surprised to find that my companions did not like to eat

rain and cloudworld2023-12-07 11:16:28 56 7739

I cannot pretend that the misdeeds of Mr Japp greatly annoyed me. I had the reversion of his job, and if he chose to play the fool it was all in my interest. But the schoolmaster was depressed at the prospect of such company. 'Besides you and me, he's the only white man in the place. It's a poor look- out on the social side.'

surprised to find that my companions did not like to eat

The school, it appeared, was the merest farce. There were only five white children, belonging to Dutch farmers in the mountains. The native side was more flourishing, but the mission schools at the locations got most of the native children in the neighbourhood. Mr Wardlaw's educational zeal ran high. He talked of establishing a workshop and teaching carpentry and blacksmith's work, of which he knew nothing. He rhapsodized over the intelligence of his pupils and bemoaned his inadequate gift of tongues. 'You and I, Davie,' he said, 'must sit down and grind at the business. It is to the interest of both of us. The Dutch is easy enough. It's a sort of kitchen dialect you can learn in a fortnight. But these native languages are a stiff job. Sesuto is the chief hereabouts, and I'm told once you've got that it's easy to get the Zulu. Then there's the thing the Shangaans speak - Baronga, I think they call it. I've got a Christian Kaffir living up in one of the huts who comes every morning to talk to me for an hour. You'd better join me.'

surprised to find that my companions did not like to eat

I promised, and in the sweet-smelling dust crossed the road to the store. Japp was still sleeping, so I got a bowl of mealie porridge from Zeeta and went to bed.

surprised to find that my companions did not like to eat

Japp was sober next morning and made me some kind of apology. He had chronic lumbago, he said, and 'to go on the bust' now and then was the best cure for it. Then he proceeded to initiate me into my duties in a tone of exaggerated friendliness. 'I took a fancy to you the first time I clapped eyes on you,' he said. 'You and me will be good friends, Crawfurd, I can see that. You're a spirited young fellow, and you'll stand no nonsense. The Dutch about here are a slim lot, and the Kaffirs are slimmer. Trust no man, that's my motto. The firm know that, and I've had their confidence for forty years.'

The first day or two things went well enough. There was no doubt that, properly handled, a fine trade could be done in Blaauwildebeestefontein. The countryside was crawling with natives, and great strings used to come through from Shangaan territory on the way to the Rand mines. Besides, there was business to be done with the Dutch farmers, especially with the tobacco, which I foresaw could be worked up into a profitable export. There was no lack of money either, and we had to give very little credit, though it was often asked for. I flung myself into the work, and in a few weeks had been all round the farms and locations. At first Japp praised my energy, for it left him plenty of leisure to sit indoors and drink. But soon he grew suspicious, for he must have seen that I was in a fair way to oust him altogether. He was very anxious to know if I had seen Colles in Durban, and what the manager had said. 'I have letters,' he told me a hundred times, 'from Mr Mackenzie himself praising me up to the skies. The firm couldn't get along without old Peter Japp, I can tell you.' I had no wish to quarrel with the old man, so I listened politely to all he said. But this did not propitiate him, and I soon found him so jealous as to be a nuisance. He was Colonial-born and was always airing the fact. He rejoiced in my rawness, and when I made a blunder would crow over it for hours. 'It's no good, Mr Crawfurd; you new chums from England may think yourselves mighty clever, but we men from the Old Colony can get ahead of you every time. In fifty years you'll maybe learn a little about the country, but we know all about it before we start.' He roared with laughter at my way of tying a voorslag, and he made merry (no doubt with reason) on my management of a horse. I kept my temper pretty well, but I own there were moments when I came near to kicking Mr Japp.

The truth is he was a disgusting old ruffian. His character was shown by his treatment of Zeeta. The poor child slaved all day and did two men's work in keeping the household going. She was an orphan from a mission station, and in Japp's opinion a creature without rights. Hence he never spoke to her except with a curse, and used to cuff her thin shoulders till my blood boiled. One day things became too much for my temper. Zeeta had spilled half a glass of Japp's whisky while tidying up the room. He picked up a sjambok, and proceeded to beat her unmercifully till her cries brought me on the scene. I tore the whip from his hands, seized him by the scruff and flung him

on a heap of potato sacks, where he lay pouring out abuse and shaking with rage. Then I spoke my mind. I told him that if anything of the sort happened again I would report it at once to Mr Colles at Durban. I added that before making my report I would beat him within an inch of his degraded life. After a time he apologized, but I could see that thenceforth he regarded me with deadly hatred. There was another thing I noticed about Mr Japp. He might brag about his knowledge of how to deal with natives, but to my mind his methods were a disgrace to a white man. Zeeta came in for oaths and blows, but there were other Kaffirs whom he treated with a sort of cringing friendliness. A big black fellow would swagger into the shop, and be received by Japp as if he were his long-lost brother. The two would collogue for hours; and though at first I did not understand the tongue, I could see that it was the white man who fawned and the black man who bullied. Once when japp was away one of these fellows came into the store as if it belonged to him, but he went out quicker than he entered. Japp complained afterwards of my behaviour. ''Mwanga is a good friend of mine,' he said, 'and brings us a lot of business. I'll thank you to be civil to him the next time.' I replied very shortly that 'Mwanga or anybody else who did not mend his manners would feel the weight of my boot.

The thing went on, and I am not sure that he did not give the Kaffirs drink on the sly. At any rate, I have seen some very drunk natives on the road between the locations and Blaauwildebeestefontein, and some of them I recognized as Japp's friends. I discussed the matter with Mr Wardlaw, who said, 'I believe the old villain has got some sort of black secret, and the natives know it, and have got a pull on him.' And I was inclined to think he was right.



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