AP­PLE BLOSSOM (PART 2)

SA Jagter Hunter - - INHOUD - KOBUS DE KOCK

Ar­ri­ving back at camp he could smell t­hat she was t­he­re, her per­fu­me still hung a­bout. T­he­re was no wind at all and he could de­tect the ap­ple blossom from her hair ming­ling with the smells of the bush, lin­ge­ring bet­ween a­ca­cia le­a­ves and the twi­r­ling smo­ke from the smoul­de­ring fi­re. Sub­t­le, the way he li­ked it, you had to stand re­al c­lo­se to smell the fain­test whiff. Fun­ny how your sen­ses shar­pen in the bush he thoug­ht, he had mis­sed her by an hour. But still, she was t­he­re, by the smell of her hair and the warm kett­le and the muf­fins on his chair.

The dog had cra­w­led in­to the shade be­ne­ath the bak­kie; it was the cool­e­st pla­ce t­hat she could find. He rin­sed her bo­wl to get rid of the bees and fil­led it with fresh wa­ter. She was exhausted, pan­ting he­a­vi­ly; it’s been a long mor­ning. They had left w­hen the first crested fran­co­lins crac­ked the mor­ning and it took a long hour’s walk be­fo­re they found the bi­rds. By se­ven it was cle­ar it was going to be hot a­gain. The spa­niel soon found a catt­le trough and jum­ping in she quen­ched her thirst and cool­ed do­wn, sub­mer­ged up to her neck. They lo­ve wa­ter – cold and wet we­at­her dogs they are, the book says... dogs t­hat batt­le in the he­at. With e­nough wa­ter they can run all day long, but they must cool do­wn re­gu­lar­ly. Which is per­haps true of most gun­dogs. He­at stro­ke can be a re­al dan­ger, they don’t know w­hen to quit.

She was good t­hat mor­ning; the man thoug­ht as he ma­de cof­fee and se­lected a but­te­red muf­fin. The dry veld held as ma­ny S­wain­son’s as he had e­ver seen. The litt­le spa­niel had le­arnt to a­void the shar­ply hook­ed thorns, she pa­ced her­self, with ca­re­ful re­straint skir­ting or jum­ping o­ver the ra­king bran­ches. And she found them all, pus­hed them squa­w­king in­to the air and up in front of his gun. Her re­trie­ving too was ex­cel­lent, fin­ding small o­pe­nings she cau­ti­ous­ly pul­led the bi­rds free, al­most de­li­ca­te­ly so. Af­ter a whi­le they just wal­ked, en­joying na­tu­re, re­a­ding the Gre­at Book, fin­ding odd litt­le t­hings; the shi­ning e­lytra of a bu­pres­tid beet­le, a­lien look­ing ma­ru­la nuts with the ker­nels gna­wed out, freshly drop­ped por­cu­pi­ne quills, the bril­li­ant fe­at­her of a ha­de­da – all je­wels of the veld. They found a pa­tch of bush with the re­mains of a thou­sand red-bil­led que­lea nes­ts, wart­hog bur­rows... why would she co­me out to the camp w­hen they agreed he would on­ly be back ho­me la­te the fol­lo­wing day?

The litt­le dog lif­ted her he­ad and her ga­ze fol­lo­wed him w­hen he pic­ked up the bi­rds and wal­ked to a ne­ar­by aard­vark hol­low he re­mem­be­red from t­hat mor­ning. He would draw the bi­rds and drop the guts in the ho­le, w­ha­te­ver lur­ked do­wn t­he­re would be hap­py and ma­ke a quick me­al of it. He hung the bi­rds in the deep shade of a ghwar­rie, to cool do­wn and dry as soon as pos­si­ble. In the mor­ning he would pack them in the cool­er, al­most fro­zen from the nig­ht. It was li­ke t­hat on the flats, hot and dus­ty du­ring the day, bi­tingly cold at nig­ht. He would bre­ast two S­wain­son’s and sim­mer them with big w­hi­te be­ans and spi­cy sausa­ges, a cas­sou­let his friend had taug­ht him to ma­ke. She said she li­ked it the last ti­me he tried the re­ci­pe. It was ni­ce to he­ar, e­ven though he knew she just pre­ten­ded, trying not to hurt his fee­lings. Soft and ten­der in the mor­ning it would be good for bre­ak­fast, with sweet black cof­fee. The dog too lo­ved being spoi­lt li­ke t­hat.

It was mid-day by the ti­me he had fi­nis­hed the bi­rds. With pre­ci­ous­ly litt­le shade un­der the ba­re um­brel­la thorns he de­ci­ded to ta­ke a dip in the ce­ment tank at the kraal. A few cows saun­te­red o­ver and wa­t­ched him as he strip­ped do­wn and pla­ced his clot­hes on a cor­ner po­le. The wa­ter was cool and in­vi­ting, re­fres­hing despi­te the green slud­ge on top. Sit­ting in the dam it re­min­ded him of ma­ny y­e­ars ago w­hen they still en­joy­ed the in­ti­ma­cy of ba­thing to­get­her, w­hen all was still new and u­nex­plo­red. A cou­ple of larks ca­me to drink w­he­re the wa­ter splas­hed o­ver the top. He sat de­ad still, on­ly his he­ad sticking out, wa­t­ching them dip­ping their be­aks deep in­to the wa­ter, t­hen thro­wing back their he­ads, e­a­ger­ly swal­lo­wing the moi­stu­re. Wa­ter me­ans li­fe in the veld. Wit­hout wa­ter e­ver­y­thing would wit­her and e­ven­tu­al­ly die. The sun was just too hot, you had to know w­he­re to find wa­ter and shade and ma­na­ge to sur­vi­ve the he­at. To sit out the mid­day he­at and be acti­ve w­hen it is cool... e­ar­ly mor­nings or at nig­ht.

W­hen he got out of the dam he felt all shri­vel­led up, al­most cold, so he dried him­self in the sun. The spa­niel wa­t­ched from the shade of a thorn tree, still pan­ting from the he­at. She too knew how to pre­ser­ve her e­ner­gy. They would ta­ke a long nap now, till four or fi­ve in the af­ter­noon. Per­haps he would re­ad, ta­ke his mind off the me­mo­ry of ap­ple bloss­oms and muf­fins on his chair. Per­haps he should go ho­me to­nig­ht af­ter all, he thoug­ht. But if t­he­re was trou­ble she would ha­ve left a mes­sa­ge and t­he­re was no­thing on his pho­ne.

With his mind won­de­ring bet­ween co­veys of crested fran­co­lin and his wi­fe’s u­nu­su­al vi­sit he do­sed off. The dog-e­a­red copy of Ru­ark’s The Old Man and the Boy fol­ded on his chest. The dog lay in the dust, per­haps she was dre­a­ming too.

T­hat mor­ning the litt­le dog had found the first scent of the co­vey at the ed­ge of the bush next to an old sun­flo­wer field and wor­ked it out to w­he­re the bi­rds had ta­ken co­ver in a pa­tch of den­se­ly pac­ked cockle burrs. The flus­hed co­vey split in two, the smal­ler hens vee­red off to the rig­ht, keeping low and hid­den be­hind the trees and sh­rubs. The cock bro­ke to the left, clim­bing stee­ply to cle­ar an

um­brel­la thorn, t­hen ban­ked back to­wards the bush high o­ver the man who co­ve­r­ed the bi­rd with his bar­rel and fi­red, drop­ping it in­to a tang­led mess of as­pa­ra­gus cree­pers. It sort of ma­de his mor­ning, t­hat beau­ti­ful litt­le crested fran­co­lin with his im­ma­cu­la­te spurs and un­ruf­fled chest of bro­wn te­ar­drop fe­at­hers. W­hen the spa­niel de­li­ver­ed the bi­rd hard­ly a fe­at­her was ruf­fled, no b­lood or bro­ken wings or legs, per­fect in e­very way. It look­ed li­ke it could sit up and ta­ke off at any mo­ment, and the man wis­hed it would. Li­ke ca­tch and re­le­a­se, to swim a­way and grow big­ger and bet­ter and mo­re cau­ti­ous in the fu­tu­re. How he would lo­ve to see t­hat hap­pen, a bi­rd to ta­ke off and fly, re­le­a­sed, un­har­med.

It was qui­te a job to rid the spa­niel of the cockle burrs. The on­ly way was to get do­wn on his knees and haul out the s­cis­sors. She was ne­ver re­laxed w­hen he u­sed the s­cis­sors, nip­ped too of­ten he gues­sed. But he had to cut them free, if not she would slow do­wn to a halt and cha­fe till bleeding bet­ween the legs. But she knew he was hel­ping her, and ner­vous­ly re­mai­ned still.

W­hen he wo­ke up, the sun was al­most do­wn and it had cool­ed do­wn con­si­de­ra­bly. Cool e­nough to don his shooting jac­ket. He lo­ved t­hat worn jac­ket. It bo­re the batt­le scars of ma­ny hunts, in ma­ny pla­ces thorns and bar­bed wi­re had rip­ped the fa­bric. He en­joy­ed going through the poc­kets to see w­hat was left from pre­vi­ous shoots. Mos­t­ly fe­at­hers, but e­nough to jolt the me­mo­ry of w­he­re and w­hen he bag­ged t­hat par­ti­cu­lar S­wain­son’s or guineafowl. Per­haps t­he­re would be so­me roc­ky fe­at­hers from the last shoot on the S­pring­bok Flats, or a few fe­at­hers from the y­el­low bill he shot at Chris­sies­meer. But they don’t drop fe­at­hers e­a­si­ly; they’re good for dogs to le­arn the tra­de. Do­ves are too mes­sy, es­pe­ci­al­ly in hot we­at­her too ma­ny fe­at­hers get stuck to the dogs’ mouth.

Ha­ving cle­a­red one poc­ket of all e­vi­den­ce from pre­vi­ous shoots he put a muf­fin in­to it, ate a­not­her and ga­ve the last one to the dog. They we­re gre­at; his wi­fe re­al­ly knows how to ma­ke a good muf­fin. He couldn’t think of a­ny­thing bet­ter to ha­ve at t­hat mo­ment in the bush. A fresh muf­fin with gen­ui­ne but- ter and gra­ted chee­se. It was li­ke sit­ting on the stoep of The Ro­se Cot­ta­ge, ha­ving tea with her and wa­t­ching wi­de-ey­ed tou­ris­ts fi­ling past. Yes, the muf­fins al­ways tas­ted gre­at, per­haps e­ven bet­ter he­re in the bush wit­hout the tou­ris­ts, but not wit­hout her. Ha­ving muf­fins with her was al­ways bet­ter than ha­ving them al­o­ne. He knew no­thing a­bout muf­fins and tea be­fo­re they got married. Fe­ma­le stuff, tea and sco­nes and such, but e­a­sy to get u­sed to. Sco­nes with re­al cre­am and stra­w­ber­ry jam. T­hat was good, few t­hings could be bet­ter than warm sco­nes on the stoep of The Ro­se Cot­ta­ge.

It was a long walk to the shal­low ir­ri­ga­ti­on dam on the ot­her si­de of the farm. So­me­ti­mes a few ducks would ap­pear to­wards e­ve­ning. It was re­al­ly on­ly a pudd­le, a few in­ches deep, mo­re grass than wa­ter, but it was green and ma­gic to sit next to and lis­ten to the day co­ming to an end and the nig­ht star­ting up. A few frogs would start the cho­rus, big to­ads with gut­tu­ral voi­ces; so­me­ti­mes an e­ar­ly nig­ht jar would join in the choir. Do­ves would fly in and wadd­le to the ed­ge of the wa­ter and ta­ke small and de­li­ca­te sips. On­ce he he­ard a few sand­grou­se swee­ping in, their beau­ti­ful me­lo­di­ous calls un­mis­ta­ka­ble. On­ce you’ve he­ard them you will ne­ver f­or­get the sound. The shrill noi­se of the ci­ca­das would slo­w­ly die a­way and the cric­kets would ta­ke o­ver. O­ver­he­ad a few op­por­tu­nis­tic bats we­re hun­gry for an e­ar­ly snack. He al­most mis­sed the y­el­low bills swoo­p­ing in through the dying sun. Dark sil­hou­et­tes a­gainst the crimson sky, they swept pas­sed him, ban­ked in a per­fect cur­ve and pus­hed their bre­aks out to land on the far si­de of the pond. Now be­low the red rim their y­el­low be­aks sho­ne li­ke gold in the last lig­ht of the day.

He sat and wa­t­ched, the dog tig­ht a­gainst his si­de, al­so in­ten­se­ly wa­t­ching the ducks wa­ding through the inch-deep wa­ter, wai­ting for a com­mand from her boss. W­hen a se­cond flig­ht of y­el­low bills flew in he shot the trai­ling bi­rd and w­hen the group on the wa­ter took off he s­wung the shot­gun on­to them and do­w­ned the last bi­rd as it cle­a­red the dam. Both bi­rds drop­ped in the o­pen wa­ter, in full view. The spa­niel was al­re­a­dy on her way to re­trie­ve the first duck and co­ming back it was e­a­sy to di­rect her to the se­cond one. T­hat was mo­re than he had ho­ped for and he sto­wed the two y­el­low bills in the bi­rd pouch of his jac­ket.

Com­ple­te­ly con­tent he and the spa­niel wal­ked back in the cool of the e­ve­ning, his gun bro­ken o­ver his shoul­der and the dog bu­si­ly in­ves­ti­ga­ting e­ver­y­thing she didn’t ha­ve the ti­me to look at du­ring the day.

This was the ti­me of the day t­hat he wan­ted to be with his wi­fe, to sit and ha­ve a qui­et chat. How it went at work, small talk, im­por­tant talk, alt­hough he didn’t al­ways know w­hat to say. He mos­t­ly lis­te­ned, but he li­ked t­hat too. He could so­me­ti­mes, wit­hout her kno­wing, dre­am a­way. But he li­ked her voi­ce, as he li­ked the nig­htjars cal­ling on a moon­lit nig­ht. Their son­gs we­re beau­ti­ful, her voi­ce was beau­ti­ful too. He mis­sed her t­hen, wal­king back to camp.

I’ll go ho­me af­ter all, he thoug­ht, per­haps t­he­re was so­mething wrong.

The spa­niel was al­re­a­dy on her way to re­trie­ve the first duck and co­ming back it was e­a­sy to di­rect her to the se­cond one.

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