The Place and the People
“Ach toch! Night, Baas. Night, Nooi. Night, Nonnie and my little baasjes. Excuse that this old Bushman does not bend to greet you; the will is there, but his knees are too stiff. Thank you, thank you, my baasje,” as Pietie dragged a low stool, covered with springbok skin, from under the desk in the recess and pushed it towards him. He settled himself on it slowly and carefully, with much creaking of joints and many strange native ejaculations.
The little group had arranged itself anew. Cousin Minnie was in the cosy corner of the rustbank near the wall, little Jan next her with his head against her, and Torry’s head on his lap—this attention to make up for his late seeming unkindness in pushing him away.
Pappa, with his magazine, was at the other end of the rustbank where he could, if he chose, speak to Mamma in a low tone, or peep over to see how her book was getting on. Willem had pushed the basket away so as to settle himself more comfortably against Cousin Minnie’s knee as he sat on the floor, and Pietie was on a small chair just in front of the fire.
The centre of attention was the quaint old native, who, having relegated his duties to his children and grandchildren, lived as a privileged pensioner in the van der Merwe family he had served so faithfully for three generations. The firelight played over his quaint figure with the weirdest effect, lighting up now one portion of it, now another, showing up his astonishingly small hands and crooked fingers, as he pointed and gesticulated incessantly—for these people speak as much by gesture as by sound—and throwing exaggerated shadows on the wall.
This was the hour beloved by the children, when the short wintry day had ended, and, in the interval between the coming of darkness and the evening meal, their dear Outa Karel was allowed in to tell them stories.
And weird and wonderful stories they were—tales of spooks and giants, of good and bad spirits, of animals that talked, of birds, beasts and insects that exercised marvellous influence over the destinies of unsuspecting mankind.