It was at a time when quite the whole world was expecting a miracle. The British had lost many a soldier 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 were 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 veldskoen 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 coincidence 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 off 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 however 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.
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 veldskoen.
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 rinderpest 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 seeing, contribute to his moodiness.
Nothing could have been done, however, for as soon as he went lying next to the campfire, 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 knew 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 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.