Once upon a time………..
……they all lived happily ever after.
There, she had done it; written the whole story by herself with no-one else seeing any of it. Stored safely among her winter jerseys that she would never again need, the cancer would soon see to her.
She hoped her friend Mary would tidy up after her and find it. Mary could then have it published and become wealthy enough to live on in her cottage that she so loved.
It had all begun, (once upon a time) she believed, when her great-great-grandfather Henry had discovered the gold nuggets in the stream on his farm. It was some miles from the Johannesburg goldfields, and no-one bothered him. He took the vegetables into town every week and sold them. They were living well enough without the gold.
Every evening he would go for a walk along the stream, slowly collecting all the little nuggets. He kept them in his tobacco tin, no longer used for tobacco since the winter he had had pneumonia and almost died.
His three boys eventually learned his secret as they grew old enough to trust. Then all of them were out there, digging, collecting. The one tin was now several, all full. It was becoming harder and harder to find the nuggets just on the gravel bed, they had to dig and sift for them.
The that wonderful day! A large find that kept them digging, sifting and filling their wooden box with more and more nuggets. Exhausted they finally came into the farmhouse to find two men sitting on the stoep(*1), with the family’s best cups and the coffee pot.
The boys took the horse and cart round to the barn, while Henry slowly climbed onto the stoep to greet the strangers. His wife came out, carrying another coffeepot and a mug for Henry.
He gratefully accepted, kissed her cheek and thanked her. He said “We had a hard day trying to change that stream, I think we may have to give up.” She replied “I’ll go and see to supper then, and tell the boys to wash up quickly”.
He turned to the strangers and introduced himself.
It turned out they were from the mining company, and it had just bought the mineral rights for the farm, as they had for all the surrounding farms. The one man a Mr Davison, said “As you know we have owned the mineral rights to this whole area for some time now and are ready to start mining operations soon. We suspect there is little gold here, but we do appreciate your talents with vegetables and would like you to stay on, growing them to feed all the new miners who will be here soon.”
Henry smiled and said “Sir, I’m sure you mean well, but we decided a long time ago that if the mines came to us, we would sell the farm and move on. Maybe you know someone who would like to buy it?”
Mr Davison said, “as it is so well cared for, I’m sure we could do a deal so that we could settle someone else to grow fresh food for those who will live here.”
Within a month it was all done. The rich find completely dug out, all their possessions they wanted to take with them loaded on the cart, taking especial care of Henry’s collection of tobacco tins.
For the intervening generations the family had lived well. Carefully and fairly modestly, running businesses that were not too demanding, but apparently making a very good profit. Henry’s gold had bought them all security where they moved to the warm climate in Durban. Now she was the last one left. Her brother and cousins had all four died in the war. Her sister had died childless and her own son, another Henry had been killed with his pregnant wife in a car crash years previously.
She smiled when she thought of how she’d been spending the last of the family fortune. The small orphanage, set there in the hills. Henry’s Haven where she believed they would “all live happily ever after.”
(*1) Stoep – local word for verandah