The conversation

By Johannes Adriaan Snyman

“I have said it all you know. I have seen it all too!”

Those were the words Bernard Langford was ranting at the thought of the current literature going about, telling people how and what life ought to look like. He just finished reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and reflected on how most entertainment flourishes on romance, and that in reality romance could never amount to anything more than just an illusion. Bernard might have had very different reflections on such matters, were it not for a few recent and unfortunate events he found himself intertwined with, shaping his views dramatically on the nature of these subjects.

“The reason why the modern day Afrikaner don’t struggle with these sort of issues could most easily be explained by the total and utter lack of intelligence,” Bernard continued. “The sum total of the inner conflict within an Afrikaans speaking Boer starts and stops with Afrikaans grammar. If a person cannot even properly read and write in his home language, how can one expect that very same man to read the works of Tolstoy, Dickens and Shakespeare, and on top of that expect from him to understand it all?”

The early morning heat was thoroughly setting in on the mining town of Barberton, and one would not have been wrong to suspect the high humidity as culprit to influence several people in talking and arguing with themselves, such as Bernard was active in doing. The content of this self talk didn’t vary a great deal as most people streaming into the newly found, fast growing Daisy town of a community had one thing on their mind and that was gold. Even the cattle farmers in the district had their conversations altered by the minerals giving the town a very distinct sort of energy.

Bernard however, being a cattle farmer himself, did not pay much attention to all the new faces appearing on a weekly basis, and kept himself occupied with what he so fondly referred to as ‘progressive improvements’ on his farm. He read the term in an agricultural book from England, immediately took the words to heart and in his mind, distinguished himself from the rest of the farming community. This also then led to his outspoken and unpopular opinion about the illiterate Afrikaner. He would have been less outspoken on such matters if he had known about the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War the following year.

The doors of the hardware store in front of which Bernard had been waiting has just opened and without hesitation, Bernard, dismounted from his horse and headed straight for the entrance, walking with a brisk pace into the lobby. The open doors and large wooden frame windows gave the room an unusual air of delight.

At first he didn’t see anyone, but a movement on his left drew his attention. On the far side, behind the counter sat a young woman who, upon hearing the noise of boots on the wooden floor, lifted her gaze.

Bernard took a step in her direction and noticed that she was writing in a notebook of sorts. He also noticed her very neat red hair and facial features many would regard as exceptionally attractive.

Without further delay, he greeted her with an optimistic ‘Good morning!’

“Hi,” she friendly greeted him back.

“I’m looking for Wilma, is she around?” he said keeping his focus on her blue eyes.

“She’s not in at the moment. Can I perhaps be of some assistance?”

Bernard struggled keeping a smile from his mouth as her talking drew all his attention to her very red lips, but kept calm and continued the conversation. “I’ll be all right thanks. I ordered some corrugated iron and it should be ready for collection… “

“O.K,” she sayd. “I might have not been able to help you with that. I’m here for only a day or two, on some legal business.”

“I see,” Bernard said not sure of what else to say. “Which company do you work for?”

“Zietsmans Attorneys. We’re in Johannesburg,” she replied, still with a friendly tone. “You must come and visit when you’re in the area.”

“I’ll be glad to do that. I hope you enjoyed your visit here in Baberton…” Being conscious of his every move, and just before he turns around to walk out, takes one last glance in her direction and says, “Sorry, I didn’t get your name?”

“Henriëtte.”

“I’m Bernard. Bernard Langford.” He paused for a moment, then with a firm voice and calculated hand gesture drew to a close; “Henriëtte, it was a pleasure meeting you, and all the best.”

“Ta for now.”

Bernard turned around and walked out. He gave himself a minute before returning his thoughts to the surprisingly lovely lady he just met.

‘Wow!’ he thought to himself. ‘For one, it’s a pity I don’t have any connection whatsoever with Johannesburg or anyone living there. What’s worse is that I doubt my thoughts for the rest of the day will return to a rational state of mind.’

Trying to process the incident, he stood next to his horse while staring straight into the ground, trying to get a hold on his thoughts. ‘Goodness me, she is beautiful… just plain remarkably gorgeous!’

2

In general, cattle farmers (or any farmers for that matter) are not what one would call the most brilliant of mathematicians. They do however possess an ability to predict outcomes by way of estimating the odds of something happening. This ability comes by way of many years experience involving weather conditions, working with the land and earth and a certain understanding regarding the common temperament of both Afrikaner and Native working people.

Bernard could for instance without much effort tell that Oom Pierre Laubscher, the manager on the neighbouring farm would be the one stealing the chickens from the homestead. Bernard would also predict, based on the heavy rain that this will without any doubt happen on the following Wednesday evening, and Oom Pierre were more than likely to blame Abraham, one of the farm labourers. Abraham, being hundred percent Ndebele, has trouble understanding Afrikaans and therefore the odds are in the favour of Oom Pierre, as the matter would turn out undisputed with Abraham facing the consequences and penalty.

There is no science behind predicting odds. That might have been the primary reason why Bernard miscalculated his chances of going to Johannesburg. Especially miscalculating his odds of visiting Johannesburg no more than three weeks after he met this splendid woman he can’t seem to get out of his mind.

Bernard thus found himself standing in the corridor of a rather large building, located in the central business district of Johannesburg. On the outside, big letters spelled out “Zietsmans Attorneys” and Bernard’s reason for visiting was to do with a dispute between a goldmine in Baberton and the community of farmers.

Bernard had in fact already seen the appropriate person and was now standing in front of a dark brown office door. On the door the printed name stated; “Henriëtte Van Helsdingen,” and underneath the name, “Events coordinator.”

He found himself to be high spirited and loaded with jest. It was then with this very good mood that he knocked on the door which after a couple of seconds opened in to a rather small office.

His eyes fell immediately on her face and he recognised her lovely features at once.

“Hello!” Bernard greeted her, with a descend smile, honestly glad to see her.

“Hi, how are you?” she greeted back.

Bernard then noticed how small the office really is, with her desk to the left of the door, and only one other chair available in the office. He didn’t want to march in so stood in the doorway and waited for an invitation to come in.

“I was in the neighbourhood and thought I’d drop by and say hello,” He said still taking very much notice of her blue eyes.

“Oh, that’s nice of you…” she said smiling.

“Yes…” Bernard continued without really knowing what to say, “Do you know anything on the Goldmine dispute in Baberton?”

“No, not really.”

Still no invitation to come in.

“You should actually speak to my boss, Gerald Morrison. He should be able to help you.”

Right there Bernard realised Henriëtte does not know that he already had a lengthily conversation with her boss and thought he would make light of the matter. “Oh that’ll help a lot, would you be as kind as to introduce me to him?”

It looks like she realised she might have gone over the top with those words and quickly corrects herself; “Oh… he’s a very busy man, I don’t think I’ll be able to get you an appointment with him on such a short notice…”

“Oh do try… would you?”

“It’s not that easy,” she said looking slightly nervous. “We as personal on this level do not even speak to him. We arrange meetings and the like through his secretary, you see…”

“Wouldn’t you try for me? Please?”

Hesitantly she picked up the receiver and prepared herself to ask for the operator. Just then Bernard gave a soft laugh and prevented her from making the connection.

“I’ve already spoken to him, it’s all right. I’m only joking.”

“So you’re all right then with the necessary information? “ She smiled widely, and Bernard not being sure if that smile is a result of relief for not needing to make the call or if she also found the situation as light hearted as he did.

“Yes, I’m all sorted thanks!”

“All right…” She says hesitant. “So you have all you need then?”

“I have all I need and what’s more, I’ll be dining and lodging with Mr Morrison tonight,” Bernard says smiling even more when he sees her surprised face.

“Oh, o.k…”

“Yes…”

And it happened. Suddenly neither Henriëtte nor Bernard had anything more to say. There was no invitation for him to enter in to the office, which he found unpleasantly peculiar but realised it only afterwards. She was not unfriendly, disgusted or indifferent even. It only seemed that no matter how hard Bernard tried, she could not find any means to relate to him.

Not wanting the conversation to be to awkward, Bernard mentioned that he will, before dinner tonight go and have some tea at ‘The Harold & Koch Lounge’ which was just around the corner from her office. Her replay was that she never went there and that she didn’t like the people there.

‘What on earth am I to say to that?’ Bernard immediately thought.

In the end, there really was not much else to converse about. He politely and as charming as ever, ended the conversation and left it at that.

While having tea at The Harold and Koch, he focused all his attention on the conversation and came to the conclusion that it might be possible for her to have the wit, social intelligence and thinking capacity of Oom Pierre Laubscher. There is of course nothing wrong with that, but he himself does not spend much time with Oom Pierre for a very specific reason.

Bernard sat at the table, so lost in thought that he did not even appreciate the tea which he was so very fond of. He then took out a brown, leather covered journal from his brief case, and wrote;

27 August 1898

And so he saw the most splendid and gracious lady. She had the perfect smile and the expression on her face was most inviting. After some time, the opportunity presented itself for him to pay her a quick visit in the city where she lived. He knocked on the door, the door opened and there she was, beautiful as ever. His heartbeat kept climbing and his eyes revealed the energy generated through his whole being.

And then it happened.

She opened her mouth.

Bang!

She couldn’t help it and she was not even aware of the fact that to him, her intelligence, or lack thereof was unattractive to the point of utter shock and total devastation. There was nothing she said or did that seemed inappropriate or embarrassing even, yet it took less than a two minute conversation for him to realize that if he did not move along swiftly, he will face very challenging consequences. To her however, life went on as usual.

Bernard Langford once again reflected on how most entertainment flourished on romance, and that in reality romance could never amount to anything more than just an illusion.

*****