Bernard’s answer

Bernard’s answer

By Johannes Adriaan Snyman

It was one of those peaceful evenings again. Outside the farm house, the hot humid air filled the heart of every living creature, and the low-veld quietness would have overwhelmed anybody taking a stroll in the moonlight.

The energy inside the homestead however proved to be quite the opposite. At least to Bernard Langford that was.

Bernard found himself at his writing desk in his bedroom, putting forth every attempt to write a letter which was due for some time now. His attention was with the light hearted conversation at the dining table though. The voices were that of his uncle and aunt stopping over for the night on their way to Swaziland. Accompanying them was two missionary friends of theirs, Johan and Magda, who thought it wise to make themselves at home in Bernard’s residence for the duration of the evening.

By entertaining his tiresome, almost unwanted guests for the most part of the afternoon, Bernard felt that he fulfilled his duty and retired to his room for a while before dinner. He couldn’t evade them for too long, as the dishes were being brought in and to make the guests wait would have been very rude.

From what he heard, the conversation ran in the lines of interesting places to visit in the area and the missionaries work as evangelists closer to the border. Neither a topic of interest to Bernard, and so it didn’t take much effort to let the dialogue run its due course.

And it was sort of pleasant and comfortable. Bernard didn’t say much and everyone around the table delighted themselves in expressing their different opinions over various topics.

After dinner the coffee was brought in and the prospect of a calm and undisturbed evening was insight. Bernard had a nice book in mind, and would, for the remainder of the evening, be doing a fair amount of reading.

And then it happened.

The question aimed right at his heart. Bernard didn’t know whether Magda, as well-intentioned as a missionary can be, asked the question just out of curiosity, or if she just thought the discussion needed to change to a more sinister direction. But she did ask. And whether it was his imagination or not, Bernard did detect a hint of sarcasm around the corners of her mouth. The tone, in which she conveyed her speech, was without a doubt in dire need of some optimism.

“Bernard,” she said. “Do you have someone in your life at the moment? Do you not think it is about time for you to start thinking about getting married? It must be really lonely on the farm here all by yourself.”

The thoughts flashed like lightening through Bernard’s mind. ‘…about time?’ she has the nerve to tell him ‘It’s about time!’

As good mannered as he is, Bernard stayed calm and paused for a moment, very carefully formulating his words.

All eyes were on him, and for a moment he hesitated, but then the words started flowing from his mouth, as firm and as full of authority as he looked Magda straight in the eyes and said;.

“To answer that question, I’ll have to start by telling you about a certain lady. This lady goes by the name of Bryarly Thompson. She has blond hair and a beautiful smile. We liked each other since the day we met, and understood each other in a very unique way. During our two year relationship, we never fought. Not once. We had a couple of arguments but we respected each other so much, and forgave each other so quickly, that fighting never occurred. At first I thought it might be a problem, because couples do fight occasionally, but later realized that it is not at all a defect in the relationship.

I loved her with all my heart, and when I would come back from a journey abroad, she would greet me with bucket loads of tears. We would hold each other so tight and not let go. We truly loved each other. She was a real lady in more ways than I could ever mention.

She was slightly shy and had an excellent sense of humor. Her intelligence was of the highest degree and her writing resembles that of superb creativity, professionalism and perfection.

She had a special love for cats and we had a mutual interest in many aspects including books, films and writing. There was also a big difference in many of our interests, and one might even say that the contrast in our personalities was of such a nature that we do not belong together at all.

And in fact, there were people that informed me that we do not actually belong together, upon which I ask myself the question, ‘why is it then that I remember more good times then bad?’ And believe you me, bad times there was.

You see, I wanted a better life in Christ, and it was then that a man of God told me that my relationship with Bryarly was holding me back from my true desire. And I believed him. I still do.

The relationship was that of a sinful nature. I prayed to be relieved from the bondage of sin and God relieved me of this burden. Bryarly and I were separated. And that brings me to the answer to your question, Magda. First of all, I have not, in the past two years, met any lady, with a spark of connection, not even remotely, in areas regarding emotion, intellect, love, physical desire, humor and wit, brightness in personality and strength in character, as was the case with Bryarly.

And secondly, it is God who answered my prayer, by freeing me from sin. It is God who enables me to be telling you this story tonight. Is God not then able to provide me a wife with whom I can share the same, if not more, goodness and fullness I had with Bryarly? Is it not to God then to whom I turn my prayers and Him who fulfill my every need?

My answer to you, Magda is this in that I’ll advise you to not open your mouth any longer than you’ve done already. Do not speak of matters you know nothing of, for anything you further more utter regarding these issues, will only result in the very overtly display of your foolishness.”

Complete silence filled the room.

Not a single word was said until the following morning when the company departed.

*****

Coffee cups

Coffee cups

By Johannes Adriaan Snyman

In life, there are just certain things a man needs to hide. Especially in this part of the Eastern Free State.

Like for instance your neighbour’s cattle that incidentally came strolling on to your farm as a result of a broken fence down by the poort. Or perhaps the collection of Martini-Henry rifles, taken from the Kakies in the Anglo-Boer war, now buried under a poplar tree not far from your home.

According to the law these rifles are still government property but few of us farmers here in the Clocolan district agree with the new government or their policies. If it were up to us, we would still be fighting the English. I figure the only reason we didn’t go over to conquer Britain is that we are not interested in an island where the farms are the size of our own backyards.

I, on the other hand did not feel the least bit of remorse about my stubborn neighbour, Pieter Wiese’s cattle on my farm and I felt even less guilty about the English rifles that I had taken. I was however, ashamed about the fact that next to me, in my voorkamer, sat a very lovely and splendid looking lady by the name Susan, and I could not even offer her a cup of coffee. The reason for my predicament starts with a whole different story that took place on the farm just before the war ended.

Chris Serfontein, together with five of us Boers was ordered to ambush the Kakies by the poort at a time when it was still his farm. We waited in the tree line until rather late at night and were much exited to see the English officers coming through the poort, but became more and more concerned about our own well fare when we saw that they were accompanied by little less than a regiment.

The six of us has seen some tough battles in the past few years but somehow we didn’t seem very enthusiastic about starting a fight with a whole regiment. So it came to that without any need for words or hand gestures, we quietly drew back to Chris Serfontein’s farmstead for a cup of coffee and a bit of rest from the long day’s waiting.

Kobus Bosman mentioned that if we had one or two more men, we would have walked right over that regiment. He did mention it however while sitting comfortable on a riempies chair in the leisure and safety of Chris Serfontein’s farm house.

We didn’t have time for much conversation, for some of the solders from the regiment broke away and decided to investigate the one and only building on the farm. Chris Serfontein’s house.

Naturally all candles and lanterns were put out but even with the moon shining, we couldn’t make out the exact number of solders kneeling down some distance from the house. It was very quiet and the slight breeze that we felt against our cheeks earlier the evening disappeared as well.

Then, suddenly as vicious  as thunder, came the order from an English officer for all of us to come out and present ourselves with our hands held up high, or they will (to put it in his words) blow the house up with shells that even the residents of Kimberley will hear.

We thought it very arrogant of this officer to be giving orders like that. We knew for a fact that Kimberley is at least four hundred miles away and without the slight breeze, or any wind for that matter, the sound will not reach even the church in Clocolan.

We also knew that the population of Kimberley are so deep in a hole, hauling out diamonds, they wouldn’t hear canon fire, even fired from the kerkplein right in the middle of Kimberly. Based on the foolish words of the officer, we decided not to listen to a rooinek that doesn’t know what he was talking about, and just laid low on the kitchen floor.

In the end the English didn’t blow up the house like they said they would. They only sent what seemed like an endless amount of bullets through the corrugated iron roof for their thoughts must have lead them to the conclusion that we can not be anywhere else but in the ceiling of the house.

To us who were keeping our heads low, it sounded worse than a hail storm coming down, and I more than once wondered if there were any corrugated iron roofs in Heaven, seeing that I was about to meet a few Biblical figures that very evening. I did not make it to heaven.

Instead, all six of us fled through the kitchen window at the back of the house and decided there and then that our families must be missing us very much and that it would be best to return to our homes, at least for a while. Those of us that didn’t have any family left felt the same in the way that their cattle must be longing to see them.

Soon afterwards, Chris Serfontein made a big mistake by cutting the points of his bullets, making them dum-dum bullets and was executed right in front of his home. Not before he said some harsh words to the English officer about how dumb-witted he think the English were for shooting hundreds of holes through his roof and that Igor, his pig had more brains then all of these solders put together.

The war ended and I eventually took over Chris Serfontein’s farm with holes in the roof remaini for quite some time. Money was scarce and most of us had to rebuild our farms all over again. A fixed roof was considered a luxury.

The trouble with a leaking roof is, I said to Susan, is that all my coffee cups are occupied in preventing the water falling on the wooden floor.

Susan, sitting next to me, gave a shy smile and it is amazing how a smile like that can fix one’s mind on matters other than protecting a floor. By candle light, her red lips and dark brown hair caught my attention to such a degree that I never noticed the cups getting fuller and fuller as the rain came pouring down on the house.

Like the cattle of Pieter Wiese on my farm and the English rifles buried under the poplar tree, the happenings of that evening with just the two of us in my voorkamer is something else I need to hide, particularly from the new Dutch Reformed reverend in town.

The happenings of that evening of which the details will be left to your imagination, is also something that I am not the least bit sorry about. It was only the next morning that my attention was drawn to my wooden floor, ruined beyond what I can describe in words.
 

*****

Meisie van Clocolan

Meisie van Clocolan

By Johannes Adriaan Snyman

It was at a time when quite the whole world was expecting a miracle. The British had lost many a solder in the war, and the Afrikaners seem to have lost their President in a country not so close to the republic as they’re thoughts would allow them to imagine.

Yet I couldn’t help thinking about the yellow leaves falling down from the poplar tree by the broken hedge, landing as if to cover up all the sorrow and bitterness, which was so integrated with being part of the Boer nation. It was then that I saw the first and only tear, running down the cheek of a young lady, whom few people was ever delighted to see.

Christo Le Roux and I both had farms in the Lydenburg district, however after joining the commando at Lydenburg, it was not as profitable to return to our farms as it was after the first Boer war.

Most of the burghers understood the impact of military conflict and sympathized with us, some of them themselves not being able to return under the circumstances. Yet I knew that if Christo only had taken care of his workforce like the rest of us boers, that is with a whip and a veldtskoen kick ever so often, as was custom, they would have kept his farm intact, waiting on his return, not allowing the Venda’s to steal half of his cattle.

Everybody knew that a Venda will only come at night, taking a Brahmaan perhaps if he had the wits to do so, but with Christo, during our lack of presence they would, not bothering with cut fences, gently lead the cattle right through the main gate, all before tea time on a Monday morning. Now he had quite a few theories about my way of farming too, but all so ridiculous that it’s hardly worth mentioning. I was a hard worker without a doubt. It was just co-incidence that I was sitting on the stoep, smoking my pipe, gazing over the veld every time he dropped by.

We were trekking to the Clocolan district as we learned that a niece of Christo was in trouble due to her husband’s injury, and needed some assistance with the harvesting season to come. Some residence in town, including Dominie Louw’s wife, however speculated that we were running away from our troubles just as we were running away from the kakies.

What these dorpsjapies seemed to have missed is the fact that whenever we were on the battlefield, our veldkornet was running in the opposite direction to welcome the re-enforcements, (who very seldom turned up) and it only made sense that he needed some protection.

Therefore Christo and I always volunteered, without even considering the risk of being hit by a strayed bullet. The battles usually took some time and we usually, simultaneously agreed that in addition, attending to the horses behind the sandstone ridges would be part of our commando duty too.

On the trek, stopping over at a spruit near Lindley, I was busy scrapping some cow dung of my shoe when Christo made a remark about how far we could have been if it wasn’t for me being quite at my leisure that morning, under a Kiepersol that I found rather relaxing. “Johannes,” he said: “ More dou voor dag val ons in die pad, want by die tyd wat jy eendag rigting kry, het ons al teen die Indieers ook geveg voordat ons ‘n enkele morg geploeg het.”

I didn’t take offence at his remarks for I was more concerned about the smell of my shoe and I also knew that his literacy was somewhat limited.

How could he have known that it would take the Indians twice as long to reach Capetown then it did the British, and with their why of thinking they would sell the mausers to us rather than fight with them. What I didn’t care to mention was that with Christo’s way of farming, he’s not going to plough a morg even if the Indians went out of their way to help him.

There was how ever another reason why he was somewhat in a hurry.

The reason had a peculiar effect, even on myself. The reason had slightly pale cheeks, long dark hair and I have until today, not seen a pair of brown eyes matching her’s.

It would take no more than just a glance to bring to mind an odd but lovely restlessness when only she intended to ask how much sugar you want in your coffee. She had a casual way of dealing with people, as if to tell the world that nobody and nothing can even as much as touch her, let alone hurt her in any sense. Nobody knew why but for some strange reason, she was fascinated by bees, and would spend hour upon hour, strolling through the flowers in the veld, in order to get a glimpse of the black and yellow insects.

Not that I gave it much thought. I was more concerned with her name. An ordinary name, but she gave the name a whole new meaning.

Elizabeth.

Christo met her once, where she was joining his niece for a Sunday lunch after the nagmaal.

The politics between the British and the boers were quite tense before the war, and you could have imagined the tension in the voorkamer that afternoon. Given her name, she was as English as the Martini-henry rifle that caused the hole in my left veldtskoen.

Yet, she has done more for the boers then most can remember. Fortunately or not, the friction in relations didn’t stop Christo from taking a rather sincere interest in her. The few words between them, at the time was just a memory though.

If you knew Christo in his younger days you would have taken him for a stately, but shy young man. Whether his big nose and large feet had anything to do with it, I can’t tell, but the few words ever spoken, came mostly from her lips. He just nodded his head every time she asked him about the draught and the rinderpes and the way the cold and merciless southern wind comes from over the Witteberge.

As I said, all it became was a single memory; they never saw each other ever again. Neither did Christo, after leaving Lydenburg, see another morg again. That is to plough with at least.

As was the plan, we had one more stop before reaching the farm and it so happened that on the last stretch, making our way through the eastern Freestate, one of the wheels on the kakebeen came undone just as we were sliding over the ridge at Sekondela’s hoed.

We were forced to outspan the oxen right in the kloof, where any Sangoma will tell you is by far the coldest place to be camping, winter or summer. Christo became more and more moody where he was sitting on a rock, chewing on a piece of biltong.

I must admit that I was a bit temperamental myself, but only because he himself decided that he had to get the bigger piece of the biltong. Especially because it was our last biltong for the trip. At the time I didn’t think it necessary to tell him about the bottle of brandy I had in my suitcase, guaranteed that with the low temperatures the bottle wouldn’t last too long. Indeed did the fact that we could have been on the farm with a person he was very much looking forward to see, contribute to his moodiness.

Nothing could have been done however, for as soon as he went lying next to the camp fire, he realized that the stinging feeling in his shoulder must have either be a scorpion, or a thorn from an Acacia. Since neither of us saw any Acacia trees standing about, we both new that he wouldn’t make it very far.

Even after the bottle of brandy, which I only after then thought right to be shared, he couldn’t lift his head and never saw daylight again.

His last words, with me lying on the ground next to him, kept drumming in my ears and were as clear as the water in the kloof down below. He kept going on and on about that “meisie van Clocolan”. At first I thought it strange for him to be repeating the words like that. According to my knowledge they hardly knew each other.

It was only at the funeral, where I realized that through all these years, their correspondence never came to a halt.

It was right there, where the yellow leaves from the poplar tree were falling on the grave of Christo Gerhard Le Roux, where I saw the first and only tear, running down the cheek of Elizabeth.

She was after all, looking forward to his coming, just as much as he was longing for her lips, for even though there were only a few spoken words between them, after that Sunday lunch, next to the broken hedge, they shared a kiss that, to a large extent, tasted like honey.

*****

The conversation

The conversation

By Johannes Adriaan Snyman

“I have said it all you know. I have seen it all too!”

Those were the words Bernard Langford was ranting at the thought of the current literature going about, telling people how and what life ought to look like. He just finished reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and reflected on how most entertainment flourishes on romance, and that in reality romance could never amount to anything more than just an illusion. Bernard might have had very different reflections on such matters, were it not for a few recent and unfortunate events he found himself intertwined with, shaping his views dramatically on the nature of these subjects.

“The reason why the modern day Afrikaner don’t struggle with these sort of issues could most easily be explained by the total and utter lack of intelligence,” Bernard continued. “The sum total of the inner conflict within an Afrikaans speaking Boer starts and stops with Afrikaans grammar. If a person cannot even properly read and write in his home language, how can one expect that very same man to read the works of Tolstoy, Dickens and Shakespeare, and on top of that expect from him to understand it all?”

The early morning heat was thoroughly setting in on the mining town of Barberton, and one would not have been wrong to suspect the high humidity as culprit to influence several people in talking and arguing with themselves, such as Bernard was active in doing. The content of this self talk didn’t vary a great deal as most people streaming into the newly found, fast growing Daisy town of a community had one thing on their mind and that was gold. Even the cattle farmers in the district had their conversations altered by the minerals giving the town a very distinct sort of energy.

Bernard however, being a cattle farmer himself, did not pay much attention to all the new faces appearing on a weekly basis, and kept himself occupied with what he so fondly referred to as ‘progressive improvements’ on his farm. He read the term in an agricultural book from England, immediately took the words to heart and in his mind, distinguished himself from the rest of the farming community. This also then led to his outspoken and unpopular opinion about the illiterate Afrikaner. He would have been less outspoken on such matters if he had known about the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War the following year.

The doors of the hardware store in front of which Bernard had been waiting has just opened and without hesitation, Bernard, dismounted from his horse and headed straight for the entrance, walking with a brisk pace into the lobby. The open doors and large wooden frame windows gave the room an unusual air of delight.

At first he didn’t see anyone, but a movement on his left drew his attention. On the far side, behind the counter sat a young woman who, upon hearing the noise of boots on the wooden floor, lifted her gaze.

Bernard took a step in her direction and noticed that she was writing in a notebook of sorts. He also noticed her very neat red hair and facial features many would regard as exceptionally attractive.

Without further delay, he greeted her with an optimistic ‘Good morning!’

“Hi,” she friendly greeted him back.

“I’m looking for Wilma, is she around?” he said keeping his focus on her blue eyes.

“She’s not in at the moment. Can I perhaps be of some assistance?”

Bernard struggled keeping a smile from his mouth as her talking drew all his attention to her very red lips, but kept calm and continued the conversation. “I’ll be all right thanks. I ordered some corrugated iron and it should be ready for collection… “

“O.K,” she sayd. “I might have not been able to help you with that. I’m here for only a day or two, on some legal business.”

“I see,” Bernard said not sure of what else to say. “Which company do you work for?”

“Zietsmans Attorneys. We’re in Johannesburg,” she replied, still with a friendly tone. “You must come and visit when you’re in the area.”

“I’ll be glad to do that. I hope you enjoyed your visit here in Baberton…” Being conscious of his every move, and just before he turns around to walk out, takes one last glance in her direction and says, “Sorry, I didn’t get your name?”

“Henriëtte.”

“I’m Bernard. Bernard Langford.” He paused for a moment, then with a firm voice and calculated hand gesture drew to a close; “Henriëtte, it was a pleasure meeting you, and all the best.”

“Ta for now.”

Bernard turned around and walked out. He gave himself a minute before returning his thoughts to the surprisingly lovely lady he just met.

‘Wow!’ he thought to himself. ‘For one, it’s a pity I don’t have any connection whatsoever with Johannesburg or anyone living there. What’s worse is that I doubt my thoughts for the rest of the day will return to a rational state of mind.’

Trying to process the incident, he stood next to his horse while staring straight into the ground, trying to get a hold on his thoughts. ‘Goodness me, she is beautiful… just plain remarkably gorgeous!’

2

In general, cattle farmers (or any farmers for that matter) are not what one would call the most brilliant of mathematicians. They do however possess an ability to predict outcomes by way of estimating the odds of something happening. This ability comes by way of many years experience involving weather conditions, working with the land and earth and a certain understanding regarding the common temperament of both Afrikaner and Native working people.

Bernard could for instance without much effort tell that Oom Pierre Laubscher, the manager on the neighbouring farm would be the one stealing the chickens from the homestead. Bernard would also predict, based on the heavy rain that this will without any doubt happen on the following Wednesday evening, and Oom Pierre were more than likely to blame Abraham, one of the farm labourers. Abraham, being hundred percent Ndebele, has trouble understanding Afrikaans and therefore the odds are in the favour of Oom Pierre, as the matter would turn out undisputed with Abraham facing the consequences and penalty.

There is no science behind predicting odds. That might have been the primary reason why Bernard miscalculated his chances of going to Johannesburg. Especially miscalculating his odds of visiting Johannesburg no more than three weeks after he met this splendid woman he can’t seem to get out of his mind.

Bernard thus found himself standing in the corridor of a rather large building, located in the central business district of Johannesburg. On the outside, big letters spelled out “Zietsmans Attorneys” and Bernard’s reason for visiting was to do with a dispute between a goldmine in Baberton and the community of farmers.

Bernard had in fact already seen the appropriate person and was now standing in front of a dark brown office door. On the door the printed name stated; “Henriëtte Van Helsdingen,” and underneath the name, “Events coordinator.”

He found himself to be high spirited and loaded with jest. It was then with this very good mood that he knocked on the door which after a couple of seconds opened in to a rather small office.

His eyes fell immediately on her face and he recognised her lovely features at once.

“Hello!” Bernard greeted her, with a descend smile, honestly glad to see her.

“Hi, how are you?” she greeted back.

Bernard then noticed how small the office really is, with her desk to the left of the door, and only one other chair available in the office. He didn’t want to march in so stood in the doorway and waited for an invitation to come in.

“I was in the neighbourhood and thought I’d drop by and say hello,” He said still taking very much notice of her blue eyes.

“Oh, that’s nice of you…” she said smiling.

“Yes…” Bernard continued without really knowing what to say, “Do you know anything on the Goldmine dispute in Baberton?”

“No, not really.”

Still no invitation to come in.

“You should actually speak to my boss, Gerald Morrison. He should be able to help you.”

Right there Bernard realised Henriëtte does not know that he already had a lengthily conversation with her boss and thought he would make light of the matter. “Oh that’ll help a lot, would you be as kind as to introduce me to him?”

It looks like she realised she might have gone over the top with those words and quickly corrects herself; “Oh… he’s a very busy man, I don’t think I’ll be able to get you an appointment with him on such a short notice…”

“Oh do try… would you?”

“It’s not that easy,” she said looking slightly nervous. “We as personal on this level do not even speak to him. We arrange meetings and the like through his secretary, you see…”

“Wouldn’t you try for me? Please?”

Hesitantly she picked up the receiver and prepared herself to ask for the operator. Just then Bernard gave a soft laugh and prevented her from making the connection.

“I’ve already spoken to him, it’s all right. I’m only joking.”

“So you’re all right then with the necessary information? “ She smiled widely, and Bernard not being sure if that smile is a result of relief for not needing to make the call or if she also found the situation as light hearted as he did.

“Yes, I’m all sorted thanks!”

“All right…” She says hesitant. “So you have all you need then?”

“I have all I need and what’s more, I’ll be dining and lodging with Mr Morrison tonight,” Bernard says smiling even more when he sees her surprised face.

“Oh, o.k…”

“Yes…”

And it happened. Suddenly neither Henriëtte nor Bernard had anything more to say. There was no invitation for him to enter in to the office, which he found unpleasantly peculiar but realised it only afterwards. She was not unfriendly, disgusted or indifferent even. It only seemed that no matter how hard Bernard tried, she could not find any means to relate to him.

Not wanting the conversation to be to awkward, Bernard mentioned that he will, before dinner tonight go and have some tea at ‘The Harold & Koch Lounge’ which was just around the corner from her office. Her replay was that she never went there and that she didn’t like the people there.

‘What on earth am I to say to that?’ Bernard immediately thought.

In the end, there really was not much else to converse about. He politely and as charming as ever, ended the conversation and left it at that.

While having tea at The Harold and Koch, he focused all his attention on the conversation and came to the conclusion that it might be possible for her to have the wit, social intelligence and thinking capacity of Oom Pierre Laubscher. There is of course nothing wrong with that, but he himself does not spend much time with Oom Pierre for a very specific reason.

Bernard sat at the table, so lost in thought that he did not even appreciate the tea which he was so very fond of. He then took out a brown, leather covered journal from his brief case, and wrote;

27 August 1898

And so he saw the most splendid and gracious lady. She had the perfect smile and the expression on her face was most inviting. After some time, the opportunity presented itself for him to pay her a quick visit in the city where she lived. He knocked on the door, the door opened and there she was, beautiful as ever. His heartbeat kept climbing and his eyes revealed the energy generated through his whole being.

And then it happened.

She opened her mouth.

Bang!

She couldn’t help it and she was not even aware of the fact that to him, her intelligence, or lack thereof was unattractive to the point of utter shock and total devastation. There was nothing she said or did that seemed inappropriate or embarrassing even, yet it took less than a two minute conversation for him to realize that if he did not move along swiftly, he will face very challenging consequences. To her however, life went on as usual.

Bernard Langford once again reflected on how most entertainment flourished on romance, and that in reality romance could never amount to anything more than just an illusion.

*****

The Kloof

The Kloof

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.

 

*****

Tussen parabool en mite

Tussen parabool en mite

By Johannes Adriaan Snyman

O pretoria, O pretoria!
jou swart heinings en teer strate
weerspieël my mooiste prag en praal,
jou vaal water en duister lug
my suiwer skoonheid en helder sig.
Ek is immers die bitter lied in smart
van ook menigte, ‘n gebroke hart.

O mens, O mens!
jou moordadige korrupsie en vleeslike drang
reflekteer my blomme tuin en kerk gesang,
jou onrein wanbeeld en allemensige ontrou
het die heerlikheid van my as persoon weerhou.
Deur die duisternis aan my gebied
omhels ek absoluut, my lye lied.

O bestaan, O bestaan
jou  hewige paraboliese mites uitgestal
verklaar maar ‘n deeltjie van my diepste tranedal,
jou swaar kry, langdurige swoeg en sweet
voeg waarde tot my ryk verbeelding wreed.
So verdrink ek in my eie vraag-net
en gaan lê ek op die bodem van ‘n stil gebed.

 

*****