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From ‘Willem Prinsloo’s Peach Brandy’ in Mafeking Road
by Herman Charles Bosman
We arrived at Willem Prinsloo’s house. There were so many ox-wagons drawn up on the veld that the place looked like a laager. Prinsloo met us at the door.
‘Go right through, kêrels,’ he said, ‘the dancing is in the voorhuis. The peach brandy is in the kitchen.’
Although the voorhuis was big, it was so crowded as to make it almost impossible to dance. But it was not as crowded as the kitchen. Nor was the music in the voorhuis – which was provided by a number of men with guitars and concertinas – as loud as the music in the kitchen, where there was no band, but each man sang for himself.
We knew from these signs that the party was a success.
When I had been in the kitchen for about half an hour, I decided to go into the voorhuis. It seemed a long way, now, from the kitchen to the voorhuis, and I had to lean against the wall several times, to think. I passed a number of other men who were also leaning against the wall like that, thinking. One man even found that he could think best by sitting on the floor with his head on his arms.
You could see that Willem Prinsloo made good peach brandy.
Then I saw Fritz Pretorius, and the sight of him brought me to my senses right away. Airily flapping his white handkerhief in time to the music, he was talking to a girl who smiled at him with bright eyes and red lips and small white teeth.
I knew at once that it was Grieta.
She was tall and slender and very pretty, and her dark hair was braided with a wreath of white roses that you could see had been picked that same morning in Zeerust. And she didn’t look the sort of girl, either, in whose presence you had to appear clever and educated. In fact, I felt that I wouldn’t really need the twelve times table I had torn off the back of a school writing book, and had thrust into my jacket pocket before leaving home.
You can imagine that it was not too easy for me to get a word in with Grieta while Fritz was hanging around. But I managed it eventually, and while I was talking to her I had the satisfaction of seeing, out of the corner of my eye, the direction that Fritz took. He went into the kitchen, flapping his handkerchief behind him – into the kitchen, where the laughter was, and the singing, and Willem Prinsloo’s peach brandy.
I told Grieta that I was Schalk Lourens.
‘Oh yes, I have heard of you,’ she answered, ‘from Fritz Pretorius.’
I knew what that meant. So I told her that Fritz was known all over the Marico for his lies. I also told her other things about Fritz. Ten minutes later, when I was still talking about him, Grieta smiled and said that I could tell her the rest some other night.
‘But I must tell you once more thing now,’ I insisted. ‘When he knew that he would be meeting you here at the dance, Fritz started doing homework.’
I told her about the slate and the sums, and Grieta laughed softly. It struck me again how pretty she was. And her eyes were radiant in the candlelight. And the roses looked very white against her dark hair. And all this time the dancers whirled around us, and the band in the voorhuis played lively dance tunes, and from the kitchen there issued weird sounds of jubilation.
The rest happened very quickly.
I can’t even remember how it all came about. But what I do know is that when we were outside, under the tall trees, with the stars over us, I could easily believe that Grieta was not a girl at all, but one of the witches of Abjaterskop who wove strange spells.
Yet by listening to my talk, nobody would have guessed the wild, thrilling things that were in my heart.
I told Grieta about last year’s drought, and about the difficulty of keeping the white ants from eating through the door and window frames, and about the way my new brown boots tended to take the skin off my toes if I walked quickly.
Then I moved closer to her.
‘Grieta,’ I said, taking her hand. ‘Grieta, there is something I want to tell you.’
She pulled her hand away. She did it gently, though. Sorrowfully, almost.
‘I know what you want to say,’ she answered.
I was surprised at that.
‘How do you know, Grieta?’ I asked.
‘Oh, I know lots of things,’ she replied, laughing again. ‘I haven’t been to finishing school for nothing.’
‘I don’t mean that,’ I answered at once. ‘I wasn’t going to talk about spelling or arithmetic. I was going to tell you that …’
‘Please don’t say it, Schalk,’ Grieta interrupted me. ‘I – I don’t know whether I’m worthy of hearing it. I don’t know, even …’
‘But you are so lovely,’ I exclaimed. ‘I’ve got to tell you how lovely you are.’
But at the very moment I stepped forward, she retreated swiftly, eluding me. I couldn’t understand how she had timed it so well. For try as I might, I couldn’t catch her. She sped lightly and gracefully among the trees, and I followed her as best I could.
It was not only my want of learning that handicapped me. There was also my new boots. And Willem Prinsloo’s peach brandy. And the shaft of a mule-cart – the lower end of the shaft, where it rests on the grass.
I didn’t fall very hard, though. The grass was long and thick there. But even as I fell, a great happiness came into my heart. And I didn’t care about anything else in the world.
Grieta had stopped running. She turned around. For an instant her body, slender and misty in the shadows, swayed towards me. Then her hand flew to her hair. Her fingers pulled at the wreath. And the next thing I knew was that there lay, within reach of my hand, a small white rose.
I shall always remember the thrill with which I picked up that rose, and how I trembled when I stuck it in my hat. I shall always remember the stir that I caused when I walked into the kitchen. Everybody stopped drinking to look at the rose in my hat. The young men made jokes about it. The older men winked slyly and patted me on the back.
Although Fritz Pretorius was not in the kitchen to witness my triumph, I knew that he would get to hear of it somehow. That would make him realise that it was imprudent for a fellow like him to set up as Schalk Lourens’s rival.
For the rest of the night I was a hero.
The men in the kitchen made me sit on the table. They plied me with brandy, and they drank to my health. Afterwards, when a dozen of them carried me outside, onto an ox-wagon, for fresh air, they fell with me only once.
At daybreak I was still on that wagon.
I woke up feeling very sick – until I remembered about Grieta’s rose. There was that white rose, still stuck in my hat, for the whole world to know that Grieta Prinsloo had chosen me before all other men.
But what I didn’t want people to know was that I had remained asleep on that ox-wagon hours after the other guests had gone. So I rode away very quietly, glad that nobody was astir to see me go.
My head was dizzy as I rode back, but in my heart it felt like green wings beating; and although it was day now, there was the same soft wind in the grass that had been there when Grieta had flung the rose at me, standing under the stars.
I rode slowly through the trees on the slopes of Abjaterskop, and reached the place where the path turns south. There I saw something that made me wonder whether those fashionable schools did not perhaps teach girls too much.
First I saw Fritz Pretorius’s horse by the roadside.
Then I saw Fritz. He was sitting up against a thorn-tree, with his chin resting on his knees. He looked very pale and sick. But what made me wonder a great deal about those finishing schools was that in Fritz’s hat, which had fallen to the ground some distance away from him, there was a small white rose.