Vrouw Grobelaar - Like Unto Like

Author: Gibbon Perceval

For the most part the Vrouw Grobelaar's nephews and nieces were punctually obedient. Doubtless this was policy; for the old lady founded her authority on a generous complement of this world's goods. However, man is as the grass of the field (as she would constantly aver); and it fell that Frikkie Viljoen, otherwise a lad of promise, became enamored of a girl of lower caste than the Grobelaars and Viljoens, and this, mark you, with a serious eye to marriage. Even this, after a proper and orthodox reluctance on the part of his elders and betters, might have been condoned; for the Viljoens had multiplied exceedingly in the land, and the older sons were not yet married. But, as though to aggravate the business, Frikkie took a sort of glory in it, and openly belauded his lowly sweetheart.

"Mark you," said the Vrouw Grobelaar with tremendous solemnity, "this choice is your own. Take care you do not find a Leah in your Rachel."

Frikkie replied openly that he was sure enough about the girl.

The Vrouw Grobelaar shook a doubtful head. "Her grandfather was a bijwohner," she said. "Pas op! or she will one day go back to her own people and shame you."

The misguided Frikkie saw fit to laugh at this.

"Oh, you may laugh! You may laugh, and laugh, until your time comes for weeping. I tell you, she will one day return to her own people, bijwohners and rascals all of them, as Stoffel Mostert's wife did."

The old lady paused, and Frikkie defiantly demanded further particulars.

"Yes," continued the Vrouw Grobelaar, "I remember all the disgrace and shame of it to this day, and how poor Stoffel went about with his head bowed and looked no one in the face. He had a farm under the Hangklip, and a very nice farm it was, with two wells and a big dam right up above the lands, so that he had no need for a windmill to carry his water. If he had stuck to the farm Stoffel might have been a rich man; and perhaps, when he was old enough to be listened to, the Burghers might have made him a feldkornet.

"But no! He must needs cast his eyes about him till they fell on one Katrina Ruiter, the daughter, so please you, of a dirty takhaar bijwohner on his own farm. He went mad about the girl, and thought her quite different from all other girls, though she had a troop of untidy sisters like herself galloping wild about the place. I will own she was a well-grown slip of a lass, tall and straight, and all that; but she had a winding, bending way with her that struck me like something shameless. For the rest, she had a lot of coal-black hair that bunched round her face like the frame round a picture; but there was something in the color of her skin and the shaping of her lips and nostrils, that made me say to myself, 'Ah, somewhere and somewhen your people have been meddling with the Kafirs.'

"Black? No, of course she wasn't black. Nor yet yellow; but I tell you, the black blood showed through her white skin so clearly that I wonder Stoffel Mostert did not see it and drive her from his door with a sjambok.

"But the man was clean mad, and, spite of all we could do,— spite of his uncle, the Predikant; spite of the ugly dirty family of the girl herself,—he rode her to the dorp and married her there; for the Predikant, godly man, would not turn a hand in the business.

"Now, just how they lived together I cannot tell you for sure; for you may be very certain I drank no coffee in the house of the bijwohner's daughter. But, by all hearings, they bore with one another very well; and I have even been told that Stoffel was much given to caressing the woman, and she would make out to love him very much indeed.

"Perhaps she really did? What nonsense! How can a bijwohner's baggage love a well-to-do Burgher? You are talking foolishness. But anyhow, if there was any trouble between them, they kept it to themselves for close upon a year.

"Then (this is how it has been told to me) one night Stoffel woke up in the dark, and his wife was not beside him.

"'Is it morning already?' he said, and looked through the window. But the stars were high and bright, and he saw it was scarcely midnight.

"He lay for a while, and then got up and drew on his clothes—doing everything slowly, hoping she would return. But when he was done she was not yet come, and he went out in the dark to the kitchen, and there he found the outer door unlocked and heard the dog whining in the yard.

"He took his gun from the beam where it hung and went forth. The dog barked and sprang to him, and together they went out to the veld, seeking Katrina Ruiter.

"The dog seemed to know what was wanted, and led Stoffel straight out towards the Kafir stad by the Blesbok Spruit. They did not go fast, and on the way Stoffel knelt down and prayed to God, and drew the cartridges from the gun. Then they went on.

"When they got to the spruit they could see there was a big fire in the stad and hear the Kafirs crying out and beating the drums. The dog ran straight to the edge of the water, and then turned and whined, for there was no more scent. But Stoffel walked straight in, over his knees and up to his waist, and climbed the bank to the wall of the stad.

"Inside the Kafirs were dancing. Some were tricked out with ornaments and skins and feathers; some were mother-naked and painted all over their bodies. And there was one, a gaunt figure of horror, with his face streaked to the likeness of a skull, and bones hanging clattering all about him. They capered and danced round the fire like devils in hell, and behind them the men with the drums kept up their noise and seemed to drive the dancers to madness.

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