Its the people who make the Karoo. They have a special way of creeping into your heart and ensuring that you hever forget them. This was the case with Abel Phelps. Way back in 1930, the then youthful and carefree Abel, had a strange encounter in the Karoo near Beaufort West. The meeting lived forever in his mind and as he got older he felt a keen need to solve the riddle, but sadly he never did. Abel, was 20 years old when he stopped to give a mysterious young girl a lift to Beaufort West on the back of his motorcycle, and for over 70 years now he never stopped wondering what could have become of her.
“It was early evening when I passed through Beaufort West en-route to Cradock, but pushed on to Nelspoort. As darkness approached, I stopped to camp at the roadside. I kept a sleeping bag on to the back of my bike for such occasions. I was just about to make a little fire to braai a few mutton chops when I noticed a young girl walking along the darkening road towards Beaufort West. She was carrying a small suitcase. She did not pause to greet me as she purposefully strode along looking oddly nervous. I wondered where she was going, but did not react until she was quite a distance away. Then some instinct drove me to follow her and offer her a lift. She quietly accepted, so I put my travelling pillow on the back to make a seat for her and slung her suitcase around my neck. Strangely, it weighed almost nothing. Soon it became dark. It was a rough ride to town on the gravel road.
I thought how uncomfortable the poor girl must be, but she did not utter a sound.” After travelling 19 miles back to Beaufort West in silence, Abel reached the centre of town. He asked the girl where she wanted to be dropped. “‘Here will be fine,” she said, dismounted and with a simple “thank you” took her case and disappeared into the night. “I never saw nor heard of her again,” says Abel. “All the way back to my campsite, difficult to find in the dark, I wondered about her. The next day a farmer asked if I’d seen a girl on the road the previous evening. ‘Yes,’ I eagerly replied, anxious to hear more. He simply said she’d lived on a neighbouring farm, where she had been sent to help the farmer’s wife. She’d apparently not been kindly treated, so had probably fled in desperation, perhaps hoping to return home.
In 2002 Abel, at the age of 92 tried to find out more. “I often wonder what became of her,” he said. “ I have a friend who believes we are at times ‘sent’ to do certain things. Perhaps I was sent that night to help that girl on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere. I would love to hear from anyone who can complete this story for me.” His plea was published in Rose’s Round-up – no one ever answered.