THE NO­TE (PART 3)

– PART 3 The spa­niel had fol­lo­wed him in­to the kit­chen, a bit stiff from the pre­vi­ous day’s hunting and cle­ar­ly hun­gry.

SA Jagter Hunter - - INHOUD -

KOBUS DE KOCK

It was well past ten in the e­ve­ning be­fo­re he had e­ver­y­thing pac­ked and with a­not­her hour’s dri­ve be­fo­re ho­me he did not ex­pect to get the­re be­fo­re mid­nig­ht. No use pho­ning her to s­tay up, he will ma­ke it a sur­pri­se. It took lon­ger than he thoug­ht as he first wan­ted to fi­nish cook­ing the cas­sou­let; per­haps they could ha­ve it for lunch the fol­lo­wing day.

He lo­ved the dri­ve al­ong the san­dy track to w­he­re it left the farm. The spa­niel sat next to him in the cab. At first she pee­red at­ten­ti­ve­ly through the front win­dow, wa­t­ching how the bak­kie’s lig­hts cut through the dark, anx­i­ous­ly fol­lo­wing the nig­htjars as they flus­hed a­way from the bak­kie to di­sap­pear in­to the nig­ht. But she soon ti­red of the ga­me and lay do­wn with her he­ad on his leg. It was a ge­stu­re that al­ways re- laxed him. S­tro­king her he­ad and wor­king his fin­gers through the fe­at­he­red hair of her e­ars and thro­at was just a­bout as good as it gets, an in­ti­ma­te mo­ment that few would com­pre­hend. A ca­ma­ra­de­rie f­or­ged by ma­ny y­e­ars of shoot­ing to­get­her, of ca­ring for e­ach ot­her, of being al­o­ne on a lo­ne­ly ro­ad in the black of nig­ht. Now re­laxed, the ten­si­on e­a­sed from his mind, he felt no mo­re wor­ries a­bout w­hat may lay a­he­ad.

They had g­re­at fun with the nig­htjars w­hen the kids we­re still with them on the farm. They would go out on a moon­less nig­ht and ca­tch the bi­rds with a spot­lig­ht. B­lin­ded by the strong lig­ht the nig­htjars would sit tig­ht so so­mebo­dy could sne­ak a­round and grab it from be­hind. The bi­rd in hand was a g­re­at bi­o­lo­gy les­son, the stiff bris­t­les ex­ten­ding the al­re­a­dy e­nor­mous ga­pe, the trans­pa­rent pa­la­te, the i­den­ti­fying whi­te mar­king on their pri­ma­ries. Mos­t­ly they caug­ht the com­mon fie­ry-nec­ked nig­htjars, but on­ce they got a bron­ze-win­ged cour­ser, which was re­al­ly a g­re­at pri­ze as they very sel­dom saw them e­ven in the day­ti­me. Af­ter a nig­ht li­ke that the calls of “Good Lord de­li­ver us” had new me­a­ning to the kids. Ci­ty folks we­re e­ven mo­re im­pres­sed. How dif­fe­rent we­re their li­ves!

A rab­bit jum­ped out from the ver­ge of the track and ran out in front of the bak­kie. It re­fu­sed to le­a­ve the track and stay­ed in the lig­ht, run­ning at full tilt, mad­ly jin­king rig­ht and left and he had to slow do­wn com­ple­te­ly to a­void hit­ting it. He has shot a few rab­bits in his li­fe­ti­me but so­mehow ne­ver re­al­ly took to it. He did it on­ce to check if his dog would pick up and car­ry it. So­meti­mes dogs don’t li­ke fur. It’s part of all bet­ter spa­niel tri- als. The last ti­me he shot a rab­bit was for a la­bou­rer that ac­com­pa­nied him on a shoot. The litt­le spa­niel had no pro­blems re­trie­ving and car­rying ga­me. The one re­trie­ve was qui­te me­mo­ra­ble. He drop­ped the rab­bit de­ad in its tracks on the op­po­si­te si­de of a spruit­jie. Co­ming back with the rab­bit she had so­me dif­fi­cul­ty to bar­ge her way through a stiff stand of spiky res­ti­os. Af­ter that the­re was no­thing el­se to pro­ve. To him the chal­len­ge was al­ways in the air.

The ga­te on the main ro­ad was old and di­la­pi­da­ted. He ha­ted ga­tes w­hen he was al­o­ne, stop, get out, o­pen the ga­te, get back in, dri­ve through, stop, get out, c­lo­se the ga­te and get back in a­gain. But to­nig­ht he took his ti­me, the cool nig­ht air was very ple­a­sant af­ter the he­at of the day. Be­si­des, the stars we­re on full dis­play. They see­med to co­ver e­very inch of the black ex­pan­se ex­ten­ding o­ver him; the Mil­ky Way was al­most so­lid whi­te. He could sta­re at it fo­re­ver. To the west a shoot­ing star dip­ped a­way be­hind the ho­ri­zon, in­stincti­ve­ly he ma­de a

wish. As kids they we­re told that ma­king a wish w­hen you saw a shoot­ing star would ma­ke your dre­ams co­me true. It be­ca­me a ga­me. It was fun to lie on the la­wn and pick out the shoot­ing stars and sput­niks and ma­ke wis­hes e­ven though you knew that the chan­ces we­re slim of get­ting a pel­let gun for Chris­t­mas. To­nig­ht he wis­hed she would still be a­wa­ke w­hen he got ho­me. But he felt no rush; the day was just too good. Hard­ly con­s­ci­ous of dri­ving he al­lo­wed the bak­kie to pick its own speed, his mind still in the bush be­t­ween the red bush wil­lows, wag-’n-bie­tjie and ma­ru­la trees with their mott­led bark na­ked in the win­ter sun.

The hou­se was dark w­hen he dro­ve up the dri­ve way. She was ob­vi­ous­ly in bed. He wouldn’t wa­ke her now, just let him­self qui­et­ly in the back door, and put his gun in the sa­fe and the bi­rds in the free­zer. No­thing will hap­pen to the cas­sou­let till the mor­ning; in fact it’s al­ways bet­ter af­ter a day or two. Look­ing do­wn the pas­sa­ge he could see their be­droom door was clo­sed. He would sho­wer and sleep in the guest room and sur­pri­se her with cof­fee in the mor­ning. He thoug­ht he could he­ar her bre­a­thing w­hen he tip­toed past the door, or was it just the wind through the beef­wood trees out­si­de the hou­se?

He was ti­red w­hen he e­ven­tu­al­ly cra­w­led in­to bed. The litt­le spa­niel had cur­led up on the car­pet next to his bed. She sel­dom let him out of her sig­ht. But sleep was slow to co­me. Bi­rds kept mil­ling through his he­ad... S­wain­son’s and gui­nea-fo­wl and ducks. They kept staying out of re­ach, al­ways one step a­he­ad, just too far to re­ach with the num­ber fi­ves. All his plans ca­me to naug­ht. Ca­re­ful am­bus­hes col­laps­ing at the very end with ne­ver e­nough co­ver to lu­re him in­to shoot­ing ran­ge. They kept laug­hing at him; e­very spot­ted bi­rd see­med to be wal­king with a smirk on its fa­ce. And the spa­niel got all cut up in the thorns, the cockle burrs ma­de a mess of her fur. He tos­sed and tur­ned in bed, fal­ling a­sleep just to wa­ke up a few mo­ments la­ter. W­he­re was he? The un­fa­mi­li­ar room had him com­ple­te­ly at a loss; he look­ed up, ex­pecting to see the stars through the o­ver­he­ad bran­ches of the um­brel­la thorn. But the­re was no­thing and then he he­ard the deep bre­a­thing of his dog, and it all ca­me back to him.

He ca­me back to be with his wi­fe and was sleep­ing in the guest be­droom. The room was all dif­fe­rent and he was fa­cing the wrong way. He look­ed on his wa­tch and re­a­li­sed it was too e­ar­ly to get up and ma­ke cof­fee. She would not li­ke to be wo­ken at four in the mor­ning. On a Sun­day mor­ning she stay­ed in bed for as long as pos­si­ble. But he was wi­de a­wa­ke now and he knew it was fu­ti­le to try to go back to sleep. So he swit­ched on the bed­s­i­de lamp and took out the Old Man a­gain.

It must ha­ve been the thi­rd or fourth ti­me he was re­a­ding the book. But he still en­joy­ed e­very bit of it, the ent­hu­si­asm of youth, and the wis­dom of old age all par­cel­led in a for­mat that he could un­der­stand. It was field sports wri­ting at its be­st, sim­ple and lo­gic and bril­li­ant. Be­fo­re he re­a­li­sed he was pun­ting al­ong in a flat-bot­to­med skiff, a ther­mos clam­ped be­t­ween his feet and lis­te­ning to the Old Man te­a­ching the boy the ba­si­cs of shoot­ing o­ver de­coys. He was har­ping on a­bout duck shoot­ing and bal­lis­ti­cs and how far to le­ad a duck. “A le­ad is as far as you can swing a gun a­he­ad of the bi­rd. You’ll ne­ver be a­ble to le­ad one far e­nough, be­cau­se you can’t pull the gun that far a­he­ad of him in the ti­me you’ve got to do it...”

W­hen he wo­ke up he re­a­li­sed he had o­ver­slept, and bad­ly so. It was so to­tal­ly un­li­ke him. The sun was al­re­a­dy war­ming the room through the cur­tains; a soft y­el­low glow co­ve­r­ed the fur­ni­tu­re. He look­ed at his wa­tch and saw that it was well past eig­ht. W­he­re was his wi­fe? The hou­se was still de­ad­ly qui­et; she must be sleep­ing la­te, not ex­pecting any­bo­dy, en­joying her Sun­day mor­ning sleep­ing in.

He quick­ly went to the kit­chen and star­ted the cof­fee. Strong I­ta­li­an ro­ast with just a tou­ch of bro­wn su­gar and po­w­de­red milk. She li­ked the cups to be war­med up be­fo­re; fil­ter cof­fee was ne­ver that hot and cool­ed do­wn far too quick­ly. Not e­nough ti­me to en­joy it be­fo­re it got too cold. The spa­niel had fol­lo­wed him in­to the kit­chen, a bit stiff from the pre­vi­ous day’s hunting and cle­ar­ly hun­gry. He splas­hed a bit of the cas­sou­let gra­vy o­ver her pel­lets, per­haps not w­hat the vet or­de­red but no­thing wrong in let­ting her share in the spoils. W­hen the cof­fee was do­ne he took the tray do­wn the pas­sa­ge and soft­ly knoc­ked on their be­droom door. The­re was no ans­wer and he cau­ti­ous­ly o­pe­ned the door, ta­king ca­re not to spill cof­fee in the sau­cers.

The room was emp­ty and the bed ne­at­ly ma­de. On his pil­low he no­ti­ced a small en­ve­lo­pe. So­mething felt wrong as he put the tray on the bed, sat do­wn and o­pe­ned the en­ve­lo­pe. From so­mew­he­re he could smell ap­ple blos­som drif­ting in the room. At his feet the litt­le spa­niel rol­led her ey­es at him.

His he­ad felt he­a­vy and his shoul­ders droop­ed as he slo­w­ly re­ad the no­te.

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