“Allemachter, son,” said Jan, looking at him out of the corner of his eye, “cannot you show some spirit? I hoped that being an Englishman you would have stood up for your own people, and then we might have quarrelled about it, which would have done us both good, but you only sit and talk like a magistrate in his chair, looking at both sides of the case at once, which is an evil habit for men who have to make their way in the world. Well, I tell you that if you had seen the cursed British Government hang your father and uncle at Slagter’s Nek, and not satisfied with that, hang them a second time, when the ropes broke, just because they tried to shoot a few Hottentot policemen, you would not think much of its fairness. And as for the missionaries of the London Society, well, I should like to hang them, as would be right and proper, seeing that they blacken the names of honest Boers.”
Ralph only smiled at this onslaught, for he was not to be stirred from his lethargy by talk about Slagter’s Nek and the missionaries. For a while there was silence, which presently was broken by Jan roaring at me in a loud voice as though I were deaf.
“Vrouw, let ons trek,” and, to give weight to his words, he brought his great fist down with a bang upon the table, knocking off a plate and breaking it.
I stooped to pick up the pieces, rating him for his carelessness as I gathered them, for I wished to have time to think, although for a long while I had expected this. When I had found them all I placed them upon the table, saying:
“They cannot be mended, and—hearts or plates—what cannot be mended had best be hidden away. Hearts and plates are brittle things, but the last can be bought in iron, as I wish the first could be also. Yes, husband, we will trek if you desire it.”
“What say you, son?” asked Jan.
Ralph answered his question by another. “In which direction will the emigrants trek?”
“North, I believe, to the Vaal River.”
“Then, father, I say let us go,” he replied with more spirit than he had shown for a long while, “for I have searched and inquired to the south and the east and the west, and in them I can hear of no mountain that has ridges upon its eastern slopes shaped like the thumb and fingers of a man’s hand with a stream of water issuing from between the thumb and first finger.”
Now once more we were silent, for we saw that his madness had again taken hold of Ralph’s mind, and that was a sad silence.
THE GREAT TREK