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Henrique Teixeira da Cruz, who happened to be standing at the doorway, listened with interest, and then retreated into the street to wait for Ehrlich.
He emerged soon, and Teixeira waved to him, smiling, and said:
“How delightful, we don’t bump into each other enough these days. You are so busy up at the farm, and I am all over the district looking after my affairs. It’s a shame that we never have time to chat. You and I are both men of the world. We are far too well educated for these primitive parts. I do miss the chance to speak with men of culture. I used to take them for granted when I was a student in Coimbra, ah, such delightful times. Come to my little office and spend a few moments with me.”
Ehrlich could not resist such an invitation. Educated as they were, he thought, McNaughton and Wright were no match for his intellect. Scornfully, he had decided that they were specialists, merely technicians, lacking in the wide cultural background that a European education provided. ‘Imprisoned’ with them, as he felt he was, and only having them for conversation was a cruel punishment. He understood what they said, but their incessant inane jokes and trivial comments irritated him. They never seemed to have anything serious to say. What harm was there in spending a few moments with someone like this Portuguese gentleman who shared so many of his dearly-held values?
Stepping into Teixeira’s office, which was housed in a simple building identical to that of the post-office, Ehrlich was surprised to find it was luxuriously furnished. He felt as if he had stepped out of the harsh African sun into a bourgeois living room which could have been in any large city in Europe. Teixeira invited him to sit in a well upholstered armchair covered with silky brocade with an oriental pattern woven into it. He sank into it with a sense of relief. What a contrast to that hard saddle he had come to dread. His host walked over to an inlaid cabinet decorated with scenes of China, and after unlocking its ornate doors, he took out a squat bottle with a long stem and two crystal glasses. He filled each of them with blood-red liquid, and handed one of them to Ehrlich, saying:
“Highly valued by the British, prepared lovingly by my ‘brothers’ in Portugal with the luscious grapes of the Douro, this is rainha das bebidas – the queen of drinks. Perfectly delightful at any time of the day, it is a wonderful way to cement friendship. I know that you cannot fail to agree.”
They knocked their glasses together. Ehrlich took a sip, and felt a delicious warm glow as the richly flavoured alcohol flowed down his throat. How wonderful to be able to rest somewhere that made him feel so far away from Africa, the continent he had grown to loathe. He imagined he was back in Tübingen. Any moment now, Frau Ehrlich might walk through the door, bearing him news that the bank had cancelled his debts, and that the university had offered him back his position as lecturer in the Chemical Institute. Watching him daydreaming, a satisfied smile on his face, Teixeira put down his glass, and pushing a footstool towards him, said:
“Put your feet up. Have a refill, and, why not light up a cigar? Best that Havana can provide.”
Ehrlich watched the tip of the cigar glowing brightly as he inhaled. He swallowed another mouthful of the port, and began to feel more relaxed than he had for many months.
“It must be pretty uncomfortable up there in the hills at Van Troncken’s place,” Texeira said casually. “I hope that whatever it is that keeps you busy there makes the discomfort of the place worth bearing. It puzzles me why a simple fellow like Van Troncken should need a man with your learning on his farm. And those two Englishmen: are they your helpers? What are you up to? I hope that you’re not sweating away up there just to help the blacks. Not another missionary hospital, is it? If you ask me, those sun-burned layabouts have never had it so good since Vasco da Gama weighed anchor on these shores.”
Teixeira’s thoughts chimed well with Ehrlich’s own jaded views on the sweaty men he had to endure, often at close quarter. Too close for comfort, he felt. They were always reluctant to do things the way he wanted. He laughed, and then said:
“No, no, I am not that sort of doctor. Not medicine. Oh Lord, no! Don’t ever come running to me with a fever or a broken arm!”
Teixeira looked surprised, and refilled Ehrlich’s glass, but this time with a lighter coloured liquid. Ehrlich gulped as the fiery liquid flowed down his throat.
“What do you think of that? It’s what real men drink in Portugal: the stuff that Fernão de Magalhães drank to steady his nerves when he fought the elements on his way around the tip of South America. So, you are not the sort of doctor with whom I am most familiar? How delightful it is to meet a doctor who does not immediately want to seize my wrist or listen to my chest!”
Ehrlich laughed again and then said:
“You’re quite safe. I have no stethoscope, only test-tubes, reagents and reaction dishes. Oh, and a fine balance as well.”
Teixeira poured more of the clear liquid into his guest’s half empty glass.
“What can a simple farmer need with a chemist? Don’t tell me that he is setting up a factory?”
He began to guffaw, and just managed to say:
“I can just see it. The newspapers full of advertisements extolling the benefits of ‘Van Troncken’s Mountain Elixir’. Ha, ha, this is too much for me! And is the great Herr Henry Bergmann to make a profit marketing it to the innocent burghers of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth whilst you stir the potion?”
For many years I went to a GP called Dr Ehrlich, but he unfortunately retired a number of years ago.
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