God Alone Knew Where
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From The Lady Who Fought
by Sarah Raal
Months went by, months filled with anxiety, stress and uncertainty. I had received no word of any of my family, and I felt vulnerable and exposed to many kinds of danger. I was, however, determined to stick it out to the bitter end. Every now and then I heard disturbing reports of suffering and death in the concentration camps, and the idea that I could still be taken captive and sent to a camp prompted me to make preparations to flee, should it become necessary. Seven months passed in this way, until one morning Tryn came into my room and said: ‘Kleinnooi, kleinnooi, come and see who is here – the kleinbasies!’ Imagine my delight and excitement! With tears running down my cheeks, I embraced my brothers, one after the other. The poor boys, will I ever forget the sight of them that day? Tanned, emaciated, weather-beaten, neglected, their shoes almost worn to bits, their clothing all tattered and in shreds. They were excited to be back home, but instead of a hearty welcome they found only an empty house and a helpless sister. When I was able to speak, I asked: ‘Have you come to fetch me?’ They looked at each other quizzically, then said: ‘Ag, my sister, how can we take you with us? Our own lives are continually in danger and full of upheaval. We can’t stay here either. It’s too close to the enemy; and if they knew we were here, your life would also be in danger.’ We spent the day very quietly. Their horses were well fed in the stable, and we kept watch for black scouts – for I knew that if they discovered my brothers on the farm, it would be the end of me. Late that afternoon, I heard from one of Andries’s sons that his father knew about my brothers and that he would be coming with the English that night to capture them. We watched the roads vigilantly and at dusk my brothers saddled up, put me on a horse, and we left together for Toomfontein, a neighbouring farm about half an hour’s ride away. We spent the night there, and the following morning my brothers left to rejoin their commando. Sam arrived with news of the farm, and he told me what had happened the previous night after our departure. The English had arrived with Andries, all armed and on horseback. After hiding their horses, they had surrounded the house in order to capture the Boers they thought were there. When none materialised, they wanted to know from Sam where the Boers were. But Sam said he knew nothing of any Boers, that there were no Boers there, and that my brothers weren’t there either. At first light they went into the house and searched it from kitchen to attic. Then they wanted to know what had happened to the girl who lived there. Finding nothing and nobody, and having been told that I had gone visiting and would be back later that day, they left the farm. That afternoon I returned home and found everything peaceful and quiet. However, the reports of my brothers’ visit had made the English more suspicious than ever. They didn’t trust the quiet and, as they desperately wanted to capture my brothers, they did all they could to ensure that, if my brothers did return to the farm, they would certainly be captured. Every night they sent out black scouts under the leadership of Andries. He knew the farm like the back of his hand, and told them where to hide their horses, and which route my brothers were likely to take to the farm. He also knew the house inside out, including which room was my bedroom. Late at night I would hear them under my window – they would tell me to lock my door and not to come out, and that if I did, they would show me who was boss. The nights of anxiety I endured alone are indescribable. There I was, a helpless woman at the mercy of these barbarians. Worse still was the terrible thought that any night my brothers might walk into their trap without my being able to warn them, to be caught and perhaps even shot in cold blood before my very eyes. Sam and Tryn stayed faithful to me. They were now my only source of help and advice. Tryn slept in my bedroom each night, and Sam ran the farm for me. Strangely enough, the black scouts had a measure of respect for Sam. He warned them not to interfere with me or he would report them to the English. As a result they didn’t dare come into the house, but defied me in all sorts of other ways. Sometimes they would arrive in the middle of the day, order young children on the farm to lead their horses around to cool them down, and then take them to the stables to be watered and fed. They would strut about the yard as if they owned the place, and they came to the house and ordered Tryn to make them coffee, and whatever else they wanted. It was enough to drive me mad, and contributed to a growing realisation that life on the farm was becoming intolerable. I didn’t think I would be able to hold out alone, nor did I think I would be left alone much longer. The end was approaching rapidly. I began planning to leave in earnest. One morning I received a letter from the English commandant at Edenburg, ordering me to come to Edenburg with my belongings, livestock and all. He accused me of staying on the farm just to cause trouble, of supplying the burghers with food, and of simply being a nuisance to them. I was informed that they would send a wagon in a few days to confiscate the wheat and other goods. This letter gave me a terrible fright, and brought home in no uncertain terms the realisation that I would have to get going immediately, before I could be captured on the farm. I had no one to turn to for advice. When I asked Sam what he thought, he would say: ‘What do you think nonnie?’ About one thing I was absolutely certain, however – whatever happened, they were not going to get me. If necessary I would give up everything and flee on my own. I would rather die on a battlefield than in a concentration camp. Spurred on by the fear of being captured, and driven by necessity, my brain worked at speed. Surrender never even occurred to me. All I thought of was escaping with everything I could – the livestock, the wagon, the spider and the wheat. By the afternoon my plans, for better or worse, were more or less settled. Sam would leave with the sheep, Tryn and Piet would drive the wagon, and I would flee in the spider. But we had no trek oxen. That evening I sent Sam with a letter to the nearest burgher patrol, begging them to send trek oxen. I explained my predicament, and that I wanted to keep the wheat out of English hands and leave the railway line behind. The following afternoon Sam returned with trek oxen, and our preparations began in earnest. We drove the oxen into a camp near the house, and started packing. Wheat and other goods were loaded on to the wagon, and everything was readied for ‘the Great Trek’.
The following afternoon we were ready, and I asked Sam to bring the oxen closer, to be inspanned. Here we encountered a new difficulty. They were an unknown team and we had no idea how they should be inspanned – which were the lead and which were the rear oxen. Whichever they were, however, they had to be inspanned and trek. Our first problem was getting hold of the oxen: they hadn’t worked for some time, and were lively and boisterous. After a long struggle, and not before a few had slipped their yokes, and a few yoke pins had been broken, we got them inspanned after a fashion. Then Sam helped Piet and Tryn, and after helping me inspan the spider, he rode off to take care of the sheep. I was left alone to say goodbye to our beloved farm.
I walked through the old house from one room to another, bidding farewell, and checking that everything was locked. I said goodbye to each room and its furniture before locking the door behind me. The whole house felt sombre and dead. All I could hear was the tick-tock of the clock on the mantlepiece in the living room. I stopped the clock – why should it continue? There was no one left to keep time for. I had to hurry. Outside the light was fading, but the remaining light of day could not filter the darkness in my soul. I took one last look at the portraits of my dear father and my family, and involuntarily tears came to my eyes. I shut the heavy front door behind me and walked to the spider, in which I would travel to an uncertain future, in an alien and bloody world, to God alone knew where.