In the candlelight, my wife Maritjie glanced back over her shoulder and smiled at me. Strangely, I thought I saw a brief shadow drift before her eyes as she lowered them demurely (I was wearing only my nightshirt and kappie) but it may have been just a trick of the candlelight.
Quietly, she opened the door of our slaapkammer and went out into the short hallway, which led from our bedroom to the sitting room, where our youngest daughter Sarie was entertaining her young gentleman visitor.
The candle would still be burning, of course, but I had instructed Maritjie to check that no flies or mosquitoes had fallen into its wick, which might have suggested to young Menheer Van Zyl that his time to be conversing with our daughter Sarie should immediately be terminated. I had also asked Maritjie to ensure that the young gentleman was still on his side of the table, that both his hands were clearly exposed, and that the carved wooden trunk beneath the table had not been moved.
Finally, I had asked Maritjie to stack another couple of logs onto the fire.
This was not because it was particularly cold upon that summer night, but more because I was aware that young Mnr. Van Zyl originally came from the Lowveld, (which is considerably warmer than Bekkersdorp, in the Vrystaat), and also that I did not want him to be unable to find our front door -- when the candle finally burned down.
But the way that my wife had looked at me as she left our bedroom, somehow still caused me some concern. Strangely, it reminded me a little of how that most beautiful young girl with corn-coloured hair had once looked at me from behind those same silken blonde lashes: so very many years ago.
And the time to which I refer was, indeed, very many years ago.
In fact, that time was not so very long after the second Nqotu war (after the rains that came after the Groot Rindepeste in 1842) in that part of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa where the Verdomde English were then stealing land from the Boer settlers.
That was when I first made the acquaintance of Maritjie's father, Kommandant Eben Vosloo.
The first meeting between myself and Kommandant Vosloo occurred on a sunny morning, at a trading store that was being operated by a Greek gentleman by the name of 'Greek Popodopomus' -- or something like that, which we Afrikaners always found difficult to pronounce.
The Greek Popodopomus had been a good friend of Nqotu Chief 'Wiseman' Solomon ka'Nqotu for many years, and in fact, it had been Chief 'Wiseman' ka'Nqotu who had first granted a trading license to the Greek, allowing him to trade in that Bantu area of the Eastern Cape of South Africa (which the British were busy stealing from the Boers).
Sadly, 'Greek Popodopomus' died shortly after he had introduced me to Kommandant Vosloo and -- if we are to believe the whispers that were circulating at the time (when our ladies were not listening) -- Greek Popo died in the most strange circumstances.
Now, you know that I am not that sort of a man who would feed fuel to despicable rumours, so I shall cast no more than a passing reference towards the vile whispers of the time, which suggested that Greek Popo had -- in fact -- been considerably more "friendly" with Chief Nqotu's two wives (and some said a few of the Chief's daughters, as well) than he had with Chief Nqotu, himself!
Anyway, that sort of idle gossip forms no part of this history, except (possibly) to explain the axe that was found in the back of Greek Popo's skull which, in itself, contributed to the fact that Greek Popo ceased to run that particular trading store in the Eastern Cape, which the Imperialist English were, at the time, as I have mentioned, stealing from the Boers.
But I am permitting myself to become diverted.
May we return to that sunny morning when I first met Kommandant Vosloo, in the 'Popo Greek' trading store ?
Vosloo was, indeed, a very impressive man.
He was over six and an half feet tall, and he carried a long (but rather rusty) shotgun, and also a cocked Mauser rifle that was as well oiled as the lock upon any Cape Town whore's boudoir door.
It may have been his clothes -- holey and malodorous -- that most offended the more religious Dopper Afrikaners in that Greek trading store that day, and that may have diverted their attention from the vision of loveliness by whom Vosloo was followed.
But I did not allow myself to be confused in any in such manner, because I had seen those most beautiful eyes -- beneath demurely hooded lids -- as the Angel seemed almost to smile at me.
And I knew in that moment, that if the Angel could not be my partner into eternity, then surely 'twould be better to die at the end either of her father's rusty shotgun, or his well-oiled Mauser rifle.
And so it was that I committed myself to stay in Greek Popo's shop and to watch, praying to The Good Lord to find me some elusive excuse that I might use in order to make the acquaintance of the giant and his most beautiful young companion.
For those of you who do not believe, may this be a stern lesson! Because The Good Lord obviously favoured my commitment and decisive action, in that He hid Vosloo's purse, when the latter (and infinitely lesser) came to pay for the few meagre purchases he had intended to make from the Greek.
A violent altercation -- between the huge Dutchman and the little fat Greek -- had seemed almost inevitable, until I saw a tear forming in beautiful eye of the Angel, and instinctively and fearlessly thrust myself forward, shoving the barrel of my revolver up the Greek's nose.
The outcome of the whole unsavory incident was that Kommandant Vosloo -- after kindly permitting me to settle his bill with Popo -- also allowed me to entertain both he and his lovely daughter Maritjie to supper at the Shum Barton Restaurant, which had recently been completed but was, regrettably, owned by an 'Engelsman'.
That meal cost me almost two month's income, but I have never considered it as anything but the best investment I ever made, because it also bought me an invitation to visit the Vosloo farm the following weekend.
I shall not bore you with all the tedious details of my labours, as I -- with infinite cunning and stealth -- managed (eventually and expensively) to pry my lovely angel Maritjie from the paternal clutches of her rather malodorous, though Herculean father.
And It took significant further investment in both coin and my very best quality Peach Mampoer Brandy, eventually to ensure that Maritjie's enormous father agreed to our wedding, and did not embarrass us at the wedding, in front of Afrikaans Predikant Bukkies Van Rooyen and our seven guests.
In gratitude -- a couple of years later -- I allowed Groot Eben Vosloo to come and stay with us at our farm in the Vrystaat when the Eastern Cape border war flared up again, and his farm was burned down by the rebellious Nqotu natives, and all his stock slaughtered.
The arrangement worked fairly well, on the whole, and I freely admit that Eben Vosloo's great physical proportions made him an invaluable ally in matters of labour dispute and the occasional boundary disagreement with neighbours.
In the years that followed, my beautiful Maritjie proved upon nine occasions that most of her beauty could be passed on to our female descendants.
Maritjie and I have no male offspring, and often I have wondered whether The Good Lord had so dictated, because He did not want to take the chance that any such male progeny might take after Groot Eben. Or me, possibly?
But regardless ... The Good Lord has imposed upon me an heavy price for His nine most bounteous blessings.
First, Groot Eben was not an altogether easy close companion, although I confess that I was sorry when he passed away suddenly, after mysteriously falling from his horse when returning to his cottage after the celebration of our eldest daughter Christiana's betrothal to Marthinus Van der Vyver.
And then, there were our nine lovely young daughters -- all with silken corn hair and sparkling blue eyes.
For as they grew, daily, ever more beautiful, I that found many paths were becoming beaten in the bushveld to the main farmhouse, by young men who all seemed to have lost their way, and were seeking directions. And all these young men seemed to be wearing their very best Nagmal clothes, and to have fresh fat smeared onto their veldschoens, and into their hair, even, which prevented it from becoming windblown.
And for many years, sleep has not come easily to me. For no sooner had our youngest daughter begun to sleep throughout the night, than our eldest began to feel that she was old enough to ride around the farm alone, to visit neighbouring farms -- and Bekkersdorp, even -- and to invite young men to sit with her at our table in the evening, as the candle burned down.
On the night when The Good Lord took Groot Eben from us, I went to his cottage and collected his old shotgun, which I then noticed was no longer rusty. Sadly, I knelt, doffed my hat and said a silent prayer of thanks to Groot Eben for what I now knew he had done.
And it must be said that over the years, the many potential suitors of my beautiful golden-haired daughters had all been advised -- in a very casual manner, by Groot Oupa Vosloo -- of the close relationship that existed between Groot Oupa Vosloo's shotgun, and the candle which would advise them when it would be prudent to bid a demure farewell to whichever of my golden-haired daughters they might (timorously) have been courting.
And although Groot Eben Vosloo had cost me quite a lot of money (and even more peach mampoer brandywyn) over the years since I first met him, I now feel nothing but gratitude towards him.
He cannot possibly be held responsible for the demise or misfortunes suffered by many of those good volk who had -- over the years -- made his acquaintance.
Popo the Greek might well have misbehaved with some of Chief Solomon ka'Nqotu's wives (and daughters, as well) even if Groot Eben had not been somewhat over-familiar with Greek Popo's wife.
And neither Maritjie nor I ever held the Old Man responsible when our second daughter Cornelia ran away with that Lady from the Cape, and went to work in a traveling circus, or when our lovely Sandrika was spat in the eye by a Rinkels Cobra and lost her sight, although in both occasions we had assumed that Groot Eben had been watching over them.
My own vision had become somewhat misty as I considered all these things.
And then, suddenly, I knew that The Good Lord had sent me a 'message' through Maritjie's eyes as she had demurely lowered them at the door of our slaapkammer. And that 'Divine Message' was that I should not allow my exhausting duties as temporal protector of our daughters, to prevent me from fulfilling Maritjie's longing for a male heir.
And it was then that I was ashamed to remember that -- having been so busy protecting our daughters for so long -- I had not kissed my wife for some very considerable time.
Immediately, I stretched my legs over the edge of the bed and stood, pulling back the covers. I brushed some crumbs from the bottom blanket and puffed up Maritjie's favorite pillow upon which her Ouma had so perfectly embroidered Maritjie's name.
Then, after praising the Lord upon my knees -- with an haste that I hope He will, in His Infinite Goodness, excuse -- I climbed back upon the bed.
Strange things were beginning to happen to my tired old body, and I determined that tonight I would not concern myself with the flickering candle that, I knew, would be separating Sarie from her beau. It was time, I knew, finally to forget about Sarie and her young man, and also the slowly spluttering candle in the voorkammer.
Deliberately, I pushed Groot Eben Vosloo's shotgun beneath the bed.
When Maritjie returned to our slaapkammer, I determined to instruct her, in the strictest of terms, to leave the youngsters alone.
And I smiled contentedly as the slaapkammer door slowly opened again. Eben would be a good name for our son.
And then -- again remembering the demurely hooded eyes from the Greek store so many years before -- I became even more determined once again to kiss Kommandant Vosloo's most beautiful daughter, who is my lovely wife.
And my most treasured possession.
Article © KK Brown. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-06-28