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Flowers in the Sand

Flowers in the Sand

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Flowers in the Sand

249 pages
3 heures
Jan 20, 2014


Trapped by tragic circumstances in a dusty Namaqualand mining town during the Anglo-Boer War, Emma Richardson must degrade herself in order to survive. Then the town is besieged by Boer fighters, led by their tortured commandant Manie Smit, and Emma is faced with a fateful choice. With her vision of the ephemeral desert flowers in her mind, she sets out alone on foot by night on a desperate mission to create a new future for herself.


Flowers in the Sand (2011), the second novel by South African author Clive Algar, has been described by literary critics as "completely engrossing and superbly written" and "a great adventure story".


Writing in Independent Online, critic Lloyd Mackenzie says: "By blending the richness of his own fictional characters with one of South Africa's most historic events, he has created an enticing journey of a woman trying to survive against all odds... it is completely engrossing and superbly written. I am definitely going to look out for more of this author’s work."


Novelist and critic Jeanette Ferreira, writing in Beeld, says: "The Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) remains a popular source for fiction. And, as with all historical novels, the challenge is to write about people’s destinies without yielding to the temptation to force all that hard-won research material into the text or to write a military report. Clive Algar undoubtedly understands this art.

"Although all his historical figures become people of flesh and blood – especially Jan Smuts – his book is mainly the story of Emma Richardson... who, during the siege of O'okiep, must struggle with moral dilemmas about which she has never even had to think before, let alone handle successfully.

"...Emma is not destined to bloom or wither in this sandveld forever. But if I said where her path leads I would be giving away a thrilling story."


Writing in The Citizen (South Africa), Dries Brunt says: "The siege of O'okiep, a mining town in Namaqualand, the people living there under the threat of a Boer conquest, a dangerous mission to seek relief, a woman's courage and a final outcome that is honourable, make this a great adventure story."

Jan 20, 2014

À propos de l'auteur

Clive Algar was born in Cape Town in 1942 and has also lived in Johannesburg, Namibia and London. He was a group executive in an international mining company and started writing fiction when he retired and returned to South Africa. His first novel, Journeys to the End of the World, was published in 2007, and his second, Flowers in the Sand, in 2011. His third novel, Comets, was published as an eBook in 2013. He was invited to contribute a short story to a new Afrikaans anthology of Boer War stories (Boereoorlogstories 2) which was published by Tafelberg in 2012. His story “The Twins” appears in translation. Clive and his wife Sue divide their time between their mountain home near Wolseley, Western Cape Province, and their lock-up-and-go in Cape Town.

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Flowers in the Sand - Clive Algar

Flowers in the Sand

A novel by Clive Algar

Copyright ©2011 Clive Algar

Smashwords Edition

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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Part One

Chapter One

The angled light of an autumn dawn crept across the dry, boulder-strewn hills overlooking O’okiep, first delineating the smelter chimney, the great conveyor belts and the brownish stone engine-house of the mine, then falling on the smaller buildings of the besieged village. In the windless morning the smoke from the open cooking fires of the Boers, in valleys close behind the encircling hills, rose in columns no less stately than those beside the tents of the British garrison and the shelters of the citizens they were protecting.

As the light grew strong enough for long-range sniping to recommence, the crack of Mausers began to echo in the hills, as it had done each day for the past three weeks. Within the barbed-wire perimeter of O’okiep, women and children kept out of sight while members of the town guard scanned the hills and returned fire from their trenches and blockhouses.

After thirty months the Anglo-Boer War was grinding to its end: this was obvious to all except those bitter-enders among the Boers who would not see that their cause was lost. The previous day their young General Smuts had departed for a peace conference in the Transvaal, most of which was now in British hands. He had cautioned the burghers to be prepared for disappointment. In spite of their weariness many had cheered him and had pressed around him from all sides. Commandant Smit, the siege commander of the Boers, had gripped his leader’s hand and cried: We will never give up!

The Boers had fired their Mausers in salute as the general and his two staff officers, Krige and Reitz, had stepped up into the Cape cart that would deliver them to a railway siding under British control where a train stood ready to take them to Port Nolloth. From there a steamer would carry them to Cape Town, where they would board a train for the Transvaal. They would be away for several weeks, during which time the future of the Boer nation would be decided.

In that autumn dawn, Commandant Manie Smit walked slowly up the hill from his field headquarters, and when he reached the top he stopped and took out his tobacco pouch. He lit his first pipe of the day and, although his eyes surveyed O’okiep below, his sad thoughts were of his children. He was a muscular man in his forties, with grey eyes, a balding head, a thick brown beard and farmer’s hands. He belonged on his farm in the western Transvaal, not in the stony semi-desert of the north-western Cape where nothing worthwhile came from the earth except copper. Yet his people had called him to be a leader in their freedom struggle, and he had obeyed the call, though he had paid a heavy price.

From Fort Shelton, a sandbagged hilltop within the village, the garrison’s light nine-pounder – its only artillery – opened fire. Smit saw the puff of smoke from the muzzle, then heard the muffled report and the whistling of the shell as it arched across the sky to explode harmlessly on the hillside, with a sound like kettle drums, two hundred yards from the nearest concealed Boer position.

Through his field glasses, Smit scanned the base of the hill where the previous night the British had tried to lay an ambush. He saw a small patch of khaki, beside a rock, and kept the glasses trained on it until he was sure it was not a living soldier but the body of a town guard. One of Smit’s field-cornets had reported a probable kill; on their own side two men had been wounded. One or two khakis or burghers died in skirmishes almost every night.

A few disillusioned Boers said that the war was as good as over and that too many lives had already been lost. But Smit scorned such men as handsuppers; hatred for the English had bitten deep into his soul, and he knew that he would fight them until he died.

* * *

A little after 8 o’clock that night, Major James Carlisle arrived on foot at Emma Richardson’s blacked-out house on the edge of the village. It was the only house still occupied by a civilian and had a perimeter of sandbags stacked around it. While all the other white women and children sheltered in the schoolroom or the recreation club, Emma remained in her house: this was a special arrangement requested by certain members of the mine’s management and sanctioned by Carlisle as acting garrison commander.

The major was of medium height and wiry of frame and had a sun-scorched complexion that told of almost twenty years’ campaigning in the colonies. Even without his uniform – as Emma frequently saw him – his parabolic sandy moustache marked him as a military man. His voice seemed to have been formed on the parade ground and he was apparently unable to modify it to suit the company of ladies. As a result, even his endearments were uttered in harsh, barking tones. He was altogether too hard and forceful a man for pleasant companionship, but Emma found him interesting as a type, though she was relieved that he did not impose himself on her life more than once a week, when he came for his appointment.

It was clear from his jovial and playful manner when in her presence that the major enjoyed the company of green-eyed Emma. Subtlety and patience not being part of his make-up, he liked to get down to business as soon as the bedroom door was closed, and his preference was for her to undress immediately – which he did as well – and for her to run away from him, round and round the room, laughing and screaming, with her dark hair flying and her ample breasts bobbing, until he caught her and pulled her down on to the bed or the hearthrug and (in his own words) gave her a good rogering.

Afterwards he would go to his tunic, flung carelessly over the bedhead, and fetch a cigar and his purse. Still naked, he would light the cigar, draw the strong smoke deep into his lungs, then take a half sovereign from his purse and place it on Emma’s bedside table. Sprawling in the only easy chair, while finishing his cigar, he would usually beckon Emma to come and sit on his lap, where he would engage her in desultory conversation while playfully fondling her. Then he would stub out the cigar in the glass ashtray, lift her to her feet and give her a friendly slap on her bare bottom. He would dress quickly, while Emma went to sit or lie on her bed to recover from the sexual whirlwind that had swept over her.

Usually, Major Carlisle would stoop and give Emma a sound kiss on the lips and then make his departure, but tonight he deviated from normal procedure and sat down again.

Want to talk to you about something, my dear, he barked, though in a kindly way.

Emma sat upright on her bed and, looking at the fully-dressed major, felt self-conscious even though the lamp was low and the room was bathed in shadows. His pale eyes followed her as she fetched her long dressing gown from behind the bedroom door. She put it on and sat on the edge of her bed, facing him.

Major Carlisle’s previous conversations with Emma had always been trivial and frivolous, but now she could see that he had something weighty on his mind. For an instant she wondered whether he would say he had developed an attachment for her and wanted to marry her. As far as she knew, he was unmarried, and for herself an escape from her nightmare and a return to respectable married life was something she hardly dared hope for. And yet, she did not know how she would respond to such a proposal.

Are you a patriot, my dear? asked the major.

She did not answer immediately, wondering at the context of his question.

Well? he insisted.

To do with the war, you mean? Yes, of course, I want our side to win. But we’ve almost won already, haven’t we, except for what’s going on here?

Well, that’s precisely the point, my dear. To all intents and purposes the war is over, except here at O’okiep where the Boers, out of bloody-mindedness, are persisting in their pointless siege. They might even try to rush us before the relief column arrives, and there would be a lot more blood shed on both sides. The sooner we can break their grip the better for everyone. In any case, he added, the longer we sit here under siege, the worse it reflects on me as acting garrison commander.

I see – but why are you confiding in me?

Major Carlisle laughed.

Because you might very well be able to solve this difficulty.

I don’t ...

Pay attention now, he interrupted, and Emma bit her lip.

Reliable intelligence tells us, now Smuts has gone, that most of the Boers besieging O’okiep would give up their hopeless cause if it were not for their fanatic of a commandant, Smit. He’s a bitter man who wants to fight until the last drop of blood has been spilt. If he were eliminated from the picture ...

Haven’t you tried?

Yes, by conventional means, but locally they are stronger than we are – until the relief column arrives – and I can’t risk the lives of any more men. Smit’s a clever soldier, I’ll admit, and with my present resources I can’t outfight him, so I must outwit him.

Emma was silent and Carlisle continued.

I want you to be my weapon. I want you to be my Judith.

Judith ... who is Judith? What do you mean ... weapon?

Don’t you know the Bible?

A bit, but I don’t remember a Judith in the Bible.

So you don’t know her story?

I don’t think so.

Carlisle drew out his pocket-watch and glanced at it.

I’ll give you a briefing. No other clients coming now I suppose?

Emma blushed. No, she said quietly.

His teeth flashed under his moustache.

Need a bit of a rest after me, eh?

He looked at her thoughtfully, then shook his head.

No, he said briskly, "better get on with it. Now, about Judith. She was a Jewess, a widow who lived in Bethulia when it was besieged by the Assyrians, under General Holophernes. The Assyrian army captured the town’s water supply, which was outside the walls – poor strategic planning on the part of the Jews, I must say – and after about a month the citizens were coming to the end of their stored water. People were starting to collapse in the streets, so an angry crowd went to the chief magistrate – I forget his name – and demanded that he should surrender the town to Holophernes, as they believed it would be better to survive as slaves than to die of thirst. Well, the magistrate told them to have courage and to hold out for five more days. They should pray to God for help, but if no help came within that time he would do what the people wanted.

"News of the unrest in the streets reached Judith, who had been widowed a few years before. She was a wealthy woman and very respectable, by all accounts. She was also a great beauty. At any rate, she went to the magistrate and told him he should not have agreed to surrender in five days if God did not help them before that time. She told him not to try and test God, but to keep praying, and she promised that the Lord would deliver Israel by her hand.

"She changed out of her widow’s clothes, put on her finest dress, did her hair and put on her earrings and bangles and rings. Then, with a maid, she went out of the town gate and walked into the hills where she came across an Assyrian patrol. When they questioned her she said: ‘I am a Hebrew but I am running away from my people because I know that they are going to fall into your hands. Take me to General Holophernes. I will show him a route by which he can gain command of the entire hill-country without losing a single man.’

"So they took her to the general’s camp and he agreed to listen to her story. She told him that no sword had ever subdued the Jews, except at times when they had sinned against God. But, she said, they were about to fall into sinful ways because, due to the shortage of food in Bethulia, they had decided to begin consuming foods that God’s law prohibited. Once they did this, God would forsake them.

"Judith said that when she prayed, God spoke to her, and He would tell her when the people had committed their sins. She said that in order to communicate with God she would need to go into the valley to pray, alone with her servant girl.

Holophernes was impressed with her and she accepted his invitation to sit with him at dinner. Afterwards he arranged that she should be given a bed for the night, in a tent connected to his – but apparently he didn’t try to have his way with her, though he was enflamed with desire.

Carlisle paused and leant forward to put his hand on Emma’s knee.

No, tell me what happened, she said, moving away slightly.

"Well, the next morning she sent a message to the general asking if she and her servant could go out of the camp to pray – and he ordered the guards to let her pass. She came back afterwards and stayed in the camp for three days, going out daily to bathe in the spring and to pray.

"On the fourth day, Holophernes held a banquet and sent one of his officers to invite Judith to attend. She sat with him, eating and drinking and laughing. She could see that the general was lusting after her and encouraged him to drink more and more wine.

"Later, when the other guests had gone, the servants withdrew and closed the tent behind them, leaving Judith alone with their master. However, by this time Holophernes was lying drunk on his bed.

"In the morning Judith and her servant left, as usual, in the direction they took when they went to bathe in the spring and to pray. But this time they did not stop, and when they were out of sight of the Assyrians they continued to Bethulia where they called to the guards to let them in. When they were inside the town Judith asked for the magistrate and his senior men, and when they were all present she ordered her servant girl to open their food bag and to empty it out – and the head of Holophernes rolled in the dust at their feet. She had cut it off in the night, using his own sword! The Israelites hung the head on the battlements, and when the Assyrians saw it they ran away and the city was spared.

Now do you see what I’m getting at, my dear Emma?

I think so, and I’m not going to do it. I’m not a warrior. I can’t cut someone’s head off. Emma lifted her feet from the floor and drew her legs under her as she sat, as though to isolate herself from the outrageous major.

No, no, you needn’t cut his head off, he assured her. You could just slit his throat – or even poison him. We would work out the tactics.

What makes you think that with Smit out of the way his men would give up the siege?

I’ve had sound intelligence on the subject. Most of the Boers – the sensible majority – are ready to give up.

Then why not just wait for the end? What’s there to lose by waiting? It’s not as if we’re entirely without water and food here.

They could still try to rush us. And they’re still sniping. I haven’t exactly covered myself in glory in this campaign, and if I could break the siege before the relief column gets here I’d be able to restore my reputation – and I’d probably get a promotion and a decoration. It would do my career no end of good. God knows when there’ll be another war. I’m stuck at major, my dear, and I’ll be forty-five next year. Time for a colonelcy, wouldn’t you say?

Emma shuddered. Why me?

Don’t you see? You’d be perfect. You have a way with men.

What do you mean?

Well, we must be realistic. I could hardly ask the mine superintendent to send his wife. You are the only unmarried female here who’s not a young girl, except for the nurse, and she wouldn’t be suitable. Apart from her lack of personal charm she’s a damn-sight too soft on the Boers. One of the Hobhouse clique. Dash it, woman, don’t you see? You’d have to sleep with him to get close enough to him. It’s something you can do – and do well.

How do you know he’d want to sleep with me?

I hear he’s a widower, so he shouldn’t have any Calvinistic guilt about it. He’s been under a lot of strain, I dare say, and could do with a bit of comforting. I don’t need to tell you how to entice a man. You had no trouble getting me into your bed!

Yes, but it was you who came to my door looking for a whore.

Hush, my dear. I don’t think of you as a whore. Why, in different circumstances ...

What ...?

Not the time to talk about such things now. We have a war to fight and you could become a warrior woman and be famous for all time. When people speak of Judith they would also speak of Emma.

But what reason could I give for going over to their side?

Well, as you know, Smuts sent a message at the start of the siege, and then another one a few days ago, saying that non-combatants would be allowed to leave O’okiep unharmed, but of course none of the wives will hear of it. We could send a rider under white flag to say that one of the ladies of the town now wants to take up his offer.

Why should Smit believe the story? He must know the war is nearly over.

"He doesn’t think so. You could tell him when you see him that you’re Irish – your hair ... your eyes ... you look like an

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