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A Day Without Yesterday

A Day Without Yesterday

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A Day Without Yesterday

Länge:
390 Seiten
5 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Aug 25, 2019
ISBN:
9780463481387
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

Set against a backdrop of a pristine southern Cape beach and the magnificent Scottish Highlands, and immersed in religio-historicity this is a psychosomatic story of deep religious convictions, tragedy, love, compassion, and of faith. The life of William Murray is turned upside down the night of the cold fire – his bedridden wife passes away and his faithful dog is cruelly slain.
Dorothy Sutherland, the woman from Scotland whom he met on the beach and who had awoken in him a new interest in life with her fascinating tales of Scotland has vanished like the smoke of the devastating fire; and the man she claimed was her invalid husband dies in the fire. But it transpires the charred body was not that of the man she claimed, that he was murdered, and, even more perplexing, the police find no vestige of a Dorothy.
William is a fourth generation Afrikaner of Scottish origin and a retired minister of the church, a shy and modest man going on sixty. Having lost what was dearest to him he travels to the Highlands to search for Dorothy where he experiences a day without yesterday when he meets Eilidh, Dorothy’s Gaelic-speaking identical twin sister. However, his pious traditions soon falter when he cannot distinguish which twin is in bed with him; when he is drawn into the web of a centuries’ old conflict between the Scots and the English; when a mystical Druid confronts and tells him his grandson will one-day see the return of the Stane (ancients have a saying ... where lies the Stane, from there Scotland will be governed, for the Stane is the soul of Scotland); and when he becomes inspired by the views of Alex Ferguson minister of the local Presbytery.
Alex tells William many scholars believe Stane o’ Destiny and the Holy Grail are one and the same. The real significance of the Stane o’ Destiny lies in the fact whether you believe the Holy Grail is a bowl or a stone. Two poems written as fictional cryptograms gave rise to this discrepancy. The first reference ever to the Holy Grail appeared in a romantic poem Le Conte del Graal written in 1182 by the French poet Chrétien de Troyes, that spoke of a bowl or chalice. The word grail comes from an Old French word gradale, or gradalis in Latin, which was a receptacle or hollowed-out vessel in which food was served. The poem Parzival, however, written between 1195 and 1210 by the German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach spoke of a stone, not a bowl. Le Conte del Graal never said the bowl contained the blood of Christ; this was a sentiment that religious or Christian scholars subsequently added. In the same way legend has it that the Stane o’ Destiny is the original anointed Stone of the Covenant, or Jacob’s Pillow as described in Genesis.
Steeped in Celtic and Druidic lore, Alex represents Christian forces who believe in the need for the Church to change, and who are doing something about it, whereas the retired William is set in his Calvinist ways of Biblical faith and conviction. William is nevertheless taken on a fascinating journey through space and time that tosses his religious beliefs about like a maelstrom. He also learns how the Celts and Druids did not just believe in an Earth Mother, or Mother Goddess, they were in total harmony with this cosmic deity, and with Nature. To them Earth was a living being and we only have life because Earth gives us life.
Tragedy made William to go to the Highlands to search for Dorothy and tragedy forces him to return home. But will he still be the same towards his children, friends, and, as important, his Church? And when he resumes his daily walk on the Betty’s Bay beach does he still think of Dorothy?
‘Who kenn’d whare lies the Stane, thocht I;
Och aye, in the Hi’lands o’ Alba
Whilk is whare lies me ain sowl too, thocht I;
Och aye, in the Hi’lands o’ Alba.’

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Aug 25, 2019
ISBN:
9780463481387
Format:
Buch

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Buchvorschau

A Day Without Yesterday - Frederic Roux

1

My name is Willie Murray, William John Murray in fact. As the name implies I am of Scottish descent, but I am not a Scot, I am an Afrikaner, and my home language is Afrikaans. My mother was an Afrikaner of German and Dutch descent, with a sprinkling of French blood.

I am a learned man, and whereas by our standards my English may be good, when I read, and I have read a lot, I have to consult my Concise Oxford Dictionary often enough. And when I speak English my accent betrays my background, for it is not Scottish.

According to the Family Registry of the South African Nation, my ancestor came to this country from Argyllshire. This was shortly after the Caledonian Canal through Inverness was opened in 1823, linking the Atlantic with the North Sea. I have never taken the trouble to find out from which city or what village they, my ancestor and his wife, came, and the reason is simple, Scotland and its people are far away, far removed from our way of life.

Life in this country has never been easy. Since 1652 when the Dutch East India Company sent Jan van Riebeeck to establish a halfway post between Holland and Batavia (Indonesia), many a settler or miner lost everything, including his life and that of his family, while trying to eke out a living in this harsh land.

And for those brave missionaries who ventured into the wilderness to spread the message of our Lord among the savages this was no heavenly paradise. The Scotsmen who came out were mostly ministers of religion and they settled among the Europeans. A few, John Brownlee founder of King William’s Town for one, came under the banner of the undenominational London Missionary Society, who, like the Moravians, were missionaries who settled among the natives.

Life was no less a challenge for these people, because most of the local populace were terribly poor. It was only during the second half of the 19th century, first with Britain’s demand for wool and then the discovery of diamonds and gold that wealth found its way to this country. This produced an influx of engineers in the first half of the 20th century, and almost every factory had a Scottish engineer. But it set in motion a roller coaster ride that made it impossible to let go long enough in order to delve into your past.

My ancestor was one of the Scottish Presbyterian ministers who came to this country in the 19th century. Probably the greatest and most revered of them all was a namesake, the Reverend Andrew Murray. His sons too became ministers in our church, the Dutch Reformed Church, generally known as the DRC. Proudly following in my ancestor’s and their footsteps, I too became a DRC minister, and I am happy and proud to say my son James is a DRC minister too.

My wife Fransie too is of Scottish descent, Frances Mackintosh. She was born in Zimbabwe, or rather Southern Rhodesia as this former British colony was then known. The chief of this Highland clan settled there a century earlier. Although Fransie’s home language was English, she became fluent in Afrikaans and for all practical purposes is now an Afrikaner too. We both went to Stellenbosch University, one of the foremost secondary educational institutions in South Africa where the language medium was Afrikaans, although even then students were permitted to submit papers in English. Regrettably it is no longer predominantly Afrikaans.

I was a student at the Theological Seminary and she at the Denneoord Teachers Training College when the two of us attended a string quartet recital at the Academy of Music one evening. We met while queuing for a cup of tea.

Whatever they say about theological students who make hay while the sun shines, this did not apply to me, as I was terribly shy and reserved. Coming from a conservative, puritan home, I did not even have a girlfriend at school. Fransie, on the other hand, had a captivating personality that enchanted those around her. Somehow this bridged all my inhibitions and after the performance I walked her home. Her Scottish accent fascinated me, particularly her pronunciation of the letters ‘o’ and ‘r’. Needless to say I married a virgin, and I have been proud of it all my life.

***

Chapter 2

I am retired now, and we live in Betty’s Bay. This is a coastal village that nestles on a narrow strip of land between an imposing mountain range on the northern side, with peaks towering almost 1,000 metres high, and nearly ten kilometres of south Atlantic coastline on the southern side, with a spectacular beach. Less than a third of the almost one thousand residential plots are developed and no more than a third of the houses permanently occupied, mostly by pensioners.

To this day the people of Betty’s Bay still live close to nature. Baboons raid trashcans or venture into homes to filch bananas or biscuits, but never chocolates. Two to three times a year a leopard is spotted in the lights of a car ― or is it a genet, since genets do still raid chicken coops? Porcupines dig up gardens in search of sweet potatoes, and infrequently seals bark at dogs on the beach, while every few years a whale washes out on the rocks.

This coastline is a sea-reserve, a nature reserve, where no shellfish of any kind may be taken out. The Jackass penguin colony is one of only two on the African continent and the Harold Porter botanical gardens are home to the exotic Disa lily. What really turns this into a paradise are the great variety of flowers, a greater variety of flowers than to be found in all of the British Isles. One month the veld and mountainside is yellow, the next white, and then again shades of green.

Not only is it a paradise for pensioners, but more so for holidaymakers who flock out here over weekends and during the holidays. There are some small shops, coffee shops and restaurants, a filling station, and a closet-sized library. Only 10-12 kilometres away is Kleinmond where you can buy most things you need. Cape Town is 90 kilometres west of us, with all the shops you need at the halfway mark in Somerset West. And if you don’t want to take the picturesque coastal drive to Somerset West, which some regard as arduous, twenty minutes along the flat, open road east brings you to Hermanus, a fairly large coastal town world-famous for its annual display of whales.

While life generally may be idyllic, no one can escape the harsh realities of life in South Africa. With so many homes standing empty throughout the year, houses are broken into periodically, and some elderly people have been assaulted and robbed.

Man is not the only threat to our paradise, however. Even though volcanoes, earthquakes or hurricanes are unknown locally, we were about to find out Nature can be more unmerciful than man, as happened on the night of the cold fire.

***

Chapter 3

Tinkle! Tinkle! Tinkle! Tinkle! Tinkle! Tinkle!

The crystal-clear sound echoed through the house. Pure almost, like water rippling over pebbles in a brook, like the laughter of fairies, reminiscent of the days when mothers still read their toddlers fairy tales at night. It was an old bell, a small brass bell that had belonged to my grandmother. How it came into her possession no one knew, or, if anyone had asked, they had long since forgotten.

I carefully tucked the bookmark in between the pages, closed and set the book aside, got up and ambled down the passage to the bedroom.

‘Pappa, I’m sorry to be a nuisance, but I smell something burning,’ Fransie said, a slight frown displaying a touch of concern.

I knew her concern was more for disturbing me than for the smoke she said she could smell. Fransie hated to ring that bell, to disturb me unnecessarily. With a condescending smile I placed a hand lovingly on her head. Fransie may be bedridden, but she had the sharpest nose I had ever come across. A bloodhound could have taken lessons from her. If she said she could smell something burning, then something was burning. After fondly planting a kiss on her head I walked to the kitchen, where I had pieces of chicken in a pot on the stove. I did not think it was the chicken because I was convinced I had put enough water in the pot, but I knew it would be wise to check. So I dutifully lifted the lid and peered inside. The chicken was boiling gently ― definitely not the chicken.

Closing the lid again I put my head back and smelled the air. I too could smell it now. It had to be outside somewhere, I thought, maybe from the disused refuse dump. Opening the backdoor I had to duck my head and clutch the door to prevent the wind from jerking it out of my hand. The weather bureau had predicted that the northwester would blow today, but it had come up suddenly and was much stronger than expected. After closing the door, I first gave Wagter, the Labrador, a responsive scratch behind his ear when he nudged my leg begging for attention, and with his long tail wagging eagerly. I had trained him well and he never jumped up against anyone. His wet nose did the necessary.

Straightening up, I automatically first looked towards the mountain, towering nearly a thousand metres above me, because that was where the danger lay. There had not been a fire on the mountain in three years, and the fynbos, Proteas and other indigenous flora had grown profusely since. Even from this distance it was evident to the naked eye.

***

Chapter 4

I recalled well the previous fire. It was an Easter weekend, a long weekend, and practically every holiday home in Betty’s Bay was packed with visitors. A thunderstorm had moved in late on Saturday afternoon. Though relatively close to Cape Town, where thunderstorms are extremely rare, on this side of the mountains it is not uncommon to occasionally have a thunderstorm, more often out over the sea though. Lightning-storms are rare, except for that particular Easter evening.

We sat on the back stoep, dunking rusks into our coffee while watching the dark, ominous clouds billowing furiously in the playing fields of the gods. An awesome sight, a thunderstorm unfolding over mountain peaks, a melee that reminds one of rugby players in a loose scrum battling for possession of the ball.

There were four of us, Casper and Hettie van Rooyen, our best friends in Betty’s Bay, had joined us. Casper too was a retired DRC minister. In order to ease the burden of the minister who served this vast parish, the two of us took turns to deliver the sermon in Betty’s Bay every second or third month.

When a bolt of lightning struck Voorberg, the peak towering 862m over us, Hettie gave a small squeal, and we all looked up. The next instant we saw the flames. We scrambled for a better look and cried out in anguish when we saw flames shooting up into the night sky, to join the wild melee of the storm wrestling it out over the lofty peaks. Gripped in a sense of helplessness we watched in absolute horror as the fire spread. Driven on by a gusting northwester it covered the mountainside in no time. It’s a spectacular sight to see a mountain go up in flames, yet knowing what the consequences are makes it appalling, frightening, sickening.

That night lightning struck the mountain range in five places, causing the worst fires in decades, devastating fires that destroyed a whole mountain range. While we humans were fortunate, the firefighting services managed to keep the fire away from homes, with the whole mountain range turned to ash the flora and fauna were not so fortunate. Except for the Proteas. In order to germinate, these flowers need the smoke of an intense fire to penetrate the kernel of the seed.

***

Chapter 5

I did a careful scrutiny to satisfy myself there was no sign of a fire anywhere on the mountain. Then I looked towards the disused municipal rubbish dump and that was when I spotted flames. Initially I thought that they were burning a pile of branches and cuttings that had been piling up at the dump over the past few months. But they would not do that with such a strong wind, I told myself. I walked a short distance away from the house to get a better view, and soon discovered that the flames came from near the foot of Blesberg, and not from the dump. Blesberg is a 312m tall peak that stands on its own on the western border of Betty’s Bay, separating it from Hangklip and Pringle Bay. Against the southern side of Blesberg the southeaster had built up a wall of white sea-sand that from a distance looks like a ski-slope. This is where over weekends young people trudge up the mountain and, using surf-planks, ski down the sandy slope.

The fire seemed rather profuse, and my initial reaction was that it could be the clump of Australian flowering gum trees near the Stoney Point turnoff that was going up in flames. Only then did I notice a smouldering trail stretching all the way up the valley and over the ridge towards Pringle Bay. This is curious, I thought, because even though the wind was blowing from that direction, except for this one spot the fire did not appear to be extensive.

I went back inside to tell Fransie what was causing the smoke and after checking on the water in the pot once more, I put a leash on Wagter and walked up the street, towards the fire. Sirens of fire engines and police vehicles now began to sound like bluebottles descending on a dung-heap, and the closer I came the worse it appeared. Flames were leaping from five to ten metres into the sky.

The appearance of a Puma helicopter with the Defence Force’s Castle emblem on the side and a huge bucket dangling from a long cable below its belly emphasised just how serious the fire was. I watched in fascination as the helicopter tried to scoop up water from Groot Witvlei, the larger of the two lakes. But the water level was too low and after a brief struggle it gave up. Curiously I watched the whirlybird head for the small cove at Die Been. Only when it returned and dropped a water-bomb on a huge blaze did I realise that a house was on fire, not just trees. A second helicopter appeared on the scene.

***

Chapter 6

Curiosity turned to anxiety and I quickly satisfied myself that the fire was confined to the area west of the gum trees. But with such a strong gusting wind I knew anything could happen. Dragging a reluctant Wagter, who was more interested in checking on who or what had passed this way than in going home, I trotted back. On top of a nearby double-storey thatched roof I spotted someone using a hose to soak the thatch. From his vantage point he had a better view of the fire than I and for him to be spraying the thatch was an ominous sign. After again checking on the chicken in the pot, I told Fransie that there was nothing to worry about, but to be on the safe side I was going to check around the house.

What I wanted to check on was the alien rooikrans growing around the house, which is a major fire hazard. This Australian Wattle, Acacia cyclops, was brought to this country in the mid-1800s to control the sand dunes on the Cape Flats. It grows exceptionally fast and quickly spread along the coast. With houses scattered, most of the land in the village is still natural veld boasting a variety of fauna and flora, including the dreaded rooikrans. After years of vigorous crusading by some over-enthusiastic environmentalists, the municipality launched a campaign to eliminate these alien plants. Not only do they create a fire hazard, they consume more water than the indigenous plants and multiply profusely, thereby supplanting our indigenous flora.

Notwithstanding the fact that the campaign had been reasonably successful, no one bothered to regularly trim back the new prolific growth. And so, the branches of these aliens once more reached the roof. The most difficult part would not be to cut them back, but where to throw the cuttings so that the pile would not in itself become a fire hazard.

I quickly rolled out and connected two hoses to taps on either side of the house before I went back in to prepare our meal. While I was preparing stir-fry vegetables with the chicken, I kept a continuous watchful eye through the window. The fire did not seem to abate and whenever it reached a patch of rooikrans, the flames would suddenly leap skyward, an awesome sight.

When I opened the tap to rinse my hands, the water was a mere trickle. This often happens in Betty’s Bay. The water pipes installed west of the Village Centre thirty years before seemed to have been of an inferior quality, because a pipe would burst at regular intervals. It happens at any time, once in three weeks, sometimes twice a week, for no reason at all. The municipal clerk of works said it was caused by increased demand. In the past ten years the number of houses has doubled with no let-up, and the fire was now putting extra pressure on the reticulation system.

The older plots had French drains, but the newer properties all had sceptic tanks that had to be pumped out once a month or once a quarter, depending on the frequency of occupation. Earlier I had spotted the trucks with the big tanks that pumped out the septic tanks were now deployed to transport water to help fight the fire. At the time it had not registered, but this meant that the water supply situation had become serious.

Like most of the permanent residents I had a rainwater tank to see us through in an emergency, but if there was no water in the system, how could we fight the fire if it came our way? This added to my growing anxiety. Quickly I checked on the youngster on the roof and saw that he was still busy, now holding two hoses, which meant that his water supply was still reasonable.

***

Chapter 7

After dishing up, I put the plates on a trolley and pushed it through to the bedroom. Fransie had a small table on wheels that swung out over the bed, similar to those used by hospitals that made it easy for her to eat. I normally sat at a small table beside the bed. Knowing that Fransie was aware that the fire was more serious than I claimed, my face having given me away, I tried to make light conversation. Then we watched the one o’clock news on television, but that was even less cheering.

The main news was about another farmer and his wife who had been sadistically murdered on their farm in the KwaZulu-Natal Province. The wife had been gang-raped, and had received sixteen stab wounds before her throat was cut. This news was followed by an item about the deteriorating economic situation in Zimbabwe. As a born Zimbabwean who still had relatives in that country, Fransie was particularly concerned about these developments. In the economic news the all-share index on the Stock Exchange was down, and the value of the Rand had dropped further against the dollar, the pound and the euro.

As soon as we were done I told her I would wash up and then check on the fire.

‘Aren’t you taking a nap today?’ she asked.

‘I think I should cut back the rooikrans around the house.’

‘So you do think there is danger.’

‘It’s difficult to say, but I doubt it. The wind is blowing south, more towards Silversand Bay. Now take your nap. If there’s any danger I promise to tell you immediately.’

‘What will you do if it comes our way?’

I touched her cheek and smiled tenderly. ‘Put you in the car and seek safety elsewhere.’

‘Where will we go?’

‘Don’t worry dear, we’ll find a safe haven somewhere.’

‘What about Hettie and Casper? You said the wind is blowing towards Silversand Bay. That’s in the direction of their house, isn’t it?’

Casper and Hettie’s house was at Stoney Point, overlooking the Jackass penguin sanctuary on the one side and Silversand Bay on the other.

‘It seems to be further over. In any case they were going to Stellenbosch today, to visit her sister in the old age home. It’s her birthday? Don’t you remember dear?’

‘Do you think their house will be all right?’

‘It will be. Now don’t you worry. Take a rest,’ I said, leaning over to give her a kiss on the cheek.

***

Chapter 8

I did not want her to worry unnecessarily, so I did not tell her about the house that I had seen go up in flames. Fransie was a remarkable person. She was bedridden, suffering pain and discomfort, yet her first thoughts were of others and their plight. Unable to use the dishwasher, I quickly washed up and then went out the back door, where I first had to cuddle Wagter before checking on the youngster on the roof who was still at it.

But when I turned towards the fire I was shocked to see that since lunch it had become worse, and seemed to have spread over a wider area. The wind was also blowing more strongly, gusting up to anywhere between fifty and eighty kilometres per hour by my estimation. This made flying conditions for the helicopter pilots both difficult and hazardous. Not only that, with the gusts of wind blowing the water away, the water bombs were not nearly as effective.

Betty’s Bay is a windy place. In the spring and summer months the Antarctic currents that pass south of the country create a backlash that causes a strong southeaster to blow most days. In the winter months these cold currents shift northward bringing with them strong northwester winds. Occasionally both winds will harass us in one day, a southeaster early in the morning and later a northwester. While the southeaster blows stronger and more frequently, the northwester is responsible for the most damage because it comes in blustering gusts. Dropping down to a gentle breeze one minute, within seconds it can reach speeds of up to a hundred kilometres an hour. Many a roof is damaged each winter, and a few years ago two partly built timber frame houses were flattened, the wood simply ripped from their foundations and scattered asunder.

Wasting no time, and using a Norwegian-designed saw and bush-cutters, I cut back the rooikrans around the house. When I next checked on the fire, I was suddenly beset by a brief spell of severe heart palpitations ― the fire had swung round. Placing the ladder against a wall I climbed up for a better view and saw that it appeared to have jumped the road at the Stoney Point turn-off at the north western end of Betty’s Bay. It was now sweeping a path of destruction around both lakes, Groot and Klein Witvlei, and was heading straight for us.

***

Chapter 9

A feeling of panic gripped me as I watched the flames lapping the sky. Momentarily I was at a loss. This was our home. It was all we had. Everything we owned was inside this home. This included our furniture, clothing, memorabilia, pictures, my books, and our valuables. We were insured, but that which brings back memories can never be replaced.

Hurriedly I climbed down from my perch and turned on the nearest tap and I said a silent prayer of relief when water squirted out the hose. After connecting a sprinkler to the end of each hose, I fixed the sprinklers to the gutters to the two corners of the house facing the oncoming fire. I would not climb onto the roof, but would keep the roof wet in this way. I wiped at something brushing my cheek and discovered it was soot. Sparks and soot were already blowing our way.

What else could I do? This was not good enough, I knew. I had seen one house go up in flames, and the same could happen to ours. I was surprised to see that Wagter was in his box. By watching animals and insects you can tell when danger threatens, which is why Wagter had sought the shelter of his home. I hurried to Fransie’s room.

***

Chapter 10

‘Is it time to move?’ she asked.

I nodded and trying to sound calm said, ‘The wind must have changed, it’s coming this way.’

‘Where will we go?’

‘I’ll put you in the car and then we’ll decide. Right now we must make up our minds what to take along.’

‘Just the necessary clothes, that’s all I need.’

‘What about your jewellery?’

‘Leave it!’

‘What about your family heirlooms? We can’t leave them behind!’ I asked, with real concern.

‘They’re no longer important.’

I shook my head. ‘There’s no time to pack, so I’ll grab some of your clothes and the file with our important papers.’

‘What about your books?’

‘I’ll leave them in His hands,’ I said as I opened drawers and hurriedly scratched among her clothes to select some items to take along.

She suddenly looked towards the window, frowned, and said in a calm voice. ‘The fire is approaching fast.’

I too looked towards the window where we could see smoke billowing outside. ‘It spread around both sides of the lakes.’ Dumping the clothes that I had selected on the foot of the bed, I asked, ‘Are these okay?’

Without even looking she nodded. Her defeatist attitude worried me more than the approaching fire.

I pulled the wheelchair

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