The Place and the People
It was winter in the Great Karroo. The evening air was so crisp and cutting that one seemed to hear the crick-crack of the frost, as it formed on the scant vegetation. A skraal windje blew from the distant mountains, bringing with it a mingled odour of karroo-bush, sheep-kraals, and smoke from the Kafir huts—none, perhaps, desirable in itself, but all so blent and purified in that rare, clear atmosphere, and so subservient to the exhilarating freshness, that Pietie van der Merwe took several sniffs of pleasure as he peered into the pale moonlight over the lower half of the divided door. Then, with a little involuntary shiver, he closed the upper portion and turned to the ruddy warmth of the purring fire, which Willem was feeding with mealie-cobs from the basket beside him.
Little Jan sat in the corner of the wide, old-fashioned rustbank, his large grey eyes gazing wistfully into the red heart of the fire, while his hand absently stroked Torry, the fox terrier, curled up beside him.
Mother, in her big Madeira chair at the side table, yawned a little over her book; for, winter or summer, the mistress of a karroo farm leads a busy life, and the end of the day finds her ready for a well-earned rest.
Pietie held his hands towards the blaze, turning his head now and again towards the door at the far end of the room. Presently this opened and father appeared, comfortably and leisurely, as if such things as shearing, dipping, and ploughing were no part of his day’s work. Only the healthy tan, the broad shoulders, the whole well-developed physique proclaimed his strenuous, open-air life. His eye rested with pleasure on the scene before him—the bright fire, throwing gleam and shadow on painted wall and polished woodwork, and giving a general air of cosiness to everything; the table spread for the evening meal; the group at the fireside; and his dear helpmate who was responsible for the comfort and happiness of his well-appointed home.
He was followed in a moment by Cousin Minnie, the bright-faced young governess.