#0: Fun on the Veld

― XXII ―

On Water Finders

I used to think once that a chap who could find water with a twig – a water diviner, was most awfully rare. About one in a million men had this power, I thought. The thing was so wonderful, the idea so uncanny, the mystery of it so marvellous, I imagined it would be a most rare thing to meet a water diviner. Funny how wrong one’s ideas are. I have since discovered that the rare thing is to find somebody who can’t find water with a twig. At least, it seems that out of every ten men, there are nine on whom ‘the twig works alright’. It is positively wonderful.

I didn’t find this out until I wanted to bore for water some time ago. I’m not fearfully keen on water as a rule – I enjoy beer much more – but my business, which happens to be that of an undertaker for stock on my farm, cannot be carried on successfully without water, though it has often tried to. (You use the water to mix with Epsoms salts and dip and things, and any that’s left over to mix with coffee, tea, whisky and things, and to wash your hands with after the post-mortem on the animals and things you’ve dipped and dosed).

So I told a lot of people I was going to bore for water, and I wished I knew of a water diviner, twig twister, or something of the sort to show me where to bore. To my utter astonishment, five out of the first six people I spoke to about it, all said ‘the twig worked with them alright’. It also ‘worked’ with their brothers, had ‘worked’ with their fathers and, I have no doubt, from the way they spoke, that it was going to ‘work’ with their sons whenever they got any. As time went on, and as I met more people I got quite used to the remark: “What! Doesn’t it work with you?” and I came to the conclusion that I lived in a world of water-diviners. This was very strange. And none of them, by the way, really liked water as a beverage very much. If they’d said their twigs ‘worked’ on beer one might have understood it. But everyone of these fellows, said they could find water with a twig.

Then I met several boring contractors – owners of water bores – and every single one of them could use the twig! Not only the owners of the bores, but the chaps who were working with them – even the engine man and the boy who stoked up the fire. I asked one or two of them whether they found out first that the twig ‘worked with them alright’, and then bought the machine, or whether they bought the machine first and only discovered their divining powers afterwards. In the majority of cases the twig had always worked with them. Very naturally they went in for water boring. It was obviously no use their starting a butcher’s shop or taking up the stage as a profession. I pointed out to them that they were indeed lucky fellows to have discovered their powers so young in life and to have been enabled to acquire a drill as well. I can imagine few things more tragic than, say, an expert professional barber suddenly discovering that ‘the twig works with him alright.’

I tried quite a lot of these water diviners from time to time. Some were boring contractors, some were professionals. You paid the professional chap so much, in return for which he showed you where to bore and owed you so much water. I don’t quite remember now how I managed it, but with the first professional twig twister I had, I reckoned after his performance, that if he was to owe me so much water the safest thing for me to do was to owe him his fee, which I did. He came from a long way off, this chap, with a verbal reputation that was astounding, and without the most necessary thing with which to live up to it – a willow twig.

I had one tree on the farm in those days – a wild tree, miles away, growing between two slabs of granite on the side of a hill, but it was of no use to him. He wanted a willow twig (I recollected a song which connected tit willows in some way, with water, or worms, or something of the sort), and I sent to a distant farm where willows grew, for the loan of a willow twig. The professional and I went out with it. The twig did wonderful things almost at once. Pointing it to the left he ‘located’ the underground stream and walked swiftly along its course, the twig vibrating furiously the whole time. He went off at a fearful lick, and I sent Hendriks for my horse and said I might be away a week. I was going to follow this chap, and I know the length of some of these underground rivers. Suddenly the twig stopped vibrating – the chap marked a spot with a stone and said something about ‘strong water’ – located another stream, marked another spot, had lunch and left.

I was now frantically keen on water divining, and a chap came here one day to borrow something and, in the course of our conversation, said he’d always been able to find water. I think he’d sprung from an amphibious family, for all his parents, and great-grand parents had been able to find water. Perfectly wonderful some of the things were that they had done. He was one of the most accommodating chaps I had ever met. Any sort of twig would work with him, or if I hadn’t a twig, a piece of barbed wire or an ox riem or a banana would do just as well. I got him to work with a twig, and the funny thing was that it wouldn’t work at all where the willow twig had worked. But it worked on lots of other places, like mad. I asked him if it hurt, and he said not much, but the expression on his face was terrible.

Then I hired a boring machine, and after starting them on the willow twig man’s underground river spot I went down to the house. I didn’t go near the machine again for some days, but occasional visits from one of the machine boys for meat, tea, sugar, etc., told me that all was well, and that up to the present nobody had been drowned. I was glad of this, for I remembered how furiously that willow twig had ‘worked,’ and I had been a little bit anxious as to what would happen when that terrible stream was struck.

I forget how many years that machine was here, but after trying every spot, and having now and again reached almost to the precincts of Hades, the chap who worked the bore said he could find water with a twig. This was the eleventh hundred and forty-seventh chap I had met who had said he could find water with a twig. So, as by now we seemed to be life-long acquaintances I told him to have a shot. This chap seemed to be a perfect adept. He not only could ‘locate’ the stream, but he could also tell you how far from the surface it was, it’s breadth, number of gallons per hour, size of the fish in it and everything. He found a spot where the twig swung down, vibrating frightfully. “Ah! there she is!” he said, joyfully. I looked up, expecting to see the girl with the coffee. “There she is!” he went on; “a very strong stream. Now I’ll just work away from it, and you count the yards I take. When the twig swings upwards that will mean the edge of the stream, and if you multiply the number of yards I have taken by three, add the year you were born in, divide by two and subtract your age, it will give you the depth from the surface in feet.”

Here was something quite new. He grasped the trembling twig and walked away. I counted one, two, three, four – like they do at duels – and hoped he wouldn’t lose himself.

All of a sudden I saw the twig spring up, and give him a fearful whack on the face. But then this chap I remember had a very watery eye.

He bored on this spot, and one or two other spots and then left. I fancy his life insurance policy was about to mature and he wanted to draw the money.

I believe there really is a machine that locates water, and one of these days, when I’ve worked off that overdraft, I’m going to engage it.