The Lion and the Thespian

Extract:

Title: The Lion and the Thespian

 

In this edited extract, a young Hans Strijdom is pursuing Margaretha van Hulsteyn (also known as ‘Scrappy’) – an Afrikaans actress who had spent many years on the London stage:

Seated at a table for two at Die Koffiehuis, Scrappy’s focus was on the piercing blue eyes and granite countenance of a face that looked much older than his thirty years. There was much that was attractive about Hans Strijdom, but at the same time there was a menacing, uncompromising look that made one wonder … The man certainly had an aura about him and the fact that many in the restaurant took note of him had not passed Scrappy by. Without even a word being spoken, he left little doubt that he could be a redoubtable – and even frightening – political opponent. From his home and legal practice in Nylstroom, he was an acknowledged local community leader among the Afrikaners and had recently become secretary of the National Party’s district office.

Apart from politics, however, Strijdom had few other interests, recreations or hobbies. He had a cattle farm that he seldom visited, leaving the running of the establishment to his brother who was a part owner. He gave every impression of being a dedicated politician and no one had any doubt about his incorruptibility, absolute honesty or stubbornness. He also had a reputation for calling a spade a spade and those who knew him or had heard him speak had no doubt that he was committed to ethnic segregation and permanent minority white rule in the Union of South Africa.

“So, do I call you Marda or Margaretha?”

“Neither. You call me Scrappy, my nickname, or something more endearing if you feel so inclined, but Margaretha has long been dead and buried, and Marda is my stage name.”

“Skattie?”

“No, Scrappy.”

“Well, what if I do call you Skattie?”

“No, my father sometimes uses that – you will have to be more imaginative.”

After hearing about her career in England and of her experiences living abroad, he asked whether she intended returning overseas.

“Absolutely. This is just a holiday visit to see my parents and friends; I will be returning shortly.”

“But why would you want to go back to that country?”

“To further my career. I have already made a name for myself there – and I want to become an even better actress. My name is already up in lights.”

“Lights?” Strijdom was unfamiliar with expressions not commonly used within his immediate, mostly conservative Afrikaner circle. “What do you mean up in lights?”

“Outside the theatre a star’s name literally goes up in lights. Do you know what it means to see one’s name illuminated? It is a thrill beyond imagination.”

“Surely we could put your name in lights at the theatre here?”

“Hans, I understand you haven’t been outside the Union, but London is a great city, a world metropolis. There is a difference having one’s name in lights in a European capital compared to Pretoria!”

“Pretoria is also a capital city.”

“But hardly a metropolis.”

“Scrappy, the British are our enemies … I wouldn’t want my name in lights in their country.”

“My God, Hans, the war against the British finished twenty-two years ago. Surely we must forgive and forget?”

“I cannot forgive. And I refuse to forget. Feelings here run very deep. The British are still here – but this is our country; it belongs to the volk.”

“I can see that you and my father have much in common. In any event, there is no future for me in this country. The theatre here is still in its infancy and—”

“Then you should remain here and help build it,” he interrupted her. “We Afrikaners have our own culture, which should be developed. I’m sure there must be a lot of local talent. You should be a cultural leader here. It grieves me that your God-given talent is not being seen here and is being wasted overseas on the British.”

“Hans, I don’t think you quite understand. I’m already well known overseas and my agent has quite a few options waiting for me when I return.”

“Well, Scrappy, I don’t understand. Maybe you have a boyfriend in London and you have to get back to him? This would make more sense to me, but I would hate it if he were British.”

“No, my friend, there is no boyfriend.”

“So, then, what’s wrong with me? Can I apply for the job?”

“You’re too involved in politics and I don’t know if I share all of your views. I suspect we would fight quite a lot.”

“Let’s give it a try. Will you have dinner with me tomorrow night? Perhaps I could arrange for you to come to my home in Nelspruit.”

“Dinner, yes. Nelspruit, we shall see …”

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