From Boatshed to Battlefields 21 Employed

End of 20th Entry: “…… here’s Mr Van Zijl’s place.”

Entering an attorney’s office the boys were shown into an inner room where a tall grey haired gentleman rising shook hands with them and told them to take chairs.

A few questions to Mick elicited the facts that he was strong, healthy and could speak a little Dutch, couldn’t ride, knew nothing about farming, and failed twice his matriculation and had just left in the middle of his third attempt. However he was willing to work at anything.

“All right Osmond call round at four this afternoon, and we’ll go out to the farm. I can’t pay you anything until you are useful to me, but you will get your board and lodging, and as I’m starting on a virgin piece of country you’ll have a golden opportunity of learning farming.”

Emerging from the lawyers office Zack suggested calling on one or two English residents. Zacharias De Wet was the youngest brother of three of the wealthiest Ostrich farmers in the district and he and Mick had been schoolmates. Zach, with a Dutchman’s honest pride in his home place, was intent on showing the city youth that Straun small as it was possessed inhabitants of culture besides the native worthies. Leading the way the young Boer first led his chum to the rectory where he introduced him to a kindly Anglican parson who greeted both boys warmly; then to a charming little house to proudly make Mick known to a tall sweet faced English lady and two pretty, merry looking girls.

Leaving Mick with his countryfolk the Boer sauntered off to call on relatives, Mick accepting a kindly invitation to lunch settled down to entertain the ladies. Time passed quickly until three o’clock when with many thanks for a most enjoyable time Mick departed to get his luggage together and bid farewell to Zach’s people. Punctually at four Mr Van Zijl drove up in a Cape cart, loading on his kit Mick climbed in and with waving hat made his adieux to the De Wets.

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For two hours the cart drove amongst hills and glens whilst Van Zijl drew his young pupil out or answered an endless stream of questions.

“I have sold my practice and am giving up the law for farming.” He said. “I knew your father very well – what South African lawyer doesn’t? And am very glad to have a son of his with me – its a hard life farming Mick but it makes men strong and healthy. Mrs Van Zijl will look after you and if you like the life perhaps your Dad might like to buy a portion of the farm for you.”

Mick grinned as he thought of any proposal to Mr Osmond regarding the buying of land. A Civil Servant even though a departmental head was not usually in a position to invest ready cash in farming, and in his case there were three sisters and two brothers in the family. Besides themselves, were relatives who had to be helped – Irish families are usually large and his grandmother’s people were of exceptionally prolific stock – Blood they had in plenty, titled cousins and distinguished ones – but Money – No – that was the only thing in the world they hadn’t got.

But a Celt will never confess himself to be but an ordinary average man – few but have distant kin who have been lost somewhere in Australia, Africa or America – there is always the chance that one having amassed a fortune had thought of Terence who was named after him or Norah who married Patrick or that back in Ireland itself estates or wealth had by the miracle of fate fallen to a younger branch.

So Mick began to question his employer, conveying a strong impression that Mr Osmond was keenly interested in the question of buying Mick a farm, and that there was money a plenty waiting if only Mick well treated and happy took a liking to the life.

Shortly after sunset the farm was reached where the two were welcomed by a large stout lady of fair complexion.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 15 The Boer War

End of 14th Entry: …the Boer War which was still raging and all the world appeared to be flocking into “The Old Tavern of the Seas.”

Glancing at the crew the boy felt a thrill as he sensed how close reality was to fiction. The skipper had a brother who was a rebel – he himself had uncles and cousins fighting on both sides. His father was in the Town Guard, his father’s brother in an irregular mounted regiment of wild young bloods from the four corners of Africa, refugees from the mining fields most of them – his father’s house was an open home for soldiers of England, lavishly entertained though his family was a large one and his people had to battle desperately to keep their heads up on a Civil Servant’s salary and war prices.

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Cape Rebels 

It was jolly exciting he thought, “wonder what Mother thinks with Uncle Will a prisoner-of-war – darn thrilling having had two Uncles with Cronje, and Uncle Toby and those big Australian cousins of his with Roberts, all in the same battle. What would happen if Uncle Toby charged in and met Uncle Will or Uncle Jack? Of course, Uncle Toby would use the bayonet and of course he would win because he was “fighting for England”.

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British Infantry

Those were the days when England’s Might stood like the Rock of Gibraltar and a man spoke not of Britain or the British Empire but of England and England’s Colonies – as the dwellers in the wild far North trembled and feared the King of Beasts so the Nations of the world hated and feared the Island race, Britannia the Pride of the Ocean: Rule Britannia, The Soldiers of the Queen and “they may build their ships my lads” were¬†the songs of the day and the Union Jack waved proudly Mistress of the Seven Seas.

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Rule Britannia

Looking at the skipper Mick wondered if it was really true that he and the stroke oar were the men, who climbing the buttressed tower of Lion’s Head, had hauled down the Union Jack and hoisted the flag of the South African Republic.

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The Red Duster

They had an armed guard on the mountain now and perhaps the skipper would be shot trying to repeat the daring deed. His eye fell on the two young Malay half-breeds who pulled between bow and stroke instantly his mind swung to a tale of Gomes filled with thrills of Rajah Brooke, Sea Dyaks, Land Dyaks and those champion men of the seas the Malay pirates “The Orchid Hunters” darn fine yarn that.

Sir James Brooke Rajah of Sarawak by Sir Francis Grant

Sir James Brooke

Out to sea, a great sailing ship was coming down the wind like some monstrous white bird. “She’ll be English won’t she Jack? Full rigged ship by the look of her – coming from Australia”. The bow oar cast a glance over his shoulder and sent a long yellow stream from his mouth to meet a curling wave.

“You blooming youngsters think you know a mighty lot when you doesn’t know nothing!” he answered. “She’s Yank – and a four-masted baroque – running afore the wind makes her look like a ship – bringing wheat.” “How do you know she’s Yank?” asked the boy crestfallen.

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“She’s carrying skysails ain’t she? British ships don’t carry ’em any longer, not to my knowledge they don’t and I left the sea afore you was having napkins changed I did.”

A cry of “Hold Water” from the skipper broke the thread of the boy’s musings as to how Old Jack would look as the central figure in a scene entitled “walking the plank“.