appreciate the help of my wife Jill in proofreading this text and her
suggestions and critical comments while doing so. As she was with me when I
farmed and traded in
, she was able to help me recreate the atmosphere of those times. Anecdotes have
been inserted into the story line, but the work is a fiction and the product of
my imagination and likeness of any character to actual people is coincidental.
a height, the Eshowe flats look like a patchwork quilt, with fields of sugar
cane in different stages of growth. These stages, as well as the many different
varieties, are identified by their colour: the differing shades of green.
some places, a dark brown patch breaks the overall green, where tractors plough
out old ratoon cane, exposing the fertile earth. In others, black patches show
where a farmer has burnt off trash prior to cutting. But green predominates, in
all its different variations.
germinated plants are seen from above as pencil-thin green lines on a
milk-chocolate-brown background, while, closer to canopying, thin earthy lines
slice a sea of green. As the plants near maturity the leaves take on a yellowish
tinge and, as the leaves die back to enclose the sticks of cane in a dry sheath,
the fields from above look as though in need of moisture.
other fields a grey blue haze indicates arrowing, the shaft of flowers standing
several feet clear of the green canopy.
especially after high wind and heavy rain, the green fields take on a lunar
appearance, pitted with craters as the heavy stands of cane collapse on top of
one another, lodging and barring progress through the lines.
the colour green predominates in all its different hues.
the other hand, the far distant Melmoth hills are blue. The massif towers above
like a grey blue castle wall with battlements and turrets reaching up to the
looks down onto the back of soaring eagles from the heights of Misty Hill, and
this is where Bill Hunter built his house.
Jackson hammered at her keyboard. She made one mistake after another and she
knew that it would be long after normal locking-up time before she finished the
remaining letters. Her emotional stress resulting from her lover’s tiff was
affecting her work and, being highly competent, she found this as frustrating as
the lack of progress in her love affair. Her two attorney bosses were out of
town and, as usual, she managed the office in their absence.
ability had earned her an abnormally high salary, but it carried more
responsibilities and the personal stress and current workload were making her
behave like a clumsy teenager.
had been born and raised in Empangeni, but had left the small city after
matriculating to qualify as a legal secretary in Durban; and then to move up the
ladder from typing pool to personal secretary in one of the country’s biggest
legal firms in Johannesburg. The return to
was so that she could live near her fiancé. And Brian Conker and David Flower
were delighted to have the services of so well qualified and experienced an
employee. The firm of Conker and Conker was an old one, well known and respected
and well able to pay her larger than normal salary.
twenty-nine she had looked as though she was set on a career path rather than
marry, as her friends had done, as soon as they qualified. She was far more
interested in her work, with the wide variety that a legal firm offers, than in
the Jo’burg dudes who knocked on her door. Although she was never short of an
escort, she found that they all lacked something special. That is until the
home-grown country variety like Bill Hunter appeared on the scene and bowled her
was a third generation Zululander and for somebody of European extraction that
meant that her family had lived there for about as long as it was possible to
have done so. Her great-grandfather had been one of the Norwegian missionaries
allowed in by the Zulus well before the Anglo-Zulu wars. As hard working
God-fearing people they took biblical instruction to heart and
is now well populated with their descendants.
was educated at the Empangeni convent, which would probably have annoyed her
Luthern ancestors, but hadnt worried her father. She showed few talents
except for that as a tennis player as a youngster. But even as an early teenager
she was noticeable. She was a full head taller than her peer group; and her
Scandinavian genes, although much diluted, had reasserted themselves in her and
she turned heads wherever she went.
one was more astonished than she was herself at qualifying as top student in her
secretarial course and she had no trouble in finding employment and earning top
dollars from the beginning. Her financial situation improved with speculative
investments and was further assured when her father left the bulk of his
considerable estate to her.
it came as some surprise to her friends and her employers that shortly after the
Rand Easter Show she resigned her job, gave up her high flying
lifestyle and returned to the anonymity of
Hunter was interested in subtropical fruits. He was a sugar cane farmer, but his
small farm was situated on steep slopes and was barely viable. Years ago he had
decided to diversify. His cash crops of tomatoes and cabbages had meant the
difference between survival and going to the financial wall. He steadily
increased his acreage of citrus and avocados with the hope that eventually it
would allow him to give up cane farming all together.
Sub-Tropical Fruit Board had mounted a special display at the Rand Easter Show
and it had attracted prospective growers as well as those who were already
active from all over the subtropical region. Bill was one of those looking for
additional ideas from the collective brain-power of the experts.
the premier agricultural show of the country, it attracted farmers from all
areas to view or purchase new machinery, display their produce in competition
with their fellows and, seemingly more importantly, to socialise wildly.
rub entrepreneurial hands together when South African farmers gather together.
The bitter taste of hard bargaining is sweetened with hard drinking. Bill was a
well-known fellow. His good looks made him as attractive to the girls as his
boisterous bar room behaviour did to the blokes. He made friends effortlessly
and could walk into a pub five hundred miles from home and usually meet up with
somebody he knew. If he didn’t, you can be sure that he would have made life
long friends with complete strangers before the evening was over.
of Scandinavian ancestry who isn’t in
his family were sugar pioneers, leaders in the industry and politicians,
and their name epitomised wealth and success. But it was also a large family and
Bill wasn’t in the same league as his many cousins. He was a normal, hard
working, heavily mortgaged farmer.
Eshowe, June remembered Empangeni as a sleepy little agricultural and railway
town. In the early days, because of climatic and aesthetic differences, the
senior civil servants preferred to live in Eshowe; and for many years it became
the administrative capital of
. With its prosperous farming community and the railway infrastructure,
Empangeni became the commercial centre. Even before the development of
as a harbour, it started racing away from its inland rival with the building of
sugar and timber mills, the establishment of
and the establishment of all the industries necessary to service a rapidly
draining of the swamps started for agricultural purposes. Taming the Mhlatuze
delta region diminished the magnificent natural environment, where hippos
snorted, crocodiles basked on the mud banks and the fish eagle cried the cry of
. They had to learn to share their subtropical paradise with heavy industry and
a huge population. Sealed roads were built to carry heavy vehicles and peak hour
traffic jams when, as little as twenty years before, muddy or dusty tracks and
log fords through countless sluggish backwaters were the only routes over which
a few intrepid locals would travel to the Bay.
Bay had been a fisherman’s and naturalist’s delight. Thick reed beds and
mangroves had surrounded it, to be replaced with concrete wharves. Pelican
Island disappeared and Sandy Point too. High-powered businessmen and
industrialists arrived to share sterile five-star surroundings with pimps and
tarts in modern comfort, replacing the earthy easy-going farmers and fishermen
in hutted accommodation.
had grown up nearby. She clearly remembered the Bay in its glory before the
developers had really got going. The family farms were still run by her cousins,
and her mother still occupied the family home in The Village, as she had
done for the past thirty years. Here were the material signs of the family’s
successful battle against the elements and the inevitable result of their
efforts and those of like-minded people, to earn a good living and provide solid
employment for many of the teeming hordes of
JJ (as she was generally known) preferred the old Empangeni. She found that she
was a stranger to the
of the 1970s, with its daily changes and rapid development. And she was pleased
that Bill lived nearer Eshowe, which was still sleepy and cooled by the same
breezes, which stirred the tree tops of the surrounding Hlinza forest and
reputedly gave the town its onomatopoetic name the sound of the wind through
the trees. It was steeped in Zulu history and not the stuff of industrialists’
dreams. She was close enough to her family and old friends for regular visits,
but far enough to be removed from the