Oh where did he go, that Highlands lad,

From the crossroads deep in bracken and heather

Where he and his brother, about to part,

Sang and knelt and prayed together

And the God of Bethel entered his heart?

The coach-wheels rolled, a ship sailed away

With thundering sails and timbers cracking,

Over the grey Atlantic tacking

From West to East and from East to West.

Oh the way was the Lord’s and the way was blessed

And safe was his coming to that far-off shore.

And the bracken and heather knew him no more.

But the koppies knew him, the great Karoo,

The broken pebbles of the wagon-track,

Where thorn-trees grew;

The gabled house where he brought his bride,

Where children were born and lived, or died,

And grew and played in cellar and shed

And a garden, flecked with the filigrees

Of the blue leaf-shadows of pepper-trees.

Summer and winter, and summer again;

Drought and flood and storm and rain

On the hot, flat roofs. The river roared.

The frontier farmers came to town;

The bread was broken, the wine was poured,

As they took from his hands the Feast of the Lord.

His life was theirs by hour and minute,

One with the town and all within it,

And never a soul recalled a day

When he’d not been there – angular, tall –

With grizzled hairand eyes ashine

With warm compassion, with deep concern;

His voice from the pulpit low and strong,

Measured, gentle and ofttimes stern.

His children knew him – each girl and boy,

Till a morning came when he joined their hands

At the peak of joy and, in fullness of time,

Baptised their babes in Jesus’ Name.

The low sun glittered, gold and red.

His horse stepped high over desert scrub

And riversand blowing hot and dry in the riverbed.

Under a high, black sky, with the high stars shining,

He came in the night

To the small low room in the candlelight;

To the rough hands lying cold and numb;

‘Oh Dominee! Praise the Lord! You’ve come!’

By open graves at the end of the years

He spoke quiet words, dried bitter tears

And called his people to their repenting.

Do you hear the pipes

You Highland lad?

You have forgotten the bracken and heather.

The kloof re-echoes – long – lamenting –

From desert hill to desert hill,

And children’s children have gathered together.

Oh God of Bethel,

Be with us still!

The above poem was written by Juliet Marais Louw, widow of J S Marais Louw (MFR b6c9d3), after attending the festival in Graaff-Reinet in 1972.