The Black Notebook
Last night I dreamed of the pigeon. It reminded me of something, I didn’t know what. In my dream I was fighting to remember. Yet when I woke up I knew what it was — an incident from the Mashopi hotel week-ends. I haven’t thought of it for years, yet now it is clear and detailed. I am again exasperated because my brain contains so much that is locked up and unreachable, unless, by a stroke of luck, there is an incident like yesterday’s. It must have been one of the intermediate week-ends, not the climactic last week-end, for we were still on good terms with the Boothbys. I remember Mrs Boothby coming into the dining-room with a .22 rifle at breakfast and saying to our group: ‘Can any of you shoot?’ Paul said, taking the rifle: ‘My expensive education has not failed to include the niceties of grouse and pheasant murder.’ ‘Oh, nothing so fancy like that,’ said Mrs Boothby. ‘There are grouse and pheasant about, but not too many. Mr Boothby mentioned he fancied a pigeon pie. He used to take out a gun now and then, but he’s lost the figure for it, so I thought if you could oblige …?’
Paul was handling the weapon quizzically. He finally said: ‘Well, I’d never thought of shooting birds with a rifle, but if Mr Boothby can do it, so can I.’
‘It’s not hard,’ said Mrs Boothby, as usual letting herself be taken in by the polite surface of Paul’s manner. ‘There’s a small vlei down there between the kopjes that’s full of pigeons. You let them settle and just pick them off.’
‘It’s not sporting,’ said Jimmy, owlish.
‘My God, it’s not sporting!’ cried Paul, playing up, clutching at his brow with one hand and holding the rifle away from him with the other.
Mrs Boothby was not sure whether to take him seriously, but she explained: ‘It’s fair enough. Don’t shoot unless you’re sure of killing, and then where’s the harm?’
‘She’s right,’ said Jimmy to Paul.
‘You’re right,’ said Paul to Mrs Boothby. ‘Dead right. We’ll do it. How many pigeons for Host Boothby’s pigeon pie?’
‘There’s not much use with less than six, but if you can get enough I can make pigeon pie for you as well. It’d make a change.’
‘True,’ said Paul. ‘It would make a change. Rely on us.’
She thanked him, gravely, and left us with the rifle.
Breakfast was over, it was about ten in the morning, and we were glad to have something to fill our time until lunch. A short way past the hotel a track turned off the main road at right-angles and wandered ruttily over the veld, following the line of an earlier African footpath. This track led to the Roman Catholic Mission about seven miles off in the wilderness. Sometimes the Mission car came in for supplies; sometimes farm labourers went by in groups to or from the Mission, which ran a large farm, but for the most part the track was empty. All that country was high-lying sandveld, undulating, broken sharply here and there by kopjes. When it rained the soil seemed to offer resistance, not welcome. The water danced and drummed in a fury of white drops to a height of two or three feet over the hard soil, but an hour after the storm, it was already dry again and the gullies and vleis were running high and noisy. It had rained the previous night so hard that the iron roof of the sleeping block had shaken and pounded over our heads, but now the sun was high, the sky unclouded, and we walked beside the tarmac over a fine crust of white sand which broke drily under our shoes to show the dark wet underneath.