A Thing of Beauty

Judge Kobus Gericke frowns as Boggel slides another Cactus over the counter. It’s been years since last he had so much to drink and he really shouldn’t have another. But then again – he glances at the happy faces around him – it’s been years since he had anything to celebrate, anything at all…

“Well, here’s to the first judge to visit Boggel’s Place!” Vetfaan’s cheeks are flushed already.

Despite the festive atmosphere, the old judge struggles to escape from the cold grip of the memories. When Aunt Rose sent him off to Cape Town, he knew he would never see Martha again. That hurt. What was even worse, was the thought of leaving her to raise his son. Oh, how he suffered with that! And when Frans Viljee died in the war, he was so tempted to return and claim his rightful place.  But, being an advocate and aiming to be a judge, he contemplated the possibilities carefully. If it became known that he had an illegitimate child after seducing another man’s bride on the eve of her wedding – well wouldn’t the tabloids have a field day with that one? And if he couldn’t practice law – what was the point of returning? He’d be the outcast all over again. He made a choice; and although it was the logical one, it was the only option at the time and one he regretted all his life.

No, things are the way they are, and he has to make peace with that.

Kleinpiet lifts his glass to toast his health. He acknowledges the gesture and takes the smallest of sips from the glass. Health…such a fleeting phenomenon on the canvas of life.  How we all consider normality to be a right! As if some law says we shall be healthy forever – which we don’t, not even the strongest manage it. And after the visit to the physician last month…

Kobus Gericke lets his gaze rest on Frans Viljee, his son who was raised with another man’s name by the only woman he ever loved. To finally meet him was a shock, truth be told. He expected Frans to be a successful person in his own right and never even considered him to be a social recluse at all. And now he had to hear that Martha told the boy everything. Everything except who his father really was. He knows, for instance, that Martha didn’t love the man she married, and that the wedding was an arrangement to combine two farms – that is, before the drought came and sank that dream. The boy lived through the family’s fall from grace. Once wealthy and influential, the Viljee’s ended up being the gossip of the district; a family scorned and laughed about behind their backs. Without their financial backup, they ended up where the Gerickes used to be: poor and rejected.

The influence of this history, coupled with the knowledge that his real father wasn’t involved in his growing up, had a devastating effect on Frans. Over the years (possibly aided by his mother’s depression), Frans became a social misfit; an outcast by choice who shunned all and kept to himself. It was, the judge realise, purely a self-protective action; an effort to avoid further pain and humiliation.

“I have to say something.” His voice, after years on the bench, carries a certain authority that commands attention. The buzz of conversation dies down obediently.

He tells them about his lonely years. Studies demanded all his time and then he started climbing the legal ladder. There was no time for romance. But there was Martha, always Martha, who returned to his dreams at night.

“It reminds me of a poem.” To their surprise, he launches into John Keats:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever;

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

“That is the poem tells the story of the love between a lowly shepherd and the moon-goddess, Selene. Keats renamed her Cynthia, of course. It’s an impossible love affair between a mortal man and an immortal goddess, borrowed from Greek mythology.

“Now this, I must say, reminds  me of my love for Martha. It was an affair doomed by reality. She died, and I’m still here. Like Endymion, the shepherd, I have travelled the world, looking for peace. That poor man searched high and low until he came to Mount Olympus, where he finally made peace with the love of his life.

“Today I can say I understand the poem for the first time. It took me a lifetime to come here, to Rolbos, to find my son and tell him I love him. That, through all the years, I never passed a single day without thinking about him, worrying about him and wondering about him. A thing of beauty, indeed…” Overcome by emotion, the old man breaks down and has to lean on Gertruida to remain upright.

Frans Viljee, true to his nature, listened quietly while the old man spoke. Now he gets up and holds a hand aloft – like a child would, in class. Boggel nods his approval.

“I, well, I’m not used to people. I don’t do the talking thing. Never did before, anyway.” He swallows hard. “So, all I can say is thank you.” He nods in Gertruida’s direction. “And it’s time for Dad to come home. It’s late.” He’s almost at the counter before he stops. “Oh, yes. That poem. It ends with Cynthia telling Endymion how she tried to forget him, but to no avail. Then she says: ‘There is not one,/ No, no, not one/ But thee.’ Maybe that says something about both of us. Or about all of us, come to think of it.”

The old man stares at his son. “You know Keats?”

“It gets lonely out there with the sheep. I read a little…”

 

Life is a maze of twists and turns, and not one of us can guess where love begins or hate ends. The journey is one of constant surprises and moments of awe. No matter how well we plan the next day, the next week or worse still – the next year – we are bound to gasp at the reality we have to face when it becomes clear that no planning is ever perfect. For who would have guessed the lonely hermit, farming on the fringe of the desert, would end up in Boggel’s Place, hugging the father he never knew? And yet, even in their moment of joy, they hoped the moment would last. That would require good planning and fair health – commodities sadly lacking in the heady mix of laughter in Boggel’s Place that night. Especially after the visit to the physician…

Judge Gericke is arguably the only one who recognises this amidst the festivities. He has one dream left – to see his son marry someone he loves. That, he thinks, will be the completion of a circle he and Martha never could.  He scans the little crowd and feels his gaze pulled, time and again, to the lovely Lucinda, the Italian girl, chatting merrily with Boggel. Now, there’s a woman with spunk and determination.  If he can get Frans to hook up with her, his son would have a woman who can help him become a respected member of society again.  He’s made sure she wears no ring, so she isn’t claimed yet.

Fair game, the old judge smiles, fair game and obviously available. He allows his son to slip an arm around his waist. He’s so tired…

Tomorrow.

He’ll talk to her tomorrow.

In his minds eye he can just imagine how happy they’ll be…

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