Lettie has always felt different from and overshadowed by the women around her– this friend is richer, that friend is more beautiful, those friends are closer. Still, she doesn’t let this hold her back. She works hard to apply her mind, trying to compensate for her perceived lack of beauty with diligent academic work and a successful career as a doctor. She learns to treasure her friendships, but she still wonders if any man will ever return her interest.
Marco’s experience in the second world war have robbed him of love and health. When winters in his native Italy prove dangerous to his health even after the war has ended, he moves to South Africa to be with his brother, husband to one of Lettie’s best friends. Marco is Lettie’s first patient, and their relationship grows as she aids him on the road back to restored health.
In the company of beloved characters from The Child of the River, Marco and Lettie find a happiness that neither of them thought possible. With that joy comes pain and loss, but Lettie learns that life—while perhaps a crooked path—is always a journey worth taking.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
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What she was looking at, was definitely not what she wanted to see.
Lettie stood facing the full-length mirror in her mom's bedroom. Her heart, which had been overflowing with joy only this morning, lay heavy in her chest. From this moment, she vowed, not a single cake or dessert or sweet would cross her lips, ever again.
It was De Wet's fault, for speaking to her this morning. Or perhaps her mom was to blame, for making all those cakes and tarts. Or Annabel, for showing up when she did, flaunting her athletic figure.
Or maybe, just maybe, she herself was to blame.
Whatever the case may be, she was drawing the line.
This morning at the school fair De Wet — drop-dead handsome De Wet — had casually leaned on the table where she was working.
"Hello, Lettie. Who would have thought a smart girl like you knew how to make pancakes?"
"I'm just selling them," she said, embarrassed. He was tall, and when she looked up at him, his green eyes twinkled with mischief.
"Well, they picked the right person to look after the money. It's a lovely day, isn't it?" he made small talk. "I say, what are the chances of a flop or two for a broke fellow?"
She found him three and added a generous sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.
"Thanks, you're a pal," he said cheerfully.
As he turned to leave, Annabel fell into step beside him, chatting easily.
Lettie felt a sharp pang in the region of her heart. Then it dawned on her. Why had De Wet asked for two pancakes? Lettie and Annabel had been friends for as long as they could remember. Lettie's father was the only doctor in town, Annabel's father the only lawyer. Annabel's mother had decided early on that Lettie would be a suitable playmate for her daughter.
Lettie lived with her mom and dad in their home in Voortrekker Street. The front room was used only when the minister came to call. They spent winter evenings and Sundays in the big kitchen with the table in the center of the room and the AGA stove, where her mom was always busy. In summer, when the bushveld was dry and hot, they sat on the back porch. Wire mesh kept out the flies and mosquitoes — except when someone forgot to shut the door properly. The house always smelled delicious, because Lettie's mom liked to surprise Lettie and her dad with a treat when they came home.
Annabel lived in a big house farther up the street. It had a semicircular front veranda, with pillars and four steps, and a bell beside the heavy front door that Lettie had to ring when she went over to play. A housekeeper in a neat uniform would open the door. Inside, thick carpets lay on the polished floors. The girls' games were confined to the veranda, so they wouldn't mess up the house. Annabel's mom was a tall, thin woman with pitch-black hair. She was very strict and always carried a drink in her hand. Annabel's dad was a big man with a florid complexion, thinning hair, and spectacles. He was hardly ever home, because he worked hard at his law firm. Lettie saw him only at church.
Lettie didn't like playing at Annabel's home, so they mostly played at Lettie's home.
When they were in Form II, all the children from the surrounding farm schools came to the town school and lived in the hostel. That was how Lettie got to know Klara and Christine.
Christine's father was an important man. He was the Member of the Provincial Council for their constituency. But Christine wasn't important. She was just their friend.
Lettie took an immediate liking to Klara and Christine. She would have loved to be Klara's best friend, but Klara and Christine were already best friends. Lettie didn't have a best friend. She and Annabel would never be best friends.
Lettie had always been her daddy's dearest little sweetheart and her mommy's pretty little darling. Lettie's mom and dad were both short and stout and friendly. Lettie took after both her parents. She had always been a happy child.
But halfway through Form II she began to take notice of her friends' looks.
Klara was continually tucking behind her ears the unruly chestnut curls that kept escaping their plaits. She had rosy cheeks and lovely green eyes. She was athletic and had a beautiful singing voice. There wasn't an ounce of fat on her body.
Christine was small, with blonde curls and blue eyes. She always looked slightly startled — not afraid, but uncertain, rather — and she battled a little with her schoolwork. Klara often helped her. Christine was as pretty as a china doll.
Annabel was tall and slim, with shapely legs and golden skin. She was very good at sports and she was clever. She usually wore her long dark hair in a plait but, whenever possible, she would allow her shiny, silky tresses to cascade down her back. Her eyes were dark and she plucked her brows in neat arches, just like the movie stars. Her lips were full and her teeth pearly white.
Annabel was a stunning beauty, Lettie realized.
All the boys liked Annabel.
Klara's brother, De Wet, was one year ahead of them at school.
All the boys were in love with Annabel and all the girls were in love with De Wet — even the matric girls, despite the fact that he was their junior. De Wet was good at everything. He was a superb athlete and played in the first rugby team even though he was only in Form III. He was at the top of his class every year and he sang the male lead in the operetta. What was more, he was friendly to everyone, including Lettie.
He even remembered her name.
But it was that sharp pang in the region of her heart that had brought her face-to-face with herself in her mom's full-length mirror.
She was short and plump. "It's just puppy fat, you'll outgrow it," her dad always reassured her. But she was nearly fifteen.
She leaned closer to the mirror and took a critical look at her face. Her skin didn't look like Klara's, or Annabel's. "Your complexion is a bit oily," her mom said, "that's all. It means you won't have wrinkles when you're older." But at fifteen, getting older was of no concern to Lettie.
To crown it all, she wore glasses.
In front of the mirror in her mom's bedroom that particular night Lettie resolved never to eat cake or dessert or sweets again.
Her resolve didn't last long.
But the butterflies that fluttered in her tummy every time De Wet was near did not go away. The feeling was more amazing than anything she had ever felt before.
When Lettie was in Form IV, her dad dropped her at the school gate with her suitcase, her biscuit tin, and her blanket roll for Voortrekker camp.
"Here, Lettie!" Klara waved her over. She and Christine were standing next to the truck.
De Wet and his friend Braam were loading the suitcases and bags. De Wet jumped from the back and came to where she was standing. "Hello, Lettie, can I take your case?" he asked.
"I could've brought it over myself," she stuttered.
"Not on your life!" he said, laughing. His eyes sparkled, and his light-brown hair fell across his forehead.
The butterflies threatened to come fluttering out of Lettie's bright-red ears.
Annabel arrived in a uniform that was too short, and her hair wasn't tied back. She looked lovely as usual.
"De Wet! Braam!" she called out, pointing at her big suitcase and blanket roll.
Lettie pushed her glasses higher up her nose, envying Annabel's nerve.
That night they sat on the ground around the big campfire, Klara between Lettie and Christine.
Annabel crossed over to the other side of the fire. Lettie saw Annabel bend down and say something to De Wet. She saw De Wet laughing up at her and moving over to make room. She saw Annabel squeezing in between De Wet and Braam.
A dull ache lodged in her throat. The smoke from the fire stung her eyes, so she had to look away.
All weekend Annabel trailed after De Wet.
And all weekend De Wet looked like the cat who had got the cream.
During the last term of the school year, Lettie studied harder than ever. She reread all her assigned literature. She even read the newspapers so she could join in the conversation when Klara and Annabel were discussing politics.
On the last day of term she was awarded a prize for best achievement in Form IV. But she wasn't elected a prefect, and neither was Christine. When Klara and Annabel were called to the stage, Christine moved up to sit next to her.
Klara was appointed head girl, and De Wet, who, as the outgoing head boy, was also on the stage, stepped forward, put his arm around his sister's shoulders, and congratulated her with a kiss in plain view of the entire school.
Christine sighed beside Lettie. "What other boy would kiss his sister in front of everyone? Lettie, isn't he just the most adorable boy in the whole world?"
Lettie nodded. But her heart swelled inside her body, so that there was hardly any room to breathe.
In 1938, the friends boarded a train to join in the Great Trek centenary celebrations. They were met at Pretoria station and taken by bus to the campsite where thousands had gathered.
"My legs are like jelly after the long trip. I'll stand for a while," said Annabel when they realized the bus didn't have enough seats. But when two boys moved to make room for her, she sat down between them.
And when they arrived and the girls had to carry their luggage to their tents, Annabel made no move, just stood looking around. "I'll find a few strong men to help us."
"I can carry my own case," Lettie protested.
"Never!" said Annabel. "You'll see how keen these gallant young men are to help us."
And she was right. Annabel tilted her head slightly, shrugged her shoulders despondently, and gave some boys a poor-me smile. They immediately came over. "Can we help?" one of them asked.
Annabel looked up in mock surprise. "Really? But ... these cases are terribly heavy!"
One boy stepped forward and picked up the biggest of the suitcases. "Oh, this is nothing," he said.
"Gosh," said Annabel, "you must be very strong!"
The boys fell into step beside Annabel. All the way to their tent Annabel laughed and joked with them. Christine and Klara talked between themselves in low tones. Lettie followed in awkward silence.
Inside the tent, Annabel turned to her. "See, Lettie," she said, carelessly tossing her hat onto her blanket roll, "that's how you treat boys ... men. They're a bit like goats. If you stroke their egos, they'll eat out of your hand."
The next day Klara announced a simulated battle between two groups on horseback. Her brothers, De Wet and Boelie, would take part.
De Wet would be riding his horse. Lettie drew a deep breath.
After breakfast they walked up the Lyttelton Hill to get a good view of the event.
"Gosh, we should have brought umbrellas. This sun is vicious," said Lettie. She could already feel her skin turning crimson.
"Don't be such an old lady, Lettie." Annabel sighed. "A little sun will do you good. You're as pale as a white mouse."
The event Lettie had been looking forward to suddenly seemed less enjoyable.
At exactly half past nine the order came: "Charge!"
From all around came the sounds of small arms discharging. The riders advanced, sheltering behind trees and shrubs. There was the deafening sound of exploding bombs. Here and there a rider jumped off his horse, firing as he advanced.
Christine had both hands pressed to her face. "What if they kill each other?" she asked anxiously.
"Heavens, Christine," Annabel said, "do you really think they'd use live ammunition? You'll believe anything, you know!"
Then Lettie saw him. De Wet was leaning forward, his tall figure pressed against his horse, the reins tight in both hands, charging straight at the enemy.
"Look, over there in the clearing!" Klara shouted. "Look at him go!"
Lettie kept watching until he disappeared behind a clump of trees.
Then she exhaled slowly. Surely no other man on earth could be that perfect.
"Where's Annabel?" Christine asked when they were sitting by the fire later that week.
"Oh, she's around somewhere," Klara said.
"Shouldn't we go look for her?" asked Christine.
"No, leave her," said Klara.
Someone played a few chords on an accordion and they began to sing the well-known trek songs: "Die sweep het geklap en die wawiele rol ..."
Lettie's eyes kept searching for De Wet.
The concertina joined in. "Aanstap, rooies, die pad is lank en swaar ..."
There were too many people around the campfire. She couldn't spot him among the others.
In time a delicious languor took hold of Lettie. "I'm sleepy. I think I'm going to turn in," she told the other two.
"We won't be long," said Klara. "Tomorrow it's the main event and we don't want to be tired."
Slowly Lettie found her way between the tents. She heard the voices lagging behind the accordion: "Liewe maan, jy seil so langsaam ..." In front of her the hill rose undisturbed, firmly embedded in its age-old rock foundation. Overhead the stars were bright in the firmament.
She was filled with happiness, with a joy too deep for words. It was a wonderful, wonderful camp, after all. She leaned against a tree, felt the hard, rough bark under her fingers. She belonged to the best people on earth. She was proud to be an Afrikaner.
She closed her eyes. Her heart was filled with warmth. She was in love, and it was ... marvelous.
She carried on, making her way between the tents in the bright moonlight.
Then she saw them. The girl was in the man's arms. The man's hands were sliding over her back, pressing her against his body. His head was lowered, his lips locked over hers.
The girl was tall, the man even taller.
It was Annabel.
And De Wet.
Time stopped. The moment froze.
Quietly Lettie turned and chose a roundabout way back to her tent.
Her heart was cold as ice and heavy as lead. She put on her nightdress and spread out her blankets.
The ice around her heart began to melt. She curled into a ball and pressed her face into her pillow.
She lay without moving, pain like a solid crust around her heart. She told herself not to cry, begged herself not to cry.
She missed her mom.
Shortly afterward she heard Christine and Klara enter.
Christine whispered, "Klara, he was kissing her. I saw it with my own eyes."
"Oh, it doesn't mean anything," Klara whispered back. "A boy will kiss any girl who throws herself at him. And you know what Annabel is like ..."
But De Wet wasn't like other boys, was he? Lettie's heart, her entire being, cried out.
She lay motionless on her small island of blankets while her two friends quietly spread their own blankets and shook out their pillows.
She thought of Christine.
She knew Christine was also in love with De Wet. The icy hand around her aching heart gripped a little harder. Pretty little Christine was also in love. And she was also in pain tonight, feeling the same agony.
After a while she heard Klara breathe deeply and evenly.
Much later, when Annabel came in noisily and prepared to go to bed, Lettie was still awake. "Are you asleep?" Annabel asked as she unrolled her blankets next to Lettie.
Lettie ignored her. She didn't want to talk about the truth, which was that Annabel was Annabel, and she was Lettie Louw, and a man like De Wet Fourie would never be hers.
unced one morning before school as the four friends walked to their classroom. "I'm going to Tukkies next year."
"A journalist?" Christine asked uncertainly.
"Yes, Christine, someone who writes in the papers, you know?" Annabel replied, rolling her eyes. She turned to Lettie and asked, "What are you going to do?"
"Study medicine," Lettie answered without hesitation. "At Wits, I suppose, where my dad was also a student."
"Wits! An English university!" Annabel exclaimed. "And medicine! I'm not sure it's a suitable career for a woman. It's so ... masculine." She shrugged. "But I suppose it's okay for you."
"I think Lettie will be a wonderful doctor," Klara said. "She's certainly clever enough, and she'll be good to her patients."
Annabel raised her eyebrows skeptically and turned to Christine. "And you, Christine, what are you going to study?"
"I don't know." Christine was quiet for a moment. "Actually, I'd like to work with sick people too, help them, you know?"
"Don't be silly," Annabel said. "You couldn't even pass the Voortrekkers' first-aid course!"
Lettie noticed Klara's hand resting briefly on Christine's shoulder. For a fleeting moment she wished that Klara could also be her best friend. She also wished she could attend Pretoria University because ... well, because De Wet was there. But her dad believed that Wits had the best medical school, and Lettie believed her dad knew best.
Excerpted from "The Crooked Path"
Copyright © 2017 Irma Joubert.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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