‘When Francina woke up that morning, she felt strangely detached from the scene in front of her. Drugged, is the word that comes to mind. CJ, her husband, was still prone on the Eland skin, but she immediately saw that he was better. The flush and rivulets of sweat of fever were gone. His head was resting on a rolled-up karos, facing her, his expression one of calm, relaxed sleeping.’ Gertruida sips her beer, collecting her thoughts. ‘What she didn’t immediately realise, was that Andries had lanced the abscess in the stump the previous night, and had washed out the wound with salted water.’
Because she knew, and the others didn’t, Gertruida explained that there were some areas in the Kalahari where large pans collected water during the infrequent rains they get there. Some areas go without rain for years and get an excess of 4000 hours of sun per year. These pans may form in a matter of hours, disappearing just as fast again in some cases. The sand is mineral-rich, of course. So, in these little depressions, deposits may form during the evaporation of the water, leaving behind salts of various compositions and colours. And some of these salts are not the type you use at the restaurant table to season your steak. The salt Andries used, for example, was bitter and purple.
Andries addressed – at length – the Eland in a most respectful way, apologising for the hunt and for taking its life. He explained that they had no choice, as only an Eland would save the sick man in the hut. He also promised the antelope that it’d be remembered for the sacrifice and that some people will be eternally thankful for its kindness. Then, nodding to the older apprentice, he held out his cupped hands to receive a nondescript piece of flesh.
‘It’s the neck gland, white people call it a sweetbread or something,’ Geel whispered.
Even in her semi-lucid state, Francina nodded, recognising the thymus from her nursing days.
Andries cut the gland up in long, thin strips. When he turned to view CJ’s wound, Francina saw the stump for the first time that morning. Some of the swelling was gone, but the original incision had parted to reveal the rotting bone that used to be the femur of his upper leg. She also became aware of the scent filling the hut – it reminded her of a buchu-ointment – one of the natural medications Oupa had formulated for CJ’s company before the war.
Francina was not worried; the root extract was still working its magic. Her mind was at peace, her spirit tranquil and calm. Her husband was being treated in a dirty hut by a wrinkled old man with no formal education, using bits of a dead Eland. This was all good, the way it should be. Nothing to be upset about….
‘Now they’re cutting out the stomach,’ Geel explained softly. ‘It contains the cure.’
Andries removed a bulbous sac from the abdominal cavity. The upper end was tied with a thong. Then in deft, easy movements, Andries placed the strips of thymus in the gaping wound. What followed, did make her sit up straight, despite her sedation.
Andries slit open the bottom part of the stomach, slid the organ over the stump like a glove, and applied several strips of hide over the arrangement to keep it in place. Then he glanced over at Francina and clicked a few sentences in her direction.
‘Andries says you may wake up now, thank you.’ Geel hesitates. ‘He says we’ll see tomorrow. CJ will be better but the road to full health is long. He says patience will cure him. If we hurry, CJ will die.’
Francina did wake up from her hypnotic-like trance at once. She wanted to thank Andries, but burst into tears instead.
Gertruida smiles her superior smile. ‘That treatment was not new, of course. When Paul Kruger, later the president of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, was hunting in 1845, he almost blew his left thumb off completely when his four-pounder exploded in his hands. When the wound became gangrenous, he consulted a local medicine man who applied the stomach of a goat in the same manner. It took six months, but he recovered’
Boggel gets on his box to peer over the counter. ‘That’s a wonderful lesson on the history of the old Transvaal Republic, Gertruida. But what happened then? To CJ and his son, the stump, poor Francina. I know something about the sad, later history of Riemvasmaak, so how did they all survive? Or didn’t they?’
Gertruida sighs. ‘Patience, dear Boggel, patience. Patience is a virgin, remember? Just wait and I’ll tell you all.’
To be continued…