Ruan was really excited. For the first time ever his father had given permission for him to go and spend the weekend with a school friend. Benjie was Ruan's best friend, they had most classes together and they had beds next to each other in the hostel where they stayed from Sunday afternoon until Friday when they could go home for the weekend. And it was a long weekend, so they'd have all of Saturday, Sunday and Monday together before heading back to school. He sat silently in his father's pick-up truck as they drove from their farm back to his school. It was Sunday afternoon, and the weekly boarders like Ruan had to be back before five o'clock to check in. But next Friday, for the first time ever, he'd go with Benjie and his older brother Matt to their farm. It would be the furthest trip he'd ever made in his fourteen years.
If truth be told, Benjie was really Ruan's only friend. Ruan wasn't particularly popular. He was shy, didn't speak very much, and managed to keep out of the way of everyone. He wasn't particularly clever but he wasn't stupid either, so he was normally in the middle of the class, out of sight of the teachers. He wasn't much good at sports either. He hated rugger with a passion because he was a bit clumsy and too small and so he became easy prey for the bigger boys who loved throwing their weight around. Because he had to do at least one sport, he chose cross-country because it was sort of solitary, you didn't need to talk to people, and, perhaps surprisingly, he was quite good at it.
Why Benjie chose to be Ruan's friend we'll never know. At first Ruan didn't respond much to his offer of being friends, a strategy that had led other boys to shrug, turn round and go and find someone who was more fun. But over time, with Benjie's persistence, Ruan softened a little bit. They normally sat together for meals, before lights out they'd have quiet conversations across the little gap between their beds, they helped each other with homework, and had learned to help cheer each other up when things were bad.
And things were bad fairly often, especially for Ruan. Benjie gave him moral support when Ruan got picked on by other boys. It wasn't heavy bullying but it was enough for Ruan to be careful whenever the more aggressive boys were nearby. He got punched a few times, but mostly he just got jibes and insults. Ruan didn't really know how to cope, and he wasn't the only target, so he just learned to live with it. Once, after Ruan had been hurt, Benjie said they ought to go and complain but they both knew this was a waste of time. The masters at the school pretty much let the boys run the hostel, and it was well known that if anyone complained they were likely to get punished while perpetrators got away scot free. The Principal had a reputation for being unsympathetic to the needs of boys and seemed to enjoy getting out his cane at every opportunity.
But if school was bad, home was ten times worse for Ruan. He and his father lived on a maize farm in the drier part of the high plains of South Africa, the so-called high veld, in the heartland of the Boer community. His life at home was miserable. Since he was eleven his father expected him to spend all his time at home working on the farm, and now he was fourteen the work load seemed to be getting heavier and heavier. He'd been taught how to use the tractor so now his chores included ploughing, planting, spraying, weed control, and eventually harvest. Plus fixing fences, keeping machinery in good order and all the other thousand jobs needed to keep a farm running profitably.
It wasn't that his father didn't work just as hard. He was tireless, up at dawn every day and working until sundown. But with Ruan around it meant he could hire fewer labourers and save money.
And that was one of the two main things about Ruan's father that made his life so difficult. He was miserly to excess. Getting him to spend money was harder than getting blood out of a stone. By keeping expenditure to a minimum and working really hard so that the maize they grew had good yields, the farm was profitable. He'd spend money on the farm when absolutely necessary, but he neglected himself and his son. Ruan's clothes were always shabby, just sufficient to pass inspection at school, and at home he always wore shorts and khaki shirts like all the farmers in the area. The only good clothes he had were his Sunday clothes: a dark suit, white shirt, tie, and black shoes that had to look immaculate because his father insisted.
Ruan had no possessions. If you looked in his room, the only thing he had was a bible and a crucifix on the wall above his bed. There were no books or games, just a small cupboard for his clothes. He had an iron frame single bed with a thin mattress and a coarse brown blanket, a wooden chair and table in front of the window on which he had to do homework. There was no carpet on the cement floor, and that got really cold in the winter because he wasn't allowed to heat his room. It had an adjoining bathroom which was finished in white tiles, many cracked but all clean, a sink and one shelf on which there was a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste, and bar of soap, and some rather industrial shampoo. There was a threadbare towel on the towel rail, and a shower head that only provided cold water.
The second thing that made Ruan's life so difficult was that his father was a dedicated Old Testament Christian. The Bible was the only thing he read, and the only thing he'd let his son read. Anything sinful needed to be punished, and in Ruan's father's mind, Ruan needed a lot of discipline if he was to avoid being tempted by the devil. So there were no books or newspapers, no television, no internet or computers, nothing that would bring evil things into the house. There were no games or cards because all waking hours were meant for work. Even the slightest transgression like failing to do homework, misreading passages from the bible, shoddy work on the farm, laziness, or any one of a thousand perceived errors would result in his father getting out his special belt and giving Ruan some hearty whacks followed by banishment to his room without anything to eat. Ruan had long ago learned that silence and obedience were the best survival mechanisms.
From time to time, Ruan's father would preach at the church, where he had managed to impress people with his religious zeal and piety. His sermons weren't terrible well received, full of fire and brimstone, and what retribution God would have for sinners. As a result Ruan's father also had no real friends. They didn't go to the Club after church like everyone else because there was alcohol there, and drinking alcohol was a sin. Instead, they would go home right after church, have some more prayers, read from the bible, have a cold lunch of leftovers, do a few minor chores around the barn, and then his father would take him back to school where he'd stay for the week.
The only good thing about home was Rachel Mfolosi. She had been the housekeeper since Ruan was born, responsible for cooking, cleaning, washing, mending, growing vegetables, and running the house. She had taken the role of Ruan's mother when she had died when Ruan was six, when she could she'd bake him little treats that his father never knew about, hugged him whenever she could, and consoled him when life was bad. She had to console him a lot.
The only problem for Ruan was that Rachel went home after lunch on Saturday and only came back on Monday morning, leaving him at the mercy of his father until he could go back to school.
So you can see why Ruan was happy to be going to school that afternoon. He was probably the only boy who looked forward to getting back to the safety of the hostel, and the routine of classes, hot water, adequate if unimaginative food, cross-country running, and the chance to spend some time with his best, or only, friend. Also, he had got through the past weekend without being beaten or banished. The work load was low because all the maize had been harvested and dried and sold to the grain merchant, and it was mostly servicing machinery and mending fences and waiting for Spring to come before the annual cycle started over. So his father was perhaps less demanding and critical than normal.
When they reached the school hostel, his father stopped the pick-up and turned to look at Ruan.
"Remember to behave yourself. Go to church on Sunday, I'll check with the pastor that you were there. Don't do anything sinful. If I hear one word bad about you, this is the last time you'll be allowed to do this. Understood?"
Indeed, Ruan did understand because his father had lectured him several times during the weekend about what was proper behaviour and what wasn't, and he was aware of the consequences for misbehaving. But the prospect of travelling and being away from home for a whole weekend were so exciting he didn't complain about the rules his father had laid down.
He checked in with the prefect on duty, signed the register so the school would know he was back in their charge, went upstairs to his dormitory to drop off his bag with clean clothes for the week and for next weekend, and then he went to look for Benjie.
Benjie was nowhere to be found. He wasn't in the dormitory, which contained eight iron beds with nightstands and not much else. He wasn't in the room they called the common room, where boys played games or read or did whatever they do to pass time, he wasn't in the dining room although that wasn't surprising because dinner wasn't until six o'clock, and he wasn't outside where some boys were playing a form of soccer. This puzzled Ruan, particularly because he had caught a glimpse of Matt, Benjie's older brother. If Matt was here then Benjie must be somewhere. But Ruan couldn't go and talk to Matt. Matt was a sixth form Prefect, and boys just didn't talk to Prefects without permission. For the most part, boys stuck to their own year, or to other boys in the hostel who were a year older or younger. But they just didn't bother Prefects.
Ruan went back to the common room, found a book to read from the small collection of books that boys had read and donated to the bookshelf, and went upstairs to lie on his bed and read. At six sharp the bell rang, he went downstairs to the dining room, sat at his normal table with Benjie's empty seat next to him, ate the bread and butter and jam and boiled eggs that were standard for Sunday evenings, stood up and prepared to go back to his bed and his book.
"Van der Merwe, report to the Prefect's common room in five minutes".
Matt's voice rang out across the dining room. Ruan was nervous. Being called to the Prefect's common room normally meant you'd done something wrong. The other boys looked at him and immediately started whispering and speculating on what Ruan had done wrong. Several laughed at him. Ruan went red, and went to the common room to wait.
Five minutes later he went up to the Prefect's common room and knocked on the door.
So Ruan went in to find several prefects sitting around. Matt saw him, stood up and walked over.
"Relax, you've done nothing wrong" said Matt.
Ruan breathed a sigh of relief. He knew punishments from prefects could be severe. They couldn't cane him, only masters could do that, but they could make life really unpleasant.
"I've got bad news for you. Benjie fell off his horse on Saturday and broke his leg in two places, so he won't be in school for a few weeks."
"Oh, no! Is he OK?"
Then Ruan realized this meant his weekend away wouldn't happen. He tried very hard not to show emotion in from of a prefect, but it was hard. He sniffed a bit.
"Hey, don't worry, you'll still come and visit, won't you. Benjie said to tell you to come and even though he can't move around much, I expect you'll find something to do. And he'll be bored being at home all week with no friends."
"Oh, yes, Villiers, of course I'll still come if it's still OK. I'd hate to miss the weekend, I've been looking forward to it so much!"
"Yes, Benjie said you'd never really been outside Highveld and were really excited." Matt looked at him and smiled. "OK, run along now, and be outside the hostel as soon as school is out on Friday!"
"Yes, Villiers, and thank you!"
Matt turned back to his friends and Ruan went back to his dormitory, sad for Benjie but happy the weekend was still happening.
The rest of the week passed uneventfully. Ruan went to his classes, he did some running, and he didn't get picked on even though Benjie wasn't there to protect him. The boys knew and respected Matt Villiers, they thought he was a fair prefect, as prefects go, and if Ruan was going to go to Matt's house for the weekend then it would be best not to do anything to Ruan in case Matt found out.
Friday afternoon classes were cancelled for long weekends. While most boarders were like Ruan, only there from Sunday evening until Friday afternoon, there were several boys whose homes were too far away to make a weekly commute. On Exit Weekends, however, they had to go home, or stay with a friend, because the hostel was closed. To help those full time boarding boys get home, the school provided a couple of minibuses to go to places where it was easier for parents to collect them.
On those Fridays when there was a minibus, Matt and Benjie took it because passed right by the little town near their farm and it meant that their parents didn't have to drive the nearly one hour each way. So when Ruan went outside he saw Matt waiting by one of the minibuses and walked over.
"Good, Van der Merwe, you're here. Get in the bus, sit where you want, and be ready to get off when I get off. I'm going to sit with my friends."
Ruan did as he was instructed. He got a window seat near the front, put his bag on the overhead rack, and sat down. He knew most of the boys on the bus but none of them were his friends so he didn't need to talk to anyone. Anyway, none sat next to him because they all had their friends and were all chattering away excited because there was no school for a few days.
The minibus finally pulled out of the hostel parking lot, went through town to the main highway, and after a few miles turned off to the right onto the main road south of Highveld. Ruan was fascinated. He'd never been on this road before. At first it looked pretty much like where he lived, pretty flat terrain, a few trees clustered around farmhouses, a couple of dry creeks. It was mostly bare because all the crops had been harvested, but there were several areas of pasture where beef cattle were grazing.
But slowly the area became hillier, bigger than any hills Ruan had ever seem. They were bare, with horizontal lines of rocks showing in places, and more pasture and fewer ploughed fields. He thought it might be fun to go up one of those hills because you'd be able to see for miles.
After about thirty minutes the hills got bigger and bigger, and there were some with cliffs that looked quite rugged and exciting. Ruan's eyes were wide open as he took in the strange scenery.
The minibus pulled off to the side of the road.
"OK, Van der Merwe, we're here"
Ruan stood up, got his bag and followed Matt out of the minibus which promptly drove off. There was nobody around.
"Oh, damn," Matt said, "my mother's late again. We'll start walking. Come on."
Ruan picked up his bag, and suddenly his life began to change.
"OK, we're out of school now," said Matt, "so you call me Matt and I'll call you Ruan, and we're going to be like that till we get on the bus on Monday afternoon. OK? And you can take off your tie and blazer if you want."
Matt did just that, he took his tie off, stuffed in in his blazer pocket, took off his blazer, and draped it over his shoulder. Ruan was nervous. His father said he must never take off his tie and blazer when he was in public. He had to be properly dressed when outside the farm. So he kept his school clothes on.
They started walking up the road that was signposted to Orangeburg.
"My Mom's always late, so what me and Benjie do is walk up to the filling station where we can get something cold to drink and wait for her to come. She won't be long. The bus was a little earlier than normal."
And that's what they did. The filling station had a little convenience store with a cooler full of soda and other drinks. Matt opened the cooler and took out a Coke.
"What do you want?" he asked.
Ruan was in panic. He wasn't supposed to drink soda, especially Coke, because his father thought Coke was an invention of the devil. Water and tea were the only permitted beverages as far as Mr. Van der Merwe was concerned. Also, he had no money, so he couldn't have bought anything anyway.
"I don't need anything, thanks anyway." said Ruan.
"Don't be silly," said Matt, "it's hot today, you can have anything you want, and anyway my mum pays for it, we just put it on her account. You're not at home so relax and enjoy yourself."
Ruan was still torn. He liked Coke but he was frightened of committing a sin. He worried about what would happen in if my father found out.
Matt could sense something was wrong.
"Look, you're our guest for the weekend. You don't have to follow your father's rules when you're here. Benjie told me how hard your father is on you, nobody will ever tell him what you do and don't do this weekend. We don't do that to guests, we make sure they have fun. Do you think you can do that?" Matt reached into the cooler, took out another Coke, opened it, put in a straw, and handed it to Ruan.
"Here, it's open now, so you have to drink it."
Ruan gave him a little smile. "Thanks!" and took a sip and it was wonderful and cold and scary and exciting to do something naughty. They went outside and sat on a bench where they could see the road and watch for passing cars.
Just as they were finishing their drinks a dusty green Land Cruiser came speeding into the filling station and came to a halt in a cloud of dust."
"Hi, mom, you're late again!"
"Sorry, Matt, I was baking and I lost track of time. Hello, Ruan, it's great to see you, Benjie can't wait for you to arrive. Did you get something to drink? Good! Oh, take off your blazer, you're out of school all weekend, didn't Matt tell you? Matt, you need to help Ruan get relaxed so he can enjoy himself. We're going to have a great weekend, aren't we?"
Matt just laughed, winked at Ruan, they piled into the Land Cruiser, passed through the little town, onto a dirt road that seemed to be heading straight for the nearest mountain, along a creek with clear water, onto another dirt road, round a corner and through an open gate into a thicket of eucalyptus trees in front of which stood a large stone two story house with a thatched roof, a lawn and flower beds in front, a small swimming pool, and a large terrace where Benjie was sitting and waving madly.
"Welcome to our little house, Ruan!" said Matt's mother. "I hope you'll have a wonderful stay!"
"It's beautiful!" said Ruan. Why can't we make our house look better, thought Ruan.
As soon as they stopped Ruan got out and ran over to see Benjie. He was on a lounge chair with his leg straight out with a plaster cast from his foot right up to the top of his leg.
"Hi Benjie, how are you? It's great to see you, I missed you last week, it was boring without you."
I'm doing OK," said Benjie, "my leg hurts a bit and it itches and of course I can't scratch it under the plaster. And it's boring here because everyone's at school and its only Mum and Dad. So I'm excited you're here and we can do stuff together even if I can't move very much."
"How long do you have to have the cast on?"
"The doctor said four weeks minimum. When I get my next check up I'll know better."
"That's too bad. And I've got bad news for you, I brought all your homework for the last week."
"Thanks. I suppose I'll have to do it sometime."
"Well, I've got some to do as well, so maybe we can do that together."
Mrs. Villiers came over and looked at Ruan who was still in his school clothes.
"Ruan, let me show you where you're sleeping and you can get out of your school clothes and be more comfortable. Have you got some shorts or something, or do you need to borrow some clothes?"
"No, I've shorts, if it's OK to wear them."
"Of course it is, we're all very casual here." And indeed Matt came out dressed in some old shorts and a tee shirt and flip-flops.
So she took him into the house and up the stairs where there were two bedrooms and a small bathroom.
"You're going to sleep in Benjie's room because he can't get up the stairs and has to stay downstairs. That's Matt's room, so it's just you two up here. It's very private. I hope you'll be comfortable. When you've changed, give me all your dirty clothes and the maid will wash them tomorrow along with Matt's stuff."
"Thanks, Mrs. Villiers, it looks wonderful," said Ruan, and indeed it did look nice, with a single bed with a big quilted bedspread, bright whitewashed walls, some pictures, lots of Benjie's stuff lying around with books and games and a cricket bat and a rugby ball. Ruan felt a little jealous that Benjie had all this stuff and he had nothing, but he thought he's enjoy it while he could.
Mrs. Villiers left him to change so he got out of his school clothes, put on a pair of old khaki shorts, and a short sleeved white cotton shirt, and some socks and a pair of sandals.
"You look much more comfortable now," said Mrs. Villiers when we came downstairs. "Now, go and talk to Benjie and I'll bring out something for you to drink."
The two boys talked about all sorts of stuff and shortly Mrs. Villiers came out with some fruit juice and freshly baked biscuits that they both gobbled down.
"Ruan, we're planning a braai for tonight, and we'll grill some steaks and sausages and stuff. Matt loves to get some real food after a week of school food. Is that OK with you? Is there anything you don't eat?"
"It sounds delicious. And anything is better that school food, except maybe my father's cooking."
"Good. I like to see my boys eating like pigs. It makes me happy when they're here and eating well."
And the evening passed, and they all ate a huge amount of food. Ruan couldn't remember the last time he was so full. And there was dessert with ice cream afterwards, which was a real treat because Ruan never got ice cream at home. He got to meet Benjie's dad, Alan, who made sure he got to eat everything.
Like most farm families they went to bed fairly early because the mornings were when most of the hard work got done. When Ruan woke up the sun was just starting to rise. He got dressed and went downstairs and found Mrs. Villiers in the kitchen.
"My, you're up early. I never expect to see Matt or Benjie before ten on the first morning after a week at school!"
"I always have to get up early and help on the farm, so I can't sleep in."
"It's too early for breakfast yet, so would you like to have some tea and then maybe in about an hour you and me and Alan will have something to eat. There's no point in waiting for Matt and Benjie, we'd all starve to death."
Ruan drank some tea and then wandered out into the garden, looking at all the flowerbeds and trying to decide if those flowers might survive at their house. Behind the house he found a beautiful vegetable garden, all fenced in to stop animals from eating anything, and then he got to look closely at the irrigation system in the garden. Again, he wondered if they could do something like that next to their house instead of just the little scruffy patch that Rachel tried to maintain.
"Good morning, Ruan, how are you today?"
"I'm fine, thank you Mr. Villiers."
"No Mr. Villiers, please, remember it's Alan."
"OK, I'll try, but it's a bit strange for me to call adults by their first name. My father wouldn't let me do that."
"Well, we're less formal here. So, do you like my little irrigation system? We never have to buy vegetables because with a good water supply everything just grows and grows here."
"Yes, I was wondering whether I could build something like this at home. It's drier where we live but we have a pond that has water all year round."
"You could do that. Of course you need a pump to give you enough pressure to run the system, but otherwise it's pretty simple to set up."
So they got talking about the farm, and Mr. Villiers showed him their barns and the chickens, and a pen with a couple of pigs, and another pen with a few sheep,.
"We're pretty self-sufficient here. We have our own eggs and milk, meat from the pigs and sheep and cows, and of course we grow all our own vegetables. And if we're lucky we catch a few fish in the stream over there."
"It's fantastic. All we do is grow maize. We don't keep animals because my father says it's too much work."
"Well, it does take extra effort, but we really enjoy having fresh food. Talking of which, I expect you're ready for breakfast. Does fresh eggs and bacon from one of our pigs sound OK?"
After breakfast Benjie called from the study where he was sleeping since he couldn't get upstairs, and Mrs. Villiers went and helped him get dressed and go to the bathroom, and then she got him on to the couch where he could put his leg up, and she gave him breakfast. Afterwards the boys agreed they better do some homework, and that kept them busy until lunchtime, by which time Matt had joined them.
"Ruan, you can't spend all day sitting here with Benjie," said Matt. "I know you do cross-country, so would you like to go for a run later and see some of the rest of our place?"
"That sounds great. My father always makes me do some running every weekend so I'm OK with that."
So later in the afternoon Matt came out in a pair of purple running shorts and a tee shirt and a pair of really nice running shoes.
Ruan ran upstairs and put on his running shorts and a tee shirt, and got his old canvas tennis shoes.
"You can't run in those. Don't you have anything better?"
Ruan shook his head. "No, that's all I've got."
"Mum!" Matt yelled out in the direction of the kitchen, "do we still have those running shoes I had last year that I grew out of that Ruan could use?"
"Look in the garage. There in a box on the second shelf, it's labeled 'shoes'. There's more than one pair there so I dare say one of them will fit."
They found the box and eventually found a pair that fitted Ruan pretty well. While they had been used, there were in great shape. Matt said it was because he had had one of those growth spurts last year and none of his clothes or shoes fitted any more even though they were quite new.
Ruan found the shoes very comfortable. They were red and had enough tread on the bottom to give a good grip.
"OK, let's warm up and then we'll go," said Matt. And after stretching he led the way back down the driveway where they could go at a steady pace.
"OK, Ruan, get ready, now we're going to do some hard work. We're going up there," said Matt pointing to the top of one of the hills that surrounded them.
"Up there? I've never been on a hill like that before, it looks awfully steep."
"Just take it steady. You probably won't be able to keep up, but keep going at your own pace and you'll meet up with me at the top."
The track they turned on to was gentle at first, but soon got steeper. Matt went on at a steady pace but Ruan couldn't keep up. After what seemed ages, and with his lungs bursting, he finally reached the summit where Matt was lying on the grass. Ruan flopped down beside him, gasping for air, completely exhausted.
Slowly Ruan got his breath back, sat up and looked around.
"Wow, you can see for ever." And indeed, in front of them they could see far into the distance. The veld stretched out, seemingly forever.
"That's Highveld there, you can just see the grain silos there. I'm so happy we're here and not there! And look behind you, that's the Drakensberg Mountains."
Ruan turned and gasped. He'd never seen mountains, and was amazed at the huge jagged peaks that stretched across the horizon. He was speechless.
"You can see why they're called the Drakensberg, can't you. The crest looks like the scales on a giant dragon."
"It's just amazing here. I can see why you like to run up here, even though it almost killed me. I wish I could stay here for ever and ever and not have to go back to school or to my horrible house and my horrible father. Everything in your place is so nice, and your parents are nice, and you're really nice to me, and it's great being with Benjie, and I wish it could stay like this for ever." Ruan's eyes started watering and he was worried he'd burst into tears.
Matt shifted over, and put his arm round Ruan's shoulders.
"Just relax and enjoy it. Benjie's told me how hard it is at your house, so we all want to make your stay here as nice as possible," and Matt squeezed Ruan tighter.
Ruan couldn't help it. He just buried his face in Matt's chest and burst into tears. Matt hugged him. He didn't say anything but just stayed still and let the unhappy boy cry himself out.
Eventually Ruan stopped crying and sat up. "Thanks, Matt! I'm sorry I'm such a wimp." And he pulled up his tee shirt and wiped his face dry.
Matt was smart enough not to say anything. He saw Ruan's back covered in scars from looked like he'd been whipped, but he didn't want to embarrass Ruan by saying anything. All he did was give Ruan another big hug.
"Hey, we better be getting back before we stiffen up after all that running. Be careful going downhill, it looks easy but it's not. One false step and you'll go flying, and it would be easy to pull a muscle. So we'll go down gently, and when we get home we'll get in the hot tub."
"What's a hot tub?" asked Ruan.
"Oh, you'll love it!" laughed Matt. And with that they stood up and started jogging back down the track.
When they got home Matt told Ruan to just take off his shoes and socks, and then they grabbed a couple of towels and went to the side of the house where there was a hot tub. Matt took off the cover and climbed in. Ruan followed suit, and was soon sitting in wonderful warm water half way up his chest.
"Nice?" asked Matt. Ruan just nodded. "Then enjoy this!" said Matt as he flipped a switch and all the water jets came on.
"Wow, that's fantastic. My legs feel better already." And Ruan lay back and closed his and let the warm water massage his legs and his chest. He'd never felt so relaxed in his whole life. This was something to remember.
When he opened his eyes a few minutes later he gasped. Matt had taken off his tee shirt and his running shorts and was sitting completely naked in the tub. Ruan couldn't see too much because the water was too turbulent and covered in bubbles, but he could see Matt had a big patch of dark hair in his groin.
"Take your clothes off, Ruan, you'll feel much better! Nobody will bother us here. It's sort of a house rule, when someone's in the tub you either join them or you leave them alone. We're all used to being naked in the hot tub. With you here, they'll leave us alone. Don't be shy!"
Ruan was in a total quandary. Nakedness was common at school. There wasn't any privacy when they took showers, but that was school and here he was someone else's house. But Matt was naked and he didn't want to look like an idiot by staying dressed. So he started blushing and pulled off his tee shirt and slipped off his running shorts and let the warm water massage his balls and his cock. And, of course, he immediately got an erection. He hoped that Matt couldn't see through the bubbles. Ruan was blushing madly so he closed his eyes and hoped that nothing showed.
"That feel's good, doesn't it?" laughed Matt. "I just love being here after a long run."
Ruan nodded and said, "Yes, it feels great." He opened his eyes to look at Matt and saw that Matt not only had an erection of his own but the top of his cock was sticking up out of the water. He quickly looked away, checking to see he wasn't exposed.
"Don't worry, Ruan, it happens to all of us when we sit here with no clothes on. Nobody cares. It's quite natural!"
Ruan tried to relax, but it's not easy when you're naked and very hard and there's somebody else naked and hard sitting across from you on the other side of the hot tub. And Matt was pretty good looking, and well built because of playing rugger and cricket and running. And Ruan was getting very horny just sitting there, and he just didn't know what to do or say.
"Do you and Benjie ever do it together?" asked Matt, making the time honoured gesture of a clenched fist going up and down.
Ruan thought he would die from embarrassment and turned even more red. "Ummm, no."
"But I bet other boys in your dorm do."
"A few do. But everyone's scared of being caught and getting punished or expelled."
"People don't get expelled for doing that. They may threaten you with that, but you really have to do something terrible before being expelled."
"What about that boy who was expelled last year? Everyone said it was because he was found in someone else's bed."
"You mean Schmidt? He was expelled for stealing, not for having sex. Yes, he was caught with someone else and that didn't help him, but it was stealing that he got kicked out. The other boy didn't get expelled, did he?"
While this was the wildest conversation he'd ever had, Ruan began to feel somewhat more comfortable about sitting in the hot tub with no clothes on together with another boy. And he was still as hard as a rock, if not harder.
"We better get out before we end up looking like prunes." And without warning Matt switched off the water jets. Ruan could see everything under water. There was Matt with his six inches plus cock sticking straight up out of a big bush of dark curly hair, and a treasure trail going up past his navel. Ruan was smaller and thinner but at least he had a respectable patch of pubes so he didn't feel too much like a small boy in front of Matt.
"You're a lot more developed than Benjie, aren't you? Nice." Ruan blushed madly and nodded.
"Then grab a towel and we can go upstairs and get changed."
When they had dried off a bit they went upstairs. Ruan went into his room and expected Matt to go into his. But Matt followed him in and closed the door behind him.
To Ruan's amazement Matt tugged off his towel and stood there completely naked with his cock pointing upwards and gently throbbing. Ruan couldn't help but stare.
"You like looking at that, don't you?" said Matt softly. Ruan went bright red and looked away but he gave a tiny nod.
"I'm not going to hurt you or do anything you don't want, but I think it would be nice to wank each other because I think you're as horny as I am."
Ruan didn't know what to do. "I don't know. I've never done anything like that before, and it's scary."
"Yes, I know, I remember the first time I did it with another boy and I was scared. But he was very gentle and patient with me, and it was great! I'll never forget that."
Ruan was scared and just stood there, still with his towel wrapped around his waist but with a noticeable bulge because he was horny and he liked Matt and he thought he could trust him. Matt moved closer and carefully put his hand on the bulge in Ruan's towel and moved it up and down very gently.
"Does that feel good?" Matt asked softly. Ruan nodded. And he didn't resist when Matt slowly unwrapped Ruan's towel and let it drop to the floor. Ruan stood there, shaking slightly but with his cock as hard as it had ever been.
"I promise I'm not going to hurt you. Why don't you lie down on the bed?" Ruan did just that, and Matt lay right next to him, and moved his hand so that he could gently stroke Ruan's cock. Ruan flinched with the first touch but Matt just gently let his fingers run up and down until Ruan relaxed a little. At first the feeling was really strange but slowly Ruan began to enjoy the sensation and pushed his hips up a little so that he pushed his cock harder into Matt's hand.
"Is that OK?" Matt whispered.
Ruan nodded. "It feels nice, totally different than when I do it."
"Yes, that's why it's much nicer to do it with someone else, especially someone you trust, and I trust you. And I hope you trust me." Ruan nodded again.
Matt took one of Ruan's hand and very gently laid it down on top of Matt's cock.
Ruan gasped. "It's so hot! And it's soft and silky and hard all at the same time."
Matt adjusted Ruan's fingers so that they could encircle his cock, and got Ruan to move it up and down gently.
"That feels so good, Ruan!" Matt whispered, and at the same time he took Ruan's cock and very slowly started wanking him. And then he just speeded things up a bit and Ruan quickly followed suit. Matt was leaking precum like crazy, and that plus Ruan's soft hands and his intense need meant that soon he was getting close. He let go of Ruan's cock as everything was focused on his orgasm that was beginning to build. His head went back and he started breathing harder and Ruan felt Matt beginning to tense up and he went almost rigid and then with a gasp he pumped out a huge load of cum over his chest and then over Ruan's hand. Ruan slowed down and watched Matt, who was still breathing heavily. Then Matt turned on his side and started wanking Ruan.
It took almost no time. Matt's hand was slippery with his own cum, and that meant the sensation for Ruan was more intense by far than when he did it himself. Soon he felt his orgasm starting in his feet and rushing upwards along his legs and then it seemed his whole body exploded through his balls and he let out a couple of spurts and then subsided back on to the bed gasping for air. Both of them lay still for a few minutes until their bodies returned to normal.
"Nice?" Matt asked. Ruan gave a big grin. "Ummm, yes, very nice! Thanks, Matt!"
Matt smiled at Ruan and said "I'm glad that your first time was nice. That's not true for some boys because older boys force themselves on younger ones. But although I'm older I hope you don't feel I forced you."
"No, I've been wanting to it with someone, but Benjie's still too small and I don't trust any other boys at school. It's going to be a nice memory thinking of you!"
Matt put his arm over and gave him a hug. "I'm glad you enjoyed it. And when you get a girlfriend and she does it for you, it's even better!"
"You've done that with a girl?"
"Oh, yes, many times, but my girlfriend's away at school so that's not an option until the holidays. Now, we better get cleaned up and go downstairs, people will be wondering where we are. If anyone asks, just say I was massaging your calf muscles because they were sore after our run. You take a shower first, and then I'll follow."
"No, thank you, Ruan. Fancy another run and hot tub tomorrow?" Ruan smiled and nodded.
Benjie did ask why they were so long upstairs so Ruan said he had a sore muscle and Matt was rubbing it down to help it relax. Benjie seemed to accept the excuse, and then Benjie had to teach Ruan how to play some card games and they did that until dinner time, and after dinner Mr. Villiers lit a fire even though it wasn't really cold, and they sat around in the warmth of the flames and the smell of wood smoke and just chatted. Ruan suddenly got very sleepy, and said that he needed to go to bed because the run had exhausted him. And Matt said he was tired as well and said he'd go to bed in a few minutes. Benjie's mother got him into the study and ready for bed while Ruan went upstairs and brushed his teeth.
He got into bed thinking about what a wonderful day he had had, and especially what he and Matt had done together, and that made him start to get hard, and although he normally never wanked twice in one day he was still pretty excited by what had happened just a few hours before. So he was lying on his bed with his erection in his hand when the door opened and Matt poked his head round.
"Want some more? Come into my room, the bed's bigger!"
Ruan didn't need a second to think about it. He slid out of bed, tiptoed across the hallway, went into Matt's room, saw Matt lying on the bed with no clothes on, dropped his pajama shorts, got into bed with Matt, and they did it all over again, slowly and gently and it was even better than the first time because Ruan was not so nervous and knew what to expect.
Afterwards, Ruan managed to go back to his room and immediately fell asleep until the sunrise woke him.
The rest of the weekend followed a similar pattern. Benjie and Ruan spent the mornings together, and Matt and Ruan went for a run each afternoon followed by some time in the hot tub, and then at night Ruan would go into Matt's room and they'd get naked and mess around. And on Sunday night Matt taught Ruan all about oral sex, which Ruan thought was even better than just wanking each other off. The first time Matt took Ruan into his mouth he couldn't believe how good it felt, all warm and moist and sensuous, and he couldn't help coming really quickly, but the second time was much better and the sensation of coming into Matts mouth was something he'd never forget. And Ruan also found out he liked the taste of another boy's cum. At first it was hard to get all of Matt into his mouth, but he quickly got used to it, and loved it when he felt Matt harden and start pulsing and then pumped his cum into Ruan's mouth. At first Ruan gagged a bit but then swallowed some and found he quite liked the taste of that and swallowed the rest, and kept Matt's cock in his mouth until it had shrunk down to his normal size.
But all good things come to an end, and on Monday afternoon Matt and Ruan had to put on their school uniforms and tie their ties, and Mrs. Villiers write a note for Mr. Van der Merwe saying how well Ruan had behaved. Matt made sure Ruan kept the running shoes because Benjie hated running and the shoes were no use to anyone else. Then, with lots of tears and hugs, Ruan said goodbye to Benjie, and he and Matt got in the Land Cruiser and Mrs. Villiers took them down to the main road and they sat in the car not saying very much until the minibus came and stopped, and the two boys got in. But before they got in, Matt turned to Ruan.
"Thanks for coming, it's been a wonderful weekend. I hope you'll come again. But now we go back to being in school, and we're going to have to go back to being Van der Merwe and Villiers again. Sorry."
"That's OK, Villiers, I understand. But thanks again for everything."
And on the bus Matt went and sat with his friends, and Ruan was left alone to think about the weekend that had been the best time of his life.
The week at school was pretty much the same as normal. Ruan was able to give messages from Benjie to his friends, and his friends seemed to be a bit nicer to Ruan because he had spent the weekend with a Prefect and that gave him a little extra status. And nobody wanted to mess with prefects, and particularly Matt who was quite popular among the younger boys.
And so it was with a heavy heart that, on the following Friday afternoon, Ruan waited outside the school for his father to come and pick him up and go back to his home for the weekend.
The weekend started off fairly well. Before they left the school, his father read the note from Mrs. Villiers and that seemed to satisfy him. Ruan told him about the irrigated vegetable garden, and his father merely grunted and said if that's what Ruan wanted to do he wouldn't stop him but they'd have to look for a cheap used pump and pipes before they could do anything. And on the way home he ordered Ruan to tell him all about the sermon in church to make sure Ruan had actually gone to church and had paid attention. And he made sure Ruan had done all his homework, and Ruan said he did everything he was supposed to last weekend, and he didn't have too much this weekend so he'd be able to finish it tonight.
"Good. I need you tomorrow, we've got a lot of fencing to mend because some animals have been trying to push the fence over in places."
The rest of the journey was in a strained silence, but at least Ruan felt that he was not in trouble for having been away.
At the farmhouse Rachel was delighted to see Ruan. "I missed you so much last weekend. Did you have a wonderful time? You'll have to tell me all about it later."
Ruan got changed and had to do a couple hours of work on the farm, then they had dinner, Ruan did some homework, and told Rachel about where he had been and what he had done. Well, he told her everything except the things that were personal and private. And he went to bed reliving all of the different things he done with Matt and Benjie, and what fun it had been. And then he got guilty because he thought of all the sins he had committed which would never have been allowed at home, and he prayed for forgiveness before he fell asleep.
Next morning he and his father were up early at the crack of down and they took the tractor with a trailer full of fencing wire, posts, a tensioner, wire cutters, and assorted hardware, and went along the perimeters of the farm repairing weak spots in the boundary fence. It was hard work, particular when they had to replace weak or rotten posts. They did about three hours work, returned for a large breakfast that would also take care of lunch, Rachel gave Ruan his clean clothes for next week at school, said goodbye to Rachel as she was leaving as normal at noon, and resumed the task of fixing fences.
By evening Ruan was exhausted but he thought his father was satisfied that they had accomplished a lot of work, and ought to be able to finish in a few hours the following weekend.
Knowing tomorrow would be busy with prayer, going to church, coming back for more prayer and then returning to school, Ruan decided to pack his bag with the clothes he needed. He got everything out and put it all on his bed and started to pack neatly because his father was always likely to inspect his packing. As normal, he kept the door open because he was only allowed to close it when he went to sleep.
And that's what happened, and that's when all hell broke loose.
When Ruan's father walked into Ruan's room to make sure Ruan was keeping everything neat and tidy, the first thing he saw was the pair of red running shoes that Matt had passed on to Ruan because they were too small for him, and which Benjie didn't want.
"WHAT ARE THOSE?" Ruan's father screamed.
Ruan started to explain. "They're running shoes that were a gift from Mrs. Vill….."
"WE DON'T ACCEPT CHARITY. YOU KNOW THAT. WE BUY OUR OWN THINGS AND WE DON'T GO BEGGING. THROW THEM AWAY!"
"But, father…" Ruan started to say, and immediately his father punched him hard in the face a couple of times, sending him sprawling on the floor. And then he kicked him hard while he was trying to get up, and kept on kicking him while he lay there protecting his face with his arms. His nose was bleeding from the punch, he had a split lip, and his chest was hurting badly.
Ruan's father ripped the bedspread off sending his school clothes and books flying across the room. Then grabbed the boy and pulled him on to the bed, and started taking off his belt.
"No, stop, I'm sorry!" pleaded Ruan, but it was to no avail. His father thrashed him as hard as he could with as many as twenty hard lashes of his belt. Because Ruan was still wearing a shirt the belt didn't cut him too badly, but in a couple of places he started to bleed. Eventually with Ruan more or less passed out, his father's rage diminished, and leaving Ruan on the bed he stormed out, taking the red running shoes with him.
Ruan could hardly move. His back was hurting badly, his ribs hurt and he had a sharp pain every time he adjusted his position, and he could feel his right eye beginning to close. The only consolation he had was that it was probably over because his father had never ever returned to beat him once he had stopped.
It's hard to describe Ruan's agony through the night. He hurt all over, he gradually stiffened up, his eye closed up completely and he had to try to stay as still as possible. He slept fitfully so that when morning came he was still exhausted. But he just couldn't face getting out of bed, and so he just stayed there.
His father looked in around nine o'clock. " I'm going to church. I won't take you to church looking like that. You're a disgrace. Stay here and get ready for school." And he walked out.
Ruan heard the Land Rover start up and go down the driveway. He gave a sigh of relief, and tried to work out how he was going to cope. He managed to get into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, and using his chair as support, stumbled into the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. He got off his clothes with difficulty, particularly where his shirt had stuck to dried blood in the cuts on his back. He washed his face as best he could, but he knew he didn't have the strength to take a shower.
Very slowly he managed to get dressed in his school clothes, gathered up his bag and packed that as best he could, and then gingerly sat down on the chair in his bedroom to wait for his father to return.
After a while he heard the Land Rover return. His father came into the house and Ruan could hear him making his lunch using the cold cuts that Rachel always prepared. Ruan stayed where he was.
Later in the afternoon he managed to stand up and pick up his bag, and limped very painfully through the kitchen and went out to the Land Rover, and with his ribs screaming in agony, got into the passenger seat and waited. He could see the remains of the red running shoes sitting on the chopping block that his father had destroyed with the axe.
Eventually his father came out and without looking at Ruan or saying a word, got into the vehicle, slammed the door, and drove faster than normal down the track that led to the main road. Ruan suffered with every bounce of the Land Rover but he knew better than to make any noise, so he huddled against the door trying not to scream or wince with the pains that shot through his chest and aggravated the wounds on his back.
They reached the school hostel and Ruan got out as quickly as he could, which wasn't very quick and that angered his father who lent over and slapped him hard right over his closed eye and opened a new cut on his cheek that started to bleed. Ruan had hardly got out of the car with his bag when his father revved the engine and sped off.
Ruan limped into the hostel. The Duty Prefect signed him in at 4:37 pm, looked at him and asked. "What the hell happened to you? I'll have to tell the warden. Can you get upstairs?"
"I think so." Ruan limped over to the stairs, then very slowly, one step at a time, he managed to go up to his dormitory and without unpacking got on to his bed and passed out.
The Duty Prefect did what he was supposed to. He went to the door that led to the warden's quarters, knocked, waited to permission to enter, and opened the door.
"What is it?" the warden asked without turning around. He was busy watching a rugger match on television.
"Sir, sorry to disturb you, sir, but it's Van Der Merwe. He's been beaten up again. When he arrived he was bleeding and one of his eyes is closed."
"Where is he?"
"I sent him to the dormitory, sir."
"OK, when the game's over I'll go and look at him."
But he never did. He watched the rest of the game, and then had to go down and supervise dinner, and then returned to his quarters and started watching another program on the television, and completely forgot about Van Der Merwe.
Matt, meanwhile, had seen in the register that Ruan had signed in. So he looked for him in the common room, so as to give him Benjie's completed homework. When he saw Ruan wasn't there he thought he'd see him at dinner. But Ruan didn't come for dinner. That wasn't unusual because many boys had eaten lots at Sunday lunch and came back to school with care packages provided by their families and so didn't bother with the bread and butter and jam and boiled eggs.
The next morning Matt expected to see Ruan at breakfast but when he didn't turn up he went over and asked on of the other boys from his dormitory if he had seen Ruan. The boy told him Ruan was still in bed and added that he thought he wasn't well. So after he'd finished his breakfast Matt went up to look for Ruan to see if he was OK, and give him Benjie's homework to give to the teachers. In the dormitory he saw Ruan lying on his bed dressed in school clothes, facing the wall.
Matt walked over and shook Ruan by the shoulder. "Wake up, Van der Merwe, it's time to go to school."
"OWWWW!" screamed Ruan. Matt was horrified. He saw Ruan's messed up face, with his eye completely closed and huge black and purple bruise all around, and a cut on his cheek that had stopped bleeding but was still weeping, a swollen lip and dried blood around his nose.
"My God," gasped Matt, "what the hell happened?"
"My father.." whispered Ruan and then winced in agony.
"We need to get you to the doctor as soon as possible. I'm going to get help." Matt rushed downstairs, found the warden and they went back up to Ruan to start to help him.
Eventually they decided he had to go to the Sick Bay where the school had a qualified nurse on duty while regular classes were in session. The nurse was scheduled to arrive at eight o'clock and stay until six when all boys either had to have gone home or be in the hostel. Between them the warden and Matt got Ruan into a blanket and carried him out of the dormitory, down the stairs, passed several boys who watched silently as they passed, and over to the Sick Bay. They arrived just before eight. The assistant said the nurse should come shortly, so they lay Ruan down on one of the two beds in the Sick Bay and left him there. It was 7:54 am.
Andrew Cornelius was feeling quite satisfied. He had slept well, had had a peaceful breakfast with his wife, looked at the local paper to see what was going on, and then walked down the corridor and opened the door that led to his office. Cornelius was a well-established lawyer who had spent his whole life in Highveld, and had built up a practice that was highly regarded in the town and in the surrounding farms. He was also one of the leading members of the Dutch Reformed Church in Highveld, where he sometimes gave a sermon. And he was Chairman of the Board of Governors of Highveld School. This last activity took little of his time, a six-monthly meeting to review progress and finances of the school, and approval of hiring of senior members of staff. All other aspects of school life were delegated to the Headmaster.
That morning Cornelius was completing the final part of a complicated land transaction between three farmers and expected to complete everything by lunchtime. The rest of the day would be spent on tidying up because he had postponed some other less urgent matters to complete the land transaction.
Arriving at his office he greeted his office assistant, Alice, poked his head around the door of his junior partner, Hansie, and told him that he expected to work all morning on finishing the land matter and asked that he not be disturbed, and went into his own office where Alice was putting a cup of coffee on the desk. He thanked her, and asked her not to disturb him, got out the files, and started work. She nodded, and left, closing the door behind her.
When he worked, Cornelius had an ability to shut out the outside world and focus completely on the task at hand. However, this morning he was bothered by a loud knocking and when he heard it again he realized someone was knocking on his door. Reluctantly, he put down his pen and told whoever it was to enter.
"What is it, I didn't want to be disturbed" Cornelius said when both Hansie and Alice came into his office.
"I'm very sorry, sir," said Hansie, "but we think it's very urgent."
"OK, tell me."
"Well, sir, just after eight this morning we got a call from a woman called Rachel Mfolosi who is the housemaid of Jacob Van der Merwe. She said she had found Van der Merwe in his Land Rover crashed into a tree when she came to work. She had called the police. Then when she went in the house she found Van der Merwe's son's bed covered in blood and everything the boy had scattered all over the place, and she's assumed his father had beaten him up again, and so she called us because Van der Merwe had instructed her to call you whenever there's an emergency."
"How's Van der Merwe?"
Cornelius's assistant glanced up at the junior partner and said very softly "Sir, I'm afraid he was killed immediately." Cornelius grunted in surprise. "But, sir, it get's more complicated. As is our standard practice when one of our clients is killed or incapacitated, I checked our files to see who the next of kin is. And this is what we found."
She handed over a file opened to the correct page. "But that's not possible,' said Cornelius. "I'd never agree to be anyone's next of kin or guardian of anyone's children. What's on earth is this?"
"That's what we don't understand either, sir, and we thought maybe you had an explanation."
Cornelius looked again at the file, and saw indeed his name was there, written in pencil, identifying him as next of kin and appointing him guardian of Van der Merwe's son Ruan in the event of Van Der Merwe's death. He thought back to when this version of the will had been made, a couple of years ago.
"Oh, hell's bells, "said Cornelius, who never ever swore, "I think I know what happened. In his earlier will he hadn't made any provision for a guardian for his son, so when he revised his will a couple of year's ago, I insisted he name someone. Van der Merwe told me there wasn't anyone else in his family or his former wife's other than an old aunt and uncle of his who live in Kimberly. He told me he'd have to check with them first and stupidly I agreed to pencil my name in until he got back to me after he'd talked to the aunt and uncle. But he never did, and then instead of leaving his file in the pending box, I must have put in the box for filing. What a stupid mistake."
There was a long silence. Then Cornelius looked at his junior partner.
"I don't think I've got any way out of this, do you? It looks like I have to try to find some place for his son to live."
The junior partner looked at him and shook his head. "No, sir, I think it's clear cut. I think the boy has become your responsibility."
"What is he, about twelve?"
Cornelius shook his head. He and his wife had never had children and he had no experience of dealing with teenagers.
"Where is the boy? Anyone know?"
"Sir, the housekeeper said she didn't know but she assumed he's at school because his school bag and clothes aren't in the house. But she's really worried because it's not the first time Mr. Van der Merwe had beaten up his son and she has no idea where he is and if he's OK."
Cornelius turned to his assistant. "Alice, would you be so kind as to call the school and see if the boy is there, and try to find out if he's OK? Thanks. Once we know that we'll see what else needs to be done. What a mess!"
Alice and the junior partner left, Cornelius tried to get back to his land transaction, but he couldn't concentrate any more, and he ended up trying to remember what he could of Van der Merwe and his boy. He recalled seeing a rather plain boy who never spoke much, but otherwise he had no real recollection of who he was or what he was like. And he certainly couldn't remember his name until he looked back at the file and found it was Ruan.
After about fifteen minutes Alice knocked and came in. She gave another cup of coffee to Mr. Cornelius, for which he was very grateful and told her so.
"Sir, I called the school and they said Van der Merwe's son had checked in just before five last evening. They looked for him in class, but he wasn't there, and one of the boys thought he was ill and had gone to the Sick Bay. So I got hold of the Sick Bay and talked to the nurse's assistant, and he said the nurse hadn't come to work yet and there was a boy lying on one of the beds but he didn't know who it was but he looked like he'd been beaten up."
"I better go to the school and sort this mess out," said Mr. Cornelius. "I'll be back as soon as possible. Can you give me a copy of this page from the file, I may need it."
Alice quickly copied the page, gave it to Mr. Cornelius, who took a last sip of his coffee, got into his car and went off to the school. It was 10:18 am.
As soon as he arrived at the school, Mr. Cornelius went straight to the office.
"Oh, Good Morning, Mr. Cornelius," the receptionist said, "we weren't expecting you today."
"No, you weren't. I'm going straight to the Sick Bay? And tell the Headmaster to met me there right away. And I mean now!" Mr. Cornelius barked at the girl. He then went through the doors into the main school, down the corridor, turned right, through a covered walkway and entered the Sick Bay which was next to the hostel. He walked straight in and saw a man sitting at the desk.
"Where's the boy who's been beaten up?" asked Mr. Cornelius, rather abruptly.
"He's in there but you can't go in, that's only for the nurse."
"Where's the nurse?"
"She's not here yet."
"What time does she come to work?"
"Normally at eight o'clock, sir, but she's often a little late on Mondays."
"A little late? She's three hours late!"
Mr. Cornelius walked past the man, looked in through the door and saw a boy lying on the bed. He looked awful, his face bruised and cut, a bloody face, and a huge black eye where the eye was completely shut.
"How long's he been here?"
"Sir, he was brought here just after I arrived a little before eight. I've left him here until the nurse arrived, sir, I'm not permitted to attend to the boys without the nurse's instructions, sir."
"You mean he's been lying here for over three hours and nobody's looked at him?"
"Ummm, that's correct, sir. I was just waiting for the nurse."
Mr. Cornelius walked over to the boy, bent over and asked "Ruan, can you hear me?" The boy opened his good eye and nodded slightly. "Has anyone been to see you since you got to the school yesterday afternoon?"
The boy shook his head. "No, sir, well, only Matt Villiers, he and the warden helped me here this morning."
"OK, lie still, I'm getting help."
Just then a man walked through the door, looked at Mr. Cornelius and said "Mr. Cornelius, you have no right to be in the Sick Bay. That's for school staff only."
"Headmaster, I've come to see this boy who has been lying here for three hours and nobody has even looked at him, and I want to know why, now."
"You may be Chairman of the Governors, Cornelius, but that gives you no right to be here, interfering with routine school matters. I expect the boy got into a fight with someone. Please leave."
"Headmaster, I just found out I'm the guardian of this boy and I have every right as his guardian to find out why he's been neglected."
"This boy is Van der Merwe, Cornelius and he has a father. What are you talking about? You're not his guardian, don't lie to me!"
Mr. Cornelius, who for the first time in many years was about to lose his temper, grabbed the Headmaster by the arm, took him outside, and whispered "Shut up, the boy's father just got killed in a road accident, the boy doesn't know this yet, and I'm his guardian, and I'm appalled by what I've seen. Read this!" And he gave the copy of the will to the Headmaster who looked at it, and went white as a sheet.
Mr. Cornelius went back into the office. "You!" said Cornelius to the nurse's assistant. "Do you have Dr. Hendricks's number?"
"Call him and let me speak to him, now!"
"Yes, sir!" and he picked up the phone and looked at a list of numbers on the wall and dialed.
"Headmaster, explain why the nurse is not on duty."
"I don't know, Mr. Cornelius, she's normally here on time."
"The assistant told me she's often late on Mondays. Did you know that?"
"Well, she did ask once if she could come in a few minutes late on Mondays. Something to do with a shift she was doing at the hospital on weekends."
"The law requires you provide full time medical attention as long as the school is open and there are classes in progress, isn't that right?"
"Yes, Mr. Cornelius, that is correct."
"So for the past three hours you've been in breach of the law and as a result a boy is not getting medical attention he clearly needs."
"Yes. I'm sorry."
"Oh. You're going to be sorry, all right! I'm going to make sure of that."
"Excuse me, sir, Dr. Hendricks is on the line."
Thanks! Mr. Cornelius said as he took the receiver. "Hello, Hendricks, this is Andrew Cornelius…..I'm fine, thank you. Look, I'm at Highveld School where there's a boy I have legal responsibility for who's been severely beaten up and I need your presence as soon as possible……I've no idea of the extent of his injuries….probably yesterday afternoon…..no, as far as I can tell, nobody has looked at him, and the school nurse who was supposed to be here at eight isn't here yet……yes, it's disgraceful and I'll be taking action, but first let's deal with the boy…….where's the ambulance?....two to three hours?....then I think if you are OK with it, I'll try to take him home and then you can come over there instead of coming to the school…..yes, there's a trolley bed we can use to get him to my car…..yes, we'll be really careful, don't worry….OK, thanks, we'll see you as soon as you can get there. Goodbye."
Mr. Cornelius glared at the Headmaster as he put down the phone. "I'm not leaving this boy in the care of this school one minute longer. He's been here seventeen hours and not one adult has looked at him and tried to get help for him. When I get a moment, I'll prepare a lawsuit against the school for gross negligence. Now let's get the boy on to the trolley bed as carefully as possible and put him in my car."
So they did. Ruan winced with pain when they lifted him in the blanket he was lying on, placed him on the trolley cart, and carefully got him into the car. Mr. Cornelius had never driven so carefully as he slowly made his way home in order to make the journey as smooth as possible. When they got home they managed to get Ruan onto the couch in Mr. Cornelius's office.
Ruan was awake, clearly in great pain, but able to communicate a little bit.
Mr. Cornelius started to give some instructions.
"Hansje," he said to his junior partner, what I'd like you to do is this. I'd like you to go to the Van der Merwe farm and get more clothes for the boy, and talk to this Rachel woman and find out what she knows about what happened. Ruan, do you need anything other than clothes?" Ruan shook his head. "Alice, can you do the following, please. Please call the Police Station and see if Inspector James is available, and if so, please ask him to come over here as soon as he can, and bring a camera or a photographer. Then could you ask Mrs. Cornelius if she can join us? I'd like her here when Dr. Hendricks comes. And when you've done all that, could you arrange an emergency meeting of the Board of Governors, five thirty, here in my office? See if we can get a quorum at such short notice, tell them it's very urgent, and don't invite the Headmaster, this isn't a meeting where we'll have observers because it will involve disciplinary measures against one or more staff members."
Alice was shocked. In fifteen years, Mrs. Cornelius had never some to the office. The Corneliuses had long ago agreed that their private lives would be completely separate from the legal business. "Yes, of course, sir, I'll do all of those things right away."
She and Hansje left, and Mr. Cornelius was left alone with the boy.
"Does it hurt really badly?" Ruan nodded. "Well, the doctor will be here shortly and he'll give you some painkillers and other stuff so you can get some sleep. Do you think you can do that?" Ruan nodded again. "Look, I'm sorry to ask you this, but was it your father who did this to you?" Ruan nodded again. "OK, then why don't you just stay there and I expect Dr. Hendricks will be here in a just a few minutes." Ruan nodded and closed his eye.
Mr. Cornelius went out to the reception area, closing the door behind him. Alice had just got off the phone.
"Sir, Inspector James is coming over shortly. And Mrs. Cornelius is coming…oh, here she is already."
The connecting door opened and Mrs. Cornelius walked him.
"Good Morning, Alice. Andrew, what's going on?"
"It's a long story, my dear," said Mr. Cornelius "and I'll explain it all in detail later on, but right now we have one very sick boy in my office who was severely beaten up yesterday by his father, and he doesn't yet know that his father died in a car accident late last night and I don't want him to know that until he's started to heal a bit, and if the doctor gives us permission, I want the boy to stay with us. I'll never let him go to that school again because he was there for seventeen hours and not one adult tried to help him, and I'd rather he stays here with us than go to hospital where he doesn't know anyone. He needs a lot of help."
Mrs. Cornelius looked at her husband and smiled. "You're absolutely correct, my dear, I fully agree we should look after the boy if the doctor lets us."
"But there's more bad news as well, my dear. Due to a mistake I made when I did the boy's father's will, I'm the boy's legal guardian. So I have a legal and moral responsibility towards the boy."
"What, you, a guardian? What we're you thinking? We don't know anything about children!"
"I'll explain later, my dear. It's entirely my fault it's like that."
They heard a door slam, and Dr. Hendricks came rushing in with his medical bag.
"Good morning, everyone, where's the patient?"
"Before you go in, Dr. Hendricks, I need to tell you two things. First, the boy's father died in a car accident last night. We haven't told him, and I prefer to wait until he's stronger."
"That's sensible. I'm glad you've done it that way. Healing should come first. What's the second thing?"
"It turns out I'm the boy's guardian, so I'm responsible for him now. But I obviously haven't told him that. But if he's fit enough, I'd prefer to let him stay here rather than go to the hospital."
"What, you're the boy's guardian! That's hard to believe! But I agree he'll heal quicker in a home environment than in the hospital. OK, let's not waste time, where is he?"
They led Dr. Hendricks into Mr. Cornelius's office. The doctor knelt down in front of Ruan and said softly "Can you hear me? I'm Dr. Hendricks." Ruan opened an eye and nodded.
"OK, I'm going to look at you and we'll see what the damage is. Alice, could you get a glass of water, please, no ice, just room temperature is best. And a towel as well, please. Thanks. Now, let's see how you are, young man."
The doctor did a thorough examination of Ruan's face, then he unbuttoned his school blazer and started poking around.
"OWWW, that hurts"
"Sorry. What about here?"
"OW, that hurts, not so bad but it hurts."
"Do you think we can get you to sit up?"
Ruan nodded, wincing as they got him into a sitting position, and the doctor got off Ruan's school blazer and saw dried blood on the back of his shirt. He wetted the shirt and very slowly got it off. What he saw was awful.
There four or five very large bruises, and a series of welts across his back that were still oozing.
"Did he beat you?" Ruan nodded. "Was it a stick?" Ruan shook his head. "A belt?" Ruan nodded. "Did he kick you?" Ruan nodded. "It's not the first time, is it?" Ruan shook his head. The doctor felt him all over his back and his chest, pushing as gently as possible. Ruan winced a lot, gasped in pain a couple of times, but managed not to cry. Dr. Hendricks took his temperature, and his blood pressure, and listened to his breathing. Then the doctor got him to stand up and prodded and pushed his legs. That didn't seem to bother Ruan at all.
"OK, Ruan, I think you're going to be all right. Nothing major is broken. You've got two or three cracked ribs and a lot of bruising inside and out, your kidneys seem bruised and of course you've got a black eye that's going to win prizes. But you'll survive, you're going to need lots of rest and you'll be able to potter about in a few days. And in a couple of weeks you'll probably be pretty much back to normal. Does that sound OK?" Ruan nodded.
"I've got a couple of questions. First, have you had anything to eat today?" Ruan shook his head. "Well, I think we need something inside you because I'm going to give you some very strong painkillers and it's better if you have something in your stomach. OK?" Ruan nodded. "Mrs. Cornelius, maybe we could get him some soup to start with. Nothing solid yet, I'd like to have him on as simple a diet as possible."
Mrs. Cornelius said "Of course, I'll see to it right away. Should I bring it here, or are we going to get him upstairs into the spare bedroom?"
"Let's try to get him upstairs. And could you get us some extra towels and some warm water and some antiseptic soap, I'd like to try to clean him up a bit."
"Of course, that's not a problem," and she left to get things ready.
Dr. Hendricks turned back to Ruan. "Have you been able to urinate today?" Ruan blushed a little and shook his head. "Well, we'll need to get you urinating soon, that will help your kidneys, and that will help you can heal quicker. I'll get someone to bring over a bedpan because the less you need to get in and out of bed for a couple of days, the better. Alice, would you call my office at the hospital and get them to have a bedpan ready and I'll drop it off in a little while? Thanks."
There was a knock on the door, and Inspector James came in. "Good morning, everyone, what's going on?"
"Good morning, Michael, thanks for coming so quickly. I've got a young man here, Ruan Van der Merwe, who got badly beaten up yesterday and I need photographic evidence if there is any legal action."
"No problem, Andrew." The inspector got out a digital camera and took several pictures of Ruan from different angles. "Alice, I'll get those emailed to you right away!" Then he turned to Mr. Cornelius. "Did you say his name was…"
"Not now, Michael. Come with me!"
When they were out of earshot of the boy, Mr. Cornelius turned to Inspector James. "What was it you wanted to say, was it about …. Van der Merwe?"
The Inspector nodded. "Yes. Is that his son?" Mr. Cornelius nodded. "You know his father died last night, don't you, Andrew?" Mr. Cornelius nodded and said the boy didn't know yet.
"Well, that's probably a good thing given the state he's in right now. But I'll tell you this in confidence. Van der Merwe was completely drunk when he hit a tree last night. The Medical Examiner said he must have had a great deal to drink."
"That's odd. I thought he was a teetotaler. He never comes to the Club, and if he does he only drinks tonic water. Very strange!"
"Yes, so does everybody else, apparently. And even stranger, there's evidence he had sexual relations with someone not long before he died."
"Now that's really odd. His wife died years ago. What's going on? It's all completely out of character."
"We're looking in to it so we can understand better what's happened. I'll keep in touch."
"Thanks, Michael, it's always a pleasure dealing with you." Mr. Cornelius went back into his office.
"Ah, good, you're back! We're going to get Ruan upstairs. Ruan, your legs don't seem to have any problems, so once we get you upright we'll go very slowly up the stairs and get you into bed. Do you think you can do that?" Ruan nodded.
About ten minutes later Ruan was in bed, Dr. Hendricks cleaned him up and put antiseptic cream on all the open wounds, and got the dried blood off his face and back. The worst part was when Dr. Hendricks bandaged him tightly around his chest to that it wouldn't hurt his ribs quite as much when he moved and would give them a better chance to heal.
Mrs. Cornelius came in with a cup of chicken soup, and slowly Ruan was able to sip it despite his swollen lip. "Does that feel better?" Ruan nodded. "Would you like some more?" Ruan nodded again, and he managed to drink a second cup of soup.
"OK," said Dr. Hendricks, "now it's time for medicine." He got three bottles of pills out of his bag. "OK, these ones are the pain killers, they're very effective, you should take two every six hours, no more than that, please, and you won't be in much pain unless you do something that hurts your ribs. So don't try to sit up or get out of bed, and try to lie on your front so you don't open up the wounds on your back. Understood?" Ruan nodded. "And these ones will make you sleep. Take one now, and then we'll let you take them as you need but no more than one every eight hours. And these ones are antibiotics. I don't see any signs of infection but its best to be careful. Understood?" Ruan nodded, they gave him a glass of water and the first set of pills.
"You'll be asleep pretty soon. Have happy dreams! I'll come back this evening and check up on you. OK?" Ruan nodded and whispered "Thanks!"
The doctor got up and left together with Mrs. Cornelius. Mr. Cornelius pulled up a chair, sat next to Ruan and took his hand. "OK, Ruan, you're going to sleep now, and I'm going to stay right here if you need anything. Is that OK?"
Ruan looked at Mr. Cornelius with his one good eye. "Thank you, sir, you very kind to me and I don't know you at all" he said very quietly.
"Don't worry about any of that. Just close you eyes and get some sleep." And so Ruan closed his eye but he let Mr. Cornelius hold his hand and it wasn't too long before the narcotics kicked in and he fell asleep.
Mr. Cornelius stayed where he was. He didn't think the boy would wake up soon but he was concerned that if he did wake up and there was no one there and he didn't know where he was then he might be really frightened. Mrs. Cornelius came in a little later and he explained why he was still there. She just nodded her agreement and went away to make some coffee and sandwiches for her husband.
Later in the afternoon she came in again. "Look, Andrew, why don't you take a break. And I think you have some things to do. I'll stay here and sit with him for a while."
And so Mr. Cornelius went downstairs and walked back into his office. Alice greeted him. "Sir, the photos have come from the Police Station. They're horrible. How can anyone do that to a child, I don't understand! How is he?"
"He's fast asleep and seems quite comfortable. Mrs. Cornelius is sitting with him now. I'll go back later on." And he picked up the three photos of Ruan's face, back and front, looked at them for a long time, and sighed.
"Sir, I managed to get four other Board members. One person is out of town so he's not available, but the others can make it. They're all a bit surprised that you've called an emergency meeting like this, and quite curious to know what it's about."
"Well, I hope they'll agree to take action. What's happened to the boy is intolerable, and people need to be disciplined for that. Alice, I forgot to ask, could you attend and take notes?"
"Yes. Of course, sir, I already told my husband I'd be late, so that's all taken care of."
"Thanks, Alice, I don't know what I'd do without you." With that, Mr. Cornelius went back into his office, looked at the unfinished paperwork on the land transaction, decided he couldn't finish that before the Board meeting, and started doing some routine work. Then Hansje knocked on the door and came in.
"I went to the Van der Merwe farm and met the housekeeper Rachel. She's really upset to hear Ruan get beaten up so badly, but she's glad he's getting proper attention. She told me it's happened several times in the past but she never understands why. She say's the boy is a virtual prisoner in his own home, he's made to do farm work from morning until night, and then all he's allowed to do is read the bible. He's got nothing. I mean nothing. I brought what clothes he has but they're all farm clothes, and there's nothing else, no books, no toys. His room is bare. I've never seen anything like it. It's horrible. Anyway, I asked Rachel to stay on in the house and look after it until everything came clear, and she agreed to do that as long as she get's the weekend free to come to town and see her sister and go to church and stuff."
"That sounds great, Hansje, thanks for doing all that! You can go home now, if you like"
About fifteen minutes later Alice knocked on his door. "Sir, you have a visitor who'd like to see you. It's two boys from the school."
"Oh, OK, show them in." Two boys in school blazers walked nervously into the room.
"Welcome, I'm Andrew Cornelius, sit down, don't be nervous! What can I do for you two fine looking young men?"
The boys looked at each other and then one spoke up. "Well, sir, we're sorry to bother you, we know you're very busy and everything, but it's about a boy from school called Ruan Van Der Merwe, he's a friend of mine and I saw he was all beaten up, and we got him to the Sick Bay, but then they said someone took him away and we heard that you might know where is, so me and my friend wanted to try to see him."
"That's very kind of you to be concerned. What's your name?" "Matt Villiers, sir, and this is my friend Carl, he was Duty Prefect in charge of checking in boys after the weekend and making them sign the register, and he saw Ruan yesterday when he checked in during the afternoon."
"Oh, did you, Carl? And tell me what you saw."
"Well, sir, Van der Merwe was badly hurt, sir. He had been punched in the face and he had blood on his lip, and he was having trouble walking, and…"
"Was this how you saw him?" Mr. Cornelius help up the photo of Ruan's face. "Yes, sir, just like that."
"And what did you do?"
"Well, sir, we're instructed to inform the hostel warden if there's anything out of the ordinary happening, so after I told Van der Merwe to go up to his dormitory and lie down, I went and told the warden that there was a hurt boy who needed attention. He was watching television, sir, some rugger match, and he told me he'd be up as soon as the game was over. But I'm not sure he did."
"Did you remind the warden later on?"
"Ummm, no, sir."
Well, ummm, this is hard to say, sir, but, umm, the warden doesn't like to be criticized or reminded if forgot something. He gets angry very quickly."
"Oh, 'shoot the messenger', you mean?"
"Excuse me, sir, I don't understand."
"'Shoot the messenger' means that if you give someone bad news they blame you for the bad news even though you had nothing to do with it, you're just the messenger."
"Yes, sir, it's exactly like that."
"So boys, particularly younger ones, don't like to bother the warden? Doesn't sound like the boys and the warden have a very good relationship."
"No, sir, that's correct."
"Look, Carl, you've been very helpful. Could I ask you to be even more helpful?" The boy nodded. "Then could you repeat everything you said to Alice here, and she'll type it up and then you can sign it as a true factual account of what happened?"
"Yes, sir, I'd be happy to do that, sir."
"OK, then, Matt, you come with me."
Mr. Cornelius left Carl with Alice, and then led Matt through the connecting door and up the stairs. Mrs. Cornelius was sitting in a chair next to Ruan's bed reading a book.
"How's he doing?"
"He's been fast asleep, that's good for him." Then she looked at Matt "Are you a friend of his? Well that's very sweet of you to come and see him. I'm not sure he's going to wake up, but maybe he will. Let's see. What's your name, young man?"
"Matt Villiers, maam."
"Villiers, hmmm, let me think. Villiers, who do I know who's a Villiers around here. Ummm, are you one of the Orangeburg Villiers?"
"Yes, maam, that's right."
"Then I've met you mother. What a nice family. And I'm happy for Ruan he has you as a friend."
"He's really best friends with my younger brother Benjie but Benjie's at home with a broken leg. Ruan stayed with us last weekend, and we had a great time!"
Although they had been speaking softly it was enough to wake Ruan. He opened his good eye, and saw Matt, and gave a tiny smile. "Matt," he whispered. Matt leaned over and squeezed his hand. Ruan squeezed back a little and whispered very quietly "Matt, I need to pee, how do I do that?"
"Ok, I'll ask."Matt said softly. He found out there the doctor's bed bottle had arrived and that Ruan could use it.
"But make them go away, Matt, I mean you can help but I'll be too embarrassed to do anything if the adults are around."
"Don't worry, I'll work something out!"
Mrs. Cornelius immediately understood Ruan's problem. "Andrew, my dear, let's just go outside for a few minutes. Can you manage, boys?" Both nodded.
So Matt got the bed bottle, and the Corneliuses made a discrete exit, and Matt pulled down the covers and guided Ruan's cock into the mouth of the bottle, and they waited. They waited a little while, and then eventually Ruan managed to relax enough the he peed.
"Oh, that feels better, thanks, Matt!" Ruan whispered.
"You just wanted an excuse for me to hold your dick for you, didn't you, you dirty minded little boy!" Ruan laughed and then immediately winced. "Owww, no jokes, don't make me laugh, please, but it was nice!" Ruan smiled.
In a few minutes the Corneliuses returned. "How are you feeling, Ruan?" asked Mrs. Cornelius. "Better, but I'm still really tired and it does hurt still, and I'm aching all over."
"OK, just lie back and relax. Now, could you manage to drink some more soup, do you think?" Ruan nodded, and so Mrs. Cornelius disappeared and came back with some soup for Ruan and a glass of orange juice for Matt.
"Ok, Ruan, let's help you drink that, and I think the doctor will be back in a few minutes and he'll let us know if you can take some more pain pills."
Dr. Hendricks did return shortly after Ruan had drunk his soup. He checked Ruan all over, took his temperature and blood pressure again, listened to him very carefully through his stethoscope, and then gave his verdict. "Ruan, you're doing really well. I'm going to give you another pain pill, and maybe in a couple of hours, if you haven't gone back to sleep you can take another sleeping pill. All I want is for you to rest, drink as much water and soup as you can, and we'll have you on your feet in no time. If you feel better tomorrow morning then maybe we can give you something solid to eat, but today let's just stick to liquids, OK? Did you manage to urinate yet?" Ruan nodded. "Good. Then that's all I'm going to do tonight. If Ruan sleeps well through the night, then I may let him eat something tomorrow. I'll be back in the morning. Sleep well!" And with that Dr. Hendricks left.
"Wait, Dr. Hendricks," called Mr. Cornelius. "Would you be able to give Matt's friend Carl a ride back to school? He's downstairs with Alice. We'll get Matt back to school later." "Of course! I'd be glad to help!"
Mr. Cornelius looked at his wife. "Would you mind looking after Ruan for a little while longer? I have to get ready for the Board meeting, and that's starting soon. "Ruan, I'll be back shortly, all right?" Ruan nodded, and then watched Mrs. Cornelius get him his next pain pill and a glass of water.
Matt leaned over, ruffled Ruan's hair, and said "I'll come and see you tomorrow, OK?" Ruan smiled as Matt followed Mr. Cornelius out of the room.
Downstairs he asked Matt if he'd also make a statement about what he had seen and done today with Ruan, including getting him to the Sick Bay. Matt agreed, and left him with Alice while he made a few notes in preparation for the Board meeting. When Matt had finished his statement and had signed her typed version, Alice got Hansje to take him back to school. By this time it was almost time for the school Governors to start arriving, so she made some fresh tea and coffee in anticipation of their arrival.
At five thirty sharp five of the six members of the Highveld School Board of Governors sat round the conference table in Andrew Cornelius's office. They'd helped themselves to tea or coffee, and everyone was eager to find out what was going on.
"Good evening, everyone," started Mr. Cornelius, "thank you all for coming at such short notice. I'm very grateful that we have enough for a quorum because I think we may have to make some difficult decisions this evening.
"First, because this is an Emergency Meeting we are allowed to dispense with all of the normal things like minutes of the last meeting, and just get down to business. Is that alright with everyone?" They all nodded agreement.
"Good. There's only one item on the agenda, and that is to determine if, firstly, we should take disciplinary action against two or more staff members for abuse and neglect of a minor child and, secondly, whether we should take disciplinary action against one or more staff members for failing to provide required medical attention to a minor child."
"Excuse me, Andrew," one of the board members intervened, "if it's a matter of taking disciplinary measures against staff members, shouldn't the Headmaster be present?"
"Normally that would be the correct procedure, but I have reason to believe that we may need to take disciplinary action against the Headmaster himself, so that's why he's not present." Nobody spoke, but there were a couple of concerned looks between board members.
"Now, I apologize for showing you this, but this is the reason we are all here this evening." And Mr. Cornelius passed out three photos showing the extent of Ruan's injuries.
"My goodness, what's this? Is this one of our boys at the school? What happened?"
"These are photos of Ruan Van der Merwe. He's a pupil at the school, age fourteen. We believe this happened to him at his home on Saturday evening or Sunday morning and that his father carried out this assault. That's a separate matter outside our jurisdiction as board members. However, on Sunday evening the boy's father delivered him to the school as he's one of our weekly boarders, the boy managed to walk into the hostel, and he signed the attendance register. At the moment a minor signs the register, whether we like it or not, the school assumes responsibility for the physical mental and moral health of that minor until he leaves the school premises. In legal terms it's called 'in loco parentis' or 'taking the place of the parents'.
"But in this case, the school did nothing. The Duty Prefect followed proper procedures and informed the hostel warden that there was a boy needing medical help. The warden was too busy watching television to take immediate action, promised to look at the boy in a little while, and promptly forgot all about it. As a result the boy was left unattended from the time of his arrival at 4:35 pm until another Prefect told the hostel warden about it at approximately seven thirty the next morning. That means the boy, in the condition you see him in those photos, was left unattended without medical assistance for roughly fifteen hours." There was a collective gasp from the board members.
"But it get's worse. When the second Prefect alerted the hostel warden, they managed to get the boy to the Sick Bay a few minutes before eight o'clock. The school nurse had not yet come to work, her day being scheduled to start at eight o'clock, so they left the boy in the care of a low level assistant who has no medical expertise."
"About time the poor boy got some help!" one of the board members said. Everyone nodded agreement.
"But he didn't. For reasons I'll not go into detail here, I was informed in mid-morning that the boy's father had died in a road accident and due to an oversight in this office, I was the legal guardian of the boy. I was also informed that their housemaid was concerned about the boy's safety because she had found a lot of blood on his bed when she got to work.
"I determined the boy was in the Sick Bay at school. So I personally went to the school to see what was happening to him. When I got there I went straight to the Sick Bay and found that the boy had still not received any medical attention even though he had been lying in the Sick Bay for another three hours"
"What? Why not? That's disgraceful!" demanded one board member.
"Because the school nurse had not yet come to work. I called Dr. Hendricks myself, and we agreed that I should take charge of the boy and bring him to my house rather than the hospital. The Headmaster arrived, and I asked him why the nurse had not arrived, and he told me they had a private arrangement that she could be a little late on Monday mornings because she worked a night shift at the hospital on weekends."
"You mean the school nurse works all night at the hospital and then comes immediately to work another shift at he school? That's unacceptable!"
"It's not only unacceptable, it's illegal," said Mr. Cornelius "and it puts the school children at added risk. And further, because the nurse was more than three hours late for work, it means the school failed to provide the required medical coverage during regular school hours. If the boy had died, the school could be sued for enormous damages. As it is, the school is subject to legal action if someone took up the case."
"Andrew, you're the boy's guardian and a lawyer. Are you going to take up a case?"
"I don't know. I think it's up to the Board of Governors to guide me. And I may have a conflict of interest if I take legal action because I'm not sure if a Board Member can do that."
"Yes, I can see that," said one of the other members, "but we can't just sit here and do nothing. Andrew, do you have any suggestions?"
"Well, I've obviously thought about it quite a bit, and I've taken the liberty of getting a couple of statements made by Prefects who were involved. My suggestion is that we should do as follows. We should instruct the Headmaster to immediately suspend the hostel warden pending an inquiry into his actions or lack of action. We should also instruct the Headmaster to suspend the school nurse on the same basis, to determine why she was not reporting to work on Mondays in accordance with her contractual obligations. And lastly, we should inform the Headmaster that there will be an enquiry into why he made an illegal and unauthorized decision to allow the school nurse to be late, thereby putting the school into legal and moral jeopardy. And please bear this in mind. Because we, as the Board of Governors, have been informed of the situation, we will be legally liable if we fail to take action, and then someone finds out something similar has happened in the past and decides to take legal action against the school and the Board of Governors."
Mr. Cornelius looked around the room. He could sense everyone wanted to say something.
"OK, so let's do this. You probably have lots of questions and suggestions. Let's just go round the table in turn, let each person have their say, and then if we have agreements and disagreements we can try to sort them out and come to a conclusion. Is that OK with everyone?". Everyone agreed this was the best way to come to some decisions.
It didn't take long. There was pretty much a consensus that what Mr. Cornelius had suggested was the best course of action. They hoped the hostel warden and the nurse would resign without having to hold a detailed inquiry because that would take care of the immediate problem, and they hoped the Headmaster would develop and implement new procedures that would give better protection to boys who needed medical and other assistance. Mr. Cornelius privately hoped the Headmaster might offer to resign at the end of the school year, but he didn't think that was likely, and the other Board Members didn't feel that they could suggest this to the Headmaster at this stage. Finally, they agreed to reconvene the next morning at the school and inform the Headmaster of their actions.
Mr. Cornelius was exhausted. Instead of the fairly low-key day he had anticipated, he had been busy since morning. He looked in on Ruan who was fast asleep again and then sat down with his wife for some supper, a glass of wine and a long night's sleep.
The next morning Mr. Cornelius checked on Ruan. The boy had slept throughout the night and said he was feeling a lot better than yesterday. He was able to sit up more easily although he had to move slowly because his ribs still hurt a lot, and he convinced Mr. Cornelius that he could walk to the bathroom if he could hold on to his arm.
Mr. Cornelius waited discretely until Ruan had finished in the bathroom, and helped him back into bed.
"I think you're mending pretty fast, young man," said Mr. Cornelius "but don't try to do too much. Dr. Henricks will be here in a while, I expect. He'll tell us if you can start to eat something more solid that soup and juice, and maybe he can give us a timetable for how long it's going to take to get you back to speed. Now, stay here, I'll get you something to drink so you can take some more pills."
"Thanks, Mr. Cornelius, you're very kind. But I don't understand why I'm here."
"We'll talk about that after the doctor has visited. OK?" Ruan nodded, and Mr. Cornelius went away.
Dr. Hendricks was very pleased with Ruan's progress, and was not at all upset that he had gone to the bathroom with assistance from Mr. Cornelius. He promised to get a walking frame sent over so that Ruan would be able to go by himself, and move his legs around so they didn't suffer from being in bed too much. He approved a light diet for the day, porridge, scrambled or boiled eggs, ice cream, pudding, and lots and lots of juice.
"I know that will make you have to go to the bathroom more often, but it's important for you to keep properly hydrated. Now, today, I want you to stay in bed, try to get more sleep, and when you need to go to the bathroom, even with a walker, make sure someone's with you just in case you fall or something. Is that clear?"
"Yes, thank you, doctor."
"And tomorrow I think we'll try to get you moving about in the house, and by Thursday you my be able to take a short walk outside."
"That sounds good to me, but right now I think I need some more sleep." Ruan got out some more pain pills and sleeping pill and swallowed them down. Mr. Cornelius gave him a little hand bell and said if there's any problem, just ring it and he, or Mrs. Cornelius or the maid would come and help. Then he and the doctor left Ruan to sleep.
Mr. Cornelius asked the doctor about telling Ruan about the death of his father. Dr. Hendricks said he thought the boy looked strong enough to take the news, and it was better he heard it from Mr. Cornelius himself than for someone else to let the news slip out unexpectedly.
Then Mr. Cornelius drove to the school for the Board of Governors meeting. It was a brief and rather contentious meeting. The Headmaster took the view that the infringements were not serious enough to warrant any resignations and the staff members involved should just be told to be more diligent in future. The Board disagreed, and insisted they interview both of the staff members involved.
The nurse came first. She was really upset by what had happened, and she nearly cried when she saw the photos of Ruan. She said she knew she shouldn't really come to work so late on Mondays but nothing had happened before and so she had got a bit later over the past few months so she could go home and change and have breakfast before coming to the school.
When Mr. Cornelius told her that the Board was proposing in inquiry into what had happened she immediately offered to resign. The Board accepted this, and told the Headmaster to recruit a new nurse, and hire a temporary nurse on an interim basis.
Then they interviewed the hostel warden. He admitted that he'd been in error in not seeing to the boy as soon as he had been informed by the Duty Prefect that someone needed help, and he confessed he forgot to go later because he got involved in other things. But he said that if things were really serious, one of the other boys should have come to remind him. With so many boys in the hostel he said he couldn't do everything singlehandedly and relied on the more senior boys to take leadership and initiative.
The Board members asked the hostel warden a large number questions, not only about the immediate incident with Ruan, but also about his role as hotel warden, his relationship with the boys, procedures and other administrative matters.
Mr. Cornelius didn't say much but listened and watched very carefully. His background as a lawyer had given him a pretty good sense of when people were telling the truth and when they were lying. He didn't think the hostel warden was lying, but he was evasive and defensive when it came to discussions of his relationships with the boys, and particularly with the more senior boys and prefects. And privately, he thanked his lucky stars that he wasn't living in that hostel with that man in charge. He absolutely didn't trust him and thought he wouldn't stop at anything to try to save his own skin.
Eventually Mr. Cornelius asked the hostel warden to step outside while they decided what to do. The majority of the Board seemed uncomfortable with the way things were, and remained convinced that some action needed to be taken. So they decided to suspend the hostel warden for six weeks, up to the end of the school year, pending an inquiry into the hostel and how it operated. Very reluctantly Mr. Cornelius agreed to lead the inquiry because none of the other members had any legal expertise. The Headmaster was unhappy with the decisions, but he realized that Mr. Cornelius had enough evidence about the neglect that Ruan had suffered, and, because Mr. Cornelius was both an experienced lawyer and Ruan's guardian, he could sue the school and would almost certainly win. And that would mean he'd lose his job and wouldn't find it easy to get another one in the field of education.
By mid-morning Mr. Cornelius was finally back in his own office and completed the land transaction paperwork from the day before. He stopped in to see Ruan before lunch. The boy was sleeping but Mrs. Cornelius said he'd been able to eat some eggs. So Mr. Cornelius took a longer break than normal for lunch, put his feet up and had a short nap.
Not long after four o'clock Matt arrived at the Cornelius's house to see how Ruan was doing. Mr. Cornelius took Matt aside and told him that he needed to tell Ruan about this father. Matt volunteered to be with him when he did that because he felt Ruan trusted him and would be able to help if there were problems.
So the two of them went up to Ruan's room, where they found him awake and feeling stronger. Mr. Cornelius decided that he'd let the boys have a few minutes together before they got to tell him about his father, so he left them alone.
"Matt, it's great to see you! It's so nice of you to walk all this way just to see how I'm doing."
"Hey, it's nothing. A lot of the boys have been asking how you are. And I've got some very interesting news for you! You'll never guess what!"
"Kuipers has been suspended and Mr. Richards is acting as hostel warden until the end of the year!"
"Kuipers suspended? Wow, I bet that makes everyone happy! What did he do?"
"Well, nobody's quite sure, but they think it's because of you!"
"You, because he didn't come and check on you when Carl told him you needed help."
"Well, he deserves it then, leaving me like that for so long! We'll ask Mr. Cornelius, he'll know because he's a school governor and I think he was there this morning."
The two boys chatted about other things until Mr. Cornelius returned.
"Ruan, I hate to do this to you but I've got some bad news for you, and I'm not sure how to tell you, so I'm going to come straight to the point. After your father left you at the hostel on Sunday afternoon he had a road accident on the way home and he was killed instantly. I'm very sorry."
Ruan looked at Mr. Cornelius, glanced at Matt, and then looked back at Mr. Cornelius. "You mean he's dead and I won't see him again?" The other two nodded. Ruan looked at them both and seemed to be thinking it all over. Then he appeared to make up his mind and spoke up. "I know I'm supposed to say I'm very sad and upset and things like that, but that wouldn't be true. My father was horrible to me, he beat me up frequently, he would shut me in my room and refuse to feed me even when I'd done nothing wrong, he never let me do anything except homework and work on the farm, I had no friends, I never got new clothes until the old ones had fallen apart. The only thing he let me have was a bible. So if I said I missed him, I'd be lying and I don't tell lies. Maybe I'll be able to have a life after all. I'm sorry I've said all that, but it's true."
There was a long silence. Nobody knew what to say. Matt understood better than Mr. Cornelius how badly Ruan had been treated, while Mr. Cornelius was still shocked by Ruan's outburst. Not angry, but shocked that one human could treat another so badly.
"Ruan, don't be upset for speaking the truth, "said Matt, "nobody's going to fault you for that. And thank you for being so honest with us. That means you trust us, right?"
Ruan said yes, and then he looked at Mr. Cornelius. "So what's going to happen to me? I never want to go back to that farm ever again, I hate it. But what am I going to do?" For this first time it looked like Ruan was going to burst into tears.
"Well, Ruan," said Mr. Cornelius, "to be honest we're still trying to work that out. Because you don't seem to have any close relatives, and because your father named me as your guardian if anything happened to him, I'm responsible for you right now. That's why you're staying in my house for the time being and why Mrs. Cornelius and I are looking after you. But it's something you and I need to talk about as you get stronger and better. But please don't worry for the time being. You're going to stay here as long as necessary, and both Mrs. Cornelius and I are happy to have you."
"Thanks, Mr. Cornelius, you're so kind to me." And this time Ruan did cry a bit, not for his father but because somebody cared for him. When he stopped crying, Ruan looked at Mr. Cornelius again. "You know, the only person who's been nice to me at home has been Rachel, our housemaid. My father treated her badly, not as badly as me, but she was always nice to me. I don't know why she didn't leave after my mother died, but she's stayed on and looked after me. What's going to happen to her?"
"That's something else we have to make some decisions about. I'm continuing to pay her until we come up with a plan for her. But don't worry, we're not going to just kick her out, she's been with you too long for us to do that."
Then Matt looked at Ruan. "I know this may be painful for you to talk about, but do you any any idea why your father did this to you this time?"
Ruan looked at Matt for a while. "Matt, I'm sorry to say this, but it was all your fault!"
"Mine? What did I go wrong?"
"You gave me those old running shoes of yours, and when my father saw them he went crazy, saying the Van der Merwe's were too proud to take charity and stuff like that, then he starting beating me up. And later on I saw he'd chopped up the shoes with an axe, he was so angry."
"He did all that because someone gave you a used pair of shoes that they couldn't use any more?" Ruan just nodded. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. No wonder you're not very sad to hear he was killed."
The three of them talked a little longer.
"Ruan, I expect Mrs. Cornelius will be up with something for you to eat very soon. But I've got to take Matt back to school. I don't want him getting into trouble with Mr. Richards for being late!"
Ruan laughed a little. "No, that wouldn't be a good idea. Oh, and Mr. Cornelius, thank you for dealing with Kuipers, lot's of people are going to be very happy!"
"I'm not supposed to talk to you about what happened, but I also think it's a good thing. Enough said, OK?" Ruan agreed.
The next day Ruan felt much stronger, and so Dr. Hendricks let him get out of bed and walk around, and even said he could go downstairs if he held on to the bannister carefully. Ruan was happy to do that, he was bored just being in the same room. Mrs. Cornelius had realized that, and had stopped at the library to get some books that the librarian recommended for a fourteen year old boy. So Ruan sat in the family living room reading for much of the morning.
At lunchtime Mr. Cornelius came in from his office carrying a carefully wrapped package, and set it down in front of Ruan.
"It's a 'get well' present for you! You can open it!"
Ruan was amazed. His father never gave him presents. At Christmas he'd get a new set of school clothes and shoes, nothing else.
Ruan opened the wrapping paper very carefully because he didn't think it was nice to just rip it off. Inside was a shoebox and he opened that to find a brand new pair of running shoes, identical to the one's Matt had given him except these were new.
"Gosh, they're beautiful! Thank you! You shouldn't have done that. But they're lovely and I can't wait to put them on and use them." And he got up and gave Mr. Cornelius a big hug and then gave Mrs. Cornelius a big hug, and he put the shoes on the chair next to him, and couldn't stop glancing at them throughout the whole meal.
"Don't forget to thank Matt as well. He picked them out on the way home yesterday!"
That afternoon, after Matt had come and spent some time with Ruan, Mr. Cornelius asked him to come into his office.
"Matt, as you heard yesterday, Mr. Kuipers got suspended for the way he treated Ruan, and I've got the difficult task to heading an inquiry into the way the hostel has been managed and what needs to be changed to make things better for the boys. Would you be willing to help me?"
"Of course, Mr. Cornelius, but you've already done the most important thing, and that's getting rid of Kuipers! Everyone hates him! Mr. Richards is much more popular, I mean he's strict but he's fair and most boys respect him."
"I'm glad to hear that. The hostel needs a good warden. Now, can you tell me why the boys disliked Mr. Kuipers so much?"
"Well, it's very hard to say. Nobody trusts him, he's very arbitrary in the way he treats boys, he seems to have favorites who can do anything they want, and he throws his weight about and hands out punishments left right and centre. I mean, you heard Carl say that he was scared to go and remind Kuipers about looking after Ruan. I'm sure he would have punished Carl for doing that, even though it was what he should have done."
"Do you think if I go to talk to some of the boys, either one-on-one or in small groups, they'll tell me anything?"
"You'll have difficulties if any of the boys thinks Kuipers might come back because he's likely to go after anyone who rats him out. I mean, nobody knows you, and so they won't trust you very easily, particularly if they think Kuipers might come back or you might just do nothing after the inquiry is over."
"Well, I hope he doesn't come back but that has to wait until after the inquiry is over."
"Could I say one thing to you, sir?" said Matt. Cornelius nodded. "Well, the boys in the hostel are divided into two factions, the weekly boarders like me, and Ruan, who go home every Friday and come back Sunday, and the fulltime boarders who can only go home on exit weekends. The weekly boarders don't like the fulltime boarders much, they think that Kuipers favors them and let's them have extra privileges and things."
"Is that true?"
"Yes, they seem to get treated better but I don't know why. They seem to have secrets among themselves that they don't share with the weekly boys, and that seems to give them some power over Kuipers. I don't understand it, but that's the way it seems to be."
"Well, that's very interesting, Matt, and that helps me a lot, but it also makes my task a little more complicated."
"Sorry, sir, but ask any of the weekly boys and they'd probably say the same."
"I'll have to think very careful about how I go about this, then, because if the boys clam up and don't tell me anything, the inquiry will not be very effective."
"Well, sir, if you don't mind, I'd like to make a suggestion."
"Please do, Matt, I need all the help I can get!"
"Why don't you start by trying to talk to some boys who have left the school. They won't fear repercussions from Kuipers, so they may be more forthcoming. I mean, the problems didn't just start this year, they've been like this for a few years."
"That's a brilliant idea, Matt, I'd never have thought about doing that! That's really clever! Now, all I need is locate some boys who've already left. Any ideas, Matt?"
"I know a couple of boys who left last year who might help you. They were both fulltime boarders. One went to University of Bloemfontein, the other is in Pretoria, I think. They wanted to be as far away from Highveld as possible!"
"OK, then if you have the name of the boy in Bloemfontein I could start there. I might try to go on Friday, Mrs. Cornelius likes to go there once in a while to do some shopping!"
"He's David Snyder and he's a first year student in the Geography Department. But other than that I don't know how to get hold of him."
"It should be easy enough to trace him with that information. Thanks, Matt, you've really been helpful. Now, I better take you back to the school, and please don't say anything to anyone about the inquiry until I say so. Can you do that?"
"Definitely, Mr. Cornelius, the hostel needs your help!"
After breakfast on Thursday morning Mr. Cornelius said he wanted to talk to Ruan about some matters relating to the farm. So they went through the connecting door and sat down in Mr. Cornelius's office.
"Ruan, in addition to being your guardian, I'm also the executor of your father's will. Do you understand what that means?" Ruan shook his head. "It means that I'm responsible for disposing his possessions in accordance with his wishes which he included in his will that he and I drew up a couple of years ago. OK?" Ruan nodded.
"In your case it's very simple. Everything your father owned is now yours."
"But he didn't own hardly anything!"
"Oh, yes, he did. He owned a great deal. He owned the farm outright. There was no loan or other financial obligation. Plus all the vehicles, machinery and the other equipment, that's all paid for. And he had a great deal of money in the bank because the farm was profitable."
"And he never spent anything."
"That does seem to be the case, doesn't it? It does pay to save, you know, but maybe in your case he went a bit too far. Anyway, that means that you've inherited a great deal of money and a profitable working farm. You're quite a rich young man!"
Ruan thought very hard about what Mr. Cornelius had said. "But I don't know anything about what to do with money, and I can't run a farm, I'm just a fourteen year old!"
"That's where I come into the picture. As your guardian, I have to make sure that everything you have is properly looked after and managed until you are at least eighteen, or possibly twenty one, depending on how your money is managed for you. That's fairly straightforward. It is put into a trust fund that you can't access until eighteen or twenty one, but it will pay for your expenses, schooling, food and everything that you need on a day to day basis. You have to ask the person in charge of the trust, and they will approve other expenses if they think it's a sensible use of your money. For example, when you're old enough to drive, if you needed a car they'd almost certainly give approval. Does all that make sense?"
Ruan thought it seemed simple enough. "So I'll get a monthly allowance for my living expenses, and it will pay for my school stuff, and when I'm old enough it could pay for me to go to college?"
"That's exactly correct! You're not stupid, are you!"
Ruan gave a little smile. "No, I do OK at school, not a genius, but not stupid either. But what about the farm?"
"Well, I think you really have two options. The first would for us to look for a person who would rent it from you and run it as he thinks fit. That gives you a steady income and let's you keep the farm for later if you decide to run it yourself when you're old enough."
"I don't like that option much, I never want to go back there."
"I understand, but let's not make a hasty decision. The second option is to sell the place and take the cash and add it to the trust fund for you to use when you're old enough. We don't have to decide now, you can think about it and we can decide later."
"If I rent the farm out and the person who rents it doesn't do a good job, it could make the farm less valuable, couldn't it?"
"Yes, that's true, and you're smart to work that out so quickly. You'd make more money in the long run if you rent it out, the farm stays profitable, and it gains value for you. But somebody has to keep an eye on the farm for you to make sure the renter does a good job. It's more profitable but it takes more management."
"But if I wanted to sell the farm, and put the money into a trust fund, wouldn't that also grow over time with interest and stuff?"
"Yes, it would. Of course, it might take a while to sell the farm, it's difficult to find the right buyer at the right price, so you wouldn't earn interest until it was sold."
"I think it might sell quite quickly."
"And why do you think that?"
"I heard my father talking to Mr. Claussen who has the farm across the main road, and Mr. Claussen told my father that if he ever wanted to sell he should come to him first and he'd make a fair offer, but my father just said 'over my dead body' or something like that. They didn't like each other very much."
"Is that right? I know the Claussens pretty well. Are you sure he said that?"
"I think so."
Mr. Cornelius took a deep breath, looked out the window for a few minutes, deep in thought, and then he turned back to look at Ruan. "I think I can do this. We don't need to take a decision today, and what I'll do is talk to Mr. Claussen and sound him out. If he's serious and if he's willing to discuss a sensible price, then we might be in business. Do you agree with that idea, Ruan?"
"Yes, that's perfect!"
"Well, I'll probably see him at the Club on Saturday night, he's normally there, and Mrs. Cornelius and I go almost every week. Let's see, OK?"
"Thanks, Mr. Cornelius, you're really helpful and I'm most grateful."
"I'm only doing my job, Ruan."
"No, you're not. You and Mrs. Cornelius have been really kind when you didn't need to, and you've taken me in and got me getting better and better every day, and feeding me, and buying me those shoes, and everything."
"Ruan that's what people do, they help each other. One day you'll be in a position to do the same, I'm sure of it."
Ruan looked hard at Mr. Cornelius. "I'm fine with the trust fund thing, and I'm fine about the farm and what you've suggested, but there's one more thing I'm worried about."
"Go on, I'm listening."
"Well, it's about Rachel, our housekeeper. From what you said, my father didn't say anything about her in his will, did he?"
"No, he didn't, "said Mr. Cornelius, "and, yes, we do need to talk about her. Have you got any ideas?"
"Well, sir, I thought about it last night. Rachel told me several times that what she wanted to do when I left home was to open a convenience store and restaurant and bar. Her sister runs a place like that in the township and they want to go into business together. But Rachel says the problem is that the rents are very high and they eat up all the profits. So I thought maybe we could use some of my money to help her get started if that's what she wants to do."
"Well, she's right about rents in the township. They're very high, and nobody really makes money unless they own the property. Let me think a moment."
Mr. Cornelius turned and stared out of the window for a long while. Ruan kept very quiet because he understood that while Mr. Cornelius might take time to make a decision, when he had decided it was probably a pretty sensible decision.
"Ruan," said Mr. Cornelius, "you're a very thoughtful young man. I'm very impressed. I think your idea is worth pursuing but we'd need to do a lot of homework. What I think we should do is this. We should give somebody else the job of determining whether it sounds like a sensible idea. You and I are too emotionally involved to make good decisions. So why don't we get Rachel to come to the office and talk to my junior partner Hansje, and see if he thinks it's a good business decision and advise us whether we should go ahead or not. What do you think?"
"I think that's very sensible, Mr. Cornelius. I don't know anything about business or finances or anything like that."
Mr. Cornelius got up, walked over to the door and asked Alice whether Hansje was available for a few minutes. A couple of minutes later Hansje came in, Mr. Cornelius introduced him to Ruan, and explained what they wanted him to do.
"OK, I'm happy to help. And I think it's good to move quickly. I think Rachel is completely confused by what's going on, and she needs to know what's going to happen to her. I'll call the farm right now and see if she could come in tomorrow."
"If she can come tomorrow that would be great. I'm sure she'll want to see you Ruan. I won't be here tomorrow, though, I've got some business to attend to in Bloemfontein, so Mrs. Cornelius and I are leaving early and will be back late. Ruan, do you think you and Hansje can manage?"
"We can try, can't we, Mr. Hansje."
And so Ruan went back through the connecting door and sat in the Cornelius's living room with his book, but he wasn't reading it. Instead, he thought long and hard about the farm, and money and Rachel, and then he started to think about himself and what was going to happen to him.
Mr. Cornelius, on the other hand, was busy calling the pastor at the church because something Ruan had said had made him think.
"Good morning, pastor, it's Andrew Cornelius here…..I'm fine, thank you. Look, I wondered if you had chosen your sermon for Sunday because if not, I'd be happy to give one……Yes, I've got an idea for something that may interest our congregation…..Well, it's basically about the difference between Christians and Sunday Christians……yes, some people might not like that, but I think it's something important……OK, then I'll give the sermon on Sunday, you can have some time off!......of course you have a lot of other things to do, I'm joking!....I'll see you then, thanks, and goodbye."
Friday morning saw Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius set off for the drive to Bloemfontein. He wanted to get to the University by nine, when classes started and faculty and staff had just started work. He dropped Mrs. Cornelius off at a downtown hotel where she had arranged to meet a couple of friends and have a shopping expedition and then have lunch together. Mr. Cornelius went straight to the Geography Department where they confirmed they had a student by the name of David Snyder, and told Mr. Cornelius which class he would be in. An assistant came with him who was able to go into the lecture and hand a note to the professor saying it was urgent. The professor read the note and announced that Davis Snyder was needed in the office urgently. A skinny boy with long and rather grubby hair stood up, picked up his books, put them in a backpack and left the room.
"Excuse me," said Mr. Cornelius, "are you David Snyder?" The student looked at him and nodded. "My name is Andrew Cornelius, I'm a lawyer in Highveld, I'm also Chairman of the Board of Governors of the school, and I desperately need your help. Could you spare me a few minutes, I'd be most grateful."
"I don't want anything to do with that school or anyone from it," said the student and started to walk away.
"I'm trying to get Mr. Kuipers sent to jail and I think you might be able to help," said Mr. Cornelius quickly.
David turned round and said "Did you say you were trying to send that asshole Kuipers to jail."
"What do you want from me?"
"I'd like to find somewhere private where I can explain what I want and see if you can help. Would you be willing to do that?"
"If it helps send that bastard to jail, I'd consider helping. OK, let's go out into the gardens and sit down where we won't be disturbed. But I've got another class in thirty minutes."
They sat down on a bench set among rose bushes. The first thing Mr. Cornelius did was give David a note that Matt had written that said 'David, please trust Mr. Cornelius. He is a friend and he wants to find out what is really wrong with the hostel and do something about it to protect the boys. He already got Kuipers suspended. I guarantee you can trust him. Thanks. Matt Villiers'.
"You got Kuipers suspended? Thank God for that. That's wonderful news. I'm willing to listen to what you have to say."
David smoked a cigarette while Mr. Cornelius explained in detail why he had come to see David, including what had happened to Ruan, his suspicions that Kuipers was trying to hide something, and his discussion with Matt about the split between the weekly boarders and fulltime boarders.
"I know you were a fulltime boarder, and Matt said you might be willing to tell me something, but he didn't know about what. And that's where I'm stuck. I can go and interview boys at the school, but I think that they're going to be reluctant to say anything from fear of revenge from Kuipers or his friends. Matt suggested you. And that's where I'm at. And that's why I need you help."
David lit another cigarette and looked out over the garden. Mr. Cornelius sat quietly, not wanting to rush David, or spook him in any way. Finally David made up his mind and turned to Mr. Cornelius.
"Yes, I know some things about Kuipers that will shock you. But I need some guarantees from you. If you're not willing to make a deal with me, then I won't tell you anything."
"What sort of deal are you thinking of?"
"Complete anonymity. My name must never be made public or it would ruin my life. And a guarantee that in the event I did anything wrong, I won't be prosecuted."
"That's very straightforward and very simple, David. In any case involving minors, the names of the minors are never revealed. They are referred to as witness 'A' or something like that. The only people who know the names are the magistrates and they can't reveal them to anyone else. As for immunity for prosecution, you have my word that nothing will happen to you. People who provide evidence willingly are protected, and I'll make sure you get that protection. I know the magistrates in Highveld and they know me, and we have good working relations."
David stamped out his cigarette, promptly lit another one, and sat there deep in thought.
"I'm not sure why I should trust you, but I like Matt and I trust him so I'm going to trust you like he asked. Are you ready?"
Mr. Cornelius nodded, and wondered what on earth David was going to tell him.
"It's simple really. Kuipers caught me in bed with another boy. He blackmailed me by threatening to tell me parents who would have disowned me. He then made me have sex with him on numerous occasions. And he's done the same with other boys. That's it. It's simple."
Andrew Cornelius never ever swore. "Jesus Christ," he said, "Kuipers was having sex with boys from the hostel? God forbid. I'll see he goes to jail for ever!"
"I'll be blunt, Mr. Cornelius. He didn't 'have sex' with me, he fucked us against our will, I mean it was rape pure, and simple. And there were other adults involved."
"Jesus Christ Almighty!" Mr. Cornelius had turned red in the face and it looked as if he might explode. "David, I'm so sorry, I would never have guessed. This is the worst thing I've heard in all my years as a lawyer. Oh God, what a catastrophe! Do you know who the other adults were?"
"One was another teacher, Mr. Patterson. Another was a friend of Kuipers who was from the town, some businessman or other. I never knew his name, but I'd recognize him if I saw him. White man, quite tall."
"I know Patterson. I wouldn't have guessed he liked sex with boys. He's married, isn't he?" David nodded "But I wonder who the other man is. I think Kuipers is tough and very devious, but I think we might be able to lean on Patterson and this other man if we could identify him. Do you have an email account, David?"
"Yes, all students here do."
"If I sent you some pictures of businessmen in Highveld, and there aren't that many of them, do you think you'd recognize him?"
"It's worth a try."
"David, I need to ask you a couple more things. First, would you be willing to come with me to a lawyer's office where you and I can sit alone and I'll get a statement from you which we can get notarized so that I can show it to the Highveld magistrate? That would be the easiest and quickest way to get going."
"Yes, now I'm involved, I might as well help out all I can."
"Thank you. I'm most grateful. But before we go and do that, are you willing to give me names of other boys, past or present, who have been or may be being raped by these three? If I only have your statement the magistrate may feel that it's only your word against Kuipers and we'd have a weaker case."
"That's an awful lot to ask, Mr. Cornelius. I don't rat out my friends."
"I respect that, but in the end you're helping your friends by ending their misery."
"Let's do this, Mr. Cornelius. I'll come to a lawyer's office as you suggest, make signed a statement for you, then we'll decide. Is that fair?"
At the office of a lawyer friend of Mr. Cornelius they were given an interview room that allowed David to make a verbal statement to a stenographer who never heard his name. They were given some coffee. It took a long time for David to recall everything because he had a good memory and was reasonably specific on approximate dates. The stenographer returned in remarkable quick time with a typed copy of David's statement. David and Mr. Cornelius read the typed statement, which was verbatim of what David had said. The stenographer went and got the official notary seal, watched David sign the statement from a distance, Mr. Cornelius covered his signature with a piece of paper, the stenographer then stamped the document with the seal and signed it, and handed it to Mr. Cornelius.
She then turned to David and told him that this was one of the saddest things she had ever had to do, and she wished him well in the future, and she left.
"So what happens next?" asked David.
"Well, I'd like to buy you lunch if you're hungry. Is that a deal?"
"Sure. Do lawyers buy steaks for people? I haven't had a good steak for a long time, students can't afford them."
Over an excellent lunch, Mr. Cornelius told David that what would happen next is that he would go to the magistrates' office and show them the signed statement. This would be sufficient for the magistrate to issue a warrant for the arrest of the two people named. Mr. Cornelius would send pictures to David for him to try to identify the third person. And then they discussed the matter of the names of other boys.
"Look, Mr. Cornelius, I'm really reluctant to give you names of others involved. But I do understand that you need additional witnesses. So I'm going to give you just two names. I think if they make sworn statements then others will follow suit, particularly if Kuipers is not around."
"Or if they heard he had been arrested?"
"Oh, that would definitely help because then they would feel less scared about Kuipers taking revenge."
Mr. Cornelius got out his notebook and pen and waited for David to think of the names of a couple of boys who might be either willing to testify or who might be frightened into doing so.
"Can you tell me this, Mr. Cornelius? Can you threaten someone who you know knows something but won't say, you know, like contempt of court or hiding evidence?"
"I thought you were doing Geography, not law!" David laughed. "Well, it's not really approved of but it does happen sometimes. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I think both of these boys might break down more easily if they thought they might get punished for not telling the truth."
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that!"
"The first boy is in his final year at Highfeld. I know he hates Kuipers and is likely to tell you much the same as me if you handle it well. The second boy will be a bit more difficult. You see, he's only thirteen….."
"WHAT!" Mr. Cornelius yelled. Several diners turned and looked at him and shook their heads. "Excuse me, I'm sorry," said Mr. Cornelius, loudly. "That's younger than Ruan, and he's been subjected to this? That the most disgusting thing I've ever heard!" He was shaking with anger. "Now I'm really going to nail him, good and hard!"
David nodded. "I hope it works out." And he took Mr. Cornelius's notebook and wrote down two names.
After they had finished lunch Mr. Cornelius and David walked back to the University.
"David, I'm sorry you missed some classes, I really apologize!"
"That's no problem, Mr. Cornelius. Since I've talked to you I've felt better about myself. It's been festering inside me for too long, and talking about it has helped."
"That's very honest, David. I hope your role is over. If the men we arrest plead guilty the magistrate won't need to call you to testify, the notarized statements should be sufficient. If they choose to plead not guilty, then you'd have to be interviewed by the magistrate, in private, no reporters or anything like that, and the defense lawyers would ask you questions. But I'm confident you could handle that based on what I've seen and heard today. And I'd be there to support you."
"I can't afford a lawyer, Mr. Cornelius."
"You won't need to. I'll do everything 'pro bono', that means completely free, because I want justice, not money."
David looked at Mr. Cornelius and said "I wish you luck, sir, it will be fantastic if he gets thrown in jail."
"I agree wholeheartedly! Now, go and enjoy the weekend and try to put everything you've told me aside and relax. You've earned it! Oh, David, wait, I've got one more question."
"Do you think the Headmaster is involved in any way?"
"I don't think so, I mean I never saw him in Kuipers' rooms."
"But do you think he might have known about what was going on?"
"I've never thought about that. Why do you ask?"
"Well, it seems to me the Headmaster is very protective of Kuipers. He didn't want an inquiry, he agreed with Kuipers that he thought what happened with Ruan was just a silly mistake, and he is very defensive about the whole thing. You'd think a Headmaster would want to make sure everything in the school was clean and tidy with nothing nasty going on."
"Well, I can't say, sir, I know nothing about the Headmaster except that he's not very popular and most boys don't trust him."
"Ok, well David, you've been most helpful. I think you've earned your Friday night beer today!"
They said their goodbyes, shook hands and went their separate ways. Mr. Cornelius went back to the hotel, found Mrs. Cornelius and several packages waiting for him, and they got in the car to go back to Highveld.
"Did your day go well, my dear," asked Mrs. Cornelius.
"It was terrible. I've heard more about child abuse than anyone should ever have to. I think once this case is over, I'm going to retire!"
"Good, that would be nice. I'm going to hold you to that." And she leaned over and gave his arm a squeeze and they drove home in a contented silence.
Meanwhile, Ruan had had an interesting day. After breakfast he went into Mr. Cornelius's offices, where Hansje had told him he had talked to Rachel on the phone and that she'd be there about ten o'clock, depending a little on how long she had to wait for a minibus to come past the farm. Hansje and Ruan talked a little about the idea of a convenience store and bar and restaurant, and Ruan said that while he'd like to offer the money to Rachel as a gift in return for her service over the years, she would probably refuse. But maybe they could offer such a low interest rate that it wouldn't burden Rachel, and she might accept that.
It was a very tearful reunion when Rachel arrived, dressed in her Sunday best with a long, colourful dress and matching headdress. She ran over to Ruan and wanted to hug him, but he help up his hands and said
"Careful, Rachel, I've still got a lot of injuries."
"That terrible man, he's done such awful things to you, may he burn in Hell for ever!"
They sat and caught up with each others' news and then Ruan introduced her to Hansje and they got down to business.
"You've always said you wanted to start a business of your own when I left home, haven't you, Rachel?"
"Oh, yes, that's just what I'd love to do, but it's so expensive! I expect I'll just help my sister out in the place she's renting and see how that works out."
Ruan began to explain that he was worried for her because she didn't have a job, and he wanted to help her get a new start in life."
"Ruan, you don't have to help poor old Rachel here. You've brought me more happiness over the years than you know. It's only because of you I stayed at the farm."
"I know, and that's why we want to help. You know I'm going to inherit everything my father had, don't you?"
"Well, I hope so, you're his only child!"
"So what I'd like to do, and I talked to Mr. Cornelius and to Hansje here, and they think we can help you get started if you could convince us that you understand how to run a business. You'd have to estimate what it would cost to get going, and how much money you expect to make, and all of that. Hansje and an accountant can help you with everything, and if it looks like a good proposal, we will help finance you."
"No. I refuse to let you help. I don't want any money from that horrible father of yours!"
"Rachel, it's not his money, it's mine, and I want to help!"
"No, I won't take charity, I can do it myself."
Hansje interrupted. "Rachel, if you go somewhere else for money it's going to cost you a lot to borrow it, and you'll never have a profitable business. We're not going to just give you money, but we can work out a finance deal that will be cheaper than anything you can get from anyone else. I promise you that."
Rachel proved very stubborn and there was a lot of discussion backwards and forwards and eventually they came to a compromise. Rachel would continue to work at the farm until such time as it was either sold or rented out. She only needed to spend a couple of nights a week there because there wasn't much cooking to do, just keeping the place clean. That would leave her more time to sit with her sister and see if they could come up with a plan that would make sense. Hansje gave her the name of a small accounting firm she might want to consult so as to get a better handle on costs. And only then would there be any further discussion of financing.
Rachel accepted her part of the bargain because she was motivated to start a business but she didn't want to be indebted to private moneylenders who she never trusted. With good reason.
Then they all went for lunch, chosen by Rachel because she knew who the best cooks were in Highveld, and after they'd had an excellent chicken stew and rice she set off to go to her sister's for the weekend.
Ruan was exhausted, went upstairs and took a nap, but he felt a lot better about Rachel's situation. He was still worried about his own, though, and he needed Mr. Cornelius to come back from Bloemfontein to talk about that.
On Saturday morning the first thing Mr. Cornelius did after breakfast was to go over to the local newspaper and see if they had any of pictures in their archive of businessmen in Highveld. What they did have were mostly from reports of the annual dinners of the Chamber of Commerce where most businessmen in town were members. They had one where all the members present at the Annual Gala were in a large group photo, and Mr. Cornelius thought that might be a good place to start. He got a copy of the photo, came back to the office, had Alice scan it, and then emailed the scanned file to David in Bloemfontein. He didn't expect he would have much success, but at least it was a start, and would help repay David for his honesty the previous day.
Then Ruan and Mr. Cornelius sat in his office and they began to talk about Ruan and what was going to happen to him.
"Ruan I've thought a lot about your situation and what options we may have for you. Some of it you may not like, but let's not rule anything out. I'd like to start by telling you my ideas, and then maybe you can say what you may like to happen. Is that OK?
"Feel free to interrupt at any time. This is you we're talking about and I want you to be in full agreement with anything we might decide together. Is that clear?"
"Firstly, I don't think you should go back to Highveld School. They've treated you very badly. But it's more complicated than that, and this is confidential, so don't tell anyone else, I think I'm going to unearth a huge scandal at the school and some people are going to go to jail."
"Because of me?"
"Yes, but only indirectly. If you hadn't been neglected by Mr. Kuipers and the school nurse, nothing would have come to light. You'd have been treated by a doctor and life would have gone on as normal. I mean, it wasn't your fault but some people at the school might try to blame you because we've unearthed some other much nastier things, and I don't want that."
"So what am I going to do if I don't go to school?"
"Well, you're still going to need a little time to finish healing, so Mrs. Cornelius and I think you should stay with us until the end of the school year. That's only about five more weeks, and we'll make sure you spend some time every day doing some studying. I know it will be a bit lonely because you won't have your friends around, but we'll try to keep you entertained."
"That's OK, Mr. Cornelius, I like it here, you've both been very kind, and I'm used to spending time by myself. And really apart from Benjie who's not in school because of his leg, I really don't have friends. I mean Matt's been kind and all that, but he's three years above me and that means we can't be friends at school."
"Maybe next weekend you could go down to Orangeburg again. Would you like that?"
"Yes, that would be great!"
"OK, I'll get Mrs. Cornelius to call Mrs. Villiers and see if we can arrange that. So that's our plan for the rest of the school year. It's after that that's more difficult. Both Mrs. Cornelius and I like you but I don't think we're really able to have you here permanently. I'm planning to retire very soon, and I've promised Mrs. Cornelius that we'll have a long trip to Europe and maybe the US, and we'll be gone for two or three months. I'm sorry."
"No, Mr. Cornelius, you don't need a teenage son just out of the blue. Well, I had one idea but I don't know if it would work. Perhaps I could go and live with the Villiers. I mean, I like them and we got on well last weekend and everything."
"Well, that's very thoughtful of you. Mrs. Cornelius and I did discuss that as a possibility, but there are two drawbacks. First, you'd have to go to Highveld School, and I don't like that. And secondly, you'd have to go on being a weekly boarder, and we both think you should stop being a boarder at school. We feel you need a more stable family, maybe with some brothers and sisters your own age, and have a life more like a teenager should have."
"That's sort of a dream of mine. I was very lonely on the farm because there's nobody my own age there. But I don't know any other families."
"Well, I think I can help, but you may not like what I've got in mind. I've got a cousin in Ladysmith who runs an organization that specializes in finding good foster homes, and I've talked to her and she thinks she's be able to find a very suitable family for you."
"That's a long way away!"
"Yes, it is. But Mrs. Cornelius and I think you would benefit from having a completely clean start, away from all of the misery you've had at home and the school here, and nobody would ever know about your past. It would be like a new beginning for you."
"That's a lot to think about, Mr. Cornelius. I mean, I know you're trying really hard and everything, but I need some time to think about it and see how it looks. Is that OK?"
"Ruan, there's no rush, and I'm glad we have time to think things over and not come to a quick decision we'll regret later."
And they left the discussion at that point, Ruan went out into the garden to get some fresh air, and Mr. Cornelius sat down at his desk and prayed that everything would work out.
Then Alice came in.
"Mr. Cornelius, I've got an email I don't understand. Does it make sense to you?"
He read the printout: 'second row, third from left, bulls eye. David.' He whooped with joy, something Alice had never heard him do before. "Email him back, just say 'great news, I'll be in touch soon, Cornelius'. He'll understand."
Mr. Cornelius went back to his desk, stared out of the window and thought hard for several minutes. Things were moving faster than he'd expected, something he was very pleased about because the quicker things were resolved, the less damage to the school.
He then called the Highveld magistrate at his home.
"Hello, Jack, I'm sorry to bother you at home on a Saturday but something really urgent has cropped up and I need to talk to you about it…..yes, it's official business…well, we could wait until Monday but I with your approval I'd like the police to make some arrests as soon as possible…I'd rather tell you in person, Jack, it's not something I want to talk about on the phone…..would two o'clock be OK?....Thanks, I'll be there, and I'll bring a couple of documents with me…….if it's OK with you, I'd like to call Inspector James and ask him to come along so that if you think it's the right thing to do, you can issue arrest warrants and we'll have them locked up before they more harm…I'll explain everything, thanks again, Jack, I owe you one….yes, OK, I owe you several….I'll see you at two, thanks."
The next call was to Inspector James, also at his home. "Good morning, Michael, I''m sorry to bother you at home, but I've got a big favour to ask you…..yes, I know it's Saturday but it's really important…..well, something huge has developed over the past couple of days, and I need Jack to issue some orders for arrests so I'm seeing him at two o'clock and I was hoping you'd come so we can get the arrests made as soon as possible….I'd rather explain it in person, it's really nasty…..that's very kind of you, Michael, I appreciate that, I'll see you at two then at Jack's house. Bye."
At two o'clock the three men sat out on the terrace at the back of Jack McKay's house looking out over a swimming pool and flower beds, with iced tea in front of them. The magistrate took the lead, with Inspector James just sitting and listening.
"OK, Andrew, what's got you so hot and bothered on a Saturday?"
"I've got evidence that three adults have been systematically abusing and raping boarding boys at Highveld School and I want them arrested and prosecuted as soon as possible."
"Oh, Christ Almighty! Are you sure?"
Mr. Cornelius handed over the notarized statement that he'd got from David in Bloemfontein the day before. The magistrate read it very carefully.
"Oh shit! All Hell's going to break loose when this get's out! If this is true, then we've got a huge problem, haven't we? Rape, giving alcohol to minors with intent to inflict harm, there's a whole string of offences there. If they're found guilty they'd go down for years! But Andrew, you know as well as me that one sworn statement isn't likely to get a conviction."
"I know, and that's why I need your help. I've got two things we might try. First, I know the identity of the third person. We all know him. I got an email this morning from the person who made that sworn statement. He identified that person in a photo taken at the Chamber of Commerce Annual Gala dinner a few months ago. It's possible that he'll crack under questioning, he's a rather weak person, so if we arrest him now we may get a breakthrough."
"Come on, who is it?"
"Marius de Jong."
"Goddamnit, I just bought a new car from him! If I'd known I'd have never done business with him! What a piece of scum. Yes, he might crack if we offer him a deal because he's always trying to save his own ass! What's the second thing?"
"We three, and maybe a policewoman, go up to the school this afternoon and interview two boys. I was given their names as probable victims, and both might be convinced to tell us what they know. I'm warning you that one of them is only thirteen. Because they're minors we need at least two adults present when they're interviewed, and having a woman there might help if the boys fall apart."
"Are you saying that we have people from the school who are fucking thirteen year old boys? Jesus Christ! Michael, you've been quiet. What do you think?"
"I agree with Andrew. I think we should arrest all three as soon as possible. If this is allowed to drag on and any of the three sniffs out that we're on to them, I don't know what would happen. The boys would definitely be at risk, and the guilty parties might abscond."
"Then that's what we'll do. I'm going to prepare three arrest warrants, I can do that here at home, and then we're all going up to the school. Michael, Andrew, do we know where the three are?"
Mr. Cornelius spoke first. "This is a small town, shouldn't be hard to find them. I expect Patterson is home with his wife, I expect. I'm sure de Jong is at his car showroom, if not he'll likely be home, and Kuipers, I don't know. He has a place a few miles out of town that he goes to when he's not on duty at the weekends. We can try there."
"I'll get some officers lined up. It would be good to try to synchronize it so we pick all three up at the same time, say four o'clock? I'll make sure we get Kuipers first, he seems to be the ringleader, and as soon as we've got him, we'll pick up the other two. We'll probably still be at the school then. Does that sound good?"
McKay went and prepared three arrest warrants, gave them to Inspector James who left immediately for the Police Station, and agreed to meet the other two at the school at three-thirty.
Mr. Richards was more than a little surprised when four people turned up at the front door of the warden's apartment on a Saturday afternoon, particularly the magistrate, a senior police officer and Mr. Cornelius, as well as a rather nice looking young lady who was introduced as a police officer as well.
"Come in, what's up that requires such a high powered delegation. What's wrong?"
Mr. Cornelius took the lead. "Well, Mr. Richards, I need to talk to one or two of the boys. We've reason to believe that they may have been the victims of a serious crime and we need to get statements from them. Because they're minors we need at least two adults present so that the proceedings are conducted appropriately. That's all I can tell you at present."
"Do I have any choice?"
"No, sorry, Mr. Richards, this is official business under the direct authority of our magistrate. Do you have a room we could use where we can talk to the boys? I don't want to do it in the hostel itself where it might cause a big stir."
"There's a conference room over there you could use."
"Thanks. Could you get some water for us, and a few extra bottles for the boys? Thanks. We'd like to start by talking to Michael de Klerk, he's one of the fulltime boarders so he should be here, right?"
"Yes, he's here. I saw him a few minutes ago. I can't believe he's done anything wrong, he's a nice boy, small, of course, but very friendly."
"He's done nothing wrong. He's been wronged."
Inside the conference room the four adults waited until Mr. Richards came in with a boy who looked young for his age. He looked terrified. Mr. Cornelius sighed. He really didn't want to do this but he knew he had to if he was going to get at the truth.
"Come on in, Michael! We're not going to bite and we just have a few questions for you. Do you mind? Mr. Richards, why don't you leave us alone, and then we'll come get you later on. Thanks. Now, Michael, come and sit here and if you can help us we'll be very grateful. OK?"
The boy slowly nodded his head, and perched himself on the edge of the chair. He looked like he was going to burst into tears at any minute.
"OK, Michael I'm just going to ask some simple questions. You've done nothing wrong so don't think we're here to punish you. OK?"
"How old are you?"
"Thirteen, fourteen next month."
"You're a fulltime boarder here at Highveld School?"
"How long have you been here?"
"How many boys are there in your dormitory?"
"At weekends, how many boys are there?"
"You get the room to yourself?"
"Yes. There used to be another boy but Mr. Kuipers moved him to another dormitory."
"Ummmmm,…….I don't know"
"It must be very boring to be here all weekend when your friends have all gone home."
"When you're by yourself at night, does anyone come and check on you?"
"There's a bed check just before lights out."
"Who does that?"
"Mostly a duty prefect. Sometimes at weekends it's Mr. Kuipers because many of the prefects get to go home."
Up to this point the boy had relaxed a bit. The questions seemed pretty easy to him and they didn't seem to suggest he'd done anything wrong. Then the situation changed.
"Have you ever seen any boys going into Mr. Kuipers' apartment."
"We're not allowed there."
"Just answer my question, please. Have you ever seen any boys going into Mr. Kuipers' apartment?"
There was a long silence.
"During the week or just at weekends?"
"Ummm….maybe just weekends?"
Mr. Cornelius's heart went out to the boy. He didn't want to go on, but he knew he had to. He took a drink from his water bottle, took a deep breath, and continued his questions.
"Did you ever go into Mr. Kuipers' apartment?"
Tears started rolling down the boy's cheeks. The policewoman came over and hugged him. "It's OK, nobody's going to hurt you!" Then the floodgates opened, and between sobs.
"It was horrible, I thought he was being nice to me because I was by myself, and he took me in his place and gave me a Coke and we watched TV, and then he started feeling me, and he put his hands up my pajama legs and started doing stuff and he made me take all my clothes off and he tried to stick his thing in me but it was too big and it hurt like hell and then his stuff all came out, and he made me get dressed and said if I told anyone he'd tell my parents I was queer and ……"
The boy buried himself in the policewoman's arms and cried his eyes out. The other adults looked totally embarrassed.
"OK, Andrew, we can leave it there, I think we've heard we need to."
"I've got to ask one more question, Jack, please forgive me!"
"Michael, I've got a couple more questions, I'm sorry." The boy looked over, eyes red and swollen, tears still rolling down his cheeks.
"Did this happen more than once?" The boy just nodded. "Was there ever anyone else there?" The boy nodded again. "Did you ever see this man there?" The boy looked at the picture and nodded again.
"OK, we're finished here."
"Are you going to punish me, I didn't do anything wrong!"
"No, we're not going to punish you. You've been really brave, and I think you need to be with your family so I'm going to call your mother and they can come get you and you can spend a few days at home if you like. But we are going to punish the men who did this to you."
After the policewoman took Michael back to see Mr. Richards and got Mrs. Richards to look after him, the three men looked at each other.
"Andrew, we've got more than enough. I hope we've arrested those people by now. If we need more statements I suppose we can get them, but I think we've got enough to go one. Hopefully, one of the three will confess so we don't need to upset any other boys. Look, it's getting late. Are you going over to the Club for a sundowner later? I'll buy you all drinks."
At the Club the three got together and had a very large drink each. Nothing was said between them about the case, they never did business at the Club. Then Mr. Cornelius saw Mr. Claussen at the bar, excused himself, and went over to sit next to him.
"Hey, Claussen, just the man I wanted to see!"
"What's up, Cornelius? Trying to drum up more business?"
"Yes, spot on! You heard about Van der Merwe, didn't you?"
"Yes, couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. I mean, he was a good farmer, ran a good operation and made money, but he was an out and out bastard, treated his kid like shit, couldn't stand the man personally."
"I heard a rumour that his farm might go up for sale, and I heard another rumour that you might be interested!"
"Who told you that?"
"A little birdie!"
"Damn, you lawyers never tell the truth, do you?"
"No, we don't. If we did, we wouldn't have any business left!"
"So why are you talking to me?"
"Well, I might just be the executor of his estate, and I might just be the guardian of his boy, and I might just be interested in selling it for him, of course it would have to be a fair price and everything, but I thought seeing you were just across the main road it would make a nice addition to your farm, different soil and stuff, so you'd be able to diversify."
"Well, you crafty old devil! Let's have a drink and discuss it, just in theoretical terms, of course."
When they finally left the Club, Mrs. Cornelius wasn't too happy because she thought Mr. Cornelius was a little wobbly from drinking so much.
"So what's caused you to celebrate so much, you silly old man! You'll have a hangover tomorrow and you're giving the sermon. Serve you right!"
"Well, it's been a odd week, really. We've saved a boy from his father and nursed him back to health, we've got three criminals locked up in jail facing long prison sentences, I think I've found a buyer for Ruan's farm, I think we can help the boy's housekeeper start a business, we've made a whole lot of boys at the school very happy, and as soon as this case is finished I'm retiring."
"Well, if you put it like that, maybe you deserved a celebration, it's been a good week, hasn't it!" And she squeezed his arm, and they walked home in a very comfortable silence.
Sunday morning breakfast at the Cornelius residence was normally a peaceful affair. Mr. Cornelius would drink his coffee and read the paper while Mrs. Cornelius read a book. They'd been married for so long they could pretty much communicate without speaking.
But this Sunday things were a little different. First, there was a teenage boy sitting at the table. He was looking a lot better than he had a week ago. His right eye was open, still a little swollen but he could see out of it just fine. And his black eye was no longer black but a mass of blue and green and yellow all mixed up together. He still had a scab on his cheek but all in all he didn't look too bad. Second, Mr. Cornelius was scribbling notes of a piece of paper trying to get ready for the sermon he had promised to give.
Mrs. Cornelius looked hard at the boy. "Ruan," she asked "do you want to go to church with us this morning or would you rather stay behind. It's up to you, maybe you don't want to go out in public looking like that."
"No, I'm fine, Mrs. Cornelius, I'd be happy to go. I want to hear what Mr. Cornelius is going to say. I hope it's going to be interesting!"
"Oh, it normally is. He's a good speaker and generally his sermons go down pretty well with the congregation."
"Well, it won't today if you two go talking on disturbing my thoughts!"
"Oh, what a grumpy old bear we've got here this morning. I wonder who had too many drinks at the Club last night?"
Mr. Cornelius just grunted, and Ruan laughed. Not too hard, because that would still hurt his ribs. Mrs. Cornelius chuckled. She was so happy to see the boy more cheerful every day as he healed and adapted to life without an abusive father threatening him all the time. Although she had never had children, and was looking forward to when Ruan left, she had gotten fond of him and had found him easy to deal with. It's a pity, she thought, that he had to grow up so quickly. His father had stolen his childhood from him.
In the church Mrs. Cornelius sat with Ruan near the front. There were a few murmurs when they walked in, partly in sympathy with the boy who had such terrible bruises and partly because they didn't know Mrs. Cornelius had any young relatives. No doubt tongues would be wagging madly after church.
After a couple of hymns and prayers Mr. Cornelius went up to the pulpit and started his sermon.
"Good morning, everyone! It's good to see so many familiar faces here today. Welcome! I'm not going to give you a long sermon today. Sometimes a short sharp message is more valuable than a long one. And it gives us all more time to enjoy the rest of this beautiful Sunday!
"I want to talk today on the theme of Fulltime Christians and Sunday Christians, and I'm taking my text from Mark 12:31 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than this'.
"When we come to church on Sundays we do so feeling good about ourselves, and maybe a little righteous that we are being good Christians, and being seen to be good Christians by our friends and neighbors. There's nothing wrong with that, it's part of what makes a good, strong Christian community. We come together, pray and worship the Lord, we're treated to sermons that tell us how we should lead our lives and how we should treat our fellow human beings, and at the end of the service we all feel uplifted and spiritually refreshed, and we leave through those doors at the end of the nave to go back into the everyday world.
"But do we really follow the advice and teachings we get when we come to church? Some do, and some don't. Those who don't are what I like to call Sunday Christians. They're perfectly honest believers in Christ, and they have every right to be called Christians. But they don't follow the teachings of Christ in everyday life. Believe me, I see it every day as a lawyer where people have wronged others, lied, cheated, stolen, fornicated, and a myriad of other sins and misdeeds. Society tries to prevent those actions by giving out punishments that are supposed to stop people from doing wrong. But they really don't work very well, and people go on sinning and doing bad things to each other because of greed, or pride, or jealousy. And unfortunately there's a lot of Old Testament philosophy tied up with that, with threats of damnation or purgatory, and making people feel guilty because they've sinned. Then, when they come to church on Sunday they beg forgiveness for their sins, and are fearful of the Lord because he is a seen as a vengeful God. You all know what I mean, we've all been there.
"Then there those people I like to call Fulltime Christians. They live their lives as closely as possible to match the teachings of Jesus. They definitely believe that you should love your neighbor as yourself, treating everyone no differently than they would treat their own families. And they believe in the power of love and forgiveness. The New Testament God is one of love, forgiveness, compassion, caring, charity, and hope. True Christians believe in the Golden Rule, or as Apostle Matthew put it 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'.
"Many people believe that if you follow the teachings of Jesus you will benefit in the afterlife. I hope that's true. But people who follow the Golden Rule benefit in this life as well. They become more respected, more trusted, they have deeper friendships, and they can go to bed every day knowing that they have done the best they can to make this world a better place. And when they come to church on Sunday, they also beg for forgiveness because they regret not having been able to do more during the week to make the world a better place.
"So when you walk through those doors at the end of the service this morning, I'd like you to ask yourselves 'Am I a Sunday Christian or am I a Fulltime Christian? Am I going to forget the teachings of Jesus in the world outside the church, or am I going to follow those teachings in each and everything I do all week, and come back in here next Sunday wishing I could have done more to make the world a better place'?".
"Thank you for listening. Praise the Lord. Amen."
There were a couple more hymns and prayers, and then the service came to a close. Mr. Cornelius, following the normal custom for lay preachers, joined the pastor at the door and shook hands with the congregation as they left. He got a lot of smiles and compliments.
Ruan and Mrs. Cornelius waited for everyone to leave, then they too joined Mr. Cornelius and the pastor.
"Well, Ruan, was it worth your time to come?"
"I've never heard a sermon like that before, Mr. Cornelius. At our church it was always about hell and damnation and being punished for sins. I've never heard so much about love and forgiveness and leading a proper Christian life."
"We get our fair share of the bible thumping sermons," said the pastor, "don't we, Andrew? But I prefer the love and forgiveness approach. It makes life much nicer! It was nice to see you here at our church, young man, I hope you'll come again!"
The Corneliuses and Ruan walked home, had a wonderful lunch of roast beef followed by fruit and ice cream, and they all took a nap, especially Mr. Cornelius who really had had a full week, in addition to too much to drink the previous evening. Before he fell asleep, Mr. Cornelius hoped and prayed that next week would be less frantic, less emotional, and would have resolved many of the issues they had been fighting all week long.
At dinnertime, where they did not eat anything like as much, Ruan decided it was time to say something to the Corneliuses.
"I've been thinking about what we discussed yesterday. I think you're right, Mr. Cornelius, I do need to go to a family home where there are brothers and sisters and friends, and I need to start a new life, not looking backwards to what happened, but looking forward to what might be. So I'm happy to stay here for as long as it takes, but if you want to contact your cousin about finding me a good foster home, I think I'd like that. I'm tired of Highveld, and apart from missing you two and Matt and Benjie, I need to leave and go somewhere different."
"Very well, Ruan, let's do that. We'll talk to my cousin tomorrow and see what she has to say. Now, let's get an early night. I'm exhausted!"
The following week was a lot more tranquil. The three accused were charged with rape of minors. In South Africa this is a serious offence, too serious to be tried in the Magistrates Court in Highveld. So the accused were moved to Bloemfontein where the Regional Magistrates Court has jurisdiction over cases of rape, murder and other serious crimes. Mr. Cornelius was happy about that because he thought it would generate less publicity that might harm the school if the case was heard in Bloemfontein. The case would not be heard for a couple of months because there was a backlog in the courts in Bloemfontein. The Regional Magistrate refused bail without any discussion, so the three remained in custody.
As they had hoped, one of the three tried to plea bargain with the Regional Magistrate. Mr. Patterson hoped that by telling everything he knew he would get a significantly reduced sentence. The Magistrate considered the plea, and after consulting Mr. Cornelius and others, he agreed to the deal.
Mr. Patterson then revealed to the Magistrates that the Headmaster was aware of what was going on, although he never came to Mr. Kuipers' apartment. The Headmaster had heard a rumour that something was going on, and he confronted Mr. Kuipers and demanded an explanation. Kuipers made up a story that implied the boys were all willing, and there hadn't been anything more than mutual masturbation. The Headmaster swallowed the story, didn't follow it up, and when he considered buying a new car Mr. de Jong made him a very nice offer. From there onwards the Headmaster turned a blind eye to what was going on, and supported Mr. Kuipers whenever anyone complained about his performance.
The Regional Magistrates approved an arrest warrant for the Headmaster accusing him of aiding and abetting a criminal activity, and failing to protect minors from abuse. The Headmaster promptly resigned, but was given bail awaiting trial. The Regional Magistrates deliberately delayed that trial so that if any further information came out, then additional charges could be filed against the Headmaster.
All this put Highveld School into turmoil. One of the senior teachers was appointed Acting Headmaster until a suitable replacement could be found, a new set of rules and safeguards for boarding boys was drawn up, and a consultative council set up to deal with boys' grievances set up that included representatives from teachers, parents, prefects and the Board of Governors.
Although all the legal activities were taking place in Bloemfontein, and despite the best efforts of everyone involved, the press got hold of the story, and Highveld School became a sensation. I mean, there's nothing like a juicy sex scandal to sell newspapers and television coverage, and because it dealt with young boys it was even more lurid. The school was headlines for weeks, both at the time of the original arrests and charges and then again at the trial.
The school suffered greatly. Several parents withdrew their sons, especially those with boarding children, and it took a lot of time and effort to restore confidence that nothing like this could happen again. But over time the wounds healed and the school got back to normal, not the best school in the country, but not the worst either.
One of the positive things was that the trial got so much publicity that a lot of people got concerned about the risks for boys in boarding schools across the country, and a long term impact was that the 1996 South African Schools Act was modified to provide even higher standards for Boarding Schools. This was informally known as the Highveld Amendment, and whenever discussion of health and safety in boarding schools was discussed, Highveld was cited as an example of the worst possible case.
Mr. Claussen did contact Mr. Cornelius about purchasing Ruan's farm. They agreed to hire an independent farm valuation expert so as to get a fair price rather than try to negotiate the price themselves. Ruan was consulted and agreed that this was the best way to sell the farm.
Rachel and her sister came up with a tentative budget and projections of cash flow in a larger convenience store, bar and restaurant. It needed a lot of work to make it something they could use to justify supporting financing, But Hansje was confident that they could get it into a form that would justify Ruan making an investment in the enterprise. Rachel remained adamant about not accepting any financing as a gift but eventually she agreed in principle to accepting a loan from Ruan at a very favorable interest rate. It was actually very close to being a gift, given how low the interest rate was, but Ruan convinced her that part of it was a payment for all her service over nearly seventeen years with the Van der Merwes, more like a pension than a loan. This was sufficient to allow Rachel to soften her objections because it didn't seem so much like charity after all. It was expected that the financing would become available at the beginning of the year, about two months away.
Mr. Cornelius did start to make proper arrangements for his retirement. He and his wife planned a long trip to Europe, but they decided not to go until March when the weather would be better. But they did go on a long tour of southern South Africa to enjoy the coastal scenery and the wineries around Cape Town.
And what about Ruan himself? He healed with no long-term physical aftereffects. He started running, using the new shoes that Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius had bought him. He went to spend the weekend at the Villiers and enjoyed being with Matt and Benjie. Matt's girlfriend was back in Orangeburg that weekend so nothing happened between Ruan and Matt, and they didn't see that much of each other. Benjie was still in plaster but able to get up and down the stairs, so he was back in his own room where there was a camp bed for Ruan. The two boys spent a lot of time talking during the nights, but that's all that happened.
Ruan worked hard on improving his English. He felt that if he became fluent in both Afrikaans and English, it would improve his chances of finding a good family. He was already fluent in Afrikaans, of course, and knew basic Sesotho because that's what all the farm workers spoke, but his English was limited to what he'd learned in school, and that was really basic. Mrs. Cornelius helped him a lot during the daytime when Mr. Cornelius was at work, and both the Corneliuses made sure they only spoke to Ruan in English. So for most of the next four weeks, Ruan ended up having an ad-hoc intensive crash course in English that was to prove invaluable in later life.
Mr. Cornelius's cousin Klara came from Ladysmith and spent a night so she could get to know Ruan and determine what type of foster family she should be looking for. It was clear that Ruan needed to be somewhere where he could go to school without boarding, and that he needed to be in a family with one or two children his own age, preferably boys because she recognized Ruan had had almost no contact or experience with girls: he seemed very shy and uncomfortable in that regard. Overall, Ruan was a pretty quiet boy and putting him into a large, noisy family with teenage girls might make his adjustment more difficult.
Klara felt that Ruan shouldn't be in a farming community because he needed to broaden his experience. After all, in his life so far he had only been on his farm, at Highveld School, and a grand total of two trips to Orangeburg which was only an hour away. But at the same time she didn't think she should try to place him in a family in a city because he had no street smarts whatsoever. Highveld only had a population of about 25,000 people, so putting him into a big urban area didn't seem right.
Obviously this limited the number of possibly foster families, but Klara had an extensive list of families who might be willing to foster a boy like Ruan, and she was very persistent. And, whether she liked it or not, Klara knew that it was much, much easier to place a healthy white boy in a family than any other of the different communities in South Africa. So while she expected it might take time, she was confident she would be successful.
Before she left to go back to Ladysmith she sat down with Ruan and the Corneliuses.
"I've had a chance to get to know Ruan over the past couple of days. I don't think I'll have any problems in finding a good family but it's going to take time. Ideally I'd like to find something before the new school year starts in late January, but it's more important to find somewhere good for Ruan than to place him in a family he's not comfortable with. Do you think you two can put up with him for another few weeks? I don't want to have to put him in temporary accommodation unless it's absolutely necessary because Ruan might not like it."
"We'd be happy to have him for as long as is necessary. Ruan, you've been a perfect guest, and it's not difficult for us because you are so self sufficient." Ruan gave Mrs. Cornelius a big grin and turned bright red.
"Well, that's very kind of you both," said Klara, "it'll make any transition much more comfortable. Now, I've got one last thing I want to talk about before I go. Ruan and I have discussed his desire to make a totally new start in life. I agree that his ties here in Highveld are minimal and that he can make a new start somewhere else without too much separation. I mean, apart from you two, his housekeeper Rachel and the Villiers in Orangeburg, Ruan really doesn't know anyone very well, do you? So Ruan and I think that if it's possible, he needs to forget about the past and about Highfeld and really make a new start in life. What do you think?"
"You mean, change his name? That's fairly easy."
"No, Andrew, I mean a complete makeover. I'd like to give him a new history that has nothing to do with Highveld. If people know he came from Highveld, and if the school story explodes like you think it will when those bastards go to trial, then it may mean people will want him to talk about being in Highveld School, and that will just reopen bad memories. So I think it's a lot easier to invent a background for him he can live with and where he'll be completely freed from any association from events here."
"It sounds like the witness protection program in the US that we hear about on television."
When Klara sent copies of his new documents to Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius, Ruan decided he needed to do something to thank them. He wanted to get them a gift, but it's hard to buy something meaningful for older people who have everything they need. And it wasn't as if Highveld had a great variety of shops from which to choose.
Then one afternoon, as he was wandering around the shops racking his brains trying to think of a suitable gift, he saw something in the window of a religious bookstore that seemed perfect. He went in and bought it, and then took it to the picture framing store. They were able to find a suitable frame and a nice matt, and so a couple of days later Ruan went and picked up the picture, bought some wrapping paper and prepared his present for the Corneliuses.
One evening as they after they had dinner and were in the living room, Ruan spoke up. "You've both been so kind to me and I'll never forget you. I know I'll be leaving soon, at least that's the plan, isn't it, and I can't leave without giving you something in return. I know it's not very much, but I hope you'll like it. Thank you for everything!"
Ruan handed over the package to Mr. Cornelius, and he and his wife sat together on the couch and opened it. The picture was a print of the Good Samaritan helping the stranger by the side of the road. And on the back, in his best handwriting, Ruan had written.
You are the best Full Time Christians I've ever known.
You took me when I was in need because you are truly Good Samaritans.
It's impossible to thank you for everything you've done.
I shall never forget you.
I know I'm not your son, but that's how you've treated me.
With all my love, your son, Ruan.
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