Watch for the Dawn
[Houghton Mifflin, $2.50]
THOSE who enjoyed Stuart Cloete’s The Turning Wheels will no doubt like Watch for the Dawn even better. Again the scene is South Africa rather more than a century ago and the novel historical. The country was young. The men were strong, and God, in their image, was in Heaven, a horny-handed individualist busied with the fecundity of the flocks, herds, and women of His Chosen People, the Boers.
The English, effete as ever, had just grabbed the Cape from Napoleon’s Dutch allies merely because it happened to lie across the route to India. The Boers, who were pastoralists not particularly interested in agriculture, had possessed themselves of the land in the face of lions, leopards, Bushmen, and other untamed fauna of the veldt. The process had convinced them of the superiority of the Boer branch of the white race and of the sympathy of the Almighty. In such circumstances they had remained backward enough to resent questions of taxes and the interference of the government in such purely domestic matters as the disciplining of a dependent. They were, however, sufficiently advanced to expect government aid in their frequent, difficulties with the original inhabitants of the country.
The book begins when one, Frederick Bezuidenhout, refused to appear in court to answer for his treatment of a Hottentot. In the face of such senseless persecution — was not the man a dependent and colored? — Bezuidenhout violently resisted arrest and was killed. The country flared into revolt. The rebellion was suppressed. Five were hanged.
That is the historical background to which Stuart Cloetc has fitted a story of fairly conventional pattern. There is A Cause — which is that of the weaker side, for where is the reader worth his salt who would want to back the stronger? There are Love and War in the correct proportions.
The characters are all that could be desired. The lovely Stephanie is a vicious little minx. Aletta is staunch and true, and, if a trifle wooden, at least of sterling timber. Kaspar is sincere, handsome, and young.
There is never any question that true love will not triumph in the end — not even when Kaspar comforts himself with the lovely N’tembi, the concubine of a chief in some far upcountry kraal. It is a passionless episode, almost proper.
Oddly there is no villain among those rugged farmers, whose full-bodied rustic talk makes the reader feel that lie, like the author, is no prude. No one comes to a had end — not even Stephanie. Her ambition is achieved when she is carried off by the city slicker — to Holland and matrimony. Altogether it is a readable book for a hot summer’s day.
A. W. SMITH