“This is going to cause some upheaval, James,” the soldier was saying as Jeremy drew near and once more he hit the sheet of paper with the back of his hand. “No, worse! This is trouble! What frustrates me more than anything is that I can do nothing about it. Can’t stop it. Can’t reply to it!” He gave a sweep of his arm to indicate the whole vicinity of the camp. “Can you imagine the consequences in this environment? Look at them! Look at the way the men behave! All a bunch of renegades…”
James looked and sighed. “You’re so right. Darn! I honestly do not know what to say, Peter. And you say the arrival date is imminent, could even be this very day? Is there no way we can intercept the wagon and turn them back?”
Peter held up his hands. “Where? When? I was handed the letter only this morning and it is dated months back – look, basically it is out of our hands now. I shall have to wait it out and see what I can do as soon as she gets here.”
Jeremy waited with bated breath for the rest.
James slung an arm around the shoulders of his friend and started leading him back to the centre of the military base.
“You are so right. Let me just at least give you some peace of mind by promising you and your wife my protection as well if by any chance she indeed has to remain in camp for a time. In the meantime let’s go fix the axle of the provisions wagon as we were ordered to do. That will keep your mind busy for a while.” He patted Peter on the shoulder as he let him go.
They walked on to the outskirts of the base, Peter still deep in thought and Jeremy nonchalantly and unseen striding along.
“You know what is my greatest worry?” Peter suddenly said as they came to the wagon, shaking his head and sighing. “If she was just an ordinary looking woman, that would already have been bad enough, but Marion is beautiful. She is truly a stunner. Half the men in London would have given their eye teeth to possess a woman of such appeal. Oh, by George, and these fellows here in the bush haven’t seen a woman in a year or more!”
As James pulled the air through his teeth into his lungs and let out a low whistle, Jeremy nearly did the same.
This expected, or rather unexpected situation had all the elements in it for disaster to strike!
* * * * * *
Time suddenly sped up and as the whole scene in front of Jeremy’s eyes started changing, the whirring of it as if in an old movie-house the reel was running out of control, dizziness beset him and he sank down on one of the benches when the contemporary Makhadzi came back into view once again.
“Aaahh!” he groaned, weak in the knees and pale in the face.
“Are you okay, Sir?”
He looked up into the face of the caretaker and nodded, a bit uncomprehending. Beads of sweat ran down his face, mingling with the soft raindrops of a drizzle. He was soaking wet, must have been standing in the rain all the time while watching the events of a century or more ago.
He cleared his throat and nodded again. “I’m fine, thank you. I’ll just get into the kitchen for some cover for a while, but I’ll be around for some time here today.” Nothing a mug of hot coffee couldn’t rectify…
The caretaker stared at him intensely for a moment before he moved off, a bit puzzled.
Barely ten meters away when the old base was back in full force.
Even with the same soldiers moving around, most of them just “hanging”, doing zero but drinking, talking and gambling and seemingly without a leader, the whole scenario had shifted. Some of the tents had vanished, the general hub of the place seemed smaller and there was a huge fire in the middle where the cooks were busy preparing an open air barbecue. It was high summer, rains had fallen and little mud puddles were everywhere. The grass was green, the trees and foliage thick and lush, birds were twittering and animals were grazing on the far plains.
James and Peter were nowhere to be seen. Until…
The oxwagon of a transporter, heavily loaded with wares and provisions from across the border and being conveyed to destinations deeper inland, came into view on the rough road from the east. As it steadily came bumping and swaying along the motley soldiers came to their feet one by one and started gathering at the entrance to the grounds to welcome these most unusual visitors from Mozambique, whatever their “welcome” would consist of.
Jeremy knew, somehow he just KNEW, that the supposedly beautiful Marion would be on this wagon.
To be continued.