering white
women/

The phrase * WMen you have been in the country/ stuck in
Tony’s gullet. He had heard it too often, and it had come to
jar on him. At the same time it made him feel angry. Also
callow. He would have liked to blurt out the truth in one
overwhelming, incontrovertible statement; but the truth was
not hke that. It never was. The fact he knew, or guessed, about
Mary, the fact these two men were conspiring to ignore, could
be stated easily enough. But the important thing, the thing
that really mattered, so it seemed to him, was to understand
the background, the circumstances, the characters of Dick and
Mary, the pattern of their lives. And it was not so easy to do.
He had arrived at the truth circuitously: circuitously it would
have to be explained. And his. chief emotion, which was an
impersonal pity for Mary and Dick and the native, a pity that
was also rage against circumstances, made it difficult for him
to know where to begin.

‘Look,’ he* said, ‘I’ll tell you what I know from the begin-
ning, only it will take some time, I am afraid . . .’

‘You mean you know why Mrs Turner was murdered?’
The question was a quick, shrewd parry.

‘No, not just like that. Only I can form a theory.’ The
choice of words was most unfortunate.

‘We don’t want theories. We want facts. And in any case,
you should remember Dick Turner. This is all most un-
pleasant for liim. You should remember him, poor devil.’

Here it was again: the utterly illogical appeal, which to
these two men was clearly not illogical at all. The whole thing
was preposterous! Tony began to lose his temper.

‘Do you or do you not want to hear what I have to say?’
he asked, irritably.

‘Go ahead. Only remember, I don’t want to hear your
fancies. I want to hear facts. Have you ever seen anything
definite which would throw light on this murder. For instance,
have you seen this boy attempting to get at her jewellery, or

23

 

something like that. Anything that is definite. Not something
in the air.’

Tony laughed. The two men looked atihiin sharply.

‘You know as well as I do this case is not something that can
be explained straight off like that. You know that. It’s not
sometliing that can be said in black and white, straight off.’

It was pure deadlock, no one spoke. As if Sergeant Denham
had not heard those last vords, a heavy frown on his face, he
said at last: ‘For instance, I’ow did Mrs Turner treat this boy?
Did she treat her boys well?*

The angry Tony, fumbling for a foothold in this welter of
emotion and half-understood loyalties, clutched at this for a
beginning.

‘Yes, she treated him badly, I thought. Though on the other
hand . . .’

‘Nagged at him, ch? Oh well, women are pretty bad that
way, in this country, very often. Aren’t they, Slatter?’ The
voice w\as easy, intimate, informal. ‘My old woman drives me
mad – it’s something about this country. They have no idea
how to deal with niggers.’

‘ Needs a man to deal with niggers,’ said Charlie. ‘ Niggers
don’t understand women giving them orders. They keep their
own women in their right place.’ He laughed. The Sergeant
laughed. They turned towards each other, even including
Tony, in an unmistakable relief. The tension had broken; the
danger was over : once again, he had been by-passed, and the
interview, it seemed, was over. He could hardly believe it.

‘But look here,’ he said. Then he stopped. Both men turned
to look at him, a steady, grave, irritated look on their faces.
And the warning was unmistakable! It was the warning that
might have been given to a greenhorn who was going to let
himself dov/n by saying too much. This realization was too
much for Tony. He gave in; he washed his hands of it. He
watched the other two in utter astonishment: they were to-
gether in mood and emotion, standing there in perfect under-
standing; the understanding was unrealized by themselves, the

24

 

sympathy unacknowledged; their concerted handling of this
affair had been instinctive: they were completely unaware of
there being anything extraordinary, even anything illegal.
And was there anything illegal, after all? This was a casual talk,
on the face of it, nothing formal about it now that the note-
book was shut – and it had been shut ever since they had
reached the crisis of the scene.

Charlie said, turning towards the sergeant, ‘Better get her
out of here. It is too hot to wait.’

‘Yes,’ said the policeman, moving to give orders accord-
ingly.

And that brutally matter-of-fact remark, Tony reaUzed
afterwards, was the only time poor Mary Turner was referred
to directly. But why should she be? – except that this was
really a friendly talk between the farmer who had been her
next neighbour, the policeman who had been in her house on
his rounds as a guest, and the assistant who had lived there for
some weeks. It wasn’t a formal occasion, this: Tony clung to
the thought. There was a court case to come yet, which would
be properly conducted.

‘The case will be a matter of form, of course,’ said the Ser-
geant, as if thinking aloud, with a look at Tony. He was stand-
ing by the police car, watcliing the native policemen lift the
body of Mary Turner, which was wrapped in a blanket, into
the back seat. She was stiff ; a rigid outstretched arm knocked
horribly against the narrow door; it was difficult to get her in.
At last it was done and the door shut. And then there was an-
other problem: they could not put Moses the murderer into
the same car with her; one could not put a black nun close to
a white woman, even though she were dead, and murdered by
him. And there was only Charhe’s car, and mad Dick Turner
was in that, sitting staring in the back. There seemed to be a
feeling tliat Moses, having committed a murder, deserved to
be taken by cat ; but there was no help for it, he would have to
walk, guarded by the policemen, wheeling their bicycles, to
the camp.

25

 

All these arrangements completed, there was a pause.

They stood there beside the cars, in the moment of parting,
looking at the red-brick house with its shimmering hot roof,
and the thick encroaching bush, and the group of black men
moving off under the trees on their long walk. Moses was
quite impassive, allowing himself to be directed without any
movement of his own. His face was blank. He seemed to be
staring straight into the sun. Was he thinking he would not
see it much longer? ImpossiMe to say. Regret? Not a sign of it.
Fear? It did not seem so. Thv^ three men looked at the mur-
derer, thinking their own thoughts, speculative, frowning, but
not as if he were important now. No, he was unimportant:
he was the constant, the black man who will thieve, rape,
murder, if given half a chance. Even for Tony he no longer
mattered; and his knowledge of the native mind was too small
to give him any basis for conjecture.

‘And what about him?* asked Charlie, jerking his thumb at
Dick Turner. He meant: where does he come in, as far as the
court case is concerned?

‘He looks to me as if he won’t be good for much,’ said the
Sergeant, who after all had plenty of experience of death,
crime, and madness.

No, for them the important thing was Mary Turner, who
had let the side down; but even she, since she was dead, was
no longer a problem. The one fact that remained still to be
dealt with was the necessity for preserving appearances. Ser-
geant Denham understood that: it was part of his job, though
it would not appear in regulations, was rather implicit in the
spirit of the country, the spirit in which he was soaked. Charlie
Slatter understood it, none better. Still side by side, as if one
impulse, one regret, one fear, moved them both, they stood
together in that last moment before they left the place, giving
their final silent warning to Tony, looking at him gravely.

And he was beginning to understand. He knew now, at
least, that what had been fought out in the room they had just
left was nothing to do with the murder as such. The murder,

26

 

in itself, was nothing. The struggle that had been decided in a
few brief words – or rather, in the silences betweenfthe words –
had had nothing to do with the surface meaning of the scene.
He would understand it all a good deal better in a few months,
when he had ‘become used to the coimtry’. And then he
would do his best to forget the knowledge, for to live with the
colour bar in all its nuances and implications means closing
one’s mind to many things, if one intends to remain an ac-
cepted member of society. But, in the interval, there would be
a few brief moments when he would see the thing clearly, and
understand that it was ‘white civilization’ fighting to defend
itself that had been implicit in the attitude of Charlie Slatter
and the Sergeant, ‘white civilization’ which will never, never
admit that a white person, and most particularly, a white
woman, can have a human relationship, whether for good or
for evil, with a black person. For once it admits that, it crashes,
and nothing can save it. So, above all, it cannot afford failures,
such as the Turners’ failure.

For the sake of those few lucid moments, and his present
half-confused knowledge, it can be said that Tony was the
person present who had the greatest responsibility that day.
For it would never have occurred to either Slatter or the Ser-
geant that they might be wrong: they were upheld, as in all
their dealings with the black-white relationship, by a feeling
of almost martyred responsibility. Yet Tony, too, wanted to
be accepted by this new country. He would have to adapt
himself, and if he did not conform, would be rejected: the
issue was clear to him, he had heard the phrase ‘getting used to
our ideas’ too often to have any illusions on the point. And, if
he had acted according to liis by now muddled ideas of right
and wrong, his feeling that a monstrous injustice was being
done, what difference would it make to the only participant in
the tragedy who was neither dead nor mad? For Moses would
be hanged in any case; he had committed a murder, that fact
remained. Did he intend to go on fighting in the dark for the
sake of a principle? And if so, which principle? If he had

27

 

stepped forward then, as he nearly did, when Sergeant Den-
ham climbed finally into the car, and had said: ‘Look here, I
am just not going to shut up about this,’ what would have
been gained? It is certain that the Sergeant would not have
understood him. His face would have contracted, his brow
gone dark with irritation, and, taking his foot off the clutch,
he would have said, ‘ Shut up about what? Who has asked you
to shut up?’ And then, if Tony had stammered out something
about responsibility, he wo’dd have looked significantly at
Charlie and shrugged. Tony i.nght have continued, ignoring
the shrug and its implication of his wrongmindedness : ‘ If you
must blame somebody, then blame Mrs Turner. You can’t
have it both ways. Either the white people are responsible for
their behaviour, or they are not. It takes two to make a mur-
der – a murder of this kind. Though, one can’t really blame
her either. She can’t help being what she is. I’ve lived here, I
tell you, which neither of you has done, and the whole thing
is so difficult it is impossible to say who is to blame.’ And then
the Sergeant would have said, ‘You can say what you think
right in court.’ That is what he would have said, just as if the
issue had not been decided – though ostensibly it had never
been mentioned – less than ten minutes before. ‘It’s not a ques-
tion of blame,’ the Sergeant might have said. ‘Has anyone said
anything about blame? But you can’t get away from the fact
that this nigger has murdered her, can you?’

So Tony said nothing, and the police car went off through
the trees. Charlie Slatter followed in his car with Dick Turner.
Tony was left in the empty clearing, with an empty house.

He went inside, slowly, obsessed with the one clear image
that remained to him after the events of the morning, and
which seemed to him the key to the whole thing : the look on
the Sergeant’s and Slatter’s faces when they looked down at
the body; that almost hysterical look of hate and fear.

He sat down, his hand to his head, which ached badly; then
got up again and fetched from a dusty shelf in the kitchen a
medicine bottle marked ‘Brandy’. He drank it off. He felt

28

 

shaky in the knees and in the thighs. He was weak, too, with
repugnance against this ugly little house which seemed to hold
within its walls, even in its very brick and cement, the fear
and horror of the murder. He felt suddenly as if he could not
bear to stay in it, not for another moment.

He looked up at the bare crackling tin of the roof, that was
warped with the sun, at the faded gimcrack furniture, at the
dusty brick floors covered with ragged animal skins, and won-
dered how those two, Mary and Dick Turner, could have
borne to live in such a place, year in and year out, for so long.
Why even the little thatched hut where he lived at the back
was better than this! Why did they go on without even so
much as putting in ceilings? It was enough to drive anyone
mad, the heat in this place.

And then, feeling a little muddle-headed (the heat made the
brandy take effect at once), he wondered how all this had be-
gun, where the tragedy had started. For he clung obstinately to
the belief, in spite of Slatter and the Sergeant, that the causes of
the murder must be looked for a long way back, and that it
was they which were important. What sort of woman had
Mary Turner been, before she came to this farm and had been
driven slowly off balance by heat and loneliness and poverty?
And Dick Turner himself- what had he been? And the native
– but here his thoughts were stopped by lack of knowledge.
He -could not even begin to imagine the mind of a native.

Passing his hand over his forehead, he tried desperately, and
for the last time, to achieve some sort of a vision that would
lift the murder above the confusions and complexities of the
morning, and make of it, perhaps, a symbol, or a warning.
But he failed. It was too hot. He was still exasperated by the
attitude of the two men. His head was reeling. It must be over
a hundred in this room, he thought angrily, getting up from
his chair, and finding that his legs were unsteady. And he had
drunk, at the most, two tablespoons of brandy 1 This damned
country, he thought, convulsed with anger. Why should this
happen to me, getting involved with a damned twisted affair

29

 

like this, when I have only just come; and I really can’t be
expected to act as judge and jury and compassionate God into
the bargain!

He stumbled on to the veranda, where the murder had been
committed the night before. There was a ruddy smear on the
brick, and a puddle of rainwater was tinged pink. The same
big shabby dogs were licking at the edges of the water, and
cringed away when Tony shouted at them. He leaned against
the wall and stared over the ‘oaked greens and browns of the
veld to the kopjes, which wei” sharp and blue after the rain;
it had poured half the night. He realized, as the sound grew
loud in his ears, that cicadas were shrilling all about him. He
had been too absorbed to hear them. It was a steady, insistent
screaming from every bush and tree. It wore on his nerves. ‘I
am getting out of this place,’ he said suddenly. ‘I am getting
out of it altogether. I am going to the other end of the coun-
try. I wash my hands of the thing. Let the Slatters and the
Denhams do as they like. What has it got to do with me?’

That morning, he packed his things and walked over to the
Slatters’ to tell Charlie he would not stay. Charlie seemed in-
different, even relieved; he had been thinking there was no
need for a manager now that Dick would not come back.

After that the Turners’ farm was run as an overflow for
Charlie’s cattle. They grazed all over it, even up to the hill
where the house stood. It was left empty: it soon fell down.

Tony went back into town, where he hung round the bars
and hotels for a while, waiting to hear of some job that would
suit him. But his early carefree adaptability was gone. He had
grown difficult to please. He visited several farms, but each
time went away: farming had lost its glitter for him. At the
trial, which was as Sergeant Denham had said it would be, a
mere formality, he said what was expected of him. It was sug-
gested that the native had murdered Mary Turner while
drunk, in search of money and jewellery.

When the trial was over, Tony loafed about aimlessly until
his money was finished. The murder, those few weeks with

30

 

the Turners, had affected him more than he knew. But his
money being gone, he had to do something in order to eat. He
met a man from Northern Rhodesia, who told him about the
copper mines and the wonderfully high salaries. They sounded
fantastic to Tony. He took the next train to the copper belt,
intending to save some money and start some business on his
own account. But the salaries, once there, did not seem so
good as they had from a distance. The cost of living was high,
and then, everyone drank so much. … Soon he left under-
ground work and was a kind of manager. So, in the end, he
sat in an office and did paper work, which was what he had
come to Africa to avoid. But it wasn’t so bad really. One
should take things as they came. Life isn’t as one expects it to
be – and so on; these were the things he said to himself when
depressed, and was measuring himself against his early am-
bitions.

For the people in ‘the district’, who knew all about him by
hearsay, he was the young man from England who hadn’t the
guts to stand more than a few weeks of farming. No guts, they
said. He should have stuck it out.

 

CHAPTER 2

As the railway lines spread and knotted and ramified all over
Southern Africa, along them, at short distances of a few miles,
sprang up little dorps that tt’ a tfavcller appear as insignificant
clusters of ugly buildings, but wliich are the centres of farming
districts perhaps a couple of huidred miles across. They con-
tain the station building, the post office, sometimes a hotel, but
always a store.

If one was looking for a symbol to express South Africa, the
South Africa that was created by financiers and mine mag-
nates, the South Africa which the old missionaries and ex-
plorers who charted the Dark Continent would be horrified
to see, one would find it in the store. The store is everywhere.
Drive ten miles from one and you come on the next; poke
your head out of the railway carriage, and there it is; every
mine has its store, and many farms.

It is always a low single-storied building divided into seg-
ments like a strip of chocolate, with grocery, butchery, and
bottle-store under one corrugated-iron roof It has a high dark
wooden counter, and behind the counter shelves hold any-
thing from distemper mixture to toodibrushes, all mixed to-
gether. There are a couple of racks holding cheap cotton
dresses in brilliant colours, and perhaps a stack of shoe-boxes,
or a glass case for cosmetics or sweets. There is the unmistak-
able smell, a smell compounded of varnish, dried blood from
the killing yard behind, dried hides, dried fruit, and strong
yellow soap. Behind the counter is a Greek, or a Jew, or an
Indian. Sometimes the children of this man, who is invariably
hated by the whole district as a profiteer and an alien, are
playing among the vegetables because the living-quarters are
just behind the shop.

For thousands of people up and down Southern Africa the

32

 

store is the background to their childhood. So many thing*
centred round it. It brings back, for instance,, memories of
those nights when the car, after driving endlessly through a
cliilly, dusty darkness, stopped unexpectedly in front of a
square of light where men lounged with glasses in their hands,
and one was carried out into the brilliantly-lit bar for a sip of
searing liquid ‘to keep the fever away’. Or it might be the
place where one drove twice a week to collect mail, and to see
all the farmers from miles around buying their groceries, and
reading letters from Home with one leg propped on the run-
ning-board of the car, momentarily oblivious to the sun, the
square of red dust where the dogs lay scattered like flics on
meat, and the groups of staring natives – momentarily trans-
ported back to the country for which they were so bitterly
homesick, but where they would not choose to live again:

‘ South Africa gets into you,’ these self-exiled people would
say, ruefully.

For Mary, the word ‘Home’, spoken nostalgically, meant
England, although both her parents were South Africans and
had never been to England. It meant ‘England’ because of
those mail-days, when she slipped up to the store to watch the
cars come in, and drive away again laden with stores and
letters and magazines from overseas.

For Mary, the store was the real centre of her life, even
more important to her than to most children. To begin with,
she always lived within sight of it, in one of those little dusty
dorps. She was always having to run across to bring a pound
of dried peaches or a tin of salmon for her mother, or to find
out whether the weekly newspaper had arrived. And she
would linger there for hours, staring at the piles of sticky
coloured sweets, letting the fine grain stored in the sacks round
the walls trickle through her fingers, looking covertly at the
little Greek girl whom she was not allowed to play with, be-
cause her mother said her parents were dagoes. And later,
when she grew older, the store came to have another signi-
ficance: it was the place where her father bought his drink.

33

 

Somcrimcs her mother worked herself into a passion of resent-
ment, and walked up to the barman, complaining that she
could not make ends meet, while her husband squandered his
salary in drink. Mary knew, even as a child, that her mother
complained for the sake of making a scene and parading her
sorrows: that she really enjoyed the luxury of standing there
in the bar while the casual drinkers looked on, sympathetic-
ally; she enjoyed complainmg in a hard sorrowful voice about
her husband. ‘Every night he comes home from here,’ she
would say, ‘every night! And I am expected to bring up three
children on the money that is left over when he chooses to
cOme home.’ And then she would stand still, waiting for the
condolences of the man who pocketed the money which was
rightly hers to spend for the children. But he would say at the
end, ‘But what can I do? I can’t refuse to sell him drink, now
can IP’ And at last, having played out her scene and taken her
fill of sympathy, she would slowly walk away across the ex-
panse of red dust to her house, holding Mary by the hand – a
tall, scrawny woman with angry, unhealthy brilliant eyes. She
made a confidante of Mary early. She used to cry over her
sewing while Mary comforted her miserably, longing to get
away, but feeling important too, and hating her father.

This is not to say that he drank himself into a state of
brutality. He was seldom drunk as some men were, whom
Mary saw outside the bar, frightening her into a real terror of
the place. He drank himself every evening into a state of cheer-
ful fuddled good humour, coming home late to a cold dinner,
which he ate by himself. His wife treated him with a cold in-
difference. She reserved her scornful ridicule of him for when
her friends came to tea. It was as if she did not wish to give her
husband the satisfaction of knowing that she cared anything
for him at all, or felt anything for him, even contempt and
derision. She behaved as if he were simply not there for her.
And for all practical purposes he was not. He brought home
the money, and not enough of that. Apart from that he was a
cipher in the house, and knew it. He was a little man, with dull

34

 

ruffled hair, a baked-apple face, and an air of uneasy though
aggressive jocularity. He called visiting petty officials ‘sir* ; and
shouted at the natives under him; he was on the railway,
working as a pumpman.

And then, as well as being the focus of the district, and the
source of her father’s drunkenness, the store was the powerful,
implacable place that sent in bills at the end of the month.
They could never be fully paid: her mother was always ap-
pealing to the owner for jvist another month’s grace. Her
father and mother fought over these bills twelve times a year.
They never quarrelled over anything but money; sometimes,
in fact, her mother remarked dr^dy that she might have done
worse: she might, for instance, be like Mrs Newman, who
had seven children; she had only three months to fill, after all.
It was a long time before Mary saw the connexion between
these phrases, and by then there was only one mouth to feed,
her own; for her brother and sister both died of dysentery one
very dusty year. Her parents were good friends because of this
sorrow for a short while: Mary could remember thinking that
it was an ill wind that did no one good; because the two dead
children were both so much older than she that they were no
good to her as playmates, and the loss was more than com-
pensated by the happiness of living in a house where there
were suddenly no quarrels, with a mother who wept, but who
had lost that terrible hard indifference. That phase did not last
long, however. She looked back on it as the happiest time of
her childhood.

The family moved three times before Mary went to school;
but afterwards she could not distinguish between the various
stations she had lived in. She remembered an exposed dusty
village that was backed by a file of bunchy gum trees, with a
square of dust always swirling and settling because of passing
ox-wagons; with hot sluggish air that sounded several times a
day with the screaming and coughing of trains. Dust and
chickens; dust and children and wandering natives; dust and
the store – always the store.

35

 

Then she was sent to boarding school and her life changed.
She was extremely happy, so happy that she dreaded going
home at holiday times to her fuddled father, her bitter mother,
and the fly-away little house that was like a small wooden box
on stilts.

At sixteen she left school and took a job in an office in
town: one of those sleepy little towns scattered like raisins in a
dry cake over the body of South Africa. Again, she was very
happy. She seemed born (ov typing and shorthand and book-
keeping and the comfortaL^e routine of an office. She liked
things to happen safely one af’er another in a pattern, and she
liked, particularly, the friendly impersonality of it. By the
time she was twenty she had a good job, her own friends, a
niche in the life of the town. Then her mother died and she
was virtually alone in the world, for her father was five hun-
dred miles away, having been transferred to yet another
station. She hardly saw him: he was proud of her, but (which
was more to the point) left her alone. They did not even write;
they were not tlie writing sort. Mary was pleased to be rid of
him. Being alone in the world had no terrors for her at all, she
liked it. And by dropping her father she seemed in some way
to be avenging her mother’s sufferings. It had never occurred
to her that her father, too, might have suffered. ‘About what?’
she would have retorted, had anyone suggested it. ‘He’s a
man, isn’t he? He can do as he likes.’ She had inherited from
her mother an arid feminism, which had no meaning in her
ov/n life at all, for she was leading the comfortable carefree
existence of a single woman in South Africa, and she did not
know how fortunate she was. How could she know? She
understood nothing of conditions in other countries, had no
measuring rod to assess herself with.

It had never occurred to her to think, for instance, that she,
the daughter of a petty railway official and a woman whose
life had been so unhappy because of economic pressure that
she had literally pined to death, was living in much the same
way as the daughters of the wealthiest in South Africa, could

36

 

do as she pleased – could marry, if she wished, anyone she
wanted. These things did not enter her head. ‘Class’ is not a
South African word; and its equivalent, ‘race’, meant to her
the office boy in the firm where she worked, other women’s
servants, and the amorphous mass of natives in the streets,
whom she hardly noticed. She knew (the phrase was in the
air) that the natives were getting ‘cheeky’. But she had
nothing to do with them really. They were outside her
orbit.

Till she was twenty-five notliing happened to break the
smooth and comfortable life she led. Then her father died.
That removed the last link that bound her to a childhood she
hated to remember. There was notliing left to connect her
with the sordid little house on stilts, the screaming of trains,
the dust, and the strife between her parents. Nothing at all!
She was free. And when the funeral was over, and she had re-
turned to the office, she looked forward to a life that would
continue as it had so far been. She was very happy: that was
perhaps her only positive quality, for there was nothing else
distinctive about her, though at twenty-five she was at her
prettiest. Sheer contentment put a bloom on her: she was a
tliin girl, who moved awkwardly, with a fashionable curtain
of light-brown hair, serious blue eyes, and pretty clothes. Her
friends would have described her as a slim blonde: she
modelled herself on the more childish-looking film stars.

At thirty nothing had changed. On her thirtieth birthday
she felt a vague surprise that did not even amount to discom-
fort – for she did not feel any different – that the years had
gone past so quickly. Thirty 1 It sounded a great age. But it had
nothing to do with her. At the same time she did not celebrate
this birthday; she allowed it to be forgotten. She felt almost
outraged that such a thing could happen to her, who was no
different from tlie Mary of sixteen.

She was by now the personal secretary of her employer, and
was earning good money. If she had wanted, she could have
taken a flat and lived the smart sort of life. She was quite

37

 

presentable. She had the undistinguished, dead-level appear-
ance of South African white democracy. Her voice was one of
thousands: flattened, a little sing-song^ clipped. Anyone could
have worn her clothes. There was nothing to prevent her liv-
ing by herself, even running her own car, entertaining on a
small scale. She could have become a person on her own
account. But this was against her instinct.

She chose to live in a girls’ club, which had been started,
really, to help women whi’ could not earn much money, but
she had been there so long *10 one thought of asking her to
leave. She chose it because it reminded her of school, and she
had hated leaving school. She liked the crowds of girls, and
eating in a big dining-room, and coming home after the pic-
tures to find a friend in her room waiting for a little gossip. In
the club she was a person of some importance, out of the usual
run. For one thing she was so much older than the others. She
kad come to have what was almost the role of a comfortable
maiden aunt to whom one can tell one’s troubles. For Mary
was never shocked, never condemned, never told tales. She
seemed impersonal, above the little worries. The stiffness of
her manner, her shyness protected her from many spites and
jealousies. She seemed immune. This was her strength, but also
a weakness that she would not have considered a weakness:
she felt disinclined, almost repelled, by the thought of in-
timacies and scenes and contacts. She moved among all those
young women with a faint aloofness that said as ejear as words :
I will not be drawn in. And she was quite unconscious of it.
She was very happy in the club.

Outside the girls’ club, and the office, where again she was a
person of some importance, because of the many years she had
worked there, she led a full and active life. Yet it was a passive
one, in some respects, for it depended on other people en-
tirely. She was not the kind of woman who initiates parties, or
who is the centre of a crowd. She was still the girl who is
‘taken out’.

Her life was really rather extraordinary; the coiiclitions

38

 

which produced it are passing now, and when the change is
complete, women will look back on them as on a vanished
Golden Age. *

She got up late, in time for office (she was very punctual)
but not in time for breakfast. She worked efficiently, but in a
leisurely way, until lunch. She went back to the club for
lunch. Two more hours’ work in the afternoon and she was
free. Then she played tennis, or hockey, or swam. And always
with a man, one of those innumerable men who ‘took her
out’, treating her like a sister: Mary was such a good pal! Just
as she seemed to haye a hundred women friends, but no par-
ticular friend, so she had (it seemed) a hundred men, who had
taken her out, or were taking her out, or who had married and
now asked her to their homes. She was friend to half the town.
And in the evening she always went to sundowner parties that
prolonged themselves till midnight, or danced, or went to the
pictures. Sometimes she went to the pictures five nights a
week. She was never in bed before twelve or later. And so it
had gone on, day after day, week after week, year after year.
South Africa is a wonderful place: for the unmarried white
woman. But she was not playing her part, for she did not get
married. The years went past; her friends got married; she had
been bridesmaid a dozen times; other people’s children were
growing up ; but she went on as companionable, as adaptable,
as aloof, and as heart-whole as ever, working as hard enjoying
herself as she ever did in office, and never for one moment
alone, except when she was asleep.

She seemed not to care for men. She would say to her girls,
‘Men! They get all the fun.’ Yet outside the office and the
club her life was entirely dependent upon men, though she
would have most indignantly repudiated the accusation. And
perhaps she was not so dependent upon them really, for when
she listened to other people’s complaints and miseries she
offered none of her own. Sometimes her friends felt a little
put off, and let down. It was hardly fair, they felt obscurely, to
listen, to advise, to act as a sort of universal shoulder for the

39

 

world to weep on, and give back nothing of her own. The
truth was she had no troubles. She heard other people’s com-
plicated stories with wonder, even a little fesir. She shrank
away from all that. She was a most rare phenomenon: a
woman of thirty without love troubles, headaches, backaches,
sleeplessness, or neurosis. She did not know how rare she
was.

And she was still ‘one of the girls’. If a visiting cricket team
came to town and partners were needed, the organizers would
ring vp Mary. That was tK kind of thing she was good at:
adapting herself sensibly and quietly to any occasion. She
would sell tickets for a charity dance or act as a dancing partner
for a visiting full-back with equal amiability.

And she still wore her hair Uttle-girl fashion on her shoul-
ders, and wore little-girl frocks in pastel colours, and kept her
shy, naive manner. If she had been left alone she would have
gone on, in her own way, enjoying herself thoroughly, until
people found one day that she had turned imperceptibly into
one of those women who have become old without ever hav-
ing been middle-aged: a little withered, a little acid, hard as
nails, sentimentally kindhearted, and addicted to religion or
small dogs.

They would have been kind to her, because she had ‘missed
the best things of life’. But then there are so many people who
don’t want them: so many for whom the best things have
been poisoned from the start. When Mary thought of ‘home’
she remembered a wooden box shaken by passing trains;
when she thought of marriage she remembered her father
coming home red-eyed and fuddled; when she thought of
children she saw her mother’s face at her children’s funeral –
anguished, but as dry and as hard as rock. Mary liked other
people’s children but shuddered at the thought of having any
of her own. She felt sentimental at weddings, but she had a
profound distaste for sex; there had been little privacy in her
home and there were tilings she did not care to remember;
she had taken good care to forget them years ago.

40

 

she certainly did feel, at times, a restlessness, a vague dis-
satisfaction that took the pleasure out of her activities for a
while. She would be going to bed, for instance, contentedly,
after the pictures, when the thought would strike her, ‘An-
other day gone ! ’ And then time would contract and it seemed
to her only a breathing space since she left school and came
into town to earn her own living; and she would feel a little
panicky, as if an invisible support had been drawn away from
underneath her. But then, being a sensible person, and firmly
convinced that thinking about oneself was morbid, slie would
get into bed and turn out the lights. She might wonder, before
drifting off to sleep, ‘Is this all? When I get to be old will this
be all I have to look back on?’ But by morning she would
have forgotten it, and the days went round, and she would be
happy again. For she did not know what she wanted. Some-
thing bigger, she would think vaguely – a different kind of
hfe. But the mood never lasted long. She was so satisfied with
her work, where she felt sufficient and capable; with her
friends, whom she relied on; with her life at the club, which
was as pleasant and as gregarious as being in a giant twittering
aviary, where there was always the excitement of other
people’s engagements and weddings; and with her men
friends, who treated her just like a good pal, with none of this
silly sex business.

But all women become conscious, sooner or later, of that
impalpable, but steel-strong pressure to get married, and
Mary, who was not at all susceptible to atmosphere, or the
things people imply, was brought face to face with it suddenly,
and most unpleasantly.

She was in the house of a married friend, sitting on the
veranda, with a lighted room behind her. She was alone; and
heard people talking in low voices, and caught her own name.
She rose to go inside and declare herself : it was typical of her
that her first thought was, how unpleasant it would be for her
friends to know she had overheard. Then she sank down again,
and waited for a suitable moment to pretend she had just come

41

 

in from the garden. Tliis was the conversation she listened to,
while her face burned and her hands went clammy.

‘She’s not fifteen any longer: it is ridiculous! Someone
should tell her about her clothes.’

‘How old is she?’

‘Must be well over thirty. She has been going strong for
years. She was working long before I began working, and
that was a good twelve yesrs ago.’

‘Why doesn’t she marry She must have had plenty of
chances.’

There was a dry chuckle. ‘I don’t think so. My husband was
keen on her himself once, but he thinks she will never marry.
She just isn’t like that, isn’t like that at all. Something missing
somewhere.’

‘ Oh, I don’t know.’

‘ She’s gone off so much, in any case. The other day I caught
sight of her in the street and hardly recognized her. It’s a fact!
The way she plays all those games, her skin is like sandpaper,
and she’s got so thin.’

‘But she’s such a nice girl.’

‘ She’ll never set the rivers on fire, though.’

‘She’d make someone a good wife. She’s a good sort,
Mary.’

‘ She should marry someone years older than herself. A man
of fifty would suit her . . . you’ll see, she will marry someone
old enough to be her father one of these days.’

‘ One never can tell ! ’

There was another chuckle, good-hearted enough, but it
sounded cruelly malicious to Mary. She was stunned and out-
raged; but most of all deeply wounded that her friends could
discuss her thus. She was so naive, so unconscious of herself in
relation to other people, that it had never entered her head that
people could discuss her behind her back. And the things they
had said! She sat there writhing, twisting her hands. Then she
composed herself and went back into the room to join her
treacherous friends, who greeted her as cordially as if they had

42

 

not just that moment driven knives into her heart and thrown
her quite ofF balance; she could not recognize herself in the
picture they had made of her!

That little incident, apparently so unimportant, which
would have had no effect on a person who had the faintest
idea of the kind of world she lived in, had a profound effect on
Mary. She, who had never had time to think of herself, took to
sitting in her room for hours at a time, wondering: ‘Why did
they say those things? What is the matter with me? What did
they mean when they said that I am not like that’?’ And she
would look warily, appealingly, into the faces of friends to see
if she could find there traces of their condemnation of her.
And she was even more disturbed and unhappy because they
seemed just as usual, treating her with their ordinary friendh-
ness. She began to suspect double meanings where none were
intended, to find maliciousness in the glance of a person who
felt nothing but affection for her.

Turning over in her mind the words she had by accident
listened to, she thought of ways to improve herself. She took
the ribbon out of her hair, though with regret, because she
thought she looked very pretty with a mass of curls round her
rather long thin face; and bought herself tailor-made clothes,
in which she felt ill at ease, because she felt truly herself in
pinafore frocks and childish skirts. And for the first time in her
life she was feeling uncomfortable with men. A small core of
contempt for them, of which she was quite unconscious, and
which had protected her from sex as surely as if she had been
truly hideous, had melted, and she had lost her poise. And she
began looking around for someone to marry. She did not put
it to herself hke that; but, after all, she was nothing if not a
social being, though she had never thought of ‘society’, the
abstraction; and if her friends were thinking she should get
married, then there might be something in it. If she had ever
learned to put her fecUngs into words, that was perhaps how
she would have expressed herself. And the first man she
allowed to approach her was a widower of fifty-five with

43

 

half-grown children. It was because she felt safer with him . . .
because she did not associate ardours and embraces with a
middle-aged gentleman whose attitude towards her was
almost fatherly.

He knew perfectly well what he wanted: a pleasant com-
panion, a mother for his children, and someone to run his
house for him. He found Mary good company, and she was
kind to the children. Nothing, really, could have been more
suitable: since apparently sht had to get married, this was the
kind of marriage to suit her bc^t. But things went wrong. He
underestimated her experience; it seemed to him that a woman
who had been on her own so long should know her own mind
and understand what he was offering her. A relationship de-
veloped wliich was clear to both of them, until he proposed to
her, was accepted, and began to make love to her. Then a
violent revulsion overcame her and she ran away; they were
in his comfortable drawing-room, and when he began to kiss
her, she ran out of his house into the night and all the way
home through the streets to the club. There she fell on the bed
and wept. And his feeling for her was not one to be enhanced
by this kind of foolishness, which a younger man, physically
in love with her, might have found charming. Next morning,
she was horrified at her behaviour. What a way to behave:
she, who was always in command of herself, and who dreaded
nothing more than scenes and ambiguity. She apologized to
him, but that was the end of it.

And now she was left at sea, not knowing what it was she
needed. It seemed to her that she had run from him because he
was ‘an old man’, that was how the affair arranged itself in her
mind. She shuddered, and avoided men over thirty. She was
over that age herself; but in spite of everything, she thought of
herself as a girl still.

And all the time, unconsciously, without admitting it to
herself, she was looking for a husband.

During those few months before she married, people were
discussing her in a way which would have sickened her, had

44

 

she suspected it. It seems hard that Mary, whose charity to-
wards other people’s failurles and scandals grew out of a
genuine, rock-bottom aversion towards the personal things
like love and passion, was doomed all her life to be the subject
of gossip. But so it was. At this time, too, the shocking and
rather ridiculous story of that night when she had run away
from her elderly lover was spreading round the wide circle of
her friends, though it is impossible to say who could have
known about it in the first place. But when people heard it
they nodded and laughed as if it confirmed something they
had known for a long time. A woman of thirty behaving like
that! They laughed, rather unpleasantly ; in this age of scien-
tific sex, nothing seems more ridiculous than sexual gaucherie.
They didn’t forgive her; they laughed, and felt that in some
way it served her right.

She was so changed, they said; she looked so dull and
dowdy, and her skin was bad ; she looked as if she were going
to be ill; she was obviously having a nervous breakdown and
at her age it was to be expected, with the way she lived and
everything; she was looking for a man and couldn’t get one.
And then, her manner was so odd, these days. . . . These were
some of the things they said.

It is terrible to destroy a person’s picture of himself in the
interests of truth or some other abstraction. How can one
know he will be able to create another to enable him to go on
living? Mary’s idea of herself was destroyed and she was not
fitted to recreate herself. She could not exist without that im-
personal, casual friendship from other people; and now it
seemed to her there was pity in the way they looked at her,
and a little impatience, too, as if she were really rather a futile
woman after all. She felt as she had never done before; she was
hollow inside, empty, and into this emptiness would sweep
from nowhere a vast panic, as if there were nothing in the
world she could grasp hold of. And she was afraid to meet
people, afraid, above all, of men. If a man kissed her (which
they did, sensing her new mood), she was revolted; on the

45

 

other hand she went to the pictures even more frequently than
before and came out feverish and unsettled. There seemed no
connexion between the distorted mirror of the screen and her
own life; it was impossible to fit together what she wanted for
herself, and what she was offered.

At the age of thirty, this woman who had had a ‘good’
State education, a thoroughly comfortable life enjoying her-
self in a civilized way, ai:d access to all knowledge of her
time (only she read nothii^’^ but bad novels) knew so little
about herself that she was thrown completely off her balance
because some gossiping women had said she ought to get
married.

Then she met Dick Turner. It might have been anybody.
Or rather, it would have been the first man she met who
treated her as if she were wonderful and unique. She needed
that badly. She needed it to restore her feeling of superiority
to men, which was really, at bottom, what she had been living
from all these years.

They met casually at the cinema. He was in for the day from
his farm. He very rarely came into town, except when he had
to buy goods he could not get at his local store, and that hap-
pened perhaps once or twice a year. On this occasion he ran
into a man he had not seen for years and was persuaded to
stay the night in town and go to the cinema. He was almost
amused at himself for agreeing: all this seemed so very remote
from him. His farm lorry, heaped with sacks of grain and two
harrows, stood outside the cinema, looking out of place and
cumbersome; and Mary looked through the back window at
these unfamiliar objects and smiled. It was necessary for her to
smile when she saw them. She loved the town, felt safe there,
and associated the country with her childhood, because of
those little dorps she had lived in, and the way they were all
surrounded by miles and miles of nothingness – miles and
miles of veld.

Dick Turner disliked the town. When he drove in from the
veld he knew so well, tlirough those ugly scattered suburbs

46

 

that looked as if they had come out of housing catalogues ;
ugly little houses stuck anyhow over the veld, that had no
relationship with die hard brown African soil and the arching
blue sky, cosy little houses meant for cosy little countries – and
then on into the business part of the town with the shops full
of fashions for smart women and extravagant imported food,
he felt ill at case and uncomfortable and murderous.

He suffered from claustrophobia. He wanted to run away –
either to run away or to smash the place up. So he always
escaped as soon as possible back to his farm, where he felt at
home.

But there are thousands of people in Africa who could be
lifted bodily out of their suburb and put into a town the other
side of the world and hardly notice the difference. The suburb
is as invincible and fatal as factories, and even beautiful South
Africa, whose soil looks outraged by those pretty litdc
suburbs creeping over it like a disease, cannot escape. When
Dick Turner saw them, and thought of the way people lived
in them, and tlie way the cautious suburban mind was ruining
his country, he wanted to swear and to smash and to murder.
He could not bear it. He did not put these feelings into words;
he had lost the habit of word-spinning, living the life he did,
out on the soil all day. But the feeling was the strongest he
knew. He felt he could kill the bankers and the financiers and
the magnates and the clerks – all the people who built prim
little houses with hedged gardens full of English flowers for
preference.

And above all, he loathed the cinema. When he found him-
self inside the picture-house on this occasion, he wondered
what had possessed him that he had agreed to come. He could
not keep his eyes on the screen. The long-limbed, smooth-
faced women bored him; the story seemed meaningless. And
it was hot and stuffy. After a while he ignored the screen alto-
gether, and looked round the audience. In front of him,
around him, behind him, rows and rows of people staring and
leaning away from each other up at the screen – hundreds of

47

 

people flown out of their bodies and living in the lives of those
stupid people ‘posturing there. It made him feel uneasy.

He fidgeted, lit a cigarette, gazed at the dark plush curtains
that masked the exits. And then, looking along the row he was
sitting in, he saw a shaft of light fall from somewhere above,
showing the curve of a cheek and a sheaf of fairish glinting
hair. The face seemed to float, yearning upwards, ruddily gold
in the queer greenish light He poked the man next to him,
and said, ‘Who is that?’ ‘Mi-y,’ was the grunted reply, after a
brief look. But ‘Mary’ did nc t help Dick much. He stared at
that lovely floating face and the falling hair, and after the show
was over, he looked for her hurriedly in the crush outside the
door. But he could not see her. He supposed, vaguely, that she
had gone with someone else. He was given a girl to take home
whom he hardly glanced at. She was dressed in what seemed
to him a ridiculous way, and he wanted to laugh at her high
heels, in which she tiptapped beside liim across the street. In
the car she looked over her shoulder at the piled back of the
lorry, and asked in a hurried affected voice: ‘What are those
funny things at the back?’

‘Have you never seen a harrow?’ he asked. He dropped her,
without regret, at the place where she lived – a big building,
which was full of light and people. He forgot her immediately.

But he dreamed about the girl with the young up-tiltcd face
and the wave of loose gleaming hair. It was a luxury, dream-
ing about a woman, for he had forbidden himself such things.
He had started farming five years before, and was still not
making it pay. He was indebted to the Land Bank, and heavily
mortgaged, for he had had no capital at all, when he started.
He had given up drink, cigarettes, all but the necessities. He
worked as only a man possessed by a vision can work, from
six in the morning till seven at night, taking his meals on the
lands, his whole being concentrated on the farm. His dream
was to get married and have children. Only he could not ask a
woman to share such a life. First he would have to get out of
debt, build a house, be able to afford the little luxuries. Having

48

 

driven himself for years, it was part of his dream to spoil a
wife. He knew exactly what sort of a house heVould budd:
not one of those meaningless block-like buildings stuck on top
of the sod. He wanted a big thatched house with wide verandas
open to the air. He had even chosen the ant-heaps that he
would dig to make his bricks, and had marked the parts of the
farm where the grass grew tallest, taller than a big man, for
the thatch. But it seemed to him sometimes that he was very
far from getting what he wanted. He was pursued by bad
luck. The farmers about him, he knew, called him ‘Joii^h’.
If there was a drought he seemed to get the brunt of it, and if
it rained in swamps then his farm suffered most. If he decided
to grow cotton for the first time, cotton slumped that year,
and if there was a swarm of locusts, then he took it for granted,
with a kind of angry but determined fatalism, that they would
make straight for his most promising patch of mealies. His
dream had become a little less grandiose of late. He was lonely,
he wanted a wife, and above all, children; and the way things
were it would be years before he had them. He was beginning
to think that if he could pay oft’ some of the moj-tgage, and add
an extra room to his house, perhaps get some furniture, then
he could think of getting married. In the meantime he thought
of the girl in the cinema. She became the focus of his work and
imaginings. He cursed himself for it, for he knew thinking
about women, particularly one woman, was as dangerous as
dr ink to him, but it was no good. Just over a month after his
visit to town, he found himself planning another. It was not
necessary and he knew it. He gave up even persuading himself
that it was necessary. In town, he did the little business he had
to do quickly, and went in search of someone who could tell
him ‘Mary’s’ surname.

When he drove up to the big building, he recognized it,
but did not connect the girl he had driven home that night
with the girl of the cinema. Even when she came to the door,
and stood in the hall looking to see who he was, he did not
recognize her. He saw a tall, tliin girl, with deeply blue, rather

49

c

 

evasive eyes that looked hurt. Her hair was in tight ridges
round her head; she wore trousers. Women in trousers did not
seem to him females at all: he was properly old-fashioned.
Then she said ‘Are you looking for me?’ rather puzzled and
shy; and at once he remembered that silly voice asking about
the harrows and stared at her incredulously. He was so dis-
appointed he began to stammer and shift his feet. Then he
thought that he could not srand there for ever, staring at her,
and he asked her to go for a Irive. It was not a pleasant even-
ing. He was angry with himself for his self-delusion and weak-
ness; she was flattered but puzzled as to why he had sought her
out, since he hardly spoke now he had got her into the car and
was driving aimlessly around the town. But he wanted to find
in her the girl who had haunted him, and he had done so, by
the time he had to take her home. He kept glancing at her
sideways as they passed street lamps, and he could see how a
trick of light had created something beautiful and strange
from an ordinary and not very attractive girl. And then, he
began to like her, because it was essential for him to love some-
body; he had not realized how very lonely he had been. And
when he left her that night, it was with regret, saying he
would come again soon.

Back on the farm, he took himself to task. This would end
in marriage if he were not careful, and he simply could not
afford it. That was the end of it, then; he would forget her, put
the whole thing out of his mind. Besides, what did he know
about her? Nothing at all! Except that she was obviously, as
he put it, ‘thoroughly spoiled’. She was not the kind to share a
struggling farmer’s life. So he argued with himself, working
harder than he had ever done before, and thinking sometimes,
‘After all, if I have a good season this year I might go back and
see her.’ He took to walking ten miles over the veld with his
gun after his day’s work to exhaust himself. He wore himself
out, grew thin and haunted-looking. He fought with himself
for two months, until at last one day he found himself prepar-
ing to take the car into town, exactly as if he had decided it

50

 

long ago, and as if all his exhortations and self^scipline had
been nothing but a shield to hide from himself his real inten-
tion. As he dressed he whistled jauntily, but with a crestfallen
undertone; and his fac^ wore a curious little defeated smile.

As for Mary, those two months were a long nightmare. He
had come all the way in from liis farm after meeting her once
for five minutes, and then, having spent an evening with her,
had not thought it worth his while to come back. Her friends
were right, she lacked something. There was something wrong
with her. But she clung to the thought of him, in spite of the
fact that she said to herself she was useless, a failure, a ridicu-
lous creature whom no one wanted. She gave up going out in
the evenings, and remained in her room waiting for him to
call for her. She sat for hours and hours by herself, her mind
numb with misery; and at night she dreamed long grey
dreams in which she struggled through sand, or climbed stair-
cases which collapsed as she reached the top, letting her slide
back to the bottom again. She woke in the mornings tired and
depressed, unable to face the day. Her employer, used to her
inevitable efficiency, told her to take a holiday and not to
come back till she felt better. She left the office, feeling as if
she had been thrown out (though he could not have been
nicer about her breakdown) and stayed all day in the club. If
she went away for a holiday she might miss Dick. Yet what
was Dick to her, really? Nothing. She hardly knew him. He
was a spare, sunburnt, slow-voiced, deep-eyed young man
who had come into her life like an accident, and that was all
she could say about him. And yet, she would have said it was
for his sake she was making herself ill. All her restlessness, her
vague feelings of inadequacy, centred on him, and when she
asked herself, in chilly dismay, why it should be he, rather
than any of the other men she knew, there was no satisfactory
reply.

Weeks after she had given up hope, and had gone to the
doctor for a prescription because ‘she was feeling tired’ and
had been told she must take a holiday at once, if she wanted to

 

avoid complete breakdown; when she had reached a stage of
misery that made it impossible for her to meet any of her old
friends, because of her obsession that their friendship was a
cloak for malicious gossip and real disldce of her, she was called
to the door again one evening. She was not thinking about
Dick. When she saw him it took all her self-control to greet
him calmly; if she had shown her emotion he might after all
have given her up. By now he had persuaded himself into be-
lieving she was a practical, adaptable, serene person, who
would need only a few weeks on the farm to become what he
wanted her to be. Tears of hysteria would have shocked him,
ruined his vision of her.

It was to an apparently calm, maternal Mary that he pro-
posed. He was adoring, self-abasing, and grateful when she
accepted him. They were married by special licence two weeks
later. Her desire to get married as quickly as possible surprised
him; he saw her as a busy and popular woman with a secure
place in the social life of the town, and thought it would take
her some time to arrange her affairs : this idea of her was part
of her attraction for him. But a quick marriage fell in with his
plans, really. He hated the idea of waiting about the town
while a woman fussed with clothes and bridesmaids. There
was no honeymoon. He explained he was too poor really to
afford one, though if she insisted he would do what he could.
She did not insist. She was very relieved to escape a honey-
moon.

 

CHAPTER 3

It was a long way from the town to the farm – well over a
hundred miles; and by the time he told her they had crossed
the boundary, it was late at night. Mary, who was half asleep,
roused herself to look at his farm, and saw the dim shapes of
low trees, like great soft birds, flying past; and beyond it a
hazy sky that was cracked and seamed with stars. Her tired-
ness relaxed her limbs, quietened her nerves. Reaction from
the strained state of the last’ few months was a dulled acquies-
cence, a numbness, that was almost indifference. She thought it
would be pleasant to live peacefully for a change; she had not
realized how exhausted she was, after those years of Uving
geared to a perpetual demand for the next thing. She said to
herself, with determination to face it, that she would ‘get
close to nature’. It was a phrase that took away the edge of her’
distaste for the veld. ‘Getting close to nature’, which was
sanctioned, after all, by the pleasant sentimentality of the sort
of books she read, was a reassuring abstraction. At the week-
ends, when she worked in town, she had often gone out for
picnics with crowds of young people, to sit all day on hot
rocks in the shade, listening to a portable gramophone playing
dance music from America, and had thought of that, too, as
‘getting close to nature’. ‘It is nice to get out of the town,’ she
would say. But like most people, the things she said bore no
relation at all to die things she felt: she was always profoundly
relieved to get back to hot and cold water in taps and the
streets and the office.

Still, she would be her own mistress: that was marriage,
what her friends had married for – to have homes of their own
and no one to tell them what to do. She felt vaguely that she
had been right to marry – everyone had been right. For, look-
ing back, it seemed to her that all the people she had met were

 

secretly, silently, but relentlessly persuading her to marry. She
was going to be happy. She had no idea of the life she had to
lead. Poverty, which Dick had warned her of with a scrupu-
lous humility, was another abstraction, nothing to do with her
pinched childhood. She saw it as a rather exhilarating fight
against odds.

The car stopped at last and she roused herself. The moon had
gone behind a great lumino us white cloud, and it was sud-
denly very dark – miles of da ’kness under a dimly starlit sky.
All around were trees, the squat, flattened trees of the high-
veld, which seem as if pressure of sun has distorted them, look-
ing now like vague dark presences standing about the small
clearing where the car had stopped. There was a small square
building whose corrugated roof began to gleam whitely as the
moon slowly slid out from behind the cloud and drenched the
clearing with brilliance. Mary got out of the car and watched
it drive away round the house to the back. She looked round
her, shivering a little, for a cold breath blew out of the trees
and down in the vlei beyond them hung a cold white vapour.
Listening in the complete silence, innumerable little noises
rose from the bush, as if colonies of strange creatures had be-
come still and watchful at their coming and were now going
about their own business. She glanced round at the house; it
looked shut and dark and stuffy, under that wide streaming
moonlight. A border of stones glinted whitely in front of her,
and she walked along them, away from the house and towards
the trees, seeing them grow large and soft as she approached.
Then a strange bird called, a wild nocturnal sound, and she
turned and ran back, suddenly terrified, as if a hostile breath
had blown upon her, from another world, from thp trees.
And as she stumbled in her high heels over the uneven ground
and regained balance, there was a stir and a cackle of fowls
diat had been waked by the lights of the car, and the homely
sound comforted her. She stopped before the house, and put
out her hand to touch the leaves of a plant standing in a tin on
the wall of the veranda. Her fingers were fragrant with the dry

54

 

scent of geraniums. . Then a square of light appeared in the
blank wall of the house, and she saw Dick’s tall s^pe stooping
inside, hazed by the candle he held in front of him. She went
up the steps to the door, and stood waiting. Dick had vanished
again, leaving the candle on the table. In the dim yellow light
the room seemed tiny, tiny; and very low; the roof was the
corrugated iron she had seen from outside; there was a strong
musty smell, almost animal-like. Dick came back holding an
old cocoa tin flattened at the rim to form a fuimel, and climbed
on the chair under the hanging lamp to fill it. The paraflin
dripped greasily down and pattered on the floor, and the
strong smell sickened her. The light flared up, flickered wildly,
then settled into a low yellow flame. Now she could see the
skins of animals on the red brick floor: some kind of wildcat,
or perhaps a small leopard, and a big fawn-coloured skin of
some buck. She sat down, bewildered by the strangeness of it
all. Dick was watching her face, she knew, for signs of dis-
appointment, and she forced herself to smile, though she felt
weak with foreboding: this tiny stuffy room, the bare brick
floor, the greasy lamp, were not what she had imagined. Ap-
parently satisfied, Dick smiled at her gratefully, and said, ‘I
will make some tea.’ He disappeared again. When he came
back, she was standing by the wall, looking at two pictures
that hung there. One was of a chocolate-box lady with a rose
in her hand; and the other was of a child of about six, tom off
a calendar.

He flushed when he saw her, and stripped die pictures
from the walls. ‘I haven’t looked at them for years,’ he said,
tearing them across. ‘But leave them,’ she said, feeling an in-
truder on this man’s intimate life: the two pictures, stuck up
roughly on the wall with tintacks, had given her for the first
time an insight into his loneliness, and made her imdcrstand his
hurried courtship and blind need for her. But she felt aUen to
him, unable to fit herself to his need. Looking to the floor, she
saw the pretty childish face, topped with curls, torn across,
lying where he had thrown it. She picked it up, thinking that

55

 

he must be fond of children. They had never discussed
children; there had not been time to discuss much. She
looked for a waste-paper basket, for it offended her to see the
scraps of paper on the floor, but Dick took it from her,
squeezed it into a ball, and flung it into the corner. ‘We can
put up something else,’ he said shyly. It was his shyness, his
deference towards her, that enabled her to hold her own. Feel-
ing protectively towards him, which she did when he looked
like that, bashful and appealing, she need not think of him as the
man she had married who li’d claims on her. She sat herself
down, with composure, in front of the tray he had brought in,
and watched him pour tea. On a tin tray was a stained, torn
cloth, and two enormous cracked cups. Across her wave of
distaste came his voice: ‘But that is your job now’; and she
took the teapot from him, and poured, feeling him watching
her with proud dehght.

Now she was here, the woman, clothing his bare little house
‘with her presence, he cotild hardly contain himself with plea-
sure and exaltation. It seemed to him that he had been a fool
to wait so long, living alone, planning a future that was so
easily attainable. And then he looked at her town clothes, her
high heels, her reddened nails, and was uneasy again. To hide
it, he began talking about the house, with diffidence because of
his poverty, never taking his eyes off her face. He told her how
he had built it himself, laying ‘the bricks, although he had
known nothing about building, to save the wages of a native
builder; how he had furnished it slowly, at first with only a
bed to sleep in and a packing-case to eat off; how a neighbour
had given him a table, and another a chair, and gradually the
place had taken shape. The cupboards were petrol boxes
painted and covered with curtains of flowered stuff. There was
no door between this room and the next, but a heavy curtain
of sacking hung there, which had been embroidered all over
in red and black wool by Charlie Slatter’s wife, on the next
farm. And so on; she heard the history of each tiling, and saw
that what seemed so pathetic and frail to her represented to

56

 

him victories over discomfort; and she began to feel, slo\^!y,
that it was not in this house she was sitting, with her husband,
but back with her mother, watching her endlessly contrive and
patch and mend – till suddenly she got to her feet with an awk-
ward scrambling movement, unable to bear it; possessed with
the thought that her father, from his grave, had sent out his
will and forced her back into the kind of life he had made her
mother lead.

‘Let’s go next door,’ she said abruptly, her voice harsh.
Dick rose also, surprised and a little hurt, cut off in the middle
of his histories. Next door was the bedroom. There was a
hanging cupboard, again of embroidered sacking; a stack of
shelves, petrol boxes with a mirror balanced on top; and the
bed which Dick had bought for the occasion. It was a proper
old-fashioned bed, high and massive: that was his idea of
marriage. He had bought it at a sale, feeling, as he put down
the money, that he was capturing happiness itself.

Seeing, her stand there, looking ‘about her with a lost
pathetic face, unconsciously holding her hands to her cheeks
as if in pain, he was sorry for her, and left her alone to undress.
Undressing himself beyond the curtain he felt again a bitter
pang of guilt. He had no right to marry, no right, no right.
He said it under his breath, torturing himself with the repeti-
tion ; and when he knocked timidly on the wall and went in to
find her lying in bed with her back turned, he approached her
with the timid adoration which was the only touch she could
have borne.

It was not so bad, she thought, when it was all over: not as
bad as that. It meant nothing to her, nothing at all. Expecting
outrage and imposition, she was relieved to find she felt noth-
ing. She was able maternally to bestow the gift of herself on
this humble stranger, and remain untouched. Women have an
extraordinary ability to withdraw from the sexual relation-
ship, to immunize themselves against it, in such a way that
their men can be left feeling let down and insulted without
having anything tangible to complain of. Mary did not have

57

 

taleam this, because it was natural to her, and because she had
expected nothing in the first place – at any rate, not from this
man, who was flesh and blood, and therefore rather ridiculous
– not the creature of her imagination whom she endowed with
hands and lips but left bodiless. And if Dick felt as if he had
been denied, rebuffed, made to appear brutal and fooHsh, then
his sense of guilt told him that it was no more than he de-
served. Perhaps he needec^ to feel guilty? Perhaps it was not
such a bad marriage after all? There are innumerable mar-
riages where two people. Loth twisted and wrong in their
depths, are well matched, making each other miserable in the
way they need, in the way the pattern of their lives demands.
In any event, when he leaned over to turn out the light, and
saw her little spiked shoes tumbled sideways on the skin of the
leopard he had shot the year before, he repeated to himself
again, but with a thrill of satisfaction in his abasement, T had
no right.’

Mary watched the wildly flickering flame of the dying lamp
leap over walls and roof and the glittering window panes, and
fell asleep holding his hand protectively, as she might have
held a child’s whom she had wounded.

 

CHAPTER 4

When she woke she found she was alone in the bed, and
there was the clanging of a gong somewhere at the back of the
house. She could sec a tender gold light on the trees through
the window, and faint rosy patches of sun lay on the white
walls, showing up the rough grain of the whitewash. As sl]|p
watched they deepened and turned vivid yellow, barring the
room with gold, which made it look smaller, lower, and more
bare than it had at night, in the dim lamplight. In a few mo-
ments Dick came back in pyjamas, and touched her cheek with
his hand, so that she felt the chill of early morning on his skin.

‘Sleep well?’

‘Yes, thank you.’

‘Tea is coming now.’

They were polite and awkward with each other, repudiat-
ing the contacts of the night. He sat on the edge of the bed
eating biscuits. Presently an elderly native brought in the tray,
and put it on the table.

‘This is the new missus,’ said Dick to him.

‘This is Samson, Mary.’

The old boy kept his eyes on the ground and said ‘Good
morning, missus.’ Then he added politely to Dick, as if this
was expected of him, ‘Very nice, very nice, boss.’

Dick laughed, saying, ‘He’ll look after you: he is not a bad
old swine.’

Mary was rather outraged at this casual stockmarket atti-
tude; then she saw that it was only a matter of form, and
calmed herself. She was left with a feeling of indignation, say-
ing to herself, ‘And who does he tliink he is?’ Dick, however,
was unaware, and foolishly happy.

He drank down two cups of tea in a rush, and then went out
to dress, coming back in khaki shorts and shirt to say good-bye

59

 

before going down to the lands. Mary got up, too, when he
had gone, and looked around her. Samson was cleaning the
room into which they had come first the night before, and all
the furniture was pushed into the middle, so she stepped past
him on to the small veranda which was merely an extension of
the iron roof, held up by three brick pillars with a low wall
about it. There were some petrol tins painted a dark green, the
paint blistered and broken holding geraniums and flowering
shrubs. Beyond the veranda wall was a space of pale sand, and
then the low scrubby bush, which sloped down into a vlei full
of tall shining grass. Beyond that again stretched bush, un-
dulating vleis and ridges, bounded at the horizon by kopjes.
Looking round she saw that the house was built on a low rise
that swelled up in a great hollow several miles across, and
ringed by kopjes that coiled blue and hazy and beautiful, •a
long way off in front, but close to the house at the back. She
thought, it will be hot here, closed in as it is. But she shaded
her eyes and gazed across the vleis, finding it strange and
lovely with the dull green foliage, the endless expanses of
tawny grass shining gold in the sun, and the vivid arching blue
sky. And there was a chorus of birds, a shrilling and cascading
of sound such as she had not heard before.

She walked round the house to the back. She saw it was a
rectangle: the two rooms she had already seen in the front, and
behind them the kitchen, the storeroom and the bathroom.
At the end of a short path, screened off with a curving break
of grass, was a narrow sentry-box building, which was the
lavatory. On one side was a fowlhouse, with a great wire run
full of scrawny white chickens, and across the hard bare
ground scraped and gobbled a scattering of turkeys. She
entered the house from the back through the kitchen, where
there was a wood stove and a massive table of scrubbed bush
timber, taking up half the floor space. Samson was in the bed-
room, making the beds.

She had never come into contact with natives before, as an
employer on her own account. Her mother’s servants she had

6o

 

been forbidden to talk to; in the club she had been kind to the
waiters; but the ‘native problem’ meant for her other women’s
complaints of their servants at tea-parties. She was afraid of
them, of course. Every woman in South Africa is brought up
to be. In her childhood she had been forbidden to walk out
alone, and when she had asked why, she had been told in the
furtive, lowered, but matter-of-fact voice she associated with
her mother, that they were nasty and might do horrible things
to her.

And now she had to face it, this business of struggling wi^
natives – she took it for granted it would be a struggle – and
felt reluctant, though determined not to be ‘imposed upon.
But she was disposed to like Samson, who was a kind-faced
respectful old native, who asked her, as she entered the bed-
room, ‘Missus like to see the kitchen?*

She had hoped Dick would show her round, but seeing that
the native was eager to, she agreed. He padded out of the
room in front of her on his bare feet and took her to the back.
There he opened the pantry for her – a dim, high-windowed
place full of provisions of all kinds, with great metal bins for
sugar, flour, and meal, standing on the floor.

‘Boss has keys,’ he explained; and she was amused at his
matter-of-fact acceptance of a precaution that could only be
against his stealing.

Between Samson and Dick there was a perfect understand-
ing. Dick locked up everything, but put out for use a third as
much again as was required, which was used by Samson, who
did not regard this as stealing. But there was not much to steal
in that bachelor household, and Samson hoped for better
things now there was a woman. With deference and courtesy
he showed Mary the thin supplies of linen, the utensils, the
way the.stove worked, the wood-pile at the back – all with the
air of a faithful caretaker handing over keys to the rightful
owner. He also showed her, when she asked, the old plough
disc hung on the bough of a tree over the wood-pile, with thfe
rusting iron bolt from a wagon with which it was beaten. It

6i

 

W3is this that she had heard on waking that morning; it was
beaten at half past five to rouse the boys in the compound
close by and again at twelve-thirty and two, to mark the
dinner break. It was a heavy, clanging, penetrating noise that
carried miles over the bush.

She went back into the house while the boy prepared break-
fast; already the song of the birds had been quenched by the
deepening heat; at seven in the morning Mary found her fore-
head damp and her limbs i ticky .

Dick came back half an h^ur later, glad to see her, but pje-
occupied. He went straight tnrough the house into the back,
and she heard him shouting at Samson in kitchen kaffir. She
did not understand a word of it. Then he came back and
said:

‘That old fool has let those dogs go again. I told him not to.

‘What dogs?’

He explained: ‘They get restless and go out by themselves,
for hunting trips, if I am not here. Sometimes for days. Always
when I am not here. He let them out. Then they get into
trouble in the bush. Because he is too damned lazy to feed
them.’

He sat heavy and silent through the meal, a nervous tension
between his eyes. The planter had broken down, a water-
cart had lost a wheel, the wagon had been driven up a hill
with the brake on, in sheer lighthearted carelessness. He was
back in it, over his head in it, with the familiar irritations and
the usual sense of helplessness against cheerful incompetence.
Mary said nothing: this was all too strange to her.

Immediately after breakfast he took his hat off the chair and
went off again. Mary looked for a cooking book and took it to
the kitchen. Half way through the morning the dogs returned,
two large mongrels, cheerfully apologetic to Samson for their
truancy, but ignoring her, the stranger. They drank deeply,
slobbering trails of water over the kitchen floor, then went to
sleep on the skins in the front room smelling heavily of the kill
in the bush.

62

 

when her cooking experiments were over – which the
native Samson watched with an air of polite forbearance – she
settled down on the bed with a handbook on kitchen kaffir.
Tliis was clearly the first thing she had to learn: she was un-
able to make Samson understand her.

 

CHAPTER 5

With her own saved money Mary bought flowered ma-
terials, and covered cushions and made curtains; bought a little
linen, crockery, and some dress lengths. The house gradually
lost its air of bleak poverty, md put on an inexpensive pretti-
ness, with bright hangings aril some pictures. Mary worked
hard, and looked for Dick’s look of approval and surprise
when he came back from work and noted every new change.
A month after she had arrived she walked tlirough the house,
and saw there was nothing more to be done. Besides, there
was no more money.

She had settled easily into the new rhythm. She found the
change so embracing that it was as if she were an entirely new
person. Every morning she woke with the clanging of the
plough disc, and drank tea in bed with Dick. When he had
gone down on the lands she put out groceries for the day. She
was so conscientious that Samson found things had worsened
rather than improved; even his understood one-third allow-
ance had gone, and she wore the store keys tied to her belt. By
breakfast time what work she had to do in the house was
finished except for light cooking; but Samson was a ‘better
cook than she, and after a while she left it to him. She sewed
all morning, till lunchtime; sewed after lunch, and went to
bed immediately after supper, sleeping like a child all night.

In the first flush of energy and determination she really en-
joyed the life, putting things to rights and making a little go
a long way. She liked, particularly, the early mornings before
the heat numbed and tired her; liked the new leisure; liked
Dick’s approval. For his pride and affectionate gratitude for
what she was doing (he would never have believed that his
forlorn house could look like this) overshadowed his patient
disappointment. When she saw that puzzled hurt look on his

6+

 

face, she pushed away the thought of what he must be suffer-
ing, for it made her repulsive to him again.

Then, having done all she could to the house, she began on
dress materials, finishing an inexpensive trousseau. A few
months after her marriage she found there was nothing more
to do. Suddenly, from one day to the next, she found herself
unoccupied. Instinctively staving off idleness as something
dangerous, she returned to her underwear, and embroidered
everything that could possibly be embroidered. There she sat
all day, sewing and stitching, hour after hour, as if fine em-
broidery would save her life. She was a good needlewoman,
and the results were admirable. Dick praised her work and
was amazed, for he had expected a difficult period while she
was settling down, thinking she would take the lonely life
hard at first. lJut she shoWed no signs of being lonely, she
seemed perfectly satisfied to sew all day. And all this time he
treated her like a brother, for he was a sensitive man, and was
waiting for her to turn to him of her own accord. The relief
she was unable to hide that his endearments were no more
than affectionate, hurt him deeply, but he still thought: It will
come right in the end.

There came an end to embroidery; again she was left
empty-handed. Again she looked about for something to do.
The walls, she decided, were filthy. She would whitewash
them all, herself, to save money. So, for two weeks, Dick came
back to the house to find furniture stacked in the middle of
rooms and pails of tliick white stuff standing on the floor. But
she was very methodical. One room was finished before an-
other was begun; and while he admired her for her capability
and self-assurance, undertaking this work she had no experi-
ence or knowledge of, he was alarmed too. What was she
going to do with all this energy and efficiency? It undermined
his own self-assurance even further, seeing her like this, for he
knew, deep down, that this quality was one he lacked. Soon, the
walls were dazzling blue-wliitc, every inch of them painted by
Mary herself, standing on a rough ladder for days at a time.

65

 

And now she found she was tired. She found it pleasant tc
let go a little, and to spend her time sitting with her hand,
folded, on the big sofa. But not for long. She was restless, sc
restless she did not know what to do with herself. She un-
packed the novels she had brought with her, and turned them
over. These were the books she had collected over years from
the mass that had come her way. She had read each one a
dozen times, knowing it by heart, following the familiar tales
as a child listens to his mother telling him a well-known fairy
tale. It had been a drug, a sop ‘»rific, in the past, reading them;
now, as she turned them ovei listlessly, she wondered why
they had lost their flavour. Her mind wandered as she deter-
minedly turned the pages; and she realized, after she had been
reading for perhaps an hour, that she had not taken in a word.
She threw the book aside and tried another, but with the same
result. For a few days the house was littered with books in faded
dust covers. Dick was pleased: it flattered him to think he had
married a woman who read books. One evening he picked up
a book called The Fair Lady, and opened it in the middle.

. . . The trekkers trekked North, towards the Land of Promise where
never the cold i^raspin^ hand of the hated British could reach them.
Like a cold snake throuqh the hot landscape the column coiled.
Prunella Van Koetzie skirmished lightly on her horse on the peri-
meter of the column, wearing a white kappic over her dainty sweat-
pearled face and close clustering ringlets. Piet Van Friesland watched
her, his heart throbbing in time to the great bloodstained heart of
South Africa itself. Could he win her, the sweet Prunella, who bore
herself like a queen among these burghers and mynheers and buxom
fratis in their docks and veldschoens? Could he? He stared and stared.
Tant^ Anna, putting out the koekics and the hiltongfor the midday
meal, in a red dock the colour of the kaffir-boom trees, shook her
fat sides in laughter and said to herself, ^That will be a match yet.^

He put it down, and looked across at Mary, who was sitting
with a book in her lap, staring up at the roof

‘Can’t wc have ceilings, Dick?* she asked fretfully.

66

 

‘It would cost so much,’ he said doubtfully. ‘Pctbps next
year, if we do well.’

In a few days Mary gathered up the books 211(1 pUt thcill
away; they were not what she wanted. She took up the hand’-
book on kitchen kaffir again, and spent all her time on it,
practising on Samson in the kitchen, disconcerting him with
her ungood-humoured criticisms, but behaving with a cold,
dispassionate justice.

Samson became more and more unhappy. He had been so
used to Dick, and they understood each other very well. Dick
swore at him often, but laughed with him afterwards. This
woman never laughed. She put out, carefully, so much meal
and so much sugar; and watched the left-overs from their own
food with an extraordinary, humiliating capacity for remem-
bering every cold potato and every piece of bread, asking for
them if they were missing.

Shaken out of his comparatively comfortable existence, he
grew sulky. There were several rows in the kitchen, and once
Dick found Mary in tears. She knew there had been enough
raisins put out for the pudding, but when they came to eat it,
there were hardly any. And the boy denied stealing them. . . ,

.‘Good heavens,’ said Dick, amused, T thought there was
something really wrong.’

‘But I know he took them,’ sobbed Mary.

‘He probably did, but he’s a good old swine on the whole.*

‘I am going to take it out of his wages.’

Dick, puzzled at her emotional state, said: ‘If you think it
is really necessary.’ He reflected that this was the first time he
had seen her cry.

So Samson, who earned a pound a month, was docked two
shillings. He accepted the information with a shut sullen face,
saying nothing to her, but appealing to Dick, who told him
that he was to take orders from Mary. Samson gave notice
that evening,’ on the grounds that he was needed in his kraal.
Mary began to question him closely as to why he was needed ;
but Dick touched her arm warningly and shook his head.

67

 

‘why shouldn’t I ask him?* she demanded. ‘He’s lying,
isn’t he?’

‘Of course he’s lying/ said Dick irritably. ‘Of course. That
is not the point. You can’t keep him against his will.’

‘Why should I accept a lie?’ said Mary. ‘Why should I?
Why can’t he say straight out that he doesn’t like working for
me, instead of lying about his kraal?’

Dick shrugged, looking at her with impatience; he could
not understand her unreasonable insistence: he knew how to
get on with natives; dealing with them was a sometimes amus-
ing, sometimes amioying gai le in which both sides followed
certain unwritten rules.

‘You would be angry if he did say so,’ he remarked ruefully,
but with affection still; he could not take her seriously, she
seemed to him a child when she behaved like this. And he was
genuinely grieved that this old native, who had worked for
him all these years, was going now. ‘Well,’ he said at last,
philosophically, ‘I should have expected it. I should have got
a new boy right from the beginning. There’s always trouble
with a change of management.’

Mary watched the farewell scene, that took place on the
back steps, from the doorway. She was filled with wonder,
and even repulsion. Dick was really sorry to sec the end of this
nigger! She could not understand any white person feeling
anything personal about a native; it made Dick seem really
horrible to her. She heard him say, ‘When your work in the
kraal is finished, you will come back and work for us again?’
The native answered, ‘Yes, baas,’ but he was already turned to
go; and Dick came back into the house silent and glum. ‘He
won’t come back,’ he said.

‘There are plenty of other munts, aren’t there?’ she asked
snappily, disliking him.

‘Yes,’ he assented, ‘oh yes.’

It was several days before a new cook offered himself for
work, and Mary did the house herself. She found it un-
expectedly heavy, although there was not, really, so much to

68

 

do. Yet she liked the feeling of being alone there all day, re-
sponsible for it. She scrubbed and swept and polished; house-
work was quite a new thing to her; all her life natives had
done the work for her, as silently and as unobtrusively as
fairies. Because it was new, she really enjoyed it. But when
everything was clean and polished, and the pantry was full of
food, she used to sit on the old greasy sofa in the front room,
suddenly collapsing on it as if her legs had been drained of
strength. It was so hot! She had never imagined it could be so
hot. The sweat poured off her all day; she could feel it run-
ning down her ribs and thighs under her dress, as if ants“were
crawling over her. She used to sit quite, quite still, her eyes
closed, and feel the heat beating down from the iron over her
head. Really, it was so bad she should wear a hat even in the
house. If Dick had ever really lived in this house, she thought,
instead of being dov/n on the lands all day, he would have put
in ceilings. Surely they did not cost so much?, As the days
passed, she found herself thinking fretfully that she had been
foolish to spend her little store of money on curtains rather
than on ceilings. If she asked Dick again, and explained to him
what it meant to her, perhaps he would relent and find the
money? But she knew she could not easily ask, and bring that
heavy tormented look on his face. For by now she had become
used to that look. Though really, she liked it: deep down, she
liked it very much. When he took her hand endearingly, and
kissed it submissively, and said pleadingly, ‘Darling, do you
hate me for bringing you here?’ she replied, ‘No, dear, you
know I don’t.’ It was the only time she could bring herself to
use endearments to him, when she was feeling victorious and
forgiving. His craving for forgiveness, and his abasement be-
fore her was the greatest satisfaction she knew, although she
despised him for it.

So she used to sit on that sofa, her eyes shut, suffering be-
cause of the heat, and feeling at the same time tenderly sorrow-
ful and queenly because of her willingness to suffer.

And then, suddenly, the heat became intolerable. Outside in

69

 

the bush the cicadas shrilled incessantly, and her head ached;
her limbs were heavy and tense. She would get up and go into
the bedroom, and examine her clothes, to see if there was
nothing she could do: no bit of embroidery, or an alteration.
She looked through Dick’s things for darning and mending ;
but he wore nothing but shirts and shorts, and if she sometimes
found a button off she was lucky. With nothing to do, she
would wander on to the veranda, to sit watching the lights
change on the distant blue kopjes; or she would go to the
back of the house where th»’ little kopje stood, a rough heap of
giant^boulders, and watch ti e heat-waves beat up out of the
hot stone, where the heat-lizards, vivid red and blue and
emerald, darted over the rocks like flames. Until at last her
head began to swim, and she had to go back to the house to
get a glass of water.

Then came a native to the back door, asking for work. He
wanted seventeen shillings a month. She beat him down by
two, feeling pleased with herself because of her victory over
him. He was a native straight from his kraal, a youth, prob-
ably not out of his ’teens, thin with the long, long walk
through the bush from his home in Nyasaland, hundreds of
miles away. He was unable to understand her, and very ner-
vous. He carried himself ‘Stiffly, his shoulders rigid, in a
hunched attentive attitude, never taking his eyes off her, afraid
to miss her slightest look. She was irritated by this subservience
and her voice was hard. She showed him all over the house,
corner by corner, cupboard by cupboard, explaining to him
how things should be done in her by now fluent kitchen
kaffir. He followed her like a scared dog. He had never seen
forks and knives and plates before, though he had heard
legends of these extraordinary objects from friends returning
from service in the white men’s houses. He did not know
what to do with them; and she expected him to know the
difference between a pudding plate and a diimer plate. She
stood over liim while he laid the table; and all the afternoon
she kept him at it, explaining, exhorting, and spurring him on.

70

 

That night, at supper, he laid the table badly, and she flew at
him, in a frenzy of annoyance, while Dick sat and watched her
uneasily. When the native had gone out, he said: ‘You have
to take things easy, you know, with a new boy.’

‘But I told him! If I have told him once I have told him
fifty times!’

‘But this is probably the first time he has ever been in a
white man’s house 1 ’

‘I don’t care. I told him what to do. Why doesn’t he do it?’

He looked at her attentively, his forehead contracted, his
lips tight. She seemed possessed by irritation, not herselftit all.

‘Mary, listen to ,me for a moment. If you get yourself into
a state over your boys, then you are finished. You will have
to let go your standards a little. You must go easy.’

‘I won’t let go my standards. I won’t! Why should I? It’s
bad enough . . .’ She stopped herself She had been going to
say, ‘It is bad enough living in a pigsty like this . .

He sensed that was what she had been going to say, and he
dropped his head and stared at his plate. But this time he did
not appeal to her. He was angry; he did not feel submissive
and in the wrong; and when she went on: ‘I told him how to
lay this table,’ speaking in a hot, blind, tired voice, he got up
from the meal and went outside; -and she could see the spurt
of a match and the rapid glowing of a cigarette. So ! he was
annoyed, was he? So annoyed that he broke his rule about
never smoking until after dinner! Well, let him be annoyed.

The next day at lunch, the servant dropped a plate through
nervousness, and she dismissed him at once. Again she had to
do her own work, and this time she felt aggrieved, hating it,
and blaming it on the offending native whom she had sacked
without payment. She cleaned and polished tables and chairs
and plates, as if she were scrubbing skin off a black face. She
was consumed with hatred. At the same time, she was making
a secret resolution not to be quite so pernickety with the next
servant she found.

The next boy was quite different. He had had years of

71

 

experience working for white women who treated him as if
he were a machine; and he had learned to present a blank,
neutral surface, and to answer in a soft neutral voice. He re-
phed gently, to everything she said, ‘Yes, missus; yes, missus,*
not looking at her. It made her angry that he would never
meet her eyes. She did not know it was part of the native code
of politeness not to look a superior in the face; she thought it
was merely further evidence of their shifty and dishonest
nature. It was simply as if he were not really there, only a
black body ready to do her bidding. And that enraged her too.
She felt she would like to pL’k up a plate and throw it in his
face so as to make it human and expressive, even with pain.
But she was icily correct this time; and though she never for a
moment took her eye off him, and followed him round after
the work was finished, calling him back for every speck of
dust or smear of grease, she was careful not to go too far. Tliis
boy she would keep: so she said to herself. But she never re-
laxed her will; her will that he would do as she said, as she
wanted, in every tiny thing.

Dick saw all this with increasing foreboding. What was the
matter with her? With him she seemed at ease, quiet, almost
maternal. With the natives she was a virago. He asked her –
in order to get her away from the house ~ to come down on
the lands with him to see hbw he worked. He felt that if she
could be really close to him in his problems and worries, they
would be drawn closer together. Besides, it was lonely for
him, all those hours and hours of walking, walking round the
lands by himself, watcliihg the labourers work.

She assented, rather dubiously, for she did not really want
to go. When she thought of him down there in the heat
mirage close to the heavy steaming red soil, beside the reeking
bodies of the working natives, it was as if she thought of a
man in a submarine, someone who voluntarily descended into
a strange and alien world. But she fetched her hat and duti-
fully accompanied him in the car.

For the whole of one morning she followed him around,

72

 

from field to field, from one gang of boys to the next; and all
the time, at the back of her mind, was the thought that the
new servant was alone in the house and probably getting up
to all sorts of mischief. He was certainly stealing while her
back was turned: he might be handling her clothes, looking
through her personal things! While Dick was patiently ex-
plaining about soils and drains and native wages, she was
thinking with half her mind about that native alone with her
things. When she got back at lunch-time the first thing she
did was to go round the house, looking for what he had left
undone, and examining her drawers, which looked untouched.
But then, one never knew – they were such cunning swine!
Next day, when Dick asked her if she would come again, she
said nervously, ‘ No, Dick, if you don’t mind. It is so hot down
there. You are used to it.’* And really it seemed to her that she
could not stand another morning with the hot sun on her
neck, with the dazzle of heat in her eyes, although she felt sick
with the heat when she stayed in the house. But then, she had
something to do in the house, supervising that native.

As time passed, the heat became an obsession. She could not
bear the sapping, undermining waves that beat down from
the iron roof. Even the usually active dogs used to lie all day
on the veranda, moving from place to place as the bricks grew
warm under them, their tongues lolling wctly, so that the
floor was covered by small pools. Mary could hear them pant-
ing softly, or whining with exasperation because of the flies.
And when they came to put their heads on her knee, pleading
for sympathy because of the heat, she would shoo them off
crossly: the enormous, rank-smelling animals were an irrita-
tion to her, getting under her feet as she moved about the little
house, leaving hairs on the cushions, snuffing noisily for fleas
when she was trying to rest. She would lock them out of the
house, and in the middle of the morning she would tell the boy
to carry a petrol tin full of lukewarm water into the bedroom,
and, having made sure he was out of the house, she stripped
herself and stood in a basin on the brick floor, pouring it over

73

 

her. The scattering drops fell on the porous brick, which hissed
with dryness.

‘When is it going to rain?’ she asked Dick.

‘Oh, not for another month yet,’ he answered easily, but
looking surprised at her question. Surely she knew when the
rains were likely to fall? She had been in the country longer
than he had. But it seemed to her that in the town there had
been no seasons, really, not as there were here. She had been
out of the rhythm of cold and heat and rain. It had been hot, it
had rained, the cold weather i ad come – yes, certainly ; but it
was something extraneous to he’’, something happening inde-
pendent of her. Here body and mind were subservient to the
slow movement of the seasons; she had- never in her life
watched an implacable sky for signs of rain, as she did now,
standing on the veranda, and screwing up her eyes at the great
massed white clouds, like blocks of glittering crystal quartz
sailing through the blue.

‘The water is going very quickly,’ said Dick, one day,
frowning.

It was fetched twice a week from the bottom of the hill
where the well was. Mary would hear shouting and yelling,
as if someone were in agonized pain, and going out to the
front of the house, she watched the water-cart come through
the trees, drawn by two slow-moving beautiful oxen, strain-
ing with their hindquarters up the slope. The cart was two
petrol drums lashed to a frame, and in front the disselboom
rested on yokes on the necks of the big powerful beasts. She
watched the thick muscles surging under the hide, and saw
how branches of trees had been laid over the drums to keep
the water cool. Sometimes it splashed up and made a fine
sparkling spray falling through the sunshine, and the oxen
tossed their heads and blew out their nostrils, smelling the
water. And all the time the native driver yelled and howled,
dancing beside his beasts and lashing with liis long whip that
coiled and hissed in the air, but never touched them.

‘What arc you using it for?’ asked Dick. She told him. His

74

 

face darkened, and he looked at her in incredulous horror, as
if she had committed a crime.

‘What, wasting it like that?*

‘I am not wasting it,* she said coldly. ‘I am so hot I can*t
stand it. I want to cool myself.*

Dick swallowed, trying t6 keep calm. ‘Listen to me,* he said
angrily, in a voice he had never before used to her. ‘Listen to
me! Every time I order the water-cart to fetch water for the
house, it means a driver, and two wagon boys, and two oxen
off other work for a whole morning. It costs money to fetch
water. And then you go and throw it away! Why don’t you
fill the bath with water and get into it, instead of wasting it
and throwing it away each time?*

She was furious. This seemed the last straw. Here was she,
living here uncomplainingly, suffering these hardships; and
then she could not tisc a couple of gallons of water 1 She opened
her mouth to shout at him, but before she could, he had be-
come suddenly contrite because of the way he had spoken to
her; and there was another of those little scenes wliich com-
forted and soothed her: he apologizing, abasing himself, and
she forgiving liim.

But when he had gone, she went into the bathroom, and
stared down at the bath, still hating him for what he had said.
The bathroom had been built on after the house was finished.
It was a lean-to with mud walls (mud plastered over bush
poles) and a tin roof. Where the rain had run through the joins
in the roof, the whitewash was discoloured and the mud
cracked. The bath itself was of zinc, a shallow zinc shape set
into a dried mud base. The metal had been dazzling once; she
could see how it had been because the scratches on the dull
surface glittered brightly. Over many years a patina of grease
and dirt had formed, and now, when it was scrubbed, it wore
thin in patches only. It was filthy, filthy! Mary stared down at
it, stiff with distaste. When she bathed, which was only twice
a week because of the trouble and cost of fetching water, she
sat gingerly at the extreme end of the bath, trying to touch it as

75

 

Uttlc as possible, and getting out as soon as she could. Here a
bath was like medicine, which had to be taken, -not a luxury to
be enjoyed.

The arrangements for the bath were unbelievable, she cried,
tearing herself to pieces with her own anger. On bath nights
two petrol tins of water were heated on the stove, and carried
into the bathroom and set down on the floor. They were
covered over with thick farm sacks to keep the water hot, and
the sacks were hot and steamy and sent up a musty smell.
Across the tops of the tins neces of bush-wood had been
wedged, to carry them by, ai d the wood was greasy with
much handling. She just would not put up with it, she said at
last, turning to leave the bathroom in angry distaste. She called
the boy and told him to scrub the bath, to scrub it until it was
clean. He thought she meant the usual scrubbing, and in five
minutes had finished. She went to examine it: it was just the
same. Stroking her fingers over the zinc, she could feel the
crust of dirt. She called him back and told him to clean, to
clean it properly, to go on scrubbing till it shone, every inch
of it.

That was about eleven in the morning.

It was an unfortunate day for Mary. It was on that day that
she made her first contact with ‘the district’, in the shape of
Charlie Slatter and his wife. It is worth while explaining in
detail what happened that day, because so many things can be
understood by it: she went from mistake to mistake, with her
head held high and her mouth set tight, rigid with pride and
the determination not to show weakness. When Dick returned
to lunch, he found her cooking in the kitchen, looking posi-
tively ugly with anger, her faced flushed, and her hair untidy.

‘Where is the boy?’ he asked, surprised to find her doing his
work.

‘Cleaning the bath,’ she said shortly, snapping out the words
angrily.

‘Why now?’

‘It’s dirty,’ she said.

76

 

Dick went into the bathroom, from where he could hear
the sluish, sluish of a scrubbing brush, pnd found the native
bent over the bath, rubbing away, but making little impres-
sion. He returned to the kitchen.

‘Why start him bn it now?’ he asked. ‘It’s been like that for
years. A zinc bath goes like that. It’s not dirt, Mary, not really.
It changes colour.’

Without looking at him she piled a tray with food and
marched into the front room. ‘It’s dirt,’ she said. ‘I will never
get into that bath again until it is really clean. How you can
allow your things to be so’ filthy I cannot understand.*

‘You have used it yourself for some weeks without com-
plaining,’ he said dryly, automatically reaching for a cigarette
and sticking it between his lips. But she did not reply.

He shook his head when she said the food was ready, and
went off to the fields again, calling for the dogs. When she was
in this mood, he could not bear to be near her. Mary cleared
the table, without eating herself, and sat down to listen to the
sound of the scrubbing brush. She remained there for two
hours, her head aching, listening with every muscle of her
tensed body. She was determined he should not scamp his
work. At half past three there was sudden silence, and she sat
up, alertly ready to go to the bathroom and make him begin
again. But the door opened and he entered. Without looking
at her, addressing her invisible double that stood to one side of
her, he said that he was going to his hut for some food, and
would go on with the bath when he came back. She had for-
gotten about his food. She never thought of natives as people
who had to cat or sleep : they were either there, or they were
not, and what their lives were when they were out of her sight
she had never paused to think. She nodded, feeling guilty.
Then she smothered her guilt, thinking, ‘It’s his fault for not
keeping it properly clean in the first place.’

The tension of listening to his working relaxed, she went
out to look at the sky. There were no clouds at all. It was a low
dome of sonorous blue, with an undertone of sultry sulphur-

77

 

colour, because of the smoke that dimmed the air. The pale
sandy soil in front of the house dazzled up waves of light, and
out of it curved the gleaming stems of the poinsettia bushes,
bursting into irregular slashes of crimson. She looked away
over the trees, which were dingy and brownish, over the acres
of shining wavy grass to the hills. They were hazy and indis-
tinct. The veld fires had been burning for weeks, all round,
and she could taste the smoke on her tongue. Sometimes a tiny
fragment of charred grass fell on her skin, and left a greasy
black smudge. Columns of s noke rose in the distance, heavy
bluish coils hanging motionles:, making a complicated archi-
tecture in the dull air.

The week before a fire had swept over part of their farm,
destroying two cowsheds and acres of grazing. Where it had
burnt, lay black expanses of desolation, and still, here and
there, fallen logs smoked in the blackness, faint tendrils of
smoke showing grey against the charred landscape. She turned
her eyes away, because she did not want to think of the money
that had been lost, and saw in front of her, where the road
wound, clouds of reddish dust. The course of that road could
always be marked, because the trees along it were rust-
coloured as if locusts had settled on them. She watched the
dust spurt up as if a beetle were burrowing through the trees,
and thought, ‘Why, it is a car!’ And a few minutes later she
realized it was coming to them, and felt quite panicky. Callers!
But Dick had said she must expect people to come. She ran
into the back of the house, to tell the boy to get tea. He wasn’t
there. It was then four: she remembered that half an hour be-
fore she had told him he could go. She ran put over the shift-
ing mass of chips and bark-strips of the wood-pile, and, draw-
ing the rusty wooden bolt from the crotch of the tree, beat the
plough disc. Ten resonant clanging beats were the signal that
the hoLiscboy was wanted. Then she returned to the house.
The stove was out;. she found it difficult to light; and there
was nothing to cat. She did not bother to cook cakes when
Dick was never there for tea. She opened a packet of store bis-

78 •

 

cuits; and looked down at her frock. She could not possibly be
seen in such a rag! But it was too late. The car was Zoning up
the hill. She rushed out into the front, wringing her hands.
She might have been isolated for years, and unused to people,
from the way she behaved, rather than a woman who for
years and years had never, not for a minute, been alone. She
saw the car stop, and two people get out. They were a short,
powerfully-built, sandy-coloured man, and a dark full-bodied
woman with a pleasant face. She waited for them, smiling
shyly to answer their cordial faces. And then, with what relief
she saw Dick’s car coining up the hill! She blessed him for his
consideration, coming to help her out on this first visit. He had
seen the dust-trail over the trees, too, and had come as soon as
he could.

The man and the woman shook her hand, and greeted her.
But it was Dick who asked them inside. The four of them sat
in the tiny room, so that it appeared even more crowded than
ever, Dick and Charlie Slatter talked on one side, and she and
Mrs Slatter on the other. Mrs Slatter was a kindly soul, and
sorry for Mary who had married a good-for-nothii;g like
Dick. She had heard she was a town girl, and knew herself
what hardship and loneliness was, though she was long past
the struggling state herself. She had, now, a large house, three
sons at university, and a comfortable life. But she remembered
only too well the sufferings and humiliations of poverty. She
looked at Mary with real tenderness, remembering her own
past, and was prepared to make friends. But Mary was stiff
with resentment, because she had noticed Mrs Slatter looking
keenly round the room, pricing every cushion, noticing the
new whitewash and the curtains.

‘ How pretty you have made it,’ she said, with genuine ad-
miration, knowing what it was to use dyed flour sacks for
curtains and painted petrol boxes for cupboards. But Mary
misunderstood her. She would not soften at all. She would not
discuss her house with Mrs Slatter, who was patronizing her.
After a few moments Mrs Slatter looked closely at the girl’s

79

 

face, flushed, and in a changed voice that was formal and dis-
tant, began to talk of other things. Then the boy brought in
the tea, and Mary suffered fresh agonies over the cups and the
tin tray. She tried to think of something to discuss that was
not connected with the farm. Films? She cast her mind over
the hundreds she had seen in the last few years, and could not
remember the names of more than two or three. Films, which
had once been so important to her, were now a httle unreal;
and in any case Mrs Slatter v/ent to the pictures perhaps twice
a year, when she was in town on her rare shopping trips. The
shops in town? No, that was a question of money again, and
she was wearing a faded cotton frock she was ashamed of. She
looked across to Dick for help, but he was absorbed in con-
versation with Charlie, discussing crops, prices, and – above
all – native labour. Whenever two or three farmers are
gathered together, it is decreed that they should discuss noth-
ing but the shortcomings and deficiencies of their natives.
They talk about their labourers with a persistent irritation
sounding in their voices: individual natives they might like,
but as , a genus, they loathe them. They loathe them to the
point of neurosis. They never cease complaining about their
unhappy lot, having to deal with natives who are so exasperat-
ingly indifferent to the welfare of the- white man, working’
only to please themselves. They had no idea of the dignity of
labour, no idea of improving themselves by hard work.

Mary listened to the male conversation with wonder. It was
the first time she had heard men talk farming, and she began
to see that Dick was hungry for it, and felt a little mean that she
knew so little, and could not help relieve his mind by discuss-
ing the farm with him. She turned back to Mrs Slatter, who
was silent, feeling wounded because Mary would not accept
her sympathy and her help. At last the visit came to an end,
with regret on Dick’s side, but relief from Mary. The two
Turners went out to say good-bye, and watched the big ex-
pensive car slide down the hill, and away into the trees amid
puffs of red dust.

8o

 

Dick said, ‘I am glad they came. It must be lonely for you.

‘I ‘am not lonely/ said Mary truthfully. Loneliness, she
thought, was craving for other people’s company. But she did
not know that loneliness can be an unnoticed cramping of
the spirit for lack of companionship.

‘But you must talk women’s talk sometimes,’ said Dick,
with awkward jocularity.

She glanced at him in surprise; this tone was new to her.
He was staring after the departing car, his face regtetful. He
was not regretting Charlie Slattcr, whom he did not like, but
the talk, the masculine talk which gave him self-assurance in
his relations with Mary. He felt as though he had been given
an injection of new vigour, because of that hour spent in the
little room, the two men on one side, discussing their own
concerns, and the two women on the other, talking, presum-
ably, about clothes and servants. For he had not heard a word
of what Mrs Slattcr and Mary had said. He had not noticed
how awkward it had been for both of tlicm.

‘You must go and see her, Mary,’ he announced. ‘I’ll give
you the car one afternoon when work is slack, and you can go
and have a good gossip.’ He spoke quite jauntily and freely, his
face clear from that load of worry, his hands in his pockets.

Mary did not understand why he seemed alien and hostile
to her, but she was piqued at this casual summing up of her
needs. And she had no desire for Mrs Slattcr’s company. She
did not want anyone’s company.

‘I don’t want to,’ she said childislily.

‘Why not?’

But at this point the servant came out on to the veranda
behind them, and held out, without speaking, his contract of
service. He wanted to leave: he was needed by his family in
the kraal. Mary immediately lost her temper; her irritation
found a permissible outlet in this exasperating native. Dick
simply pulled her back, as if she were a thing of no accoimt,
and went out to the kitchen with the native. She heard the boy
complain that he had been working since five o’clock that

8i

D

 

moniing with no food at all, because he was only in the com-
pound a few moments before he had been summoned back by
the gong. He could not work like that; his cliild in his kraal
was ill; he wanted to go at once. Dick replied, ignoring the
unwritten rules for once, that the new missus did not know
much about running a house yet, and that she would learn and
tliat it would not happen again. Speaking Uke this to a native,
appealing to him, was contrary to Dick’s ideas of the relation-
sliip between white and black, but he was furious with Mary
for her lack of consideration i ad tact.

Mary was quite stupefied wiiV rage. How dare he take the
native’s part against her! When Dick returned she was stand-
ing on the veranda with her hands clenched and her face set.

‘How dare you!’ she said, her voice stifled.

‘If you must do these things, then you must take the conse-
quences,’ said Dick wearily. ‘He’s a human being, isn’t he?
He’s got to eat. Why must that bath be done all at once? It
can be done over several days, if it means all that to you.’

‘It’s my house,’ said Mary. ‘He’s my boy, not yours. Don’t
interfere.’

‘Listen to me,’ said Dick curtly. ‘I work hard enough, don’t
I? All day I am down on the lands with these lazy black
savages, fighting them to get some work out of them. You
know that. I won’t come back home to this damned fight,
fight, fight in the house. Do you understand? I will not have
it. And you should learn sense. If you want to get work out of
them you have to know how to manage them. You shouldn’t
expect too much. They arc nothing but savages after all.’ Thus
Dick, who had never stopped to reflect that these same savages
had cooked for him better than his wife did, had run his house,
had given him a comfortable existence, as far as his pinched
life could be comfortable, for years.

Mary was beside herself. She said, wanting to hurt him,
really wanting to hurt liim for the first time, because of this
new arrogance of his, ‘You expect a lot from me, don’t you?’
On the brink of disaster, she pulled herself up, but could not

 

stop completely, and after a hesitation went on. * You expect
such a lot! You expect me to live like a poor white in this
pokey little place of yours. You expect me to cook myself
every day because you won’t put in ceilings . . .’ She was speak-
ing in a new voice for her, a voice she had never used before
in her life. It was taken direct from her mother, when she had
had those scenes over money with her father. It was not die
voice of Mary, the individual (who after all really did not care
so much about the bath or whether the native stayed or went),
but the voice of the suffering female, who wanted to show her
husband she just would not be treated like that. In a moment
she would’ begin to cry, as her mother had cried on these occa-
sions, in a kind of dignified, martyred rage.

Dick said curtly, white with fury, ‘I told you when I mar-
ried you what you could expect. You can’t accuse me of tell-
ing you lies. I explained everytliing to you. And there are
farmers’ wives all over the country living no better, and not
making such a fuss. And as for ceilings, you can whistle for
them. I have lived in this house for six years and it hasn’t hurt
me. You can make the best of it.’

She gasped in astonishment. Never had he spoken like that
to her. And inside she went hard and cold against him, and
nothing would melt her until he said he was sorry and craved
her forgiveness.

‘That boy will stay now. I’ve seen to that. Now treat him
properly and don’t make a fool of yourself again,’ said Dick.

She went straight into the kitchen, gave the boy the money
he was owed, counting out the shillings as if she grudged
them, and dismissed him. She returned cold and victorious.
But Dick did not acknowledge her victory.

Tt is not me you are hurting, it is yourself,’ he said. ‘If you
go on like this, you’ll never get any servants. They soon learn
the women who don’t know how to treat their boys.’

She got the supper herself, struggling with the stove, and
afterwards when Dick had gone to bed early, as he always did,
she remained alone in the little front room. After a while,

83

 

feeling caged, she went out into the dark outside the house, and
walked up and down the path between the borders of white
stones which gleamed faintly through the dark, trying to catch
a breath of cool air to soothe her hot cheeks. Lightning was
flickering gently over the kopjes; there was a dull red glow
where the fire burned; and overhead it was dark and stuffy.
She was tense with hatred. Then she began to picture herself
walking there up and down in the darkness, with the hated
bush all around her, outside that pigsty he called a house,
having to do all her own wo; k – while only a few months ago
she had been living her owix life in town, surrounded by
friends who loved her and needed her. She began to cry,
weakening into self-pity. She cried for hours, till she could
walk no more. She staggered back into bed, feeling bruised
and beaten. The tension between them lasted for an intoferablc
week, until at last the rains fell, and the air grew cool and re-
laxed. And he had not apologized. The incident was simply
not mentioned. Unresolved and unacknowledged, the con-
flict was put behind them, and they went on as if it had not
happened. But it had changed them both. Although his assur-
ance did not last long, and he soon lapsed back into his old
dependence on her, a faint apology always in his voice, he was
left with a core of resentment against her. For the sake of their
life together she had to smother her dislike of him because of
the way he had behaved, but then, it was not so easy to
smother ; it was put against the account of the native who had
left, and, indirectly, against all natives.

Towards the end of that week a note came from Mrs Slatter,
asking them both for an evening party.

Dick was really reluctant to go, because he had got out of
the way of organized jollification; he was ill at ease in crowds.
But he wanted to accept for Mary’s sake. She, however, re-
fused to go. She wrote a formal note of thanks, saying she
regretted, etc.

Mrs Slatter had asked them on an impulse of real friendli-
ness, for she was still sorry for Mary, in spite of her stiff angular

84

 

pride. But the note offended her: it might have been copied
out of a letter-writing guide. This kind of formality did not
fit in with the easy manners of the district, and she showed the
note to her husband with raised eyebrows, saying nothing.

‘Leave her,’ said Charlie Slatter. ‘She’ll come off her high
horse. Got ideas into her head, that’s what’s wrong with her.
She’ll come to her senses. Not that she’s much loss. The pair of
them need some sense shaken into them. Turner is in for
trouble. He is so up in the air that he doesn’t even bum fire-
guards! And he is planting trees. Trees! He is wasting money
planting trees while he is in debt.*

Mr Slatter’s farm had hardly any trees left on it. It was a
monument to farming malpractice, with great gullies cutting
through it, and acres of good dark earth gone dead from mis-
use. But he made the money, that was the thing. It enraged
him to think it was so easy to make money, and that damned
fool Dick Turner played the fool with trees. On a kind-
hearted impulse, that was half exasperation, he drove over one
morning to see Dick, avoiding the house (because he did not
want to meet that stuck-up idiot Mary), looking for him on
the lands. He spent three hours trying to persuade Dick to
plant tobacco, instead of mealies and little crops. He was very
sarcastic about those ‘little crops’, the beans and cotton and
sunhemp that Dick liked. And Dick steadily refused to listen
to Charlie. He liked his crops, the feeling of having his eggs in
several baskets. And tobacco seemed to him an inhuman crop:
it wasn’t farming at all, it was a sort of factory thing, with the
barns and the grading sheds and the getting up at nights to
watch barn temperatures.

‘What are you going to do when the family starts coming
along?’ asked Charlie brusquely, his matter-of-fact little blue
eyes fixed on Dick.

‘I’ll get out of the mess my own way,’ said Dick obstinately.

‘You are a fool,’ said Charlie. ‘A fool. Don’t say I didn’t tell
you. Don’t come to me for loans when your wife’s belly be-
gins to swell and you need cash.’

85

 

‘I have never asked you for anything,’ replied Dick,
wounded, his face dark with pride. There was a moment of
sheer hatred between the two men. But somewhere, some-
how, they respected each other, in spite of their difference in
temperament – perhaps because they shared the same hfe, after
all? And they parted cordially enough, although Dick could
not bring himself to match Charlie’s bluff good humour.

When Charlie had gone he went back to the house, sick
with worry. Sudden straii. and anxiety always went to the
nerves of his stomach, and L’ wanted to vomit. But he con-
cealed it from Mary, because of the cause of his worry. Chil-
dren were what he wanted now that his marriage was a failure
and seemed impossible to right. Children would bring them
close together and break down this invisible barrier. But they
simply could not afford to have children. When he had said to
Mary (thinking she might be longing for them) that they
would have to wait, she had assented with a look of relief. He
had not missed that look. But perhaps when he got out of the
wood, she would be pleased to have children.

He drove himself to work harder, so tliat things could be
better and children would be possible. He planned and
schemed and dreamed all day, standing on his land watching
the boys work. And in the meantime matters in the house did
not improve. Mary just could not get on with natives, and
that was the end of it. He had to accept it; she was made like
that, and could not be altered. A cook never lasted longer than
a month, and all the time there were scenes and storms of
temper: He set liis teeth to bear it, feeling obscurely that it was
in some way his fault, because of the hardships of her life; but
sometimes he would rush from the house, inarticulate with
irritation. If only she had something to fill her time – that was
the trouble.

 

CHAPTER 6

It was by chance that Mary picked up a pamphlet on bee-
keeping from the counter of the store one day, and took it
home with her; but even if she had not, no doubt it would
have happened some other way. But it was that chance which
gave her her first glimpse into Dick’s real character: that, and
a few words she overheard the same day.

They seldom went into the station seven miles away; but
sent in a native twice a week to fetch their post and groceries.
He left at about ten in the morning, with an empty sugar sack
swung over his shoulders, and returned after dusk with the
sack bulging, and oozing blood from the parcel of meat. But
a native, although conveniently endowed by nature with the
ability to walk long distances without feeling fatigue, cannot
carry sacks of flour and mealic meal ; and once a month the
trip was made by car.

Mary had given her order, seen the things put into the car,
and was standing on the long veranda of the store among piled
crates and sacks, waiting for Dick to finish his business. As he
came out, a man she did not know stopped him and said,
‘Well, Jonah, your farm flooded again this season, I suppose?’
She turned sharply to look: a few years ago she would not
have noticed the undertone of contempt in the lazy rallying
voice. Dick smiled and said, ‘I have had good rains this year,
things are not too bad.’

‘Your luck changed, eh?’

‘Looks like it.’

Dick came towards her, the smile gone, his face strained.

‘Who was that?’ she asked.

‘ I borrowed two hundred pounds from him three years ago,
just after we were married.’

‘You didn’t tell me?’

87

 

‘I didn’t want to worry you.’

After a pause she asked, ‘Have you paid it back?’

‘All but fifty pounds.’

‘Next season, I suppose?’ Her voice was too gentle, too
considerate.

‘With a bit of luck.’

She saw on his face that queer grin of his, that was more a
baring of the teeth than a smile: self-critical, assessing, de-
feated. She hated to see it.

They finished what they i ad to do ; collecting mail from
the post office and buying meat for the week. Walking over
caked dried mud, which showed where puddles lay from the
beginning of the rainy season to its end, shading her eyes with
her hand, Mary refrained from looking at Dick, and made
sprightly remarks in a strained voice. He attempted to reply,
in the same tone; which was so foreign to them both that it
deepened the tension between them. When they returned to
the veranda of the store, which was crowded with sacks and
packing-cases, he knocked liis leg against the pedal of a leaning
bicycle, and began to swear with a violence out of proportion
to the small accident. People turned to look; and Mary walked
on, her colour deepening. In complete silence they got into the
car and drove away over the railway lines and past the post
office on the way home. In her hand she had the pamphlet on
bees. She picked it up from the counter because most days, at
about lunch-time, she heard a soft swelling roar over the
house, and Dick had told her it was swarming bees passing.
She had thought she might make some pocket money from
bees. But the pamphlet was written for English conditions, and
was .not very helpful. She used it as a fan, waving away the
flies that buzzed round her head and clustered at last on the
canvas roof. They had come in from the butchery with the
meat. She was thinking, uneasily of that note of contempt in
the, man’s voice, which contradicted all her previous ideas of
Dick. It was not even contempt, more amusement. Her own
attitude towards him was fundamentally one of contempt, but

88

 

only as a man; as a man .she paid no attention to him, she left
him out of account altogether. As a farmer she respected him.
She respected his ruthless driving of himself, his absorption in
his work. She believed that he was going through a necessary
period of struggle before acliicving the moderate affluence
enjoyed by most farmers. In her feeling for him, in relation to
his work, was admiration, even affection.

She who had once taken everything at its face value, never
noticing the inflection of a phrase, or the look on a face which
contradicted what was actually being said, spent the hour’s
drive home considering the implications of that man’s gentle
amusement at Dick. She wondered for the first time, whether
she had been deluding herself. She kept glancing sideways at
Dick, noticing little things about him she blamed herself fdt
not noticing before. As he gripped the steering wheel, his lean
hands, burnt coffee-coloured by the sun, shook perpetually,
although almost imperceptibly. It seemed to her a sign of
weakness, that trembling; the mouth was too tight-set. He was
leaning forward, gripping the wheel, gazing down the narrow
winding bush track as if trying to foresee liis own future.

Back in the house, she flung the pamphlet down on the
table and went to unpack the groceries. When she came back,
Dick was absorbed in the pamphlet. He did not hear her when
she spoke. She was used to this absorption of his : he would
sometimes sit through a meal without speaking, not noticing
what he ate, sometimes laying down his knife and fork before
the plate was empty, thinking about some farm problem, his
brow heavy with worry. She had learned not to trouble him
at these times. She took refuge in her own thoughts; or,
rather, she lapsed into her familiar state, which was a dim
mindlessness. Sometimes they hardly spoke for days at a time.

After supper, instead of going to bed as usual at about eight,
he sat himself down at the table under the gently-swaying,
paraffin-smelling lamp, and began making calculations on a
piece of paper. She sat and watched him, her hands folded.
This was now her characteristic pose: sitting quietly, as though

89

 

waiting for sometliing to wake her into movementi After an
hour or so, he pushed away the scraps of paper, and hitched
up his trousers with a gay, boyish movement she had not seen
before.

‘What do you say about bees, Mary?’

‘I don’t know anything about them. It’s not a bad idea.*

‘I’ll go over tomorrow to see Charlie. His brother-in-law
kept bees in the Transvaal, he told me once.’ He spoke with
new energy; he seemed to Save new life.

‘But this book is for Eng-and,’ she said, turning it over
dubiously. It seemqd to her a flimsy foundation for such a
change in him; a flimsy basis for even a hobby like bees.

But after breakfast next day Dick drove off to see Charlie
Slatter. He returned frowning, his face obstinate but whistling
jauntily. Mary was struck by that whistle : it was so familiar. It
was a trick of his; he stuck his hands in his pockets, little boy
fashion, and whistled with a pathetic jauntiness when she lost
her temper and raged at him because of the house, or because
of the clumsiness of the water arrangements. It always made
her feel quite mad with irritation, because he could not stand
up to her and hold his own.

‘What did he say?’ she asked.

‘He’s wet-blanketing the whole thing. Because his brother-
in-law failed, it’s no reason I wnll.’

‘ He went off to the farm, instinctively making his way to his
tree plantation. This was a hundred acres of some of the best
ground on his farm, which he had planted with young gums
a couple of years before. It was this plantation that had so
annoyed Charlie Slatter – perhaps because of an unacknow-
ledged feeling of guilt that he himself never put back in his
soil what he took from it.

Dick often stood at the edge of the field, watching the wind
flow whitely over the tops of the shining young trees, that
. bent and swung and shook themselves all day. He had planted
them apparently on an impulse; but it was really the fruition
of a dream of liis. Years before he bought the farm, some

90

 

mining company W cut out every tree on the place, leaving
nothing but coarse scrub and wastes of grass. The trees were
growing up again, but over the whole three thousand acres of
land there was nothing to be seen but stunted second growth:
short, ugly little trees from mutilated trunks. There wasn’t a
good tree left on the farm. It wasn’t much, planting a hundred
acres of good trees that would grow into straight white-
stemmed giants; but it was a small retribution; and this was
his favourite place on the farm. When he was particularly
worried, or had quarrelled with Mary, or wanted to think
clearly, he stood and looked at his trees; qr strolled down the
long aisles between light swaying branches that glittered with
small polished leaves Uke coins. Today he considered bees;
until, quite late, he realized he had not been near the farm-
work all day, and with a sigh he left his plantation and went
to the labourers.

At lunch-time he did not speak at all. He was obsessed by
bees. At last he explained to the doubtful Mary that he
reckoned he could make a good two hundred pounds a year.
This was a shock to her; slie had imagined he was thinking of
a few beeliives as a profitable hobby. But it was no good
arguing with liim; one cannot argue against figures, and
his calculations were impeccable proof that those two hun-
dred pounds were as good as made. And what could she say?
She had no experience of this kind of thing; only her instinct
told her to distrust bees on this occasion.

For a good month Dick was oblivious, gone into a beautiful
dream of rich honeycombs and heavy dark clusters of fruitful
bees. He built twenty beehives himself; and planted an acre of
a special kind of grass near the bee-allotment. He took some of
his labourers off their usual work, and sent them over the veld
to find swarming bees, and spent hours every evening in the
golden dusk, smoking out swarms to try and catch the queen
bee. This method, he had been told, was the correct one. But a
great many of the bees died, and he did not find the queens.
Then he began planting his hives all over the veld near swarms

91

 

he located, hoping they would be tempted. But not a bee ever
went near his hives; perhaps because they were African bees,
and did not like hives made after an English pattern. Who
knows? Dick certainly did not. At last a swarm settled in a
hive. But one cannot make two hundred a year from one
swarm of bees. Then Dick got himself badly stung, and it
seemed as if the poison drove the obsession from his system.
Mary, amazed and even angry, saw that the brooding abstrac-
tion had gone from his fac«’, for he had spent weeks of time
and quite a lot of mon^y. \ .’t, from one day to the next, he
lost interest in bees. On the wnole, Mary was relieved to see
him go back to normal, thinking about his crops and his farm
again. It had been like a temporary madness, when he was
quite unlike himself.

It was about six months later that the whole thing happened
again. Even then she could not really believe it when she saw
him poring over a farming magazine, where there was a par-
ticularly tempting article about the profitability of pigs, and
heard him say, ‘Mary, I am going to buy some pigs from
Charlie.’

She said sharply, ‘I hope you are not going to start that
again.’

‘Start what again?’

‘You know very well what I mean. Castles in the air about
making money. Why don’t you stick to your farm?’

‘Pigs are farming, aren’t they? And Charlie does very well
from his pigs.’ Then he began to whistle. As he walked across
the room to the veranda, to escape her angry accusing face, it
seemed to her that it was not a tall, spare, stooping man whom
she saw, only ; but also a swaggering little boy, trying to keep
his end up after cold water had been poured over his enthu-
siasm. She could distinctly see that little boy, swaggering with
his hips and whistling, but with a defeated look about his
knees and thighs. She heard the wliistling from the veranda,
a little melancholy noise, and suddenly felt as if she wanted to
cry. But why, why? He might very well make money from

92

 

pigs. Other people did. But all the same, she pinned her hopes
to the end of the season, when they would see how much
money they had made. It ought not to be so bad: the season
had been good, and the rains kind to Dick.

He built the pigsties up behind the house among the
rocks of the kopje. This was to save bricks, he said; the rocks
supplied part of the walls; he used big boulders as a frame-
work on which to tack screens of grass and wood. He
had saved pounds of money, he told her, building them this
way.

‘But won’t it be very hot here?’ asked Mary. They were
standing among the half-built sties, on the kopje. It was not
very easy to climb up here, through tangled grass and weeds
that clung to one’s legs, leaving them stuck all over with tiny
green burs, as clinging as cat’s claws. There was a big euphor-
bia tree branching up into the sky from the top of the kopje,
and Dick said it would provide shade and coolness. But they
were now standing in a warm shade from the thick, fleshy,
candle-like branches, and Mary could feel her head beginning
to ache. The boulders were too hot to touch : the accumulated
sunshine of months seemed stored in that granite. She looked at
the two farm dogs, who lay prostrate at their feet, panting,
and remarked : ‘ I hope pigs don’t feel the heat.’

‘But I tell you, it won’t be hot,’ he said. ‘Not when I have
put up some sunbreaks.’

‘The heat seems to beat out of the ground.’

‘Well, Mary, it’s all very well to criticize, but this way I
have saved money. I couldn’t have afforded to spend fifty
pounds on cement and bricks.’

‘I am not criticizing,’ she said hastily, because of the defen-
sive note in his voice.

He bought six expensive pigs from Charlie Slatter, and in-
stalled them in the rock-girt sties. But pigs have to be fed;
and this is a costly business, if food has to be bought for the
purpose. Dick found that he would have to order many sacks
of maize. And he decided they should have all the milk his

93

 

cows produced except for the very minimum required for the
house. Mary, then, went to the pantry each morning to see the
milk brought up from the cowsheds, and to pour off perhaps a
pint for themselves. The rest was set to go sour on the table in
the kitchen; because Dick had read somewhere that sour milk
had bacon-making qualities fresh milk lacked. The flies
gathered over the bubbling crusty white stulF, and the whole
house smelled faintly acrid.

And then, when the little piglets arrived, and grew, it
would be a question of tra.’i sporting them and selling them,
and so on . . . These problems however, did not arise, for the
piglets, when born, died again almost immediately. Dick said
disease had attacked his pigs: it was just his luck; but Mary
remarked dryly that she thought»they disliked being roasted be-
fore their time. He was grateful to her for the grimly humor-
ous remark: it made laughter possible and saved the situation.
He laughed with relief, scratching his head ruefully, hitching
up his pants; and then began to whistle his melancholy little
plaint. Mary walked out of the room, her face hard. The
women who marry men like Dick learn sooner or later that
there are two things they can do: they can drive themselves
mad, tear themselves to pieces in storms of futile anger and
rebellion; or they can hold themselves tight and go bitter.
Mary, with the memory of her own mother recurring more
and more frequently, like an older, sardonic double of herself
walking beside her, followed the course her upbringing made
inevitable. To rage at Dick seemed to her a failure in pride;
her formerly pleasant but formless face was setting into lines
of endurance; but it was as if she wore two masks, one contra-
dicting the other; her lips were becoming tliin and tight, but
they could tremble with irritation; her brows drevCr together,
but between them there was a vulnerable sensitive patch of
skin that would flame a sullen red when she was in conflict with
her servants. Sometimes she would present the worn visage
of an indomitable old woman who had learnt to expect the
worst from life, and sometimes the face of defenceless hysteria.

94

 

But she was still able to walk from the room, silent in word-
less criticism.

It was only a few months after the pigs had been sold that
she noticed one day, with a cold sensation in her stomach, that
familiar rapt expression on Dick’s face. She saw him standing
on the veranda, staring out over the miles of dull tawny veld
to the hills, and wondering what vision possessed him now.
She remained silent, however, waiting for him to turn to her,
boyishly excited because of the success he already knew in
imagination. And even then she was not really, not finally
despairing. Arguing against her dull premonitions, she told
herself that the season had been good, and Dick quite pleased;
he had paid a hundred pounds off the -mortgage, and had
enough in hand to carry them over the next year without bor-
rowing. She had become adjusted, without knowing it, to his
negative judging of a season by the standard of the debts he
had not incurred. And when he remarked one day, with a
defiant glance at her, that he had been reading about turkeys,
she forced herself to appear interested. She said to herself that
other farmers did these things and made money. Sooner or
later Dick would strike a patch of luck: the market would
favour him, perhaps ; or the climate of his farm particularly
suit turkeys, and he would find he had made a good profit.
Then he began to remind her, already defending himself
against the accusations she had not made, that he had lost very
little over the pigs, after all (he had apparently forgotten about
the bees) ; and it had been a costless experiment. The sties had
cost nothing at all, and the boys’ wages amounted only to a
few shillings. The food they had grown themselves, or prac-
tically all of it. Mary remembered the sacks of maize they had
bought, and that finding m«ncy to pay boys’ wages was his
greatest worry, but still kept her mouth shut and her eyes
turned away, determined not to provoke him into further
passions of hostile self-defence.

She saw more of Dick during the few weeks of the turkey-
obsession than she had since she married him, or ever would

95

 

again. He was hardly down the farm at all; but spent the
whole day supervising the building of the brick houses and
the great wire runs. The fme-meshed wire cost over fifty
pounds. Then the turkeys were bought, and expensive in-
cubators, and weigliing machines, and all the rest of the para-
phernalia Dick thought essential; but before even the first lot
of eggs were hatched, he remarked one day that he thought of
using the runs and the houses, not for turkeys, but for rabbits.
Rabbits could be fed on a handful of grass, and they breed
like “ well, like rabbits. It was true that people did not have
much taste for rabbit-flesh (t’ns is a South African prejudice),
but tastes could be acquired, and if they sold the rabbits at
five shillings each, he reckoned they could make a comfortable
fifty or sixty pounds a month. Then, when the rabbits were
established, they could buy a special breed of Angora rabbits,
because he had heard the wool fetched six shillings a pound.

At this point, unable to control herself and hating herself for
it, Mary lost her temper – lost it finally and destructively.
Even as she raged against him, her feeling was of cold self-
condemnation because she was giving him the satisfaction of
seeing her thus. But it was a feeling he would not have under-
stood. Her anger was terrible to him, though he told himself
continually that she was in the wrong and had no right to
thwart his well-meant but unfortunate efforts. She raged and
wept and swore, till at last she was too weak to stand, and re-
mained lolling in the corner of the sofa, sobbing, trying to get
her breath. And Dick did not hitch up his pants, start to
whistle, or look like a harried little boy. He looked at her for
a long time as she sat there, sobbing; and then said sardoni-
cally, ‘O.K. boss.’ Mary did not like that; she did not like it
at all; for his sarcastic remark said more about their marriage
than she had ever allowed herself to think, and it was un-
seemly that her contempt of him should be put so plainly into
words; it was a condition of the existence of their marriage
that she should pity him generously, not despise him.

But there was no more talk about rabbits or turkeys. She

96

 

sold the turkeys, and filled the wire runs with chickens.
To make some money to buy herself some clothes, she said.
Did he expect her to go about in rags like a kaffir? He did not
expect anything, apparently, for he did not even reply to her
challenge. He was again preoccupied. There was no hint of
apology or defensiveness in his manner when he informed her ‘
that he intended to start a kaffir store on his farm. He simply
stated the fact, not looking at her, in a matter-of-fact take-it-
or-lcave-it voice. Everyone knew that kaffir stores made a pile
of money, he said. Charlie Slattcr had a store on his farm; a
lot of farmers did. , They were goldmines of profit. Mary
shrank from the word ‘goldmines’ because she had found a
scries of crumbling weed-covered trenches behind the house
one day, which he had told her he had dug years before in an ’
effort to discover the Eldorado he had been convinced was
liidden beneath the soil of his farm. She said quietly, Tf there
is a store on Slatter’s place, only five miles off, there is no point
ill having another here.’

‘I have a hundred natives here always.’

‘If they earn fifteen bob a month you arc not’ going to bcr
come a Rockefeller on what they spend.’

‘There are always natives passing through,’ he said stub- ‘
bornly.

He applied for a trading licence and got it without difficulty.
Then he built a store. It seemed to Mary a terrible thing, an
omen and a warning, that the store, the ugly menacing store
of her childhood, should follow her here, even to her home.

But it was built a few hundred yards from the house itself,
consisting of a small room bisected by a counter, with a bigger
room behind to hold the stock. To begin with what stock they
needed could be containeckon the shelves of the store itself,
but as the tiling expanded, they would need the second room.

Mary helped Dick lay out the goods, sick with depression,
hating the feel of the cheap materials that smelled of chemicals,
and the blankets that seemed rough and greasy on the fingers
even before they were used. They hung up the jewellery of

97

 

garish glass and brass and copper, and she set them swinging
and tinkling, with a tight-lipped smile, because of her mem-
ories of childhood, when it had been her greatest delight to
watch the brilliant strings of beads swaying and shimmering.
She was thinking that these two rooms added to the house
would have made their life comfortable: the money spent on
the store, the turkey-runs, the pigsties, the beehives, would
have put ceilings into the house, would have taken the terror
out of the thought of the approaching hot season. But what
was the use of saying it? She felt like dissolving in hopeless
foreboding tears; but she said /»ot a word, and helped Dick
with the work till it was finished.

When the- store was ready, and filled to the roof with kaffir
goods, Dick was so pleased he went into the station and
bought twenty cheap bicycles. It was ambitious, because rub-
ber rots; but then, he said, his natives were always asking him
for advances to buy bicycles; they could buy them from him.
Then the question arose who was to run the store? When it
really gets going, he said, we can engage a storeman. Mary
shut her eyes and sighed. Before they had even started, when
it looked as if it would be a long time before they had paid off
the capital spent on it, he was talking about a storeman who
would cost at the very least thirty pounds a month. Why not
engage a native? she asked. You can’t trust niggers farther
than you can kick them, he said, as far as money is concerned.
He said that he had taken it for granted that she would run the
store; she hadn’t anything to do in any case. He made this last
remark in the harsh resentful voice that was, at this time, his
usual way of addressing her.

Mary replied sharply that she would rather die than set foot
inside it. Nothing would make her, nothing.

‘It ’wouldn’t hurt you,’ said Dick. ‘Arc you too good to
stand behind a counter, then?’

‘ Selling kaffir truck to stinking kaffirs,’ she said.

But that was not her feeling – not then, before she had
started the work. She could not explain to Dick how that store

98

 

smell made her remember the way she had stood, as a ^ery
small girl, looking fearfully up the rows of bottles on the
shelves, wondering which of them her father would handle
that night; the way her mother had taken coins out of his
pockets at nights, when he had fallen asleep in a chair snoring,
mouth open, legs sprawling ; and how the next day she would
be sent up to the store to buy food that would not appear on
the account at the month’s end. These things she could not
explain to Dick, for the good reason that he was now asso-
ciated in her mind with the greyness and misery of her child-
hood, and it would have been like arguing with destiny itself.
At last she agreed to serve in the store; there was nothing else
she could do.

Now, as she went about her work, she could glance out of
the back door and see the new shining roof among the trees ;
and from time to time she walked far enough along the path
to sec whether there was anyone waiting to buy. By ten in the
morning half a dozen native women and their children were
sitting under the trees. If she disliked native men, she loathed
the women. She hated the exposed fleshiness of them, their
soft brown bodies and soft bashful faces that were also insolent
and inquisitive, and their chattering voices that held a brazen
fleshy undertone. She could not bear to sec them sitting there
on the grass, their legs tucked under them in that traditional
timeless pose, as peaceful and uncaring as if it did not matter
whether the store was opened, or wlictlier it remained shut all
day and they would have to return tomorrow. Above all, she
hated the way they suckled their babies, with their breasts
hanging down for everyone to sec; there was something in
their calm satisfied maternity that made her blood boil. ‘Their
babies hanging on to them like leeches,’ she said to herself
shuddering, for she thought with horror of suckling a child.
The idea of a child’s lips on her breasts made her feel quite
sick; at the thought of it she would involuntarily clasp her
hands over her breasts, as if protecting them from a violation.
And since so many white w^’ornen arc like her, turning with

99

 

relief to the bottle, she was in good company, and did not
think of herself, but rather of these black women, as strange;
they were alien and primitive creatures with ugly desires she
could not bear to think about.

When she saw there were perhaps ten or twelve of them
waiting there, making a bright-coloured group against the
green trees and grass, with their chocolate flesh and vivid
headcloths and metal car-rings, she took the keys off the hook
in the wardrobe (they were put there so the native servant
should not know where the) were and take himself to the
store to steal when she was not ‘ooking) and shading her eyes
with her hand, she marched off along the path to get the un-
pleasant business finished. She would open the door with a
bang, letting it swing back hard against the brick wall, and
enter the dark store, her nose delicately crinkled against the
smell. Then the women slowly crowded in, fingering the
stuffs, and laying the brilliant beads against their dark skins
with little exclamations of pleasure, or of horror, because of
the price. The children hung to their mothers’ backs (like
monkeys, Mary thought) or dutched their skirts, staring at the
white-skinned Mary, clusters of flies in the corners of their
eyes. Mary would stand there for half an hour perhaps, hold-
ing herself aloof, drumming with her fingers on the wood,
answering questions about price and quality briefly. She
would not give the women the pleasure of haggling over the
price. And after a few moments she felt she could not stay
there any longer, shut into the stuffy store with a crowd of
these chattering evil-smelling creatures. She said sharply, in
the kitchen kaffir, ‘Hurry up now!’ One by one, they drifted
away, their gaiety and the pleasure quite subdued, sensing her
disUkc of them.

‘Have I got to stand there for hours just so that one of them
can spend sixpence on a string of beads?’ she asked.

‘Gives you something to do,’ he replied, with that new
brutal indifference, without even looking at her.

It was the store that finished Mary: the necessity for serving

100

 

behind the counter, and the knowledge that it was thercif al-
ways there, a burden on her, not five minutes’ walk down the
path where ticks would crawl on her legs from the crowding
bushes and grass. But ostensibly she broke down over the
bicycles. For some reason they were not sold after all. Perhaps
they were not the type the natives wanted; it was difficult to
say. One was sold at last, but the rest remained in the back
room, propped upside-down like steel skeletons in a welter of
rubber tubing. The rubber rotted; when one stretched it, it
looked like grey flakes on the canvas base. So that was another
fifty pounds or so gone! And while they were not actually
losing on the store, they were nor making anydiing much.
Taking the bicycles, and the cost of the building, the venture
was a heavy loss, and they could expect to do no more than
keep a balance on the goods remaining on the shelves. But
Dick would not give it up.

‘It’s there now,’ he said. ‘We can’t lose any more of it. You
can go on with it, Mary, It won’t hurt you.’

But she was thinking of the fifty pounds lost on the bicycles.
It would have meant ceilings, of a good suite of furniture to
replace the gimcrack stuff in their house, or crai a week’s
holiday.

Thinking of that holiday, that she was always planning, but
which never seemed to become possible, turned Mary’s
thoughts in a new direction. Her life, for a while, had a new
meaning.

In the afternoons, these days, she always slept. She slept for
hours and hours: it was a way to make time pass quickly. At
one o’clock she lay down, and it was after four when she
woke. But Dick would not be home for two hours yet, so she
lay half-clothed on the bed, drugged with sleep, her mouth
dry <ind her head aching. It was during those two hours of
half-consciousness that she allowed herself to dream about that
beautiful lost time when she worked in an office and lived as
she pleased, before ‘people made her get married’. That was
how she put it to herself. And she began to think, during those

TOI

 

grey wastes of time, how it would be when Dick at last made
some money and they could go and live in town again; al-
though she knew, in her moments of honesty, that he would
never make money. Then came the thought that there was
nothing to prevent her running away and going back to her
old hfe; here the memory of her friends checked her: what
would they say, breaking up a marriage like that? The con-
ventionality of her ethics, which had nothing to do with her
real life, was restored by the tl’ ought of those friends, and the
memory of their judgements oi other people. It hurt her, the
thought of facing them again, Wi4i her record of failure; for
she was still, at bottom, haunted by a feeling of inadequacy,
because ‘she was not like that*. That phrase had stuck in her
mind all these years, and still rankled. But her desire to escape
her misery had become so insupportable, that she pushed out
of her mind the idea of her friends. She thought, now, of
nothing but getting away, of becoming again what she had
been. But then, there was such a gulf between what she now
was, and that shy, aloof, yet adaptable girl with the crowds of
acquaintances. She was conscious of that gulf, but not as un-
redeemable alteration in herself. She felt, rather, as if she had
been lifted from the part fitted to her, in a play she under-
stood, and made suddenly to act one unfamiliar to her. It was
a feeling of being out of character that chilled her, not know-
ledge that she had changed. The soil, the black labourers, al-
ways so close to their Hves but also so cut off, Dick in his farm
clothes with liis hands stained with oil – these things did not
belong to her, they were not real. It was monstrous that they
should have been imposed upon her.

Slowly, slowly, over weeks, she persuaded herself into the
belief that she would only need to get into the train and go
back into town for that lovely peaceful life, the life she*was
made for, to begin again.

And, one day, when the boy returned from the station with
his heavy sack of groceries and meat and mail, and she took
out the weekly newspaper and looked, as usual, at the an-

102

 

nouncements of the births and marriages (to see what her old
friends were doing – this was the only part of the paper she
read), she noticed that her old firm, the one she had worked
for all those years, were advertising for a shorthand typist. She
was standing in the kitchen, that was lit dimly by a flickering
candle and the riiddy glimmer from the stove, beside the
table loaded with soap and meat, the cookboy just behind her,
preparing supper – yet, in a moment, she was transported
away from the farm back into her old life. All night the illu-
sion persisted, and she lay awake breatlilcss with thoughts
of this easily achievable future, that was also her past. And
when Dick had gone off to the lands, she dressed, packed a
suitcase, and left a note for him, quite in the traditional way,
but saying merely that she was going back to her old job:
exactly as if Dick had known her mind and approved of her
decision.

She walked the five miles between their homestead and the
Slatters’ farm in just over an hour. She was running half the
way, her suitcase swinging heavily in her hand and bumping
against her legs, her shoes filling witli the soft gritty dust,
sometimes stumbling over the sharp ruts. She found Charlie
Slatter standing at the gully” that marked the boundary be-
tween the farms, seemingly doing nothing at all. He was
looking down the road along which she came, humming at
the back of his throat, his eyes screwed up. It struck her, as she
stopped in front of him, that it was odd he should be idle, he
who was always busy. She did not imagine he was planning
how he would buy up that fool Dick Turner’s farm when he
went bankrupt; he needed extra grazing for his cattle. Re-
membering that she had only met him two or three times,
and that each time he had not troubled to hide his dislike, she
drew herself up, and tried to speak slowly, although she was
breathless. She asked him if he would drive her into the station
in time to catch the morning train; there would not be an-
other for three days, and it was urgent. Charlie looked at her
shrewdly, and appeared to be calculating.

103

 

* where’s your old man?’ he asked with brusque jocularity,

‘He’s working stammered Mary.

He grunted, looked suspicious, but lifted her suitcase into
his car which was standing under a big tree beside the road.
He got into the car, and she climbed in beside him, fumbling
with the door, while he stared ahead down the road, whistling
between his teeth: Charlie did not believe in pampering
women by waiting on them- At last she got herself settled,
clutching her suitcase as if it were a passport.

‘Hubby too busy to take you to the station?’ asked Charlie
at last, turning to look at her shrewdly. She coloured up, and
nodded, feeling guilty; but she did not consciously reflect she
was putting him in a false position; her mind was on that
train.

He put down the accelerator and the big powerful car tore
along the track, closely missing the trees, and skidding badly
in the dust. The train was standing in the station, panting and
dribbling water, and she had no time to spare. She thanked
Charlie briefly, and had forgotten him before the train started.
She had just enough money to get her into town: not enough
for a taxi.

She walked from the station, carrying her suitcase, through
the town she had not entered since she left it after her mar-
riage; on the few occasions Dick had had to make the trip, she
had refused to accompany him, shrinking from exposing her-
self to the chance of meeting people she had known. Her heart
lifted as she neared the club.

It was such a lovely, lovely day, with its gusts of perfumed
wind, and its gay glittering sunshine. Even the sky looked
different, seen from between the well-known buildings, that
seemed so fresh and clean with their white walls and red roofs.
It was not the implacable blue dome that arched over the
farm, enclosing it in a cycle of unalterable seasons; it was a soft
flower-blue, and she felt, in her exaltation, that she could run
off the pavement into the blue substance and float there, at
ease and peaceful at last. The street she walked along was lined

104

 

with bauhinea trees, with their pink and white blossoms
perched on the branches like butterflies among leaves. It was
an avenue of pink and white, with the fresh blue sky above. It
was a different world! It was her world.

At the club she was met by a new matron who told her
they did not take married women. The woman looked at her
curiously, and that look destroyed Mary’s sudden irrespon-
sible happiness. She had forgotten about the rule against mar-
ried women; but then, she had not been thinking of herself as
married. She came to her senses, as she stood in the hall where
she had faced Dick Turner all those years ago, and looked
about her at the unchanged setting, which was yet so very
strange to her. Everything looked so glossy, and clean and
ordered.

Soberly she went to a hotel, and tidied her hair when she
reached the room she had been given. Then she walked to the
office. None of the girls working there knew her. The furni-
ture had been changed; the desk where she had sat was moved,
and it seemed outrageous that her things should have been
tampered with. She looked at the girls in their pretty frocks,
with their dressed hair, and thought for the first time that she
hardly looked the part. But it was too late now. She was being
shown into her old employer’s office, and immediately she
saw on his face the look of the woman at the club. She found
herself glancing down at her hands, which were crinkled and
brown; and hid them under her bag. The man opposite to her
was staring at her, looking closely at her face. Then he glanced
at her shoes, which were still red with dust, because she had
forgotten to wipe them. Looking grieved, but at the same
time shocked, even scandalized, he said that the job had been
filled already, and that he was sorry. She felt, again, outraged;
for all that time she had worked here, it had been part of her-
self, this office, and now he would not take her back. ‘I am
sorry, Mary,’ he said, avoiding her eyes; and she saw that the
job had not been filled and that he was putting her off. There
was a long moment of silence, while Mary saw the dreams of

105

 

the last few weeks fade and vanish. Then he asked her if she
had been ill.

‘No/ she said bleakly.

Back in the hotel bedroom she looked at herself in the glass.
Her frock was a faded cotton; and she could see, comparing it
with the clothes of the girls in the office, that it was very out
of fashion. Still, it was decent enough. True that her skin be-
came dried and brown, but when she relaxed her face, she
could not see much difference m herself. Holding it smoothed
and still, there were little whii? marks raying out from her
eyes, like brush strokes. It was a bad habit to get into, she
thought, screwing up one’s eyes. And her hair, was not very
smart. But then, did he think one had hairdressers on farms?
She was suddenly viciously, revengefully angry against him,
against the matron, against everyone. What did they expect?
That she should have gone through all those sufferings and
disappointments and yet remain unchanged? But it was the
first time that she admitted to herself that she had changed, in
herself, not in her circumstances. She thought that she would
go to a beauty shop and get at least her appearance restored to
normal; then she would not be refused the job that was hers
by right. But she remembered she had no money. Turning out
her purse she found half a crown and a sixpence. She would
not be able to pay her hotel bill. Her moment of panic faded;
she sat down stiffly on a chair against the wall, and remained
still, wondering what to do. But the effort of thought was too
great; she seemed faced by innumerable humiliations and ob-
stacles. She appeared to be waiting for something. After a
while, her body slumped into itself, and there was a dogged
patient look about her shoulders. When there was a knock on
the door, she looked up as if she had been expecting it, and
Dick’s entrance did not change her face. For a moment they
said nothing. Then he appealed to her, holding out his arms:
‘Mary, don’t leave me.’ She sighed, stood up, automatically
adjusted her skirt, and smoothed her hair. She gave the im-
pression of starting off for a planned journey. Seeing her pose,

io6

 

and her face, which showed no opposition or hatred, only re-
signation, Dick dropped liis arms. There was to be no scene:
her mood forbade it.

In his turn he came to his senses, and, as she had done,
glanced at himself in the mirror. He had come in his farm
clothes, without stopping even to eat, after reading the note
which had seemed to stab him with pain and humiliation. His
sleeves flapped over spare burnt arms; his feet were sockless
and thrust into hide boots. But he said, as if they had come in
together for a trip, that they might go and have lunch and on
to a cinema, if she felt like it. He was trying to make her feel
as if nothing had happened, she thought ; but looking at him
she saw it was a response to her acceptance of the situation that
made him speak as he did. Seeing her awkwardly, painfully,
smooth her dress, he said that she should go and buy herself
some clothes.

She replied, speaking for the first time, in her usual tart and
offhand way, ‘What shall I usC for money?’

They were back together again, not even the tones of their
voices changed.

After they had eaten, in a restaurant that Mary chose be-
cause it looked too out of the way for any of her old friends
to see her there, they went back to the farm, as’if everything
were quite normal, and her running away a little thing, and
one that could be easily forgotten.

But when she got home, and she found herself back in. her
usual routine, with now not even day-dreams to sustain her,
facing her future with a tired stoicism, she foimd she was ex-
hausted. It was an effort for her to do anything at all. It seemed
as if the trip into town had drained her reserves of strength and
left her with just enough each day to do what had to be done,
but nothing more. Tliis was the beginning of an inner dis-
integration in her. It began with this numbness, as if she could
no longer feel or fight.

And perhaps, if Dick had not got ill when he did, the end
would have come quickly after all, one way or another.

107

 

Perhaps she might have died quite soon, as her mother had
done, after a brief illness, simply because she did not want
particularly to live. Or she might have run away again, in
another desperate impulse towards escape, and this time done
it sensibly, and learned how to live again, as she was made to
live, by nature and upbringing, alone and sufficient to herself
But there was a sudden and unexpected change in her life,
which staved off the disintegration for a little while. A few
months after she had run av’ay, and six years after she had
married him, Dick got ill, for ‘he first time.

 

CHAPTER 7

It was a brilliant, cool, cloudless June. This was the time of
the year Mary liked best: warm during the day, but with a
tang in the air; and several months to go before the smoke
from the veld fires thickened into that sulphurous haze that
dimmed the colours of the bush. The coolness gave her back
some of her vitality: she was tired, yes, but it was not unbear-
able; she clutched at the cold months as if they were a shield
to ward off the dreaded listlessness of the heat that would
follow.

In the early mornings, when Dick had gone to the lands,
she would walk gently over the sandy soil in front of the
house, looking up into the high blue dome that was fresh as
ice crystals, a marvellous clear blue, with never a cloud to
stain it, not for months and months. The cold of the night was
still in the soil. She would lean down to touch it, and touched,
too, the rough brick of the house, that was cool and damp
against her fingers. Later, when it grew warm, and the sun
seemed as hot as in summer, she would go out into the front
and stand under a tree on the edge of the clearing (never far
into the bush where she was afraid) and let the deep shade rest
her. The thick olive-green leaves overhead let through chinks
of clear blue, and the wind was sharp and cold. And then, sud-
denly, the whole sky lowered itself into a thick grey blanket,
and for a few days it was a different world, with a soft dribble
of rain, and it was really cold: so cold she wore a sweater and
enjoyed the sensation of shivering inside it. But this never
lasted long. It seemed that from one half hour to the next the
heavy grey would grow thin, showing blue behind, and then
the sky would seem to lift, with layers of dissolving cloud in
the middle air; all at once, there would be a high blue sky
again, all the grey curtains gone. The sunshine dazzled and

109

 

glittered, but held no menace; this was not the sun of October,
that insidiously sapped from within. There was a lift in the air,
an exhilaration. Mary felt healed – almost. Almost, she be-
came as she had been, brisk and energetic, but with a caution
in her face and in her movements that showed she had not for-
gotten the heat would return. She tenderly submitted herself
to this miraculous three months of winter, when the country
was purified of its menace. Even the veld looked different,
flaming for a few brief weci s into red and gold and russet,
before the trees became solid L’asses of heavy green. It was as
if this winter had been sent especially for her, to send a tingle
of vitality into her, to save her from her helpless dullness. It
was her winter; that was how she felt. Dick noticed it; he was
attentively solicitous to her after her running away – for her
return had bound him to her in gratitude for ever. If he had
been a spiteful sort of man, he might have gone cold against
her because it had really been such an easy way to win mastery
over him, the sort of trick women use to defeat their men. But
it never occurred to him. And after all, her running away had
been genuine enough; though it had had the results that any
calculating woman could have foreseen. He was gentle and
tolerant, curbing his rages; and he was pleased to see her with
new life, moving around the house with more zest, a softened,
rather pathetic look on her face, as if she were clinging to a
friend she knew must leave her. He even asked her again to
come down on the farm with him; he felt a need to be near
her, for he was secretly afraid she might vanish again one day
■ when he was away. For although their marriage was all wrong,
and there was no real understanding between them, he had be-
come accustomed to the double solitude that any marriage,
even a bad one, becomes. He could not imagine returning, to
a house where there was no Mary. And even her rages against
her servants seemed to him, during that short time, endearing;
he was grateful for the resurgence of vitality that showed itself
in an increased energy over the shortcomings and laziness of
her houseboy.

no

 

But she refused to help him on the farm. It seemed to her a
cruelty that he should suggest it. Up here, on the rise, even
with the tumbled heap of big boulders behind the house that
blocked the sweeping winds, it. was cool compared with the
fields shut down between ridges of rock and trees. Down
there, one would not be able to tell it was winter! Even now,
looking down into the hollow one could see the heat shimmer-
ing over buildings and earth. No, let her stay where she was:
she wouldn’t go down with him. He accepted it, grieved and
snubbed as always; but still, happier than he had been for a
long time. He liked to sec her at night, sitting peacefully with
her hands folded, on the sofa, cuddling herself luxuriously in-
side her sweater, shivering cheerfully with the cold. For these
nights the roof cracked and crinkled like a thousand fireworks,
because of the sharp alternations between the day’s hot sun and
the frosts of night. He used to watch her reaching up her hand
to touch the icy-cold iron of the roof, and felt disconsolate and
helpless against this mute confession of how much she hated
the summer months. He even began to think of putting in
ceilings. He secretly got out his farm books and calculated
what they would cost. But the last season had been a bad one
for him; and the end of his impulse to protect her from what
she dreaded was a sigh, and a determination to wait until next
year, when things might be better.

Once she did go down with him to the lands. It was when
he told her there had been frost. She stood over the cold earth
in the vlei one morning before the sun rose, laughing with
pleasure, because of the crusty film of white over the earth.
‘Frost!’ she said. ‘Who would believe it, in this baked, god-
forsaken spot!’ She picked up pieces of the crackling flimsy
stuff and rubbed them between blue hands, inviting him to do
the same, sharing with him this moment of delight. They were
moving gently towards a new relation; they were more truly
together than they had ever been. But then it was that he
became ill; and the new tenderness between them, which
might have grown into sometliing strong enough to save

III

 

them both, was not yet strong enough to survive this fresh
trouble.

For one thing, Dick had never been ill before, although this
was a malaria district and he had lived in it so long. Perhaps
he had had malaria in his blood for years and never known it?
He always took quinine, every night, during the wet season,
but not when it grew cold. Somewhere on the farm there
must be, he said, a tree trunk filled with stagnant water, in a
warm enough spot for mosqiitoes to breed; or perhaps an old
rusting tin in a shady place wL^^re the sun could not reach the
water to evaporate it. In any event, weeks after one could ex-
pect fever in the usual way, Mary saw Dick come up from the
lands one evening, pale and shivering. She offered him quinine
and aspirin, which he took, and afterwards fell into bed, with-
out eating his supper. The next morning, angry with himself
and refusing to believe he was ill, he was off to work as usual,
wearing a heavy leather jacket as a futile prophylactic against
violent shivering fits. At ten in the morning, with the fever
sweat pouring down his face and neck and soaking his shirt,
he crawled up the hill and got between blankets, half-
unconscious already.

It was a very sharp attack, and because he was not used to
illness, he was querulous and difficult. Mary sent a letter over
to Mrs Slatter – though she hated having to ask favours of her
– and later that day Charlie brought the doctor in liis car; he
had driven thirty miles to fetch him. The doctor made the
usual pronouncements, and when he had finished with Dick,
told Mary the house was dangerous as it was, and should be
wired for mosquitoes. Also, he said, the bush should be cut
back for another hundred yards about the house. Ceilings
should be put in at once, otherwise there was danger of their
both getting sunstroke. He looked shrewdly at Mary, in-
formed her she was anaemic, run down, and in a bad nervous
condition and she should go for at least three months to the
coast at once. He then left, while Mary stood on the veranda
and watched the car drive off, with a grim little smile on her

II2

 

face. She was thinking, with hate, that it was all very well for
rich professionals to talk. She hated that doctor, with his calm
way of shrugging off their difficulties; when she had said they
could not afford a holiday, he had said sharply, ‘Nonsense!
Can you afford to be really ill?’ And he had asked how long it
had been since she had been to the coast? She had never seen
the sea! But the doctor’ had understood their position better
than she imagined, for the bill she awaited with dread did not
come. After a while she wrote to know how much they owed,
and the answer came back: ‘Pay me when you can afford it.’
She was miserable with frustrated pride; but let it go – they
hterally did not have the money.

Mrs Slatter sent over a sack of citrus from her orchard for
Dick, and many offers of assistance. Mary was grateful for her
presence there, only five miles away, but decided not to call
her save in an emergency. She wrote one of those dry little
notes of hers in thanks for the citrus, and said that Dick was
better. But Dick was not at all better. There he lay, in all the
helpless terror of a person suffering his first bad illness, with his
face turned to the wall and a blanket over his head. ‘Just like a
nigger!’ said Mary in sharp scorn over his cowardice; she had
seen sick natives lie just like that, in a kind of stoical apathy.
But from time to time Dick roused himself to ask about the
farm. Every conscious moment he worried about the tilings
that would be going wrong without his supervision. Mary
nursed him like a baby for a week, conscientiously, but with
impatience because of his fear for himself. Then the fever left
him, and he was weak and depressed, hardly able to sit up. He
now tossed and kicked and fretted, talking all the time about
his farmwork.

She saw that he wanted her to go down and see to things,
but did not like to suggest it. For a while she did not respond
to the appeal she saw in his weakened and querulous face;
then, realizing he would get out of bed before he was fit to
walk, she said she would go.

She had to crush down violent repugnance to the idea of

113

£

 

facing the farm natives herself Even when she had called the
dogs to her and stood on the veranda v^ith the car keys in her
hand, she turned back again to the kitchen for a glass of water;
sitting in the car with her foot resting on the accelerator, she
jumped out again, on an excuse that she needed a handker-
chief. Coming out of the bedroom she noticed the long sjam-
bok that rested on two nails over the kitchen door, like an
ornament; it was a long time since she had remembered its
existence. Lifting it down, looping it over her wrist, she went
to the car with more confidence. Because of it, she opened the
back door of the car and let out the dogs; she hated the way
they breathed down the back of her neck as she drove. She left
them whining with disappointment outside the house, and
drove herself down to the lands where the boys were sup-
posed to be working. They knew of Dick’s illness, and were
not there, having dispersed, days before, to the compound.
She took the car along the rough and rutted road as near as
she could get to the compound, and then walked towards it
along the native path that was trodden hard and smooth, but
with a soft littering of glinting slippery grass over it, so that
she had to move carefully to save herself from sliding. The
long pale grass left sharp needles in her skirts, and the bushes
shook red dust into her face.

The compound was built on a low rise above the vlei, about
half a mile from the house. The system was that a new labourer
presenting himself for work was given a day without pay to
build a hut for himself and his family before taking his place
with the workers. So there were always new huts, and always
empty old ones that slowly collapsed and fell down unless
somebody thought of burning them. The huts were closely
clustered over an acre or two of ground. They looked like
natural growths from the ground, rather than man-made
dwellings. It was as though a giant black hand had reached
down from the sky, picked up a handful of sticks and grass,
and dropped them magically on the earth in the form of huts.
They were grass-roofed, with pole walls plastered with mud,

114 .

 

and single low doors, but no windows. The smoke from the
fires inside percolated through the thatch or drifted in clouds
from the doorways, so that each had the appearance of
smouldering slowly from within. Between the huts were irre-
gular patches of ill-cultivated mealies, and pumpkin vines
trailed everywhere through plants and bushes and up over the
walls and roofs, with the big amber-coloured pumpkins scat-
tered among the leaves. Some of them were beginning to rot,
subsiding into a sour festering ooze of pinky stuff, covered
with flies. Flies were everywhere. They hummed round Mary^s
head in a cloud as she walked, and they were clustered round
the eyes of the dozen small black children who were pot-
bellied and mostly naked, staring at her as she picked her way
through the vines and mealies past the huts. Tliin native mon-
grels, their bones ridging through their hides, bared their teeth
and cringed. Native women, draped in dirty store-stuff, and
some naked above the waist with their slack black breasts
hanging down, gazed at her from doorways with astonish-
ment at her queer appearance, commenting on her among
themselves, laughing, and making crude remarks. There were
some men: glancing through doorways she could see bodies
huddled asleep; some sat on their haunches on the ground in
groups, talking. But she had no idea which were Dick’s
labourers, which were merely visiting here, or perhaps passing
through the place on their way somewhere else. She stopped
before one of them and told him to fetch the headboy, who
soon came stooping out of one of the better huts that were
ornamented on the walls with patterns of daubed red and
yellow clay. His eyes were inflamed : she could see he had been
drinking.

She said in kitchen kaffir: ‘Get the boys on to the lands in
ten minutes.’

‘The boss is better?’ he asked with hostile indifference.

She ignored the question, and said, ‘You can tell them
that I will take two and six off the ticket of every one of
them that isn’t at work in ten minutes.’ She held out her

 

wrist and pointed to the watch, showing him the time
interval.

The man slouched and stooped in the sunshine, resenting
her presence; the native women stared and laughed; the filthy,
underfed children crowded around, whispering to each other;
the starved dogs slunk in the background among the vines and
meahes. She hated the place, which she had never entered be-
fore. ‘Fitthy savages!’ she thought vindictively. She looked
straight into the reddened, beei -clouded eyes of the headman,
and repeated. ‘Ten minutes.’ Thm she turned and walked off
down the winding path through the trees, listening for the
sounds of the natives turning out of the huts behind her.

She sat in the car waiting, beside the land where she knew
they were supposed to be reaping maize. After half an hour a
few stragglers arrived, the headboy among them. At the end
of an hour not more than half of the labourers were present:
some had gone visiting to neighbouring compounds without
permission, some lay drunk in their huts. She called the head-
boy to her, and took down the names of those who were
absent, writing them in her big awkward hand on a scrap of
paper, spelling the unfamiliar names with difficulty. She re-
mained there the whole morning, watching the straggling line
of working boys, the sun glaring down through the old can-
vas hood on to her bare head. There was hardly any talking
among them. They worked reluctantly, in a sullen silence; and
she knew it was because they resented her, a woman, super-
vising them. When the gong rang for the lunch interval, she
went up to the house and told Dick what had happened, but
toning it down so that he would not worry. After lunch she
drove down again, and curiously enough without repugnance
for this work from which she had shrunk so long. She was
exhilarated by the unfamiliar responsibility, the sensation of
pitting her will against the farm. Now she left the car standing
on the road, as the gang of natives moved in to the middle of
the field where the pale gold maize stood high above their
heads, and where she could not see them from outside. They

it6

 

were tearing off the heavy cobs, and putting them into the
half-sacks tied round their waists, while others followed, cut-
ting down the pillaged stalks and leaning them in small pyra-
mids that regularly dotted the field. She moved steadily along
the land with them, standing in the cleared part among the
rough stubble, and watched them ceaselessly. She still carried
the long thong of leather looped round one wrist. It gave her
a feeling of authority, and braced her against the’^waves of
hatred that she could feel coming from the gang of natives. As
she walked steadily along beside them, with .the hot yellow
sunlight on her head and neck, making her shoulders ache, she
began to understand how it was that Dick could stand it, day
after day. It was difficult to sit still in the car with the heat
filtering through the roof; it was another thing to move along
with the workers, in the rhythm of their movement, concen-
trated on the work they were doing. As the long afternoon
passed, she watched, in a kind of alert stupor, the naked brown
backs bend, steady, and straighten, the ropes of muscle sliding
under the dusty skin. Most of them wore pieces of faded stuff
as loincloths; some, kliaki shorts; but nearly all were naked
above the waist. They were a short thin crowd of men, stunted
by bad feeding, but muscular and tough. She was oblivious to
anything outside of this field, the work to be done, the gang
of natives. She forgot about the heat, the beating sun, the
glare. She watched the dark hands stripping cobs, and leaning
the ragged gold stems together, and thought of nothing else.
When one of the men paused for a moment in his work to
rest, or to wipe the running sweat from his eyes, she waited
one minute by her watch, and then called sharply to him to
begin again. He would look slowly round at her, then bend
back to the mealies, slowly, as if in protest. She did not know
that Dick made a habit of calling a general rest of five minutes
each hour; he had learned they worked better for it; it seemed
to her an insolence directed against her authority over them
when they stopped, without permission, to straighten their
backs and wipe off the sweat. She kept them at it until

117

 

sundown, and went hack to die house satisfied with herself
not even tired. She was exhilarated and light-limbed, and
swung the sjambok jauntily on her wrist.

Dick was lying in bed in the low-robfed room that was as ‘
chilly in the cool months as soon as the sun went down as it
was hot in summer, anxious and restless, resenting his helpless-
ness. He did not like to think of Mary close to those natives all
day; it was not a woman’s job. And besides, she was so bad
with natives, and he was short ‘)f labour. But he was relieved
and rested when she told him ho v the work was progressing.
She said nothing of how she disliked the natives, of how the
hostihty that she could feel as something palpable coming
from them against her, affected her; she knew he could be in
bed for days yet, and that she would have to do it whether she
liked it or not. And, really, she liked it. The sensation of being
boss over perhaps eighty black workers gave her new con-
fidence; it was a good feeling, keeping them* under her will,
making them do as she wanted.

At the week’s end it was she who sat behind the small table
set out on the veranda among the pot plants while the gangs of
boys stood outside, under dark overshadowing trees, waiting
to-be paid. Tliis was the montlily ritual.

It was already dusk, the first stars coming out in the sky ; and
on the table was set a hurricane lamp, whose low dull flame
looked like a doleful bird caught in a glass cage. The bossboy
beside her called out the names as she turned them up on her
hst. As she came to those who had not obeyed her summons
tliat first day, she deducted half a crown, handing over the
balance in silver ; the average wage was about fifteen sliillings,
for the month. There were sullen murmurings among the
natives; and as there was a small storm of protest brewing, the
bossboy moved to the low wall and began arguing with them
in his own language. She could only understand an odd word
here or there, but she disliked the man’s attitude and tone; he
seemed, from his maimer, to be telling them to accept an un-
alterable evil fate, not scolding them, as she would have liked

ii8

 

to do, for their negligence and laziness. After all, for seN«a\
days they had done no work at all. And if she did what she had
threatened, the whole lot of them would be docked two and
sixpence, because none had obeyed her and appeared on the
lands within the specified ten minutes. They were in the
wrong; she was in the right; and the bossboy should be telling
them so, not persuasively arguing with them and shrugging
his shoulders – and even, once, laughing. At last he turned
back to her, told her they were dissatisfied and demanded what
was due. She said shortly and finally tliat she had said she
would deduct that ainount and she intended to keep her word.
She would not change her mind. Suddenly angry, she added,
without reflecting, that those who did not like it could leave.
She went on with the business of arranging the little piles of
notes and silver, taking no notice of the storm of talk outside.
Some of them walked off to the compound, accepting the
position. Others’ waited in groups till she had finished the pay-
ing, and then came up to the wall. One after another spoke to
the bossboy, saying they wanted to leave. She felt a little
afraid, because she knew how hard it was to get labour, and
how this was Dick’s most persistent worry. Nevertheless, even
wliile she turned her head to listen for Dick’s movements in
the bed that was behind her through one thickness of wall, she
was filled with determination and resentment, because they
expected to be paid for work they had not done, and had gone
visiting when Dick was ill; above all, that they had not come
to the lands in that interval of ten minutes. She turned to the
waiting group and told them that those of them who were
contracted natives could not leave.

These had been recruited by what is the South African
equivalent of the old press gang: white men who lie in
wait for the migrating bands of natives on their way along
the roads to look for work; gather them into large lorries,
often against their will (sometimes chasing them through
the bush for miles if they try to escape), lure them by fine
promises of good employment, and finally sell them to the

1 19

 

white farmers at five pounds or more per head for a yearns
contract.

Of these boys she knew that some would be found to have
run away from the farm during the next few days; and some
would not be recovered by die police, for they would escape
through the hills to the border and so’ out of reach. But she
was not going to be swayed now by fear of their going and
Dick’s labour troubles; she would die rather than show weak-
ness. She dismissed them, usin^i; the police as a threat. The
others, who were working on c monthly basis, and whom
Dick kept with him by a combination of coaxing and good-
humoured threats, she said could leave at the month’s end. She
spoke to them directly – not through the “medium of the boss-
boy – in cold clear tones, explaining with admirable logic how
they were in the wrong, and how she was justified in acting as
she did. She ended with a short homily on the dignity of work,
which is a doctrine bred into the bones of every white South
African. They would never be any good, she said (speaking in
kitchen kaffir wliich some of them did not understand, being
fresh from their kraals) until they learned to work without
supervision, for the love of it, to do as they were told, to do a
job for its own sake, not thinking about the money they would
be paid for it. It was this attitude towards work that had made
the white man what he was: the white man worked because it
was good to work, because working without reward was what
proved a man’s worth.

The phrases of this little lecture came naturally to her lips:
she did not have to look for them in her mind. She had heard
them so often from her father, when he was lecturing his
native servants, that they welled up from the part of her brain
that held her earliest memories.

The natives listened to her with what she described to her-
self as ‘cheeky’ faces. They were sullen and angry, hstening to
her (or what they could understand of her speech) with in-
attention, simply waiting for her to finish.

Then, brushing away their protests, which broke out as

T7,0

 

soon as her voice stopped, she got up with an abrupt dismiss-
ing gesture, lifted the little table with the paper bags of money
stacked on it, and carried it inside. After a while she heard
them moving off, talking and grumbling among themselves,
and looking through the curtains saw their dark bodies
mingling with the sliJidows of the trees before they dis-
appeared. Their voices floated back : angry shouts now. and
imprecations against her. She was filled with vindictiveness
and a feeling of a victory. She hated them all, every one of
them, from the headboy whose subservience irritated her, to
the smallest child; there were some children working among
the others who could be no more than seven or eight years old.

She had learned, standing in the sun watching them all day,
to hide her hatred when she spoke to them, but she did not
attempt to hide it from herself. She hated it when they spoke
to each other in dialects she did not understand, and she knew
they were discussing her and making what were probably
obscene remarks against her – she knew it, though she could
only ignore it. She hated their half-naked, thick-muscled black
bodies stooping in the mindless rhythm of their work. She
hated their sullcnness, their averted eyes when they spoke to
her, their veiled insolence; and she hated more than anything,
with a violent physical repulsion, the heavy smell that came
from them, a hot, sour animal smell.

‘How they stink,’ she said to Dick, in an explosion of anger
that was the reaction from setting her will against theirs.

Dick laughed a little. He said, ‘They say wc stink.’

‘Nonsense!’ she exclaimed, shocked that these animals
should so presume.

‘ Oh yes,’ he said, not noticing her anger, ‘ I remember talk-
ing to old SaiTison once. He said: “You say we smell. But to
us there is nothing worse than a white man’s smell.” ’

‘Cheek!’ she began indignantly; but then she saw his still
pile and hollowed face, and restrained herself. She had to be
very careful, because he was liable to be touchy and irritable
in his present stage of weakness.

T2I

 

‘what were you talking to them about?* he asked.

‘Oh, nothing much,* she said warily, turning away. She
had decided not to tell him about the boys that were leaving
until later, when he was really well.

‘I hope you are being careful with them,* he said anxiously.
‘You have to go slow with them these* days, you know. They
are all spoilt.*

T don*t believe in treating them soft,’ she said scornfully.
‘If I had my way, I’d keep them in order with the whip.’

‘That’s all very well,’ he saia irritably, ‘but where would
you get the labour?*

‘ Oh, they all make me sick,’ she said, shuddering.

During this time, in spite of the hard work and her hatred
of the natives, all her apathy and discontent had been pushed
into the background. She was too absorbed in the business of
controlling the natives without showing weakness, of run-
ning the house, and arranging things so that Dick would be
comfortable when she was out. She was finding out, too,
about every detail of the farm: how it was run and what was
grown. She spent several evenings over Dick’s books when he
was asleep. In the past she had taken no interest in this : it was
Dick’s affair. But now she was analysing figures – which
wasn’t difficult with only a couple of cash books – seeing the
farm whole in her mind. She was shocked by what she found.
For a little while she thought she must be mistaken; there
must be more to it than this. But there was not. She surveyed
what crops were grown, what animals there were, and ana-
lysed without difficulty the causes of their poverty. The ill-
ness, Dick’s enforced seclusion, and her enforced activity, had
brought the farm near to her and made it real. Before it had
been an alien and rather distasteful affair from which she
voluntarily excluded herself, and which she made no attempt
to understand as a whole, thinking it more complicated than
it was. She was now annoyed with herself that she had not
tried to appreciate these problems before.

Now, as she followed the gang of natives up the field, she

12 ?.

 

thought continually about the farm, and what should be done.
Her attitude towards Dick, always contemptuous, was now
bitter and angry. It was not a question of bad luck, it was
simply incompetence. She had been wrong in thinking that
those outbursts of wishful thinking over turkeys, pigs, etc.,
had been a kind of escape from the discipline of his work on
the farm. He was all of a piece, everything he did showed the
same traits. Everywhere she found things begun and left un-
finished. Here it was a piece of land that had been left half-
stumped and then abandoned so that the young trees were
growing up over it again ; there it was a cowshed made half
of brick and iron and half of bush timber and mud. The farm
was a mosaic of different crops. A single fifty-acre land had
held sunflowers, sunhemp, maize, monkey-nuts, and beans.
Always he reaped twenty sacks of this and thirty sacks of that
with a few pounds profit to show on each crop. There was not
a single thing properly done on the whole place, nothing!
Why was he incapable of seeing it? Surely he must see that he
would never get any further like this?

Snn-dazed, her eyes aching with the glare, but awake to
every movement of the boys, she contrived, schemed, and
plaimcd, deciding to talk to Dick when he was really well, to
persuade him to face clearly where he would end if he did not
change his methods. It was oiJy a couple of days before he
would be well enough to take over the work : she would allow
him a week to get back to normal, and then give him no peace
till he followed her advice.

But on that last day something happened that she had not
foreseen.

Down in the vlci, near the cowsheds, was where Dick
stacked his mealiecobs each year. First sheets of tin were laid
down, to protect them from white ants; then the sacks of cobs
were emptied on to it, and there slowly formed a low pile of
white, slippery-shcathed mealies. This was where she re-
mained these days, to supervise the proper emptying of the
sacks. The natives unloaded the dusty sacks from the wagon,

123

 

holding them by the corners on their shoulders, bent double
under the weight. They were like a human conveyor belt.
Two .natives standing on the wagon swung the heavy sack on
to the waiting bent back. The men moved steadily forward in
a file, from the wagon s side to the mealie-dump, staggering
up its side on the staircase of wedged full sacks, to empty the
cobs in a white flying shower down the stack. The air was gritty
and prickly with the tiny fragments of husk. When Mary
passed her hand over her face, he could feel it rough, like fine
sacking.

She stood at the foot of the heap, which rose before her in a
great shining white mountain against the vivid sky, her back
to the patient oxen which were standing motionless with their
heads lowered, waiting till the wagon should be emptied and
they free to move off on another trip. She watched the natives,
thinking about the farm, and swinging the sjambok from her
wrist so that it made snaky patterns in the red dust. Suddenly
she noticed that one of the boys was not working. He had
fallen out of line, and was standing by, breathing heavily, his
face shining with sweat. She glanced down at her watch. One
minute passed, then two. But still he stood, his arms folded,
motionless. She waited till the hand of the watch had passed
the third minute, in growing indignation that he should have
the temerity to remain idle when he should know by now her
rule that no one should exceed the allowed one-minute pause.
Then she said, ‘ Get back to work.’ He looked at her with the
expression common to African labourers: a blank look, as if
he hardly saw her, as if there was an obsequious surface with
which he faced her and her kind, covering an invulnerable
and secret hinterland. In a leisurely way he unfolded his arms
and turned away. He was going to fetch himself some water
from the petrol tin that stood under a bush for coolness,
nearby. She said again, sharply, her voice rising: ‘I said, get
back to work.’

At this he stopped still, looked at her squarely, and said in his
own dialect which she did not understand, T want to drink.’

124

 

‘Don’t talk that gibberish to me/ she snapped. She looked
around for the bossboy who was not in sight.

The man said, in a halting ludicrous manner, ‘I … want …
water.’ He spoke in English, and suddenly smiled and opened
his mouth and pointed his finger down his throat. She could
hear the other natives laughing a little from where they stood
on the mealie-dump. Their laughter, which was good-
humoured, drove her suddenly mad with anger: she thought
it was aimed at her, whereas these men were only taking the
opportunity to laugh at something, anything at all, in the
middle of their work; one of themselves speaking bad English
and sticking his finger down his throat was as good a thing to
laugh at as any other.

But most white people think it is ‘check’ if a native speaks
English. She said, breathless with anger, ‘Don’t speak English
to me,’ and then stopped. This man was shrugging and smiling
and turning his eyes up to heaven as if protesting that she had
forbidden liim to speak his own language, and then hers – so
what was he to speak? That lazy insolence stung her into an
inarticulate rage. She opened her mouth to storm at him, but
remained speecliless. And she saw in his eyes that sullen resent-
ment, and – what put the finisliing touch to it – amused con-
tempt. Involuntarily she lifted her whip and brought it down
across his face in a vicious swinging blow. She did not know
what she was doing. She stood cpite still, trembling; and
when she saw him put his hand dazedly to his face, she looked
down at the whip she held in stupefaction, as if the whip had
swung out of its own accord, without her willing it. A thick
weal pushed up along the dark skin of the cheek as she looked,
and from it a drop of bright blood gathered and trickled down
and off his chin, and splashed to his chest. He was a great hulk
of a man, taller than any of the others, magnificently built,
with nothing on but an old sack tied round his waist. As she
stood there, frightened, he seemed to tower over her. On his
big chest another red drop fell and trickled down to his waist.
Then she saw him make a sudden movement, and recoiled,

125

 

terrified; she thought he was going to attack her. But he only
wiped the blood off his face with a big hand that shook a little.
She knew that all the natives were standing behind her stock-
still, watching the scene. In a voice that sounded harsh from
breathlessness, she said, ‘Now get back to work.’ For a mo-
ment the man looked at her with an expression that turned her
stomach liquid with fear. Then, slowly, he turned away,
picked up a sack, and rejoin “td the conveyor-belt of natives.
They all began work again qi ite silently. She was trembling
with fright, at her own action, a.’^d because of the look she had
seen in the man’s eyes. .

She thought : will he complam to the police that I struck him?
This did not frighten her, it made her angry. The biggest
grievance of the white farmer is that he is not allowed to strike
liis natives, and that if he does, they may – but seldom do –
complain to the police. It made her furious to think that this
black animal had the right to complain against her, against the
behaviour of a white woman. But it is significant that she was
not afraid for herself. If this native had gone to the police
station, she might have been cautioned, since it was her first
offence, by a policeman who was a European, and who came
on frequent tours of the district, when he made friends with
the farmers, eating with them, staying the night with them,
joining their social life. But he, being a contracted native,
would have been sent back to this farm; and Dick was hardly
likely to make life easy for a native who had complained of
his wife. She had behind her the police, the courts,, the jails;
he, no tiling but patience. Yet she was maddened by the
thought that he had even the right to appeal ; her greatest anger
was directed against the sentimentalists and theoreticians,
whom she thought of as ‘They’ – the law-makers and the
Civil Service – who interfered with the natural right of a white
farmer to treat his labour as he pleased.

But mingled with her anger was that sensation of victory, a
satisfaction that she had won in this battle of wills. She watched
him stagger up with the sacks, his great shoulders bowed

126

 

under his load, taking a bitter pleasure in seeing liim subdued
thus. And nevertheless her knees were still weak: she could
have sworn that he nearly attacked her in that awful moment
after she struck him. But she stood there unmoving, locking
her conflicting feelings tight in her chest, keeping her face com-
posed and severe; and that afternoon she returned again, deter-
mined not to shrink at the last moment, though she dreaded
the long hours of facing the silent hostility and dislike.

When night came at last, and the air declined swiftly into
the sharp cold of a July night, and the natives moved off, pick-
ing up old tins they had brought to drink from, or a ragged
coat, or the corpse of some rat or veld creature they had
caught while working and would cook for their evening meal,
and she knew her task was finished, because tomorrow Dick
would be here, she felt as if she had won a battle. It was a vic-
tory over these natives, over herself and her repugnance of
them, over Dick and his slow, foolish shiftlessness. She had got
far more work out of these savages than he ever had. Why, he
did not even know how to handle natives !

But that night, facing again the empty days that would fol-
low, she felt tired and used-up. And the argument with Dick,
that she had been planning for days, and that had seemed such
a simple thing when she was down on the lands, away from
him, considering the farm and what should be done with it
without him, leaving him out of account, seemed now a
weary heartbreaking task. For he was preparing to take up the
reins again as if her sovereignty had been nothing, nothing at
all. He was absorbed and preoccupied again, that evening, and
not discussing his problems with her. And she felt aggrieved
and insulted; for she did not care to remember that for years
she had refused all his pleas for her help and that he was acting
as she had trained him to act. She saw, that evening, as the old
fatigue came over her and weighted her limbs, that Dick’s
well-meaning blunderings would be the tool with wliich she
would have to work. She would have to sit like a queen bee
in this house and force him to do what she wanted.

127

 

The next few days she bided her time, watching his face for
the returning colour and the deepening siinbum that had been
washed out by the sweats of fever. When he seemed fully him-
self again, strong, and no longer petulant and irritable, she
broached the subject of the farm.

They sat one evening under the dull lamplight, and she
sketched for him, in her quick emphatic way, exactly how the
farm was running, and what money he could expect in return,
even if there were no failures and bad seasons. She demon-
strated to him, imanswerably, th:’t they could never expect to
get out of the slough they were in, if they continued as they
were; a hundred pounds more, fifty pounds less, according to
the variations of weather and the prices, would be all the
difference they could anticipate.

As she spoke her voice became harsh, insistent, angry. Since
he did not speak, but only listened uneasily, she got out his
books and supported her contentions with figures. From time
to time he nodded, watching her finger moving up and down
the long columns, pausing as she emphasized a point, or did
rapid calculations. As she went on he said to himself that he
ought not to be surprised, for he knew her capacity; had it not
been for this reason that he had asked for her help?

For instance, she ran chickens on quite a big scale now, and
made a few pounds every month from eggs and table birds;
but all the work in connexion with this seemed to be finished
in a couple of hours. That regular monthly income had made
all the difference to them. Nearly all day, he knew, she had
nothing to do; yet other women who ran poultry on such a
scale found it heavy work. Now she was analysing the farm,
and the organization of crops, in a way that made him feel
humble, but also provoked him to defend himself. For the
moment, however, he remained silent, feeling admiration, re-
sentment, and self-pity ; the admiration temporarily gaining the
upper hand. She was making mistakes over details, but on the
whole she was quite right: every cruel thing she said was true!
While she talked, pusliing the roughened hair out of her eyes

t ^.8

 

with her habitual impatient gesture, he felt hurt too ; he recog-
nized the justice of her remarks, he was prevented from de-
fensiveness because of the impartiality of her voice; but at the
same time the impartiality stung him and wounded him. She
was looking at the farm from outside, as a machine for making
money: that was how she regarded it. She was critical entirely
from this angle. But she left so much out of account. She
gave him no credit for the way he looked after his soil, for
that hundred acres of trees. And he could not look at the
farm as she did. He loved it and was part of it. He liked the
slow movement of the seasons, and the complicated rhythm
of the ‘little crops’ that she kept describing with contempt as
useless.

When she had finished, his conflicting emotions kept him
silent, searcliing for words. And at last he said, with that little
defeated smile of his: ‘Well, and what shall we do?’ She saw
that smile and hardened her heart: it was for the good of them
both; and she had won! He had accepted her criticisms. She
began explaining, in detail, exactly what it was they should
do. She proposed they grew tobacco: people all about them
were growing it and making money. Why shouldn’t they?
And in everything she said, every inflection of her voice, was
one implication: that they should grow tobacco, make enough
money to pay their debts, and leave the farm as soon as they
could.

His realization, at last, of what she was plamiing, stunned his
responses. He said bleakly: ‘And when we have made all that
money, what shall we do?’

For the first time she looked unconfident, glanced down at
the table, could not meet his eyes. She had not really thought
of it. She only knew that she wanted him to be a success and
make money, so that they would have the power to do what
they wanted, to leave the farm, to live a civilized life again.
The stinting poverty in which they lived was unbearable; it
was destroying them. It did not mean there was not enough to
eat: it meant that every penny must be watched, new clothes

129

 

forgone, amusements abandoned, holidays kept in the never-
never-land of the future. A poverty that allows a tiny margin
for spending, but which is shadowed always by a weight of
debt that nags like a conscience is worse than starvation itself.
That was how she had come to feel. And it was bitter because
it was a self-imposed poverty. Other people would not have
understood Dick’s proud self-sufficiency. There were plenty of
farmers in the district, in fact all over the country, who were
as poor as they, but who lived as they pleased, piling up debts,
hoping for some windfall in ;he future to rescue them. (And,
in parenthesis, it must be admitted that their cheerful shiftless-
ncss was proved to be right: when the war came and the boom
in tobacco, they made fortunes from one year to the next –
which occurrence made the Dick Turners appear even more
ridiculous than ever.) And if the Turners had decided to aban-
don their pride, to take an expensive holiday, and to buy a
new car, their creditors, used to these farmers, would have
agreed. But Dick would not do this. Although Mary hated
him for it, considering he was a fool, it was the only thing in
him she still respected: he might be a failure and a weakling,
but over this, the last citadel of his pride, he was immovable.

Which was why she did not plead with him to relax his
conscience and do as other people did. Even then fortunes
were being made out of tobacco. It seemed so easy. Even now,
looking across the table at Dick’s weary, unhappy face, it
seemed so easy. All he had to do was to make up his mind to
it. And then? That was what he was asking – what was their
future to be?

When she thought of that hazy, beautiful time in the future,
when they could live as they pleased, she always imagined her-
self back in town, as she had been, with the friends she had
known then, living in the club for young women. Dick did
not fit into the picture. So when he repeated his question, after
her long evasive silence, during which she refused to look into
his eyes, she was silenced by their inexorably different needs.
She shook the hair again from her eyes, as if brushing away

130

 

something she did not want to think about, and said, begging
the question, ‘Well, we can’t go on like this, can we?’

And now there was another silence. She tapped on the table
with the pencil, twirling it around between finger and thumb,
making a regular irritating noise that caused him to tauten his
muscles against it.

So now it was up to him. She had handed the whole thing
over to him again and left him to do as he could – but she
would not say towards what goal she wanted him to work.
And he began to feel bitter and angry against her. Of course
they could not go on like this: had he ever said they should?
Was he not working like a nigger to free them? But then, he
had got out of the habit of living in the future; this aspect of
her worried him. He had trained himself to tliink ahead to the
next season. The next season was always the boundary of his
planning. Yet she had soared beyond all that and was thinking
of other people, a different life – and without him: he knew it,
though she did not say so. And it made him feel panicky, be-
cause it was so long now since he had been with other people
that he did not need them. He enjoyed an occasional grumble
with Charlie Slatter, but if he was denied that outlet, then it
did not matter. And it was only when he was with other
people that he felt useless, and a failure. He had lived for so
many years with the working natives, planning a year ahead,
that his horizons had narrowed to fit his life, and he could not
imagine anything else. He certainly could not think of himself
anywhere but on this farm : he knew every tree on it. This is
no figure of speech: he knew the veld he lived from as the
natives know it. His was not the sentimental love of the towns-
man. His senses had been sharpened to the noise of the wind, the
song of the birds, the feel of the soil, changes in weather – but
they had been dulled to everything else. Off tliis farm he would
wither and die. He wanted to make good so that they could
continue living on the farm, but in comfort, and so that Mary
could have the things she craved. Above all, so that they could
have children. Children, for him, were an insistent need. Even

131

 

now, he had not given up hope that one day . . . etc. And he
had never understood that she visualized a future off the farm,
and with his concurrence! It made him feel lost and blank,
without support for his life. He looked at her almost with
horror, as an alien creature who had no right to be with him,
dictating what he should do.

But he could not afford to think of her like that: he had
realized, when she ran away, what her presence in liis house
meant to him. No; she must iearn to understand his need for
the farm, and when he had u ade good, they would have
children. She must learn that hi:> feeling of defeat was not
really caused by his failure as a farmer at all: his failure was
her hostility towards him as a man, their being together as
they were. And when they could have children even this
would be healed, and they would be happy. So he dreamed,
his head on his hands, listening to that tap-tap-tap of the
pencil.

But in spite of this comfortable conclusion to his medita-
tion, his sense of defeat was overwhelming. He hated the
thought of tobacco; he always had, it seemed to him an in-
human crop. His farm would have to be run in a different
way; it would mean standing for hours inside buildings in
steamy temperatures; it would mean getting up at nights to
watch thermometers.

So he fiddled with liis papers on the table, pressed his head
into his hands, and rebelled miserably against liis fate. But it
was no good, with Mary sitting opposite him, forcing him to
do as she willed. At last he looked up, smiled a twisted un-
happy smile, and said, ‘ Well, boss, can I think it over for a few
days?’ But his voice was strained with humiliation. And when
she said irritably, ‘I do wish you wouldn’t call me boss!’ he
did not answer, though the silence between them said elo-
quently what they were afraid to say. She broke it at last by
rising briskly from the table, sweeping away the books, and
saying, ‘I am going to bed.’ And left him there, sitting with
his thoughts.

1^2

 

Three days later he said quietly, his eyes averted, that he was
arranging with native builders to put up two barns.

When he looked at her at last, forcing himself to face her
uncontrollable triumph, he saw her eyes bright with new hope,
and thought with disquiet what it would mean to her if he
failed this time.

 

CHAPTER 8

Once she liad exerted her will to influence him, she with-
drew, and left him alone. Several times he made an attempt to
draw her into his work by asking advice, suggesting she
should help him with someth ng that was troubling liim, but
she refused these invitations as he had always done, for diree
reasons. The first was calculated: if she were always with him,
always demonstrating her superior ability, his defensiveness
would be provoked and he would refuse, in the end, to do
anything she wanted. The other two were instinctive. She still
disliked the farm and its problems and shrank from becoming,
as he had, resigned to its little routine. And the third reason,
though she was not aware of it, was the strongest. She needed
to think of Dick, the man to whom she was irrevocably mar-
ried, as a person on his own account, a success from his own
efforts. When she saw him weak and goalless, and pitiful, she
hated him, and the hate turned in on herself. She needed a
man stronger than herself, and she was trying to create one out
of Dick. If he had genuinely, simply, because of the greater
strength of his purpose, taken the ascendancy over her, she
would h.ave loved him, and no longer hated herself for becom-
ing tied to a failure. And this was what she was waiting for,
and what prevented her, though she itched to do it, from
simply ordering him to do the obvious things. Really, her
withdrawal from the farm was to save what she thought was
the weakest point of his pride, not realizing that she was his
• failure. And perhaps she was right, instinctively right: ma-
terial success she would have respected, and given herself to
She was right, for the wrong reasons. She would have been
right if Dick had been a different kind of man. When she
noticed that he was again behaving foolishly, spending money
on minecessary things, skimping expense on essentials, she re-

134

 

fused to let herself think about it. She could not: it meant too
much, this time. And Dick, rebuffed and let down because of
her withdrawal, ceased to appeal to her. He stubbornly went
liis own way, feeling as if she had encouraged him to swim in
deep waters beyond his strength, and then left him to his own
devices.

She retired to the house, to the chickens, and that ceaseless
struggle with her servants. Both of them knew they were
facing a challenge. And she waited. For the first years she had
been waiting arid longing in the belief, except for short des-
pairing intervals, that somehow things would change. Some-
thing miraculous would happen and they would win through.
Then she had run away, unable to bear it, and, returning, had
realized there would be no miraculous deliverance. Now,
again, there was hope. But she would do nothing but wait
until Dick had set things going. During those months slie lived
like a person with a certain period to endure in a country she
disliked: not making definite plans, but taking it for granted
that once transplanted to a new place, things would settle
themselves. She still did not plan what would happen when
Dick made this money, but she day-dreamed continually
about herself working in an office, as the efficient and indis-
pensable secretary, herself in the club, the popular elder con-
fidante, herself welcomed in a score of friendly houses, or
‘taken out’ by men who treated her with that comradely
affection that was so simple and free from danger.

Time passes quickly, rushing upwards, as it does in those
periods when the various crises that develop and ripen in each
life show like hills at the end of a journey, setting a boundary
to an era. As there is no limit to the amount of sleep to which
the human body can be made to accustom itself, she slept hours
every day, so as to hasten time, so as to swallow great gulps of
it, waking always with the satisfactory knowledge that she was
another few hours nearer deliverance. Indeed, she was hardly
awake at all, moving abouc what she did in a dream of hope, a
hope that grew so strong as the weeks passed that she would

1.35

 

wake in the morning with a sensation of release and excitement,
as if something wonderful was going to happen that very day.

She watched the progress of the block of tobacco bams that
were being built in the vlei below as she might have watched a
ship constructed that would carry her from exile. Slowly they
took shape; first an imeven outline of brick, like a ruin; then a
divided rectangle, like hollow boxes pushed together; and
then the roof went on, a new shiny tin that glinted in the sun-
light and over which the heat weaves swam and shimmered like
glycerine. Over the ridge, out oi sight, near the empty potholes
of the vlei, the seedbeds were being prepared for when the
rains would come and transform the eroded valley-bottom
into a miming stream. The months went past, until October.
And though this was the time of the year she dreaded, when
the heat was like an enemy, she endured it quite easily, sus-
tained by hope. She said to Dick that the heat wasn’t so bad
this year, and he replied that it had never been worse, glancing
at her as he spoke with concern, even distrust. He could never
understand her fluctuating dependence on the weather, an
emotional attitude towards it that was alien to him. Since he
submitted himself to heat and cold and dryness, they were no
problems to him. He was their creature, and did not fight
against them as she did.

And this year she felt the growing tension in the smoke-
dimmed air with excitement, waiting for the rains to fall
which would start the tobacco springing in the fields. She used
to ask Dick, with an apparent casualness that did not deceive
him, about other farmers’ crops, listening with bright-eye<^
anticipation to his laconic accounts of how this one had made
ten thousand pounds in a good season, and that one cleared off
all his debts. And when he pointed but, refusing to respect her
pretence at disinterestedness, that he had only two barns built,
instead of the fifteen or twenty of a big farmer, and that he
could not expect to make thousands, even if the season were
good, she brushed this warning aside. It was necessary for her
to dream of immediate success.

136

 

The rains came – unusually enough – exactly as they should,
and settled comfortably into a soaking December. The
tobacco looked healthy and green and fraught – for Mary –
with promise of future plenty. She used to walk round the
fields with Dick just for the pleasure of looking at its sturdy
abimdance, and thinking of those flat green leaves transformed
into a cheque of several figures.

And then the drought began. At first Dick did not worry:
tobacco can stand periods of dryness once the plants have
settled into the soil. But day after day the great clouds banked
up, and day after day the ground grew hotter and hotter. It
was past Christmas, then well into January. Dick became
morose and irritable with the strain, Mary curiously silent.
Then, one afternoon, there was a slight shower that fell, per-
versely, on only one of the two pieces of land which held the
tobacco. Again the drought began, and the weeks passed with-
out a sign of rain. At last the clouds formed, piled up, dissolved.
Mary and Dick stood on their veranda and saw the heavy veils
pass along the hills. Thin curtains of rain advanced and re-
treated over the veld ; but on their farm it did not fall, not for
several days after other farmers had announced the partial
salvation of their crops. One afternoon there was a warm
drizzle, fat gleaming drops falling through sunlight where a
brilliant rainbow arched. But it was not enough to damp the
parched ground. The withered leaves of the tobacco hardly
lifted. Then followed days of bright sun.

‘Well,’ said Dick, his face screwed up in chagrin, ‘it is too
lajte in any case.’ But he was hoping that the field which had
caught the first shower, might survive. By the time the rain
fell as it should, most of the tobacco was ruined: there would
be a little. A few mealies had come through: this year they
would not cover expenses. Dick explained all this to Mary
quietly, with an expression of suffering. But at the same time
she saw relief written in his face. It was because he had failed
through no fault of his own. It was sheer bad luck that could
have happened to anyone : she could not blame liim for it.

137

 

They discussed the situation one evening. He said he had
applied for a fresh loan to save them from bankruptcy, and
that next year he would not rely on tobacco. He would prefer
to plant none; he would put in a little if she insisted. If they
had another failure like this year, it would mean bankruptcy
for certain.

In a last attempt Mary pleaded for another year’s trial; they
could not have two bad seasons running. Even to him, ‘Jonah’
(she made herself use this name for him, with an effort at sym-
pathetic laughter), it would i e impossible to send two bad
seasons, one after another. And vhy not, in any case, get into
debt properly? Compared with some others, who owed thou-
sands, they were not in debt at all. If they were going to fail,
let them fail with a crash, in a real attempt to make good. Let
them build another twelve barns, plant out all the lands they
had with tobacco, risk everything on one last try. Why
not? Why should he have a conscience when no one else

did?

But she saw the expression on his face she had seen before,
when she had pleaded they might go for a holiday to restore
themselves to real health. It was a look of bleak fear that chilled
her. ‘I’m not getting a penny more into debt than I can help,’
he said finally. ‘Not for anyone.’ And he was obdurate; she
could not move him.

And next year, what then?

If it was a good year, he said, and all the crops did well, and
there was no drop in prices, and the tobacco was a success,
they would recover what they had lost that year. Perhaps it
would mean a bit more than that. Who knew? His luck might
turn. But he was not going to risk everything on one crop
again until he was out of debt. Why, he said, his face grey, if
they went bankrupt the farm would be lost to them ! She re-
plied, though she knew it was what wounded him most, that
she would be glad if that did happen: then they would be
forced to do something vigorous to support themselves; and
that the real reason for his complacency was that he knew,

138

 

always, that even if they did reach the verge of bankruptcy,
they could live on what they grew and their own slaughtered
cattle.

The crises of individuals, like the crises of nations, are not
realized luitil they are over. When Mary heard that terrible
‘next year’ of the struggling farmer, she felt sick; but it was
not for some days that the buoyant hope she had been Uving
on died, and she felt what was ahead. Time, through wliich
she had been living halC-consciously, her mind on the future,
suddeiJy lengthened out in front of her. ‘Next year’ might
mean anything. It might mean another failure. It would cer-
tainly mean no more than a partial recovery. The miraculous
reprieve was not going to be granted. Nothing would change:
nothing ever did.

Dick was surprised she showed so few signs of disappoint-
ment. He had been bracing himself to face storms of rage and
tears. With the habit of long years, he easily adapted himself to
the thought of ‘next year’, and began planning accordingly.
Since there were no immediate indications of despair from
Mary, he ceased looking for them: apparently the blow had
not been as hard as he had thought it would be.

But the effects of mortal shocks only manifest themselves
slowly. It was some time before she no longer felt strong
waves of anticipation and hopefulness that seemed to rise from
the depths of herself, out of a region of her mind that had not
yet heard the news about the tobacco failure. It took a long
time before her whole organism was adjusted to what she
knew was the truth: that it would be years, if ever, before they
got off the farm.

Then followed a time of dull misery: not the sharp bouts of
unhappiness that were what had attacked her earlier. Now she
felt as if she were going soft inside at the core, as if a soft rot-
tenness was attacking her bones.

For even day-dreams need an clement of hope to give satis-
faction to the dreamer. She would stop herself in the middle of
one of her habitual fantasies .about the old days, which she

139

 

projected into her future, saying dully to herself that there
would be no future. There was nothing. Nil. Emptiness.

Five years earlier she would have drugged herself by the
reading of romantic novels. In towns women like her live
vicariously in the lives of the film stars. Or they take up reli-
gion, preferably one of the more sensuous Eastern religions.
Better educated, living in the town with access to books, she
would have found Tagore perhaps, and gone into a sweet
dream of words.

Instead, she thought vaguely that she must get herself some-
thing to do. Should she increase the number of her chickens?
Should she take in sewing? But she felt numbed and tired,
without interest. She thought that when the next cold season
came, and stung her into life again, she would do something.
She postponed it: the farm was having the same effect on her
that it had had on Dick ; she was drinking in terms of the next
season.

Dick, working harder than ever on the farm, realized at last
that she was looking worn, with a curious puffy look about
her eyes, and patches of red on her cheeks. She looked really
very unhealthy. He asked her if she were feeling ill. She re-
plied, as if only just becoming aware of it, that she was. She
was suffering from bad headaches, a lassitude that might mean
she was ill. She seemed to be pleased, he noted, to think that
illness could be the cause.

He suggested, since he could not afford to send her for a
holiday, that she might go into town and stay with some of
her friends. She appeared horrified. The thought of meeting
people, and most particularly those people who had known
her when she was young and happy, made her feel as if she
were raw all over, her nerves exposed on a shrinking surface.

Dick went. back to work, shrugging his shoulders at her
obstinacy, hoping that her illness would pass.

Mary was spending her days moving restlessly about the
house, finding it difficult to sit still. She slept badly at nights.
Food did not nauseate her, but it seemed too much trouble to

TAO

 

cat. And all the time it was as if there were thick cottonwool
in her head, and a soft dull pressure on it frojn outside. She did
her work mechanically, attending to her chickens and the
store, keeping things running out of habit. During this time
she hardly ever indulged in her old fits of temper against her
servant. It was as if, in the past, these sudden storms of rage
had been an outlet for an unused force, and that, as the force
died, they becanie unnecessary to her. But she still nagged:
that had become a habit, and she could not speak to a native
without irritation in her voice.

After a while, even her restlessness passed. She would sit for
hours at a time on the shabby old sofa with the faded chintz
curtains flapping above her head, as if she were in a stupor. It
seemed that something had finally snapped inside of her, and
she would gradually fade and sink into darkness.

But Dick diought she was better.

Until one day she came to him with a new look on her face,
a desperate, driven look, that he had never seen before, and
asked if they might have a child. He was glad: it was the
greatest happiness he had ever known from her, because she
asked it, of her own accord, turning to him – so he thought.
He thought she was turning to him at last, and expressing it
this way. He was so glad, filled with a sharp delight, that for a
moment he nearly agreed. It was what he wanted most. He
still dreamed that one day, ‘when things were better’, they
could have children. And then his face became dull and
troubled, and he said, ‘Mary, how can we have children?’

‘ Other people have them, when they are poor.’

‘But, Mary, you don’t know how poor we are.’

‘Of course I know. But I can’t go on like this. I must have
something. I haven’t anything to do.’

He saw she was desiring a child for her own sake, and that
he still meant nothing to her, not in any real way. And he re-
plied obdurately that she had only to look around her to see
what happened to children brought up as theirs would be
brought up.

141

 

‘where?’ she asked vaguely, actually looking around the
room as if these unfortunate children were visible there, in
their house.

He remembered how isolated she was, how she had never
become part of the life of the district. But this irritated him
again. It had been years before she stirred herself to find out
about the farm; after all this time she still did not know how
people lived all around them – she hardly knew the names of
their neighbours. ‘Have you Lever seen Charlie’s Dutchman?’

‘What Dutchman?’

‘His assistant. Thirteen chilaren! On twelve pounds a
month. Slatter is hard as nails with him. Thirteen children!
They run round like puppies, in rags, and they live on pump-
kin and mealiemeal like kaffirs. They don’t go to school . . .’

‘Just one cliild?’ persisted Mary, her voice weak and plain-
tive. It was a wail. She felt she needed one child to save her
from herself. It had taken weeks of slow despair to bring her to
this point. She hated the idea of a baby, when she thought of
its helplessness, its dependence, the mess, the worry. But it
would give her something to do. It was extraordinary to her
that things had come to this; that it was she pleading with
Dick to have a child, when she knew he longed for them, and
she disliked them. But after thinking about a baby through
those weeks of despair, she had come to cling to the idea. It
wouldn’t be so bad. It would be company. She thought of her-
self, as a child, and her mother; she began to understand how
her mother had clung to her, using her as a safety-valve. She
identified herself with her mother, clinging to her most pas-
sionately and pityingly after all these years, understanding
now something of what she had really felt and suffered. She
saw herself, that baielcggcd, bareheaded, silent cliild, wander-
ii}g in and out of the chicken-coop house – close to her
mother, wrung simultaneously by love and pity for her, and
by hatred for her father; and she imagined her own child, a
small daughter, comforting her as she had comforted her
mother. She did not think of this cliild as a small baby; that

142

 

was a stage she would have to get through as quickly as pos-
sible. No, she wanted a little girl as a companion; and refused
to consider that the child, after all, might be a boy.

But Dick said: ‘And what about school?’

‘What about it?’ said Mary angrily.

‘How are we going to pay school fees?’

‘There aren’t any school fees. My parents didn’t pay fees.’

‘There are boarding fees, books, train fares, clothes. Is the
money going to come out of the sky?’

‘We can apply for a Government grant.’

‘No,’ said Dick, sharply, wincing. ‘Not on your life! I’ve
had enough of going hat in hand into fat men’s offices, asking
for money, while they sit on their fat arses and look down
their noses. Charity! I won’t do it. I won’t have a child grow-
ing up knowing I can’t do anything for it. Not in this house.
Not living this way.’

‘It’s all right for me to live this way, I suppose,’ said Mary
grimly.

‘You should have thought of that before you married me,’
said Dick, and she blazed into fury because of liis callous in-
justice. Or rather, she almost blazed into anger. Her face went
beef-red, her eyes snapped – and then she subsided again, fold-
ing trembling hands over each other, shutting her eyes. The
anger vanished : she was feeling too tired for real temper. ‘ I am
getting on for forty,’ she said wearily. ‘Can’t you sec that very
soon I won’t be able to have a child at all? Not if I go on like
this.’

‘Not now,’ he said inexorably. And that was theiast time a
child was ever mentioned. She knew as well as he did that it
was folly, really, Dick being what he was, using his pride over
borrowing as a last ditch for his self-respect.

Later, when he saw she had lapsed back into that terriye
apathy, he appealed again: ‘Mary, please come to the farm
with me. Why not? We could do it together.’

‘I hate your farm,’ she said in a stiff, remote voice. ‘I hate it,
I want nothing to do with it.’

143

 

But she did make the effort, in spite of her indifference. It
was all the same to her what she did. For a few weeks she ac-
companied Dick everywhere he went, and tried to sustain him
with her presence. And it filled her with despair more than
ever. It was hopeless, hopeless. She could see so clearly what
was wrong with him, and with the farm, and could do noth-
ing to help him. He was so obstinate. He asked her for advice,
looked boyishly pleased when she picked up a cushion and
trailed after him off to the hncs; yet, when she made sugges-
tions his face shut into dark obsti lacy, and he began defending
himself.

Those weeks were terrible for Mary. That short time, she
looked at everything straight, without illusions, seeing herself
and Dick and their relationship to each other and to the farm,
and their future, without a shadov/ of false hope, as honest and
stark as the truth itself. And she knew she could not bear this
sad clearsightedness for long; tliat, too, was part of the truth.
In a mood of bitter but dreamy clairvoyance she followed
Dick around, and at last told herself she should give up making
suggestions and trying to prod him into commonsense. It was
useless.

She took to thinking with a dispassionate tenderness about
Dick himself It was a pleasure to her to put away bitterness
and hate against liiin, and to hold him in her mind as a mother
might, protectively, considering his weaknesses and their
origins, for which he was not responsible. She used to take her
cushion to the corner of the bush, in the shade, and sit on the
ground with her skirts well tucked up, wa telling for ticks to
crawl out of the grass, thinking about Dick. She saw him
standing in the middle of the big red land, balanced among the
huge clods, a spare, fly-away figure with his big flopping hat
and loose clothing, and wondered how people came to be
bom without that streak of determination, that bit of iron,
that clamped the personality together. Dick was so nice – so
nice! she said to herself wearily. He was so decent; there wasn’t
an ugly tiling in him. And she knew, only too well, when she

144

 

made herself face it (which she was able to do, in this mood of
dispassionate pity) what long humihation he had suffered on
her account, as a man. Yet he had never tried to humiliate her :
he lost his temper, yes, but he did not try to get his own back.
He was so nice! But he was all to pieces. He lacked that thing
in the centre that should hold him together. And had he al-
ways been like that? Really, she didn’t know. She knew so
little about him. His parents were dead; he was an only child.
He had been brought up somewhere in the suburbs of
Johannesburg, and she guessed, though he had not said so,
that his childhood had been less squalid than hers, though
pinched and narrow. He had said angrily that his mother had
had a hard time of it; and the remark made her feel kin to him,
for he loved his mother and had resented his father. And when
he grew up he had tried a number of jobs. He had been clerk
in the post office, something on the railways, had finally in-
spected water-meters for the municipality. Then he had de-
cided to become a vet. He had studied for three months, dis-
covered he could not afford it; and, on an impulse, had come
to Southern Rhodesia to be a farmer, and to ‘live his own life’.

So here he was, tliis hopeless, decent man, standing on his
‘own’ soil, which belonged to the last grain of sand to the
Government, watching his natives work, while she sat in the
shade and looked at him, knowing perfectly well that he was
doomed; he had never had a chance. But even then it seemed
impossible to her, that such a good man should be a failure.
And she would get up from the cushion, and walk across to
him, determined to have one more try.

‘Look, Dick,’ she said one day, timidly, but firmly, ‘look, I
have an idea. Next year, why not try to stump another hun-
dred acres or so, and get a really big crop in, all mealies. Plant
mealies on every acre you have, instead of all these little
crops.’

‘And what if it is a bad season for mealies?’

She shrugged: ‘You don’t seem to be getting very far as you
are.’

145

 

And then his eyes reddened, and his face set, and the two
deep lines scored from cheekbones to chin deepened.

‘What more can I do than I am doing?’ he shouted at her.
‘And how can I stump a hundred acres more? The way you
talk! Where am I to get the labour from? I haven’t enough
labour to do what I have got to do now. I can’t afford to buy
niggers at five pounds a head any longer. I have to rely on
voluntary labour. And it just isn’t coming any more. It’s partly
your fault. You lost me twenty of my best boys, and they’ll
never come back. They arc out somewhere else giving my
farm a bad name, at this moment, because of your damned
temper. They are just not coming to me now as they used.
No, they all go into the towns where they loaf about doing
nothing.*

And then, this familiar grievance carried him away, and he
began to storm against the Government, which was under the
influence of the nigger-lovers from England, and would not
force the natives to work on the land, would not simply send
out lorries and soldiers and bring them to the farmers by force.
The Government never understood the difficulties of farmers !
Never! And he stormed against the natives themselves, who
refused to work properly, who were insolent – and so on. He
talked on and on, in a hot, angry, bitter voice, the voice of the
white farmer, who seems to be contending, in the Govern-
ment, with a force as immovable as the skies and seasons them-
selves. But, in tliis storm of resentment, he forgot about the
plans for next year. He returned to the house preoccupied and
bitter, and snapped at the houseboy, who temporarily repre-
sented the genus native, which tormented him beyond all
endurance.

Mary was worried by him at this time, so far as she could be
worried in her numbed state. He would return with her at
sundown tired and irritable, to sit in a chair smoking endlessly.
By now he was a chain-smoker, though he smoked native
cigarettes which were cheaper, but which gave him a per-
petual cough and stained his fingers yellow to the middle

146

 

joints. And he would fidget and jig about in the chair, as if his
nerves simply would not relax. And then, at last, his body
slackened and he lay limp, waiting for supper to come in, so
that he could go to bed at last and sleep.

But the houseboy would enter and say there were farm boys
waiting to see him, for permission to go visiting, or something
of that kind, and Mary would see that tense look return to
Dick’s face, and the explosive restlessness of his limbs. It
seemed that he could not bear natives any more. And he would
shout at the houseboy to get out and leave him alone and tell
the farm natives to get to hell back to the compound. But in
half an hour the servant would return, saying patiently, brac-
ing himself against Dick’s irritation, that the boys were still
waiting. And Dick would stub out the cigarette, immediately
light another, and go outside, shouting at the top of his voice.

Mary used to listen, her own nerves tense. Although this
exasperation was so familiar to her, it annoyed her to see it in
him. It irritated her extremely, and she would be sarcastic
when he came back, and said, ‘You can have your troubles
with the natives, but I am not allowed to.’

‘I tell you,’ he would say, glaring at her from hot, tor-
mented eyes, ‘I can’t stand them much longer.’ And he would
subside, shaking all over, into his chair.

But in spite of this perpetual angry undercurrent of hate, she
was disconcerted when she saw him talking, to his bossboy
perhaps, on the lands. Why, he seemed to be growing into a
native himself, she thought uneasily. He would blow his nose
on his fingers into a bush, the way they did; he seemed, stand-
ing beside them, to be one of them; even his colour was not so
different, for he was burned a rich brown, and he seemed to
hold himself the same way. And when he laughed with them,
cracking some joke to keep them good-humoured, he seemed
to have gone beyond her reach into a crude horse-humour that
shocked her. And what was to be the end of it, she wondered?
And then an immense fatigue would grip her, and she thought
dimly; ‘What does it matter, after all?’

147

 

At last she said to him that she saw no point spending all her
time sitting under a tree with ticks crawling up her legs, in
order to watch him. Especially when he took no notice of her.

‘But, Mary, I like you being there.’

‘Well, I’ve had enough of it.’

• And she lapsed into her former habits, ceasing to think
about the farm. The farm was the place from which Dick re-
turned to eat and sleep.

And now she gave way. All day she sat numbly on the sofa
with her eyes shut, feeling the heat beating in her brain. She
was thirsty: it was too much ‘^f an effort to get a glass of water
or to call the boy to fetch it foi her. She was sleepy; but to get
up from where she sat and climb on the bed was an exhausting
labour. She slept where she was. Her legs felt, as she walked,
that they were too heavy for her. To make a sentence was an
overwhelming effort. For weeks on end she spoke to no one
but Dick and the servant; and even Dick she saw for five
minutes in the morning and for half an hour at night, before
he dropped exhausted into bed.

The year moved through the cold bright months towards
the heat; and, as it advanced, the wind drove a rain of fine dust
through the house, so that surfaces were gritty to the touch;
and spiralling dust-devils rose in the lands below, leaving a
shining wreckage of grass and maize husks hanging itt the air
like motes. She thought of the heat ahead with dread, but not
able to summon up enough energy to fight it. She felt as if a
touch would send her off balance into nothingness; she
thought of a full complete darkness with longing. Her eyes
closed, she imagined that the skies were blank and cold, with-
out even stars to break their blackness.

It was at this time, when any influence would have directed
her into a new path, when her whole being was poised, ‘as it
were, waiting for something to propel her one way or the
other, that her servant, once again, gave notice. This time
there was no row over a broken dish or a badly-washed plate:
quite simply, he wanted to go home; and Mary was too in-

148

 

different to fight. He left, having brought in his place a native
whom Mary found so intolerable that she discharged him
after an hour’s work. She was left servantless for a while. Now
she did not attempt to do more than was essential. Floors were
left unswept, and they ate tinned food. And a new boy did not
present himself. Mary had earned such a bad name among
them as a mistress that it became increasingly difficult as time
went on to replace those who left.

Dick, unable to stand the dirt and bad food any longer, said
he would bring up one of the farm natives for training as a
houseboy. When the man presented himself at the door, Mary
recognized him as the one she had struck with the whip over
the face two years before. She saw the scar on his cheek, a thin,
darker weal across the black skin. She stood irresolute in the
doorway, while he waited outside, his eyes bent down. But
the thought of sending him back to the lands and waiting for
somebody else to be sent up; even this postponement tired
her. She told him to come in.

That morning, because of some inward prohibition she did
not try to explain, she could not work with him as was usually
her custom on these occasions. She left him alone in the
kitchen; and when Dick came up, said, ‘Isn’t there another
boy that will do?’

Dick, without looking at her, and eating as he always did
these days, in great gulps, as if there was no time, said: ‘He’s
the best I could find. Why?’ He sounded hostile.

She had never told him about the incident of the whip, for
fear of his anger. She said: ‘He doesn’t seem a very good type
to me.’ As she spoke; she saw that look of exasperation grow
on his face, and added hastily, ‘But he will do, I suppose.’

Dick said: ‘He is clean and willing. He’s one of the best
boys I have ever had. What more do you want?’ He spoke
brusquely, almost with brutality. Without speaking again he
went out. And so the native stayed.

She began on the usual routine of instruction, as cold-
voiced and methodical as always, but with a difference. She

149

 

was xinablc to treat this boy as she had treated all the others,
f6r always, at the back of her mind, was that moment of fear
she had known just after she had hit him and thought he would
attack her. She felt uneasy in his presence. Yet his demeanour
was the same as in all the others; there was nothing in his
attitude to suggest that he remembered the incident. He was
silent, dogged, and patient under her stream of explanations
and orders. His eyes he always kept lowered, as if afraid to
look at her. But she could :’ot forget it, even if he had; and
there was a subtle difference the way she spoke to him. She
was as impersonal as she knew how to be; so impersonal that
her voice was free for a while even of the usual undertone of
irritation.

She used to sit quite still, watching him work. The power-
ful, broad-built body fascinated her. She had given him white
shorts and shirts to wear in the house, that had been used by
her former servants. They were too small for him; as he swept
or scrubbed or bent to the stove, his muscles bulged and filled
out the thin material of the sleeves until it seemed they would
split. He appeared even taller and broader than he was, be-
cause of the littleness of the house.

He was a good worker, one of the best she had had. She
used to go round after him trying to find things that he had
left undone, but she seldom did. So, after a while, she became
used to him, and the memory of that whip slashing across his
face faded. She treated him as it was natural to her to treat
natives, and her voice grew sharp and irritated. But he did not
answer back, and accepted her often unjust rebukes without
even lifting his eyes off the ground. He might have made up
his mind to be as neutral as he knew how.

And so they proceeded, with everything apparently as it
should be, a good routine established, that left her free to do
nothing. But she was not quite as indifferent as she had been.

By ten in the morning, after he had brought her tea, he
would go off to the back behind the chicken-runs under a big
tree, carrying a tin of hot water; and from the house she some-

150

 

times caught a glimpse of him bending over it, sluicing him-
self, naked from the waist up. But she tried not to be around
when it was time for his bath. After this was over, he came
back to the kitchen and remained quite still, leaning against
the back wall in the sun, apparently thinking of nothing. He
might have been asleep. Not until it was time to prepare lunch
did he start work again. It annoyed her to think of him stand-
ing idly there, immobile and silent for hours, under the un-
shaded force of the sun which seemed not to affect him. There
was nothing she could do about it, though instead of sinking
into a dreary lethargy that was almost sleep, she would rack
her brains to think of work she could give him.

One morning she went out to the fowl-runs, wliich she
often forgot to do these days; and when she had finished a per-
functory inspection of the nesting-boxes, and her basket was
filled with eggs, she was arrested by the sight of the native
under the trees a few yards off. He was rubbing his thick neck
with soap, and the white lather was startlingly white against
the black skin. He had liis back to her. As she looked, he
turned, by some chance, or because he sensed her presence,
and saw her. She had forgotten it was his time to wash.

A white person may look at a native, who is no better than
a dog. Therefore she was annoyed when he stopped and stood
upright, waiting for her to go, his body expressing his resent-
ment of her presence there. She was furious that perhaps he
believed she was there on purpose; this thought, of course,
was not conscious; it would be too much presumption, such
unspeakable cheek for him to imagine such a thing, that she
would not allow it to enter her mind; but the attitude of his
still body as he watched her across the bushes between them,
the expression on his face, filled her with anger. She felt the
same impulse that had once made her bring down the lash
across his face. Deliberately she turned away, loitered round
the chicken-runs, and threw out handfuls of grain; and then
slowly stooped out through the low wire door. She did not
look at him again; but knew he was standing there, a dark

151

 

shape, quite motionless, seen out ot the corner of her eye. She
went back to the house, for the first time in many months
jerked clean out of her apathy, for the first time in months
seeing the ground she walked over, and feeling the pressure of
the sun against the back of her bare neck, the sharp hot stones
pressing up under her soles.

She heard a strange angry muttering, and realized she was
talking to herself, out aloud, as she walked. She clapped her
hand over her mouth, and shook her head to clear it; but by
the time that Moses had come back into the kitchen, and she
heard his footsteps, she was sii ing in the front room rigid with
an hysterical emotion; when shv remembered the dark resent-
ful look of that native as he stood waiting for her to leave, she
felt as if she had put her hand on a snake. Impelled by a violent
nervous reaction she went to the kitchen, where he stood in
clean clothes, putting away his washing things. Remembering
that thick black neck with the lather frothing white on it, the
powerful back stooping over the bucket, was like a goad to
her. And she was beyond reflecting that her anger, her
hysteria, was over nothing, nothing that she could explain.
What had happened was that the formal pattern of black-and-
white, mistress-and-servant, had been broken by the personal
relation; and when a white man in Africa by accident looks
into the eyes of a native and secs the human being (which it is
liis chief preoccupation to avoid), his sense of guilt, which he
denies, fumes up in resentment and he brings down the whip.
She felt that she must do something, and at once, to restore her
poise. Her eyes happened to fall on a candle-box under the
table, where the scrubbing brushes and soap were kept, and
she said to the boy: ‘Scrub this floor.’ She was shocked when
she heard her own voice, for she had not known she was going
to speak. As one feels when in an ordinary social conversation,
kept tranquil by banalities, some person makes a remark that
strikes below the surface, perhaps in error letting sUp what he
really thinks of you, and the shock sweeps one off one’s
balance, causing a nervous giggle or some stupid sentence that

152

 

makes everyone present uncomfortable, so she felt: she had
lost her balance; she had no control over her actions.

‘ I scrubbed it this morning,’ said the native slowly, looking
at her, his eyes smouldering.

She said, ‘ I said scrub it. Do it at once.’ Her voice rose on the
last words. For a moment they stared at each other, exposing
their hatred; then his eyes dropped, and she turned and went
out, slamming the door behind her.

Soon she heard the sound of the wet brush over the floor.
She collapsed on the sofa again, as weak as if she had been ill.
She was fanuhar with her own storms of irrational anger, but
she had never known pne as devastating as this. She was shak-
ing, the blood throbbed in her ears, her mouth was dry. After
a while, more composed, she went to the bedroom to fetch
herself some water; she did not want to face the native Moses.

Yet, later, she forced herself to rise and go to the kitchen;
and, standing in the doorway, surveyed the wet streaked floor
as if she had truly come to inspect it. He stood immobile just
outside the door, as usual, gazing out to the clump of boulders
where the euphorbia tree stuck out its grey-green, fleshy arms
into vivid blue sky. She made a show of peering behind cup-
boards, and then said, ‘It is time to lay the table.’

He turned, and began laying out glass and linen, with slow
and rather clumsy movements, his great black hands moving
among the small instruments. Every movement he made
irritated her. She sat tensed, wound up, her hands clenched.
When he went out, she relaxed a little, as if a pressure had been
taken off her. The table was finished. She went to inspect it;
but everything was in its right place. But she picked up a glass
and took it to the back room.

‘Look at this glass, Mqscs,’ she commanded.

He came across and looked at it politely: it was only an
appearance of looking, for he had already taken it from her to
wash it. There was a trace of white fluff from the drying towel
down one side. He filled the sink with water, and wliisked in
soapsuds, just as she had taught him, and washed the glass

153

 

while she watched. When it was dry she took it from him and
returned to the other room.

She imagined him again standing silent at the door in the
sun, looking at nothing, and she could have screamed or
thrown a glass across the room to smash on the wall. But
there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that she could give him
to do. She began a quiet prowl through the house: everything,
though shabby and faded, was clean and in its place. That bed,
the great connubial bed which she had always hated, was
smooth and uncrumpled, ti e coverlets turned back at the
corners in a brave imitation cf the inviting beds in modern
catalogues. The sight of it gritted on her, reminding her of the
hated contact in the nights with Dick’s weary muscular body,
to which she had never been able to accustom herself. She
turned from it, clenching her hands, and saw her face suddenly
in the mirror. Faded, tousled, her lips narrowed in anger, her
eyes hot, her face puffed and blotched with red, she hardly
recognized herself. She gazed, shocked and pitiful; and then
she cried, weeping hysterically in great shuddering gasps, try-
ing to smother the sound for fear the native at the back might
hear her. She cried for some time; then, as she lifted her eyes
to dry them, saw the clock. Dick would be home soon. Fear
of his seeing her in this state stilled her convulsing muscles.
She bathed her face, combed her hair, powdered the dark
creased skin round the eyes.

That meal was as silent as all their meals were, these days.
He saw her reddened, crumpled face, and her blood-suffused
eyes, and knew what was wrong. It was always because of
rows with her servants that she cried. But he was weary and
disappointed; it had been quite a long time since the last fight,
and he had imagined she might be getting over her weakness.
She ate nothing, keeping her head bent down; and the native
moved about the table through the meal like an automaton,
his body serving them because it must, his mind not there. But
the thought of this man’s efficiency, and the sight of Mary’s
swollen face, suddenly goaded Dick. He said, when the native

154

 

was out of the room: ‘Mary, you must keep this boy. He is the
best we have ever had.’ She did not look up, even then, but
remained quite still, apparently deaf. Dick saw that her thin,
sun-crinkled hand was shaking. He said again, after a silence,
his voice ugly with hostility: ‘I can’t stand any more changing
of servants. I’ve had enough. I’m warning you, Mary.’ And
again she did not reply; she was weak with the tears and anger
of tlie morning, and afraid that if she opened her mouth she
might weep anew. He looked at her in some astonishment, for
as a rule she would have snapped back some complaint of
theft, or bad behaviour. He had been braced to meet it. Her
continued silence, which was pure opposition, drove him to
insist on an assent from her. ‘Mary,’ he said, like a superior to
a subordinate, ‘did you hear what I said?’ ‘Yes,’ she said at last
sullenly, widi difficulty.

When he left, she went immediately to the bedroom so as
to avoid the sight of the native clearing the table, and slept
away four hours of unendurable time.

 

CHAPTER 9

And SO the days passed, through August and September, hot
hazy days with slow winds blowing in sultry, dusty gusts from
the encircling granite kopjes, Mary moved about her work
like a woman in a dream, taking hours to accomplish what
would formerly have taken hi ‘ a few minutes. Hatless under
the blazing sun, with the thick *ruel rays pouring on to her
back and shoulders, numbing and dulhng her, she sometimes
felt as if she were bruised all over, as if the sun had bruised her
flesh to a tender swollen covering for aching bones. She would
turn giddy as she stood, and send the boy for her hat. Then,
with relief, as if she had been doing hard physical labour for
hours, instead of wandering aimlessly among the chickens
without seeing them, she would collapse into a chair, and sit
unmoving, thinking of nothing; but the knowledge of that
man alone in the house with her lay like a weight at the back
of her mind. She was tight and controlled in his presence;
she kept him working as long as she could, relentless over
every speck of dust and every misplaced glass or plate –
that she noticed. The thought of Dick’s exasperation, and his
warning that he could stand no more changes of servants,
a challenge which she had not the vitality to face, caused her
to hold herself like a taut-drawn thread, stretched between
two immovable weights; that was how she felt, as if she
were poised, a battleground for two contending forces.
Yet what the forces were, and how she contained them, she
could not have said. Moses was indifferent and calm against
her as if she did not exist, except in so far as he obeyed her
orders; Dick, formerly so good-natured and easy to please,
now complained continually over her bad management;
for she would nag at the boy in that liigh nervous voice
of hers over a chair that was two inches out of its right

156

 

place, and fail to notice that the ceiling was shrouded in
cobwebs.

She was letting everything shde, except what was forced on
her attention. Her horizon had been narrowed to the house.
The chickens began to die; she murmured something about
disease; and then understood that she had forgotten to feed
them for a week. Yet she had wandered, as usual, through the
runs, with a basket of grain in her hand. As they died, the
scrawny fowls were cooked and eaten. For a short while,
shocked at herself, she made an effort and tried to keep her
mind on what she was doing. Yet, not long after, the same
thing happened: she had not noticed the drinking troughs
were empty. Fowls were lying over the baked earth, twitching
feebly in death for lack of water. And then she could no longer
be troubled. For weeks they lived on chicken, till the big wire
runs were empty. And now there were no eggs. She did not
order them from the store, because they were so expensive.
Her mind, nine-tenths of the time, was a soft aching blank.
She would begin a sentence and forget to finish it. Dick be-
came accustomed to the way she would say three words, and
then, her face becoming suddenly null and empty, lapse into
silence. What she had been going to say had gone clean out of
her head. If he gently prompted her to continue, she looked
up, not seeing him, and did not answer. It grieved him so that
he could not protest over the abandonment of her chickens,
which had kept them going with a little ready money up till
now.

But as far as the native was concerned, she was still respon-
sive. This was the small part of her mind that was awake. All
those scenes she would have liked to stage, but did not dare,
for fear of the boy’s leaving and Dick’s anger, she acted out in
her mind. Once she was roused by a noise, and realized it was
herself, talking out loud in the living-room in a low angry
voice. In her fantasy, the native had forgotten to clean the bed-
room that morning, and she was raging at him, thinking up
cruel cutting phrases in her own language that he could not

157

 

possibly have understood, even if she had said them to him.
The sound of that soft, disjointed, crazy voice was as terrifying
as the sight of herself in the mirror had been. She was afraid,
jerked back into herself, shrinking from the vision of herself
talking hke a mad woman in the corner of the sofa.

She got up softly and went to the door between the hving-
room and the kitchen, looking through to see if the boy was
near and could have heard. There he stood, as always, leaning
against the outer wall; and she could see only his big shoulder
bulging underneath the thin ck «-h, and his hand hanging idly
down, the fingers curled softly inwards over the pinkish-
brown palm. And he did not move. She told herself he could
not have heard; and pushed the thought of the two open doors
between herself and him out of her mind. She avoided him all
that day, moving restlessly about the rooms as if she had for-
gotten how to remain still. She wept all that afternoon lying
on the bed, with a hopeless convulsive sobbing; so that she
was worn out when Dick came home. But this time he noticed
nothing; he was worn out himself, wanting only sleep.

The next day, when she was giving out supplies from the
cupboard in the kitchen (which she tried to remember to keep
locked, but which, more often than not, remained open with-
out her noticing it, so that this business of putting out the
amounts needed for the day was really futile), Moses, who was
standing beside her with the tray, said he wanted to leave at
the end of the month He spoke quietly and directly, but with
a trace of hesitation, as if he were setting himself to face oppo-
sition. She was familiar with this note of nervousness, for
whenever a boy gave notice, although she always felt a sharp
relief because the tensions that were created between herself
and every servant would be dissolved by his going, she also
felt indignant, as if it were an insult to herself. She never let one
go without long argument and expostulation. And now, she
opened her mouth to remonstrate, but became silent; her hand
dropped from the door of the cupboard, and she found herself
thinking of Dick’s anger. She could not face it. She simply

158

 

could not go through scenes with Dick. And it was not her
fault this time; had she not done everything she could ^o keep
this boy, whom she hated, who frightened her? To her horror
she discovered she was shaking with sobs again, there, in front
of the native! Helpless and weak, she stood beside the table,
her back towards him, sobbing. For some time neither of them
moved; then he came round where he could see her face, look-
ing at her curiously, his brows contracted in speculation and
wonder. She said at last, wild with panic: ‘You mustn’t go!’
And she wept on, repeating over and over again, ‘You must
stay! You must stay!* And all the time she was filled with
shame and mortification because he was seeing her cry.

After a while she saw him go across to the shelf where the
water-filter stood to fill a glass. The slow deliberation of his
movements galled her, because of her own lost control; and
when he handed the glass to her she did not lift her hand to
take it, feeling that his action was an impertinence which she
should choose to ignore. But in spite of the attitude of dignity
she was striving to assume, she sobbed out again, ‘You mustn’t
go,’ and her voice was an entreaty. He held the glass to her
lips, so that she had to put up her hand to hold it, and with the
tears ruiming down her face she took a gulp. She looked at
• him pleadingly over the glass, and with renewed fear saw an
indulgence for her weakness in his eyes.

‘Drink,’ he said simply, as if he were speaking to one of his
own women; and she drank.

Then he carefully took the glass from her, put it on the
table, and, seeing that she stood there dazed, not knowing
what to do, said: ‘Madame lie down on the bed.’ She did not
move. He put out his hand reluctantly, loath to touch her, the
sacrosanct white woman, and pushed her by the shoulder; she
felt herself gently propelled across the room towards the bed-
room. It was like a nightmare where one is powerless against
horror: the touch of this black man’s hand on her shoulder
filled her with nausea; she had never, not once in her whole
life, touched the flesh of a native. As they approached the bed,

159

 

the soft touch still on her shoulder, she felt her head beginning
to swim and her bones going soft. ‘Madame lie down,’ he
said again, and his voice was gentle this time, almost fatherly.
When she dropped to a sitting position on the bedside, he
gently held her shoulder and pushed her down. Then he took
her coat off the door where it hung, and placed it over her
feet. He went out, and the horror retreated; she lay there
numbed and silent, unable to consider the implications of the
incident.

After a while she slept, and it was late afternoon when she
woke. She could see the sky outside the square of window,
banked with thunderous blue clouds, and lit with orange light
from the sinking sun. For a moment she could not remember
what had happened; but when she did the fear engulfed her
again, a terrible dark fear. She thought of herself weeping
helplessly, unable to stop ; of drinking at that black man’s com-
mand; of the way he had pushed her across the two rooms to
the bed ; of the way he had made her lie down and then tucked
the coat in round her legs. She shrank into the pillow with
loathing, moaning out loud, as if she had been touched by
excrement. And through her torment she could hear his voice,
firm and kind, like a father commanding her.

After a while, when the room was quite dark, and only the
pale walls glimmered, reflecting the light that still glowed in
the tops of the trees, though their lower boughs held the
shadows of dusk, she got up, and put a match to the lamp. It
flared up, steadied, glowed quietly. The room was now a shell
of amber light and shadows, hollowed out of the wide tree-
filled night. She powdered her face, and sat a long time before
the mirror, feeling unable to move. She was not thinking, only
afraid, and of what she did not know. She felt she could not
go out till Dick returned and supported her against the pre-
sence of the native. When Dick came, he said, looking at her
with dismay, that he had not woken her at lunch-time, and
that he hoped she was not ill. ‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘Only tired.
I am feeling . . Her voice tailed off, the blank look settled on

i6o

 

her face. They were sitting in the dim arc of light from the
swinging lamp, the boy quietly moving about the table. For a
long time she kept her eyes lowered, though an alertness came
back to her features with his entrance. When she made herself
look up, and peer hurriedly into his face, she was reassured,
for there was nothing new in his attitude. As always, he
behaved as if he were an abstraction, not really there, a
machine without a soul.

Next morning she made herself go into the kitchen and
speak normally; and waited fearfully for him to say again that
he wanted to leave. But he did not. For a week things went
on until she realized he was not going; he had responded to
her tears and appeal. She could not bear to think she had got
her way by these methods; and because she did not want to
remember it, she slowly recovered. Relieved, released from
the torturing thought of Dick’s anger, with the memory of her
shameful collapse gone from her mind, she began again to use
that cold biting voice, to make sarcastic comments on the
native’s work. One day he turned to her in the kitchen, looked
at her straight in the face, and said in a voice that was discon-
certingly hot and reproachful: ‘Madame asked me to stay. I
stay to help Madame. If Madame cross, I go.’

The note of finality checked her; she felt helpless. Particu-
larly as she had been forced to remember why he was here
at all. And then, the resentful heat of his voice said that he
considered she was unjust. Unjust! She did not see it hke
that.

He was standing beside the stove, waiting for something to
finish cooking. She did not know what to say. He moved over
to the table, while he waited for her reply, he picked up a
cloth with wliich to grasp the hot iron of the oven door-
handle. Without looking at her, he said: ‘I do the work well,
yes?’ He spoke in English, which as a rule she would have
flamed into temper over; she thought it impertinence. But she
answered in English, ‘Yes.’

‘Then why Madame always cross?’

i6i

 

He spoke, this time, easily, almost familiarly, good-
humouredly, as if he were humouring a child. He bent to open
the oven, with his back to her, and took out a tray of the crisp
light scones, that were so much better than she could ipakc
herself. He began turning them out, one by one, on to a wire
tray to cool. She felt as if she should go at once, but did not
move. She was held, helpless, watching his big hands flip those
little scones on to the tray. And she said nothing. She felt the
usual anger rise within her, at the tone he used to her; at the
same time she was fascinated, an. 1 out of her depth; she did not
know what to do with this personal relation. So, after a while,
since he did not look at her, and moved quietly about his work,
she vrent away without replying.

When the rains broke in late October, after six weeks of
destroying heat, Dick, as always at this time of the year, stayed
away for the midday meal because of the pressure of work. He
left about six in the morning and returned at six at night, so
there was only one meal to be cooked: breakfast and lunch
were sent. to him on the fields. As she had done before, in pre-
vious years, Mary told Moses that she would not take lunch,
and that he could bring her tea: she felt she could not be
troubled to eat. On the first day of Dick’s long absences, in-
stead of the tray of tea, Moses brought her eggs, jam, and
toast. These he set carefully down on the small table beside
her.

T told you I only wanted tea,’ she said sharply.

He answered quietly : ‘ Madame ate no breakfast, she must
eat.’ On the tray there was even a handleless cup with flowers
in it: crude yellows and pinks and reds, bush flowers, thrust
together clumsily, but making a strong burst of colour on the
old stained cloth.

As she sat there, her eyes bent down, and he straightened
himself after setting down the tray, what troubled her most
was this evidence of his desire to please her, the propitiation of
the flowers. He was waiting for a word of approval and plea-
sure from her. She could not give it; but the rebuke that

162

 

sprang to her lips remained unspoken, and she pulled the tray
to her and began to eat, without a word.

There was now a new relation between them. For she felt
helplessly in his power. Yet there was no reason why she
should. Never ceasing for one moment to be conscious of liis
presence about the house, or standing silently at the back
against the wall in the sun, her feeling was one of a strong and
irrational fear, a deep uneasiness, and even – though this she
did not know, would have died rather than acknowledge – of
some dark attraction. It was as though the act of weeping be-
fore him had been an act of resignation – resignation of her
authority; and he had refused to hand it back. Several times
the quick rebukes had come to her lips, and she had seen him
look at her deliberately, not accepting it, but cliallengtng her.
Only once, when he bad really forgotten to do something and
was in the wrong, had he worn his old attitude of blank sub-
missiveness. Then he accepted, because he was at fault. And
now she began to avoid him. Whereas before she had made
herself follow up liis work, and had inspected everything he
did, now she hardly went to the kitchen, and left the care of
the house to liim. Even the keys she left on a shelf in the store-
room, where he could find them to open the grocery cup-
board as he needed. And she was held in balance, not knowing
what this new tension was that she could not break down.

Twice he asked her questions, in that new familiar friendly
voice of his.

Once it was about the war. ‘Did Madame think it would be
over soon?’ She was startled. To her, living out of contact
witli everything, not even reading the weekly newspaper, the
war was a rumour, something taking place in another world.
But she had seen him poring over the old newsprint spread on
the kitchen table as covering. She answered stiffly that she did
not know. And again, some days later, as if he had been think-
ing in the interval, he asked; ‘Did Jesus think it right that
people should kill each other?’ This time she was angry at the
implied criticism, and she answered coldly that Jesus was on

163

 

the side of the good people. But all day she burned with her
old resentment, and at night asked Dick: ‘Where does Moses
come from?’

‘Mission boy,’ he replied. ‘The only decent one I’ve ever
had.’ Like most South Africans, Dick did not like mission
boys, they ‘knew too much’. And in any case they should not
be taught to read and write: they should be taught the dignity
of labour and general usefulness to the wliite man.

‘Why?’ he asked suspiciously. ‘No trouble again, I hope?’

‘No.’

‘Has he been cheeky?’

‘No.’

But the mission background explained a lot : that irritatingly
well-articulated ‘madame’, for instance, instead of the usual
‘missus’, which was somehow in better keeping with his
station in life.

That ‘madame’ annoyed her. She would have liked to ask
him to drop it. But there was nothing disrespectful in it: it
was only what he had been taught by some missionary with
foolish ideas. And there was nothing in his attitude towards
her she could take hold of. But although he was never dis-
respectful, he forced her, now, to treat him as a human being;
it was impossible for her to thrust him out of her mind like
something unclean, as she had done with all tlic others in the
past. She was being forced into contact, and she never ceased
to be aware of him. She realized, daily, that there was some-
thing in it that was dangerous, but what it was she was unable
to define.

Now she dreamed through her broken nights, horrible,
frightening dreams. Her sleep, once an instantaneous dropping
of a black curtain, had become more real than her waking.
Twice she dreamed directly of the native, and on each occasion
she woke in terror as he touched her. On each occasion
in her dream he had stood over her, powerful and command-
ing, yet kind, but forcing her into a position where she had to
touch him. And there were other dreams, where he did not

164

 

enter directly, but which were confused, terrifying, horrible,
from which she woke sweating in fear, trying to put them out
of her mind. She became afraid to go to sleep. She would lie
in the dark, tense beside Dick’s relaxed sleeping body, forcing
herself to remain awake.

Often, during the day, she watched him covertly, not hke a
mistress watching a servant work, but with a fearful curiosity,
remembering those dreams. And every day he looked after
her, seeing that she ate, bringing her meals without her order-
ing them, bringing her little gifts of a handful of eggs from
the compound fowls, or a twist of flowers from the bush.

Once, when it was long past sundown and Dick had not re-
turned, she said to Moses, ‘Keep the dinner hot. I am going to
see what has happened to the boss.’

When she was in the bedroom fetching her coat, Moses
knocked at the door, and said that he would gO and find out;
Madame should not walk around in the dark bush by herself

‘All right,’ she said helplessly, and took her coat off.

But there was nothing wrong with Dick. He had been held
up over an ox that had broken its leg. And when, a week later,
he was again long after his time in coming, and she was wor-
ried, she made no effort to find out what was wrong, fearing
that the native might again, quite simply and naturally, take
the responsibility for her welfare. It had come to this : that she
watched her actions from one point of view only ; would they
allow Moses to strengthen that new human relationship be-
tween them, in a way she could not counter, and which she
could only try to avoid.

In February, Dick fell ill again with malaria. As before, it
was a short, sudden attack, and bad while it lasted. As before,
she reluctantly sent a note by bearer to Mrs Slatter, asking
them to fetch the doctor. It was the same doctor. He looked at
the slatternly little house with raised eyebrows, and asked
Mary why she had taken no notice of his former prescriptions.
She did not answer. ‘ Why have you not cut down the bush
round the house where mosquitoes can breed?’ ‘My husband

165

 

could not spare the boys/ ‘But he can spare the time to be ill,
eh?’ The doctor’s manner was bluff, easy, but at bottom in-
different; he had learned, after years in a farming district, when
to cut his losses as a doctor. Not his money, which he knew he
would never see, but the patients themselves. These people
were hopeless. The window-curtains faded by the sun to a
dingy grey, torn and not mended, proclaimed it. Everywhere
there was evidence of breakdown in will. It was a waste of
time even coming. But from habit he stood over the shivering,
burning Dick and prescribed. 1 e said Dick was worn out, a
shell of a man, liable to get any disease going. He spoke as
strongly as he could, trying to frighten Mary into action. But
her attitude said listlessly, ‘What is the use.’ He left at last with
Charlie Slatter, who was sardonically disapproving; but un-
able to prevent himself from thinking that when he took over
this place he wOuld remove the wire from the chicken runs for
his own, and that the corrugated iron of the house and build-
ings might come in useful some time.

Mary sat up with Dick the first two nights of his illness, on a
hard chair, to keep herself awake, holding the blankets close
over the restless limbs. But Dick was not as bad as the last
time; he was not afraid now, knowing that the attack would
run its course.

Mary made no effort to supervise the farm work ; but twice
a day, so as to calm him, she drove herself round the farm on a
formal and useless inspection. The boys were in the compound
loafing. She knew it, and did not care. She hardly looked at
the fields: the farm had become something that did not con-
cern her.

In the daytime, when she had finished preparing Dick’s cool
drinks, which were all that he took, she sat idly by the bed and
sank into her usual apathetic state. Her mind wandered inco-
herently, dwelling on any scene from her past life that might
push itself to the surface. But now it was without nostalgia or
desire. And she had lost all sense of time. She set the alarm
clock in front of her, to remind her of the regular intervals at

i66

 

which she must go and fetch Dick his drinks. Moses brought
her the usual trays of food at the usual times, and she ate
mechanically, not noticing what she ate, not noticing, even,
that she sometimes put down her knife and fork after a couple
of mouthfuls and forgot to fmish what was before her. It was
on the third morning that he asked, as she whisked an egg he
had brought from the compound as a gift, into milk: ‘Did
Madame go to bed last night?’ He spoke with that simple
directness that always left her disarmed, not knowing how to
reply.

She answered, looking down at the frothing milk, avoiding
his eyes : ‘ I must stay up with the boss.’

‘Did Madame stay up the other night?’

‘Yes,’ she answered, and quickly went into the bedroom
with the drink.

Dick lay still, half delirious with fever, in an uncomfortable
doze. His temperature had not dropped. He was taking this
bout very hard. The sweat poured off him ; and then his skin
became dry and harsh and burning hot. Every afternoon the
slender rod of quicksilver mounted in a trice up the frail glass
tube, so she had hardly to keep it in his mouth at all, higher
every time she looked at it, until by six in the evening it stood
at 105. There it stayed until about midnight, while he tossed
and muttered and groaned. In the early hours it dropped
rapidly below normal, and he complained he was cold and
needed more blankets. But he had all the blankets in the place
piled over him. She heated bricks in the oven and wrapped
them in cloth and put them by his feet.

That night Moses came to the bedroom door and knocked
on the wood frame as he always did. She confronted him
through the parted folds of the embroidered hessian curtain.

‘Yes?’ she asked.

‘Madame stay in this room tonight. I stay with boss.’

‘No,’ she said, thinking of the long night spent in intimate
vigil with this native. ‘ No, you go back to the compound and
sleep. I will stay with the boss.’

167

 

He came forward through the curtain, so that she shrank
back a little, he was so close to her. She saw that he held a
folded mealie sack in one hand, presumably his preparation
for the night. ‘Madame must sleep,’ he said. ‘ She is tired, yes?’
She could feel the skin round her eyes drawn tight with strain
and weariness; but she insisted in a hard nervous voice: ‘No,
Moses. I must stay.’ He moved to the wall where he placed his
sack carefully in a space between two cupboards. Then he
stood up and said, sounding wounded, even reproachful:
‘Madame not thinks I look afte: boss right, huh? I too sick
sometimes. I keep blankets over b^ss, yes?’ He moved to the
bed, but not too close, and looked down at Dick’s flushed face.
‘I give- him this drink when he wakes, yes?’ And the half-
humorous, half-reproachful voice left her disarmed against
him. She looked at his face once, quickly, avoiding the eyes,
then away. But it would not do to seem afraid to look at him;
she glanced down at his hand, the big hand with the lighter
palm hanging loosely at his side. He insisted again: ‘Madame
think I not look after boss well?’

She hesitated, and then said nervously, ‘Yes, but I must
stay.’

As if her nervousness and hesitation had been answer
enough, the man stooped and straightened out the blankets
over the sleeping man. ‘If boss is very sick, I call madame,’ he
said.

She saw him standing by the window, blocking the square
of star-strewn, bough-crossed sky, waiting for her to go.
‘Madame will be sick too, if she does not sleep,’ he said.

She went to her cupboard, where she took out her big coat.
Before she left the room, she said, in order to assert her
authority: ‘You will call me if he wakes.’

She went instinctively to her refuge, the sofa, next door,
where she spent so many of her waking hours, and sat help-
lessly, squeezed into one comer. She could not bear to think
of the black man there all night, next door, so close to her,
with nothing but the thin brick wall separating them.

168

 

After a while she pushed a cushion to the head of the sofa,
and lay down, covering her feet with the coat. It was a close
night, and the air in the little room hardly stirred. The dull
flame in the hanging lamp burned low, making a little in-
timate glimmer of light that sent up broken arcs of light into
the darkness under the roof, illuminating a slope of corrugated
metal, and a beam. In the room itself there was only a small
yellow circle on the table beneath. Everything else was dark,
there were only vague elongated shapes. She turned her head
shghtly to see the curtains at the window; they hung quite
still; and, listening intently, the tiny night noises from the
bush outside sounded suddenly as loud as her own thudding
heart. From the trees a few yards away a bird called once, and
insects creaked. She heard the movement of branches, as if
something heavy were pushing its way through them; and
thought with fear of the low crouching trees all about. She
had never become used to the bush, never felt at home in it.
Still, after all this time, she felt a stirring of alarm when she
realized the strangeness of the encircling veld where little ani-
mals moved, and unfamiliar birds talked. Often in the night
she woke and thought of the small brick house, like a frail
shell that might crush inwards under the presence of the hos-
tile bush. Often she thought how, if they left this place, one
wet fermenting season would swallow the small cleared space,
and send the young trees thrusting up from the floor, pushing
aside brick and cement, so that in a few months there would
be nothing left but heaps of rubble about the trunks of trees.

She lay tense on the sofa, every sense alert, her mind quiver-
ing like a small hunted animal turned to face its pursuers. She
ached all over with the strain. She listened to the night outside,
to her own heart, and for sounds from the room next door.
She heard the dry sound of horny feet moving over thin mat-
ting, a clink of glasses being moved, a low mutter from the
sick man. Then she heard the feet move close, and a sliding
movement as the native settled himself down on the sack be-
tween the cupboards. He was there, just through the thin wall,

169

 

so dose that if it had not been there his back would have been
six inches from her face! Vividly she pictured the broad mus-
cular back, and shuddered. So clear was her vision of the
native that she imagined she smelled the hot acrid scent of
native bodies. She could smell it, lying there in the dark. She
turned her head over, and buried her face in a cushion.

For a long time she could hear nothing, only the soft noise
of steady breathing. She wondered, was it Dick? But then he
muttered again, and as the nanve rose to adjust the coverings,
the sound of breathing ceased. Moses returned, and again she
heard the sliding of his back do vn the wall ; and the regular
breathing began again: it was he! Several times she heard Dick
stir and call out, in that thick voice which was not his, but
which came from his sick delirium, and each time the native
roused himself to cross to the bed. In between she listened in-
tently for the soft breathing wliich seemed, as she turned rest-
lessly, to come from all over the room, first from just near her
beside the sofa, then from a dark corner opposite. It was only
when she turned and faced the wall that she could localize the
sound. She fell asleep in that position, bent against the wall as
if listening to a keyhole.

It was a troubled, unrestful sleep, visited by dreams. Once
she started awake at a movement, and saw the dark bulk of the
man part the curtains. She held her breath, but at the sound of
her movement he turned liis eyes quickly towards her, and
away; then he passed soundlessly out of the other door into
the kitchen. He was only going out for a few minutes on his
own business. Her mind followed him as he crossed the
kitchen, opened the door, and vanished into the dark alone.
Then she turned her head to the cushion again, shuddering, as
she had when she imagined that native smell. She thought:
soon he will be coming back. She lay still, so as to seem asleep.
But he did not come immediately, and after a few minutes
waiting she went to the dim bedroom where Dick lay motion-
less, in a tormented jumble of limbs. She felt his forehead: it
was damp and cold, so she knew it must be well after mid-

170

 

night. The native had taken all the blankets off a chair, and
heaped them over the sick man. Now the curtains moved be-
hind her, and a cool breeze struck her neck. She shut the pane
nearest the bed, and stood still, listening to the suddenly loud
ticking of the clock. Leaning down to gaze at its faintly illu-
minated dial, she saw it was not yet two o’clock, but she felt
that the night had been continuing for a very long time. She
heard a noise from the back and .quickly, as if guilty, went to
lie down. Then she heard again the hard feet on the floor as
Moses passed her to his station on thq other side of the wall,
and saw him looking at her to see if she was asleep. Now she
felt she was wide awake, and could not sleep. She was chilly,
but did not want to rise to look for further covering. Again
she imagined she smelt the warm odour, and to dispel the
sensation turned her head softly to see the curtains blowing as
the fresh night air poured in. Dick was quite still now; there
was no sound from the other room except that faint rhythm
of breathing.

She drifted off to sleep, and this time dreamed immediately,
horribly.

She was a cliild again, playing in the small dusty garden in
front of the raised wood-and-iron house, with playmates who
in her dream were faceless. She was first in the game, a leader,
and they called her name and asked her how they should play.
She stood by the dry-smelling geranium plants, in the sun,
with the children all about her. She heard her mother’s sharp
voice call for her to come in, and went slowly out of the gar-
den up on to the veranda. She was afraid. Her mother was not
there, so she went to the room inside. At the bedroom door
she stopped, sickened. There was her father, the little man with
the plump juicy stomach, bccr-smelling and jocular, whom
she hated, holding her mother in liis arms as they stood by the
window. Her mother was struggling in mock protest, play-
fully expostulating. Her father bent over her mother, and at
the sight, Mary ran away.

Again, she was playing, this time with her parents and her

171

 

brother and sister, before she went to bed. It was a game of
hide-and-seek, and it was her turn to cover her eyes while her
mother hid herself. She knew that the two older children were
standing on one side watching; the game was too childish for
them, and they were losing interest. They were laughing at
her, who took the game so seriously. Her father caught her
head and held it in his lap with his small hairy hands, to cover
up her eyes, laughing and joking loudly about her mother
hiding. She smelt the sickly odour of beer, and through it she
smelt too – her head held down n the thick stuff of his trousers
– the unwashed masculine smeli she always associated with
him. She struggled to get her head free, for she was half-
suffocating, and her father held it down, laughing at her panic.
And the other children laughed too. Screaming in her sleep
she half-woke, fighting off the weight of sleep on her eyes,
filled with the terror of the dream.

She thought she was still awake and lying stiffly on the sofa
listening intently for the brcatliing next door. It continued for
a long time, while she waited for each soft expulsion of breath.
Then there was silence. She gazed in growing terror round the
room, hardly daring to move her head for fear of disturbing
the native through the wall, seeing the dull light fall in a circle
on the table, illuminating its rough surface. In her dream the
conviction grew that Dick was dead – that Dick was dead, and
that the black man was waiting next door for her coming.
Slowly she sat up, disentangling her feet from the clinging
weight of the coat, trying to control her terror. She repeated
to herself that there was nothing to fear. At last she gathered
her legs close, and let them down over the edge of the sofa,
very quietly, not daring to make a sound. Again she sat trem-
bling, trying to calm herself, until she forced her body to raise
itself and stand in the middle of the room, measuring the dis-
tance between herself and the bedroom, seeing the shadows in
the skins on the floor with terror, because they seemed to
move up at her in the swaying of the lamplight. The skin of a
leopard near the door seemed to take shape and fill out, its

172

 

little glassy eyes staring at her. She fled to the door to escape
it. She stood cautiously, putting out a hand to part the heavy
curtain. Slowly she peered through. All she could see was the
shape of Dick lying still under the blankets. She could not see
the African, but she knew he was waiting for her there in the
shadow. She parted the curtains a little more. Now she saw
one leg stretching from the wall into the room, an enormous,
more than life-size leg, the limb of a giant. She went forward
a little: now she could see him properly. Dreaming, she felt
irritated and let down, for the native was asleep, crouched
against the wall, exhausted after long wakefulness. He sat as
she had seen him sit sometimes in the sun, with one knee up,
his arm resting on it loosely, so that the palm turned over and
the fingers curled limply. The other leg, the one she had first
seen, stretched almost to where she stood, and at her feet she
saw the thick skin of the sole, cracked and horny. His head was
bent forward on his chest, showing his thick neck. She felt as
she sometimes did when, awake, she expected to find that he
had left undone something he was paid to do, and taking her-
self to look, found everything in order. Her annoyance with
herself turned into anger against the native; and now she
looked towards the bed again where Dick lay stretched and
motionless. She stepped over the giant leg lying over the floor,
and moved silently round the bed with her back to the win-
dow. Bending over Dick she felt the night air blow coolly on
her shoulders, and with sharp anger said to herself that the
native had opened the window again, and had caused Dick’s
death through chill. Dick looked ugly. He was dead, yellow-
faced, his mouth fallen open and his eye staring. In her dream
she put out her hand to touch his skin. It was cold, and she felt
only relief and exultation. At the same time she felt guilty be-
cause of her gladness, and tried to arouse in herself the sorrow
she ought to feel. As she stood, bending forward over Dick’s
stillness, she knew the native had silently awakened and was
watching her. Without turning her head, she saw at the edge
of her vision the great leg softly withdrawn, and she knew he

17 ^

 

was standing in the shadow. Then he was coining towards
her. It seemed as if the room were very big, and he was ap-
proaching her slowly from an immense distance. She stood
rigid with fear, the chill sweat running down her body, wait-
ing. He approached slowly, obscene and powerful, and it was
not only he, but her father who was threatening her. They ad-
vanced together, one person, and she could smell, not the
native smell, but the unwashed smell of her father. It filled the
room, musty, like animals; aad her knees went liquid as her
nostrils distended to find clean . ir and her head became giddy.
Half-conscious, she leaned back against the wall for support,
and nearly fell through the open window. He came near and
put his hand on her arm. It was the voice of the African she
heard. He was comforting her because of Dick’s death, con-
soling her protectively; but at the same time it was her father,
menacing and horrible, who touched her in desire.

She screamed, knowing suddenly she was asleep and in
nightmare. She screamed and screamed desperately, trying to
wake herself from the horror. She thought: my screams must
be waking Dick; and she struggled in the sands of sleep. Then
she v/as awake and sitting up, panting. The African was stand-
ing beside her, red-eyed and half asleep, holding out to her a
tray with tea. The room was filled with a thick grey light, and
the still burning lamp sent a thin beam to the table. Seeing
the native, with the terror of the dream still in her, she shrank
back into the corner of the sofa, breathing fast and irregularly,
watching him in a paroxysm of fright. He put the tray down,
clumsily, because of his weariness, and she struggled in her
mind to separate dream from reality.

The man said, watching her curiously, ‘The boss is asleep.’
And her knowledge that Dick lay dead next door faded. But
still she watched the black man, warily, unable to speak. She
saw in his face surprise at her posture of fear, and she watched
grow there that look she had so often seen lately, half sardonic,
speculative, brutal, as if he were judging her. Suddenly he said
softly: ‘Madame afraid of me, yes?’ It was the voice of the

174

 

dream, and as she heard it, her body went weak and she
trembled. She fought to control her voice, and spoke after a
few minutes in a half whisper: ‘No, no, no. I am not afraid.
And then she was furious with herself for denying something
whose possibility should never even be admitted.

She saw Iiim smile, and watched his eyes drop to her hands,
which lay on her lap trembling. His eyes travelled up her body
slowly to her face, taking in the hunched shoulders, the way
her body was pressed into the cushions for support.

He said easily, familiarly, ‘Why is Madame afraid of
me?’

She said half-hysterically, in a high-pitched voice, laughing
nervously: ‘Don’t be ridiculous. I am not afraid of you.’ She
spoke as she might have done to a white man, with whom she
was flirting a little. As she heard the words come from her
mouth, and saw the expression on the man’s face, she nearly
fainted. She saw him give her a long, slow, imponderable look ;
then turn, and walk out of the room.

When he had gone, she felt released from an inquisition. She
sat weak and shaking, thinking of the dream, trying to clear
away the fog of horror.

After a while she poured out some tea, spilling it into the
saucer. Again, as she had done in her dream, she forced herself
to stand up and walk into the room next door. Dick was sleep-
ing quietly, and looked better. Without touching him she left
him, passing to the veranda, where she leant forward against
the chilly bricks of the balustrade, breathing in draughts of cool
morning air. It was not sunrise yet. All the sky was clear and
colourless, flushed with rosy streaks of light, but there was
darkness still among the silent trees. She could see faint smoke
rising in drifts from the small clustering huts of the com-
pound, and knew that she must go and beat the gong for the
day’s work to begin.

All that day she sat in the bedroom as usual, watching Dick
grow better hourly, although he was very weak still, and not
yet well enough to be irritable.

175

 

she did not go around the farm at all that day. And she
avoided the native; she felt that she was too unsure of herself,
had not the strength to face him. When he had left after lunch
for his time off, she went hastily to the kitchen, almost fur-
tively, made cold drinks for Dick, and returned looking be-
hind her as if pursued.

That night she locked all the doors of the house, and went
to bed beside Dick, thankful, perhaps for the first time in their
marriage, for his closeness.

He was back at work in a we ‘k.

Again, falling swiftly, one after the other, the days passed,
the long days spent alone in the house while Dick was on the
lands, alone with the African. She was fighting against some-
thing she did not understand. Dick became to her, as time
went by, more and more unreal; while the thought of the
African grew obsessive. It was a nightmare, the powerful
black man always in the house with her, so that there was no
escape from his presence. She was possessed by it, and Dick
was hardly there to her.

From the time she woke in the morning to find the native
bending over them with the tea, liis eyes averted from her bare
shoulders, until the time he was out of the house altogether,
she could never relax. Fearfully, she did her work in the house,
trying to keep out of liis way; if he was in one room she went
to another. She would not look at him; she knew it would be
fatal to meet his eyes, because now there was always the
memory of her fear, of the way she had spoken to him that
night. She used to give her orders hurriedly, in a strained
voice, then hastily leave the kitchen. She dreaded hearing him
speak, because now there was a new tone in his voice : familiar,
half-insolent, domineering. A dozen times she was on the point
of saying to Dick, ‘FIc must go.’ But she never dared. Always
she stopped herself, unable to bear the anger that would fol-
low. But she felt as if she were in a dark tunnel, nearing some-
thing final, something she could not visualize, but which
waited for her inexorably, inescapably. And in the attitude of

176

 

Moses, in the way he moved or spoke, with that easy, con-
fident, bullying insolence, she could see he was waiting too.
They were like two antagonists, silently sparring. Only he was
powerful and sure of himself, and she was undermined with
fear, by her terrible dream-filled nights, her obsession.

 

CHAPTER 10

People who live to themselves, whether from necessity or
choice, and who do not trouble themselves about their neigh-
bours’ affairs, are always disquieted and uneasy if by some
chance they come to know th^t other people discuss them. It
is as though a sleeping man she ild wake and find round his
bed a circle of strangers staring at him. The Turners, who
might have been living on the moon for all the thought they
gave to ‘the district’, would have been astonished if they had
known that for years they had provided the staple of gossip
among the farmers round about. Even people they knew by
name only, or those they had never heard of, discussed them
with an intimate knowledge that was entirely due to the Slat-
ters. It was all the Slatters’ fault – yet how can one blame
them? No one really believes in the malignancy of gossip,
save those who know how they themselves have suffered from
it; and the Slatters would have cried, had they been chal-
lenged: ‘We have told people nothing but the truth’ – but
with that self-conscious indignation that confesses guilt. Mrs
Slattcr would have had to be a most extraordinary woman to
remain perfectly impartial and fair to Mary, after having been
snubbed so many times. For she had made repeated attempts
to ‘ get Mary out of herself ’, as she put it. Sensing Mary’s
fierce pride (she had plenty of her own), she had asked her
time and time again to a party, or a tennis afternoon, or an in-
formal dance. Even after the second of Dick’s illnesses she had
tried to make Mary break her isolation: tlic doctor liad been
frighteningly cynical about the Turner menage. But always
came back those curt little notes from Mary (the Turners had
not had a telephone installed when everyone else did, because
of the expense) that were like the deliberate ignoring of an
offered hand. When Mrs Slatter came across Mary in the store

178

 

on post-days, she had always asked her, with unfailing kind-
ness, to come over some time. And Mary had always replied
stiffly that she would like to, but that ‘Dick was so busy just
now*. But it was a long time now since anyone had seen Mary
or Dick at the station.

, ‘What did they do?’ people asked. At the Slattcrs’ people
always asked what the Turners did. And Mrs Slatter, whose
good humour and patience had at long last given out, was
prepared to tell them. There was that time Mary ran away
from her husband – but that must be a good six years ago now.
And Charlie Slatter would chip in, telling liis story how Mary
had arrived hatless and shabby, after having walked alone over
the veld (although she was a woman), and asked him to drive
her into the station. ‘How was I to know she was running off
from Turner? She didn’t tell me. I thought she was going in
for a day’s shopping, and Turner was too busy. And when
Turner came over, half-batty with worry, I had to tell him I
had taken her in. She shouldn’t have done it. It was not the
right thing to do.’ The story had by now become monstrously
distorted. Mary had run away from her husband in the middle
of the night because he had locked her out, had found refuge
with the Slatters, had borrowed money from them to leave.
Dick had come after her next morning and promised never to
ill-treat her again. That was the story, told all over the district
to the accompaniment of hcadshaking and tongue-clickings.
But when people started saying that Slatter had horsewhipped
Turner, it was too much: Charlie got annoyed. He liked Dick,
though he despised him. Dick he was sorry for. He began to
put people right about the affair. He repeated continually that
Dick should have let Mary go. It was good riddance. He had
been well out of it and didn’t know when he was lucky. So,
slowly, because of Charlie, the thing was reversed. Mary was
execrated; Dick exonerated. But of all this interest and talk,
Mary and Dick remained ignorant. Necessarily so, since for
years they had been confined to the farm.

The real reason why the Slatters, particularly Charlie,

179

 

maintained their interest in the Turners, was that they wanted
Dick’s farm still: more even than they had. And, since it was
Charlie’s intervention that precipitated the tragedy, though he
cannot be blamed for it, it is necessary to explain about his
farming. Just as World War II produced its fabulously wealthy
tobacco barons, so the First World War enriched many
farmers because of the sharp rise in the price of maize. Until
World War I, Slatter had been poor; after it, he found him-
self rich. And once a man is rich, when he has the tempera-
ment of a Slatter, he gets richer and richer. He was careful not
to invest his money in farming: farming he did not trust as an
investment. Any surplus went into mining shares ; and he did
not improve his farm more than was essential for the purpose
of making money from it. He had five hundred acres of the
most beautiful rich dark soil, which in the old days had pro-
duced twenty-five and thirty bags of mealies to the acre. Year
after year he had squeezed that soil, until by now he got five
bags an acre if he was lucky. He never dreamed of fertilizing.
He cut down his trees (such as remained when the mining
companies had done) to sell as firewood. But even a farm as
rich as his was not inexhaustible; and while he no longer
needed to make his thousands every year, his soil was played
out, and he wanted more. His attitude to the land was funda-
mentally the same as that of the natives whom he despised; he
wanted to work out one patch of country and move on to the
next. And he had cultivated all the cultivable soil. He needed
Dick’s farm badly, because the farms that bounded his on the
other sides were taken up. He knew exactly what he wanted
to do with it. Dick’s farm consisted of a little bit of every-
thing. He had a hundred acres of that wonderful dark soil; and
it was not played out, because he had looked after it. He had a
little soil suitable for tobacco. And the rest was good for
grazing.

It was the grazing Charlie wanted. He did not believe in
pampering cattle by feeding them in winter. He turned them
out to fend for themselves, which was all very well when the

i8o

 

grass was good, but he had so many cattle and the grazing was
thin and poor. So Dick provided the only outlet. For years
Charlie had been planning for when Dick would be bankrupt.
But then Dick obstinately refused to go bankrupt. ‘How
does he do it?’ people asked irritably; for everyone knew
that he never seemed to make any money, always had bad
seasons, was always in debt. ‘Because they live like pigs and
they never buy anything,’ said Mrs Slatter tartly; by now
she felt that Mary could go and drown herself, for all she
cared.

Perhaps they would not have been so indignant and so irri-
tated if Dick had been suitably conscious of his failure. If he
had come to Charlie and asked for advice, and pleaded in-
capacity, it would have been different. But he did not. He sat
tight on his debts and his farm, and ignored Charlie. To whom
it occurred one day that he had not seen Dick at all for over a
year. ‘How time flies!’ said Mrs Slatter, when he pointed this
out; but after working it out, they agreed it was nearer two
years; time, on a farm, has a way of prolonging itself Hin-
noticed. That same afternoon Charlie drove over to the
Turners. He was feeling a little guilty. He had always con-
sidered himself as Dick’s mentor, as a man with much longer
experience and greater knowledge. He felt responsible for
Dick, whom he had watched right from the time he first began
to farm. As he drove, he kept a sharp eye for signs of neglect.
Things seemed neither better nor worse. The fireguards along
the boundary were there, but they would protect the farm
from a small, slow-burning fire, not a big one with the wind
behind it. The cowsheds, while not actually falling down, had
been propped up by poles, and the thatched roofs were
patched like darned stockings, the grass all different colours
and stages of newness, reaching untidily to the ground in un-
trimmed swathes. The roads needed draining: they were in a
deplorable state. The big plantation of gum trees past which
the road went had been burnt by a vcld-fire in one corner;
they stood pale and spectral in the strong yellow afternoon

t8i

 

sunlight, their leaves hanging stiffly down, their trunks charred
black.

Everything was just the same: ramshackle, but not exactly
hopeless.

He found Dick sitting on a big stone by the tobacco barns,
which were now used as store-sheds, watching his boys stack
the year’s supply of meal out of reach of the ants on strips of
iron supported by bricks. Dick’s big floppy farm hat was
pulled over his face, and he Icoked up to nod at Charlie, who
stood beside him, watching the operations, his eyes narrowed;
he was noting that the sacks in which the meal was held were
so rotten with age that they were unhkely to last out the
season.

‘What can I do for you?’ asked Dick, with his usual de-
fensive politeness. But his voice was uncertain; it sounded
unused. And his eyes, peering painfully out of the shadow of
the hat, were bright and anxious.

‘Notliing,’ said Charlie curtly, giving him a slow, irritated
look. ‘Just came to see how you were doing. Haven’t seen you
for months.’

To which there came no reply. The natives were finishing
work. The sun had gone doym, leaving a wake of sultry red
over the kopjes, and the dusk was creeping over the fields from
the edges of the bush. The compound, visible among the trees
half a mile away as a group of conical shapes, was smoking
gently, and there was a small glow of fire behind dark trunks.
Someone was beating a drum; the monotonous tom-tom
noise sounded the end of the day. The boys were swinging
their tattered jackets over their shoulders and filing away along
the edge of the lands. ‘Well,’ said Dick, getting up with a
painful stiff movement, ‘that’s another day finished.’ He
shivered sharply. Charlie examined him: big trembling hands
as thin as spines ; thin hunched shoulders set in a steady sliivcr.
And it was very hot: the ground was glowing out warmth and
the red flush in the sky was fiery. ‘Got fever?’ asked Charlie.

‘ No, don’t think so. Blood getting thin after all these years.’

t 82

 

‘More than thin blood is wrong with you/ retorted Charlie,
who seemed to find it a personal triumph that Dick should
have fever. Yet he looked at him kindly, his big bristly face
with its little squashed-looking features intent and steady. ‘Get
fever much these days? Had it since I brought the quack to see
you?’

‘I get it quite often these days,’ said Dick. ‘I get it every
year. I had it twice last year.*

‘Wife look after you?’

A worried look came on Dick’s face. ‘Yes,’ he said.

‘How is she?’

‘ Seems much the same.’

‘Has she been ill?’

‘No, not ill. But she’s not too good. Seems nervy. She’s run
down. Been on the farm too long.’ And then, in a rush, as if
he could not keep it to liimself another moment, ‘ I am worried
sick about her.’

‘But what’s the trouble?’ Charlie sounded neutral; yet he
never took his eyes off Dick’s face. The two men were still
standing in the dusk under the tall shape of the barn. A sweet-
ish ntoist smell came from the open door; the smell of freshly-
ground mealies. Dick shut the door, wliich was half off its
hinges, by lifting it into place with his shoulder. He locked it.
There was one screw in the triangular flange of the hasp: a
strong man could have wrenched it off the frame. ‘Come up
to the house?’ he asked Charlie, who nodded, and then in-
quired, looking around: ‘Where’s your car?’

‘Oh, I walk these days.’

‘Sold it?’

‘Yes. Cost too much to run. I send in the wagon now to the
station when I want something.’

They climbed into Charlie’s monster of a car, which
balanced and clambered over the rutted tracks too small for it.
The grass was growing back over the roads now that Dick had
no car.

• Between the low, tree-covered rise where the house was,

183

 

and where the bams stood among bush, were lands which had
not been cultivated. It looked as if they had been allowed to lie
fallow, but Charlie, looking closely through the dusk, could
see tliat among the grass and low bushes were thin, straggling
mealies. He thought at first they had seeded themselves; but
they seemed to be regularly planted. ‘What’s this?’ he asked,
‘what’s the idea?’

‘I was trying out a new idea from America.’

‘What idea?’

‘The bloke said there was no i eed to plough or to cultivate.
The idea is to plant the grain among ordinary vegetation and
let it. grow of itself.’

‘Didn’t work out, hey?’

‘ No,’ said Dick blankly. ‘ I didn’t bother to reap it. I thought
■ I might as well leave it to do the soil some good . . ,’ His voice
tailed off.

‘Experiment,’ said Charlie briefly. It was significant that he
sounded neither exasperated nor angry. He seemed detached;
but kept glancing curiously, with an undercurrent of uneasi-
ness, at Dick, whose face was obstinately set and miserable.
‘What was that you were saying about your wife?’

‘ She’s not well.’

‘Yes, but why, man?’

Dick did not answer for a while. They passed from the open
lands, where the golden evening glow still lingered on the
leaves, to die bush, where it was dense dusk. The big car
zoomed up the hill, which was steep, its bonnet reaching up
into the sky. ‘ I don’t know,’ said Dick at last. ‘ She’s different
lately. Sometimes I think she’s much better. It’s difficult to tell
with women how they are. She’s not the same.’

‘But in what way?’ persisted Charhe.

‘Well, for instance. Once, when she first came to the farm
she had more go in her. She doesn’t seem to care. She doesn’t
care about anything. She simply sits and docs nothing. She
doesn’t even trouble herself about the chickens and things like
that. You know she used to make a packet out of them every

 

month or so. And she doesn’t care what the boy does in the
house. Once she used to drive me mad nagging. Nag, nag,
nag, all day. You know how women get when they’ve been
too long on the farm. No self-control.’

‘No woman knows how to handle niggers,’ said Charlie.

‘ WeU, I am quite worried,’ stated Dick, laughing miserably.
‘I should be quite pleased if she did nag.’

‘Look here. Turner,’ said Charlie abruptly. ‘ Why don’t you
give up this business and get off the place. You are not doing
yourself or your wife any good.’

‘ Oh, we rub along.’.

‘You are ill, man.’

‘I am all right.’

They stopped outside the house. A glimmer of light came
from within, but Mary did not appear. A second light sprang
up in the bedroom. Dick had his eyes on it. ‘ She’s changing
her dress,’ he said; and he sounded pleased. ‘No one has been
here for so long.’

‘Why don’t you sell out to me? I’ll give you a good price
for it.’

‘Where should I go?’ asked Dick in amazement.

‘Get into town. Get off the land. You arc no good on the
land. Get yourself a steady job in town somewhere.’

‘I keep my end up,’ said Dick resentfully.

The thin shape of a woman appeared against the light, on
the veranda. The two men got out of the car and went inside.

‘ ’Evening, Mrs Turner.’

‘Good evening,’ said Mary.

Charlie examined her closely when they were inside the
lighted room, more closely because of the way she had said,
‘Good evening.’ She remained standing uncertainly in front
of him, a dried stick of a woman, her hair that had been
bleached by the sun into a streaky mass falling round a scrawny
face and tied on the top of her head with a blue ribbon. Her
thin, yellowish neck protruded out of a dress that she had ap-
parently just put on. It was a frilled raspberry-coloured cotton;

185

 

and in her cars were long red ear-rings like boiled sweets, that
tapped against her neck in short swinging jerks. Her blue eyes,
which had once told anyone who really took the trouble to
look into them that Mary Turner was not really ‘ stuck-up \
but shy, proud, and sensitive, had a new light in them. ‘Why,
good evening!’ she said girlishly. ‘Why, Mr Slatter, we
haven’t had the pleasure of seeing you for a long time.’ She
laughed, twisting her shoulder in a horrible parody of
coquetry.

Dick averted his eyes, suffering*. Charlie stared at her rudely:
stared and stared until at last she flushed and turned away,
tossing her head. ‘Mr Slatter doesn’t like us,’ she informed
Dick socially, ‘or otherwise he would come to see us more
often.’

She sat herself down in the corner of the old sofa, which had
gone out of shape and become a thing of lumps and hollows
with a piece of faded blue stuff stretched over it.

Charlie, his eyes on that material, asked: ‘How is the store
going?’

‘We gave it up, it didn’t pay,’ said Dick brusquely. ‘Wc
arc using up the stock ourselves.’

Charlie looked at Mary’s ear-rings, and at the sofa-cover,
which was of the material always sold to natives, an ugly pat-
terned blue that has become a tradition in South Africa, so
much associated with ‘kaffir-truck’ tliat it shocked Charlie to
see it in a white man’s house. He looked round the place,
frowning. The curtains were torn; a window-pane had been
broken and patched with paper; another had cracked and not
been mended at all; the room was indescribably broken down
and faded. Yet everywhere were little bits of stuff from the
store, roughly-hemmed, draping the back of a chair, or tucked
in to form a chair seat. Charlie might have thought that this
small evidence of a desire to keep up appearances was a good
sign; but all his rough and rather brutal good humour was
gone; he was silent, his forehead dark.

‘Like to stay to supper?’ asked Dick at last.

i86

 

‘No thanks/ said Charlie; then changed his mind out of
curiosity. ‘Yes, I will.’

Unconsciously the two men were speaking as if in the pre-
sence of an invalid; but Mary scrambled out of her seat, and
shouted from the doc^way: ‘Moses! Moses!’

Then, since the native did not appear, she turned and smiled
at them with social coyness, and said: ‘Excuse me, but you
know what these boys are.*

She went out. The men were silent. Dick’s face was averted
from Charlie, who, since he had never become convinced of
the necessity for tact, gazed intently at Dick, as if trying to
force him into some explajiation or statement.

Supper, when it was brought in by Moses, consisted of a
tray of tea, some bread and rather rancid butter, and a chunk
of cold meat. There was not a piece of crockery that was
whole; and Charlie could feel the grease on the knife he held.
He ate with distaste, making no effort to hide it, while Dick
said nothing, and Mary made abrupt, unrelated remarks about
the weather with that appalling coyness, shaking her ear-rings,
writhing her thin shoulders, ogling CharHe with a conven-
tional flirtatiousness.

To all this Charlie made no response. He said, ‘Yes, Mrs
Turner. No, Mrs Turner.’ And looked at her coldly, his eyes
hard with contempt and dislike.

When the native came to clear away the dishes there was an,
incident that caused him to grind his teeth and go white with
anger. They were sitting over the sordid relics of the meal,
while the boy moved about the table, slackly gathering dishes
together. Charlie had not even noticed him. Then Mary
asked: ‘Like some fruit, Mr Slatter? Moses, fetch the oranges.
You know where they are.’ Charlie looked up, his jaws mov-
ing slowly over the food in his mouth, his eyes alert and
bright; it was the tone of Mary’s voice when she spoke to the
native that jarred on hini: she was speaking to him with
exactly the same flirtatious coyness with which she had spoken
to himself.

187

 

The native replied, with a rough offhand rudeness:
‘Oranges finished/

‘I know they are not finished. There were two left. I know
they are not.’ Mary was appealing, looking up at the boy,
almost confiding in him.

‘Oranges finished/ he repeated, in that tone of surly in-
difference, but with a note of self-satisfaction, of conscious
power that took Charlie’s breath away. Literally, he could not
find words. He looked at Dxk, who was sitting staring down
at his hands ; and it was impos. ible to see what he was thinking,
or whether he had noticed anytliing at all. He looked at Mary :
her wrinkled yellow skin had an ugly flush under the eyes, and
thf expression on her face was unmistakably one of fear. She
appeared to have understood that Charlie had noticed some-
thing ; she kept glancing at him guiltily, smiling.

‘How long have you had that boy?’ asked Charlie at last,
jerking his head at Moses, who was standing at the doorway
with the tray, openly listening. Mary looked helplessly at
Dick.

Dick said tonelcssly, ‘About folir years, I think.’

‘Why do you keep him?’

‘He’s a good boy,’ said Mary, tossing her head. ‘He works
well.’

‘It doesn’t seem like it,’ said Charlie bluntly, challenging her
with his eyes. But hers were evasive and uneasy. At the same
time they held a gleam of secret satisfaction that sent the
blood to Charlie’s head. ‘Why don’t you get rid of him? Why
do you let him speak to you like that?’

Mary did not reply. She had turned her head, and was look-
ing over her shoulder at the doorway where Moses stood; and
in her face was an ugly brainlessness that caused Charlie to shout
out suddenly at the native: ‘Get away from there. Get on with
your work.’

The big native disappeared, responding at once to the com-
mand. And then there was a silence. Charlie was waiting for
Dick to speak, to say something that showed he had not com-

i88

 

plctcly given in. But his head was still bent, his face dumbly
suffering. At last Charlie appealed direct to him, ignoring
Mary as if she were not present at all. ‘ Get rid of that boy,’ he
said. ‘Get rid of him, Turner.’

‘Mary likes him,’ was the slow, blank response.

‘Come outside, I want to talk to you.’

Dick lifted his head and looked resentfully at Charlie; he
resented that he was being forced to take notice of something
he wanted to ignore. But he obediently hoisted his body out
of the chair and followed Charlie outside. The two men went
down the veranda steps, and as far as the shadow of the trees.

‘You’ve got to get away from here,’ said Charlie curtly.

‘How can I?’ said Dick listlessly. ‘How can I when I am still
in debt.’ And then, as if it were still a question of money, with
nothing else involved, he said: ‘I know other people don’t
seem to worry. I know there arc plenty of farmers who arc as
hard up as I am and who buy cars and go for holidays. But I
just can’t do it, Charlie, I can’t do it. I am not made that way.’

Charlie said: ‘I’ll buy your farm from yoti and you can stay
here as manager. Turner. But you must go away first for a
holiday, for at least six months. You must get your wife
away.’

He spoke as if there could be no question of a refusal; he
liad been shocked out of self-interest. It was not even pity for
Dick that moved him. He was obeying the dictate of the first
law of white South Africa, which is: ‘Thou shalt not let your
fellow whites sink lower than a certain point; because if you
do, the nigger will see he is as good as you are.’ The strongest
emotion of a strongly organized society spoke in his voice, and
it took the backbone out of Dick’s resistance. For, after all, he
had lived in the country all his life; he was undermined with
shame; he knew what was expected of him, and that he had
failed. But he could not bring himself to accept Charlie’s ulti-
matum. He felt that Charlie was asking him to give up life
itself, which, for him, was the farm and his ownership of it.

‘I’ll take this place over as it stands, and give you enough to

189

 

clear your debts. I’ll engage a manager to run it till you get
back from the coast. You must go away for six montlu at the
very least, Turner. It doesn’t matter where you go. I’U see that
you have the money to do it. You can’t go on like this, and
that is the end of it.’

But Dick did not give in so easily. He fought for four hours.
For four hours they argued, walking up and down beneath the
trees.

Charlie drove away at last without going back to the house.
Dick returned to it walking j eavily, almost staggering, the
spring of his living destroyed, i would no longer own the
farm, he would be another man’s servant. Mary was sitting in
a lump in the corner of the sofa; the manner she had instinc-
tively assumed in Charlie’s presence, to preserve appearances
and to hold her own, had gone. She did not look at Dick
when he came in. For days at a time she did not speak to him.
It was as if he did not exist for her. She seemed to be sunk
fathoms deep in some dream of her own. She only came to
life, only noticed what she was doing, when the native came
in to do some little thing in the room. Then she never took
her eyes off him. But what this meant Dick did not know:
he did not want to know; he was beyond fighting it now.

Charlie Slatter did not waste time. He drove round the dis-
trict from farm to farm, trying to find someone who would
take over the Turners’ place for a few months. He gave no
explanations. He was extraordinarily reticent; he said merely
that he was helping Turner to take his wife away. At last he
heard of a young man just out from England, who wanted a
job. Charlie did not mind who it was: anyone would do; the
thing was too urgent. He at last drove into town himself to
find him. He was not particularly impressed with the youth
one way or the other; he was the usual type; the self-contained
educated Englishman who spoke in a la-di-da way as if he had
a mouthful of pearls. He brought the young man back with
him. He told him little; he did not know what to tell him.
The arrangement was that he should take over the farm at

190

 

once, within a week, letting the Tamers go off to the coast;
Charlie would arrange about the money; Charlie would tell
him what to do on the farm: that was the plan. But when he
went over to Dick, to tell him, he found that wliile he had
become reconciled to the necessity of leaving, he could not be
persuaded to leave at once.

Charlie, Dick, and the young man, Tony Marston, stood in
the middle of a field; Charlie hot and angry and impatient (for
he could not bear to be thwarted at the best of times), Dick
stubborn and miserable, Marston sensitive to the situation and
trying to efface himself.

‘Damn it, Charlie, why kick me off like this? I’ve been here
fifteen years ! ’

‘For God’s sake, man, I am not kicking you off. I want you
to get off before – you should get off at once. You must see
that for yourself.’

‘Fifteen years! ’ said Dick, his lean dark face flushed, ‘fifteen
years!’ He even bent down unconsciously and picked up a
handful of earth, and held it in his hand, as if claiming his own.
It was an absurd gesture. Charlie’s face put on a jeering little
smile.

‘But, Turner, you will be coming back to it.’

‘It won’t be mine,’ said Dick, and his voice broke. He
turned away, still clutching his soil. Tony Marston also turned
away, and pretended to be inspecting the condition of the
field; he did not want to intrude on this grief. Charlie, who
had no such scruples, looked impatiently at Dick’s working
face. Yet with a tinge of respect. He respected the emotion
he could not understand. Pride of ownership, yes: that he
knew; but not this passionate attachment to the soil, as such.
He did not understand it; but his voice softened.

‘It will be as good as yours. I won’t upset your farm. You
can go on with it, when you come back, just as you like.’ He
spoke with his usual rough good-humour.

‘Charity,’ said Dick, in that remote grieved voice.

‘ It’s not charity. I’m buying it as a business concern. I want

191

 

the grazing. I will rim my cattle here with yours, and you can
go on with your crops as you like.’

Yet he was thinking it was charity, was even a little sur-
prised at himself for this complete betrayal of his business prin-
ciples. In the minds of all three of them the word ‘charity’ was
written in big black letters, obscuring everything else. And
they were all wrong. It was an instinctive self-preservation.
Charlie was fighting to prevent another recruit to the growing
army of poor whites, who set m to respectable white people so
much more shocking (though not pathetic, for they are de-
spised and hated for their betray al of white standards, rather
than pitied) than all the millions of black people who are
crowded into the slums or on to the dwindling land reserves
of their own country.

At last, after much argument, Dick agreed to leave at the
end of a month, when he had shown Tony how he liked things
done on ‘his’ land. Charlie, cheating a little, booked the rail-
way journey for three weeks ahead. Tony went back to the
house with Dick, agreeably surprised that he had not been in
the country more than a couple of months before finding a
job. He was given a thatched, mud-walled hut at the back of
the house. It had been a store-hut at one stage, but was now
empty. There were scattered mealies on the floor still, which
had escaped the broom; on the walls were ant tunnels of fine
red granules which had not been brushed away. There was an
iron bedstead, supplied by Charlie, a cupboard made of boxes
and curtained over with that peculiarly ugly, blue native stuff,
and a mirror over a basin on a packing-case. Tony did not
mind these things in the least. He was in a mood of elation, a
fine romantic mood, and things like bad food or sagging mat-
tresses were quite unimportant to him. Standards that would
have shocked him in his own country seemed more like excit-
ing indications of a different sense of values, here.

He was twenty. He had had a good, conventional education,
and had faced the prospect of becoming some kind of a clerk
in his uncle’s factory. To sit on an office stool was not his idea

192

 

of life; and he had chosen Sbuth Africa as his home because a
remote cousin of his had made five thousand pounds the year
before out of tobacco. He intended to do the same, and better,
if he could. In the meantime he had to learn. The only thing
he had against this farm was that it had no tobacco ; but six
months on a mixed farm would be experience, and good for
him. He was sorry for Dick Turner, whom he knew to be un-
happy ; but even this tragedy seemed to him romantic; he saw
it, impersonally, as a symptom of the growing capitalization
of farming all over the world, of the way small farmers would
inevitably be swallowed by the big ones. (Since he intended to
be a big one himself, this tendency did not distress him.) Be-
cause he had never yet earned his own living, he thought en-
tirely in abstractions. For instance, he had the conventionally
‘progressive’ ideas about the colour bar, the superficial pro-
gressiveness of the idealist that seldom survives a conflict with
self-interest. He had brought with him a suitcase full of books,
which he stacked round the circulai wall of his hut: books on
the colour question, on Rhodes and Kruger, on farming, on
the history of gold. But, a week later, he picked up one of
them and found the back eaten out by white ants. So he put
them back in the suitcase and never looked at them again. A
man cannot work twelve ‘hours a day and then feel fresh
enough for study.

He took his meals with the Turners. Otherwise, he was ex-
pected to pick up enough knowledge in a month to keep this
place running for six, until Dick returned. He spent all day
with Dick on the lands, rising at five, and going to bed at
eight. He was interested ^in everything, well-informed, fresh,
alive – a charming companion. Or perhaps Dick might have
found him so ten years before. As it was he was not responsive
to Tony, who would start a comfortable discussion on mis-
cegenation, perhaps, or the effects of the colour bar on in-
dustry only to find Dick staring, with abstract eyes. Dick was
concerned, in Tony’s presence, only to get tlirough these last
days without losing his last shreds of self-respect by breaking

193

 

down, by refusing to go. ^nd he knew he had to go. Yet his
feelings were so violent, he was in such a turmoil of unhappi-
ness, that he had to restrain crazy impulses to set fire to the
long grass and watch the flames destroy the veld he knew so
well that each bush and tree was a personal friend; or to pull
down the little house he had built with his own hands and
lived in so long. It seemed a violation that someone else would
give orders here, someone else would farm his soil and per-
haps destroy his work.

As for Mary, Tony hardly SeW her. He was disturbed by
her, when he had time to think abcut the strange, silent, dried-
out woman who seemed as if she had forgotten how to speak.
And then, it would appear that she realized she should make an
effort, and her manner would become odd and gauche. She
would talk for a few moments with a grotesque sprightliness
that shocked Tony and made him uncomfortable. Her manner
had no relation to what she was saying. She would suddenly
break into one of Dick’s, slow, patient explanations about a
plough or a sick ox, with an irrelevant remark about the food
(which Tony found nauseating) or about the heat at this time
of the year. ‘ I do so like it when the rains come,’ she would say
conversationally, giggle a little, and relapse suddenly into a
blank, staring silence. Tony began to tliink she wasn’t quite all
there. But then, these two had had a hard time of it, so he
understood; and in any case, living here all by themselves for
so long was enough to make anyone a bit odd.

The heat in that house was so great that he could not under-
stand how she stood it. Being new to the country he felt the
heat badly; but he was glad to be out and away from that tin-
roofed oven where the air seemed to coagulate into layers of
sticky heat. Although his interest in Mary was limited, it did
occur to liim to think that she was leaving for a holiday for the
first time in years, and that she might be expected to show
symptoms of pleasure. She was making no preparations that
he could see; never even mentioned it. And Dick, for that
matter, did not talk about it either.

194

 

About a week before they were due to leave, Dick said to
Mary over the lunch table, ‘How about packing?’ She nodded
after two repetitions of the question, but did not reply.

‘You must pack, Mary,’ said Dick gently, in that quiet
hopeless voice with which he always addressed her. But when
he and Tony returned that night, she had done nothing. When
the greasy meal was cleared away, Dick pulled down the
boxes and began to do the packing himself. Seeing him at
it, she began to help; but before half an hour was gone, she
had left liim in the bedroom, and was sitting blankly on the
sofa.

‘Complete nervous breakdown,’ diagnosed Tony, who was
just off to bed. He had the kind of mind that is relieved by
putting things into words; the phrase was an apology for
Mary; it absolved her from criticism. ‘Complete nervous
breakdown’ was something anyone might have; most people
did, at some time or another. The next night, too, Dick
packed, until everything was ready. ‘Buy yourself some
material and make a dress or two,’ said Dick diffidently, for
he had realized, handling her things, that she had, almost
literally, ‘nothing to wear’. She nodded, and took out of a
drawer a length of flowered cotton stuff that had been taken
over with the stock from the store. She began to cut it out,
then remained still, bent over it, silent, until Dick touched her
shoulder and roused her to come to bed. Tony, witness of this
scene, refrained from looking at Dick. He was grieved for
them both. He had learned to like Dick very much; his feeling
for him was sincere and personal. As for Mary, while he was
sorry for her, what could,be said about a woman who simply
wasn’t there? ‘A case for a psychologist,’ he said again, trying
to reassure himself. For that matter, Dick would benefit by
treatment himself. The man was cracking up, he shivered per-
petually, his face was so thin the bone-structure showed under
the skin. He was not fit to work at all, really; but he insisted on
spending every moment of daylight on the fields ; he could not
bear to leave them when dusk came. Tony had to bring him

195

 

away; his task now was almost one of a male nurse, and he was
beginning to look forward to the Turners’ departure.

Three days before they were to leave, Tony asked to stay
behind for the afternoon, because he was not feeling well. A
touch of the sun, perhaps ; he had a bad headache, his eyes hurt,
and nausea moved in the pit of his stomach. He stayed away
from the midday meal, lying in his hut which, though warm
enough, was cold compared to that oven of a house. At four
o’clock in the afternoon he wore from an uneasy aching sleep,
and was very thirsty. The old \ hisky bottle that was usually
filled with drinking water was en.pty ; the boy had forgotten
to fill it. Tony went out into the yellow glare to fetch water
from’^the house. The back door v/as open, and he moved
silently, afraid to wake Mary, whom he had been told slept
every afternoon. He took a glass from a rack, and wiped it
carefully, and went into the living-room for the water. A
glazed earthenware filter stood on the shelf that served as a
sideboard. Tony lifted the lid and peered in: the dome of the
filter was slimy with yellow mud, but the water trickled out
of the tap clear, though tasting stale and tepid. He drank, and
drank again, and, having filled his bottle, turned to leave. The
curtain between this room and the bedroom was drawn back,
and he could sec in. He was struck motionless by surprise.
Mary was sitting on an upended caiidlcbox before the square
mirror nailed on the wall. She was in a garish pink petticoat,
and her bony yellow shoulders stuck sharply out of it. Beside
her stood Moses, and, as Tony watched, she stood up and held
out her arms while the native slipped her dress over them from
behind. When she sat down again she shook out her hair from
her neck with both hands, with the gesture of a beautiful
woman adoring her beauty. Moses was buttoning up the
dress; she was looking in the mirror. The attitude of the native
was of an indulgent uxoriousness. When he had finished the
buttoning, he stood back, and watched the woman brushing
her hair. ‘Thank you, Moses,’ she said in a high commanding
voice. Then she turned, and said intimately: ‘You had better

196

 

go now. It is time for the boss to come.’ The native came out
of the room. When he saw the white man standing ther^,
staring at him incredulously, he hesitated for a moment and
then came straight on, passing him on silent feet, but with a
malevolent glare. The malevolence was so strong, that Tony
was momentarily afraid. When the native had gone, Tony sat
down on a chair, mopped his face which was streaming witli
the heat, and shook his head to clear it. For liis thoughts were
conflicting. He had been in the country long enough to be
shocked; at the same time his ‘progressiveness’ was deliciously
flattered by this evidence of white ruling-class hypocrisy. For
in a country where coloured children appear plentifully
among the natives wherever a lonely white man is stationed,
hypocrisy, as Tony defined it, was the first thing that had
struck him on his arrival. But then, he had read enough about
psychology to understand the sexual aspect of the colour bar,
one of whose foundations is the jealousy of the white man for
the superior sexual potency of the native; and he was surprised
at one of the guarded, a white woman, so easily evading this
barrier. Yet he had met a doctor on the boat coming out, with
years of experience in a country district, who had told him he
would be surprised to know the number of white women who
had relations with black men. Tony felt at the time that he
would be surprised; he felt it would be rather like having a
relation with an animal, in spite of his ‘progressiveness’.

And then all these considerations went from his mind, and|
he was left simply with the fact of Mary, this poor, twisted^^
woman, who was clearly in the last stages of breakdown, and
who was at this moment coming out of the bedroom, one
hand still lifted to her hair. And then he felt, at the sight of her
face, which was bright and innocent, though with an empty,
half-idiotic brightness, that all his suspicions were nonsense.

When she saw him, she stopped dead, and stared at him
with fear. Then her face, from being tormented, became
slowly blank and in4iSercnt. He could not understand this
sudden change. But he said, in a jocular uncomfortable voice:

197

 

‘There was once an Empress of Russia who thought so little
of her slaves, as human beings, that she used to undress naked
in front of them/ It was from this point of view that he chose
to see the affair; the other was too difficult for him.

‘Was there?’ she said doubtfully at last, looking puzzled.

‘Does that native always dress and undress you?’ he asked.

Mary lifted her head sharply, and her eyes became cunning.
‘He has so little to do,’ sh*^ said, tossing her head. ‘He must
earn his money.*

‘It’s not customary in this vountry, is it?’ he asked slowly,
out of the depths of his complete bewilderment. And he saw,
as-he spoke, that the phrase ‘this country’, which is like a call
to soUdarity for most white people, meant nothing to her.
For her, there was only the farm; not even that – there was
only this house, and what was in it. And he began to under-
stand, with a horrified pity, her utter indifference to Dick; she
had shut out everything that conflicted with her actions, that
would revive the code she had been brought up to follow.

She said suddenly, ‘They said I was not like that, not like
that, not hke that.’ It was like a gramophone that had got
stuck at one point.

‘Not like what?’ he asked blankly.

‘Not like that” The phrase was furtive, sly, yet triumphant.
God, the woman is mad as a hatter! he said to himself. And
then he thought, but is she, is she? She can’t be mad. She
doesn’t behave as if she were. She behaves simply as if she
lives in a world of her own, where other people’s standards
don’t count. She has forgotten what her own people are like.
But then, what is madness, but a refuge, a retreating from the
world?

Thus the unhappy and bewildered Tony, sitting on his chair
beside the water filter, still holding liis bottle and glass, staring
uneasily at Mary, who began to talk in a sad quiet voice which
made liim say to himself, as she was speaking, changing his
mind again, that she was not mad, at least, not at that moment.
‘It’s a long time since I came here,’ she said, looking straight

198

 

at him, in appeal. ‘ So long I can*t quite remember. … I should
have left long ago. I don’t know why I didn’t. I don’t know
why I came. But things are different. Very different.’ She
stopped. Her face was pitiful; her eyes were painful holes in
her face. ‘I don’t know anything. I don’t understand. Why is
all this happening? I didn’t mean it to happen. But he won’t
go away, he won’t go away.’ And then, in a different voice,
she snapped at him, ‘Why did you come here? It was all right
before you came.’ She burst into tears, moaning, ‘He won’t
go away.’

Tony rose to go to her: now his only emotion was pity;
his discomfort was forgotten. Something made him turn. In
the doorway stood the boy, Moses, looking in at them both,
his face wickedly malevolent.

‘Go away,’ said Tony, ‘go away at once.’ He put his arm
round Mary’s shoulders, for she was shrinking away and dig-
ging her fingers into his flesh.

‘Go away,’ she said suddenly, over his shoulder at the
native. Tony realized that she wa,s trying to assert herself: she
was using his presence there as a shield in a fight to get back a
command she had lost. And she was speaking like a child
challenging a grown-up person.

‘Madame want me to go?’ said the boy quietly.

‘Yes, go away.’

‘Madame want me to go because of this boss?’

It was not the words in themselves that made Tony rise to
his feet and stride to the door, but the way in which they were
spoken. ‘Get out,’ he said, half-choked with anger. ‘Get out
before I kick you out.’

After a long, slow, evil look the native went. Then he came
back. Speaking past Tony, ignoring him, he said to Mary,
‘Madame is leaving this farm, yes?’

‘Yes,’ said Mary faintly.

‘Madame never coming back?’

‘No, no, no,’ she cried out.

‘And is this boss going too?’

199

 

‘No/ she screamed. ‘Go away*

‘Will you go?’ shouted Tony. He could have killed this
native: he wanted to take him by his throat and squeeze the
life out of him. And then Moses vanished. They heard him
walk across the kitchen and out of the back door. The house
was empty. Mary sobbed, her head on her arms. ‘He’s gone/
she cried, ‘ he’s gone, he’s gone ! ’ Her voice was hysterical with
relief. And then she suddenly pushed him away, stood in front
of him like a mad woman, and hissed, ‘You sent him away!
He’ll never come back! It wai all right till you came 1 ’ And she
collapsed in a storm of tears. Tony sat there, his arm round her,
comforting her. He was wondering only, ‘What shall I say to
Turner?’ But what could he say? The whole thing was better
left. The man was half-crazy with worry as it was. It would be
cruel to say anything to him – and in any case, in two days
both of them would be gone from the farm.

He decided that he would take Dick aside and suggest, only,
that the native should be dismissed at once.

But Moses did not return. He was not there that evening at
all. Tony heard Dick ask where the native was, and her answer
that ‘she had sent him away’. He heard the blank indifference
of her voice : saw that she was speaking to Dick without seeing
him.

Tony, at last, shrugged in despair, and decided to do noth-
ing. And the next morning he was off to the lands as usual. It
was the last day; there was a great deal to do.

 

CHAPTER II

Mary awoke suddenly, as if some big elbow had nudged her.
It was still night. Dick lay asleep beside her. The window was
creaking on its hinges, and when she looked into the square of
darkness, she could see stars moving and flashing among the
tree boughs. The sky was luminous; but there was an under-
tone of cold grey; the stars were bright; but with a weak
gleam. Inside the room the furniture was growing into light.
She could see a glimmer that was the surface of die mirror.
Then a cock crowed in the compound, and a dozen shrill
voices answered for the dawn. Daylight? Moonlight? Both.
Both mingled together, and it would be sunrise in half an
hour. She yawned, settled back on her lumpy pillows, and
stretched out her limbs. She thought, diat usually her wakings
were grey and struggling, a reluctant upheaval of her body
from the bed’s refuge. Today she was vastly peaceful and
rested. Her mind was clear, and her body comfortable.
Cradled in case she locked her hands behind her head and
stared at the darkness that held the familiar walls and furniture.
Lazily she created the room in imagination, placing each cup-
board and chair; then moved beyond the house, hollowing it
out of the liight in her mind as if her hand cupped, it. At last,
from a height, she looked down on the building set among the
bush – and was filled with a regretful, peaceable tenderness. It
seemed as if she were holding that immensely pitiful tiling, the
farm with its inhabitants, in the hollow of her hand, which
curved round it to shut out the gaze of the cruelly critical
world. And she felt as if she must weep. She could feel the
tears running down her cheeks, which stung rawly, and she
put up her fingers to touch the skin. The contact of rough
finger with roughened flesh restored her to herself. She con-
tinued to cry, but hopelessly, fiir herself, though still from a

‘’,01

 

forgiving distance. Then Dick stirred and woke, sitting up
with a jerk. She knew he was turning his head this way and
that, in the dark, listening; and she lay quite still. She felt his
hand touch her cheek diffidently. But that diffident, apologetic
touch annoyed her, and she jerked her head back. ‘What is the
matter, Mary?’

‘Notliing,’ she replied.

‘Are you sorry you are having?*

The question seemed to h ‘r ridiculous ; nothing to do with
her at all. And she did not wa>’t to tliink of Dick, except with
that distant and impersonal pity. Could he not let her live in
this last short moment of peace? ‘Go to sleep,* she said. ‘It*s
not morning yet.’

Her voice seemed to him normal; even her rejection of him
was too familiar a thing to waken him thoroughly. In a minute
he was asleep again, stretched out as if he had never stirred.
But now she could not forget him: she knew he was lying
there beside her, could feel his limbs sprawled against hers.
She raised herself up, feeling bitter against him, who never left
her in peace. Always he was there, a torturing reminder of
what she had to forget in order to remain herself. She sat up
straight, resting her head on locked hands, conscious again, as
she had not been for a very long time, of that feeling of strain,
as if she were stretched taut between two immovable poles.
She rocked herself slowly back and forth, with a dim, mind-
less movement, trying to sink back into that region of her
mind where Dick did not exist. For it had been a choice, if one
could call such an inevitable thing a choice, between Dick and
the other, and Dick was destroyed long ago. ‘Poor Dick,* she
said tranquilly, at last, from her recovered distance from him;
and a flicker of terror touched her, an intimation of that terror
which would later engulf her. She knew it: she felt trans-
parent, clairvoyant, containing all things. But not Dick. No;
she looked at him, a huddle under blankets, his face a pallid
glimmer in the growing dawn. It crept in from the low square
of window, and with it came a warm, airless breeze. ‘Poor

202

 

Dick,* she said, for the last time, and did not think of him
again.

She got out of bed and stood by the window. The low sill
cut across her thighs. If she bent forward and down, she could
touch the ground, which seemed to rise up outside, stretching
to the trees. The stars were gone. The sky was colourless and
immense. The veld was dim. Everything was on the verge
of colour. There was a hint of green in the curve of a leaf,
a shine in the sky that was almost blue, and the clear starred
outline of the poinsettia flowers suggested the hardness of
scarlet.

Slowly, across the sky, spread a marvellous pink flush, and
the trees lifted to meet it, becoming tinged with pink, and
bending out^into the dawn she saw the world had put on
colour and shape. The night was over. When the sun rose, she
thought, her moment would be over, this marvellous moment
of peace and forgiveness granted her by a forgiving God. She
crouched against the siU, cramped and motionless, clutching
on to her last remnants of happiness, her mind as clear as the
sky itself. But why, this last morning, had she woken peace-
fully from a good sleep, and not, as usually, from one of those
ugly dreams that seemed to carry over into the day, so that
there sometimes seemed no division between the horrors of
the night and of the day? Why should she be standing there,
watching the sunrise, as if the world were being created afresh
for her, feeling this wonderful rooted joy? She was inside a
bubble of fresh light and colour, of brilliant sound and bird-
song. All around the trees were filled with shrilling birds, that
sounded her own happiness and chorused it to the sky. As light
as a blown feather she left the room and went outside to the
veranda. It was so beautiful: so beautiful she could hardly bear
the wonderful flushed sky, with red streaked and hazed against
the intense blue; the beautiful still trees, with their load of
singing birds; the vivid starry poinsettias cutting into the air
with jagged scarlet.

The red spread out from the centre of the sky, seemed to

203

 

tinge the smoke haze over the kopjes, and to hght the trees
with a hot sulphurous yellow. The world was a miracle of
colour, and all for her, all for her! She could have wept with
release and lighthearted joy. And then she heard it, that sound
she could never bear, the first cicada beginning to shrill some-
where in the trees. It was the sound of the sun itself, and haw
she hated the sun! It was rising now; there was a sullen red
curve behind a black rock and a beam of hot yellow light
shot up into the blue. One a “ter another the cicadas joined the
steady shrilling noise, so that now there were no birds to be
heard, and that insistent low screaming seemed to her to be the
noise of the sun, whirling on its hot core, the sound of the
harsh brazen light, the sound of the gathering heat. Her head
was beginning to throb, her shoulders to ache. The dull red
disc jerked suddciJy up over the kopjes, and the colour cbbM
from the sky; a lean, sunflattened landscape stretched before
her, dun-coloured, brown and olive-green, and the smoke-
haze was everywhere, lingering in the trees and obscuring the
hills. The sky shut down over her, with thick yellowish walls
of smoke growing up to meet it. The world was small, shut
in a room of heat and haze and light.

Shuddering, she seemed to wake, looking about her, touch-
ing dry lips with her tongue. She was leaning pressed back
against the thin brick wall, her hands extended, palms up-‘
wards, warding off the day’s coming. She let them fall, moved
away from the wall, and looked over her shoulder at where
she had been crouching. ‘There,’ she said aloud, ‘it will be
there.’ And the sound of her own voice, calm, prophetic, fatal,
fell on her ears like a warning. She went indoors, pressing her
hands to her head, to evade that evil veranda.

Dick was awake, just pulling on his trousers to go and beat
the gong. She stood, waiting for the clanging noise. It came,
and with it the terror. Somewhere he stood, listening for the
gong that announced the last day. She could sec him clearly.
He was standing under a tree somewhere, leaning back against
it, his eyes fixed on the house, waiting. She knew it. But not

204

 

yet, she said to herself, it would not be quite yet; she had the
day in front of her.

‘Get dressed, Mary/ said Dick, in a quiet urgent voice. Re-
peated, it penetrated her brain, and she obediently went into
the bedroom and began to put on her clothes. Fumbling for
buttons she paused, went to the door, about to call for Moses,
who would do up her clothes, hand her the brush, tie up her
hair, and take the responsibility for her so that she need not
think for herself. Through the curtain she saw Dick and that
young man sitting at the table, eating a meal she had not pre-
pared. She remembered that Moses had gone: relief flooded
her. She would be alone, alone all day. Sh^ could concentrate
on the one thing left that mattered to her now. She saw Dick
rise, with a grieved face, pull across the curtain; she under-
stood that she had been standing in the doorway in her under-
clothes, in the full sight of that young man. Shame flushed her;
but before the saving resentment could countermand the
shame, she forgot Dick and the young man. She finished
dressing, slowly, slowly, with long pauses between each move-
ment – for had she not all day? – and at last went outside. The
table was littered with dishes; the men had gone off to work.
A big dish was caked with thick white grease; she thought
that they must have been gone some time.

Listlessly she stacked the plates, carried them into the
kitchen, filled the sink with water, and then forgot what she
was doing. Standing still, her hands hanging idly, she thought,
‘somewhere, outside, among the trees, he is waiting’. She
rushed about the house in a panic, shutting the doors, and all
the windows, and collapsed at last on the sofa, like a hare
crouching in a tuft of grass, watching the dogs come nearer.
But it was no use waiting now: her mind told her she had all
day, until the night came. Again, for a brief space, her brain
cleared.

What was it all about? she wondered dully, pressing her
fingers against her eyes so that they gushed jets of yellow light.
I don’t understand, she said, I don’t understand. . . . The idea

20 s

 

of herself, standing above the house, somewhere on an in-
visible mountain peak, looking down Uke a judge on his court,
returned; but this time without a sense of release. It was a tor-
ment to her, ill that momentarily pitiless clarity, to see herself.
That was how they would see her, when it was all over, as she
saw herself now : an angular, ugly, pitiful woman, with noth-
ing left of the life she had been given to use but one thought:
that between her and the an^rry sun was a thin strip of bUster-
ing iron; that between her a \d the fatal darkness was a short
strip of daylight. And time tax ing on the attributes of space,
she stood balanced in mid-air, and while she saw Mary Turner
rocking in the corner of the sofa, moaning, her fists in her
eyes, she saw, too, Mary Turner as she had been, that foolish
girl travelling unknowingly to this end. I don^t understand,
she said again. I understand nothing. The evil is there, but of
what it consists, I do not know. Even the words were not her
own. She groaned because of the strain, lifted in puzzled
judgement on herself, who was at the same time the judged,
knowing only that she was suffering torment beyond descrip-
tion. For the evil was a thing she could feel: had she not lived
with it for many years. How many? Long before she had ever
come to the farm! Even that girl had known it. But what had
she done? And what was it? What had she done? Nothing, of
her own volition. Step by step, she had come to this, a woman
without will, sitting on an old ruined sofa that smelled of dirt,
waiting for the night to come that would finish her. And
justly – she knew that. But why? Against what had she sinned?
The conflict between her judgement on herself, and her feeling
of innocence, of having been propelled by something she did
not understand, cracked the wholeness of her vision. She lifted
her head, with a startled jerk, thinking only that the trees were
pressing in round the house, watching, waiting for the night.
When she was gone, she thought, this house would be de-
stroyed. It would be killed by the bush, which had always
hated it, had always stood around it silently, waiting for the
moment when it could advance and cover it, for ever, so that

206

 

notliing remained. She could see the house, empty, its furnish-
ings rotting. First would come the rats. Already they ran over
the rafters at night, their long wiry tails trailing. They would
swarm up over the furniture and the walls, gnawing and gut-
ting till nothing was left but brick and iron, and the floors
were thick with droppings. And then the beetles; great, black,
armoured beetles would crawl in from the veld and lodge in
the crevices of the brick. Some were there now, twiddling
with their feelers, watching with small painted eyes. And then
the rains would break. The sky would lift and clear, and the
trees grow lush and distinct, and the air would be shining like
water. But at night the rain would drum down on the roof,
on and on, endlessly, and the grass would spring up in the
space of empty ground about the house, and the bushes would
follow, and by the next season creepers would trail over the
veranda and pull down the tins of plants, so that they crashed
into pullulating masses of wet growfh, and geraniums grew
side by side with the blackjacks. A branch would nudge
through the broken window-panes, and, slowly, slowly, the
shoulders of trees would press against the brick, until at last it
leaned and crumbled and fell, a hopeless ruin, with sheets of
rusting iron resting on the bushes under the tin, toads and long
wiry worms like rats’ tails, and fat white worms, like slugs. At
last the bush would cover the subsiding mass, and there would
be nothing left. People would search for the house. They
would come across a stone step propped against the trunk of a
tree, and say, ‘This must be the Turners’ old house. Funny.how
quick the bush covers things over once they are left!’ And,
scratching round, pushing aside a plant with the point of a
shoe, they would come upon a door-handle wedged into the
crotch of a stem, or a fragment of china in a silt of pebbles.
And, a little farther on, there would be a mound of reddish
mud, swathed with rotting thatch like the hair of a dead per-
son, wliich was all that remained of the Englishman’s hut; and
beyond that, the heap of rubble that marked the end of the
store. The house, the store, the chicken runs, the hut – all

207

 

gone, nothing left, the bush grown over all! Her mind was
filled with green, wet branches, thick wet grass, and thrusting
bushes. It snapped shut: the vision was gone.

She raised her head and looked about her. She was sitting in
that little room with the tin roof overhead, and the sweat was
pouring down her body. With all the windows shut it was
unbearable. She ran outside: what was the use of sitting there,
just waiting, waiting for th^‘ door to open and death to enter?
She ran away from the hoi se, across the hard, baked earth
where the grains of sand glitte. ed, towards the trees. The trees
hated her, but she could not stay in the house. She entered,
them, feeling the shade fall on her flesh, hearing the cicadas aU
about, shrilling endlessly, insistently. She walked straight into
the bush, thinking: T will come across him, and it will all be
over.* She stumbled through swathes of pale grass, and the
bushes dragged at her dress. She leaned at last against a tree,
her eyes shut, her ears filled with noise, her skin aching. There
she remained, waiting, waiting. But the noise was unbearable!
She was caught up in a shriek of sound. She opened her eyes
again. Straight in front of her was a sapling, its greyish trunk
knotted as if it were an old gnarled tree. But they were not
knots. Three of those ugly little beetles squatted there, singing
away, oblivious of her, of everything, blind to everything but
the life-giving sun. She came close to them, staring. Such little
beetles to make such an intolerable noise! And she had never
seen one before. She realized, suddenly, standing there, that
all those years she had lived in that house, with the acres of
bush all around her, and she had never penetrated into the
trees, had never gone off the paths. And for all those years she
had listened wearily, through the hot dry months, with her
nerves prickling, to that terrible shrilling, and had never seen
the beetles who made if. Lifting her eyes she saw she was stand-
ing in the full sun, that seemed so low she could reach up a
hand and pluck it out of the sky: a big red sun, sullen with
smoke. She reached up her hand; it brushed against a cluster
of leaves, and something whirred away. With a little moan of

208

 

horror she ran through the bushes and the grass, away back to
the clearing. There she stood still, clutching at her throat.

A native stood there, outside the house. She put her hand to
her mouth to stifle a scream. Then she saw it was another
native, who held in his hand a piece of paper. He held it as
illiterate natives always handle printed paper: as if it is some-
thing that might explode in their faces. She went towards him
and took it. It said: ‘Shall not be back for lunch. Too busy
clearing things up. Send down tea and sandwiches.’ This small
reminder from the outer world hardly had the power to rouse
her. She thought irritably that here was Dick again; and hold-
ing the paper in her hand she went back into the house, open-
ing the windows with an angry jerk. What did the boy mean
by not keeping the windows open when she had told him so
many times. … She looked at the paper; where had it come
from? She sat on the sofa, her eyes shut. Through a grey coil of
sleep she heard a knocking on the door and started up; then
she sat down again, trembling, waiting for him to come. The
knock sounded again. Wearily she dragged herself up and
went to the door. Outside stood the native. ‘What do you
want?’ she asked. He indicated, through the door, the paper
lying on the table. She remembered that Dick had asked for
tea. She made it, filled a whisky bottle with it, and sent the
boy away, forgetting all about the sandwiches. The thought
was in her mind that the young man would be thirsty; he was
not used to the country. The phrase, ‘the country’, which was
more of a summons to consciousness than even Dick was, dis-
turbed her, like a memory she did not want to revive. But she
continued to think about the youth. She saw him, behind shut
lids, with his very young, unmarked, friendly face. He had been
kind to her; he had not condemned her. Suddenly she found
herself clinging to the thought of him. He would save her.
She would wait for him to return. She stood in the doorway
looking down over the sweep of sere, dry vlei. Somewhere in
the trees he was waiting; somewhere in the vlei was the young
man, who would come before the night to rescue her. She

H

209

 

stared, hardly blinking, into the aching sunlight. But what was
the matter with the big land down there, which was always an
expanse of dull red at this time of the year ! It was covered over
with bushes and grass. Panic plucked at her; already, before
she was even dead, the bush was conquering the farm, sending
its outriders to cover the good red soil with plants and grass;
the bush knew she was going to die! But the young man …
shutting out everything else she thought of him, with his
warm comfort, his protecting arm. She leaned over the
veranda wall, breaking off th geraniums, staring at the slopes
of bush and vlei for a plume oi reddish dust that would show
the car was coming. But they no longer had a car; the car had
be€n sold. . . . The strength went out of her, and she sat down,
breathless, closing her eyes. When she opened them the light
had changed, and the shadows were stretching out in front of
the house. The feeling of late afternoon was in the air, and
there was a sultry, dusty evening glow, a clanging bell of yel-
low light that washed in her head like pain. She had been
asleep. She had slept through this last day. And perhaps while
she slept he had come into the house looking for her? She got
to her feet in a rush of defiant courage and marched into the
front room. It was empty. But she knew, without any doubt at
all, that he had been there while she slept, had peered through
the window to see her. The kitchen door was open: that
proved it. Perhaps that was what had awakened her, his being
there, peering at her, perhaps even reaching out to touch her?
She shrank and shivered.

But the young man would save her. Sustained by the
thought of his coming, which could not be far off now, she
left the house by the back door, and walked towards his hut.
Stepping over the low brick step, she bent herself into the cool
interior. Oh, the coohiess was so lovely, lovely on her skin!
She sat on his bed, leaning her head on her hands, feeling the
small chill from the cement floor strike up against her feet. At
last she jerked herself up: she must not sleep again. Along the
curving wall of the hut was a row of shoes. She looked at

210

 

them with wonder. Such, good, smart shoes – she hadn’t seen
anything like them for years. She picked one up, feeling the
shiny leather admiringly, peering for the label: ‘John Crafts-
man, Edinburgh’, it said. She laughed, without knowing why.
She put it down. On the floor was a big suitcase, which she
could hardly lift. She tumbled it open on the floor. Books! Her
wonder deepened. She had not seen books for so long she
would find it difficult to read. She looked at the titles: Rhodes
and His Influence: Rhodes and the Spirit of Africa: Rhodes and His
Mission. ‘Rhodes,’ she said vaguely, aloud. She knew nothing
about him, except what she had been taught at school, wliich
wasn’t much. She knew he had conquered a continent. ‘Con-
quered a continent,’ she said aloud, proud that she had remem-
bered the phrase after so long. ‘Rhodes sat on an inverted
bucket by a hole in the ground, dreaming of his home in Eng-
land, and of the unconquered hinterland.’ She began to laugh;
it seemed to her extraordinarily fumiy. Then she thought,
forgetting about the Englishman, and Rhodes, and the
books: ‘But I haven’t been to the store.’ And she knew she
must go.

She walked along the narrow path towards it. The path now
hardly existed. It was a furrow through the bush, and the grass
was under her feet. A few paces from the low brick building,
she stopped. There it was, the ugly store. There it was, at her
death, even as it had been all her life. But it was empty; if she
went in there would be nothing on the shelves, the ants were
making red granulated tunnels over the counter, the walls
were sheeted with spider-web. But it was still there. In a sud-
den violent hate she banged on the door. It swung open. The
store smell still clung there : it enveloped her, musty and thick
and sweet. She stared. There he was, there in front of her,
standing behind the counter as if he were serving goods, Moses
the black man, standing there, looking out at her with a lazy,
but threatening disdain. She gave a little cry and stumbled out,
running back down the path, looking over her shoulder. The
door was swinging loosely, and he did not come out. So, that

 

was where he was waiting! She knew now that she had ex-
pected it all the time. Of course: where else could he wait, but
in the hated store? She went back into the thatched hut. There
was the young man, looking at her, his face puzzled, stooping
over the books she had scattered over tlie floor, putting them
back into the suitcase. No, he could not save her. She sank
down on the bed, feeling sick and hopeless. There was no
salvation: she would have to go through with it.

And it seemed to her, as :he looked at his puzzled, unhappy
face, that she had lived through all this before. She won-
dered, searching through her past. Yes: long, long ago, she
had turned towards another young man, a young man from a
farm, when she was in trouble and had not known what to do.
It had seemed to her that she would be saved from herself by
marrying him. And then, she had felt this emptiness when, at
last, she had known there was to be no release and that she
would live on the farm till she died. There was nothing new
even in her death; all this was familiar, even her feeling of
helplessness.

She rose to her feet with a queerly appropriate dignity, a
dignity that left Tony speechless, for the protective pity’ with
which he had been going to address her, now seemed useless.

She would walk out her road alone, she thought. That was
the lesson she had to learn. If she had learned it, long ago, she
would not be standing here now, having been betrayed for
the second time by her weak reliance on a human being who
should not be expected to take the responsibility for her.

‘Mrs Turner,’ asked the young man awkwardly, ‘did you
want to see me about sometliing?’

‘I was,’ she said. ‘But it’s no good: it’s not you . . .’ But she
could not discuss it with him. She glanced over her shoulder
at the evening sky; long trails of pinkish cloud hung there,
across the fading blue. ‘ Such a lovely evening,’ she said con-
ventionally.

‘Yes … Mrs Turner, I have been talking to your husband.’

‘Have you?’ she asked, politely.

ni2

 

* We thought … I suggested that tomorrow, when you get
into town, you might go and see a doctor. You arc ill, Mrs
Turner.*

‘I have been ill for years,’ she said tartly. ‘Inside, some-
where. Inside. Not ill, you understand. Everything wrong,
somewhere.’ She nodded to him, and stepped over the thres-
hold. Then she turned back. ‘He is there,’ she whispered
secretively. Tn there.’ She nodded in the direction of the
store.

‘Is he?’ asked the young man dutifully, humouring her.

She went back to the house, looking round vaguely at the
little brick buildings that would soon have vanished. Where
she walked, with the warm sand of the path under her feet,
small animals would walk proudly through trees and grass.

She entered the house, and faced the long vigil of her death.
With deliberation and a stoical pride she sat down on the old
sofa that had worn into the shape of her body, and folded her
hands and waited, looking at the windows for the light to
fade. But after a while she realized that Dick was seated at the
table under a lighted lamp, gazing at her.

‘Have you finished packing your things?’ he asked. ‘You
know we must be gone by tomorrow morning.’

She began to laugh. ‘Tomorrow!’ she said. She cackled
with laughter; until she saw him get up, abruptly, and go out,
his hand ovfer his face. Good, now she was alone.

But later she watched the two men carry in plates and food,
and begin to eat, sitting down opposite her. They offered her
a cup of liquid which she refused impatiently, waiting for
them to go. It would be over soon; soon, in a few hours it
would be over. But they would not go. They seemed to be
sitting there because of her. She went outside, blindly, feeling
with her hands at the edge of the door. There was no lessening
of the heat; the invisible dark sky bent over the house, weigh-
ing down upon it. Behind her she heard Dick say something
about rain. ‘It will rain,’ she said to herself, ‘after I am dead.’

‘Bed?’ said Dick from the doorway, at last.

213

 

The question seemed to have nothing to do with her; she
was standing on the veranda, where she knew she would have
to wait, watching the darkness for movement.

‘Come to bed, Mary!* She saw that she would first of all
have to go to bed, because they would not leave her alone
until she did. Automatically, she turned the lamp down in the
front room, and went to lock the back door. It seemed essen-
tial that the back door should be locked; she felt she must be
protected from the back; ‘he blow would come from the
front. Outside the back doer stood Moses, facing her. He
seemed outlined in stars. She stepped back, her knees gone to
water, and locked the door.

^He*s outside,’ she remarked breatlilessly to Dick, as if this
was only to be expected.

‘Who is?’

She did not reply. Dick went outside. She could hear him
moving, and saw the swinging beams of light from the hurri-
cane lamp he carried. ‘There is notliing there, Mary,’ he said,
when he returned. She nodded, in affirmation, and went again
to lock the back door. Now the oblong of night was blank;
Moses was not there. He would have gone into the bush, at the
front of the house, she thought, in order to wait until she
appeared. Back in the bedroom she stood in the middle of the
floor. She might have forgotten how to move.

‘Aren’t you getting undressed?’ asked Dick at last, in that
hopeless, patient voice.

Obediently she pulled offher clothes and got into bed, lying
alertly awake, listening. She felt him put out a hand to touch
her, and at once became inert. But he was a long way off, he
did not matter to her: he was like a person on the other side
of a tliick glass wall.

‘Mary?’ he said.

She remained silent.

‘Mary, hsten to me. You are ill. You must let me take you
to the doctor.’

It seemed to her the young Enghshman was speaking; from

214

 

him had originated this concern for her, this belief in her
essential innocence, this absolution from guilt,

‘Of course, I am ill,’ she said confidingly, addressing the
Englishman. ‘Tve always been ill, ever since I can remember.
I am ill here’ She pointed to her chest, sitting bolt upright in
bed. But her hand dropped, she forgot the Englishman, Dick’s
voice sounded in her ears like the echo of a voice across a
valley. She was listening to the night outside. And, slowly, the
terror engulfed her which she had known must come. Once
she lay down, and turned her face into the darkness of the
pillows; but her eyps were alive with light, and against the
light she saw a dark, waiting shape. She sat up again, shudder-
ing. He was in the room, just beside her! But the room was
empty. There was nothing. She heard a boom of thunder, and
saw, as she had done so many times, the lightning flicker on a
shadowed wall. Now it seemed as if the night were closing in
on her, and the little house was bending over like a candle,
melting in the heat. She heard the crack, crack; the restless
moving of the iron above, and it seemed to her that a vast
black body, like a human spider, was crawling over the roof,
trying to get inside. She was alone. She was defenceless. She
was shut in a small black box, the walls closing in on her, the
roof pressing down. She was in a trap, cornered and helpless.
But she would have to go out and meet him. Propelled by
fear, but also by knowledge, she rose out of bed, not making a
sound. Gradually, hardly moving, she let her legs down over
the dark edge of the bed; and then, suddenly afraid of the dark
gulfs of the floor, she ran to the centre of the room. There she
paused. A movement of lightning o,n the walls drove her for-
ward again. She stood in the curtain-folds, feeling the hairy
stuff on her skin, like a hide. She shook them off, and stood
poised for flight across the darkness of the front room, which
was fuU of menacing shapes. Again the fur of animals; but this
time on her feet. The long loose paw of a wildcat caught in
her foot as she darted over it, so that she gave a sharp Uttle
moan of fear, and glanced over her shoulder at the kitchen

215

 

door. It was locked and dark. She was on the veranda. She
moved backwards till she was pressed against the wall. That
was protected ; she was standing as she should be, as she knew
she had to wait. It steadied her. The fog of terror cleared from
her eyes, and she could see, as the lightning flickered, that the
two farm dogs were lying with lifted heads, looking at her, on
the veranda. Beyond the three slim pillars, and the stiff outlines
of the geranium plants, nothing could be seen until the light-
ning plunged again, when the crowding shoulders of the trees
showed against a cloud-pav ked sky. She thought that as she
watched they moved nearer; and she pressed back against the
wall with all her strength, so that she could feel the rough
brick pricking through her nightgown into her flesh. She
shook her head to clear it, and the trees stood still and waited.
It seemed to her that as long as she could fix her attention on
them they could not creep up to her. She knew she must keep
her mind on three things: die trees, so that they should not
rush on her unawares; the door to one side of her where Dick
might come; and the lightning that ran and danced, illuminat-
ing stormy ranges of cloud. Her feet firmly planted on the
tepid rough brick of the floor, her back held against the wall,
she crouched and stared, all her senses stretched, rigidly
breathing in little gasps.

Then, as she heard the thunder growl and shake in the trees,
the sky lit up, and she saw a man’s shape move out from the
dark and come towards her, gliding silently up the steps, while
the dogs stood alertly watching, their tails swinging in wel-
come. Two yards away Moses stopped. She could see his great
shoulders, the shape of his head, the glistening of his eyes. And,
at the sight of him, her emotions unexpectedly shifted, to
create in her an extraordinary feeling of guilt; but towards
him, to whom she had been disloyal, and at the bidding of the
Englishman. She felt she had only to move forward, to ex-
plain, to appeal, and the terror would be dissolved. She opened
her mouth to speak; and, as she did so, saw his hand, which
held a long curving shape, lifted above liis head; and she knew

216

 

it would be too late. All her past slid away /and her mouth,
opened in appeal, let out the beginning of a scream, which was
stopped by a black wedge of hand inserted between her jaws.
But the scream continued, in her stomach, choking her; and
she lifted her hands, clawlikc, to ward him off. And then the
bush avenged itself: that was her last thought. The trees ad-
vanced in a rush, like beasts, and the thunder was the noise of
their coming. As the brain at last gave way, collapsing in a
ruin of horror, she saw, over the big arm that forced her head
back against the wall, the other arm descending. Her limbs
sagged under her, .the lightning leapt out from the dark, and
darted down the plunging steel.

Moses, letting her go, saw her roll to the floor. A steady
drumming sound on the iron overhead brought him to know-
ledge of his surroundings, and he started up, turning his head
this way and that, straightening his body. The dogs were
growling at liis feet, but their tails still swung; this man had fed
them and looked after them; Mary had disliked them. Moses
clouted them back softly, his open palm to their faces; and
they stood watching him, puzzled, and whining softly.

It was begimiing to rain; big drops blew in across Moses’
back, chilling him. And another dripping sound made liim
look down at the piece of metal he held, which he had picked
up in the bush, and had spent the day polishing and sharpen-
ing. The blood trickled off it on to the brick floor. And a
curious division of purpose showed itself in his next move-
ments. First he dropped the weapon sharply on the floor, as if
in fear; then he checked himself and picked it up. He held it
over the veranda wall under the now drenching downpour,
and in a few moments withdrew it. Now he hesitated, looking
about him. He thrust the metal in his belt, held his hands under
tlic rain, and, cleansed, prepared to walk off through the rain
to his hut in the compound, ready to protest his innocence.
This purpose, too, passed. He pulled out the weapon, looked
at it, and simply tossed it down beside Mary, suddenly in-
different, for a new need possessed him.

217

 

Ignoring Dick, who was asleep through one thickness of
wall, but who was unimportant, since he had been defeated
long ago, Moses vaulted over the veranda wall, alighting
squarely on his feet in the squelch of rain which sluiced off his
shoulders, soaking him in an instant. He moved off towards
the Englishman’s hut through the drenching blackness, water
to his calves. At the door he peered in. It was impossible to see,
but he could hear ; holding his own breath, he listened intently,
through the sound of the ram, for the Englishman’s breathing.
But he could hear nothing, h “ stooped through the doorway,
and walked quietly to the bedside. His enemy, whom he had
outwitted, was asleep. Contemptuously, the native turned
away, and walked back to the house. It seemed he intended to
pass it, but as he came level with the veranda he paused, resting
his hand on the wall, looking over. It was black, too dark to
see. He waited, for the watery glimmer of lightning to illu-
minate, for the last time, the small house, the veranda, the
huddled shape of Mary on the brick, and the dogs who were
moving restlessly about her, still whining gently, but uncer-
tainly. It came: a prolonged drench of light, like a wet dawn.
And this was his final moment of triumph, a moment so per-
fect and complete that it took the urgency from thoughts of
escape, leaving him indifferent. When the dark returned he
took his hand from the wall, and walked slowly off through
the rain towards the bush. Though what thoughts of regret, or
pity, or perhaps even wounded human affection were com-
pounded with the satisfaction of his completed revenge, it is
impossible to say. For, when he had gone perhaps a couple of
hundred yards through the soaking bush, he stopped, turned
aside, and leaned against a tree on an ant-heap. And there he
would remain, until his pursuers, in their turn, came to find
him.