Last week I posted part 1 of my new ghost story. It started life as a short story and is now approaching 9 000 words so it is a long short story. Naturally it has evolved somewhat over the course of this week and I had to re-write the second part of the beginning I shared last week (https://robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com/2019/01/27/the-beginning-of-my-new-ghost-story/)
Here is the redrafted second part and parts three and four.
The sun had crept over the horizon and bright chinks of light squeezed through cracks in the shutters in the main bedroom. The wind had dropped and Pieter opened them to let light into the cave-like room. He took a moment to reflect on how yellow the sun looked in the clear blue sky. It looked so warm and inviting but the layer of frost on the worn-down grass outside the window refuted that lie.
Pulling out his woolen shirt and jacket he quickly dressed. His feet were two unmalleable lumps of ice as he jammed them into his sturdy veldskoene [walking shoes] and tied the laces. The warmth made his toes tingle and he wriggled them to get the blood flowing. He picked up a small metal file lying on the floor just inside the wardrobe and walked over to the bed.
The old iron bedstead slid along the floor easily. Pieter inserted the metal file under a loose floor board and pried it up. Grunting with effort, he lifted a few heavy sacks from their dusty hiding place beneath the sprung wood floor. He dragged the heavy sacks over to the window and peered out. There was no-one about yet but smoke was rising from the direction of the farm workers kraals. He needed to move fast.
Manhandling the sacks out of the window, he heard them hit the ground outside with heavy thuds.
Smoky clouds from his warm breath plumed in the frigid air as he carried the sacks, one in each hand, to the nearby thicket. Despite the cold, sweat beaded his forehead and dampened his armpits as he pushed his way for a couple of hundred feet through the dense bushes until he reached a wide clearing. He still suffered pain from the broken ribs he had sustained during the fighting in Kimberley in February.
He sighed heavily, the memory of the British defeat of the Boers at Kimberly and Ladysmith still weighed heavily on his morale.
A young tree, mud clinging thickly to its root system, stood next to a freshly dug hole in the centre of the clearing waiting to be planted. Pieter made his way over to the hole and shoved the sacks into it. He then placed the tree in the hole and proceeded to cover up the roots and the sacks with the rich, dark soil.
As he worked he thought about the last conversation he had with Oom Paul [Paul Kruger], President of the South African Republic:
“Take this, Pieter,” Oom Paul said, pointing to the two heavy sacks on the floor. “The farmers in your area will need it to rehabilitate themselves after the war.”
“Thank you, Oom Paul.”
Two days later on 29 May, Oom Paul had left Pretoria, travelling by train to Machadodorp.
Pieter stood up and stretched gently, trying not to escalate the ache in his ribs to an unbearable pain. The 30 000 Kruger pounds he’d been given should be safe until he could come back for them.
With a sign of relief, Pieter made his way to the barn which housed his covered wagon. His farm workers had arrived and they assisted him with inspanned his oxen in preparation for the two-day trek to his brother’s farm.
Pieter checked the yokes, skeis and strops for each pair of oxen. He did not want his animals to be damaged in any way during journey. Next he checked the trek chain, wooden wheels and spokes and the iron tyres covering the rims of the wheels.
When he was satisfied that the wagon was ready for the journey, Pieter spoke to his workers: “The British soldiers are coming. Mosiko and Mhlopi will come with me. The rest of you must take your women and children and go back to your villages until the danger has passed.”
As he dismissed his workers and told them to travel safely, bitterness burned in his heart like acid.
My farm is lost to me now. It is time for me to assess the future for me and my family.
Pieter and Marta loaded the wagon with farm implements, seeds, kitchen utensils, bedding and clothing. Lastly, their two little girls, Renette and Suné, wearing their button-up boots and carrying their rag dolls climbed into the wagon and Pieter and Marta took their seats on the wakis, or wooden chest, up front. Mosiko and Mhlopi took their places next to the wagon and Pieter cracked his whip. The heavily-loaded wagon lurched down the rutted track that lead away into the bush veld.
He smiled reassuringly at Marta. “Willem and Sannie will be glad to see us. We can help them around the farm until we decide what to do next.”
“Pieter and my commando will be operating mainly in this area,” Willem told Marta and Sannie one bright and sunny morning in September, just a few days after the British annexed their home country of the South African Republic [Transvaal]. “There are enough farms in this area to easily supply us with our food and other needs.”
The two men were pleased to be operating in this area. It enabled them to make the odd quick visit to the farm to check on their families. They set off in high spirits to re-join their commando, a small military unit of volunteer fighers. They carried with them a supply of coffee, sugar, salt and flour as well as a quantity of Willem’s homemade peach brandy.
Britain might have annexed the Orange Free State and the South African Republic but the war was far from over. The Boer generals, Louis Botha, Koos de la Rey and Christiaan de Wet, had come up with a plan to use hit and run guerrilla tactics to cause as much damage as possible to the British administration. It was a good plan and the commandos were implementing it successfully.
The Boers knew the land which gave them a distinct advantage over the Rooineks. The Boer women were strong and hardy and well able to manage the farms on their own with their farm workers.
As Burghers, or fully entrenched citizens of the South African Republic, Pieter and Willem were obliged to serve in a commando without pay. They were expected to provide their own horse and Mauser rifle as well as thirty rounds of ammunition and their own rations.
They were prepared to continue fighting to defend their farms and status as Burghers and were well aware that it was the refusal by Paul Kruger to give in to the British High Commissioner’s, demand that the Uitlanders receive full voting rights after five years residence that had led to Pretoria announcing the start of the Second Boer War on 11 October 1899.
The problem of the Uitlanders outranged Pieter and Willem. Immigrants, mainly from Britain and given the name of Uitlanders or Outsiders by the Burghers, had flooded into the South African Republic during the Witwatersrand gold rush in 1886. The expectation by the Boer government that the Uitlanders pay taxes despite lacking any civil representation caused tensions between the republic and Britain to rise. The Burghers believed that granting the Uitlanders full voting rights would jeopardise the independence of the republic. Pieter and Willem believed in the principles of the war and were happy to play their part in the on-going fight.
“Oom Paul was most reasonable in his offer to Lord Milner. He was prepared to offer the Uitlanders naturalisation after two years’ residence and full franchise after five more years,” Pieter ranted.
“Yes”, said Willem. “He was also prepared to give them increased representation in government and a new oath.”
“Milner just wants control of the Witwatersrand gold-mining complex in our country,” they agreed.
Why, oh why, did gold have to be discovered on the Witwatersrand?
The words of Piet Joubert, Commandant-General of the South African Republic from 1880 to 1900 repeated in Pieter’s mind: “This gold is going to soak our country in blood.”
The commando of men were bone tired. It had been a long day. The small group gathered around a small fire in a sunken basin in the veld and were enjoying a mug of their home-made meilie coffee while their meal, a mouth-watering stew made from a buck they had shot, cooked. Their resting spot had been carefully chosen and their fire laid with dry grass and sticks, to ensure the fire smoke could not be easily seen.
“This meilie coffee isn’t bad,” said Johannes de Swart, smacking his lips. “I prefer it with milk.”
“It is a sore trial for a Boer to live without coffee,” said Stoffel Engelbrecht, stretching out his long legs and showing the sheep skin patches that adorned his trousers.
Pieter took a sip of his meilie coffee and thought about his wife and children. He had seen them yesterday for the first time in weeks. His wife, Marta, had seemed despondent but the girls had rushed into his arms with tears of joy. Marta understood the meaning of the thick columns of black smoke that she and Sannie had seen on the distant horizon.
Thank goodness Marta and Sannie were able to supply our men with some mealies, potatoes and other vegetables, as well as biltong [dried meat], when we went to the farm last night.
Anxiety gnawed at his stomach as he thought of Marta, Sannie and the children alone on the farm. The vastness of the Transvaal veld, with its risks of wild animals and poisonous snakes, worried him, and then there was the threat of the Rooineks.
How long will it be before the farm is discovered by the British? What if they are taken into one of the concentration camps? What will Willem and I do then? What will the commando do when all the farms are burned and the crops and animals destroyed?
Low conversation hummed around him. The younger men were discussing the events of the day. The commando had utilised a successful hit and run style of attack to blow up a section of the railway line. The men were high on the success of the operation.
Pieter and Willem did not join in the excited talk. They ate their meal quietly and lay down to sleep, their heads resting against their hard saddlebags. Sleep was slow in coming. The ground was hard and they were still bothered by numerous insects that were still prolific at the beginning of winter.
Let me know in the comments if there is sufficient information to contextualize this period in South African and British history and if the presentation is natural and interesting.
Have a lovely week.