Stories

Curse of the Transvaal

Posted on July 05, 2018 by Cape Rebel

From ‘News Story’ 
In A Bekkersdal Marathon
by Herman Charles Bosman

 

‘The way the world is today,’ At Naudé said, shaking his head, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen.’

From that, it was clear that At Naudé had been hearing news over the wireless again, that made him fear for the future of the country. We did not exactly sit up, then. There was never any change, even in the kind of news he would bring us. Every time it was about stone-throwings in Johannesburg locations, and about how many kinds of bombs the Russians had got, and about how many people had gone to gaol, for telling the Russians about still other kinds of bombs they could make. Although it did not look as though the Russians needed to be educated much, in that line.

And we could never really understand why At Naudé listened at all. We hardly ever listened to him, for that matter. We would rather hear from Gysbert van Tonder whether it was true that the ouderling at Pilansberg really forgot himself, in the way that Jurie Steyn’s wife had heard about from a kraal Mtosa at the kitchen door. The Mtosa had come to buy halfpenny stamps, to stick on his forehead for the yearly Ndlolo dance. Now, there was news for you. About the ouderling, I mean. And even to hear that the Ndlolo dance was being held soon again, was at least something. And if it should turn out that what was being said about the Pilansberg ouderling was not true, well, then, the same thing applied to a lot of what At Naudé heard over the wireless, also.

‘I don’t know what’s going to happen,’ At Naudé repeated, ‘the way the world is today. I just heard over the wireless …’

‘That’s how the news we got in the old days, was better,’ Oupa Bekker said. ‘I mean in the real old days, when there was no wireless, and there was not the telegraph, either. The news you got then, you could do something with. And you didn’t have to go to the post office, and get it from a newspaper. The post office is the curse of the Transvaal …’

Jurie Steyn said that Oupa Bekker was quite right, there. He, himself, would never have taken on the job of postmaster at Drogevlei, if he had as much as guessed that there were four separate forms that he would have to fill in, each of them different, for a simple five-shilling money order. It would be so much brainier en neater, Jurie Steyn said, for people who wanted to send five shillings somewhere, if they would just wrap up a couple of half-crowns in a thick wad of brown paper, and then post them in the ordinary way, like a letter. That was what the new red pillar-box in front of his door was for, Jurie Steyn explained. The authorities had gone to the expense of that new pillar-box in order to help the public. And yet you still found people coming in for postal orders and money orders. The other day a man even came in and asked if he could telegraph some money somewhere.

‘I gave that man a piece of brown paper, and showed him the pillar-box,’ Jurie Steyn said. ‘It seemed, until then, that he did not know what kind of progress we’d been making here. I therefore asked him if I could show him some more ways, in regard to how advanced the Groot Marico was getting. But he said, no, the indications I had given him were plenty.’

Jurie Steyn said that he thought it was handsome of the man to have spoken up for the Marico like that, seeing that he was quite a newcomer to these parts.

Because we never knew how long Jurie Steyn would be, when once he got on to the subject of his work, we were glad when Johnny Coen asked Oupa Bekker to explain some more to us, about how they got news in the old days. We were all pleased, that is, except At Naudé, who had again tried to get in a remark, but had got no further than to say that if we knew something, we would all shiver in our veldskoens.

‘How did we get news?’ Oupa Bekker said, replying to another question of Johnny Coen’s. ‘Well, you would be standing in the lands, say, and then one of the Bechuanas would point to a small cloud of dust in the poort, and you would walk across to the big tree by the dam, where the road bends, and the traveller would come past there, with two vos horses in front of his Cape cart, and he would get off from the cart, and shake hands, and say that he was Du Plessis. And you would say that you were Bekker, and he would say, afterwards, that he couldn’t stay the night on your farm, because he had to get to Tsalala’s Kop. Well, there was news. You could talk about it for days. For weeks, even. You have no idea how often my wife and I discussed it. And we knew everything there was to know about the man. We knew his name was Du Plessis.’

At Naudé said, then, that he didn’t think much of that sort of news. People must have been a bit simpel in the head, in those old times that Oupa Bekker was talking about, if they thought anything of that sort of news. ‘Why, if you compared it with what the radio announcer said only yesterday …’

Jurie Steyn’s wife came in from the kitchen at that moment. There was a light of excitement in her eyes. And when she spoke, it was to none of us in particular.

‘It’s just occurred to me,’ Jurie Steyn’s wife said, ‘that is, if it’s true what they are saying about the Pilansberg ouderling, of course. Well, it has just struck me that, when he forgot himself in the way they say – provided that he did forget himself like that, mind you – well, perhaps the ouderling didn’t know that anybody was looking.’

That was a possibility that had not so far occurred to us, and we discussed it at some length.

~

We were in no mood for foolishness. Oupa Bekker took this as an encouragement for him to go on.

‘Or another day,’ Oupa Bekker continued, ‘you would again be standing in your lands, say, or sitting, even, if there was a long day of ploughing ahead, and you did not want to tire yourself out unnecessarily. You would be sitting on a stone in the shade of a tree, say, and you would think to yourself how lazy those Bechuanas look, going backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, with the plough and the oxen, and you would get quite sleepy, say, thinking to yourself how lazy those Bechuanas are. If it wasn’t for the oxen to keep them going, they wouldn’t do any work at all, you might perhaps think.

‘And then, without your in the least expecting it, you would again have news. And the news would find a stone for himself, and come along and sit down right next to you. It would be the new veldkornet, say. And why nobody saw any dust in the poort, that time, was because the veldkornet didn’t come along the road. And you would make a joke with him and say: “I suppose that’s why they call you a veldkornet, because you don’t travel along the road, but you come by the veld-langers.” And the veldkornet would laugh and ask you a few questions, and he would tell you that they had had good rains at Derdepoort … Well, there was something I could tell my wife over and over again, for weeks. It was news. For weeks, I had that to think about. The visit of the veldkornet. In the old days, it was real news.’

We could see from the way At Naudé was fidgeting in his chair, that he guessed we were just egging the old man on to talk, in order to scoff at all the important European news that he, At Naudé, regularly retailed to us, and that we were getting tired of.

After a while At Naudé could no longer contain himself.

‘This second-childhood drivel that Oupa Bekker is talking,’ At Naudé announced, not looking at anybody in particular, but saying it to all of us, in the way Jurie Steyn’s wife had spoken when she had come out of the kitchen. ‘Well, I would actually sooner listen to scandal about the Pilansberg ouderling. There is at least some sort of meaning to it. I’m not being unfriendly to Oupa Bekker, of course. I know it’s just that he’s old. But it’s also quite clear to me, that he doesn’t know what news is, at all.’

~

‘On another day, say,’ Oupa Bekker went on, ‘you would not be in your lands at all, but you would be on your front stoep, drinking coffee, say. And the Cape cart, with the two vos horses in front, would be coming down the road again, but in the opposite direction, going towards the poort, this time. And you would not see much of Du Plessis’s face, because his hat would be pulled down over his eyes. And the veldkornetwould be sitting on the Cape cart, next to him, say.’

Oupa Bekker paused. He paused for a while, too, holding a lighted match cupped over his pipe, as though he were out in the veld where there was wind, puffing vigorously.

‘And my wife and I would go on talking about it for years afterwards, say,’ Oupa Bekker went on. ‘For years after Du Plessis was hanged, I mean.’

Die vloek van Transvaal

Posted on July 05, 2018 by Cape Rebel

Uit “News Story”
In A Bekkersdal Marathon

deur Herman Charles Bosman

 

“Met wat deesdae aangaan in die wêreld,” het At Naudé kopskuddend gesê, “weet ek nie wat gaan gebeur nie.”

Dit was duidelik dat At Naudé weer nuus oor die draadloos gehoor het, wat hom bevrees gelaat het vir die toekoms van die land. Dit het ons toe nie dadelik laat regop sit nie. Daar was nooit enige verandering nie, selfs in die soort van nuus wat hy aan ons oorgedra het. Dit was telkens oor klipgooiery in die Johannesburgse lokasies en oor hoeveel soorte bomme die Russe oor beskik, en oor hoeveel mense tronk toe gegaan het omdat hulle die Russe oor nog ander soorte bomme wat hulle kon vervaardig, vertel het. Hoewel dit nie gelyk het of die Russe enige onderrig nodig gehad het vir dié soort van ding nie.

En ons kon nooit regtig verstaan waarom At Naudé enigsins daarna geluister het nie. Trouens, ons het omtrent nooit na hom geluister nie. Ons wou liewer by Gysbert van Tonder hoor of dit waar was dat die ouderling by Pilansberg homself regtig te buite gegaan het op die manier wat Jurie Steyn se vrou, by die kombuisdeur, by ’n kraal-Mtosa gehoor het. Die Mtosa het gekom om halfpennieseëls te koop om op sy voorkop te plak vir die jaarlikse Ndlolo-dans. Dít was nou vir jou nuus. Ek bedoel eintlik oor die ouderling. En selfs om te hoor dat die Ndlolo-dans weer binnekort gehou gaan word, was ten minste iets. En as dit so sou gebeur dat dit wat oor die ouderling gesê is, nie waar was nie, wel, dit kon ook die geval wees dat ’n klomp van die goed wat At Naudé oor die draadloos gehoor het ook nie waar was nie.

“Ek weet nie wat gaan gebeur nie,” het At Naudé herhaal, “oor hoe dit deesdae met die wêreld gaan nie. Ek het nou net oor die draadloos gehoor …”

“Dis hoekom die nuus wat ons in die ou dae gekry het, beter was,” het oupa Bekker gesê. “Ek bedoel nou in die ware ou dae, toe daar geen draadloos was nie,” het oupa Bekker gesê, “en daar toe ook nie die telegraaf was nie. Die nuus wat jy toe gekry het, kon jy iets mee maak. En jy hoef nie poskantoor toe te gegaan het om dit van ’n koerant te verkry nie. Die poskantoor is die vloek van Transvaal …”

Jurie Steyn het gesê dat oupa Bekker dáár heltemal reg was. Hyself sou nooit sy werk as posmeester op Drogevlei aanvaar het nie as hy enigsins kon geraai het dat daar vier afsonderlike vorms was wat hy moes invul, en elkeen van hulle verskillend, vir ’n eenvoudige vyfsjieling-poswissel nie. Dit sou soveel slimmer en netjieser gewees het, het Jurie Steyn gesê, vir mense wat vyfsjielings êrens heen wou stuur, as hulle net ’n paar halfkrone in ’n dik rol bruinpapier kon opvou en dit op die gewone manier, net soos ’n brief, kon pos. Dit was die doel van die rooi posbus voor sy deur, het Jurie Steyn verduidelik. Die outoriteite het die uitgawes vir die nuwe posbus aangegaan juis om die publiek te help. En nog steeds kry jy mense wat vir poswissels en geldwissels inkom. Nou die dag het ’n man selfs ingekom en gevra of hy geld êrens heen kon telegafeer.

“Ek het daai man ’n stukkie bruinpapier gegee en hom gewys waar die posbus is,” het Jurie Steyn gesê. “Tot dan toe, het dit gelyk dat hy nie geweet het van die soort vooruitgang wat ons hier gemaak het nie. En so het ek hom toe gevra of ek hom nog ander voorbeelde kon wys oor hoe die Groot Marico vooruitgegaan het. Maar hy het nee gesê – die aanduidings wat ek vir hom gewys het, was heeltemal genoeg.

Jurie Steyn het gesê dat hy gedink het dat dit besonder gaaf van die man was om so op te kom vir die Marico, aangesien hy maar nog nuut in hierdie geweste was.

Omdat ons nooit geweet het hoe lank Jurie Steyn daarmee sou aanhou as hy eers oor die onderwerp van sy werk begin praat het nie, was ons bly toe Johnny Coen vir oupa Bekker gevra het om bietjie verder te verduidelik oor hoe hulle nuus in die ou dae gekry het. Ons was almal verheug behalwe At Naudé, wat probeer het om ’n aanmerking in te kry. Maar hy het nie verder gekom nie as om te sê dat, as ons bewus sou word van iets wat plaasgevind het, ons almal in ons velskoene sou bewe.

“Hoe het ons nuus gekry?” het oupa Bekker gesê, in antwoord op ’n ander vraag van Johnny Coen. “Wel, veronderstel nou maar jy staan daar op een van die lande en een van die Betsjoeanas sou na ’n stofwolkie in die poort gewys het, en jy sou daarna na die groot boom by die dam toe, oorgeloop het, daar waar die pad ’n draai maak, en die reisiger sou daar verbygekom het, met twee vosperde voor sy kapkar, en hy sou dan uit die kar geklim het en met jou hande geskud het en gesê het dat hy Du Plessis was. En sê nou maar dat jy gesê het dat jy Bekker was, en dat hy daarna gesê het dat hy nie op jou plaas kon oorbly nie, want hy moes by Tsalalaskop uitkom. Nou ja, dít was vir jou nuus. Jy kon vir dae daaroor praat. Selfs weke lank. Jy het geen idee hoe dikwels ek en my vrou dit sou kon bespreek het nie. En ons sou alles wat daar omtrent die man was om te weet, geweet het. Ons het geweet sy naam was Du Plessis.”

At Naudé het toe gesê dat hy nie veel van daardie soort nuus gedink het nie. In daardie tyd wat oupa Bekker van gepraat het, moes die mense ’n bietjie simpel in die kop gewees het as hulle dit enigsins as nuus beskou het. “Nee maggies, as jy dit vergelyk met wat die radio-omroeper net gister gesê het …”

Op daardie oomblik het Jurie Steyn se vrou uit die kombuis uit ingekom. Haar oë het geblink van opgewondenheid. En toe sy gepraat het, was dit met nie een van ons in besonder nie.

“Dit het nou net by my opgekom,” het Jurie Steyn se vrou gesê, “natuurlik, as dit wat hulle van die Pilansbergse ouderling sê waar is. Wel, dit het my nou net getref dat, toe hy opgetree het op die manier wat hulle sê – op voorwaarde dat hy homself wel so gedra het, nê – wel, miskien het die ouderling nie geweet dat iemand gekyk het nie.”

Dit was ’n moontlikheid wat tot dusver nie by ons opgekom het nie, en ons het dit breedvoerig bespreek.

Ons was nie in ’n bui vir simpelheid nie. Oupa Bekker het dit vir hom as ’n aanmoediging opgeneem om verder te gaan.

“Sê nou maar ook dat jy op ’n ander dag,” het oupa Bekker aangegaan, “op een van jou lande gestaan het, of selfs gesit het, as daar ’n lang dag se geploeëry was wat op jou gewag het, en jy nie jouself onnodig moeg wou maak nie. Jy kon maar op ’n klip in die skaduwee van ’n boom gesit het, en jy kon in jou enigheid gedink het hoe lui daardie Betsjoeanas gelyk het daar waar hulle op en af, op en af met die ploeg en die osse geloop het, en jy kon, jy weet, nogal heel lomerig geword het daar waar jy besig was om te dink hoe lui die Betsjoeanas is. As dit nie vir die osse was wat hulle aan die gang gehou het nie, sou hulle glad geen werk gedoen het nie, sou jy miskien kon dink.

“En dan, sonder dat jy dit die minste verwag het, het jy weer nuus gekry. En dié nuus het vir homself ’n klip gekry, en reg daar langs jou kom sit. Sê nou maar dis die nuwe veldkornet. En waarom niemand daardie keer enige stof in die poort gesien het nie, was omdat die veldkornet nie met die pad langs gekom het nie. En jy het met hom ’n grap maak en gesê: ‘Ek neem aan dis hoekom hulle jou ’n veldkornet noem, want jy ry nie padlangs nie – jy kom veldlangs aangery.’ En die veldkornet het dan gelag en jou ’n paar vrae gevra, en hy het jou vertel dat hulle goeie reëns by Derdepoort gehad het … Nou ja, daar was iets wat ek my vrou weke lank oor en oor kon vertel. Dít was nuus. Ek het weke lank gehad om daaroor te dink. Die besoek van die veldkornet. In die ou dae was dit ware nuus.”

Aan die manier hoe At Naudé in sy stoel kriewelrig geraak het, kon ons sien dat hy geraai het dat ons net die ou man aangepor het om te praat, ten einde te spot oor al die belangrike Europese nuus wat hy, At Naudé, gereeld aan ons oorvertel het, en waarvoor ons moeg geraak het.

Ná ’n rukkie kon At Naudé homself nie meer inhou nie.

“Hierdie kens- en bogpraatjies wat oupa Bekker kwytraak,” het At Naudé opgemerk, terwyl hy na niemand in besonder gekyk het nie, maar vir ons almal gesê het, op dieselfde manier wat Jurie Steyn se vrou gepraat het toe sy by die kombuis uitgekom het. “Ja, ek sou liewer na ’n skandaal oor die Pilansbergse ouderling wou luister. Daar is ten minste ’n soort van betekenis daaraan verbonde. Ek is natuurlik nie onvriendelik teenoor oupa Bekker nie. Ek weet dis maar net omdat hy oud is. Maar dis ook vir my duidelik dat hy geen idee het wat nuus eintlik is nie.”

~

“Sê nou maar op ’n ander dag,” het oupa Bekker voortgegaan, “dat jy glad nie op jou lande was nie, maar op jou voorstoep, besig om koffie te drink. En die kapkar met die vosperde het weer padlangs aangekom, maar hierdie keer in die teenoorgestelde rigting, poort toe. En jy kon nie veel van Du Plessis se gesig sien nie, want sy hoed was laag oor sy oë getrek. En sê maar, die veldkornet het langs hom op die kapkar gesit.

Oupa Bekker het toe vir ’n wyle stilgebly. Hy het ’n rukkie langer stilgebly terwyl hy ’n aangesteekte vuurhoutjie beskermend oor sy pyp gehou het, asof hy êrens in die veld was waar die wind gewaai het – en sterk daaraan gesuig het.

“En sê maar dat ek en my vrou jare daarna nog daaroor gepraat het,” het oupa Bekker verder vertel. “Vir jare, ná Du Plessis opgehang is, bedoel ek.”

Mountain Retreat of the Smugglers

Posted on July 05, 2018 by Cape Rebel

From ‘Rolled Gold’
In Jurie Steyn’s Post Office
by Herman Charles Bosman

It was the first time young Vermaak had come to visit us, in Jurie Steyn’s post office, since his marriage to Pauline Gerber. We could see, in several ways, the difference it had already made to the schoolmaster, to be married to the daughter of a wealthy Bushveld farmer like old Gerber.

For one thing, young Vermaak was now smoking expensive cigarettes out of a cigarette case, made of a yellowish metal, that he passed round to us, so that we could help ourselves to a cigarette and, at the same time, see the big curved lines of his initials engraved on the lid.

We knew that the schoolmaster’s initials had certainly not been, by any means, so important before he had married Pauline Gerber.

‘If I had a cigarette case like that,’ Gysbert van Tonder said to young Vermaak, in handing it back to him, ‘I wouldn’t have had the letters of my Christian name and my surname cut into it so big and so fat. And so deep. I mean, think of how much gold gets scooped off, that way. It’s a wonder that the Zeerust watchmaker who did the job didn’t write his own name on it as well, and his address, so that he could prune off a whole lot more gold for himself.’

Young Vermaak gazed at Gysbert van Tonder with a thin smile.

If the jeweller’s engraver had been set that shallow, there would have been no mark at all made on the cigarette case lid.

‘It wasn’t a Zeerust watchmaker,’ young Vermaak announced. ‘My monogram was engraved by a Johannesburg firm.’

‘I don’t know whether I shouldn’t give up teaching for a while,’ he said. ‘I would like to improve my mind, so that I can fit in better – in the world of intellect and culture. I want to have breadth to my mind, and outlook. I’ve been reading a book that describes the cramping influences that fetter the spirit, like a vinculum. A vinculum is the Latin word for a chain.’

Gysbert van Tonder said that if that was all that was worrying the schoolmaster, then he was certainly in the right place, now, at Welgevonden, for being able to enlarge his knowledge of the world. Oom Koos Gerber, young Vermaak’s father-in-law, Gysbert van Tonder said, was easily the most broadminded man in this part of the Marico.

‘I mean, just take the way Oom Koos Gerber made all his money,’ Gysbert van Tonder proceeded. ‘Well, if that’s not broadminded, then I don’t know what is. I mean, the Bechuanas – as far as Malopolole – know how broadminded Oom Koos Gerber is – to this day – about what brand-marks there are on the cattle he brings back to the Transvaal. That’s why the Bechuanas have given him the name of RaSakèng. It means “He-Who-Walks-Too-Near-The-Cattle-Kraal”. And if Oom Koos can teach you a few things in that line, then maybe you’ll get just as broadminded. Only, I think your father-in-law will tell you that the police pay more attention today, than they did in the old days, to a Bechuana’s complaint about missing cattle.

‘So you should perhaps not start getting too broadminded, straight away. Otherwise you’ll find your wrists fastened together with a … what was that foreign word you used?’

Vinculum,’ interjected At Naudé, who was quick at picking up languages.

After an interval of silence, the schoolmaster, having first self consciously cleared his throat, proceeded to deal with the matters on which we could sense he had really come to enlighten us.

‘I’ve booked for a number of the Grand Operas in Johannesburg,’ he said. ‘I feel that that will open up a new world of culture to me. Vision is what I’ll get, I think.’

We could see, from the way he opened his mouth, that Gysbert van Tonder was going to ask if that was a new word for ‘time’.

‘It’s some of the true glory of European culture coming here to South Africa,’ young Vermaak went on quickly, before Gysbert van Tonder could make any more disguised references to the penalties for cattle-theft.

‘And I think I’ll be a better schoolteacher, and more of a credit to the Education Department, for having gone. You’ve got to wear an evening dress-suit, with tails.’

That was how you had to go to the Grand Opera in Johannesburg today, the schoolmaster added. And that was what gave Chris Welman, who had once worked on the mines, his chance to be sarcastic.

‘I suppose you’ve also got to carry the right sort of dinner-pail,’ Chris Welman said, thinking of the times when he had been wont to present himself for the night-shift at number three shaft (and of how his colleagues would laugh at an underground man who wasn’t de règle, but had his sandwiches wrapped in an odd piece of newspaper). ‘And at the Opera, I suppose, you’ve also got to wear the right kind of bicycle-clips with your evening dress-suit pants.’

Nevertheless, no matter what we might have pretended to the contrary, the fact was that we stood in a good deal of awe of what young Vermaak had said about the culture of Europe.

It was in recognition of this that Jurie Steyn, as though doffing his hat to the traditions of old cities, enquired of the schoolmaster, reluctantly, as to what an Opera was, exactly.

So young Vermaak got his chance to spread himself, after all.

‘An Opera,’ he said, ‘is a play, just like Vertrapte harte or Die dominee se verlossing or Liefde op die ashoop. It’s like any play they have in the hall next to the flour-mill at Bekkersdal, except that it’s all songs and music.

‘When the warder tells the condemned man that the noise of falling bricks is the hangman’s footsteps on the stairs, the warder sings it. And when the condemned man gets a sack pulled over his head before being hanged – like in the play Frikkie se laaste ongeluk – then the condemned man comes to the front of the stage and sings his last words.

‘But what it sounds like, coming through a black sack and all, I wouldn’t know. I’ve just learned about Opera from reading books about it. That’s why I’d like to see how it’s actually done on the stage.’

Gysbert van Tonder looked pleased with himself, suddenly. It seemed as though he had not been too far wrong, in having warned the schoolmaster of the dangers that lay in being too broadminded.

‘You don’t only get those vinculum things on your feet, from having your ideas go too wide,’ Gysbert van Tonder assured young Vermaak, solemnly. ‘There’s that sack over your head, also. It’s how one thing just sort of leads to another.’

The schoolmaster flared up, then. He said he hadn’t come to Jurie Steyn’s post office to be insulted. And here was Gysbert van Tonder talking about him as though he were already a cattle-smuggler and a cattle-thief – and worse. A lot worse, the schoolmaster added – thinking, no doubt, of that sack.

Thereupon At Naudé advised young Vermaak to ignore Gysbert van Tonder. He needn’t talk, was the way At Naudé phrased it. In any case, At Naudé said, we were all eager to learn more about Opera, and if people in the Operas got vinculums put on them, also, well, he was sure it was for more high-minded things than just cattle-smuggling and stock-theft.

But the schoolmaster said that, strangely enough, from what he had read in his book, there was one Opera that was just like that, more or less.

The cattle part, he said, came in the scene that was called ‘Exterior of the Bull-Fighting Arena’. And he said that when that Opera was first produced in Paris or Munich or Rome or Sweden, or somewhere – he forgot where, exactly, now, but it was some foreign place … Moscow likely – then when the curtain went up on the ‘Exterior of the Bull-Fighting Arena’ scene, the audience all applauded when they heard a bellowing, because they expected a real live bull to come prancing onto the stage, right up to the footlights.

But the audience was very disappointed when they found that it was just the Basso-Profundo at the back of the stage, practising some notes – arpeggios, the schoolmaster called them.

‘And it’s queer,’ young Vermaak went on, ‘that there actually is a scene in the Opera, too, that is called “Mountain Retreat of the Smugglers”. Only, there is a beautiful girl in that Mountain Retreat, and she is concerned only with the pleasure and the passion of the passing moment.’

‘Well, that was something like …’ Chris Welman began to say. Several of us sat up very straight on our riempie-chairs, then, to hear more. This was something quite new to us. It looked as though those Europeans had something, after all.

‘She makes them aware of her charms,’ young Vermaak went on.

Yes, quite, we thought.

It was certainly something that had never come the way of a Bushveld farmer on a cloudy night when he had cut some strand of barbed-wire, to let a herd of cattle into the Transvaal.

We doubted whether anything like that had ever happened, even to Oom Koos Gerber himself, although everybody knew how lucky he was in such matters. In matters relating to cattle-smuggling, that was.

‘This Opera is full of colour and movement,’ the schoolmaster went on.

And we thought, yes, we could believe that. We could also understand young Vermaak having booked seats, then, even though it was all just music and singing.

‘Then a gentle peasant girl arrives with a message for the officer, who is now a smuggler,’ the schoolmaster proceeded.

Well, we didn’t really care what he was – whether he was an officer or anything else – before he became a smuggler. Nor were we much interested to hear about that peasant girl, either. It was the other one that the schoolmaster couldn’t tell us enough about.

‘It’s a very moving song that the smuggler, who was once an officer, sings,’ young Vermaak continued. ‘I’m looking forward to hearing it. He sings it by a hole in the wall. It’s through reading the message that the simple-minded girl brings him.’

The schoolmaster spoke a good deal more about Opera, after that. But somehow, it never sounded quite the same again as when he had first started.

Even what he said about the lovely Rhine-maiden with the lily in her hair didn’t come up to the level of that other one.

All the same, as the schoolmaster went on speaking, our attitude towards him began to change, in a singular way, with the result that we started feeling more human about him, and it seemed that there was something in what he called European culture, after all.

The result was that he afterwards set our feelings at rest, with some quite simple words.

‘I’m going to the Opera in Johannesburg with my own money,’ the schoolmaster said, ‘that I have saved up. I know I sort of tried to lie to you at the start.

‘But I don’t want you to think I’ve changed just because I’ve now got a rich father-in-law. I wouldn’t take his money, even if …’

‘Even if he offered you some,’ Gysbert van Tonder said, trying to sound sardonic.

Young Vermaak smiled.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘even if he offered me some – which he hasn’t. And this cigarette case of mine is only rolled gold. What’s more, it was engraved by a Zeerust watchmaker. What Jo’burg engraver can make scrolls and flourishes like that today, I mean? Here … take a look.’

Berg-skuilplek van die smokkelaars

Posted on July 05, 2018 by Cape Rebel

Uit ‘Rolled Gold’
In Jurie Steyn’s Post Office 

deur Herman Charles Bosman

 

Sedert sy troue met Pauline Gerber was dit die eerste keer dat jong Vermaak ons in Jurie Steyn se poskantoor kom besoek het. Ons kon op verskeie maniere die verskil sien wat dit alreeds aan die skoolmeester gemaak het, deur met ’n ryk Bosveldboer soos ou Gerber se dogter getroud te wees.

Jong Vermaak het byvoorbeeld nou duur sigarette uit ’n sigaretdosie, gemaak van ’n geel metaal, gerook. Hy het dit aan ons rondgestuur sodat ons onsself kon help aan ’n sigaret, en terselfdertyd die groot geronde lyne van sy gegraveerde voorletters op die dekseltjie kon sien.

Ons het geweet dat die skoolmeester se voorletters glad nie, op enige manier, so belangrik was voordat hy met Pauline getrou het nie.

“As ek ’n sigaretdosie soos dit gehad het,” het Gysbert van Tonder aan jong Vermaak gesê toe hy dit aan hom teruggegee het, “sou ek nie die letters van my voornaam en my van so groot en vet laat uitsny het nie. En so diep. Ek meen te sê, dink net hoeveel goud op daardie manier uitgegrou is. Dis ’n wonder dat die Zeerustse horlosiemaker wat die werk verrig het, nie sy eie naam ook daarop geskryf het nie, en sy adres, sodat hy ’n hele klomp meer goud vir homself kon aftop.

Jong Vermaak het met ’n effense glimlag na Gysbert van Tonder gestaar.

As die juwelier se graveerder vlakker gestel was, sou daar geen merk op die klap van die sigaretdosie gewees het nie.

“Dit was nie ’n Zeerustse horlosiemaker nie,” het jong Vermaak aangekondig. “My monogram is deur ’n Johannesburgse firma gegraveer.”

“Ek weet nie of ek skoolhou vir ’n rukkie moet laat vaar nie,” het hy gesê. “Ek sou graag my gees wil verfyn, sodat ek beter kan inpas – in die wêreld van intellek en kultuur. Ek wil my gees verbreed, en my siening. Ek het ’n boek gelees wat die belemmerende invloed wat die gees kniehalter, soos ’n vinculum, beskryf. ’n Vinculum is die Latynse woord vir ’n ketting.”

Gysbert van Tonder het gesê dat, as dit al was wat die skoolmeester nou by Welgevonden gekwel het, hy verseker op die regte plek was om in staat te wees om sy kennis van die wêreld te verbreed. Oom Koos Gerber, jong Vermaak se skoonpa, het Gysbert van Tonder gesê, was maklik die mees onbekrompe man in hierdie deel van die Marico.

“Ek sê, vat maar net die manier waarop oom Koos Gerber sy geld gemaak het,” het Gysbert van Tonder voortgegaan. “Wel, as dit nie onbekrompe was nie, dan weet ek nie wat is nie. Ek bedoel, die Betsjoeanas – so ver as Malopolole – weet hoe onbekrompe oom Koos Gerber is – tot vandag toe – oor watter brandmerke daar op die beeste is, wat hy terug Transvaal toe bring. Dis hoekom die Betsjoeanas hom die naam RaSakèng gegee het. Dit beteken: “Hy-wat-te-na-aan-die-beeskraal-loop”. En as oom Koos jou ’n paar soortgelyke dinge kan leer, dan kan jy miskien net so onbekrompe word. Maar ek dink jou skoonpa jou sal vertel dat die polisie deesdae met meer aandag luister as ’n Betsjoeana oor verlore beeste kla, as wat hulle vroeër dae gedoen het.

“So, miskien moet jy nie dadelik begin om te onbekrompe te word nie. Anders sal jy jou gewrigte saam vasgemaak vind met ’n … wat was daardie vreemde woord wat jy gebruik het?”

Vinculum,” het At Naudé, wat tale vinnig aanleer, tussenin geslinger.

Ná ’n rukkie van stilte het die skoolmeester, ná hy sy keel doelbewus skoongemaak het, voortgegaan met die sake, wat ons kon aanvoel, waaroor hy werklik gekom het om ons oor in te lig.

“Ek het vir ’n paar Groot Operas in Johannesburg bespreek,” het hy gesê. “Ek voel dat dit ’n nuwe wêreld van kultuur vir my sal oopmaak. Ek dink ek sal visie kry.”

Ons kon sien, op die manier wat hy sy mond oopgemaak het, dat Gysbert van Tonder van plan was om te vra of dit ’n nuwe woord vir “tyd” was.

“Dit is iets van die ware glorie van die Europese kultuur wat hier na Suid-Afrika toe kom,” het jong Vermaak gou voortgegaan, voordat Gysbert van Tonder enige verdere verdoeselde verwysings na die strawwe vir veediefstal kon maak.

“En ek dink dat ek ’n beter skoolonderwyser sal wees, en meer kredietwaardig vir die Onderwysdepartement, omrede ek gegaan het. Jy moet ’n swaelstert-aandpak dra.”

Dit is hoe jy vandag na die Groot Opera in Johannesburg moet gaan, het die skoolmeester bygevoeg. En dit was wat Chris Welman, wat op ’n slag op die myne gewerk het, sy kans gegee het om sarkasties te wees.

“Ek veronderstel jy moet ook die regte soort van kosblik dra,” het Chris Welman gesê, gedagtig aan die tye toe dit die gebruik was om homself vir die nagskof by skag nommer drie aan te meld (en hoe het sy kollegas nie gelag vir enige ondergrondse man wat nie de règle was nie, maar wat sy toebroodjies in ’n los stuk koerantpapier toegedraai gehad het). “En in die opera, veronderstel ek, moet jy ook die regte soort fietsknippies saam met die aandpak se broek dra.”

Nogtans het dit nie saakgemaak hoe ons die teenoorgestelde probeer voorgee het nie, die feit was dat ons groot respek gehad het vir wat jong Vermaak te sê gehad het oor die kultuur van Europa.

Dit was in erkenning hiervan dat Jurie Steyn, asof hy sy hoed gelig het vir die tradisies van ou stede, huiwerig vir die skoolmeester gevra het wat Opera presies was.

So het jong Vermaak uiteindelik die kans gekry om sy sê te sê.

“’n Opera,” het hy gesê, “is ’n toneelstuk, net soos Vertrapte harte of Die dominee se verlossing of Liefde op die ashoop. Dis soos enige opvoering wat hulle in die saal langs die koringmeule in Bekkersdal hou, behalwe dat dit alles liedere en musiek is.

“Wanneer die sipier die ter dood veroordeelde man vertel dat die vallende bakstene die laksman se voetstappe op die trappe is, dan sing die sipier dit. En wanneer ’n mus oor die veroordeelde man man se kop getrek word voordat hy opgehang word – soos in die toneelstuk Frikkie se laaste ongeluk – dan kom die veroordeelde na die voorkant van die verhoog en sing sy laaste woorde.

“Maar waarna dit klink, komende deur ’n swart mus, en so aan, sou ek nie weet nie. Ek leer maar net van Opera deur boeke daaroor te lees. Dis hoekom ek wil sien hoe dit eintlik op die verhoog gedoen word.”

Gysbert van Tonder het skielik heel behaaglik en tevrede met homself daaroor gevoel. Dit het gelyk asof hy nie te ver verkeerd was nie, deur die skoolmeester te waarsku oor die gevare wat daarin lê om te onbekrompe te wees.

“Jy kry nie net daardie vinculum-goed aan jou voete deur jou idees te wyd te laat loop nie,” het Gysbert van Tonder die jong Vermaak plegtig verseker. “Daar is ook daardie mus oor jou kop. Dis hoe een ding net soort van na ’n ander lei.”

Die skoolmeester het toe vlam gevat. Hy het gesê dat hy nie na Jurie Steyn se poskantoor toe gekom het om beledig te word nie. En hier staan Gysbert van Tonder en praat van hom asof hy reeds ’n beessmokkelaar en beesdief is – en nog erger. Baie erger, het die skoolmeester bygevoeg – sonder twyfel, dinkende aan daardie mus.

Daarna het At Naudé jong Vermaak aangeraai om Gysbert van Tonder te ignoreer. Hy’s ’n mooi een om te praat, was die manier hoe At Naudé dit uitgedruk het. In elk geval, het At Naudé gesê, ons is almal gretig om meer te wete te kom oor Opera, en as mense in die Opera hulself in vinculums sou bevind, sou dit ook maar goed so wees. Hy was seker dit sou vir edelmoediger dinge as vir beessmokkelary en veediefstal wees.

Maar vreemd genoeg, het die skoolmeester gesê, van wat hy in sy boek gelees het, was daar een Opera wat min of meer net so was.

Die bees-gedeelte, het hy gesê, het in die toneel wat “Buitekant van die stiervegtersarena” genoem is, voorgekom. En hy het gesê, toe die opera die eerste keer in Parys of Munchen of Rome of Swede of êrens opgevoer was – hy het nou vergeet presies waar, maar dit was in een of ander vreemde plek … moontlik Moskou – het met die ooptrek van die gordyn in die “Buitekant van die stiervegtersarena”-toneel, die hele gehoor, toe hulle ’n gebulk gehoor het, dit toegejuig, want hulle het verwag dat ’n bul in lewende lywe op die verhoog reg tot by die voetligte sou kom pronk.

Maar die gehoor was baie teleurgesteld toe hulle uitgevind het dat dit net die Basso-Profundo agter op die verhoog was wat van sy note geoefen het – arpeggios het die skoolmeester hulle genoem.

“En dis snaaks,” het jong Vermaak voortgegaan, “dat daar in werklikheid ook ’n toneel in die opera is wat “Berg-skuilplek van die smokkelaars” genoem is. Maar daar is ’n pragtige meisie in daardie berg-skuilplek, en sy is net behep met die plesier en die passie van die vlietende oomblik.”

“Wel, dit was iets soos …” het Chris Welman begin sê. ’n Hele paar van ons het toe baie regop op ons riempiestoele gesit om meer te hoor. Dit was iets heel nuuts vir ons. Dit het gelyk asof daardie Europeërs uiteindelik darem iets reggery het.

“Sy maak hulle van haar sjarme bewus,” het Vermaak aangegaan.

Ja, net so, het ons gedink.

Dit was verseker iets wat nog nooit na ’n Bosveld-plaasboer se kant toe gekom het nie, wanneer hy op ’n bewolkte nag besig was om ’n doringdraad te knip – om ’n trop beeste in Transvaal in te laat.

Ons het getwyfel of enigiets soortgelyks ooit plaasgevind het, selfs met oom Koos Gerber, hoewel almal geweet het hoe gelukkig hy in sulke sake was. Dit wil sê, sake wat met die smokkel van beeste te doene gehad het.

“Hierdie Opera is vol kleur, ritme en tempo,” het die skoolmeester verder gesê.

En ons het gedink, ja, dit kon ons glo. Ons kon toe ook verstaan hoekom jong Vermaak sitplekke bespreek het, selfs al was dit alles net musiek en ’n gesingery.

“Toe kom ’n saggeaarde knegmeisie daar aan met ’n boodskap vir die offisier, wat nou ’n smokkelaar is,” het die skoolmeester voortgegaan.

Wel, ons het nie juis omgegee wat hy was nie – of hy ’n offisier of enige iets anders was nie – voordat hy ’n smokkelaar geword het. Ons was ook nie juis veel geïnteresseerd daarin om verder van die plattelandse meisie te hoor nie. Liewer van daardie ander een van wie die skoolmeester ons nie genoeg kon vertel het nie.

“Dit is ’n baie hartroerende lied wat die smokkelaar, wat op ’n slag ’n offisier was, sing,” het jong Vermaak voortgegaan. “Ek sien daarna uit om dit te hoor. Hy sing dit by ’n gat in die muur. Dis as gevolg van die boodskap wat die eenvoudige plattelandse meisie hom gebring het.”

Daarna het die skoolmeester nog heelwat meer oor die Opera gepraat. Maar op die een of ander manier, het dit nie heeltemal dieselfde geklink as toe hy aanvanklik daarmee begin het nie.

Selfs toe hy gepraat het oor die lieflike Ryn-maagdelike meisie met die lelie in haar hare, was dit nie so fassinerend soos daardie ander een nie.

Nietemin, terwyl die skoolmeester voortgegaan het met sy gepraatery, het ons houding teenoor hom op ’n sonderlike manier begin verander; gevolglik het ons meer menslik oor hom begin voel, en dit het gelyk of daar wel iets was in wat hy die Europese kultuur genoem het.

Die gevolg was dat hy daarna ons gemoedere met heel eenvoudige woorde gekalmeer het.

“Ek gaan met my eie geld na die Opera in Johannesburg toe,” het die skoolmeester gesê, “wat ek voor opgespaar het. Ek weet ek het aan die begin vir julle soort van probeer lieg.

“Maar ek wil nie hê julle moet dink dat ek verander het net omdat ek nou ’n ryk skoonpa het nie. Ek sal nie sy geld vat nie, selfs …”

“Selfs as hy ’n bietjie daarvan vir jou aanbied,” het Gysbert van Tonder sarkasties gesê.

Jong Vermaak het geglimlag.

“Ja,” het hy gesê, “selfs al bied hy my daarvan aan – wat hy nie gedoen het nie. En hierdie sigaretdosie van my is maar net oorgeblaasde goud. En nog meer, dit is deur ’n horlosiemaker van Zeerust gegraveer. Watter Johannesburgse graveerder kan vandag sulke krulle en versiersels maak? Ek bedoel … kyk hier.”

No Crime to be Poor

Posted on July 05, 2018 by Cape Rebel

From ‘Easy Circumstances’
In A Bekkersdal Marathon

by Herman Charles Bosman

‘Poverty is no crime,’ Chris Welman declared. He declared it loudly, a shade aggressively, at the same time pushing the toe of his broken veldskoen under his chair. ‘Nor is it a matter for shame, either,’ he added, ‘to be poor.’

‘No, I don’t care who knows that I’m not particularly rich, myself,’ At Naudé remarked, withdrawing from general view a trouser turn-up that had been mended with string. ‘Of course, it’s not like I’ve been brought up poor. When my father trekked into these parts, coming up from the Cape, he was well-to-do. I won’t say diamonds, and a sitting-up chair with blue curtains that you got carried around in, and such like, as they used to have in the old days in the Cape. No doubt my grandfather, in his time, would have been carried around in a sitting-up chair.

‘But my father, when he came up from the Cape – why, we were just people in quite easy circumstances, that’s all. Perhaps in the Transvaal – with the class of farmer living in the Transvaal then, I mean – we would have been thought to be rich, even.’

So Chris Welman said, yes, in the same way when his grandfather came up from the Cape, his grandfather was reckoned to be a man of no little affluence – especially so, perhaps, in comparison with what was the financial standing of the general run of Transvaler then resident in the Transvaal. In fact, he wouldn’t have been surprised if his grandfather had actually been carried up from the Cape into the Transvaal Bushveld, sitting in one of those sitting-up chairs with blue curtains.

‘Yes, I can quite believe it,’ Gysbert van Tonder interjected, in a sarcastic voice. ‘And it’s easy to see that that’s what your Nagmaal suit is patched with, too – a piece of that same blue curtain … Well, I’m not exactly penniless today, and I don’t care who knows it. Also, I was brought up poor, and I’m not ashamed of that either.’

So Jurie Steyn said, well, there were different ways of making money. And he wasn’t sure that it would meet with everybody’s approval, the way some people made their money. At the same time, he couldn’t but think that it was a strange thing how some people would talk about how well-to-do their forebears were, compared with the Transvalers there that lived in reed-and-mud-daub houses.

After all, where did the Transvalers that lived in reed-and-mud-daub houses come from, if they didn’t come from the Cape? He was sure he didn’t know, Jurie Steyn said.

But what he would not seek to deny about his own family, when they came up from the Cape, Jurie Steyn said, was that they enjoyed a greater than ordinary measure of prosperity. Compared with most of the Transvalers, that was.

‘Not that I won’t admit that I, myself, am a bit on the poor side, today,’ Jurie Steyn added, before Gysbert van Tonder could make another interjection.’ And it’s not that I’m ashamed of being poor, either. There’s nothing about it that I’ve got to try and hide.’

That was true enough. Shielded as his apparel was by the post office counter, there were no flaws in his garments that Jurie Steyn needed to retire from the gaze of vulgar curiosity.

~

Before the discussion grew really acrimonious, however, Oupa Bekker began to relate an old Transvaal story that introduced a good many of the features we had already touched on. It was a story of a poor girl, Miemie de Jager, who lived with her parents in the Groot Marico in the kind of hartbees house we had already been talking about.

‘It was the kind of dwelling …’ Oupa Bekker started.

‘You don’t need to say that part of it again. We already know all that,’ Jurie Steyn interjected. For Jurie Steyn had noticed that At Naudé was again surveying his voorkamer, in a thoughtful manner.

‘Very well, in that case, I’ll say only that Miemie de Jager’s parents did not exactly live in a palace …’ Oupa Bekker proceeded.

‘Yes,’ At Naudé nodded. ‘I can imagine just the kind of hovel she stayed in. I must say, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea, now. And I think the less said about it, the better.’

Thereupon Jurie Steyn burst out that At Naudé should be the last person to talk. If Miemie de Jager had ever seen At Naudé’s kitchen, and the kind of plates he ate out of, Jurie Steyn said, then Miemie de Jager would feel, next to it, that her parents were rich people from the Cape who had just arrived in sitting-up chairs.

Jurie Steyn talked as though he already knew what Miemie de Jager was like.

Only after Gysbert van Tonder had spoken at some length, and in a sneering way – saying that for people who weren’t ashamed of being poor, it was surprising how fussy some of us were – was Oupa Bekker able to get on with his story.

‘Miemie de Jager,’ Oupa Bekker said, ‘lived with her parents in a … in a plain house that was near the first sawmill they had in this part of the Transvaal. And one morning, when she was on her way home from the sawmill …’

‘Good Lord!’ Chris Welman ejaculated suddenly. ‘You don’t mean to say they were that poor. You don’t mean she worked in the sawmill – those heavy thirty-foot logs – that’s no work for a young girl with fair hair and dimples – sawing …’

It was apparent that Chris Welman had already formed a picture in his own mind of how Miemie de Jager looked.

But Oupa Bekker said no, it was Miemie de Jager’s father who worked in the sawmill. Miemie went there every morning to fetch firewood in a sack.

‘And then, one morning, on her way home through the bluegums,’ Oupa Bekker continued, ‘she saw a young man approaching along the path – a young man she didn’t know. She guessed right away that he must be a son of the new people who had bought up the sawmill and the whole property. Rich people from the Cape, they were.

‘So she let the sack of firewood fall from her shoulders, quickly, and she hid the sack behind a bluegum. She did not mind the young man seeing her walking barefoot, but she did not want him to see her carrying that sack of wood. It went against her womanly pride. Not that she was ashamed of her parents being poor …’.

No, no, we said. Poverty wasn’t a crime, we said. But we had noticed Chris Welman hiding his broken veldskoen. And we had seen what At Naudé had done, furtively almost, with his trouser turn-up, a little earlier on. So we knew just how Miemie de Jager felt about that sack, a symbol of the fact that her parents were none too well off.

‘She decided to walk straight on, and pass that young man; and then, after he was out of sight, she woud go back and fetch the sack,’ Oupa Bekker said. ‘But after she had passed the young man – keeping her eyes down on the ground as she passed him – and she turned round to see if he was out of sight yet, she saw that he had turned round, to look back at her. And when he saw her turning round, he thought – oh well, they were both young. And so they walked slowly towards each other, Miemie de Jager walking much more slowly than the young man, and blushing a good deal.

‘And the young man said he was going to look at the sawmill his father had just bought. And Miemie said that she had come out for a walk through the bluegums, and to pick yellow veld flowers. And they stood talking a long while in the pathway. And afterwards, the girl said she had to go home. And then the young man said, oh, but what about her firewood. And he asked whether he could carry it home for her. And she said, yes. And when she saw him lift the sack of firewood onto his broad, young shoulders, she knew she would never need to carry a sack of firewood home again.’

Jurie Steyn wanted to know how Oupa Bekker knew all that. About what went on in Miemie de Jager’s thoughts, Jurie Steyn said.

‘She told me after we were married,’ Oupa Bekker answered. ‘You see, I was that young man. It was my father who had just bought the sawmill. You must understand that, when we came up from the Cape, my parents were in easy circumstances.’

Geen misdaad om arm te wees

Posted on July 05, 2018 by Cape Rebel

Uit “Easy Circumstances”
In A Bekkersdal Marathon
deur Herman Charles Bosman

 

“Armoede is geen misdaad nie,” het Chris Welman verklaar. Hy het dit hardop gesê, nogal ietwat aggresief, terwyl hy terselfdertyd die toon van sy gebreekte velskoen onder sy stoel ingestoot het. “Armoede is ook nie ’n saak om oor skaam te wees nie,” het hy bygevoeg.

“Nee, ek gee nie om wie weet dat ek nou nie juis besonder ryk is nie,” het At Naudé opgemerk, terwyl hy die omslag van sy broek wat met lyn vasgewerk is, bietjie onsigbaarder gemaak het. “Natuurlik, dis nie asof ek arm grootgeword het nie. Toe my pa hier by hierdie omgewing ingetrek het, van die Kaap af, was hy ’n welaf man. Ek sou nou nie sê met diamante, of ’n dra-stoel met blou gordyne waarin jy rondgedra is nie, en daardie soort van goed, soos hulle in die vroeë dae in die Kaap gehad het. Sonder twyfel sou my oupa op sy dag in ’n dra-stoel rondgedra gewees het.

“Maar my pa, toe hy van die Kaap af hierheen getrek het – wel, ons was maar net mense wat gemaklik geleef het, dis al. Miskien in Transvaal – wil ek eintlik sê, met die klas van boere wat toe in Transvaal gewoon het – sou ons selfs as ryk beskou gewees het.”

Toe het Chris Welman gesê, toe sy oupa van die Kaap af hierheen gekom het, was hy op dieselfde manier beskou as ’n man wat nie net ’n bietjie welvarend was nie – veral miskien in vergelyking met die finansiële stand van die gewone Transvaler wat toe in Transvaal gewoon het. Eintlik sou hy nie verbaas gewees het as sy oupa in werklikheid van die Kaap af na die Transvaalse bosveld toe gedra is in een van daardie dra-stoele met blou gordyne nie.

“Ja, dit kan ek nogal glo,” het Gysbert van Tonder hom met ’n sarkastiese stem in die rede geval. “En dis ook maklik om te sien dat dit dít is waarmee jou pak nagmaalklere gelap is – ’n stuk van dieselfde blou gordyn … Wel, ek is vandag nou nie eintlik platsak nie, en ek gee nie om wie dit weet nie. Bowenal, ek het arm grootgeword, en is glad nie skaam daaroor nie.”

Jurie Steyn het toe gesê dat daar verskillende maniere was om geld te maak, en hy was glad nie seker dat die manier hoe sommige mense hulle geld gemaak het, almal se goedkeuring sou wegdra nie. Terselfdetyd kon hy nie help om te dink dat dit eienaardig was hoe sommige mense kon praat van hoe welaf hulle voorouers was in vergelyking met die Transvalers wat daar in riet-en-modderhuise gebly het.

Op stuk van sake, waar het die Transvalers wat in riet-en-modderhuise gebly het, vandaan gekom as hulle nie van die Kaap af gekom het nie? Hy was seker hy het nie geweet nie, het Jurie Steyn gesê.

Maar wat hy nie van sy eie familie sou wou ontken toe hulle van die Kaap af gekom het nie, het Jurie Steyn gesê, was dat hulle meer as die gewone welvaart beleef het. Dit was natuurlik in vergelyking met die meeste Transvalers.

“Nie dat ek sal ontken dat ek self vandag maar ietwat aan die armoedige kant is nie,” het Jurie Steyn bygevoeg voordat Gysbert van Tonder weer ’n tussenwerpsel kon maak. “Daar’s niks daaroor waarvoor ek skaam behoort te wees nie. Daar’s niks daaromtrent wat ek moet wegsteek nie.”

Dit was waar genoeg. Terwyl die meeste van sy kledingstukke agter die poskantoortoonbank versteek was, was daar geen skere of stukkende plekke in sy klere wat Jurie Steyn moes wegsteek van die vulgêre, starende blik nie.

~

Voor die gepratery te bitsig begin raak het, het oupa Bekker egter begin om ’n storie uit die ou Transvaal te vertel – wat ’n hele paar van die aspekte waaroor ons gesels het ter sprake gebring het. Dit was die storie van ’n arm meisie, Miemie de Jager, wat by haar ouers in die Groot Marico, in die soort van hartebeeshuisie waarvan ons reeds gepraat het, gewoon het.

“Dit was ’n soort van woning …” het oupa Bekker begin om te sê.

“Jy hoef nie daardie deel te herhaal nie. Ons weet alles daarvan,” het Jurie Steyn hom in die rede geval. Want Jurie Steyn het opgemerk dat At Naudé sy voorkamer op ’n peinsende manier bekyk het.

“Nou maar goed dan, in daardie geval sal ek net sê dat Miemie de Jager se ouers nou nie juis in ’n paleis gewoon het nie …” het oupa Bekker voortgegaan.

“Ja,” het At Naudé kopskuddend gesê. “Ek kan my net voorstel in watter soort van krot sy gewoon het. Ek moet sê, ek dink ek het nou ’n baie goeie idee. En hoe minder daaroor gesê word, hoe beter.”

Toe het Jurie Steyn daarmee losgebars dat At Naudé die laaste mens behoort te wees om te praat. As Miemie de Jager al ooit At Naudé se kombuis gesien het, en die soort van borde waaruit hy geëet het, het Jurie Steyn gesê, dan sou Miemie de Jager sommer gevoel het dat, in vergelyking daarmee, haar ouers die rykste mense uit die Kaap was wat so pas in hulle dra-stoele daar aangekom het.

Jurie Steyn het gepraat asof hy alreeds geweet het watter soort mens Miemie de Jager was.

Slegs ná Gysbert van Tonder vir ’n hele ruk lank op ’n smalende manier gepraat het – en gesê het dat vir mense wat nie beskaamd was om arm te wees nie, dit verrassend was hoe puntenerig sommige van ons was – was dit moontlik vir oupa Bekker om aan te gaan met sy storie.

“Miemie de Jager,” het oupa Bekker gesê, “het by haar ouers in ’n … in ’n gewone huis naby die eerste saagmeule, wat hulle in hierdie deel van Transvaal gehad het, gewoon. En een oggend, toe sy oppad huis toe was van die saagmeule af …”

“Liewe Here!” het Chris Welman skielik uitgeroep. “Jy bedoel nie om te sê hulle was só arm nie. Jy bedoel nie sy het in die saagmeule gewerk nie – daardie sware dertig voet lange stompe – dis mos nie die soort werk vir ’n jong meisie met blonde hare en kuiltjies om te doen nie – saagwerk …”

Dit was duidelik dat Chris Welman reeds ’n prentjie in sy kop gekry het oor hoe Miemie de Jager gelyk het.

Maar oupa Bekker het nee gesê. Dit was Miemie de Jager se pa wat in die saagmeule gewerk het. Miemie het elke oggend daarheen gegaan om vuurmaakhout in ’n sak te gaan haal.

“En toe, een oggend, oppad huis toe deur die bloekoms,” het oupa Bekker voortgegaan, “het sy ’n jongman op die paadjie sien aankom – ’n jongman wat sy nie geken het nie. Sy het dadelik geraai dat hy die seun moes wees van die nuwe mense wat die saagmeule en die hele eiendom opgekoop het. Hulle was ryk mense uit die Kaap uit.

“Sy het toe die sak vuurmaakhout van haar skouers laat afgly, en dit vinnig agter ’n bloekom weggesteek. Sy het nie omgegee dat die jongman kon sien dat sy kaalvoet geloop het nie, maar sy wou nie hê dat hy moes sien dat sy die sak hout gedra het nie. Dit was teen haar vroulike trots. Dit was nie dat sy skaam was dat haar ouers arm was nie …”

Ons het nee, nee, gesê. Armoede was geen misdaad nie, het ons gesê. Maar ons hét opgemerk dat Chris Welman sy gebreekte velskoen weggesteek het. En ons hét gesien wat At Naudé so ’n rukkie gelede gedoen het, so amper steelsgewys, met die omslag van sy broekspyp. En so het ons dus presies geweet hoe Miemie de Jager oor daardie sak gevoel het – ’n simbool van die feit dat haar ouers dit nie breed gehad het nie.

“Sy het besluit om reguit aan te loop, verby die jongman. En dan wanneer hy buite sig was, sou sy teruggaan om die sak te gaan haal,” het oupa Bekker gesê. “Maar ná sy verby die jongman gestap het – met haar oë op die grond toe sy verbygeloop het – het sy omgekyk om te sien of hy toe al nie meer sigbaar was nie. Maar toe sien sy dat hy omgedraai het om na haar te kyk. En toe hy haar sien omdraai het, het hy gedink – ag ja, hulle was albei jonk. En toe het hulle stadig na mekaar toe geloop. Miemie de Jager het baie stadiger as die jongman geloop, al erg blosende.

“En die jongman het gesê dat hy op pad was na die saagmeule toe wat sy pa onlangs gekoop het. En Miemie het gesê dat sy ’n entjie deur die bloekoms gaan wandel het om geel veldblomme te gaan pluk. En hulle het ’n hele ruk in die paadjie gestaan en praat. Daarna het die meisie gesê dat sy huis toe moes gaan. En toe het die jongman gesê, maar wat van haar vuurmaakhout. En hy het gevra of hy dit vir haar huis toe kon dra. En sy het ja gesê. En toe sy gesien het hoe hy die sak vuurmaakhout op sy breë, jong skouers opgetel het, het sy geweet dat dit nooit weer vir haar nodig sou wees om ’n sak vuurmaakhout huis toe te dra nie.”

Jurie Steyn wou weet hoe oupa Bekker al daai dinge geweet het. Oor wat in Miemie se gedagtes aan die gang was, het Jurie Steyn gesê.

“Sy het my vertel ná ons getrou het,” het oupa Bekker geantwoord. “Jy sien, ek was daardie jongman. Dit was my pa wat toe pas die saagmeule gekoop het. Jy moet verstaan, toe ons van die Kaap af aangekom het, was my ouers nogal welaf.”

Alone on the Farm

Posted on July 05, 2018 by Cape Rebel

From The Lady Who Fought
by Sarah Raal

The time came for us to collect provisions again. We always tried to get as much as we could, so we would have something to give the burghers if they arrived. They had to be extremely careful, as our farm was very close to Kruger station, and it was only under cover of darkness that they could visit us with any degree of safety.

About three months after my father was taken captive, a large Boer commando arrived on the farm, intending to press on that same night. We had been warned by the English that we would be in trouble if we didn’t inform them of the presence of any Boer commando on the farm, but we would never have considered doing such a thing. The farm workers were used to burghers arriving from time to time – one of them, Andries, had worked for my father for twenty-seven years.

Three days after the commando’s visit we had to collect a fresh supply of food from Jagersfontein. Because the pass was in my mother’s name, she went to collect the provisions, accompanied by my younger brother and sister, and I stayed behind on the farm, alone. They were due back in the afternoon, and I had lots of work to do.

During the afternoon, about the time they were due back, I took the binoculars and went to sit on the ridge behind the house to watch the road. Afternoon turned to early evening, but there was no sign of them. I started to worry. To ease my mind, I told myself there had probably been some delay, and that they would be back at any moment. At length, it grew dark. There was still no sign of them. I could no longer see the road, so I decided to return to the house. By now I had given up all hope of their arrival. I called for Tryn to come and sleep in the house with me, and also for Andries, to ask him what I should do, and to find out if there was still a horse available, so that I could send a youngster from the farm, first thing in the morning, to go and find out what had happened.

I was shocked when I was told that Andries had left the farm the previous evening, with all his belongings. I then called for Sam, Tryn’s husband, who told me that Andries had been talking, for some time, about defecting to the English. It was said that the English looked after farm labourers very well – they were given a rifle and a uniform, and on top of that they were well paid, if they joined up. Suddenly things began to make sense – I realised why Andries had become so difficult lately, and why there had been a light burning in his hut until late the previous night.

Now a new fear took hold of me, and many alarming thoughts flashed through my confused mind. Outside it was dark, and ghostly. Inside the large house, all appeared even quieter, and darker. Here was I, a young woman, just into my twenties, vulnerable and alone, with only the farm labourers for company. Every creek of a floor board, or flapping of bats’ wings, sent cold shivers down my spine. I imagined any number of ghostly figures watching me, from every dark nook and cranny of the house. Feelings of anxiety and despair filled me with panic, and I had an overwhelming desire to run from the house. But outside it was equally dark and terrifying, and who knew what dangers might await me there … Andries!

It was now about ten o’clock and Tryn, who had quickly gone to attend to her little ones, returned. I hadn’t eaten yet, and didn’t feel hungry. We made sleeping arrangements. Sleep – who could sleep under such circumstances? I shuddered at the thought of sleeping alone in a dark room. That night I was afraid of the house, afraid of everything. Eventually Tryn convinced me to go to bed. ‘Tomorrow they’ll come back, kleinmies, then everything will be all right,’ were her words of comfort.

But I could not sleep. I tossed and turned, devising any number of strategies to deal with my predicament. I was so confused that I had no idea what to do. Every time I came up with a solution, some nightmare thought would banish the faint hope I had managed to kindle. Then I would start all over again. Suddenly Andries came to mind, with such clarity that I sat bolt upright. I was scared of him … where was he? Would he not come and attack me? In my mind’s eye, I imagined him creeping towards my window. I was so terrified that I almost cried out, but the loud snoring of Tryn, sleeping peacefully in the next room, set my mind slightly at ease, and made me feel somewhat safer. My mind was again assailed by a multitude of thoughts.

I went over what had happened. The mysterious disappearance of my mother, Andries’s stories, and then departure – I was beginning to get the gist of it. Connecting the two events, I felt sure I had the solution. It was clear. Andries had informed the English of the visit from the Boer commando, and as a result my mother had been taken captive at the station. This thought destroyed my last faint hope that they would return.

~

There I was with a whole farm to run, more than 2,000 sheep, horses and cattle, and lots of equipment. What was I to do with it all? In my father’s trunk, in the house, was £500, along with all his papers. What were my options? Should I seek enemy protection, and shelter while my parents were in a concentration camp, and my brothers on commando? Never! I would rather flee, or join a commando myself. I couldn’t abandon everything to the enemy without doing my best to accomplish something, but what could I do? Perhaps the enemy would come for me, and take everything away. I had to secure the money, and other things, but how? I started planning to flee, but couldn’t fathom how, or where, to go. First, I decided to take care of the money. What would be the safest? To bury it? No, the notes would get wet and disintegrate. After much deliberation, I decided to keep the money on me. Eighteen pounds were in gold, and this I worked into a linen band, which I tied around my hat and covered with a black band. The rest, about £500 in notes, I sewed into the hem of one of my dresses, and kept just £6 in my purse. If I wore the dress, and kept my hat on, I could keep all the money on me.

Now that the money was safe, I felt more at ease – ready to flee if necessary. It was three days since my mother and the others’ disappearance, and still there was no news. Who knew, maybe the English would come for me too. There was nothing to be done, but wait for events to unfold. I wandered listlessly from room to room, at the same time trying to mask my fear, for Sam and Tryn might get jittery, and what would happen to me if they decided to leave? The days and nights were long and lonely, and I began to wish that something – anything – would happen, just to relieve the monotony. Nothing did. A week went slowly by.

Then, one morning early, an anxious Tryn came into my room: ‘Kleinnooi, quick, you must get up, horsemen are approaching. It looks like the English.’

In a flash I was out of bed, slipped on the dress with the money in it, put the hat on my head, locked the house, and stood waiting on the stoep.

No sooner had I done so, than black scouts arrived, and approached me in a hostile and belligerent manner. ‘We know you give food and money to the Boers,’ they said. ‘Now we’re going to show you a thing or two.’

Then the enemy arrived, wanting to enter the house, but of course they found all the doors locked. An officer approached me, saying: ‘Well, Miss Raal, have you heard from your mother?’

‘No, I have not,’ I replied. ‘Do you have news of her?’

‘Yes, she’s been taken captive and sent away.’

‘Why was she taken?’

‘A Boer commando came past here, and you didn’t tell us. It won’t help to discuss it now. We’ve come to collect the money. Your foreman, Andries, told us about the food and money you give to the Boers.’

‘Well, there’s the house, go and take the money.’

A few of them entered the house and began their search. After a while, a soldier found my clothes cupboard, and came across the purse with a few pounds in it.

‘Where’s the rest?’ the officer asked.

‘That you must ask Andries,’ I replied.

He threw down the purse and, as he left, he warned me to be very careful. They would imprison me if I gave the Boers food, or anything else – even if the Boers merely came on to the farm. He told me they would be keeping an eye on me from the station, and that from now on they would send Andries daily, to check up on me. With that they left. Thank the Lord, the money was still safe.

I now knew that my mother and the others had been taken captive, and sent to a camp, but I had no idea where. I still had no news of my dear father, or of my brothers, and I tried to focus instead on the challenges facing me. If only I could remain on the farm undisturbed, I would survive; but the station was close by, and I received regular visits from armed black scouts. Some of Andries’s children, who wanted nothing to do with him, remained on the farm, and they always warned me when he was coming.

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