For the last time I unsaddled my horse, patted his shiny neck and set him free in the field. He cantered off quickly under the high blue-gum trees, neighing as he joined the other horses in the newly reaped mealies field.
My eyes followed him and I felt the tug of a sore heart. His life had been closely linked with mine since that first day, seven years previously, when I had placed my hand on his wild neck and named him ‘Try-me.’ Together we had raced across the African veld and had climbed up and down lonely mountain paths. We had been faithful friends in burning heat, in terrifying thunderstorms and torrential rains, in bright moonlight and in darkest nights. Now I was leaving him.
I sighed heavily as I took the saddle into the workshop next to the coach house. Once more I looked over the array of tools – the saws, spanners, pliers, hammers, tinsnips…I took the sledgehammer from the work-bench and laid it on the anvil as I tidied up for the last time. My mind turned to my younger brothers who would have to accustom themselves here to father’s strict discipline. They would have to learn not to leave here a half-made tin pail lying on the bellows, and there a plane beside the stocks and dies, or a box of rivets on the floor.
Gazing sadly round the well equipped old workshop, recollections of the happy times I had spent pottering about in here came coursing back. In this workshop I had spent many contented hours, fixing horseshoes or cutting threads on pipes, making bathtubs or buckets from galvanized iron, or constructing a piece of furniture for my room. I recalled the day I tackled an old, cast-off planter, and the thrill I had when I got it into working order. I strode across to the anvil and, lifting a light hammer, called forth its old music once more in a ripple of metallic notes. For the last time I tested the keen edges of the tools. My fingers tingled as I ran them over the sharp teeth of the cross-cut hand saw. Plane or chisel could be used as a razor, and the snips cut into tin as if it were paper.
I went outside again and patted the rough coat of the dog before entering my small room. The pungent smell of the crackling kitchen fire drifted through my window. The maid was adding wood in readiness for the evening cooking.
Sitting on the wooden edge of my bed I slowly undid my leather leggings. The quick ride had made me hot. Outside, a young African passed by with the milking pails and, in the cattle kraal across the yard, a little black boy was calling a calf by name: ‘Lomaan! Lomaan! Lomaan!’ I knew that the little brown calf would be lifting his head at that, and, gambolling away from the small herd of calves, would hurry to join its mother. She was waiting with her horns tied to a post. This was cunning strategy on the part of the milker. He knew the mother would withhold her precious milk from him, keeping it for her calf. That is why he used to let the little animal suckle a little while, until the milk began to flow freely, then would come between them and help himself like a robber!
‘What about the black speckled cow? Would she permit the boy to milk her now?’ That has always been my job – and I had had to keep my wits about me; one of her favourite tricks was to kick the bucket of frothing milk over. I had to smile as I thought of some of the exciting times I had had in the kraal. Again that tug at the heartstrings as the unspoken refrain echoed in my heart: ‘This is the place I love…’
Outside my door the fowls fluttered into the old pine tree to find their perch for the night. Right up in the topmost branches the turtle dove sang her deep throated evening song, and, in the blue-gum tree, the wild canary whistled cheerfully into the golden sunset. In the cool-room I could hear father clattering with the milk separator and stirring the cream once more. On the morrow the cream would have to be taken to the railway station.
I looked through my window, across to the big mulberry tree where the sty had been built, sheltering beside a clump of banana trees. The pigs were squealing lustily. Probably mother was throwing their food into their cement troughs.
My brother would be coming from the orange grove, slowly eating a mandarin, meeting mother and returning with her to the house which lay among flowers and shrubs. In the kitchen he would sit down on the wooden box and watch mother as she prepared fried potatoes. With his love and care for all growing things, even flowers, I had, in my mind, always linked this brother with Jacob of old – the dweller in tents.