Read CHAPTER XXI - FLIPPIE AND CO. of The Petticoat Commando Boer Women in Secret Service , free online book, by Johanna Brandt, on ReadCentral.com.

“Was there no fear of betrayal through the servants at Harmony?” I have often been asked since the war, and this reminds me that a short introduction to the other inmates of the property will be necessary for the reader’s benefit and understanding.

The lower portion of Harmony, through which the Aapies river runs, was occupied by Italian gardeners, who employed a varying number of Kaffir labourers in the extensive fruit and vegetable gardens.

The upper part, on which the house stood, was entirely under Mrs. van Warmelo’s management. No white servants were kept, the domestic staff consisting of native gardeners, a stable-boy, and a house-boy, neither was there a single female domestic, either white or black, on the place.

One day a small white son of the soil presented himself and asked for work.

Mrs. van Warmelo looked him up and down and said she did not farm with children.

“What is your name?” Hansie asked.

There was no answer, and then she noticed that the little stranger was staring straight in front of him, while two great tears rolled slowly down his cheeks.

This touched her, and she repeated her question persuasively.

“Flippie,” he answered brokenly.

“Where is your mother?”

“Dead.”

“And your father?”

“Fighting, with five sons.”

Then Hansie felt inclined to take him in her arms and kiss him for his dead mother and brave father and brothers.

She turned to her mother and whispered:

“Let Flippie stay. Make some agreement with him and let us try him as errand-boy or general help in the house and garden.”

Mrs. van Warmelo nodded and turned again to him. The conversation which passed between them is not recorded in Hansie’s diary, but Flippie stayed, and within a week the Harmonites wondered how they had managed to exist without him for so long.

He was as sharp as a needle, and, though only thirteen years of age, he proved to be a perfect “man” of business, rising early every day to go to the morning market and gardening with surprising energy and ambition.

This pleased Mrs. van Warmelo so much that she gave him a plot of ground to cultivate for himself, and he immediately set to work to plant vegetables, spending every spare moment of the day in his garden.

When Hansie laughingly said that she hoped to be his first customer, he protested vehemently against the idea of selling anything to her, and time showed that he meant to keep his word.

All he had was given away with large-hearted generosity and when he had nothing more to give, he took all he required from other people!

Yes, I am afraid Flippie’s ideas of honesty were curious in the extreme. He had no idea of “mine and thine,” as we say in Dutch.

Arguments were of no avail, for Flippie was the scornfullest little boy I ever came across and knew everything better than his superiors.

Hansie set to work to study him, but found it necessary to reconstruct her ideas of him every day. Flippie baffled her at every turn.

One day she thought he would turn out to be a genius, the next she declared positively that he would come to the gallows, and the third she wondered helplessly whether he could by any chance do both.

Flippie could lie and deceive with the most angelic face and could melt into tears on the least provocation or whenever it suited his book to do so.

A phrenologist would have delighted in the study of that remarkable head.

The forehead receded and went on receding until there was nothing left of it but a great lump at the back of the head, and the little nose tilted up at one in the most impertinent manner, which was given the lie to by the drooping corners of the sensitive mouth. What delighted one most was the sunny temperament, the ringing, infectious laugh, the cheery whistle.

Surely Flippie was the merriest and one of the most lovable little souls one could find anywhere, and his ruling virtue always seemed to be his unswerving loyalty and constant fidelity.

His heart seemed to be torn between his sense of duty to the fearful and wonderful old grandmother, who had taken the place of his dead mother in what bringing-up he ever had, and his sense of gratitude to his protectors at Harmony.

My story would not be complete without a short sketch of this grandmother, for she played a part of some importance in the events recorded here, and was at all times a sore trial to the inmates of Harmony.

We have no proof, but we think that Flippie’s grandmother had a hand in the undoing of the security and peace which reigned supreme at Harmony before she came upon the scene.

Not that she ever lived on the property; no, her home was a small tent, one of a number which had been erected some little distance to the south of Harmony on Avondale, on the property of Mr. Christian Joubert, on the way to the “Fountains.”

These tents were largely occupied by “handsuppers” and their families, amongst whom were found a few Judas-Boers Boers of the most dangerous type. That the life of the loyal Boers in their midst was anything but a bed of roses can very well be imagined, and we know that bitterness and strife reigned supreme, for it was an open secret that renegades, hirelings of the enemy, held their dreaded sway over the inmates of that small colony.

Flippie and his grandmother did not belong to that degraded set, but the one was a thoughtless child and the other an exceedingly suspicious and inquisitive old woman, and that they were both used as unsuspecting tools by their more designing fellows I have not a shadow of doubt.

Mrs. van Warmelo and Hansie soon gave the old granny the name of “Um-Ah,” for her tongue had been paralysed by a “stroke” twenty years back, and “Um-Ah,” was all she was ever heard to say. It stood for yes and no and for every imaginable question, being only varied by the tone of voice in which it was said. Sometimes, when she became excited or impatient, it was fired off four or five times in quick succession.

This formidable old dame ruled Flippie with a rod of iron, appropriating the whole of his small salary every month and refusing to give him so much as a sixpence. When Mrs. van Warmelo found this out she stealthily added half a crown to his earnings for his own use, and this the generous lad regularly spent on sweets, cakes, and gingerbeer for his granny!

Even the chocolates and other good things to which kind-hearted soldiers treated him were laid as “trophies of the war” at his granny’s feet, after he had vainly tried to induce Hansie to partake of them.

“Um-Ah” had an inconvenient way of dropping in at Harmony at all hours of the day, ostensibly to see if Flippie was doing his work well, but in reality to keep a watchful eye on the other inmates. She seemed to be always looking for something, and the time was soon to come when this unpleasant propensity should become a source of real danger to the van Warmelos.

Besides Flippie, there were two other permanent members on the domestic staff a gigantic native named Paulus, and a young Zulu who went by the name of “Gentleman Jim” on account of his dandified appearance and the aristocratic “drawl” affected by him. American darkies say, “Dere’s some folk dat is slow but shua, and some dar is dat’s jes’ slow!” Well, Gentleman Jim was “jes’ slow.” He was the only one on the premises who steadfastly refused to speak one word of Dutch, although he perfectly understood everything said to him.

The result was that the dialogues carried on between mistresses and servant were in Dutch on one side and in English on the other, it being one of the rules at Harmony to address all natives either in their own tongue or in Dutch, never in English.

I may say here that even at the present time it is customary with many Dutch South Africans to employ no English-speaking natives, but rather to engage the “raw” material, i.e. those speaking neither Dutch nor English, because they are, in nine cases out of ten, still unspoilt by civilisation and have lost none of the awe and respect with which they, in their native state, regard the white man.

Gentleman Jim was the only exception ever known at Harmony, and there was no lack of respect in his manner; on the contrary, the flourish with which he took off his hat and his slow and dignified, “Good morning, little missie,” were well worth seeing and a constant source of amusement to all.

Paulus, that magnificent specimen of manhood in its natural state, was by no means the least remarkable of the trio, and there was something tragic too about his rugged personality.

He had been taken by the English in the neighbourhood of Pretoria and brought into town on the false suspicion of having been employed by the Boers as a spy.

There being nothing found against him in proof of this, he was set free in town and allowed to seek employment, but, though he pleaded hard, he could not obtain permission to return to his home, where wife and children had been left in complete uncertainty as to his fate.

This native was a converted heathen, semi-civilised, but with the noblest instincts within him developed on natural lines to a remarkable degree. I have often longed to meet the missionary in whose hands the moulding of this rare product of nature had been carried out with so much success. Patience, faith, devotion, and an awe amounting to veneration for his white mistresses were among the most striking qualities Paulus possessed.

There were hundreds of his stamp on the farms all over the country, natives brought up by the Dutch farmers and trained as useful servants in their homes and in the fields, but it was rare indeed for one of them to find his way into the towns. Fate had been unkind in separating him from his dear ones for so many months, and Paulus went through days of melancholy and despair.

One day, when Hansie heard him sigh more heavily than usual, she asked:

“Are you thinking of your wife and children, Paulus?”

“Oh yes, Nonnie, I am always thinking of them, but I was thinking also how sad it was to forget all my learning. I was getting on so well with my reading and writing, and now I find it so hard to go on by myself.”

“Oh, if that is all, Paulus,” Hansie said cheerfully, “I can help you a lot. Bring me your books this evening and let me hear you read.”

The poor fellow’s look of gratitude was touching to behold. He needed no second invitation, and appeared that evening in his Sunday suit, with a new shirt on, and his hands and face scrubbed with soap and water until they shone like polished ebony.

A Dutch Bible, a book of hymns and psalms, and a small spelling-book were all he possessed, but Hansie found him further advanced than she had expected, and wonderfully intelligent, and she soon added a few simple reading-books to his small store.

Now and then she instructed him for a short hour, and it was a pleasure to see the change which came over him within a few weeks. Learning became the joy of his life, and in his ambition to get on he forgot much of his anxiety and distress at the enforced separation from his wife and children.

One evening when Hansie had gone into the kitchen to look over his work, there was a sudden fumbling at the door and “Gentleman Jim” stumbled in with a campstool under one arm and a slate and Bible, an English one, under the other.

“Coming to learn too, little missie,” he said, grinning from ear to ear and settling himself comfortably on the stool.

Paulus bent over his writing and said never a word. Hansie nodded uncomfortably.

That this self-invited pupil was unwelcome was evident, but he himself seemed serenely unconscious of the fact.

There was no love lost between Paulus and “Gentleman Jim” not that there had ever been an open rupture, but Paulus despised the dandified Zulu, and “Jim” looked down (figuratively speaking, for he was quite a foot shorter in stature) on Paulus’s rugged simplicity.

They systematically ignored one another, and were only heard to exchange brief sentences, in English from Jim and in Dutch from Paulus, when necessity compelled them to address one another, for Jim could speak no Sesuto and Paulus knew neither Zulu nor English.

Their antipathy to one another was so marked, in fact, that “Gentleman Jim” refused to have his meals with Paulus and had built a small kitchen apart for himself, under one of the big willows. On this occasion Hansie did not feel pleased at “Jim’s” appearance either, for it was one thing to teach the self-contained and reverent Sesuto, and quite another to instruct the flippant “Gentleman Jim.”

But Hansie did not know what to say and asked Jim to let her hear him read. He began laboriously, floundering hopelessly over the long words.

“Fruits, meat and repentance," he read with painful uncertainty, when Hansie interrupted him with a laugh:

“That will do, Jim; you are wonderful, and you need not come again.”

Other natives on the premises were of the shiftless, wandering type, changing hands continually, and many were the instances of their simplicity, not to say rank stupidity.

On one occasion a “raw” Kaffir, on being ordered to take a heavily laden wheelbarrow from one part of the garden to the other, was found half an hour later, still in the same place, vainly trying to place the wheelbarrow on his head!

I believe it was the same native who, when told to empty the contents of a waste-paper basket on a burning heap of rubbish in the garden, returned without the basket, and when asked what he had done with it, pointed, with an air of injured surprise, to its smouldering remains on the heap of rubbish.

Indeed, the patience of the housewife was often sorely tried. A relative of Mrs. van Warmelo’s coming into the kitchen one morning, found one of these new “hands” before the stove in a sea of hot water, desperately trying to fill a small kettle by the spout, from a large one!