By Johannes Adriaan Snyman
Hans did not look good. If truth be told, I have more than often seen the condition my foreman finds himself in, after a disagreement with Nostertjie, my Boerboel who occasionally makes his way into the kraal.
Apart from the scrapes on his arms and legs, torn clothes and the inappropriate amount of grass and soil in his hair, Hans had a nasty bullet wound in his left shoulder.
It was late one Thursday afternoon when I saw him strolling towards my farm house and in the sunset I noticed his horse was limping too.
As he made his way up on to the stoep, I asked him whether he had started a third Boer war all by himself. He didn’t think it very funny and asked me to help him remove the bullet and clean up the wound. And so I did. Not without a hassle though. Hans is a strong man. Stronger than I anticipated for I found myself putting in more effort keeping him down on the bed than pulling out the piece of metal using a heated coal iron, pressing down on the wound.
He passed out soon after and slept right through until late morning the following day.
His horse was also in a lot of pain from a bullet wound in one of the hind legs and so, what woke Hans up in the late morning was the sound of my Mauser, killing his horse at the far end of the kraal under a line of Poplar trees.
Now Hans wasn’t one for too much talking but my curiosity over what happened regarding his misfortune started overwhelming me.
Lunch was being prepared. Venison and vegetables in a pot while the two of us enjoyed our coffee and pipe tobacco on the stoep.
At first Hans didn’t seem to have heard me when I mentioned the Martini-Henry bullet responsible for the discomfort in his shoulder.
“’n Klomp Kakies daar in die kloof’” he said enjoying the fresh, dry tobacco only about a week old.
It didn’t matter how much I asked and inquired. Those words and a “Dankie vir die potjie,” were the only words he ever spoke while being in my company at the time.
Hans had a way like that. Many people would consider him rude but we fought side by side in the Anglo Boer war and we both have seen much death and sorrow. We both lost our wives and children to the concentration camps and it doesn’t matter how God fearing you are, it doesn’t matter how hard you fought in the border wars against the Bashoto’s, one cannot help but to feel a bit battered. Some more than others.
Between the Rinderpest and Malaria, the droughts and the battles, a man has to stay strong, but I do not blame a person like Hans for his conversational habits – or lack thereof. With so few words coming from his lips, the Lord alone knows how Hans managed to find himself another wife.
I figured that he didn’t care much for seeing the nurse in town so I took him on the donkey cart back to his farm some 18 miles away. I also thought it appropriate to have some coffee at his place and in this way inquire from Susanna, his wife, what exactly Hans was up to, leading to his bad luck, ending up at my farmstead as opposed to his own.
I was quite surprised when she told me about a rumour going around of a suitcase full of British pounds that had been buried in the kloof by some English soldiers during the war. Our farms and the kloof were not on a main route to anywhere and it has been some time now since the war ended. It would be very unlikely for there to be any truth in a rumour like that.
Then again, as the kloof and the stream separates Hans’ farm from mine, anything whether it be a donkey, a rock or a suitcase that happens to find itself in that kloof, officially belongs to us.
Seeing that Hans had started the search in the kloof, and seeing that there might be a bunch of Rooinekke intruding on our land, I thank God for the wisdom to know that it is my duty to continue what Hans set out to accomplish, deliberately not keeping the possible outcome in mind. Hans and I defended our land before and as sure as there are Baboons in my cabbage garden every morning, we will do it again if need be. This brings me to the more sinister part of the story.
Meerkats, Sangomas and English treasure hunters. Those are the problems any farmer with a bit of self respect would know to stay away from. Meerkats attract jackals, which in turn learn that a bit of lamb coming from your kraal is much tastier than the fast, skinny little creatures.
Sangomas are no good either. My workers all go to a sangoma once a year and when they return for work, they all believe that they do not have to work as hard or that they need more wives than they already have or otherwise just more pap every day. It could take up to a whole month of hard work accompanied by the occasional kick on the seat of their pants for them to realise that the ways of the Highveld will not change even if they do smoke the ridiculous amounts of dagga while attending witch doctors and the like.
Now a bunch of Rooinekke I don’t want on my farm either. Whether they are government officials, soldiers or treasure hunters.
I don’t know what I have done to deserve this either. True, I have been found guilty on several occasions relating to various degrees of mischief, but not enough to warrant this. I have all three of the most unwanted creatures on my farm. Well, at least according to Hans van Wyk’s wife.
Similar to the trouble Hans landed himself in with the treasure hunters up in the kloof, I know that once a problem presents itself, it has to be dealt with promptly. I have been dealing with the meerkat and sangoma problems ever since I have this farm and believe you me, these kinds of problems don’t disappear by themselves.
Hans, insisting that I would not be able to sort this problem out by myself, volunteered to escort me to the kloof, assisting me with convincing these kakies to rather swiftly make their way to Kimberley. Both Hans and myself agreed that it takes just as much effort going down a hole looking for something valuable as running up a kloof to go and get it. The fact that they shot Hans and that there might be an extra few pound sterling landing in our pockets, had nothing to do with our journey to the kloof.
We even went as far as to invite Dirk Gerber, who served as our veld-kornet in the last battles of the war, to join us. After the Vredes Verdrag was signed in Vereeniging, Dirk became a police man in town and one more Mauser in our company couldn’t hurt. He himself spent a few weeks in a concentration camp on St Helena and so Hans and I knew very well that Dirk’s judgement concerning who to side with in any matter was well-founded.
In the end however, there were no gun shots fired. No wrestling, no shouting or arguing. In fact, the conversation with the three Englishmen reminded me much of a church meeting on a Sunday morning after the service. Everybody shook hands, smiled and I didn’t have a clue about what the meeting was all about or what was being said. I don’t think Hans had any idea either, for Dirk did most of the talking. He learned a bit of English while being detained on St Helena and so the conversation went fairly well.
Dirk said that the three gentlemen were indeed searching for a suitcase that actually belonged to a Jewish business man in Pretoria who goes by the name of Sammy Marks. As the Banks and most communication lines were suspended during the time of war, this business man had to make alternative plans for funding and so arranged with the Governor in the Cape for the means.
Dirk did a great deal of interpreting this way and said that the kakies did not find the suitcase and that they will make their way back to Cape Town the following morning. They also mentioned that they shot a baboon about a week ago but that the baboon somehow managed to get away.
When I looked up at Hans I could see he felt rather ashamed to be mistaken for a baboon and kept quiet about the matter. Nevertheless he did mention that he always knew there was something wrong with English people and that he couldn’t understand why they were smiling so much after not finding what they had been searching for. He also became very annoyed with the smooth talking. If he had his way, all of them would have been pumped full of lead. I just thought it a good thing that these kakies didn’t understand much Afrikaans either.
On the way back, Dirk seemed more cheerful than when we went to the kloof. I knew it was not my imagination for Hans raised his eyebrows in such a manner that I knew exactly what he was thinking.
Just short of a week later our fears were confirmed.
The news of the decade was Dirk’s new Boerperde. Sixteen of them. Along with a brand new Spider in which his wife drives around all day.
I do not know much about what happens in the Transvaal these days but one did not need much imagination to realise that Dirk became by far the richest police man in the entire republic.