The Persephone Book of Short Stories: The Pain by Pauline Smith


The Pain first published in 1923 is a short story set in South Africa. Growing up Pauline Smith had lived in rural South Africa so one can imagine Pauline getting inspired by what surrounded her.

The Pain is a story about Juriaan van Royen and Deltje, an old couple who have been married for fifty years. They live in poverty, and out “of all the poor men working hired lands in the Aangenaam valley Juriaan was the poorest.” But the love between them has not diminished even by an ounce despite their many hardships.

Juriaan could neither read nor write, and when on thier marraige night Deltje had opened her Bible and read to him, it had seemed to him that no music in all the world could be so beautiful as this. In old age her voive had become thin as a bird’s, but her reading was still beautiful to him. Their years of poverty, which might have embittered them, thier childlessness, which might have driven them apart, had but drawn them closer together and it was together that they now faced Deltje’s pain.

Seventy-year-old Deltje suffers from a severe side pain which up until now had been relieved with the help of “Grandmother’s Drops.” Yet, with these drops no longer effective Juriaan has to take her to a hospital three days away from their home. The preparation to go to the hospital shows how little material wealth they have. Juriaan asks a fellow shepherd to look after their goats and hens and leaves their lands to God while Deltje takes a few of their treasures – the bible and a pink mug with “A Present for a Good Girl” in gold letters on one side of a handle for the road.

Having never been this far from home, Platkops, where the hospital is located, is a new and scary place for the two of them. On a couch at the hospital, they sit “together like children, hand-in-hand” and we can see how unaccustomed they are to the procedures followed at a hospital. Hospital routines – such as allowing Juriaan to visit Deltje for only thirty minutes a day – are incomprehensible to Juriaan and Deltje, for they have never been apart from each other since they were married. Although the doctor and the nurse impose those rules having Deltje’s best interest at heart, neither of them realize how much mental pain they are causing Deltje to take care of her physical pain. At the end, it is up to Juriaan to ensure Deltje is not hurt.

In The Pain, the life of Juriaan and Deltje is simple, yet, they are rich in love. Even after fifty years together, for Juriaan, Deltje is “his dove, his pearl, his rose of the mountains, and the light of his eyes,” for whom he would do anything. So it is a short story that made my heart warm. 🙂


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