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The Love Letter Part 2

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"I was quite a young girl when I first met Richard Weston. He was an Englishman who boarded with the Van Rensburgs on the next farm four or five miles from us. Richard was not strong. He had a weak chest and the doctors had sent him to South Africa so that the dry air could cure him. He taught the Van Rensburg children who were younger than I was although we often played together. He did this for pleasure and not because he needed money."

"We loved one another from the first moment we met though we did not speak of our love until the evening of my eighteenth birthday. All our friends and relatives had come to my party and in the evening, we danced on the big old carpet which we had laid down in the barn. Richard had come with the Van Rensburgs and we danced together as often as we dared, which was not very often, for my father hated the Uitlanders. Indeed, there was a time he had quarreled with Mynheer Van Rensburg for allowing Richard to board with him but he soon got used to the idea and was always polite to the Englishman. Father never liked him."

"That was the happiest birthday of my life. While we were resting between dances, Richard took me outside into the cool moonlit night, and there under the stars, he told me he loved me and asked me to marry him. Of course I promised I would for I was too happy to think of what my parents would say or indeed of anything. However, Richard was not at our meeting place as he had arranged. I was disappointed but not alarmed, for so many things could happen to either of us to prevent us from keeping our tryst. I thought that the next time we visited the Van Ransburgs, I should ask him what had kept him so we could plan further meetings…"

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"So when my father asked if I would drive with him to Driefontein, I was delighted. But when we reached the homestead and were sitting on the stoep drinking our coffee, we heard that Richard had left quite suddenly and had gone back to England. His father had died and he was now the heir and must go back to look after his estates."

"I do not remember very much more about that day except that the sun seemed to have stopped shining and the country no longer looked beautiful and full of promise, but bleak and desolate as it sometimes does in winter or in times of drought. Late that afternoon, Jantje, the little Hottentot herd boy, came up to me and handed me a letter. He told me the English baas had left it for me. It was the only love letter I ever received but it turned all my bitterness and grief into a peacefulness which was the nearest I could get then, to happiness. I knew Richard still loved me and somehow, as long as I had his letter, I felt that we could never really be parted even if he was in England and I had to remain on the farm. I have it yet with me, and even though I am an old tired woman, it still gives me hope and courage."

"It must have been a wonderful letter, Aunt Stephia," I said. The old lady came back from her dreams of that far-off romance.
"Perhaps," she said, hesitating a little,
"Perhaps you would care to read it my dear?"
"I should love to, Aunt Stephia," I said gently. She rose at once and tripped into the house as eagerly as a young girl. When she came back, she handed me a letter that is faded and yellow with age, the edges of the envelope worn and frayed as though it had been much handled. But when I came to open it, I found that the seal was unbroken.
"Open it, open it," said Great-aunt Stephia, and her voice was shaking. I broke the seal and read.

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It was not a love letter in the true sense of the word but pages of minutest directions on how "My sweetest Phina" was to elude her father's vigilance, creep down to the drift at night and meet Jantje there with a horse which would take her to Smitsdorp. There she was to go to "My true friend, Henry Wilson", who would give her money and make arrangements for her to follow her lover to Cape Town and from there to England," where they can be married at once.

The letter was followed by a final paragraph that says, "But if, my dearest, you are not sure that you can face a land strange to you with me, then do not take this important step for I love you too much to wish you the smallest unhappiness. If you do not come and if I do not hear from you, then I shall know that you could never be happy so far from the people and the country which you love. If however you feel you can keep your promise to me, but is too timid and scared of a journey to England unaccompanied, then please write to me and I will by some means, return to fetch my bride."

I read no further.
"But Aunt Phina!" I gasped.
"Why…why…?" The old lady was watching me with trembling eagerness, her face flushed and her eyes bright with expectation.
"Read it aloud, my dear," She said.
"I want to hear every word of it. There was never anyone I could trust… Uitlanders were hated in my young days… I could not ask anyone."
"But, Auntie, don't you even know what he wrote?" The old lady looked down, troubled and shy like a child who has unwittingly done wrong.
"No, dear," she said, speaking in a very low voice.
"You see, I never learned to read."

 

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