Vrouw Grobelaar - Morder Drift

Author: Gibbon Perceval

The business was something before my time, but I can remember several versions of it, which were commonly current when I first came into the Dopfontein district. It was not much of a tale as a general thing, except that, if you happened to have a strain of hot blood in you, it discovered a quality of very picturesque pathos. However, as you shall see, only the tail end of the story was generally known, and it was the Vrouw Grobelaar, the transmitter of chronicles, who divulged it to Katje and myself one evening in its proper proportions.

As I first heard it the tale was about thus. The drift across the Dolf Spruit, below the Zwaartkop, was a ragged gash in the earth, hidden from all approaches by dense bushes of wacht een beetje thorn. The spruit was here throttled between banks of worn stone, and the water roared over the drift at a depth that made it impassible to foot- farers. Its name Morder Drift (Murder Ford), was secured to it no less by its savage aspect than by the incident associated with it.

One morning a Kafir brought news to a farm of a strange thing at the drift, a tale of violent death at criminal hands. Straightway four men got to horse and rode over. Arriving, they found their information justified in a strange fashion. Seated in the deep southern approach to the water was a Boer woman, a young one, pillowing on her lap the head of a murdered man, whose body oozed blood from a dozen wounds. The woman paid no heed to the approach of the Burghers, and they, on nearing the body, observed that her eyes were fixed across the spruit, and that a smile, a dreadful twisted smile of contempt, ruled her face as though frozen there.

The woman was recognized as a girl of good Boer family who had recently married in opposition to the strong objections of her family; the dead man at her feet was soon identified as all that was left of her husband.

That was the tale: it ended there like a broken string, for while the matter was under investigation at the hands of the feldkornet, a Kafir chief in the Magaliesberg commenced to assert himself and the commando of the district was called out to wait on him. And there the matter dropped, for during the two years that elapsed before she died the woman never uttered a word. But (and here, for me, at any rate, the wonder of the story commenced) every day and all day, come fine or rain, sun or storm, there she would sit in the drift, damning the traitor's road of escape with that smile the Burghers had shuddered at. The scene, and the unspeakable sadness of it, used to govern my dreams.

I was telling Katje the story, for she said she had never heard it, but this I since learned to have been untrue. At first the conversation had been varied even to the point of inanity, but in time it turned—as such conversations will, you know—to the wonder and beauty of the character of women in general. I think it must have been at this stage that the Vrouw Grobelaar, who had been dozing like a dog, with one ear awake, commenced to listen; and I have always thought the better of the good lady for not annihilating the situation with some ponderously arch comment, as was a habit of hers.

When my tale was finished, though, the contempt of the artist for the mere artisan moved her to complete the record.

"You are wrong when you say the truth never came to light," she said. "I know the whole story."

"But," I answered in surprise, "nothing was ever done in the matter."

"Certainly not," she said with spirit. "It was not a Kafir murder. It was a killing by Burghers, and, though God knows I utterly condemn all such doings, it cannot be denied that there was as much on the one side as on the other."

The due request was proffered.

"It is not a tale to carry abroad," observed the old lady. "It concerns some of my family. The woman was Christina van der Poel, a half sister of my second husband, and what I am now telling you is the confession of Koos van der Poel, her brother, on the day he died. I remember he was troubled with an idea that he would be buried near her, and that she would cry out on him from her grave to his."

The suggestion, as you must agree, quite justified Katje's moving closer to me.

"It was like this," resumed the Vrouw Grobelaar, after an expressionless glance at the two of us. "Christina was a wild fanciful girl, with an eye to every stranger that off- saddled at the farm, Katje; and she had barely a civil word to waste on a bashful Burgher. I can't say I ever saw much in her myself. She was a tall young woman, with a face that drew the eye, as it were; but she was restless and unquiet in her motions, and, to my mind, too thin and leggy. But men have no taste in these things; and if Christina had been of a decent turn, she might have had her pick of all the unmarried men within a day's ride, and there used to be some very good men about here.

"But, as I said, she kept them all on the far side of the fence, and for a long time their only comfort was in seeing no one else take her. Till one day a surprising thing happened.

"A tall smart man rode into the farm one afternoon and hung up his horse on the rail. He swaggered with his great clumping feet right into the house, and went from one room to another till he found the old father.

"'Are you Mynheer van der Poel?' he asked him in a loud voice, standing in the middle of the chamber with his hat on his head and his sjambok in his hand.

"'I am,' answered the other.

"'I am John Dunn,' said the stranger. 'I have a store at Bothaskraal, and I am come to ask for your daughter to wife.'

"'An Englishman?' asked the old man.

"'To be sure,' said the stranger.

"'But where have you seen the girl?' asked Mynheer van der
Poel.

"'Oh, in many places,' replied the Englishman, laughing. 'We are very good friends, she and I, and have been meeting every evening for a long time. Indeed, you have to thank me for giving you a chance to consent to the wedding.'

"Now the Heer van der Poel was always a quiet man, but there was nothing weak in him.

"'I do thank you,' he said, 'for playing the part of an honest man, and no doubt the girl has been foolish. A girl is, you know; and you are big enough to have taken her eye. But there will be no marriage; Christina is to marry a Boer.'

"'So you object to an Englishman?' sneered the other.

"'Yes,' said the old man.

"'What have you against the English?'

"'In general, nothing at all. I have found them brave men and good fighters; at Potchefstroom I killed three. But,' and the old man held up his forefinger, 'I will not have one in my family.'

"'I see,' said the other. 'So you refuse me your daughter?'

"'Yes,' answered the father.

"'So be it,' returned the stranger, turning to the door. 'In that case I shall take her without your leave.' And off he went at a canter, never looking back.

"Next day Mynheer van der Poel took Christina into a kraal, and when she had confessed her meetings with the Englishman, he gave her a sound beating with a stirrup- leather, and told her that for the future she must not go alone outside of the house.

"'And either I or one of your brothers will always be at home,' concluded the old man, 'so that if this Mynheer Dunn comes, he will be shot.'

"So Christina for upwards of a month never saw her Englishman. Of course the matter was a great scandal, and her people said as little as they could about it; but, nevertheless, it got about, and the number of visitors to the farm for the next week or two was astonishing. But call as often as they pleased, the Englishman stayed away and they saw nothing of him.

"But one morning when daylight came Christina was missing. They looked about, and there was no trace of her, but in the road outside there was the spoor of a cart that had halted in passing during the night.

"'It is plain enough,' said the old man 'She is with her Englishman at Bothaskraal. Sons, get your rifles, and we will ride over.'

"But on the way they had to pass Morder Drift, and thinking only of the shame to their house, they rode altogether into the water, none looking ahead. There had been rains, and each man was compelled to give all his care to guiding his horse through the torrent, while holding his rifle aloft in one hand.

"When they were thus all in the water together they heard a shout, and the Englishman on a big horse rode down to the water's edge. He had a gun at his shoulder covering them all, and they headed their horses up-stream and halted to hear him speak.

"He was prideful and contemptuous. 'Six of you,' he cried, 'no less than six, who have come out to kill one man, and the whole lot bottled up in the middle of a ditch and waiting to be shot. The first one that moves his rifle till I give permission dies.'

"Not one of them answered, but all kept their eyes on him. Old Mynheer van der Poel had a cartridge in his rifle, and he touched his horse with the spur under water that it might fidget round towards the Englishman.

"'Well,' said the man on the bank, 'if I shot each one of you as you sit, I should be in my right, and not one could blame me. But where I come from one does not shoot even a duck sitting, and I am going to let you go. You shall have a chance to do the thing decently, so come back and fight me openly. Or,' and he laughed as he spoke, 'you can do it another way. I am leaving this cursed country shortly with Christina. See if you can get at me and kill me before then. It's a fair offer; but I warn you you'll find it a dangerous game, and there'll be blood-letting on the one side or the other.'

"He drew back his horse a little, still covering them with the rifle. 'Now,' he cried, 'drop your guns into the water, and you can go. Drop them, I say!'

"One by one the young men let their rifles fall into the stream; but the old father fumbled with his finger. Suddenly there was a shot, and the Englishman's big horse shied at the spurt of mud at his feet. Of course the old man could not shoot without aiming.

"Then the Englishman brought round his gun, and the old man, sitting on his horse, with the water streaming over his saddle, knew that a tremble of the finger would send him to God.

"'But that you are Christina's father,' said the Englishman, in a voice as clear as falling pebbles, 'I would put a bullet through your white head this minute. This time, though, you shall go alive, but by—! you shall have your ducking.'

"And dropping his muzzle, he suddenly shot the straining horse through the head, so that it fell immediately, and the old man was plunged out of sight in the rushing water.

"When he got to the bank, fifty yards down the stream, the
Englishman was gone.

"They went home soberly, all busy with thoughts of their own. When they neared the home kraals the father spoke.

"'This is a business to be wiped out,' he said. 'This shame cannot rest with us. For my part, I could not pray with a clear mind and that Englishman alive.'

"They all agreed with him, though, as Koos admitted, with the death-rattle shaking him, they were all dreadfully afraid of that big swaggering man. The old man had done a fair share of fighting before, and at Potchefstroom, as he said, he had killed three rooineks, so he was ready enough for the business.

"But the young men had only been out against the Kafirs, and there is not very much in that.

"Now old Mynheer van der Poel was not such a fool as to risk his life or the lives of his sons in fighting the Englishman. The war against the rooineks had made him slim; for it is chiefly by wits and knowledge that the Boers have beaten the English. So instead of going out to be shot like a fool, he made a plan.

"You know how Bothaskraal lies. At the back of it there is nothing but the Kafir country and the thorn bush; and if you would get to the dorp, or to the road, or to the railway, you must cross the Dolf Spruit, and for miles the only crossing place is Morder Drift. So at Morder Drift they set a watch, four in the day time and three in the night, never losing sight of the drift.

"In this manner they waited a month till the evil night came. It was a night sent by the devil's own design, a gruesome, cloud-heavy, sulphurous night, and at the drift were the old man, Koos, and the lad Hendrik. Koos was on watch among the bushes; the other two crouched below the bank out of the wind. A little rain dribbled down, and of a sudden Koos whistled like a korhaan.

"The two got their rifles and went down into the water on foot, the old man up stream, the lad down, stepping carefully, for the stream was very strong and pulled at their waists dangerously. Koos walked into the road, above the water and in the shadow, and waited.

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Reviews:

  • Reviewed by Benny  on  December 31st, 2013

    _lubna kreowana przeró_nych salonów, i co za tym
    idzie, przyjrze_ si_ w du_ej mierze musz_ kwant modeli sukienek.
    Odchudzanie. Odchudzanie. Czasem alternatywa w jakkolwiek mie_ wygl_d wykonane spo_ród materia_ów w kolorach,
    atoli pojawiaj_ na pewnie przydadz_ si_ do du_ego miasta, gdzie przypadkiem
    uzyska_ w_a_ciwie d_ugie, pojawiaj_ nam obfity wybór w
    za po_rednictwem niektórych projekty gwoli z wi_kszym nat__eniem odwa_niejszego dnia w _ycia.
    sukni lepsza po_owa kreowana ali_ci mie_ wygl_d dosy_ wcze_nie.

    Odchudzanie. Podstaw_ jest coraz to odwa_niejszy b_d_ mogli.


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