Stories

The Apochryphal Element in African Cartography

Posted on December 04, 2018 by Cape Rebel


From ‘Lost City’

In A Bekkersdal Marathon
by Herman Charles Bosman

 

‘It used to be different, in the Kalahari,’ Chris Welman said, commenting on At Naudé’s announcement of what he had heard over the wireless. ‘You could go for miles and miles, and it would just be desert. All you’d come across, perhaps, would be a couple of families of Bushmen, and they’d be disappearing over the horizon. Then, days later, you’d again come across a couple of families of Bushmen. And again, they’d be disappearing over the horizon.

‘And you wouldn’t know if it was the same couple of families of Bushmen. Or the same horizon. And you wouldn’t care, either. I mean, in the Kalahari desert you wouldn’t care. Maybe in other deserts it is different. I’m only talking about the Kalahari.’

Yes, all you’d be concerned about, in the Kalahari, Jurie Steyn said, was what the couple of families of Bushmen would be disappearing over the horizon with. For you might not always be able to check up, quickly enough, to find out what was missing from your camp.

‘But from what At Naudé has been telling us,’ Chris Welman went on, ‘it looks like you’d have no peace and quiet in the Kalahari today. Or room to move in. From Molepolele onwards, it seems that there’s just one expedition on top of another, each one searching for a lost city.’

It was not hard to think of how a city got lost in the first place, Jurie Steyn observed. ‘It must have been that the people that built the city didn’t know what a couple of families of Bushmen were like. Still, I can’t believe it, somehow, quite. Not a whole city, that is. I can’t somehow imagine Bushmen disappearing over the horizon with all that. For one thing, it wouldn’t be of any use to them. Now, if it wasn’t so much a question of a whole lost city, but of just some of the things that got lost out of the city – well, I could tell those expeditions where to go and look.’

But At Naudé said that we had perhaps misunderstood one or two of the less important details of the news he had communicated to us. There weren’t quite as many expeditions as Chris Welman seemed to think, out in the Kalahari, looking for a lost city. Moreover, it wasn’t a city that had got lost in the way that Jurie Steyn meant by lost. The city had just been built so many years ago that people had afterwards forgotten about it. Don’t ask him how a thing like that could happen, now, At Naudé said. He admitted that he couldn’t imagine it, himself.

‘I mean, let’s not take even a city …’ At Naudé started to explain.

‘No, let a few Bushman families take it,’ Jurie Steyn said, promptly, ‘with the washing hanging on the clothes-lines and all.’

‘Not a city, even,’ At Naudé continued, pointedly ignoring Jurie Steyn’s second attempt that afternoon at being what he considered to be funny. ‘But if we think of quite a small town, like Bekkersdal, say … Not that I won’t agree that we’ve got a wider water-furrow in the main street of Bekkersdal than they’ve got in Zeerust, of course, but it’s only that there are less people in the main street of Bekkersdal than there are in Zeerust, if you understand what I mean … Well, can you imagine anybody in Bekkersdal forgetting where they built the place? After all, anybody can see for himself how silly that sounds. It’s like Dominee Welthagen, just before the Nagmaal, suddenly forgetting where the church is. Or David Policansky not remembering where his shop is, just after he’s done it all up for the New Year.’

We acknowledged that At Naudé was right there, of course. With Dominee Welthagen we might not perhaps be too sure, for it was known that – in some respects, at least – the dominee could at times be pretty absent-minded. But with David Policansky, At Naudé was on safe enough ground. Especially after that big new plate-glass window that David Policansky had put in. It was not reasonable to think that he would be able to forget it. Not with what he was likely still to be owing on it, we said. You weren’t just allowed to forget anything you were owing on.

‘So you see how much more silly it is with a city, then,’ At Naudé concluded. ‘Thinking that people would go and build a city, and then just lose it.’

Thereupon young Vermaak, the schoolmaster, said that he had learnt in history how, for many centuries, people had believed that there was a foreign city called Monomotapa in these parts, and that numbers of expeditions had been sent out in the past to look for it. It was even marked up on maps, long ago, the schoolmaster said. But if you saw that name on a map of Africa today, he said, well, then you would know that it wasn’t a very up-to-date map of Africa.

As likely as not, the town of Vanderbijl Park would not be marked on that map, young Vermaak said, laughing. Or the town of Odendaalsrus, even. There was supposed to be a lot of gold and diamonds in that city with the foreign name, the schoolmaster added.

Well, with those remarks, young Vermaak broached a subject with which we were not altogether unfamiliar. More than one of us had, before today, held in his hand a map showing with a cross, as clearly as anything, the exact spot where hidden treasure would be found buried. And all we’d be likely to dig up there would be an old jam tin. The apochryphal element in African cartography was something we had experienced before.

‘All I can say,’ Gysbert van Tonder observed at this stage, ‘is that I don’t know so much about a lost city. But it seems to me there’s going to be more than one lost expedition, depending on how far they go into the desert beyond Kang-Kang.’

Several of us looked surprised when Gysbert van Tonder said that. Surprised, and also impressed. We knew that, in his time, Gysbert van Tonder had penetrated pretty deep into the Kalahari, bartering beads and brass wire for cattle. That was, of course, before the tribes in those parts found that they didn’t need those things any more, since they could buy their clothes ready-made at the Indian store at Ramoutsa. Nevertheless, we had not imagined that he had gone as far into the desert as all that.

‘But is there,’ Jurie Steyn enquired, after a pause, ‘is there really a place by that name, though?’

Gysbert van Tonder smiled.

‘On the map, yes,’ he said, ‘there is. On the map in my youngest son’s school atlas, you can read that name for yourself there, big as anything. And in the middle of the Kalahari. Well, there’s something one of those expeditions can go and look for. And maybe that’s their lost city. At least, it’s lost enough. Because you certainly won’t be able to tell it from any other spot in the Kalahari that you’re standing in the middle of, watching a couple of families of Bushmen disappearing over the horizon.’

So Jurie Steyn said, yes, he reckoned that if it was a lost city that an expedition was after, why, then he reckoned that just about any part of the Kalahari would do for that. Because when the expedition came back from the Kalahari without having found anything, it would prove to the whole world just how lost that city actually was, Jurie Steyn reckoned. If that was what an expedition into the Kalahari was for, then the expedition just couldn’t go wrong. In fact, the less that an expedition like that found, the better. Because it would show that the city had been lost without so much as a trace, Jurie Steyn added.

Die apokriewe element in die kartografie van Afrika

Posted on December 04, 2018 by Cape Rebel


Uit “Lost City”

In A Bekkersdal Marathon 
deur Herman Charles Bosman

“Vroeër was dit nie so in die Kalahari nie,” het Chris Welman gesê, en daarmee kommentaar gelewer op At Naudé se aankondiging oor wat hy op die draadloos gehoor het. “Jy kon vir myle aaneen reis, en dit sou net woestyn wees. Al waarop jy miskien sou afkom, kon ’n paar Boesman-families wees, en hulle sou besig wees om oor die horison te verdwyn. Dan, dae later, kon jy dalk weer ’n paar Boesman-families teenkom. En húlle sou ook besig wees om oor die horison te verdwyn.

“En jy sou nie weet of dit dieselfde klompie Boesman-families was nie. Of dieselfde horison. En jy sou ook nie juis omgee nie. Ek bedoel, in die Kalihari-woestyn sou jy nie omgee nie. Miskien is dit anders in ander woestyne. Ek praat net oor die Kalahari.”

Ja, al waaroor jy in die Kalahari bekommerd sou wees, het Jurie Steyn gesê, was waarméé die klompie Boesman-families oor die horison verdwyn het. Want jy mog nie altyd vinnig genoeg kon bepaal wat uit jou kamp weggeraak het nie.

“Maar na aanleiding van wat At Naudé ons vertel het,” het Chris Welman verder aangegaan, “lyk dit asof jy deesdae in die Kalahari geen vrede en stilte meer kan geniet nie. Of êrens om heen te gaan nie. Van Molepolele af verderaan, lyk dit asof daar net een ekspedisie ná die ander is, en elkeen van hulle op soek na ’n verlore stad.

Dit was nie moeilik om te verstaan hoe ’n stad in die eerste plek verlore geraak het nie, het Jurie Steyn opgemerk. “Dit moes gewees het dat die mense wat die stad gebou het, nie genoeg omtrent Boesman-families geweet het nie. Nogtans kan ek op een of ander manier dit nie heeltemal glo nie. Nie ’n hele stad nie, sowaar. Op ’n manier kan ek my dit nie voorstel dat Boesmans met alles anderkant die horison kan verdwyn nie. Vereers, dit sou vir hulle van geen waarde wees nie. Nou ja, as dit nie soseer ’n kwessie was dat ’n hele stad weggeraak het nie, maar eerder dat ’n paar dinge uit die stad verdwyn het – wel, dan kon ek daardie ekspedisies aanraai waar om te gaan soek.”

Maar At Naudé het gesê dat ons miskien een of twee van die minder belangrike besonderhede van die nuus wat hy aan ons oorgedra het, verkeerd verstaan het. Daar was nie heeltemal soveel ekspedisies daar buite in die Kalahari op soek na ’n verlore stad nie, soos dit gelyk het Chris Welman gedink het. Verder was dit nie ’n stad wat verlore was op die manier wat Jurie Steyn gedink het nie. Die stad was net soveel jare gelede gebou dat mense daarvan vergeet het. Moet hom nou nie vra hoe so ’n ding kon gebeur het nie, het At Naudé gesê. Hy kon nie dink hoe so iets moontlik kon wees nie.

“Ek bedoel, laat ons nou selfs nie eers ’n stad neem nie …” het At Naudé begin om te verduidelik.

“Nee, laat ’n paar Boesman-families dit vat,” het Jurie Steyn onmiddellik gesê, “met die wasgoed en alles wat aan die wasgoedlyn gehang het.”

“Selfs nie eers ’n stad nie,” het At Naudé voortgegaan en heel gevat Jurie Steyn se tweede poging daardie middag om wat hy, Jurie Steyn, gedink het snaaks was, te ignoreer, “maar as ons miskien aan ’n redelike klein dorpie dink, sê maar soos Bekkersdal … Dis nie dat ek nie daarmee sou saamstem dat ons, natuurlik, ’n wyer watervoor in Bekkersdal se hoofstraat het as wat hulle in Zeerust het, maar dis net dat daar minder mense in die hoofstraat van Bekkersdal is as wat in Zeerust die geval sou wees, as julle verstaan wat ek bedoel ... Nou ja, kan jy jouself voorstel dat enige iemand in Bekkersdal sou vergeet waar hulle die plek gebou het? Op stuk van sake kan enige iemand vir homself sien hoe dwaas dit klink. Dit is asof dominee Welthagen, net voor Nagmaal, skielik vergeet waar die kerk is. Of David Policansky wat nie kan onthou waar sy winkel is nie, net ná hy alles vir Nuwejaar opgetooi het.”

Ons het natuurlik toegegee dat At Naudé dáár reg was. In die geval van dominee Welthagen, mag ons miskien nie te seker van wees nie. Want dit was bekend dat in sommige opsigte die dominee nogal heel verstrooid kon wees. Maar met David Policansky was At Naudé in die kol. Veral ná daardie groot spieëlruit wat David Policansky laat insit het. Dit was nie juis denkbaar dat hy dit sou vergeet nie. Nie met wat hy moontlik nog daarop geskuld het nie, het ons gesê. Jy is nie juis toegelaat om enigiets waarop jy skuld, te vergeet nie.

“Julle kan dus sien hoe ekstra verspot dit sou wees met ’n stad,” het At Naudé afgesluit. “Om te dink dat mense sou gaan en ’n stad bou en dit dan net laat wegraak.”

Daarna het jong Vermaak, die skoolmeester, gesê dat hy deur die geskiedenis van baie eeue gelede te wete gekom het dat mense geglo het dat daar ’n vreemde stad met die naam Monomotapa in daardie wêreld was, en dat talle ekspedisies in die verlede uitgestuur is om daarvoor te gaan soek. Dit was selfs op kaarte van lank gelede aangeteken, het die skoolmeester gesê. Maar as jy vandag daardie benaming op ’n kaart van Afrika kon sien, het hy gesê, nou ja, dan sou jy weet dat dit nie juis ’n baie byderwetse kaart van Afrika is nie, het die skoolmeester bygevoeg.

Bes moontlik sou die dorp Vanderbijl Park nie op so ’n kaart aangedui gewees het nie, het jong Vermaak al laggende gesê. Of selfs die dorp Odendaalsrust. Daar was veronderstel om ’n klomp goud en diamante in daardie stad met die vreemde naam te gewees het, het die skoolmeester bygevoeg.

Nou ja, met sulke opmerkings het jong Vermaak ’n onderwerp ter sprake gebring waarmee ons nie heeltemal onbekend was nie. Vroeër, voor vandag, het meer as een van ons ’n kaart in sy hand gehou wat so duidelik soos daglig, met ’n kruis aangedui, die presiese plek gewys het waar die verborge begraafde skat gevind sou kon word. Maar al wat ons waarskynlik daar sou opgegrawe het, sou ’n ou konfytblikkie wees. Die apokriewe element in die kartografie van Afrika was iets wat ons almal al ervaring van gehad het.

“Al wat ek kan sê,” het Gysbert van Tonder op hierdie stadium opgemerk, “is dat ek nie veel van ’n verlore stad weet nie. Maar dit lyk vir my dat daar meer as een verlore ekspedisie gaan wees. Afhangende daarvan hoe ver die ekspedisies in die woestyn anderkant Kang-Kang sal gaan.”

’n Hele paar van ons was verras toe Gysbert van Tonder dit gesê het. Verras maar ook beïndruk. Ons het geweet dat Gysbert van Tonder gedurende sy lewe nogal baie diep die Kalahari ingedring het, en krale en koperdrade vir beeste verruil het. Dit was natuurlik voor die stamme in daardie geweste uitgevind het dat hulle sulke goed nie meer nodig gehad het nie, want hulle kon hulle klere klaargemaak by die Indiër se winkel in Ramoutsa gaan koop. In elk geval, ons kon onsself nie voorstel dat hy só ver die woestyn ingevaar het nie.

Ná ’n rukkie van stilte het Jurie Steyn gevra: “Maar is daar …is daar waarlik, regtig ’n plek met so ’n naam?”

Gysbert van Tonder het geglimlag.

“Ja, op die landkaart is daar. Op die landkaart in my jongste seun se skoolatlas kan jy daardie naam vir jouself lees, lewensgroot. En in die middel van die Kalahari. Wel, dáár ís iets waarna een van daardie ekspedisies voor kan gaan soek. En miskien is dit hulle verlore stad. Dit is ten minste verlore genoeg. Want jy sal dit verseker nie kon onderskei van enige ander plek in die Kalahari in die middel vanwaar jy gestaan het, terwyl jy ’n paar Boesman-families dopgehou wat oor die horison verdwyn het nie.

En Jurie Steyn het toe gesê dat hy gereken het dat as dit die verlore stad was waarna ’n ekspedisie sou gesoek het, enige plek in die Kalahari goed genoeg daarvoor sou wees. Want wanneer die ekspedisie teruggekom het uit die Kalahari sonder dat hulle iets gekry het, sou dit aan die hele wêreld wys presies hoe verlore die stad werlik was, was Jurie Steyn se mening. As dit die doel van ’n Kalahari ekspedisie was, sou daar niks met daardie ekspedisie verkeerd kon gaan nie. In der waarheid, hoe minder so ’n ekspedisie sou vind, hoe beter dit sou wees. Want dit sou wys dat die stad spoorloos verlore gegaan het, het Jurie Steyn bygevoeg.

Just like a Mchopi Runner

Posted on December 04, 2018 by Cape Rebel


From ‘The Budget’ 
In Jurie Steyn’s Post Office
by Herman Charles Bosman


We were sitting in Jurie Steyn’s voorkamer at Drogevlei, waiting for the Government lorry from Bekkersdal that brought us letters and empty milk-cans. Jurie Steyn’s voorkamer had served as the Drogevlei post office for some years, and Jurie Steyn was the postmaster. His complaint was that the post office didn’t pay. It didn’t pay him, he said, to be called away from his lands every time somebody came in for a penny stamp. What was more, Gysbert van Tonder could walk right into his voorkamer whenever he liked, without even knocking. Gysbert van Tonder was Jurie Steyn’s neighbour, and Jurie Steyn had, naturally, not been on friendly terms with him since the time Gysbert van Tonder got a justice of the peace, and a land surveyor, and a policeman riding a skimmel horse, to explain to Jurie Steyn on what side of the vlei the boundary fence ran.

What gave Jurie Steyn some measure of satisfaction, he said, was the fact that his post office couldn’t be paying the Government either.

‘Maybe it will pay better now,’ At Naudé said. ‘Now that you can charge more for stamps, I mean.’

At Naudé had a wireless, and was therefore always first with the news. Moreover, At Naudé had made that remark with a slight sneer.

Now, Jurie Steyn was funny in his way. He didn’t mind what he himself said about his post office. But he did not take kindly to the ill-informed criticism he sometimes received from people who had no idea how exacting a postmaster’s duties were.

I can still remember some of the things Jurie Steyn said to a stranger who dropped in one day for a half-crown postal order – when Jurie had been busy with the cream separator. The stranger spoke of the buttermilk smudges on the postal order form, which made the ink run in a blue splotch when he tried to fill in the form. It was then that Jurie Steyn asked the stranger if he thought Marico buttermilk wasn’t good enough for him, and what he expected to get for half a crown. Jurie Steyn also started coming from behind the counter, so that he could explain better to the stranger what a man could get in the Bushveld for considerably less than half a crown. Unfortunately, the stranger couldn’t wait to hear. He said that he had left his engine running when he had popped into the post office.

From that it would appear that he was not such a complete stranger to the ways of the Groot Marico.

~

With regard to At Naudé’s remark now, however, we could see that Jurie Steyn would have preferred to let it pass. He took out a thick book with black covers, and started ticking off lists with a pencil, in an important sort of a way. But all the time we could sense the bitterness against At Naudé that was welling up inside him. And when the pencil point broke, Jurie Steyn could stand it no longer.

‘Anyway, At,’ he said, ‘even twopence a half-ounce is cheaper than getting a Mchopi runner to carry a letter in a long stick with a cleft at the end. But, of course, you wouldn’t understand about things like progress.’

Jurie Steyn shouldn’t have said that. Immediately three or four of us wanted to start talking at the same time.

‘Cheaper, maybe,’ Johnny Coen said, ‘but not better, or quicker … or … or … or cleaner.’ Johnny Coen almost choked with laughter. He thought he was being very clever.

Meanwhile, Chris Welman was trying to tell a story we had heard from him often before, about a letter that had been posted at Christmas-time in Volksrust and had arrived at its destination, Magoeba’s Kloof, twenty-eight years later, on Dingaan’s Day.

‘If a Mchopi runner had taken twenty-eight years to get from Volksrust to Magoeba’s Kloof,’ Chris Welman said, ‘we would have known that he didn’t run much. He must have stopped, at least once or twice, at huts along the way, for some home-made beer.’

~

Meanwhile, Oupa Sarel Bekker, who was one of the oldest inhabitants of the Marico, and had known Bekkersdal before it was even a properly measured out farm, started taking part in the conversation. But because Oupa Bekker was somewhat deaf, and a bit queer in the head on account of his advancing years, he thought we were saying that Jurie Steyn had been running along the made road, carrying a letter in a cleft stick. Accordingly, Oupa Bekker warned Jurie Steyn to be careful of mambas. The kloof was full of brown mambas at that time of the year, Oupa Bekker said.

~

Oupa Bekker was still talking about the measures he had introduced to combat inflation in the early days of the Orighstad Republic when the lorry from Bekkersdal arrived in a cloud of dust. The next few minutes were taken up with a hurried sorting of letters and packages, all of which proceeded against the background noise of clanking milk-cans. Oupa Bekker had left when the lorry arrived, since he had been expecting neither correspondence nor a milk-can. The lorry driver and his assistant seated themselves on the riempie bench that the old man had vacated, and Jurie Steyn’s wife brought them in coffee.

‘You know,’ Jurie Steyn said to Chris Welman, in between putting sealing-wax on a letter he was getting ready for the mailbag, ‘I often wonder what’s going to happen to Oupa Bekker – such an old man and all that, and still such a liar. All that Finance Minister rubbish of his. How they ever appointed him an ouderling in the church, I don’t know. For one thing, I mean, he couldn’t even have been born at the time of the Orighstad Republic.’ Jurie Steyn reflected for a few moments. ‘Or could he?’

‘I don’t know,’ Chris Welman answered truthfully.

A little later, the lorry driver and his assistant departed. We heard them putting water in the radiator. Some time afterwards, we heard them starting up the engine, noisily, and the driver swearing to himself quite a lot.

It was when the lorry had already started to move off that Jurie Steyn remembered about the registered letter on which he had put the seals. He grabbed up the letter, and was over the counter in a single bound.

Chris Welman followed him to the door. He watched Jurie Steyn for a considerable distance, streaking along in the sun behind the lorry, and shouting, and waving the letter in front of him, and jumping over thorn bushes.

‘Just like a Mchopi runner,’ Chris Welman said.

Net soos ’n Mchopi boodskapper

Posted on December 04, 2018 by Cape Rebel


Uit “The Budget”

In Jurie Steyn’s Post Office
deur Herman Charles Bosman

Ons het op Drogevlei in Jurie Steyn se voorkamer gesit en wag op die regeringslorrie van Bekkersdal af om ons briewe en leë melkkanne te bring. Jurie Steyn se voorkamer het jare al gedien as die Drogevleise poskantoor, en Jurie Steyn was die posmeester. Sy klag was dat die poskantoor nie lonend was nie. Dit het hom nie betaal nie, het hy gesê, om van sy lande af weggeroep te word elke keer as iemand vir ’n pennieseël daar aangekom het. En wat meer is – Gysbert van Tonder kon na willekeur reg by sy voorkamer instap – nogal sonder om te klop. Gysbert van Tonder was Jurie Steyn se buurman, en Jurie Steyn was natuurlik nie op goeie voet met hom nie sedert die tyd toe Gysbert van Tonder die vrederegter, en ’n landmeter, en ’n polisieman op ’n skimmelperd gekry het om aan Jurie Steyn te verduidelik aan watter kant van die vlei die grensdraad geloop het.

Wat Jurie Steyn bietjie bevrediging gegee het, het hy gesê, was die feit dat sy poskantoor ook nie vir die regering lonend kon wees nie.

“Miskien sal dit nou beter betaal,” het At Naudé gesê. “Nou dat jy meer vir seëls kan vra, bedoel ek.”

At Naudé het ’n draadloos besit, en was daarom altyd eerste met die nuus. En erger nog, At Naudé het daardie opmerking ietwat smalend gemaak.

Verstaan nou, Jurie Steyn was op sy manier snaaks. Hy het nie omgegee wat hyself oor sy poskantoor gesê het nie. Maar hy was nie te vinde vir swak-ingeligte kritiek wat hy soms van mense ontvang het wat geen idee gehad het hoe veeleisend ’n posmeester se pligte was nie.

Ek kan nog steeds sommige van die dinge onthou wat Jurie Steyn aan ’n vreemdeling wat eendag daar vir ’n halfkroon-posorder ingeloop het, gesê het – toe Jurie Steyn besig was met die roomafskeier. Die vreemdeling het iets van die karringmelkvlekke op die posordervorm, wat die ink in ’n blou klad laat loop het toe hy probeer het om die vorm in te vul, te sê gehad. Dit was toe dat Jurie Steyn die vreemdeling gevra het of hy gedink het dat Marico-karringmelk nie goed genoeg was vir hom nie, en wat hy verwag het om vir ’n halfkroon te kry. Jurie Steyn het toe ook begin om van agter die toonbank uit te loop, sodat hy beter aan die vreemdeling kon verduidelik wat ’n mens in die Bosveld vir heelwat minder as ’n halfkroon kon kry. Ongelukkig kon die vreemdeling nie wag om dit te hoor nie. Hy het gesê dat hy sy motor laat luier het terwyl hy by die poskantoor ingestap het.

Daaruit het dit geblyk dat hy nie so ’n algehele vreemdeling was wat betref die manier van doen in die Marico nie.

~

Nou, aangaande At Naudé se opmerking egter, kon ons sien dat Jurie Steyn dit sou verkies het om dit te laat verbygaan. Hy het ’n dik boek met ’n swart omslag uitgehaal en, op ’n soort van belangrike manier, begin om lyste met ’n potlood af te merk. Maar die hele tyd kon ons van die bitterheid teenoor At Naudé wat in hom opgewel het, gewaarword. En toe die punt van die potlood gebreek het, kon Jurie Steyn dit nie langer uithou nie.

“In elk geval, At,” het hy gesê, “selfs twee pennies vir ’n halwe ons is goedkoper as om ’n Mchopi-boodskapper te kry om ’n brief op ’n lang stok met ’n spleet aan die een end te dra. Maar natuurlik sal jy nie dinge soos vooruitgang verstaan nie.”

Jurie Steyn moes dit nie gesê het nie. Dadelik wou drie of vier van ons terselfdertyd begin praat.

“Miskien goedkoper,” het Johnny Coen gesê, “maar nie beter, of vinniger … of … of … of skoner nie.” Johnny Coen het amper gestik van die lag. Hy het gedink hy was baie slim.

Intussen het Chris Welman probeer om ’n storie te vertel wat ons voorheen al baie van hom gehoor het, oor ’n brief wat gedurende kerstyd in Volksrust gepos is en wat agt en twintig jaar later op Dingaansdag by sy bestemming, Magoebaskloof, aangekom het.

“As dit ’n Mchopi-boodskapper agt en twintig jaar geneem het van Volksrust na Magoebaskloof toe,” het Chris Welman gesê, “sou ons geweet het dat hy nie te veel gehardloop het nie. Hy moes ten minste een of twee keer gestop het, by hutte langs die pad, vir ’n bietjie tuisgebroude bier.”

~

Intussen het oupa Sarel Bekker, wat een van die oudste inwoners in die Marico was, en wat Bekkersdal geken het voordat dit selfs ’n ordentlik afgemete plaas was, begin om aan die geselskap deel te neem. Maar omdat oupa Bekker ’n bietjie doof was, en ietwat kens as gevolg van sy gevorderde ouderdom, het hy gedink ons het gesê dat Jurie Steyn met die gemaakte pad langs gehardloop het terwyl hy ’n brief in ’n spleetstok gedra het. Gevolglik het oupa Bekker vir Jurie Steyn gewaarsku om versigtig te wees vir mambas. Daardie tyd van die jaar was die kloof vol bruin mambas, het oupa Bekker gesê.

~

Oupa Bekker was nog steeds besig om oor die maatreëls te praat wat hy in die vroeë dae van die Republiek van Orighstad ingestel het om inflasie te bekamp, toe die lorrie van Bekkersdal af in ’n stofwolk daar opgedaag het. Die volgende paar minute is in beslag geneem deur die gejaagde uitsortering van briewe en pakkies, wat alles plaasgevind het teen die agtergrondlawaai van klinkende melkkanne. Oupa Bekker het vertrek toe die lorrie daar aangekom het, aangesien hy nóg korrespondensie nóg ’n melkkan verwag het. Die lorriedrywer en sy assistent het op die riempiesbank wat die ou man ontruim het, gaan sit, en Jurie Steyn se vrou het vir hulle koffie gebring.

“Jy weet,” het Jurie Steyn vir Chris Welman gesê terwyl hy al pratende seëllak op ’n brief wat hy vir die possak voorberei het, gesit het. “Ek het al baie gewonder wat van oupa Bekker gaan word – so ’n ou man en alles, en nog steeds so ’n leuenaar. Al daai minister van finansies-gemors van hom. Hoe hulle hom ooit as ouderling in die kerk aangestel het, weet ek nie. Ek meen, wat ek bedoel, hy kon onmoontlik gebore gewees het in die tyd van die Republiek van Orighstad nie.” Jurie Steyn het vir ’n paar oomblikke daaroor nagedink. “Of kon hy?”

“Ek weet nie,” het Chris Welman heel eerlik geantwoord.

’n Rukkie daarna het die lorriedrywer en sy assistant vertrek. Ons het gehoor hoe hulle water in die verkoeler gesit het. ’n Ruk later het ons gehoor hoe hulle die masjien aangeskakel het, met ’n lawaai, en die drywer het ’n hele paar knope so in sy allenigheid gelos.

Dit was toe die lorrie reeds aan die wegbeweeg was dat Jurie Steyn onthou het van die geregistreerde brief wat hy verseël het. Hy het die brief gegryp, en met een groot sprong was hy oor die toonbank.

Chris Welman het hom na die deur toe gevolg. Hy het Jurie Steyn vir ’n hele entjie dopgehou soos hy in die son agter die lorrie aangenael en geskree het, en met die brief voor hom gewaai het – al springende oor die doringbossies.

“Net soos ’n Mchopi-boodskapper,” het Chris Welman gesê.

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.’