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 内容

 

 关于本书

 关于作者


劳伦斯·范德·波斯特(Laurens van der Post)也著

 扉页

 阴影条

 平安夜


种子和播种者

 圣诞节早晨


剑与娃娃

 圣诞之夜

 版权

 关于本书


这是 1942 年在爪哇的日本战俘营所经历的战争,但最重要的是,在人们的心灵和灵魂中经历的战争。


这是两名英国军官的故事,日本人试图打破他们的精神。然而,在可怕的暴力和艰辛中,囚犯和他们的狱卒之间建立了奇怪的爱和友谊纽带。


这是一场生存之战,随着男人关系的强度发展,它变成了一场意志和文化对比的战斗。

 关于作者


劳伦斯·范德·波斯特(Laurens van der Post)于1906年出生于南非,是荷兰和法国胡格诺派家庭的15个孩子中的第13个。他成年后的大部分时间都是一只脚在非洲度过的,一只脚在英国度过的。他的作家和农民职业因在英国军队服役十年而中断,在西部沙漠、阿比西尼亚、缅甸和远东地区表现出色。他被日本人俘虏,被囚禁了三年,然后作为蒙巴顿勋爵在印度尼西亚的参谋部成员返回现役,后来又担任英国驻爪哇公使的武官。


1949 年后,他执行了几次探索非洲鲜为人知地区的官方任务,1957 年他寻找布须曼人的旅程构成了他著名的纪录片和《卡拉哈里失落的世界》的基础。其他电视电影包括《我们心中的非洲》和《卡尔·古斯塔夫·荣格的故事》,他在战后认识了卡尔·古斯塔夫·荣格,并逐渐成为私人朋友。1934年,他写了《在一个省里》,这是南非人第一本揭露种族主义恐怖的书。其他书籍包括《内陆冒险》(1952 年)、《猎人之心》(1961 年)和《与白人丛林人同行》(1986 年)。《种子与播种者》被拍成电影,名为《圣诞快乐,劳伦斯先生》,最近,《风一样的故事》和《遥远的地方》被合并成电影《遥远的地方》。


劳伦斯·范德波斯特爵士于1947年被授予CBE,并于1981年获得爵士头衔。他于1996年去世。


劳伦斯·范德·波斯特(Laurens van der Post)也著

 在一个省

 冒险进入内陆


火堆旁的脸

 火烈鸟羽毛


非洲的黑眼圈


卡拉哈里失落的世界


猎人之心

 俄罗斯之旅


猎人与鲸鱼


新月之夜


像风一样的故事

 一个遥远的地方

 螳螂颂歌


荣格和我们时代的故事

 首先抓住你的伊兰

 然而,却是另一个人


与白人布须曼人一起散步


关于Blady: A Pattern Out of Time


雷霆之声

 羽毛飘落


种子和播种者


劳伦斯·范德·波斯特

Et venio in campos et lata

 禁卫军记忆。

 圣奥古斯丁


我来到田野和宽阔的记忆宫殿。


整本书给我妻子

 英格雷特·吉法德


编辑这部圣诞三部曲时如此关注其意义;


A Bar of Shadow,就像它首次出版时一样,到

 威廉·普洛默

 注意


感谢 The Cornhill 的编辑和出版商,其中 A Bar of Shadow 首次出现。获得转载许可。


阴影条

 平安夜

 阴影条


当我们走过田野时,我们几乎不说话。我,我自己,不再有心去尝试和交谈。我曾如此热切地期待着约翰·劳伦斯(John Lawrence)的圣诞节访问,但现在他来了,我们似乎无法真正地交谈。我已经五年没见到他了。自从我们在战争结束时被释放时在监狱门口说再见后,我就回到了我的平民生活,他直接回到了军队服役。在那之前,多年来,他和我一直与战争的危险并肩前行,在监狱里忍受着日本人手中的同样痛苦的事情。事实上,当我们的释放到来时,我们发现,在我们四面楚歌的世界里分享的经历,就像一件有分寸的衣服,符合我们对彼此所感受到的伟大而本能的感情的巧合。那一刻的圆润亲近一直伴随着我。对我来说,这里没有隔阂,他和我之间没有紫色的距离。我非常清楚残酷和不必要的联盟(没有必要,因为他们中的任何一个都足够强大),时间和距离契约对我们短暂而脆弱的人类亲近发动战争。但是,如果我设法保持距离,为什么他要被安排得这么远呢?因为这正是我的感受。虽然他离我如此之近,以至于我不得不伸出一只手来挽他的胳膊,但在五年的分离中,他从未像现在这样遥远。


我偷偷瞥了他一眼。战前的粗花呢西装仍然很合身,坐在他高大宽阔的身躯上,更像是军装,而不是乡村服装,他像一个梦游者一样走在我身边,带着一种奇怪的无意识的深思熟虑和目的性,他的脸上有一种奇怪的、恍惚的表情。他那双灰色的大眼睛,在那高贵的眉毛下,在那细而宽的眉毛下,随着我们之间的距离而变得蓝色。就连那个萎缩的十二月下午的光芒,也像从被遗忘和荒凉的前滩上平静的大海的灰色潮汐一样,在时间的迷雾中默默地冒烟,在他的眼睛里闪耀的光芒,与其说是来自无外的光,不如说是遥远的寒冷时刻在他自己的某个日历上的褪色色调。他们的注意力显然不在那一刻和那个地方,而讽刺的程度几乎超出了我无异议的承受能力。


我不知道如果我内心深处有某种未知的东西,比我有意识的自我更聪明、更有知识,在他身边对这种不是恢复我们关系的恢复进行痛苦的评判,我不知道我会怎么做,没有突然席卷而来,命令我问:'你再也没有遇到'罗唐'哈拉了?


这个问题在我甚至不知道我要问之前就已经出来了,我立刻觉得自己是个傻瓜,从那一刻起,它似乎就变得无关紧要和遥远。但令我惊讶的是,他停下了脚步,转向我,就像一个从对他来说太紧的情绪中解脱出来的人一样,明显松了一口气:


“你问我这个很奇怪!因为那时我正想着他。他略微停顿了一下,然后歉意地笑了笑,好像他害怕被误解:“我整天都在想他。我无法把他从我的脑海中抹去。


我的宽慰与他的解脱相吻合,因为我立刻意识到有一种联系可以弥合他的孤独。这是一个我可以理解并遵循很长一段路的全神贯注,即使我不能分享到最后。只要一想到哈拉,一提到他的名字,我就足以清楚地看到这个人的活生生的形象,就好像我刚刚离开他一样,仿佛在我身后的任何时候,他那奇怪的、被扼杀的、神经紧绷的、太阳神经丛般的声音,当他被激怒时,他的声音在他身上爆炸了, 会尖叫“Kura!”——这是日语中许多粗鲁的方式中最粗鲁的说法:“过来,你!


想到这里,我脖子后面的汗毛突然对寒冷的空气变得敏感起来,我不由自主地回头看了看,仿佛我真的希望看到他站在长谷仓旁的门口,伸出一只傲慢的手臂向我们招手,一只不耐烦的手像一只大黄蝴蝶的翅膀一样,在空中拍打着翅膀,这是它最后一次绝望的扑腾蜕变成地球上爬行和爬行的东西。但是,我们身后的田野当然是空的,那片巨大的、灰色的冬天,宁静而恍惚的祝福,是人类长期以来渴望和喜爱的渴望的大地所赢得的安息,躺在疲惫而沉睡的土地上。在那缓缓缩小的日光时刻,这个场景确实矗立在自己身上,仿佛它是自己最沉睡中的一个内心的梦,仿佛环境使它完全符合那个幻象,当我们在哈拉的监狱里时,这个幻象使我们想到了人间天堂。 一股苦涩,粗鲁地撇开了我所感受到的解脱,直奔我的心,原扭曲的身躯应该还能和我们一起走过这个亲密而治愈的场景。


我说“在哈拉的监狱里”,因为虽然他不是指挥官,但他是迄今为止统治我们监狱世界的最伟大的力量。他本人只是日本天皇陛下军队的三等军士,名义上我们有一个年轻的副手负责,但这个瘦小的年轻人更像是伟大的村崎小说中的优雅人物,或者她讨厌的对手的枕头书,而不是二十世纪的武士。我们很少见到他,他对我们的兴趣似乎只集中在我们可以在多大程度上增加他的手表收藏的种类和数量。约翰·劳伦斯(John Lawrence)曾任驻东京的助理武官,他说他确信我们的指挥官不是出生在日本的世袭军事阶层,而可能是来自神户或横滨的二等海关官员,因此,他不会像真正的士兵那样被耻辱,因为一个可耻的任命是指挥一个由被鄙视的战俘组成的营地。但他说,原是真正的,不是军官阶级的,而是真正的封建追随者,毫不犹豫地陪伴他的主人和霸主上战场。他长期服侍他的主人,在朝鲜、满洲、中国打过仗,现在这份不严格的工作,大概是他的奖赏。


我不知道劳伦斯有多正确,但有一件事很突出:哈拉对他的军官没有自卑感。人们只要把它们放在一起看,就会意识到哪些是真实的、注定的军事材料,哪些只是从战争中获得颜色和好处。尽管哈拉在外表上对他的军官表现得一丝不苟,但我们毫不怀疑他在内心深处感到优越。当他认为有必要时,他会毫不犹豫地指挥局势。我曾见过他在视察时粗鲁地走在指挥官和我们的队伍之间,拖出一个不知不觉地违反了他关于这些场合应得的神秘守则的人,并在一种半清醒的愤怒癫痫中,用手头的任何东西把这个可怜的家伙打得几乎要死,而他心烦意乱的军官则把自己和他精致的海关感官带到了阅兵场上一个更安静的地方。不!不是他,而是哈拉用一种冷酷的、预先确定的、精心调理的和古老的钢铁意志统治着我们,就像他祖先的双手大剑中的金属一样坚韧,悬挂在他不协调的史前臀部上。


是他,原,决定了我们必须吃多少,或者更确切地说是吃多少。当我们被赶到床上时,当我们起床时,我们在哪里以及如何游行,我们读什么,他都按立了。正是他下令,在我们拥有的为数不多的几本书中,每本出现“亲吻”或提到“亲吻”的书籍都应该被审查,撕掉冒犯性的页面并公开烧毁,作为对“日本道德”的冒犯。是他试图“净化”我们的思想,让我们在极度营养不良的情况下一次两天不吃东西,被关在狭窄和过度拥挤的牢房里,甚至禁止说话,以便我们可以更好地思考我们乖戾和不纯洁的欧洲肚脐。是他打了我,因为他让我的人种了一排豆子没有长出来,他把失败归咎于我的“错误思想”。是他喝醉了,会无休止地向我喋喋不休地谈论葛丽泰·嘉宝和玛琳·黛德丽,他们的脸一直困扰着他。他向我询问了几个小时关于圆桌骑士团、“606”、Salvarsan 和治疗梅毒的最新药物。他骑上并控制了我们残暴的朝鲜卫兵,向他们下达命令,使他们成为狂热的皈依者,比他们唯一的先知更热心,服从他的观点和情绪。他制定了我们的律法,审判我们违反律法的罪行,惩罚我们,甚至杀害我们中的一些人。


他确实是一个可怕的小人物,不仅在伟大的鞑靼人伊凡的可怕方式上,而且在一种特殊的种族和恶魔方式上。他拥有一种可怕的气质,几千年来的渺小可能会试图对生命施加这种可怕,既是对这么长时间的渺小的报复,也是对他的补偿。他对高大和身材有一种嫉妒,这种嫉妒已经变成了对两者的无情的憎恨,当他的恶魔——他自己一个古老的、贪得无厌的、不可抗拒的、不可抗拒的一面,生活在他内心深处的某个地方,有着巨大的黄色自主性和自己的意志——在他心中激起时,我看到他殴打我们中最高的人,除了他们比他高得多之外,没有其他原因。甚至他的外表既是对常态的拒绝,也是对常态的报复,是杂耍表演的放大,是对日本男性形象的讽刺。


他太矮了,以至于他错过了成为侏儒,那么宽,他几乎是方形的。他几乎没有脖子,他的头没有背,几乎笔直地坐在他宽阔的肩膀上。他头上的头发很浓密,是午夜蓝色的。它的质地极其粗糙和粗糙,剪短了,像野猪背上的鬃毛一样直立在空中。他的胳膊特别长,似乎垂到膝盖上,但相比之下,他的腿很短,非常粗壮,而且如此弯曲,以至于和我们在一起的水手们称他为“老弯刀腿”。他的嘴里长满了褪色的黄色大牙齿,用金色精心框起来,而他的脸往往是方形的,额头相当低,像猿猴一样。然而,他拥有一双格外精美的眼睛,似乎与他的其他特征和外表无关。对于日本人来说,它们特别宽大,并且具有最好的中国玉石的轻盈、抛光、温暖、生动、发光的品质。他们走了多远,才把这个可怕的小人物从漫画中救赎出来,真是非同寻常。一个人看着他的眼睛,所有嘲笑的欲望都消失了,因为那时人们意识到,这个扭曲的存在在某种程度上超出了欧洲人的理解,是一个奉献的、完全无私的人。


约翰·劳伦斯(John Lawrence)在哈拉的手中遭受的痛苦比我们任何人都多,除了那些被他杀死的人之外,他首先将我们的注意力吸引到他的眼睛上。我清楚地记得他在监狱里遭受可怕殴打后的一天所说的话。


“关于原,你不能忘记的一点是,”他说,“他不是一个个体,甚至不是一个真正的人。 他接着说,原是一个活生生的神话,是人类形式的表达,是强烈的、内在的愿景的化身,在他们的潜意识深处,使日本人团结在一起,塑造和强迫他们的思想和行为。我们不应该忘记在他身上燃烧的太阳女神统治的两千七百个完整周期。他确信,没有人能比他更忠实、更能回应日本古老而被淹没的种族灵魂中所有难以察觉的低语。原很谦虚,含蓄地接受了民族精神的提示。他是一个朴实的、没有受过教育的乡下小伙子,有着原始的正直,没有受到高等教育的攻击,他真的深深地相信过去的所有神话和传说,以至于他毫不犹豫地为他们杀人。就在前一天,他告诉劳伦斯,在满洲里,太阳女神曾经把一列满载士兵的火车抬过铁轨上为他们埋设的一枚未被发现的中国地雷,然后又把他们安全地放到另一边。


“但只要看看他的眼睛,”劳伦斯说,“那里没有什么卑鄙或不真诚的:只有一盏古老的灯,加油,加速和明亮燃烧。这个家伙身上有我比较喜欢和尊重的东西。


这最后一句话在当时在我们中间是如此的异端邪说,我立即抗议。劳伦斯说不出什么话,也解释不了什么,都洗不掉我们的黑衣,甚至黄衣,我什么也洗不掉。


“部队叫他'罗唐'不是没有道理的,”我严厉地提醒他。“Rottang”在马来语中是原原很少没有的手杖的意思。部队给他起了这个名字,因为他有时会无缘无故地用它殴打他们的头和脸。


“他身不由己,”约翰·劳伦斯(John Lawrence)说。“这不是他,而是日本神在他身上的行为,你没看到吗?你还记得月亮对他做了什么!


我确实记得。所有日本人对月亮的敏锐意识和深沉的、淹没的吸引力似乎在原达到了一个点。如果有一个月亮摆动,月亮出没,月亮画的灵魂,那就是他。当月亮升起时——以及它如何在 Insulinda 柔软、天鹅绒般的天空中打蜡,它如何生长并似乎膨胀到在柔软、有弹性的空气中使其正常金色和神秘燃烧比例翻倍;它如何像一盏神圣的灯一样平静地在巨大的火山山谷上空摆动,而地面的雾气,混合着丁香、肉桂和所有芬芳香料的气味,在高耸的树干之间飘荡,就像香一样围绕着亮片寺庙的漆柱——是的!当这轮不可思议的月亮在我们丛林之夜的黑暗中膨胀并散布它的金色时,我们看到它在哈拉的血液中将神话般的狂热推向了极致。七天,满月前三天,满月后三天,都是我们和原最危险的日子。他最惨痛的殴打和杀戮都发生在那时。但是,一旦殴打结束,月亮渐渐暗淡,对他来说,他会对我们格外慷慨。就好像殴打和杀戮以某种奇怪的方式清除了他的精神、疯狂和邪恶的污秽,并使他感激他们。 事实上,在他砍下我们其中一人的头颅后的第二天早上,我记得看到他和劳伦斯说话,并被他脸上一种纯洁、年轻和几乎像春天一样的纯真的表情所震惊,仿佛前一天晚上牺牲了一个无辜的英国飞行员的生命。 将他从所有原罪、个人和个人的罪恶中救赎出来,并暂时安抚了他种族中饥饿的蝙蝠般的神灵。


所有这一切都像一场梦一样在我的脑海中闪过,以梦的速度和色彩,几乎就在半睡半醒的时候,我听到劳伦斯继续说:“是的。奇怪的是,你也应该在那时想起他;因为我今天在我心中有一个哈拉的周年纪念日,我不被允许忘记,尽我所能。我有没有告诉过你?


他没有,而且急于巩固我们之间的任何联系,即使是这座严峻的、不稳定的桥梁,我赶紧说:'不!请告诉我。


嗯,那正好是七年前,他说,在一个小时左右的时间里,七年,考虑到Insulinda和格林威治的平均时间不同。他躺在梦中,在他伤痕累累和愤怒的身体上深深的、原始的、肉体的痛苦之外,当远处,就像一只鸟栖息在他可能被扔进去的深井的日光边缘一样,他听到了第一声啾啾的呼唤。没错,就是这样:一只奇查克,一种敏捷的、半透明的小蜥蜴,生活在胰岛素的每一间小屋、房子里,甚至是最深的地牢里。他的牢房里有两个人,他非常爱他们。他们从一开始就与他一起被单独监禁,在他对他们的感情中,他幻想他可以区分他们,男性和女性,只是通过他们的声音。他们是唯一活着的生物,不是日本人或韩国人,也不是他已经见过好几个星期的活跃、好斗的敌人。对他来说,他们变得如此真实,以至于他给他们取名为帕特里克和帕特里夏。当他听到声音时,他立刻知道,声音来自帕特里夏,他立刻从安慰和麻醉他痛苦的梦中走出来,回到潮湿的石地板上,他伤痕累累、僵硬、疼痛和疲惫的身体,疲惫到几乎无法注意到帕特里夏呼唤的那一刻他心中的沮丧。因为只有当天已经完全黑了,只有当外面的丛林已经收拢了它的队伍,在紫色的火山之间回到了自己的黑影上时,她才会这样叫,才能更好地承受外面山谷中无月的热带夜晚的压倒性入侵所带来的那种纯粹的、完全的轮廓和形状的湮灭。 就好像帕特里夏自己也很害怕,希望帕特里克赶快重新加入,让她放心,这个巨大的黑色虚无只消除了她伴侣亲近的幻象,而不是亲近本身。那里!帕特里克回答了她,劳伦斯知道他的担心是有道理的。因为这是日本人通常来找他的时候;这是他们通常折磨的夜晚。是的,细节并不重要,他说,但几个星期以来,他们一直在折磨他,有趣的是他们总是在晚上这样做。


我可能会微笑着认为他像我一样幻想他相信哈拉是一个神话的化身,而不是一个有意识的个体,尽管我亲眼目睹了哈拉和他的同胞们是多么的月亮摇摆。但这绝不是全部。这仅仅是一切的初步开始。更完整的事实是:它们仍然像动物、昆虫和植物一样,在时间的连续中,从白天到黑夜,从白天到阴历月份,从月份到季节的连续运动中。他们受制于宇宙的节奏和运动,并被他们无法控制的宇宙力量所统治,其程度是欧洲思想和哲学中无法想象的。他现在还有更多的话要说,但他此刻必须强调的是:只有在晚上,人们才能充分地发现自己内心的黑夜——可以带着阳光和阳光深入到那个深深的黑暗深渊中,进入他们自己没有照明的本性的底部, 在那里,酷刑不仅是自然的,而且是不可避免的,就像大海的潮汐一样。他说,我可能认不出,但帕特里夏和帕特里克从他们潮汐尾巴的紧张和嗖嗖声中知道,球体运动中一个巨大而古老的恐惧时刻已经到来。他们刚打来电话,他就听见靴子踩着脚步声,不整齐,含糊不清,仿佛靴子是骑在猩猩身上的,而不是一个人,沿着走廊向他的牢房走来。


“我们在天上的父,”他的嘴唇本能地动了动。“请你再一次做我的牧者。”


当他第三次自言自语地祷告时,门被打开了,一个韩国警卫用最粗鲁的日本人和马来人,用最傲慢和傲慢的语气喊道:“库拉!你在那里,过来!拉卡斯!快!


他慢慢地站了起来。以他的状况,他不能做其他事情,但对于跳进牢房的警卫来说太慢了,他愤怒地把劳伦斯拉起来,把他推到走廊里,用枪托戳他,一遍又一遍地说:“拉卡斯!Lakas!“和”快!快!“,并对他发出其他奇怪的刺激性腹部声音。几分钟后,他被带进了司令官的办公室,坐在司令官办公桌前的不是那个少女般的年轻副手,而是哈拉本人,他带着一部分警卫,手里拿着帽子,手里拿着步枪,恭敬地站在他身后。劳伦斯的眼睛在那猛烈的电光下像被蜜蜂蜇伤一样疼痛,环顾房间,寻找他所说的宗教裁判所的其余成员,那个来自秘密警察总部Kempeitai的专家乐队,他们做了真正的折磨,但没有他们中的任何一个迹象。


第一次,一种如此强烈和不安的希望感,以至于他的意识不允许它,猛烈地袭击了他。没错,原是乐队之一,但不是最糟糕的。他也加入了进来,但只有当那种近乎神秘的必要性,即参与他的一群或一群同胞所做的一切时,他才迫使他认同正在发生的事情。就好像他们都无法单独体验任何事情;仿佛一个人的思想或行为会立即传染给其他人,而像黑死或黄死病这样的残忍行为的命中注定的瘟疫在瞬间扼杀了他们个人的抵抗力。毕竟,原是其中的日本人,他也必须加入折磨。但他从未开始过,劳伦斯不知何故知道,他宁愿直接杀人,也不愿长期折磨。想到这里,他更仔细地看了看原,发现他的眼睛异常明亮,脸颊通红。


“他一直在喝酒,”他想,因为在原的脸颊上,喝酒很容易给日本人带来明显的粉红色。“这就是他眼中闪闪发光的原因。我最好小心点。


他对原脸颊上的红晕是对的,但对他眼睛里的光却错了,因为突然,原说,嘴唇弯了起来,可能是出生时被扼杀的笑容:“罗莲素先生:你认识法泽鲁·库里苏马苏吗?


出乎意料地将礼貌的“san”用在他的名字上,几乎让劳伦斯感到不安,以至于他几乎无法集中注意力在原的问题中神秘的“Fazeru Kurīsumasu”上,直到他看到他的缓慢带来的不理解的乌云,这通常是疯狂的前奏,聚集在原不耐烦的眉头上。然后,他明白了。


“是的,原同学,”他慢慢地说。“我知道圣诞老人。”


“呵呵!”Hara惊呼道,牙齿间发出礼貌的满足感,长长的嘴唇之间闪耀着金色的光芒。然后他坐在椅子上,宣布:“今晚我是Fazeru Kurīsumasu!他三四次说出这个惊人的声明,大笑着咆哮。


劳伦斯彬彬有礼地加入进来,却不知道这到底意味着什么。他独自一人躺在牢房里,被判处死刑,时间太长了,他几乎不知道晚上的几点,只知道这是正常的酷刑时间,他也不知道日期或月份;他当然不知道今天是圣诞节。


哈拉非常享受他的宣布和劳伦斯明显的困惑,以至于他本来会继续延长他的特权和片面的欢乐时刻,如果不是当时有一个警卫出现在门口,并迎来一个身材高大、留着胡子的英国人,穿着皇家空军上尉的褪色制服。


哈拉立刻停止了笑声,在看到门口希克斯利-埃利斯细长的身躯时,他的脸上浮现出一种矜持,几乎是敌意的表情。


劳伦斯说话的时候,我能清楚地看到哈拉;可以看到他在皇家空军军官的入口处僵硬,因为在我们所有人中,他最讨厌那个高大、口齿伶俐的希克斯利-埃利斯,我想,到目前为止。


“这位空军上校,”他用日语对劳伦斯说,轻蔑地向上尉挥了挥手,“是我集中营里囚犯的指挥官;你现在可以和他一起去。


劳伦斯犹豫了一下,不敢相信自己的耳朵,而原从劳伦斯脸上不情愿的难以置信的表情中证实了他姿态的宽宏大量,他坐了下来,笑得更厉害了。看到他又笑成那样,劳伦斯终于相信了他,走过去加入了队长的行列。他们一言不发地一起开始走,但当他们走到门口时,哈拉用他最凶猛的游行声音喊道:“罗伦苏!


劳伦斯带着无可奈何的绝望转过身来。他可能早就知道了,知道这种转变太突然了,好得令人难以置信;这只是酷刑的一部分;秘密警察中的一些心理学家一定把简单的哈拉放在了上面。但一看原的脸,他就放心了。他仍然带着慈祥的笑容,一个奇怪的扭曲的笑容,在他暮色的脸上快速卷曲的嘴唇和用金色框住的黄色牙齿之间。当他吸引劳伦斯的目光时,他用巨大的嘶嘶声喊道:“罗伦苏:快乐的库里苏马苏!


“Merry”和“Fazeru Kurīsumasu”是劳伦斯听过他使用的唯一英语单词,他相信哈拉不认识其他人。哈拉努力把他们弄出来,脸色更红了,然后他放松下来,几乎像猫一样在指挥官的椅子上发出咕噜咕噜的声音。


“但是他对圣诞节有所了解,还是一样,”我打断了劳伦斯的话。“这是最不寻常的,你知道的。当教士、希克斯利-埃利斯和我考虑组织一些庆祝活动来庆祝我们在监狱里的第一个圣诞节时,我们从来没有想过像哈拉这样的暴徒会允许这样做。但奇怪的是,当我们问他时,他立刻惊呼起来,所以我们的翻译说:“Fazeru Kurīsumasu的盛宴!当翻译回答“是”时,原立即同意了。不需要任何争论或特别请求。他坚定地说“是”,他的命令也相应地发出了。事实上,他自己也被这个想法深深吸引,以至于他去了其他同样由他军官指挥的营地,这些营地里有非基督教的中国人、万物有灵论的梅纳多尼斯人和穆斯林爪哇人,并强迫他们都庆祝圣诞节,无论他们喜欢与否。翻译告诉我们,事实上,哈拉甚至殴打了中国指挥官。当哈拉问他Fazeru Kurīsumasu是谁时,这个毫无戒心的人非常诚实地说他不知道。于是,原称他为骗子,在他的法典中,这种罪行等同于“错误的想法”和“任性”,说全世界都知道“Fazeru Kurīsumasu”是谁,并立即陷入了他的疯狂之中。这很奇怪,非常奇怪,他对圣诞节的重视;我们从来不知道他从哪里弄来的。是吗?


“恐怕不是,”劳伦斯回答说,“但更奇怪的是,它救了我的命。


“你从来没告诉我们!”我惊呼道,惊讶。


“不,我没有,因为我当时自己也不知道,尽管我当然从我自己的句子中预料到了这一点。但是我在战后看到了我的文件,他们实际上要在12月27日杀死我。但是你把圣诞节的想法放在原的脑海里救了我。他用一个中国人代替了我,让我出去,以示对“Fazeru Kurīsumasu”的手势。但要继续......


他跟着希克斯利-埃利斯走出了哈拉的办公室,又和我一起进了普通监狱。突然,他朝我笑了笑,一个温柔的、令人回味的、温柔的感激的微笑,因为他的释放又回到了他的身上。我记得那一刻吗?他的回忆不能不被逗乐,因为虽然我们都被关押在荷兰殖民时期的监狱里,关押着杀人犯和绝望的罪犯,但我们对自由的概念变得如此相对,以至于我们冲到他面前,祝贺他获得自由,我们没有一丝怀疑,也没有怀疑他。 其中隐含的讽刺意味。


不久之后,哈拉突然离开了我们。他被任命为希克斯利-埃利斯(Hicksley-Ellis)领导的皇家空军官兵的征兵,并被派往外岛建造机场。直到接近尾声时,我们才再次见到他,当时他回来时只剩下原稿的五分之一还活着。我们的人回来时看起来像鬼魂或受旱灾影响的牛。我们可以透过他们裸露的外衣看到他们的肩胛骨和肋骨。他们是如此虚弱,以至于我们不得不用担架从他们旅行的牛车上抬走他们中的大多数,卡车上散发着尿液和病态排泄物的恶臭。因为他们不仅饿得只剩下微弱的生命脉搏,精神迅速倒退,而且他们都患有痢疾、恶性疟疾或两者兼而有之。只剩下五分之一;其余的人都死了,希克斯利-埃利斯对日本军官、NCO和他们的韩国下属的待遇,尤其是关于原的待遇,有可怕的事情要说。再一次,原是中心,是这种扭曲环境的怪异灵感的原始日本核心。是他再次成为他们世界事实上的统治者,如果不是法律上的统治者;殴打垂死的人说,除了他们的“精神”、他们的“邪恶思想”、“任性的心”之外,他们没有任何问题,这使他们故意生病以拖延日本的战争努力。是他,原,砍下了三个飞行员的头,因为他们在晚上爬过栅栏到一个村庄买食物,每个人的头在地上滚来滚去后,他把剑放在嘴边,感谢它干得这么干净。 是他日复一日地在热带阳光下驱赶着一群生病、只有半死不活的人,用不合适的工具从珊瑚岩中刮出一个机场,直到他们死去,以每天二三十条的速度被扔给海里的鲨鱼。但哈拉本人似乎并没有受到他的经历的影响,仿佛他在母亲的子宫里就已经预见并预受了这一切,仿佛生活既不能增加也不能减少他传奇杯子里的鲜明葡萄酒。他回到我们身边时,被太阳晒得发黑;仅此而已。剩下的时间里,他自然而然地拿起了那根钢铁般的指挥线,就好像他从未离开过一样,用同样的铁手再次驱赶着我们。


甚至到了最后,当监狱里充斥着谣言,奸诈、不稳定的韩国看守,嗅到了时间之风的变化,开始讨好和弥补我们的人过去的恶行,甚至向他们抱怨自己在日本人的统治下受到镇压,当原军阀脚下的土地因广岛和长崎爆炸的震惊而开裂和回荡时,当传说中的日本被淹没的种族灵魂的黄昏,在回家栖息的龙的翅膀的重压下,一定是黑暗和下垂的,原从未颤抖过,也从未动摇过一次。他一定和任何人一样知道发生了什么,但是在谣言和狂野情绪的浪潮中,在变革之风之前自由奔跑,他像一块石头一样站着。


就在结束前三天,劳伦斯发生了可怕的一幕。劳伦斯找到了一个韩国哨兵,这是最糟糕的哨兵之一,他用刺刀刺向一个垂死的人,试图让飞行员站起来向他敬礼。劳伦斯用双手抓住了哨兵的步枪,把刺刀推到一边,强行把自己夹在哨兵和病人之间。他立即被带到警卫室,正好赶上原巡视回来。哨兵告诉了哈拉发生了什么事,哈拉就像他喜欢劳伦斯一样,不会忽视这种对他的国家的侮辱。他用拐杖捂住劳伦斯的脸和头,打得如此彻底,以至于当他再次加入我们时,我几乎认不出他来了。


三天后,末日来临,我们都走上了不可避免的道路。劳伦斯在将近两年的时间里没有再见到哈拉。当他见到哈拉时,他正在接受审判。是的!我没听说过吗?哈拉被找到并被带到我们的一个战争罪法庭受审。当然,这很大程度上是希克斯利-埃利斯(Hicksley-Ellis)所为。我不知道那个温和、口齿伶俐、敏感的家伙变得多么痛苦。当然,在他所遭受的痛苦之后,他应该真正、无情地、无可挽回地痛苦和复仇,这是可以理解的,他在审判中带着如此恶毒的津津乐道和愤怒作证,以至于原从未希望减轻刑罚,更不用说无罪释放了。但令人难以理解的是官方起诉的苦涩,因为尽管希克斯利-埃利斯很苦涩,但他的脾气与战争罪侦探的脾气相得益彰。


种子和播种者

 圣诞节早晨

Yet I was not Narcissus-bound to any lilied reflection of my physical body. I never saw myself as good-looking. I have stared often enough in mirrors and shop windows but not with pride, only furtively, as if afraid of seeing also in the reflection what I felt myself to be. For, despite the plausible object evidence to the contrary, I have known always that I was also an ugly person. I knew that what others found so attractive was only an outer aspect of something greater to which both it and this other ugliness were equally and irrevocably joined. In some mysterious way I was conscious that there was never one but always a pair of us, always a set of Siamese twins sitting down nightly to sup at the roundtable of myself, a pair of brothers designed to nourish and sustain, yet also inexplicably estranged and constantly denying each other. 重试    错误原因

Yes, despite all provocations, I could never see myself as others saw me. The reflection that has become my master-reflection is not silver-quick in the crystal light of a modern mirror but is somewhat withheld, like the slow gleam behind the glassy surface of a particular pool which used to lie in our black bush-veld wood like a wedding ring in the palm of a Negro’s hand. Oh, how clearly I remember that pool and that far distant dawn when I first dismounted from my horse to quench our thirsts at its golden water. I was kneeling down, my right hand held out to scoop up the burning water and my left holding the reins of the steam-silver horse beside me as, before drinking, it carefully blew the dawn-illumined pollen of spring in a rainbow smoke across the flaming surface. And suddenly, there, beyond the rose-red bars of the rhythmical vibration set up by my horse’s fastidious lips, I saw my own reflection coming up out of the purple depths of the pool to meet me. I could not see clearly. The reflection remained shadowy, very different from my bright morning figure bent low over it. It stayed there, a dark dishonoured presence straining in vain for freedom of articulation against that trembling, dawn-incarnadined water as if the corrugations on the surface were not the bars of a natural vibration but rather those of a cage contrived to hold it forever prisoner. At the time it made me sad. It would have been better, perhaps, if it had made me angry. Who knows? Certainly not I. 重试    错误原因

But to return to the differences between my brother and myself. In appearance he was not at all like me. He was very dark in accordance with an unpredictable law which seems to dominate reproduction in both my father’s and mother’s families. His hair was as thick and dark as mine was fair and fine. His skin was a Mediterranean olive and his eyes, which were his best feature, were wide and of an intense radiant blackness. I could never look in them without feeling curiously disturbed and uncomfortable. I wish I could say why, but the discomforts of the spirit are beyond reason. Suffering is only a stroke of Time’s implacable Excalibur dividing meaning from meaninglessness. I am forced none the less, to attempt an explanation. There were moments when those deep eyes of his seemed to me to be unbearably defenceless. They seemed too trusting, too innocent of the calculation and suspicion of our civilized day. And because of this they seemed (though I am never sure regarding the personal emotions or intentions of my brother) to hold a kind of reproach against me and the world wherein I was so conspicuously at my ease. 重试    错误原因

I wish I could deal more firmly with this subtle discomfort but I cannot. I only know it was there from the beginning and as far back as I can remember it expressed itself from time to time in an involuntary feeling of irritation which, no matter how unreasonable and unfair, no matter what precautions I took to the contrary, would break out impatiently from me. What made it worse was that my brother never seemed to mind. He would take it all quite naturally, almost as part of his own dark, impervious birthright. When I begged his pardon awkwardly, as I invariably did, he would look at me warmly and say quickly, ‘But it was nothing, Ouboet,fn1 nothing at all. Don’t worry so.’ In fact he would behave as if I had just rendered him some great service, as if my very impatience and irritation had given us both an opportunity which otherwise might never have existed. It was all very mysterious and I have had to make my peace with it by accepting it as something inevitable. But the flaw (if it is a flaw) inflicted by life on me is also, I suspect, incorporated in the master-seed of the being and greater becoming of us all, just as is the infinitesimal flaw that first gave birth to a pearl in the shell. One has said that there is ‘no greater love than that a man should lay down his life for his friends’. Yet is it not, perhaps, as great a love that a man should live his life for his enemies, feeding their enmity of him without ever himself becoming an enemy until at last enmity has had surfeit and his enemies are free to discover the real meaning of their terrible hunger – just as my brother provoked and endured my strange hostility without ever becoming hostile to me? However, I am expert not in love but in betrayal and as little entitled to make points on the specialist’s behalf as he would on mine, so I shall not press the issue unduly. Yet, for the sake of the proportions of my narrative, I must add that I was not alone in my reaction to my brother. He had much the same effect on most people with whom he came in regular contact. 重试    错误原因

I grew up, as I indicated, tall and gracefully made. He from the beginning was a square, short, awkwardly-shaped person, immensely strong but ponderous and inclined to be clumsy in his movements. He was not, I fear, prepossessing to look at. What magic he had was in his eyes and they, unfortunately, made one uncomfortable. His head was too big even for his broad shoulders, yet his face after such roughness of stature was disconcertingly tender, while his brow, with a double crown of hair at the centre, was from birth deeply furrowed. The effect was of a face profoundly still though darkly withheld. Yet it could become startlingly light, even beautiful, when he laughed and showed his even, white teeth. But unfortunately in public he rarely laughed. Laughter appeared to be something he kept for the two of us when the tension between us lessened. So, as a rule, his face seemed folded, brooding over his nature rather like one of our black African hens over her nest, head cocked slightly towards the earth, senses deaf to the music of the sun stroking the great harp of light in one of our feverish summer days, listening only to the electric expectancy of life within her. 重试    错误原因

At school I was good in most things, games as well as studies. My brother had great difficulty in scraping through his examinations and could take no interest and acquire no skill in sport. I was fast and a first-rate sprinter; he was slow and an indefatigably plodding walker. I loved animals, the flame-flickering game and sun-fire birds of Africa. He took no great interest in them but from childhood was absorbed in all that grew in the earth. I had no patience for planting and sowing: he loved to plough and to sow. It was remarkable too how successful his clumsy fingers were: whatever he put in the earth seemed to grow and blossom. He used to walk behind his favourite span of roan-purple oxen from dawn to sunset, his deep single-furrow plough turning over waves of Africa’s scarlet earth like the prow of a Homeric blackship the swell of a wine-red morning sea. He would come home in the twilight after a day’s ploughing deep in content. Often I’ve found him resting, silent on the handlebars of his plough. ‘A penny for your thoughts, Boetie,’ fn2 I would greet him. 重试    错误原因

He would never answer at once. Then he’d say slowly, ‘Just smelling the earth. You know, there’s not a flower in the world that smells so good to me as freshly turned-over earth.’ 重试    错误原因

Then I would notice it too, that smell of Titanic perspiration in the glandular earth of the ancient land charging the fiery air all around us like the black quintessential of a magician’s spell. Finally, when the rough old greatcoat of the earth was turned inside out and its antique lining lying velvet in the sun, he would stride across the naked land sowing his first corn like someone in an illustrated New Testament parable. I would watch him bestride the passionate soil noticing his awkward, lumbering gait as if his being always had presupposed this heaving earth beneath his feet even as a sailor’s feet always presupposes the swinging sea. His intuition in regard to the land too was uncannily accurate. As a child I have watched him standing absorbed over a patch of earth for so long that in the end I have exclaimed impatiently: ‘Are you going to stand there all day dreaming? Wake up, for God’s sake!’ 重试    错误原因

‘Sorry, Ouboet,’ he would say equably, ‘I was wondering what we should suggest planting here. It might grow something pretty good. But what?’ 重试    错误原因

‘Well, we’ll have to try before we can know,’ I would reply unmollified. 重试    错误原因

‘All the same looking does help, Ouboet,’ he would answer mildly, or words to that effect, and despite my sniff of unbelief I had an uncomfortable suspicion that perhaps he was right. In a way that I could not understand he and the earth had their own magnetic exchange of each other’s meanings. When we got home he would suggest a crop to our father and that crop, as often as not, is growing there fruitfully to this day in the course of its lawful rotation. 重试    错误原因

Besides all this he possessed a remarkable gift of water-divining. I remember so well the day when we first discovered that he possessed this power. I was already almost a man but he was still a boy. Our father, anxious to add to our existing supplies already weakened by a succession of droughts, was looking for new water. Accordingly he had called in the help of one of those water diviners who were always drifting through our land in the service of their strange intuition like Old Testament prophets. 重试    错误原因

We watched the gaunt old man arrive with a donkey led by a tiny black boy, watched him cut a forked stick from the nearest wild olive tree and strip down the stick from its precise classical leaf. Then he strode down to the selected site like Moses to the rock in the vermilion desert at Horeb. Once there he gripped the fork, a prong placed tightly in the palm of each hand, but the stick itself pointed up at the blue sky like the hands of a pilgrim joined in prayer. Then, with a slow ritualistic step, he walked across the scene from east to west, the fitful whirlpool eddies of the hot afternoon air irreverently flicking his long beard out of the focus of his trance-like movement. When the critical moment came the knuckles of his hands went white from the effort he was making to prevent the prongs of the fork turning in his grasp. But slowly the point of the stick began to vibrate and waver until suddenly, despite all his exertions to prevent it, the point plunged straight down quivering like an arrow in a drawn bow over the earth at his feet. As it happened an involuntary murmur went up from the white people present and a marvellous ‘Ye-bo!’ came from our uninhibited black servants followed by a laugh which was not only a laugh but also a release of tension as if the charge which had mounted so mysteriously in the blood of the old man had welled up unbearably in them, too. 重试    错误原因

Unperturbed by the reaction of the onlookers, the old man stopped instantly at that point, drew a long line with his finger east and west in the earth, retreated thirty paces to the south and repeated his tense, hypnotic walk to the north. His gift did not fail him. The stick plunged a second time, and there again he drew another line south and north in the earth. Where the two lines crossed, he dug his heel into the ground and said to our father: ‘There is good water here. Two strong arteries meeting about a hundred feet down.’ 重试    错误原因

I had just completed my first year of Law at the University and my newly-awakened reason was irritated by the old man’s air of simple assurance. I thought at once that he was just putting on an act to disguise a guess that could be no better than our own. I whispered so to my brother but he, without emotion, quietly disagreed,’ You’re wrong, Ouboet.’ 重试    错误原因

‘Don’t be so silly, how could anyone know?’ I replied irritated. 重试    错误原因

‘But I know,’ he answered mildly. Then seeing the irritation mounting in me he added quickly with an odd note of surprise as if the explanation were news to him, too: ‘I know because – because I believe it would work with me, as well.’ 重试    错误原因

‘What?’ I looked down at him but there was no mistaking that he was in deadly earnest. ‘Let’s prove it then,’ I said quickly thinking it would do him no harm to make a fool of himself. 重试    错误原因

Instantly he went up to the diviner without a trace of embarrassment. ‘Oom,’ he said, ‘would you mind if I tried it, too?’ 重试    错误原因

The old man looked at him with quick surprise. Then he gave me a glance which somehow disturbed me before turning back to my brother. ‘Certainly,’ he answered. ‘Here’s the stick. Be careful to hold it like this.’ He put the prongs of the stick in my brother’s hand. ‘Grip it tight; keep your eyes on the point and walk steadily. A step with each breath and you will not fail to confound the unbelievers in our midst.’ 重试    错误原因

Then we all turned to watch the awkward, lumbering figure of my brother imitate the diviner’s performance. 重试    错误原因

Intangible as these things are there was no doubt that my own disapproval was beginning to communicate itself to the others and there was an increasing feeling that the boy was being allowed to presume too much. However, my brother seemed unaware of this mood in the watchers. Young as he was I could not help remarking the odd authority in his bearing. In fact he repeated the diviner’s performance faultlessly and at the end of it all the fork twisted earthwards and where the old man had bent to make his cross, he too drew another like it in the earth with his forefinger. Then he stood up to look at us no doubt expecting some acknowledgement for what he had done. But, as if in mutual agreement that to give him too much credit for what had happened might add to his boyish presumption, after a few words we passed immediately into a busy discussion of the arrangements necessary for boring on the chosen spot. 重试    错误原因

I do not know what my brother felt but the scene has stayed with me, and often in a guilt-quick memory I have remembered him stooping awkwardly and with his clumsy finger making again his first sign of the cross in the thirsty sand. Oh! the mysterious inevitability of those crosses in our blood! This deep game of noughts and crosses played unremittingly, night and day, from one dimension of being to another of becoming. First the flaming sword of an archangel making a cross over the gate to the forbidden garden of our lost selves. Again a cross over the doorway of the first ghetto to keep away the angel of death on the night of terror before exodus from nothingness in the bondage of Egypt’s plenty to another country of strange, unlikely promise across the desert. Then another Cross where darkness gathers steeply over the very promise itself. Always, the significance of a long journey from bondage to a country not yet known: the negation which can only become positive when a cross has been nailed against it. Always it seems, in the blank space at the end of the inadequate letter lies a large cross for a kiss from that terrible lover, life, who will never take ‘No’ for an answer. So here, too, at the beginning of the boy about to become a man was a cross made to mark the possibility of water in problematical sand. 重试    错误原因

Yet if on that day automatically we tried to make nothing of my brother’s gift, he was unaffected by this. 重试    错误原因

He came up to me and said: ‘Look, Ouboet. It was much stronger than me!’ 重试    错误原因

I looked unwillingly and saw that the bark had been stripped off the olive as it twisted and turned in his fist and there, in the broad palm turned upwards before my sceptical eyes was stigmata of the deed, the skin torn and the flesh red and watery from its struggle with the fierce earthbound wood. 重试    错误原因

‘Looks as if you’d scratched yourself,’ I said coolly. 重试    错误原因

Yet that night as we lay in the shared bed on the wide open stoep, looking up at a clear sky with the stars crackling and the Milky Way coming down like a river in flood, I begged his pardon. I admitted grudgingly that he may have been right – though it couldn’t signify what he and the diviner thought it did. 重试    错误原因

He replied, ‘Oh, that was nothing,’ and turning on his side he fell instantly asleep, leaving me wakeful and dissatisfied. 重试    错误原因

For there are degrees in nothingness. Nothingness has its own backward inevitability of erosion. On this occasion there was something specific for which I could beg his pardon. But the master-nothing to which all these apprentice occasions are bound is so insubstantial that no question or thought of pardon arises. 重试    错误原因

There remain still two essential differences between my brother and myself to enumerate but before I do so I must add that when my brother became a man his gift for water-divining was much in demand in our remote world. He put it at the service of whoever needed it. But he would never accept any reward. Uncomfortable as it made many rich people to be under an obligation to him he would never charge, saying always: ‘I can’t take payment for it. The gift isn’t mine. If I took money for it, I know it would leave me.’ 重试    错误原因

I have mentioned already that physically I was well-made and my brother not so favoured. Now I have to confess that he had a slight deformity. It was not in the least obvious, and my brother was able to conceal it almost entirely by arranging that his clothes were always slightly padded along the shoulders. It was not discernible as a specific deformity and yet in some way it formed a sure centre round which not only all that was odd in his appearance but also all that in his nature was at variance with the world seemed to meet. It was amazing how, whether other people knew of its existence or not, sooner or later their eyes were compelled by the laws of my brother’s own being to fasten on this spot between his shoulders. I don’t know who was the more sensitive about it: he or I. All I do know is that between us we never referred to it by name. We always designated it by an atmospheric blank in our sentences. For instance, I would say, ‘But if you do go swimming there wouldn’t they see . . . blank.’ Or he to me: ‘D’you think if I wore that linen jacket it would . . . blank . . . you know?’ 重试    错误原因

Instantly we would both know that we were referring to the razor-edged hump between his shoulders. Self-contained as he was in his spirit yet this deformity was a breach in my brother’s sufficiency which he could never man, and any enemy from without who discovered it could walk through the breach at will. 重试    错误原因

I have said we were both extremely sensitive about it but perhaps it would be more accurate to say he was afraid because of it, irrationally afraid of what the world might think, feel and be provoked to do on account of it. My own sensitiveness, on the other hand, although I passed it off to myself as a form of’ minding for him’, was of a different order. This, after all, was a problem in a dimension which was peculiarly my own. I could not readily endure the thought of people setting eyes on this razor-edged hump behind my brother’s broad shoulders because I must have feared that it would reflect on me. I could not bear that anything related to me was not of the best. I had not learned to fear my lack of physical blemish as my brother did his deformity. And the scales, in this matter of our appearance, seemed so unfairly loaded against him. We could never appear together without people being reminded of it. Though it was an inequality which was not of my making and the blame (if such a word can be used for so impersonal a process) lay with life, yet the fact remained that I was, no matter how unwillingly, the main instrument whereby this manifest inequality was kept alive. I think again of the Man from Palestine when He said, ‘It may be that offence has to come in life but woe to him by whom it comes.’ He might have spoken the words for me. My discomfort over my brother’s deformity had yet another powerful stimulus. I must have known instinctively that however much people sympathized with my brother on a perfunctory level, underneath in the more spontaneous world of their emotions, they often felt embarrassed and even threatened by his departure from the norm. They could even secretly resent it and wish him out of the way. I say this confidently because I have found since both in myself and others that the greater the need for individual differentiation from a stagnant normality, the more we struggle and resent those who represent this difference. I have even noticed the same tendency in the behaviour of animals, and I think now of one animal in particular who played a brief, mysterious role in my story. But all I submit here is that, in those far-off days, I and those around me in our behaviour to my brother confirmed this paradoxical law without ever knowing what we did. I grew up showing an excessive solicitude on behalf of my brother’s deformity, firmly believing it was his feelings that I wanted to protect. Yet without realizing it I was obliquely asserting values and defending feelings which belonged to me and my own world. In doing so I was extremely popular with my fellow men. My brother at best was tolerated. It was most noticeable that the moment he entered a room wherein I had company restraint came in with him like winter’s fog. I immediately began to defend and explain him without appearing to do so, and found myself acting out an elaborate apologia on his behalf. My friends then began to feel that they had a duty to deny the effect caused by his odd appearance and soon the conversation became too artificial and self-conscious to be enjoyed. My brother grew up apparently a lonely, friendless person. Yet it sometimes seemed that I had more interests and friends than my life could contain. 重试    错误原因

And now I come to the final difference between us. I was tone-deaf. I could not sing in tune. It may sound a slight matter scarcely worthwhile mentioning. But for me it was an odd and difficult handicap. Secretly the fact that whenever I tried to join in any singing I spoilt it made me surprisingly unhappy. If I persisted, as I often did when I was younger, I merely provoked a titter which forced me quickly to desist. It was an added irony too, that I, who was so well adapted to my world, was utterly at odds with it in my singing whereas my brother, whose nature always stood at such an acute angle, through his singing became completely at one. Even as a child he had a clear unhesitating soprano which developed as he grew older into a manly and pleasantly-rounded tenor. 重试    错误原因

I remember going to look for him once in our garden on my first day home from school on the long summer vacation. The garden was immense and I thought I would have difficulty in finding him. But I had just come to the edge of the orchard with its great yellow apricots, ruby peaches, purple plums and figs, pears, scarlet and pink cherries and pomegranates all shining like Persian jewellery in the morning sun, when I heard his voice, lovely as I had never heard it before, soaring up from the centre of the garden. He was singing something I didn’t recognize which had that curiously simple yet urgent up-down rhythm of the African idiom. To me it sounded like primitive music before the mind and worldly experience had worked upon it. 重试    错误原因

I stood there listening to him singing, feeling more and more shut out from I knew not what – but something that I recognized to be urgent and vital. In the end I was overcome not by a nostalgia for the past (that is simple and well within the capacity of our awareness) but by a devouring homesickness for the future which is precipitated in our hearts through a sense of what we have left uncompleted behind us. The little song became for me, to borrow a platitude of the present day, a signature tune reminding me always of my brother as well as my own unrealized longings. 重试    错误原因

Ry, ry deur die dag, 重试    错误原因

Ry, deur die maanlig; 重试    错误原因

Ry, ry deur die nag! 重试    错误原因

Want ver in die verte 重试    错误原因

Brand jou vuurtjie 重试    错误原因

Vir iemand wat lang at wag. 重试    错误原因

The words, as you can see, even if you do not know our mother tongue, are simple enough. I can translate them freely in prose: ‘Ride, ride through the day, ride through the moonlight, ride, ride through the night. For far in the distance burns your fire for someone who has waited long.’ 重试    错误原因

‘Where on earth did you learn that tune and who wrote the words?’ I asked as I came on him watering seedbeds beside a tree sullen with the weight of its yellow fruit. 重试    错误原因

‘Ag, Ouboet!’ he answered smiling in welcome putting down his watering can and stretching his absurd frame: ‘It’s just something that came bursting into my head one day while you were away.’ 重试    错误原因

As he spoke he had the same look on his face as when he made his cross beside the diviner’s in the sand. But if he was waiting for some sort of acknowledgement from me he was again to be disappointed. 重试    错误原因

‘It’s not bad,’ I replied. 重试    错误原因

‘Glad you think so,’ he answered. But he looked intently at me for a moment before he resumed his watering. 重试    错误原因

I suppose, therefore, it was no accident that my brother’s first serious brush with the world of his boyhood was caused by his sense of the musical fitness of things. 重试    错误原因

In church the family who occupied the pew behind us had remarkably loud voices but no sense for tune. They all sang hymns loudly, usually slightly behind the rest of the congregation and almost two tones out of true, or so my brother said. One Sunday morning they were singing with such magnificent unawareness of their crime against the laws of harmony that my brother was first silenced, then set sniggering and soon we were both shaking with that convulsive merriment which sometimes assails one in places where it is strictly forbidden to laugh. The whole of the offending family gave us a very hard disapproving look after church but I thought no more of it. Yet from that Monday onwards I had an uneasy feeling of something amiss in our village life which I discounted as fantasy whenever it thrust itself upon my attentions and certainly did not connect with the episode of our merriment in church. Yet despite my determination not to recognize it this feeling steadily grew. Unfortunately I did not know then, as I do now, how surely and wordlessly a change in the popular mood can communicate itself to those with whom the change is most concerned. During our school vacation neither my brother nor I had great occasion to go out into the streets, but whenever I did so I came back with a sense of uneasiness. It was as if some hostile force were secretly mobilizing against us. On occasions I would find myself in the main street at the sunniest hour of the day looking over my shoulder because of a sudden suspicion that I was being followed. Instantly I would laugh at myself for being so jumpy since invariably all I saw were the familiar figures of some of the village lads dodging artfully behind the glistening pepper-trees or swiftly round the corner of a wall which stood out like a rock in the sea of summer heat. ‘Obviously playing hide and seek,’ I told myself. And so ridiculous did any other interpretation seem that I mentioned my apprehensions to no one. Nor did I connect them with an added reserve in my brother’s withdrawals. 重试    错误原因

Then one Wednesday morning from the moment I stepped into the street to carry out some errands for the house I found this feeling of uneasiness subtly augmented. The manner in which I was greeted by the village, the looks I received, the words spoken, seemed to carry some new content of climax whose existence I could no longer deny. In the afternoon I was sent with my brother to take some horses to the blacksmith who lived a little distance outside the village. The village itself was very silent, half-asleep in the summer heat. The streets were empty and our horses’ hooves echoed loudly from the walls of the white-faced houses. In the main grocer’s window between the drawn blind and the panes, a large orange tabby cat lay fast asleep in the sun. As we passed, the edge of the blind was suddenly drawn back and the red head of the grocer’s boy appeared, no doubt curious to see who rode out so loudly at so somnolent an hour of the day. He recognized us, and at once vanished so quickly that the blind whipping back into position flicked the sleeping cat smartly on the flank and sent it vanishing in a prodigious leap from the window shelf. Soon the hatless red-head emerged from the shop door, jumped the steps and came running after us. 重试    错误原因

‘Hey!’ he called out, and then when he caught up with us: ‘Off to the farm already?’ he asked breathlessly. 重试    错误原因

Everybody asked everybody their business in our world and the question appeared to me no more than routine curiosity. 重试    错误原因

‘Only taking the horses over to the blacksmith,’ I replied. 重试    错误原因

He stood there for a moment, repeating the words over and over to himself. Then he gave my brother a sly glance, broke off hurriedly, ‘Well, I must be off – Totsiens,’fn3 and disappeared in a golden blur of dust down the street. 重试    错误原因

Again I felt uneasy but merely shrugged my shoulders. What did it all mean? 重试    错误原因

I had been told to leave the horses at the blacksmith’s and at once return home with my brother because some cousins were coming that afternoon to call on us. But when the moment came I felt myself oddly reluctant to return. The smithy stood on the main cross-road at the edge of the bush-veld about a mile from the village. Leaning, hesitant, in the open gateway outside the smithy I saw that the country between us and the village was empty of people. Only a donkey and a cow with its calf were moving slowly about in a dream of after-dinner sleep, while an unfed grey falcon, suspended in a trance of blinding blue, trembled over their heads. It was all so silent and still that I stood on to let the familiar scene repulse my strange uneasiness. Then, distinctly, through the vibrations of light a cock crowed on the marches of our village. It has never been my favourite sound. In the indeterminate dawn hour between sleeping and waking it is bad enough. But breaking out suddenly as this crowing did, reminding me that yet another uncomprehended afternoon was about to plunge steeply into fathomless night, I found it almost more than I could endure. The crucified sound coming straight out of the heart of unrealized animal-being seemed appropriately a prelude to some inevitability of suffering. I looked up to the top of the spire of our village church which flaunted a cock rampant with a comb of stainless steel on its head, and for some reason I felt myself both reproached and warned by the sight. 重试    错误原因

I stirred. I couldn’t go on standing there all day, but I turned to give a last glance at the smithy behind me. The smith was drawing a shoe, made magic in fire, from the forge. Placing its eager gold on to the black anvil he began expertly to batter it into shape for a horse stamping in the shade outside. Leaning on the bar of the bellows, a black apprentice flashed a smile at me. My brother too was watching and had the excitement of the fire glowing in his eyes. 重试    错误原因

I beckoned to him and turning we took the road to the village. Just before you enter our village the road dips steeply to disappear in a dry river bed emerging a hundred yards or so further on almost at the beginning of the main street. As we were walking I noticed in the distance dark figures hurriedly coming out of the village in clusters of three or four and taking the road down into the river bed. I thought nothing of it until I realized that none of the figures emerged on our side of the river bed. 重试    错误原因

I stopped short in my tracks and turned to my brother. Looking down, I saw that his face had gone suddenly white under its olive shadow. His eyes were wide open and the anguish of an unknown fear walked naked in them. 重试    错误原因

‘Have you seen what I’ve seen?’ I asked, my lips oddly dry. 重试    错误原因

He nodded. 重试    错误原因

‘Any idea what it means?’ I asked curtly. 重试    错误原因

‘Yes, Ouboet. They’re after me.’ His voice was still with certainty as water is still with depth. 重试    错误原因

‘What?’ I exclaimed, feeling my own uneasiness of the past few days rush in fast to confirm his reply. 重试    错误原因

Then in the same breath I asked, ‘But why?’ 重试    错误原因

‘Because of Sunday,’ he answered slowly. ‘I laughed at them in church on Sunday. They say I’ve insulted them and they must teach me a lesson.’ 重试    错误原因

‘Nonsense,’ I protested. ‘What about me? I sniggered too.’ 重试    错误原因

‘It’s me they’re after, not you,’ he said darkly. ‘They like you, but they don’t like me. Two of the sons stopped me in the village on Monday and asked me what the great joke on Sunday had been about. When I told them they got so angry.’ 重试    错误原因

‘You told them?’ I exclaimed, hardly believing my own ears. 重试    错误原因

He seemed genuinely surprised at the hardening tone of my voice. ‘I just told them what had happened,’ he explained. ‘And that I couldn’t help laughing. Of course I said I was sorry if – if I hurt them – but it – it had sounded so funny –’ 重试    错误原因

He broke off but, despairing of his want of tact I prodded him: ‘What did they say to that?’ 重试    错误原因

‘They said so much and so fast I can hardly remember, Ouboet,’ he answered miserably. ‘They said I was a liar and dared me to repeat what I’d said. They asked if I thought I knew more about singing then their parents did . . . and when I said that honestly they’d all been –’ 重试    错误原因

‘I see,’ I interrupted. There was no need to know more. ‘And now they’re all waiting down there in the river bed to teach you, or both of us, a lesson, eh?’ 重试    错误原因

He nodded his head sombrely. Then added, ‘Not both of us, Ouboet, only me. They like you, I tell you, but they don’t like me. The singing is just an excuse really –’ He faltered. ‘They don’t even want to beat me – they want to . . .’ His voice dropped to a whisper. ‘To pull the clothes off my back and make fun of . . . you know.’ 重试    错误原因

‘No! No!’ I protested appalled, for after all the same ghost had burrowed for so long in the foundations of both our minds. For a moment I thought of retreating on the smithy, waiting for our horses and then riding back fast through the crowd of young lads that had collected for the sort of brawl that was one of their favourite sports. I thought also of taking some roundabout path and thereby avoiding the dry river crossing between us and our home. But just at that very instant, as if Fate had commanded it, one of the older boys came out of the river bed, climbed on to a boulder sparkling like a fabulous garnet in the sun, saw us, put his hands to his mouth and called out loudly and provocatively in unmistakable challenge. 重试    错误原因

I have been over this phase of the incident many times in my mind. I know that the sensible thing to do would still have been to avoid the crowd of boys, or even to wait for the storm to blow over as these village upsets sometimes did. Yet once that boy had seen me and knew that I had seen him, I was no longer a free agent but a prisoner of the situation. It was impossible for me to do anything else but go on, because everyone expected that and nothing else of me. Whatever price the drama was going to exact from us all it was presupposed that I would play my part exactly as I did. The ancient pattern conditioning the minds of the youth of our village from that fateful Sunday onwards was such that they were instinctively, without any special word of command or active leadership, committed to a conspiracy wherein they would all serve a moment when my brother and I could be confronted together, and alone, without any chance of interference from our elders. But I knew none of this at that time. I knew only that under that empty and unseeing blue sky from which even the witness of the hungry falcon had been withdrawn, I had to go on and get over that crossing with my awkward brother as best I could. 重试    错误原因

Feeling sick in the stomach I moved forward. My brother however still blanched at the prospect. Putting his broad ploughman’s hand on my arm to restrain me he said in an incredulous voice: ‘But, Ouboet, if you go on they’ll tear the clothes off my back and mock me for –’ 重试    错误原因

I pushed his hand roughly away and said with bitter resignation: ‘It’s too late now for anything else. But I’ll not let them touch you if I can help it. Look! When we get to the river bed I want you to go straight on. I want you to promise me to walk straight on home . . . and not look back whatever happens. If you’re right and they’ve nothing against me then you’ve no need to worry.’ 重试    错误原因

He opened his mouth to protest but I shook him roughly and said, ‘For Christ’s sake do what you’re told! You’ve already caused trouble enough.’ 重试    错误原因

It was the oath that did it. That form of swearing is absolutely forbidden among decent people in my country. I don’t think I had ever tried it before. To this day I find it strange that I should have used it then and that, hearing it, my brother should have come forward without demur to walk like a shadow at my side. 重试    错误原因

Some minutes before we came to the dip in the road we could hear the quick buzz which comes from an excited crowd. The sound rose high into the bright air around us and harmonized uncannily with the feverish tempo of the light and constant murmur of heat which always trembles in our bush-veld afternoon silences. But as we came nearer the buzz quickly detached itself from the general rhythm of the day and hit us like the noise of a crowd at some public demonstration. Nevertheless, directly my brother and I came out on the river bank someone called out joyfully: ‘Look: Oubeotjies, fn4 they’re here!’ 重试    错误原因

Instantly the crowd went as silent as a tomb. I had not much eye for detail at that moment nor indeed for anything save the sullen shade and earthquake rumble of the dark necessity which drew my brother and myself. Yet as I took in the general outline of that mass of oddly-expectant faces arranged in a half-moon on the level surface of the river bed I saw that not a boy under sixteen from our village was absent and that some pimply over-seventeens had been thrown in for the generous measure that fate reserves for these occasions. I remember also that the glare in those eyes focused on me and my brother seemed fired with a blazing cannibal hunger which I had never seen before on human faces – though today I know it only too well. Then quickly I marked down two figures standing apart from the rest and facing us. Bitterly I recognized the principals in the scene, the two toughest of the occupants of the pew behind ours. As my eyes met theirs one shifted his hobbledehoy weight uneasily on to another foot, and the other licked his lips with apparent nervousness. 重试    错误原因

‘Remember,’ I whispered to my brother: ‘Not a word to anyone. Walk past them and straight home. I’ll do all the talking that’s necessary.’ 重试    错误原因

He made no reply. Silently we approached. Though we had known those present all our young lives no one called out a greeting: they just sat or lolled against the river banks staring at us with that strange hunger in their eyes. My brother, devastated by the brilliance of that massed impersonal stare, tried desperately to look for comfort in some eye not hostile to him. But those faces were not glaring so much at us but at the event that they longed to bring about through us. At last we came close to the two standing apart waiting in the middle of the river bed. I could hear their hard breathing. My brother and I stepped to the side in order to pass them. At that a hiss of imperative meaning escaped from the crowd like steam from a high-pressure boiler. Automatically the biggest of the two grasped my brother by the arm and said: ‘Not so fast – you misshapened bastard!’ 重试    错误原因

As if long rehearsed for the part I moved in between them, pushed him aside and said quietly to my brother: ‘Remember. Your promise.’ In the same breath I turned to face his opponent. 重试    错误原因

The crowd sighed with relief. Tongues licked expectant lips as quickly as those of our lizards when they deftly flick some ripe insect-sparkle from the air into their saffron mouths. The occasion was developing according to their satisfaction. 重试    错误原因

‘Get out of my way, Cousin,’ the youth growled at me. ‘Our quarrel isn’t with you but with that abortion of a brother of yours.’ 重试    错误原因

‘I shan’t get out of your way,’ I told him, my heart beating wildly. ‘You’re not going to touch my brother. He’s much younger and smaller than you.’ 重试    错误原因

I forbore to add that my opponent was also a good deal bigger than I. 重试    错误原因

For a moment he stood there undecided, looking first at me and then at my brother who was walking fast up to the far bank and towards the village with an apparent willingness so different in spirit from the reluctant promise which I had extracted from him that even I was surprised and perhaps somewhat shocked. Then my enemy looked back from my brother to the one-eyed crowd and in its glance read his instructions. I had just time to see my brother scramble up the far bank and break into a run, when he exploded in hoarse, militant sarcasm: ‘Well, you’ve asked for it!’ and came for me hitting out fast with both hands. 重试    错误原因

Excitement heaved the crowd to its feet and sent it rushing to form an eager ring around us. He was, as I said, bigger than I and I never had much hope of beating him, quite apart from the fact that while we fought his brother danced around exhorting him to finish me and threatening to join in if the other failed. I don’t know how long we fought. I am told that after the first few minutes I was clearly the loser, but I was unaware of the fact. In me some stranger had taken over. He did the thinking and the hitting for me and robbed me of all feeling. Yes, someone of infinite experience became master of my situation. Then suddenly on the far perimeter of the storm of my senses came a new sound. 重试    错误原因

Someone was bellowing like a bull at the crowd of boys and hitting out at them. Simultaneously we stopped fighting, and looking round in amazement we saw the crowd scattering fast and the big figure of the village lay-preacher lashing out right and left with his horsewhip as he came towards us, my brother following close behind him. 重试    错误原因

‘Are you all right, Ouboet?’ my brother implored even before he reached me. 重试    错误原因

I don’t know why but at his words rage boiled over like water in a kettle inside me. 

‘You’d no business,’ I told him panting furiously, ‘to fetch him here!’ The village moralist was still pursuing the fleeing multitude with his whip. ‘Why didn’t you go home as I told you?’ 

A few of the boys who had not yet fled apparently heard my words for on the way home whenever we passed groups of excited boys in the street obviously discussing the fight and the respective merits of the two performances, they gave me a look of approval. But for my brother there was only a scornful glance. He did not protest but walked silently beside me like a condemned person. Occasionally I could feel him trying to get me to look at him. However, I kept my outraged eyes firmly on the street watching our shadows thrown up by the fast-westering sun behind us growing longer and longer, darkening the scarlet dust of Africa and taking the colour out of the pink, red and white berries of the heavily scented pepper-trees which lay like the beads of a broken necklace around our feet. To this day I have only to smell the whiff of green peppers in the air to see our shadows, side by side, staining the hungry dust, and to feel again the retarded horror of the inflexible condemnation in my heart. 

When we did get home my brother rushed straight to our father with an account of what had happened. He made me out to have been a kind of David who had faced a village Goliath. Before he had finished, the whole family had come in to listen, absorbed, to his tale. As I went to bathe my bruised face in the bathroom I heard the murmur of their spontaneous approval. The tone of their words warmed me through like wine. Even so I noticed that no one expressed approval of my brother for his deed of rescue in my need. 

That night, as we lay in our bed on the stoep listening to the jackals barking with frantic mournfulness on the margin of our little village so deeply marooned in the black bush-veld sea, I heard a sob break from my brother. 

‘What’s the matter, ou klein Boetie?’ fn5 I asked quickly turning over towards him. 

The unexpected note of concern in my voice was too much for him. He began sobbing without effort at self-control, and then gasped out, ‘I don’t want you to have to fight for me. . . . Please don’t always fight for me. If you do you’ll end up by hating me one day. And – and I don’t want you to hate me too, Ouboet . . .’ 

I was a witness then of the starry prancing impisfn6 of the night throwing down their assegais and watering the heroic heaven of Africa with their gentlest tears. 

* * *

fn1 Afrikaans for old brother: a term of endearment. 

fn2 Little brother. 

fn3Totsiens: Au revoir. 

fn4 Little old ones: Afrikaans term of endearment among boys. 

fn5 Literally: Old little, little brother: term of great endearment. 

fn6 An Impi is a Zulu or Matabele regiment of war. 

3 The Initiation 

HALF-WAY THROUGH MY last year at school my family decided to send my brother to join me. He could have done with another six months or year at the village school because he was still backward in his studies, but my family thought it would be easier for him if he had me to introduce him to life in a great public institution and help guide his awkward paces. I was not consulted but merely told of the decision, because, I expect, my family took it for granted that I myself would like the idea. It was another instance of what everyone expected of me and I received the decision, as far as I am aware, with an ease which confirmed my place in the estimation of my elders and betters. 

The year had gone well for me at school. I had never been more successful and popular both with boys and masters. I was in the first eleven, captained the first fifteen, won the Victor Ludorum medal at the annual inter-school athletics, and was first in my final form. I was head of the senior house and would have been head of the school, I think, if I had not been a year or two younger than most fellows in my form. Both masters and boys confidently predicted that at the close of the year I would be awarded the most coveted prize of the school, that for the best all-round man of the year. It was to this brilliant and crowded stage that I returned from vacation with my strange brother at my side. 

We arrived the afternoon before the re-opening of the school. I don’t think I was over-sensitive as a child except, perhaps, to the reaction of people and the world to me. But as the school slowly became aware that the awkward, graceless shadow at my side was indeed my brother even I could not help feeling the surprise that merged into the ineffable condescension of public pity in the atmosphere around me. More subtly still I got an inkling of the relief that can surge through the hearts of the many when they begin to suspect an infliction of fallible humanity in the lives of their popular idols. My contemporaries were surprised and for one brief moment I was able to see how ready are the mass instincts to seize an excuse for pulling down the very thing that they themselves have need of elevating. Perhaps I imagined myself to be beyond the reach of all these influences. But they had their effect on me. They could not, to put it at its lowest, make me love either myself or my brother more. I was young enough to hope that once he had gone through the various rites and the tough period of initiation which tradition prescribed for newcomers to the school, his oddness would be accepted as part of the daily scene, and that the qualities which endeared him to his family would have their chance to emerge. Yet, from the very first evening, the start was not encouraging. First impressions are important to the young and never more important than when there are initiation rites to perform. 

After all, the purpose of initiation ceremonial is first, by a process of public humiliation, to make the victim aware of his inferiority and then to extract from him, through some painful form of ordeal, proof of the courage which alone can entitle him to redemption from his shameful singularity in membership of the privileged community. Moreover, I have noticed that among those to be initiated there is always one who seems to be predestined to bear an extra burden of ritual because he alone appears to personify most clearly the singularity that has to be humiliated and sacrificed. I use the word ‘appears’ deliberately because in my school it was this appearance, this first impression, which decided the degree in initiation that the candidate was to be forced to endure. All crowds seem to possess an instinct for determining with diabolic accuracy the most suitable sacrifice among its prospective victims. My school was no exception. Even if I had not been apprehensive I could not have helped noticing how everyone who met my brother soon found their eyes drawn in puzzled focus to the spot where his padded coat concealed his deformity. 

I watched one boy after another come up to him and fire the usual questions: name, age, address, form in school, games, favourite books, hobbies and so on. My brother answered them all in that artless manner of his without concealment. Yes, his name was the same as mine: he was indeed my brother. Was that so surprising? He was eleven, and in the first form. Yes, he probably should have been out of it long ago but he was no good at books. No, he didn’t play any games either. He didn’t like games much and never played them unless forced to. His hobbies were music and growing things, if you could call that a hobby! 

This catalogue of unorthodox answers completed, his questioners hastened away to spread the news of how strange a fish had been thrown up on the school beach in the shape of the brother of the head of the senior house. Soon I was left without doubt that he would have to bear the main burden of initiation if the school were free to have its way. Only one thing stood between my brother and such an unenviable fate: the fact that he was my brother. 

Now to be fair to myself I had discussed initiation many times with my brother. He knew all there was to know about it. He knew the details by heart and even remembered some that I had forgotten. He was as ready for it, intellectually, as any newcomer could be. Also, he had great physical strength and resistance to pain. Nothing I had told him about running the gauntlet in pyjamas with the school drawn up in two long rows and hitting out hard at the runners with wet towels plaited to a fine lash-like point; about waking-up at night and finding some boys sitting with pillows on his head while others put a slip-knot of a fishing line round his toes and pulled at them, one by one, until they bled in a perfect circle; nothing about being made to measure the distance from school to town with his toothbrush on his half-holidays, or having to wear boot-laces instead of a tie into town, or being forced to look straight into the sun without blinking for as long as some older boy commanded, or being trussed up and left on the frosty dormitory balcony all night, none of these things, I repeat, had unduly dismayed him. There was only one thing he truly feared: exposure and mockery. 

When we were told he was accompanying me to school the first thing he asked was ‘They won’t make fun of . . . you know . . . will they?’ 

‘Of course not,’ I’d replied vehemently. ‘You’re going to a decent school not a village kalwerhok.’fn1 

The relief in his eyes was so intense that I quickly looked away. Was there far back in the long tunnel in my mind a faint cackle of cock-crow? Was I really so certain? But I gave myself no chance to discover doubt and repeated firmly: ‘We’re not at all that kind of school.’ 

Later, on the day of our return to school, as our train came to a standstill at the platform and we got ready to leave our compartment, again his broad hand clutched by arm and he asked: ‘They won’t – will they, Ouboet?’ 

It was on that occasion, for the first time, that I pretended not to know what his question meant. 

I exclaimed irritably: ‘Won’t what?’ 

He was utterly taken aback. For a moment he stared speechless at me, then said in a frightened whisper: ‘Mock me because of – Oh God, you know what, Ouboet!’ 

‘Oh, that!’ I answered noticing how heavily he was taking it to heart and continuing as if it were all too trivial for words: ‘I’ve told you already, we’re not that kind of school.’ 

I think the question was again on his lips when I did my rounds of the dormitories last thing that night. But if it was he dared not ask it. He just looked at me with such eloquent apprehension that I turned away hastily and bade him a curt: ‘Good night.’ 

My rounds done I went to join the heads of the other three houses in the study of the Captain of the school. I had done that walk between my house and the school many times, yet that night it felt to me as if I had never done it before. Every detail had taken to itself the mystery of all things. The moon was so bright that I could see the shadow of our greatest mountains at the end of the plain many miles away. The round white-washed stones beside the gravelled drive might have been skulls adorning the approach to a barbaric court. The cactus in the rock-garden raising its arms high to heaven was a Maya priest, knife in hand, sacrificing to the moon. The shadows of the trees were inky pools of tidal water lying forgotten among glistening rocks, and the whole night was hissing urgently as if the moonlight were the sea and the earth an outward-bound ship parting the surf at the bar of some harbour mouth. Between the school and distant town, night-plovers cried continuously, like gulls over the stormy Cape. 

It all made such an overwhelming impression on me that I stood for a while in front of the Captain’s door, wondering. Even the stars moved as if they were sparking off messages in their own confidential code. Noticing it, I was sharply harried by the fancy, which came out at me like a watch-dog in the dark, that perhaps they really did carry some special message for me? Impatiently I dismissed the notion as clearly absurd. I was there to discuss with the Captain of the school and others the ordinary business of the term. The five of us had met, thus, on the eve of each re-assembly for the past eighteen months. The idea that there would be any extra significance on this occasion even made me impatient with the splendour of the night. 

I rapped on the door and went in to be warmly welcomed by the Captain and heads of the other three houses. After a cheerfully busy hour or two the Captain said: ‘This brings us now to the little matter of tomorrow’s initiation. I take it you’ve all interviewed the newcomers in your houses. Have you any youngsters you think should be excused?’ 

Yes, said the man next to me, he had a boy with a weak heart who’d brought a doctor’s certificate to that effect. The next, grumblingly, said he’d got a chap who was as blind as a bat, with lenses thick enough for a septuagenarian! He’d probably better be excused all the physical rites though there was no reason why he shouldn’t be available for the rest of the fun. The third pleaded similarly for a boy still recovering from a long fever. Then came my turn. Firmly I said I had no one needing to be excused. 

The Captain looked keenly at me. ‘No one?’ 

‘No,’ I repeated carefully veiling the surprise I felt at his question and looking him steadily in the eye. But to my amazement he didn’t leave it at that. 

‘You’ve got a young brother in your house, haven’t you?’ he asked. 

‘I have,’ I answered, my whole being springing to attention. 

‘What about him?’ the Captain asked. 

‘Well, what about him?’ I parried so sharply that the others laughed. 

The Captain smiled. ‘I was merely wondering if he was all right –’ 

‘Of course he’s all right.’ My answer was quietly vehement yet the Captain persisted. 

‘Forgive me, old chap,’ he said, almost shyly. ‘I don’t want to badger you. If you say he’s all right we all accept it. But, knowing you, we realize the last thing you’d ask for would be special dispensation for a relation. So if you’ve any reason for wanting your brother excused tomorrow we’d none of us think of it as favouritism.’ 

A spontaneous murmur of applause went round the table. I found myself blushing. ‘Awfully decent of you but there’s no reason, honestly.’ 

‘Well, then, that’s that,’ said the Captain, evidently well satisfied with the way the claims of business and decency had been met, and he bade us a hearty good night. 

On the way back I found myself perturbed and not a little sad, and I was unable to explain it to myself. It is only now that I know that between my impatient rap on the Captain’s door and the moment when it opened and shut behind me again as I stepped out into the unbelievable moonlight of that wheeling night, the master-nothing of which I have spoken previously had caught up with me and was moving fast into place. 

A second example of this, if I may use so positive a phrase for so negative a phenomenon, arose next morning right at the beginning of school. 

Prayers over, the Captain came up to me and said: ‘I’ve got to see the Head immediately after classes this afternoon. Would you keep an eye on things for me until I get back?’ 

He was referring of course to the ‘round-up’ of newcomers which always took place on the opening day between the last class and the first prep. 

‘D’you mind if I don’t?’ I asked at once. 

‘Of course not.’ He paused. ‘I didn’t really think you’d want to. But as you’re head of the senior house I felt I had to ask you.’ He smiled and put a friendly hand on my shoulder before moving on. 

I had a suspicion of his feeling but my intimates saw to it that I soon knew the full meaning of his words. Apparently after our conversation the Captain had told them all of my refusal to take charge of the school during the ‘round-up’, and he had explained that he was certain it was done out of respect for the traditions of the school and in order to ensure that my popular presence in a position of authority should not influence the crowd to treat my brother differently from any other unprivileged newcomer. He had even added that it was exactly what he’d expected of one with such a scrupulous sense of fair play. 

Slowly that first day at school passed its peak mid-day hour. I had not seen my brother at all since early morning when I stopped an over-spirited scrummage between some older boys outside his dormitory before breakfast, until a moment or two before the school dismissed at the end of the day. There were, of course, dozens of good reasons why the head of a large house has no time for personal affairs and private considerations on the opening day of school. If anyone had accused me then of trying to avoid my brother, I could have rebutted the charge without difficulty. Today I might accept the result of my actions as proof enough of my real intention no matter how hidden it may have been from me at the time. I have no idea what my brother felt during all that busy day because we have never discussed it. In a way I can imagine it from my own experience of my first day in the same school. After all I had had to endure the start of school without a brother for comfort and a lot of good had come to me out of so elementary a test. Obviously there was a lot to be said for leaving my brother to fend for himself. True, he had his extra dimension of fear to make horror of his anxieties but, believe it or not, ever since that moment on the platform when I had refused to understand his meaning, this aspect of his problem had slipped from my memory, almost as if I had been secretly resolved not to remember it. 

When finally I did see him that day, it was just after school had ended. He was standing against a pillar close to the door of the senior Science laboratory in which my form was doing practical Chemistry. He was standing very still as always when possessed by only one thought. Occasionally his eyes left the door to try and peer through the windows of the laboratory but because the light flamed and flared in the cool mauve glass he could not see anything in the shadows behind it. Obviously he was waiting for the class to come out to seize a chance of speaking to me before the ‘round-up’ which, judging by the noise coming from the quadrangle on the far side of the laboratory, was rapidly getting under way. 

For a moment I felt a desperate pity. He looked so incongruous and helpless, his young arm clasped round the iron pillar for support. I knew, too, that he had no chance of seeing me. Some minutes before I had already gone to the science master and offered to stay behind after class and prepare the laboratory for the next morning’s class. The idea had come to me quite suddenly. I could pass it off as pure impulse. Yet the result deprived me of my last chance of seeing my brother before the ‘round-up’ and ensured that I was detained on duty elsewhere until it was all over. 

As the laboratory door opened and the class hurried out my brother desperately searched among them to make quite certain he should not miss me from among those jostling figures. When the last one sped by him and I was not there the same look of utter finality came to his eyes as on that afternoon before crossing the dry river bed at home, when he had said tonelessly: ‘They’re after me, Ouboet.’ He stood peering at the emptiness round him as if he couldn’t believe his eyes. I doubt if he saw the science master come out and shut the laboratory door almost in his face. He just stood there looking irrevocably lost while I watched him, unseen, from within, wilfully denying the validity of his need of me or of my chance of helping him. Indeed, suddenly I found my spirit hardening against him. I wished he would go and get his trivial fate over as we had all had to do before him. . . . 

Almost as I wished it an exultant shout went up nearby. There was a rush and scurry of heavy school boots: heads and faces of a crowd of young lads appeared outside the window. Whooping, jeering, screaming, tearing, they pulled my brother towards them. He stumbled. As he went down his face was like that of someone who cannot swim being swept out to sea on an unsuspected current. 

I turned my back on the window thinking: ‘Well, that’s that. It’ll soon be over now and he’ll be better for the experience.’ I began to tidy up. But I didn’t get far. 

I found myself standing, a retort in hand, listening. The noise coming from the quadrangle which before had been like a great roar, now had a new subdued tone. Not that it was dying down. On the contrary it maintained itself in waves, at the same savage pitch. It was the sound of a people all of one mind – or rather of no mind at all. Yes, this united voice came before mind and its cry was filled with the strange cannibal hunger of those who have not yet lived themselves. It was the sound of diverse being made one through the same appetite, and though it issued from young throats the sound itself was old and worn threadbare with time. It was even older, I felt, than the grey old mountain looking down on the school. 

I had helped at these ‘round-ups’ often enough. But this was the first time I had had to listen to it apart, and alone. It was the first time, too, that my own flesh and blood had fed its hunger. At the thought I nearly dropped the chemical retort in my hand. Swiftly I wondered what my brother could have wanted of me? What good could seeing me have done? Would my familiar brotherly face in that sea of unknown ones have made him feel that he was not quite alone in his experience? Would my awareness of his own most secret fear have made him feel, in some measure, safe against the excesses of the mob? These seemed such fantastic lines of reasoning that I told myself impatiently: ‘A fat lot of good it is arguing. He’s just got to go through with it. My being there might even make it worse.’ 

In this way I completed my betrayal. So confident was my negation that it did not even fear drawing attention to itself by argument. But as it settled down comfortably within me, a great silence suddenly fell over the school. I knew that silence well. The victim designate, the sacrifice supreme, the symbol round which the herd ritual turned, was about to be proclaimed. Despite all my resolutions to the contrary, I moved quickly to the one window which gave on the quadrangle. I looked out. My brother, hatless, dishevelled and whiter than I had ever seen him, was lifted shoulder-high by some of the bigger boys in the quadrangle. The moment the crowd saw him a fresh roar burst from it and everyone began mocking him according to their own particular gift until, in a flash, all the streams of insult and humiliation became one, and the whole school, as my brother was carried through the crowd, began chanting derisively: 

Why was he born so beautiful, 

Why was he born at all? 

At the far end of the quadrangle were two long deep water-troughs, relics of the far pioneering days when bearded ‘boys’ rode to their classes on horseback, guns slung across the shoulder. Between the two troughs were two sets of taps, side by side, in the wall. This, by tradition, was a favourite place for sport with newcomers to the school. The taps were convenient for display, and the troughs handy for ducking. My brother was soon forced to stand on the taps and roughly pushed up against the wall, facing the crowd. 

I was too far away to see his expression. I know only that, from a distance, he looked like a caricature of a schoolboy. His dark face which had gone startlingly white was all the more so by contrast with his great head of thick black hair. His nose was invisible to me, but his mouth and large black eyes showed up like three blobs of darkness in the centre of his moon-white face. His head was tilted awkwardly on one side and he looked awfully like a clown. When he was firmly in position on the water-taps one of the bigger boys climbed on to a trough beside him, held up his hand for silence and said: ‘Chaps, this newcomer has got to do something for our entertainment. What shall it be?’ 

After a moment several voices cried out: ‘Let him sing. He says he likes singing. Let him sing!’ 

‘Right!’ The speaker turned at once to my brother as if expecting him to start singing straight away. My brother, I suspect, was swallowing hard with nervousness and far from ready to sing. The speaker at once punched him with a fist on the shoulder, shouting: ‘Come on, Greenie, you’ve had your orders. Sing, blast you, sing!’ 

Music as I have told you was peculiarly my brother’s own idiom. With the prospect of singing, even in such circumstances, his courage appeared to come back. He obeyed at once and began to sing: 

Ride, ride through the day, 

Ride through the moonlight, 

Ride, ride through the night 

Far, far . . . 

The opening notes were perhaps a trifle uncertain but before the end of the first line his gift for music confidently took over. By the second line his little tune sounded well and truly launched. But he didn’t realize, poor devil, that the very faultlessness of his performance was the worst thing that could have happened. The essence of his role in the proceedings was that of scapegoat. He should not only look like one but also behave accordingly. Anything else destroyed his value as a symbol and deprived the crowd of any justification for its fun. The boys, quick to feel that the clear voice singing with such unusual authority was cheating the design of its ritual, uttered an extraordinary howl of disapproval. 

My brother faltered. Even at my distance from the scene dismay was plain in his attitude. He tried once again to sing but the din was too much for him. So he stopped altogether, his long arms dangling like sawdust limbs at his side, and stared in bewilderment from one end of the quadrangle to the other, searching wildly, so a sudden sickness in my stomach told me, for my face. At that moment the crowd felt itself again to be in command. 

The howl of disapproval became a roar of relieved delight and the school now began to press towards the troughs chanting joyfully: 

Greenie’s a liar and a cheat, 

He can’t sing a note. 

Greenie’s a fraud: drown him, 

Drown him in the moat! 

For a moment my brother’s white face remained outlined against the afternoon fire flaming along the red-brick quadrangle wall, his eyes ceaselessly searching the screaming, whistling mob of schoolboys. Then he vanished like the last shred of sail of a doomed ship into a grasping sea. I don’t know if you have ever listened to a crowd screaming when you have been alone and divorced from the emotion which motivates it? At any time it is a sobering experience. But when the scream is directed against your own flesh and blood – At that moment my heart, my mind, my own little growth of time all seemed, suddenly, to wither. 

I could not see what was happening. My experience told me that my brother was being ducked vigorously in the troughs as we had all been before him. I knew the ‘drown’ in the chant really meant ‘duck’. All the same I was extremely nervous. I watched the struggle and tumult of yelling heads and shoulders by the water-trough, wondering whether it would never end. 

Then suddenly again the crowd went motionless and silent. Some of the broader shoulders by the trough heaved, an arm shot up holding aloft a damp coat and shirt, and behind it was slowly lifted my brother’s gasping face and naked torso. 

‘Look chaps!’ a voice near him rang out with a curious intonation. ‘Look! Greenie has a boggeltjie.’fn2 

For a second there was silence as the boys stared at my brother held dripping in their midst. Then, as if at a signal, they all began to laugh and shake and twist and turn with hysterical merriment. 

I had never seen my school go to these lengths before. I stood at the window as if nailed to the floor while the merriment transformed itself into one of the favoured chants: 

Greenie has a boggeltjie, 

boggeltjie, boggeltjie, 

Greenie has a boggeltjie: one 

two and three and 

Greenie has – 

Then it stopped. The noise fizzled out and the crowd in the quadrangle became uneasily still. A window on the second-floor of the main building had been thrown open. The head and shoulders of the English master were leaning far out of it. 

‘Who, might I ask,’ he demanded in a voice precise and icy with anger, ‘Who is in charge here this afternoon?’ 

‘I am, sir,’ the head of a certain house answered contritely. 

‘Well, dismiss your rabble and report to me in my rooms at once,’ the master told him slamming down the window. 

However, there was scarcely need to dismiss the school. It needed no telling that it had exceeded itself. It was dispersing of its own accord, taking my brother away with it. 

I remained at the window for a while in a state of irresolute agitation. I wanted to rush out and do something to make good what had just happened. I was angry and humiliated and wanted to take it out of all and sundry in the school, not excluding my brother. I wanted also to rush out and comfort my brother. But it all came back to the fact that I still had a duty in the laboratory to perform. The fact of duty won. I tidied up the laboratory, set up the apparatus for the next morning’s experiment and in the process came to the convenient conclusion that by far the best way of helping my brother would be to make light of his experience. 

It was evening before I saw him again. He was coming out of the matron’s room carrying a complete change of clothing on his arm. The long corridor was lit only by the reflected flames of a cataclysmic sunset flickering in the tall windows over the main stairway at the far end of the landing. My brother, recognizing my steps, stood still in the open doorway. The light from the Matron’s room fell sideways on his face and left the rest of him indistinct in the rising night-shadow. He stood so still that his face looked like an antique mask hanging on the door behind him. I expected him to greet me as he always did but on this occasion he just stood there, silent. 

‘Well,’ I said, assuming the gay nonchalance that I’d decided would be good for him. ‘How did you get on today?’ 

‘Then you weren’t there?’ His question was flat. 

‘Not where?’ I answered seeking respite in evasion. 

‘At the round-up.’ He peered hard at me in the twilight. 

‘Oh, there!’ I replied easily. ‘No, I was in the science lab most of the afternoon. Had a job for the Science master to do. In fact, I’ve only just finished.’ 

I stopped. Something in his face, looking up at me out of a past and forgotten dimension of time, stopped me. We stared at each other in a silence so great that I could even hear the Matron’s alarm clock ticking on her table inside the room. 

‘I see,’ he said at last with, for one so young, an odd note of finality in his voice. ‘Well, I must hurry or I’ll be late for supper.’ 

He walked straight past me and ran for the stairs. I was so taken by surprise that I never stopped him. I might even have followed him if the Matron, hearing my voice, hadn’t asked me in to discuss some petty matter. 

I saw him again late that night. He was in bed and either asleep or pretending to be. Twenty-four hours before I would without hesitation have called him by name, softly. Now, somehow, I had not the confidence to do so; and so my last natural opportunity for coming to terms with myself vanished. 

The school, however, did not abandon the incident with ease. For a few days I was continually being stopped by fellows with sheepish faces all muttering some sort of an apology. 

On the night after the round-up at the Monitors’ meeting the Captain of the school addressed me amid a murmur of approval, saying: ‘I’m sure I needn’t tell you, old man, what the school feels about this afternoon. We’re horribly ashamed of letting you down, particularly seeing how you trusted us,’ and so on. 

Yet no one begged my brother’s pardon. I seemed to gain in popularity by the incident, but not so my brother. To him the school behaved as if it blamed him, and not itself, for the outrage, almost as if he had tricked them into doing something which otherwise they would never ever have dreamed of doing. 

As for myself, that night, just as I was about to drop asleep comforted by the warmth of my reception at the Monitors’ meeting and the Captain’s concern for my feelings, I suddenly heard my young brother’s voice saying again in a tone that I had never heard before: ‘I see.’ 

Instantly I was wide-awake. That was a phrase he had never used before. Always in the past, when anything went wrong between us he’d shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘It’s nothing, Ouboet.’ But now a new realization followed me like a ghost across the flimsy threshold of my sleep. Dear God, had my truth always got to be my brother’s untruth? My untruth his truth? Was something of this sort implicit in the nature of all betrayal? 

I got my prize at the end of the year. My father and mother were there, beside the Governors of the school, to hear the headmaster make a pretty little speech before he announced that I had been chosen as the best all-round man of the year. Amid the shattering applause of masters and boys I climbed on to the school platform for the last time to receive the award. I felt drunk with satisfaction at my achievement yet, as I turned to go back to my place in the hall, I was sobered instantly by the sight of two faces in the applauding crowd. One was my brother’s. He was cheering as if the achievement were his own yet there was something in his eyes which made me uneasy. The other was that of the master who had thrown open a window and intervened on my brother’s behalf on the day of the ‘round-up’. Subsequently he had come to take a close interest in my brother and he was looking at me now with an enigmatic expression on his sensitive face while he politely clapped his hands. It came to me that he looked almost sorry for me. 

That night, for the first time, I went with my closest ‘buddies’ to a private bar at the principal hotel in town. There we pledged ourselves in strong drink to be forever one for all and all for one. In the morning, with strangely poignant feelings, many of us, and I was among them, left the school for good. 

As I wished my intimates ‘good-bye’ on the platform I felt a lump in my throat and noticed that even the eyes of the school Captain were unusually bright. Then my brother and I climbed, with our parents, into the train and for the last time we all journeyed home together. Yet not even then in the intimacy of a family re-united did we ever discuss what had happened to my brother on his first day at school. Neither he nor I ever mentioned it to my parents nor in our talks with each other. We both behaved as if we had no other desire than to forget the incident as quickly as possible. But we reckoned without the incident itself. 

That is another aspect of betrayal. It has a will of its own which feeds on the very will that seeks to deny it. I might have succeeded in forgetting the event if it had not so obstinately persisted in remembering me. As for my brother, I believe that his success was no greater than mine. 

There was, for instance, the episode of ‘Stompie’.fn3 

On the broad acres of my father’s high-veld estate we had immense herds of springbok. Unlike many of our neighbours, my father and his grandfather before him had preserved the indigenous game on their land with the greatest care and affection. There was hardly a view from the high-raised stoep stretching all round our white house, which did not show a group of springbok peacefully grazing in the safe distance. I was never tired of watching them. They were seldom still yet never appeared restless for their movements were consistently rhythmical. The patterns they made on the blue and gold veld possessed a curious heraldic quality and on some of our crystal days the herd, from a distance, would appear to open and shut like the flower of chivalry itself. In summer when the distances were set on fire by the sun, when grass, bushes and sequined savannahs were reflected in the quicksilver air in an endless succession of crackling coloured flames, the springbok held their position in the centre of the tumult with pastel delicacy and precision. In winter, when the fires of summer were drawn and the fine dust of burnt-out ashes stood blue and high in the air, they would still be there maintaining a glow of living fire on the raked-out hearth of my native land. 

In the spring the scene was made poignant with the keen thrust of new being in the flickering herds. First, the young bucks would emerge to challenge the old rams. They would bound out into the open from the herd like ballet dancers from the wings of time. Backs arched and a ruff of white, magnetic hair parted along their quivering spines to fall like snow upon their fiery flanks, they would dance their challenge in front of the established but ageing rams. The older ones would ignore them as long as possible, but finally the whiff of disdain emanating from the wide-eyed does waiting alertly for the outcome, would sting them into obeying the implacable choreography of spring in their blood. The battle that followed, then, was deadly. The horns of the two males would interlock with speed and clash as swords of heroes in some twilit Celtic scene. The herd, entranced, would follow closely in impassioned rushes, taking every advantage of ground which gave them a better view of the combat. I have often sat on my horse, watching, with the whole herd, normally so fearful of man, pressing tightly round me for a closer view of the fight, snorting and sighing with excitement and suspense. The fight over I have watched the young does, their hieroglyphic eyes under long lashes shining with the tension of spring without and fear of the uncompromising fires within, display their charms to the winner. Passing and re-passing repeatedly in front of him, tails tucked with becoming modesty under their buttocks, they would keep their glances fixed firmly on the ground. 

But in the autumn the herds would contract, drawing young and old together in a circle the centre of which turned on their fear of death implicit in the coming winter. All differences among them vanished. Steadily they gave the homesteads an even wider berth, and became acutely wary of our movements as if they sensed that our season of killing, too, was about to begin. 

But there was one odd phenomenon that I noticed had maintained itself for some years in the seasonal regroupings of our herd. There was one buck who was never allowed to join the herd in any circumstances whatsoever. Whenever he came near the main herd the bucks, young and old, would combine to drive him away with a ferocity most unusual in so gentle and lovable a species. For a year or two he persisted, often trying several times during a day to rejoin the herd, but each time he was driven off with the same determined ferocity. In the end he gave up trying and was always to be seen following the main body of his fellows at a safe distance. At first I thought he must be some old ram who had incurred unusual hatred by maintaining a dominant position in the herd extending beyond the normal span. However I soon found out that I was wrong. 

One day I was lying in ambush for a particularly cunning jackal who for long had been creating great havoc among both sheep and buck, when the main herd of buck came grazing so close by me that I could hear them cropping the grass with quick lips and a crunch of eager mouths. I know of no more attractive sound for it has always brought back to me a sense of being briefly restored to the abiding rhythm and trust of nature. As the sound receded, leaving me alone with only the faint sigh of afternoon air in the sparkling broom-bushes wherein I lay, I felt strangely forsaken. I had decided to abandon my ambush when another faint crunching reached me. Coming towards me, closer even than the herd, was the lone buck. I was amazed to see, then, that he was not old at all. He was young with a lovely, shining coat and glistening black velvet muzzle. Whenever he stopped grazing delicately to sniff the air, he would first stare forlornly at the herd before searching the vast shimmering horizon trembling on the rim of high-veld like an expanding ripple in a pool of blue water. There was no doubt as to his nostalgia. He went on cropping the grass and only when he was immediately opposite me did he stop, lift his head and turn it in my direction. Instantly I knew the reason for his rejection by the herd. He was deformed. One horn lay crumpled behind a saffron ear; the other was stunted and stuck out crookedly in the air. As for his eyes – On that day I was not ready to allow myself to know of what they reminded me. 

My brother did not care much for animals, particularly game, but when I first told him all this, he was greatly interested. This buck henceforth found an assured place in his imagination. He began to keep a close and affectionate watch on it. It was he who first called the buck ‘Stompie’. Soon he surprised me by telling me things about the buck which even I had not noticed. It was he, for instance, who one day observed that although the herd had rejected ‘Stompie’ yet he was bound more closely to the herd by that rejection than any of the other animals. They all mated and fought and roamed away on long foraging parties with comparative freedom. But ‘Stompie’ felt compelled to do only what the assembled herd did. When we rounded-up the main body of buck for shooting and drove them down towards the line of guns lying in wait for them, although we ignored Stompie and left him safely outside the ring of mounted drovers, nevertheless he would insist on taking the same fatal route that the herd had taken and, undeterred by the sound of firing ahead, he would come up from behind and with extraordinary and solitary courage run the gauntlet of deadly guns. He would have been shot many times over had we not all contracted for him the compassion which his own kind so conspicuously denied him. So he was spared to live a sort of moon existence, a fated satellite, condemned to circle forever the body which had expelled it. In this role he was not without great value to the herd. Exposed to the danger of man and beast, constantly alone, he developed a remarkable intelligence and heightened presentiment of danger. He was always the first to feel it and then to give the alarm by making a series of prodigious bounds into the air, his pastel coat, sea-foam belly and black-lacquered feet of Pan flashing in the sun. Often an exasperated gun would threaten to shoot him for spoiling our chances in this way, and sending us back to an empty pot. But a curious compassion for the deformed animal always restrained us. 

Then came this vacation at the end of my school career. On the first morning I came out of the house at dawn to see the great herd mistily burning in the shadows of the veld. I took a deep breath. It was wonderful to see everything again as it had always been. At that very moment the first level ray of the sun picked out Stompie, standing like a statue on a pedestal of golden earth far to the left of the main herd. Immediately the feeling of contentment fell from me. I could not account for it. All I know is that at that moment I felt about Stompie something I had never felt before. Somehow he spoilt the view for me. In the past I had tended to feel reproach of the herd and even some slight gratitude to the lone buck for giving us the constantly recurring opportunity of displaying a certain magnanimity to life. Now the sight of him in the natural vista that I had loved so long disturbed me. I took it to be merely a temporary emotion but the reaction gained rather than diminished in vigour. 

At the end of my vacation I went to continue my studies at University. For six months I never gave Stompie a thought. I came back on holiday again as ready to accept the familiar as ever before. It happened to be our first shooting season since I had left school. On the night of my arrival I was asked if my brother and I couldn’t try next day to relieve the monotony of our winter diet with a taste of the venison we all loved. No sooner had we ridden out into the open than I saw the forlorn shape of Stompie standing to attention in the distance. 

‘He’s seen us,’ I remarked to my brother with a trace of exasperation that drew a surprised glance from him. ‘He’s getting more cunning each year. I bet you we’re going to find it difficult to come up to the herd today.’ 

I had hardly finished when Stompie suddenly left the earth, almost vanished for a second from our startled gaze, and then reappeared flashing high in the blue air. He must have turned round completely in the course of one of the greatest jumps of his life. Again and again he repeated this astonishing performance until the shimmer of fire on the coats of the herd was arrested and it steadied into a front of unwavering flame. For a moment it remained so, a thousand delicate heads moving backwards and forwards between us and that far empty flank where Stompie was dancing out his concern for the safety of the herd. Then the alarm beat too, in the hearts of the animals. Fear is the deepest of our vortexes and determines its own cataclysmic dance in the heart. I never cease to marvel at the immediacy with which terror turns the animal soul inwards upon an empty centre with whirlwind paces. But the speed with which the herd before us contracted even after a cycle of seasons free from fear, seemed to me unusually poignant. It spun across the sleep-indifferent veld like a cyclone of fire, turning and returning upon itself in an anti-clockwise direction as if it believed that there was magic strong enough in devout movement against the sun to turn back Time to its Elysian source and leave behind the threatening present. 

‘Told you so,’ I remarked with gloomy satisfaction to my brother riding silently at my side. ‘It’s no good going on.’ I paused. ‘Unless you go on alone and drive the herd to the far side of the farm. Remember that ant-heap near the boundary fence where we dug out the ant-bear last year? I’ll lie up there, and if you can send the herd streaking by between the ant-heap and the fence, I’ll do the rest.’ 

I had no fear my brother would reject the suggestion since he disliked shooting intensely. Now, to my amazement, however, he seemed to hesitate. 

I asked brusquely: ‘Well, what is it?’ 

‘Sorry, Ouboet, I was just wondering –’ He made no effort to ride on. 

‘What?’ 

‘I don’t know –’ 

I asked deliberately, ‘Would you rather do the shooting and I’ll round them up?’ 

A shiver of distaste went through him. ‘No, it’s all right. We’ll do as you said first.’ He pulled his horse into a gallop and rode off. 

Watching him go I felt rather sorry for him. Poor devil, he rode so badly! I could see daylight between his seat and the saddle at every stride of the horse. Then I wheeled about, put my horse into a brisk canter and rode for the hills. 

The long line of hills ahead my brother and I called the ‘dinosaur hills’. We called them that because in the light of Africa’s Götterdämmerung sunsets they looked like the vertebrae of some fabulous prehistoric fossil. I rode quickly through them, the incense of wild-olive and black-leopard ferns stinging in my nostrils and my horse’s hooves sounding almost blasphemous in the silence. I read an Arabic scribble of wind in the grass’s silken parchment as I emerged, alone, on the great plain beyond. It was as if I had burst a time barrier and come out into a world that had existed before the Word and man’s articulation of it. Far as the eye could see the plain was empty. Not even a lone wanderer’s smoke hung over it. Above, the sky was filled to the brim with blue and only the morning air feebly complained in my ear for neglect of sound. 

I rode steadily across the plain towards a tall clump of wild-raisin bushes near the ant-heap of which I had spoken. At the clump of bushes I dismounted, put my horse under cover and then walked to my pre-arranged position behind the ant-heap. I got there none too soon for as I unslung my rifle, carefully laid it down out of the sun’s sparkle and stood up for a last look round, the head of the herd was just emerging from the dark eye of the pass in the hills. For a moment I stood immobile watching them. All our high-veld buck are from birth afflicted with claustrophobia. This fear was drawing them now strung out in a long line through the pass as fast as they could go. At that distance the hills were a smoky purple and the buck themselves a coral and white glitter, but so swiftly did they follow on one another’s heels out into the glittering plain that they looked like a twist of silk threading some ancient needle. However, once clear of the pass they slowed down, stopped, re-formed their tight circle, and faced about. 

They had barely done so when Stompie came bounding out into the open. Not far behind came my brother. The lone buck saw him first. Again and again he flashed his warning colours high in the air in a series of prodigious leaps. The herd, unsettled, needed no persuasion. Almost at once the buck were on the move again, not running full out but trotting with their easy, elegant, long-distance stride. Occasionally they would stop, look quickly over their shoulders as if to make certain that indeed a horse and a man with a gun were really on their spoor. Then the sight of my brother still darkening the blue of their day as he came doggedly onwards would huddle them together in panic, and they would mill about uncertainly, as if demanding of that empty sky and lonely plain what they had done to merit such a situation. But then, inevitably, some natural leader would emerge, and provoke the herd into following him, at the trot, deeper into the open veld and nearer to me. 

This was for me, always a most moving sight and full of real excitement. Until the very last moment I could never tell what the herd would do. Often when the buck were nearing reasonable rifle range they would suddenly change their instinctive plan, break away at right-angles from their line of advance, out-circle their drovers, and go back the way they had come. It needed only one mistake from my brother to bring this about. He had only to press them too hard, or appear too eager to turn them on one particular flank rather than another, to make them suspicious of his secret intent. Then in a flash they would wheel, break through that wide gap between him and me, and make for the familiar ground from which they had been driven. Considering how indifferent my brother was to sport of this kind the risk of this happening was never remote. Perhaps it was awareness of this that made me over-anxious and, as I watched their progress, tempted me into exposing myself once too often over the shoulder of the ant-heap. Suddenly Stompie began to run as never before, coming fast round on the far flank of the herd which was still trotting easily towards me. Soon he appeared at its head and with arched back and glistening coat did his warning dance in full view of the main body. The herd stopped in a ragged, irresolute line looking rapidly from Stompie to my brother and back. Again Stompie bounded. At that moment he was barely 200 yards from me and as his finely moulded and superbly arched frame appeared high above the grass, the lace of the white ruff on his pastel coat flying wide open from the violence of his bound, I saw him cross and uncross his finely pointed feet twice in the air before he came down to earth again. It was a difficult and brave act, beautifully executed, and perhaps possible only to some lonely outcast denied other forms of expression in life. But, unhappily, on that day it only filled me with fury. 

No sooner had he landed and bounded away again at an incredible angle to his descent, than the herd reacted. It wheeled right like a battalion of Royal Guards on parade and charged at incredible speed in the direction that Stompie was pointing, straight for the hills and the invisible plains of home. In fact so rapidly did the herd change course and run that it got between my brother and Stompie, who in obedience to herd tabu had now stopped bounding and had dropped into a slow walk behind the herd whose hooves were still making the plain reverberate like a drum. Then, when he was once more rightly distanced from the fast receding herd, he did not follow them as he normally did, but turned and stopped so that he was standing sideways on to me. From this position he looked first at the pink and sea-foam surge of buck on the fringe of the blue hills, and then straight back at my ant-heap with, as I believed, a look of pure triumph. It was more than I could bear. 

In my way I, we all, had been good to that buck. Yet, before I knew what I was doing, I had laid my sights on him thinking, ‘You’ve bloody well asked for this!’ and pressed the trigger. I have always enjoyed the smack of the bullet as it hits the game I’m after, particularly game that has tested my patience and skill. On this occasion I liked it too, but only for as long as the sound lived in my ear. Stompie took the shock of the bullet without a bound or a stagger. For one second he remained in position looking at me without surprise as I stood up from behind my ant-heap. Then his fore-legs began to give way. He struggled to remain upright, gave one last, wild glance at the hills where the herd had fled, before he sank down on to his knees. Like a destroyer holed in the bows and sucked down into smooth waters so his body took a swift glide forward to sink steeply into the hissing grass and vanished from my sight. 

Immediately I ran forward to put him out of unnecessary pain. However, he was dead when I reached him, lying on his side with large brown eyes wide open, filled with hurt and turning purple between the blue of the day without and fall of night within. I cut his throat quickly. I stood up to wipe my hands and knife. The last of the herd was vanishing down the pass. Behind me a horse snorted and jingled its bridle chain. I swung about. My brother was there sitting on his horse, his face white as chalk, looking at Stompie. 

‘Well?’ I asked, pretending to take it for granted that he was about to dismount to give me a hand cleaning the buck: ‘Not much of a bag for all that work, is it?’ 

He made no answer but went on staring past me at the stained earth. 

That put me on the defensive. ‘What’s biting you?’ I said. ‘Aren’t you going to help?’ 

He shook his heavy head and said with difficulty, his eyes bright with the unanswerable rhetoric of tears: ‘No, Ouboet. I’m not going to help.’ Then he burst out suddenly, ‘How could you? How could you do such a thing?’ 

‘Don’t be an ass,’ I answered, more perturbed than I cared to show. ‘Stompie asked for it. Besides I probably did him a kindness. He can’t have enjoyed himself much. No one wanted him around.’ 

It was then that my brother became more violent than I had ever seen him. ‘How d’you know?’ he asked passionately. ‘Life must have wanted him or he would never have been born.’ 

This time there was no holding his tears. I became so upset that I sent him off home on his own, thinking I could then clean and truss Stompie at peace. But all the time I was haunted by that look of living hurt still lingering in the dead buck’s eyes. I seemed to have known that look all my life though never so poignantly or at such close quarters. For instance, had I not seen something of the sort a year before in my brother’s eyes at school? The question of it gripped my mind like the first nip of winter frost in the shadows cast by a watery autumn sun. It made me shiver and I tried to dismiss the association as sheer fantasy. Yet from that time onwards, although I continued shooting for years, I never again enjoyed it as before. I shot purely out of habit. My liking for it ended that morning with Stompie on the wide plain on the far side of the prehistoric ridge at the back of the white walls of our home. And my liking for Stompie? How and when had that died? Was Stompie perhaps condemned on the afternoon when I abandoned my brother to the school’s strange hunger? But I am better at questions than answers. All I know for certain is that it is on such dubious trifles as these that the ‘nothingness’ of which I have spoken feeds and grows great. 

* * *

fn1 Kalwerhok: calfpen. 

fn2 Boggel: hunch; Tjie: diminutive. 

fn3 Stompie is the diminutive of stomp – stump, but it is also slang for the discarded fag-end of a cigar or cigarette and is used as both here. 

4 The Growth of Nothing 

MY BROTHER AND I never spoke of Stompie again. The incident seemed to glide into place naturally beside the other unmentionable episode and to form a pair of creatures waiting in the shadow of my mind for their native night to fall. There were even long periods when I succeeded in forgetting them altogether. I was aided and abetted in this by the fact that life afflicts the young with appetites and longings so violent and vivid as to lend reality to the illusion that they are permanent and that their satisfaction is purpose enough. I had my university to get through, then my law studies to conclude and finally my own legal practice to set up. I did all this in a manner which satisfied the high expectations everyone had of me. True, towards the end of my law examinations I was conscious for the first time of a slightly sagging interest in the mechanics of learning. From time to time I wondered whether what I was doing was as important and urgent as it seemed to be. This may even have been noticeable in the results of my examinations. However, the change was so slight and there were so many valid excuses to be made for it since I had so many interests that it escaped both particular and general comment. Yet sometimes in the very midst of my activities and at all sorts of odd and unexpected moments, something would stir in the shadows: there was a movement of things long forgotten as if to remind me that they were still waiting for their own night-fall. This awareness always was accompanied by a feeling of indefinable dismay; a startling of my whole being. And I never got used to it. Perhaps because what we call ‘forgetfulness’ and ‘neglect’ are the favourite sustenances of a certain part of ourselves. Suddenly, in a street crowded with traffic, my step would falter because some leopard light on a white wall reminded me of that morning when my brother and I rode out of the white gates to shoot on the other side of the hills on the great plain. Sometimes at the climax of a complicated plea for the prosecution I would find myself stammering and forced to play for time by drinking a glass of water I did not need because the look in the black eyes of a handcuffed African prisoner waiting his turn in the dock had reminded me, poignantly, of my own past with my brother. I told myself that it was absurd, even unjust that such remote events should be allowed to keep such determined pace with my grown-up self. But none of these admirable and undoubtedly valid considerations influenced their behaviour or their effect on me. They lived on from year to year, thriving apart from the main stream of life within me, with a volition and dark reason all their own and in time their self-announcements seemed to gain in vigour. But even worse than their disconcerting reappearances in a recognizable dimension of my spirit was their invisible subversion. 

As I grew older I became more and more afraid of being either alone or unoccupied. I found that my leisured moments were invaded by a strange uneasiness and bleakness. Particularly I could not bear to be alone during the hours of mid-afternoon, for this period seemed to acquire its own bleak, masterful intent which lived itself out quite apart from me. I could no longer hear the wind rising (a sound I had always loved) without feeling unbearably sad because now my spirit seemed to be incapable of response. And the sound of a cockcrow, even in bright daylight, always gave me the feeling that I was groping in a crepuscular sleep gripped by a horror for which there was never a name. 

At the time, of course, I did not understand this sabotage in the invisible dimensions of my being. That came about only many years later. So I became a sufferer denied even the comfort of knowing the name of his disease; and that feeling of uncertainty promptly planted its own colony of uneasiness on the mainland of my spirit. I became, if you like, a haunted person. Yes, I know the meaning of ghosts. And we who discount them do so only because we look for them in the wrong dimension. We think of them as a return of the bodily dead from their graves. But these dead have no need to return to life for they are not the dead. As I see it what has once given life to the spirit can never again be dead in the dimension of the spirit. So we mistake the shadow for the substance; confuse the reflection and the reality. Ghosts do not follow physical death, but rather they precede life. The only death the spirit recognizes is the denial of birth to that which strives to be born: those realities in ourselves that we have not allowed to live. The real ghost is a strange, persistent beggar at a narrow door asking to be born; asking, again and again, for admission at the gateway of our lives. Such ghosts I had, and thus, beyond all reason, I continued to be haunted. 

It made no difference that I worked hard, that I took good care never to be idle and seldom alone, that I did my duty conscientiously wherever I saw it clearly, that I earned the envy and esteem of my fellow-men in almost equal measure, that I took my vacations regularly in good company by the sea. . . . This subtle chill of ‘nothingness’, of a cold, phantom presence silently trying and re-trying the handle of my door, turned the warmth of my ardent living tepid. Yet for many years I doubt if any of my contemporaries suspected that anything was wrong with me. Occasionally a woman would catch me out. In the midst of some cheerful gathering she would ask with curious urgency: ‘What’s happened? You look as if something awful had happened?’ I would laugh off the question, for how could I explain that I myself had no inkling of the truth and that in the past, when I had tried to track down the answer, it had led only to a jumble of unrelated visions. 

It was only the forward thrust of youth in me and the support, visible and invisible, which the approval and expectation of our community gave me which enabled me to carry on, without wavering, until I was thirty-two. Then, for the first time, I was not merely saddened but frightened. The spirit of play declined in me. I began to be increasingly worried that what I had achieved was without meaning and my success merely an illusion. I would find myself waking up in the small hours of the morning not knowing where I was or who I was. I would appear in court or attend a public function with the feeling that I was not really there at all. I would look at the church clock and think: ‘But that’s not my time at all; that’s not the hour I keep.’ Or glance at the weathercock swinging complacently on its perilous perch and long to cry: ‘For God’s sake teach your kind to be as silent as you are.’ 

For the first time too the world around me began to indicate that it might have misgivings. One day an old acquaintance buttonholed me in the club to say with flattering solicitude: ‘You know, young fellow-me-lad, we all think you’re overdoing things a bit. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! Why not come up north with me and put in a month’s shooting on my ranch?’ 

I could only protest and decline with polite gratitude. Impossible to explain that for years now I had shot only from necessity, for, if there was one thing more than another which made my life seem like the endless repetition of a meaningless pattern, it was this automatic yearly recurrence of a long shooting excursion up north. 

Later one or two elderly women, interested in my welfare, began to urge me to marry. ‘You’re not looking after yourself properly. You need someone to take care of you.’ And then, with a touch of archness, ‘Don’t leave it too long!’ I forced a laugh at their concern and said that as soon as I met the right person I wouldn’t hesitate. But on these occasions the question which always rose immediately to the surface of my mind was: ‘How take on somebody else when I can’t even know myself?’ 

Yes, the paradox which more than any other disturbed my nights was just that: my familiar self was a stranger to me, and the more deeply I felt this the less inclined I was to visit my home. While my parents were still alive I went occasionally to visit them though always with reluctance. When they died I sold the home in the village where I was born and only once went to stay with my brother on the farm which he had inherited. Of that night I remember clearly only one incident. One evening, after a dinner party, I asked my brother to sing for us. Before he could reply the girl he was to marry said with surprise ‘But didn’t you know, Cousin, he never sings any more.’ The answer went deep into me like a knife-stab in the dark. 

I never visited him again after that although I was repeatedly pressed and as often promised to do so. I claimed pressure of work which, in the past, would have been a reasonable excuse. But at this period the bitter process of cancellation within me had reached such a point that there were times when I could barely summon up the energy to get up in the mornings or, once dressed, to get through the day. Often, the day over, I was unable to undress for bed. This distaste of life, joined to my fear of the distaste, lengthened in my heart like my own evening shadow cast behind me on a great, yellow plain of the high-veld. When at last one September our African spring came, it fell on my torn and tattered senses like the rap of a policeman at my own door with a warrant for my arrest. I was at my wits’ end – and my wits, as my career showed, were not inconsiderable. 

At that moment the War came. 

War is animal, not vegetable or mineral. It should be proclaimed as such by the beast blowing his own apocalyptic trumpet and sending scarlet heralds on coal-black horses to spread the news from one land’s end to the other so that all can recognize him for what he is. 

It came to us, however, quite differently. We read the news on the club teleprinter whose main duty it was to keep us posted of the latest market prices, as we crowded round it that Sunday before lunch, glasses of wine in hand. I joined with the rest in the many expressions of horror that went up in the room. I, too, called it a crime against God and humanity. I warmly supported the oldest member when, tears streaming down his smooth pink cheeks, he called Heaven to witness that the war was not of our seeking and had been thrust on us despite the most honourable efforts to avoid it. But even as he spoke and I agreed I was aware of a barely perceptible sense of relief, a feeling as if an obstruction which had been damming the waters of life and rendering them stagnant had now broken through and the stream was once more flowing fast towards the sea. 

Not that I want to exaggerate. This is an issue of war and I want to be dead accurate. But it is not easy. In order to be so I have to deal in a currency which the civilized, Christian heart considers counterfeit; to pursue considerations to which no decent mind will wittingly own. Yet my impression that Sunday morning was that the company in the teleprinter room shared with me a lifting of tension. This, of course, had its legitimate aspect. For a long time the fear of war had been hanging over our heads: the removal of that uncertainty was accompanied by a certain relief. Yet, now that doubt was slain and the ancient theatre, closed for so long, was open once more and yet another great drama of life and death was about to be acted, it was noteworthy how the feeling of having a definite part to play in a world-premiere quickly invested the many persons in the room with a new sense of importance and an emotion of differences overcome. I saw two bitter enemies in the club who had not spoken to each other for years, simultaneously pledge themselves, with moist eyes, in an extra measure of wine. I myself felt the burden of meaningless which had been growing in me so alarmingly of late fall away and the savour returned to my tongue. I felt a new reinstatement of purpose in my life, and a promise of greater significance to come. 

I stood at the window of the club. Alone for a moment, absorbed in my own thoughts, I listened to sirens and factory hooters breaking the Sunday calm to announce the news. Their tones of sinister hysteria affected the whole community. People walking in the street suddenly swung out into a stride, cars doubled their normal speed, all the leisurely, Sunday traffic began to hasten. I saw a policeman overlooking flagrant breaches of traffic regulations, and all sorts and conditions of men who had never before mixed together now gathered spontaneously on the street corners talking with extraordinary animation and gesticulating dramatically in a manner unknown in our community. Behind me, too, the club buzzed like a beehive. The sound reminded me of – of – I could only think of the noise in the quadrangle at school the afternoon just before the ‘round-up’. I felt my body stiffen as the finger of the implacable memory touched me. Then deliberately I forced myself to relax. The war – real fighting – I told myself savagely, would soon put an end to this shadow-boxing that I had endured for so many years. Yes, I even felt a kind of grim satisfaction at the thought. 

I was just about to heed the voices of my friends calling me back to the bar when, among all those animated fast-moving and quickly-changing figures without, my eye was caught and held by one inconspicuous scene. A woman and a child by her waiting no doubt for a man, were sitting apart from the crowd in the swirling streets on an iron bench under the Royal Palm in front of our imposing gates. The woman had her arm thrown out protectively round the child. Her shoulders were shaking. Clearly she was crying. When I turned away she was still crying. It was a scene I never forgot, and that went to join the other shadows in my mind, fighting for recognition. 

All that Sunday my mind worked with a vigour and a precision I had not known for long. I did not worry at all about my own personal safety. I had an idea I would be all right in battle and good at killing. Ignorant of the origins of this terrible need of life for death in the living issue that was upon us, I dismissed them. All my instinct for action and my confidence seemed promptly to return to me. I left the club after a quick lunch, went to my chambers and wound up my affairs. I gave my clerks and juniors detailed instructions in writing as to how to carry on in my absence. It was nearly midnight when I finished, and yet for the first time in years I did not feel tired. I went home, still curiously exhilarated, woke up my housekeeper and repeated my performance there. I did not get to bed until four in the morning. Even so I was up by seven with a small suitcase packed with a few essentials. Soon after, still filled with this curious new eagerness, I presented myself at our military headquarters. I was nearly an hour too early and a sleepy sergeant, impatient for his relief, angrily told me so. However, I insisted, with such an assumption of authority, on seeing one of the duty officers that he had no option but to fetch him. As a result I was the first volunteer to be enrolled for the war in our city. In all this I behaved as if in accordance to a plan worked out years before for just such an emergency. I never thought about what to do next; each step presented itself to me in an unhesitating sequence of an apparently predetermined logic, even down to this question of volunteering and entering the army through the ranks. I do not suppose that I really anticipated being left there long. Perhaps if I had I would have enlisted as an officer straight away, as it was easy to do in my country. Indeed, probably the more normal thing to do would have been quietly to apply for a commission and patiently wait my turn with the rest of my friends. But my instinct for the drama of the occasion, my yearning to keep close to this revived feeling of purpose, would have none of that. It exacted this precipitate gesture from me and persuaded me, at the same time, that this was the natural thing to do. The persuasion seemed more than justified when that evening, sitting in barracks in a brand-new uniform, I read in the evening newspapers: City’s youngest K.C. leads nation-wide rush to the colours: Famous barrister joins the ranks. 

I was sent for the next day. I could then have had a good administrative post for the duration in the Adjutant-General’s department. They told me it was the branch of the service which could best use my experience and training. But resolutely I refused all such suggestions and insisted that I would remain in the ranks unless I could be commissioned in the infantry. Didn’t they know, I asked with a grin, that it was killing not clerking I was after? I had my way and within a few days was back in the club in officer’s uniform, standing round after round of farewell drinks, hearing from everyone both appraisal and approval of my behaviour. 

Even my brother, in one of his rare letters, had written on the day war was declared: ‘We’ve just heard the news and by the time this reaches you I expect you’ll have joined up, so I want to hasten to wish you God speed. I can’t, of course, go with you all. Someone has to stay behind and grow food, and I expect it’s right that a bloke like me should be the “someone”. I can only promise you that the thought of what thousands of gallant chaps like you will be doing for the stay-at-homes will make me work harder than ever. I have already thought of a way of bringing new land under the plough that will double, if not treble, our yield. I don’t expect you’ll have time to come all this way to visit us and I am sure it would be wrong for me to press you, but please remember, always, that you’re constantly in our thoughts and prayers. Write when you’ve a moment and God bless you, Ouboet.’ 

You see? In doing what I’d done I was fulfilling even my brother’s expectations of me. No wonder that, for the moment, I was composed, even content. Yet I never answered the letter. I put it off from day to day and in the end merely sent him a telegram on the day I embarked. 

I shall pass over the weeks of training that followed, the detail of embarkation with the first division of infantry and our voyage to the battlefields of North Africa. I do so not because that period is without interest but because it is irrelevant to my story. I am concerned only with betrayal, with the seed of negation within me, with a particular botany both of my own and of the human spirit, and in that connexion I have nothing further to add until I come to my first taste of action. The action was not much of an affair except to me and my battalion. My role in it, moreover, was of my own choosing and execution. For days our Directors of Intelligence had been complaining about the dearth of prisoners to give them information. We were new in the field and took their urging more seriously than we might have done later on. My Colonel seemed profoundly bothered about the whole thing and so I volunteered one night to take out a special patrol and collect the bodies Intelligence wanted. 

The offer was accepted gladly and again I was struck by how easily my mind planned and carried out the operation. It was as if I had done it all a thousand times before. That, coupled with my lifetime’s experience in stalking the game of my native land made the task seem elementary and the success a certainty. After observing an advanced post of the enemy for some days, procuring a couple of aerial photographs of it, personally reconnoitring at night the ground between us and it, I crawled one moonless midnight out of our position with a section of seven hand-picked men behind me. 

Within half an hour, still undetected, we were close to our target. The tide of a not unpalatable excitement ran high in my blood. I felt rejuvenated, my emotions as fresh and vivid as the day, nearly twenty years before, when I had stalked and killed my first Kudu bull. I halted my patrol and turned on my back to rest making sure we were all in full breath before going in to capture and kill the outpost whose low parapet was looming darkly before us like the outline of the backs of a bunch of ruminating kine. I remarked that the stars too were participating in the venture and trembling on the tips of their toes with excitement. In this strange northern sky they were mostly strangers to me and all appeared in the wrong places but, as if for encouragement, there was my favourite constellation the great hunter Orion gliding smoothly with his Red Indian swing through the black wings on the edge of the Milky Way, unheeding of the clear song and bright twitter of lesser stars on the bright stage before him. I do not think I had ever known a purer or more complete moment than I did then. I mention it because I think now that it was all part of the greater plan to perfect and refine the irony of what had to follow. 

All around us the desert, so appropriately a setting for battle in the bankrupt spirit of man, was oddly still. As I lay there the noise of an aeroplane coming fast towards us from behind the enemy lines broke in on the quietude. 

‘We’ll go in the moment it’s overhead,’ I whispered to my men. ‘It’ll drown the sound of our movements. But get this clear. You three come first with your knives. You others follow covering with your guns; no shooting if we can help it.’ 

I turned over. Knife in my right hand I rose softly into position like a runner braced for the starter’s pistol on the edge of the track. Three dark shapes conformed beside me. The plane was flying low and fast towards us. Just before it was overhead I said ‘Now!’ and leapt forward. The enemy position was only a shallow machine-gun pit scraped out of the hard desert rubble. My hand briefly on the parapet I cleared it at the run and landed in the midst of a platoon of sleeping enemy soldiers. My feet barely touched bottom when the aeroplane dropped a landing flare almost immediately overhead. Instantly the shallow pit and its huddle of dusty little men and the desert far and wide around us were illuminated with a bright magnesium glare. The sentry leaning against the bank by the parapet was struggling out of a desperate sleep, terror on his face. In the strange phosphorescent light floating down from above us, I could see every line on his unshaven face. He was a small dark man, his face broad and his eyes wide-open to the horror quaking within him. Something in me hardened instantly at the sight of him, as if he were not a reality of war without but a puppet in a shadow-show against the ecto-plasmic light of my own mind. He raised his rifle, perhaps, to protect himself and he tried to call out, perhaps, that he was surrendering. The sound was strangled in his throat. I have always been exceptionally fast in my physical reaction to situations. Although this takes time in the telling, it all passed off in one continuous movement. I leapt at him and before he was clear of the bank had ducked past his rifle, pinned him against the earth and driven my knife into him beneath his ribs with a swift upward thrust and all my weight and speed behind it. For one infinitesimal fragment of time a terrible stillness fell between us, the sort of stillness no doubt wherein God’s monitors at their listening post at the exit of the world could hear a sparrow fall or even the first faint footstep of evil setting out on its labyrinthine way. In the midst of that stillness I heard his skin squeak at the point of my knife and then snap like elastic. A look like the brush of a crow’s wing passed over his face – and for a moment he reminded me of my own brother. Flashes of visions of my brother, Stompie, the woman crying under the Royal Palm came and went in my mind like children playing hide and seek in the twilight. They vanished just in time. My men were following my own example like automatons, attacking with their knives the terrified men coming out of their sleep with upraised hands. I had to stop them at once. More I feared the fever of killing would upset the four covering us with their guns. Once they opened up there would be no survivors and our chances of getting back to our lines greatly diminished. As I ordered them to stop the landing flare went out and thank God a generous fall of blackness covered us all. We disarmed the seventeen enemy soldiers still alive. We made them take off their boots and marched them in their socks deftly back to our lines. My men went behind purring like kittens with their triumph. I went like someone profoundly preoccupied walking unaware with one foot on a pavement, the other in a gutter; one mind content with my men in that moment; another hopeless and strangely defeated in another epoch of time. In that time-gutter of my own, the prisoners in front of me seemed freer than I, I, a prisoner of myself and my own gaoler. Was this war waged in a cause of which I had had such ardent expectations, to show itself in my first encounter not to be the battlefield I sought? Would it not enable me to do the killing I needed? Was it about to cheat me merely into murdering enemy proxies of my own brother, and be but another turn of the same meaningless screw? 

Back in our lines the Colonel came out to congratulate us on the success of the venture but for the first time I found praise hard to swallow. I was nearly rude to him. When my brother officers wanted to celebrate my first mention in despatches I could hardly force myself to drink with them. 

And so it went on. I got better and better at killing. In particular I was so good at the kind of raid I have described that I was taken away from my battalion and set to plan and lead raids further and deeper behind the enemy lines. I came back each time impatient of offers of leave and rest, asking only to be kept active and employed. I volunteered for every difficult and hazardous operation. For more than a year I was continuously engaged either on operations against the enemy or busy preparing them. I gave myself no time for anything except war, hoping thereby to escape from my shadows, but they were too adroit for me. After waking, in the midst of battle, in the faces of men fixing their bayonets behind a sand dune, in the mindless sound of the cry as they charged, in the sight of the enemy, caught in our concealed fire, wheeling like springbok, or at the sight of a peasant woman sitting with her child by the smouldering ruin of her home, right through the gateway of my deepest sleep and in the heart of my most tender dreams the shadows followed deftly swishing and fluttering their long skirts as they passed. I do not know where it would have ended if, despite all my resistances, I had not been suddenly ordered out of the desert and sent on a special mission to Palestine. 

5 ‘The Day Far Spent’ 

I HAVE OFTEN been overawed in the silences of a sleepless night by the thought of the precision with which chance and circumstance work in human lives. They will contrive, for instance, that a person such as a Maori I knew should be born on the other side of the world just in time to meet a German bullet in his forehead thirty years later in a Libyan desert, while I, who was leading him, was delivered with as nice a calculation. But of the many imposing expositions I have witnessed of the working of these precision instruments of life none struck me as so subtle as those which took me to Palestine. I went against my will and yet no assignment could have fitted more neatly into the jig-saw pattern of my desperation than this posting to Palestine. I found myself stationed at a monastery called Imwash. The monks had moved out only a few days before to their parent monastery a mile or so back at a place called Latrun. There was still a smell as of frankincense and myrrh from their centuries of occupation hanging about the cool corridors and the grey stone halls when I moved in with my band of cut-throats. 

For some weeks I and other men younger than I but with even older faces, taught these desperate characters the kind of killing and clandestine warfare in which we had become specialists. They were a strange lot, all with their own idea and aptitude for killing. For instance the best shot among them was a boy with a squint and a contortionist’s body who had had a Jewish father and an Arab mother and who aimed his gun with his right eye from his left shoulder. In him, as in them all, the normal proportions seemed inverted with a macabre logic to serve all the better their mission of death. In the mornings I marched them out and taught them how to handle explosives, lay booby traps, set time-fuses and delayed action bombs, together with unarmed combat and other tricks of silent killing. In the afternoons I lectured them out of my experience and tried to make their imaginations at home in the background against which they would have to do their work. At night I would take them out into the hills behind the monastery and play at stalking human game in the deep gullies, wadis, orchards of olives and fig trees on their terraced slopes. Usually between lectures and night manoeuvres I would march them out before sunset to watch the time-fuses and delayed charges that we had set in the morning, explode. The dust of the explosions would hang golden between us and the sinking sun in the still air. I had always thought our African high-veld light was the purest in the world. I was wrong. There is nothing so lovely as the autumnal evening light in Palestine. I remember on the first evening standing there apart from my soldiers looking beyond the dust to the olive trees, figs, vineyards and slender cypresses, feeling the explosions still reeling in my senses, and thinking that this was a strange way to treat a holy land. Once the feeling was sharpened almost unendurably by the sight of a lone gazelle, one of the loveliest of the lean buck of the Palestinian hills, startled by the sounds and leaping high on a crest of purple hill, just as Stompie had once done in the great plain behind the prehistoric hills at home. Oh, it was ever-present, this prick of memory which had been tempered like a surgeon’s needle in the general nightmare of betrayal in my being. I would be grateful, then, for the odd charge which had not exploded and the duty which compelled me to go and examine it, because, as Commanding Officer, it was I who had to execute this most dangerous of all tasks in our training mission. 

One evening, so still and clear that the light standing brimful between the hills around us was like crystal water and the slight air of evening sent a faint but rhythmical tremble through it like the tail of a fish in a clear mountain pool, I was counting the explosions, thus, and felt almost relieved to find that one had failed. I was closing in on it fast when it went off and a rock the size of a rugger ball just missed my head. As the dust and shock cleared from my eyes I saw sitting on a boulder some two hundred yards away a civilian who had no business to be there at all. I went over to him quickly. He was a monk but despite his priest’s clothes I spoke to him sternly, so relieved was I to find an outlet for the mixed emotions of shock and chagrin within me. He was a tall, middle-aged man with a slight stoop, yellow hair that was closely cropped and a pair of fine blue eyes in a wide forehead. He was heavily bearded as well and as a result the only light in his face came from his eyes and brow. 

He listened to me patiently and at the end said in English with a German accent: ‘I am sorry if I have done anything wrong, sir, and give you concern. But for many years now long before our superiors in Jerusalem handed over our monastery to the military for “thirty pieces of silver” I have come here every evening to look both at it and the view. You need not be afraid I’ll do anything stupid. I know all about explosives. I too have been a service man once. But I’ll not come here again if you forbid it.’ 

With that he turned as if to go to where the greater monastery sat snugly a mile away below a hill securely tucked in behind screens of flickering cypress, glistening olive trees and wide autumnal vineyards of gold. However, his manner had made such an impression on me that I asked in a more conciliatory tone: ‘You say you have been a service man too? How, when and where?’ 

He turned round at once and said slowly: ‘I was a German submarine officer in the ’14–’18 war.’ 

‘And in this?’ I asked beginning again to feel aggressive. 

But he was impervious to the change of tone and said, ‘I became a monk in 1919 and have been here in the Holy Land ever since.’ 

He paused and we stood there looking at each other. 

He broke out of the silence first and asked: ‘Do you think you could possibly tell me how the war is going?’ 

I started, willingly enough, to give him the latest war news without realizing that I was on the wrong track. 

He interrupted me again, saying: ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that war. I meant your war.’ 

‘And your country’s too,’ I answered sharply, thinking that, like many Germans, he was disclaiming responsibility for it. 

‘Forgive me,’ he answered quietly, ‘if I have presumed too much on a priest’s privilege and intruded into your private affairs. But I thought I recognized a look on your face that I seemed to remember on my own in 1917 . . .’ He paused. ‘It was then that I first realized that the war I was fighting was in me long before it was in the world without. I realized that I was fighting it in a – ach! was heisst es – a secondary dimension of reality.’ 

‘Oh, that’s all right,’ I said uncomfortably, not at all prepared to continue such a disturbing line of conversation with a stranger even though the stranger were a priest. So I went on instead to say: ‘Look, if you’ve been coming here every evening, don’t let us break the habit. I can easily arrange for my men to practise these explosions at a safer distance.’ 

At that a new expression came into his sombre eyes. He thanked me saying he would appreciate greatly such permission and begged me to allow him to explain why he so valued coming there in the evening. For twenty years, he told me, he had been coming here because this dip in the land where we practised our combats was, for him, the most hallowed ground in Palestine. It was there, he said, that Christ first revealed Himself to His disciples after the Resurrection. He waved his hands, now almost transparently white from the many years of concealment in his monk’s sleeves, at the land below us. The sun was just going down and the shadows were already running deep like flowing water in the waddies. He said that there exactly where the monastery stood the disciples, some as stunned by their private hesitations and evasions during those critical hours between Christ’s apprehension and His crucifixion as by the crucifixion itself, and all like sheep at nightfall in a world of wolves without a shepherd, were gathered fearfully together. Then suddenly He came out of a sunset sky and appeared before his anguished followers. 

They did not recognize Him, but out of their own deep hurt, and in their fear welcoming any addition to their numbers, they made him welcome, saying, ‘Abide with us, for the day is far spent.’ 

Here there was a pause and then my companion went on to say that as for himself, he came there every night to relive that hour. He came to remind himself of his own evasions and failure to recognize the Resurrected One during the day and to wait until he was ready to fall on his own knees for pardon of his daily acts of unbelief. 

‘But how do you know that this was the place?’ I asked abruptly. 

The great bell had suddenly begun tolling the dark hour in the monastery and I rather shot the question at him because I felt that the emotion roused in me by his tale and the manner of his telling it would disturb me unless I clung to what were still to me the main facts of life. 

‘The first pilgrims discovered it and marked the place,’ he replied. ‘The crusaders followed to build this their first church and monastery on the designated spot, exactly where you now do your work.’ 

His words again made me uncomfortable. His capacity for disconcerting me seemed unfailing yet I wanted him to say more. However, he excused himself gently, asking if I had not heard the bell? That was his call to duty as I had mine over there. He pointed to where my men huddled restless on the slope. If I liked, he concluded, we could meet again any evening I chose, in the same place, for now that I had been so good as to give him permission, he would keep up the custom. And with that he walked, still with a marked seaman’s roll under his monk’s habit, into the growing dark, the bell tolling all the time and shaking the brown air with wave upon wave of urgent sound. 

But I did not see him again. I woke the next morning with one of my periodical recurrences of malaria, the worst I had experienced since I left the bush-veld. We had no doctor attached to my staff for we were only a small oddly select unit, an aristocracy, if you like, of killers, nor would I allow my adjutant to telephone to Jerusalem for one. I had had malaria so often in the past that I felt I knew better than any doctor what to do. I promptly dosed myself with quinine, got my batman to pile my bed high with rugs and greatcoats and settled down to wait confidently for my ague to stop and the sweat to burst out and break the fever. But as the day wore on it soon became evident that this was no ordinary attack. The ague got worse, my temperature rose and no sweat relieved the fever. 

In the afternoon an age of ice seemed to have entered my blood and to be rattling my bones. When I am really ill, my instinct is for life, and not man, to nurse me. When I come to die I hope it may be in the open, face to face with sky and stars and so I may be able to commit my spirit without reserve to its keeper, the wind. 

So now with the help of my batman I struggled out into the open to lie under the sky facing the lee of the slope where the monk and I had met the evening before. There at last I felt my fever had room to spread its wings. For that is what fever needs. Fever is Time grown strange wings, the mind feathered to range great distances between an anguished brittle moment in the present and one’s first drop into being. Hardly was I laid in the open than such consciousness as I had took flight. I forgot my aching and my shivering vanished and I just went with a single overwhelming thought swiftly backwards until I came to the moment where once a great darkness had gathered over the land on which I lay. I could feel the earth heave itself in agony beneath my ear, hear the temple rent with a lightning sound to be followed by a terrible silence wherein the only murmur was the blood hissing in my ear like an angry sea among the rocks. The silence became so frightening, so full of the nothingness of which I have spoken, that I could endure it no longer and flung myself up in my bed to look for something to fill it. 

I saw the sun setting and realized my fever had brought me out at the moment where a little huddle of stricken followers were preparing for the night on the place where the monastery, my future workshop of war, was to be built. Then, in the focus of my fever, I saw first the huddle of men and then He Himself, coming down a footpath winding through figs and sparkling olives just as the monk had described it to me. The sunset was like a halo around His head. And yet now that He had come the occasion was so ordinary that I was not surprised that He was not recognized. How hard to learn that our own brief wonder is not worked in heaven but in the grains of sand at our feet; that miracle is not in the stars but in the fearful flesh and blood piled on the moon-bone beneath our own shrinking skin. The men now huddled about Him could not see the miracle for, in their fear, they were looking too far or too high. 

Then I heard one of them, dark with bereavement like a crow at nightfall, say to Him: ‘Abide with us for the day is far spent, brother.’ 

But his tone implied no recognition.