Because young Bothma was, after all, a mounted policeman in a khaki uniform, with brass letters on his shoulders, we did feel a measure of constraint in his company. The circumstance of our not feeling quite at ease manifested itself in the way most of us sat on our riempie chairs – a little more stiffly than usual, with our shoulders not quite touching the backs of the chairs. It also manifested itself in the unconventional way in which Gysbert van Tonder saw fit to sprawl in his seat, an affectation of mental contentment that would have awakened mistrust in any policeman with some experience.
It was then that Chris Welman made a remark that went a good way towards relieving the tension. Afterwards, in talking it over, we had to say that we could not but admire the manner in which Chris Welman had worked out the right words to use. Not that there was anything clever in the way that Chris Welman had spoken, of course.
No, we all felt that the statement Chris Welman had made, then, was something that was easily within the capacity of any of us, if we had just sat back a little and thought, and then made use of the common sense that comes naturally to anybody who has lived long enough on a farm.
‘The man you should really ask questions of,’ Chris Welman said to Constable Bothma, ‘is Gysbert van Tonder. That’s him there. Sitting with his legs taking up half the floor, his hands behind his head, and his elbows all stretched out. Just from the way he’s sitting, you can see he’s the biggest cattle-smuggler in the district.’
Well, that gave us all a good laugh. For everyone knew that Gysbert van Tonder had smuggled more cattle across the border than any other man in the Marico. What was more, we knew that Gysbert van Tonder’s father had regularly brought in cattle, over the line from Ramoutsa, before there had even been a proper barbed-wire fence there. And we also knew that, in the long years of the future, when we were all dead and gone, Gysbert van Tonder’s sons would still be doing the same thing.
What was more, nothing would ever stop them, either. Not even if every policeman from Cape Town to the Limpopo knew about it.
For the Bechuanas from whom he traded cattle felt friendly towards Gysbert van Tonder, and that was a sentiment they did not have for a border policeman – unreasonable though such an attitude might seem to be. This was an outlook on life that, to a considerable degree, Gysbert van Tonder shared with the Bechuanas.
Consequently, in speaking the way he did, Chris Welman had cleared the air for us all – Gysbert van Tonder included. As a result, Gysbert van Tonder could, for one thing, sit more comfortably in his chair, relaxing as he sat. There was no longer any need for him to adopt a carefree pose, which must have put quite a lot of strain on his neck and leg muscles, not to mention how hard it must have been for his spine to maintain the posture that was intended to suggest indifference.
Anyway, Gysbert van Tonder joined in the laughter that greeted Chris Welman’s words.
And Constable Bothma laughed, too. It was clear from his laughter that the sergeant at Bekkersdal had told him to keep an eye on Gysbert van Tonder.
After that it was Oupa Bekker who spoke. And although his story related to the distant past, when the functions of a police constable were exercised (apparently not unsuccessfully) by the local veldkornet, it seemed that the difficulties Constable Bothma was experiencing were not dissimilar from the vicissitudes of the young veldkornet in Oupa Bekker’s story.
‘Many a man would have been satisfied with the position of veldkornet,’ Oupa Bekker said, ‘because of the honour that went with it in those days. For one thing, even if you didn’t have a uniform, or an office with a telephone, or a mounted-police horse with a white star on his forehead – that could keep time to the music at the Johannesburg Show – and even if you had to ride one of your own horses on a patched saddle, with a patch on the seat of your trousers too, you still had a printed certificate, signed by the President, to say that you were the veldkornet. And you could hang that certificate in a gold frame on the wall of your voorkamer.’
But the glitter of rank and the burden of office were as nothing to that young veldkornet, Oupa Bekker said. What worried him far more was that, because it was his job to maintain law and order, he had to act as an informer on his neighbours, however delicately. And the thought that, because of his job, he was cut off from intimate contact with them, saddened him. He liked having friends, but found that he couldn’t have friends – well, not real friends – any more, now that he was the veldkornet.
‘In the end …’ Oupa Bekker said.
We would have preferred Oupa Bekker not to continue to the end, for the only true friend the young veldkornet had, in the end, was Sass Koggel – a scoundrel, the likes of which the Groot Marico had had but few in its history.
Only with Sass Koggel could the veldkornet be himself. They each took the other for what he was; and neither, in his relations with the other, had to maintain any sort of pretence. They were on opposite sides of the law.
Vocationally speaking, the veldkornet was devoted to apprehending Sass Koggel; and Sass Koggel was determined that the veldkornet would never come across anything against him. Outside of that technicality, however, it would have been hard to find two firmer friends in the whole of the Marico.
It was a long story that Oupa Bekker told, and we listened to it with fluctuating levels of attention. But Constable Bothma and Gysbert van Tonder did not listen to Oupa Bekker at all. They were too engrossed in what each had to say to the other. And while talking to Gysbert van Tonder, the cattle-smuggler, it was necessary for young Bothma, the policeman, to open his policeman’s notebook only once.
Constable Bothma opened his notebook in order to extract a photograph, which he handed to Gysbert van Tonder. Gysbert studied the likeness for some moments, and then he asked: ‘Takes after you, does he?’
And in his voice, there was only sincerity.
From Ox-wagons On Trek
by Herman Charles Bosman
When I see the rain beating white on the thorn-trees, as it does now (Oom Schalk Lourens said), I remember another time when it rained. And there was a girl in an ox-wagon who dreamed. And in answer to her dreaming, a lover came galloping to her side from out of the veld. But he tarried only a short while, this lover who had come to her from the mist of the rain and the warmth of her dreams.
And yet, when he had gone, there was a slow look in her eyes that must have puzzled her lover very much – for it was a look of satisfaction, almost.
We had been to Zeerust for the Nagmaal church service, which we attended once a year.
You know what it is with these Nagmaals.
The Lord spreads these festivities over so many days that you have time, not only to go to church, but also to go to the bioscope. Sometimes you can even go to the bar, but then you must go in the back way, through the dark alley next to the draper’s shop.
Zeerust is a small place, and if you’re seen going into the bar during Nagmaal, people are liable to talk. I can still remember how surprised I was one morning when I went into that dark alley next to the draper’s shop, and found the predikant there, wiping his mouth. The predikant looked at me and shook his head solemnly, and I felt very guilty.
So I went to the bioscope instead.
A few days later five ox-wagons, full of people who had been to the Zeerust Nagmaal, were trekking along the road that led back to the Groot Marico. Inside the wagon-tents sat the women and children, listening to the rain pelting against the canvas. The drivers walked by the side of the oxen, cracking their long whips while the rain beat in their faces.
Overhead everything was black, except for the frequent flashes of lightening that tore across the sky.
After I had walked in this manner for some time, I began to get lonely. So I handed the whip to my voorloper, and went on ahead to Adriaan Brand’s wagon. For some distance I walked in silence beside Adriaan. He had his trousers rolled up to his knees; and he had much trouble brandishing his whip and, at the same time, keeping the rain out of his pipe.
‘It’s Minnie,’ Adriaan Brand said suddenly, referring to his nineteen-year-old daughter. ‘There’s one place in Zeerust where Minnie shouldn’t go. And every Nagmaal, to my sorrow, I find that she’s been there. And it all goes to her head.’
‘Oh yes,’ I answered. ‘It always does.’
All the same, I was somewhat startled at Adriaan’s remarks. Minnie didn’t strike me as the sort of girl who would go and spend her father’s money drinking peach brandy in the bar. I started wondering if she’d seen me in the draper’s alley. Then Adriaan went on talking, and I felt more at ease.
‘The place where they show those moving pictures,’ he explained. ‘Every time Minnie goes there, she comes back with ideas that are useless for a farmer’s daughter. But this time it has made her quite impossible. For one thing, she says she won’t marry Frans du Toit any more. She says Frans is too honest.’
‘Well, that needn’t be a difficulty, Adriaan,’ I said. ‘You can teach Frans du Toit a few of the things you’ve done. That’ll make him dishonest enough. Like the way you put your brand on those oxen that strayed into your kraal. Or the way you altered the figures on the compensation forms after the rinderpest. Or the way …’.
Adriaan looked at me with some disfavour.
‘It isn’t that,’ he interrupted me, while I was still trying to call to mind a lot of other things he was able to teach Frans du Toit. ‘Minnie wants a mysterious sort of man. She wants a man who’s dishonest, but who’s got foreign manners and a good heart. She saw a man like that at the picture place she went to, and since then …’.
We both looked round together.
Through the mist of the white rain, a horseman came galloping up towards our wagons. He rode fast. Adriaan Brand and I stood and watched him.
By this time our wagons were some distance behind the others.
The horseman came thundering along at full galop until he was abreast of us. Then he pulled up sharply, jerking his horse onto his hind legs.
The stranger told us his name was Koos Fichardt, and that he was on his way to the Bechuanaland Protectorate. Adriaan Brand and I introduced ourselves, and shortly afterwards Fichardt accepted our invitation to spend the night with us.
We outspanned a mile or so further on, drawing the five wagons up close together and getting what shelter we could by spreading bucksails.
Next morning there was no more rain. By that time, Koos Fichardt had seen Adriaan Brand’s daughter Minnie. So he decided to stay with us longer.
We trekked on again and, from where I walked beside my oxen, I could see Koos Fichardt and Minnie. They sat at the back of Adriaan Brand’s wagon, hatless, with their legs hanging down and the morning breeze blowing through their hair, and it was evident that Minnie was fascinated by the stranger. Also, he seemed to be very much interested in her.
You do get like that, when there is suddenly a bright morning after long rains, and a low wind stirs the wet grass, and you feel, for a little while, that you know the same thing that the veld knows, and in your heart there are whisperings.
Most of the time they sat holding hands, Fichardt talking a great deal and Minnie nodding her pretty head at intervals, encouraging him to continue. They were all lies he told her, I suppose, as only a young man in love can tell lies.
Fichardt was tall and dark and well-dressed. He walked with a swagger. He had easy and engaging manners, and we all liked him.
That night, when we outspanned next to the Groen River, it was very pleasant. We all gathered around the campfire, and braaied meat and cooked crushed mielies. We sang songs and told ghost stories. And I wondered what Frans du Toit – the honest youth whom Minnie had discarded in Zeerust – would have thought if he could see Minnie Brand and Koos Fichardt sitting unashamedly in each other’s arms, for all the world to see their love, while the light of the campfire cast a rich glow over the thrill that was on their faces.
And although I knew how wonderful were the passing moments for these two, yet somehow, somehow, because I had seen so much of the world, I also felt sorry for them.
The next day we did not trek.
The Groen River was in flood from the heavy rains, and Oupa van Tonder, who had lived a long time in the Cape and was well versed in the ways of rivers – and who even knew how to swim – told us that it would not be safe to cross the drift for another twenty-four hours. Accordingly, we decided to remain camped out where we were until the next morning.
At first Koos Fichardt was much disturbed by this news, explaining how necessary it was for him to get into the Bechuanaland Protectorate by a certain day. After a while, however, he seemed to grow more reconciled to the necessity of waiting until the river had gone down.
But I noticed that he frequently gazed out over the veld, in the direction from which we had come. He gazed out rather anxiously, I thought.
Night came, and the occupants of the five wagons again gathered around the blazing fire. In some ways, that night was even grander than the one before. The songs we sang were more rousing. The stories we told seemed to have more power in them.
There was much excitement the following morning by the time the wagons were ready to go through the drift. And the excitement did not lie only in the bustle of inspanning the oxen.
For when we crossed the river, it was without Koos Fichardt; and there was a slow look in Minnie’s eyes.
The wagons creaked and splashed in the water, and we saw Koos Fichardt for the last time, sitting on his horse, with a uniformed horseman on either side of him. And when he took off his hat in farewell, he had to use both hands, because of the cuffs that held his wrists together.
What I will always remember, however, is the slow look in Minnie’s eyes. It was a kind of satisfaction, almost, at the thought that all the things that had come to the girl she’d seen in the picture, had now come to her too.
It’s a queer thing – Oom Schalk Lourens observed – how much trouble people will take to hide their weaknesses from the world. Often, of course, they aren’t weaknesses at all; only the people who have these peculiarities don’t know that. Another thing they don’t know is that the world is aware all the time of these things they imagine they’re concealing.
I remember a story my grandfather used to tell – of something that happened when he was a boy. Of course, that was a long time ago. It was before the Great Trek. But it seems that, even in those days, there was a lot of trouble between the Boers and the English. It had much to do with slaves. The English Government wanted to free the slaves, my grandfather said, and one man who was very prominent at the meetings that were held to protest against this was Gert van Tonder.
Now Gert van Tonder was a very able man, and a good speaker. He was at his best, too, when dealing with a subject about which he knew nothing at all. He always spoke very loudly then. As you can see, he was a fine leader.
So, when the slaves were freed, and a manifesto was drawn up to be sent to the King of England, the farmers of Graaff-Reinet took it first to Gert van Tonder for his signature.
You can imagine how surprised everyone was when he refused to sign. He sat with the manifesto in front of him, and the pen in his hand, and said that he had changed his mind. He said that perhaps they were a bit hasty in writing to the King of England about so trivial a matter.
‘Even though the slaves are free, now,’ he said, ‘it doesn’t make any difference. Just let one of my slaves try to act as though he’s free. I’ll show him. That’s all. Just let him try.’
The farmers told Gert van Tonder he was quite right. It didn’t really make any difference whether the slaves were free or not. They said they knew that already. But there were a lot of other grievances in the manifesto, they explained, and they were sending it to let the King of England know that, unless the Boers got their wrongs redressed, they would trek out of the Cape Colony.
My grandfather used to say that everybody was still more surprised when Gert van Tonder put down the pen, very firmly, and told the farmers that they could trek right to the other end of Africa, for all he cared. He was quite satisfied with the way the King of England had done things, Gert said, and there was a lot about English rule for which they should all be thankful.
The upshot of all this was that, when the farmers of the Cape Colony trekked away, into the north, with their heavily laden wagons, and their long spans of oxen, and their guns, Gert van Tonder did not go with them.
My grandfather often spoke about how small a thing it was that kept Gert van Tonder from being remembered in history as one of the leaders of the nation. It was all on account of that one weakness of his – his not wanting people to know that he couldn’t read or write.
When I speak of people and their peculiarities, it always makes me think of Stoffel Lemmer. He had a weakness of an altogether different sort. What was peculiar about Stoffel Lemmer was that if a girl, or a woman, so much as looked at him, he was quite certain that she was in love with him. And what made it worse was that he never had the courage to go up and talk to the girl he thought was making eyes at him.
Another queer thing about Stoffel Lemmer was that he was just as much in love with the girl as he imagined she was with him.
‘I could see by the look in Minnie Bonthuys’s eyes that she loved me, Oom Schalk,’ Stoffel Lemmer went on, once, ‘and by the firm way that her mouth shut when she caught sight of me. In fact, I can hardly even say that she looked at me. It all happened so quickly. She just gave one glance in my direction, and slammed the window shut. All girls who are in love with me do that.’
This was just one example of the sort of thing that Stoffel Lemmer would relate to me, sitting on my stoep. Mostly it was in the evening. And he would look out into the dusk, and say that the shadows that lay on the thorn-trees were in his heart also. As I have told you, I had frequently heard him say exactly the same thing. About other girls.
And always it would end up the same way – with him saying what a sorrowful thing it was that he would never be able to tell her how much he loved her. He would also say how grateful he was to have someone like me who would listen to his sad story, with understanding. That, too, I had heard before. Often.
What’s that? Did he ever tell her? Well, I don’t know.
The last time I saw Stoffel Lemmer was in Zeerust. It was in front of the church, just after the ceremony. And by the determined expression that Minnie still had on her face when the wedding guests threw rice and confetti over Stoffel and herself – no, I don’t think he ever got up the courage to tell her.
by Herman Charles Bosman
It was good mampoer, made from karee berries that were plucked when they were still green and full of thick sap, just before they had begun to whiten, and we said things that contained much wisdom.
‘It was like the shadow of a flower on her left cheek,’ I heard Hans Kriel say, and immediately I sat up to listen, for I could guess of whom it was that he was talking.
‘Is it on the lower part of the cheek?’ I asked. ‘Two small purple marks?’
Because in that case I would know for sure that he was talking about the new waitress in the Zeerust café. I had seen her only once, through the plate-glass window, and because I had liked her looks I had gone up to the counter and asked for a roll of Boer tobacco, which she said they did not stock. When she said they didn’t stock kudu biltong, either, I had felt too embarrassed to ask for anything else. Only afterwards I remembered that I could have gone in and sat down and ordered a cup of coffee and some harde beskuit. But it was too late then. By that time I felt that she could see that I came from this part of the Marico, even though I was wearing my hat well back on my head.
‘Did you – did you speak to her?’ I asked Hans Kriel after a while.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I went in and asked her for a roll of Boer tobacco. But she said they didn’t sell tobacco by the roll, or kudu biltong either. She said this last with a sort of a sneer. I thought it was funny, seeing that I hadn’t asked for kudu biltong. So I sat down in front of a little table and ordered some harde beskuit and a cup of coffee. She brought me a number of little dry, flat cakes with letters on them I couldn’t read very well. Her name is Marie Rossouw.’
‘You must have said quite a lot to her to have found out her name,’ I said, with something in my voice that must have made Hans Kriel suspicious.
‘How do you know who I’m talking about?’ he demanded suddenly.
‘Oh, never mind,’ I answered, ‘let’s ask Krisjan Wilman to refill our glasses.’ I winked at the others and we all laughed, because by that time Hans Kriel was sitting half sideways on the riempie bench, with his shoulders drawn up very high and his whole body seeming to be kept up by one elbow. It wasn’t long after that that he moved his elbow, so that we had to pick him up from the floor and carry him into thevoorkamer, where we laid him in a corner on some leopard skins.
But before that he had spoken more about Marie Roussouw, the new waitress in the café. He said he had passed by and had seen her through the plate-glass window and there had been a vase of purple flowers on the counter, and he had noticed those two marks on her cheek, and those marks had looked very pretty to him, like two small shadows from those purple flowers.
‘She is very beautiful,’ Hans Kriel said. ‘Her eyes have got deep things in them, like those dark pools behind Abjaterskop. And when she smiled at me once – by mistake, I think – I felt as though my heart was rushing over the vlaktes like that shadow we saw in the sunset.’
‘You must be careful of those dark pools behind Abjaterskop,’ I warned him. ‘We know those pools have got witches in them.’
I felt it was a pity that we had to carry him inside, shortly afterwards. For the mampoer had begun to make Hans Kriel talk rather well.
As it happened, Hans Kriel was not the only one, that night, who encountered difficulties with the riempiebench. Several more of us were carried inside. And when I look back on that Nagmaal my most vivid memories are not of what the predikant said at the church service, or of Krisjan Wilman’s mampoer, even, but of how very round the black spots were on the pale yellow of the leopard skin. They were so round that every time I looked at them they were turning.
In the morning Krisjan Wilman’s wife woke us up and brought us coffee. Hans Kriel and I sat up side by side on the leopard skins, and in between drinking his coffee Hans Kriel said strange things. He was still talking about Marie Roussouw.
‘Just after dark I got up from the front stoep and went to see her in the café,’ Hans Kriel said.
‘You may have got up from the front stoep,’ I answered, ‘but you never got up from these leopard skins. Not from the moment we carried you here. That’s the truth.’
‘I went to the café,’ Hans Kriel said, ignoring my interruption, ‘and it was very dark. She was there alone. I wanted to find out how she had got those marks on her cheek. I think she is very pretty even without them. But with those marks Marie Roussouw is the most wild and the most beautiful thing in the whole world.’
‘I suppose her cheek got cut there when she was a child,’ I suggested. ‘Perhaps when a bottle of her father’s mampoer exploded.’
‘No,’ Hans Kriel replied, very earnestly. ‘No. It was something else. I asked her there, in the café, when we were alone together, and it suddenly seemed as though the whole place was washed with moonlight, and there was no counter between us any more, and there was a strange laughter in her eyes when she brought her face very close to mine. And she said, “I know you won’t believe me. But that is where the devil kissed me. Satan kissed me there when we were behind Abjaterskop. Shall I show you?”’
‘That was what she said to me,’ Hans Kriel continued, ‘and I knew, then, that she was a witch. And that it was a very sinful thing to be in love with a witch. And so I caught her up, in my arms, and I whispered, trembling all the time, “Show me,” and our heads rose up very tall through the shadows. And everything moved very fast, faster than the shadows move from Abjaterskop in the setting of the sun. And I knew that we were behind Abjaterskop, and that her eyes were indeed dark pools there, with the tall reeds growing on the edges. And then I saw Satan come in between us. And he had hooves and a forked tail. And there were flames coming out of him. And he stooped down and kissed Marie Roussouw on her cheek, where those marks were. And she laughed. And her eyes danced with merriment. And I found that it was all the time I who was kissing her. Now, what do you make of this, Schalk?’
I said, of course, that it was the mampoer. And that I knew, now, why I had been sleeping in such discomfort. It wasn’t because the spots on the leopard were turning like round wheels, but because I had Satan sleeping next to me all night. And I said that this discovery wasn’t new, either. I had always suspected something like that about him.
But I got an idea. And while the others were at breakfast I went out, on the pretext that I had to go and help Manie Burghers with his oxen at the church square outspan. But instead, I went into the café, and because I knew her name was Marie Roussouw, when the waitress came for my order I could ask her whether she was related to the Roussouws of Rysmierbult, and I could tell her that I was distantly related to that family, also.
In the daylight, there was about that café none of the queerness that Hans Kriel had spoken about. It was all very ordinary. Even those purple flowers were still on the counter. They looked slightly faded. And then, suddenly, while we were talking, I asked her the thing I was burning to know.
‘That mark on your cheek, juffrou,’ I said, ‘will you tell me where you got it from?’
Marie Roussouw brought her face very close to mine, and her eyes were like dark pools with dancing light in them.
‘I know you won’t believe me,’ she said, ‘but that is where Satan kissed me. When we were at the back of Abjaterskop together. Shall I show you?’
From No Outspan
by Deneys Reitz
In South Africa we too were faced by what seemed to be a dangerous situation. Italy had 200 000 soldiers in Abyssinia and we expected an immediate move to invade Kenya, and in due course our own country, for at the time there was little to stop them. Kenya had a few battalions of Askari and as for a South African army, it had existed largely on paper when the war began, though General Smuts was feverishly at work building up a new one, and volunteers were flocking to the colours.
In the meantime the Afrikaner racial extremists openly exulted at the British reverses. In Parliament and over the countryside they shouted that England was but a twitching corpse, that Hitler would dictate his peace terms in London within six weeks; the British Empire was crumbling, and they were going to establish an Afrikaner dictatorship in which General Smuts and his followers were to be called to account on Gestapo lines.
And a strange movement had sprung up to implement these threats. It was known as the Ossewa Brandwag (the ox-wagon picket). Its members, which were said to number a quarter of a million, drilled secretly at night, and they indulged in bomb throwing, sabotage and other subversive acts quite foreign to the normal character of our Afrikaans people. Their avowed intention was to prepare an organisation modelled on the Nazi system which would take control the moment word came that Great Britain was crushed.
General Smuts and I and most of our colleagues took the view that, in the long run, our Afrikaans-speaking citizens were too level-headed to be permanently led astray by alien propaganda of this kind. From long experience we felt that, in a country like the Union, it would be a mistake to create cheap martyrs, so we gave the Ossewa Brandwag and our opponents plenty of rope. Their overdone racial fervour smacked to us of the Ju-ju and Voodooism of Lagos and the Gold Coast.
Not everyone on our side agreed with us, and there was a time when I could not show my face anywhere without some well-meaning but irate and jittery individual rushing at me to demand the shooting out-of-hand of every Ossewa Brandwag firebrand and the instant gaoling of all opposition Members of Parliament and political leaders.
General Smuts told me he suffered from similar importunities and that his invariable reply was, ‘Leave it to us, leave it to us; we know what we are doing, please don’t rock the boat.’
Time has amply justified us. Now (in 1943) the Ossewa Brandwag has practically fizzled out, and the various republican groups that sprang up in the hope of an immediate German victory are at present so busy wrangling among themselves that we scarcely give them a thought.
All along, I have striven to avoid, as far as possible, overmuch reference to our inter-tribal stupidities, but I was forced to touch on them here and there for the sake of giving an idea of the South African political background. I have only this final word on the subject. Our white population is under three million. Of these, roughly 55 per cent are of Dutch descent, and 40 to 45 per cent are of British extraction. Of the Dutch section about half are standing aloof from our war effort. They hold that the war is in the interest of Great Britain alone, that it is none of our business, and that we had no right to drag them into the maelstrom.
And yet, in an army of volunteers, something like 35 per cent of our soldiers and 35 per cent of our casualties in Abyssinia and Libya have been Afrikaners.
And there is another list, which it may be lacking in good taste and subtlety to call a casualty list. It is the notices of engagements and marriages between Afrikaans and English couples that appear in the newspapers every day. These show that they are intermingling and inter-marrying all the time in rising tempo, and by 1960 or thereabouts even the racial politicians will not be able to tell them apart.
So much for local politics as I see them.
From Leipoldt’s Cellar & Kitchen
by C. Louis Leipoldt
Pulses are perhaps the oldest food known to humankind.
My old Tannie, who is glancing over my shoulder as I write, just shakes her head.
‘As far as I know,’ she says, in that dreadful, oh-so-sweet manner she adopts when she wants to demolish me, ‘our dear Lord said that for food He gave us the plants that have seeds, and all the trees that bear fruit. Is that not what is said in Genesis 1 verse 29?’
‘Absolutely right, Tannie,’ I answer, not at all put out, ‘but Tannie is forgetting that pulses also have seeds, and the scientific know-alls maintain that pulses, like lentils and peas, not grasses like wheat and rye, were our very first food.’
‘They have a lot to say,’ Tannie snaps at me. ‘Today they talk of vitamins that the Holy Scripture doesn’t even mention. All just talk.’
‘When it comes to the vitamins, I completely agree, Tannie. But please – I have to have this piece ready before this evening.’
By the way, my Tannie is one of the few cooks of my acquaintance who knows how to do things with peas. I have her to thank for being able to distinguish between peas and peas, for having learned the difference between peas that honour their name and peas that could just as well have been acorns.
Cooking peas – peas suitable for the table – are young peas, not those usually passed off as cooking peas that you have to pay a fortune for in these days of controlled vegetables. Real cooking peas are young, soft, virgin-green, juicy and plump. You usually only get them if you have a row of peas in your own garden. Do not wait until the pods are thick and fat – the less they look like a water-loving creature’s thighs, the better they are for the pot. Therefore watch your peas closely, and as soon as the pods show signs of bulging, pick and shell them. Then you will get the young peas the connoisseur prefers; and, believe me, there is no other vegetable that comes even close!
To prepare such young peas requires expertise and what my tannie calls ’n slag (a knack). When it comes to expertise, I agree. Concerning ’n slag – well, one could argue endlessly about that without coming to any worthwhile conclusion. I know of an old Ayah who, according to the general testimony of the families she’s cooked for, had a remarkable ‘knack’ for colouring tartlets a beautiful golden yellow. When she told me her secret, however – well, since that day, I’ve always been a bit nervous when presented with a golden yellow tartlet.
To return to the young peas, for heaven’s sake do not wash them. It’s possible that a worm might be hiding in the pod, in which case just show him that he does not belong there. That’s all that is really necessary. Place the peas in a saucepan, with just enough water – of preferably some meat soup – to quench their thirst when it starts getting hot. Close the lid, and let them cook in their own steam without adding anything whatsoever. To add mint, lemon peel, nutmeg, or whatever, is an affront to them and an insult to your own taste. And do not cook them for too long. Very young peas – I am dealing only with them – do not require more than a quarter of an hour in the saucepan. As soon as they are soft and mushy, take them from the fire, sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and salt, and add a lump of butter – the best available, of course. Shake the saucepan, without taking off the lid, until the peas are well oiled by the butter. Serve immediately. Now that really is an excellent dish to serve a guest.
When peas are older, and swollen with more body, the cook can still prepare them in this way. Indeed, it is the usual way of cooking peas. But the connoisseur will not like it. The full-grown pea does not have the soft juiciness of the baby pea, and this is why it is smothered with mint that overwhelms the taste of the pea. No, use the full-grown pea for making soup or purée. An excellent soup can be made from it – the so-called Potage St Germain. Its basis is a good consommé, preferably made from chicken bones and veal. Cook the peas in the manner mentioned above, and mash them. Then cook them for half an hour in the soup, strain through a collander, and heat until the soup is velvety and even. Add spice, salt and pepper, and bring to the boil again. When it starts bubbling, add a cup of cream or two cups of milk, and serve immediately with small pieces of toast.
Some cookbooks suggest that one should colour this soup by adding spinach juice, to give it a nice green appearance. I disagree, just as I oppose the idea of insulting peas, or indeed any green vegetable, by cooking them with bicarbonate of soda. Green pea soup does not have to be leaf-green. The more cream or milk you add, the less green it will be – but it will not taste any the less good.
My old tannie interrupts me again. ‘But who would make pea soup without onions? You don’t seem to have the faintest idea of what’s appropriate. Why don’t you tell the people …’
Well, there are cooks who start by frying sliced onion, a sliced leek, a slice of sour apple and a snippet of mace in butter, adding it to the pea purée and then boiling it all up together as a soup. This is purely a matter of taste, and I am liberal and tolerant enough not to regard this as heretical. But I prefer myPotage St Germain without onion, celery or mace. A combined vegetable soup is something I esteem very highly, but it is something different from a green pea soup.
Speaking of heretics, heresy is – according to the dictionaries – the wilful rejection of a generally accepted doctrine of faith. There are no such doctrines in the art of cooking, for otherwise there would be no culinary art. Cooking is learned through experimentation and experience, and sometimes by accident.
If Oom Karools – who was in France during the last war and there acquired the habit of sprinkling cheese over his soup – wishes to eat his pea soup with cheese over it, I shall not feel obliged to drag him to the pyre in a chequered sanbenito. The fellow has his own life to lead and his own taste, and that is that.
But the taste of green peas has a character all of its own, and I regard it as worthless and unnecessary to try to improve it by adding and supplementing all sorts of things.
It’s a different matter when you’re dealing with dried peas, but that’s a separate topic.
From Vin de Constance
by Michel Roux Jr.
‘Vin de Constance: … a name, an appellation and a style of wine that has survived and transcended time, despite the vagaries of history and the affairs of men’. – Michael Fridjhon
Favoured by kings and emperors, preferred by the aristocracy, and acquired by generals, the ‘sweet, luscious and excellent’ wine from Constantia rivalled the appeal of Tokay in the European courts of the 18th and 19th centuries.
This sought-after status was no small achievement by a Dutch settlement at the tip of Africa, which had planted vines in order to supply wine to the Dutch East India Company ships plying the spice trade.
The first wine was made at the Cape of Good Hope in 1659. But the story of the legendary Constantia wine began in 1685 with Governor Simon van der Stel, who saw the small colony not as a half-way house to India, but as a gateway to Europe.
Although Dutch East India Compny servants were forbidden to own private property, wine-loving Van der Stel secured for himself a grant of land the size of Amsterdam at the time, which he named Constantia. The land was not randomly chosen, but carefully selected in a valley between two great oceans – the Atlantic and the Indian – cooled by moisture-laden winds, with soil that suited his purposes. In this piece of paradise, he set out to make the best wine that the Cape could produce.
Anders Sparman, the Swedish botanist who sailed around the world with Captain Cook, visited Constantia several times in 1772 and expressed his astonishment at the degree of demand from Europe for ‘the racy, very delicate dessert wine which has something peculiarly agreeable in the aroma of it’.
Almost all the crowned heads tasted and ordered it. A register of wines from 1777 records that King Frederick the Great of Prussia had 52 bottles of ‘Cap S. Constantia’ in his cellar at Schloss Sanssouci, the castle he built at Potsdam and now a World Cultural Heritage site. In an imaginative restoration project, the cellar has been preserved as a museum and restocked with the modern equivalents of the wines the king enjoyed. Vin de Constance stands proudly in their company.
While Van der Stel established Constantia’s reputation for excellent wine, it was Hendrik Cloete who fulfilled the governor’s dream fifty years after his death. Though not a direct successor through family ties, Hendrik was Van der Stel’s spiritual heir, sharing both his intense love of the soil and his determination to make and market the best wine in the country.
Constantia wine began to fetch high prices at well-attended auctions in cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Delft, its popularity borne out by a letter sent home to England by one of the many tourists who enjoyed Hendrik’s hospitality: ‘The fame of Constantia wine has spread throughout Europe … it is curious to hear an obscure African farmer talk of the monarchs of Europe as his eager customers’.
So alluring was his ‘sweet as honey’ wine, that Constantia was said to be the cause of the British occupation of the Cape. French artist and traveller Milbert, who visited Constantia in 1804 and tasted the nectar, repeated the rumour that the British, as the only great maritime power in the world without their own wines, and with a vast and thirsty fleet, had captured the Cape for its vineyards alone.
While this is undoubtedly Gallic exaggeration, they certainly targeted Constantia. A battalion of British broke into Hendrik’s cellar, breaking casks and quaffing his priceless wines in the aftermath of the Battle of Blouberg.
But it was sound policy to keep the conquerors sweet. A vast quantity of Constantia was shipped to England ‘to soften the temper of Ministers and to sweeten the lips of Royalty itself’, according to William Wilberforce Bird. Letters sent to and from Downing Street organised the delivery of sixty casks of Constantia ‘for the use of His Majesty’. Apart from George IV’s kingly share, the British Prime Minister was allocated a hundred half-aums, the Colonial Secretary’s portion was fifty, and astute governors, admirals, judges and paymasters down the line acquired a cask or two.
Colonel Arthur Wellesley of the 33rd regiment, later to achieve fame as the Duke of Wellington, also found Mr Cloete’s wine to his liking. Quartered at the officers’ mess in Wynberg during his sojourn in the Cape, he rarely accepted invitations, but made an exception for weekly dinners at the home of a Mr Walker, whose major domo was an emancipated slave and connoisseur of Cape wine. However, the colonel was judicious in his intake, and was always able to ride home.
Wellington’s taste was shared by his French foe. Napoleon, during his five-year exile on the island of St. Helena, found solace in a bottle of Constantia a day. (A ‘General Statement of the Wines supplied for General Bonaparte’s Establishment’, dated October 1816 through to 30 June 1817, shows that the three-monthly tally varied between 90 to 92 bottles.) The emperor kept this cache for his exclusive enjoyment, and is believed to have asked for a glass shortly before he died.
Gastronomes like Brillat-Savarin and the Marquis de Béchamel savoured the wine’s sweet sensuousness. Novelists of the day praised its supportive qualities. Ever practical, Jane Austen recommends that Elinore Dashwood, heroine of Sense and Sensibility, try a glass of Constantia for its ‘healing powers on a disappointed heart’. In Edwin Drood, Charles Dickens, in similar vein, describes ‘the support embodied in a glass of Constantia and a home-made biscuit’.
In 1986 the first vintage of Vin de Constance was released to critical acclaim. A golden, aromatic wine, with an intense and lingering sweetness, it was made from vines planted on the lower slopes of Klein Constantia, once part of Van der Stel’s original farm.
The ‘sweet, luscious and excellent’ wine of Constantia was once more on the market, reflecting its historic tradition in every bottle.