Friday, November 28, 2014

The Deception by Beryl Ensor-Smith

A bachelor moves into the quiet drop of Prentburg with the sole aim of capturing a rich wife; by Beryl Ensor-Smith.

Before Klaus van Dyk arrived in the dorp, he had done his homework carefully. It was by no means a random choice; he had given careful thought as to where he was most likely to find a rich widow or spinster who could keep him in the style to which he would like to become accustomed. He was tired of scraping by and realised that his greatest asset was his good looks. It was the only thing of any worth that his useless, long dead parents had given him. His father was shiftless and his mother a drunk. Klaus had learned to fend for himself at an early age. It was a dog-eat-dog world and he had been the underdog long enough!

Klaus was not given to sentimentality and prided himself on his pragmatism. He knew when to voice opinions and when to obfuscate, and realised that in persuading the right woman to take him on, he had to tread carefully.

His choice of a small town (or more accurately, modest village) in the Karoo had been made after months of careful research, during which time he upgraded his wardrobe and brushed up on his manners. He also forced himself to take more interest in politics and whatever else was in the news so that he could talk with authority, and even read a few heavy-going books, which just went to show how serious were his intentions, as anything requiring intense concentration was anathema to a lazy man. Yes, he admitted to being one, and that it was the reason for his not having made much progress in the world. Fortunately for such as he, there were short cuts to acquiring prosperity and he had decided on one.

As he knew no-one in the village, he booked into the one and only hotel, the Welcome Inn, where he unpacked his few belongings and then went to chat up the receptionist, Marie Minaar. He'd learned from past experience that receptionists in any kind of business were an excellent source of information if approached in the right way.

Marie, he divined, was the kind of woman who responded to flattery. While they spoke she fluffed up her hair, smiled coquettishly and let him know that she was single. This did not interest Klaus as he intended aiming much higher than a hotel receptionist, but he kept up the charm while trying to ascertain where best a stranger in town could socialise.

"Socialise!" she giggled, "you should be so lucky as to find anything resembling socialising in this dorp. The nearest we come to clubs or that kind of thing, is going to church on Sundays."

Skilfully managing the conversation, Klaus learned with satisfaction that there were more women than men in the dorp, and that one who had recently come into money and property was Hilda Jacobs. Hilda had apparently recently lost her mother, and being an only child, inherited everything. Marie was a bit hazy about just what 'everything' entailed, and Klaus quickly changed the subject before his interest became apparent. He had his starting point. After a little more casual chat, he parted from Marie with a convincing show of reluctance and went back to his room.

If meeting people, and Hilda in particular, meant going to church on Sundays, he was up for it. He would have to buy a bible but no doubt in a dorp in which religion was central, that should be no problem.

The next morning Klaus explored the town, hiding his misgivings when he found how very limited it was, smiling at everyone he passed and receiving very few smiles in return. He had expected no more, knowing how conservative dorp volk could be. He managed to purchase a bible from the taciturn owner of the general store, saying he had inadvertently left his own at home. This seemed of no interest to the man, nor to the woman behind the counter, the proprietor's wife, he assumed from the easy familiarity between them.

When Sunday dawned, Klaus took extra care with his appearance and walked down the main road to the imposing church in the square, his new bible clutched in one hand.

He forced himself to look interested and alert during the long service and breathed a sigh of relief when all were invited to partake of tea or coffee in the courtyard afterwards. The service was well attended and curious glances were cast his way, many from women who did not disguise their interest. Very satisfactory; some were not at all bad looking!

Klaus made a point of introducing himself as a newcomer to the dorp when he shook hands with the Dominee as he left the church, and was again warmly invited to stay for refreshments. Later the Dominee introduced him to a group of women chatting away like magpies while pouring tea and laying out eats.

"These are the Sisters of the Church," Dominee said fondly, "without whom I couldn't function. They are not only my right hand, but my left too! Ladies, please greet Klaus van Dyk, newly arrived in our dorp."

Shy and friendly greetings were extended and Klaus found a spot near the table where he could listen and learn while he slowly sipped his tea. His ears picked up when he heard one say:

"My feet are killing me. You take over, Sarie. I'm going to sit with Hilda for a while."

As she turned away, one of the other women muttered, "Typical. She gets out of doing anything! At least Hilda's done a double shift and deserves a break."

The woman who had been called Sarie replied gently, "Oh, I don't mind, Marion. Christina gets tired quickly."

"She'd be more energetic if she lost some weight," replied Marion unsympathetically.

As he watched the decidedly fat Christina waddle across to a woman seated some distance away, Klaus unobtrusively moved closer. He was disappointed to see that the seated woman, Hilda, was not one of the pretty ones. She was tall and thin with rather austere features. Well, he would not be marrying her for her looks, if it got that far!

When the Church Sisters next met to pack food parcels for the squatters in the informal settlement, Klaus was the main topic of conversation.

"Untrustworty!" pronounced Mrs. Merton, as usual full of bile instead of human kindness. "His eyes are too close together."

"Who says?" Suzie Lamprecht retorted. She had found Klaus very attractive and fancied getting to know him better. "At least he's a darned sight better-looking than the rest of the men in this dust bowl."

"Sisters, do not judge a book by its cover," Helga Swanepoel admonished, "and surely we should go out of our way to be friendly to newcomers?"

"It depends what you mean by friendly," an offended Christina du Plessis said with an outraged glare at Suzie. The only person allowed to find fault with her Hans's looks was herself!

"Some women are so desperate to get a man they'd see beauty in the devil himself!" she added.

Had the 'devil' in question been party to this conversation, he would have grinned derisively. Having sighted his quarry, Klaus wasted no time. He had taken early retirement, which meant a modest pension and he couldn't afford to stay in the hotel for more than a week. He set about hiring a self-catering bed-sitter advertised in the window of the local beauty parlour/hairdresser. It was on the outskirts of the town, which meant a tidy walk in each day, but he made a point of doing so and of calling at the hotel to glean further information from Marie Minaar. She was quite happy to gossip about all and sundry and within a matter of days he had learned the names of all the Church Sisters, knew their foibles, and that on any given morning some of the sisterhood would meet at the Astonishing Café to chat while they drank coffee. Klaus took to stopping there on his way home, sitting alone at a table wearing a pensive expression. After a few days some of the kinder ladies would stop and have a few words with him, and through listening to their conversations, he was soon able to distinguish one from another.

He observed, too, that Hilda was always one of the first to arrive at the Café. She was, he thought, a lonely woman, which would make his task that much easier. He made a point of arriving before she did so that when she was the first of the sisterhood to arrive, he could quite naturally walk across and talk to her.

It was pathetic, really, how easy it was to win her over. A bit of warmth, feigned pleasure in her company, and he was soon bringing cautious smiles to those serious lips.

On getting to know her better, he found she was a woman of few interests and simple needs and spent much of her time reading. She was not even a dedicated member of the Church Sisters.

"I don't attend their meetings, which usually descend into gossip sessions, nor do I sew or knit, so there's no point in joining the handwork workshops. I do, however," she added briskly, "take on my share of church duties and help at harvest festival and the annual fete. I also make a point of joining the sisters for tea once a month. More often lately," she conceded, looking embarrassed.

Klaus hid a grin. She was hoping to see him! He would have preferred Hilda to enjoy the good things of life. What was the point of having money if she didn't spend it? He'd have to change her mind-set if he decided to pursue her. It all depended on just how much she had!

Also, he was both puzzled and dismayed with the close friendship she had with the woman named Christina. Puzzled, as they were opposite in the extreme. Where Hilda was quiet, Christina was all mouth. Where Hilda was sharp, Christina was far slower mentally. Hilda's austere way of living was totally at odds with Christina's extravagance, both in the way she dressed and the kitsch, but expensive, things she was always buying and showing to her captive tea-time audience. Despite her airs and graces, Christina was brash, where Hilda had dignity; rather chilly dignity it was true, but it was far preferable to Christina's pushiness.

Because of his doubts, Klaus took stock of other available women among the sisterhood. There was no shortage, but most were either grossly unattractive or eking out a living, as he was. He had no intention of taking such a one on board!

An exception to the rule was the rather capricious but appealing woman named Suzie. She had an impish personality, a happy disposition and a definitely interested glint in her eye when it fell on him. Klaus would have dropped Hilda like a brick if Suzie had only had money too. Being dubious about hitching his future to Hilda's star, he decided to cultivate Suzie even if it meant messing up his chances with Hilda. There were always other fish in the sea!

Surprisingly, once she learned she had opposition, Hilda rose to the challenge. Even though aware that he was spending as much time with Suzie as with herself, she responded to the invitations he extended, limited though they were by the lack of facilities in the dorp; it did not even have a cinema! He and Hilda took slow strolls along the country lanes, watched television programmes together and each week she would cook a meal for him.

He did much the same with Suzie, but with lighter chatter and indifferent meals. She was not nearly as good a cook as Hilda! She knew full well that she had a rival but didn't seem in the least concerned, thinking herself the more attractive prospect and that he would soon realise this. Of course she did not know that money came into the equation!

The Church Sisters were quick to learn that Klaus was playing the field and were most disapproving. After dealing with everything on the agenda at their next meeting, they got down to their usual past-time, gossiping!

"Two-timing gay Lothario!" Marion Kloppers shook her head disapprovingly, "and I'm amazed at you, Suzie, going along with it."

Suzie shrugged nonchalantly. "Where's the harm? He'll soon get tired of that blue-stocking! He's just being nice and trying to let her down gently." (Hilda was at that moment listening with interest to Klaus putting to good use some of his recent reading and expounding on the government's problems with service delivery.)

Mrs Merton's gimlet eyes fixed on Suzie. "Don't count on it, my girl. "That man's devious and Hilda could pip you to the post."

Suzie tossed her head, but refrained from further comment.

Not so Marie Minaar. She had fantasised secretly about the newcomer, which fantasies soured into bitterness when she realised he had used his charm to pump her for information and had no real interest in her.

"He's a great disappointment, behaving in such a deceitful way, toying with the women of this town! I agree with Marion. Where is your pride, Suzie? And where is Hilda's?"

Christina du Plessis, who had sat listening in unusual silence, gnashed her teeth and muttered something under her breath.

With passing time, Klaus felt increasingly unhappy in his relationship with Hilda. She was, he discovered, wealthier than he'd imagined, which was, of course, to the good, but she was also in many respects an unfathomable woman with little time for those she considered inane, or even for animals or nature. Walking was for her purely a form of exercise, without so much as a sideways glance at wild flowers or hedgerows.

The only time she displayed any passion was when she found that someone had dumped a bag of garbage on the pavement in front of her house. Her face reddened, her nostrils flared and losing her temper completely, she aimed such a kick at the offending bag that it split in two, its smelly contents spilling in all directions. He had been landed with the unpleasant task of clearing up the mess.

It was just after this incident that Klaus learned that Suzie Lamprecht was a wealthy woman! Her father had been a successful sheep farmer who left the farm and a good few million to his two children. Fearful of losing her share, Suzie invested carefully and spent so little it bordered on paranoia, hence Klaus learning too late that she was a woman of means. As soon as he knew the truth about her circumstances, he decided to settle his affections on Suzie. He would teach her how to spend her money, knowing she was keen enough on him to go along with it.

However he now had another problem. Hilda was set on having him, which was astonishing as by now she must surely know he was no prize! Yet he had overheard her being quite curt with Christina when the latter voiced displeasure at their growing closeness.

"You have your Hans, so why can't you be happy for me now that I've a companion of my own?" had been her reply. It was clear that the reason for Christina's resentment was that she had been used to having Hilda's undivided attention and jealousy was eating her up!

Klaus felt definite misgivings when Christina waylaid him after church shortly afterwards and told him nastily:

"You'd better watch your step with Hilda. She's been all sweetness and light until now, but one step out of line and you'll see an awfully different side to her!"

Remembering the ferocity with which Hilda had attacked the luckless bag of garbage. Klaus couldn't dismiss this warning lightly.

He spent the next few days wondering how he could detach himself from Hilda without infuriating her. Inadvertently she was the one who presented him with the solution.

The church was trying to raise money for a new organ and the Church Sisters were raffling a religious tapestry they had been working on in their sewing circle. Each member had contributed to the stitching. Klaus was amused to learn that the only part badly sewn was Christina's effort! When he said as much to Hilda, she replied loyally:

"She has other talents. Anyway I don't approve of raffles; they're a form of gambling and have no place in religion. I feel obliged to buy a ticket only to support the sisters."

"In that case, I'll pay for your ticket," Klaus said good-naturedly. What number do you want?"

"Number one. I always choose the lowest to register my disapproval. Everyone knows by now."

Everyone did! Klaus was tickled when he saw Suzie's name inked firmly alongside that number. Hilda was furious and refused further participation.

"Spiteful!" she said with controlled anger, "but she'll come to regret it." Her quiet confidence boded ill for Suzie - and for himself if he failed to bow out gracefully!

On the way back to his cottage, the idea came to him and he grinned triumphantly. His father had been a compulsive gambler, hence the family being impoverished. He would gamble on anything and everything and at one time settled on the fall of the dice as an easy means of making money. When he found that he lost more frequently than he won, he decided to improve his odds. He experimented for a while, then drilled a thin hole into one of the dots and filled it with molten lead, which, when hardened, was practically undetectable. The dice now landed with the 'six' uppermost and for a while he met with success, until his ruse was discovered and he had to switch to another form of gambling, with new 'friends'.

Klaus kept the dice as a good luck charm when his father discarded it, and it went everywhere with him. It was presently in a pocket in his suitcase and would now be put to good use.

He would tell the two women that he was equally taken with them, and that the time had come to make a choice as it was unfair on them to continue seeing both. The fairest way he could think of was to use a dice, offering the choice of either the numbers 'one' or 'six'. He would toss the dice and the first of these to fall uppermost would win. Thereafter he would devote himself solely to that woman. He would also insist that as he had first started courting Hilda, she should have first choice. After what she had told him, he knew she would opt for the number 'one' as she'd equate this with gambling. Foolproof!

Klaus arranged to meet both women at the Astonishing Café at a given time. Neither knew the other would be there. He had chosen that venue knowing other people would be present and that neither woman would kick up a fuss in front of an audience.

He used every ounce of charm to get the affronted pair seated at a table in the corner farthest away from other people, and said quickly that he had something to tell them, knowing curiosity would prevent their leaving.

Once he had explained how he would make his choice, he turned to Hilda and added, "I know you don't approve of this kind of thing, but I'll be the one throwing the dice and as I started courting you first, you will have first choice of number." She sat with ramrod back while thinking things over, then looked across at him and nodded. Suzie pouted doubtfully.

"It would be far nicer if you simply chose," she protested.

"But not as fair," Klaus said quickly. "This way is best, but both of you will have to promise to abide by the result, whatever the outcome. I, too, will promise, and our oaths will be binding."

Suzie agreed reluctantly. Klaus looked at Hilda. Light glinting off her spectacles made her eyes difficult to see, but after a moment's hesitation, she, too, acquiesced.

Trying to hide his satisfaction, Klaus took the dice and grinned at Hilda. "Make your choice."

The smile Hilda gave him in return was almost pitying, causing Klaus to blink uncertainly. "Throw the dice and live with the consequences," she said gently. "I choose the six."

In a state of shock, Klause threw the dice into the air while his whole future flashed before his eyes, knowing he had underestimated Hilda's intelligence. When the dice fell and landed with the six uppermost, she looked pointedly at Suzie, who, with downcast eyes, quickly gathered up her bag and left the café without another word.

Hilda then stood up and announced loudly so all the customers in the café could hear:

"I'm happy to tell you that Klaus van Dyk and I have just become engaged to be married!"

As everyone gathered round to offer congratulations, Klaus plastered a sick grin on his face, knowing he had been outwitted by a woman cleverer than he, and to whom he would forever be bound unless he could find a way to escape from her. He surreptitiously dropped the dice on the floor and crushed it to powder underfoot. He should have known that something that had brought only bad luck to his father would do the same to him!

4 comments:

  1. I loved the people, drawn with such a lightness of touch and wit. It is a story that leaves me wanting to now more about their world and their stories. The acute observational skills of the writer, constructs a compelling invitation to learn more. The nonchalant lyricism of the story telling is impressive,
    Many thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  2. Thank you Ceinwen. (I love your name, by the way; so musical!) Your comments are much appreciated. I keep thinking it's time I ended the series set in Prentburg and then encouragement such as yours gives me fresh ideas and the incentive to keep going.
    Thank you once again.
    Best wishes,
    Beryl

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  3. As regular readers of tales of the Ladies of the Prentburg dorp we know that M van Dyk is going to get more than he bargained for, but the humour of this story works well as a 'stand alone' piece also. Its good that we see almost everything through van Dyk's point of view, an ingenious plot, and I enjoyed reading about drilling into the dice; so that's how it's done!
    Well, must off now to the Astonishing Café...wonder who I'll meet!
    Brooke

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Brooke,
    Good to hear from you. Thank you for your comments which are much appreciated!
    Best wishes,
    Beryl

    ReplyDelete