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All the while she gazed out her upstairs window – the bright moonlit Transvaal winter’s night revealed a fantasy landscape before her. It was a stage upon which she could set the actors as she wished.

On her stage she saw him, riding on a big black steed, it’s breathe steaming through wide nostrils, champing at the bit as if it was irritated by the slow canter toward her house.

He was Boer and she British and their relationship not accepted by either family. He was tall, lean, strong and handsome. His long blonde hair sat easily on his olive skinned face. Blue eyed like many of his ilk, he differed only in his penetrating stare.

His face showed no bitterness about his situation, its’ clear open complexion belied his determination to be the best for his volk and their Boereland[1].

Their relationship transcended the political and cultural barriers of the day and yet neither had considered, too deeply, the consequences of their acceptance of each other.

Jessica Miles was a tiny wisp of a woman; Pieter-Jacobus Pienaar was a six footer who weighed in at 140 pounds. Jessica was destined to bear children and to keep house, Petrus to police his volk and to maintain law and order.

Pieter-Jacobus was a man of great passion and like his forefathers, essentially a military man. Jessica was a perfectionist, determined and strong in all her ways, yet she was gentle, compassionate and a deeply spiritual woman.

To say this is how it all began would sound like an arrogant statement, after all, when did it ‘it all begin’? If Adam and Eve is where it all began for each one of us, then when will the Pienaars say it began for them? For them the answer might be found in their ancestral tree planted in Cape Town AD 1688, with the arrival of Jacques Pinard. Jacques was a refugee from the European persecution of the “Huguenots” as they were known. Jacques and Elize had seven children.

Jean, the fifth child of Jacques and Elize married a Dutch beauty named Sarie and because they felt that politically and socially the name Pinard was not too easily acceptable, to the Dutch, to say nothing of its pronunciation. “Peenyaw” was quite difficult to get your mouth around if you were Dutch. So they chose a French /Dutch compromise – Pienaar.

Pieter-Jacobus Pienaar had some idea of his origins, but never to the fullest detail; Jessica had neither the knowledge nor, for that matter, any interest in hers. The struggle of their day was so foremost in their minds that the issue of origin paled by comparison.

Was it all hopeless, she questioned, as she gazed out at the moonlit stage, set before her? Would he really come to her someday to win her hand, in spite of her Father’s dislike of all Afrikaners, of his parent’s distrust of anyone who spoke English?

She turned from the window and slipped into her bed. Her beloved bed, onto her pillow, it smelled of Mother who had lain in bed with her, what seemed like a few minutes ago. Mother said that Jessica was so “old fashioned” the way she always carried her bedding with her wherever she went, in a bundle held together with leather straps; otherwise she couldn’t sleep! But that was Jessica’s way and she couldn’t explain it, just Jessica’s way and that was all.

Sleep came quickly with visions of Pieter-Jacobus on his steed staring at her with those penetrating blue eyes, still fresh in her mind. That stare that never smiled, but it seemed to be saying, “Jessica my Englese vrou[2] I will respect and love you forever.”

“Jessica, my little dreamer, breakfast is served” said Mamma softly waking her. “Come my precious, your Papa loves to see you at the table before he leaves to inspect the estate”, she said gently. “I’m tired Mamma”, Jessica responded, eyes closed. “Come, Mamma will help dress you. “Papa wants to talk to you about finishing school in Europe.”

Victoria was the daughter of Viscount Marbury, the Queens Equerry, who had disappointed her family by falling in love with Edward Miles, the sole inheritor of a Lancashire mill, Miles Cloth Ltd. Whilst Edward did not have the tenacity of his Father’s business ability, he was, nonetheless, a true Lancashire man. The business failed under his leadership, but he found his feet on a farm in the Transvaal in the late 1800’s. Success and respect was his in the community of Olifantsfontein.

“I don’t want to go Papa, please don’t send me,” Jessica cried, the thought of leaving her beloved parents and her home, their farm, ‘Swansea’, (named after Edward’s Grandfather who was Welsh) terrified her.

Her beauty never ceased to take Edward by surprise every single day from her birth; long blond hair, which, since childhood she had refused to have cut. Blue-blue eyes and full red lips, she was a true English Rose. “Mois Cherie” Edward responded. He spoke to her in French, which his half French Father insisted he speak and of which Edward said that no other language could express endearment like the French language. Whilst any self respecting Frenchman might be shattered at his language being spoken with a Lancashire accent; in this part of Africa it was accepted as ‘Miles’s quirk’! Jessica loved it, because in their home he never spoke to anyone else, but her, in French!

“My little gel” he responded gently, “There is going to be a war in this coontry and muther and I don’t want to ‘ave to wurry over you”, his accent seemed to be more pronounced than usual. “What about you?” Jessica reacted. “Muther & I will be fine and it won’t be long and you’ll be bak”. Edward’s voice didn’t sound confident.

Not long after war had been declared, under the cover of night, Pieter-Jacobus rode up to Edward and Victoria’s estate. A servant reported to Victoria that a certain Boer Veldkornet by the name of Pienaar was asking for permission to speak to her. Surprised, she asked Edward to accompany her to the guest lounge. Whilst Victoria had known of Jessica’s affection for the young Pienaar, understanding, as she did, the huge cultural and language divide between the two, she had never given the relationship any chance.

“Goeie naand Mevrou & Meneer Miles, my naam is Pieter-Jacobus Pienaar”, he said hat in hand. Edward was fluent in Dutch and he spoke directly with Petrus, translating to Victoria as he did so. “I do speak English”, said Pieter-Jacobus. He explained that his older sister had married a certain John Thompson from Scotland and for whom; he had worked since his youth. Thompson spoke Dutch to Pieter-Jacobus, but insisted that he in turn, speak English to John Thompson.

“How is Jessica?” Pieter-Jacobus asked earnestly. “I have written to her, but have had no replies”, he said despondently. “It will take time before she will be allowed to reply to any letters from non-family members; it is a school rule.” Victoria said sympathetically. He seemed to be taller and thinner than she remembered him. But his eyes still had that same determined penetrating stare. Yet, they did not speak of any bitterness or political aims, but rather of a deep love and respect for a woman out of his cultural boundary and a desire to see his Volk settled in their Boereland.

“Sir, please, you and Mrs. Miles must leave this place, it is no longer safe for you, and neither the British nor the Boers will respect your position here.” “Where can we go?” Edward responded, “We belong here”! “Sir, please, for Jessica’s sake, you must move”. The young man was insistent.

Reluctantly Victoria & Edward left the next day with a scant few belongings and moved to the Pienaar Farm. Days later the farm was attacked by the British, the Boer community defended as long as they could, and then escaped with a few women and children. Edward and Victoria died in the burned out farmstead. Pieter-Jacobus, who was not at the farm when the attack took place, heard that his mother and two younger siblings had been taken to the concentration camp at Middleburg.

Before her course was properly concluded Jessica was summoned to return from Lausanne in Switzerland.

As all official letters were scrutinized by the Nuns before being handed over to pupils, Jessica was called to the office to talk to Mother Superior and the Chaplin, Father Aloysius. Instinct screamed out impending disaster to her when she was summonsed to the office. Mother Superior said, “I am so sorry Jessica, your Mother and Father have been killed in the war”! She stood, numbed for a few seconds. Then from the very core of her being, a sound howled,” …..No please no, not Mamma & Pappa, please no”! Aloysius instinctively pulled the young woman toward him, embracing her in his ample bosom. He could not find words, so he prayed quietly.

“You cannot go yet”, Mother Superior said firmly, “Things are too dangerous in South Africa”.

It was a full agonizing six months before Jessica was allowed to leave Switzerland. She arrived at Swansea two months later.

The coach drew up to the front door. Everything seemed the same as it was when she left, except the ivy on the wall had grown, the dogs didn’t recognize her and there were new house servants. Otherwise everything was just she had remembered it, the day she had left.

“Die Baas is in die land” the voice startled her. “Die Baas?” Jessie questioned. “Baas Pienaar” a maid responded.[3]

Heart beating furiously, she took a trap to the lands and then coming around a corner she saw him. Their eyes met, he stood as if transfixed with surprise at her sudden appearance. His tall frame was amplified by a hard tanned body, blond hair and blue piercing eyes. He stood, unable to speak, he was shaking and tears were streaming down his cheeks. The workers were surprised too, before they recognized ‘Die Klein Miesies’[4]. Pieter-Jacobus was weeping unashamedly and then, with one voice, the workers began to sing, in low tones at first then in a crescendo of dancing and clapping! The pain was indescribable for Jessica, the paradox of the joy of being home, the sight of Pieter-Jacobus and the absence of Mamma & Papa!

“Verskoon my Jessica, my hart is seer en my hart is bly, God het my wêreld weg gevat, en nou dat jy hier is, is my wêreld terug”[5], Pieter-Jacobus offered apologetically.

They sat at the oak table in front of the big Cape styled fire place and ate a meal in silence. “Thank you for caring for Swansea Pieter-Jacobus, how are your family”? Jessica asked softly. “My family are all dead and the farm destroyed. Someday, when I have the courage, I will return and rebuild the ruins.” He said it quietly and very matter-of-factly, afraid that his emotions would fail him again. Yet his voice was devoid of bitterness, blame or, for that matter, understanding.

“Jessica, would you accompany me tomorrow, I want to take you there, to help me close a door – please”. The appeal was simple, childlike. “I will”. Jessica said.

A dry dusty two hours ride in the trap brought them to the remains of the Pienaar Farm – “Die Môre Ster”[6].

In silence they walked around the burned out buildings and then on to a freshly laid cemetery. Pieter-Jacobus walked towards the headstones. ‘Jean & Sarie Pienaar’ “Totsiens Mamma & Papa”[7], he choked. And then to two tiny graves: ‘Annetjie en Gertjie Pienaar’ without warning Pieter-Jacobus fell to the ground, a strange sound pouring from his innermost, “My Annetjie, my Gertjie, het God my verlaat?” He howled in agony, “Annetjie, Gertjie! Gee my julle hande asseblief, net vir so tydjie, ek wil dit net een keer hou……”[8] he wept uncontrollably. Jesse fell to her knees alongside him weeping. She held him tight as his body wracked with sobs.

She lost track of time as eventually, he grew still. He rose and lifted her towards him. “Thank you Jessica, I will not cry like this again, I am done”.

He held her in his arms and then gently slid to his knees, “Jessica, will you be my wife please”? The question took her completely by surprise, but she answered without hesitation – “I will Pieter-Jacobus”.

Gideon came into the world with a loud announcing, then Pieter-Johannes, then Annetjie, Sarie, Daniel and finally, Gertjie.

The Pienaars were complete. Pieter-Jacobus and Jessica had done well; long off the farm, she was the mother and his ‘English Woman’ and he a senior member of the Police Force – life was good.

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[1] “His people and their land”

[2] My Englishwoman

[3] “The Boss is in the lands. The Boss? Mr Pienaar”.

[4] “The Little Lady (of the Estate)”

[5] “Forgive me Jessica, my heart is pierced and my heart is overjoyed. God took my world away and now that you have returned, my world has been restored”.

[6] “The Morning Star”

[7] “Good bye Mother and Father”

[8] “My Annetjie and Gertjie, has God left me? Annetjie and Gertjie, please let me (hold) your hands, for a little while, one more time…”