“This drought is really getting me down.” Kleinpiet sighs as he sits down at the bar. “The fountain on my farm has dried up and the borehole’s level has dropped significantly. I don’t know what I’ll do if this continues.”
“We’ve had droughts before, Kleinpiet.” Vetfaan lays a brotherly hand on his pal’s shoulder. “We’ll get through this.”
“Sure, we’ll be okay – it’s the animals I’m worried about. The veld hardly has anything on it any more and I can’t afford to cart in feed for them.” He sighs heavily. “I remember that drought in the sixties. I was a child still, and watched my father killing his stock to prevent them dying of hunger and thirst. I really, really, wouldn’t like to see that happen, ever again.”
Boggel pushes a beer across the counter, hoping to improve Kleinpiet’s mood. “The seasons do this. We have dry spells, and then the rain comes. You’ll see, it’ll happen again.”
They all look up in surprise when a car stops in front of Boggel’s Place. It’s been some time since Rolbos had any visitors, and nobody expected any either. They crowd the window to stare at the new Land Cruiser.
“Is that a lady behind the wheel?”
“Look, she’s got a dog with her.”
A lady it is, indeed. She’s tall and slender, beautifully proportioned and pretty. Her long blond hair reaches to her shoulders, accentuating the sensuous curve of the neck. Blue-eyed, with a pixie nose, she looks like a model in one of Gertruida’s fashion books; despite the simple sun dress and sensible shoes.
“Can I bring my dog in?” She looks at the curious faces in the window, the smile spreading across her full lips.
They watch as she coaxes the dog from the vehicle. Like all Bassets, this one is very reluctant to leave its comfortable resting place in front of the passenger seat. When she bends to pick it up, the group at the window lets out a collective groan.
“Would you look at that…” Boggel shuffles back to the bar while running his fingers through his hair.
Some women have the ability to make an entrance. It’s a gift, a talent; something very few are born with. This one does not walk into the bar. She does not glide in. She takes possession of the room the moment she closes the door behind her.
The men at the bar try to look relaxed and nonchalant. Kleinpiet upsets his beer and Vetfaan almost misses his chair. The look rather sheepish when they return her friendly ‘Hallo’.
“I’m Sally Sheppard,” she announces in a husky voice, “from the TV show. I suppose you know that already.” The blank stares seem to unnerve her a little. “Boer soek n Vrou? The one where we introduce lovely girls to lonely farmers?” Still only the gaping response. “What? You guys don’t watch TV?”
Boggel recovers sufficiently to introduce the rest. “We don’t have TV in Rolbos, miss. No signal. We do, however, have radio, if that will help?”
After two rounds of complimentary Cactus Jack, the men are in a much better shape. Sally explains that it’s her job to look for eligible men who want to be part of the show. Of course, they all end up looking (rather expectantly) at Vetfaan.
The Basset has, in the meantime, flopped down on Boggel’s cushion below the counter. When Vrede comes back from his morning stroll through town, he stops dead in his tracks. Another dog on his cushion? Still, with the steeled discipline of an ex-police dog, he refrains from chasing the intruder out. Carefully, as if approaching a very dangerous object, he walks, stiff legged, towards the newcomer.
That’s when he realises it’s not an it – it’s a she…
Now, everybody who knows Bassets, will know they are not dogs. They’re Hounds – with a capital H. Very aloof and always totally in control of their environment. Placidly regal. They don’t do excitement very well and don’t get distracted by minor events. A Basset will stare at the world with those sad, liquid-brown sad eyes for ages, without giving an inkling to its thoughts. They are arguably the
dogs Hounds with the greatest grip on reality.
But then again, one must not imagine that Vrede is just another canine. Good-looking and well-groomed, he has retained the stance and attitude you’d expect from a dog with a police background. When he saw the slightly Rubinesque figure reclining on his Boggel’s cushion, a forgotten part of his brain lit up like a bright red neon sign. A heart-shaped one. Arrow right through the middle.
“I’m not sure I’m what you’re looking for, Sally. I’m too old. I’m out of shape. I can’t sing or dance. I’m a drinker with a farming problem. No, those guys in Vosburg and Prieska will be much better suited for your purpose.”
“You’re exactly what I’m looking for, Fanie.’ She runs a finely manicured index finger down Vetfaan’s cheek, down his neck and over the bit of woolly chest visible above the khaki shirt’s top button. “Girls will swoon aver a mature guy like you. Strong and tough and a mind of his own. Yes, I can see how they’ll vie for your attention. You, Fanie, are the man!”
Boggel will say afterwards that you could hear Vetfaan’s defence wobble, creak, crumble and come crashing down. The husky voice mesmerised him, and when she flicked a pink-tipped tongue over her lower lip at the end of her little talk, Vetfaan was helpless.
She takes a small camera from her bag and makes Vetfaan pose against the wall. Mug shots are followed by photographs in various poses. On all of them, he had the silly grin of a schoolboy who passed an exam he never studied for.
“I’ll be back as soon as we’ve chosen the girls. We’ve had hundreds of applications. Thousands. And I’ll make sure you get introduced to the right ones, Fanie. Oooh, you are such a lucky man!”
She finishes her drink and gets up to go. Vetfaan remains sitting, limp and drained of any response. Kleinpiet pumps him in the ribs and whispers she’s leaving. Vetfaan manages a sleepy smile.
“Come, Shirley,” Sally calls. “Shirley Bassey, the Basset Hound,” she explains with a smile.
“Oh, I saw her leaving. Ran out a moment ago with Vrede.” Kleinpiet points at the back door.
They won’t find Shirley and Vrede today. They’ve found a shady spot at the foot of Bokkop, where the two do what doggies do. They ran in circles – well, if you can call Shirley’s attempts running (it’s more like fast stumbling) – sniffed at each other, made whimpering and whining noises, punctuated their communication with excited yelps and high-pitched arfs, and generally got to know each other. Vrede was amazed at the agile mind of the seemingly dull Hound, while Shirley simply swooned over Vrede’s excited anecdotes of his past.
We’ll go back later, Vrede said, we need time…
Yes. You’re right. Later… Shirley’s long ears drew back in a happy canine smile, lolling out a long, lazy tongue to accompany the mischievous look in her eyes.
“Well, I can’t stay,” Sally says sadly. “I’m sure they’ll be back, though. Fanie…” her finger traces the strong line of his jaw, “you’ll look after her, won’t you? I simply have to fly now, I’m on such a tight schedule.” She has to tip-toe to kiss him on the check. “I’ll be back next week, then I’ll pick her up, it’s okay with you.”
It stands to Vetfaan’s credit that he is able to nod without drooling.
They watch as she drives off in a cloud of dust. Vetfaan is still dumb-struck as Boggel and Kleinpiet exchange amused glances.
“Um.” Vetfaan swallows hard as he collects his thoughts. “You guys can think what you want. The chances of me shaking up with a lady out there on my farm, are about as good as the possibility of us getting some rain within the next week. I just think she’s cute, that’s all. You both did, too…”
“Anyway, it was nice to spend a morning chatting about something else than Oscar or politics. We’ll get depressed if that’s all we do. Vetfaan, I have a feeling you’re in for an adventure.” Boggel hums softly to himself as he shines some glasses.
The crash of thunder is so unexpected that Verfaan ducks for cover, Kleinpiet upsets his drink again, and Boggel drops a glass. Big, heavy, dark clouds are rolling in from the west, the smell of rain suddenly sharp and distinct of the freshening breeze. Vrede and Shirley come crashing through the veld, anxious to share the safety and comfort of Buggel’s cushion. Then, as beautiful as only rain on a tin roof can be, the drumming of the drops announce the end of the drought.
Kleinpiet mops the remains of his beer into his hat, laughing merily as he does so.
“We’ve got rain, guys! Vetfaan has prospects. Vrede has a special friend. Who needs politics? This calls for a party!”
Below the counter, Shirley licks the few drops of rain from Vrede’s ears. Dogs and Hounds don’t care about obvious differences – they look for the common factors that make them happy. There’s a lesson in that, somewhere. Maybe they know droughts and politics don’t last forever.
Gertruida, in one of her Shakespearian moods, suggested we let slip the dogs of peace in this country. It’s such a good idea..