No – Oom Schalk Lourens said – you don’t get flowers in the Groot Marico. It’s not a bad district for mielies, and I once grew quite good onions in a small garden I made next to the dam, but what you can really call flowers are rare things here. Perhaps it’s the heat. Or the drought.
Yet, whenever I talk about flowers, I think of Willem Prinsloo’s farm on Abjaterskop, where the dance was, and I think of Fritz Pretorius, sitting pale and sick by the roadside, and I think of the white rose that I wore in my hat, jauntily. But most of all, I think of Grieta.
If you walk over my farm to the hoogte, and look towards the north-west, you can see Abjaterskop behind the ridge of the Dwarsberge. People will tell you that there are ghosts on Abjaterskop, and that it was once the home of witches. I can believe that. I was at Abjaterskop only once. That was many years ago. And I never went there again. Still, it wasn’t ghosts that kept me away; nor was it witches.
Grieta Prinsloo was due to come back from the finishing school at Zeerust, where she had gone to learn English manners, and dictation, and other high-class subjects. Therefore Willem Prinsloo, her father, arranged a big dance on his farm at Abjaterskop to celebrate Grieta’s return.
I was invited to the party. So was Fritz Pretorius. And so was every person in the district, from Derdepoort to Ramoutsa. What was more, practically everybody went. Of course, we were all somewhat nervous about meeting Grieta. With all the superior things she had learnt at the finishing school, we wouldn’t be able to talk to her in a chatty sort of way, just as though she were an ordinary Boer girl. But what fetched us all to Abjaterskop, in the end, was our knowledge that Willem Prinsloo made the best peach brandy in the district.
Fritz Pretorius spoke to me of the difficulty brought about by Grieta’s learning.
‘Yes, jong,’ he said, ‘I’m feeling pretty shaky about talking to her, I can tell you. I’ve been rubbing up my education a bit, though. Yesterday I took out my old slate that I last used when I left school seventeen years ago, and I did a few sums. I did some addition and subtraction. I tried a little multiplication, too. But I’ve forgotten how that’s done.’
I told Fritz that I would have liked to help him, but that I had never learnt as far as multiplication.
The day of the dance arrived. The post-cart bearing Grieta to her father’s house passed through Drogedal in the morning. In the afternoon I got dressed. I wore a black jacket, fawn trousers, and a pink shirt. I also put on the brown boots I had bought about a year before, and that I’d never had occasion to wear. For I would have looked silly walking about the farm in a pair of shop boots, when everybody else wore home-made veldskoens.
I believed, as I got on my horse, and set off down the Government road, with my hat rakishly on one side, that I would easily be the best-dressed young man at that dance.
It was getting on towards sunset when I arrived at the foot of Abjaterskop, which I had to skirt in order to reach Willem Prinsloo’s farm, nestling in a hollow behind the hills. I felt, as I rode, that it was stupid for a man to live in a place that was reputed to be haunted. The trees grew taller and denser, as they always do on rising ground. And they also got a lot darker.
All over the place were queer, heavy shadows. I didn’t like the look of them. I remembered stories I’d heard of the witches of Abjaterskop, and what they did to travellers who lost their way in the dark. It seemed an easy thing to lose your way among those tall trees. Accordingly, I spurred my horse on to a gallop, to get out of this gloomy region as quickly as possible. After all, a horse is sensitive about things like ghosts and witches, and it was my duty to see that my horse was not frightened unnecessarily. Especially as a cold wind suddenly sprang up through the poort, and once or twice it sounded as though an evil voice were calling my name. I started riding fast then. But a few moments later I looked round and realised the position. It was Fritz Pretorius galloping along behind me.
‘What’s your hurry?’ Fritz asked, when I slowed down to allow him to overtake me.
‘I wanted to get through those trees before it was too dark,’ I answered. ‘I didn’t want my horse to get frightened.’
‘I suppose that’s why you were riding with your arms around his neck,’ Fritz observed, ‘to soothe him.’
I did not reply. But what I did notice was that Fritz was also very stylishly dressed. True, I beat him as far as the shirt and the boots went, but he was dressed in a new grey suit, with his socks pulled up over the bottoms of his trousers. He also had a handkerchief which he ostentatiously took out of his pocket several times.
Of course, I couldn’t be jealous of a person like Fritz Pretorius. I was only annoyed at the thought that he was making himself ridiculous by going to a party with an outlandish thing like a handkerchief.