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..
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