Читать онлайн "Red Dog: A Frontier Novel"

автора "Willem Anker"

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... lower. A cracking sound at night, a few thin branches snap. An almighty crash, the whole lot shudders, and a portion of roof settles on the ground. Geertruy replaces the hide blinds in front of the homestead windows with wooden shutters – unglazed, but more in keeping with the standards of the neighbours. Before the onset of winter I plaster the outside of the hut with clay to keep the heat inside and the rain outside. At the homestead the door opening makes way for the chimney shaft of stone. The door moves to the side of the house. Inside the hut I’m forever digging away at the hollows to make them deeper. Dipshit David builds his walls higher, plasters them, whitewashes them. I visit the homestead less often; it turns into more of a permanent residence by the day. Officials journey past and they inspect and record and approve.

The Senekals’ house arises in the course of months, inconspicuously and prudently the thing burgeons and bulges like a whitewashed anthill. The walls whiter by the day, until one morning you could swear that there were two suns rising, one on each side of me; my hut sinks ever deeper to the level of a jackal lair.

I crawl into my hut, curl myself up and look at the stars. Orion looms overhead. I grow fast and go to sleep quickly. When I’m not too tired I measure my shaft. One of these days an ell! Believe me, I can squirt up to six feet already. The Hottentots give me dagga. At times I miss company, but as soon as I find it, I want to get away as fast as possible. I take long walks till far into the night. On my way back I usually loiter past the extinguished dung-and-bush fires next to the Hottentot huts. The grass is showing yellow already one early morning when I crawl in among Saterdag and his people where they’re all lying in a heap snoring and fighting for the few hides on the floor. The next morning they go their way as usual, as if I’d always been sleeping there. Three weeks later it just seems simpler to go and lie among them again when my jackal hole feels too big.

When I’m not hunting, I’m in the veldt with the cattle, and often there is no light in my hut for nights on end. Geertruy asks me now and again where I sleep, but gets no reply out of me. In the morning before daybreak I sometimes walk down to the stream and drill a hole in the river clay and take off my clothes and poke my prick into the hole and stretch myself out flat on the earth with arms and legs spread and when I shoot my load, I push my face into the soil. So there, you wanted to know it all, didn’t you. I wash myself in the river. After a particularly energetic clay-bashing there is a strange rash that leaves me feeling feverish and I pray all night for forgiveness and healing and the next day I’m even more feverish and I’m shitting water and I go back to the river and I bash my bride with conviction till I see visions and fall asleep on the clay body of the riverbank and when I wake up I can remember the dream and my fever is broken.

I’m sitting in the sun against the stone wall of Geertruy’s kitchen, oiling my rifle. Nowadays Geertruy has to invite me formally to a meal. I seldom turn down these invitations, but I never just turn up out of the blue. When I’m invited, I always arrive at the homestead early. Then I settle down outside and find something to occupy my hands while I watch the Senekal children playing with their minder. Maria, with the Malay eyes and the Hottentot hair. She’s younger than me, but her body is ripe and ready. I chiselled out the star of Diana on the butt of the rifle myself and set a copper star into it. As soon as I touch a gun, my hands get clever, smaller, slimmer. I oil the wood of the baboon-butt. I follow the grain of the stock, my nose pressed to the wood. I coat the barrel with a different oil and a different cloth. The trick is not to manhandle the barrel. Take your time. For a while just see how slowly you can do it. The cloth mustn’t press on the metal, it should just touch. And then again a vigorous polishing till the metal grows burning hot. I never speak to her. I clean the rifle or cure a hide or smoke. Especially when David Devil-cramp is in the offing, I smoke furiously and wait for him to say something. At table he will then slap at an invisible flea or make some comment about my clothes smelling like a Hotnot’s.

There are fleas all over, David, Geertruy will then say.

But at least we try to smoke the creatures out. Once in a while. We try… He doesn’t try.

I want to brag to Maria. I want to tell her that I’m one of the best-known hunters in the area. I’m one of the big shots. For weeks on end I’m away with the men of the district who come to fetch me for the hunt. They always bring me a horse. There’s only one here at the Senekals’ and I’m not allowed near him. Sometimes they invite his excellency Sad-sack Senekal along, but mainly not. The two of us don’t ride in the same commando. As soon as Geertruy loses sight of us behind the first ridge, we’re at each other’s throats. When it’s a punitive expedition, we both of us have to go along, but for hunting they choose one of us at a time. And I’m the one who never misses a shot. I smoke my pipe and make showy smoke rings within smoke rings, but find no word to say to Maria.

While we’re eating, Maria sits cross-legged in the corner with the children. She teases Stienie and waggles a ragdoll in front of her face till the little one starts crowing and rolls face down on the kaross. Maria’s dress strains over her buttocks, oh her buttocks, and shifts up to where an inch of thigh shows above the knee.

At age fifteen I shoot my first elephant. Because I’m not of age I’m dependent on the big-dicks to dispose of the hides and tusks. I get a fraction of the payment for my own pocket. The other hunters soon cotton on to the fact that I don’t have much truck with money. I’ll swop tusks and hides with them for a better gun. Sometimes I keep some of the hides for my hut. The hunt itself is enough for me. Mostly I go hunting on my own. After I’ve spent a few days in the veldt on my own, horseless and shoeless, everyone says I’m easier to get along with. Geertruy tries to get me to give up blundering into the bushes on my own, but without much conviction. She knows it’s better for everybody’s peace of mind. If they keep me in the yard for too long hauling butter barrels or thatching roofs, then everyone gets to know about it. Even Saterdag is given it good and hard if he nags at me on such days. Back from a hunting trip, I’m usually invited to supper straightaway, because apparently I’m then well behaved at table. Of course on such days there is also for a change enough meat to share. My first lion? A mangy male, an aged loner, kicked out of the pride. Was almost as if the beast wanted to be shot.

Geertruy dishes some more meat for David the Dreck and asks if I’ve had my fill. No, Sister, on the contrary.

On the hunt on my own my circles around the yard become ever wider. If my duties on the farm permit, I nowadays stay away for a week or more. In the hunting ground my ears prick up at every branch that snaps. Every drop on a blade of grass is perilously suspended. My sweat and the sweat of the quarry. The twittering in the trees. The piss against the trunks and all the thresholds of demarcated territories in which loud-mouthed males rule. I criss-cross it all with my gun. I know the rules of the veldt. The better I get to understand the rules, the freer I become. In the veldt I can mark, bark, fight and piss out the limits of my own life among the other creatures. In a Christian home you are coddled while you are small and stupid, but you gradually become ever less free the better you get to learn what is expected of you. In a whitewashed house every little copper jug must be polished and every little carpet must be beaten every morning, but all around you as far as the eye can see and further it’s just dust and stone and bush. In the veldt nothing is dirty. A grey stone does not need polishing. A thorn tree does not need dusting.

I excuse myself from the table, go and sit on the kaross with the children and the minder with the skin smelling of fat and herbs. I unpack the wooden blocks on the dung floor. Geertruy and her Appointed Master pretend not to see me at their feet. They talk more loudly and chew with more conviction. The conversation stumbles and bumbles, they struggle to stuff my springbok meat down their gullets. I pick up the little one, who starts bawling. Geertruy sends out the children and their minder to the back room. I take my seat at table again. My godparents eat in silence. The thighbone in the dish still has quite a bit of meat on it. I start carving off the meat; then I take the bone and push my chair back. I put my crossed legs on the table, my clodhoppers under my godfather’s nose. I tear a bit of meat off the bone, smile. The father of the house jumps up, slams the door behind him. Geertruy shakes her head, follows her husband out of the room. My springbok is delicious.

Saterdag and I are sitting and smoking near the herd of cattle in a stretch of gnawn-bare pasturage. It’s too hot to talk. We’re sitting under a large protea bush, our eyes swollen from the previous night that turned into morning and the sun that rose more blindingly than ever.

At night we steal karrie, the honey beer of the Hottentots. We make a fire and nobody misses us. We squat on our haunches and sometimes the one-eare