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.