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The Cape Peninsula by Réné Juta
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The Cape Peninsula

by Réné Juta

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Under three purple-flowered trees standing in the Castle courtyard, one blazing hot morning, we, more sentimentally than travellingly inclined, sat and rested while a khaki-clothed Tommy wandered round to find a guide to show us over the old Dutch fort. We thanked Heaven for his half-heartedness and for some shade. Marinus, fortunately for us both, smoked his pipe of peace and of Transvaal tobacco, and I opened the Brass Bottle, which, indeed, is no bottle at all, but, as everyone not vulgarly inclined knows, a fairy-tale metaphor for one's imagination. The barometer registered 97° F. in the shade, which is a perfect state of atmosphere for the fumes of the Brass Bottle, in which, all mingling with the smoke from Marinus' pipe, the building of the Castle began.

The walls dissolved into blue air: the brasswork of the 'Kat,' the block of buildings dividing the 2 Castle into two courtyards, melted into one small spot of liquid, leaving a dry, dusty, levelled yellow plain, with an earthwork wall embodying the spirit of the dykes of the Netherlands in its composition—for the green waves of Table Bay lapped at its base. It was the second day of January, 1666; under the blazing sun three hundred discontented-looking men were digging and levelling the hard earth. At the westerly land-points were the foundations of two bastions. Suddenly a group of men appeared, looking like Rembrandt's 'Night-Watch' come to life, carrying sealed parchments and plans, followed by many Madagascar slaves in clean white linen tunics not to be renewed for six whole months, this being the New Year. The slaves carried bags of food and a long tray made of wood, on which were about one hundred small moneybags. One of the Night-Watch, who was the Commander Wagenaar, walked up to a long table whereon was a white stone; the guns of the old fort, crumbling to pieces across the parade-ground, fired. It was noon, and the foundation-stone of the Castle was laid. The three hundred weary, sweating men raised a feeble cheer, the masons, carpenters, and smiths, advancing separately, received from the hands of the 'Fiscal,' Chief Magistrate and Attorney-General of the Colony, the gift of the General Netherlands East India Company of thirty Rds., or rix-dollars, tied up 3 in the small black bags. Then the Company moved across to another part of the ground, and the Predikant, the Rev. Joan van Arckel, proceeded to lay another stone, followed by the Fiscal, Sieur Hendrick Lucas, to whose honour fell the laying of the third great corner-stone. Then were the entire three hundred malcontents, as well as the soldiers who had also laboured, presented with two oxen, six sheep, one hundred fresh-baked wheaten loaves, and eight casks of Cape-brewed beer, 'which food and drink, well cooked and well prepared,' whispered the Chief Surgeon, Sieur Pieter van Clinckenberg, to Lieutenant Abraham Schut, 'let us hope may induce these sluggish fellows to be better encouraged and made more willing to work.' ( )
  amzmchaichun | Jul 19, 2013 |
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