From Boatsheds to Battlefields 24 Homesick

The end of 23rd Entry: Mrs Van Zijl felt, knew that her daughter and Mick were enjoying a little boy and girl romance but poor Mrs Van Zijl could gather no proof.

One morning a neighbour – a poor man – came rushing over, a child was down with diphtheria – could Mr Van Zijl get a doctor – it was a matter of hours as to whether the child lived or died.

“Inspan the two best horses and drive like hell for the doctor Mick” called Mr Van Zijl as he grasped the situation. Helped by Mr Van Zijl and the distressed father Mick took but a couple of minutes in getting two young mares harnessed and in the cart – jumping in the youth cracked his whip, the two fresh horses sprang forward, raced around the corner of the stables and the flying cart took the bend one wheel high in the air.

Down the rough farm road tore the horses Mick standing in the cart urging them on with the crack of whip and voice though little well-bred animals needed encouragement.

In imagination, Mick was a charioteer of the ancient Celtic tribes dashing through Erin with the news of the Romans landing in Britain. As he peopled his mind with pictures, tribesmen dashing out of villages to watch this mad course, or clearing from the roadway before galloping hoofs of his horses he sang and yelled to the frowning hills and the pitiless blue sky.

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Soon, however, realisation came that he had fifteen miles to go with a child’s life hanging on his journey and that it wasn’t much use knocking up his horses in the first two, so ceasing his noise Mick began to try and quieten the animals, no easy task but at last successful.

Now the first burst of excitement over Mick drove carefully but speedily watching his horses he nursed them on the upgrades, let them out on the down ways, kept a steady swinging trot along the level and then as far in the distance he saw the Dutch Church Spire once more he began to drive madly forward.

At last covered with foam, staggering with exhaustion the horses drew up at the doctor’s door. Fortunately, he was at home and on the situation being explained immediately gave orders for his cart to be inspanned and hastily began to make preparations for his journey.

Driving slowly up the village hotel Mick took the exhausted horses out, unharnessed them and sent the pair for a walk and roll. Once cooled the boy rubbed their legs down with brandy gave them hot bran mash and then thankfully strolled over to Mrs Scott and her daughter.

Warmly Mick spent a pleasant day and evening slept at the hotel and early next morning returned to the farm to find his errand had been unavailing the child having died shortly before the doctor’s arrival.

A week later Mick was ill – for three days he lay in bed with a bad throat and racking head – the attention he received was nil – food was brought in at meal times but the lad’s very being revolted at fat pork, greasy potatoes and sweetened pumpkin. Visions of a loving mother and the best of all his pals, his Dad – thoughts of custards, jellies – a little chicken broth, books to read, friends to listen to – Oh but the lad was homesick.

Accused of malingering Mick staggered back to work – later returned to his room to find a greatly treasure crucifix on the floor was broken, his kit thrown everywhere – in came Mr Van Zijl raging – Mrs Van Zijl had in her motherly fashion come to tidy the room – by accident a portion of an open letter from Mick to his father had photographed itself on her brain – a paragraph vividly describing the food, the manners, the personalities of Mr and Mrs Van Zijl. Van Zijl white with rage discoursed at length and in detail reviewing Mick’s past, present and prophesying his future – he raised a cruel looking sjambok/whip.

Mick with a sailor’s agility leapt out of the window and took the main road to Struan. Five miles on he halted at a friendly farmer who disliked Van Zijl. To an amused Dutchman of the grand old school and to a bevvy of giggling maidens Mick related his experiences.

A week later returning from a fishing expedition, Mick’s father handed him a letter.

Mr Van Zijl “wished to assure Mr Osmond of his unabated friendship and respect, but at the same time felt it his duty to inform Mr Osmond that his son was an unmitigated liar, was absolutely useless on a farm, was impudent, untrustworthy and wicked. On his own confession, he was in the habit of consorting with Roman Catholics, fishermen and other characters certain to lead even a good boy astray.

Mr Van Zijl understood that Mick in his sixteen years of life had tried the tempers of and been given up as hopeless by the masters of no less than seven schools. In the month Mick had been with him he fully sympathised with the masters and mistresses of the seven schools.”

Mick snorted – “He lies! The swine! He lies!”



From Boatsheds to Battlefields 23 Farming and Romancing

End of 22nd Entry: A large plate of maize meal porridge, a couple of freshly laid eggs and heavy meal of course brown bread put Mick on excellent terms with himself.

Breakfast over Van Zijl and the boy harnessing a pair of sturdy ponies to a light single poled cart drove off on a tour of inspection.

Half an hour’s drive brought them to a pumping station where Mick was introduced to a hard-featured Australian named Wallace who was in charge of a suction gas plant which pumped a large stream from a broad river up to an irrigation furrow. Half an hour was spent in explaining the working of the engine to Mick and then Van Zijl re-entering the cart drove into his lands.

Some four hundred acres lay under irrigation furrow of which a hundred were under cultivation. He explained that the Government was contemplating a scheme whereby a large canal would bring over two thousand acres of his lands under irrigation – “I took over this farm as a debt a year ago valuing it at fifteen shillings per acre – it is worth £2 per acre today and if the canal is built may be valued at £200 per acre in a couple of years time” he said. “I am willing however to give your Dad an option at forty shillings per acre over 700 acres or to rent them to him for two years at £40 per month. I will be advancing the implements and superintending the working of it until you are capable of doing it yourself.”

Mick thanked Van Zijl profusely and promised to write to Mr Osmond that night – inwardly he thought “Well Mick you won’t be staying anyway – perhaps Dad will let me go to sea.”

At one of the lands Van Zijl stopped at a plough pulled by sixteen oxen. “Now Mick if a farmer wants to show his employees how to do a job he must know how to do it himself. I don’t believe in false pride – to master a job a man must start from the very beginning. I want you to take the leader’s place on that plough for a few days, then lead mules, once you know a leader’s job I’ll put you on holding the plough and then to driving. Meanwhile you’ll learn to milk, handle animals and implements after which you will be able to take an intelligent interest in farming.

Three weeks of hard solid work followed. From dawn until breakfast time Mick worked in the stable, byre and dairy – after breakfast fetched the oxen or mules or held the plough or handled the long bamboo whip with its twenty-five foot lash. At midday his lunch was sent to him – a bottle of separated milk or cold coffee, cold meat and badly cooked bread – then after an hours spell back to plough, harrow or waggon. Just before sunset the animals were freed and walking back to the homestead Mick once again took up the farmyard routine until long after dark. A hasty sluice and a poor meal followed with an hours devotion ending the day.

Mick cursed with all the fluency gained by much mixing with hardened sailormen – unbosomed himself to Wallace with whom he had struck up a firm friendship.

“I like the work – I don’t mind leading and I love holding the plough or handling the whip – I want to learn to ride, drive, milk and the rest of it, but I hate Van Zijl he’s just a creeping — and his wife’s a bitch.”

The Australian laughed – “You’re right Sonny – that’s the worst of these lawyer blokes and book farmers – everything is theory and not practice – an ordinary boss is bad enough but a lawyer one is a bastard. I’ve worked on sheep runs, cattle stations, copra schooners and been in the army and I never struck a boss that hadn’t something wrong with him. Still if you’re lucky you’ll be a boss yourself one day and then your employees will curse you – it’s always a comfort thinking that.”

Mick found little opportunity for riding – once or twice Van Zijl took him out and Mick to his delight managed to sit the stallion which having been a pet from birth proved easily manageable.

A long course of twisting about and hanging onto ships rigging and mountain precipice had given young Mick all the nimbleness of a monkey and being entirely without nerves riding came easily and naturally to him.

Relations between Mrs Van Zijl and Mick became more and more strained – Mick complained openly about the food especially the quality of the bread – Mr Osmond wrote stating that he neither was nor ever would be likely to assist Mick financially and the Van Zijls began to look sourly at him.

Miss Van Zijl, a sixteen year old school girl, came to the farm for her holidays – like most South African country girls she was a robust pretty damsel full of rich blood – fresh from a boarding school and longing to play with boys. Susie immediately began to make eyes at Mick – Mick’s Celtic blood flamed and on several occasions Mrs Van Zijl’s eyes looked suspiciously at a flushed daughter who in answer to her calling had appeared with some excuse for her absence. Mrs Van Zijl watched, Mrs Van Zijl laid traps but Mick was a wily bird and Susie was experienced. Mrs Van Zijl felt, knew that her daughter and Mick were enjoying a little boy and girl romance but poor Mrs Van Zijl could gather no proof.


From Boatsheds to Battlefields 22 Learning to Farm

End of 21st Entry: Shortly after sunset the farm was reached where the two were welcomed by a large stout lady of fair complexion.

“We will first take the cart round and outspan, Mick, then have some coffee and look around the buildings.” said Van Zijl as he handed out the luggage.

At the stables Mick was shown how to unharness the horses, sent off with them to walk about until cool, told to water them and at last thankfully helped bed them down and feed them. Returning to the homestead Mrs Van Zijl had coffee, bread and sheep’s tail dripping ready for them, but Mick who was accustomed to select what he fancied from a large choice of food made a wry face at the dripping, felt the doughey half cooked bread suspiciously and grimaced at the lukewarm coffee.

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After the meal Van Zijl took the youth round to look at the byres and stables, showing him a handsome young stallion which he told Mick would be his mount, to be watered, fed, groomed and ridden by only the boy. Cheering up somewhat from a fit of depression into which he had fallen Mick returned to the house with the owner and was shown into a well furnished guest room.

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“Tomorrow you can shift into your own room Mick” said van Zijl “it has only been whitewashed today, but we will have it put in order tomorrow.”

Tired out, Mick after washing and changing went back to the dining room where he found Van Zijl reading a newspaper and his wife scolding two native girls who were setting the table.

After a vainlook around for a book Mick began talking to Van Zijl who proved quite pleasant and apparently anxious to interest the lad. Mrs Van Zijl too seemed friendly and joined in the conversation until supper was announced as ready.

Mick was ravenously hungry and found a dish of stamped maize boiled in milk very appetising – the dish following aroused his distrust however – it seemed good, it smelt fine but it looked queer – turning over the contents of his plate Mick’s disgusted eye saw the cold dead eye of a sheep looking at him – Mick felt as though lying out at sea in a heavy swell.

“What’s the matter Osmond – Don’t you like affal? asked Mrs Van Zijl.

Offal – Jove! it looked it, thought Mick miserably. “What is it made of Mrs Van Zijl” he enquired.

“Sheeps brains and eyes with all the tit bits of the stomach” answered his hostess.

“I’m not feeling very hungry” he said “I’d a jolly big plate of stamped mielies so I think I’ll just finish off with a bit of bread and jam.”

“I hope you’re not full of fads and fancies” retorted the large lady tartly “We’ve no time for nonsense on a farm. People eat whats put before them and thank the Lord for his kindness.”

In his heart Mick answered, “I wouldn’t thank anybody not even the Lord for offal.”

The meal over the table was cleared but as Mick tempted to rise Van Zijl checked him, “We will first read a chapter from The Book, say a prayer and sing a psalm to our Lord” he said.Image result for the Dutch bible 1910

A great Dutch Bible was put before Van Zijl and psalm books in front of his wife and Mick – the two coloured girls crouched next to the doorway and Van Zijl striking a tuning fork against the table sang Doh, Ray, Me, Fah, So, then in a sonorous voice exclaimed in Dutch – We will now sing psalm – another blow of the tuning fork and he burst into melody Mrs Van Zijl following a bar or two behind, whilst Mick fought hard to restrain from bursting.

A long chapter of the Bible followed, then a longer prayer and a final psalm after which the Van Zijls rising began to make preparations for their departure to bed.

At dawn next morning Mick was roused by Van Zijl and dressing joined his employer in the dining room to partake of a cup of steaming coffee. Warmed and refreshed the lad accompanied Van Zijl to the stables to be initiated into the mysteries of grooming horses, feeding them and milking an Ayreshire cow, one of the byrefull of Kerrys and Aryshires.

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Ayreshire Cows

The milking over Mick was shown how to put a cream separator together, and after half an hours sweating at turning its handle was put on to taking the machine to pieces, putting the parts in cold water and accompanying a coloured man to feed a dozen calves and some pigs. Returning to the dairy an hour of washing utensils followed and then to Mick’s relief came breakfast.

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A large plate of maize meal porridge, a couple of freshly laid eggs and heavy meal of course brown bread put Mick on excellent terms with himself.