Monthly Archives: April 2013

Fanny’s Surprise (# 21)

“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?”

download (38)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)

 

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Fanny’s Surprise (# 20)

images (56)“With a name like that, Miss Kenton, I suspect the place will have a distinctly English flavour.” Stevens stares out of the little window next to his seat, taking in the arid landscape of the Northern Cape. “It was called after Sir Thomas Upington, after all, and he was very British.”

“I do hope you’re right, Mister Stevens.” Sally Kenton smooths the white dress, making sure her knees are properly covered. “Africa is a complete unknown to me, but I’ve heard stories of cannibals and lions…”

“Oh, no, Miss Kenton. No such things at all. I’d call the place half-civilised, should you ask me.  They do have motorised vehicles and roads – and I understand their houses are comfortable, brick  structures; not quite up to the standard of the manor, but still.”

The seatbelt signs flash on. James Stevens helps Miss Kenton to fasten the clasp. Then, as the aircraft touches down, he is surprised to find her hand seeking his, fingers clamping down in uncertainty.

“Oh, don’t worry, Miss Kenton. These machines are made for this.”

His reward is a shy smile.

***

Stevens loads the trunks on a trolley while Henry Hartford II  waits in the air-conditioned cafeteria. He detests this place, the heat and the circumstances. To think his son – his only son – had to succumb to a snake bite! After all the years of toil to make him become a man of distinction; all the costs of education and the effort to make him become somebody; the Symbol of Evil dashed his dreams of his son taking over the family’s empire one day. And now, in this godforsaken town, he must find suitable transport and make arrangements for his son’s funeral. He signs and closes his eyes. Surely somebody must be held responsible? His son died as a result of negligence, nothing else…

“Arrange transport, will you Stevens?”

Stevens smiles politely, leaves the baggage with his master, and steps outside to survey the possibilities. As usual, Mister Hartford has several trunks and they’ll need at least a roomy limousine to cart them to this little tumble-weed town. When the glass doors slide open to allow him outside, he stops in shock.

Heathrow. Now there’s an airport for you. Modern and huge, you can find anything from a razor to a new suit in the place. But here! One building, a dilapidated restaurant and nothing else. Worse: once you exit the building, you’re on a kerb. Where’s the line of taxis and limousines? The heat is oppressive. The sun’s glare is too bright. And there, the only vehicle with a taxi-sign on the roof, is a minibus that has seen better days.

Did he say the place is half-civilised?

***

“Are you sure we’re on the right road, Stevens?” Even Mister Hartford seems unsettled by the way the vehicle swerves and sways past the potholes.

“Oh yes, sir. The driver has no English, I’m afraid, but he understood a bout the town…” He tries to get his tongue around the word again, fails, and smiles apologetically.

“Rolbos?”

“That’s right, sir.”

Henry Hartford II – in a rare display of emotion – pulls down the corners of his mouth. “I do hope their hotel is up to standard, Stevens.”

“Indeed sir.” Stevens is secretly starting to enjoy the trip. Oh, it’s a tragedy: the master losing his son and such; but this excursion into the unknown is quite exhilarating. He’s never been outside England, and to do so while sitting near Miss Kenton is certainly more pleasant than shining silver in the manor. Almost like a holiday, now that he comes to think of it.

***

“This is it?” The incredulous tone of Hartford’s voice conveys disbelief and dismay.

The driver says nothing. He opens the back door of the minibus so that Stevens can unload the trunks. Then, after being paid, he gets back in the vehicle, goads the engine to life, and rattles off.

The three – dressed in their usual attire – stand with uncertainty written over their faces as the patrons in Boggel’s Place gather on the veranda. For a moment, the two groups have one thing in common: they can’t believe what they’re seeing.

“Miss Kenton, I’m afraid I expected more signs of civilisation over here.” Stevens whispers as he eyes the khaki clothing, the short pants and especially the unpolished boots.

“And where, exactly, is the hotel?” Hartford’s voice doesn’t have it’s usual commanding tone – in fact, Stevens suppresses a smile because of the note of uncertainty.

Gertruida – who else? – steps forward with an extended hand.

“You must be Henry’s family. Good morning. We are all deeply saddened by your loss. Please do come in? And oh, sorry, we don’t have a hotel…”

“I’m his father. These two are my servants, they’re not family at all.” Henry Hartford doesn’t want to be associated with the lower classes and steps away from Stevens and Miss Kenton. “They’ll wait with the luggage – one hears such dastardly things about Africa,”

Leaving his two servants in the sun, he leads the group to the door of Boggel’s Place. The sooner he gets done here, the better. He does not see Kleinpiet standing off to one side, shaking his head.

“Precilla,” he whispers, “I don’t like this man at all. Lets go over to those two and help them get the trunks on the veranda. Then we’ll see to it that they get something cool to drink. I want to know more about this set-up.”

Fanny’s Surprise (# 19)

images (87)The butler pauses in front of the heavy oak door. Mister Hartford left strict instructions  this morning: he is not to be disturbed. Under no circumstances, none at all. Now, with the telegram neatly arranged (not touching sides, in the middle of the tray) on the silver platter, he lifts his free hand to knock softly.

Henry Hartford II is a man of slow temperament and prides himself on his self-control. Anger is an unnecessary waste of energy, so is spontaneous laughter. One does not do such things – it merely exhibits poor taste and an uncultured background. One merely smiles and gets on with life, doesn’t one? No matter what  trivia life throws at one, one must simply occupy the crease and bat out the innings. Life, like cricket, has no place for emotions.

One may become unsettled of course; Mister Hartford will acknowledge that when pushed. On rare occasions a bowler will deliver a ball so accurately aimed at the batsman’s helmet, that it has the potential to do irreparable damage. Hartford once told the guests at his dinner table of such an occasion – it broke a cheek bone and he had to have surgery. The scar is still there, just below the hairline. When such things happen, one may be excused for muttering damn! or even in extreme cases, bugger

Poring over the many pages of the balance sheet in front of him, this is exactly what Henry Hartford II does: he’s muttering. Both words. Repeatedly.

The knock on the doors silences him. Did he – or did he not – leave direct orders about not wanting to be interrupted? Stevens, the butler, should know better than ignoring his wishes. Still, one has to accept that servants lack the discipline and training needed to understand the intricacies of a cultured existence.

“In!” One word. That’s all that’s needed. One shouldn’t waste time with lengthy speeches.

Stevens opens the door and steps into the library of Darlington House. “A telegram came, sir…”

“Indeed?” It’s more of a statement than a question. Hartford nods, allowing the butler to approach his desk. When the tray is proffered , he lifts the brown envelope from the silver surface. Then, with the slightest flick of the wrist, he dismisses the ageing butler.

***

Stevens paces the kitchen while he watches the little panel of lights. Mister Hartford has not summonsed him since this morning, which is strange. No tea. No lunch. No gin. Nothing. This is most unusual, to say the least.

“Do you think he’s all right?” Miss Kenton, the housekeeper, frowns as she kneads the dough for tomorrow’s bread. The kitchen is large, with pots and pans against one wall. Mister Hartford insists on keeping things as the were in his father’s day; which means housekeeping is so much more difficult than in other mansions. The coal stove, the antiquated utensils and absence of a dishwasher combine to make life less than pleasant for Miss Kenton. Still, in these economic times, one is thankful for a steady job.

“Most unusual, Miss Kenton, most unusual. I may have to be bold enough to check, although Mister Harford’s displeasure is worse than usual these days. It must be that business with the missing money. Yesterday, when I served his tea, he was on the telephone with some auditor. I wasn’t eavesdropping, of course – but I could help observing a certain degree of anxiety in his voice. He even slammed down the receiver. Most unlike him, I must say.”

James Stevens, life-long servant to the Hartford family, squares his shoulders as he walks out. Being a butler involves so much more than serving tea in china cups…

***

On his return to the kitchen, Miss Kenton asks about Mister Hartford; but Stevens ignores her. He sits down on one of the old chairs, shaking his head.

“Miss Kenton, we have to pack.”

“Oh? Is Mister Hartford off on a trip?”

“No Miss Kenton.” Stevens looks up to meet the eyes of the woman he’s been in love with for so many years. He’s always been so careful to hide this fact from her, however. Liaisons between servants are not acceptable. It shows poor class. “No,” he says again, “we are. Tell me, Miss Kenton, have you ever been to Africa?”

 And the Waltz goes on

‘The waltz must go on’, was the wish of the nineteen-year-old (now Sir) Anthony Hopkins when he composed a waltz. Now over forty years later, his wish has come true. André Rieu has arranged his piece successfully and the world première of ‘And the Waltz goes on’ was a huge success.

The servant characters in the story are respectfully borrowed from the famous book. The author of the blog  acknowledges the genius of Kazuo Ishiguru who created them. Order the book from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Remains-Day-Kazuo-Ishiguro/dp/0679731725

Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture

Culture may be defined as the co-existence of different entities in the same space. The entities may be human. The space may be a room or the world. The word says: we belong together, we share values and dreams.

c

Of course that means we sometimes argue. You get talkers and listeners, although some prefer to shout.

c 1

Introverts avoid conflict and will take time out away from the maddening crowd – to think, to work things out…even to doze off.

c 2

While extroverts love showing off and playing King of the Mountain.

april 2009, amakhala 026 mold

Even when we’re hurt or lonely, there’s no denying the fact that we’re all one big family.

c 4

Culture isn’t a difficult word. It only says: we belong together…

Fanny’s Surprise (# 18)

“Now, you won’t get lost, will you? We’ve only got so much water, remember?” Henry is a changed person. Lat night’s remorse has changed to overconfidence; his demeanour suddenly that of a conquering hero rather than shame-faced crook. “Oh, and I’ll take the water, thank you very much.” He holds out his hand to receive the bottle from Vetfaan.”

Vetfaan and Fanny walks ahead, with the smirking Henry a few yards behind them. This is how one should conduct business – catch them by surprise when you slap your four aces on the table. Yes, this feels like the good old days when the deals were sweet and the profits huge. Life owes him a break. It owes him big time…

“He’s not normal,” Vetfaan whispers, “the way he changes from Jeckyll to Hyde is frightening. Last night…this morning – it doesn’t make sense.”

Fanny lengthens her stride so that they are even farther ahead of Henry. “I know. In the past I saw glimpses of that. He’d be shy and quiet, but when it came to financial matters, he wanted to take over the conversation. Maybe he was just trying to assert himself in front of others. What I realise – and isn’t it ironic that I only do so now – is that you can’t believe a word he says. I think he’s a pathologic liar, Fanie. He’s the ultimate actor: he only says what you want to hear. It’s uncanny. Maybe it’s the result of all those lonely childhood years filled with intense feelings of inferiority. Whatever it is: he’s dangerous.”

“I agree, Fanny. Unstable is the word that comes to mind. He switches from one personality to another with such ease… Who is he, really?”

“I don’t know, Fanie. Damaged goods…”

They reach the dune before the Valley of the Buried Wagon  when the sun is almost directly ahead.

“Listen.” Vetfaan turns to their tormentor. “The wagon is in the next valley. We’ll climb to the top of the dune, and you’ll be able to see what is left of the skeleton of the wagon. Now me and Fanny? We’ll wait at the top of the dune. You go down and do whatever you have to. Tell you the truth: I don’t want to see what you do down there.”

“Oh no, mister wise-guy. I need hands and pockets to carry those coins out.” He taps the side of his head while shaking the water bottle with the other. “I thought about everything, my friend.” He hisses the last word. “You come along.”

Vetfaan sighs. He was hoping they’d be able to escape while the madman is busy with the gold. Then again: where would they go – especially without water?

***

Only the top of one wheel is visible above the sand when they reach the bottom of the valley.

“It’s there,” Fanny points towards the one side of the area. With down cast eyes and slumped shoulders, she seems a completely defeated woman. Vetfaan stands quietly to one side, jaw muscles working while a million thoughts cruise through his mind.  The lion, preparing to attack…

“Then, my sweet, you had better start digging, hadn’t you?”Henry’s sneer widens. “We don’t want mister farmer-boy jumping on my back, do we? Go on, let’s see you get down and dirty, my dear. I like my women like that.”

Fanny sinks to her knees and starts scooping the layer of sand away from what used to be the bed of the wagon. Tears make dusty streaks down her cheek. Henry turned out to be such a horrible person; and for a while she had been considering marrying this…this monster? How stupid can a woman be? How terribly wrong…?

When the ancient and worn timber is exposed, Henry commands her to lift the loose planks. She does.

And then it happens.

The puff adder has been using the space below these planks as a burrow for some time. Little pieces of bone – certainly from mice and other small animals – litter the lair. It certainly is the perfect home for a snake, especially in an area without rocks or other hiding places.

download (37)The snake rears it’s head. Vetfaan screams a drawn-out Nooooo!  He knows these adders are amongst the fastest strikers in the snake world, and if Fanny were to be bitten here, there’s no way he’d be able to save her.

Later, Vetfaan and Fanny will wonder about Henry’s reaction. When Fanny shrieks and falls back on the sand, the heinous smirk disappears from his haughty face. He drops the water bottle and dives towards the snake, trying to get hold of its neck.

Henry has no chance. The snake gets him three times: twice on the forearm and once on the wrist. The fangs penetrating the inside of the arm, just above the hand, do the damage. The potent venom gets injected directly into the venous complex beneath the skin, allowing the dose of venom to travel directly to the heart.

It’s over in three minutes. Oh, Vetfaan and Fanny try. They try for much, much longer. Without cortisone and antivenin, it is impossible.

***

“He saved my life.”

They’re back in the camp, sitting in shocked silence at the fire.  After they had given up hope of reviving Henry, they buried the body next to the other three skeletons they had found there – oh, it feels like ages ago. There was no way they could carry him across the sand in the heat of the day. They emptied his pockets before they covered him up. That’s when Vetfaan found the distributor cap  in the side pocket of Henry’s pants.

“Ja.” Vetfaan gets out the Cactus. He saw the look of horror on Henry’s face as he took that last, fateful dive. There’s no question about it – he reacted to save the one person in the whole world he loved. That, and his last words, croaked out when his eyes were dimming already: I’m…so terribly…sorry. He was desperately trying to say something else, reaching out with a trembling hand to touch Fanny’s face, when he sighed – and was gone. “I’m sorry.”

What else can he say?

“He was a troubled soul, Fanie. The way his personality swung to and fro – some psychologist will make sense out of it – I can’t. A sociopath? A psychopath? A nasty manipulator? Schizophrenic?  I can’t bear thinking about … And then, in his last act…”

Vetfaan moves over to share body warmth with her. “That’s who he really was, Fanny. The real Henry. The Henry his father killed when he was a small boy. He could have been such a different man, if only he had a chance to develop normally.”

“We’ll get a helicopter, won’t we, Fanie? To fetch him? Please?” Small-girl voice, plaintively pleading the hurt to stop.

“Of course we shall. We owe him that, at least.”

The soft night wind moves the sparse dry grass around the camp. It reminds Vetfaan of old !Tung’s almost-asthmatic breathing. A light gust swirls up a little winking cloud of sparks from the embers, carrying them high into the sky where they mingle with the stars. For a brief second, they form part of the milky way. Just for a moment – like we all do.

Fanny rests her head on the broad shoulder of Vetfaan.

“I wonder where !Tung is now,” she asks softly, looking at the stars.

Vetfaan doesn’t have to answer. The whisper in the wind tells him so.  

And something to read this weekend..

Also here: http://www.mybooks.co.za/book/41813/65-shades-of-guilt

Fanny’s Surprise (# 17)

The three of them leave Rolbos directly after Henry’s declaration of love. It didn’t go down all that well. Henry expected Fanny to swoon and take him in her arms – but she sat, neutral-faced, to listen him out. Afterwards she said it was a well-prepared speech thank you very much, smiled shyly, and said she’d think about it.

Of course that’s true; but not in the way Henry Hartford III would have guessed.  Vetfaan then said Henry needed appropriate clothing for the trip and literally dragged him off to Sammie’s Shop. Within thirty minutes, Henry cut a completely different – if a bit comical – figure. Dressed in the short khaki pants, a green shirt and a proper veld hat, he seemed to have shrunk. The long, brown socks and shiny boots completed the picture. Fanny hid a smile and said he looked like a real game ranger. It cheered the Englishman up somewhat.

Now Vetfaan is heading down the two-track road to !Ka’s tree. There isn’t a lot of space for them all in the pickup, so they sit squeezed together on the seat, Henry in the middle, and all of them equally aware of the uncomfortable silence. Vetfaan has retreated into the man-cave in his head, Henry is trying to figure out how he must get rid of Vetfaan eventually, and Fanny prays secretly that this ordeal must pass as soon as possible. She knows Gertruida tried to talk to Vetfaan, but he simply held up a hand and said he knew what he was doing. The firm set of his jaw told everybody to back off. When Vetfaan has that look, you don’t argue. It’s like tap-dancing on the edge of a volcano..

“While Sammie sorted out the clothes, I stocked up on some supplies. We’ll be at the camp site in half-an-hour. I’ll get the tents up. Henry, you make the fire. And Fanny, supper is braaied sausages and salad; maybe you can start getting that ready while we men do man things.”

Fanny stares out of her window, desperately trying to swallow the threatening giggle. This part of Vetfaan’s plan is abundantly clear: he’s calling Henry’s bluff. Henry said he wanted to experience the desert, so Vetfaan is handing him exactly that, on a platter. Had she not known about the massive fraud Henry had committed, she’d have felt sorry for him. Now, however, she sees him as a pathetic little man with much to be pathetic about. It was Churchill, she remembers, who said something similar…

Henry blanches. “I-I’n not big on sausages. Really. Too many reports on horsemeat and such. I’ll have a Roquefort green salad though, maybe with capers and a poached egg?” Hopeful voice of a spoilt child being petulant.

“We can do the green stuff – got one relatively fresh lettuce. And there’s tinned beans. One tomato, still firm. That’s the salad.” Vetfaan shoots his passenger a look; it’s a strange mixture of regret, malice and a sprinkling of humour. “No eggs, though.”

images (85)They reach the lone tree with an hour to spare before sunset. Vetfaan sets up a make-shift table for Fanny to work on, unfolds the three camp chairs and starts with the tents. He brought two: one for Fanny, one for him and Henry. The dome tents aren’t roomy, but can accommodate two with ease. By the time he’s finished, Fanny displays her salad with pride – it looks great and he tells her so.

“Where’s Henry?” Vetfaan scans the area.

“He said he’s going to find some wood for the fire.” Fanny points to the zig-zagging figure in the gloom some distance off.

“Hey! Henri! Come on over here man! There’s no firewood in the desert! I’ve got a sack full of proper wood on the back of the pickup.”

A slightly dishevelled Henry makes his way back.

“You could have told me,” he snarls. He shouldn’t have done that.

Something inside Vetfaan snaps so loudly he thinks the others can hear it.

“Listen…” He drops his voice to a growl. “Let’s not talk about not telling things to other people.” Vetfaan drags the wood from the pickup and starts building the fire hmself. “Let’s talk about telling stuff for a change. Then, maybe here, with no other ears to hear, you’d like to tell us what happened to your daddy’s money? Hey? What about that?”  With the first flames licking at the smaller bits of wood, Vetfaan stands up, dusts his hands on his pants, and walks over to the pickup again. “To help you think, I’ll pour you a Cactus, then we can start having some honesty in the camp for a change.”

Henry sits down, ashen faced, during Vetfaan’s little outburst.

“Y-you know?”

“Yes Henry. I spoke to my father. He said you were missing…and told me about the rest. Everybody’s worried, Henry. What did you do…?” In contrast to Vetfaan, Fanny’s voice is soft and without malice. She’s trying hard to understand the situation, wanting to figure out how a financial genius can turn into a cold-hearted crook.

Henry accepts the glass with shaking hands. In the soft glow of the setting sun, the fire casts a little yellow circle of light, making the shadows of Henry’s eyes look ominous, scared and … dead at the same time.

Maybe it is the stillness of the evening, or the remote loneliness of the spot, maybe even the Cactus – but once Henry starts talking, he doesn’t seem able to stop.

“I-I did it for you, Fanny. H-had to try to impress you, see?” In A small-boy voice he tries to explain how inferior he felt and how his insecurities forced him to do something so extraordinary that his peers would bow before his formidable feats. “Ever since I was a boy, I wasn’t good enough. I had to be the best. And I worked and I worked till I got there. Only then did my father accept me – before that, he simply saw me as work in progress. No love. No compassion.

“And then they introduced me to Fanny. And I knew then…knew then I’d never be good enough. No matter what I do, I’ll never make it. So I tried. Heaven knows, I tried…”

Henry Hartford III, the haughty product of wealth and discipline, is crying copiously now. Years and years of internalisation finally broke through the chained doors of his solitude when he – at last – found he could say the unsayable.

This time, it isn’t Fanny who comforts him.

It is the heavy hand of Vetfaan that finds its way around the shaking shoulders of the pale Englishman.

Sometimes words have a way of wrecking a perfect moment. Now, as the bright Kalahari skies get speckled with a million bright stars, the three of them remain silent for a long time.

 ***

Vetfaan sleeps fitfully while he digests the evening’s events. When he finally got the sausages on the coals, real boerewors, the aroma tempted Henry so much that he had a tentative bite – and then ate almost half of their supply.  Now, this – the sudden hunger on Henry’s part – bothers Vetfaan. The man was so distraught, so in tears, the one minute; and then suddenly he overcomes his fear for horsemeat and eats like a pig. How much of the confession was genuine? Or is Henry such a good actor?

In her tent, Fanny also finds herself in a quandary. Henry – dear, uncertain, reserved, stoic Henry – is not somebody who allows his inner feelings to show. For him to be so emotional in front of Vetfaan … well it shows remorse, doesn’t it? Real sorrow? And did not !Kung teach her to forgive once somebody bares his soul? But how? How does one forgive a crime so deliberate and so big? Just forget about it?

The only one who is enjoying a peaceful rest, is Henry. It must have been the Cactus…

Vetfaan wakes up at dawn to find Henry’s bed empty already. When he crawls out of the tent, he si surprised to see Henry next to the fire, poking the embers to flames again.

“Morning…” Vetfaan isn’t sure how to approach the man any more.

“Ghud mawning.” The accent is back.

“We’ll return to Rolbos today. There’s nothing for us out here.’ Vetfaan tries not to sound too harsh. “The best thing for you is to phone Fanny’s father and inform him of your whereabouts.”

Henry just sits there. Poke-poke. Little flames get bigger as the silence draws out. Then:

“No. That’s not how it is. You’re taking me to that wagon. I’m getting the gold. There’s no other way.” There’s a definite defiant edge to Henry’s voice. “I can’t – won’t – go back without it.”

Vetfaan rubs the sleep from his eyes. Last night this man was apologetic, extremely emotional and full of remorse. And now – where did this come from?

“You go ahead, Henry. Look for the gold. I’m going back today.”

“You can’t.” Vetfaan’s surprised look seems to amuse the Englishman. “I removed the distributor cap from the engine, old chap. That jalopy isn’t going anywhere. And….I threw out the extra container of water. We only have ten liters left now, except for the water in the kettle. The two of you will never make it back to Rolbos on foot with that.” By now his smile is undisguised and scorning. “You’ll take me to the wagon, Vetfaan. I’ll get the gold. I’ll tell you where the engine part is. Then – only then – do we drive back. Not before. If you want to see Fanny die a slow death under this damn sun, then you try to walk out of here. Sooo, old chap, what’s it to be?”

“Henry!” Fanny’s strangled cry cuts through the morning chill. “What…?”

“Oh shush, will you.” Henry holds up an irritated hand. “My little act last night was to get us all to this point. I wanted an edge, and I’ve got it. See, we’re together. Isn’t that just dandy? Now stop acting like an upset little housewife, will you? Let’s have some coffee and set out. I’m sure mister Desert-man here doesn’t want us to travel during the heat of the day.”

We all know Vetfaan, the quiet, sometimes naïve man with a kind heart and a generous ability to roll with life’s punches. Now, however, his eyes blaze with fury. There’s murder on his mind.

He picks up the water bottle. Clenches his teeth.

“Lets go,” he says.

Fanny’s Surprise (# 16)

When Gertruida sees the smartly dressed man get out of the taxi, she immediately realises who it is. In one of her shortest and most powerful lectures, she tells the patrons in Boggel’s Place exactly how they must react towards him. She’s barely finished before he opens the door.

“I say,” Henry announces his presence in his usual haughty style, “ Good morning to everybody.” It sounds like ghud mawning. If he expected a warm welcome, he was mistaken. The patrons at the bar merely nod and turn back to the counter. 

“Typical boorish little clan.” Henry mumbles to himself, but just loud enough for them to hear. He recovers his smile and ambles over to the bar.

“You the bahman, my ghud chap?”  

Boggel gets on his crate to look at the man behind the dark glasses. The oppressive heat has already caused little rivulets of sweat to run down to the collar of the shirt. The smile doesn’t fool him. He’s been a barman for too long.

“Ja. I’m the barman.” Accent on the ‘r’. “Can I help you?”

“It’s may I help you, not can.” Henry can’t help himself. Theses people are so backward! “And yes, you may. I’d like a pint of your best bitters and a telephone.” He’s trying to find out whether they’ve had any contact with London; so starting with the telephone is the first step.

Gertruida makes a scoffing sound. “Telephone? Here? It’s been disconnected years ago.” The lie slips out so glibly, one would guess she’s an expert at the art of deception. Come to think of it – she may well be.. However, she saw through his approach immediately and had to stop Boggel from reaching for the telephone beneath the counter. When she sees Henry’s relieved smile, she knows… This man is dangerous, devious and very, very calculating. A worthy adversary, indeed. Well, there can be only one winner in this contest of wills.

Just as Boggel serves a cold Castle, Vetfaan’s pickup stops outside.

“Oh, that’s my delivery.” Gertruida is a picture of surprised happiness as she skips towards the door. Boggel looks on as a small smile hovers at the edges of his lips. He hopes Gertruida won’t ever have to give evidence under oath – it’d be impossible to tell when she strayed from the truth.

Outside, Gertruida tells Vetfaan and Fanny to hold on a second. “Listen, we must make him believe you know nothing, Fanny. If he suspects you know about his fraud, there’s no telling what he’ll do. A man on the run, who’s world has collapsed – and most probably with latent psychopathic tendencies…I don’t even want to guess what he’s capable of. The only way to approach this, is to let him play out his hand. Let’s see what he’s planning. You go in there, act relatively pleasantly surprised, and let’s see.” She hesitates for a moment. “And…oh…don’t provoke the man. We don’t know how stable he is. Try to agree with whatever he says or suggests, will you?”

Ask Gertruida: you catch more flies with honey than with sour milk. Give a thief enough rope…

Fanny, it must be said, deserves an Oscar for her entrance. With a little oooh! she stops dead in her tracks as she opens the door. Then, with a hesitancy that didn’t need to be acted, she walks up to Henry, stands on tiptoe, and kisses his cheek ever so lightly.

“Henry, I’d like to introduced a very good friend of mine, Fanie.”

Vetfaan feels the Englishman’s eyes scan over his burly body, taking in the khaki pants and shirt, stopping at the old and well-worn boots. The difference between the two men just can’t be more obvious. Henry, in his sweat-soaked Savil Row suit, in  stark contrast to the cool and shabbily dressed Kalahari farmer. It’s difficult to say who is most bemused. Henry’s limp hand disappears into Vetfaan’s huge paw, and he has to draw on all the Eaton discipline not to wince as Vetfaan shakes his hand.

“Ja, it’s a nice surprise to meet you here, Henry. Fanny told me a lot about you.” Vetfaan’s voice doesn’t convey anything of the friendly words – it is cold and emotionless.

Even the dark glasses can’t hide the shadow of doubt in Henry’s eyes.

“Really, old chap? O-o-only good things, I p-presume. Ha ha. She’s such a funny girl.”

This doesn’t go down well with Vetfaan. He’s already on edge, and here this man is belittling the woman he loves.

“Funny? What’s so funny?” He towers over the smaller man, hands clenched in white-knuckled fists.

“Now, now, boys…” Gertruida puts a stop to the potential conflict with her placatory tone. “No need to take everything so seriously, Vetfaan. I’m sure Henry came here for a good reason. Let’s hear him out.”

“Well…er.” Henry isn’t used to the direct approach of the Kalahari people. In London they would have discussed the newest model Bentley, had some tea and exchanged meaningless pleasantries before getting to the point. Being put on the spot like this is unthinkable, quite simply rude. “I-I have to tell Fanny something. Something personal. And I want to see and experience what she did when she was here some time ago.” With his wavering confidence slowly restoring, he seems more certain of himself as he goes on. “I’m sure you saw the change that time in the desert accomplished in Fanny. Well, I can do with some of that. Maybe if we c-could spend a few days in the desert together, I will understand her better. You see, she gave me her word…” He stares at Vetfaan, trying to look confident.

In a man’s world, there are a few rules. Rule number one is simple: in any grouping of men, you’ll find an Alpha Male – don’t challenge him unless you are prepared for the consequences. Rule number two states that all men tend to have an over-inflated ego. It takes the tiniest prick (no pun) to let the air out. Check it out: any angry male animal tries to look bigger than he really is. He’ll rear on his back feet, make hair stand on end, try to growl louder than the opponent. It’s all a show to hide insecurity.

That’s why Vetfaan leans back with his elbows on the counter, a make-believe smile telling the world what he thinks of the newcomer.

“You want to see desert? I’ll show you desert. In fact, let’s not waste time. If we leave now, we can set up camp at that tree !Ka showed us. How about it, Fanny?” 

Fanny nods timidly. This situation is unbearable! Then, to her surprise, Vetfaan escalates the tension a little further. 

“And what was the little personal matter, mister?”

Henry is ready for this one. During the flight from London and later in the taxi, he’s arranged the words carefully. Yes, he’ll sweep her off her feet. Convincing her of his love is the first step. Then the gold coins. Then the merging of the two family’s fortunes.

Flawless, Henry Hartford…an absolute masterpiece. Spreading his smile a tad wider, he launches into his carefully prepared speech.. 

Dont forget: click to read the first bit…

Fanny’s Surprise (# 15)

N14_upington_pofadderThe taxi hums along on the tarred road to Grootdrink, while Henry tries to work out a practical approach to get Fanny to lead him to the fortune. He’s relatively sure she wouldn’t be keen on the idea – she did explain that she thought it’s best to leave the area undisturbed. Now, that is something he doesn’t understand: if there’s money in the desert that technically belongs to nobody, why leave it there? It’s plain stupid to ignore the treasure. Finders keepers…

Slapjan Rooi watches his passenger in the rear-view mirror. To pick up a fare all the way to Rolbos, was a stroke of pure luck. Usually his passengers only travel a kilometre or three – to the shops, the airport, back home – and suddenly here’s this terribly aloof character who wants to go to the out-of-the way little town. Of course Slapjan inflated the fare a little – when you’ve been a taxi driver for so many years, you can spot a loaded passenger a mile off. This poor sod; with his suit, silk shirt and tie; must be some executive. He’s white, so he can’t be some government official or local company CEO. His accent suggests a very English background – and the hot-potato-in-the-mouth  is a dead give-away, as is the haughty nose in the air and the little military moustache. No, this Englishman is here on serious business – hence the serious tariff per kilometre. He speeds up a little: the sooner he gets back to Upington, the faster he can get to the shebeen to brag about his good fortune.

***

Vetfaan negotiates the sandy road back to the farm with the experience that comes from years of travelling on the slippery surface. Fanny has recovered a little, but she is still rather pale. They are both worried about !Ka being alone on the farm..

Some people believe in coincidence, others blame fate and yet others don’t even stop to think why things happen. Oudoom regularly reminds his congregation that there is a purpose to everything under heaven when he preaches from Ecclesiastes 3; and it’s true. Chance meetings aren’t by chance. Things heard or seen aren’t by coincidence at all. Don’t discard the events of any moment – they’re there for a reason. 

The plume of dust, announcing the approach of a speeding vehicle, makes Vetfaan slow down. Not only will die thick dust obscure his vision for a few hundred yards after he’s passed the vehicle; there’s always the danger of stones thrown up by the other vehicle’s wheels. He breathes a sigh of relief when he sees the other vehicle slow down too. 

“Hey, that’s Slapjan’s taxi,” he says as they get nearer. “I wonder who…”

“It can’t be…” Fanny’s hand flies to her mouth as the taxi passes them. “Oh no! It is! It’s Henry…” The note of despair in her voice is unmistakable.

Vetfaan brakes to a skidding halt and does a U-turn. If Henry is on his way to Rolbos, they must follow him. He has an uneasy feeling about this; Henry certainly isn’t here on a goodwill visit.

“Seems you were right, Fanny. He’s either here to find those coins, or he wants to stake his claim and get engaged. I can tell you: he’s not here on a romantic excursion.” Vetfaan’s voice, too, has an edge to it.

***

Keeping just behind the clouds of dust kicked up by the taxi, the Vetfaan speeds on towards Rolbos, where the little crowd at the bar is discussing the issue of the jilted lover, the fraudster and the fortune seeker – all of them the same person. Kleinpiet says they haven’t had such a lot of excitement since the that thunder shower in 2005. 

“Well, Vetfaan said they’re going to fetch !Ka and bring him back here. I asked Platnees to share his cottage with !Ka for a while – they are family, after all. The Roois and Geels and the !Ka family goes back a long time. They’ll have a lot to talk about.” Boggel is adding up the moth’s totals for the individual patrons to settle, scratches his head, and decides to give them all a discount. By all accounts, it’s been a good month in the bar. “Do you really think that Henry will come here, Gertruida?”

“I suppose it’s possible. Fanny is here. So is that old wagon she told us about…”

Before she can finish her sentence, the sound of a vehicle outside brings the conversation to a stop. Servaas, nearest to the window, tells them it’s Slapjan and then: “Oh my goodness.What did you say about excitement, Kleinpiet? This is going to be very interesting…”

***

Henry Hartford squares his shoulders as he walks briskly to the bar. He can see there are a lot of people inside, strengthening his hope that Fanny would be there with that silly Afrikaner. He’s formulated his approach carefully. First of all, he must determine exactly what she knows at this stage. Maybe she hasn’t heard the news yet…

And then, of course, he must do what that speech therapist taught him: sweep her off her feet with sweet words. He’ll remember to smile while he talks – it gives the listeners a sense of trust. And yes, he’ll keep on the dark glasses – she’s such a good judge of the feelings in the eyes.

Yes, Fanny my dear, he thinks, today you’re going to change my world…

Fanny’s Surprise (# 14)

600As the private jet banks to line up for the final approach, Henry Hartford III watches the desolate landscape of the Kalahari slide past with a worried frown. Sure, Fanny told him about it. He saw pictures and video material on the area. But even from this height, the unforgiving nature of the terrain is all too evident. How can people live here? Where are the power lines, the roads? Not a single building in sight – is it possible?

***

It’s not that he had an easy life; his father made sure of that. Growing up in a wealthy home, his father said, is the worst thing that can happen to a child. To have servants at your beck and call, private tutors and every imaginable toy on the market, will result in a spoilt child with no ambition. Henry grew up amidst luxuries he could never enjoy. At the age of six his life in boarding school started. At first this didn’t bother him too much: he was used to making his own bed, cleaning up his room and washing dishes. As an only child, he thought all households had butlers and servants to look after the adults only. Now he realised his father was uncommonly harsh and unreasonably strict.

Life in the private school – before he was placed in Eaton later – was also punctuated by the frequent calls from his father to the headmaster to make sure little Henry was forced to excel. His essays had to be longer, his maths better than the rest, and his marks in the other subject had to top the class. The headmaster was an even more profound disciplinarian than Henry’s father. He also realised how dependent the school was on old Mister Hartford’s donations. He did exactly what was required of him: beatings, solitary confinement, food rationing – there was no limit to the pressure he applied on little Henry; the rich kid that wasn’t.

By then, Henry knew the rules, even if he didn’t understand them. While the other boys spent their afternoons playing, Henry sat in the library. When the rest went on outings, Henry studied. Over time he not only accepted the way he had to perform academically all the time – he embraced the idea. He’d show them! He’d prove how good he can be. Subconsciously the thought stuck: his father’s love and acceptance depended on his hard work.

In later years, his hard work paid off. At his eighteenth birthday, his father proudly embraced him and rewarded his excellent marks (top-of-the-class, as usual) with a Lamborghini Gallardo. The car was his to keep as long as he remained the best performer in the class. The vehicle became a symbol of his progress, but was rarely used – simply because retaining the car meant so many hours of studying. His father simply had supplied even more bars to keep him prisoner in his emotional jail.

***

When the jets taxis to a stop, Henry makes sure the captain understands his instructions. This flight never took place. You will not log it anywhere. And yes, the payment has already been made to the private account in Zurich.

It was the last of the money – his own private and very secret fund – he skimmed off the various transactions. Now, with barely a thousand pounds let, he will need a bit of a boost before he can start trading again. After all, did he not have spectacular success in the beginning? How could anybody have foreseen the global recession and how severe it would be?

Security at Upington airport isn’t the same as in Heathrow or JFK. The pilot had dropped him near some hangars with specific instructions. It was simply a matter of walking from jet to jet, looking for all the world like an interested spectator (maybe even a buyer) and then sauntering out with a haughty look. True to the New South Africa, the uniformed men at the gate were too busy discussing the performance of the national soccer squad to take notice of him. 

***

After finishing his post-grad studies, his father finally accepted him as a son, a man, and even something useful. Henry worked the only way he knew: hard, long, relentless…and demanding results. He restructured departments and investments. Accountants and secretaries with less than the demanded stamina, were fired. Fresh-faced, eager graduates were sourced, paid well, and worked to a standstill. Henry became one of those men that are talked about in hushed tones, and he revelled in the new-found freedom the power of his position gave him. The disciplinarian father produced a disciplinarian son, and both were happy with the results.

The acquisition of the hotel chain was Henry’s idea. Forget about mister Blue-collar, he said. The wealthy demand proper holidays – pampered holidays – and they’re prepared to pay for it. The rich and the famous were individually targeted, bringing them to exotic locations where they were treated in style. Upgrade after upgrade of the facilities made sure the chain stayed ahead of the competition. This is when Henry needed extra capital – and this is when he started trading with ‘borrowed’ funds. Initially, when it went well, it seemed the perfect answer – make money by trading, invest in the hotels, watch the assets grow.

And then everything collapsed.

Almost overnight the world’s economy went into a nose-dive. Henry tried to recoup his losses, but the unstoppable down-hill slide prevented any of his efforts from achieving his goals.

And now…now he must have one last roll of the dice. He knows Fanny is in Rolbos, preparing the way for the advert-program, and she knows where the hidden treasure is. Gold is a commodity that is universally recognised. If what she said was true, this could be – must be – his chance to redeem himself.

***

Fanny… His lips curl downward when he thinks of her. Oh, it’s not that she’s unattractive or anything like that. It’s just she’s so…successful. And happy. She makes him feel like a wimp when she’s with him. Happy people make him nervous. Successful people causes jealousy. 

The only reason he asked her to be a special friend, was because his father forced him into it – and how can he refuse his father? The merging of their various interests made a lot of sense, and that meant he had to court Fanny Featherbosom. He, the inept young man who never developed any social skills, now had to try and impress one of London’s most beautiful darlings. 

At best, it was an impossible situation. But, like his father did with the Lamborghini, Fanny was the enviable prize for performing well – and like he almost never touched that steering wheel, he’ll simply do the same with Fanny. She is a rung in his ladder to achievement, that’s all. A badge to wear when he is forced to mix with the despicable socialites.

Money. That’s the only power worth fighting for.

Henry walks over to the taxi rank with determined strides. Yes, he’ll show them. All of them. Every damn single opinionated one of them. He, Henry Hartford III, will outperform them all once more.

Even if it’s the last thing he does…

Everywhere I turn, I hurt someone
But there’s nothing I can say to change
the things I’ve done
Of all the things I hid from you
I cannot hide the shame
And I pray someone, something will come
to take away the pain

Fanny’s Surprise (# 13)

Fanny excuses herself from the group at the bar and tells Vetfaan she needs a bit of space. 

“I just want to take a stroll, Fanie. To think. Please?”

Vetfaan feels a bit peeved that she should choose to be alone now – he’s there to help her, after all. He knows so little about her – their friendship only really progressed in the last 24 hours, and he still needs to learn how to manage the times she feels down.  He brightens a bit when Boggel slides over a cold beer.

“I don’t know much about women, Boggel. How does one handle something like this?” He inclines his head towards the door she just closed a few seconds ago.”

Barmen all over the world are the most effective and cheapest therapists you’ll ever find. Like the real professionals, they make mistakes, off course; but  their opinions are formed by real life and not by some academic who’ve dreamed up a new theory. Boggel, it is well-known, has been around the block more than once.

“Ag, Vetfaan, you know how it is. Nobody will ever fully  understand the Female Mystery, Men think in straight lines: the tractor won’t start, so fix it. Women are different. If the tractor won’t start, they’ll think about it first. Analyse the situation, understand? Consider the battery, the petrol, the oil. Maybe consult the manual. Talk to the hairdresser about it. Phobe her sister. Then…they’ll get a mechanic to sort out the problem. It’s a longer process they have to work through, that’s all. And they’re not shy to admit when they need help – but only when they’re ready for it. So…the big secret, Vetfaan, is patience. With a capital P. The best thing you can do right now, is to sip your beer and wait.”

***

Fanny strolls down Voortrekker Weg, past Servaas’ little post office, the white church and the few houses. These people live such a simple life; so different to London. Things are…easier here.

Henry… What happened there? Everybody believed he was this mathematical genius, a financial guru. And now he’s done the unthinkable: committed fraud on a scale that’ll not only bring shame to him, but it’ll also cripple his family and all their interests. Bankruptcy. What an ugly word. Fraud is even worse.

She remembers their last conversations. He was more morose than usual, telling her about the down swing in the global economy. She said things will turn around again. He said he wasn’t sure.

Then he asked – again – about her visit to the Kalahari. She thought he simply wanted to change the subject, and was glad to retell the adventure, starting with the discovery of the wagon.

The wagon with the gold coins…

Oh, my word!

No!!!

***

Boggel looks up in surprise as the doors bang open. 

“Fanie! Gertruida was right! I know where Henry is heading… The wagon.”

Vetfaan sits back with a puzzled smile. “And how is he going to find it in the desert? He’s got no idea where to look.”

“But !Ka does. And we left him alone on the farm. It’s not difficult to find it – everybody knows where you stay. If he asks at Grootdrink, they’ll point him straight there. Of course he’d hope to find you or me there – or both. But if he finds !Ka…”

Vetfaan doesn’t argue. He’s already on his way to the old pickup.