Cattle Thieves and Herdboys

Posted on January 20, 2017 by Cape Rebel

From Idle Talk
by Herman Charles Bosman

‘What about the time our Volksraad member’s brother-in-law himself went down to the station and spoke to the stationmaster very firmly?’ Gysbert van Tonder went on. ‘And he asked the stationmaster if he thought that every farmer in the Groot Marico was a cattle thief. He asked him that straight out, because he had brought witnesses with him. And the stationmaster said, no, but he knew that every Marico farmer was a cattle farmer, and he knew that any cattle farmer could make a mistake.’

We all said, then, that that was quite a different thing. And we said that if you weren’t there to see to it yourself, and you left it to a Bechuana herdboy to go and have a lot of cattle railed to Johannesburg, why, mistakes were almost sure to happen, we said. Thereupon At Naudé started telling us about a mistake that one of his Bechuana herdboys made on a certain occasion, as a result of which six of Koos Nienaber’s best trek-oxen got railed to Johannesburg along with some scrub animals that At Naudé was sending to the market.

‘That was the time Koos Nienaber went to Johannesburg to have his old Mauser mended,’ At Naudé explained. ‘And it just happened that because he didn’t know where to get off, Koos Nienaber was shunted onto a siding, somewhere past Johannesburg station. And what should take place but that Koos Nienaber alighted from his second-class compartment just at the same time that his six trek-oxen should be walking out of a truck on the other side of the line. That caused quite a lot of trouble, of course. And before he got his six trek-oxen back, Koos Nienaber had to explain to a magistrate what he meant by loading all the five chambers of his Mauser on a railway platform, even though the bolt action and foresight of the Mauser were in need of repair. I believe the magistrate said that there were quite enough brawls and ugly scenes that had to do with gun-play taking place in Johannesburg every day, without a farmer having to come all the way from the Marico with a rusty Mauser to add to all that unpleasantness. Naturally, I gave my Bechuana herdboy a good straight talking-to about it afterwards, for being so ignorant.’

At Naudé paused, as though inviting one of us to say something. But we had none of us any comment to make. For we had long ago heard Koos Nienaber’s side of the story. And from what he had told us, it would appear that all the fault did not lie with At Naudé’s herdboy. At Naudé seemed to fit a little into the story, himself.

‘Anyway,’ At Naudé added – smiling in a twisted sort of way – ‘what Koos Nienaber was most sore about, in court, was that that Johannesburg magistrate spoke of his Mauser as a rusty old fowling-piece.’

Koos Nienaber didn’t object to the fowling-piece part of it, so much, At Naudé said, because he wasn’t quite sure what a fowling-piece was. But it took him a long time to get over the idea of the magistrate saying that his Mauser was rusty.

There was an uncomfortable silence, once again. It was broken by young Johnny Coen. Often, in the past, when there had been some misunderstanding in Jurie Steyn’s post office, Johnny Coen had said something to smooth matters over.

‘Maybe it’s like what it says in the Good Book,’ Johnny Coen remarked. ‘Perhaps it’s to do with Mammon. Perhaps if we sought the Kingdom of Heaven more, then we wouldn’t have such thoughtless things happening. Like a farmer sending some of his own neighbour’s cattle to the market by mistake. It’s a mistake that happens with every truck-load, almost. I was working at Ottoshoop siding, and I know. It used to give the stationmaster there grey hairs. Loading a lot of cattle into a truck and then not knowing how many would have to be unloaded again before the engine came to fetch that truck. And all the time it was through some mistake, of course. A mistake on the part of an ignorant Bechuana herdboy.

It was then that some of us remembered the mistakes that the herdboy of Deacon Kirstein had made, long ago, along those same lines. We felt not a little pained at having to mention those mistakes, considering the high regard in which we held Deacon Kirstein, who was Jurie Steyn’s wife’s cousin. We only made mention of it because of the circumstance that that mistake on the part of the deacon’s herdboy had gone on over a period of years, before it was detected. And maybe the mistake would never have been found out, either, if it wasn’t that, along with a truck full of Deacon Kirstein’s Large White pigs, there was also loaded a span of mules belonging to a near neighbour of Deacon Kirstein.

And because he was already a deacon, we all felt very sorry for Deacon Kirstein, to think that his herdboy should be so ignorant. And we winked at each other a good deal, too, in those days, one Marico farmer winking at another. And we said that it was just too bad that Deacon Kirstein should have so uneducated a herdboy, who couldn’t tell the difference between a Large White and a mule. And we would wink a lot more.

That was the line that the conversation suddenly took, in Jurie Steyn’s voorkamer. We were just recalling the old days, we said to each other.

And we were enjoying this talk about the past. And we could see that Jurie Steyn was enjoying it also. And then Johnny Coen tried to spoil everything. Johnny Coen, without anybody asking him, began to talk about the Sermon on the Mount. And let any of us that was without sin, Johnny Coen added, cast the first stone.

Jurie Steyn summed it all up.

‘Maybe a lot of sense gets talked here in my post office,’ Jurie Steyn said, ‘but a lot of crap also.’

Jurie Steyn said that word softly, because he didn’t want his wife to hear.