Vrouw Grobelaar - The Hands Of The Pitiful Woman

Author: Gibbon Perceval

The Vrouw Grobelaar had no opinion of Kafirs, and was forever ready to justify herself in this particular.

"Kafirs,' she said, 'are not men, whatever the German missionaries may say. I do not deny we have a duty to them, as to the beasts of the field; but as for being men, well, a baboon is as much a man as a Kafir is.

"Kafirs are made to work, and ought to work. Katje, what are you laughing about? Did not the dear God make everything for a purpose, and what is the use of a Kafir if he is not made to work? Work for themselves? Katje, you are learning nothing but rubbish at that school, and I will not have you say such things. How could the Burghers work the farms if they had not the Kafirs? Well, be silent, then.

"Oh, I know the Kafirs. I have seen hundreds of them—yes, and for the matter of that, thousands. Just beasts, they are,—nothing—else. Did you hear how the Vrouw Coetzee came to die? Well, I will tell you, and you will see that we must hold the Kafirs with a hand of iron or they will destroy us.

"It was a time when Piet Coetzee was away making laws in Pretoria, and the Vrouw Coetzee, who was only married one year, was alone on the farm with her little baby. There were plenty of Kafirs to do the work; but, you see, there was no man to have an eye to them, and take a sjambok to them when they needed it. So one day the Kafirs came in from the lands and would not work any more.

"Why wouldn't they work? How should I know? Who can tell why a Kafir does anything? Perhaps a witch-doctor had come among them. Perhaps the German missionaries had been talking foolishness to them. Perhaps it began at a beer- drink with some boasting by the young men before the girls. Who can say? But however it was, they came in and sat down before the house, and just waited there.

"Vrouw Coetzee came out with her baby on her arm and spoke to them; but not one moved a finger or answered a word. They sat still where they were and watched her, and others came from the huts and sat down too, until there were close on a hundred Kafirs before the house. Vrouw Coetzee watched them come, and as she stood in the door the two Kafir girls who worked about the house pushed her aside and went and sat down too.

"Then Vrouw Coetzee, looking at the dumb black faces and white eyes, got frightened and went backwards into the house and closed the door. She put down the baby and drew the iron bar across the door inside. From there she went to the door at the back, and to all the windows, and closed and secured them as far as possible. Then she took down the old elephant-gun from the wall, and finding Piet's pouch and the bullets, she loaded it and laid it on the table. All the time the Kafirs made no sign, and from the keyhole she saw them still sitting in silence, watching the house.

"When midday came she made some food ready to eat, and then came a bang at the door.

"'What is it you want?' she cried, without opening.

"'Liquor!' cried one of the Kafirs. 'You have some brandy in the house. Give it to us, or we will come and take it and kill you at the same time.'

"'I have no brandy,' she cried, 'and when my husband comes back I will tell him to shoot you all.'

"The Kafirs laughed, and one of the house-girls called out,
'There is brandy; we have seen it.'

"Then the Kafirs all began to shout together, and banged the door with their knobkerries. 'Give us the brandy!' they shouted, and she heard a stone smash through a window against the shutters.

"The Vrouw Coetzee was a brave woman, and she hated Kafirs; but, looking at the baby, she thought it best to give them the brandy.

"'Stand away from the window,' she cried, 'and I will put the brandy outside; but if one of you comes near me I will shoot.'

"So she placed the brandy on the sill outside the window. The Kafirs were standing about in groups, looking very fierce, but they saw the elephant-gun and did nothing. But as she barred the shutter again, she heard them rush up and snatch the bottles.

"Watching through the keyhole of the door, she saw them troop off to the huts, shouting and capering and waving the bottles in the air. They came to the door no more that day, but she heard them howling in the kraal as the brandy began to inflame them.

"When it got dark she sat down with her face to the door, her child in her arms. The howling of the Kafirs was wilder than ever, and shrieks of women mingled with the uproar. The Vrouw Coetzee trembled there in the dark as she remembered stories of the Kafir wars, and how the Kafirs had treated the white women and children they caught on the farms.

"Late in the night the Kafirs came back and commenced to hammer on the door again.

"'Give us more brandy,' they shouted.

"'I have no more,' she said. 'I have given you all.'

"'You lie!' they screamed. 'If you do not give us more we will come and kill you and tear your baby to pieces.'

"Then the Vrouw Coetzee began to tremble, and, putting down the child, took the big gun in her hands.

"'That is you, Kleinbooi,' she cried out, recognizing the voice of one of the Kafirs. 'Why do you behave like this? What will the baas say when he comes back?'

"'We do not care for the baas,' they replied. 'If you do not give us the brandy we will break in your door.'

"'I have no more,' she said again, and straightway the
Kafirs commenced to hammer at the door.

"The Vrouw Coetzee raised the gun to her shoulder and pointed it at the door. Her arms were trembling so that she could not keep it steady; so, going close up to the door, she rested the muzzle on the iron bar. Then she pulled the trigger.

"The gun went off with a roar and filled the room with a stifling smoke. The baby began to cry, but she paid it no attention till the gun was loaded again. Then, as she snatched up her child and soothed it, she heard wailing and screaming from outside, where the heavy bullet had done its work.

"The Kafirs left her at peace for about an hour, and the noise of the wounded sank to a sobbing. At last a voice hailed her again.

"'We will kill you now,' it said. 'You have shot two men,' and she was assailed with a string of horrid names such as only a Kafir can think of.

"'Where are you?' she called, terrified.

"'Here,' came the reply, and a little stone fell down the chimney.

"'I will shoot!' she screamed, taking up the gun; but the
Kafir on the roof answered with only a laugh.

"'It will do no good,' he replied. 'We shall kill you, burn you in a fire slowly, scald you with boiling water, cut you in little pieces,' and he went on to threaten the lone woman with the most fiendish and ghastly outrages, such as I dare not even give a name to.

"The low devilish voice on the roof went on. 'And your baby, vile thing! You shall see it writhe in the flames, and hear it cry to you, and watch the blood spout from its skin. You shall see the dogs tearing it, while you lie in anguish, powerless to aid it. Yes, we will kill the child first, and slowly—slowly! It shall cry a long time before it shall die at last.'

"Then the Vrouw Coetzee, calling aloud on God, pointed the gun and fired through the roof. There was a laugh again, and before the smoke cleared a big Kafir dropped down the wide chimney and rushed at her.

"Her gun was empty, but the Vrouw Coetzee was the worthy wife of a good Boer, and she raised the heavy weapon and struck him down. He rolled, face upward, on the floor, and as he lay she struck him again. He kicked once or twice with his legs and clutched with his hands; and then he lay still and died.

"It was their plan, you see, that she should fire off her gun and then be taken before she had time to recharge it.

"'Have you got the woman, Martinus?' called a Kafir from outside.

"So you see that, after all, a Kafir is—Katje, what are you crying about?"

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