From Unto Dust
by Herman Charles Bosman
Any story (Oom Schalk Lourens said) about that half-red flower, the selons-rose, must be an old story. It is the flower that a Marico girl most often pins in her hair to attract her lover. The selons-rose is also the flower that here, in the Marico, we customarily plant upon a grave.
One thing that certain thoughtless people sometimes hint at about my stories is that nothing ever seems to happen in them. Then there is another kind of person who goes even further, and he says that the stories I tell are all stories that he has heard before, somewhere long ago – he can’t remember when exactly, but somewhere at the back of his mind he knows that it is not a new story.
I have heard that remark passed quite often – which is not surprising, seeing that I really don’t know any new stories. But the funny part of it is that these very people will come around, say, ten years later, and ask me to tell them another story. And they will say, then, because of what they have learnt of life in between, that the older the story, the better.
Anyway, I have come to the conclusion that with an old story, it is like with an old song. People tire of a new song readily.
I remember how it was when Marie du Preez came back to the Bushveld after her parents had sent her overseas to learn singing, because they had found diamonds on their farm, and because Marie’s teacher said she had a nice singing voice. Then, when Marie came back from Europe – through the diamonds on the Du Preez farm having given out suddenly – we on this side of the Dwarsberge were keen to have Marie sing for us.
There was a large attendance, that night, when Marie du Preez gave a concert in the Drogedal schoolroom. She sang what she called arias from Italian opera. And at first things didn’t go at all well. We didn’t care much for those new songs in Italian. One song was about the dawn being near, goodbye beloved, and about being under somebody’s window – that was what Marie’s mother told us, in quick whispers, it was. Marie du Preez’s mother came from the Cape and had studied at the Wellington seminary. Another song was about mother see these tears. The Hollander schoolmaster told me the meaning of that one. But I don’t know if it was Marie’s mother that was meant.
We didn’t actually dislike those songs that Marie du Preez sang. It was only that we weren’t moved by them.
Accordingly, after the interval, when Marie was again stepping up onto the low platform before the blackboard on which the teacher wrote sums on school-days, Philippus Bonthuys, a farmer who had come all the way from Nietverdiend to attend the concert, got up and stood beside Marie du Preez. And because he was so tall and broad it seemed almost as though he stood half in front of her, elbowing her a little, even.
Philippus Bonthuys said he was just a plain Dopper. And we all cheered. Then Philippus Bonthuys said that his grandfather was also just a plain Dopper, who wore his pipe and his tobacco-bag on a piece of string fastened at the side of his trousers. We cheered a lot more, then. Philippus Bonthuys went on to say that he liked the old songs best. They could keep those new songs about laugh because somebody has stolen your clown. We gathered from that that Marie’s mother had been explaining to Philippus Bonthuys, also in quick whispers, the meanings of some of Marie’s songs.
And before we knew where we were, the whole crowd in the schoolroom was singing, with Philippus Bonthuys beating time, My Oupa was ’n Dopper, en ’n Dopper was Hy. You have no idea how stirring that old song sounded, with Philippus Bonthuys beating time, in the night, under the thatch of that Marico schoolroom, and with Marie du Preez looking slightly bewildered but joining in all the same – since it was her concert, after all – and not singing in Italian, either.
We sang many songs, after that, and they were all old songs. We sang Die Vaal Hare en die Blou Oge and Daar Waar die Son en die Maan Ondergaan and Vat Jou Goed en Trek, Ferreira and Met My Rooi Rok Voor Jou Deur. It was very beautiful.
We sang until late into the night. Afterwards, when we congratulated Marie du Preez’s mother, who had arranged it all, on the success of her daughter’s concert, Mevrou Du Preez said it was nothing, and she smiled.
But it was a peculiar sort of a smile.