"Here," said Tant Sannie to her Hottentot maid, "I have been in this house four years, and never been up in the loft. Fatter women than I go up ladders; I will go up today and see what it is like, and put it to rights up there. You bring the little ladder and stand at the bottom."
"There's one would be sorry if you were to fall," said the Hottentot maid, leering at Bonaparte's pipe, that lay on the table.
"Hold your tongue, jade," said her mistress, trying to conceal a pleased smile, "and go and fetch the ladder."
There was a never-used trap-door at one end of the sitting room: this the Hottentot maid pushed open, and setting the ladder against it, the Boer- woman with some danger and difficulty climbed into the loft. Then the Hottentot maid took the ladder away, as her husband was mending the wagon- house, and needed it; but the trap-door was left open.
For a little while Tant Sannie poked about among the empty bottles and skins, and looked at the bag of peaches that Waldo was supposed to have liked so; then she sat down near the trap-door beside a barrel of salt mutton. She found that the pieces of meat were much too large, and took out her clasp-knife to divide them.
That was always the way when one left things to servants, she grumbled to herself: but when once she was married to her husband Bonaparte it would not matter whether a sheep spoiled or no–when once his rich aunt with the dropsy was dead. She smiled as she dived her hand into the pickle-water.
At that instant her niece entered the room below, closely followed by Bonaparte, with his head on one side, smiling mawkishly. Had Tant Sannie spoken at that moment the life of Bonaparte Blenkins would have run a wholly different course; as it was, she remained silent, and neither noticed the open trap-door above their heads.
"Sit there, my love," said Bonaparte, motioning Trana into her aunt's elbow-chair, and drawing another close up in front of it, in which he seated himself. "There, put your feet upon the stove too. Your aunt has gone out somewhere. Long have I waited for this auspicious event!"
Trana, who understood not one word of English, sat down in the chair and wondered if this was one of the strange customs of other lands, that an old gentleman may bring his chair up to yours, and sit with his knees touching you. She had been five days in Bonaparte's company, and feared the old man, and disliked his nose.
"How long have I desired this moment!" said Bonaparte. "But that aged relative of thine is always casting her unhallowed shadow upon us. Look into my eyes, Trana."
Bonaparte knew that she comprehended not a syllable; but he understood that it is the eye, the tone, the action, and not at all the rational word, that touches the love-chords. He saw she changed colour.
"All night," said Bonaparte, "I lie awake; I see naught but thy angelic countenance. I open my arms to receive thee–where art thou, where? Thou art not there!" said Bonaparte, suiting the action to the words, and spreading out his arms and drawing them to his breast.
"Oh, please, I don't understand," said Trana, "I want to go away."
"Yes, yes," said Bonaparte, leaning back in his chair, to her great relief, and pressing his hands on his heart, "since first thy amethystine countenance was impressed here–what have I not suffered, what have I not felt? Oh, the pangs unspoken, burning as an ardent coal in a fiery and uncontaminated bosom!" said Bonaparte, bending forward again.
"Dear Lord!" said Trana to herself, "how foolish I have been! The old man has a pain in his stomach, and now, as my aunt is out, he has come to me to help him."
She smiled kindly at Bonaparte, and pushing past him, went to the bedroom, quickly returning with a bottle of red drops in her hand.
"They are very good for benauwdheid; my mother always drinks them," she said, holding the bottle out.
The face in the trap-door was a fiery red. Like a tiger-cat ready to spring. Tant Sannie crouched, with the shoulder of mutton in her hand. Exactly beneath her stood Bonaparte. She rose and clasped with both arms the barrel of salt meat.
"What, rose of the desert, nightingale of the colony, that with thine amorous lay whilest the lonesome night!" cried Bonaparte, seizing the hand that held the vonlicsense. Nay, struggle not! Fly as a stricken fawn into the arms that would embrace thee, thou–"
Here a stream of cold pickle-water, heavy with ribs and shoulders, descending on his head abruptly terminated his speech. Half-blinded, Bonaparte looked up through the drops that hung from his eyelids, and saw the red face that looked down at him. With one wild cry he fled. As he passed out at the front door a shoulder of mutton, well-directed, struck the black coat in the small of the back.
"Bring the ladder! bring the ladder! I will go after him!" cried the Boer- woman, as Bonaparte Blenkins wildly fled into the fields.
Late in the evening of the same day Waldo knelt on the floor of his cabin. He bathed the foot of his dog which had been pierced by a thorn. The bruises on his own back had had five days to heal in, and, except a little stiffness in his movements, there was nothing remarkable about the boy.
The troubles of the young are soon over; they leave no external mark. If you wound the tree in its youth the bark will quickly cover the gash; but when the tree is very old, peeling the bark off, and looking carefully, you will see the scar there still. All that is buried is not dead.
Waldo poured the warm milk over the little swollen foot; Doss lay very quiet, with tears in his eyes. Then there was a tap at the door. In an instant Doss looked wide awake, and winked the tears out from between his little lids.
"Come in," said Waldo, intent on his work; and slowly and cautiously the door opened.
"Good evening, Waldo, my boy," said Bonaparte Blenkins in a mild voice, not venturing more than his nose within the door. "How are you this evening?"
Doss growled and showed his little teeth, and tried to rise, but his paw hurt him so he whined.
"I'm very tired, Waldo, my boy," said Bonaparte plaintively.
Doss showed his little white teeth again. His master went on with his work without looking round. There are some people at whose hands it is best not to look. At last he said:
Bonaparte stepped cautiously a little way into the room, and left the door open behind him. He looked at the boy's supper on the table.
"Waldo, I've had nothing to eat all day–I'm very hungry," he said.
"Eat!" said Waldo after a moment, bending lower over his dog.
"You won't go and tell her that I am here, will you, Waldo?" said Bonaparte most uneasily. "You've heard how she used me, Waldo? I've been badly treated; you'll know yourself what it is some day when you can't carry on a little conversation with a lady without having salt meat and pickle-water thrown at you. Waldo, look at me; do I look as a gentleman should?"
But the boy neither looked up nor answered, and Bonaparte grew more uneasy.
"You wouldn't go and tell her that I am here, would you?" said Bonaparte, whiningly. "There's no knowing what she would do to me. I've such trust in you, Waldo; I've always thought you such a promising lad, though you mayn't have known it, Waldo."
"Eat," said the boy, "I shall say nothing."
Bonaparte, who knew the truth when another spoke it, closed the door, carefully putting on the button. Then he looked to see that the curtain of the window was closely pulled down, and seated himself at the table. He was soon munching the cold meat and bread. Waldo knelt on the floor, bathing the foot with hands which the dog licked lovingly. Once only he glanced at the table, and turned away quickly.
"Ah, yes! I don't wonder that you can't look at me, Waldo," said Bonaparte; "my condition would touch any heart. You see, the water was fatty, and that has made all the sand stick to me; and my hair," said Bonaparte, tenderly touching the little fringe at the back of his head, "is all caked over like a little plank; you wouldn't think it was hair at all," said Bonaparte, plaintively. "I had to creep all along the stone walls for fear she'd see me, and with nothing on my head but a red handkerchief, tied under my chin, Waldo; and to hide in a sloot the whole day, with not a mouthful of food, Waldo. And she gave me such a blow, just here," said Bonaparte.
He had cleared the plate of the last morsel, when Waldo rose and walked to the door.
"Oh, Waldo, my dear boy, you are not going to call her," said Bonaparte, rising anxiously.
"I am going to sleep in the wagon," said the boy, opening the door.
"Oh, we can both sleep in this bed; there's plenty of room. Do stay, my boy, please."
But Waldo stepped out.
"It was such a little whip, Waldo," said Bonaparte, following him deprecatingly. "I didn't think it would hurt you so much. It was such a little whip. I am sure you didn't take the peaches. You aren't going to call her, Waldo, are you?"
But the boy walked off.
Bonaparte waited till his figure had passed round the front of the wagon- house, and then slipped out. He hid himself round the corner, but kept peeping out to see who was coming. He felt sure the boy was gone to call Tant Sannie. His teeth chattered with inward cold as he looked round into the darkness and thought of the snakes that might bite him, and the dreadful things that might attack him, and the dead that might arise out of their graves if he slept out in the field all night. But more than an hour passed and no footstep approached.
Then Bonaparte made his way back to the cabin. He buttoned the door and put the table against it and, giving the dog a kick to silence his whining when the foot throbbed, he climbed into bed. He did not put out the light, for fear of the ghost, but, worn out with the sorrows of the day, was soon asleep himself.
About four o'clock Waldo, lying between the seats of the horse-wagon, was awakened by a gentle touch on his head.
Sitting up, he espied Bonaparte looking through one of the windows with a lighted candle in his hand.
"I'm about to depart, my dear boy, before my enemies arise, and I could not leave without coming to bid you farewell," said Bonaparte.
Waldo looked at him.
"I shall always think of you with affection" said Bonaparte. "And there's that old hat of yours, if you could let me have it for a keepsake–"
"Take it," said Waldo.
"I thought you would say so, so I brought it with me," said Bonaparte, putting it on. "The Lord bless you, my dear boy. You haven't a few shillings–just a trifle you don't need–have you?"
"Take the two shillings that are in the broken vase."
"May the blessing of my God rest upon you, my dear child," said Bonaparte; "may He guide and bless you. Give me your hand."
Waldo folded his arms closely, and lay down.
"Farewell, adieu!" said Bonaparte. "May the blessing of my God and my father's God rest on you, now and evermore."
With these words the head and nose withdrew themselves, and the light vanished from the window.
After a few moments the boy, lying in the wagon, heard stealthy footsteps as they passed the wagon-house and made their way down the road. He listened as they grew fainter and fainter, and at last died away altogether, and from that night the footstep of Bonaparte Blenkins was heard no more at the old farm.
END Of PART I.