The Love Letter Part 1
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I was always a little in awe of Great-aunt Stephina
Roos. Indeed, as children we were all frankly terrified
of her. The fact that she did not live with the
family, preferring her tiny cottage and solitude
to the comfortable but rather noisy household where
we were brought up - added to the respectful fear
in which she was held.
We used to take turns to carry small delicacies
which my mother had made down from the big house
to the little cottage where Aunt Stephia and an
old colored maid spent their days. Old Tnate Sanna
would open the door to the rather frightened little
messenger and would usher him - or her - into the
dark voor-kamer, where the shutters were always
closed to keep out the heat and the flies. There
we would wait while trembling but not altogether
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She was a tiny little woman to inspire so much
veneration. She was always dressed in black, and
her dark clothes melted into the shadows of the
voor-kamer and made her look smaller than ever.
But you feel it the moment she entered. The feeling
is something vital and strong and somehow indestructible
had come in with her. This was despite the fact
that she moved slowly and her voice was sweet and
She never embraced us. She would greet us and take
out hot little hands in her own beautiful cool one
with blue veins standing out on the back of it,
as though the white skin were almost too delicate
to contain them.
Tante Sanna would bring in dishes that comprises
of very sweet sticky candy or a great bowl of grapes
or peaches and Great-aunt Stephina would converse
gravely about happenings on the farm ,and, more
rarely, of the outer world.
When we had finished our sweetmeats or fruit she
would accompany us to the stoep, bidding us goodbye
and reminding us to thank our mother for her gift
and sending quaint, old-fashioned messages to her
and father. Then she would turn and enter the house,
closing the door behind so that it became once more
a place of mystery.
As I grew older, I found rather to my surprise
that I had become genuinely fond of my aloof old
great-aunt. But to this day, I do not know what
strange impulse made me take George to see her and
to tell her of our engagement before I had confided
in another living soul. To my astonishment, she
"An Englishman," she exclaimed.
"But that is splendid, splendid. And you,"
she turned to George,
"You are making your home in this country?
You do not intend to return to England just yet?"
She seemed relieved when she heard that George had
bought a farm near our own farm and intended to
settle down in South Africa. She became quite animated
and chattered away with him. She was somewhat disappointed
on hearing that we had decided to wait for two years
before getting married. However, when she learned
that my father and mother were both pleased with
the arrangement, she seemed reassured.
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Still, she often appeared anxious about my love
affair and would ask questions that seemed to me
strange, almost as though she feared that something
would happen to destroy my romance. But I was quite
unprepared for her outburst when I mentioned that
George thought of paying a lightning visit to England
before we were married.
"He must not do it," she cried.
"Ina, you must not let him go. Promise me you
will prevent him." She was trembling all over.
I did what I could to console her, but she looked
so tired and pale that I persuaded her to go to
her room and rest, promising to return the next
When I arrived, I found her sitting on the stoep.
She looked lonely and pathetic, and for the first
time I wondered why no man had ever taken her and
looked after her and loved her. Mother had told
me that Great-aunt Stephina had been lovely as a
young girl and although no trace of that beauty
remained, except perhaps in her brown eyes, she
still looked so small and appealing that any man
would have wanted to protect her.
She paused, as though she did not quite know how
to begin. Then she seemed to mentally give herself
a little shake.
"You must have wondered ", she said,
"Why I was so upset at the thought of young
George's going to England without you. I am an old
woman, and perhaps I have the silly fancies of the
old, but I should like to tell you my own love story
and then you can decide whether it is wise for your
man to leave you before you are married."
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