It seemed it was always summer when we went to the Troutbeck, high on the side of the hill above the Loteni River. Our holiday home was built of ‘wattle and daub,’ a large rectangular room, floored with cow-dung, thatch-roofed and cool.
We had water from a spring further up the hill, always icy, always sweet. There were four cows for milk and a run of hens for eggs. The African caretaker allowed us to ride his mare, in return for which we took the .22 into the fields of African corn to shoot the marauding doves, which were then added to his menu.
From time to time we fished the river for trout. Cooked in butter over an open fire they were a delicious treat.
We had lamps for light and a wood stove in a lean-to kitchen-cum-dining area built onto the long wall of the dwelling. Here Mum baked the bread and biscuits, and cooked the hearty meals required by a family of six.
Traffic on the road running through the property was infrequent. Further up the valley were a mission station and a handful of farms.
My brother and I were teenagers. Constant companions, we walked and climbed, shared turns to ride the mare, and went to the shop down the road for Mum. The shop was between two and three miles distant, so we were often sent shopping when we had a disagreement.
At first we were shy of old Mr. Christie sitting in the sun at the door of his shop. He seemed to be a fixture in the chair beside the door. He peered with rheumy eyes as anyone approached, halting them with withered arm before they entered.
“Who ar-r-re ye?” was his inevitable greeting in a broad Scots brogue.
It was usually left to me to reply as my brother made sure he kept to the further side, not to be the one accosted by the somewhat frightening old man in the chair.
“Hello, Mr. Christie. I’m Dora.”
Ignoring my reply, he continued to hold my arm and peer into my face. At last, satisfied, he leaned back in his chair, stating, “It’s Dolly, little Dolly. Give my regards to your parents, dear.”
Mum – who was Dolly – explained that Mr. Christie often lived in the past. His memory was failing. He had been a farmer in the valley before she was born. And that his greeting was really “How are you?” not “Who…?” After that we were no longer afraid, but still approached him with trepidation, uncertain whether on this day he was living in the past or the present time.
Summer in the Drakensberg Mountains meant bright sunny mornings, hot sultry afternoons followed by late afternoon or early evening thunderstorms. Usually. Sometimes the rain lasted over the next day, or for two or three days. We had books and board games interspersed with boredom. Boredom begot spats, and then we were banished to the four corners of the room to amuse ourselves alone until we regained a more pleasant outlook.
Sometimes the rain didn’t come for several days, perhaps a week or two. At these times the days grew hotter and more sultry. The clouds built up behind the mountains, lowering black until they blew away, returning blacker and lower day by day until at last the rain fell in torrents. The mountains streamed with water and the river flooded. There were no bridges to cross the river. Until the river levels receded the farmers living higher in the valley were marooned. When this happened the farm horses proved their worth. Where the vehicles could not cross the horses could swim. Then, when we were at the Troutbeck, the horses were hitched to our fence while Dad drove the rider to the nearest town. Otherwise they had to go to Christie’s Store, where young Christie might be willing to give them a ride.
Summer holidays at Troutbeck were not uneventful, but the events were relaxed, uniting the family. Always the holidays ended too soon and we left the summer behind in the drowsy Drakensberg sunshine while we returned to the hot tarred streets and the city rush and noise.
For the remainder of the season the days were hot but the summer was gone.
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