Kate drove her hire car at snail’s pace down the dusty track, bumping over the crunchy coral bones that ridged on the surface of the narrow road, and she turned up a lane that was marked with the sign ‘Bougain Villa’. With every metre she covered her heart seemed to pump faster and faster. She had searched for so long that she had almost despaired that she would ever find what she was seeking. But now after months of research and a trip half way around the world to Kilifi in Kenya, East Africa, she was sure that she was on the threshold of finding the person that she had sought for so long.
She eased to a halt as she came to a low coral wall covered with a profusion of brightly coloured bougainvillea flowers. The dust that had followed the car now caught up with the stationary vehicle and drifted in through the open windows. It was so hot. All around the air quivered and shimmered with the heat that rose up in waves, distorting the distant images and making them look as though they squirmed and wriggled. The humidity made the air feel heavy and liquid and Kate felt that the moist atmosphere was pressing in on her from every direction, almost suffocating her. Her whole body was drenched in perspiration and she felt that she was melting. Anxiously she peered at her sweating face in the mirror, wondering if she would be met with approval. Her black shiny hair hung in ringlets around her face. Her creamy skin had a touch of colour that never seemed to fade even in the winter and her generous lips were tinged naturally pink. Her best features were her eyes – they were an unusual colour and were fringed with long dark curly lashes. As she gazed at herself she could see the nervousness in her eyes.
She climbed out of the car and went to stand under the scanty shade of a palm tree, from where she could scrutinise the house. It was built into the side of a cliff and looked out over the Kilifi creek that now glimmered cool, blue and inviting below the house. Taking a deep breath, she walked down the path towards the house. The house’s garden was on several levels and consisted mainly of bougainvillea, frangipani bushes and palm trees. The coarse costal grass had been kept well trimmed and there were natural outcrops of coral jutting through. Kate arrived at the door; it was an elaborately carved heavy wooden door, oiled to a high gloss to protect it against the sun and rain. She knocked and waited, with the fierce sun beating down on her unprotected head, while the smell of the sea and the sweet frangipani blooms filled her nostrils. She heard the whisper of someone approaching on bare feet on the other side of the door, then it was opened by a wizen little African man in a white uniform.
‘Jambo, Memsahib,’ he said, giving her a cheerful grin that showed he had several teeth missing.
‘Good afternoon,’ replied Kate, hoping that the little man understood English. ‘I’m looking for Ruth Downing?’
‘Memsahib Ruth is down on beach with all of them – all the family here for Christmas,’ explained the man helpfully. ‘Come, I can show you.’
Pushing the door wide open so that Kate could come in, the little man led her through the house which felt deliciously cool after standing in the sun, and on to a balcony that jutted out over the creek. The view from here was fantastic. The creek lay below, clear translucent water that reflected the sky in the middle of the creek, but was so clear around the edges it was possible to see the sandy bottom. Beyond the mouth of the creek the open sea lay sparkling in the sun. In the distance the sea was a greenish hued aquamarine, touched with darker stains where weed or coral covered the floor. Further out a reef ran parallel to the beach and white spray could be seen where the ocean broke in dazzling lacy foam on the edge of the coral. Inside the reef the large waves, now broken down into smaller wavelets, ran on until they reached the beach and hissed up the white sand in a frenzy of white bubbles.
The African man walked to the edge of the balcony and pointed down towards the narrow strip of beach that edged the creek. ‘They are all there, Memsahib.’
Kate looked down and saw a group of people enjoying themselves on the beach and in the water. Two old people sat on deckchairs under the shade of an umbrella while a younger man lay sunbathing on a towel next to them. Someone had built a sandcastle near him that was half knocked down. Another man who seemed to have been burned very brown by the sun was in the water teaching a little boy to swim, while a woman with carroty red hair was giving two small boys a ride in an inflatable dingy. She had very pink legs, obviously sunburned, and she wore a large T-shirt over her bathing costume presumably to protect her arms and shoulders from the fierce sun. A little further down the beach there was a little African woman who seemed to be collecting shells.
Kate gazed down at the unfamiliar people while her guts twisted with nerves. The African man had said all the family were down on the beach, but the people she saw looked as diverse as a box of liquorish allsorts. She wondered what they would think of her, when she had screwed up the courage to go and meet them.
‘You can go down,’ suggested the man, his voice breaking into her thoughts. ‘Look, I will show you.’ This time he led her down a short stairway, descending from the balcony and leading to the garden, and then he walked on to the edge of the cliff. There was a rather steep path that led down to the creek.
‘It is okay if you go slow, Memsahib,’ the man encouraged her, although he did glance rather doubtfully at her high heeled-sandals.
‘Thank you,’ said Kate, and started to descend, gingerly easing her feet down on the rough coral-encrusted path.
When she arrived at the beach her feet sank into the soft sand and she stopped to pull off her shoes – it was impossible to walk on this sort of surface with them on. She could feel the eyes of the people on the beach on her and she now felt flustered and embarrassed. The man who had been sunbathing got up and walked to meet her.
‘Hi there, can I help you?’ he enquired. He spoke with an American accent.
‘I’m looking for Ruth Downing,’ said Kate. ‘The gentleman up at the house said that she was here – he showed me the path down.’
‘The gentleman…? Oh gee, you mean old Solomon! Sure, Ruth is here, but she’s snorkelling with the boys someplace in the creek at the moment. Maybe I could help you? I’m Chuck, her husband.’
‘Well, no, it’s sort of personal, you see.’
‘Sure, I understand,’ said Chuck. ‘Look why don’t you come and sit with us until she shows up. I’m sure she won’t be long.’ Chuck escorted her over to the two old people who were sitting on deck chairs and said: ‘This lady is looking for Ruth so I’ve invited her to sit with us until Ruth and the boys come back.’ He shook the sand off a towel and, spreading it out next to the old lady’s chair, he offered it to Kate to sit on.
The old lady smiled at Kate. ‘Would you like a drink, dear? You look rather hot and bothered. We have ice cold fresh orange juice which is very refreshing.’ Her face was a mass of freckles intertwined with a million wrinkles, and was framed by curly grey hair that still had some bright strands among the grey. Her eyes were concealed by sunglasses.
‘Thank you, that would be lovely, I’m really hot. I only arrived in Mombasa this morning and haven’t had time to get used to the heat yet.’
The old lady poured the orange juice out of a flask into a plastic cup and handed it to Kate. As she did so the breeze blew her hair back, revealing a horrendous scar. It was a thick puckered welt on her forehead just below the hair line and ran down the side of her face and curled around her ear, and Kate couldn’t help wondering how she had got such a dreadful injury.
‘Where did you fly in from?’ asked the old man.
‘I flew from Heathrow, London,’ replied Kate.
‘Then you will be feeling the heat!’ he said. ‘It must be very cold in England now.’
‘It was five degrees Celsius and raining when I left, so I’m really enjoying the sun today – although I must say I’m finding it a bit too hot!’
Kate noted that both the old lady and the old man spoke with English accents.
Just then Chuck gave a shout. ‘Here they come!’ Three little boys came running up the beach carrying their flippers, snorkels and face masks. They were all clamouring to tell everyone what they had seen in the depths of the creek. Ruth followed them at a more sedate pace.
Chuck rose and, looking at Kate to make sure she was following, started off to meet Ruth. She was a tall and striking looking woman with a perfect figure and auburn hair. Kate’s legs felt like jelly as she walked behind Chuck and she wished her heart would stop pounding so painfully in her chest.
‘Hi honey,’ Chuck greeted Ruth with a kiss. ‘This lady is looking for you.’
‘Hi, how can I help you?’ asked Ruth looking surprised.
‘Do you think that we could talk in private?’ asked Kate.
‘Well, all right. We could walk over there where the coral juts out, it will give us a bit of shade at least.’
They turned to walk over to the spot Ruth had indicated. Ruth looked back at Chuck and shrugged her shoulders in a gesture that plainly said she had no idea what all this was about. Chuck just blew her a kiss and walked back to the old folk, while some of the other members of the family also drifted back to find out what was happening.
‘What’s going on?’ inquired the old man.
‘I really don’t know,’ admitted Chuck. ‘Ruth looked completely mystified when she saw the young lady. Anyway, she wanted to speak to Ruth in private so I guess we won’t know what’s going on until Ruth tells us. Maybe it’s something to do with Ruth’s past career as a model – I know she’s been out of it for a while now, but that girl looks as though she could be a model.’
‘She’s certainly very beautiful,’ said the old lady. ‘Well, we shall just have to wait and see.’
She leant back in her deckchair and stared at a small African fishing boat that was sailing past, the slight breeze filling the dirty looking sail and pushing the frail craft towards the open water. The old man started to read his newspaper while Chuck and the boys began to make a new sandcastle to replace the one that had been ruined. Every now and then they would glance in the direction of Ruth and Kate, but the two ladies remained engaged in what looked like a very serious conversation.
At last the two women started walking back to the group. Chuck thought Ruth looked glassy eyed and a bit shaky and he got up and put an arm around her. ‘Okay, honey?’
‘Oh yes,’ she replied. Then she turned to the old lady. ‘I’m sorry Mum, this morning you told us all that you didn’t want any more surprises as you’d had enough of them to last you for a life time, but I’m afraid that I’m about to drop a bombshell.’ Turning back to them all she continued, ‘I’d like to introduce you all to Kate…’
Mark Pritchard was just finishing his breakfast when there was a knock on the door, it opened and a girl’s face peeped in.
‘Oh good, I’m glad you’re in,’ said the girl, coming right into the room. She was the nineteen year old daughter of one of the neighbouring farmers and her name was Hester Coetser.
‘I was wondering if you’d mind if I walked up to the waterfall on your farm because I’d really like to paint it.’
‘Of course I don’t mind you going there,’ responded Mark. ‘But is it really a good place for a young girl like you to be in by yourself? It’s very remote and you have to walk through thick forest to get there.
Hester’s eyes seemed to smoulder as she stared at him disdainfully and her lips curled slightly. Don’t patronise me, her expression seemed to say, but when she spoke her voice was calm, almost gentle. ‘Come with me then, Mark.’
Mark decided that as he didn’t have a lot to do that morning he would go with her because it seemed like the right thing to do. Her father and mother, Koos and Poppy, had been very kind to him since he had moved to Kenya, and he was very friendly with their sons, Jan, Claud and Francois. The lads were mad about shooting and Mark was happy to let them loose on the baboons that raided his maize fields. He knew that their father had trained them well with guns, and that they wouldn’t be a danger to his labourers or livestock. Shooting the baboon was far more acceptable than poisoning them Mark always thought – much less cruel.
‘Come on then,’ he said. ‘We’ll drive as far as we can, but the track peters out quite a distance from the waterfall and we’ll have to walk through the forest for the rest of the way.’
Mark had always been fascinated by Hester. She had long honey blond hair that she often left loose and it flew around her head in a golden tangle. She had a small heart shaped face and full, naturally pink lips. Her eyes were strange – they were dark grey around the edge of the iris but paled to a very light grey around the pupil, and this made her gaze a piercing one and Mark always felt that she was looking right through him. Often her eyes held a rather wild expression and she seemed to be a free spirit, always out and about on the farm somewhere. She carried a sketch pad around and spent her time drawing flowers, animals and anything that she thought was beautiful or worth painting. She was the apple of her father’s eye, but her mother shook her head over her.
‘Hester will never make a man a good wife,’ she lamented. ‘She won’t learn how to cook and run a house; she won’t even dress nicely and wear shoes. All she wants to do is draw and paint and run wild on the land!’
It was true. Mark had never seen Hester wear shoes, even when he had bumped into them in the village of Thomson’s Falls, and she never seemed to dress in anything feminine; she tended to favour rather baggy shorts and a blouse. But sometimes he could see the outline of her body through the thin stuff of her blouse and her long legs were tanned and shapely. Mark found her incredibly sexy despite her lack of dress sense; she was so different from any other woman he knew.
When they reached the end of the track they had driven right up almost to the top of Mark’s farm, and from this position they could look back over the whole of his land. Mark often drove up here so that so that he could gaze over his domain and plan for the future.
His farm was in the White Highlands of Kenya overlooking the Subukia Valley, which is on the edge of the Great Rift Valley. He always felt in awe of the fact that he had his own personal view of this great backdrop to his farm. The Great Rift Valley is a vast and magnificent geographical and geological feature, stretching from northern Syria in Southwest Asia to central Mozambique in East Africa. Splitting the earth for some 5,000 kilometres it presents some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
Mark’s farm stood at 7000ft above sea level and was positioned on a ridge a hundred miles north of Nairobi where the valley is at its deepest. From where they stood he could view his entire farm, with its lush pastures and fertile land, beyond which the countryside fell away in a series of green, grey and blue contours, each merging into the other in the early light that kept the colours pastel and soft. The bottom of the valley was still shadowy as the sun had not yet reached there and it was shrouded in a light mist. But faraway in the distance the sun glinted on water – it was Lake Baringo, one of the many lakes that lay in the eastern part of the Rift Valley.
I must be one of the most fortunate men in the world, thought Mark to himself as he gazed over the scene that lay before him. The beauty of the valley never failed to move him.
‘The view’s lovely from up here, isn’t it?’ said Hester appreciatively. ‘I’m so lucky to live in these parts, there’s always something to draw or paint – I’m spoiled for choice. Do you come up here often, Mark?’
‘Yes, I can check on the whole of my farm from here,’ he replied.
Mark’s main crop was pyrethrum and the many white chrysanthemum flowers that made up the crop filled most of his fields. The heads of the flowers shimmered brilliant white in the sunshine, and from where they stood the fields looked like they were covered in snow. African women could be seen as tiny figures in one of the fields. They were pulling the flower heads off their stalks and dropping them into the baskets they had tied around their waists. Later on, these pungent flowers would be dried in Mark’s own dryer and then sent to the Pyrethrum Board in Nakuru by rail, to be made into insecticide. Mark also grew maize, mostly for the consumption of his own labour force and his cattle. He had a good little dairy herd and from where they now stood they could see the herd boys approaching the cows in their paddock, whistling to them as they rounded them up to walk them to the dairy where they would be milked.
‘You can even see your house from here,’ observed Hester. It could be seen clearly as it stood out on a patch of velvet green lawn that was fringed with colourful flowerbeds.
‘Yes. Actually, I only built that little wooden house as a temporary measure,’ Mark told her. ‘I intend building a more permanent house higher up on the ridge, eventually.’ He pointed out where he planned to build it. ‘Anyway, we better keep moving if we’re going to walk all the way to the waterfall.’
Mark walked in front as he had to cut away the tangled growth that became thicker and thicker as they walked through the forest. Hester studied him as they walked along and decided that he was a beautiful man, and being an artist she loved all things beautiful. Mark stood at about six foot two, and his tanned body was smooth and muscular. His thick fair hair was bleached almost white by the sun and fell over his forehead in a rather boyish manner. His wide set eyes were clear and blue and his features finely chiselled. His nose was straight and slightly flared while his mouth was wide and generous. He had a strong chin, which gave him a determined look, but when he smiled he had an endearing dimple on his cheek which softened his rather wilful countenance. Hester wondered if he would let her paint him sometime.
‘Did you know the Africans consider the waterfall on your farm as a sacred place?’ Hester asked Mark.
‘Yes – there’s actually a couple of places on my farm that they say are sacred – or at least they have some sort of significance for the Africans. It seems a lot of mumbo jumbo to me, but the Africans are quite superstitious about things.’
It was a very hot day and the going was slow as Mark had to stop many times to cut away branches and undergrowth. He marvelled at the way Hester could walk bare footed through such rough country. Several times he thought he would stop and turn back as progress was so slow, but every time, even before he said a thing, she seemed to read his mind and her lips curled a little as if in a sneer, so Mark battled on without saying a word.
Eventually they came to the waterfall that cascaded from a fissure far up on the hillside. It fell into a pool, throwing up a fine mist that seemed to glitter and catch rainbow colours in the sunlight that filtered down through the trees. Strange vegetation grew in the cracks of the wet rocks, and at one side there was a bush of brightly coloured purple blooms which fell to the level of the surface of the pool, so the lower blooms floated on top of the rippling water. It was an undeniably beautiful spot, but it also made goose pimples spread all over Mark. Could it really have some supernatural significance, he wondered? He shook his head to rid it of such fantasies.
‘Are you going to sketch it then?’ he asked Hester. They had both sat down on a rock to recover from their strenuous walk.
‘No,’ she replied. ‘I’m too hot. I’m going to have a swim and cool off first.’
Mark glanced at her in surprise as he hadn’t noticed her carrying a bag which could contain her swimming things. He was astonished to see her unbuttoning her blouse and thought maybe she had her swimming costume underneath her clothes. But when she pulled her blouse off he could see that she had a white lacy bra on underneath. Mark’s face turned crimson and he felt he should turn away but he couldn’t. He watched mesmerised as she unhooked her bra and dropped it on a rock. Her pert breasts were creamy in colour, tipped with dusky pink nipples. He watched her breasts change shape as she bent to remove her shorts and pants. For a moment he caught a glimpse of a dark tangle of hair at the base of her stomach before she turned and presented her tight little bottom to him as she dived into the pool. Mark watched as she swam under water to the other side of the pool. The water made her body look milky white and her hair floated out behind her like that of a mermaid. When she surfaced for breath under the purple flowering bush, she turned and waved to him.
‘Aren’t you coming in?’ she called, shaking the water from her face. ‘It’s lovely and refreshing in the water!’
Mark did not reply. He was still trying to control his body and his facial expression. So Hester ducked under the water and swam back to his side, popping up just near him so some of the cool water splashed on his legs.
‘Well…are you coming in then?’ she asked again as she looked up at him.
‘I…I haven’t brought my swimming trunks,’ stammered Mark lamely.
Hester stood up in the water, which at that point was waist deep. Her bare breasts shone with wetness and were very close to Mark’s face as he sat on his rock. ‘Do you need swimming trunks, Mark?’ she asked, her lips curling again. She turned abruptly and ducked under the water again, kicking her legs so that Mark was showered with water. Suddenly he found himself tearing off his clothes, and in his haste he almost fell into the pool with his shoes still on. Hester was under the purple bush again, laughing at Mark’s desperate attempt to get undressed. At last he was naked and dived in and swam powerfully towards Hester, the cool water caressing his overheated body.
‘Come here, you bloody little minx,’ he muttered, but Hester was also a strong swimmer and kept ducking and dodging away from Mark. At last she allowed herself to be caught. She let him pull her firm supple body against his, then she reached down and took his penis in her hands. Immediately it swelled and became hard. Mark groaned – he knew he was losing control and could not do anything about it. He pulled her towards the bank near the purple bush and, pushing her onto the grass on her back, he fell on top of her. She reached up her face and kissed his lips. Savagely he thrust his tongue into her mouth and felt her small tongue twist around his. Her legs were apart, and as he thrust into her he felt her strong legs around his buttocks, pulling him down into her with each thrust. It was over all too soon. The ecstasy as they both climaxed together was sweet and heady and faded only slowly as they lay breathless in each other’s arms. After a while Hester got up and slid into the water again and washed the grass and mud off her body and hair. Mark gave her time to swim to the other side and start dressing before he followed.
‘It’s getting late,’ said Hester. ‘I must get back or my parents will be worried.’
As they struggled over the rough path that Mark had made, the reality of what they had done hit Mark. I must be mad, he thought. Maybe this place is bewitched. He turned to Hester. ‘I’m really sorry. I really shouldn’t have…’
‘Hush,’ Hester cut him off abruptly. ‘Don’t be sorry, Mark, what happened was spontaneous and beautiful. It had to happen…there’s magic around that waterfall – we both felt it.’
‘But what we did was wrong,’ said Mark. ‘What’re we going to tell your parents?’
‘Tell my parents!’ exclaimed Hester looking absolutely horrified. ‘Are you mad? They have old Afrikaans ideas and values…they’d kill you! Jan, Claud and Francois would hunt you down like one of those baboons they love to shoot and they would not show you any mercy!’ This was a sobering thought and Mark knew Hester was right to say that they should keep quiet about what had happened.
‘But what if you should, um, well, fall pregnant?’ asked Mark looking worried.
‘I won’t,’ said Hester shortly. ‘Wrong time in my cycle. Look Mark, what happed is over now, it’s in the past. It won’t happen again. It’ll remain just a beautiful memory for me and I suggest that’s how it should be for you as well. Don’t for goodness sake tell anyone what happened – for your own sake.’
Mark saw Hester safely home to her parent’s farm that day and neither of them ever told anyone what they had done, or said any more about it to each other. But the incident got Mark thinking, and he decided that he definitely needed to find a wife.
He had always allowed himself to think big, and when he had started farming he had envisioned himself as a prosperous farmer living in a grand farmhouse with his wife and a large family. He was very aware that this would not happen without a great deal of effort from himself, so he had focused on his work and wouldn’t allow himself any distractions. It had been really hard work to start from scratch on virgin land, but he had now got his farm up and running very satisfactorily, and he felt he had every reason to believe it would become a very profitable concern in the years to come.
Mark found Hester enormously attractive, she reminded him of one of the beautiful lionesses that he had seen in a pride on his farm one day. She had the same feline elegance and haughty eyes – and he knew that she was also almost as wild. But Hester would never make him a good wife. It would be like being coupled with a feral cat, he mused; she was beautiful, but completely unpredictable and uncontrollable. His wife must be compliant, reliable and conventional, he decided.
Mark thought about the other people who lived in the area. Bruce and Greta Hollworth had two adult children, Liz and Terry. Liz was a bit younger than Mark and he knew that Bruce and Greta would be delighted if he proposed to their daughter, but he just couldn’t imagine Liz as his wife. She was a big, jolly girl who had a pleasant face, big teeth and a loud laugh. Her breasts were large and heavy and she almost always wore jodhpurs which stretched over her rather ample backside. He knew that she would make somebody a good wife; she worked hard on her father’s farm and knew almost as much as her father did about cattle, but Mark shuddered a little as he thought of sharing a bed with her. At the last New Year party that he had attended, she had engulfed him in a huge bear hug at the stroke of mid-night, crushing him against her ample bosom and given him a big slobbering kiss on the mouth that tasted faintly of toothpaste!
Then Mark thought about Will and Mary McFayden and their daughter, Jenny. His face softened as he thought about Jenny and he wished that she didn’t have a big burly fiancé already. He had met Jenny some years ago, and it was really due to her that he had ended up buying a farm here.
During the war he had been in the RAF and was based in Nairobi for a time. One morning during that time he had been queuing up in the Nairobi post office waiting to send a telegram home to his folks in England, but the queue was long and very slow moving. In front of him was a small dainty looking young lady, with shoulder length curly blond hair and a pretty, animated face. She looked worried and kept glancing at her watch.
‘The queue isn’t moving very fast, is it?’ he commented sympathetically to her.
‘No it isn’t!’ she agreed. ‘I’m on my tea break and I have to be back in the office in a few minutes – damn it, I do wish everybody’d hurry up! I want to get a telegram off to my parents.’
‘Do your parents live in England?’ asked Mark.
‘Oh no,’ replied the girl. ‘They have a farm near Thomson’s Falls.’
‘Oh really?’ said Mark. ‘Well, as you’re a local, perhaps you could suggest somewhere nice for me to spend my leave. I’ve been given ten days off and I don’t want to spend them in Nairobi, I’d rather go somewhere nice out in the country.’
‘Why don’t you go and stay with my parents on their farm in the highlands?’ suggested the girl immediately. ‘It’s lovely there.’
‘But…they don’t even know me! Why would they want a total stranger staying with them?’ said Mark, surprised at the suggestion.
‘Oh don’t worry about that,’ replied Jenny. ‘They’re that sort of people. They often have service-men or women – who are far from home – to stay. I’m sure they’d love to have you. I’ll tell you what – if you send my telegram off for me, because I really must get back to the office, just put at the end that you’re a friend of mine, (I’m Jenny McFayden, by the way,) and that I’ve invited you to spend your leave on our farm.’ She hastily jotted down her parents name and address and the message she needed to wire to them. She passed the slip of paper to him and a shilling to pay for the telegram.
‘Don’t worry about the money,’ said Mark, giving it back to her. ‘It’s the least I can do.’
‘Thanks awfully,’ said Jenny. ‘I must run now, but don’t forget to let them know when you’re arriving so that they can meet you at the station. Have a lovely time!’ With that she darted out of the post office and ran up the street.
Mark was feeling somewhat apprehensive when he got off the train at Thomson’s Falls a few days later, but he was immediately approached by a couple who had warm smiles of welcome on their tanned and rather weather-beaten faces. Will and Mary McFayden were a bit older than Mark had expected, they must have become parents when they were quite old, he decided, thinking of Jenny.
‘Good to meet you, Mark,’ said Will, shaking his hand firmly when he introduced himself. Will was a small strong man who had been burnt brown by the sun. His hair was thick and completely white, while his blue eyes were faded but full of intelligence.
‘You’re very welcome,’ added Mary. She was also small, and her grey hair was done up in a bun. She wore round spectacles and her eyes twinkled with humour. When she smiled her face creased into a million wrinkles. ‘We seem to see more of Jenny’s friends than we see of her these days, but it’s always good to get first hand news of her. How is she?’
Mark felt a bit guilty as Jenny was hardly a friend, but he replied to Mary’s question as truthfully as her could. ‘She was looking absolutely fine when I last saw her.’ He didn’t like to say it was the only time in his life that he had ever seen her!
‘Come on then,’ said Will. ‘Let’s get you back to the farm.’ He led the way to his old Chevy and soon they were bumping down the road towards their farm with the dust boiling out behind them.
In the ten days that Mark spent there he fell in love with the countryside and the idea of farming. He loved the diversity that this part of the country had to offer and found the freedom of the wide-open spaces, the promise of excitement and the warm sunny weather addictive. He decided there and then that when the war was over he would return and buy himself a farm in this area. He had received an unexpected legacy from one of his uncles just after the war had started – it wasn’t a fortune, but he had put it in a savings account until he could decide how to invest it. Now he knew what he was going to buy with the money. Will had promised to help him in any way that he could and he was true to his word. As soon as the war was over and Mark was demobbed, he wrote to them and Will started to look out for a farm for Mark. When Will found a parcel of virgin land further along the ridge that was up for sale he had wired Mark immediately in England. Mark was staying with his parents near Oxford at the time. They were delighted to have him back in one piece after the horrors of the war, but he now had to tell them that he was once again leaving them, and Mark could not forget the hurt in his father’s eyes when he told him of his plans.
‘But you haven’t trained in agriculture, Mark,’ he protested. ‘It’s not that easy to go into virgin land and make a farm out of it when you have little or no knowledge of farming,’ he added.
Mark had read law at university and everyone had assumed that he would join the family law firm after the war had finished. But Mark had made his mind up, so he caught the next available boat back to Mombasa in Kenya and took a train to Thomson’s Falls, where Will and Mary were once again waiting to meet him. He stayed with them while he got his farm house built, and Will helped and advised him in every aspect of starting up a farm. Mark didn’t have a great deal of money, so when another farmer had gone bankrupt and had to auction off all his farm machinery to cover some of his debt, Mark was able to buy the implements at a reasonable price.
He would never forget that grey drizzly day late in July when he and Will had gone to the auction. The man that had gone bankrupt was originally from the Cape region of South Africa. He was known as ‘Frikkie the Cape Coloured’. Frikkie Van Zyl had come up from the south hoping to find a country where his dark skin didn’t count so much against him. He had married an African wife called Grace and they had a bunch of six kids, ranging in colour from almost white, through light toffee brown to dark treacle black. Their oldest son, Jake, was only a couple of years younger than Mark and he stood protectively over his parents, glowering at everyone as the potential buyers looked over the farm implements. Frikkie had always been under-capitalized, but he and Grace had worked very hard on their land to try and make the farm pay. As the children grew older they also helped on the farm and they had struggled along just about making ends meet. Then after a rather good year Frikkie decided to replace all his rusting and unreliable machinery with ‘new’ second hand stuff that was still in good condition. It had been costly but he felt they had turned the corner – things were going very well and soon they would be able to pay off the huge debt he had incurred by replacing the old machinery. Alas, the next three years were a disaster. The weather had not been kind to him and several unforeseen things had happened to add to his problems. He had tightened his belt, taken all the school-going children out of school to save on school fees, and they had all worked hard to try and get things on an even keel again. But in the end the debtors had come down on him and he had to concede defeat.
Frikkie stood by his old rusting Ford Saloon, one of the things that he had not replaced, slumped over in an attitude of despair. His light brown face was etched with the lines of worry and defeat. Grace stood by his side – she was a handsome Kikuyu woman but she was the picture of dejection. Jake towered over them and you could see by his hostile attitude that he hated all the people who were bidding for their machinery. The other children sat on the grass nearby looking despondent and depressed. Two of the girls were openly crying, and one of them cuddled a baby who looked as though she could have come from a European family because her skin was so pale and her curls were blond. Mark felt dreadfully sorry for them.
‘What’ll they do?’ he asked Will.
‘God alone knows,’ responded Will. ‘Maybe Frikkie will be able to get a job on a farm somewhere as he has a reputation of being a hard worker, but with that mob of kids to feed and educate he has a hard journey ahead of him, poor soul.’
Most of those who had come to bid for the stuff showed no concern towards the dejected little family. Mark even heard one big Afrikaans farmer say to his friend, ‘Bloody coloureds – scum of the earth; they’re good for nothing, man, except breeding. Look at that bunch he’s produced, every one of them is a potential thief or whore. They’re good for nothing the whole lot of them! I hope they leave the area before they start causing trouble.’
Mark was shocked when he heard those words, it seemed very unfair to him that people should be reviled on account of the colour of their skin, and also he didn’t think the poor man should be kicked when he was down. After he had successfully bid for much of the machinery and got it at a bargain price, he thought he should go and have a word of commiseration with the family. It was the least he could do. As he made his way towards where they sat he was accosted by Jake, who stared at him with eyes that blazed with malice.
‘Well, I hope you’re happy now that you’ve bought all our machinery for a pittance,’ he snarled with animosity. ‘You people who come out from England with all your money and buy farms – it’s so easy for you isn’t it? Do you know how hard my father and mother have worked? Do you know what we as a family have put into making the farm profitable? And all for this!’ He pushed his face close to Mark’s. ‘Well, I hope you fail! I hope you bloody well fail miserably. I hope you get to know what it’s like to lose everything that you’ve worked so hard for.’He spat the works out in a spray of spittle that showered over Mark’s startled face. Then, turning on his heel, he stalked off.
Mark felt quite shaken by the words of the angry young man. He didn’t want to go and speak to the parents of such an aggressive son now. Maybe the South African farmer was right. Perhaps coloured people were all worthless scum. After all, it wasn’t his fault that the family had gone bankrupt and he felt he really didn’t deserve the angry words the boy had spoken to him. Later, when he recounted the incident to Will and Mary, Mary had said, ‘It’s well known that Jake has a hot temper. He’s been in trouble a few times and seems to keep in the company of some doubtful characters. But I wouldn’t worry about it, Mark, the whole family will be out of the area soon, I expect.’
The family did move out of the area when Frikkie had secured a job on a farm in Tanganyika, but Jake didn’t go with them. He stayed in Thomson’s Falls working in the warehouse where the dried pyrethrum was kept before it was railed to Nakuru, but after a while he was sacked for causing trouble with some of the other workers. After that he had several jobs and it soon became a well-known fact that he was corrupt, dishonourable and untrustworthy, as well as being a trouble maker. Mark saw him around from time to time, but they had never spoken again, and despite Jake’s harsh wishes Mark had prospered.
Now Mark was ready to find a bride and suddenly he had an idea. He would return to England to visit his parents, and while he was there he would find himself a bride, a well-educated woman of good breeding who would be a suitable mother for his children. He wanted someone who would look up to him and accept him as the head of the family. Most of the local girls that he knew were rather opinionated he thought, as they quite openly stated that they felt equal to the male gender. Also he felt they weren’t as well educated as most of their contemporaries in England. He would find a beautiful woman, a real English rose, woo her, sweep her off her feet and bring her back to Africa to share his life. It seemed a good plan to him and he felt it would please his parents as well, selecting an English bride, and perhaps make up a little for the disappointment of him not joining the family business.
But first things first, thought Mark. He would have to build a better house before he found a bride and this should be easy enough because he knew just the man who could do the job for him.
Tara Singh was a Sikh originally from India. He had a very good reputation for the quality of the buildings that he put up, and Mark felt he was the right man to build his permanent house. He had made a plan of the house he wished Mr Singh to build and together they pored over the drawing that was lying on the desk.
‘I haven’t done it to scale,’ explained Mark. ‘This is really just a rough plan which I hope you’ll be able to follow.’
‘Oh yes please, Mr Pritchard,’ replied Mr Sing in his soft, rather effeminate singsong voice. He was a handsome toffee brown man, with dark brown soulful eyes and a jet black beard done up in a roll around his chin. His long hair was tied on top of his head and covered with a snowy white turban. He smelled rather strongly of garlic but he was polite and obliging.
‘Well, I can see this is a very nice house, sir,’ said Mr Singh as he studied the plan. ‘A large sitting room, yes, a dining room, big kitchen at the back, veranda all around, inside bathroom and wc, and oh my goodness, five bedrooms!’ He flashed a big smile at Mark, his teeth gleaming white against his dark skin. ‘You’re planning a big family, isn’t it, sir? Very good, very good!’
Mark smiled back at the Sikh. ‘Four sons,’ he said with conviction. ‘That’s what I would call ideal.’
‘My goodness, Mr Pritchard, what a handful for the memsahib, isn’t it! But I can build you this house very easily, sir. But what about water, how are you going to get it up there in the hills?’
‘There’s a stream than runs from the top of the hills right past the area that I’ve chosen to put up the house,’ said Mark. All I’ll have to do is build a tank to catch the water as it runs down, then it’ll be gravity fed to the house. Fresh spring water at no cost at all!’
‘Yes, yes, I think that’s ideal, a very clever idea, sir, my goodness, yes!’ replied
Mr Singh. He and Mark spent a good two hours discussing every angle of the forthcoming project, then when they were both satisfied they parted company.
Over the next few months Mr Singh and his team slowly but surely built Mark’s dream house. Everyone in the area took a keen interest in the building.
‘Young Mark will be looking for a bride soon,’ guessed Mary, with a twinkle in her eye.
‘Well, he’s worked really hard and developed that bit of land into a very good farm,’ responded Will. ‘He deserves to have a good woman at his side,’ he grinned at Mary. ‘Just like I have!’
‘I wonder if he has anyone in mind. I can’t say that he’s mentioned anyone or been seen out with any one girl in particular,’ said Mary.
‘I expect we’ll find out all in good time,’ laughed Will. ‘I can’t imagine that he’ll need any help from us in that department.