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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 unpleasant.

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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 soft.
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 was delighted.
"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 day.

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."

More On The Love Letter Part 1 | Part 2


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