Vrouw Grobelaar - The Avenger Of Blood

Author: Gibbon Perceval

The Vrouw Grobelaar entered in haste, closed the door, and sat down panting.

"If my last husband were alive," she said—"if any of them were alive, that creature would be shot for looking at an honest woman with such eyes," and she cast an anxious glance over her shoulder.

"What is it?" demanded Katje.

"That old Hottentot hag." responded the old lady. "She looks like a witch, and I am sure she is a witch. I would make the Kafirs throw her on to the veld, but you can't be too careful with witches. Why, as I came in just now, she was squatting by the door like a big toad, and her eyes made me go cold all through."

Katje made a remark.

"What! You say nonsense!" The old lady pricked herself into an ominous majesty. "Nonsense, indeed! Katje, beware of pride. Beware of puffing yourself up. Aren't there witches in the Bible, and weren't they horrible and wicked? Didn't King David see the dead corpses come up out of the ground when the witch crooked her finger, like dogs running to heel? Well, then!

"Oh, I know," continued the old lady, as Katje tossed a mutinous head. "They've taught you a lot in that school, but they didn't teach you belief. Nor manners. You're going to say there are no witches nowadays."

"I'm not," said Katje.

"Yes, you are," pursued the Vrouw Grobelaar. "I know you. But you're wrong. You don't know anything. Young girls in these days are like young pigs, all squeak and fight, but no bacon. Didn't the brother of my half-brother's wife die of a witch's devilry?"

"I'm sure I don't know," returned hapless Katje.

"Well, he did. I'll tell you." The old lady settled herself comfortably and lapsed into history.

"His name was Fanie, and he was a Van der Merwe on his father's side, but his mother was only a Prinsloo, though her mother was a Coetzee, for the matter of that. He wasn't what I should call good—at least, not always; but he was very big and strong, and made a lot of noise, and folk liked him. The women used to make black white to prove that the things he did and said were proper things, although they'd have screamed all night if their own men-folk had done the same. They say, you know," said the Vrouw Grobelaar, quoting a very old and seldom-heard Dutch proverb, "that when women pray they think of God as a handsome man.

"What I didn't like about him was his way with the Kafirs. A Kafir is more useful than a dog after all, and one shouldn't be always beating and kicking even a dog. And Fanie could never pass a Kafir without kicking him or flicking his whip at him. I have seen all the Kafirs run to their kraals when they saw him riding up the road.

"There was one old Kafir we had,—very old and weak, and no use at all. He used to sit by the gate all day, and mumble to himself, and seem to look at things that weren't there. His head was quite white with age, which is not a common thing with Kafirs, as you know; and he was so foolish and helpless that his people used to feed him with a spiked stick, like a motherless chicken. And in case the fowls should go and sit on his back while he crouched in the sun, as I have seen them do, there was a little Kafir picaninny, as black as a crow, that was sent to play about near him every day. Dear Lord! I have seen those two sitting there, looking at each other for an hour on end, without a word, as though both had been children or both old men. Nobody minded them: we used to throw sugar to the picaninny, and watch him fighting with the fowls for it, rolling about on his little black belly like a new-hatched duckling himself.

"Well, Fanie, … it was horrible. . . .

"I don't like to think of it to this day. He came over one day in a great hurry to tell us that August de Villiers, the father of the Predikant at Dopfontein, was choked with a peach-stone. He was riding very fast, and as he came near the house he rode off the road and jumped his horse at the wall. And as he came over, up rose the little picaninny right under his horse's hoofs. 'Twas a quick way to die, and without much pain, no doubt; but a most awful thing to see. The horse stumbled on to him, and I can remember now how his knee, the near knee, crushed the little Kafirs chest in. The little black legs and arms fought for a moment, and then the horse struggled up, and he was dead.

"Fanie seemed sorry. He couldn't help killing the picaninny, of course, and perhaps we had grown rather foolish about him, having watched him and laughed at him so long. So Fanie got off his horse and came in to tell us the news.

"When we went out the horse was standing at the door where Fanie had left it. But the old Kafir was kneeling by the steps fingering its hoofs, which were all bloody, and as Fanie came forward he put out his hands and left a little spot of blood on Fanie's shoes.

"Fanie stood for a moment, and his face went white as paper over his black beard. He knew, you see. But in a flash he went red as fire, and lashed the old man across the face with his whip. The old man did not move at all; but my brothers held Fanie and called to the Kafirs to come and fetch the old man away. Oh, but I promise you Fanie was angry, as men will be when they are obliged to be good by force.

"Well, that was all that happened that day. Fanie went away, and we all saw that he galloped the horse as fast as it could go. But down by the kraals the Kafirs who were carrying the old man stopped and watched him as he went.

"Well, in a few days most of us forgot the ugly business, though the little picaninny used to walk through my dreams for a time. Still, blood-kin are blood-kin, and Kafirs are Kafirs, and one day Fanie came over to see us again and we gave him coffee. He told us a story about a rooinek that bought a sheep, and the man gave him a dog in a sack, and he paid for it and went away, and we all laughed at it. He was very funny that day, and said that when he married he would choose an old woman who would die quickly and leave him all her farms. So it was late and dark before he up- saddled to go away.

"Well, he was gone a quarter of an hour when we heard hoofs, galloping, galloping, hard and furious, coming up the road. And as we opened the door a horse came over the wall and Fanie tumbled off it and came rushing in.

"We all screamed. He was white like ashes, and wet with sweat, and trembling so that he could not stand.

"'Fanie,' cried my sister, 'what is it?' and he groaned and put his face in his hands.

"By and by he spoke, and kept glancing about him and turning to look behind him, and would not let one of us move away.

"'There was something behind me,' he said.

"'Something?' we all asked.

"'Yes,' he said. 'Something . . . dead I It followed me up here, and I could not get away from it, spur as hard as I would. I think it is a death-call.'

"Then we were all frightened, but we could not help wanting to hear more.

"'No,' said Fanie, 'I did not see it, nor hear it even, but
I knew it was there.'

"'It was a sign,' said my mother, a very wise old woman.
'Let us all thank God.'

"So we thanked God on our knees, but I'm sure I don't know what for.

"Then Fanie told us all he knew, and that was just nothing. As he came to the kloof he was afraid of something in front of him. He said he felt like a man in grave-clothes. So he turned, and then the … whatever it was . . . seemed to come after him; so he galloped and galloped as hard as the horse could lay hoof to the earth, and prayed till his heart nearly burst. And then, not knowing where he was going, he jumped the wall and came among us. We were all silent when he had told us.

"Then Oom Jan spoke. He was very old, and seldom said anything.

"'You have done murder!' he said.

"'If I talk till my mouth is stopped with dust I shall never be able to tell how cold I felt about the heart when I heard that. For the little picaninny came plain before my eyes, and oh! I was all full of pity for Fanie. I liked him well enough in those days.

"He stopped with us that night. He would not go away nor be alone, so he slept with my brothers, and held their hands and prayed half the night. In the morning they took him home on one of our horses, for his own was fit to die from the night's work.

"That was the last I ever saw of Fanie. It was as though he went from us to God. He kissed me on both cheeks when he went away; he kissed us all, but me first of all, and held both my hands. I think he must have liked me too,—don't you think so, Katje?" "'Yes," said Katje softly.

"He went down the road between my brothers with his head
bent like an old man's, and I watched him out of sight, and
I was very, very sorry for him. I don't think I cried, but
I may have. He was a fine tall man.

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