He had been watching her impassively as the torrent of indignation poured out of her, but by the end of the tirade his eyebrows had gathered in a puzzled frown. "Do I know you?" he asked.
"No, I don't know you at all!" she said emphatically. Well, it was perfectly true. She didn't know him. He was not her Luke! Nor did she want to know him, the ungrateful oaf!
Desperately unhappy, Lannie returns to the small Free State mining town where she grew up and which she left ten years previously. There, against her better judgement, she becomes embroiled in the tangled affairs of the man whom she has loved since childhood, and whose beautiful wife has mysteriously disappeared.
Trying to come to terms with past hurts and present dilemmas, Lannie comes face to face with the God who had bitterly disappointed her and whom she has steadfastly rejected.
It was heartbreaking to say goodbye. He stood looking down at Ginny. She was frozen. He carefully refrained from touching her.
“Ginny, I’m not going to give up on us. I love you, and I love Robin, and more than anything else I’ve ever wanted, I want my family together. I am going to fight for you. We belong together.”
- A young woman bound by the wounds of the past…
- The man she left behind, bitter and betrayed by a lie…
- A little boy, trusting that the Lord Jesus will give him the daddy he asked for...
A chance encounter forces Ginny Maxwell and David Carrington to face the mistakes and misunderstandings of the past. It leads each of them on a different journey to discovering the grace and mercy of a loving Saviour, and the freedom of forgiveness.
Set in the beautiful landscapes of Cape Town, the Karoo and the Kruger National Park, A Lily among Thorns is a story about love and loss, faith and forgiveness.
Some reviews to help you form a better idea of what the books are about:
Ring of Fire
"What an EXCELLENT read!! The story and the characters were so real; I couldn’t put the book down. WOW! You ought to be so proud of yourself!! I also lent the book to two friends and they both thoroughly enjoyed it. I have read quite a few Francine Rivers books and this was certainly on that level, if not better. If you don’t mind I would like to put this book into our book club. Please let me know when the next one is out."
Fiona Fitzpatrick – Big Bend, Swaziland
"I would say without reservation that you have an excellent plot and the novel is definitely a page turner. I found the way you created an aura, character and personality for each character wonderful and, also, the way you have each main character go through the same events with your writing from their perspectives worked well… I love the way you have your characters constantly questioning and seeking to find answers about their experiences in the real world of religion or ethics. Their mental self-talk is very skilfully handled… “Ring of Fire” reminds me of the Thorn Birds or novels by Elizabeth Goudge, Victoria Holt, Georgette Heyer – a jolly good read."
Diane de Reuck – Macclesfield, UK.
"Gripping story, interesting and well-drawn characters, full of humour as well as insight, and a thrilling climax that had me reading as fast as I could get the words to flash past. Plot twists that caught me completely by surprise! I laughed, I embarrassingly bawled like a baby, I gasped and yelled out in shock, and, most importantly, I ‘m not making any of this up. BRILLIANT READ!!!"
Natasha Oehme - Uvongo, South Africa
A Lily among Thorns
I have just finished reading “A Lily among Thorns” and wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your book very much. I liked your characters, Ginny, David, Robin, Eleanor and Jemima and it was fascinating to see them grow in life, live with mistakes and in the end learn to forgive others and themselves. You orchestrated conversations intelligently and one could accept the leap towards resolving problems. I felt very much that I was a fly on the wall while the characters revealed their passionate or desolate emotions to each other. It was easy to empathise with them and to care about how things would pan out for everyone.
Diane de Reuck - Macclesfield, UK
I just wanted to tell you how fantastic your book is. I found it a total joy and it made me cry at the end!!! I can’t wait to read your first one (Ring of Fire).
Beverley Tierney - Wexford, Ireland
A Lily Among Thorns is a beautiful story. It is as well written as Ms. Bennett’s Ring of Fire, but whereas I would say that Ring of Fire has more action and humour, A Lily Among Thorns has the edge in human drama.
You get to know the ins and outs of the main characters, and understand what makes them tick. It is a very uplifting book. Like Ring of Fire, it is gripping from the first few chapters, and is difficult to put down.
And, like Ring of Fire, also made me cry! I think the thing I like most about it is the clear presentation of the Gospel, and the strong undercurrent of faith, hope and forgiveness.
It is a wonderful witness to people who may not be seeking God but love a good book, and a thoroughly edifying and encouraging read for those who already love the Lord. I would recommend it to everyone, and am looking forward to Ms. Bennett’s next book!
Natasha Oehme - Uvongo, South Africa
FIRST TWO CHAPTERS FROM EACH MANUSCRIPT
In order to help you decide whether my style and the contents of the novels appeals to you, I have decided to share the list of contents and the text of the first two chapters of each book with you.
Ring of Fire
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine...
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord, your God... your Saviour.
(Isaiah 43:1-3 NIV)
Part One – The Cry
Part Two – Broken Cisterns
Part Three – The Shield
Part Four – Crossroads
Part Five – Bitter Harvest
Part Six – Deliverance
Part Seven – Songs of Joy
Index of Scripture Texts
Glossary of South African Words and Terms
But I cry to you for help, O Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, O Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
(Psalm 88:13, 14 NIV)
Lannie was trying to remain calm but could not prevent herself from taking one last, harried glance over her shoulder.
Seeing nothing more alarming than crowds of people scurrying damply about their business, she mounted the steps leading up into the luxury tourist bus and made her way to her seat. She sank into the plush cushions with a sigh of relief. Some twenty minutes later, with engine revving aggressively and gears grinding a squealing protest, the bus pulled away from the terminal and thrust itself into the rush hour traffic.
She sat near the front, a young woman of unremarkable appearance, excepting perhaps for the very thick, long plait of dark brown hair, which she had swung forward over her shoulder. It reached her waist, and she kept caressing the curly tip, looking at it as if she couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing.
The bus travelled through the night. The seats were comfortable and the droning of the engine was very soothing, so she had soon fallen asleep.
In the early hours of the morning she woke with a start. Across the aisle and one row up from where she sat, a man was snoring so loudly he could be heard above the droning of the engine. She looked at her watch. In the dim light she could just make out that it was three o’clock. She sighed and leaned back against the seat, closing her eyes again. But sleep would not come. The frightful snoring was too intrusive. She considered going and giving the man a good nudge, but it would have meant clambering over the legs of her sleeping neighbour and possibly waking her from what appeared to be a deep and peaceful sleep. She got up out of her seat, stretched, and looked around the bus. No one else appeared to be awake so she sat down again.
By this time she was wide-awake and her mind was alert. She turned to look out of the window. They had apparently left the rainy weather behind them at the coast. The sky was deepest black velvet, and strewn across it were the glinting, shimmering diamonds of the Milky Way. Her breath caught in her throat as she remembered.
It was the one and only time she ever went to the farm. And how truly wonderful it had been. She could so clearly recall it all... Lying on her back on a rug on the lawn in front of the old farmhouse... Luke and Mark and Mrs Lindquist lying there with her... The blazing heat of the summer day having cooled a bit so the air cocooned them comfortingly... Her fingers gently working through the cool blades of grass... Crickets chirping... Frogs croaking at the dam... Peace... Mrs Lindquist pointing out the constellations of the southern skies... Orion... The Seven Sisters... The Southern Cross... She would have liked to stay there forever.
But it was not to be.
She smiled in the darkness at the memories... Hosts of ravenous mosquitoes descending to snack on them... Luke and Mark, bare-legged and bare-armed, getting the worst of it... Mrs Lindquist laughing at their acrobatic attempts to swat the bloodthirstily determined insects... Noisy laughter... Noisy retreat to the safety of the house, which had screens at all the windows... Joanne and Matthew joining them for some uproarious games of rummy...
Did they still lie out there watching the stars? Did they ever think of her?
Probably not. She so seldom thought of them, although she did sometimes fleetingly think of Luke, especially when... No! Don’t go there!
She knew Joanne had married and emigrated to either New Zealand or Australia. Auntie Grace’s old client had kept them informed of the news of friends and acquaintances.
Joanne had been almost ten years older than she was. To the ten-year-old child, nineteen had seemed wonderfully grown up and she had admired her immensely, though she had been a bit in awe of her. She was known and respected by the townsfolk for her great intelligence. She was going to be a doctor! This was often repeated in the town in awestruck tones. It was strange to think of her approaching middle age, and possibly with a family. Matthew had also followed his father into the medical profession and was a surgeon at a hospital in Johannesburg. He had been two years younger than Joanne, so he would be in his mid-thirties. Luke would be thirty-three and that would make Mark thirty-two. Where were they now? Both of them had been close to completing their studies when she and Auntie Grace left; Luke in engineering and Mark in accountancy.
And Mrs Lindquist? Could she still be teaching? How old would she be? And Dr Lindquist? He must surely have retired. He had been considerably older than his wife. Had he retired to the farm perhaps?
Well, she would possibly soon have answers to all her questions.
She continued to gaze at the sky. It was so beautiful, yet remote and cold. It made her feel lonely. She shivered. Well, she was lonely. She tried to keep her thoughts in check, but they were unruly and persistent. When, at last, she noticed a perceptible lightening in the east as the new day dawned, she felt a sense of relief. Her dark thoughts vanished while she watched with interest as the Free State landscape started emerging from the darkness. The dawning of a new day. The phrase appealed to her. Perhaps this would be the dawning of a new phase in her life too.
She reached her destination by mid-morning. Luckily, the little mining town was on the bus route, so she did not have to deplete her funds on further transport. The sale of her car had certainly left her with a healthy bank balance, but who knew what her expenses would be in the immediate future? The bus stopped in front of the town’s only hotel, which, considering her luggage, she thought to be a stroke of extraordinarily good luck.
Within an hour she had had a hot bath and was flat on her back in a comfortable bed, enjoying the feel of the crisp, clean sheets. She looked up at the snow-white ceiling. It swam before her eyes. She turned onto her side, snuggling gratefully into her pillow. Out of the corner of one bleary eye she could still see the ceiling.
Incredible. Just a little more than twenty-four hours ago she had been prostrate on her bed, her gaze fixed on another ceiling, and in the depths of a paralysing depression...
She lay prone, mindlessly staring at the ceiling of her bedroom.
Gradually, a fairly large, roundish, discoloured spot in the far left corner caught her listless attention. Involuntarily, her eyes moved to the far right corner where she found another dark spot, slightly smaller and more irregularly shaped. Just above her to the left were three much smaller ones.
It was indicative of her state of mind that she did not get up to investigate what had caused them. Instead, she began to count them.
One to the far left... One to the far right...One, two, three, above left... Her eyes moved back to the far left. One… Over to the far right... Two… Above to the left... Three, four, five… Back to the left... One… To the right... Two… Above... Three, four, five… Over and over and over again.
One... Two... Three, four, five... A sob rose convulsively in her chest but she pushed it down... down... down... One... Two... Three, four... another sob rose. It was stronger than the first and she had to stop counting to quell it. Taking advantage of the lapse in concentration, hot tears started up. She dashed them away angrily with the back of one hand.
No, no, no! Don’t think! Count!
One... Two... Three, four, five... One... Two... Three, four, five...
I can’t do this all day... One... Two... Three, four, five... I mustn’t think. One... Two... Yes, you must. This cannot go on. You will be destroyed. Three, four, five... I don’t care. I am already destroyed. I am destroyed... I am destroyed...
She gave up the struggle, curled into a ball, and wept and wept.
Get up! Keep busy! Get up! Get up!
She forced herself to rise from her bed and walked over to her dressing-table, sinking down onto the stool as lethargy once again began to sap the strength from her legs. But the sight of the woebegone face looking back at her from the mirror revived her. As she took in the red-rimmed, puffy eyes and the swollen, reddened nose, a wave of fury swept the lethargy away.
She sat glaring at her image. Just look at that! You look a mess! You look positively hideous! Is this what you want people to see? Is this what you are going to be doing for the rest of your life? Mourning lost happiness? Mourning lost hope? What use is that? Nothing! Not to anyone. Least of all to you.
Then her shoulders slumped again. I’m of no use anyway. I might as well not be here. I could just as well disappear. Nobody would notice. And if they did, they wouldn’t care. I wish I could just disappear. Just disintegrate... Become nothing... Feel nothing... No pain, no sorrow, no despair, no misery...
She turned the word over in her mind. Misery. Yes, I feel miserable. I am miserable. I’ve been miserable for a long time. I’ve always been miserable... No, that’s not true... I’ve had happy times... Auntie Grace... little Burples... the Lindquists and the farm... Luke...
She opened a drawer of the dressing-table and took out a small box, the sole content of which was an envelope. She took it out and opened it. It contained three photographs. She spread them out on the dressing-table.
One was a print which had been cut out from a school magazine. She traced the outline of the face with the tip of a finger. The features were so clear, so familiar, so dear. The caption described all Luke’s achievements of the year. He had done so well. They had all been so proud of him.
The second was a snapshot of Luke teaching her to swim in the dam. Mrs Lindquist had found the whole process very amusing and had run to fetch her camera. She had taken several shots before he noticed, much to his annoyance and embarrassment. Although unfailingly kind to her, teaching little girls to swim did not quite fit his fifteen-year-old image.
Yes, there had been happy times.
The third was a yellowed clipping from the society page of a local newspaper. It had been sent to Auntie Grace by one of her few ex-clients, just two years after they had left the little Free State mining town to return to the Eastern Cape. It was a wedding photograph.
Two things were always painfully clear to Lannie when she looked at it, which was not often: the bride was very beautiful; and Luke beamed with happiness.
Oh, Luke. I hope you are still happy.
She put the photographs back into the envelope, replaced it in the box, returned the box to the drawer and pushed it shut.
Perhaps a shower would freshen her up.
As the hot water gushed over her back, some of the tension drained away and she stood motionless under the soothing stream.
No, she hadn’t always been miserable... Living next door to the Lindquists had often been a comfort – in fact, they had made the twelve years of living with Auntie Grace and the uncle more than bearable... And it was because of the Lindquists that she had been to the farm... And returning to the city of her birth hadn’t been as bad as she had expected. It was true she had experienced a profound sense of loss, but college was new and exciting... And with the uncle removed from their lives, she and Auntie Grace had settled into a smooth and peaceful existence... Also, her college years had been an interesting and enjoyable challenge, and she had been so proud when she had qualified and been appointed to her first post...
No, she was lying to herself if she claimed she had always been miserable.
Why, oh why, had she made such a mess of things! Where had she gone so wrong? What had made her so blind she couldn’t see what must have been as plain as the nose on her face? If only she could go back and start over.
Well aware of the futility of regretting a past that could not be changed, she sighed and picked up the soap. At least she had managed – for the moment – to shake off the life-sucking depression.
Draped in the towel, she went over to the window and peered between the curtains. The top of the tree, which was level with the bedroom window of her third floor flat, was being fiercely tugged by the blustering wind. On an impulse she opened the window and gasped as the cold draught rushed at her. Just as quickly she closed the window and then hurriedly dressed, pulling on thick jeans and a warm pullover.
She sat down again at the dressing-table and slowly brushed out her long, thick, wavy hair, wondering how to spend the weekend, which loomed interminably before her. And, of course, because she was substituting, there was a possibility she would be at a loose end for yet another week! The thought almost brought on an immediate relapse.
No! She had to find something to do. It was sitting around waiting, with nothing to do but think, which had made a bad situation absolutely unbearable!
Her thoughts returned to her childhood, those years on the Free State Goldfields. She wondered what her old home looked like now. She had lived there for a little over twelve years and could remember every detail. Would it still be as she remembered it? Who would be living there? Was the hedge house still there, or would they have cut it down? The pipe would still be there for sure...
An unexpected longing to see it all again welled up within her.
Well, she could not return to or change the past, but it might be interesting – even instructive – to return to the place where she had spent her childhood... To the place where her character had been formed... Who knew but what she might just get an answer to her present problems...
The more she thought about it, the more it appealed. She had not had a decent holiday for several years. Why not take one now? She was free of commitments... the substitution was not on a contractual basis – if the department could not contact her she simply did not get the work... Her trust fund would take care of the rates and taxes of her flat...
Which reminded her... She would have to phone Mr Mayberry and excuse the overdraft. Again. She could almost hear his austere tones and his slow, measured speech: “Leigh-Anne, my dear, this will never do! Something must be done about this situation. What your father would have said, if he had known what his hard-earned money was going to be used for, one could not begin to imagine!”
She spent a few more moments dwelling on the severe, yet essentially kind, old man she had known since her childhood. If only she had listened to him! She could see his disapproving expression and she could hear the concern in his voice as he had tried to dissuade her. But she had brushed aside his cautions. She had thought him old-fashioned and convention-bound. Well, maybe he was, but he had been proved right.
But what about finance for the holiday which was appealing more by the minute?
Of course! She would sell her car! The quarter was also almost over. The interest from the trust fund would soon be available, although the overdraft would bite a sizeable chunk out of it. Her eyebrows were drawn together as she thought of where the money had gone. And where it might yet still go. But what could she do about it? Her expression lightened as a possible solution occurred to her.
Yes! She would open a new account! A new account at a different bank. What a pity she couldn’t assume a new identity too. Well, she couldn’t do that, but what if she could disappear for a while?
Her wet head began to feel cold. She put the comb down and picked up her hairbrush. Switching on her hairdryer, she began to dry the thick mass of hair, while she considered the idea of disappearing.
Well, why not? If she left without a trace, she would be free to enjoy a lengthy holiday, undisturbed. It would also give her an opportunity to recover her health. The doctor had said all her health problems – the headaches, the skin rashes, and the nervousness – were stress related. And if her money was not drained away every month, she would have enough to get by on, even if it meant living frugally...
But how to leave without a trace? How could she leave without being seen? Too many people there knew her. Someone was bound to see her carrying luggage. They’d ask questions.
Perhaps she could disguise herself by tying up her hair under a beanie and pulling it down to her eyes...
As she brushed and dried her hair, she tilted her head and dispassionately tried to see what others would see when they looked at her. She saw unremarkable hazel eyes. They were not unattractive, but they did not draw attention. Her nose and mouth were just that. A nose and a mouth. A forgettable face. Really, she was quite plain...
She winced as the word came to her mind. She had not thought of the uncle for years, but now she remembered again his words: “Well, she sure doesn’t take after you, Gracie! She’s a real plain Jane!” At the age of six it had not meant much to her, but the words had been remembered, and later, when she entered adolescence, their meaning came back to rub raw her very fragile sense of self.
Well, as hurtful as it had been, he had only spoken the truth. She was plain. But, for once, it could work to her advantage. A forgettable face was a good thing for someone wanting to disappear. However, the same could not be said of her hair. She felt a touch of pride as she dried the gleaming mass. It was very conspicuous and was always the first – sometimes the only – thing people noticed about her.
Having taken a beanie out of one of the drawers, she tied her hair up and pulled it over her head. No, there was just too much hair. It gave her head the oddest shape. In fact, it looked positively ludicrous! She would never escape attention like that.
She would have to cut her hair!
Feminine pride balked at the idea. It was her only claim to beauty! She just couldn’t bring herself even to consider it.
She threw the beanie back in the drawer. With her elbows propped on the dressing-table and her chin cupped in her hands, she sat with a frown creasing her forehead. Once again her expression lightened. She knew what she was going to do.
Not half an hour later she was on the municipal bus.
It stopped in the centre of the city, and she carefully stepped off it onto the street, not quite succeeding in avoiding an icy puddle. She looked down ruefully at her wet shoes. Well, it was too late to do anything about that! She would just try to hurry as fast as she could to get back to the warmth of her flat.
The city was bustling with month-end activity. Traffic roared ceaselessly and people surged over the wet pavements. Those with umbrellas had to hang on to them as the gusts of wind threatened to rob them of their flimsy shelters. Others clung onto the hoods of raincoats and anoraks, doing their best to foil the gale’s attempts to soak them with the fine, coastal rain. Those with uncovered heads scuttled as quickly as the crowded pavements allowed.
It was a good day to go unnoticed. She drew the strings of the hood of her anorak tight to ensure her hair remained covered, and went into an unfamiliar store. Keeping her head covered inside the store would never be noticed when half the other shoppers were doing the same. She quickly made her purchases and left the store, confident no one would remember her, or what she had bought.
She found a branch of a bank she had never used before and opened an account, depositing the last of her money into it. Then she made her way back to the city centre to the offices of Mayberry and Scott, Attorneys and Conveyancers, where she pushed open the highly polished, glass-plated door and entered the comfortably old-fashioned reception area.
The receptionist, a well-groomed, elderly woman, saw her at once.
“Why, Lannie! My dear, dear child! How wonderful to see you! And what a coincidence! Mr Mayberry was saying only yesterday it has been far too long since we’ve seen you.”
Lannie smiled at her fondly. Dear Mrs Shaw. It was so heart-warming to be greeted with such obvious and sincere delight. She felt a little ashamed at the memory of her pity-filled thoughts of just a few hours ago. How could she claim no one cared!
“Hello, Mrs Shaw. I think I know why Mr Mayberry wants to see me. I’m sure I’m going to get a lecture again,” she said as she pulled a wry face.
“Oh, my dear, I know,” the older woman said sympathetically, “but you know how much he cares about you, and his lectures spring from the deepest concern. Are you all right, dearie?” she digressed suddenly. “Your voice sounds rather hoarse and your eyes are a little swollen. Have you got a cold? You really must look after yourself! There’s an awful flu going round this year.”
They both swung round to see the elderly man framed in the doorway of one of the inner offices. He stood, his large head with its thick mane of iron-grey hair slightly lowered, regarding Lannie with exasperation over the tops of his reading glasses.
“May one request your presence in one’s office, Leigh-Anne?” he asked portentously, turning round as he spoke.
Casting another wry glance at Mrs Shaw, who gave her an encouraging smile, she followed the imposing figure of the old man.
“Sit down,” he said, indicating the chair on the other side of the desk.
Mr Mayberry, who always walked with stately dignity, and always spoke in slow, measured tones, paradoxically, never beat about the bush. He sat down opposite her in his deep, winged armchair, regarded her gravely for a moment from under beetling eyebrows, and then got straight to the point: “My dear child, one is at one’s wit’s end to know what to do about this situation. It simply cannot be allowed that a current account be overdrawn so regularly and to such an extent. In fact, one can only be thankful that one’s partner – your highly esteemed and greatly missed father – decided on thirty years instead of twenty-five, even though one thought it strange at the time. One can only admire such foresight, or possibly even prescience, although one hesitates to believe in psychic mumbo-jumbo.”
He paused as he considered the wisdom of his former partner, until Lannie began to wonder if he had fallen into a trance. She shifted nervously on her seat. The slight movement appeared to recall him. He shook his head, as if shaking off the past, and returned to the problem of the present. “One can only trust that by the time you reach the age of thirty, the situation will have resolved itself, for you stand in grave danger – very grave danger – of having your entire inheritance squandered. Yes, squandered!”
He was silent as he sadly pondered the dissipation of the tidy inheritance he had spent so many years carefully guarding for the only child of his erstwhile partner.
Nervously, she said: “I’m so sorry, Mr Mayberry, it’s just been so difficult.”
“My dear, you are going to have to come to a decision sooner or later, and one would much rather it be sooner!” He spoke sternly, almost harshly, but she was not deceived. She had good reason to know how deeply this man cared about her and her future.
She gripped the arms of her chair to calm her nerves, and then spoke the rehearsed words in a rush: “Well, Mr Mayberry, this is why I’ve come to see you. I’ve decided to go away for a while. I’m going to take a holiday but I don’t want anyone to know where I am. Actually, I’m not sure myself exactly where I’ll be. I’ll let you know when I get there. I just want to get away on my own and do something completely different. Perhaps I’ll be able to think more clearly. Kind of get perspective and be able to make up my mind about what I must do.”
He did not reply immediately but continued to regard her intently, though his expression had changed from severity to interest. “Hmm. Now what are you up to, one wonders? And may one ask how such a holiday is to be financed, with your bank balance as it is?”
“Well, I’m not going anywhere exotic or anything,” she assured him. “And I was thinking the interest is almost due. And that’s also why I’ve come. I’ve opened a new account at another bank, and if you could arrange for the interest to be paid into it, I’d be so grateful.”
There was a long silence while he continued to look at her. It was impossible to read his thoughts. For a few nerve-wracking moments she thought her request was to be turned down.
“All right, my dear,” he said at last, to her great relief. “Kindly furnish one with the details.”
She handed him a slip of paper on which she had written the relevant information. He copied it into a notebook, and then looked up at her again with that alert and interested look. “All right, my dear, if you promise to let one know where you are, one will see to it that all payments to your old account cease, and that the interest is paid into the new account.”
“And, Mr Mayberry, please, if anyone should contact you...”
“Of course, my dear, that goes without saying. One shall have no clue as to your whereabouts. In fact, one shall be quite angry that there is any need to ask such a question!” For a moment he almost smiled. “Do you know when you’ll be leaving?”
“I hope to leave before Monday.”
“All right, Leigh-Anne. God bless you, my dear. One shall be praying for you.”
“Goodbye, and thank you,” she said gratefully, even though she knew from bitter experience that praying was a complete and utter waste of time. But it was the thought that counted, after all.
She left the inner sanctum and returned to the reception area. Mrs Shaw was not there. She made use of the opportunity and quickly paged through the telephone directory, then phoned the bus company and enquired about departure times that evening and the following morning. She scribbled the options and fares down on the little note pad she always had with her. Just then Mrs Shaw returned. Lannie replaced the phone on the cradle and smiled at her. She was looking enquiringly at Lannie, who knew she must be agog with curiosity. However, the fewer people who knew of her plans, the better. She gave Mrs Shaw a brief, warm hug, and then went back out into the wet and the cold.
The warmth of the flat was very welcome. She switched on the kettle and made a hot chocolate drink, cupping her hands around the mug to warm them. Life returned to her numbed fingers as she sipped the hot, sweet liquid, looking about her over the rim of the mug, while she decided what she would be taking with her.
Packing did not take as long as she had thought it would. She worked methodically, every vestige of the morning’s lassitude gone. Having a purpose and a plan once again was amazingly invigorating, and soon the suitcase was filled. This was one of those times when she was grateful she was neat and organised. She closed the suitcase with some difficulty, and then lifted it up. It was much heavier than she had expected and it would make slipping away surreptitiously very difficult. There was no way she could lug it onto one of the municipal buses! She could just imagine the reaction of the bus driver!
After considering her options, she decided to kill the proverbial two birds. She would take the suitcase by car to the station and leave it in one of the lockers, and then she would go and sell her car. Depending on how long it took her to complete the transaction, she would then decide when to leave, simultaneously purchasing her ticket to ensure getting a seat.
But, first, she had to get her suitcase into her car without being noticed.
She opened the door to the corridor. It was lunchtime, so those who were not at work would probably be busy. The corridor was empty. Fortunately, the suitcase was one of those with a handle and wheels, so she managed to get it to the lift easily, notwithstanding its weight. The lift quickly sank to the basement level. She managed to lift the suitcase into the boot of her car without being seen, albeit with an effort that left her panting and rather flushed. But she had timed it well. No sooner had she got back to the lift than the doors slid open and her neighbours, Mr and Mrs Crichton, stepped out.
“Hello, Lannie! I’ve been thinking of you. Have you had a good rest this week?” Mrs Crichton stopped and asked with her usual friendly smile.
“Yes, thanks,” she lied.
“Have they got work for you for next week?”
Lannie was very fond of the Crichtons. However, she was rapidly reaching the conclusion that there were some grave disadvantages to being known so well by neighbours. Especially for someone planning to disappear without a trace!
Mr Crichton was in an apparent hurry. He only smiled his greeting while continuing to walk towards their car, and Mrs Crichton, before Lannie could even open her mouth to reply to her question, rushed off after her husband, apologising: “Sorry, dear, but as you can see we’re in a hurry. Can’t stop to chat. See you again soon!”
Lannie sighed her relief. She managed to get back to the flat without meeting any more of the building’s occupants. After so many years in the same block of flats, she knew every single one of them by sight. She was on friendly terms with most of them, and besides the Crichtons, was on very intimate terms with another two families. It was the latter group who would find it quite extraordinary that she was leaving so hurriedly, and with so much luggage. She stood no chance of being allowed to go without having awkward questions asked, especially if she went off in her car and returned without it.
She took the car registration papers out of a file and folded them into her handbag. Having made absolutely sure she also had her identity documents with her, she once again went quietly out into the corridor. And, once again, she managed to get down to the basement without seeing anyone. If she had believed in divine providence, she would certainly have been blessing it for the highly opportune, inclement weather. As she believed in no such thing, she merely thanked her lucky stars.
Nervously, she got into the driver’s seat. She looked around, switched on the engine, carefully reversed out of the narrow parking space, drove out of the building, and finally headed for the railway station, where the tourist buses made a stop.
It was very busy, as a passenger train had just arrived. Again the miserable weather made it easy for her to keep her head covered without attracting attention. She took the suitcase from the boot and wheeled it towards the inner hall, where there were rows of lockers. She chose one level with the floor and pushed the suitcase into it, closed the door and locked it, removing the key, which she placed in her purse.
Selling her car was far simpler than she had expected. She had chosen a dealership as far from her home as possible, as it would be impossible to carry out the transaction and hide her hair. Anyway, it did not really matter if anyone eventually found out, for it would provide no clue as to where she had gone. Thankfully, the dealership was on the municipal bus route, so she was able to return to the station without too much trouble, and made her way to the ticket office.
She paid for her fare and once again caught the bus home.
It was now becoming a matter of some urgency to complete her preparations. She had only a few hours left. She made herself a sandwich, took out the package she had purchased that morning, and read the instructions while she ate.
An hour later she once again sat looking at her reflected image. It was simply incredible how different she looked.
It was when she was once again on the municipal bus, with nothing more to plan or do, other than set off on her holiday, that she began to feel uneasy.
What if... But no... It was Friday evening... She was surely safe till at least Sunday...
Cold logic warred with turbulent emotion.
She knew she was being irrational.Or was she?
She was profoundly thankful when the bus stopped at the station and she was able to board the tourist bus which would take her away to the Free State.
It was well after noon when she began to wake up. She could not fathom where she was, and her eyelids were so strangely heavy that she gave up the struggle to open her eyes. Gradually, she became aware of her surroundings and lay there listening to unfamiliar sounds, puzzled. Then consciousness returned with a rush. She sat up and looked around her with bleary eyes. Of course! Memory flooded back.
She sank back onto the pillow and wondered what on earth she was going to do next. Why had she actually come here? She had been so caught up in the preparations of leaving – and ensuring she wouldn’t be followed – that she hadn’t really given much thought to what she was going to do once she had arrived. Had she made a huge mistake in coming here? What was she hoping to achieve? South Africa had so many holiday destinations – she could have gone to any one of them and recovered her health there.
Well, she was here now... Might as well make the best of a bad decision... There was nothing to stop her from leaving with the next bus, after all.
She phoned room service and was brought a light lunch. Once she had eaten, she felt more positive. After all, it would be interesting to go and see the house where she had spent twelve years of her life, and it would only take her about half an hour to walk there. She could certainly do with the exercise.
She set off at a brisk pace. At first she was nervous about meeting people who had known her, but so far she had not recognised a single soul. The receptionist at the hotel was a stranger, and the few people she passed were also not known to her and didn’t give her a second glance.
As she turned off the main street into one of the streets which led to the residential area, she saw a young woman of about her own age walking towards her pushing a pram. Two children were walking with her, one on either side, helping her to push. Lannie enviously watched the little group approach. Then, to her horror, she recognised the mother. She steeled herself to remain calm. As they passed each other, the woman greeted her.
“Good afternoon,” she said, but with the disinterested politeness accorded to any stranger.
“Good afternoon,” Lannie replied politely in turn, waiting a minute before she turned round to see what the woman was doing. The little group was continuing the walk to town and paid her no further attention. She let out a long sigh of relief. She could relax. She had hoped the change in her appearance would work! If Lynette Bosman – her classmate for twelve years – did not recognise her, it was highly unlikely anyone else would either. Although the Lindquists... Well, she probably wouldn’t see them anyway.
Twenty minutes later she was in front of the house. It stood forlornly empty, and the unkempt garden showed it had not been occupied for some time. She turned and looked across the road. And there it was. The pipe. She crossed the road and ran her hand over the cool metal. Placing both hands on the top of the pipe, she hoisted herself up onto it.
Lannie clung tightly to Mr Mayberry’s hand as they walked up the garden path to the house which was to be her new home.
She had seen Auntie Grace briefly at the funeral, but had been too bewildered to take in anything other than that she was her mommy’s elder sister. She didn’t look at all like her mommy, and Lannie shrank shyly closer to Mrs Shaw when Mr Mayberry introduced them to each other.
She was a pretty lady but she looked sad, and while she stood talking to Mr Mayberry, she kept shaking her head. Lannie knew they were talking about her, because they would both glance at her periodically as they spoke. Finally, the pretty lady, looking very distressed, left without greeting her, and Mr Mayberry returned to Mrs Shaw shaking his head, worried lines creasing his forehead.
“She says her husband will never agree to it,” he told Mrs Shaw.
“Then I will keep her,” Mrs Shaw said emphatically. “You cannot possibly, and I will never allow this dear child to go into the system!”
Lannie wondered what The System was. Was it a house? It must be a nasty house if Mrs Shaw didn’t like it.
“Did you explain that the maintenance is substantial?” asked Mrs Shaw.
“Yes,” he replied, “but it appears that finance is not the problem. One can only wonder at the type of man this husband must be. She seems to be somewhat frightened of him.”
“Well, then,” declared Mrs Shaw, “all the more reason for keeping Lannie here with us!”
But it appeared her aunt had had a change of mind, or her husband a change of heart, for not a week later, Mr Mayberry received the call which had resulted in a very long trip from the Eastern Cape coast to the Free State Goldfields.
Mrs Shaw had been dead set against it, but Mr Mayberry had assured her he would not leave Lannie there if he felt any unease at all. Mrs Shaw had had to be satisfied, and contented herself with bemoaning the terms of Lannie’s parents’ will. Lannie couldn’t figure out what they were talking about. She only knew she was going to live with the pretty, sad lady who hadn’t greeted her. She was quite sure the lady didn’t like her.
When the car stopped outside the house, Lannie said desperately: “Mr Mayberry, why can’t I stay with you? I will be very good and I won’t make a noise.”
Mrs Shaw had explained to her that Mrs Mayberry was very ill, and Mr Mayberry had too much to worry about, without also having to worry about taking care of a little girl.
“Then why can’t I stay with you?” she had asked her tearfully.
With her own eyes brimming with tears, Mrs Shaw said: “Because we have to respect the wishes of your mommy and daddy, and they wanted your Auntie Grace to take care of you if anything happened to them.”
“I want my mommy and daddy to come back from heaven,” she said, crying in earnest.
But Mrs Shaw had just hugged her tightly, and wiped her face with a tissue, and helped her to blow her nose. And now here she was with Mr Mayberry, at the front door.
The occupants of the house had obviously been keeping watch, for the door was opened before Mr Mayberry could knock.
A huge man with great shoulders, a bull neck and a barrel chest stood in the doorway. His arms and legs were muscular and hairy. He had a thick thatch of dark hair, and small but very blue eyes, deeply set under thick eyebrows. Everything about his appearance spoke of raw, masculine strength.
He put out his hand to Mr Mayberry as he introduced himself. “William Lamb. Pleased to meet you.”
Mr Mayberry replied in kind, and then the big man turned his gaze onto the little girl who stared up at him, fear etched on her white face.
Either he was not a particularly sensitive person, or he chose to ignore Lannie’s marked lack of enthusiasm. “You must be Leigh-Anne,” he said genially, as he put out a hand to pat her on her head. She shrank back, this time unmistakably, but he seemed to take it in good part. He laughed and said, not unkindly: “Never mind, I suppose you’re feeling very strange. You’ll soon get used to us, I’m sure.”
Stepping to one side, he invited them into the house and bade them take a seat. While she and Mr Mayberry sat on the couch, she looked about her. She thought the room rather sparsely furnished, but it was neat and clean.
“Gracie,” the big man called, “they’re here!”
The pretty lady came in, untying her apron. She shook Mr Mayberry’s hand and then turned to Lannie. “Hello, Lannie. I am so very glad you’ve come to stay with us. We will do everything we can to make you happy.”
Lannie noticed the lady didn’t look sad anymore, but she was nervously rubbing her hands together. She warmed a bit to her. She had called her Lannie.
They had tea together and then Mr Mayberry began to explain something to the man. She understood very little, although she did know that The Will was what her mommy and daddy wanted to be done after they went to heaven. She noticed the man was very interested in The Maintenance. She had heard the term several times in the past month and wondered again what it was. It must be very important. The man asked a lot of questions about it. She was looking at the adults as they spoke and also noticed that Mr Mayberry, for some reason, didn’t like all the talk about The Maintenance.
Having folded up all the papers he had previously taken out of his briefcase, he looked at the big man over the top of his glasses, and said slowly: “Please understand that periodic visits will be paid to check up on Leigh-Anne’s well-being. One can only trust it is very clearly understood that should she fail to settle, steps will be taken to put her in foster care which will be more congenial to her.”
The pretty lady laughed nervously. The big man did not lose his smile. “Oh, I’m sure it won’t come to that,” he said quickly. “As Gracie said, we will do everything we can to make sure she is happy.”
Mr Mayberry asked to see Lannie’s room, and she had her first opportunity to see the rest of the house. It was much smaller than her mommy and daddy’s house, but her new bedroom had a nice bed, and the curtains and bedspread were a pale green with pink strawberries. There was a built-in cupboard and a little dressing-table, which was also pale green. It had a nice, new smell. She decided she liked her new bedroom.
The two men then went outside to bring in Lannie’s luggage, which was quite substantial. Shortly afterwards Mr Mayberry took Lannie’s hands into his. Making sure she was looking directly into his eyes, he promised to visit her again as soon as he could.
As Mr Mayberry’s car went down the road, the big man said: “Pompous old sod!”
It didn’t sound very nice, even though she didn’t know what the words meant. And, as he carried her suitcases and the boxes with her toys into her bedroom, he said to the lady: “Proper little princess!”
The lady laughed nervously again, but Lannie didn’t mind. Her daddy had often told her she was his little princess.
It was as they sat at the table eating supper that night that the big man looked at Lannie and said the words which were to cause her so much pain later. She would have liked to have asked what a plain Jane was, but did not feel comfortable enough to volunteer speech. For the moment, however, all went quite smoothly until the man said: “We must get to the club. There’s a darts tournament tonight and I don’t want to be late.”
Lannie sensed the tension immediately.
“Lannie is only six, Billy, and she must be very tired. And we can’t leave her here on her own.” The lady’s hands twisted together in her lap again and her eyes pleaded.
“Suit yourself,” he said abruptly as he got up from the table, “but don’t think I’m going to change my life!”
The atmosphere changed perceptibly for the better when the big man left. They cleared the table and washed the dishes, and then they went to the bathroom so the lady could help her into the bath. The lady opened the suitcases and found a pair of pyjamas. They spent the rest of the evening unpacking her clothes and transferring them to the cupboard and the drawers of the little dressing-table. The boxes of toys were also unpacked, and once Lannie’s dolls and teddies and other precious belongings were arranged on the floor, on the dressing-table, and on her bed, and her books put on a special shelf in the cupboard, she began to feel quite at home.
The lady asked her to call her Auntie Grace and said she must call the man Uncle Billy, and then she took one of Lannie’s books and read her a story.
“Good night, Lannie,” she said as she tucked her in. She bent over her and kissed her gently on the forehead.
“Good night... Auntie Grace,” Lannie replied.
Within minutes Lannie was fast asleep and did not wake till morning.
The pipe fascinated Lannie almost from the moment she became aware of it.
The sound of children shouting and laughing drew her to her bedroom window, and from there she had a clear view of it. Four young boys were walking along it. Triumphant whoops and raucous gusts of jeering laughter accompanied them, as they pushed one another off and then hoisted themselves back on again.
But it was two years before Auntie Grace would allow her to go near it, for it lay on the edge of the residential area and on the other side of it was a wide stretch of veld. It was also set up some distance from the ground on concrete blocks, and Auntie Grace was convinced that if she did not fall prey to the hidden dangers lurking in the long grass of the veld, she would certainly fall off the pipe and break her neck.
Shortly after her eighth birthday, Auntie Grace gave in to her pleading and accompanied her across the road to supervise her first walk along what was, by then, in Lannie’s mind, The Pipe. Excitedly, she first climbed up onto one of the concrete blocks. From there she could gain fairly easy access to The Pipe. She clambered onto it and for a few moments embraced its wide girth and was surprised at how cool the metal was to the touch. It was so big! Then she stood up and took a few tentative steps along it. She turned triumphantly and looked down at her aunt. “I told you I wouldn’t fall off, Auntie Grace!” she crowed.
“You’d better mind your steps or you will fall off!” Auntie Grace replied anxiously.
Lannie obediently minded her steps.
After that momentous day Auntie Grace occasionally allowed her to walk unsupervised along The Pipe, as long as she stayed within plain sight.
Her other favourite place was her Hedge House.
The garden was surrounded on three sides by a hawthorn hedge. It was a thornless variety bearing bright red berries. Fortunately for Lannie, neither of the Lambs cared for gardening, so the hedge was allowed to grow as it pleased. In one corner was quite a wide gap she had discovered in her exploration of the garden soon after her arrival. There was ample room to create a playhouse, and with the uncut branches hanging down almost to the ground, she was screened from the rest of the world.
At first it was just a little hideaway where she would sit quietly, giving free rein to her imagination. Soon, however, she could not but notice the activities in the garden behind her own.
The house was a very large one, much bigger than Auntie Grace’s house, and she knew Dr Lindquist lived there with his family.
She never saw the doctor, excepting for the time when she had been ill and Auntie Grace had taken her to his consulting rooms at the hospital. He spoke with a strange accent but Lannie had warmed to him immediately. Mrs Lindquist was a teacher at Lannie’s school and taught one of the older classes. She did sometimes see her pottering about in the garden, but she seemed to spend most of her time in the house. The eldest Lindquist child was a teenage girl who only seemed to be home during school holidays, and she only caught the odd glimpse of her. Her three brothers, however, often played cricket or soccer or tennis on the lawn. They were aware of her presence, but, for the greater part, ignored her with the lofty disdain which young boys reserve for little girls. However, if a ball went sailing over the hedge, they would ask her to fetch it, which she did with good grace, not really minding that they otherwise paid her no attention.
This changed on the day she held her first tea party for Teddy and Priscilla.
Mr Mayberry had come for her eighth birthday, bringing with him a bright yellow little table with a set of four little chairs, each a different colour. Mrs Shaw had sent a beautiful, plastic tea set.
“When Mrs Shaw heard about your special place, Leigh-Anne, she thought, if you had some furniture there, you could turn it into a little play house.”
The tables and chairs were not heavy, and Lannie carried them out to the Hedge House one afternoon after school. An old towel made a very good tablecloth, and some bricks and a sheet of plywood became the dresser. Auntie Grace had given her an old plastic jug for a kettle. This she filled with water. She picked some of the red berries and placed them in the teapot. This would make special berry tea. Finally, she laid out the cups and saucers. She returned to the house, reappearing a few minutes later with Teddy and Priscilla, the doll Mr Mayberry had given her the previous year, on the occasion of her seventh birthday.
“Sit nicely, like a good boy,” she bade Teddy, as she placed him on the bright green chair. Teddy obediently sat nicely.
Priscilla, however, was not as accommodating as Teddy, and Lannie became quite flustered in her attempts to get Priscilla to remain upright on her bright pink chair. “You are being thoroughly exasperating!” she said to her, unconsciously mimicking her class teacher.
At this, she heard a snort of laughter. She looked around but did not see anyone. She turned her attention back to Priscilla, who kept slipping down off the front of the chair. She eventually solved the problem by pushing the chair in under the table, thereby firmly wedging Priscilla between the chair back and the edge of the table.
She poured the water into the teapot and stirred it.
“What are you doing?” a disembodied voice asked her. She whirled round in fright, but still could see no one.
“I’m up here, Carrots,” the voice said.
She looked up, and there was Luke, the middle brother. He was up in the tree that grew in the corner of the Lindquist garden. He sat on a large branch growing directly over the Hedge House.
“My name is Lannie, not Carrots,” she said loftily.
“Well, it should be! I’ve never seen anyone with such carroty hair!” He scrambled down from the tree and peered at her through the hedge.
She glared at him. “My Auntie Grace says I’ve got beautiful hair!” she declared.
He reached through the hedge and lifted the end of one thick pigtail. “I suppose it is quite pretty,” he said condescendingly. “What are you doing?”
Somewhat mollified, she replied: “I’m having a tea party.”
She stood still, watching him, rather intimidated now that she had recovered from the indignity of being called Carrots.
“Well, carry on, don’t let me stop you,” he said.
Rather self-consciously, she poured the tea into the teacups in front of Teddy and Priscilla.
“What on earth is that?” he asked.
“It’s berry tea,” she replied shortly, expecting another insult.
“What does it taste like?” he asked, his interest aroused. His sister had never played with dolls, and the procedure was quite intriguing.
“Do you want some?’ Lannie asked.
He climbed over the low fence, pushing his way through the hedge. He gingerly perched himself on the bright red chair between Teddy and Priscilla. It was much too small for him, so he first checked to see whether it would bear his weight. “You may pour me some,” he said, once he was satisfied he would not break the chair.
Lannie sat down on the bright blue chair and poured the berry tea into his cup. She then filled her own. Luke took the small cup daintily, little finger raised. In a haughty falsetto, which dripped condescension, he said mincingly: “Thenk you sew much for inviting mee to your party, Mrs Cerrots.”
She giggled. He sounded so funny she didn’t even mind the Mrs Carrots. He lifted the cup to his lips and took a dainty sip. He suddenly slapped the cup down into its saucer and clasped his hands to his throat. Continuing in the falsetto, he shrieked: “Eek! Mrs Cerrots is trying to poison mee!”
At first she was highly alarmed, but when he jumped up and ducked behind Teddy, holding Teddy’s arms and making them waggle, and speaking for him in a deep voice, she began to laugh. “You should be ashamed of yourself, Mrs Carrots!” Teddy boomed.
Luke then ducked behind Priscilla. He lifted her out of her chair and held her in front of his face. In a breathy sort of squeak, Priscilla said: “I am shocked! Deeply shocked!”
Lannie laughed so hard she fell off her chair. And from that moment on, she loved Luke with all her passionate little heart.
About six months later she was once again walking along The Pipe.
She often wondered where The Pipe went to, and where it came from, and what was in it. She sometimes put her ear to it and could hear a faint, drumming noise. It was also always cool, even on the hottest days. Auntie Grace could not answer her questions and had suggested she ask Uncle Billy, but this she could not bring herself to do.
She had got used to his size and loudness, but there was something about him that made her avoid all unnecessary contact or conversation with him. The only time he was ever friendly to her was when Mr Mayberry came to visit her, which he did twice a year, once in the spring on her birthday, and once in the autumn, usually just after Easter. As young as she was, she was well aware the friendliness was spurious, and had more to do with The Maintenance than with any desire to be amicable.
Auntie Grace was scared of him – that she knew for sure. She just wasn’t sure why. She wasn’t scared of him and she was just a little girl! Why would a grown- up be scared of him? He did shout a lot when he got angry, and he was very mean when he came back from the club, with his eyes all red and his speech slurred. He was often abrupt and rude, and sometimes said very nasty things to Auntie Grace, but, for the greater part, he simply ignored Lannie, a state of affairs she was only too happy to encourage. She found herself unable to call him by his name, addressing him as “Uncle” whenever she was obliged to speak to him. She even thought of him as The Uncle. No, she would rather not know anything about The Pipe than ask The Uncle.
On this day, she had completed her homework and Auntie Grace had said she might spend half an hour on The Pipe. She positively pranced along it, so much did she enjoy these little excursions. A short distance from their house the road turned away from The Pipe, allowing space for a number of houses to lie adjacent to it. This gave her a wonderful vantage point from which to see into their gardens. There were two large houses she could view in this way while still being visible to Auntie Grace. In the first garden were two large French Poodles which always rushed to the fence to greet her. They barked, delirious with excitement at seeing her. She loved their smart coats, especially when they had been recently groomed and had little bows of coloured ribbon on their ears. She hung over the split-pole fence and patted their woolly heads as they stretched up to reach her. Then she moved on to the second house, where there was a big, black Labrador who also regarded her as a friend. Having been informed of her presence by the hysterical greetings of his neighbours, he was already at the fence. He wuffed at her, with his head down between his paws, begging her to come and play. She looked at him wistfully. How she wished she could have a dog! She had asked Auntie Grace but she said The Uncle did not like dogs.
Eventually she said a reluctant goodbye to the Labrador, and the poodles as she passed them again, and made her way home. She was about to jump down from The Pipe at her usual spot, when, some distance further along, she noticed a cardboard box placed under it. She went to investigate. As she drew closer, she heard high-pitched whimpering sounds. She jumped down and dragged the box out. She opened it and there, to her horror, was a litter of four little puppies. Three of them were dead, but the fourth one, the biggest, made weak attempts to reach her.
She decided then and there she was going to save that puppy. But how?
Just then Luke came cycling up the well-worn path that crossed the veld on the other side of The Pipe. “Hello, Carrots! What have you got there?”
Wordlessly, she showed him the contents of the box.
“Some people are so cruel!” he said, shocked.
He took the live puppy out and examined it. It was a little male. “It’s very weak, Lannie. I don’t think it’s going to live. Poor little thing. I wonder how long they’ve been here.”
“He’s got to live! We must save him, Luke,” she pleaded, desperation in her eyes.
“Well, then, you’d better go home and give him some milk or something,” Luke said. “I’ll take the box home and go and bury these other poor little things.”
She rushed off, gently nestling the puppy in her neck. Auntie Grace was very sympathetic when she heard the story, and immediately put some milk on the stove to warm, and got out a box of cereal. They put the mixture on the floor and put the puppy at the saucer, but it could not, or it would not, eat. Auntie Grace fetched a dropper from her medicine supplies and gently gave it a few drops of milk. The puppy swallowed them. Encouraged, she gave it a bit more.
The rest of the afternoon was spent caring for the puppy. Every fifteen minutes Lannie would give it some more warm milk with the dropper. A few hours later the puppy showed definite signs of revival. Auntie Grace brought her a cardboard box and placed an old towel in the bottom.
“Please keep the puppy in your bedroom and don’t say anything about it yet, Lannie,” she said.
Lannie nodded. She understood. The Uncle must not know. For the moment she did not worry about The Uncle’s inevitable discovery of the added member to the family. With single-minded determination she cared only about rescuing it from death.
The Uncle made the unwelcome discovery the following morning, when he found her warming the puppy’s milk in the kitchen. “What are you doing?” he asked in his abrupt way.
“Nothing, Uncle,” she replied nervously.
But he followed her to her room and she was unable to hide the puppy, which by now was screaming for its food. Her nursing had been successful and it had regained its strength. Unfortunately, it no longer looked pathetic, so it was useless trying to appeal to The Uncle’s sympathies, if he ever had any. But she told him the story anyway.
The Uncle was not impressed. “Grace!” he yelled peremptorily.
“I will not have a dog in my house!” he declared emphatically when she appeared in the doorway, as ever nervously rubbing her hands together.
“Oh, Billy, it’s such a tiny little thing! Can’t she just keep it until we can find a good home for it? Please Billy?” she pleaded.
“No, she can’t!” he said furiously. “My life has been disturbed enough already without adding a dog to it! They do nothing but kick up a racket and make a stinking mess!”
“But it’s still too small to really bother you, and Lannie will promise to keep it in her room. I really wouldn’t want anyone to think we are cruel to animals,” she added.
Unintentionally, Auntie Grace had said just the right thing. As Lannie would realise when she grew older, while The Uncle might not care what she or Auntie Grace thought about him, he certainly did care about his colleagues’ and superiors’ opinion of him. “All right,” he said ungraciously, “she may keep it until we can find a home for it. And if we can’t,” he added, throwing an unfriendly glance in Lannie’s direction, “it’s going to the SPCA!”
She was too relieved to worry about the future. She and Auntie Grace took great care to keep him out of The Uncle’s way. For quite a while The Pipe and Hedge House lost their allure. While she was at school Auntie Grace took care of it, and when she came home she spent all her spare time playing with it. They also took great care to clean up every bit of mess promptly, and when it was time for The Uncle to come home, she took it to her room and closed the door. She did not mind the extra trouble one bit.
She had a dog of her own.
A Lily among Thorns
Like a lily among thorns
is my darling among the maidens.
(Song of Songs 2:2 NIV)
Prologue – The Quest
Part One – Closed Doors
Part Two – Flame and Flood
Part Three – The Charge
Part Four – A Time for Singing
Part Five – Little Foxes
Part Six – The Banner
Epilogue – Budding Vines
Index of Scripture Texts
Glossary of South African Words
I will search for the one my heart loves.
(Song of Songs 3:2b NIV)
The pine forest was hushed.
Above the canopy of dark green needles the sun burnt brightly, but down below it was dim and cool. The thick carpet underfoot exuded the spicy scent of dead needles as the Indian brave crept stealthily along the path. He kept a wary eye open for the grizzly bear he was certain was lurking somewhere nearby.
He halted in his tracks while he considered climbing one of the pine trees to extend his view, but the last time he had done that he had to terminate his hunt and return home to get the sticky resin removed from his hands. It had taken a fair amount of turpentine and quite a bit of Uncle Joe’s elbow grease to remove it. And then his hands had smelt nasty for the rest of the day, no matter how many times he washed them. It was an awful pong.
The word pleased him and he set off again, muttering: “Wattapong... wattapong... wattapong...”
There was no sign of the grizzly bear and he slowed down, wondering if he shouldn’t hunt a leopard instead. Just then something cold and wet pressed against the back of his neck and he jumped.
“No, man, Shadow! Don’t do that!” he admonished the extremely large black dog which had been quietly padding behind him.
Shadow was unrepentant and sat down, his mouth wide open in a grin as he panted, waiting for his playmate to indulge him in his favourite pastime. Robin gave up being the Indian brave, and any thought of being an African hunter. He looked around for a stick. He found a small branch, broke off the twigs that still held bunches of needles, and then hurled it as far as he could. Shadow dashed off, retrieved it, brought it back to him, and he obligingly hurled it once more.
Eventually tiring of this particular exercise, he set off again. Grizzly bears and leopards were forgotten and he kept a vigilant eye open for puff adders instead. He was not frightened of them, but he was aware of their lazy habits. They did not slither prudently away like other snakes, so it was quite possible to step on one. And everyone knew a puff adder’s bite could cause the loss of a limb, and possibly even kill you if you weren’t treated in time. At the very least it was very, very sore and took a very, very long time to heal.
He came at last to his destination – a large mound of boulders where it had not been possible to plant trees. The resulting clearing lay exposed to the sun and the granite was warm to the touch. He clambered onto the boulders and Shadow scrambled up after him. They sat down and basked in the warmth.
Out of the corner of his eye he caught a sudden movement. A slender mongoose had appeared from behind the rocks. Its nose was to the ground and its black-tipped tail trailed behind it. Robin held his breath, hoping Shadow hadn’t noticed. But the mongoose must have caught their scent for it darted away.
From where he sat, he once again carefully examined the gaps between the boulders. One of the gaps was quite large and would make a splendid fort. But he would need the help of someone big enough to carry the necessary materials and tools from the lodge. He was a sturdy boy and tall for his age, but there was a limit to what even a tall, sturdy six-year-old could carry. He had also previously experimented with a hammer and nails in Uncle Joe’s workshop, and it was surprisingly difficult to drive the nails into a plank. He had been quite unable to nail any planks together.
Unfortunately, Uncle Joe’s arthritic knee made it impossible for him to climb rocks to build forts. What Robin needed was a daddy.
He had not noticed his lack of a daddy until he started school. The previous year, in Grade R, he had gradually become aware that almost all the children in his class had both a mommy and a daddy. He had asked his mother why it was that he had no daddy. Her explanation had not fully satisfied him, though he did not ask any more questions. She had answered him willingly, but she had looked so sad. He loved his mother more than anyone else in the whole, wide world, and he did not like to see her sad.
Considering his youth, he was remarkably perceptive. If he had no daddy, it was because his mommy had no husband. She only had him and he had developed intensely protective feelings towards her. So much so that he did not hold it against her in the slightest that he had girl’s eyes.
He would have had to have been deaf not to know his eyes looked like his mother’s, as people were forever remarking on it, and had been doing so for as long as he could remember. But until this year, when he started big school, no one had ever told him that he had girl’s eyes. He ground his teeth as he remembered the occasion when Justin, his one-time big buddy, had started taunting him. Several other boys, noticing his chagrin, joined in the fun and followed him around the playground, chanting in unison. Mercifully, one of the teachers noticed and promptly came and put an end to the torment, but the words had bitten deep into his soul. Afterwards, when people remarked on the resemblance between him and his mother, he would feel himself grow quite hot with indignation. This still happened quite frequently, as strangers were constantly coming to stay at the lodge. He had protested once, but afterwards his mother reprimanded him, and explained how important it was that they always be polite to guests. If the guests were not happy, then they would not come to the lodge any more, and they might tell their friends. And, if no one came to the lodge, what would happen to Uncle Joe and Auntie Marisa?
So, he held his tongue, but it still made him very cross.
If he had a daddy, no one would dare tell him that he had girl’s eyes!
Girls! Silly, screechy things, with their high-pitched voices and their stupid giggling! The only girls he had any time for were his mother and Auntie Marisa. After a moment’s contemplation, he decided that Philomena and Thumi were all right. And Auntie Sue and Auntie Linda weren’t too bad either. And his teacher was also okay, he supposed. But as for the rest of the world’s female population... especially the girls in his class... well!
But he had a sunny, sanguine disposition and was quite unable to seethe for long. He cheerfully slid down off the boulders, and he and Shadow set off for home.
He found a long, almost straight stick and instantly became a soldier. He held his rifle pointing upwards against his left shoulder and began to goose-step, as he had once seen on a television programme, and which he had found both fascinating and exquisitely humorous.
Followed by the ever-faithful Shadow, he marched home. He had not yet reached the edge of the forest when he discarded the rifle, and the goose-step. It was surprising how tiring it was to walk like that. He decided that he would rather not be a soldier when he grew up.
He spied something large and round and brown in amongst the needles underneath one of the pine trees. It was one of those yummy forest mushrooms! He went closer. Yes! There were at least five growing there. But how to carry them home? He sat down next to them to give it some thought. He could go back to the lodge and fetch a dish… But it was quite late already and his mother might not let him come back… And he did fancy having some with his supper – Thumi would willingly prepare them for him… Of course! He would hold out the front of his t-shirt and put the mushrooms in there!
Just then Shadow whined. Robin immediately looked up. Shadow’s ears were pricked forward and he was watching something intently. Robin turned his head in the direction Shadow was looking and then held his breath. It was a grey duiker! The little buck stood frozen. Shadow gave another whine and Robin gripped his collar. Shadow did not usually harbour ill-will towards other animals, but it was better to be sure. Unfortunately, the duiker had caught the movement of Robin’s hand. It turned and bounded off in a flash. Robin sighed with disappointment.
He turned his attention back to the mushrooms. Gripping the bottom of his t-shirt with one hand, he pulled it forward. With his other hand, he placed the mushrooms in the bag he had formed. Carefully protecting the precious load, he made his way back to the lodge and entered the kitchen.
Here he was cheerfully greeted by Philomena and Thumi. He again took the utmost care as he placed the mushrooms on the kitchen sink, and Thumi promised to prepare them for him. He gave his gracious permission for his mother and Uncle Joe and Auntie Marisa to get a share of the delicacy. Thumi then offered him one of the biscuits she had recently taken out of the oven and left to cool on the counter. Guiltily aware that his mother would not want him to be eating biscuits so close to suppertime, he stuffed three biscuits into his pocket and went off to his room, which was part of a suite Uncle Joe had created for them by breaking down the walls between two of the larger bedrooms in the main building of the lodge. His bedroom was small and had a large window taking up most of the outer wall. This window faced north, so his room was especially snug in the winter months, when it became very cold here on the Mpumalanga escarpment.
There was no sign of his mother so he quickly scoffed all three biscuits, and then carefully wiped his lips so there would be no crumbs to betray him, as there had been the previous time he had allowed himself an illicit treat.
Soon afterwards his mother’s workday ended. She came to their suite and put her head around his door.
“Hello, sweetheart!” she greeted him with her lovely smile. “Did you enjoy your walk with Shadow?”
“It was cool! We saw a duiker!”
“Really? Lucky boy!” she exclaimed. “I hope Shadow didn’t chase it!”
“Oh, no! He was very good. He just whined a bit,” he replied. “But do you know what else I saw?”
“Me and Uncle Joe saw a lot of monkeys on the way to school this morning. They were running over the road. Uncle Joe says it was by the grace of God that we didn’t hit any.” He frowned. “What’s the grace of God, Mommy?”
‘I suppose it’s like saying it was a good thing,” she answered gravely.
“Oh. Well, it wasn’t monkeys. What else do you think I saw?”
“Elephants!” she said with a laugh.
“No, man, Mommy! You know there aren’t any elephants here!” he sternly rebuked her. Elephants! Really! Although it would be so cool if there were elephants at the lodge!
His lively mind immediately transported him into a world where he had his own pet elephant. He would train it to kneel so that he could climb onto its back, and then he would go for a ride. He would ride it to school! It would be so cool to see Justin’s face!
“I can’t guess. You’ll just have to tell me,” his mother interrupted his vision.
“What?” he asked, puzzled, his pet elephant having taken him completely off track.
“What else you saw, silly,” she laughed.
“Oh, that! We saw a mongoose. One of those with the tail that looks like a paintbrush.”
“Oh, a slender mongoose! My, but you did have good luck today! Was it on its own?” she asked with interest.
His mommy loved little animals, but he had remembered something else.
“And we found something special! But it’s a surprise. You’ll see tonight,” he promised.
“I can’t wait,” she responded, before changing the subject. “Have you done your homework?”
“I’ve only got some reading,” he replied.
“Well, then, let’s do it before you shower,” she said.
The reading was soon done to his mother’s satisfaction. He was good at reading and had even begun reading some of his books on his own, although occasionally he needed help with a new and difficult word. In fact, schoolwork was no trouble at all. His only problem was that he usually completed his work before the rest of the class. His teacher had taken to allowing him to read while the others caught up, though, so he was never bored.
He had just that day found a wonderful book on elephants in the school library, and he intended reading it that night. Elephants were, as far as he was concerned, the most wonderful of all the animals on earth. One of the rooms in the lodge had a huge painting of a bull elephant with very, very long tusks. He had asked Auntie Marisa if he might have it, but he had been forced to admit, when she regretfully pointed it out to him, that his room was too small. She had promised to look out for him for a smaller one, and he had been a little disappointed when she bought him a pair of binoculars for his birthday. He had been fully expecting the painting.
While he was showering, he thought about the book and the painting, and wondered if he would have to wait until his next birthday, which was still very far away. But he cheered up when he remembered that they were soon to go to the Kruger Park, and the binoculars would come in very useful for looking out for real, live elephants!
He was very excited about the anticipated trip. Usually his mother went with Auntie Linda, Uncle Joe and Auntie Marisa’s daughter, but she was married now, and so he was going to go in her place! He couldn’t wait for the school term to end!
After supper, he went and spent a while with Auntie Marisa in her cottage. After they had chatted about the day’s doings, and he had told her about the elephant book, she took out the Children’s Bible and they settled down to read one of the stories.
He loved this part of the day. There were such exciting stories in the Bible, and he could ask Auntie Marisa any question he liked. He had noticed that his Sunday school teacher didn’t like to be interrupted with questions, but Auntie Marisa didn’t mind at all. Every Sunday, he went with Uncle Joe and Auntie Marisa to the nearest town, and while they went into the church, he went into the hall with a whole lot of other children for Sunday school. Excepting for his teacher’s reluctance to answer his questions, he loved it.
His mother hardly ever went, but Auntie Marisa had said he shouldn’t nag her about it. Instead, once they had completed their story, they always prayed together for the Lord Jesus to bless his mother, and to help her with her work and to be happy.
At bedtime, his mother reminded him to brush his teeth, and then he settled down to read his book. Just then she came in to say goodnight and he immediately jumped up to give her an exuberant hug.
“Nighty-night, my precious boy,” she said, returning his hug with warmth.
When she left, he climbed back into bed and picked up his book again. As it consisted mostly of illustrations, it didn’t take him long to finish reading it. He put the book to one side and settled down to sleep. Not feeling at all sleepy, his mind returned to the fort.
Perhaps Uncle Joe’s knee would get better and he would be able to help him build it. It would be so cool to have a fort! Justin didn’t have a fort. It would give him great satisfaction to be one up on Justin, who was so lucky as to have a daddy. He thought enviously of how Justin’s daddy came to watch him play soccer, and how he ran up and down the field shouting encouragement to him.
At that moment Robin made up his mind.
At Sunday school, he had been taught that if you really wanted something very much, then the best thing you could do was to ask Lord Jesus for it. Well, he really, really wanted a daddy.
He sat up in bed, put his hands together and closed his eyes.
“Dear Lord Jesus, I really, really want a daddy. I love Mommy very much but it would be so cool to also have a daddy. A daddy would help me build a fort and he would also shout for me when I play soccer. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.”
He lay down satisfied. The Lord Jesus would give him a daddy.
He drifted off to sleep, a smile lifting the corners of his mouth.
I opened for my lover,
but my lover had left; he was gone.
My heart sank at his departure.
I looked for him but did not find him.
I called him but he did not answer.
(Song of Songs 5:6 NIV)
The day had dawned without even the faintest shadow of foreboding.
In fact, the morning had so far been entirely satisfying. As Ginny reversed the car into the shade thrown by a large acacia tree, with Robin sitting next to her on a pile of cushions which allowed him to have a clear view through the windscreen, she wondered which of the two of them was the more thrilled by the incredibly good fortune they had had on this, their fourth day in the Kruger National Park.
She switched off the engine and wound down the window. Robin stopped in mid-sentence and he also wound down his window, his brows contracted together in concentration and effort. The water hole in front of them was deserted, and the silence was broken only by the humming and droning and buzzing of myriads of insects.
She turned in her seat towards the back and reached for the cool-bag, in which she had packed their sandwiches and fruit. Robin, ever hungry, wolfed down several sandwiches in very short time. She contented herself with an apple, savouring the juicy sweetness while admiring the beauty of the bright April day.
Although it was only mid-morning, it was already hot, and she found it strange to think that back home the air would be crisp and cool, while here in the Lowveld there was not even a hint of autumn.
A sudden movement in the thickets beyond the water hole caught her attention. She pointed it out to Robin and they both reached for their binoculars.
“It’s dogs, Mommy!” he squeaked, almost bouncing off his cushions with delight.
This was the crowning stroke of luck, for they had so far not seen wild dogs. She had warned him that dog sightings were comparatively rare, and she had only seen them once before, and that was in the southern part of the Park. But there they were!
There were about a dozen of them, their dark brown, tan and white patched coats making them easily identifiable. They stood still, scenting the air, with their large rounded ears pricked forward, and their bushy, white-tipped tails curved over their backs. Then, apparently having decided it was safe to venture further, they came towards the water, where they stood and drank thirstily. To Robin’s disappointment there were no pups, but there were four dogs which had not yet reached adulthood. They were quite obviously still filled with the joys of youth, for while the adults settled down to rest, they played wrestling and chasing games, much to Robin’s interest and enjoyment. But after about half an hour, when they began to settle lazily, he lowered his binoculars and declared his readiness to return to the rest camp.
As they made their leisurely return to the Satara Rest Camp, they discussed the morning’s sightings.
Within a few minutes of leaving Satara when the camp gates opened at sunrise, they had seen two spotted hyenas walking along the road in front of them. They drew right alongside them and Ginny stopped the car. Contrary to her expectations, the hyena walked around the car, interestedly sniffing at it. She had never experienced such a close encounter before, and their dog-like faces seemed to register nothing more than friendly interest. However, they kept their windows firmly shut, foregoing the opportunity of taking close-up snapshots. They both knew that the jaws of a hyena were more than capable of removing an arm with one sharp bite.
Losing interest, the hyenas loped off, their shorter and comparatively weaker hind legs creating the familiar skulking gait. Ginny started up the car and, not ten minutes later, they saw two quite large shapes crossing the road some distance ahead of them. When the shapes lay down on the tar road she knew they could not be antelope, and wondered if they were possibly more hyenas. But as they drew closer, to their great satisfaction, they saw two lionesses stretched out on the road, where they were apparently enjoying the warmth of the tarmac. They were soon joined by a third, which first rubbed herself affectionately against them before settling down beside them.
Suddenly the heads of the lionesses jerked round. All three sat up and remained like carved images, their eyes focused on something unseen to the left of the car. One of them moved off the road into the grass where she lowered herself and began to creep forward, her ears flattened and her tail twitching.
A dense thicket of thorny shrubs made it impossible to see what she was stalking. Ginny and Robin had both wound down their windows, knowing that the lionesses’ attention would remain on whatever it was that appeared to be coming closer. The stalking lioness broke cover and gave chase. To their intense frustration they still could not see anything, but they heard the yelping bark of an alarmed zebra followed immediately by the thunder of hooves. The zebras appeared beyond the thicket and galloped away. When the lioness returned to the others after a few minutes, Ginny felt a sense of relief. She knew predators also had to eat, but rather squeamishly preferred not to witness the kills. Robin, though, had no such qualms and his eyes shone with excitement. Just then another car drew up. The lionesses moved off the road and walked away into the long grass. When they were out of sight, Ginny once again turned the key in the ignition.
It was still very early, but the sun was already well above the horizon. She felt a sense of regret that it was not the summer months, when the camp gates opened very early, while it was still dark. During their last visit, she and Linda had captured a spectacular sunrise on their cameras.
The grey dawn had lightened with the eastern skyline blushing a faint pink. Marula and knob-thorn trees, which dotted the open savanna plain, began to emerge from the dimness as pink deepened into orange. Here and there, the silhouettes of long dead trees stretched skeletal fingers upwards. Gradually, the pearly grey of the dawn sky gave way to rose and lilac and amethyst. The rounded top of a crimson ball appeared. It edged up over the horizon, where it appeared to hang suspended for a few minutes, bathing the landscape in warm light.
She and Linda had sat gazing in awe and wonder.
However, the summer months were also extremely hot, making the long hours in the car exhausting. And, she had to admit, Robin was not one to sit gazing awe-inspired at sunrises!
He was the first to spot the cheetah. They had turned off the main tarred road and were travelling slowly along the dirt road, when it appeared out of the long grass. She was particularly elated, as this was the first time she had seen one. It climbed onto a stump, where it stayed for some time, surveying the open savanna plain from its elevated post. Eventually, it seemed to have spotted something, for it moved off purposefully and soon disappeared in the grass. It was quite surprising what good camouflage its distinctively spotted coat provided.
After this, it looked as though their lucky streak had come to an end. For a while they saw nothing much more than a small herd of zebra accompanied by some wildebeest. Even the ubiquitous impala were nowhere to be seen.
Then they came across a family of warthogs snuffling close to the road. The parents appeared for all the world to be bowing down in prayer as they rooted about on the ground, with their forelegs bent double at the elbow and their rear ends in the air.
Both Robin and Ginny chuckled, and then laughed out loud as the parents, startled by the car, rose and rushed off with their piglets, their tails raised vertically like antennae.
They passed a huge herd of buffalo making its way towards the river and, shortly after, three large kudu bulls, their magnificent horns spiralling upwards. A giraffe bull crossed the road with stately majesty. He eyed the car for a minute or two, and then, perceiving no threat, stretched upwards to pull the foliage off the thorny branches of acacia with his leathery tongue.
As they rounded a bend, Robin gave another squeal of excitement. A pride of lion was settling down in the shade of a thicket! Ginny simply could not believe their luck. To have had hyena, cheetah, and two lion sightings in the space of a few hours was the most incredibly good fortune.
They watched for a while as the male gave a mighty yawn before lying down in the grass so that only the top of his tawny mane was visible. Fortunately, the lionesses remained in full view. They lay down languidly and watched indulgently as the cubs wrestled one another. One of them was fascinated by its mother’s lazily twitching tail, which it stalked and then pounced upon. Another cub approached the male and then also disappeared into the long grass. For a few long minutes Ginny and Robin waited with bated breath, wondering whether the cub was being brave or foolish. The male lifted his head above the grass and gave an irritable grunt. The cub took the hint and scampered back to the safety of its mother’s side.
About half an hour later they reluctantly left the pride to continue their journey to the water hole where they had stopped for breakfast.
“Today was the very bestest day,” Robin said with satisfaction, as they neared the camp. “It was even better than the fighting giraffes!”
The highlight of the previous day had been the most unusual spectacle of two giraffe bulls having an altercation, which had totally fascinated them both. They couldn’t figure out what the bulls were doing at first. They stood next to each other swaying their great long necks. When they swayed towards each other and struck their necks together with a resounding crack, Ginny and Robin realised they were witnessing a fight. With each crack Ginny winced, marvelling at the fact that the giraffes didn’t break each other’s necks.
“Yes,” she immediately agreed, “I also think it’s been the best day.”
“But I still think the swimming baboons were the bestest of all,” he said, having pondered deeply before coming to his decision.
She gave his hair a quick, affectionate ruffle while agreeing that, without a shadow of a doubt, the swimming baboons beat everything else hands down.
They had seen this most unusual spectacle on their first day. They had entered the park from the south and were making their way northwards to Satara, when they spied the troop of baboons down on the rocky banks of a river. She had stopped the car in the middle of the bridge while they watched the performance.
The troop was large. A huge baboon, which must have been the alpha male, sat to one side, while the rest of the troop went about their daily business. Lookouts were posted in nearby bushes, keeping watchful eyes open for raptors and other predators. Young teenagers swung about in a huge tree that overhung the bank, while mothers with babies protectively cuddled them. Some of the adults were scratching about under stones, while others sat in pairs, grooming each other, every now and then finding some tasty parasite which they consumed with every sign of enjoyment.
But the most fascinating was a group of about eight youngsters who flung themselves from the rocky banks into a rock pool situated above the main channel of the river. The baboons would disappear under the water and then emerge, pull themselves out and then rush up the bank to jump in again. If she had not seen it with her own eyes, she would never have believed it!
It became the yardstick against which Robin measured everything else he saw. This had been on Monday. Late that afternoon they had settled into Satara, which they had used as their home base, thoroughly exploring the central area of the Park. They had been amply rewarded for their efforts.
“I still want to see a baby elephant close up,” Robin declared, as they drove through the gates of the rest camp.
So far, they had had several distant sightings of lone elephant bulls, for which she was quite thankful. She had had one or two rather nerve-wracking experiences with elephants on previous visits to the Park. Although she greatly admired the colossal creatures, she preferred to do so from a distance.
“Well, we can go up to Olifants tomorrow morning,” she said. “There are usually big herds there. Maybe we’ll be lucky. But I’m getting very sleepy now and I’m longing for my bed!”
He agreed and they headed straight for their hut.
Each camp in the Park was quite different but Satara was her favourite. The huts were arranged in a series of large circles. In the centre of each circle, the indigenous trees had been left undisturbed, and these were home to a great variety of bird life, as well as little grey tree-squirrels that had become quite tame, much to Robin’s enchantment. The glossy starlings, the mourning doves, and the yellow-billed and red-billed hornbills had become so used to humans that they boldly sat on the low wall enclosing the veranda, and noisily vied for any scraps of food that came their way. Feeding of the animal and bird life was strictly forbidden, even in the rest camps, but the open-air picnicking and the alluring garbage bins provided an ample source of food. He had found their belligerence towards each other hugely entertaining at first, and at bedtime on their second night he declared the Kruger Park to be the best place in the world.
Ginny felt pretty much the same way. She had visited the Park several times with Linda, Marisa and Joe’s youngest and only unmarried daughter. This she had been urged to do as soon as Robin had been old enough to be left with his beloved Auntie Marisa. She had gone reluctantly the first time, initially fretting about him, as he was only two, but a phone call to the lodge and a conversation with him had set her mind at rest, and she and Linda had spent five glorious days travelling in what she felt had to be a little piece of heaven fallen to earth.
But Linda had recently married, and Marisa and Joe could not leave their country lodge. Ginny had thought she would have to forego what had become her annual pilgrimage, and had been very hesitant when Marisa suggested she introduce Robin to the Park. She could not imagine how he would sit still for hours at a time, but fortune had smiled upon them. The rains had been good that season and game was plentiful. He had behaved beautifully and she was quite thrilled that he had inherited her love of nature.
As she tucked Robin into bed, she wondered if it were possible that he had inherited it from David too. She instantly thrust the thought from her mind and climbed into her own bed.
It was rather odd going to bed at eleven in the morning, but the early rising and the five hours of travelling had worn them both out. He was asleep within minutes. She turned her head on her pillow and watched his precious little face relaxed in sleep.
Her thoughts returned to David. Robin did not look much like him. He had inherited her very distinctive, large grey eyes surrounded by thick fringes of long dark lashes, and these certainly marked him as her child. From his infancy people had been remarking on how much he resembled her. This was certainly a trick of those eyes, she had decided, for his other features were very much his own. It was his body which identified him as David’s son. From his sturdy shoulders down to his feet, he was a miniature of his father.
She allowed her mind to linger on the memory of David’s strong, handsome face. Her eyes saddened and her soft mouth drooped a little. Then she mentally shook herself and her mouth firmed. She resolutely closed her eyes and soon sank into a deep and restful sleep.
When she woke up it was after two. Robin was no longer there. Noticing the slightly ajar door, she realised he had gone out. She lazily got out of bed and went out onto the veranda. He was sitting on the grass near the centre of the circle eating nuts. Unaware that he was being observed, he surreptitiously ‘dropped’ a nut at the base of the tree. A squirrel rushed down from the tree, snatched the nut, then rushed up once more to sit and eat with relish. This activity had attracted the starlings and hornbills, as well as the doves, and they were showing every sign of giving the squirrel intense competition. She called to him to stop feeding the squirrels and he gave a guilty start. Then she went in to shower.
Fifteen minutes later, with her wet hair hanging just above her shoulders, and dressed in fresh shorts and a loose cotton top, she came out onto the veranda again. She put on the kettle to make tea, and called him to take his turn in the shower. He came running back, full of news about the squirrel, which, it appeared, had a wife. A rival squirrel had had the temerity to come into the circle, and had been summarily and indignantly chased off by the incumbent.
“They went around and around as fast as lightning!” he assured her.
She made the tea and when he rejoined her, also dressed in fresh clothing, they drank it. They sat watching the birds which gathered closer, obviously having decided that Robin was a rich source of food. Two hornbills began a squabble and one chased the other off. The starlings were also noisily rushing at each other. Two grey turacos sat in a tree nearby and squawked, “Go-’way!” for all the world like two disapproving old biddies.
“Why do they fight so much?” he asked, raising his voice above the clamour.
“I suppose it’s the competition for food,” she replied.
“Well, I don’t think they’re being very nice to each other. They’re just like some of the boys in my class. Always shoving and pushing and fighting. Be quiet!” He rushed at them and they flew off, but only to nearby trees, and within minutes they began to drift back.
“Would you like to visit the water hole while I do the shopping?” she asked him a while later.
“Ooh, yes! Maybe I’ll see some animals again, like yesterday.”
The afternoon heat hung in the air but, refreshed by their sleep, they walked quite briskly to the administration block. While she went into the shop, he ran over the grassed area in front of the nearby restaurant to the perimeter fence.
When she came out again, she walked over to a nearby bench that had a clear view of the fence. She placed the bags with her purchases beside it and sat down. A tourist bus had recently arrived, and many of its passengers were standing at the fence watching a giraffe at a small water hole a few metres away. She could not immediately locate Robin, but then she saw him, far off to the right. He was watching the giraffe with intense concentration. The giraffe had straddled its front legs apart and its great neck was stretched out downwards to reach the water.
A tall man dressed in khaki shorts and shirt was standing next to Robin. Thinking he was probably one of the game rangers, she watched as they stood chatting. She saw Robin look up into the man’s face, and then something in the man’s posture drew her attention. He had become quite rigid as he stared down into the piquant little face. Her attention arrested, she narrowed her eyes in concentration. They were not close enough for her to be able to distinguish his features clearly, and a peaked cap covered his hair and threw a shadow over his face, but she felt a prickle of uneasiness and her hand unconsciously stole up to her throat.
Then the man seemed to relax. He spoke and Robin turned and saw her and pointed to where she was sitting. The man had on large dark glasses which further disguised his features, as indeed had she, she thought wryly. She beckoned to Robin to come and he obediently came running to her. The man remained at the fence, watching the sturdy little figure move over the grass.
“Come, darling, it’s time to go and get our supper ready,” she said, as she picked up the bags.
They walked away, and as they turned the corner she glanced back at the man. He was still watching them and he took a step towards them. But he appeared to change his mind, for he then turned his back on them and stepped back to the fence. She tried to set her feeling of disquiet aside and followed Robin, who had run on ahead of her.
“Robin, just now at the fence... you remember that man you were speaking to?” she asked him when she had caught up with him.
“Yes, I remember,” he breathlessly replied, skipping along beside her.
“What did you talk about?” She tried to keep her tone as casual as possible.
“Umm...” he said, his brow furrowed as he tried to remember. “How funny the giraffe looked when it was drinking. He was a nice man. He knows a lot about giraffes.”
“Was that all?” Again, she deliberately kept her tone nonchalant.
He was still frowning as he thought. “He asked me where my mommy was. I told him you were shopping.”
They had reached their hut, and as she unpacked their purchases, he asked: “Mommy, can we eat at the restaurant tonight, please?”
She opened her mouth to refuse. That man bothered her.
“Please, Mommy, you said we could eat once at the restaurant,” he pleaded.
She gave in. “Yes, all right, my boy.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s still much too early for supper. Let’s read for a while.”
He agreed. They took their books and went and settled in their chairs on the veranda. She opened her book and put aside all thought of the man.
When it was time for supper they went up to the restaurant by car for she did not want to walk back in the dark.
They were amongst the first people there. She paid for the meal, and then they helped themselves to the food offered buffet style. They were both very hungry and tucked into the delicious fare without further ado. They sat at a table close to the door. Gradually, the restaurant filled up, and before they had completed their meal, all the tables were occupied. Robin did not want any tea and she decided she would rather have a cup back at the hut.
She waited for him to finish, and then she stood up. She picked up her handbag and pushed her chair back under the table. At that precise instant, she happened to glance at a table on the far side of the room. Her eyes widened with shock, for the man at the fence was sitting there. His eyes were fixed on hers, his mouth set in the grim line she knew so well. He moved as if to get up, his gaze still intently holding hers. Then one of the men sitting with him spoke to him. He turned his eyes towards him and Ginny, as if released from paralysis, promptly grabbed Robin by the hand and hurried out of the dining room.
Still holding him by the hand, she walked briskly to the car. She opened the door for him then hurried to the driver’s side. She climbed into the car and turned the ignition and reversed out of the parking space. She tried to remain calm but felt a rising sense of panic. She headed for their hut, her thoughts churning. It had been too dark to see if the man had followed them and seen where they went.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Robin’s voice broke into her wild thoughts. He had turned towards her and his face looked puzzled. “Why are you in such a hurry?”
“Oh, it’s nothing, darling,” she forced herself to say calmly and reassuringly. “I just want us to get a good night’s sleep so we’ll be fresh and ready to go to Olifants tomorrow.”
“Ooh, yes! I really, really hope we see a baby elephant tomorrow.”
Relieved to have given his thoughts another direction, she encouraged him to speculate on the baby elephant he was sure he would see the following day. As soon as they were back in the hut, he put on his pyjamas, brushed his teeth, and then declared his intention of reading the book on elephants he had brought with him. When he had settled down with the book, she went out to have her tea. She was a bit nervous of sitting outside, even though she had deliberately left the veranda light off.
She sat for a while concentrating on drinking her tea and forcing herself to relax. But she did not have much success and jumped at the night sounds. The moment she had emptied the cup, she went inside.
Robin’s book had fallen to one side and he was fast asleep. She took the book and placed it on the bedside table. Then she changed into her nightclothes, got into bed and switched off the light.
But she was still unable to relax, and it was hours before she fell into a restless sleep.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORIES
There are two questions I am often asked by readers of my two novels: Are they autobiographical and what was the motivation for writing them?
I can assure you that both novels are entirely fictional. Neither of the heroines resembles me at all - either in looks or in character. One gentleman, who read Ring of Fire, insisted that it had an autobiographical feel to it and was clearly skeptical when I assured him that it wasn’t.
Although they are set in places I am familiar with, I have not based the characters on anyone I know. As disclaimers in novels often declare - any resemblance between the characters and anyone living or dead is entirely coincidental!
What I will admit to is that as a character develops, I keep checking whether I know anyone who reacts in a similar way or does similar things. For instance, the villain in Ring of Fire has sociopathic tendencies and is incapable of accepting responsibility for the consequences of his actions. I searched my memory banks and came up with one or two people I have known who are like that, even though they do not resemble the villain in any other way. As another example, one of the characters in A Lily among Thorns plays tennis, bridge and is an avid gardener. I checked whether I know anyone who has a combination of those three interests and I came up with several! Again, I must stress that the character concerned does not resemble any of those people at all.
My objective was to create believable characters, and considering how often I am asked whether the characters are based on people I knew or know, I do believe that I achieved it!
As to why I wrote them:
Soon after leaving school, my daughter, then 18, developed a headache which did not leave her for more than two years. Although we did find help, and thought she was cured, it turned out to be a temporary reprieve. A year later she was very ill again with what was eventually diagnosed as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
This terrible condition robbed her of her twenties, and it was only after nearly fourteen years of suffering, at the age of 32, that she received her miracle healing. I fully intend writing the story some day. It will be titled Garment of Praise and will possibly be posted here on my Writing Desk. It is a harrowing tale with a glorious end!
As her primary caregiver, I was in the prison with her. Although I did not suffer the physical pain, I shared fully in the emotional stress and anguish of having a life on hold - not to mention what it is like being helpless in the face of your child’s suffering.
One year while we were on holiday - if it can be called a holiday when you are forced to take your troubles with you! - I popped into a second hand book store to look for something light to read. Remembering the Mills & Boon rubbishy romances I had read while at University (one has to escape the rigours of study sometimes, okay!) I bought one. Imagine my shock and horror to discover that the 21st century had wrought a frightful change in the tenor of Mills & Boon! Holy moly! It is nothing less than soft pornography!
I took the book back and exchanged it for an extremely old romance with yellowed pages and a shabby cover.
I read it with a sense of disbelief. How on earth did such drivel ever get published!
A never-to-be-forgotten example of the script, and I quote: “Darling, I love you,” he said in various ways. The mind boggled. Did he say it first in a very low and husky tone, followed by a deep and passionate tone, followed by a smooth and oily tone? I mean, in how many ways can you say, “Darling, I love you”?
I decided that I could do better myself!
When we were once again at home, I set about writing a light romance, and surprised myself in that I found it to be easier than I thought, though it was rather time-consuming. Within six months I had completed A Lily among Thorns. I sent it off to a publisher. In the meanwhile, I wondered whether I could write another, completely different story. This was to become Ring of Fire. By the time I had completed it, I realised that it was much better than A Lily among Thorns.
In the meanwhile, Lily was rejected and still being trapped in the prison of illness, I let them both lie for a while. To cut a long story short, I published Ring of Fire and then decided to rewrite Lily and see if I could bring it up to the standard of Ring. I will say only that it is much easier to write a novel from scratch than it is to rewrite one! It took several years to complete the task.
Originally, I did not set out to write a Christian novel, but while writing the original Lily, I found the behaviour of the hero and heroine so exasperating that I decided they both needed a jolly good dose of the Holy Spirit! And, voila! Evangelism through fiction was born!
Both books are intended to be heartwarming, family dramas. If you find the characters likable and you care about what happens to them, and you end the book feeling all warm and fuzzy, as well as feeling spiritually uplifted, then I will have achieved my aim.