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Authors: Bryce Courtenay

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BOOK: Whitethorn
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First published in Canada in 2006 by
McArthur & Company
322 King St. West, Suite 402
Toronto, Ontario
M5V 1J2

Copyright © 2006 Bryce Courtenay

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise store in a retrieval system, without the express written consent of the publisher, is an infringement of the copyright law.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Courtenay, Bryce, 1933-
Whitethorn / Bryce Courtenay.

ISBN 978-1-55278-653-6

I. Title.

PR9619.3.C598W45 2007      823      C2007-905180-4

eISBN 978-1-55278-925-4




























List of Sources



Love in a Wet Sack

TRUE LOVE CAME TO me one crisp late autumn morning when the sky had lost the faded blue of the long hot summer and taken on the deeper colour of winter yet to come. I discovered it in a hessian sack floating down the bit of a creek that ran around the back of the orphanage. I waded into the shallow stream, the water reaching to just below the hem of my khaki shorts, the current pulling at my skinny legs. The stream, already icy from the high mountains, was extra cold from the frosty morning, so that I inched and ouched my way towards the floating sack, grabbed hold of it and drew it back against the current to finally rest it on the bank of wet black pebbles.

I untied the bag, no easy task I can tell you, the twine binding was knotted and slippery wet and my fingers near frozen. I peeped into the dark interior and, unable to see what it contained, up-ended it. To my surprise out plopped six dead puppies. Flippity-flop! Oh my Gawd!

With six dead dogs on my hands I knew I was in big trouble. What if someone came upon me and there were these dead puppies lying at my feet? I hastily dropped each one back into the sack, ready to return it to the stream. But as I grabbed the last one, the smallest of them all, it seemed to quiver and its mouth opened and gave a sort of gasp, so I gave it a bit of a squeeze and it vomited a jet of water. I squeezed it again and more water came out. One back leg started to jerk, I squeezed a third time and it must have been empty because nothing happened, except that it started to breathe.

Well, you can't just put a nearly dead puppy back in the sack and hope for the best, can you? So I took him beyond the shade of the overhanging mimosa and laid him down in a patch of sunlight. Then I quickly retied the bag and dragged it back to the stream and watched as the current caught it and it floated away around a rocky corner and was soon out of sight. I must say I was glad to see the last of it, five dead puppies lying at your feet is no way to start a morning. But then it struck me that a live puppy was going to be a lot more trouble than a dead one. How was a little kid in an orphanage where you were not allowed to have anything of your own going to look after a puppy?

Suddenly my life had become very complicated. I sat in the warm sun beside the puppy, stroking its pink tummy, which by now was pumping up and down thirteen to the dozen as it came truly alive and started to get warm again. I was accustomed to getting into trouble, mostly because of my surname, Fitzsaxby. I was English, well, that's what my name said I was anyway, and I was in the Deep North, high mountain country, Boer territory where the English were hated because of what they'd done in the Boer War. They'd started the world's first concentration camps and filled them with Boer women and children from the farms; many came from these mountains. That wasn't the bad part. The reason they hated the British was because 27 000 of them died of dysentery and blackwater fever and other terrible and unsanitary things. In a way, it was understandable that they hated me for being English, you don't forget things like what happened to your own
so easily, do you?

I picked up the still wet puppy and clasped him to my chest and he began to suck on my thumb and whimper. There was no doubt he was properly alive again and I had acquired a problem too big for a six-year-old boy's brain. All of a sudden it struck me, my friend Mattress, the pig boy, would know what to do.

Mattress was my friend even if he was a grown-up. If you're black you get called ‘boy' even if you're an old man, you can be a garden boy, kitchen boy, farm boy, house boy or a pig boy like Mattress, because he looked after the orphanage pigs and also worked with the cows in the dairy. I can tell you, having a friend like him was good because having friends in that place wasn't easy when you had an English name. Nobody wanted to be the friend of the
which is what
called you if you were English. It means redneck. One thing was for sure, the concentration camp business never went away but was always pointing a finger at you.
you are evil! God is going to punish you and you are going to hell,
you hear!

This is what happened to the Boere. I know it's true because on Sundays when we had to attend church the preacher stood up in his long black robes with a little white starched bib under his chin, it must have been there to catch the spit when he got angry with the English. Which is what he did every Sunday morning without fail. He got all worked up and thumped the pulpit and started going on and on. Soon he'd be red in the face and spit came flying out of his mouth and sprayed onto his beard that almost covered the entire bib, so after all that trouble to wear it, the bib wasn't any good for catching spit. At first I would get really frightened, me being the only Englishman in the congregation and him saying I was the devil's children. Not me personally, he didn't point to me, but I guess it amounted to the same thing. All the other kids would turn and look at me and the guys on either side of me would give me a sharp dig in the ribs and whisper
verdomde rooinek,
damned redneck.

But then I worked out a scenario that went like this. The preacher, who in Afrikaans is called a
had this big round head with jet-black hair that was parted down the centre and was plastered down on his head with grease so that it looked just like a shiny beetle's back. He also had ears that stuck out like small saucers on either side of his head. With the light coming from a window at the back of the pulpit they'd glow. As he got more and more worked up over the English and the concentration camps, his ears looked like red lights glowing on the sides of the beetle's back. He had beady little obsidian eyes that disappeared into bushy eyebrows while the rest of his face was covered with that large black beard that came way down to the centre of his chest. So, after we'd sung a few hymns and Dominee De Jager arrived at the pulpit carrying a big Bible under his arm with pieces of white paper sticking out to mark his places, I'd be ready. I'd sort of narrow my eyes and concentrate really hard on the top part of his head so that it became the big black beetle with large red ears and tiny hard shiny black eyes. The beetle would be busy chomping on a lush crop of black beard. Suddenly he was no longer a huge frightening preacher man condemning my kind to hell, but instead became ‘The Great Scarlet-eared Beard-chomping Black Beetle'. After that I wasn't frightened of him any more.

The Boer War happened in the 1890s when the English fought the Afrikaners because they wanted the gold that people all of a sudden were finding all over the place. The Boere said no way and the war went on for ages, the Boere on horseback in commandos and the British in regiments on foot. The Boere would attack and could shoot the eye out of a potato at a thousand yards with their German Mauser rifles while the British with their Lee-Enfield rifles couldn't fire accurately at that distance and besides they were mostly lousy shots because they weren't born on the veld. Then the Boere would gallop away, and at night every once in a while they'd sneak back to their farms to get food and stuff so they could fight the enemy on the run for the next week or so. It was
mostly, which is dried meat cured in the sun and you can live on it all week with a bit of flour or
meal thrown in. What the Boere did is called guerilla warfare and the British didn't like it one bit. It was like chasing galloping shadows. Even though the English outnumbered the Boer soldiers fourteen to one, they weren't winning the way they expected to, them being the British Empire and all that. So they came up with an evil plan called ‘a scorched earth policy'. They burnt down all the farms and put all the Boer women and children in concentration camps where they died like flies.

Anyway, that's what the
said happened and that's why it was impossible for any of the Afrikaner kids to be my friend. But Mattress didn't seem to mind and said that black people were accustomed to being hated by the Boere and that I could be his friend if I wanted. He said both his grandfathers had fought the British and the Boere and if they hadn't had guns the Zulu warriors would have beaten the pants off them and nearly did anyway. So he didn't give a shit because they were both bastards (present company excluded) and the Zulu Impi were, man for man, the best of the lot and would march over a cliff and fall to their certain death to show how brave they were. ‘
, when they attacked, the earth trembled and it was like thunder in the mountains.' I didn't tell him I thought that marching over a cliff was a bit stupid, but it certainly showed they were brave.

Now I don't want you to think all Boere are bad because they are not, they can be very good and kind people, it's just that they have a right to hate the English and I just happened to be one. I don't know how it happened because I was an orphan, but there you go, it was an accident of birth and nobody could do anything about it.

In an orphanage there's a lot of unkindness going about even for the Afrikaner kids, it's called discipline. It was just that I got a bit extra from the kids as well for having a name like Fitzsaxby that couldn't be made to sound Afrikaans, no matter how you said it. They didn't like to say my surname so they called me
, which is an Afrikaans word that you yell at a strange dog if it comes up to you. You give it a kick and you say ‘
!' and every dog knows the word and runs away. It means ‘bugger off' in dog language, only a bit worse. It's not a very nice thing to happen to a person's name but it was another thing I couldn't do anything about.

You'll probably think Mattress is a funny name for a person, but when you look at it through his eyes there isn't a lot of difference between Matthew and Mattress. He liked the sound of Mattress better. When I told him a mattress is something people sleep on he shook his head, ‘
, I am not sleep on this thing, I am Zulu and must have a grass mat.' Besides, Mattress sounds much better than Matthew because it doesn't have the ‘phew!' sound in it. Anyway, that's what I thought and, besides, it was a whole lot better than

BOOK: Whitethorn
7.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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