|The Stars and the Stars’ Road.|
Darkly-blue and illimitable, the arc of the sky hung over the great Karroo like a
canopy of softest velvet, making a deep, mysterious background for the myriad stars,
which twinkled brightly at a frosty world.
The three little boys, gathered at the window, pointed out to each other the
constellations with which Cousin Minnie had made them familiar, and were deep in a
discussion as to the nature and number of the stars composing the Milky Way when
Outa shuffled in.
“Outa, do you think there are a billion stars up there in the Milky Way?” asked
“A billion, you know,” explained Pietie, “is a thousand million, and it would take
months to count even one million.”
“Aja, baasje,” said the old man readily, seizing, with native adroitness, the unknown
word and making it his own, “then there will surely be a billion stars up there.
Perhaps,” he added, judicially considering the matter, “two billion, but no one knows,
because no one can ever count them. They are too many. And to think that that bright
road in the sky is made of wood ashes, after all.”
He settled himself on his stool, and his little audience came to attention.
“Yes, my baasjes,” he went on, “long, long ago, the sky was dark at night when the
Old Man with the bright armpits lay down to sleep, but people learned in time to
make fires to light up the darkness; and one night a girl, who sat warming herself by a
wood fire, played with the ashes. She took the ashes in her hands and threw them up
to see how pretty they were when they floated in the air. And as they floated away
she put green bushes on the fire and stirred it with a stick. Bright sparks flew out and
went high, high, mixing with the silver ashes, and they all hung in the air and made a
bright road across the sky. And there it is to this day. Baasjes call it the Milky Way,
but Outa calls it the Stars’ Road.
“Ai! but the girl was pleased! She clapped her hands and danced, shaking herself like
Outa’s people do when they are happy, and singing:—
‘The little stars! The tiny stars!
They make a road for other stars.
Ash of wood-fire! Dust of the Sun!
They call the Dawn when Night is done!’
“Then she took some of the roots she had been eating and threw them into the sky,
and there they hung and turned into large stars. The old roots turned into stars that
gave a red light, and the young roots turned into stars that gave a golden light. There
they all hung, winking and twinkling and singing. Yes, singing, my baasjes, and this
is what they sang:—
‘We are children of the Sun!
It’s so! It’s so! It’s so!
Him we call when Night is done!
It’s so! It’s so! It’s so!
Bright we sail across the sky
By the Stars’ Road, high, so high;
And we, twinkling, smile at you,
As we sail across the blue!
It’s so! It’s so! It’s so!’
“Baasjes know, when the stars twinkle up there in the sky they are like little children
nodding their heads and saying, ‘It’s so! It’s so! It’s so!’” At each repetition Outa
nodded and winked, and the children, with antics of approval, followed suit.
“Baasjes have sometimes seen a star fall?” Three little heads nodded in concert.
“When a star falls,” said the old man impressively, “it tells us someone has died. For
the star knows when a person’s heart fails and the person dies, and it falls from the
sky to tell those at a distance that someone they know has died.1
“One star grew and grew till he was much larger than the others. He was the Great
Star, and, singing, he named the other stars. He called each one by name, till they all
had their names, and in this way they knew that he was the Great Star. No other could
have done so. Then when he had finished, they all sang together and praised the Great
Star, who had named them.2
“Now, when the day is done, they walk across the sky on each side of the Stars’
Road. It shows them the way. And when Night is over, they turn back and sail again
by the Stars’ Road to call the Daybreak, that goes before the Sun. The Star that leads
the way is a big bright star. He is called the Dawn’s-Heart Star, and in the dark, dark
hour, before the Stars have called the Dawn, he shines—ach! baasjes, he is beautiful
to behold! The wife and the child of the Dawn’s-Heart Star are pretty, too, but not so
big and bright as he. They sail on in front, and then they wait—wait for the other
Stars to turn back and sail along the Stars’ Road, calling, calling the Dawn, and for
the Sun to come up from under the world, where he has been lying asleep.
“They call and sing, twinkling as they sing:—
‘We call across the sky,
Dawn! Come, Dawn!
You, that are like a young maid newly risen,
Rubbing the sleep from your eyes!
You, that come stretching bright hands to the sky,
Pointing the way for the Sun!
Before whose smile the Stars faint and grow pale,
And the Stars’ Road melts away.
Dawn! Come Dawn!
We call across the sky,
And the Dawn’s-Heart Star is waiting.
It’s so! It’s so! It’s so!’
“So they sing, baasjes, because they know they are soon going out.
“Then slowly the Dawn comes, rubbing her eyes, smiling, stretching out bright
fingers, chasing the darkness away. The Stars grow faint and the Stars’ Road fades,
while the Dawn makes a bright pathway for the Sun. At last he comes with both arms
lifted high, and the brightness, streaming from under them, makes day for the world,
and wakes people to their work and play.
“But the little Stars wait till he sleeps again before they begin their singing. Summer
is the time when they sing best, but even now, if baasjes look out of the window they
will see the Stars, twinkling and singing.”
The children ran to the window and gazed out into the starlit heavens. The last sight
Outa had, as he drained the soopje glass the Baas was just in time to hand him, was of
three little heads bobbing up and down in time to the immemorial music of the Stars,
while little Jan’s excited treble rang out: “Yes, it’s quite true, Outa. They do say, ‘It’s
so! It’s so! It’s so!’”
It is both curious and interesting to find the identical belief obtaining amongst races so widely
different as the Scandinavians of Northern Europe and the Bushmen of South Africa.—See Hans
Andersen’s Little Match Girl: “Her Grandmother had told her that when a star fell down a soul mounted up
“When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.”—Job xxxviii. 7.