That the inborn sense of humour of
the Dutch South African race should have been stunted
in its growth, if not completely crushed, by the horrors
of the war, would be small cause for surprise to most
people who have given the matter a thought. But
to those of us acquainted with the facts, an entirely
different and wholly comprehensible aspect of the
case has been made manifest.
The blessed gift of humour is only
sharpened by the hard realities of life, can never
be appreciated to the full in the calm and shallow
waters of prosperity.
Of this we had innumerable proofs
during those tempestuous days, and certain it is that
the memory of a harmless joke, enjoyed under circumstances
of unusual stress and trouble, grows sweeter and is
strengthened as the years go by.
For dry humour and keen enjoyment
of the ludicrous, our friend Mr. W. Botha could not
easily be surpassed; and I advise you, good reader,
if you have the chance, to induce him to tell you
the following story in his own words, and to watch
the flicker of amusement in his eye.
Four of Captain Naude’s spies
are in town again, resting, shopping, and exchanging
items of war experiences with their friends and relatives.
Countless parcels have arrived from
various stores of note in town, and four big bags,
full to bursting, are arrayed against the wall for
transportation “to the front” at 7 o’clock
But what is this? Another bag?
Impossible! There are but four men going out
and each one has his load, quite as much as he can
What does it contain? A beautiful
brand-new saddle, the property of an English officer,
which Willie Els, son of the Committee member, has
determined shall on no account be left behind.
Expostulations from the older men are all in vain.
The saddle, with the four other bags,
is put into Delport’s cab, which is waiting
at the door, and, after many fond farewells, the young
men drive off in the direction of the Pretoria Lunatic
At this time there is no better spot
for exit from the capital, but in order to reach it
one point of extreme danger has to be passed the
point at which a British officer, with five-and-twenty
mounted men, is stationed, in command of a searchlight
apparatus for scouring the surrounding country.
The dangerous spot has been frequently
passed in safety by these very spies.
To-night they pass again in unobserved
security, but alas! when they have crossed the railway
line, immediately opposite the asylum, where they
are in the habit of alighting with their parcels, they
find to their distress that, try as they will, they
cannot carry more than the four bags allotted to them
in the first instance.
The bag containing the precious saddle
must go back to town.
Oh, the pity of it!
The critical spot must be passed again,
and, as ill-luck would have it, the British officer
hails the passing cab and is about to get in, when
his eye falls on the bag.
“What is this?” he asks the driver.
No concealment possible now!
“A saddle, sir.”
“A saddle! Whose, and where are you taking
“From Mr. Botha to Mr. Els in
town. On my way I was stopped and asked to take
some passengers to the asylum, which I have just done.
I was going to Mr. Botha when you stopped me.”
The officer looks doubtful, feels
the bag all over and, taking a notebook from his pocket,
enters all the details of this most suspicious-looking
affair, the number of the cab, the name and address
of the driver, the names and full addresses of the
two men who have been mentioned.
Then he gets in and peremptorily orders
the cabman to drive to such-and-such an hotel in the
centre of the town.
With a throb of relief Delport deposits
his fare at the hotel and, whipping up his horses,
drives at the utmost speed to Mr. Els’ house,
to warn him of the danger he is in.
Mr. and Mrs. Botha have just retired
for the night, when they are aroused by a hurried
knock at the front door. They admit two girls,
one of them the daughter of Mrs. Els, the other a sister
to Mrs. Naude, both extremely agitated.
Miss Els speaks first:
“Oom Willie, you must please
come to our house at once. My father is very
Oom Willie’s heart sinks into his slippers.
This, the long-expected sign that their game is up,
has come at last.
He hastens to the home of his friend.
When he learns the truth the case
does not seem so hopeless after all and he feels his
“We must think of some plan
with which to meet the police when they come.
Quick! There is not a moment to lose. They
may be here at any minute.”
In an incredibly short time the officer’s
new saddle is buried in a bag of coal, which is again
sewn up and thrown into the back-yard, while an old
and worthless saddle is produced, Heaven only knows
from where, cut up into pieces and placed in a large
basin of water on the dining-room table.
“Now, Oom Gerrie,” Mr.
Botha says, as soon as he can find his breath, “you
are a shoemaker by trade, and this old saddle has been
sent to you by me to make shoes for my children.”
“But you have not got any! and
I have never made a shoe in my life!”
“Well, then, for my nieces and
nephews. Never mind about your ignorance.
When any one comes in, remember you are just on the
point of beginning your work. I shall send you
an old last when I get home.”
A pocket-knife, a hammer, and a few
nails scattered on the table complete the shoemaker’s
outfit, and there he sits, with trembling hands and
spectacles on nose, far into the night, for does he
not expect the dreaded knock at his front door before
the dawn of another day?
Next morning Oom Willie raps smartly
at the door and walks in unceremoniously, to find
Oom Gerrie just about to begin his work, as with shaking
hand he adjusts his spectacles.
“How is trade this morning?”
he asks, with a jolly laugh, as he settles himself
on a chair to watch his friend’s discomfiture.
But Oom Gerrie is not pleased at all. The trade
is getting on Oom Gerrie’s nerves, and he takes
no part in the hilarity around him.
Two days pass, three, four, and no
English officer appears, no search is made for contraband
of war in Oom Gerrie’s house; but every time
the door is opened or a footstep heard on the verandah,
Oom Gerrie may be found with one hand plunged in a
basin of water, while with the other he adjusts his
Poor Oom Gerrie!
He gives up his trade in despair at
last, for after all it does not pay, but as long as
the old man lives he will be forced to listen to the
“How is the boot-making trade?”