The Devil's Chimney

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In the shadows of the Cango Caves in rural South Africa lives Connie Lambrecht, dazed by alcohol and devastating memories. A "poor white," she is haunted by the disappearance of a young "colored" girl in a passage called the Devil's Chimney and obsessed with the story of an Englishwoman who arrived with her husband in 1910 to run an ostrich farm during the international craze for ostrich plumes. The story of Miss Beatrice--a lushly told tale of passion and transgression, violence and tragedy, retribution and ...
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Overview

In the shadows of the Cango Caves in rural South Africa lives Connie Lambrecht, dazed by alcohol and devastating memories. A "poor white," she is haunted by the disappearance of a young "colored" girl in a passage called the Devil's Chimney and obsessed with the story of an Englishwoman who arrived with her husband in 1910 to run an ostrich farm during the international craze for ostrich plumes. The story of Miss Beatrice--a lushly told tale of passion and transgression, violence and tragedy, retribution and redemption--entwines in surprising ways with Connie's own dark secrets. Set against a harsh, dazzling landscape and a social system in which the lives of women and black people are equally expendable--and compared by reviewers to the works of Alice Munro, J. M. Coetzee, and Flannery O'Connor--The Devil's Chimney is an artful, lyrical, and explosive debut.
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Editorial Reviews

Kate Moses
It is 1911, and the ostrich feathers found on every Edwardian lady's hat have propelled South Africa into a boom economy. A dissipated, exiled Englishman appears on horseback to "oversee" a branding session that is being managed perfectly well by so-called Coloured and Xhosa farm workers, who are herding ostriches -- the small, plain females and the dramatic, black-and-white males -- with thorny-tipped mimosa sticks. Ostriches are, apparently, skittish, humorless and deadly if provoked, which at last they are by the Englishman's horse. In the midst of a sea of bellowing ostriches, the branding fire is tipped over and one of the tallest and fastest males catches fire. The workers give chase, attempting to jump on the flaming ostrich's back to save the valuable feathers.

This extraordinary scene -- which appears early in Anne Landsman's first novel and is related by her contemporary narrator, a middle-aged alcoholic named Connie -- exemplifies what is most promising about this book: a dramatic setting ripe with sociopolitical undercurrents, historically accurate symbolism so rich you couldn't make it up and a parallel narrative that plays out the stillborn lives of two women from different eras. Unfortunately, little of what The Devil's Chimney promises is actually realized, and the problem is the author's choice of Connie as her storyteller.

Connie's life was emotionally stalled at the age of 18, when she married a resentful boyfriend and bore a baby who died mysteriously at birth. For this reason, we can only assume, she is obsessed with the story of turn-of-the-century Beatrice, who also bore a child under scandalous circumstances. Clearly the author intends her readers to understand Connie's fascination with Beatrice, who is simultaneously repellent to Connie because of her eccentricity (according to South African social standards) and admirable because of her strength and fearlessness. Unfortunately, Carrie's perspective is so limited, so crippled by loss, racism and cultural fear, that it blocks out Beatrice's more interesting story.

Take the burning ostrich scene, for example: What should be vivid and horrifying is rendered static by the detached, colorless voice of Connie ("Everyone was worried ... Some were kicked and burned"). The transitions from scenes of Connie's present life with her bitter husband, Jack, to Connie's telling of Beatrice's life story are equally stilted: After Jack pours an entire bottle of gin over her head, Connie states unbelievably, "All I can think of is Miss Beatrice's farm and how big it was."

Despite moments of poetry and originality that somehow escape the handicap Landsman has saddled herself with in Connie (a description of the vast South African night sky with "stars roaring over their heads," or of the limp bodies of dead ostrich chicks "like broken-down lamps"), the disingenuous narrative and its exasperatingly obvious symbols feel manipulated rather than shaped -- from the novel's dislocated prologue to its conveniently neat ending. It's a shame that Landsman wasted such potent material on an insupportable premise. -- Salon

Miami Herald
Stunning...a beautiful and frightening tale of people in extremity, written with power and fervor.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hubris, madness and ruin in South Africa come urgently alive in Landsman's impressive debut. The physical terrain of the Karoo region and the country's minutely differentiated but rigidly observed sociological hierarchies are evoked with cinematographic clarity and poetic grace as Landsman spins two interrelated tales of sexual passion and emotional desolation, each of which culminates in the loss of a child, a relationship and a future. At the outset, it seems odd that Landsman has chosen the simple and alcohol-dazed voice of elderly Connie, a self-described Poor White, to narrate the story of the English bluebloods Beatrice and Henry Chapman, who came to the district near Oudtshoorn in 1910, at the height of the international craze for ostrich plumes, to run an ostrich ranch. Connie and her brutal husband, Jack, manage a dog kennel near the Canga Caves, the region's outstanding tourist attraction, and, we discover in flashbacks, the place where Beatrice lay with her lover, the Jewish owner of the neighboring ranch, when her husband temporarily disappeared in the mountains. Gradually, it becomes obvious that the loss of Connie's baby in childbirth, when she was young, corresponds with the violent events of the novel's denouement, which take place in the cave called The Devil's Chimney. As the artfully integrated tale progresses, Landsman's prose becomes tensely lyric and erotic, employing a kind of enfevered magical realism. These passages are balanced by matter-of-fact descriptions of the care and breeding of ostriches, in which Landsman brings a lost era to vivid life. And there are fascinating glimpses of tribal folklore and social stratification under apartheid. In the end, we have a devastating portrait of a system in which the lives of women and black people were equally expendable, and an illumination of a culture whose dark secrets, like the interior of the inky caverns, were kept buried from the light.
Library Journal
In Landsman's debut novel, a mysterious, alcoholic storyteller named, Connie recounts the drama of ostrich farmers Henry and Beatrice Chapman in her South African town of Oudtshoorn, circa 1910. As the odd English couple struggle to raise ostriches for their feathers, Connie focuses mostly on Miss Beatrice, a free spirit who breaks nearly all the social conventions of this isolated place when her husband, Henry, disappears into the nearby mountains. All is seemingly well, albeit a little surreal, until Miss Beatrice becomes pregnant and the now crazed Henry returns. The author makes clever use of Connie--not only because she sprinkles her stories liberally with Afrikaans and Xhosa words but because Connie admires Miss Beatrice so much that her admiration wonderfully embellishes an already engrossing tale. -- Faye A. Chadwell, University of Oregon, Eugene
Library Journal
In Landsman's debut novel, a mysterious, alcoholic storyteller named, Connie recounts the drama of ostrich farmers Henry and Beatrice Chapman in her South African town of Oudtshoorn, circa 1910. As the odd English couple struggle to raise ostriches for their feathers, Connie focuses mostly on Miss Beatrice, a free spirit who breaks nearly all the social conventions of this isolated place when her husband, Henry, disappears into the nearby mountains. All is seemingly well, albeit a little surreal, until Miss Beatrice becomes pregnant and the now crazed Henry returns. The author makes clever use of Connie--not only because she sprinkles her stories liberally with Afrikaans and Xhosa words but because Connie admires Miss Beatrice so much that her admiration wonderfully embellishes an already engrossing tale. -- Faye A. Chadwell, University of Oregon, Eugene
The Miami Herald
Stunning...a beautiful and frightening tale of people in extremity, written with power and fervor.
Kirkus Reviews
A colorful, moody but unwieldy debut set in the parched highlands of South Africa. Connie, an aged alcoholic, is obsessed with the past—not only her own, which ceased to advance beyond the delivery of what she believed to be a stillborn child many decades ago, but also that of an infamous ostrich farmer's wife, whose world came crashing down on the eve of WW I with the birth of her own child. Miss Beatrice and Mr. Henry were the oddest of odd couples, dotty English émigrés in a harsh landscape dotted with the occasional black-and-white plumage of a male ostrich. When Mr. Henry went mad and vanished over the horizon, Miss Beatrice's fair hair and blue eyes drew her neighbor, the married, successful Jewish farmer Jacobs, like a beacon; after frenzied pairings with him, she also couples with the farm's black foreman, September, and soon thereafter finds she's pregnant. Whereupon Mr. Henry returns, no less strange and a whole lot meaner. He decides to pluck every last ostrich on his ranch before going back to England. In doing so he kills September, then is himself kicked to death by a breeding pair of his flock whom he had the stupidity to disturb on their nest. Miss Beatrice, meanwhile, is in labor, and when the baby proves to be the foreman's she runs off to hide it from September's wife—but she's followed. Mulling over all of this in her muddled state brings Connie to a painful understanding, too late to do her any good, of what happened to her own child. Compelling images of farm life and the distortions of fevered (or pickled) imaginations are the real strengths here, but the plot in its interlocking layers of narrative is far too complex for this treatment tosustain.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140277463
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 1/2/1999
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 70.75 (h) x 0.50 (d)

First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

An ostrich can split you in half with the nail on his big toe. Kobus Visser, who also works at the Cango Caves, knew a little girl who ran into her father's ostrich kraal by mistake and was kicked to death by the males. So many people in Oudtshoorn have stories like this because of all the ostrich farms. There are not so many left, mind you. Just two, really, for tourists. People come here to go to the Caves and see the ostriches. There's also a crocodile farm now although I haven't been there yet. Crocodiles are much worse than lizards and I am afraid of lizards.

My older sister, Gerda, is visiting with Flippie, her husband. They live in Ashton where they have a furniture shop. Flippie makes yellowwood tables and chairs and Gerda does the riempie work. Gerda and Flippie celebrated their silver wedding anniversary five years ago.

Jack and I got married in 1951 because we had to. It was a shotgun. The funny part about it is that I didn't even know I was expecting until the very end. I kept getting fatter and fatter and eating more and more. So I thought it was the food. My mom used to say, Connie, my girl, if you fall pregnant, I'm sending you to the Magdalena Tehuis. That's where they make the girls wear maids' dresses and scrub the floors. It's run by the Dutch Reformed Church. You stay there until the baby is born and then they give your baby away. That's when you can come home.

Jack told me not to worry about the Magdalena Tehuis. He told me to forget about what my mom and dad said. I listened to him because he was twenty-five and his hair was pitch-black. I was only eighteen. He had Simba and Hotnot then, two Dobermans, and he showed me how to train them. At first I was scared and then I liked it. We were out on the veld together a lot with the dogs. My dad said I was turning into a hotnot myself I was getting so dark.

One day I fell over and they had to take me to the hospital. The doctor looked at me and said, God, meisie, jy verwag! Good God, girl, you're pregnant! My mom's side teeth suddenly got very long, the way they do when she gets furious. I was terribly scared of her. I remember throwing myself on the floor and crying and begging her not to send me to the Magdalena Tehuis. It sounded so horrible. The doctor told her I must stay calm because of the baby. So she picked me up and told me I was going to get married and that it was a shame I was getting married before Gerda. Your poor sister is deaf and how would you like that, she said. The wedding would be next week so that I wouldn't show too much. I was laughing through my tears because I always wanted to be a bride. So what if Gerda is older.

We got married in the Magistrate's Court, right next to the office where you pay your speeding fines. I wore a yellow dress of my mom's and I had a bouquet of vygies which I picked myself. I don't remember anything else except that Jack was mad as a snake. He wasn't planning on getting married to a Poor White he said. That wasn't fair of him. My mom and dad are very respectable. Two months after the wedding, the baby came. It was a still-born. I think Jack was even more furious because he didn't have to marry me after all. But he was sad when we buried the baby in the yard under the lemon tree, between Simba's mother and Dandy, the fox terrier. I didn't want to know whether it was a boy or girl because sometimes the less you know the better.

Gerda wants to go to the Oudtshoorn Museum. There is a storm coming and the wind is blowing very hard. Ag no, I say, let's stay at home with the boys, and have a dop. She has her fingers on my arm and it feels like I'm having my blood pressure taken.

I have a dop anyway when she isn't looking and off we go to the blerrie Museum. I think I must have put my lipstick on skew or my hair is coming loose because the tannie at the desk stares at me as if I was that woman in the Bible with horns and a terrible red dress. Or maybe she is staring at Gerda. You never know.

I am thinking the tannie is my Primary School principal and then suddenly I see Gerda's grey hair and realize we are old. Her hair is short and she looks like Oom Paul Kruger. I have mine in a bolla just like my ouma. Jack watches me when I let it down and brush it. It's almost white now.

The tannie is wearing a hair-net with tiny stones that twinkle. I am watching how the light dances in her hair when Gerda takes my arm again. The deaf leading the blind, or is it the blind leading the deaf? Or just a bad storm?

Gerda takes me to a glass display box and there are ladies in there, made of pink plastic, wearing grey and black dresses from the olden days. On their heads are big flat hats stacked high with feathers. It looks like water spilling over the edge except it's feathers. Of course the Oudtshoorn ladies wouldn't wear them. It was just overseas. Here every kaffir could pick up an ostrich feather and stick it in his dirty hat.

The box is wrong, I want to say, but it comes out like fok and now that tannie thinks I'm swearing. I see that fat Voortrekker Bible and it's scaring me and those stones in the tannie's hair aren't stones anymore, they're miggies and they're coming to get us.

So I go into the toilet for a dop and Gerda is standing there by the ostrich feather cabinet staring at more feather hats and feather fans and so on.

I come back and I'm feeling better now and she's pointing at a railway ticket that says 1910. It's the story about Miss Beatrice and Mr. Henry who came here so long ago when everything was different. Someone left their things to the Museum after they were dead and you can see an old green dress that looks like rotting seaweed.

Gerda and I are both staring at the dress thinking of poor Miss Beatrice when the tannie comes back in, her thighs rubbing against each other like two hissing snakes. I hope my legs don't sound like that. I try to wear slacks. Gerda is wearing Flippie's track suit and if it wasn't for her bosom sticking out like a tray you'd think she was Flippie's twin brother.

I don't want the tannie to skel so we go into the kitchen which is done exactly like a kitchen in the olden days. A lot of things came from Highlands, which is Miss Beatrice's and Mr. Henry's farm. There is a big open fireplace and one of those three-legged pots that you make potjiekos in. Gerda is talking and it's very loud and unless you know her it sounds like something an animal makes. She picks up an iron with a place in the bottom for the coals and I tell her to put it down but she won't. Ag no man, I say, but she doesn't listen.

I try to stop her by telling her the story of Miss Beatrice but the tannie is right there again, with those hissing legs and she skels us out, just what I was afraid of. Gerda puts down the iron, and I know the tannie is glad. She probably thought Gerda was going to throw it at her.

When we leave the Museum, it's pouring with rain outside. I say, Let's go to the Ladies' Bar. The wind is blowing so hard I don't know if the sound is coming out of Gerda or out of me or out of the lamp post. The Hotel is quiet and the bar smells of old cigarettes and dirty velvet and just looking at the bottles makes me happy. Gerda has a Fanta and I have a gin.

I'm glad it's empty because Gerda likes to put her hand on your throat when she gets tired of lip reading and people always stare.

I start talking about Miss Beatrice. This is her story and I have to do all the parts myself.

*

Miss Beatrice had a maid called Nomsa. People say Nomsa was a witch or a witch doctor or whatever it is they call those women who throw bones and make small fires. Mr. Henry and Miss Beatrice weren't scared of her because they were English people, real English people straight from England, not the ones you get nowadays, Rooinekke and Boers mixed up together like different meats in boerewors. Some people even said that Henry Chapman, the baas, was a baronet or a marquis. He certainly acted like one. Miss Beatrice, his wife, was another kettle of fish.

Nomsa worked at Highlands for a long time. She started there when she was just sixteen, during the Boom. In those days, Oudtshoorn was the world capital of ostrich feathers. There were feather palaces and feather barons and lots of people who fancied themselves.

They even had special dogs from the steppes of Russia. I wouldn't mind having a dog like that although my dogs, Skollie and Miss Esther Bester van Worcester, would probably get jealous. But there is always room in my heart for another one. I have a very big heart when it comes to dogs.

Gerda is barking now or is she laughing and that's when we have more drinks. How much Fanta can one person drink I ask her but she's not looking at my mouth and her hands are sitting quietly around her cooldrink.

* * *

Nomsa used to make special muti. All the Bantu people used to go to her with their problems. Some say she could make people fall in love, or die. I'm surprised Baas Chapman and Miss Beatrice kept her for so long. Some people say she made muti for them too. They didn't understand how to live here which was why they made such a mess. Mr. Henry had hands that were as soft as a baby's and he always wore white. None of the farmers wore white. They always wore khaki and veldskoene like they still do.

Mr. Henry was a gambler which was why they came here in the first place, in 1910. I heard that he spent everybody's money in England, including his mom and dad's. It was either jail or a workhouse or Highlands. He liked to tell people that he and Miss Beatrice came here because of the climate. He said he had TB. He always had a hanky near his mouth, as if he was about to cough up some blood.

He upset everyone, and so did his wife. They brought things here that nobody had ever dreamed of. They had strange medicines and electric bells. Mr. Henry even had an easel and would stand in the veld, drawing on it, as if it was nothing, with a big white hat on his head, like a girl. They say he drew demons and monsters crawling out of the mountains and the sky. Some people have a terrible imagination. Look at those broken faces and stick legs you see on paintings. They scare me. Ordinary diseases are bad enough.

Mr. Henry and Miss Beatrice had the whole thing upside down. He wore floppy hats and she wore pants, although she only put on the pants when he took his big walk which was in the winter of 1911. Some people say he was trying to get to Cape Town and that he started off on horseback. I don't know. Coloured people found him at the top of the Swartberg Pass.

*

I went once with Jack just after we got married and I swore I would never go back again. I can't look down because of the drop and looking around, at the side of the road with the black rocks and bushes and ruins, is almost worse because it's so empty. And it's windy. You have to button up your cardigan.

We had some brandy in the car which we drank on the way down to Prince Albert. It's a fancy name for a place that isn't there. I think there's one shop, a general dealer, and it was closed because it was Sunday. So we went back over the pass again and this time it was even worse. It was getting dark, and Jack kept pretending that he was going to drive over the edge, which isn't hard to do because there are so many hairpin bends. I kept drinking, and praying, drinking and praying. By the time we got to the bottom, I was seeing herds of baboons jumping over the car. I had this terrible fear that we were going to knock one down. They look like people, old people with lots of hair. Jack was laughing at me until he saw a few of them himself. By the time we got back to Oudtshoorn, I was already babbelas. That's the Swartberg Pass for you.

*

Oupa would always say it's not good to get on the wrong side of an ostrich. Well, Mr. Henry never knew any of this. He never wanted to learn either. September ran the farm. The people in Oudtshoorn said it was a disgrace to watch a Coloured man come into town and order things and drive around as if he was the baas. When Mr. Henry took his big walk, it was Miss Beatrice and September driving around together. That's when she started dressing like a klonkie. Veldskoene on her feet, and those shirts the convicts wear. Nobody could believe it. I once told the whole story to Jack and said he would give me such a klap if I did something like that. But he liked it when I told him everything that happened at Highlands. He likes it when I tell him stories. He says it's better than the radio. He's not as bad as you think.

A pound of ostrich feathers used to cost ninety pounds. That was donkeys' years ago. When we were girls, it was only fifty shillings a pound. So you can see why everyone was so upset. I wish I was here before everyone left Oudtshoorn. Gerda even left but at least it was because of the School for the Deaf.

I like company. The more the merrier. When I am alone too much, I drink. The bottle keeps me company. I look at those pictures on the labels of vineyards and people carrying baskets on the shoulders and everyone looks like they have a song in their heart. Jack hates it when I get happy, when I get a song in my heart like those people on the labels.

The first time I ever heard the word alcoholic was when we were parked on the national road, having a picnic watching all the cars go by on their way to Johannesburg. Ma pointed to a lady and her husband sitting under a blue gum tree with their sandwiches and she said, You see her, that's Mrs. de Waal. She's an Alcoholic. I thought it was a religion like the Jews or the Jehovah's Witnesses. She looked like a nice lady. She was quiet, her hair was dyed black and her skin was very white and puffy. Her eyes and cheeks fell down, what you usually see on bulldogs. I saw her another time, and I noticed that everything wobbled a little. Just a little, the way a leaf trembles in a small wind. She drinks like a fish, Ma said, and I saw Mrs. de Waal swimming with those round dark eyes, her mouth wide open, all the water rushing into her. She looked like she had a secret although everyone seemed to think they knew what it was.

My dogs, Skollie and Miss Esther Bester, could care less. Skollie is Shaka's great grand-cousin and Esther is another liver-and-white basset.

The dogs love me no matter what. That's what I say to Jack when he goes on about my drinking. As if he should talk. I'd like to see him try to sit down at the table without the brandy bottle next to him. And everyone else here. They all like a dop, especially in the evenings. You never know what goes on inside peoples' houses. Mr. Henry and Miss Beatrice acted as if they were the King and the Queen and look what went on there.

*

Miss Beatrice was the thinnest person you have ever seen in your life. And she was very tall. Everyone thought she was the mad one, not Henry. They say she had lice because she kept cutting her hair shorter and shorter. She broke her sister's arm once. She walked with a knobkierie, but her legs were fine. Someone said they saw her kill a boomslang once, with the knobkierie. She wasn't scared of snakes. How can that be? Everyone, since the Bible, hates snakes, especially the boomslang.

That's the kind of person Miss Beatrice was. Fearless. I would like to have met her to see if they were telling the truth. Seeing is believing. I also heard that she had a meerkat called Scorpion.

*

I don't understand that. Real scorpions are bad enough. Sometimes we find them in the bath and Jack has to bang on them with a broom or something to squash them. The worst is when they escape and go down the plug. Sometimes when I sit on the toilet I worry that that same scorpion is now in the toilet and is going to sting me with his tail on my tail and kill me.

Meerkats aren't so friendly either although they say Scorpion used to eat out of Miss Beatrice's hand. They don't just lie in the sun like dassies and get fat. When you're out on the veld, you look up at Pienaar's Koppie and sometimes there's a dassie lying on every rock. They can't be bothered with you, those dassies. They're too busy getting a tan. Meerkats make me nervous. But there's less of them.

Scorpion must have lived in the house. I am sure you could still find some of his droppings under the bed, if you looked. He had a collar with rubies. I would like to have a ruby myself. When we got married, Jack gave me a ring out of a Lucky Packet which was red but it broke. I still feel like I'm eighteen inside only when I look in the mirror I see an old woman there. I get a shock and then I think, she's not so ugly for an old bag. She still has her own teeth and look, her eyes are nice if you look into the middle part, which is greenish-brown. It reminds you of a river. Not the frogs but the moss and the light on the water. That lasts for a split-second, the way the sun sinks. Then I see the old bag again and I have to have a dop.

Gerda doesn't like the mirror. She never has. She looks at me skeef when I talk like this. She's banging her feet under the table and maybe she wants to go. Just one more, I say. Flippie and Jack won't mind.

*

There was trouble even before Mr. Henry's big walk. There was a palaver about the branding. September and some other Coloureds who worked on the farm had driven the ostriches from the big kraal into the smaller one. They were chasing the ostriches with mimosa sticks with thorns on the end. They were cramming them into the small kraal so that the males didn't have room to kick. It was like a sea of birds, their wings being the waves. The males are so pretty, with their black and white feathers so big and fluffy. The females are too plain, all grey and small with no make-up. They were all squashed in like that and one of the Coloureds was catching them one by one and taking them over to the plucking box. The plucking box is another squash. There they put a sock over the ostrich's head and then they brand him. September had a branding-iron and he was branding them on the thigh, which is the best part, while a Coloured held up the wings. Of course the ostriches don't like it and they make a horrible noise like lions with asthma. September was putting HC on them, and then a star for the prettiest ones and a black spot for the ugly ones, who get used for feather dusters and so on.

That's when Mr. Henry came along and started shouting about the stink and the noise. He was on horseback and all the animals got very upset. I think the horse reared and something happened and the fire for the branding fell over, which was like one of those grills you use for braaivleis. The next minute one of the males was on fire and the Coloureds were jumping all over him to get the fire out. Everyone was worried because he was one of the biggest birds. They wouldn't have jumped like that for one of the females. They would have thrown her onto the braai with some peri-peri sauce. Mr. Henry didn't help. He just stood there and then he left. September sent the men home which was the first mistake. Some were kicked and burned.

The ostrich who caught on fire was also the fastest racer, they said. They had ostrich races even in those days.

*

I remember when Ma and Pa took us and Gerda rode on the ostrich. We all laughed when she fell off.

*

Mr. Henry must have felt like a fool because it was all his fault. They say he pretended it wasn't and blamed September although everybody knew how many ostriches September had branded. September was married to Nomsa, even though she was a Xhosa and he was a Coloured. I think her father was a Bushman because she had such a small face. When I saw her, she must have been over a hundred. She looked like one of those dried monkeys you see in muti shops hanging upside down from the ceiling. She was talking, though, and called me madam. I thought of Pauline and it made my hands go cold.

They had a party then, with a big race, although the favourite was growing his feathers back. Mr. Henry organised the whole thing. He took everyone's bets and gave the ostriches names like Corkie and Sunshine and Flapjack. They had tables outside with umbrellas like you see at the beach and everyone was dressed up in their frills and finery. Miss Beatrice was still wearing frocks in those days.

I would like to have been there. I like parties and I like punch. Ma could of helped me make a dress. I have some white cotton with tiny spots which was going to be for the christening. I got it at the OK Bazaars. It just sits in the cupboard now and gets yellow. They even invited some Jewish people--the old doctor and his wife. His father was a smous, you know, and he used to go everywhere with his cart even in the rain selling buttons and dried fruit and forks. People laughed at him and some of the boys would even throw stones at him when they saw him coming down the road. But now his son is Doctor Fox.

Somebody stole all the money from the race. It was probably one of the Coloureds although they never found out where the money was. Mr. Henry had to promise to pay everyone back. The money was outside in a box and a baboon could of run off with it. Maybe somebody skopped it into a hole by mistake and the hole was part of the Cango Caves and now that money is sitting somewhere turning into a stalagmite.

Mr. Henry was in quite a pickle because he had to pay the Landbank his monthly payment for the farm as well as all the people who came to his party. He was in a big rush to make some money quickly and so he put up all his paintings inside his house and invited everyone to come and see. Of course everyone had just lost their money on the race so why did they want to buy a painting especially one that looked like the Devil himself had painted it. Eggs with legs and giant goggas not to mention lizards and fish without eyes that he said lived in the Cango Caves although no one has seen them. They were albino on top of it. Can you imagine such a thing? A dead-white lizard with blanks where his eyes are supposed to be and an ugly white fish with a smooth face? It's too revolting for words.

*

Gerda makes pictures with her hands that look rude and she wants me to tell her about the fight and what happened after that but now I'm the one getting worried. It's late and who will feed the dogs?

She puts her hand on my throat the way she used to when I was little to hear the vibrations of a person's voice and so I go on anyway. Never mind the dogs.

*

You can't say happily ever after, even when you have a big farm, hundreds of ostriches, and a chimney that came in a boat. Mr. Henry packed up and left just after the ostrich race. He and Miss Beatrice must have had words. I know what Jack would have been like if no one liked his paintings.

I can just see her sitting there, minding her own business and he comes in screaming about how stupid everyone is and starts throwing things around. First it's small things, like the sewing-table and the pins and needles go everywhere and she's on the floor trying to pick them all up so that the dog or the cat doesn't swallow them and then he starts with her, telling her it's all her fault because her family sent them to Oudtshoorn and did she remember how sick he was, vomiting all the time on the boat, because he really loves England and England is his soul. England is cool and damp and green and there are no bad animals, no scorpions, not even the tiniest threat of a scorpion. Ah! And that's when he sees something slithering on the floor. Is it a snake or is he dreaming? Did Beatrice put it there just to drive him mad? September told him there was a tokolosh in the house and is it one of those? Goddamn September for telling him in the first place. That's when the lamp crashes down and there's glass on the floor. Beatrice is now in a corner and Wait! She's got something. She's going to throw an iron. She broke her sister's arm and now she's going straight for Mr. Henry. He's cutting himself somehow, and starting to whine, running into the bedroom. He's the one packing, mind you. He's going back to mother except there is no mother because he stole her last penny. He's going somewhere. Somewhere out of here, with the pins and the glass and the snakes and the tokolosh, with Beatrice tall and thin, glittering like a knife and coming at him. He's packing and she's unpacking and the clothes are going around the room in circles and the suitcase is up and then it's down, up and down, and finally, so higgledy piggledy, he's at the front door. And he's going. He's going. She's crawling now, and crying and saying she's sorry but it's too late.

She stays there, lying by the door, while the black horse, Dingaan, and Mr. Henry fly into the mountains. She doesn't know how long it is but when she gets up and sees the blood on the side of her hand and bits of lamp caught in her skirt and the broken chair, the one with the embroidery on the seat, she wants to believe that it was the wind, the Southeaster, the Northwester, the Berg wind, but not Henry and especially not her. Her auntie was the one they locked up, the one who cried when she looked at her own shoes, who cried when she put on her hat, the one who couldn't stop crying.

*

I was a shoe myself. I came into this world too soon and so they put me in a shoebox. I'm not sure if I was a man's shoe or a woman's, if I was leather or plastic, if I laced up or buckled or slipped on. I just know that ma took a shoebox out of her cupboard, filled it with cotton wool and made a bed for me. I'm not sure if she punched holes in the lid the way they do with silkworms but I know that the box was my bed, until I was big enough for Gerda's cradle. Maybe Miss Beatrice's auntie had the same thing and so her shoes made her cry. Perhaps she went from a shoebox to a hatbox to a cradle and that's why the hats made her cry too.

*

Mr. Henry galloped and galloped and galloped until he had a whole new set of problems. It was getting dark and he didn't know where he was. Which pass was this? Was it the Montagu Pass or the Outeniqua Pass or, heaven forbid, the Swartberg Pass? The land was open and dry, and there were mountains to the left and mountains to the right. Behind him, in the far, far distance were mountains too. The names spun around in his head like goggas and that over there, was it the Kamanassie Dam? For once, just once, he would like to have run into a Voortrekker, with his big fat wife and big fat Bible, maybe a slave or two and some white-haired children struggling north with their ox-wagon on their way to God knows where. But the Voortrekkers were gone. They had been gone since the Great Trek and that was a long time ago.

But look. He sees a grave and a cross and something written. And yes, there was a Voortrekker here but all he left was his wife and some words on the stone which you can't see anymore. All you can read is her name--Johanna Jacoba. Johanna Jacoba could have died of so many things.

Now he knows it's the Swartberg. He knows in front of him is the Great Karoo. He can't go back because you can never go back and he can't go forward because it's too far from the sea, too far from Cape Town, from boats and ships and ways to get somewhere else. The Great Karoo is bigger and emptier and harder than most places. It's where the ground cracks and the oxen die. It's where the Voortrekkers fought with the Natives, where they drew up their laagers and loaded their shotguns while the women prayed like mad and handed them ammunition. The babies sleeping and the young boys shooting next to the men. The black bodies and assegaais coming at them, the armies of Satan coming to get them and their wives and their children.

Mr. Henry sits down. He has to think. Next to his foot is a patch of white and he picks it up and it's cold. He doesn't know why but he licks it. He's back in England and it's December and outside it's snowing and the world is becoming something else. This miracle in his hand is snow. There is more of it on the other side of the rock. He runs over there and he sees a huge patch of it, which goes up, up, to the top of the mountain. He's scooping it up and rolling it and patting it like it was ice cream. There. He has made a snow dog and a snow house. The house is a little crooked but that's all right. He's not an Eskimo.

He forgot about his hands and he forgot about Dingaan. His hands are wet and numb and no matter where he puts them--in his shirt, down his pants, under his bum--they stay wet and numb. Then he notices that his feet are no longer feet. They're wooden shoes. He calls for Dingaan but Dingaan's no fool. He's going home. Mr. Henry looks down the mountain and he sees a black spot kicking up dust in the distance. And then the black spot disappears.

Mr. Henry is all alone. And it's clouding over. The wind is blowing his hair into his eyes and his jacket and his pants are flapping like sails. So he curls up, next to the rock, under the rock, forgetting for once about the scorpions and goggas and snakes that live there where it's dark and warm and soft. He sings for a while. "Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing" and "There was a soldier, a Scottish soldier, who wandered far away and soldiered far away." He's singing "For these green hills are not my land's hills, they're the island's hills ..." when the cloud wraps itself around the mountain so tightly that you can't see anything. Mr. Henry tries holding up his hand to his face but he doesn't know where it is anymore since he can't see it and he can't feel it. This wooden stump bumps his eyebrow and he's not sure if it belongs to him or is part of a tree.

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