The Story of an African Farm

by Olive Schreiner

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Part 2: Chapter 11 Summary

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Seven months have passed since Gregory left the farmstead, and Em is sitting before the fire on a stormy night, listening to the violent wind. She sings to herself as she roasts cakes over the fire. Suddenly, there is a knock on the door. It is Waldo, and he is carrying only a small bundle. His old mare is dead, he says, and he has decided to return to the farm. He asks about Lyndall, and Em tells him that she is in the Transvaal. They will talk more after Em gets Waldo something to eat, she says.

As Waldo eats, Em mentions that she has had a letter from Gregory saying that he will return next week. Waldo takes some paper and ink and sits down to write. Em notices that he is thin and rather ragged, but he writes quickly, telling Lyndall all about the last few months.

Waldo began working as a clerk in a shop, but he did not like the job and received little pay. He became friendly with a clerk in another store, but the man read only novels and scoffed at Waldo’s choice of books. The man borrowed the mare and killed it. Waldo also had an encounter with a man who wanted him to subscribe for the minister’s salary and received a scolding from him, later learning that the man receives a percentage of whatever he collects.

Next, Waldo writes about his days driving wagons for a transport-rider. The work was hard and long, and it almost crushed the soul right out of Waldo. He began drinking and was constantly exhausted, seeing and feeling nothing but his work. He felt like his brain was dead and that work was turning him into a devil. He finally gave up drinking when he fell down in the road and a servant had to move him out of the way. He thought of Lyndall reading a death notice for him in the newspaper.

Waldo quit the job after he saw one of the oxen abused and killed after it could not pull the wagon in the mud. Waldo took the few possessions he had and left, getting a job in a wholesale store. He visited the sea over Christmas and grew to love it, for the sea has a human quality in its continual change. He read many books but was lonely. He saw the stranger who told him the story of the hunter, but he did not approach the man, for he could see that the stranger was not really the person he once thought he was.

The little daughter of one of the clerks sat on Waldo’s knee and talked to him, giving him great satisfaction. Yet he was miserable in his loneliness and decided to return to the farm even though he knew Lyndall was not there. He writes about his journey back, about the wind, and about his memories of the farm.

Em awakens before Waldo finishes writing. She comments that he has many letters to write, but he responds that he is writing just one, to Lyndall. Em pauses a moment before telling Waldo that there is no use writing to Lyndall, for she is dead.

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Part 2: Chapter 12 Summary