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The Fundamental Axiom
by [?]

The wild ass of the desert knows,
By inborn knowledge, friends from foes.
The tame ass of the village browses
Contentedly between the houses.
He has no foes, he has no friends,
He toils and eats until he ends.

But this time, Fate, on grim jokes bent,
A wild ass to the village sent.
Oh, what a tempest shook the village,
‘Twas worse than flood, or fire, or pillage!

Now if an ass I needs must be,
The desert’s joys and pains for me.

Broodigrass.

I.

It was evening. In the old mission house the frugal supper was over, and the missionary, his wife, the two lady-teachers, the eleven native female boarders and the native probationer, all knelt down to prayers. The eleven boarders and the probationer had come in at the sound of the bell, the eldest boarder leading, and the probationer bringing up the rear.

A few seconds later, the old black housemaid and cook combined strode heavily in and knelt down just inside the door. Prayers over, Miss Elizabeth Blake, the senior lady teacher, sat down to the harmonium and played the first few bars of a hymn. Then the little congregation stood up and sang. They kept good time, and their singing was fairly in tune, but the voices of some of the native girls were very harsh and shrill, and somewhat spoilt the general effect. The probationer, Samuel Gozani, led the singing from his place close to the instrumentalist. The choir stood facing the right-hand end of the harmonium, and the leader stood just on Miss Blake’s left hand, and to see the choir he had to look over her head. The hymn happened to be Luther’s “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott”; it was sung in English, but the Reverend Gottlieb Schultz, the missionary, forgetting the English words, drifted into the original German at the second verse, rather to the detriment of the performance. Miss Blake sang out her clear, simple soprano tones, very rich in the low notes. She was a handsome girl, rather stout, with blue eyes and dull yellow hair. Her face was somewhat pale from overwork and want of fresh air. Altogether, she had a strongly Teutonic look, and was, in fact, almost an exact counterpart of what her German mother had been at her age. Of her Irish father she showed absolutely no trace in either appearance or character.

Whilst the hymn was being sung, the probationer’s earnest eyes rested as often on the yellow-haired girl at the harmonium as on his particular charge, the dusky choir. The eleven girls stood in a crescent, some modest and demure enough, but others looking bold, their wanton, roving eyes and generously developed figures being much in evidence. The youngest girl might have been twelve years of age, and the eldest twenty. The latter, a girl named Martha Kawa, was of a much lighter colour than any of her schoolmates, but her physiognomy was of the usual Kafir type. Her father was an Englishman, and her mother a Gaika Kafir; she had passed her childhood in a native hut, and when, five years previously, she was sent to the mission, she was in a condition of absolute savagery. In the mission school her Aryan blood told; she kept easily ahead of the other girls, and took all the best prizes.

The hymn over, the girls curtsied “good-night” to the missionary and his wife, and went to the dormitory escorted by the junior teacher. This room was the very picture of neatness. The whitewashed walls were decorated with Biblical pictures and illuminated texts, and the beds, with blue counterpanes and snow-white linen, were without crease or wrinkle. On each bed, near the foot, the occupier’s shawl was folded, and the manner of folding varied considerably. Small prizes were given for the best folding designs, and considerable individuality was shown in the competition. Several of the designs were marvels of ingenuity, and indicated a true artistic faculty.