“Oh no, we simply can’t do that!” Stevens’ eyes conveys his shock. “We have to attend the master, see? That’s what we do. So it is unthinkable that we stay in different places. Completely unthinkable.”
“Listen James,” Kleinpiet is still confused by the master-servant relationship Stevens tried to explain a minute ago, “this is the Kalahari, man. Here we look after ourselves. Maybe it’s time for your – as you call him – master to start doing a few things himself as well. Anyway, there’s no other accommodation available. No, you’ll just have to settle for what we can offer: the two of you can stay on my farm, while Hartford graces Oudoom with his presence.”
“I love the idea, Mister Stevens.” The smile on Sally Kenton’s lips threatens to touch her ears. “I’ll be able to help Missus Precilla in the kitchen and you may be of value doing something for Mister Kleinpiet…”
“Hey!” Even Precilla looks up sharply at the irritation in Kleinpiet’s voice. “This thing stops here now. You’re Sally and James. We’re Precilla and Kleinpiet. Surely it isn’t neccessary to be this formal all the time? For what? And…if you stay on the farm with us, we are the hosts and you are the guests.” He seems almost embarrassed at his emphatic little speech and softens his tone. “Do you think you can do that?”
“Quite clear, thank you Mister Kleinpiet, quite clear.” Stevens lets his gaze travel down Voortrekker Weg; England suddenly seems so far away… “But you will have to allow us time to get used to this. You see; this is our way. It might be different to yours, and we respect that, of course… But are you sure Mister Hartford will be looked after in the parsonage? It seems extremely austere – if you’ll excuse me saying so, sir.”
Precilla smiles and turns to Sally Kenton. “Come, Sally. We’ll go over to Sammie’s and get you suitable clothes. You must be dying of the heat right now.” She tells Kleinpiet they won’t be long – and leads the housekeeper by the hand. Miss Kenton can’t help it – she giggles softly. This is so exciting.
“You’ve already made the arrangements?” Henry Hartford is sipping the Castle Boggel has served. He won’t admit it, but it certainly tastes great.
“Yes. The helicopter fetched the…body the next day. Sersant Dreyer helped a lot and he deserves praise for what he has done. I’ve arranged for the casket to be flown back to England as soon as we’ve contacted you and you’ve accepted the responsibility for the funeral. Of course, we waited for an answer on the telegram, but now that you’re here, it shouldn’t be difficult to finalise the arrangements.” Gertruida is in charge again. Initially the aloof manner of Hartford made her hesitate, but now she’s decided he’s just being pompous. “We’ve arranged lodgings for you tonight, so that’s sorted out.”
“You may tell Stevens to take the baggage to the guest house, then.”
Gertruida gets up to walk over to the aristocratic gentleman with the haughty air. Placing her hands on her hips, she stares down at him.
“Listen, Mister Hartford, you can do that yourself. Tell your so-called servants to cart your stuff around if you want. But I have two pieces of news for you: your entourage has left town. Kleinpiet took them to his farm. Secondly: you won’t find a guest house within a range of hundreds of miles. You, sir, are going to stay with Oudoom tonight. And if I may add something: this is the Kalahari – not England. Unfortunately, we have to do a lot of things ourselves; and you’ll most probably have to adapt to our style of living. It is highly unlikely that we’ll adapt to yours.”
Henry Hartford II blanches as he tries to remain calm. What is this? Is this uneducated, uncultured and unrefined woman trying to boss him around? With that tone of voice? Who does she think she is?
“I say, madam… I refuse to be spoken to in such a fashion. I also refuse to let my servants go. And I refuse…”
“Ag, man! Get a life, will you?” Servaas has always had a secret crush on Gertruida, and now jumps to her aid. He knits his brows together and takes a deep breath. “Who do you think you are? We’re all sorry about your son and we do sympathise with your loss. But this uppity manner of your’s doesn’t work so well in Rolbos. You either fit in or go home – and since you have no transport, you can’t go home. This woman,” he sweeps his arm towards Gertruida, “is the most cultured of all of us. She’s got better manners than Mevrou, who you will meet shortly. I insist that you treat them as ladies, and nothing less. Understand?
“As for Sally and James – they’ve already left. Kleinpiet…er…abducted them. Heehee…”
Servaas smiles at the idea. Knowing that the two won’t be keen to leave their master alone, Kleinpiet said they’re just driving to his home quickly. He didn’t tell them the farm was fifty miles away…
“Miss Kenton, do you think Master will be alright? It feels wrong to leave him like that…”
“Oh, Mister Stevens, I hope so.” She smiles at his worried frown, knowing his devotion to Hartford. The man was brought up to serve, and serve he does. Such dedication. “But I’m actually enjoying this. It’s quite different, isn’t it? And…I’d like to know what you think of my new outfit – if I may be so bold as to ask your opinion?”
James Stevens swallows hard. When Miss Kenton – Sally – came out of that shop, he almost fainted. He’s never seen her in a sheer blouse and jeans. His first thought was: she looked so young! And then he forced his thoughts back to the baggage and said nothing.
“Miss Kenton, it would be uncouth to make remarks about your attire. Suffice to say I find it – let’s say – most acceptable.”
The bench beneath the old eucalyptus tree creaks softly when Sally Kenton sits down next to the butler.
“Why, thank you, Mister Stevens. I take that as a huge compliment…”
“It was meant as one, Miss Kenton.”
“Oh my… it is most kind of you.”
“Don’t mention it, Miss Kenton. Honesty shouldn’t be rewarded.”
Sally inches a little closer, noticing (with the smallest of secret smiles) how hard Mister Stevens is trying to pretend that he’s not aware of the move.
Mevrou, who was fully briefed by a fuming Gertruida, opens the door to the red-faced gentleman’s knock.
“Oh, welcome. Let me show you your room, then you know where to take your baggage. Dinner is at about seven. A special treat for an honoured guest: roast sheep’s head and offal, yellow rice and bread pudding. We don’t usually have wine, but maybe Oudoom can dig out something. The bathroom is down the corridor to your left – it’s the only one in the house, and I expect you to keep it clean. Always put the lid down, will you? And wash out the bath after you’ve cleaned up. Any questions?”
Henry Hartford II sinks down on the steps leading up to the porch. H’e convinced now: this isn’t Rolbos…it’s Hell..
And don’t forget to peek at Servaas’ other life: (also on KOBO)