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As a Young Farmer

Came the day when the long years of school lay behind me. Now my two brothers rode to school alone. That did not cause me any regrets. Nor did the thought of saying farewell to Wild Bles (my Spanish donkey) disturb me for he had an obstinate habit of throwing me with malicious suddenness into the arms of mother earth – much to the amusement of my companions.

My next concern was to get hold of a good horse, young and fiery. This would enable me to hold my own with the other young blades of the district. Henceforth I concealed, under a mask of gaiety, the conflict that raged deep within my heart. After all, I reasoned, I was no longer a child and my desire was to enjoy life.

For some while past I had been secretly admiring one of the lasses of our acquaintance, and this in time, grew into a strong affection. But even in my most optimistic moments I could not bring myself to believe that she would ever love me and become mine. That joy, said my dismal heart, would no doubt be reserved for another. That she did, at a later date, actually enter my life for a while, thus keeping me from despair, was, I believe, God’s gracious overruling.

On the farm we had to start from the bottom. That was my father’s policy for his sons. He made each of us do the most menial tasks together with the Africans. We were never allowed to expect them to carry out a job which we could not do to perfection ourselves. Others directed their sons differently. But today we are lastingly grateful for such a training, though, at the time it seemed to us to be degrading and unbearable. Sheer compulsion dictated our obedience – and it frequently hid a bitter and rebellious heart.

In the workshop Father taught me to use the tools skilfully. Whether it be the plane or the stocks and dies or the great sledge hammer, he insisted that I handle it with flawless efficiency. I worked together with pagan and Christian Zulus in the black-wattle plantation, in the mealie fields, at the dung cart and wherever else chores required doing. The young ears listened reluctantly, yet, at other times readily to the vulgar talk of the heathen. Much poison sank into the soul at that time. In fact it was at times eagerly imbibed. Fearful poison of hell it was, and very soon terrible battles for purity and honesty ensued. It was incredible to me that the sin of which the heathen boasted and in which they gloried did not poison and destroy their life completely. It puzzles me to this day. How was it possible to remain pure in such surroundings? Now, in retrospect, I would say there is a merciful and almighty God Who is stronger than the enemy, and able to operate even in a life not yet surrendered to Him.

No, I was not His, that I knew. But the dread of God and His judgement was so great that the soul repeatedly shrank back in horror from committing the sinful deed. And father saw to it that we worked so hard physically that at the end of the day we felt ready to drop with weariness. The tradition of the church, too, certainly kept the body from being swallowed up in the mire. But the prayers of a worried mother were, above all, a bulwark round about me – though I did not realize it at the time.

Two events of vital significance took place at this critical period of my life. Try-me, my horse, came onto the scene. Because of his extraordinary wildness my attention, strength and determination were fully claimed. When at last he was broken in and allowed no-one but me in the saddle, my self-confidence grew. At almost the same time we started a small brass band. It consisted of four sons of farmers. None of us had ever put a trumpet to his lips before. We knew nothing of the art of music, but somehow we managed. Before long we had gathered twenty players together. I practised with determination on the trombone and soon had mastered all the different kinds of trumpets. I found a constant delight in playing these instruments. Till late at night I sat up copying out music. Then, alas, came the thrill and the pride of it all – followed before long by the sleek satisfaction of seeing feminine heads turned in admiration. Yes, even in Africa the girls are much impressed by accomplished young men.