The day the child disappeared the fog came up early and by midday it seemed as if the Forest was covered in a thick white cloud.
Only in retrospect did Fiela take account of the omens—she did not recognize them at first. […] Omens that should have warned her, but her mind was on the ostrich and she did not heed the warnings.
‘Listen here, woman, you know as well as I do that there’s something very strange going on here. This can’t be your child but you gave out that he was yours. Where did you get the child from?’
‘He’s my hand-child.’
‘When the bigfeet are on you, you can’t choose what you let go of and what you want to keep, woman!’
‘You’re making a mistake, Fiela, wait another week or two.’
‘No. I’ve kept them apart long enough, I had them out at pasture for weeks, I’ve put paraffin into their ears so that there wouldn’t be a single tick to worry them, I’ve let Kicker starve—I’m not waiting any longer.’
‘Is this a church?’ he asked the tall one.
‘No. It’s a courtroom. Sit there on the bench and sit still.’
‘Will I still know him?’
It was late when they got home. His mother took one look at the egg, took down the strap from behind the door and beat their backsides well for them.
The next day she baked a sugar-cake with the egg.
‘I’m going to Knysna,’ she announced.
Petrus drove the wedding-cart himself and gave them five pounds as a start. It was a lot of money. But on the other hand, Petrus had been afraid that he would lose Selling for Selling had hear from a man by the name of Barrington near the Knysna River who was looking for a good harness-maker.
‘What are bigfeet?’
‘Don’t you know? The animals with the trunks, elephants,’ she whispered. ‘You’re not supposed to say the name out loud, they’ll hear you and think you’ve called them and come and trample you.’
‘He’s the forest woman’s child.’
‘I’m your pa! That’s who I am! Say it! Say who I am!’ He was as tough as a piece of ironwood. ‘Say who I am!’
For every answer he gave him a lash. ‘And who are you?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Lukas van Rooyen. Say it!’
‘Lukas van Rooyen.’
‘The child is back with his rightful parents,’ he said and it seemed as if his jaw had grown stiff. ‘What he had on the day he got lost can make no difference. You can put anything on him now and swear by it in the hope that I will believe you.’
A snare-pit. That was what he had to have, he sat thinking that Sunday. The sheer prospect of it brough a funny feeling to Elias’s stomach for if it worked once, it would work again if you were clever enough
In fact Petrus did not come riding up the Kloof until late on Thursday. Alone. A sugar-cake was waiting on the kitchen table.
‘Pa is a dirty swine.’ Just that.
‘Why do you say that?’
‘It was a trap. An elephant trap.’
‘How do you know?’
‘I went there. There’s a dead elephant calf lying in the pit.’
The year moved slowly. Christmas came. New Year. And as he grew out of Benjamin Komoetie, he also grew out of his cloths and had to wear Willem’s old trousers and a shirt of his pa’s.
But she had thrown away her name: half a crown a week with food and clothing was all the people were prepared to pay. What could he do? Nothing. He had to accept it. But as soon as he could get to the village himself again, he would go and see if he could not get her price raised to three shillings.
She had to give up Benjamin to the forest people, Dawid to the grave. There was little difference in the bitterness within her. The question she put to God was the same: Why, God, why?
‘I am an oarsman too. But I can’t live on what John Benn’s paying. I make a bit of extra on my own. I had to get rid of some of my customers because I only have two hands.’
He was shocked and guilt-ridden. For a moment, his body had forgotten that she was his sister.
The one wearing the blue shirt.