The Boer is not what one would call a sentimental person; he is practical in all his ways. If he sees a thunderstorm approaching, he does not go into raptures over the magnificence of the lightning; he watches that thunderstorm calmly and philosophically. And if he had anything to do with the order of the elements, he would have that thunderstorm come his way, and he would detain it exactly three days over his particular farm, so that the rain should leave a lasting impression upon his mealies and forage. The Boer likes wet weather, probably because he gets so little of it.
I have said that the Boer is practical in all things; he is even so in love. The old story concerning the 'opzit' candle may have applied in former days, but the Boer of the present day does not waste his time in any such fashion. He has probably become cognisant of the match-making methods practised by other nations, and he has, therefore, abandoned that affected by his forefathers. It is still a common thing, however, to see him astride a horse with a sleek skin and noble appearance and plenty of life in it, cantering gaily towards the residence of his beloved or intended. Sometimes, too, in order, perhaps, to add more lustre to his own appearance, he is to be seen suffering untold agony under the unyielding brim of a tall, white felt hat, trimmed with green veiling. He likes to look imposing, and so he gets under that hat. This in many instances may account for the restiveness of his steed, which is as yet unaccustomed to the weight of a person with such a grotesque headgear.
The Boer has several methods of courting. There is one thing he objects very strongly to, however—he doesn't like courting in a drawing-room; he prefers a dark and quiet corner on the veranda. Let us picture a little scene in this connection. Observe young Piet, dressed in his best Sunday suit, and wearing a worried look in addition, sitting on one end of a long form that stands on the veranda of the house; and observe also a fair young damsel, who has just been initiated into the art of doing her hair up on top, sitting on the other extreme end of that form. The night may be dark and only the stars visible, or the moon may be shining brightly overhead, casting shadows awry here and there, and endeavouring to catch a furtive glimpse of the lovers under cover of the veranda.
A painful silence takes the place of conversation at the outset, and young Piet occasionally coughs in an apologetic manner. When he does sum up sufficient courage, the moon has travelled a considerable distance; but then Piet is not so sentimental as to make any reference whatever to the moon.
'That's a fine horse your father has bought of Dirk Odendaal,' says Piet, in a tone which suggests that his new paper collar, purchased for the occasion, is choking him.
A two minutes' pause ensues.
'Ja! Piet,' agreeably assents the maiden after an interval which Piet reckons must be at least half an hour—and he has forgotten about the new horse altogether.
'Your father's oxen are looking well after the rain,' continues Piet some minutes later; and this time he has reduced the space between himself and the maiden by about three inches.
After the lapse of another few minutes, the maiden, who is evidently bashful, ventures again, 'Ja! Piet.'
Piet's eyes wander away across the open veldt in front of him, and gradually from the observation of kopjes, they wander upwards towards the pale moon; but, as has already been remarked, that luminary suggests no new theme in the mind of Piet.
'The last Nachtmaal was very good.'
With this he once more edges away from his end of the form and covers an additional three inches.
Another person would have become exasperated at this stage, but not so Piet.
'The new minister preaches very well,' is followed up by an advance of three more inches.
The form may be an inconveniently long one, and this naturally hampers Piet somewhat, because by the time he has covered half the distance, his stock of remarks may be exhausted. But he gets close up in time, by the exercise of perseverance, and when he is at last in a position to manipulate his left arm in connection with the maiden's waist, he does so with a sigh of relief.
'I think I love you a great deal,' is what he says when he has placed his arm to his satisfaction. The maiden whispers 'Ja, Piet!' and the thing is done.
But the young Boer does not attach so much importance to pleasant features and agreeable dispositions, as he does to the worldly standing of the lady's parents. If there is the slightest prospect of a handsome dowry in the shape of one or two farms, the inducement to enter into married bliss is, of course, greater than in the case of the young lady who merely brings with her a nice set of false teeth and a pleasant countenance. Young widows are in great demand throughout the country, because, as a rule, they are in possession of farms and stock which require the undivided attention of a responsible man, and that man must be a husband.
Such an instance occurred only the other day. This very fortunate young man, before his betrothal, could conveniently count his riches on the fingers of his left hand—in pence! But he is happy now, because he can bring in a load of wool every year with his own waggon and oxen, and talk to the merchant with all the swagger and assurance of a full-blown capitalist.
It must not be supposed that such occurrences are uncommon; they happen almost every week, which would seem to indicate that rich young widows are very plentiful.
In these latter days a Boer wedding is arranged on a very grand scale. No matter if the young couple reside fifty miles from the nearest town, they all come in to church to get fixed up. Friends and relations arrive, with great ostentation, in conveyances drawn by four, six, and sometimes eight, horses, the number depending on the wealth of the families. They come from far and near. You can see them coming to town when they are yet miles away across the veldt—that is, if the day is bright. The dresses of the women-folks flash gaily in the sun, and the old vrouw would not change places with the Queen of Holland as she proudly surveys her offspring seated around her in the wagonette. The old man presides unctuously at the ribbons, and he cracks his whip every now and then just to let his team know that he is there, and that he is a very capable person.
The generality of weddings are uninteresting, but occasionally something unique is introduced. In the town of Harrismith a very long time ago, a transport-rider decided to take unto himself a fair partner. He was a practical sort of person, and in cases of this kind he did not believe in allowing business to become a secondary consideration. Transport-riding in those days paid very handsomely, and the intervention of side issues might have meant a serious loss. Accordingly, this particular gentleman (who had meantime been loading up coal) repaired to his tent-waggon at the appointed hour, and proceeded to attire himself in the conventional black suit. In order to economize time, he pulled his best clothes over his working garments, and hastily rubbing his face and hands with a coarse towel, he hurried towards the church. Within ten minutes he was back again loading up coal, his better half being occupied in preparing dinner.
The Dutch are not a musical nation, and for convincing proof it is only necessary to attend Divine service in any of their churches. Their rendition of psalm-tunes reminds me of A.K.H.B.'s story regarding the lonely Italian, who, passing the Iron Church in Edinburgh one Sunday morning while the congregation were engaged in praise, and on inquiring of the beadle 'What that horrible noise was?' remarked very sorrowfully, 'Then their God must have no ear for music' It is strange, nevertheless, that no matter how poor a Boer may be, he will have an organ in his house. There are instances innumerable where the only respectable piece of furniture in the house is an organ. It does not, of course, follow that every Boer is a musician, but it is a fact that nearly every Boer knows how to produce at least one tune, even if it is only the Volkslied or national anthem. They will come into the stores, and the first thing they do is to sit down at an organ and show people generally what they can do. In the meantime the English merchant and his clerks fume around and vow all sorts of things under their breath, but the indefatigable Boer knows nothing of all this, and he would not care if he did.