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Title: Life in South Africa
Author: Barker, Lady (Mary Anne)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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LIFE IN SOUTH AFRICA.

by

LADY BARKER,

Author of
“Station Life in New Zealand,” “Stories About,” etc., etc.



[Illustration: Colophon]

Philadelphia
J. B. Lippincott & Co.
1877.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1876, by
J. B. Lippincott & Co.,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.



                         LIFE IN SOUTH AFRICA.



PART I.


  CAPE TOWN, October 16, 1875.

Safe, safe at last, after twenty-four days of nothing but sea and
sky, of white-crested waves—which made no secret of their intention
of coming on board whenever they could or of tossing the good ship
Edinburgh Castle hither and thither like a child’s plaything—and of
more deceitful sluggish rolling billows, looking tolerably calm to
the unseafaring eye, but containing a vast amount of heaving power
beneath their slow, undulating water-hills and valleys. Sometimes sky
and sea have been steeped in dazzling haze of golden glare, sometimes
brightened to blue of a sapphire depth. Again, a sudden change of wind
has driven up serried clouds from the south and east, and all has been
gray and cold and restful to eyes wearied with radiance and glitter of
sun and sparkling water.

Never has there been such exceptional weather, although the weather
of my acquaintance invariably _is_ exceptional. No sooner had the
outlines of Madeira melted and blended into the soft darkness of a
summer night than we appeared to sail straight into tropic heat and a
sluggish vapor, brooding on the water like steam from a giant geyser.
This simmering, oily, exhausting temperature carried us close to the
line. “What is before us,” we asked each other languidly, “if it be
hotter than this? How can mortal man, woman, still less child, endure
existence?” Vain alarms! Yet another shift of the light wind, another
degree passed, and we are all shivering in winter wraps. The line was
crossed in greatcoats and shawls, and the only people whose complexion
did not resemble a purple plum were those lucky ones who had strength
of mind and steadiness of body to lurch up and down the deck all day
enjoying a strange method of movement which they called walking.

The exceptional weather pursued us right into the very dock. Table
Mountain ought to be seen—and very often is seen—seventy miles away. I
am told it looks a fine bold bluff at that distance. Yesterday we had
blown off our last pound of steam and were safe under its lee before
we could tell there was a mountain there at all, still less an almost
perpendicular cliff more than three thousand feet high. Robben Island
looked like a dun-colored hillock as we shot past it within a short
distance, and a more forlorn and discouraging islet I don’t think I
have ever beheld. When I expressed something of this impression to a
cheery fellow-voyager, he could only urge in its defence that there
were a great many rabbits on it. If he had thrown the lighthouse
into the bargain, I think he would have summed up all its attractive
features. Unless Langalibalele is of a singularly unimpressionable
nature, he must have found his sojourn on it somewhat monotonous, but
he always says he was very comfortable there.

And now for the land. We are close alongside of a wharf, and still a
capital and faithful copy of a Scotch mist wraps houses, trees and
sloping uplands in a fibry fantastic veil, and the cold drizzle seems
to curdle the spirits and energies of the few listless Malays and
half-caste boys and men who are lounging about. Here come hansom cabs
rattling up one after the other, all with black drivers in gay and
fantastic head and shoulder gear; but their hearts seem precisely as
the hearts of their London brethren, and they single out new-comers
at a glance, and shout offers to drive them a hundred yards or so for
exorbitant sums, or yell laudatory recommendations of sundry hotels.
You must bear in mind that in a colony every pot-house is a hotel,
and generally rejoices in a name much too imposing to fit across its
frontage. These hansoms are all painted white with the name of some
ship in bright letters on the side, and are a great deal cleaner,
roomier and more comfortable than their London “forbears.” The horses
are small and shabby, but rattle along at a good pace; and soon
each cab has its load of happy home-comers and swings rapidly away
to make room for fresh arrivals hurrying up for fares. Hospitable
suggestions come pouring in, and it is as though it were altogether a
new experience when one steps cautiously on the land, half expecting
it to dip away playfully from under one’s feet. A little boy puts my
thoughts into words when he exclaims, “How steady the ground is!” and
becomes a still more faithful interpreter of a wave-worn voyager’s
sensations when, a couple of hours later, he demands permission to
get _out_ of his delicious little white bed that he may have the
pleasure of getting _into_ it again. The evening is cold and raw
and the new picture is all blurred and soft and indistinct, and
nothing seems plain except the kindly grace of our welcome and the
never-before-sufficiently-appreciated delights of space and silence.


  OCTOBER 17.

How pleasant is the process familiarly known as “looking about
one,” particularly when performed under exceptionally favorable
circumstances! A long and happy day commenced with a stroll through the
botanic gardens, parallel with which runs, on one side, a splendid oak
avenue just now in all the vivid freshness of its young spring leaves.
The gardens are beautifully kept, and are valuable as affording a sort
of experimental nursery in which new plants and trees can be brought up
on trial and their adaptability to the soil and climate ascertained.
For instance, the first thing that caught my eye was the gigantic trunk
of an Australian blue-gum tree, which had attained to a girth and
height not often seen in its own land. The flora of the Cape Colony is
exceptionally varied and beautiful, but one peculiarity incidentally
alluded to by my charming guide struck me as very noticeable. It
is that in this dry climate and porous soil all the efforts of
uncultivated nature are devoted to the _stems_ of the vegetation: on
their sap-retaining power depends the life of the plant, so blossom and
leaf, though exquisitely indicated, are fragile and incomplete compared
to the solidity and bulbous appearance of the stalk. Everything is
sacrificed to the practical principle of keeping life together, and
it is not until these stout-stemmed plants are cultivated and duly
sheltered and watered, and can grow, as it were, with confidence,
that they are able to do justice to the inherent beauty of penciled
petal and veined leaf. Then the stem contracts to ordinary dimensions,
and leaf and blossom expand into things which may well be a joy to
the botanist’s eye. A thousand times during that shady saunter did I
envy my companions their scientific acquaintance with the beautiful
green things of earth, and that intimate knowledge of a subject which
enhances one’s appreciation of its charms as much as bringing a lamp
into a darkened picture-gallery. There are the treasures of form and
color, but from ignorant eyes more than half their charms and wonders
are held back.

A few steps beyond the garden stand the library and natural history
museum. The former is truly a credit to the Colony. Spacious,
handsome, rich in literary treasures, it would bear comparison with
similar institutions in far older and wealthier places. But I have
often noticed in colonies how much importance is attached to the
possession of a good public library, and how fond, as a rule, colonists
are of books. In a new settlement other shops may be ill supplied, but
there is always a good bookseller’s, and all books are to be bought
there at pretty nearly the same prices as in England. Here each volume
costs precisely the same as it would in London, and it would puzzle
ever so greedy a reader to name a book which would not be instantly
handed to him.

The museum is well worth a visit of many more hours than we could
afford minutes, and, as might be expected, contains numerous specimens
of the _Bok_ family, whose tapering horns and slender legs are to be
seen at every turn of one’s head. Models are there also of the largest
diamonds, and especially well copied is the famous “Star of South
Africa,” a magnificent brilliant of purest water, sold here originally
for something like twelve thousand pounds, and resold for double that
sum three or four years back. In these few hours I perceive, or think
I perceive, a certain soreness, if one may use the word, on the part
of the Cape Colonists about the unappreciativeness of the English
public toward their produce and possessions. For instance, an enormous
quantity of wine is annually exported, which reaches London by a
devious route and fetches a high price, as it is fairly entitled to do
from its excellence. If that same wine were sent direct to a London
merchant and boldly sold as Cape wine, it is said that the profit on
it would be a very different affair. The same prejudice exists against
Cape diamonds. Of course, as in other things, a large proportion of
inferior stones are forced into the market and serve to give the
diamonds that bad name which we all know is so fatal to a dog. But
it is only necessary to pretend that a really fine Cape diamond has
come from Brazil to ensure its fetching a handsome price, and in that
way even jewelers themselves have been known to buy and give a good
round sum, too, for stones they would otherwise have looked upon with
suspicion. Already I have seen a straw-colored diamond from “Du Zoit’s
pan” in the diamond-fields cut in Amsterdam and set in London, which
could hold its own for purity, radiance and color against any other
stone of the same rare tint, without fear or favor; but of course such
gems are not common, and fairly good diamonds cost as much here as in
any other part of the world.

The light morning mists from that dampness of yesterday have rolled
gradually away as the beautiful sunshine dried the atmosphere, and
by mid-day the table-cloth, as the colonists affectionately call the
white, fleece-like vapor which so often rests on their pet mountain,
has been folded up and laid aside in Cloudland for future use. I don’t
know what picture other people may have made to their own minds of the
shape and size of Table Mountain, but it was quite a surprise and the
least little bit in the world of a disappointment to me to find that
it cuts the sky (and what a beautiful sky it is!) with a perfectly
straight and level line. A gentle, undulating foreground broken into
ravines, where patches of green _velts_ or fields, clumps of trees and
early settlers’ houses nestle cosily down, guides the eye halfway up
the mountain. There the rounder forms abruptly cease, and great granite
cliffs rise, bare and straight, up to the level line stretching ever
so far along. “It is so characteristic,” and “You grow to be so fond
of that mountain,” are observations I have heard made in reply to the
carping criticisms of travelers, and already I begin to understand the
meaning of the phrases. But you need to see the mountain from various
points of view and under different influences of sun and cloud before
you can take in its striking and peculiar charms.

On each side of the straight line which is emphatically Table Mountain,
but actually forming part of it, is a bold headland of the shape
one is usually accustomed to in mountains. The “Devil’s Peak” is
uncompromising enough for any one’s taste, whilst the “Lion’s Head”
charms the eye by its bluff form and deep purple fissures. These grand
promontories are not, however, half so beloved by Cape Colonists as
their own Table Mountain, and it is curious and amusing to notice how
the influence of this odd straight ridge, ever before their eyes,
has unconsciously guided and influenced their architectural tastes.
All the roofs of the houses are straight—straight as the mountain; a
gable is almost unknown, and even the few steeples are dwarfed to an
imperceptible departure from the prevailing straight line. The very
trees which shade the Parade-ground and border the road in places
have their tops blown absolutely straight and flat, as though giant
shears had trimmed them; but I must confess, in spite of a natural
anxiety to carry out my theory, that the violent “sou’-easters” are the
“straighteners” in their case.

Cape Town is so straggling that it is difficult to form any idea of
its real size, but the low houses are neat and the streets are well
kept and look quaint and lively enough to my new eyes this morning.
There are plenty of people moving about with a sociable, business-like
air; lots of different shades of black and brown Malays, with pointed
hats on the men’s heads: the women encircle their dusky, smiling faces
with a gay cotton handkerchief and throw another of a still brighter
hue over their shoulders. When you add to this that they wear a full,
flowing, stiffly-starched cotton gown of a third bright color, you
can perhaps form some idea of how they enliven the streets. Swarms
of children everywhere, romping and laughing and showing their white
teeth in broadest of grins. The white children strike me at once as
looking marvelously well—such chubby cheeks, such sturdy fat legs—and
all, black or white, with that amazing air of independence peculiar to
baby-colonists. Nobody seems to mind them and nothing seems to harm
them. Here are half a dozen tiny boys shouting and laughing at one side
of the road, and half a dozen baby-girls at the other (they all seem to
play separately): they are all driving each other, for “horses” is the
one game here. By the side of a pond sit two toddlers of about three
years old, in one garment apiece and pointed hats: they are very busy
with string and a pin; but who is taking care of them and why don’t
they tumble in? They are as fat as ortolans and grin at us in the most
friendly fashion.

We must remember that this chances to be the very best moment of the
whole year in which to see the Cape and the dwellers thereat. The cold
weather has left its bright roses on the children’s cheeks, and the
winter rains exceptionally having this year made every blade of grass
and leaf of tree to laugh and sing in freshest green. After the dry,
windy summer I am assured there is hardly a leaf and never a blade of
grass to be seen in Cape Town, and only a little straggling verdure
under the shelter of the mountain. The great want of this place is
water. No river, scarcely a brook, refreshes one’s eye for many and
many a league inward. The necessary water for the use of the town is
brought down by pipes from the numerous springs which trickle out of
the granite cliffs of Table Mountain, but there is never a sufficiency
to spare for watering roads or grassplots. This scarcity is a double
loss to residents and visitors, for one misses it both for use and
beauty.

Everybody who comes here rides or drives round the “Kloof.” That may
be; but what I maintain is that very few do it so delightfully as I
did this sunny afternoon with a companion who knew and loved every
turn of the romantic road, who could tell me the name of every bush
or flower, of every distant stretch of hills, and helped me to make a
map in my head of the stretching landscape and curving bay. Ah! how
delicious it was, the winding, climbing road, at whose every angle
a fresh fair landscape fell away from beneath our feet or a shining
stretch of sea, whose transparent green and purple shadows broke in a
fringe of feathery spray at the foot of bold, rocky cliffs, or crept
up to a smooth expanse of silver sand in a soft curling line of foam!
“Kloof” means simply cleft, and is the pass between the Table Mountain
and the Lion’s Head. The road first rises, rises, rises, until one
seems halfway up the great mountain, and the little straight-roofed
white houses, the green velts or fields and the parallel lines of the
vineyards have sunk below one’s feet far, far away. The mountain gains
in grandeur as one approaches it, for the undulating spurs which run
from it down to the sea-shore take away from the height looking upward.
But when these are left beneath, the perpendicular walls of granite,
rising sheer and straight up to the bold sky-line, and the rugged,
massive strength of the buttress-like cliffs, begin to gain something
of their true value to the stranger’s eye. The most beautiful part
of the road, however, to my taste, is the descent, when the shining
expanse of Camp’s Bay lies shimmering in the warm afternoon haze with a
thousand lights and shadows from cloud and cliff touching and passing
over the crisp water-surface. By many a steep zigzag we round the
Lion’s Head, and drop once more on a level road running parallel to
the sea-shore, and so home in the balmy and yet bracing twilight. The
midday sun is hot and scorching even at this time of year, but it is
always cool in the shade, and no sooner do the afternoon shadows grow
to any length than the air freshens into sharpness, and by sundown one
is glad of a good warm shawl.


  OCTOBER 18.

Another bright, ideal day, and the morning passed in a delicious
flower-filled room looking over old books and records and listening
to odd, quaint little scraps from the old Dutch records. But directly
after luncheon (and how hungry we all are, and how delicious everything
tastes on shore!) the open break with four capital horses comes to
the door, and we start for a long, lovely drive. Half a mile or so
takes us out on a flat red road with Table Mountain rising straight up
before it, but on the left stretches away a most enchanting panorama.
It is all so soft in coloring and tone, distinct and yet not hard, and
exquisitely beautiful!

The Blue-Berg range of mountains stretch beyond the great bay, which,
unless a “sou’-easter” is tearing over it, lies glowing in tranquil
richness. This afternoon it is colored like an Italian lake. Here are
lines of chrysoprase, green-fringed, white with little waves, and
beyond lie dark, translucent, purple depths, which change with every
passing cloud. Beyond these amethystic shoals again stretches the deep
blue water, and again beyond, and bluer still, rise the five ranges
of “Hottentots’ Holland,” which encircle and complete the landscape,
bringing the eye round again to the nearer cliffs of the Devil’s Peak.
When the Dutch came here some two hundred years ago, they seized upon
this part of the coast and called it Holland, driving the Hottentots
beyond the neighboring range and telling them that was to be their
Holland—a name it keeps to this day. Their consciences must have
troubled them after this arbitrary division of the soil, for up the
highest accessible spurs of their own mountain they took the trouble
to build several queer little square houses called “block-houses,”
from which they could keep a sharp look-out for foes coming over the
hills from Hottentots’ Holland. The foes never came, however, and the
roofs and walls of the block-houses have gradually tumbled in, and the
gun-carriages—for they managed to drag heavy ordnance up the steep
hillside—have rotted away, whilst the old-fashioned cannon lie, grim
and rusty, amid a tangled profusion of wild geranium, heath and lilies.
I scrambled up to one of the nearest block-houses, and found the date
on the dismounted gun to be more than a hundred years old. The view was
beautiful and the air fresh and fragrant with scent of flowers.

But to return to our drive. I could gaze and gaze for ever at this
lovely panorama, but am told this is the ugliest part of the road.
The road itself is certainly not pretty just here, and is cloudy
with a fine red dust, but this view of sea and distant hills is
enchanting. Soon we get under the lee of the great mountain, and then
its sheltering arms show their protective power; for splendid oak
avenues begin to border the road all the way, and miniature forests of
straight-stemmed pines and shimmering belts of the ghostly silver tree
run up all the mountain-clefts. Stem and leaf of the silver tree are
all of purest white; and when one gets a gleam of sunlight on a distant
patch of these trees, the effect is quite indescribable, contrasting,
as they do, with green of field and vineyard. The vines all about here
and towards Constantia, thirteen miles off, are dwarf-plants, and only
grow to the height of gooseberry-bushes. It is a particular species,
which is found to answer best as requiring less labor to train and
cultivate, and is less likely to be blown out of the ground by the
violent “sou’-easters” which come sweeping over the mountain. These
gales are evidently the greatest annoyance which Cape Colonists have to
endure; and although everybody kindly suggests that I _ought_ to see
one, just to understand what it is like, I am profoundly thankful that
I only know it from their description and my own distinct recollection
of the New Zealand “nor’-westers.” Those were hot winds, scorching and
curling up everything, whereas this is rather a cold breeze, although
it blows chiefly in summer. It whirls along clouds of dust from the
red clay roads and fields which penetrates and clings to everything
in the most extraordinary manner. All along the road the stems and
lower branches of the trees are dyed a deep brick-dust color, and I
hear moving and pathetic stories of how it ruins clothes, not only
utterly spoiling black silk dresses, but staining white petticoats and
children’s frocks and pinafores with a border of color exactly like
the ruddle with which sheep are branded. Especially is it the terror
of sailors, rendering the navigation along the coast dangerous and
difficult; for it blends land and water into one indistinct whirl of
vaporous cloud, confusing and blurring everything until one cannot
distinguish shore from sea.

The vineyards of Constantia originally took their pretty name from
the fair daughter of one of the early Dutch governors, but now it has
grown into a generic word, and you see “Cloete’s Constantia,” “Reybeck
Constantia,” written upon great stone gateways leading by long avenues
into the various vine-growing plantations. It was to the former of
these constantias, which was also the farthest off, that we were bound
that pleasant summer afternoon, and from the time we got out of the
carriage until the moment we re-entered it—all too soon, but it is
a long drive back in the short cold twilight—I felt as though I had
stepped through a magic portal into the scene of one of Washington
Irving’s stories. It was all so simple and homely, so quaint and so
inexpressibly picturesque. The house had stood there for a couple of
hundred years, and looks as though it might last for ever, with its air
of cool, leisurely repose and comfort and strength.

In the flagged hall stands a huge stalactite some ten feet high,
brought a hundred years ago from caves far away in the distant ranges.
It is shaped something like a Malay’s hat, only the peak tapers to
a point about eight feet high. The drawing-room—though it seems a
profanation to call that venerable stately room by so flippant and
modern a name—is large, ceiled with great beams of cedar, and lighted
by lofty windows, which must contain many scores of small panes
of glass. There were treasures of rarest old china and delfware,
and curious old carved stands for fragile dishes. A wealth of
swinging-baskets of flowers and ferns and bright girl-faces lighted
up the solemn, shady old room, in which we must not linger, for there
is much to see outside. First to the cellar, as it is called, though
it is far from being under ground, and is, in fact, a spacious stone
building with an elaborately-carved pediment. Here are rows and rows
of giant casks, stretching on either hand into avenues in the black
distance, but these are mere children in the nursery, compared to
those we are going to see. First we must pause in a middle room full
of quaintest odds and ends—crossbows, long whips of hippopotamus hide,
strange rusty old swords and firearms—to look at a map of South Africa
drawn somewhere about 1640. It hangs on the wall and is hardly to be
touched, for the paint and varnish crack and peel off at a breath.
It is a marvel of accurate geographical knowledge, and is far better
filled in than the maps of yesterday. All poor Livingstone’s great
geographical discoveries are marked on it as being—perhaps only from
description—known or guessed at all that long time ago. It was found
impossible to photograph it on account of the dark shade which age has
laid over the original yellow varnish, but a careful tracing has been
made and, I believe, sent home to the Geographical Society. It is in
the long corridor beyond this that the “stuck-vats” live—puncheons
which hold easily some thousand gallons or so, and are of a solemn
rotundity calculated to strike awe into the beholder’s heart. Here
is white constantia, red constantia, young constantia, middle-aged
constantia, and constantia so old as to be a liqueur almost beyond
price. When it has been kept all these years, the sweetness by which
it is distinguished becomes so absorbed and blended as to be hardly
perceptible.

Presently one of the party throws a door suddenly open, and, behold,
we are standing right over a wild wooded glen with a streamlet running
through it, and black washerwomen beating heaps of white clothes on
the strips of shingle. Turtle-doves are cooing, and one might almost
fancy one was back again on the wild Scotch west coast, until some
one else says calmly, “Look at the ostriches!” Here they come, with
a sort of dancing step, twisting their long necks and snake-like
heads from side to side in search of a tempting pebble or trifle of
hardware. Their wings are slightly raised, and the long fringe of white
feathers rustles softly as they trot easily and gracefully past us.
They are young male birds, and in a few months more their plumage,
which now resembles that of a turkey-cock, will be jet black, except
the wing-feathers. A few drops of rain are falling, so we hurry back to
where the carriage is standing under some splendid oak trees, swallow a
sort of stirrup-cup of delicious hot tea, and so home again as fast as
we can go.


  OCTOBER 19.

It is decided that I must take a drive in a Cape cart; so directly
after breakfast a smart workman-like-looking vehicle, drawn by a pair
of well-bred iron-gray cobs, dashes up under the portico. There are
capital horses here, but they fetch a good price, and such a pair as
these would easily find purchasers at one hundred and fifty pounds.
The cart itself is very trim and smart, with a framework sort of head,
which falls back at pleasure, and it holds four people easily. It is a
capital vehicle, light and strong and uncommonly comfortable, but I am
warned not to imagine that all Cape carts are as easy as this one. Away
we go at a fine pace through the delicious sparkling morning sunshine
and crisp air, soon turning off the red high-road into a sandy, marshy
flat with a sort of brackish back-water standing in pools here and
there. We are going to call on Langalibalele, and his son, Malambuli,
who are located at Uitvlugt on the Cape downs, about four miles from
the town. It is a sort of farm-residence; and considering that the
chief has hitherto lived in a reed hut, he is not badly off, for he
has plenty of room out of doors as well as a good house over his head.
We bump over some strange and rough bits of sandy road and climb up
and down steep banks in a manner seldom done on wheels. There is a
wealth of lovely flowers blooming around, but I can’t help fixing my
eyes on the pole of the cart, which is sometimes sticking straight up
in the air, its silver hook shining merrily in the sun, or else it has
disappeared altogether, and I can only see the horses’ haunches. That
is when we are going _down_ hill, and I think it is a more terrible
sensation than when we are playfully scrambling up some sandy hillock
as a cat might.

Here is the location at last, thank Heaven! and there is Langalibalele
sitting in the verandah stoep (pronounced “stoup”) on his haunches on
a brick. He looks as comfortable as if he were in an arm-chair, but
it must be a difficult thing to do if you think seriously of it. The
etiquette seems to be to take no notice of him as we pass into the
parlor, where we present our pass and the people in authority satisfy
themselves that we are quite in rule. Then the old chief walks quietly
in, takes off his soft felt hat and sits himself down in a Windsor
arm-chair with grave deliberation. He is uncommonly ugly; but when one
remembers that he is nearly seventy years of age, it is astonishing to
see how young he looks. Langalibalele is not a true Kafir at all: he is
a Fingor, a half-caste tribe contemptuously christened by the Kafirs
“dogs.” His wool grows in distinct and separate clumps like hassocks
of grass all over his head. He is a large and powerful man and looks
the picture of sleek contentment, as well he may. Only one of his sons,
a good-natured, fine young man, black as ebony, is with him, and the
chief’s one expressed grievance is that none of his wives will come to
him. In vain he sends commands and entreaties to these dusky ladies
to come and share his solitude. They return for answer that “they are
working for somebody else;” for, alas! the only reason their presence
is desired is that they may cultivate some of the large extent of
ground placed at the old chief’s disposal. Neither he nor his stalwart
son would dream for a moment of touching spade or hoe; but if the
ladies of the family could only be made to see their duty, an honest
penny might easily be turned by oats or rye. I gave him a large packet
of sugar-plums, which he seized with childish delight and hid away
exactly like the big monkeys at the Zoo.

By way of a joke, Malambuli pretended to want to take them away, and
the chattering and laughing which followed was almost deafening. But
by and by a gentleman of the party presented a big parcel of the
best tobacco, and the chuckling old chief made over at once all my
sweetmeats “jintly” to his son, and proceeded to hide away his new
treasure. He was dressed exactly like a dissenting minister, and
declared through the interpreter he was perfectly comfortable. The
impression here seems to be that he is a restless, intriguing and
mischief-making old man, who may consider himself as having come out of
the hornets’ nest he tried to stir up uncommonly well.

We don’t want to bump up and down the sandy plain again, so a lively
conversation goes on in Dutch about the road between one of my
gentlemen and somebody who looks like a “stuck-vat” upon short legs.
The dialogue is fluent and lively, beginning with “Ja, ja!” and ending
with “All right!” but it leads to our hitting off the right track
exactly, and coming out at a lovely little cottage-villa under the
mountain, where we rest and lunch and then stroll about up the hill
spurs, through myrtle hedges and shady oak avenues. Then, before the
afternoon shadows grow too long, we drive off to “Groote Schuur,” the
ancient granary of the first settlers, which is now turned into a
roomy, comfortable country-house, perfect as a summer residence, and
securely sheltered from the “sou’-easters.” We approach it through a
double avenue of tall Italian pines, and after a little while go out
once more for a ramble up some quaint old brick steps, and so through
a beautiful glen all fringed and feathered with fresh young fronds
of maiden-hair ferns, and masses of hydrangea bushes, which must be
beautiful as a poet’s dream when they are covered with their great
bunches of pale blue blossom. That will not be until Christmas-tide,
and, alas! I shall not be here to see, for already my three halcyon
days of grace are ended and over, and this very evening we must steam
away from a great deal yet unvisited of what is interesting and
picturesque, and from friends who three days ago were strangers, but
who have made every moment since we landed stand out as a bright and
pleasant landmark on life’s highway.



PART II.


  ALGOA BAY, October 23, 1875.

Two days ago we steamed out of Table Bay on just such a gray, drizzling
afternoon as that on which we entered it. But the weather cleared
directly we got out to sea, and since then it has carried us along as
though we had been on a pleasant summer cruise. All yesterday we were
coasting along the low downs which edge the dangerous sea-board for
miles upon miles. From the deck of the Edinburgh Castle the effect is
monotonous enough, although just now everything is brightly green;
and, with their long ribbon fringe of white breaker-foam glinting
in the spring sunshine, the stretches of undulating hillocks looked
their best. This part of the coast is well lighted, and it was always
a matter of felicitation at night when, every eighty miles or so,
the guiding rays of a lighthouse shone out in the soft gloom of the
starlight night. One of these lonely towers stands more than eight
hundred feet above the sea-level, and warns ships off the terrible
Agulhas Bank.

We have dropped our anchor this fresh bright morning a mile or so
from the shore on which Port Elizabeth stands. Algoa Bay is not much
of a shelter, and it is always a chance whether a sudden south-easter
may not come tearing down upon the shipping, necessitating a sudden
tripping of anchors and running out to sea to avoid the fate which is
staring us warningly in the face in the shape of the gaunt ribs or
rusty cylinders of sundry cast-away vessels. To-day the weather is on
its good behavior; the south-easter rests on its

                  aëry nest
    As still as a brooding dove;

and sun and sea are doing their best to show off the queer little
straggling town creeping up the low sandy hills that lie before us. I
am assured that Port Elizabeth is a flourishing mercantile place. From
the deck of our ship I can’t at all perceive that it is flourishing, or
doing anything except basking in the pleasant sunshine. But when I go
on shore an hour or two later I am shown a store which takes away my
breath, and before whose miscellaneous contents the stoutest-hearted
female shopper must needs _baisser son pavilion_. Everything in this
vast emporium looked as neat and orderly as possible, and, though the
building was twice as big as the largest co-operative store in London,
there was no hurry or confusion. Thimbles and ploughs, eau-de-cologne
and mangles, American stoves, cotton dresses of astounding patterns to
suit the taste of Dutch ladies, harmoniums and flat-irons,—all stood
peaceably side by side together. But these were all “unconsidered
trifles” next the more serious business of the establishment, which
was wool—wool in every shape and stage and bale. In this department,
however, although for the sake of the dear old New Zealand days my
heart warms at the sight of the huge packages, I was not supposed to
take any interest; so we pass quickly out into the street again, get
into a large open carriage driven by a black coachman, and make the
best of our way up to a villa on the slope of the sandy hill. Once I
am away from the majestic influence of that store the original feeling
of Port Elizabeth being rather a dreary place comes back upon me;
but we drive all about—to the Park, which may be said to be in its
swaddling-clothes _as_ a park, and to the Botanic Gardens, where the
culture of foreign and colonial flowers and shrubs is carried on under
the chronic difficulties of too much sun and wind and too little water.
Everywhere there is building going on—very modest building, it is true,
with rough-and-ready masonry or timber, and roofs of zinc painted in
strips of light colors, but everywhere there are signs of progress and
growth. People look bored, but healthy, and it does not surprise me in
the least to hear that though there are a good many inhabitants, there
is not much society. A pretty little luncheon and a pleasant hour’s
chat in a cool, shady drawing-room, with plenty of new books and music
and flowers, gave me an agreeable impression to carry back on board
the ship; which, by the way, seemed strangely silent and deserted when
we returned, for most of our fellow-passengers had disembarked here on
their way to different parts of the interior.

As I saunter up and down the clean, smart-looking deck of what has been
our pleasant floating home during these past four weeks, I suddenly
perceive a short, squat pyramid on the shore, standing out oddly enough
among the low-roofed houses. If it had only been red instead of gray,
it might have passed for the model of the label on Bass’s beer-bottles;
but, even as it is, I feel convinced that there is a story connected
with it: and so it proves, for this ugly, most unsentimental-looking
bit of masonry was built long ago by a former governor as a record
of the virtues and perfections of his dead wife, whom, among other
lavish epithets of praise, he declares to have been “the most perfect
of women.” Anyhow, there it stands, on what was once a lonely strip
of sand and sea, a memorial—if one can only believe the stone story,
now nearly a hundred years old—of a great love and a great sorrow; and
one can envy the one and pity the other just as much when looking at
this queer, unsightly monument as when one stands on the pure marble
threshold of the exquisite Taj Mahal at Agra, and reads that it too, in
all its grace and beauty, was reared “in memory of an undying love.”

Although the day has been warm and balmy, the evening air strikes
chill and raw, and our last evening on board the dear old ship has to
be spent under shelter, for it is too cold to sit on deck. With the
first hours of daylight next morning we have to be up and packing, for
by ten o’clock we must be on board the Florence, a small, yacht-like
coasting-steamer which can go much closer into the sand-blocked harbors
scooped by the action of the rivers all along the coast. It is with
a very heavy heart that I, for one, say good-bye to the Edinburgh
Castle, where I have passed so many happy hours and made some pleasant
acquaintances. A ship is a very forcing-house of friendship, and no
one who has not taken a voyage can realize how rapidly an acquaintance
grows and ripens into a friend under the lonely influences of sea
and sky. We have all been so happy together, everything has been so
comfortable, everybody so kind, that one would indeed be cold-hearted
if, when the last moment of our halcyon voyage arrived, it could bring
with it anything short of a regret.

With the same chivalrous goodness and courtesy which has taken thought
for the comfort of our every movement since we left Dartmouth, our
captain insists on seeing us safely on board the Florence (what a
toy-boat she looks after our stately ship!) and satisfying himself that
we can be comfortably settled once more in our doll’s house of a new
cabin. Then there comes a reluctant “Good-bye” to him and all our kind
care-takers of the Edinburgh Castle; and the last glimpse we catch of
her—for the Florence darts out of the bay like a swallow in a hurry—is
her dipping her ensign in courteous farewell to us.

In less than twenty-four hours we had reached another little port,
some hundred and fifty miles or so up the coast, called East London.
Here the harbor is again only an open roadstead, and hardly any vessel
drawing more than three or four feet of water can get in at all near
the shore, for between us and it is a bar of shifting sand, washed
down, day by day, by the strong current of the river Buffalo. All the
cargo has to be transferred to lighters, and a little tug steamer
bustles backward and forward with messages of entreaty to those said
lighters to come out and take away their loads. We had dropped our
anchor by daylight, yet at ten o’clock scarcely a boat had made its
appearance alongside, and every one was fuming and fretting at the
delay and consequent waste of fine weather and daylight. That is to
say, it was a fine bright day overhead, with sunshine and sparkle all
round, but the heavy roll of the sea never ceased for a moment. From
one side to the other, until her ports touched the water, backward
and forward, with slow, monotonous heaving, our little vessel swayed
with the swaying rollers until everybody on board felt sick and sorry.
“This is comparatively a calm day,” I was told: “you can’t possibly
imagine from this what rolling really is.” But I _can_ imagine quite
easily, and do not at all desire a closer acquaintance with this
restless Indian Ocean. Breakfast is a moment of penance: little G——
is absolutely fainting from agonies of sea-sickness, though he has
borne all our South-Atlantic tossings with perfect equanimity; and it
is with real joy, that I hear the lifeboat is alongside, and that the
kind-hearted captain of the Florence (_how_ kind sailors are!) offers
to take babies, nurse and me on shore, so as to escape a long day of
this agonizing rolling. In happy unconsciousness of what landing at
East London, even in a lifeboat, meant when a bar had to be crossed,
we were all tumbled and bundled, more or less unceremoniously, into
the great, roomy boat, and were immediately taken in hand by the busy
little tug. For half a mile or more we made good progress in her wake,
being in a position to set at naught the threatening water-mountains
which came tumbling in furious haste from seaward. It was not until we
seemed close to the shore and all our troubles over that the tug was
obliged to cast us off, owing to the rapidly shoaling water, and we
prepared to make the best of our own way in. Bad was that best, indeed,
though the peril came and went so quickly that it is but a confused
impression I retain of what seemed to me a really terrible moment. One
instant I hear felicitations exchanged between our captain—who sits
protectingly close to me and poor, fainting little G——, who lies like
death in my arms—and the captain of the lifeboat. The next moment,
in spite of sudden panic and presence of danger, I could laugh to
hear the latter sing out in sharpest tones of terror and dismay, “Ah,
you would, would you?” coupled with rapid orders to the stout rowers
and shouts to us of “Look out!” and I _do_ look out, to see on one
side sand which the retreating wave has sucked dry, and in which the
boat seems trying to bury herself as though she were a mole: on the
other hand there towers above us a huge green wave, white-crested and
curled, which is rushing at us like a devouring monster. I glance, as
I think, for the last time, at the pale nurse, on whose lap lies the
baby placidly sucking his bottle. I see a couple of sailors lay hold
of her and the child with one hand each, whilst with the other they
cling desperately to the thwarts. A stout seafaring man flings the
whole weight of his ponderous pilot-coated body upon G—— and me: I
hear a roar of water, and, lo! we are washed right up alongside of the
rude landing-place, still _in_ the boat indeed, but wet and frightened
to the last degree. Looking back on it all, I can distinctly remember
that it was not the sight of the overhanging wave which cost me my
deadliest pang of sickening fright, but the glimpse I caught of the
shining, cruel-looking sand, sucking us in so silently and greedily.
We were all trembling so much that it seemed as impossible to stand
upright on the earth as on the tossing waters, and it was with reeling,
drunken-looking steps that we rolled and staggered through the heavy
sand-street until we reached the shelter of an exceedingly dirty hotel.
Everything in it required courage to touch, and it was with many
qualms that I deposited limp little G—— on a filthy sofa. However, the
mistress of the house looked clean, and so did the cups and saucers she
quickly produced; and by the time we had finished a capital breakfast
we were all quite in good spirits again, and so sharpened up as to be
able to “mock ourselves” of our past perils and present discomforts.
Outside there were strange, beautiful shrubs in flower, tame pigeons
came cooing and bowing in at the door, and above all there was an
enchanting freshness and balminess in the sunny air.

In about an hour “Capting Florence” (as G—— styles our new commander)
calls for us and takes us out sight-seeing. First and foremost, across
the river to the rapidly-growing railway lines, where a brand-new
locomotive was hissing away with full steam up. Here we were met and
welcomed by the energetic superintendent of this iron road, and, to my
intense delight, after explaining to me what a long distance into the
interior the line had to go and how fast it was getting on, considering
the difficulties in the way of doing anything in South Africa, from
washing a pocket-handkerchief up to laying down a railway, he proposed
that we should get _on_ the engine and go as far as the line was open
for anything like safe traveling. Never were such delightful five
minutes as those spent in whizzing along through the park-like country
and cutting fast through the heavenly air. In vain did I smell that my
serge skirts were getting dreadfully singed, in vain did I see most
uncertain bits of rail before me: it was all too perfectly enchanting
to care for danger or disgrace, and I could have found it in my heart
to echo G—— ’s plaintive cry for “More!” when we came to the end and
had to get off. But it consoled us a little to watch the stone-breaking
machine crunching up small rocks as though they had been lumps of
sugar, and after looking at that we set off for the unfinished station,
and could take in, even in its present skeleton state, how commodious
and handsome it will all be some day. You are all so accustomed to be
whisked about the civilized world when and where you choose that it is
difficult to make you understand the enormous boon the first line of
railway is to a new country—not only for the convenience of travelers,
but for the transport of goods, the setting free of hundreds of cattle
and horses and drivers—all sorely needed for other purposes—and
the fast-following effects of opening up the resources of the back
districts. In these regions labor is the great difficulty, and one
needs to hold both patience and temper fast with both one’s hands when
watching either Kafir or Coolie at work. The white man cannot or will
not do much with his hands out here, so the navvies are slim-looking
blacks, who jabber and grunt and sigh a good deal more than they work.

It is a fortunate circumstance that the delicious air keeps us all in
a chronic state of hunger, for it appears in South Africa that one is
expected to eat every half hour or so. And, shamed am I to confess,
we _do_ eat—and eat with a good appetite too—a delicious luncheon at
the superintendent’s, albeit it followed closely on the heels of our
enormous breakfast at the dirty hotel. Such a pretty little bachelor’s
box as it was!—so cool and quiet and neat!—built somewhat after the
fashion of the Pompeian houses, with a small square garden full of
orange trees in the centre, and the house running round this opening
in four corridors. After lunch a couple of nice, light Cape carts came
to the door, and we set off to see a beautiful garden whose owner had
all a true Dutchman’s passion for flowers. Here was fruit as well
as flowers. Pineapples and jasmine, strawberries and honeysuckle,
grew side by side with bordering orange trees, feathery bamboos and
sheltering gum trees. In the midst of the garden stood a sort of double
platform, up whose steep border we all climbed: from this we got a
good idea of the slightly undulating land all about, waving down like
solidified billows to where the deep blue waters sparkled and rolled
restlessly beyond the white line of waves ever breaking on the bar. I
miss animal life sadly in these parts: the dogs I see about the streets
are few in number, and miserably currish specimens of their kind. “Good
dogs don’t answer out here,” I am told: that is to say, they get a
peculiar sort of distemper, or ticks bite them, or they got weak from
loss of blood, or become degenerate in some way. The horses and cattle
are small and poor-looking, and hard-worked, very dear to buy and very
difficult to keep and to feed. I don’t even see many cats, and a pet
bird is a rarity. However, as we stood on the breezy platform I saw a
most beautiful wild bird fly over the rosehedge just below us. It was
about as big as a crow, but with a strange iridescent plumage. When it
flitted into the sunshine its back and wings shone like a rainbow, and
the next moment it looked perfectly black and velvety in the shade. Now
a turquoise-blue tint comes out on its spreading wings, and a slant
in the sunshine turns the blue into a chrysoprase green. Nobody could
tell me its name: our Dutch host spoke exactly like Hans Breitmann,
and declared it was a “bid of a crow,” and so we had to leave it and
the platform and come down to more roses and tea. There was so much
yet to be seen and to be done that we could not stay long, and, laden
with magnificent bouquets of _gloire de Dijon_ roses and honeysuckle,
and divers strange and lovely flowers, we drove off again in our Cape
carts. I observed that instead of saying “Whoa!” or checking the horses
in any way by the reins, the driver always whistles to them—a long,
low whistle—and they stand quite still directly. We bumped up and
down, over extraordinarily rough places, and finally slid down a steep
cutting to the brink of the river Buffalo, over which we were ferried,
all standing, on a big punt, or rather pontoon. A hundred yards or so
of rapid driving then took us to a sort of wharf which projected into
the river, where the important-looking little tug awaited us; and no
sooner were we all safely on board—rather a large party by this time,
for we had gone on picking up stragglers ever since we started, only
three in number, from the hotel—than she sputtered and fizzed herself
off upstream. By this time it was the afternoon, and I almost despair
of making you see the woodland beauty of that broad mere, fringed down
to the water’s edge on one side with shrubs and tangle of roses and
woodbine, with ferns and every lovely green creeping thing. That was on
the bank which was sheltered from the high winds: the other hillside
showed the contrast, for there, though green indeed, only a few
feathery tufts of pliant shrubs had survived the force of some of these
south-eastern gales. We paddled steadily along in mid-stream, and
from the bridge (where little G—— and I had begged “Capting Florence”
to let us stand) one could see the double of each leaf and tendril and
passing cloud mirrored sharp and clear in the crystalline water. The
lengthening shadows from rock and fallen crag were in some places flung
quite across our little boat, and so through the soft, lovely air,
flooded with brightest sunshine, we made our way, up past Picnic Creek,
where another stream joins the Buffalo, and makes miniature green
islands and harbors at its mouth, up as far as the river was navigable
for even so small a steamer as ours. Every one was sorry when it became
time to turn, but there was no choice: the sun-burned, good-looking
captain of the tug held up a warning hand, and round we went with a
wide sweep, under the shadows, out into the sunlight, down the middle
of the stream, all too soon to please us.

Before we left East London, however, there was one more great work to
be glanced at, and accordingly we paid a hasty visit to the office
of the superintendent of the new harbor-works, and saw plans and
drawings of what will indeed be a magnificent achievement when carried
out. Yard by yard, with patient under-sea sweeping, all that waste
of sand brought down by the Buffalo is being cleared away; yard by
yard, two massive arms of solidest masonry are stretching themselves
out beyond those cruel breakers: the river is being forced into so
narrow a channel that the rush of the water must needs carry the sand
far out to sea in future, and scatter it in soundings where it cannot
accumulate into such a barrier as that which now exists. Lighthouses
will guard this safe entrance into a tranquil anchorage, and so, at
some not too far distant day, there is good hope that East London may
be one of the most valuable harbors on this vast coast; and when her
railway has reached even the point to which it is at present projected,
nearly two hundred miles away, it will indeed be a thriving place.
Even now, there is a greater air of movement and life and progress
about the little seaport, what with the railway and the harbor-works,
than at any other place I have yet seen; and each great undertaking is
in the hands of men of first-rate ability and experience, who are as
persevering as they are energetic. After looking well over these most
interesting plans there was nothing left for us to do except to make
a sudden raid on the hotel, pick up our shawls and bags, pay a most
moderate bill of seven shillings and sixpence for breakfast for three
people and luncheon for two, and the use of a room all day, piteously
entreat the mistress of the inn to sell us half a bottle of milk for
G—— ’s breakfast to-morrow—as he will not drink the preserved milk—and
so back again on board the tug. The difficulty about milk and butter
is the first trouble which besets a family traveling in these parts.
Everywhere milk is scarce and poor, and the butter such as no charwoman
would touch in England. In vain does one behold from the sea thousands
of acres of what looks like undulating green pasturage, and inland
the same waving green hillocks stretch as far as the eye can reach:
there is never a sheep or cow to be seen, and one hears that there is
no water, or that the grass is sour, or that there is a great deal of
sickness about among the animals in that locality. Whatever the cause,
the result is the same—namely, that one has to go down on one’s knees
for a cupful of milk, which is but poor, thin stuff at its best, and
that Irish salt butter out of a tub is a costly delicacy.

Having secured this precious quarter of a bottle of milk, for which
I was really as grateful as though it had been the Koh-i-noor, we
hastened back to the wharf and got on board the little tug again. “Now
for the bridge!” cry G—— and I, for has not Captain Florence promised
us a splendid but safe tossing across the bar? And faithfully he and
the bar and the boat keep their word, for we are in no danger, it
seems, and yet we appear to leap like a race-horse across the strip of
sand, receiving a staggering buffet first on one paddle-wheel and then
on the other from the angry guardian breakers, which seem sworn foes
of boats and passengers. Again and again are we knocked aside by huge
billows, as though the poor little tug were a walnut-shell; again and
again do we recover ourselves, and blunder bravely on, sometimes with
but one paddle in the water, sometimes burying our bowsprit in a big
green wave too high to climb, and dashing right through it as fast as
if we shut our eyes and went at everything. The spray flies high over
our heads, G—— and I are drenched over and over again, but we shake
the sparkling water off our coats, for all the world like Newfoundland
dogs, and are all right again in a moment. “Is that the very last?”
asks G—— reluctantly as we take our last breaker like a five-barred
gate, flying, and find ourselves safe and sound, but quivering a good
deal, in what seems comparatively smooth water. Is it smooth, though?
Look at the Florence and all the other vessels. Still at it, seesaw,
backward and forward, roll, roll, roll! How thankful we all are to
have escaped a long day of sickening, monotonous motion! But there is
the getting on board to be accomplished, for the brave little tug dare
not come too near to her big sister steamboat or she would roll over
on her. So we signal for a boat, and quickly the largest which the
Florence possesses is launched and manned—no easy task in such a sea,
but accomplished in the smartest and most seamanlike fashion. The sides
of the tug are low, so it is not very difficult to scramble and tumble
into the boat, which is laden to the water’s edge by new passengers
from East London and their luggage. When, however, we have reached the
rolling Florence it is no easy matter to get out of the said boat and
on board. There is a ladder let down, indeed, from the Florence’s side,
but how are we to use it when one moment half a dozen rungs are buried
deep in the sea, and the next instant ship and ladder and all have
rolled right away from us? It has to be done, however, and what a tower
of strength and encouragement does “Capting Florence” prove himself at
this juncture! We are all to sit perfectly still: no one is to move
until his name is called, and then he is to come unhesitatingly and do
exactly what he is told.

“Pass up the baby!” is the first order which I hear given, and
that astonishing baby is “passed up” accordingly. I use the word
“astonishing” advisedly, for never was an infant so bundled about
uncomplainingly. He is just as often upside down as not; he is
generally handed from one quartermaster to the other by the gathers
of his little blue flannel frock; seas break over his cradle on deck,
but nothing disturbs him. He grins and sleeps and pulls at his bottle
through everything, and grows fatter and browner and more impudent
every day. On this occasion, when—after rivaling Léotard’s most daring
feats on the trapeze in my scramble up the side of a vessel which
was lurching away from me—I at last reached the deck, I found the
ship’s carpenter nursing the baby, who had seized the poor man’s beard
firmly with one hand, and with the finger and thumb of the other was
attempting to pick out one of his merry blue eyes. “Avast there!” cried
the long-suffering sailor, and gladly relinquished the mischievous
bundle to me.

Up with the anchor, and off we go once more into the gathering darkness
of what turns out to be a wet and windy night. Next day the weather
had recovered its temper, and I was called upon deck directly after
breakfast to see the “Gates of St. John,” a really fine pass on the
coast where the river Umzimvubu rushes through great granite cliffs
into the sea. If the exact truth is to be told, I must confess I am
a little disappointed with this coast-scenery. I have heard so much
of its beauty, and as yet, though I have seen it under exceptionally
favorable conditions of calm weather, which has allowed us to stand
in very close to shore, I have not seen anything really fine until
these “Gates” came in view. It has all been monotonous, undulating
downs, here and there dotted with trees, and in some places the ravines
were filled with what we used to call in New Zealand _bush_—_i.e._,
miscellaneous greenery. Here and there a bold cliff or tumbled pile
of red rock makes a landmark for the passing ships, but otherwise the
uniformity is great indeed. The ordinary weather along this coast is
something frightful, and the great reputation of our little Florence
is built on the method in which she rides dry and safe as a duck
among these stormy waters. Now that we are close to “fair Natal,” the
country opens out and improves in beauty. There are still the same
sloping, rolling downs, but higher downs rise behind them, and again
beyond are blue and purpling hills. Here and there, too, are clusters
of fat, dumpy haystacks, which in reality are no haystacks at all,
but Kafir kraals. Just before we pass the cliff and river which marks
where No-Man’s Land ends and Natal begins these little locations are
more frequently to be observed, though what their inhabitants subsist
on is a marvel to me, for we are only a mile or so from shore, and all
the seeing power of all the field-glasses on board fails to discern
a solitary animal. We can see lots of babies crawling about the hole
which serves as door to a Kafir hut, and they are all as fat as little
pigs; but what do they live on? Buttermilk, I am told—that is to
say, sour milk, for the true Kafir palate does not appreciate fresh,
sweet milk—and a sort of porridge made of _mealies_. I used to think
“mealies” was a coined word for potatoes, but it really signifies maize
or Indian corn, which is rudely crushed and ground, and forms the
staple food of man and beast.

In the mean time, we are speeding gayly over the bright waters, never
very calm along this shore. Presently we come to a spot clearly marked
by some odd-colored, tumbled-down cliffs and the remains of a great
iron butt, where, more than a hundred years ago, the Grosvenor, a
splendid clipper ship, was wrecked. The men nearly all perished or were
made away with, but a few women were got on shore and carried off as
prizes to the kraals of the Kafir “inkosis” or chieftains. What sort
of husbands these stalwart warriors made to their reluctant brides
tradition does not say, but it is a fact that almost all the children
were born mad, and their descendants are, many of them, lunatics
or idiots up to the present time. As the afternoon draws on a chill
mist creeps over the hills and provokingly blots out the coast, which
gets more beautiful every league we go. I wanted to remain up and see
the light on the bluff just outside Port d’Urban, but a heavy shower
drove me down to my wee cabin before ten o’clock. Soon after midnight
the rolling of the anchor-chains and the sudden change of motion from
pitching and jumping to the old monotonous roll told us that we were
once more outside a bar, with a heavy sea on, and that there we must
remain until the tug came to fetch us. But, alas! the tug had to make
short work of it next morning, on account of the unaccommodating state
of the tide, and all our hopes of breakfasting on shore were dashed by
a hasty announcement at 5 A.M. that the tug was alongside, the mails
were rapidly being put on board of her, and that she could not wait for
passengers or anything else, because ten minutes later there would not
be water enough to float her over the bar.

“When shall _we_ be able to get over the bar?” I asked dolefully.

“Not until the afternoon,” was the prompt and uncompromising reply,
delivered through my keyhole by the authority in charge of us. And he
proved to be quite right; but I am bound to say the time passed more
quickly than we had dared to hope or expect, for an hour later a bold
little fishing-boat made her way through the breakers and across the
bar in the teeth of wind and rain, bringing F—— on board. He has been
out here these eight months, and looks a walking advertisement of the
climate and temperature of our new home, so absolutely healthy is his
appearance. He is very cheery about liking the place, and particularly
insists on the blooming faces and sturdy limbs I shall see belonging
to the young Natalians. Altogether, he appears thoroughly happy and
contented, liking his work, his position, everything and everybody;
which is all extremely satisfactory to hear. There is so much to
tell and so much to behold that, as G—— declares, “it is afternoon
directly,” and, the signal-flag being up, we trip our anchor once more
and rush at the bar, two quartermasters and an officer at the wheel,
the pilot and captain on the bridge, all hands on deck and on the
alert, for always, under the most favorable circumstances, the next
five minutes hold a peril in every second. “Stand by for spray!” sings
out somebody, and we do stand by, luckily for ourselves, for “spray”
means the top of two or three waves. The dear little Florence is as
plucky as she is pretty, and appears to shut her eyes and lower her
head and go _at_ the bar. Scrape, scrape, scrape! “We’ve stuck! No, we
haven’t! Helm hard down! Over!” and so we are. Among the breakers, it
is true, buffeted hither and thither, knocked first to one side and
then to the other; but we keep right on, and a few more turns of the
screw take us into calm water under the green hills of the bluff. The
breakers are behind us, we have twenty fathoms of water under our keel,
the voyage is ended and over, the captain takes off his straw hat to
mop his curly head, everybody’s face loses the expression of anxiety
and rigidity it has worn these past ten minutes, and boats swarm like
locusts round the ship. The baby is passed over the ship’s side for the
last time, having been well kissed and petted and praised by every one
as he was handed from one to the other, and we row swiftly away to the
low sandy shore of the “Point.”

Only a few warehouses, or rather sheds of warehouses, are to be
seen, and a rude sort of railway-station, which appears to afford
indiscriminate shelter to boats as well as to engines. There are
leisurely trains which saunter into the town of D’Urban, a mile and a
half away, every half hour or so, but one of these “crawlers” had just
started. The sun was very hot, and we voyagers were all sadly weary and
headachy. But the best of the colonies is the prompt, self-sacrificing
kindness of old-comers to new-comers. A gentleman had driven down
in his own nice, comfortable pony-carriage, and without a moment’s
hesitation he insisted on our all getting into it and making the
best of our way to our hotel. It is too good an offer to be refused,
for the sun is hot and the babies are tired to death; so we start,
slowly enough, to plough our way through heavy sand up to the axles.
If the tide had been out we could have driven quickly along the hard,
dry sand; but we comfort ourselves by remembering that there had been
water enough on the bar, and make the best of our way through clouds of
impalpable dust to a better road, of which a couple of hundred yards
land us at our hotel. It looks bare and unfurnished enough, in all
conscience, but it is a new place, and must be furnished by degrees.
At all events, it is tolerably clean and quiet, and we can wash our
sunburned faces and hands, and, as nurse says, “turn ourselves round.”

Coolies swarm in every direction, picturesque fish-and fruit-sellers
throng the verandah of the kitchen a little way off, and everything
looks bright and green and fresh, having been well washed by the recent
rains. There are still, however, several feet of dust in the streets,
for they are _made_ of dust; and my own private impression is, that all
the water in the harbor would not suffice to lay the dust of D’Urban
for more than half an hour. With the restlessness of people who have
been cooped up on board ship for a month, we insist, the moment it is
cool enough, on being taken out for a walk. Fortunately, the public
gardens are close at hand, and we amuse ourselves very well in them for
an hour or two, but we are all thoroughly tired and worn out, and glad
to get to bed, even in gaunt, narrow rooms on hard pallets.

The two following days were spent in looking after and collecting our
cumbrous array of boxes and baskets. Tin baths, wicker chairs and
baskets, all had to be counted and recounted, until one got weary of
the word “luggage;” but that is the penalty of drafting babies about
the world. In the intervals of the serious business of tracing No. 5
or running No. 10 to earth in the corner of a warehouse, I made many
pleasant acquaintances and received kindest words and notes of welcome
from unknown friends. All this warm-hearted, unconventional kindness
goes far to make the stranger forget his “own people and his father’s
house,” and feel at once at home amid strange and unfamiliar scenes.
After all, “home” is portable, luckily, and a welcoming smile and
hand-clasp act as a spell to create it in any place. We also managed,
after business-hours, when it was of no use making expeditions to
wharf or custom-house after recusant carpet-bags, to drive to the
Botanic Gardens. They are extensive and well kept, but seem principally
devoted to shrubs. I was assured that this is the worst time of year
for flowers, as the plants have not yet recovered from the winter
drought. A dry winter and wet summer is the correct atmospheric fashion
here: in winter everything is brown and dusty and dried up, in summer
green and fragrant and well watered. The gardens are in good order,
and I rather regretted not being able to examine them more thoroughly.
Another afternoon we drove to the Berea, a sort of suburban Richmond,
where the rich semi-tropical vegetation is cleared away in patches,
and villas with pretty pleasure-grounds are springing up in every
direction. The road winds up the luxuriantly-clothed slopes, with every
here and there lovely sea-views of the harbor, with the purpling lights
of the Indian Ocean stretching away beyond. Every villa must have an
enchanting prospect from its front door, and one can quite understand
how alluring to the merchants and business-men of D’Urban must be the
idea of getting away after office-hours, and sleeping on such high
ground in so fresh and healthy an atmosphere. And here I must say that
we Maritzburgians (I am only one in prospective) wage a constant and
deadly warfare with the D’Urbanites on the score of the health and
convenience of our respective cities. _We_ are two thousand feet above
the sea and fifty-two miles inland, so we talk in a pitying tone of
the poor D’Urbanites as dwellers in a very hot and unhealthy place.
“Relaxing” is the word we apply to their climate when we want to be
particularly nasty, and they retaliate by reminding us that they are
ever so much older than we are (which is an advantage in a colony),
and that they are on the coast, and can grow all manner of nice things
which we cannot compass, to say nothing of their climate being more
equable than ours, and their thunderstorms, though longer in duration,
mere flashes in the pan compared to what we in our amphitheatre of
hills have to undergo at the hands of the electric current. We never
can find answer to that taunt, and if the D’Urbanites only follow up
their victory by allusions to their abounding bananas and other fruits,
their vicinity to the shipping, and consequent facility of getting
almost anything quite easily, we are completely silenced, and it is a
wonder if we retain presence of mind enough to murmur “Flies.” On the
score of dust we are about equal, but I must in fairness confess that
D’Urban is a more lively and a better-looking town than Maritzburg when
you are in it, though the effect from a distance is not so good. It
is very odd how unevenly the necessaries of existence are distributed
in this country. Here at D’Urban anything hard in the way of stone is
a treasure: everything is soft and friable: sand and finest shingle,
so fine as to be mere dust, are all the available material for
road-making. I am told that later on I shall find that a cartload of
sand in Maritzburg is indeed a rare and costly thing: there we are all
rock, a sort of flaky, slaty rock underlying every place.

Our last day, or rather half day, in D’Urban was very full of
sightseeing and work. F—— was extremely anxious for me to see the sun
rise from the signal-station on the bluff, and accordingly he, G—-
and I started with the earliest dawn. We drove through the sand again
in a hired and springless Cape cart down to the Point, got into the
port-captain’s boat and rowed across a little strip of sand at the
foot of a winding path cut out of the dense vegetation which makes the
bluff such a refreshingly green headland to eyes of wave-worn voyagers.
A stalwart Kafir carried our picnic basket, with tea and milk, bread
and butter and eggs, up the hill, and it was delightful to follow the
windings of the path through beautiful bushes bearing strange and
lovely flowers, and knit together in patches in a green tangle by the
tendrils of a convolvulus or clematis, or sort of wild passion-flower,
whose blossoms were opening to the fresh morning air. It was a cool
but misty morning, and though we got to our destination in ample
time, there was never any sunrise at all to be seen. In fact, the sun
steadily declined to get up the whole day, so far as I knew, for the
sea looked gray and solemn and sleepy, and the land kept its drowsy
mantle of haze over its flat shore; which haze thickened and deepened
into a Scotch mist as the morning wore on. We returned by the leisurely
railway—a railway so calm and stately in its method of progression
that it is not at all unusual to see a passenger step calmly out of
the train when it is at its fullest speed of crawl, and wave his hand
to his companions as he disappears down the by-path leading to his
little home. The passengers are conveyed at a uniform rate of sixpence
a head, which sixpence is collected promiscuously by a small boy at odd
moments during the journey. There are no nice distinctions of class,
either, for we all travel amicably together in compartments which are
a judicious mixture of a third-class carriage and a cattle-truck. Of
course, wood is the only fuel used, and that but sparingly, for it is
exceedingly costly.

There was still much to be done by the afternoon—many visitors to
receive, notes to write and packages to arrange, for our traveling of
these fifty-two miles spreads itself over a good many hours, as you
will see. About three o’clock the government mule-wagon came to the
door. It may truly and literally be described as “stopping the way,”
for not only is the wagon itself a huge and cumbrous machine, but it
is drawn by eight mules in pairs, and driven by a couple of black
drivers. I say “driven by a couple of drivers,” because the driving was
evidently an affair of copartnership: one held the reins—such elaborate
reins as they were! a confused tangle of leather—and the other had the
care of two or three whips of differing lengths. The drivers were both
jet black—not Kafirs, but Cape blacks—descendants of the old slaves
taken by the Dutch. They appeared to be great friends, these two, and
took earnest counsel together at every rut and drain and steep pinch of
the road, which stretched away, over hill and dale, before us, a broad
red track, with high green hedges on either hand. Although the rain had
not yet fallen long or heavily, the ditches were all running freely
with red, muddy water, and the dust had already begun to cake itself
into a sticky, pasty red clay. The wagon was shut in by curtains at the
back and sides, and could hold eight passengers easily. Luckily for
the poor mules, however, we were only five grown-up people, including
the drivers. The road was extremely pretty, and the town looked very
picturesque as we gradually rose above it and looked down on it and the
harbor together. Of a fine, clear afternoon it would have been still
nicer, though I was much congratulated on the falling rain on account
of the absence of its alternative—dust. Still, it was possible to have
too much of a good thing, and by the time we reached Pine Town, only
fourteen miles away, the heavy roads were beginning to tell on the poor
mules, and the chill damp of the closing evening made us all only too
thankful to get under the shelter of a roadside inn (or hotel, as they
are called here), which was snug and bright and comfortable enough to
be a credit to any colony. It seemed the most natural thing in the
world to be told that this inn was not only a favorite place for people
to come out to from D’Urban to spend their holiday time in fine weather
(there is a pretty little church in the village hard by), but also
that it was quite _de rigueur_ for all honeymoons to be spent amid its
pretty scenery.

A steady downpour of rain all through the night made our early start
next day an affair of doubt and discouragement and dismal prophecy;
but we persevered, and accomplished another long stage through a cold
persistent drizzle before reaching an inn, where we enjoyed simply the
best breakfast I ever tasted, or at all events the best I have tasted
in Natal. The mules were also unharnessed, and after taking, each,
a good roll on the damp grass, turned out in the drizzling rain for
a rest and a nibble until their more substantial repast was ready.
The rain cleared up from time to time, but an occasional heavy shower
warned us that the weather was still sulky. It was in much better
heart and spirits, however, that we made a second start about eleven
o’clock, and struggled on through heavy roads up and down weary hills,
slipping here, sliding there, and threatening to stick everywhere.
Our next stage was to a place where the only available shelter was a
filthy inn, at which we lingered as short a time as practicable—only
long enough, in fact, to feed the mules—and then, with every prospect
of a finer afternoon, set out once more on the last and longest stage
of our journey. All the way the road has been very beautiful, in spite
of the shrouding mist, especially at the Inchanga Pass, where round
the shoulder of the hill as fair a prospect of curved green hills,
dotted with clusters of timber exactly like an English park, of distant
ranges rising in softly-rounded outlines, with deep violet shadows in
the clefts and pale green lights on the slopes, stretches before you
as the heart of painter could desire. Nestling out of sight amid this
rich pasture-land are the kraals of a large Kafir location, and no one
can say that these, the children of the soil, have not secured one of
the most favored spots. To me it all looked like a fair mirage. I am
already sick of beholding all this lovely country lying around, and yet
of being told that food and fuel are almost at famine-prices. People
say, “Oh, but you should see it in winter. _Now_ it is green, and there
is plenty of feed on it, but three months ago no grass-eating creature
could have picked up a living on all the country-side. It is all as
brown and bare as parchment for half the year. _This_ is the spring.”
Can you not imagine how provoking it is to hear such statements made by
old settlers, who know the place only too well, and to find out that
all the radiant beauty which greets the traveler’s eye is illusive,
for in many places there are miles and miles without a drop of water
for the flock and herds; consequently, there are no means of transport
for all this fuel until the days of railways? Besides which, through
Natal lies the great highway to the Diamond Fields, the Transvaal and
the Free States, and all the opening-up country beyond; so it is more
profitable to drive a wagon than to till a farm. Every beast with four
legs is wanted to drag building materials or provisions. The supply of
beef becomes daily more precarious and costly, for the oxen are all
“treking,” and one hears of nothing but diseases among animals—“horse
sickness,” pleuro-pneumonia, fowl sickness (I feel it an impertinence
for the poultry to presume to be ill), and even dogs set up a peculiar
and fatal sort of distemper among themselves.

But to return to the last hours of our journey. The mules struggle
bravely along, though their ears are beginning to flap about any way,
instead of being held straight and sharply pricked forward, and the
encouraging cries of “Pull up, Capting! now then, Blue-bok, hi!”
become more and more frequent: the driver in charge of the whips
is less nice in his choice of a scourge with which to urge on the
patient animals, and whacks them soundly with whichever comes first.
The children have long ago wearied of the confinement and darkness of
the back seats of the hooded vehicle; we are all black and blue from
jolting in and out of deep holes hidden by mud which occur at every
yard; but still our flagging spirits keep pretty good, for _our_ little
Table Mountain has been left behind, whilst before us, leaning up in
one corner of an amphitheatre of hills, are the trees which mark where
Maritzburg nestles. The mules see it too, and, sniffing their stables
afar off, jog along faster. Only one more rise to pull up: we turn a
little off the high-road, and there, amid a young plantation of trees,
with roses, honeysuckle and passion-flowers climbing up the posts of
the wide verandah, a fair and enchanting prospect lying at our feet,
stands our new home, with its broad red tiled roof stretching out a
friendly welcome to the tired, belated travelers.

[Illustration: Decoration]



PART III.


  MARITZBURG, November, 1875.

The weather at the beginning of this month was lovely and the climate
perfection, but now (I am writing on its last day) it is getting very
hot and trying. If ever people might stand excused for talking about
the weather when they meet, it is we Natalians, for, especially at this
time of year, it varies from hour to hour. All along the coast one
hears of terrible buffeting and knocking about among the shipping in
the open roadsteads which have to do duty for harbors in these parts;
and it was only a few days ago that the lifeboat, with the English mail
on board, capsized in crossing the bar at D’Urban. The telegram was—as
telegrams always are—terrifying in its vagueness, and spoke of the
mail-bags as “floating about.” When one remembers the vast size of the
breakers on which this floating would take place, it sounded hopeless
for our letters. They turned up, however, a few days later—in a pulpy
state, it is true, but quite readable, though the envelopes were
curiously blended and engrafted upon the letters inside—so much so that
they required to be taken together, for it was impossible to separate
them. I had recourse to the expedient of spreading my letters on a
dry towel and draining them before attempting to dissever the leaves.
Still, we were all only too thankful to get our correspondence in any
shape or form, for precious beyond the power of words to express are
home-letters to us, so far away from home.

But to return to our weather. At first it was simply perfect. Bright
hot days—not too hot, for a light breeze tempered even the midday
heat—and crisp, bracing nights succeeded each other during the first
fortnight. The country looked exquisitely green in its luxuriant spring
tints over hill and dale, and the rich red clay soil made a splendid
contrast on road and track with the brilliant green on either hand.
Still, people looked anxiously for more rain, declaring that not
half enough had fallen to fill tanks or “shuits” (as the ditches are
called), and it took four days of continuous downpour to satisfy these
thirsty souls even for the moment. Toward the middle of the month the
atmosphere became more oppressive and clouds began to come up in thick
masses all round the horizon, and gradually spread themselves over the
whole sky. The day before the heaviest rain, though not particularly
oppressive, was remarkable for the way in which all manner of animals
tried to get under shelter at nightfall. The verandah was full of big
frogs: if a door remained open for a moment they hopped in, and then
cried like trapped birds when they found themselves in a corner. As for
the winged creatures, it was something wonderful the numbers in which
they flew in at the windows wherever a light attracted them. I was
busy writing English letters that evening: I declare the cockroaches
fairly drove me away from the table by the mad way in which they flung
themselves into my ink-bottle, whilst the smell of singed moths at
the other lamp was quite overpowering. Well, after this came rain
indeed—not rain according to English ideas, but a tropical deluge, as
many inches falling in a few hours as would fill your rain-gauges for
months. I believe my conduct was very absurd that first rainy night.
The little house had just been newly papered, and as the ceiling was
not one to inspire confidence, consisting as it did merely of boards
roughly joined together and painted white, through which and through
the tiles beyond the sky could be seen quite plainly, I suffered the
gravest doubts about the water getting in and spoiling my pretty new
paper. Accordingly, whenever any burst of rain came heavier than its
immediate predecessor, I jumped out of bed in a perfect agony of mind,
and roamed, candle in hand, all over the house to see if I could not
detect a leak anywhere. But the unpromising-looking roof and ceiling
stood the test bravely, and not a drop of all that descending downpour
found its way to my new walls.

By the way, I must describe the house to you, remarking, first of
all, that architecture, so far as my observation extends, is at its
lowest ebb in South Africa. I have not seen a single pretty building
of any sort or kind since I arrived, although in these small houses
it would be so easy to break by gable and porch the severe simplicity
of the unvarying straight line in which they are built. Whitewashed
outer walls with a zinc roof are not uncommon, and they make a bald
and hideous combination until kindly, luxuriant Nature has had time to
step in and cover up man’s ugly handiwork with her festoons of roses
and passion-flowers. Most of the houses have, fortunately, red-tiled
roofs, which are not so ugly, and mine is among the number. It is so
squat and square, however, that, as our landlord happens to be the
chief baker of Maritzburg, it has been proposed to christen it “Cottage
Loaf,” but this idea requires consideration on account of the baker’s
feelings. In the mean time, it is known briefly as “Smith’s,” that
being the landlord’s name. It has, as all the houses here have, a broad
projecting roof extending over a wide verandah. Within are four small
rooms, two on either side of a narrow passage which runs from one
end to the other. By a happy afterthought, a kitchen has been added
beyond this extremely simple ground-plan, and on the opposite side
a corresponding projection which closely resembles a packing-case,
and which has been painted a bright blue inside and out. This is the
dining-room, and evidently requires to be severely handled before its
present crude and glaring tints can be at all toned down. At a little
distance stands the stable, saddle-room, etc., and a good bedroom
for English servants, and beyond that, again, among large clumps
of rose-bushes, a native hut. It came up here half built—that is,
the frame was partly put together elsewhere—and it resembled a huge
crinoline more than anything else in its original state. Since that,
however, it has been made more secure by extra pales of bamboo, each
tied in its place with infinite trouble and patience by a knot every
inch or two. The final stage consisted of careful thatching with thick
bundles of grass laid on the framework, and secured by long ropes of
grass binding the whole together. The door is the very smallest opening
imaginable, and inside it is of course pitch dark. All this labor was
performed by stalwart Kafir women, one of whom, a fearfully repulsive
female, informed my cook that she had just been bought back by her
original husband. Stress of circumstances had obliged him to sell her,
and she had been bought by three other husband-masters since then, but
was now resold, a bargain, to her first owner, whom, she declared, she
preferred to any of the others. But few as are these rooms, they yet
are watertight—which is a great point out here—and the house, being
built of large, awkward blocks of stone, is cool and shady. When I have
arranged things a little, it will be quite comfortable and pretty;
and I defy any one to wish for a more exquisite view than can be seen
from any corner of the verandah. We are on the brow of a hill which
slopes gently down to the hollow wherein nestles the picturesque little
town, or rather village, of Maritzburg. The intervening distance of
a mile or so conceals the real ugliness and monotony of its straight
streets, and hides all architectural shortcomings. The clock-tower,
for instance, is quite a feature in the landscape, and from here one
cannot perceive that the clock does not go. Nothing can be prettier
than the effect of the red-tiled roofs and white walls peeping out from
among thick clumps of trees, whilst beyond the ground rises again to
low hills with deep purple fissures and clefts in their green sides.
It is only a couple of years since this little house was built and the
garden laid out, and yet the shrubs and trees are as big as if half
a dozen years had passed over their leafy heads. As for the roses, I
never saw anything like the way they flourish at their own sweet will.
Scarcely a leaf is to be seen on the ugly straggling tree—nothing but
masses of roses of every tint and kind and old-fashioned variety. The
utmost I can do in the way of gathering daily basketsful appears only
in the light of judicious pruning, and next day a dozen blossoms have
burst forth to supply the place of each theft of mine. And there is
such a variety of trees! Oaks and bamboos, blue gums and deodars, seem
to flourish equally well within a yard or two of each other, and the
more distant flower-beds are filled with an odd mixture of dahlias and
daturas, white fleur-de-lis and bushy geraniums, scarlet euphorbias and
verbenas. But the weeds! They are a chronic eyesore and grief to every
gardener. On path and grass-plat, flower-bed and border, they flaunt
and flourish. “Jack,” the Zulu refugee, wages a feeble and totally
inadequate warfare against them with a crooked hoe, but he is only a
quarter in earnest, and stops to groan and take snuff so often that the
result is that our garden is precisely in the condition of the garden
of the sluggard, gate and all. This hingeless condition of the gate,
however, is, I must in fairness state, neither Jack’s nor our fault.
It is a new gate, but no one will come out from the town to hang it.
That is my standing grievance. Because we live about a mile from the
town it is next to impossible to get anything done. The town itself is
one of the shabbiest assemblages of dwellings I have ever seen in a
colony. It is not to be named on the same day with Christchurch, the
capital of Canterbury, New Zealand, which ten years ago was decently
paved and well lighted by gas. Poor sleepy Maritzburg consists now, at
more than forty years of age (Christchurch is not twenty-five yet), of
a few straight, wide, grass-grown streets, which are only picturesque
at a little distance on account of their having trees on each side. On
particularly dark nights a dozen oil-lamps standing at long intervals
apart are lighted, but when it is even moderately starlight these aids
to finding one’s way about are prudently dispensed with. There is not
a single handsome and hardly a decent building in the whole place. The
streets, as I saw them after rain, are veritable sloughs of despond,
but they are capable of being changed by dry weather into deserts of
dust. It is true, I have only been as yet twice down to the town, but
on both visits it reminded me more of the sleepy villages in Washington
Irving’s stories than of a smart, modern, go-ahead colonial “city.”
There are some fairly good shops, but they make no show outside, and
within the prices of most of the articles sold are nearly double the
same things would bring either at Melbourne or at Christchurch. As
D’Urban is barely a month away from London in point of communication,
and New Zealand (when I knew it) nearly treble the distance and time,
this is a great puzzle to me.

A certain air of quaint interest and life is given to the otherwise
desolate streets by the groups of Kafirs and the teams of wagons which
bring fuel and forage into the town every day. Twenty bullocks drag
these ponderous contrivances—bullocks so lean that one wonders how they
have strength to carry their wide-spreading horns aloft; bullocks of a
stupidity and obstinacy unparalleled in the natural history of horned
beasts. At their head walks a Kafir lad called a “forelooper,” who tugs
at a rope fastened to the horns of the leading oxen, and in moments of
general confusion invariably seems to pull the wrong string and get the
whole team into an inextricable tangle of horns and yokes. Sometimes
of a quiet Sunday morning these teams and wagons I see “out-spanned”
on the green slopes around Maritzburg, making a picturesque addition
to the sylvan scenery. Near each wagon a light wreath of smoke steals
up into the summer air, marking where some preparation of “mealies”
is on foot, and the groups of grazing oxen—“spans,” as each team is
called—give the animation of animal life which I miss so sadly at every
turn in this part of the world.

In Maritzburg itself I only noticed two buildings which made the least
effect. One is the government house, standing in a nice garden and
boasting of a rather pretty porch, but otherwise reminding one—except
for the sentinel on duty—of a quiet country rectory: the other is a
small block comprising the public offices. The original idea of this
square building must have come from a model dairy. But the crowning
absurdity of the place is the office of the colonial secretary,
which stands nearly opposite. I am told that inside it is tolerably
comfortable, being the remains of an old Dutch building: outside, it
can only be compared to a dilapidated barn on a bankrupt farm, and when
it was first pointed out to me I had great difficulty, remembering
similar buildings in other colonies, in believing it was a public
office.

The native police look very smart and shiny in their white suits, and
must be objects of envy to their black brethren on account of their
“knobkerries,” the knobbed sticks which they alone are permitted to
carry officially in their hands. The native loves a stick, and as he is
forbidden to carry either an assegai—which is a very formidable weapon
indeed—or even a knobkerry, only one degree less dangerous, he consoles
himself with a wand or switch in case of coming across a snake. You
never see a Kafir without something of the sort in his hand: if he is
not twirling a light stick, then he has a sort of rude reed pipe from
which he extracts sharp and tuneless sounds. As a race, the Kafirs
make the effect of possessing a fine _physique_: they walk with an
erect bearing and a light step, but in true leisurely savage fashion.
I have seen the black race in four different quarters of the globe,
and I never saw one single individual move quickly of his own free
will. We must bear in mind, however, that it is a new and altogether
revolutionary idea to a Kafir that he should do any work at all. Work
is for women—war or idleness for men; consequently, their fixed idea is
to do as little as they can; and no Kafir will work after he has earned
money enough to buy a sufficient number of wives who will work for him.
“Charlie,” our groom—who is, by the way, a very fine gentleman and
speaks “Ingeliss” after a strange fashion of his own—only condescends
to work until he can purchase a wife. Unfortunately, the damsel whom
he prefers is a costly article, and her parents demand a cow, a kettle
and a native hut as the price of her hand—or hands, rather—so Charlie
grunts and groans through about as much daily work as an English boy of
twelve years old could manage easily. He is a very amusing character,
being exceedingly proud, and will only obey his own master, whom he
calls his great inkosi or chief. He is always lamenting the advent
of the inkosi-casa, or chieftainess, and the piccaninnies and their
following, especially the “vaiter,” whom he detests. In his way,
Charlie is a wag, and it is as good as a play to see his pretence of
stupidity when the “vaiter” or French butler desires him to go and eat
“sa paniche.” Charlie understands perfectly that he is told to go and
get his breakfast of mealy porridge, but he won’t admit that it is to
be called “paniche,” preferring his own word “scoff;” so he shakes his
head violently and says, “Nay, nay, paniche.” Then, with many nods,
“Scoff, ja;” and so in this strange gibberish of three languages he
and the Frenchman carry on quite a pretty quarrel. Charlie also “mocks
himself” of the other servants, I am informed, and asserts that he is
the “indema” or headman. He freely boxes the ears of Jack, the Zulu
refugee—poor Jack, who fled from his own country, next door, the other
day, and arrived here clad in only a short flap made of three bucks’
tails. That is only a month ago, and “Jack” is already quite a _petit
maître_ about his clothes. He ordinarily wears a suit of knickerbockers
and a shirt of blue check bound with red, and a string of beads round
his neck, but he cries like a baby if he tears his clothes, or still
worse if the color of the red braid washes out. At first he hated
civilized garments, even when they were only two in number, and begged
to be allowed to assume a sack with holes for the arms, which is the
Kafir compromise when near a town between clothes and flaps made of the
tails of wild beasts or strips of hide. But he soon came to delight in
them, and is now always begging for “something to wear.”

I confess I am sorry for Jack. He is the kitchen-boy, and is learning
with much pains and difficulty the _wrong language_. My cook is also
French, and, naturally, all that Jack learns is French, and not
English. Imagine poor Jack’s dismay when, after his three years’
apprenticeship to us is ended, he seeks perhaps to better himself,
and finds that no one except madame can understand him! Most of their
dialogues are carried on by pantomime and the incessant use, in
differing tones of voice, of the word “Ja.” Jack is a big, loutish
young man, but very ugly and feeble, and apparently under the
impression that he is perpetually “wanted” to answer for the little
indiscretion, whatever it was, on account of which he was forced to
flee over the border. He is timid and scared to the last degree, and
abjectly anxious to please if it does not entail too much exertion.
He is, as it were, apprenticed to us for three years. We are bound to
feed and clothe and doctor him, and he is to work for us, in his own
lazy fashion, for small wages. The first time Jack broke a plate his
terror and despair were quite edifying to behold. Madame called him a
“maladroit” on the spot. Jack learned this word, and after his work
was over seated himself gravely on the ground with the fragments of
the plate, which he tried to join together, but gave up the attempt
at last, announcing in his own tongue that it was “dead.” After a
little consideration he said slowly, several times, “Maldraw, ja,” and
hit himself a good thump at each “ja.” _Now_, I grieve to say, Jack
breaks plates, dishes and cups with a perfectly easy and unembarrassed
conscience, and is already far too civilized to care in the least for
his misfortunes in that line. Whenever a fowl is killed—and I came
upon Jack slowly putting one to death the other day with a pair of
nail-scissors—he possesses himself of a small store of feathers, which
he wears tastefully placed over his left ear. A gay ribbon, worn like
a bandeau across the forehead, is what he really loves. Jack is very
proud of a tawdry ribbon of many colors with a golden ground which I
found for him the other day, only he never can make up his mind where
to wear it; and I often come upon him sitting in the shade with the
ribbon in his hands, gravely considering the question.

The Pickle and plague of the establishment, however, is the boy
Tom, a grinning young savage fresh from his kraal, up to any amount
of mischief, who in an evil hour has been engaged as the baby’s
body-servant. I cannot trust him with the child out of my sight for
a moment, for he “snuffs” enormously, and smokes coarse tobacco
out of a cow’s horn, and is anxious to teach the baby both these
accomplishments. Tom wears his snuff-box—which is a brass cylinder
a couple of inches long—in either ear impartially, there being huge
slits in the cartilage for the purpose, and the baby never rests till
he gets possession of it and sneezes himself nearly into fits. Tom
likes nursing Baby immensely, and croons to him in a strange buzzing
way which lulls him to sleep invariably. He is very anxious, however,
to acquire some words of English, and I was much startled the other
day to hear in the verandah my own voice saying, “What is it, dear?”
over and over again. This phrase proceeded from Tom, who kept on
repeating it, parrot-fashion—an exact imitation, but with no idea of
its meaning. I had heard the baby whimpering a little time before, and
Tom had remarked that these four words produced the happiest effect in
restoring good-humor; so he learned them, accent and all, on the spot,
and used them as a spell or charm on the next opportunity. I think even
the poor baby was puzzled. But one cannot feel sure of what Tom will do
next. A few evenings ago I trusted him to wheel the perambulator about
the garden-paths, but, becoming anxious in a very few minutes to know
what he was about, I went to look for him. I found him grinning in high
glee, watching the baby’s efforts at cutting his teeth on a live young
bird. Master Tom had spied a nest, climbed the tree, and brought down
the poor little bird, which he presented to the child, who instantly
put it into his mouth. When I arrived on the scene Baby’s mouth was
full of feathers, over which he was making a very disgusted face, and
the unhappy bird was nearly dead of fright and squeezing, whilst Tom
was in such convulsions of laughter that I nearly boxed his ears. He
showed me by signs how Baby insisted on sucking the bird’s head, and
conveyed his intense amusement at the idea. I made Master Tom climb
the tree instantly and put the poor little half-dead creature back
into its nest, and sent for Charlie to explain to him he should have
no sugar—the only punishment Tom cares about—for two days. I often
think, however, that I must try and find another penalty, for when
Tom’s allowance of sugar is stopped he “requisitions” that of every one
else, and so gets rather more than usual. He is immensely proud of the
brass chin-strap of an old artillery bushy which has been given to him.
He used to wear it across his forehead in the favorite Kafir fashion,
but as the baby always made it his first business to pull this shining
strap down over Tom’s eyes, and eventually over Tom’s mouth, it has
been transferred to his neck.

These Kafir-lads make excellent nurse-boys generally, and English
children are very fond of them. Nurse-girls are rare, as the Kafir
women begin their lives of toil so early that they are never very handy
or gentle in a house, and boys are easier to train as servants. I heard
to-day, however, of an excellent Kafir nursemaid who was the daughter
of a chief, and whose only drawback was the size of her family. She was
actually and truly one of _eighty_ brothers and sisters, her father
being a rich man with twenty-five wives. That simply means that he
had twenty-five devoted slaves, who worked morning, noon and night
for him in field and mealy-patch without wages. Jack the Zulu wanted
to be nurse-boy dreadfully, and used to follow Nurse about with a
towel rolled up into a bundle, and another towel arranged as drapery,
dandling an imaginary baby on his arm, saying plaintively, “Piccaninny,
piccaninny!” This Nurse translated to mean that he was an experienced
nurse-boy, and had taken care of a baby in his own country, but as
I had no confidence in maladroit Jack, who chanced to be very deaf
besides, he was ruthlessly relegated to his pots and pans.

It is very curious to see the cast-off clothes of all the armies of
Europe finding their way hither. The natives of South Africa prefer an
old uniform coat or tunic to any other covering, and the effect of a
short scarlet garment when worn with bare legs is irresistibly droll.
The apparently inexhaustible supply of old-fashioned English coatees
with their worsted epaulettes is just coming to an end, and being
succeeded by ragged red tunics, franc-tireurs’ brownish-green jackets
and much-worn Prussian gray coats. Kafir-Land may be looked upon as the
old-clothes shop of all the fighting world, for sooner or later every
cast-off scrap of soldier’s clothing drifts toward it. Charlie prides
himself much upon the possession of an old gray great-coat, so patched
and faded that it may well have been one of those which toiled up the
slopes of Inkerman that rainy Sunday morning twenty years ago; whilst
scampish Tom got well chaffed the other day for suddenly making his
appearance clad in a stained red tunic with buff collar and cuffs, and
the number of the old “dirty Half-hundred” in tarnished metal on the
shoulder-scales. “Sir Garnet,” cried Charlie the witty, whilst Jack
affected to prostrate himself before the grinning imp, exclaiming, “O
great inkosi!”

Charlie is angry with me just now, and looks most reproachfully my
way on all occasions. The cause is that he was sweeping away sundry
huge spiders’ webs from the roof of the verandah (the work of a single
night) when I heard him coughing frightfully. I gave him some lozenges,
saying, “Do your cough good, Charlie.” Charlie received them in both
hands held like a cup, the highest form of Kafir gratitude, and gulped
them all down on the spot. Next day I heard the same dreadful cough,
and told F—— to give him some more lozenges. But Charlie would have
none of them, alleging he “eats plenty tomorrow’s yesterday, and dey
no good at all;” and he evidently despises me and my remedies.

If only there were no hot winds! But the constant changes are so trying
and so sudden. Sometimes we have a hot, scorching gale all day, drying
and parching one’s very skin up, and shriveling one’s lovely roses like
the blast from a furnace: then in the afternoon a dark cloud sails
suddenly up from behind the hills to the west. It is over the house
before one knows it is coming: a loud clap of thunder shakes the very
ground beneath one’s feet, others follow rapidly, and a thunderstorm
bewilders one for some ten minutes or so. A few drops of cold rain
fall to the sound of the distant thunder, now rolling away eastward,
which yet “struggles and howls at fits.” It is not always distant, but
we have not yet seen a real thunderstorm; only a few of these short,
sudden electrical disturbances, which come and go more like explosions
than anything else. A few days ago there was a duststorm which had
a very curious effect as we looked down upon it from this hill. All
along the roads one could watch the dust being caught up, as it were,
and whirled along in dense clouds, whilst the poor little town itself
was absolutely blotted out by the blinding masses of fine powder. For
half an hour or so we could afford to watch and smile at our neighbors’
plight, but soon we had to flee for shelter ourselves within the house,
for a furious hot gale drove heavily up behind the dust and nearly blew
us away altogether. Still, there was no thunderstorm, though we quite
wished for one to cool the air and refresh the parched and burnt-up
grass and flowers. Such afternoons are generally pretty sure to be
succeeded by a cold night, and perhaps a cold, damp morning; and one
can already understand that these alternations during the summer months
are apt to produce dysentery among young children. I hear just now of a
good many such cases among babies.

I have been so exceedingly busy this month packing, arranging and
settling that there has been but little time for going about and
seeing the rather pretty environs of Maritzburg; besides which,
the weather is dead against excursions, changing as it does to rain
or threatening thunderstorms nearly every afternoon. One evening we
ventured out for a walk in spite of growlings and spittings up above
among the crass-looking clouds. Natal is not a nice country, for women
at all events, to walk in. You have to keep religiously to the road
or track, for woe betide the rash person who ventures on the grass,
though from repeated burnings all about these hills it is quite short.
There is a risk of your treading on a snake, and a certainty of your
treading on a frog. You will soon find your legs covered with small
and pertinacious ticks, who have apparently taken a “header” into your
flesh and made up their minds to die sooner than let go. They must be
the bull-dogs of the insect tribe, these ticks, for a sharp needle will
scarcely dislodge them. At the last extremity of extraction they only
burrow their heads deeper into the skin, and will lose this important
part of their tiny bodies sooner than yield to the gentlest leverage.
Then there are myriads of burs which cling to you in green and brown
scales of roughness, and fringe your petticoats with their sticky
little lumps. As for the poor petticoats themselves, however short
you may kilt them, you bring them back from a walk deeply flounced
with the red clay of the roads; and as the people who wash do not seem
to consider this a disadvantage, and take but little pains to remove
the earth-stains, one’s garments gradually acquire, even when clean,
a uniform bordering of dingy red. All the water at this time of year
is red too, as the rivers are stirred up by the heavy summer rains,
and resemble angry muddy ditches more than fresh-water streams. I
miss at every turn the abundance of clear, clean, sparkling water in
the creeks and rivers of my dear New Zealand, and it is only after
heavy rain, when every bath and large vessel has been turned into a
receptacle during the downpour, that one can compass the luxury of
an inviting-looking bath or glass of drinking-water. Of course this
turbid water renders it pretty difficult to get one’s clothes properly
washed, and the substitute for a mangle is an active Kafir, who makes
the roughly-dried clothes up into a neat parcel, places them on a stone
and dances up and down upon them for as long or short a time as he
pleases. Fuel is so enormously dear that the cost of having clothes
ironed is something astounding, and altogether washing is one of the
many costly items of Natalian housekeeping. When I remember the frantic
state of indignation and alarm we were all in in England three years
ago when coals rose to £2 10_s._ a ton, and think how cheap I should
consider that price for fuel here, I can’t help a melancholy smile.
Nine solid sovereigns purchase you a tolerable-sized load of wood,
about equal for cooking purposes to a ton of coal; but whereas the coal
is at all events some comfort and convenience to use, the wood is only
a source of additional trouble and expense. It has to be cut up and
dried, and finally coaxed and cajoled by incessant use of the bellows
into burning. Besides the price of fuel, provisions of all sorts seem
to me to be dear and bad. Milk is sold by the quart bottle: it is now
fourpence per bottle, but rises to sixpence during the winter. Meat is
eightpence a pound, but it is so thin and bony, and of such indifferent
quality, that there is very little saving in that respect. I have
not tasted any really good butter since we arrived, and we pay two
shillings a pound for cheesy, rancid stuff. I hear that “mealies,” the
crushed maize, are also very dear, and so is forage for the horses.
Instead of the horses being left out on the run night and day, summer
and winter, as they used to be in New Zealand, with an occasional feed
of oats for a treat, they need to be carefully housed at night and
well fed with oaten straw and mealies to give them a chance against
the mysterious and fatal “horse-sickness,” which kills them in a few
hours. Altogether, so far as my very limited experience—of only a few
weeks, remember—goes, I should say that Natal was an expensive place
to live in, owing to the scarcity and dearness of the necessaries of
life. I am told that far up in the country food and fuel are cheap and
good, and that it is the dearness and difficulty of transport which
forces Maritzburg to depend for its supplies entirely on what is grown
in its own immediate vicinity, where there is not very much land under
cultivation; so we must look to the coming railway to remedy all that.

If only one could eat flowers, or if wheat and other cereals grew as
freely and luxuriously as flowers grow, how nice it would be! On the
open grassy downs about here the blossoms are lovely—beautiful lilies
in scarlet and white clusters, several sorts of periwinkles, heaths,
cinnerarias, both purple and white, and golden bushes of citisus or
Cape broom, load the air with fragrance. By the side of every “spruit”
or brook one sees clumps of tall arum lilies filling every little
water-washed hollow in the brook, and the ferns which make each ditch
and watercourse green and plumy have a separate shady beauty of their
own. This is all in Nature’s own free, open garden, and when the least
cultivation or care is added to her bounteous luxuriance a magnificent
garden for fruit, vegetables and flowers is the result; always
supposing you are fortunate enough to be able to induce these lazy
Kafirs to dig the ground for you.

About a fortnight ago I braved the dirt and disagreeables of a
cross-country walk in showery weather—for we have not been able to
meet with a horse to suit us yet—and went to see a beautiful garden
a couple of miles away. It was approached by a long double avenue of
blue gum trees, planted only nine years ago, but tall and stately as
though a century had passed over their lofty, pointed heads, and with
a broad red clay road running between the parallel lines of trees.
The ordinary practice of clearing away the grass as much as possible
round a house strikes an English eye as bare and odd, but when one
hears that it is done to avoid snakes, it becomes a necessary and
harmonious adjunct to the rest of the scene. In this instance I found
these broad smooth walks, with their deep rich red color, a very
beautiful contrast to the glow of brilliant blossoms in the enormous
flower-beds. For this garden was not at all like an ordinary garden,
still less like a prim English parterre. The beds were as large as
small fields, slightly raised and bordered by a thick line of violets.
Large shrubs of beautiful semi-tropical plants made tangled heaps of
purple, scarlet and white blossoms on every side; the large creamy
bells of the datura drooped toward the reddish earth; thorny shrubs of
that odd bluish-green peculiar to Australian foliage grew side by side
with the sombre-leaved myrtle. Every plant grew in the most liberal
fashion; green things which we are accustomed to see in England in
small pots shoot up here to the height of laurel bushes; a screen of
scarlet euphorbia made a brilliant line against a background formed by
a hedge of shell-like cluster-roses, and each pillar of the verandah
of the little house had its own magnificent creeper. Up one standard
an ipomea twined closely; another pillar was hidden by the luxuriance
of a trumpet-honeysuckle; whilst a third was thickly covered by an
immense passion-flower. In shady, damp places grew many varieties of
ferns and blue hydrangeas, whilst other beds were filled by gay patches
of verbenas of every hue and shade. The sweet-scented verbena is one
of the commonest and most successful shrubs in a Natal garden, and
just now the large bushes of it which one sees in every direction are
covered by tapering spikes of its tiny white blossoms. But the feature
of this garden was roses—roses on each side whichever way you turned,
and I should think of at least a hundred different sorts. Not the
stiff standard rose tree of an English garden, with its few precious
blossoms, to be looked at from a distance and admired with respectful
gravity. No: in this garden the roses grow as they might have grown
in Eden—untrained, unpruned, in enormous bushes covered entirely by
magnificent blossoms, each bloom of which would have won a prize
at a rose-show. There was one cloth-of-gold rose bush that I shall
never forget—its size, its fragrance, its wealth of creamy-yellowish
blossoms. A few yards off stood a still bigger and more luxuriant
pyramid, some ten feet high, covered with the large, delicate and
regular pink bloom of the souvenir de Malmaison. When I talk of _a_
bush I only mean one especial bush which caught my eye. I suppose there
were fifty cloth-of-gold and fifty souvenir rose bushes in that garden.
Red roses, white roses, tea roses, blush-roses, moss roses, and, last
not least, the dear old-fashioned, homely cabbage rose, sweetest and
most sturdy of all. You could wander for acres and acres among fruit
trees and plantations of oaks and willows and other trees, but you
never got away from the roses. There they were, beautiful, delicious
things at every turn—hedges of them, screens of them and giant bushes
of them on either hand. As I have said before, though kept free from
weeds by some half dozen scantily-clad but stalwart Kafirs with their
awkward hoes, it was not a bit like a trim English garden. It was like
a garden in which Lalla Rookh might have wandered by moonlight talking
sentimental philosophy with her minstrel prince under old Fadladeen’s
chaperonage, or a garden that Boccaccio might have peopled with his
Arcadian fine ladies and gentlemen. It was emphatically a poet’s or
a painter’s garden, not a gardener’s garden. Then, as though nothing
should be wanting to make the scene lovely, one could hear through the
fragrant silence the tinkling of the little “spruit” or brook at the
bottom of the garden, and the sweet song of the Cape canary, the same
sort of greenish finch which is the parent stock of all our canaries,
and whose acquaintance I first made in Madeira. A very sweet warbler it
is, and the clear, flute-like notes sounded prettily among the roses.
From blossom to blossom lovely butterflies flitted, perching quite
fearlessly on the red clay walk just before me, folding and unfolding
their big painted wings. Every day I see a new kind of butterfly, and
the moths which one comes upon hidden away under the leaves of the
creepers during the bright noisy day are lovely beyond the power of
words. One little fellow is a great pet of mine. He wears pure white
wings, with vermilion stripes drawn in regular horizontal lines across
his back, and between the lines are shorter, broken streaks of black,
which is at once neat and uncommon; but he is always in the last stage
of sleepiness when I see him. I am so glad little G—— is not old enough
to want to catch them all and impale them upon corks in a glass case;
so the pretty creatures live out their brief and happy life in the
sunshine, without let or hinderance from him.

The subject of which my mind is most full just now is the purchase of
a horse. F—— has a fairly good chestnut cob of his own; G—— has become
possessed, to his intense delight, of an aged and long-suffering Basuto
pony, whom he fidgets to death during the day by driving him all over
the place, declaring he is “only showing him where the nicest grass
grows;” and I want a steed to draw my pony-carriage and to carry me.
F—— and I are at dagger’s drawn on this question. He wants to buy me a
young, handsome, showy horse of whom his admirers predict that “he will
steady down presently,” whilst my affections are firmly fixed on an
aged screw who would not turn his head if an Armstrong gun were fired
behind him. His owner says Scotsman is “rising eleven:” F—— declares
Scotsman will never see his twentieth birthday again. F—— points out
to me that Scotsman has had rough times of it, apparently, in his
distant youth, and that he is strangely battered about the head, and
has a large notch out of one ear. I retaliate by reminding him how
sagely the old horse picked his way, with a precision of judgment which
only years can give, through the morass which lies at the foot of the
hill, and which must be crossed every time I go into town (and there
is nowhere else to go). That morass is a bog in summer and a honeycomb
of deep ruts and holes in winter, which, you must bear in mind, is the
dry season here. Besides his tact in the matter of the morass, did I
not drive Scotsman the other day to the park, and did he not comport
himself in the most delightfully sedate fashion? You require experience
to be on the lookout for the perils of Maritzburg streets, it seems,
for all their sleepy, deserted, tumble-down air. First of all, there
are the transport-wagons, with their long span of oxen straggling all
across the road, and a nervous bullock precipitating himself under your
horse’s nose. The driver, too, invariably takes the opportunity of a
lady passing him to crack his whip violently, enough to startle any
horse except Scotsman. Then when you have passed the place where the
wagons most do congregate, and think you are tolerably safe and need
only look out for ruts and holes in the street, lo! a furious galloping
behind you, and some half dozen of the “gilded youth” of Maritzburg
dash past you, stop, wheel round and gallop past again, until you
are almost blinded with dust or smothered with mud, according to the
season. This peril occurred several times during my drive to and from
the park, and I can only remark that dear old Scotsman kept his temper
better than I did: perhaps he was more accustomed to Maritzburg manners.

When the park was reached at last, across a frail and uncertain wooden
bridge shaded by large weeping willows, I found it the most creditable
thing I had yet seen. It is admirably laid out, the natural undulations
of the ground being made the most of, and exceedingly well kept. This
in itself is a difficult matter where all vegetation runs up like
Jack’s famous beanstalk, and where the old proverb about the steed
starving whilst his grass is growing falls completely to the ground.
There are numerous drives, made level by a coating of smooth black
shale, and bordered by a double line of syringas and oaks, with hedges
of myrtle or pomegranate. In some places the roads run alongside the
little river—a very muddy torrent when I saw it—and then the oaks
give way to great drooping willows, beneath whose trailing branches
the river swirled angrily. On fine Saturday afternoons the band of
the regiment stationed here plays on a clear space under some shady
trees—for you can never sit or stand on the grass in Natal, and even
croquet is played on bare leveled earth—and everybody rides or walks
or drives about. When I saw the park there was not a living creature
in it, for it was, as most of our summer afternoons are, wet and cold
and drizzling; but, considering that there was no thunderstorm likely
to break over our heads that day, I felt that I could afford to despise
a silent Scotch mist. We varied our afternoon weather last week by a
hailstorm, of which the stones were as big as large marbles. I was
scoffed at for remarking this, and assured it was “nothing, absolutely
nothing,” to _the_ great hailstorm of two years ago, which broke nearly
every tile and pane of glass in Maritzburg, and left the town looking
precisely as though it had been bombarded. I have seen photographs of
some of the ruined houses, and it is certainly difficult to believe
that hail could have done so much mischief. Then, again, stories reach
me of a certain thunderstorm one Sunday evening just before I arrived
in which the lightning struck a room in which a family was assembled
at evening prayers, killing the poor old father with the Bible in his
hand, and knocking over every member of the little congregation. My
informant said, “I assure you it seemed as though the lightning were
poured out of heaven in a jug. There were no distinct flashes: the
heavens appeared to split open and pour down a flood of blazing violet
light.” I have seen nothing like this yet, but can quite realize what
such a storm must be like, for I have observed already how different
the color of the lightning is. The flashes I have seen were exactly
of the lilac color he described, and they followed each other with a
rapidity of succession unknown in less electric regions. And yet my
last English letters were full of complaints of the wet weather in
London, and much self-pity for the long imprisonment in-doors. Why,
those very people don’t know what weather inconveniences are. If London
streets are muddy, at all events there are no dangerous morasses in
them. No matter how much it rains, people get their comfortable meals
three times a day. _Here_, rain means a risk of starvation (if the
little wooden bridge between us and the town were to be swept away)
and a certainty of short commons. A wet morning means damp bread for
breakfast and a thousand other disagreeables. No, I have no patience
with the pampered Londoners, who want perpetual sunshine in addition
to their other blessings, for saying one word about discomfort. They
are all much too civilized and luxurious, and their lives are made
altogether too smooth for them. Let them come out here and try to keep
house on the top of a hill with servants whose language they don’t
understand, a couple of noisy children and a small income, and then, as
dear Mark Twain says, “they’ll know something about woe.”

[Illustration: Decoration]



PART IV.


  D’URBAN, January 3, 1876.

I must certainly begin this letter by setting aside every other topic
for the moment and telling you of our grand event, our national
celebration, our historical New Year’s Day. We have “turned the first
sod” of our first inland railway, and, if I am correctly informed, at
least a dozen sods more, but you must remember, if you please, that
our navvies are Kafirs, and that they do _not_ understand what Mr.
Carlyle calls the beauty and dignity of labor in the least. It is all
very well for you conceited dwellers in the Old and New Worlds to
laugh at us for making such a fuss about a projected hundred miles of
railway—you whose countries are made into dissected maps by the magic
iron lines—but for poor us, who have to drag every pound of sugar and
reel of sewing-cotton over some sixty miles of vile road between this
and Maritzburg, such a line, if it be ever finished, will be a boon and
a blessing indeed.

I think I can better make you understand _how_ great a blessing
if I describe my journeys up and down—journeys made, too, under
exceptionally favorable circumstances. The first thing which had to be
done, some three weeks before the day of our departure, was to pack and
send down by wagon a couple of portmanteaus with our smart clothes. I
may as well mention here that the cost of the transit came to fourteen
shillings each way for three or four small, light packages, and that on
each occasion we were separated from our possessions for a fortnight
or more. The next step to be taken was to secure places in the daily
post-cart, and it required as much mingled firmness and persuasion to
do this as though it had reference to a political crisis. But then
there were some hundreds of us Maritzburgians all wanting to be taken
down to D’Urban within the space of a few days, and there was nothing
to take us except the open post-cart, which occupied six hours on
the journey, and an omnibus, which took ten hours, but afforded more
shelter from possible rain and probable sun. Within the two vehicles
some twenty people might, at a pinch, find places, and at least a
hundred wanted to go every day of that last week of the old year. I
don’t know how the others managed: they must have got down somehow, for
there they were in great force when the eventful day had arrived.

This first journey was prosperous, deceitfully prosperous, as though
it would fain try to persuade us that after all there was a great
deal to be said in favor of a mode of traveling which reminded one
of the legends of the glories of the old coaching days. No dust—for
there had been heavy rain a few days before—a perfect summer’s day,
hot enough in the sun, but not disagreeably hot as we bowled along,
fast as four horses could go, in the face of a soft, balmy summer
breeze. We were packed as tightly as we could fit—two of us on the
coach-box, with the mail-bags under our feet and the driver’s elbows
in our ribs. The ordinary light dog-cart which daily runs between
Maritzburg and D’Urban was exchanged for a sort of open break, strong
indeed, but very heavy, one would fancy, for the poor horses, who had
to scamper along up and down veldt and berg, over bog and spruit, with
this lumbering conveyance at their heels. Not for long, though: every
seven miles, or even less, we pulled up—sometimes at a tidy inn, where
a long table would be set in the open verandah laden with eatables
(for driving fast through the air sharpens even the sturdy colonial
appetite), sometimes at a lonely shanty by the roadside, from whence
a couple of Kafir lads emerged tugging at the bridles of the fresh
horses. But I am bound to say that although each of these teams did
a stage twice a day, although they were ill-favored and ill-groomed,
their harness shabby beyond description, and their general appearance
most forlorn, they were one and all in good condition and did their
work in first-rate style. The wheelers were generally large, gaunt
and most hideous animals, but the leaders often were ponies who, one
could imagine, under happier circumstances might be handsome little
horses enough, staunch and willing to the last degree. They knew their
driver’s cheery voice as well as possible, and answered to every cry
and shout of encouragement he gave them as we scampered along. Of
course, each horse had its name, and equally of course “Sir Garnet” was
there in a team with “Lord Gifford” and “Lord Carnarvon” for leaders.
Did we come to a steep hillside, up which any respectable English horse
would certainly expect to walk in a leisurely, sober fashion, then our
driver shook out his reins, blew a ringing blast on his bugle, and
cried, “Walk along, Lord Gifford! think as you’ve another Victoriar
Cross to get top o’ this hill! Walk along, Lord Carnarvon! you ain’t
sitting in a cab’net council _here_, you know. Don’t leave Sir Garnet
do all the work, you know. Forward, my lucky lads! creep up it!” and
by the time he had shrieked out this and a lot more patter, behold! we
were at the top of the hill, and a fresh, lovely landscape was lying
smiling in the sunshine below us. It was a beautiful country we passed
through, but, except for a scattered homestead here and there by the
roadside, not a sign of a human dwelling on all its green and fertile
slopes. How the railway is to drag itself up and round all those
thousand and one spurs running into each other, with no distinct valley
or flat between, is best known to the engineers and surveyors, who have
declared it practicable. To the non-professional eye it seems not only
difficult, but impossible. But oh how it is wanted! All along the road
shrill bugle-blasts warned the slow trailing ox-wagons, with their
naked “forelooper” at their head, to creep aside out of our way. I
counted one hundred and twenty wagons that day on fifty miles of road.
Now, if one considers that each of these wagons is drawn by a span
of some thirty or forty oxen, one has some faint idea of how such a
method of transport must waste and use up the material of the country.
Something like ten thousand oxen toil over this one road summer and
winter, and what wonder is it not only that merchandise costs more to
fetch up from D’Urban to Maritzburg than it does to bring it out from
England, but that beef is dear and bad! As transport pays better than
farming, we hear on all sides of farms thrown out of cultivation, and
as a necessary consequence milk, butter, and so forth are scarce and
poor, and in the neighborhood of Maritzburg, at least, it is esteemed a
favor to let you have either at exorbitant prices and of most inferior
quality. When one looks round at these countless acres of splendid
grazing-land, making a sort of natural park on either hand, it seems
like a bad dream to know that we have constantly to use preserved milk
and potted meat as being cheaper and easier to procure than fresh.

No one was in any mood, however, to discuss political economy that
beautiful day, and we laughed and chatted, and ate a great many
luncheons, chiefly of tea and peaches, all the way along. Our driver
enlivened the route by pointing out various spots where frightful
accidents had occurred to the post-cart on former occasions: “You see
that big stone? Well, it war jest there that Langabilile and Colenso,
they takes the bits in their teeth, those ‘osses do, and they sets off
their own pace and their own way. Jim Stanway, he puts his brake down
hard and his foot upon the reins, but, Lord love you! them beasts would
ha’ pulled his arms and legs both off afore they’d give in. So they
runs poor Jim’s near wheel right up agin that bank and upsets the whole
concern, as neat as needs be, over agin that bit o’ bog. Anybody hurt?
Well, yes: they was all what you might call shook. Mr. Bell, he had his
arm broke, and a foreign chap from the diamond-fields, he gets killed
outright, and Jim himself had his head cut open. It was a bad business,
you bet, and rough upon Jim. Ja!”

All the driver’s conversation is interlarded with “_Ja_” but he never
says a worse word than that, and he drinks nothing but tea. As for a
pipe, or a cigar even, when it is offered to him he screws up his queer
face into a droll grimace and says, “No—thanks. I want all my nerves, I
do, on this bit of road.—Walk along, Lady Barker: I’m ashamed of you,
I am, hanging your head like that at a bit of a hill!” It was rather
startling to hear this apostrophe all of a sudden, but as my namesake
was a very hard-working little brown mare, I could only laugh and
declare myself much flattered.

Here we are at last, amid the tropical vegetation which makes a green
and tangled girdle around D’Urban for a dozen miles inland; yonder is
the white and foaming line of breakers which marks where the strong
current, sweeping down the east coast, brings along with it all the
sand and silt it can collect, especially from the mouth of the Umgeni
River close by, and so forms the dreaded bar which divides the outer
from the inner harbor. Beyond this crisp and sparkling line of heaving,
tossing snow stretches the deep indigo-blue of the Indian Ocean,
whilst over all wonderful sunset tints of opal and flame-color are
hovering and changing with the changing, wind-driven clouds. Beneath
our wheels are many inches of thick white sand, but the streets are gay
and busy, with picturesque coolies in their bright cotton draperies
and swiftly-passing Cape carts and vehicles of all sorts. We are in
D’Urban indeed—D’Urban in unwonted holiday dress and on the tippest
tiptoe of expectation and excitement. A Cape cart, with a Chinese
coolie driver, and four horses apparently put in harness together for
the first time, was waiting for us and our luggage at the post-office.
We got into it, and straightway began to plunge through the sandy
streets once more, turning off the high-road and beginning almost
immediately to climb with pain and difficulty the red sandy slopes of
the Berea, a beautiful wooded upland dotted with villas. The road
is terrible for man and beast, and we had to stop every few yards to
breathe the horses. At last our destination is reached, through fields
of sugar-cane and plantations of coffee, past luxuriant fruit trees,
rustling, broad-leafed bananas and encroaching greenery of all sorts,
to a clearing where a really handsome house stands, with hospitable,
wide-open doors, awaiting us. Yes, a good big bath first, then a cup
of tea, and now we are ready for a saunter in the twilight on the wide
level terrace (called by the ugly Dutch name “stoop”) which runs round
three sides of the house. How green and fragrant and still it all is!
Straightway the glare of the long sunny day, the rattle and jolting of
the post-cart, the toil through the sand, all slip away from mind and
memory, and the tranquil delicious present, “with its odors of rest and
of love,” slips in to soothe and calm our jaded senses. Certainly, it
is hotter here than in Maritzburg—that assertion we are prepared to die
in defence of—but we acknowledge that the heat at this hour is _not_
oppressive, and the tropical luxuriance of leaf and flower all around
is worth a few extra degrees of temperature. Of course, our talk is of
to-morrow, and we look anxiously at the purpling clouds to the west.

“A fine day,” says our host; and so it ought to be with five thousand
people come from far and wide to see the sight. Why, that is more than
a quarter of the entire white population of Natal! Bed and sleep become
very attractive suggestions, though made indecently soon after dinner,
and it is somewhere about ten o’clock when they are carried out, and,
like Lord Houghton’s famous “fair little girl,” we

  Know nothing more till again it is day.

A fine day, too, is this same New Year’s Day of 1876—a glorious
day—sunny of course, but with a delicious breeze stealing among the
flowers and shrubs in capricious puffs, and snatching a differing
scent from each heavy cluster of blossom it visits. By mid-day F—— has
got himself into his gold-laced coat and has lined the inside of his
cocked hat with plaintain-leaves. He has also groaned much at the idea
of substituting this futile head-gear for his hideous but convenient
pith helmet. I too have donned my best gown, and am horrified to
find how much a smart bonnet (the first time I have needed to wear
one since I left England) sets off and brings out the shades of tan
in a sun-browned face; and for a moment I too entertain the idea of
retreating once more to the protecting depths of my old shady hat. But
a strong conviction of the duty one owes to a “first sod,” and the
consoling reflection that, after all, everybody will be equally brown
(a fallacy, by the way: the D’Urban beauties looked very blanched by
this summer weather), supported me, and I followed F—— and his cocked
hat into the waiting carriage.

No need to ask, “Where are we to go?” All roads lead to the first sod
to-day. We are just a moment late: F—— has to get out of the carriage
and plunge into the sand, madly rushing off to find and fall into
his place in the procession, and we turn off to secure our seats in
the grand stand. But before we take them I must go and look at the
wheelbarrow and spade, and above all at the “first sod.” For some weeks
past it has been a favorite chaff with us Maritzburgians to offer
to bring a nice fresh, lively sod down with us, but we were assured
D’Urban could furnish one. Here it is exactly under the triumphal arch,
looking very faded and depressed, with a little sunburned grass growing
feebly on it, but still a genuine sod and no mistake. The wheelbarrow
was really beautiful, made of native woods with their astounding names.
All three specimens of the hardest and handsomest yellow woods were
there, and they were described to me as, “stink-wood, breeze-wood and
sneeze-wood.” The rich yellow of the wood is veined by handsome dark
streaks, with “1876” inlaid in large black figures in the centre. The
spade was just a common spade, and could not by any possibility be
called anything else. But there is no time to linger and laugh any
longer beneath all these fluttering streamers and waving boughs, for
here are the Natal Carbineers, a plucky little handful of light horse
clad in blue and silver, who have marched, at their own charges, all
the way down from Maritzburg to help keep the ground this fine New
Year’s Day. Next come a strong body of Kafir police, trudging along
through the dust with odd shuffling gait, bended knees, bare legs,
bodies leaning forward, and keeping step and time by means of a queer
sort of barbaric hum and grunt. Policemen are no more necessary than
my best bonnet: they are only there for the same reason—for the honor
and glory of the thing. The crowd is kept in order by somebody here and
there with a ribboned wand, for it is the most orderly and respectable
crowd you ever saw. In fact, such a crowd would be an impossibility
in England or any highly-civilized country. There are no dodging
vagrants, no slatternly women, no squalid, starving babies. In fact,
our civilization has not yet mounted to effervescence, so we have no
dregs. Every white person on the ground was well clad, well fed, and
apparently well-to-do. The “lower orders” were represented by a bright
fringe of coolies and Kafirs, sleek, grinning and as fat as ortolans,
especially the babies. Most of the Kafirs were dressed in snow-white
knickerbockers and shirts bordered by gay bands of color, with fillets
of scarlet ribbon tied round their heads, while as for the coolies,
they shone out like a shifting bed of tulips, so bright were the
women’s _chuddahs_ and the men’s jackets. All looked smiling, healthy
and happy, and the public enthusiasm rose to its height when to the
sound of a vigorous band (it is early yet in the day, remember, O flute
and trombone!) a perfect liliputian mob of toddling children came on
the ground. These little people were all in their cleanest white frocks
and prettiest hats: they clung to each other and to their garlands
and staves of flowers until the tangled mob reminded one of a May-Day
fête. Not that any English May Day of my acquaintance could produce
such a lavish profusion of roses and buds and blossoms of every hue
and tint, to say nothing of such a sun and sky. The children’s corner
was literally like a garden, and nothing could be prettier than the
effect of their little voices shrilling up through the summer air, as,
obedient to a lifted wand, they burst into the chorus of the national
anthem when the governor and mayor drove up. Cheers from white throats;
gruff, loud shouts all together of _Bayete!_ (the royal salute) and
_Inkosi!_ (“chieftain”) from black throats; yells, expressive of
excitement and general good-fellowship, from throats of all colors.
Then a moment’s solemn pause, a hushed silence, bared heads, and the
loud, clear tones of a very old pastor in the land were heard imploring
the blessing of Almighty God on this our undertaking. Again the sweet
childish trebles rose into the sunshine in a chanted Amen, and then
there were salutes from cannon, feux-de-joie from carbines, and more
shoutings, and all the cocked hats were to be seen bowing; and then
one more tremendous burst of cheering told that _the_ sod was cut and
turned and trundled, and finally pitched out of the new barrow back
again upon the dusty soil—all in the most artistic and satisfactory
fashion. “There are the Kafir navvies: they are _really_ going to work
now.” (This latter with great surprise, for a Kafir _really_ working,
now or ever, would indeed have been the raree-show of the day.) But
this natural phenomenon was left to develop itself in solitude, for the
crowd began to reassemble into processions, and generally to find its
way under shelter from sun and dust. The five hundred children were
heralded and marched off to the tune of one of their own pretty hymns
to where unlimited buns and tea awaited them, and we elders betook
ourselves to the grateful shade and coolness of the flower-decked new
market-hall, open to-day for the first time, and turned by flags and
ferns and lavish wealth of what in England are costliest hot-house
flowers into a charming banqueting-hall. All these exquisite ferns
and blossoms cost far less than the string and nails which fastened
them against the walls, and their fresh fragrance and greenery struck
gratefully on our sun-baked eyes as we found our way into the big room.

Nothing could be more creditable to a young colony than the way
everything was arranged, for the difficulties in one’s culinary path
in Natal are hardly to be appreciated by English housekeepers. At one
time there threatened to be almost a famine in D’Urban, for besides
the pressure of all these extra mouths of visitors to feed, there was
this enormous luncheon, with some five hundred hungry people to be
provided for. It seems so strange that with every facility for rearing
poultry all around it should be scarce and dear, and when brought to
market as thin as possible. The same may be said of vegetables: they
need no culture beyond being put in the ground, and yet unless you
have a garden of your own it is very difficult to get anything like a
proper supply. I heard nothing but wails from distracted housekeepers
about the price and scarcity of food that week. However, _the_ luncheon
showed no sign of scarcity, and I was much amused at the substantial
and homely character of the _menu_, which included cold baked sucking
pig among its delicacies. A favorite specimen of the confectioner’s art
that day consisted of a sort of solid brick of plum pudding, with, for
legend, “The First Sod” tastefully picked out in white almonds on its
dark surface. But it was a capital luncheon, and so soon as the mayor
had succeeded in impressing on the band that they were not expected
to play all the time the speeches were being made, everything went on
very well. Some of the speeches were short, but oh! far, far too many
were long, terribly long, and the whole affair was not over before five
o’clock. The only real want of the entertainment was ice. It seems
so hard not to have it in a climate which can produce such burning
days, for those tiresome cheap little ice-machines with crystals are
of no use whatever. I got one which made ice (under pressure of much
turning) in the ship, but it has never made any here, and my experience
is that of everybody else. Why there should not be an icemaking or
an ice-importing company no one knows, except that there is so little
energy or enterprise here that everything is dawdly and uncomfortable
because it seems too much trouble to take pains to supply wants. It is
the same everywhere throughout the colony: sandy roads with plenty of
excellent materials for hardening them close by; no fish to be bought
because no one will take the trouble of going out to catch them. But I
had better stop scribbling, for I am evidently getting tired after my
long day of unwonted festivity. It is partly the oppression of my best
bonnet, and partly the length of the speeches, which have wearied me
out so thoroughly.


  MARITZBURG, January 6.

Nothing could afford a greater contrast than our return journey. It
was the other extreme of discomfort and misery, and must surely have
been sent to make us appreciate and long for the completion of this
very railway. We waited a day beyond that fixed for our return, in
order to give the effects of a most terrific thunderstorm time to
pass away, but it was succeeded by a perfect deluge of rain. Rain is
not supposed to last long at this season of the year, but all I can
say is that this rain did last. When the third day came and brought
no sign of clearing up with it, and very little down to speak of, we
agreed to delay no longer; besides which our places in the post-cart
could not be again exchanged, as had previously been done, for the
stream of returning visitors was setting strongly toward Maritzburg,
and we might be detained for a week longer if we did not go at once.
Accordingly, we presented ourselves at the D’Urban post-office a few
minutes before noon and took our places in the post-cart. My seat was
on the box, and as I flattered myself that I was well wrapped up, I
did not feel at all alarmed at the prospect of a cold, wet drive. Who
would believe that twenty-four hours ago one could hardly endure a
white muslin dressing-gown? Who would believe that twenty-four hours
ago a lace shawl was an oppressive wrap, and that the serious object
of my envy and admiration all these hot days on the Berea has been a
fat Abyssinian baby, as black as a coal, and the strongest and biggest
child one ever saw. That sleek and grinning infant’s toilette consisted
of a string of blue beads round its neck, and in this cool and airy
costume it used to pervade the house, walking about on all fours
exactly like a monkey, for of course it could not stand. Yet, how cold
that baby must be to-day! But if it is, its mother has probably tied it
behind her in an old shawl, and it is nestling close to her fat broad
back fast asleep.

But the baby is certainly a most unwarrantable digression, and we must
return to our post-cart. The discouraging part of it was that the
vehicle itself had been in all the storm and rain of yesterday. Of
course no one had dreamed of washing or wiping it out in any fashion,
so we had to sit upon wet cushions and put our feet into a pool of red
mud and water. Now, if I must confess the truth, I, an old traveler,
had done a very stupid thing. I had been lured by the deceitful beauty
of the weather when we started into leaving behind me everything except
the thinnest and coolest garments I possessed, and I therefore had to
set out on this journey in the teeth of a cold wind and driving rain
clad in a white gown. It is true, I had my beloved and most useful
ulster, but it was a light waterproof one, and just about half enough
in the way of warmth. Still, as I had another wrap, a big Scotch plaid,
I should have got along very well if it had not been for the still
greater stupidity of the only other female fellow-passenger, who calmly
took her place in the open post-cart behind me in a brown holland gown,
without scarf or wrap or anything whatever to shelter her from the
weather, except a white calico sunshade. She was a Frenchwoman too, and
looked so piteous and forlorn in her neat toilette, already drenched
through, that of course I could do nothing less than lend her my Scotch
shawl, and trust to the driver’s friendly promises of empty corn-bags
at some future stage. By the time the bags came—or rather by the time
we got to the bags—I was indeed wet and cold. The ulster did its best,
and all that could be expected of it, but no garment manufactured in a
London shop could possibly cope with such wild weather, tropical in the
vehemence of its pouring rain, wintry in its cutting blasts. The wind
seemed to blow from every quarter of the heavens at once, the rain came
down in sheets, but I minded the mud more than either wind or rain: it
was more demoralizing. On the box-seat I got my full share and more,
but yet I was better off there than inside, where twelve people were
squeezed into the places of eight. The horses’ feet got balled with the
stiff red clay exactly as though it had been snow, and from time to
time as they galloped along, six fresh ones at every stage, I received
a good lump of clay, as big and nearly as solid as a croquet-ball,
full in my face. It was bitterly cold, and the night was closing in
when we drove up to the door of the best hotel in Maritzburg, at long
past eight instead of six o’clock. It was impossible to get out to our
own place that night, so there was nothing for it but to stay where we
were, and get what food and rest could be coaxed out of an indifferent
bill of fare and a bed of stony hardness, to say nothing of the bites
of numerous mosquitoes. The morning light revealed the melancholy state
of my unhappy white gown in its full horror. All the rivers of Natal
will never make it white again, I fear. Certainly there is much to
be said in favor of railway-traveling, after all, especially in wet
weather.


  JANUARY 10.

Surely, I have been doing something else lately besides turning this
first sod? Well, not much. You see, no one can undertake anything in
the way of expeditions or excursions, or even sight-seeing, in summer,
partly on account of the heat, and partly because of the thunderstorms.
We have had a few very severe ones lately, but we hail them with joy
on account of the cool clear atmosphere which succeeds to a display of
electrical vehemence. We walked home from church a few evenings ago on
a very wild and threatening night, and I never shall forget the weird
beauty of the scene. We had started to go to church about six o’clock:
the walk was only two miles, and the afternoon was calm and cloudless.
The day had been oppressively hot, but there were no immediate signs
of a storm. While we were in church, however, a fresh breeze sprang
up and drove the clouds rapidly before it. The glare of the lightning
made every corner of the church as bright as day, and the crash of the
thunder shook the wooden roof over our heads. But there was no rain
yet, and when we came out—in fear and trembling, I confess, as to how
we were to get home—we could see that the violence of the storm had
either passed over or not yet reached the valley in which Maritzburg
nestles, and was expending itself somewhere else. So F—— decided that
we might venture. As for vehicles to be hired in the streets, there are
no such things, and by the time we could have persuaded one to turn
out for us—a very doubtful contingency, and only to be procured at the
cost of a sovereign or so—the full fury of the storm would probably be
upon us. There was nothing for it, therefore, but to walk, and so we
set out as soon as possible to climb our very steep hill. Instead of
the soft, balmy twilight on which we had counted, the sky was of an
inky blackness, but for all that we had light enough and to spare. I
never saw such lightning. The flashes came literally every second, and
lit up the whole heavens and earth with a blinding glare far brighter
than any sunshine. So great was the contrast, and so much more intense
the darkness after each flash of dazzling light, that we could only
venture to walk on _during_ the flashes, though one’s instinct was
rather to stand still, awestricken and mute. The thunder growled and
cracked incessantly, but far away, toward the Inchanga Valley. If the
wind had shifted ever so little and brought the storm back again,
our plight would have been poor indeed; and with this dread upon us
we trudged bravely on and breasted the hillside with what haste and
courage we could. During the rare momentary intervals of darkness we
could perceive that the whole place was ablaze with fireflies. Every
blade of grass held a tiny sparkle of its own, but when the lightning
shone out with its yellow and violet glare the modest light of the poor
little fireflies seemed to be quite extinguished. As for the frogs,
the clamorous noise they kept up sounded absolutely deafening, and so
did the shrill, incessant cry of the cicalas. We reached home safely
and before the rain fell, but found all our servants in the verandah
in the last stage of dismay and uncertainty what to do for the best.
They had collected waterproofs, umbrellas and lanterns; but as it was
not actually raining yet, and we certainly did not require light on our
path—for they said that each flash showed them our climbing, trudging
figures as plainly as possible—it was difficult to know what to do,
especially as the Kafirs have, very naturally, an intense horror and
dislike to going out in a thunderstorm. This storm was not really
overhead at all, and scarcely deserves mention except as the precursor
of a severe one of which our valley got the full benefit. It was quite
curious to see the numbers of dead butterflies on the garden-paths
after that second storm. Their beautiful plumage was not dimmed or
smirched nor their wings broken: they would have been in perfect order
for a naturalist’s collection; yet they were quite dead and stiff. The
natives declare it is the lightning which kills them thus.

My own private dread—to return to that walk home for a moment—was of
stepping on a snake, as there are a great many about, and one especial
variety, a small poisonous brown adder, is of so torpid and lazy a
nature that it will not glide out of your way, as other snakes do,
but lets you tread on it and then bites you. It is very marvelous,
considering how many snakes there are, that one hears of so few bad
accidents. G—— is always poking about in likely places for them, as his
supreme ambition is to see one. I fully expect a catastrophe some day,
and keep stores of ammonia and brandy handy. Never was such a fearless
little monkey. He is always scampering about on his old Basuto pony,
and of course tumbles off now and then; but he does not mind it in
the least. When he is not trying to break his neck in this fashion he
is down by himself at the river fishing, or he is climbing trees, or
down a well which is being dug here, or in some piece of mischief or
other. The sun and the fruit are my _bêtes noires_, but neither seems
to hurt him, though I really don’t believe that any other child in the
world has ever eaten so many apricots at one time as he has been doing
lately. This temptation has just been removed, however, for during
our short absence at D’Urban every fruit tree has been stripped to
the bark—every peach and plum, every apple and apricot, clean gone.
Of course, no one has done it, but it is very provoking all the same,
for it used to be so nice to take the baby out very early, and pick
up the fallen apricots for breakfast. The peaches are nearly all pale
and rather tasteless, but the apricots are excellent in flavor, of a
large size and in extraordinary abundance. There was also a large and
promising crop of apples, but they have all been taken in their unripe
state. As a rule, the Kafirs are scrupulously honest, and we left plate
and jewelry in the house under Charlie’s care whilst we were away,
without the least risk, for such things they would never touch; but
fruit or mealies they cannot be brought to regard as personal property,
and they gather the former and waste the latter without scruple. It
is a great objection to the imported coolies, who make very clean and
capital servants, that they have inveterate habits of pilfering and are
hopelessly dishonest about trifles. For this reason they are sure to
get on badly with Kafir fellow-servants, who are generally quite above
any temptation of that kind.


  JANUARY 14.

A few days ago we took G—— to see the annual swimming sports in the
small river which runs through the park. It was a beautiful afternoon,
for a wonder, with no lowering thunder-clouds over the hills, so
the banks of the river were thronged for half a mile and more with
spectators. It made a very pretty picture, the large willow trees
drooping into the water on either shore, the gay concourse of people,
the bright patch of color made by the red coats of the band of the
regiment stationed across the stream, the tents for the competitors to
change in, the dark wondering faces of Kafirs and coolies, who cannot
comprehend _why_ white people should take so much trouble and run so
much risk to amuse themselves. We certainly must appear to them to be
possessed by a restless demon of energy, both in our work and our play,
and never more so than on this hot afternoon, when, amid much shouting
and laughing, the various water-races came off. The steeplechase
amused us a great deal, where the competitors had to swim over and
under various barriers across the river; and so did the race for very
little boys, which was a full and excellent one. The monkeys took to
the water as naturally as fishes, and evidently enjoyed the fun more
than any one. Indeed, the difficulty was to get them out of the water
and into the tents to change their swimming costume after the race was
over. But the most interesting event was one meant to teach volunteers
how to swim rivers in case of field service, and the palm lay between
the Natal Carbineers and a smart body of mounted police. At a given
signal they all plunged on horseback into the muddy water, and from
a very difficult part of the bank too, and swam, fully accoutred and
carrying their carbines, across the river. It was very interesting to
watch how clever the horses were, and how some of their riders slipped
off their backs the moment they had fairly entered the stream and swam
side by side with their steeds until the opposite bank was reached; and
then how the horses paused to allow their dripping masters to mount
again—no easy task in heavy boots and saturated clothes, with a carbine
in the left hand which had to be kept dry at all risks and hazards.
When I asked little G—— which part he liked best, he answered without
hesitation, “The assidents” (angliçè, accidents), and I am not sure
that he was not right; for, as no one was hurt, the crowd mightily
enjoyed seeing some stalwart citizen in his best clothes suddenly
topple from his place of vantage on the deceitfully secure-looking
but rotten branch of a tree and take an involuntary bath in his own
despite. When that citizen further chanced to be clad in a suit of
bright-colored velveteen the effect was much enhanced. It is my private
opinion that G—— was longing to distinguish himself in a similar
fashion, for I constantly saw him “lying out” on most frail branches,
but try as he might, he could not accomplish a tumble.


  JANUARY 17.

I have had an opportunity lately of attending a Kafir _lit de justice_,
and I can only say that if we civilized people managed our legal
difficulties in the same way it would be an uncommonly good thing
for everybody except the lawyers. Cows are at the bottom of nearly
all the native disputes, and the Kafirs always take their grievance
soberly to the nearest magistrate, who arbitrates to the best of his
ability between the disputants. They are generally satisfied with his
award, but if the case is an intricate one, or they consider that the
question is not really solved, then they have the right of appeal, and
it is this court of appeal which I have been attending lately. It is
held in the newly-built office of the minister for native affairs—the
prettiest and most respectable-looking public office which I have seen
in Maritzburg, by the way. Before the erection of this modest but
comfortable building the court used to be held out in the open air
under the shade of some large trees—a more picturesque method of doing
business, certainly, but subject to inconveniences on account of the
weather. It is altogether the most primitive and patriarchal style of
business one ever saw, but all the more delightful on that account.

It is inexpressibly touching to see with one’s own eyes the wonderfully
deep personal devotion and affection of the Kafirs for the kindly
English gentleman who for thirty years and more has been their real
ruler and their wise and judicious friend. Not a friend to pamper
their vices and give way to their great fault of idleness, but a true
friend to protect their interests, and yet to labor incessantly for
their social advancement and for their admission into the great field
of civilized workers. The Kafirs know little and care less for all
the imposing and elaborate machinery of British rule; the queen on
her throne is but a fair and distant dream-woman to them; Sir Garnet
himself, that great inkosi, was as nobody in their eyes compared to
their own chieftain, their king of hearts, the one white man to whom of
their own free will and accord they give the royal salute whenever they
see him. I have stood in magnificent halls and seen king and kaiser
pass through crowds of bowing courtiers, but I never saw anything
which impressed me so strongly as the simultaneous springing to the
feet, the loud shout of _Bayete!_ given with the right hand upraised
(a higher form of salutation than _Inkosi!_ and only accorded to Kafir
royalty), the look of love and rapture and satisfied expectation in
all those keen black faces, as the minister, quite unattended, without
pomp or circumstance of any sort or kind, quietly walked into the
large room and sat himself down at his desk with some papers before
him. There was no clerk, no official of any sort: no one stood between
the people and the fountain of justice. The extraordinary simplicity
of the trial which commenced was only to be equaled by the decorum
and dignity with which it was conducted. First of all, everybody sat
down upon the floor, the plaintiff and defendant amicably side by side
opposite to the minister’s desk, and the other natives, about a hundred
in number, squatted in various groups. Then, as there was evidently a
slight feeling of surprise at my sitting myself down in the only other
chair—they probably considered me a new-fashioned clerk—the minister
explained that I was the wife of another inkosi, and that I wanted to
see and hear how Kafirmen stated their case when anything went wrong
with their affairs. This explanation was perfectly satisfactory to
all parties, and they regarded me no more, but immediately set to
work on the subject in hand. A sort of _précis_ of each case had
been previously prepared from the magistrate’s report for Mr. S—— ’s
information by his clerk, and these documents greatly helped me to
understand what was going on. No language can be more beautiful to
listen to than either the Kafir or Zulu tongue: it is soft and liquid
as Italian, with just the same gentle accentuation on the penultimate
and antepenultimate syllables. The clicks which are made with the
tongue every now and then, and are part of the language, give it a very
quaint sound, and the proper names are excessively harmonious.

In the first cause which was taken the plaintiff, as I said before, was
not quite satisfied with the decision of his own local magistrate, and
had therefore come here to restate his case. The story was slightly
complicated by the plaintiff having two distinct names by which he had
been known at different times of his life. “Tevula,” he averred, was
the name of his boyhood, and the other, “Mazumba,” the name of his
manhood. The natives have an unconquerable aversion to giving their
real names, and will offer half a dozen different aliases, making it
very difficult to trace them if they are “wanted,” and still more
difficult to get at the rights of any story they may have to tell.
However, if they are ever frank and open to anybody, it is to their own
minister, who speaks their language as well as they do themselves, and
who fully understands their mode of reasoning and their habits of mind.

Tevula told his story extremely well, I must say—quietly, but
earnestly, and with the most perfectly respectful though manly bearing.
He sometimes used graceful and natural gesticulation, but not a
bit more than was needed to give emphasis to his oratory. He was a
strongly-built, tall man, about thirty-five years of age, dressed in a
soldier’s great-coat—for it was a damp and drizzling day—had bare legs
and feet, and wore nothing on his head except the curious ring into
which the men weave their hair. So soon as a youth is considered old
enough to assume the duties and responsibilities of manhood he begins
to weave his short crisp hair over a ring of grass which exactly fits
the head, keeping the woolly hair in its place by means of wax. In
time the hair grows perfectly smooth and shining and regular over this
firm foundation, and the effect is as though it were a ring of jet or
polished ebony worn round the brows. Different tribes slightly vary the
size and form of the ring; and in this case it was easy to see that
the defendant belonged to a different tribe, for his ring was half the
size, and worn at the summit of a cone of combed-back hair which was as
thick and close as a cap, and indeed looked very like a grizzled fez.
Anybody in court may ask any questions he pleases, and in fact what we
should call “cross-examine” a witness, but no one did so whilst I was
present. Every one listened attentively, giving a grunt of interest
whenever Tevula made a point; and this manifestation and sympathy
always seemed to gratify him immensely. But it was plain that, whatever
might be the decision of the minister, who listened closely to every
word, asking now and then a short question—which evidently hit some
logical nail right on the head—they would abide by it, and be satisfied
that it was the fairest and most equitable solution of the subject.

Here is a _résumé_ of the first case, and it is a fair sample of the
intricacies of a Kafir lawsuit: Our friend Tevula possesses an aged
relative, a certain aunt, called Mamusa, who at the present time
appears to be in her dotage, and consequently her evidence is of very
little value. But once upon a time—long, long ago—Mamusa was young
and generous: Mamusa had cows, and she _gave_ or _lent_—there was
the difficulty—a couple of heifers to the defendant, whose name I
can’t possibly spell on account of the clicks. Nobody denies that of
her own free will these heifers had been bestowed by Mamusa on the
withered-looking little old man squatting opposite, but the question
is, Were they a loan or a gift? For many years nothing was done about
these heifers, but one fine day Tevula gets wind of the story, is
immediately seized with a fit of affection for his aged relative, and
takes her to live in his kraal, proclaiming himself her protector and
heir. So far so good: all this was in accordance with Kafir custom, and
the narration of this part of the story was received with grunts of
asseveration and approval by the audience. Indeed, Kafirs are as a rule
to be depended upon, and their minds, though full of odd prejudices and
quirks, have a natural bias toward truth. Two or three years ago Tevula
began by claiming, as heir-at-law, though the old woman still lives,
twenty cows from the defendant as the increase of these heifers: _now_
he demands between thirty and forty. When asked why he only claimed
twenty, as nobody denies that the produce of the heifers has increased
to double that number, he says naïvely, but without hesitation, that
there is a fee to be paid of a shilling a head on such a claim if
established, and that he only had twenty shillings in the world; so,
as he remarked with a knowing twinkle in his eye, “What was the use of
my claiming more cows than I had money to pay the fee for?” But times
have improved with Tevula since then, and he is now in a position to
claim the poor defendant’s whole herd, though he generously says he
will not insist on his refunding those cows which do not resemble the
original heifers, and are not, as they were, dun and red and white.
This sounded magnanimous, and met with grunts of approval until the
blear-eyed defendant remarked, hopelessly, “They are all of those
colors,” which changed the sympathies of the audience once more. Tevula
saw this at a glance, and hastened to improve his position by narrating
an anecdote. No words of mine could reproduce the dramatic talent that
man displayed in his narration. I did not understand a syllable of his
language, and yet I could gather from his gestures, his intonation, and
above all from the expression of his hearers’ faces, the sort of story
he was telling them. After he had finished, Mr. S—— turned to me and
briefly translated the episode with which Tevula had sought to rivet
the attention and sympathy of the court. Tevula’s tale, much condensed,
was this: Years ago, when his attention had first been directed to the
matter, he went with the defendant out on the veldt to look at the
herd. No sooner did the cattle see them approaching than a beautiful
little dun-colored heifer, the exact counterpart of her grandmother
(Mamusa’s cow), left the others and ran up to him, Tevula, lowing and
rubbing her head against his shoulder, and following him all about
like a dog. In vain did her reputed owner try to drive her away: she
persisted in following Tevula all the way back to his kraal, right up
to the entrance of his hut. “I was her master, and the inkomokazi knew
it,” cried Tevula triumphantly, looking round at the defendant with a
knowing nod, as much as to say, “Beat that, if you can!” Not knowing
what answer to make, the defendant took his snuff-box out of his left
ear and solaced himself with three or four huge pinches. I started the
hypothesis that Mamusa might once have had a _tendresse_ for the old
gentleman, and might have bestowed these cows upon him as a love-gift;
but this idea was scouted, even by the defendant, who said gravely,
“Kafir women don’t buy lovers or husbands: we buy the wife we want.” A
Kafir girl is exceedingly proud of being bought, and the more she costs
the prouder she is. She pities English women, whose bridegrooms expect
to receive money instead of paying it, and considers a dowry as a most
humiliating arrangement.

I wish I could tell you how Mamusa’s cows have finally been disposed
of, but, although it has occupied three days, the case is by no means
over yet. I envy and admire Mr. S—— ’s untiring patience and unfailing
good-temper, but it is just these qualities which make his Kafir
subjects (for they really consider him as their ruler) so certain that
their affairs will not be neglected or their interests suffer in his
hands.

Whilst I was listening to Tevula’s oratory my eyes and my mind
sometimes wandered to the eager and silent audience, and I amused
myself by studying their strange head-dresses. In most instances the
men wore their hair in the woven rings to which I have alluded, but
there were several young men present who indulged in purely fancy
head-dresses. One stalwart youth had got hold of the round cardboard
lid of a collar-box, to which he had affixed two bits of string, and
tied it firmly but jauntily on one side of his head. Another lad had
invented a most extraordinary decoration for his wool-covered pate,
and one which it is exceedingly difficult to describe in delicate
language. He had procured the intestines of some small animal, a lamb
or a kid, and had cleaned and scraped them and tied them tightly, at
intervals of an inch or two, with string. This series of small clear
bladders he had then inflated, and arranged them in a sort of bouquet
on the top of his head, skewering tufts of his crisp hair between, so
that the effect resembled a bunch of bubbles, if there could be such
a thing. Another very favorite adornment for the head consisted of a
strip of gay cloth or ribbon, or of even a few bright threads, bound
tightly like a fillet across the brows and confining a tuft of feathers
over one ear; but I suspect all these fanciful arrangements were only
worn by the gilded youth of a lower class, because I noticed that the
chieftains and _indunas_, or headmen of the villages, never wore such
frivolities. They wore indeed numerous slender rings of brass or silver
wire on their straight, shapely legs, and also necklaces of lions’ or
tigers’ claws and teeth round their throats, but these were trophies of
the chase as well as personal ornaments.



PART V.


  MARITZBURG, February 10, 1876.

In the South African calendar this is set down as the first of the
autumnal months, but the half dozen hours about mid-day are still quite
as close and oppressive as any we have had. I am, however, bound to say
that the nights—at all events, up here—are cooler, and I begin even
to think of a light shawl for my solitary walks in the verandah just
before bedtime. When the moon shines these walks are pleasant enough,
but when only the “common people of the skies” are trying to filter
down their feebler light through the misty atmosphere, I have a lurking
fear and distrust of the reptiles and bugs who may also have a fancy
for promenading at the same time and in the same place. I say nothing
of bats, frogs and toads, mantis or even huge moths: to these we are
quite accustomed. But although I have never seen a live snake in this
country myself, still one hears such unpleasant stories about them that
it is just as well to what the Scotch call “mak siccar” with a candle
before beginning a constitutional in the dark.

It is not a week ago since a lady of my acquaintance, being surprised
at her little dog’s refusal to follow her into her bedroom one night,
instituted a search for the reason of the poor little creature’s
terror and dismay, and discovered a snake coiled up under her chest
of drawers. At this moment, too, the local papers are full of recipes
for the prevention and cure of snake-bites, public attention being
much attracted to the subject on account of an Englishman having been
bitten by a black “mamba” (a very venomous adder) a short time since,
and having died of the wound in a few hours. In his case, poor man!
there does not seem to have been a chance from the first, for he was
obliged to walk some distance to the nearest house, and as they had no
proper remedies there, he had to be taken on a farther journey of some
miles to a hospital. All this exercise and motion caused the poison to
circulate freely through the veins, and was the worst possible thing
for him. The doctors here seem agreed that the treatment of ammonia
and brandy is the safest, and many instances are adduced to show how
successful it has been, though one party of practitioners admits the
ammonia, but denies the brandy. On the other hand, one hears of a child
bitten by a snake and swallowing half a large bottle of raw brandy in
half an hour without its head being at all affected, and, what is more,
recovering from the bite and living happy ever after. I keep quantities
of both remedies close at hand, for three or four venomous snakes
have been killed within a dozen yards of the house, and little G—— is
perpetually exploring the long grass all around or hunting for a stray
cricket-ball or a pegtop in one of those beautiful fern-filled ditches
whose tangle of creepers and plumy ferns is exactly the favorite haunt
of snakes. As yet he has brought back from these forbidden raids
nothing more than a few ticks and millions of burs.

As for the ticks, I am getting over my horror at having to dislodge
them from among the baby’s soft curls by means of a sharp needle, and
even G—— only shouts with laughter at discovering a great swollen
monster hanging on by its forceps to his leg. They torment the poor
horses and dogs dreadfully; and if the said horses were not the very
quietest, meekest, most underbred and depressed animals in the world,
we should certainly hear of more accidents. As it is, they confine
their efforts to get rid of their tormentors to rubbing all the hair
off their tails and sides in patches against the stable walls or the
trunk of a tree. Indeed, the clever way G—— ’s miserable little Basuto
pony actually climbs inside a good-sized bush, and sways himself about
in it with his legs off the ground until the whole thing comes with
a crash to the ground, is edifying to behold to every one except the
owner of the tree. Tom, the Kafir boy, tried hard to persuade me the
other day that the pony was to blame for the destruction of a peach
tree, but as the only broken-down branches were those which had been
laden with fruit, I am inclined to acquit the pony. Carbolic soap is an
excellent thing to wash both dogs and horses with, as it not only keeps
away flies and ticks from the skin, which is constantly rubbed off by
incessant scratching, but helps to heal the tendency to a sore place.
Indeed, nothing frightened me so much as what I heard when I first
arrived about Natal sores and Natal boils. Everybody told me that ever
so slight a cut or abrasion went on slowly festering, and that sores
on children’s faces were quite common. This sounded very dreadful, but
I am beginning to hope it was an exaggeration, for whenever G—— cuts
or knocks himself (which is every day or so), or scratches an insect’s
bite into a bad place, I wash the part with a little carbolic soap
(there are two sorts—one for animals and a more refined preparation for
the human skin), and it is quite well the next day. We have all had a
threatening of those horrid boils, but they have passed off.

In town the mosquitoes are plentiful and lively, devoting their
attentions chiefly to new-comers, but up here—I write as though we were
five thousand feet instead of only fifty above Maritzburg—it is rare
to see one. I think “fillies” are more in our line, and that in spite
of every floor in the house being scrubbed daily with strong soda and
water. “Fillies,” you must know, is our black groom’s (Charlie’s) way
of pronouncing _fleas_, and I find it ever so much prettier. Charlie
and I are having a daily discussion just now touching sundry moneys he
expended during my week’s absence at D’Urban for the kittens’ food.
Charlie calls them the “lil’ catties,” and declares that the two small
animals consumed three shillings and ninepence worth of meat in a week
I laughingly say, “But, Charlie, that would be nearly nine pounds of
meat in six days, and they couldn’t eat that, you know.” Charlie grins
and shows all his beautiful even white teeth: then he bashfully turns
his head aside and says, “I doan know, ma’: I buy six’ meat dree time.”
“Very well, Charlie, that would be one shilling and sixpence.” “I doan
know, ma’;” and we’ve not got any further than that yet.

But G—— and I are picking up many words of Kafir, and it is quite
mortifying to see how much more easily the little monkey learns than
I do. I forget my phrases or confuse them, whereas when he learns two
or three sentences he appears to remember them always. It is a very
melodious and beautiful language, and, except for the clicks, not very
difficult to learn. Almost everybody here speaks it a little, and it is
the first thing necessary for a new-comer to endeavor to acquire; only,
unfortunately, there are no teachers, as in India, and consequently
you pick up a wretched, debased kind of patois, interlarded with
Dutch phrases. Indeed, I am assured there are two words, _el hashi_
(“the horse”), of unmistakable Moorish origin, though no one knows
how they got into the language. Many of the Kafirs about town speak
a little English, and they are exceedingly sharp, when they choose,
about understanding what is meant, even if they do not quite catch the
meaning of the words used. There is one genius of my acquaintance,
called “Sixpence,” who is not only a capital cook, but an accomplished
English scholar, having spent some months in England. Generally, to
Cape Town and back is the extent of their journeyings, for they are
a home-loving people; but Sixpence went to England with his master,
and brought back a shivering recollection of an English winter and a
deep-rooted amazement at the boys of the Shoe Brigade, who wanted to
clean his boots. That astonished him more than anything else, he says.

The Kafirs are very fond of attending their own schools and church
services, of which there are several in the town; and I find one
of my greatest difficulties in living out here consists in getting
Kafirs to come out of town, for by doing so they miss their regular
attendance at chapel and school. A few Sundays ago I went to one of
these Kafir schools, and was much struck by the intently-absorbed air
of the pupils, almost all of whom were youths about twenty years of
age. They were learning to read the Bible in Kafir during my visit,
sitting in couples, and helping each other on with immense diligence
and earnestness. No looking about, no wandering, inattentive glances,
did I see. I might as well have “had the receipt of fern-seed and
walked invisible” for all the attention I excited. Presently the
pupil-teacher, a young black man, who had charge of this class, asked
me if I would like to hear them sing a hymn, and on my assenting he
read out a verse of “Hold the Fort,” and they all stood up and sang it,
or rather its Kafir translation, lustily and with good courage, though
without much tune. The chorus was especially fine, the words “Inkanye
kanye” ringing through the room with great fervor. This is not a
literal translation of the words “Hold the Fort,” but it is difficult,
as the teacher explained to me, for the translator to avail himself
of the usual word for “hold,” as it conveys more the idea of “take
hold,” “seize,” and the young Kafir missionary thoroughly understood
all the nicety of the idiom. There was another class for women and
children, but it was a small one. Certainly, the young men seemed much
in earnest, and the rapt expression of their faces was most striking,
especially during the short prayer which followed the hymn and ended
the school for the afternoon.

I have had constantly impressed upon my mind since my arrival the
advice _not_ to take Christian Kafirs into my service, but I am at a
loss to know in what way the prejudice against them can have arisen.
“Take a Kafir green from his kraal if you wish to have a good servant,”
is what every one tells me. It so happens that we have two of each—two
Christians and two heathens—about the place, and there is no doubt
whatever which is the best. Indeed, I have sometimes conversations
with the one who speaks English, and I can assure you we might all
learn from him with advantage. His simple creed is just what came
from the Saviour’s lips two thousand years ago, and comprises His
teaching of the whole duty of man—to love God, the great “En’ Kos,”
and his neighbor as himself. He speaks always with real delight of
his privileges, and is very anxious to go to Cape Town to attend some
school there of which he talks a great deal, and where he says he
should learn to read the Bible in English. At present he is spelling
it out with great difficulty in Kafir. This man often talks to me in
the most respectful and civil manner imaginable about the customs of
his tribe, and he constantly alludes to the narrow escape he had of
being murdered directly after his birth for the crime of being a twin.
His people have a fixed belief that unless one of a pair of babies be
killed at once, either the father or mother will die within the year;
and they argue that as in any case one child will be sure to die in
its infancy, twins being proverbially difficult to rear, it is only
both kind and natural to kill the weakly one at once. This young man
is very small and quiet and gentle, with an ugly face, but a sweet,
intelligent expression and a very nice manner. I find him and the other
Christian in our employment very trustworthy and reliable. If they tell
me anything which has occurred, I know I can believe their version of
it, and they are absolutely honest. Now, the other lads have very loose
ideas on the subject of sugar, and make shifty excuses for everything,
from the cat breaking a heavy stone filter up to half the marketing
being dropped on the road.

I don’t think I have made it sufficiently clear that besides the
Sunday-schools and services I have mentioned there are night-schools
every evening in the week, which are fully attended by Kafir servants,
and where they are first taught to read their own language, which is
an enormous difficulty to them. They always tell me it is so much
easier to learn to read English than Kafir; and if one studies the
two languages, it is plain to see how much simpler the new tongue must
appear to a learner than the intricate construction, the varying patois
and the necessarily phonetic spelling of a language compounded of so
many dialects as the Zulu-Kafir.


  FEBRUARY 12.

In some respects I consider this climate has been rather over-praised.
Of course it is a great deal—a very great deal—better than our English
one, but that, after all, is not saying much in its praise. Then we
must remember that in England we have the fear and dread of the climate
ever before our eyes, and consequently are always, so to speak, on our
guard against it. Here, and in other places where civilization is in
its infancy, we are at the mercy of dust and sun, wind and rain, and
all the eccentric elements which go to make up weather. Consequently,
when the balance of comfort and convenience has to be struck, it is
surprising how small an advantage a really better climate gives when
you take away watering-carts and shady streets for hot weather, and
sheltered railway-stations and hansom cabs for wet weather, and roads
and servants and civility and general convenience everywhere. This
particular climate is both depressing and trying in spite of the sunny
skies we are ever boasting about, because it has a strong tinge of the
tropical element in it; and yet people live in much the same kind of
houses (only that they are very small), and wear much the same sort of
clothes (only that they are very ugly), and lead much the same sort of
lives (only that it is a thousand times duller than the dullest country
village), as they do in England. Some small concession is made to the
thermometer in the matter of puggeries and matted floors, but even
then carpets are used wherever it is practicable, because this matting
never looks clean and nice after the first week it is put down. All
the houses are built on the ground floor, with the utmost economy of
building material and labor, and consequently there are no passages:
every room is, in fact, a passage and leads to its neighbor. So the
perpetually dirty bare feet, or, still worse, boots fresh from the
mud or dust of the streets, soon wear out the matting. Few houses are
at all prettily decorated or furnished, partly from the difficulty of
procuring anything pretty here, the cost and risk of its carriage up
from D’Urban if you send to England for it, and partly from the want of
servants accustomed to anything but the roughest and coarsest articles
of household use. A lady soon begins to take her drawing-room ornaments
_en guignon_ if she has to dust them herself every day in a very dusty
climate. I speak feelingly and with authority, for that is my case at
this moment, and applies to every other part of the house as well.

I must say I like Kafir servants in some respects. They require, I
acknowledge, constant supervision; they require to be told to do the
same thing over and over again every day; and, what is more, besides
telling, you have to stand by and see that they do the thing. They
are also very slow. But still, with all these disadvantages, they
are far better than the generality of European servants out here,
who make their luckless employers’ lives a burden to them by reason
of their tempers and caprices. It is much better, I am convinced, to
face the evil boldly and to make up one’s mind to have none but Kafir
servants. Of course one immediately turns into a sort of overseer
and upper servant one’s self; but at all events you feel master or
mistress of your own house, and you have faithful and good-tempered
domestics, who do their best, however awkwardly, to please you. Where
there are children, then indeed a good English nurse is a great boon;
and in this one respect I am fortunate. Kafirs are also much easier to
manage when the orders come direct from the master or mistress, and
they work far more willingly for them than for white servants. Tom,
the nurse-boy, confided to me yesterday that he hoped to stop in my
employment for forty moons. After that space of time he considered that
he should be in a position to buy plenty of wives, who would work for
him and support him for the rest of his life. But how Tom or Jack,
or any of the boys in fact, are to save money I know not, for every
shilling of their wages, except a small margin for coarse snuff, goes
to their parents, who fleece them without mercy. If they are fined
for breakages or misconduct (the only punishment a Kafir cares for),
they have to account for the deficient money to the stern parents; and
both Tom and Jack went through a most graphic pantomime with a stick
of the consequences to themselves, adding that their father said both
the beating from him and the fine from us served them right for their
carelessness. It seemed so hard they should suffer both ways, and they
were so good-tempered and uncomplaining about it, that I fear I shall
find it very difficult to stop any threepenny pieces out of their
wages in future. A Kafir servant usually gets one pound a month, his
clothes and food. The former consists of a shirt and short trousers of
coarse check cotton, a soldier’s old great-coat for winter, and plenty
of mealy-meal for “scoff.” If he is a good servant and worth making
comfortable, you give him a trifle every week to buy meat. Kafirs are
very fond of going to their kraals, and you have to make them sign an
agreement to remain with you so many months, generally six. By the time
you have just taught them, with infinite pains and trouble, how to do
their work, they depart, and you have to begin it all over again.

I frequently see the chiefs or indunas of chiefs passing here on their
way to some kraals which lie just over the hills. These kraals consist
of half a dozen or more large huts, exactly like so many huge beehives,
on the slope of a hill. There is a rude attempt at sod-fencing round
them; a few head of cattle graze in the neighborhood; lower down, the
hillside is roughly scratched by the women with crooked hoes to form a
mealy-ground. (Cows and mealies are all they require except snuff or
tobacco, which they smoke out of a cow’s horn.) They seem a very gay
and cheerful people, to judge by the laughter and jests I hear from the
groups returning to these kraals every day by the road just outside
our fence. Sometimes one of the party carries an umbrella; and I assure
you the effect of a tall, stalwart Kafir, clad either in nothing at all
or else in a sack, carefully guarding his bare head with a tattered
Gamp, is very ridiculous. Often some one walks along playing upon a
rude pipe, whilst the others jog before and after him, laughing and
capering like boys let loose from school, and all chattering loudly.
You never meet a man carrying a burden unless he is a white settler’s
servant. When a chief or the induna of a kraal passes this way, I see
him, clad in a motley garb of red regimentals with his bare “ringed”
head, riding a sorry nag, only the point of his great toe resting in
his stirrup. He is followed closely and with great _empressement_ by
his “tail,” all “ringed” men also—that is, men of some substance and
weight in the community. They carry bundles of sticks, and keep up with
the ambling nag, and are closely followed by some of his wives bearing
heavy loads on their heads, but stepping out bravely with beautiful
erect carriage, shapely bare arms and legs, and some sort of coarse
drapery worn across their bodies, covering them from shoulder to knee
in folds which would delight an artist’s eye and be the despair of a
sculptor’s chisel. They don’t look either oppressed or discontented.
Happy, healthy and jolly are the words by which they would be most
truthfully described. Still, they are lazy, and slow to appreciate
any benefit from civilization except the money, but then savages
always seem to me as keen and sordid about money as the most civilized
mercantile community anywhere.


  FEBRUARY 14.

I am often asked by people who are thinking of coming here, or who want
to send presents to friends here, what to bring or send. Of course it
is difficult to say, because my experience is limited and confined to
one spot at present: therefore I give my opinion very guardedly, and
acknowledge it is derived in great part from the experience of others
who have been here a long time. Amongst other wraps, I brought a
sealskin jacket and muff which I happened to have. These, I am assured,
will be absolutely useless, and already they are a great anxiety to me
on account of the swarms of fish-tail moths which I see scuttling about
in every direction if I move a box or look behind a picture. In fact,
there are destructive moths everywhere, and every drawer is redolent
of camphor. The only things I can venture to recommend as necessaries
are things which no one advised me to bring, and which were only random
shots. One was a light waterproof ulster, and the other was a lot of
those outside blinds for windows which come, I believe, from Japan,
and are made of grass—green, painted with gay figures. I picked up
these latter by the merest accident at the Baker-street bazaar for
a few shillings: they are the comfort of my life, keeping out glare
and dust in the day and moths and insects of all kinds at night. As
for the waterproof, I do not know what I should have done without it;
and little G—— ’s has also been most useful. It is the necessary of
necessaries here—a _real_, good substantial waterproof. A man cannot
do better than get a regular military waterproof which will cover him
from chin to heel on horseback; and even waterproof hats and caps are
a comfort in this treacherous summer season, where a storm bursts over
your head out of a blue dome of sky, and drenches you even whilst the
sun is shining brightly.

A worse climate and country for clothes of every kind and description
cannot be imagined. When I first arrived I thought I had never seen
such ugly toilettes in all my life; and I should have been less
than woman (or more—which is it?) if I had not derived some secret
satisfaction from the possession of at least prettier garments. What I
was vain of in my secret heart was my store of cotton gowns. One can’t
very well wear cotton gowns in London; and, as I am particularly fond
of them, I indemnify myself for going abroad by rushing wildly into
extensive purchases in cambrics and print dresses. They are so pretty
and so cheap, and when charmingly made, as mine _were_ (alas, they are
already things of the past!), nothing can be so satisfactory in the
way of summer country garb. Well, it has been precisely in the matter
of cotton gowns that I have been punished for my vanity. For a day or
two each gown in turn looked charming. Then came a flounce or bordering
of bright red earth on the lower skirt and a general impression of red
dust and dirt all over it. That was after a drive into Maritzburg along
a road ploughed up by ox-wagons. Still, I felt no uneasiness. What is
a cotton gown made for if not to be washed? Away it goes to the wash!
What is this limp, discolored rag which returns to me iron-moulded,
blued until it is nearly black, rough-dried, starched in patches, with
the fringe of red earth only more firmly fixed than before? Behold my
favorite ivory cotton! My white gowns are even in a worse plight, for
there are no two yards of them the same, and the grotesque mixture
of extreme yellowness, extreme blueness and a pervading tinge of the
red mud they have been washed in renders them a piteous example of
misplaced confidence. Other things fare rather better—not much—but
my poor gowns are only hopeless wrecks, and I am reduced to some old
yachting dresses of ticking and serge. The price of washing, as this
spoiling process is pleasantly called, is enormous, and I exhaust my
faculties in devising more economical arrangements. We can’t wash at
home, for the simple reason that we have no water, no proper appliances
of any sort, and to build and buy such would cost a small fortune. But
a tall, white-aproned Kafir, with a badge upon his arm, comes now at
daylight every Monday morning and takes away a huge sackful of linen,
which is placed, with sundry pieces of soap and blue in its mouth, all
ready for him. He brings it back in the afternoon full of clean and dry
linen, for which he receives three shillings and sixpence. But this
is only the first stage. The things to be starched have to be sorted
and sent to one woman, and those to be mangled to another, and both
lots have to be fetched home again by Tom and Jack. (I have forgotten
to tell you that Jack’s real name, elicited with great difficulty, as
there is a click somewhere in it, is “Umpashongwana,” whilst the pickle
Tom is known among his own people as “Umkabangwana.” You will admit
that our substitutes for these five-syllabled appellations are easier
to pronounce in a hurry. Jack is a favorite name: I know half a dozen
black Jacks myself.) To return, however, to the washing. I spend my
time in this uncertain weather watching the clouds on the days when
the clothes are to come home, for it would be altogether _too_ great
a trial if one’s starched garments, borne aloft on Jack’s head, were
to be caught in a thunder-shower. If the washerwoman takes pains with
anything, it is with gentlemen’s shirts, though even then she insists
on ironing the collars into strange and fearful shapes.

Let not men think, however, that they have it all their own way in the
matter of clothes. White jackets and trousers are commonly worn here
in summer, and it is very soothing, I am told, to try to put them on
in a hurry when the arms and legs are firmly glued together by several
pounds of starch. Then as to boots and shoes: they get so mildewed
if laid aside for even a few days as to be absolutely offensive; and
these, with hats, wear out at the most astonishing rate. The sun and
dust and rain finish up the hats in less than no time.

But I have not done with my clothes yet. A lady must keep a warm dress
and jacket close at hand all through the most broiling summer weather,
for a couple of hours will bring the thermometer down ten or twenty
degrees, and I have often been gasping in a white dressing-gown at noon
and shivering in a serge dress at three o’clock on the same day. I am
making up my mind that serge and ticking are likely to be the most
useful material for dresses, and, as one must have something very cool
for these burning months, tussore or foulard, which get themselves
better washed than my poor dear cottons. Silks are next to useless—too
smart, too hot, too entirely out of place in such a life as this,
except perhaps one or two of tried principles, which won’t spot or
fade or misbehave themselves in any way. One goes out of a warm, dry
afternoon with a tulle veil on to keep off the flies, or a feather in
one’s hat, and returns with the one a limp, wet rag and the other quite
out of curl. I only wish any milliner could see my feathers now! All
straight, rigidly straight as a carpenter’s rule, and tinged with red
dust besides. As for tulle or crêpe-lisse frilling, or any of those
soft pretty adjuncts to a simple toilette, they are five minutes’
wear—no more, I solemnly declare.

I love telling a story against myself, and here is one. In spite of
repeated experiences of the injurious effect of alternate damp and dust
upon finery, the old Eve is occasionally too strong for my prudence,
and I can’t resist, on the rare occasions which offer themselves,
the temptation of wearing pretty things. Especially weak am I in the
matter of caps, and this is what befell me. Imagine a lovely, soft
summer evening, broad daylight, though it is half-past seven (it will
be dark directly, however): a dinner-party to be reached a couple of
miles away. The little open carriage is at the door, and into this I
step, swathing my gown carefully up in a huge shawl. This precaution
is especially necessary, for during the afternoon there has been a
terrific thunderstorm and a sudden sharp deluge of rain. Besides a
swamp or two to be ploughed through as best we may, there are those two
miles of deep red muddy road full of ruts and big stones and pitfalls
of all sorts. The drive home in the dark will be nervous work, but
now in daylight let us enjoy whilst we may. Of course I _ought_ to
have taken my cap in a box or bag, or something of the sort; but that
seemed too much trouble, especially as it was so small it needed to be
firmly pinned on in its place. It consisted of a centre or crown of
white crêpe, a little frill of the same, and a close-fitting wreath of
deep red feathers all round. Very neat and tidy it looked as I took
my last glance at it whilst I hastily knotted a light black lace veil
over my head by way of protection during my drive. When I got to my
destination there was no looking-glass to be seen anywhere, no maid, no
anything or anybody to warn me. Into the dining-room I marched in happy
unconsciousness that the extreme dampness of the evening had flattened
the crown of my cap, and that it and its frill were mere unconsidered
limp rags, whilst the unpretending circlet of feathers had started
into undue prominence, and struck straight out like a red nimbus all
round my unconscious head. How my fellow-guests managed to keep their
countenances I cannot tell. I am certain _I_ never could have sat
opposite to any one with such an Ojibbeway Indian’s head-dress on
without giggling. But no one gave me the least hint of my misfortune,
and it only burst upon me suddenly when I returned to my own room and
my own glass. Still, there was a ray of hope left: it _might_ have been
the dampness of the drive home which had worked me this woe. I rushed
into F—— ’s dressing-room and demanded quite fiercely whether my cap
had been like that all the time.

“Why, yes,” F—— admitted; adding by way of consolation, “In fact, it is
a good deal subdued now: it was very wild all dinner-time. I can’t say
I admired it, but I supposed it was all right.”

Did ever any one hear such shocking apathy? In answer to my reproaches
for not telling me, he only said, “Why, what could you have done with
it if you _had_ known? Taken it off and put it in your pocket, or what?”

I don’t know, but anything would have been better than sitting at table
with a thing only fit for a May-Day sweep on one’s head. It makes me
hot and angry with myself even to think of it now.

F—— ’s clothes could also relate some curious experiences which they
have had to go through, not only at the hands of his washerwoman, but
at those of his temporary valet, Jack (I beg his pardon, Umpashongwana)
the Zulu, whose zeal exceeds anything one can imagine. For instance,
when he sets to work to brush F—— ’s clothes of a morning he is by no
means content to brush the cloth clothes. Oh dear, no! He brushes the
socks, putting each carefully on his hand like a glove and brushing
vigorously away. As they are necessarily very thin socks for this hot
weather, they are apt to melt away entirely under the process. I say
nothing of his blacking the boots inside as well as out, or of his
laboriously scrubbing holes in a serge coat with a scrubbing-brush,
for these are errors of judgment dictated by a kindly heart. But when
Jack puts a saucepan on the fire without any water and burns holes in
it, or tries whether plates and dishes can support their own weight
in the air without a table beneath them, then, I confess, my patience
runs short. But Jack is so imperturbable, so perfectly and genuinely
astonished at the untoward result of his experiments, and so grieved
that the _inkosacasa_ (I have not an idea how the word ought to be
spelt) should be vexed, that I am obliged to leave off shaking my head
at him, which is the only way I have of expressing my displeasure. He
keeps on saying, “Ja, oui, yaas,” alternately, all the time, and I have
to go away to laugh.


  FEBRUARY 16.

I was much amused the other day at receiving a letter of introduction
from a mutual friend in England, warmly recommending a newly-arrived
bride and bridegroom to my acquaintance, and especially begging me
to take pains to introduce the new-comers into the “best society.”
To appreciate the joke thoroughly you must understand that there
is no society here at all—absolutely none. We are not proud, we
Maritzburgians, nor are we inhospitable, nor exclusive, nor unsociable.
Not a bit. We are as anxious as any community can be to have society or
sociable gatherings, or whatever you like to call the way people manage
to meet together; but circumstances are altogether too strong for
us, and we all in turn are forced to abandon the attempt in despair.
First of all, the weather is against us. It is maddeningly uncertain,
and the best-arranged entertainment cannot be considered a success
if the guests have to struggle through rain and tempest and streets
ankle-deep in water and pitchy darkness to assist at it. People are
hardly likely to make themselves pleasant at a party when their return
home through storm and darkness is on their minds all the time: at
least, I know _I_ cannot do so. But the weather is only one of the
lets and hinderances to society in Natal. We are all exceedingly poor,
and necessary food is very dear: luxuries are enormously expensive,
but they are generally not to be had at all, so one is not tempted by
them. Servants, particularly cooks, are few and far between, and I
doubt if even any one calling himself a cook could send up what would
be considered a fairly good dish elsewhere. Kafirs can be taught to
do one or two things pretty well, but even then they could not be
trusted to do them for a party. In fact, if I stated that there were no
good servants—in the ordinary acceptation of the word—here at all, I
should not be guilty of exaggeration. If there are, all I can say is,
I have neither heard of nor seen them. On the contrary, I have been
overwhelmed by lamentations on that score in which I can heartily join.
Besides the want of means of conveyance (for there are no cabs, and
very few _remises_) and good food and attendance, any one wanting to
entertain would almost need to build a house, so impossible is it to
collect more than half a dozen people inside an ordinary-sized house
here. For my part, my verandah is the comfort of my life. When more
than four or five people at a time chance to come to afternoon tea,
we overflow into the verandah. It runs round three sides of the four
rooms called a house, and is at once my day-nursery, my lumber-room,
my summer-parlor, my place of exercise—everything, in fact. And it is
an incessant occupation to train the creepers and wage war against the
legions of brilliantly-colored grasshoppers which infest and devour
the honeysuckles and roses. Never was there such a place for insects!
They eat up everything in the kitchen-garden, devour every leaf off my
peach and orange trees, scarring and spoiling the fruit as well. It is
no comfort whatever that they are wonderfully beautiful creatures,
striped and ringed with a thousand colors in a thousand various ways:
one has only to see the riddled appearance of every leaf and flower
to harden one’s heart. Just now they have cleared off every blossom
out of the garden except my zinnias, which grow magnificently and
make the devastated flower-bed still gay with every hue and tint a
zinnia can put on—salmon-color, rose, scarlet, pink, maroon, and fifty
shades besides. On the veldt too the flowers have passed by, but their
place is taken by the grasses, which are all in seed. People say the
grass is rank and poor, and of not much account as food for stock,
but it has an astonishing variety of beautiful seeds. In one patch
it is like miniature pampas-grass, only a couple of inches long each
seed-pod, but white and fluffy. Again, there will be tall stems laden
with rich purple grains or delicate tufts of rose-colored seed. One
of the prettiest, however, is like wee green harebells hanging all
down a tall and slender stalk, and hiding within their cups the seed.
Unfortunately, the weeds and burs seed just as freely, and there is
one especial torment to the garden in the shape of an innocent-looking
little plant something like an alpine strawberry in leaf and blossom,
bearing a most aggravating tuft of little black spines which lose
no opportunity of sticking to one’s petticoats in myriads. They are
familiarly known as “blackjacks,” and can hold their own as pests with
any weed of my acquaintance.

But the most beautiful tree I have seen in Natal was an _Acacia
flamboyante_. I saw it at D’Urban, and I shall never forget the
contrast of its vivid green, bright as the spring foliage of a young
oak, and the crown of rich crimson flowers on its topmost branches,
tossing their brilliant blossoms against a background of gleaming
sea and sky. It was really splendid, like a bit of Italian coloring
among the sombre tangle of tropical verdure. It is too cold up here
for this glorious tree, which properly belongs to a far more tropical
temperature than even D’Urban can mount up to.

I am looking forward to next month and the following ones to make
some little excursions into the country, or to go “trekking,” as the
local expression is. I hear on all sides how much that is interesting
lies a little way beyond the reach of a ride, but it is difficult
for the mistress—who is at the same time the general servant—of an
establishment out here to get away from home for even a few days,
especially when there is a couple of small children to be left behind.
No one travels now who can possibly help it, for the sudden violent
rains which come down nearly every afternoon swell the rivers and make
even the spruits impassable; so a traveler may be detained for days
within a few miles of his destination. Now, in winter the roads will be
hard, and dust will be the only inconvenience. At least, that is what I
am promised.

[Illustration: Decoration]



PART VI.


  MARITZBURG, March 5, 1876.

I don’t think I like a climate which produces a thunderstorm _every_
afternoon. One disadvantage of this electric excitement is that I
hardly ever get out for a walk or drive. All day it is burning hot:
if there is a breath of air, it is sultry, and adds to the oppression
of the atmosphere instead of refreshing it. Then about midday great
fleecy banks of cloud begin to steal up behind the ridge of hills to
the south-west. Gradually they creep round the horizon, stretching
their soft gray folds farther and farther to every point of the
compass, until they have shrouded the dazzling blue sky and dropped a
cool, filmy veil of mist between the sun’s fierce, steady blaze and
the baked earth below. That is always my nervous moment. F—— declares
I am exactly like an old hen with her chickens; and I acknowledge that
I should like to cluck and call everything and everybody into shelter
and safety. If little G—— is out on his pony alone, as is generally
the case—for he returns from school early in the afternoon—and I think
of the great open veldt, the rough, broken track and the treacherous
swamp, what wonder is it that I cannot rest in-doors, but am always
making bareheaded expeditions every five minutes to the brow of the
hill to see if I can discern the tiny figure tearing along the open,
with its floating white puggery streaming behind? The pony may safely
be trusted not to loiter, for horse and cow, bird and beast, know what
that rapidly-darkening shadow means, and what sudden death lurks within
those patches of inky clouds, from which a deep and rolling murmur
comes from time to time. I am uneasy even if F—— has not returned,
for the little river, the noisy Umsindusi, thinks nothing of suddenly
spreading itself far and wide over its banks, turning the low-lying
ground into a lake for miles.

It is true that this may only last for a few hours, or even moments,
but five minutes is quite enough to do a great deal of mischief when a
river is rising at the rate of two feet a minute—mischief not only to
human beings, but to bridges, roads and drains, as well as plantations
and fields. Yet that tropical downpour, where the clouds let loose the
imprisoned moisture suddenly in solid sheets of water instead of by the
more slow and civilized method of drops, is a relief to my mind, for
there are worse possibilities than a wet jacket behind those lurid,
low-hanging vapors. There are hailstorms, like one yesterday morning
which rattled on the red tile roof like a discharge of musketry, and
with nearly as damaging an effect, for several tiles were broken
and tumbled down, leaving melancholy gaps, like missing teeth, in
the eaves. There are thunderbolts, which strike the tallest trees,
leaving them in an instant gaunt and bare and shriveled, as though
centuries had suddenly passed over their green and waving heads.
There are flashes of lightning which dart through a verandah or room,
and leave every living thing in it struck down dead—peals of thunder
which seem to shake the very earth to its centre. There are all these
meteorological possibilities—nay, probabilities—following fast upon a
burning, hot, still morning; and what wonder is it that I am anxious
and nervous until everybody belonging to me is under shelter, though
shelter can only be from the driving rain or tearing gusts of wind?
No wall or window, no bolt or bar, can keep out the dazzling death
which swoops down in a violet glare and snatches its victims anywhere
and everywhere. A Kafir washerman, talking yesterday morning to his
employer in her verandah, was in the act of saying, “I will be _sure_
to come to-morrow,” when he fell forward on his face, dead from a
blinding flash out of a passing thundercloud. An old settler, a little
way upcountry, was reading prayers to his household the other night,
and in a second half the little kneeling circle were struck dead
alongside of the patriarchal reader—dead on their knees. Two young
men were playing a game of billiards quietly enough: one was leaning
forward to make a stroke when there came a crash and a crackle, and he
dropped dead with his cue in his hand. The local papers are full every
day of a long list of casualties, but it is not from these sources
I have drawn the preceding examples: I only chanced to hear them
yesterday, and they all happened quite close by.

As for cattle or trees being killed, that is an every-day occurrence
in summer, and even a hailstorm, so long as it does not utterly
bombard the town and leave the houses roofless and open to wind and
weather, is not thought anything of. The hail-shower of yesterday,
though, bombarded my creepers and reduced them to a pitiful state
in five minutes. So soon as it was possible to venture outside the
house, F—— called me to see the ruin of leaf and bud which strewed
the cemented floor of the verandah. It is difficult to describe, and
still more difficult to believe, the state to which the foliage had
been reduced. On the weather side of the house every leaf was torn
off, and not only torn, but riddled through and through as though by
a charge of swan-shot. All my young rose-shoots, climbing so swiftly
up to the roof of the verandah, were snapped off and stripped of their
tender leaves and pretty buds. The honeysuckles’ luxuriant foliage was
all gone, lying in a wet, forlorn mass of beaten green leaves around
each pillar, and there was not a leaf left on the vines. But a much
more serious trouble came out of that storm. Though it has passed
with the passing fury of wind and rain, still, it will always leave a
feeling of insecurity in my mind during similar outbursts. The great
hailstones were forced by the driving wind in immense quantities
beneath the tiles, and deposited on the rude planking which, painted
white, forms the ceiling. This planking has the boards wide apart, so
it is not difficult to see that so soon as the warmth of the house
melted the hailstones—that is, in five minutes—the water trickled
down as through a sieve. It was not to be dealt with like an ordinary
leak: it was here, there and everywhere, on sofas and chairs, beds and
writing-tables; and the moment the sun shone out again, bright and hot
as ever, the contents of the house had to be turned out of doors to
dry. Drying meant, however, warping of writing-tables, and in fact of
all woodwork, and fading of chintzes, beneath the broiling glare of a
midday sun. Such are a few of the difficulties of existence in South
Africa—difficulties, however, which must be met and got over as best
they may, and laughed at once they are past and over, as I am really
doing in spite of my affectation of grumbling.

A very pleasant adventure came to us the other evening, however,
through one of these sudden thunderstorms. Imagine a little tea-table,
with straw chairs all around it, standing in the verandah. A fair and
pleasant view lies before us of green rises and still greener hollows,
with dark dots of plantations from which peep red roofs or white
gables. Beyond, again, lies Maritzburg under the lee of higher hills,
which cast a deeper shadow over the picturesque little town. We are six
in all, and four horses are being led up and down by Kafir grooms, for
their riders have come out for a breath of air after a long, burning
day of semi-tropical heat, and also for a cup of tea and a chat. We
were exactly even, three ladies and three gentlemen; and we grumbled at
the weather and complained of our servants according to the usual style
of South-African conversation.

Presently, some one said, “It’s much cooler now.”

“Yes,” was the answer, “but look at those clouds; and is that a river
rolling down the hillside?”

Up to that moment there had not been a drop of rain, but even as the
words passed the speaker’s lips a blinding flash of light, a sullen
growl and a warning drop of rain, making a splash as big as half a
crown at our feet, told their own story. In less time than it takes
me to write or you to read the horses had been hastily led up to
the stable and stuffed into stalls only meant for two, and already
occupied. But Natalian horses are generally meek, underbred, spiritless
creatures, with sense enough to munch their mealies in peace and quiet,
no matter how closely they are packed. As for me, I snatched up my
tea-tray and fled into the wee drawing-room. Some one else caught up
the table; the straw chairs were left as usual to be buffeted by the
wind and weather, and we retreated to the comparative shelter of the
house. But no doors or windows could keep out the torrent of rain
which burst like a waterspout over our heads, forcing its way under
the tiles, beneath the badly-fitting doors and windows, sweeping and
eddying all around like the true tropical tempest it was. Claps of
thunder shook the nursery, where we three ladies had taken refuge,
ostensibly to encourage and cheer the nurse, but really to huddle
together like sheep with the children in our midst. Flash after flash
lit up the fast-gathering darkness as the storm rolled away, to end in
an hour or so as suddenly as it began. By this time it was not much
past six, and though the twilight is early in these parts, there was
enough daylight still left for our guests to see their way home. So
the horses were brought, adieux were made, and our guests set forth,
to return, however, in half an hour asking whether there was any other
road into town, for the river was sweeping like a maelstrom for half
a mile on either side of the frail wooden bridge by which they had
crossed a couple of hours earlier. Now, the only other road into town
is across a ford, or “drift,” as it is called here, of the same river a
mile higher up. Of course, it was of no use thinking of _this_ way for
even a moment; but as they were really anxious to get home if possible,
F—— volunteered to go back and see if it was practicable to get across
by the bridge. I listened and waited anxiously enough in the verandah,
for I could hear the roar of the rushing river down below—a river which
is ordinarily as sluggish as a brook in midsummer—and I was so afraid
that F—— or one of the other gentlemen would rashly venture across. But
it was not to be attempted by any one who valued his life that evening,
and F—— returned joyously, bringing our guests home as captives. It was
great fun, for, in true colonial fashion, we had no servants to speak
of except the nurse, the rest being Kafirs, one more ignorant than the
other. And fancy stowing four extra people into a house with four rooms
already full to overflowing! But it was done, and done successfully
too, amid peals of laughter and absurd contrivances and arrangements,
reminding us of the dear old New Zealand days.

The triumph of condensation was due, however, to Charlie, the Kafir
groom, who ruthlessly turned my poor little pony carriage out into the
open air to make room for some of his extra horses, saying, “It wash
it, ma’—make it clean: carriage no can get horse-sickness.” And he was
right, for it is certain death to turn a horse unaccustomed to the open
out of his stable at night, especially at this time of year. We were
all up very early next morning, and I had an anxious moment or two
until I knew whether my market-Kafir could get out to me with bread,
etc.; but soon after seven I saw him trudging gayly along with his bare
legs, red tunic and long wand or stick, without which no Kafir stirs a
yard away from home. Apropos of that red tunic, it was bought and given
to him to prevent him from _wearing_ the small piece of waterproof
canvas I gave him to wrap up my bread, flour, sugar, etc. in on a wet
morning. I used to notice that these perishable commodities arrived as
often quite sopped through and spoiled _after_ this arrangement about
the waterproof as before, but the mystery was solved by seeing “Ufan”
(otherwise John) with my basket poised on his head, the rain pelting
down upon its contents, and the small square of waterproof tied with
a string at each corner over his own back. That reminds me of a hat
I saw worn in Maritzburg two days ago in surely the most eccentric
fashion hat was ever yet put on. It was a large, soft gray felt, and,
as far as I could judge, in pretty good condition. The Kafir who
sported it had fastened a stout rope to the brim, at the extreme edge
of the two sides. He had then turned the hat upside down, and wore
it thus securely moored by these ropes behind his ears and under his
chin. There were sundry trifles of polished bone, skewers and feathers
stuck about his head as well, but the inverted hat sat serenely on
the top of all, the soft crown being further secured to its owner’s
woolly pate by soda-water wire. I never saw anything so absurd in my
life; but Charlie, who was holding my horse, gazed at it with rapture,
and putting both hands together murmured in his best English and in
the most insinuating manner, “Inkosi have old hat, ma’? Like dat?” He
evidently meant to imitate the fashion if he could.

Poor Charlie has lost his savings—three pounds. He has been in great
trouble about it, as he was saving up his money carefully to buy a
wife. It has been stolen, I fear, by one of his fellow-servants, and
suspicion points strongly to Tom the Pickle, who cannot be made to
respect the rights of property in any shape, from my sugar upward. The
machinery of the law has been set in motion to find these three pounds,
with no good results, however; and now Charlie avows his intention of
bringing a “witch-finder” (that is, a witch who finds) up to tell him
where the money is. I am invited to be present at the performance, but
I only hope she won’t say _I_ have got poor Charlie’s money, for the
etiquette is that whoever she accuses has to produce the missing sum at
once, no matter whether he knows anything about its disappearance or
not.

Before I quite leave the subject of thunderstorms—of which I devoutly
hope this is the last month—I must observe that it seems a cruel
arrangement that the only available material for metaling the roads
should be iron-stone, of which there is an immense quantity in the
immediate neighborhood of Maritzburg. It answers the purpose admirably
so far as changing the dismal swamps of the streets into tolerably hard
highroads goes; but in such an electric climate as this it is really
very dangerous. Since the principal street has been thus improved, I
am assured that during a thunderstorm it is exceedingly dangerous to
pass down it. Several oxen and Kafirs have been struck down in it,
and the lightning seems to be attracted to the ground, and runs along
it in lambent sheets of flame. Yet I fancy it is a case of iron-stone
or nothing, for the only other stone I see is a flaky substance which
is very friable and closely resembles slate, and would be perfectly
unmanageable for road-making purposes.

Speaking of roads, I only wish anybody who grumbles at rates and taxes,
which at all events keep him supplied with water and roads, could
come here for a month. First, he should see the red mud in scanty
quantities which represents our available water-supply (except actually
_in_ the town); and next he should walk or ride or drive—for each is
equally perilous—down to the town, a mile or two off, with me of a
dark night. I say, “with me,” because I should make it a point to call
the grumbler’s attention to the various pitfalls on the way. I think I
should like him to drive about seven o’clock, say to dinner, when one
does not like the idea of having to struggle with a broken carriage
or to go the remainder of the way on foot. About 7 P. M. the light is
peculiarly treacherous and uncertain, and is worse than the darkness
later on. Very well, then, we will start, first looking carefully to
the harness, lest Charlie should have omitted to fasten some important
strap or buckle. There is a track—in fact, there are three tracks—all
the way down to the main road, but each track has its own dangers. Down
the centre of one runs a ridge like a backbone, with a deep furrow on
either hand. If we were to attempt this, the bed of the pony carriage
would rest on the ridge, to the speedy destruction of the axles. To
the right there is a grassy track, which is as uneven as a ploughed
field, and has a couple of tremendous holes, to begin with, entirely
concealed by waving grass. The secret of these constant holes is that
a nocturnal animal called an ant-bear makes raids upon the ant-hills,
which are like mole-hills, only bigger, destroys them, and scoops down
to the new foundation in its search for the eggs, an especial dainty
hard to get at. So one day there is a little brown hillock to be seen
among the grass, and the next only a scratched-up hole. The tiny city
is destroyed, the fortress taken and razed to the ground. All the
ingenious galleries and large halls are laid low and the precious
nurseries crumbled to the dust. If we get into one of these, we shall
go no farther (a horse broke his neck in one last week). But we will
suppose them safely passed; and also the swamp. To avoid this we must
take a good sweep to the left over perfectly unknown ground, and we
shall be sure to disturb a good many Kafir cranes—birds who are so
ludicrously like the black-headed, red-legged, white-bodied cranes in
a “Noah’s ark” that they seem old friends at once. Now, there is one
deep, deep ravine right across the road, and then a steep hill, halfway
down which comes a very pretty bit of driving in doubtful light. You’ve
got to turn abruptly to the left on the shoulder of the hill. Exactly
where you turn is a crevasse of unknown depth, originally some sort of
rude drain. The rains have washed away the hoarding, made havoc around
the drain, and left a hole which it is not pleasant to look into on
foot and in broad daylight. But, whatever you do, don’t, in trying to
avoid this hole, keep too much to the right, for there is what was
once intended for a reasonable ditch, but furious torrents of water
racing along have seized upon it as a channel and turned it into a
river-course. After that, at the foot of the hill, lies a quarter of
a mile of mud and heavy sand, with alternate big projecting boulders
and deep holes made by unhappy wagons having stuck therein. Then you
reach—always supposing you have not yet broken a spring—the willow
bridge, a little frail wooden structure, prettily shaded and sheltered
by luxuriant weeping willows drooping their trailing green plumes into
the muddy Umsindusi; and so on to the main road into Pieter-Maritzburg.
Such a bit of road as this is! It ought to be photographed. I suppose
it is a couple of dozen yards wide (for land is of little value
hereabouts, and we can afford wide margins to our highways), and there
certainly is not more than a strip a yard wide which is anything like
safe driving. In two or three places it is deeply furrowed for fifty
yards or so by the heavy summer rains. Here and there are standing
pools of water in holes whose depth is unknown, and everywhere the
surface is deeply seamed and scarred by wagon-wheels. Fortunately for
my nerves, there are but few and rare occasions on which we are tempted
to confront these perils by night, and hitherto we have been tolerably
fortunate.


  MARCH 10.

You will think this letter is nothing but a jumble of grumbles if,
after complaining of the roads, I complain of my hens; but, really,
if the case were fairly stated, I am quite sure that Mr. Tetmegeier
or any of the great authorities on poultry-keeping would consider I
had some ground for bemoaning myself. In the first place, as I think
I have mentioned before, there is a sudden and mysterious disease
among poultry which breaks out like an epidemic, and is vaguely
called “fowl-sickness.” That possibility alone is an anxiety to one,
and naturally makes the poultry-fancier desirous of rearing as many
chickens as possible, so as to leave a margin for disaster. In spite
of all my incessant care and trouble, and a vast expenditure of
mealies, to say nothing of crusts and scraps, I only manage to rear
about twenty-five per cent. of my chickens. Even this is accomplished
in the face of such unparalleled stupidity on the part of my hens
that I wonder any chickens survive at all. Nothing will induce the
hens to avail themselves of any sort of shelter for their broods.
They just squat down in the middle of a path or anywhere, and go to
sleep there. I hear sleepy “squawks” in the middle of the night, and
find next morning that a cat or owl or snake has been supping off
half my baby-chickens. Besides this sort of nocturnal fatalism, they
perpetrate wholesale infanticide during the day by dragging the poor
little wretches about among weeds and grass five feet high, all wet
and full of thorns and burs. But it is perhaps in the hen-house that
the worst and most idiotic part of their nature shows itself. Some
few weeks ago I took three hens who were worrying us all to death by
clucking entreaties to be given eggs to sit upon, and established
them in three empty boxes, with seven or eight eggs under each. What
do you think these hens have done? They have contrived, in the first
place, to push and roll all the eggs into one nest. Then they appear
to have invited every laying hen in the place into that box, for I
counted forty-eight eggs in it last week. Upon these _one_ hen sits,
in the very centre. Of course, there are many eggs outside her wings,
although she habitually keeps every feather fluffed out to the utmost;
which must in itself be a fatigue. Around her, standing, but still
sitting vigorously, were three other hens covering, or attempting to
cover, this enormous nestful of eggs. Every now and then they appear
to give a party, for I find several eggs kicked out into the middle
of the hen-house, and strange fowls feeding on them amid immense
cackling. Nothing ever seems to result from this pyramid of feathers.
It (the pyramid) has been there just five weeks now, and at distant
intervals a couple of chickens have appeared which none of the hens
will acknowledge. Sitting appears to be their one idea. They look
upon chickens as an interruption to their more serious duties, and
utterly disregard them. It is quite heartbreaking to see these unhappy
chickens seeking for a mother, and meeting with nothing but pecks and
squalls, which plainly express, “Go along, _do_!” One hen I have left,
as advised, to her own devices, and she has shown her instinct by
laying ten eggs on a rafter over the stable, upon which she can barely
balance herself and them. Upon these eggs she is now sitting with great
diligence, but as each chicken is hatched there is no possible fate
for it but to tumble off the rafter and be killed. There is no ladder
or any means of ascent, or of descent except a drop of a dozen feet.
Another hen has turned a pigeon off her nest, and insisted on sitting
upon the two eggs herself. Great was her dismay, however, when she
found that her babies required to be fed every five minutes, and that
no amount of pecking could induce them to come out for a walk the day
they were hatched. She deserted them, of course, and the poor little
pigeons died of neglect. Now, do you not think Kafir hens are a handful
for a poor woman, who has quantities of other things to do, to have to
manage?

Part of my regular occupation at this time of year, when nearly every
blade of grass carries a tick at its extreme tip, is to extract these
pertinacious little beasties from the children’s legs and arms. I can
understand how it is that G—— is constantly coming to me saying, “A
needle, mumsy, if you please: here is such a big tick!” because he is
always in the grass helping Charlie to stuff what he has cut for the
horses into a sack or assisting some one else to burn a large patch
of rank vegetation, and dislodging snakes, centipedes and all sorts
of venomous things in the process,—I can understand, I say, how this
mischievous little imp, who is always in the front of whatever is going
on, should gather unto himself ticks, mosquitoes, and even “fillies;”
but I cannot comprehend why the baby, who, from lack of physical
possibilities, leads a comparatively harmless and innocent existence,
should also attract ticks to his fat arms and legs. I thought perhaps
they might come from a certain puppy which gets a good deal of hugging
up, but I am assured that a tick never leaves an animal. They will come
off the grass upon any live thing passing, but they never move once
they have taken hold of flesh with their cruel pincers. It is quite a
dreadful thing to see the oxen “out-spanned” when they come down to the
“spruit” to drink. Their dewlaps, and indeed their whole bodies, seem
a mass of these horrible, swollen, bloated insects, as big as a large
pea already, but sucking away with all their might, and resisting all
efforts the unhappy animals can make with tail or head to get rid of
them. Whenever I see the baby restless and fidgety, I undress him, and
I am pretty sure to find a tick or two lazily moving about looking for
a comfortable place to settle. G—— gave me quite a fright the other
day. He was nicely dressed, for a wonder, to go for a drive with me
in the carriage, and was standing before my looking-glass attempting
to brush his hair. Suddenly I saw a stream of blood pouring down his
neck, and on examination I found that he must have dislodged the great
bloated tick lying on his collar, and which had settled on a vein just
above his ear. The creature had made quite a wound as it was being
torn away by the brush, and the blood was pouring freely from it, and
would not be staunched. No cold water or plaster or anything would
stop it, and the end was that poor little G—— had to give up his drive
and remain at home with wet cloths on his head. He was rather proud
of it, all the same, considering it quite an adventure, especially as
he declared it did not hurt at all. Both the children keep very well
here, although they do not look so rosy as they used to in England; but
I am assured that the apple-cheeks will come back in the winter. They
have enormous appetites, and certainly enjoy the free, unconventional
life amazingly; only Baby will _not_ take to a Kafir nurse-boy. He
condescends to smile when Charlie or any of the servants (for they
all pet him a great deal) executes a war-dance for his amusement or
sings him a song, but he does not like being carried about in their
arms. I have now got a Kafir nurse-girl, a Christian. She is a fat,
good-tempered and very docile girl of about fifteen, who looks at least
twenty-five years old. Baby only goes to her to pluck off the gay
’kerchief she wears on her head. When that is removed he shrieks to get
away from her.

It is so absurd to see an English child falling into colonial ways. G——
talks to all the animals in Kafir, for they evidently don’t understand
English. If one wants to get rid of a dog, it is of no use saying “Get
out!” ever so crossly; but when G—— yells “Foot-sack!” (this is pure
phonetic spelling, out of my own head) the cur retreats precipitately.
So to a horse: you must tell him to go on in Kafir, and he will not
stop for any sound except a long low whistle. G—— even plays at games
of the country. Sometimes I come upon the shady side of the verandah,
taken up with chairs arranged in pairs along all its length and a
sort of tent of rugs and shawls at one end, which is the wagon. “I
am playing at trekking, mumsy dear: would you like to wait and see
me out-span? There is a nice place with water for the bullocks, and
wood for my fire. Look at the brake of my wagon; and here’s such a
jolly real bullock-whip Charlie made me out of a bamboo and strips of
bullock-hide.” G—— can’t believe he ever played at railways or horses
or civilized games, and it is very certain that the baby will trek and
out-span so soon as he can toddle.

We grown-up people catch violent colds here; and it is no wonder,
considering the changes of weather, far beyond what even you, with your
fickle climate, have to bear. Twenty-four hours ago it was so cold
that I was glad of my sealskin jacket at six o’clock in the evening,
and it was really bitterly cold at night. The next morning there was a
hot wind, and it has been like living at the mouth of a furnace ever
since. What wonder is it that I hear of bronchitis or croup in almost
every house, and that we have all got bad colds in our throats and
chests? I heard the climate defined the other day as one in which sick
people get well, and well people get sick, and I begin to think it is
rather a true way of looking at it. People are always complaining,
and the doctors (of whom there are a great many in proportion to the
population) seem always very busy. Everybody says, “Wait till the
winter,” but I have been here four months now, three of which have
certainly been the most trying and disagreeable, as to climate and
weather, I have ever experienced; nor have I ever felt more generally
unhinged and unwell in my life. This seems a hard thing to say of a
climate with so good a reputation as this, but I am obliged to write
of things as I find them. I used to hear the climate immensely praised
in England, but I don’t hear much said in its favor here. The most
encouraging remark one meets with is, “Oh, you’ll get used to it.”


  HOWICK, March 13.

It is difficult to imagine that so cool and charming a spot as this
is only a dozen miles from Maritzburg, of which one gets so tired.
It must be acknowledged that each mile might fairly count for six
English ones if the difficulty of getting over it were reckoned. The
journey occupied three hours of a really beautiful afternoon, which
had the first crisp freshness of autumn in its balmy breath, and the
road climbed a series of hills, with, from the top of each, a wide
and charming prospect. We traveled in a sort of double dog-cart of a
solidity and strength of construction which filled me with amazement
until I saw the nature of the ground it had to go over. Then I was fain
to confess it might have been—if such were possible—twice as strong
with advantage, for in spite of care and an exceeding slow pace we bent
our axles. This road is actually the first stage of the great overland
journey to the diamond-fields, and it is difficult to imagine how there
can be any transport service at all in the face of such difficulties.
I have said so much about bad roads already that I feel more than
half ashamed to dilate upon this one; yet roads, next to servants,
are the standing grievance of Natal. To see a road-party at work—and
you must bear in mind that thousands are spent annually on roads—is
to understand in a great measure how so many miles come to be mere
quagmires and pitfalls for man and beast. A few tents by the roadside
here and there, a little group of lazy, three-parts-naked Kafirs,
a white man in command who probably knows as little of the first
principles of roadmaking as his dog, and a feeble scratching up of the
surrounding mud, transferring it from one hole to the other,—that is
roadmaking in Natal, so far as it has presented itself to me. On this
particular route the fixed idea of the road-parties—of which we passed
three—was to dig a broad, wide ditch a couple of feet below the level
of the surrounding country, and to pick up the earth all over it, so
that the first shower of rain might turn it into a hopeless, sticky
mass of mud. As for any idea of making the middle of the road higher
than the sides, that appears to be considered a preposterous one, and
is not, at all events, acted upon in any place I have seen. It was
useless to think of availing ourselves of the ditch, for the mud looked
too serious after last night’s heavy rain; so we kept to an older
track, where we bumped in and out of holes in a surprising and bruising
fashion. It took four tolerably stout and large horses to get us along
at all; and if they had not been steadily and carefully driven, we
should have been still more black and blue and stiff and aching than
we were. I wonder if you will believe me when I say that I was assured
that many of the holes were six feet deep? I don’t think our wheels
went into any hole more than three feet below the rough surface. I
found, however, that the boulders were worse than the holes. One goes,
to a certain extent, quietly in and out of a hole, but the wheel slips
very suddenly off the top of a high boulder, and comes to the ground
with a cruel jerk. There was plenty of rock in the hillside, so every
now and then the holes would be filled up by boulders, and we crawled
for some yards over ground which had the effect of an exceedingly rough
wall having tumbled down over it. If one could imagine Mr. MacAdam’s
idea carried out in Brobdingnag, one would have some faint notion of
the gigantic proportions of the hardening material on that road.

It was—as is often the case where an almost tropical sun draws up the
moisture from the earth—a misty evening, and the distant view was too
vague and vaporous to leave any distinct picture on my memory. Round
Howick itself are several little plantations in the clefts of the
nearest downs, and each plantation shelters a little farm or homestead.
We can only just discern in more distant hollows deep blue-black
shadows made by patches of real native forest, the first I have seen;
but close at hand the park-like country is absolutely bare of timber
save for these sheltering groups of gum trees, beneath whose protection
other trees can take root and flourish. Gum trees seem the nurses of
all vegetation in a colony: they drain a marshy soil and make it fit
for a human dwelling-place wherever they grow. There you see also
willows with their delicate tender leaves, and sentinel poplars whose
lightly-poised foliage keeps up a cool rustle always. But now the road
is getting a trifle better, and we are beginning to drop down hill.
Hitherto it has been all stiff collar-work, and we have climbed a
thousand feet or more above Maritzburg. It is closing in quite a cold
evening, welcome to our sun-baked energies, as we drive across quite an
imposing bridge (as well it may be, for it cost a good many thousand
pounds) which spans the Umgeni River, and so round a sharp turn and up
a steepish hill to where the hotel stands amid sheltering trees and a
beautiful undergrowth of ferns and arum lilies. Howick appears to be
all hotel, for two have already been built, and a third is in progress.
A small store and a pretty wee church are all the other component parts
of the place. Our hotel is delightful, with an enchanting view of the
Umgeni widening out as it approaches the broad cliff from which it
leaps a few hundred yards farther on.

Now, ever since I arrived in Natal I have been pining to see a real
mountain and a real river—not a big hill or a capricious spruit,
sometimes a ditch and sometimes a lake, but a respectable river, too
deep to be muddy. Here it is before me at last, the splendid Umgeni,
curving among the hills, wide and tranquil, yet with a rushing sound
suggestive of its immense volume. We can’t waste a moment in-doors: not
even the really nice fresh butter—and what a treat that is you must
taste Maritzburg butter to understand—nor the warm tea can detain us
for long. We snatch up our shawls and run out in the gloaming to follow
the river’s sound and find out the spot where it leaps down. It is not
difficult, once we are in the open air, to decide in which direction we
must go, and for once we brave ticks, and even snakes, and go straight
across country through the long grass. There it is. Quite suddenly we
have come upon it, so beautiful in its simplicity and grandeur, no
ripple or break to confuse the eye and take away the sense of unity and
consolidation. The river widens, and yet hurries, gathering up strength
and volume until it reaches that great cliff of iron-stone. You could
drop a plumb-line over it, so absolutely straight is it for three
hundred and fifty feet. I have seen other waterfalls in other parts
of the world, but I never saw anything much more imposing than this
great perpendicular sheet of water broken into a cloud of spray and
foam so soon as it touches the deep, silent basin below. The water is
discolored where it flings itself over the cliff, and there are tinges
and stains of murky yellow on it there, but the spray which rises up
from below is purer and whiter than driven snow, and keeps a great bank
of lycopodium moss at the foot of the cliff, over which it is driven by
every breath of air, fresh and young and vividly green. Many rare ferns
and fantastic bushes droop on either side of the great fall—droop as if
they too were giddy with the noise of the water rushing past them, and
were going to fling themselves into the dark pools below. But kindly
Nature holds them back, for she needs the contrast of branch and stem
to give effect to the purity of the falling water. Just one last gleam
of reflected sunlight gilded the water’s edge where it dashed over the
cliff, and a pale crescent moon hung low over it in a soft “daffodil
sky.” It was all ineffably beautiful and poetic, and the roar of the
falling river seemed only to bring out with greater intensity the
absolute silence of the desolate spot and the starlight hour.


  MARCH 15.

If the fall was beautiful in the mysterious gloaming, it looks a
thousand times more fair in its morning splendor of sunshine. The
air here is pleasant—almost cold, and yet deliciously balmy. It is
certainly an enchanting change from Pieter-Maritzburg, were it not for
the road which lies between. It is not, however, a road at all. What
is the antithesis of a road, I wonder—the opposite of a road? That is
what the intervening space should be called. After the river takes its
leap it moves quietly away among hills and valleys, a wide sheet of
placid water, as though there was nothing more needed in the way of
exertion. I hear there are some other falls, quite as characteristic in
their way, a few miles farther in the interior, but as the difficulty
of getting to them is very great they must wait until we can spare a
longer time here. To-day we drove across frightful places until we got
on a hill just opposite the fall. I am not generally nervous, but I
confess to a very bad five minutes as we approached the edge of the
cliff. The brake of the dog-cart was hard down, but the horses had
their ears pricked well forward and were leaning back almost on their
haunches as we moved slowly down the grassy incline. Every step seemed
as if it would take us right over the edge, and the roar and rush of
the falling water opposite appeared to attract and draw us toward
itself in a frightful and mysterious manner. I was never more thankful
in my life than when the horses stood stark still, planted their fore
feet firmly forward, and refused, trembling all over, to move an inch
nearer. We were not really so very close to the edge, but the incline
was steep and the long grass concealed that there was any ground
beyond. After all, I liked better returning to a cliff a good deal
nearer to the falls, where a rude seat of stones had been arranged on a
projecting point from whence there was an excellent view. I asked, as
one always does, whether there had ever been any accidents, and among
other narratives of peril and disaster I heard this one.

Some years ago—nothing would induce the person who told me the story to
commit himself to any fixed period or any nearer date than this—a wagon
drawn by a long team of oxen was attempting to cross the “drift,”
or ford, which used to exist a very short way above the falls. I saw
the spot afterward, and it really looked little short of madness to
have attempted to establish a ford so near the place where the river
falls over this great cliff. They tried to build a bridge, even, at
the same spot, but it was swept away over and over again, and some
of the buttresses remain standing to this day. One of them rests on
a small islet between the river and the cliff, only a few yards away
from the brink of the precipice. It is a sort of rudimentary island,
formed by great blocks of stone and some wind-blown earth in which a
few rank tufts of grass have taken root, binding it all together. But
this island does not divide the volume of water as it tumbles headlong
over the cliff, for the river is only parted by it for a brief moment.
It sweeps rapidly round on either side of the frail obstacle, and then
unites itself again into a broad sheet just before its leap. The old
boers used to imagine that this island broke the force of the current,
and would protect them from being carried over the falls by it. In
winter, when the water is low and scarce, this may be so, but in summer
it is madness to trust to it. Anyway, the Dutchman got his team halfway
across, a Kafir sitting in the wagon and driving, another lad acting
as “forelooper” and guiding the “span” (as a team is called here). The
boer prudently rode, and had no sooner reached the midstream than he
perceived the current to be of unusual depth and swiftness. He managed,
however, to struggle across to the opposite bank, and from thence he
beheld his wagon overturn, his goods wash out of it and sweep like
straws over the precipice: as for the poor little forelooper, nobody
knows what became of him. The overturned wagon, with the struggling
oxen still yoked to it and the Kafir driver clinging on, swept to the
edge of the falls. There a lucky promontory of this miniature island
caught and held it fast, drowning some of the poor bullocks indeed,
but saving the wagon. Doubtless, the Kafir might easily have saved
himself, for he had hold of the wagon when it was checked in its
rapid rush. But instead of grasping at bush or rock, at a wheel or the
horn of a bullock, he stood straight up, holding his whip erect in
his right hand, and with one loud defiant whoop of exultation jumped
straight over the fearful ledge. His master said the fright must have
driven him mad, for he rode furiously along the bank shouting words
of help and encouragement, which probably the poor Kafir never heard,
for he believed his last hour had come and sprang to meet the death
before him with that dauntless bravery which savages so often show in
the face of the inevitable. As one sat in safety and looked at the
rushing, irresistible water, one could easily picture to one’s self the
struggling pile of wagon and oxen in the water just caught back at the
edge, the frantic horseman by the river-side gesticulating wildly, and
the ebony figure erect and fearless, with the long streaming whip held
out, taking that desperate leap as though of his own free will.

I think we spent the greater part of the day at the fall, looking at
it under every effect of passing cloud-shadow or sunny sky, beneath
the midday brilliancy of an almost tropical sun and in the soft
pearly-gray tints of the short twilight. The young moon set almost as
soon as she rose, and gave no light to speak of: it was therefore no
use stumbling in the dark to the edge of so dangerous a cleft when
we could see nothing except the ghostly shimmer of spray down below,
and only hear the ceaseless roar of the water. So how do you think we
amused ourselves after our late dinner? We went to a traveling circus
advertised to play at Howick “for one night only.” That is to say, it
was not there at all, because the wagons had all stuck fast in some of
the holes in that fearful road. But the performing dogs and ponies had
not stuck, nor the “boneless boy”. “_He_ could not stick anywhere,”
as G—— remarked, and they held a little performance of their own in a
room at the other hotel. Thither we stumbled through pitchy darkness
at nine o’clock, G—— insisting on being taken out of bed and dressed
again to come with us. There was a good deal of difference between the
behavior and demeanor of the black and white spectators of that small
performance. The Kafirs sat silent, dignified and attentive, gazing
with wide-open eyes at the “boneless boy,” who turned himself upside
down and inside out in the most perplexing fashion. “What do you think
of it?” I asked a Kafir who spoke English. “Him master take all him
bone out ’fore him begin, inkosa-casa: when him finish, put ’em all
back again inside him;” and indeed that was what our pliable friend
looked like. We two ladies—for I had the rare treat of a charming
companion of my own “sect” on this occasion—could not remain long,
however, on account of our white neighbors. Many were drunk, all were
uproarious. They lighted their cigars with delightful colonial courtesy
and independence, and called freely for more liquor; so we were obliged
to leave the boneless one in the precise attitude of one of those
porcelain grotesque monsters one sees, his feet held tightly in his
hands on either side of his little grinning Japanese face, and his body
disposed comfortably in an arch over his head. Even G—— had to give up
and come away, for he was stifled by smoke and frightened by the noise.
The second rank of colonists here do not seem to me to be drawn from
so respectable and self-respecting a class as those I came across in
New Zealand and Australia. Perhaps it is demoralizing to them to find
themselves, as it were, over the black population whom they affect to
despise and yet cannot do without. They do not seem to desire contact
with the larger world outside, nor to receive or welcome the idea of
progress which is the life-blood of a young colony. Natal resembles an
overgrown child with very bad manners and a magnificent ignorance of
its own shortcomings.

At daylight next morning we were up betimes and made an early start, so
as to avoid the heat of the morning sun. A dense mist lay close to the
earth as far as the eye could reach, and out of its soft white billows
only the highest of the hilltops peeped like islands in a lake of
fleecy clouds. We bumped along in our usual style, here a hole, there
a boulder, slipping now on a steep cutting—for this damp mist makes
the hillsides very “greasy,” as our driver remarked—climbing painfully
over ridge after ridge, until we came to the highest point of the road
between us and Maritzburg. Here we paused for a few moments to breathe
our panting team and to enjoy the magnificent view. I have at last seen
a river worthy of the name, and now I see mountains—not the incessant
rising hills which have opened out before me in each fresh ascent, but
a splendid chain of lofty mountains—not peaks, for they are nearly all
cut quite straight against the sky, but level lines far up beyond the
clouds, which are just flushing red with the sunrise. The mountains
are among and behind the clouds, and have not yet caught any of the
light and color of the new day. They loom dimly among the growing
cloud-splendors, cold and ashen and sombre, as befits their majestic
outlines. These are the Drakenfels, snow-covered except in the hottest
weather. I miss the serrated peaks of the Southern Alps and the grand
confusion of the Himalayan range. These mountains are lofty, indeed
rise far into cloudland, but except for a mighty crag or a huge notch
here and there they represent a series of straight lines against the
sky. This is evidently the peculiarity of the mountain-formation of
South Africa. I noticed it first in Table Mountain at Cape Town: it
is repeated in every little hill between D’Urban and Maritzburg, and
now it is before me, carried out on a gigantic scale in this splendid
range. My eye is not used to it, I suppose, for I hear better judges
of outline and proportion than I am declare it is characteristic and
soothing, with all sorts of complimentary adjectives to which I listen
in respectful silence, but with which I cannot agree in my secret
heart. I like mountains to have peaks for summits, and not horizontal
lines, no matter how lofty these lines may be. It was a beautiful
scene, for from the Drakenfels down to where we stood there rolled a
very ocean of green, billowy hills, softly folded over each other,
with delicious purple shadows in their hollows and shining pale-green
lights on their sunny slopes. We had left the Umgeni so far behind
that it only showed like a broad silver ribbon here and there, while
the many red roads stretching away into the background certainly
derived enchantment from distance. The foreground was made lively by
an encampment of wagons which were just going to “in-span” and start.
The women fussed about the gypsy-like fires getting breakfast, the
Kafirs shouted to the bullocks prudently grazing until the last moment,
and last, not least, to the intense delight of G——, four perfectly
tame ostriches were walking leisurely among the wagons eating food out
of the children’s hands and looking about for “digesters” among the
grass. I felt inclined to point out the boulders with which the road
was strewn to their favorable notice. They had come from far in the
interior, from the distant borders of the Transvaal, a weary way off.
These ostriches were the family pets, and were going to be sold and
sent to England. The travelers—“trekkers” is the correct word—expected
to get at least thirty-five pounds each for these splendid male birds
in full plumage, and they were probably worth much more. We made a
fresh start from this, and the best of our way into Maritzburg before
the sun became too overpowering.



PART VII.


  MARITZBURG, April 4.

Can you believe that we are crying out for rain already, and anxiously
scanning the clouds as they bank up over the high hills to the
south-west? But so it is. It would be a dreadful misfortune if the
real dry weather were to set in so early, and without the usual heavy
downfall of rain which fills the tanks and spruits, and wards off the
evil day of a short water-supply and no grass. Besides which, everybody
here faithfully promises pleasanter weather—weather more like one’s
preconceived idea of the climate of Natal—after a regular three days’
rain. It is high time—for my temper, as well as for the tanks—that
this rain should come, for the slow, dragging summer days are now only
broken by constant gales of hot wind. These same hot winds are worse
than anything—more exasperating and more exhausting—nor does a drop of
dew fall at night to refresh the fast-browning vegetation over which
they scatter a thick haze of dust. Hot winds are bad enough in India,
lived through in large, airy, lofty rooms, with mats of fragrant grass
kept constantly wet and hung at every door and window—with punkahs
and ice, and all the necessary luxury and idle calm of Indian life.
What must they be here—and remember, the wind is just as hot, only it
blows for shorter intervals, instead of continuously for months—in
small houses, with low rooms of eight or ten feet square, and in a
country where the mistress of the house is head-cook, head-nurse,
head-housemaid, and even head-coachman and gardener, and where a glass
of cold water is a luxury only dreamed of in one’s feverish slumbers?
Nature demands that we should all be lotos-eaters and lie “propt on
beds of amaranth and moly”—at all events from November to April.
Necessity insists on our rising early and going to bed late, and eating
the bread of carefulness during all those hot weeks. That is to say,
one must work very hard one’s self if one desires to have a tolerably
clean and comfortable house and to live in any sort of rational and
civilized fashion. For my part, I like hard work, speaking generally,
but _not_ in a hot wind. Yet people seem to be pretty well, except
their tempers—again speaking for myself—so I suppose the climate is
disagreeable rather than actually unhealthy.

I feel it is exceedingly absurd the way I dilate incessantly upon three
topics—roads (I promise faithfully not to say a word about _them_ this
time), weather (I have had my grumble at that, and feel all the better
for it), and servants. We have lately added to our establishment a
Kafir-girl who is a real comfort and help. Ma_l_ia—for Kafirs cannot
pronounce the letter _r_: “red” is always “led” with them, and so
on—is a short, fat, good-humored-looking damsel of fifteen years of
age, but who looks thirty. Regarded as a servant, there is still much
to be desired, in spite of the careful and excellent training she has
enjoyed in the household of the bishop of Natal, but as a playmate for
G——, who is teaching her the noble game of cricket, or as a nursemaid
for the baby, she is indeed a treasure of sweet-temper and willingness.
To be sure, she did race the perambulator down a steep hill the other
day, upsetting the baby and breaking the small vehicle into bits, but
still English nursemaids do the same, and do not tell the truth about
it at once, as Malia did. It was done to amuse the two children, and
answered that part of the programme excellently well, even the final
upset eliciting peals of laughter from both the mischievous monkeys.
It is also rather singular that in spite of the extreme slowness and
deliberation of her movements she breaks quite as much crockery in
a week as any one else would in a year. And she is so inexpressibly
quaint about it all that one has neither the heart nor the command
of countenance requisite to scold. I handed her a saucer last night
to put down. The next moment she remarked in her singularly sweet and
gentle voice and pretty, musical accent, “Now, here is the saucer in
three pieces.” So it was; and how she broke it without dropping it
must ever be a mystery to me. It was like a conjuring trick, but it
occurs somewhat too often. Malia ought not to be a housemaid at all,
for she has a thirst for knowledge which is very remarkable, and a good
deal of musical talent. She speaks and reads three languages—Kafir,
English and Dutch—with perfect ease and fluency; and is trying hard
to learn to write, practicing incessantly on a slate; she is always
whistling or singing, or picking out tunes on a sort of pipe, on which
she plays some airs very prettily. Every spare moment of her time she
is poring over a book, and her little Kafir Bible is ever at hand. I
wish with all my heart that I had time to teach her to write and to
learn Kafir from her myself, but except on Sunday, when I read with
her and hear her say some hymns, I never have a moment. She is so
anxious to learn, poor girl! that she watches her opportunity, and when
I sit down to brush my hair or lace my boots she drops on one knee
by my side, produces her book from her pocket, and says in the most
_câlinante_ voice, “Sall I lead to you a little, inkosa casa?” Who
could have the heart to say no, although my gravity is sorely tried by
some peculiarities of pronunciation? She _cannot_ say “such:” it is too
harsh, and the nearest we can arrive at, after many efforts, is “sush.”
Almost every word has a vowel tacked on to the end, so as to bring it
as near to her own liquid, soft-sounding Zulu as possible. I think
what upsets me most is to hear our first parents perseveringly called
“’Dam and Eva,” but indeed most of the Bible names are difficult of
recognition. Yet her idioms are perfect, and she speaks in well-chosen,
rather elegant phraseology. Every alternate Sunday, Malia goes down to
town dressed in the smartest of bright pink cotton frocks, made very
full and very short, a clean white apron, and a sky-blue kerchief
arranged on her head in a becoming turban. Malia’s shy grins of delight
and pride as she comes thus arrayed to make me her parting curtsey are
quite charming to behold, and display a set of teeth which it would be
hard to match for beauty anywhere out of Kafirland. Indeed, all these
people seem to possess most exquisite teeth, and they take great care
of them, rinsing their mouths and polishing these even, glistening
pearls at every opportunity.

The more I see of the Kafirs, the more I like them. People tell me
they are unreliable, but I find them gay and good-humored, docile
and civil. Every cowherd on the veldt has his pretty “sako” bow
(phonetic spelling again, on my part) as he passes me when I am fern
or grass-seed hunting in the early morning, and I hear incessant peals
of laughter from kitchen and stable. Of course, laughter probably
means idleness, but I have not the heart to go out _every_ time (as
indeed I ought, I believe) and make them, as Mr. Toots calls it,
“resume their studies.” Their mirth is very different from that of my
old friends the West Indian negroes, who are always chattering and
grinning. The true Kafirs wear a stolid expression of countenance in
public, and are not easily moved to signs of surprise or amusement,
but at home they seem to me a very merry and sociable people. Work is
always a difficulty and a disagreeable to them, and I fear that many
generations must pass before a Kafir will do a hand’s turn more than is
actually necessary to keep his body and soul together. They are very
easily trained as domestic servants, in spite of the drawback of not
understanding half what is said to them, and they make especially good
grooms. The most discouraging part of the training process, however,
is that it is wellnigh perpetual, for except gypsies I don’t believe
there is on the face of the earth a more restless, unsettled human
being than your true Kafir. Change he seems to crave for, and change
he will have, acknowledging half his time that he knows it must be for
the worse. He will leave a comfortable, easy place, where he is well
treated and perfectly happy, for harder work, and often blows, just
for the sake of a change. No kindness can attach him, except in the
rarest instances, and nothing upon earth could induce him to forego his
periodical visits to his own kraal. This means a return, for the time
being, to barbarism, which seems very strange when a man has had time
to get accustomed to clothes and a good room and good food, and the
hundred and one tastes which civilization teaches. Imagine laying aside
the comforts and decencies of life to creep in at the low door of a big
beehive, and squat naked round a huge fire, smoking filthy tobacco and
drinking a kind of beer which is made from mealies! I’ve often seen
this beer, and Charlie is very anxious I should taste it, bringing me
some occasionally in an old biscuit-tin with assurances that “Ma’” will
find it very good. But I cannot get beyond looking at it, for it is
difficult to associate the idea of beer with a thick liquid resembling
dirty chocolate more than anything else. So I always stave off the evil
day of tasting with ingenious excuses.

Perhaps the Kafirs are more behindhand in medical faith than in any
other respect. The other day one of our Kafirs had a bad bilious
attack, and, declining all offers of more civilized treatment, got
one of his own physicians to bleed him in the great toe, with, as he
declared, the happiest effect. Certain it is that in the afternoon he
reported himself as perfectly well. But the most extraordinary kind of
remedy came before me quite lately. Tom had a frightful headache, which
is not to be wondered at, considering how that boy smokes the strongest
tobacco out of a cow’s horn morning, noon and night, to say nothing of
incessant snuff-taking. The first I heard of Tom’s headache was when
Charlie came to ask me for a remedy; which I thought very nice on his
part, because he and Tom live in a chronic state of quarreling, and
half my time is taken up in keeping the peace between them. However,
I told Charlie that I knew of no remedy for a bad headache except
going to bed, and that was what I should advise Tom to do. Charlie
smiled rather contemptuously, as if pitying my ignorance, and asked if
I would give him a box of wooden matches. Now, matches are a standing
grievance in a Kafir establishment, and go at the rate of a box a day
if not carefully locked up; so I, failing to connect wooden matches
and Tom’s headache together, began a reproachful catalogue of how many
boxes he had asked for lately. Charlie, however, hastily cut me short
by saying, “But, ma’, it for make Tom well.” So of course I produced
a box of Bryant & May, and stood by to watch Charlie doctoring Tom.
Match after match did Charlie strike, holding the flaming splinter up
Tom’s exceedingly wide nostrils, until the box was empty. Tom winced
a good deal, but bore this singeing process with great fortitude.
Every now and then he cried out, as well he might, when Charley thrust
a freshly-lighted match up his nose, but on the whole he stood it
bravely, and by the time the matches were all burned out he declared
his headache was quite cured, and that he was ready to go and chop
wood; nor would he listen to the idea of going to bed. “It very good
stuff to smell, ma’,” said Charlie: “it burn de sickness away.” Kafirs
are inexpressibly queer, too, about their domestic arrangements; and
I had a long argument with a Kafir-woman only the other day, through
Malia’s interpretation, as to the propriety of killing one of her
babies when she chanced to have twins. My dusky friend declared it was
much the best plan, and one which was always followed when the whites
did not interfere. If both children were kept alive, she averred they
would both be wretched, puny little creatures, and would be quite
sure to die eventually; so, as a Kafir looks to his children to take
care of and work for him, even in his middle age, the sons by their
wages, the daughters by their dowries, or rather by the prices paid
for them, she declared it was very bad economy to try and rear two
babies at once, and calmly recapitulated the instances in her own
and her neighbors’ families where one wretched twin had been killed
to give the other a better chance. She confessed she had been much
puzzled upon one occasion when the twins were a girl and a boy, for
both would have been useful hereafter. “I thought of the cows I should
get for the girl,” she said, “and then I thought of the boy’s wages,
and I didn’t know which to keep; but the girl, she cry most, so I kill
her, and the boy grow up very good boy—earn plenty money.” That was
Malia’s interpretation, for, although she speaks excellent English,
when another person’s words have to be reproduced her tenses get a
little confused and jumbled up. But she is a capital mouthpiece, and
it always amuses me to bargain, through her, for my eggs and chickens
and mealies. Sorry bargaining it is, generally resulting in my paying
double the market-price for these commodities. Lately I have been even
more fleeced than usual, especially by my egg-man, who is an astute old
Kafir, very much adorned with circlets of copper wire on his legs and
arms. He brings his eggs in a bag, which he swings about so recklessly
that it is a perpetual marvel to me how they escape annihilation. Every
time he comes he adds threepence to the price of his eggs per dozen on
account of the doubled hut-tax; and I assure him that in time it will
end in my having paid the whole amount instead of him. Hitherto, the
natives have paid a tax of seven shillings per annum on each hut, but
this year it has been doubled; so the Kafirs very sensibly make their
white customers pay a heavy percentage on the necessaries of life with
which they supply them. It is exactly what it used to be in London
three or four years ago, when coals were so costly: everything rose in
price, from china vases down to hairpins; so now this doubled hut-tax
is the excuse for a sudden rise in the value of eggs, fowls, cows,
mealies and what not. I don’t understand political economy myself,
but it always seems to me a curious fact that although every article
of food or clothing is only too ready to jump up in price on the
smallest excuse, it _never comes down again_. I try to chaff my old
Kafir egg-merchant, and show him by figures that his extra charge for
eggs pays his extra seven shillings in about six weeks. I endeavor to
persuade him, after this increased tax is thus provided for, to go back
to his original price, but he smiles knowingly and shakes his head,
murmuring, “Ka, ka,” which appears to mean “No.”

All this time, however, I am longing to tell you of a famous tea-party
I have had here lately—a regular “drum,” only it beat all the London
teas hollow, even with dear little “Minas”[1] thrown into the bargain,
because in the corner of _my_ cards were the words “Tea and witches.”
Now, I ask you, could any one wish for a greater excitement than that
to enliven a summer afternoon? Attractive as was the bait, it was a
blunder or a fib—which you choose—for, so far from being witches,
my five extraordinary performers were the sworn enemies of witches,
being, in fact, “witch-finders,” or “witch-doctors,” as they are just
as often called. I am quite sure that no one has ever suffered so much
anxiety about a small entertainment as I did about that tea-party. Of
course, there was the usual thunderstorm due that afternoon, and not
until the last moment, when the clouds rolled off toward the Umgeni
valley, leaving us a glorious sky and a pleasant breeze, did I cease
to fear that the whole thing might prove a _fiasco_. By the time I
had begun to have confidence in the weather came a distracted message
from the obliging neighbor who supplies me with milk, to say that, as
ill-luck would have it, her cows had selected this particular afternoon
of all the year to stray away and get themselves impounded, and that
consequently the delivery of sundry bottles (everything is sold in
bottles here) of new milk was as uncertain as—what shall I say?—Natal
weather, for nothing can be more uncertain than _that_. Imagine my
dismay! No one even dared to suggest preserved milk to me, so well
known is my antipathy to that miserable makeshift. I should have sat
me down and wept if at that moment I had not discovered a small herd
of cattle wending their way across the veldt to my neighbor’s gate.
Oh joy! the milk and the weather were all right! But what was that
enormous mob of shouting, singing Kafirs clamoring outside my garden
fence? They were my witch-finders, escorted by nearly the whole black
population of Maritzburg: they had arrived about three hours before
the proper time, and were asking for some place to dress in, not from
any fastidiousness, but simply because they didn’t want profane eyes
to witness the details of assuming their professional decorations.
Remember, there was not a white man nearer than Maritzburg, and
there was nothing upon earth to prevent any number of these excited,
shouting men and boys from walking into my little house, or at least
helping themselves to anything off the tea-tables, which the servants
were beginning to arrange in the verandah. But they were as docile
and obedient as possible, readily acceding to my desire that they
should remain outside the fence, and asking for nothing except copious
draughts of water. Certainly, I was armed with a talisman, for I went
out to them myself, with one of my numerous “Jacks” as an interpreter,
and told them they must all sit down and wait patiently until Mr.
S—— (their own beloved inkosi) came, adding that he would be there
immediately. That was a fib, for he could not come until late, but
an excellent substitute very soon appeared and set my mind partly at
rest. I say, only “partly,” because I had been so teased about my
party. F—— had been especially aggravating, observing from time to
time that my proceedings were at once illegal and improper, adding
that “he was surprised at me.” Can you imagine anything more trying?
And yet I knew quite well all the time that he was just as anxious to
see these people as we were, only he persisted in being semi-official
and disagreeable. Never mind: I triumphed over him afterward, when
it all went off so well. When I had leisure to think of anything but
whether there would be a riot or not, I had horrible misgivings about
the compulsory scantiness of my invitations. I should have liked to
ask all my acquaintances, as well as the few friends I had invited, but
what is one to do with a doll’s house and a dozen tea-cups? Those were
my resources, and I taxed them to the uttermost as it was. One cannot
hire things here, and I had no place to put them if I could; but it is
horrid to feel, as I did, that heaps of people must have wondered why
they were left out.

 [1] A wonderful performing dog exhibited by Madame Häger, and much in
 request last season.

At last five o’clock came, bringing with it a regiment of riders,
thirsting for tea and clamorous to see the witches, wanting their
fortunes told, their lost trinkets found, and Heaven knows what
besides. “They are not witches at all,” I said gravely: “they are
witch-finders, and I believe the whole thing is very wrong.” There
was a depressing announcement for one’s hostess to make! But it had a
good effect for the moment, and sent my guests quietly off to console
themselves with their tea: _that_, at least, could not be wrong,
especially as the milk had arrived, new and delicious. In the mean
time, kind Mr. F—— had gone off to fetch the witches, as everybody
persisted in calling them, and presently they appeared in full official
dress, walking along in a measured, stately step, keeping time and
tune to the chanting of a body-guard of girls and women who sang
continuously, in a sort of undertone, a monotonous kind of march. They
made an excellent stage-entrance—grave, composed, erect of carriage
and dauntless of mien. These Amazonian women walked past the verandah,
raising their hand, as the men do, with the low cry of “Inkosi!”
in salutation. Their pride is to be looked upon _as_ men when once
they take up this dread profession, which is also shared with them
by men. They are permitted to bear shield and spear as warriors, and
they hunt and kill with their own hands the wild beasts and reptiles
whose skins they wear. Their day is over and ended, however, for the
cruelties practiced under their auspices had risen to a great height,
and it is now against the law to seek out a witch by means of these
pitiless women. It is not difficult to understand—bearing in mind the
superstition and cruelty which existed in remote parts of England not
so very long ago—how powerful such women became among a savage people,
or how tempting an opportunity they could furnish of getting rid of an
enemy. Of course, they are exceptional individuals, more observant,
more shrewd and more dauntless than the average fat, hard-working
Kafir-women, besides possessing the contradictory mixture of great
physical powers and strong hysterical tendencies. They work themselves
up to a pitch of frenzy, and get to believe as firmly in their own
supernatural discernment as any individual among the trembling circle
of Zulus to whom a touch from the whisk they carry in their hands is
a sentence of instant death. It gave a certain grim interest to what
a Scotch friend called the “ploy” to know that it had once been true,
and I begged Mr. F—— to explain to them before they began that the only
reason I had wanted to see them arose from pure curiosity to know what
they looked like, how they were dressed, and so forth, and that I quite
understood that it was all nonsense and very wrong and against the law
to do, _really_, but that this was only a play and pretence. Shall I
confess that I felt rather ashamed at making this public avowal? But
my conscience demanded it clamorously, and I felt many misgivings lest
I should indeed be causing any “weak brother to offend.” However, it
was too late now for scruples, and a sort of shout came up from the
good-humored, well-behaved crowd outside, assuring me they knew it
was only for fun and that it was quite right, and they were glad for
the English “inkosa-casa” and her friends to see an old custom which
it was a good thing to have done with. This little speech, so full of
true tact, put me at my ease at once, and we all took up our position
at one side of the little semicircular lawn, where the dance-crescent
was already formed, supplying ourselves the place of the supposed ring
of spectators and victims. I wish I could make you see the scene as
I saw it, and shall ever see it when I look back upon it. The first
original “tail” of my witch-finders had been supplemented by a crowd of
people who formed a background, keeping perfectly quiet, and, though
uninvited and unexpected, giving not the slightest trouble. That is the
odd part of a colony: individuals are rougher, less polite and more
brusque and overbearing than the people one is accustomed to see in
England, but the moment it comes to a great concourse of people, then
the absolute respectability of class asserts itself, and the crowd—the
“rough” element being conspicuous by its absence—is far more orderly
than any assemblage of a dozen people elsewhere. Imagine a villa at
Wimbledon or Putney, and some four or five hundred uninvited people
calmly walking into the grounds to look at something they wished to
see, without a ghost of a policeman or authority in charge! Yet that
was our predicament for an hour or two, and not a leaf or rosebud or
blade of grass was touched or injured in any way, nor was there a sound
to be heard to mar the tranquil beauty of that summer evening. It was
indeed “a beauteous evening, calm and free”—in spite of my chronic
state of grumbling at the climate and weather, I must acknowledge
_that_—an evening which might have been made to order. Recent rains
had washed the surrounding hills, brightened the dust-laden grass
to green once more, and freshened up everything. The amphitheatre
of rising ground which surrounds Maritzburg had never looked more
beautiful, with purple and blue shadows passing over it from the
slow-sailing clouds above. Toward the west the sky was gently taking
that peculiar amethystic glow which precedes a fine sunset, and the
sun itself laid long, parting lances of pure golden light across hill
and dale around. A fresh air came up from the south, blowing softly
across the downs, and sleepy, picturesque little Maritzburg—empty for
the afternoon of its inhabitants, I should fancy—nestled cozily up
against the undulating ground opposite. Then, to come nearer home,
just outside our sod-fence a line of dusky faces rose above the ferns
and waving grasses— faces whose gleaming eyes were riveted on the
performers within. The little drive and garden-paths were crowded with
strangers, white and colored—all, as I said before, perfectly quiet and
orderly, but evidently interested and amused. A semicircle of girls and
women—some in gay civilized garb, some in coarsest drapery, some with
drowsy babies hung at their backs, some with bright beads on wrist and
neck, but all earnest and intent on their part—stood like the chorus of
a Greek play, beating their hands together and singing a low monotonous
chant, the measure and rhythm of which changed every now and again with
a stamp and a swing. A pace or two in front of these singers were the
witch-finders in full ceremonial dress. Collectively, they are known by
the name of the “Izinyanga” or “Abangoma,” but each had of course her
distinctive name, and each belonged to a separate tribe. Conspicuous
from her great height, Nozinyanga first caught my eye, her floating,
helmet-like plume of the tail-feathers of the saka-bula bird shading
her fierce face, made still more gruesome by wafers of red paint on
cheek and brow. In her right hand she held a light sheaf of assegais
or lances, and on her left arm was slung a small pretty shield of
dappled ox hide. Her petticoat was less characteristic than that of her
sister-performers, being made of a couple of large gay handkerchiefs
worn kiltwise. But she made up for the shortcomings of characteristic
decoration in her skirts by the splendor of the bead necklaces and
armlets, fringes of goat’s hair and scarlet tassels, with which she was
covered from throat to waist. A baldric of leopard skin was fastened
across her capacious chest, and down her back hung a beautifully dried
and flattened skin of an enormous boa constrictor. This creature must
have been of a prodigious length, for, whilst its hooded head was
fastened at the broad nape of Nozinyanga’s neck, its tail dragged
some two feet or so on the ground behind her. Now, Nozinyanga stood
something like six feet two inches on her bare feet, but although I
first looked at her, attracted by her tall stature and defiant pose,
the proceedings were really opened by a small, lithe woman with a
wonderfully pathetic, wistful face, who seemed more in earnest than her
big sisters, and who in her day must doubtless have brushed away many a
man’s life with the quagga’s tail she brandished so lightly.

To make you understand the terrible interest attaching to these women,
I ought to explain to you here that it used to be the custom whenever
anything went wrong, either politically or socially, among the Zulus
and other tribes, to attribute the shortcomings to witch-agency. The
next step to be taken, after coming to this resolution, was to seek out
and destroy the witch or witches; and for this purpose a great meeting
would be summoned by order of the king and under his superintendence,
and a large ring of natives would sit trembling and in fear of their
lives on the ground. In the centre of these danced the witch-finders or
witch-doctors; and as they gradually lashed themselves up to a frantic
state of frenzy—bordering, in fact, on demoniacal possession—they
lightly switched with their quagga tail one or other of the quivering
spectators. No sooner had the fatal brush passed over the victim than
he was dragged away and butchered on the spot; and not only he, but
all the live things in his hut—wives and children, dogs and cats—not a
stick left standing or a living creature breathing. Sometimes a whole
kraal was exterminated in this fashion; and it need not be told what
a method it became of gratifying private revenge and paying off old
scores. Of all the blessings, so unwillingly and grudgingly admitted,
which ever so partial a civilization has brought to these difficult,
lazy, and yet pugnacious Kafir people, none can be greater, surely,
than the rule which strictly forbids this sort of Lynch law from being
carried out anywhere, under any circumstances, by these priestesses
of a cruel faith. Now, perhaps, you see why there was such a strong
undercurrent of interest and excitement beneath the light laughter and
frolic of our summer-afternoon tea-party.

Nozilwane was the name of this terrible little sorceress, who
frightened more than one of us more thoroughly than we should like to
acknowledge, peering up in our faces, as she hung about the group of
guests, with a weird and wistful glance which was both uncanny and
uncomfortable. She was really beautifully dressed for her part in lynx
skins folded over and ever from waist to knee, and the upper part of
her body covered by strings of wild beasts’ teeth and fangs, skeins
of brilliantly-hued yarn, beads, strips of snake skin and fringes
of Angora goat fleece. This was a singularly effective and graceful
decoration, worn round the body and above each elbow, and falling
in soft white flakes among the gay coloring and against the dusky
skin. Lynx tails hung down like lappets on each side of her face,
which was overshadowed, almost hidden, by the profusion of saka-bula
feathers. This bird has a very beautiful plumage, and is sufficiently
rare for the natives to attach a peculiar value and charm to the
tail-feathers. They are like those of a young cock, curved and slender,
and of a dark-chestnut color, with a white eye at the extreme tip of
each feather. Among this floating, thick plumage small bladders were
interspersed, and skewers and pins fashioned out of tusks. All the
witch-finders wear their own hair (or rather wool) alike; that is,
highly greased and twisted up with twine until it loses the appearance
of hair completely, and hangs around their faces like a thick fringe
dyed deep red.

Nozilwane stepped out with a creeping, cat-like gesture, bent double,
as if she were seeking out a trail. Every movement of her undulating
body kept time to the beat of the girls’ hands and the low, crooning
chant. Presently, she affected to find the clew she sought, and
sprang aloft with a series of wild pirouettes, shaking her spears and
brandishing her little shield in a frenzied fashion. But Nomaruso,
albeit much taller and in less good condition than the lady of the lynx
skins, was determined that she should not remain the cynosure of our
eyes; and she too, with a yell and a caper, cut into the dance to the
sound of louder grunts and faster hand-claps. Nomaruso turned her back
to us a good deal in her performances, conscious of a magnificent snake
skin, studded besides in a regular pattern with brass-headed nails,
which floated like a streamer down her back. She wore a magnificent
_jupon_ of leopard skins decorated with red rosettes, and her toilette
was altogether more recherché and artistic than any of the others.
Her bangles were brighter, her goat fringes whiter, and her face more
carefully painted. Yet Nozilwane held her own gallantly in virtue of
being a mere bag of bones, and also having youth and a firm belief in
herself on her side. The others, though they all joined in hunting
out a phantom foe, and triumphed over his discovery in turn, were
soon breathless and exhausted, and glad to be led away by some of the
attendant women to be anointed and to drink water. Besides which, they
were all of a certain age, and less inclined to frisk about than the
agile Nozilwane. As for great big Nozinyanga, _she_ danced like Queen
Elizabeth, “high and disposedly;” and no wonder, for I should think
she weighed at least fifteen stone. Umgiteni, in a petticoat of white
Angora skin and a corsage of bladders and teeth, beads and viper skins,
was nothing remarkable; nor was Umànonjazzla, a melancholy-looking
woman with an enormous wig-like coiffure of red woolen ringlets and
white skewers. Her physiognomy, too, was a trifle more stolid and
commonplace than that of her comrades; and altogether she gave me the
impression of being a sensible, respectable woman who was very much
ashamed of herself for playing such antics. However, she brandished
her divining-brush with the rest, and cut in now and then to “keep the
flure” with the untiring Nozilwane.

All this time the chanting and hand-beating never ceased, the babies
dozed placidly behind their mothers’ backs, and we all began to think
fondly of a second cup of tea. The sun had now quite dropped behind
the high hills to the west, and was sending long rays right up across
the tranquil sky. We felt we had enough of imaginary witch-finding,
and looked about for some means of ending the affair. “Let us test
their powers of finding things,” said one of the party: “I have lost
a silver pipe-stem, which I value much.” So the five wise women were
bidden to discover what was lost, and where it was to be found. They
set about this in a curious and interesting way, which reminded one
of the children’s game of “magic music.” In the first place, it was a
relief to know there were not any ghastly recollections attached to
this performance; and in the next, one could better understand by the
pantomime what they were about. In front of us squatted on heels and
haunches a semicircle of about a dozen men, who were supposed to have
invoked the aid of the sisterhood to find some lost property. These
men, however, did not in the least know what was asked for, and were
told to go on with their part until a signal was given that the article
had been named. They were all highly respectable head-men—“indunas,”
in fact—each worth a good herd of cows at least, and much portable
property. In every-day life it would have been hard to beat them for
shrewd common sense. Yet it was easy to perceive that the old savage
instincts and beliefs were there strong as ever, and that though they
affected to take it all, as we did, as an afternoon’s frolic, they were
firm believers in the mystic power of the Abangoma, else they never
could have played their parts so well, so eagerly and with such vivid
interest.

“What is it the inkosi has lost?” they cried. “Discover, reveal, make
plain to us.”

It was a good moment in which to try the experiment, because all the
singing and dancing had worked the Izinyanga up to a high pitch of
enthusiasm and excitement, and the inspiration was held to be complete;
so, without hesitation, Nomaruso accepted the men’s challenge and
cried, “Sing for me: make a cadence for me.” Then, after a moment’s
hesitation, she went on in rapid, broken utterance, “Is this real?
is it a test? is it but a show? do the white chiefs want to laugh at
our pretensions? Has the white lady called us only to show other white
people that we can do nothing? Is anything really lost? is it not
hidden? No, it _is_ lost. Is it lost by a black person? No, a white
person has lost it. Is it lost by the great white chief?” (meaning
their own King of Hearts, their native minister). “No, it is lost by an
ordinary white man. Let me see what it is that is lost. Is it money?
No. Is it a weighty thing? No, it can be always carried about: it is
not heavy. All people like to carry it, especially the white inkosi. It
is made of the same metal as money. I could tell you more, but there is
no earnestness in all this: it is only a spectacle.”

Between each of these short sentences the seeress made a pause and
eagerly scanned the faces of the men before her. For safe reply
they gave a loud, simultaneous snap of their finger and thumb,
pointing toward the ground as they did so and shouting but one word,
“Y-i-z-wa!” (the first syllable tremendously accented and drawn out),
“discover—reveal.” That is all they can say to urge her on, for in
this case they know not themselves; but the priestesses watch their
countenances eagerly to see if happily there may be, consciously or
unconsciously, some sign or token whether, as children say in their
games, they are “hot” or not.

Nomaruso will say no more—she suspects a trick—but Nozilwane rushes
about like one possessed, sobbing and quivering with excitement. “It
is this—it is that.” Gigantic Nozinyanga strikes her lance firmly into
the ground and cries haughtily, in her own tongue, “It is his watch,”
looking round as though she dared us to contradict her. The other three
join hands and gallopade round and round, making the most impossible
suggestions; but the “inquirers,” as the kneeling men are called, give
them no clew or help, nothing but the rapid finger-snap, the hand
pointed sternly down to the ground, as though they were to seek it
there, and the fast-following cry, “Yizwa, yizwa!”

At last Nozilwane has it: “His pipe.” (“Yizwa, yizwa!”) “A thing
which has come off his pipe;” and so it is. Nozilwane’s pluck and
perseverance and cunning watching of our faces at each hit she made
have brought her off triumphantly. A grunt and a murmur of admiration
go round. The indunas jump up and subside into ebony images of
impassive respectability; the chorus, sorely weary by this time, breaks
up into knots, and the weird sisterhood drop as if by one accord on
their knees, sitting back on their heels, before me, raise their right
hands in salutation and deliver themselves of a little speech, of
which this is as close a translation as it is possible to get of so
dissimilar a language: “Messages were sent to us at our kraals that
an English lady wished to see us and witness our customs. When we
heard these messages our hearts said, ‘Go to the English lady.’ So we
have come, and now our hearts are filled with pleasure at having seen
this lady, and ourselves heard her express her thanks to us. We would
also, on our part, thank the lady for her kindness and her presents.
White people do not believe in our powers, and think that we are mad;
but still we know it is not so, and that we really have the powers we
profess. So it comes that we are proud this day at being allowed to
show ourselves before our great white chief and so many great white
people. We thank the lady again; and say for us, O son of Mr. F——! that
we wish her ever to dwell in peace, and we desire for her that her path
may have light.” It was not easy to find anything equally pretty to say
in return for this, but I, in my turn, invoked the ready wit and fluent
tongue of the “son of Mr. F——,” and I dare say he turned out, as if
from me, something very neat and creditable.

So we were all mutually pleased with each other; only I was haunted all
the time of this pretty speech-making by the recollection of a quaint
saying, often used by a funny old Scotch nurse we had when we were
children: I don’t think I have ever heard it since, but it darted into
my mind with my first platitude: “When gentlefolks meet compliments
pass.” We were all anxious to outdo each other in politeness, but
unless my _niaiseries_ gained a good deal by being changed into Zulu, I
fear the witch-finders did the best in that line.

The twilight, sadly short now, was fast coming on, and all the black
people were anxious to get back to their homes. Already the crowd
of spectators had melted away like magic, streaming down the green
hillsides by many a different track: only a remnant of the body-guard
lingered to escort the performers home. As they passed the corner
of the verandah where the tea-table was set, I fancied they glanced
wistfully at the cakes; so I rather timidly handed a substantial
biscuit, as big as a saucer, to the huge Nozinyanga, who graciously
accepted it as joyfully as a child would. Another little black hand
was thrust out directly, and yet another, and so the end was that the
tea-tables were cleared, then and there, of all the eatables; and it
was not until every dish was empty that the group moved on, raising
a parting cry of “Inkosa casa!” and a sort of cheer or attempt at a
cheer. They were so unfeignedly delighted with this sudden “happy
thought” about the cakes and biscuits that it was quite a pleasure to
see them, so good-humored and docile, moving off the moment they saw I
really had exhausted my store, with pretty gestures of gratitude and
thanks. We had to content ourselves with bread and butter with our
second cups of tea, but we were so tired and thirsty, and so glad of a
little rest and quiet, that I don’t think we missed the cakes.

As we sat there enjoying the last lovely gleams of daylight and
chatting over the strange, weird scene, we could just hear the distant
song of the escort as they took the tired priestesses home, and we all
fell to talking of the custom when it was in all its savage force. Many
of the friends present had seen or heard terrible instances of the
wholesale massacre which would have followed just such an exhibition as
this had it been in earnest. But I will repeat for you some of the less
ghastly stories. One shall be modern and one ancient—as ancient as half
a century ago, which _is_ ancient for modern tradition. The modern one
is the tamest, so it shall come first.

Before the law was passed making it wrong to consult these Izinyanga
or witch-doctors a servant belonging to one of the English settlers
lost his savings, some three or four pounds. He suspected one of
his fellow-servants of being the thief, summoned the Izinyanga, and
requested his master to “assist” at the ceremony. All the other
servants were bidden to assemble themselves, and to do exactly what
the witch-finder bade them. She had them seated in a row in front of
her, and ordered them, one and all, to bare their throats and chests,
for, you must remember, they were clothed as the law obliges them to be
in the towns—in a shirt and knickerbockers. This they did, the guilty
one with much trepidation, you may be sure, and she fixed her eyes
on that little hollow in the neck where the throat joins the body,
watching carefully the accelerated pulsation: “It is thou: no, it is
not. It must then be you;” and so on, dodging about, pointing first
to one, and then rapidly wheeling round to fix on another, until the
wretched criminal was so nervous that when she made one of her sudden
descents upon him, guided by the bewraying pulse, which fluttered and
throbbed with anxiety and terror, he was fain to throw up his hands
and confess, praying for mercy. In this case the Izinyanga was merely
a shrewd, observant woman with a strong spice of the detective in her;
but they are generally regarded not only as sorceresses, whose superior
incantations can discover and bring to light the machinations of the
ordinary witch, but as priestesses of a dark and obscure faith.

The other instance of their discernment we talked of happened some
fifty years ago, when Chaka the Terrible was king of the Zulus. The
political power of these Izinyanga had then reached a great height in
Zululand, and they were in the habit of denouncing as witches—or rather
wizards—one after the other of the king’s ministers and chieftains.
It was difficult to put a stop to these wholesale murders, for the
sympathy of the people was always on the side of the witch-finders,
cruel though they were. At last the king thought of an expedient. He
killed a bullock, and with his own hands smeared its blood over the
royal hut in the dead of night. Next day he summoned a council, and
announced that some one had been guilty of high treason in defiling
the king’s hut with blood, and that, too, when it stood, apparently
secure from outrage, in the very middle of the kraal. What was to be
done? The Izinyanga were summoned, and commanded, on pain of death,
to declare who was the criminal. This they were quite ready to do,
and named without hesitation one after another the great inkosi who
sat trembling around. But instead of dooming the wretched victim to
death, the _dénouement_ closely resembled that of the famous elegy:
“The dog it was that died.” In other words, the witch-finders who named
an inkosi heard to their astonishment that _they_ were to be executed
and the denounced victim kept alive. This went on for some time, until
one, cleverer than the rest, and yet afraid of committing himself too
much, rose up and said oracularly, “I smell the heavens above.” Chaka
took this as a compliment, as well as a guess in the right direction,
ordered all the remaining Izinyanga to be slain on the spot, and
appointed the fortunate oracle to be his one and only witch-finder for
ever after.

Chaka’s name will be remembered for many and many a day in Zululand
and the provinces which border it by both black and white. In the
first decade of this century, when Napoleon was mapping out Europe
afresh with the bayonet for a stylus, and we were pouring out blood
and money like water to check him here and there—at that very time
Ranpehera in New Zealand and Chaka in Zululand were playing a precisely
similar game. Here, Chaka had a wider field for his Alexander-like
rage for conquest, and he and his wild warriors dashed over the land
like a mountain-stream. No place was safe from him, and he was the
terror of the unhappy first settlers. Even now his name brings a
sense of uneasiness with it, for it is still a spell to rouse the
warrior-spirit, which only sleeps in the breasts of his wild subjects
across the border.



PART VIII.


  MARITZBURG, May 10, 1876

No, I will _not_ begin about the weather this time. It is a great
temptation to do so, because this is the commencement of the winter,
and it is upon the strength of the coming four months that the
reputation of Natal, as possessing the finest climate in the world,
is built. Before I came here meteorologists used to tell me that the
“average” temperature of Maritzburg was so and so, mentioning something
very equable and pleasant; but then, you see, there is this little
difference between weather-theories and the practice of the weather
itself: it is sadly apt to rush into extremes, and degrees of heat and
cold are very different when totted up and neatly spread over many
weeks, from the same thing bolted in lumps. Then you don’t catch cold
on paper, nor live in doubt whether to have a fire or open windows and
doors. To keep at all on a level with the thermometer here, one needs
to dress three or four times a day; and it is quite on the cards that a
muslin gown and sealskin jacket may both be pleasant wear on the same
day. We have all got colds, and, what is worse, we have all had colds
more or less badly for some time past; and I hear that everybody else
has them too. Of course, this news is an immense consolation, else
why should it invariably be mentioned as a compensation for one’s own
paroxysms of sneezing and coughing?

It is certainly cooler, at times quite cold, but the sudden spasms
of fierce hot winds and the blazing sun during the midday hours
appear the more withering and scorching for the contrast with the
lower temperature of morning and evening. Still, we all keep saying
(I yet protest against the formula, but I’ve no doubt I shall come
round presently and join heart and soul in it), “Natal has the finest
climate in the world,” although we have to go about like the man in
the fable, and either wrap our cloaks tightly around us or throw them
wide open to breathe. But there! I said I would not go off into a
meteorological report, and I will not be beguiled by the attractions of
a grievance—for there is no such satisfactory grievance as weather—into
breaking so good a resolution. Rather let me graft upon this monotonous
weather-grumble a laugh at the expense of poor Zulu Jack, whom I found
the other morning in a state of nervous anxiety over the butter, which
steadily refused to be spread on a slice of bread for little G—— ’s
consumption. “Have you such a thing as a charm about you, lady-chief?”
Jack demanded in fluent Zulu; “for this butter is assuredly bewitched.
Last night I could make slices of buttered bread quite easily: this
morning, behold it!” and he exhibited his ill-used slice of bread, with
obstinate and isolated dabs of butter sticking about it. So, you see,
it _must_ be cooler; and so it is, I acknowledge, except of a morning
on which a hot wind sets in before sunrise.

To show you how perfectly impartial and unprejudiced even a woman can
be, I am going to admit that the day last week on which I took a long
ride to Edendale—a mission-station some half dozen miles away—was as
absolutely delightful as a day could well be. It was a gray, shady day,
very rare beneath these sunny skies, for clouds generally mean rain or
fog, but this day they meant nothing worse than the tiniest sprinkle
at sundown—just a few big drops flirted in our faces from the ragged
edge of a swiftly-sailing thundercloud. There was no wind to stir
up the dust, and yet air enough to be quite delicious: now and then
the sun came out from behind the friendly clouds, creating exquisite
effects of light and shadow among the hills through which our road
wound. Across many a little tributary of the Umsindusi, by many a still
green valley and round many a rocky hill-shoulder, our road lay—a
road which for me was most pleasantly beguiled by stories of Natal as
it was five-and-twenty years ago, when lions came down to drink at
these streams, when these very plains were thickly studded with buck
and eland, buffalo and big game whose names would be a treasure of
puzzledom to a spelling bee. In those days no man’s hand ever left for
an instant the lock of his trusty gun, sleeping or waking, standing or
sitting, eating or riding.

The great want of ever so fair a landscape in these parts is timber.
Here and there a deeper shadow in the distant hill-clefts may mean a
patch of scrub, but when once you pass the belt of farms which girdle
Maritzburg for some four or five miles in every direction, and leave
behind their plantations of gums and poplars, oaks and willows, then
there is nothing more to be seen but rolling hill-slopes bare of bush
or shrub, until the eye is caught by the trees around the settlement we
are on our way to visit. It stands quite far back among the hills—too
much under their lee, in fact, to be quite healthy, I should fancy, for
a layer of chilly, vaporous air always lurks at the bottom of these
folded-away valleys, and breeds colds and fever and ague. Still, it
is all inexpressibly homelike and fertile as it lies there nestling
up against the high, rising ground, with patches of mealies spread in
a green fan around and following the course of the winding river in
tall green rustling brakes like sugar-cane. The road, a fairly good
one for Natal, was strangely still and silent, and bereft of sight or
sound of animal life. At one of the spruits a couple of timber-wagons
were outspanned, and the jaded, tick-covered bullocks gave but little
animation to the scene. Farther on, whilst we cantered easily along
over a wide plain still rich in grass, a beautiful little falcon swept
across our path. Slow and low was its flight, quite as though it
neither feared nor cared for us, and I had ample time to admire its
exquisite plumage and its large keen eye. By and by we came upon the
usual “groups from the antique” in bronze and ebony working at the
road, and, as usual, doing rather more harm than good. But when we had
crossed the last streamlet and turned into a sort of avenue which led
to the main street of the settlement, then there was life and movement
enough and to spare. Forth upon the calm air rang the merry voices of
children, of women carrying on laughing dialogues across the street,
and of men’s deeper-toned but quite as fluent jabber. And here are the
speakers themselves as we leave the shade of the trees and come out
upon the wide street rising up before us toward the mountain-slope
which ends its vista.

Sitting at the doors of their houses are tidy, comfortable-looking
men and women, the former busy plaiting with deft and rapid movement
of their little fingers neat baskets and mats of reeds and rushes—the
latter either cooking mealies, shelling them or crushing them for the
market. Everywhere are mealies and children. Fat black babies squat
happily in the dust, munching the boiled husk before it is shelled;
older children are equally happy cleaning with finger and tongue a big
wooden spoon just out of the porridge-pot; whilst this same familiar
pot, of every conceivable size, but always of the same three-legged
shape, something like a gypsy-kettle, lurks more or less _en évidence_
in the neighborhood of every house. No grass-thatched huts are here,
but thoroughly nice, respectable little houses, nearly all of the same
simple pattern, with vermilion or yellow-ochre doors, and half covered
with creepers. Whoever despairs of civilizing the Kafir need only look
here and at other similar stations to see how easily he adapts himself
to comfortable ways and customs, and in what a decent, orderly fashion
he can be trained to live with his fellows.

Edendale is a Wesleyan mission-station, and the history of its
settlement is rather a curious one—curious from its being the result
of no costly organization, no elaborate system of proselytism, but the
work of one man originally, and the evident result and effect of a
perception on the part of the natives of the benefits of association
and civilization. And here I feel it incumbent on me to bear
testimony—not only in this instance and in this colony—to the enormous
amount of real, tangible, common-sense good accomplished among the
black races all over the world by both Wesleyan Methodist and Baptist
missions and missionaries. I am a staunch Churchwoman myself, and yield
to no one in pure love and reverence for my own form of worship; but
I do not see why that should hinder me from acknowledging facts which
I have noticed all my life. Long ago in Jamaica, how often in our
girlish rambles and rides have my sister and I come suddenly upon a
little clearing in the midst of the deep silence and green gloom of a
tropical forest! In the centre of the clearing would be a rude thatched
barn, with felled trees for seats, and neither door nor window. “What
is that?” we would ask of the negro lad who always rode on a mule
behind us to open gates or tell us the right road home again after an
excursion in search of rare orchids or parrots’ nests. “Dat Baptist
chapel, missis. Wesleyan, him hab chapel too ober dere. Sunday good
man come preach—tell us poor niggers all good tings. Oder days same
good gempleman teach pickaninnies.” That was the answer, and in those
few words would lie the history of much patient, humble planting of
good seed, unnoticed by the more pompous world around. The minister
works perhaps during the week at some means of support, but devotes
even his scant leisure moments to teaching the little black children.
I am so ignorant of the details on which dissenters differ from us
that I dare not go into the subject, but I only know it was the same
thing in India. Up in the Himalayas I have come across just the same
story scores of times. Whilst our more costly and elaborate system of
organization is compelled to wait for grants and certified teachers,
and desks and benches, and Heaven knows what, the Methodist or Baptist
missionary fells a few trees, uses them as walls and seats, thatches
the roof of his shelter, and begins then and there to teach the people
around him something of the sweet charities and decencies of a
Christian life.

Doubtless, Edendale had once upon a time as humble a beginning, but
when I saw it that soft autumn day it was difficult to recall such
a chrysalis stage of its existence. On our right hand rose a neat
brick chapel, substantial and handsome enough in its way, with proper
seats and good woodwork within. This plain structure, however, cost
something over a thousand pounds, nearly every penny of which has been
contributed by Kafirs, who twenty-five years ago had probably never
seen a brick or a bench, and were in every respect as utter savages
as you could find anywhere. Nor is this the only place of worship
or instruction on the estate, although it is the largest and most
expensive, for within the limits of the settlement, or “location,” as
it is called—only embracing, remember, some thirty-five hundred acres
under cultivation—there is another chapel, a third a few miles farther
off at a sort of out-station, and no less than four day-schools with
two hundred scholars, and three Sunday-schools at which two hundred
and eighty children assemble weekly. All the necessary buildings for
these purposes have been created entirely by and at the expense of
the natives, who only number eight hundred residents in the village
itself. On Sundays, however, I heard with much pleasure that more
than a hundred natives from neighboring kraals attend the services at
the chapels, attracted no doubt in the first instance by the singing.
But still, one cannot have a better beginning, and the Kafir is quite
shrewd enough to contrast his squalid hut, his scanty covering and
monotonous food with the well-clad, well-housed, well-fed members of
the little community of whom he catches this weekly glimpse, and every
one of whom, save their pastor, is as black as himself.

But I promised to tell you briefly how the little settlement first
originated. Its founder and organizer was the Rev. James Allison,
a Wesleyan missionary who labored long and successfully among the
Basuto and Amaswazi tribes in the interior, far away. Circumstances,
external as well as private, into which I need not enter, led to his
purchasing from Pretorius, the old Dutch president of Natal, this
“location” or estate of some sixty-five hundred acres in extent, and
settling himself upon it. He was followed by a great many of his
original flock, who were warmly and personally attached to him, and had
faithfully shared his fortunes in the past. In this way the nucleus
of a settlement lay ready to his hand, and he seems to have been a
man of great business talents and practical turn of mind, as well as
a spiritual teacher of no mean ability. The little village I saw the
other day was quickly laid out, and the small freehold lots—or “craen,”
as they are called still by their old Dutch name—were readily bought
by the native settlers. This was only in 1851, and probably the actual
tillage of the soil was not commenced for a year or two later. As we
walked through the fertile fields with their rich and abundant crops
standing ready for the sickle, and looked down into the sheltered
nooks where luxuriant gardens full of vegetables flourished, it was
difficult to believe that ever since the first blade of grass or
corn was put in till now those fields had never known any artificial
dressing or manuring of any sort. For more than twenty years the
soil had yielded abundantly without an hour’s rest, or any further
cultivation than a very light plough could give. The advantages of
irrigation, so shamefully overlooked elsewhere, were here abundantly
recognized, and every few yards brought one to a diminutive channel,
made by a hoe in a few minutes, bearing from the hill above a bright
trickle down to the gardens and houses. I confess I often thought
during that pleasant ramble of the old saying about God helping those
who help themselves, for all the comfort and well-to-do-ness which met
my eyes every moment was entirely from within. The people had done
everything with their own hands, and during the past year had, besides,
contributed over two hundred pounds to their minister’s support. There
have been three or four pastoral successors to Mr. Allison, who left
the settlement about a dozen years ago, and the minister, who offered
me, a complete stranger, a most cordial and kindly welcome, showing
me everything which could interest me, and readily falling in with my
desire to understand it all, was the Rev. Daniel Eva, who has only been
in charge of this mission for eighteen months. I was much struck by
his report of the cleverness of the native children; only it made one
regret still more that they had not better and greater opportunities
all over the colony of being taught and trained. In the girls’ school
I saw a bright-eyed little Kafir maiden, neatly dressed and with the
most charming graceful carriage and manner, who was only twelve years
old, and the most wonderful arithmetician. She had passed her teacher
long ago, and was getting through her “fractions” with the ease and
rapidity of Babbage’s calculating-machine. Nothing short of Euclid was
at all likely to satisfy her appetite for figures. She and her slate
were inseparable, and she liked nothing better than helping the other
children with their sums. But, indeed, they were all very forward
with their learning, and did their native teachers great credit.
What I longed for, more than anything else, was to see a regular
training-school established in this and similar stations where these
clever little monkeys could be trained as future domestic servants for
us whites, and as good, knowledgeable wives for their own people. There
was for some years an industrial school here, and I was dreadfully
sorry to hear it had been given up, but not before it had turned out
some very creditable artisans among the boys, all of whom are doing
well at their respective trades and earning their five or six shillings
a day as skilled workmen. This school used to receive a yearly grant
from the local government of one hundred pounds, but when, from
private reasons, it was given up, the grant was of course withdrawn.
The existing schools only get a government grant of fifty pounds a
year; and, small as the sum seems, it is yet difficult to expect more
from a heavily-taxed white population who are at this moment busy in
preparing a better and more costly scheme of education than they
possess at present for their own children. Still, I confess my heart
was much drawn to this cheerful, struggling little community; and not
only to it, but to its numerous offshoots scattered here and there far
away. The Edendale people already look forward to the days when they
shall have outgrown their present limits, and have purchased two very
large farms a hundred miles farther in the interior, to which several
of the original settlers of the parent mission have migrated, and so
formed a fresh example of thrift and industry and a fresh nucleus of
civilization in another wild part.

There were a hundred houses in the village (it is called George Town,
after Sir George Grey), and into some of these houses I went by special
and eager invitation of the owners. You have no idea how clean and
comfortable they were, nor what a good notion of decoration civilized
Kafirs have. In fact, there was rather too much decoration, as you will
admit if I describe one dwelling to you. This particular house stood
on high ground, just where the mountain slopes abruptly, so it had a
little terrace in front to make the ground level. Below the terrace was
a kind of yard, in which quantities of fowls scratched and clucked, and
beyond that, again, an acre of garden-ground, every part of which was
planted with potatoes, pumpkins, green peas and other things. A couple
of somewhat steep and rough steps helped us to mount up on the terrace,
and then we were ushered—with such a natural pride and delight in a
white lady visitor—into a little flagged passage. On one side was the
kitchen and living-room, a fair-sized place enough, with substantial
tables and chairs, and a large open hearth, on which a wood-fire was
cooking the savory contents of a big pot. As for the walls, they were
simply the gayest I ever beheld. Originally whitewashed, they had been
absolutely covered with brilliant designs in vermilion, cobalt and
yellow ochre, most correctly and symmetrically drawn in geometrical
figures. A many-colored star within a circle was a favorite pattern.
The effect was as dazzling as though a kaleidoscope had been suddenly
flung against a wall and its gay shapes fixed on it. But, grand as
was this apartment, it faded into insignificance compared to the
drawing-room and the “English bedroom,” both of which were exhibited
to me with much complacency by the smiling owner. Now, these rooms had
originally been one, and were only divided by a slender partition-wall.
When the door of the drawing-room was thrown open, I must say I almost
jumped back in alarm at the size of the roses and lilies which seemed
about to assault me. I never before saw such a wall-paper—never. It
would have been a large pattern for, say, St. James’s Hall, and there
it was, flaunting on walls about seven feet by eight. A brilliant
crimson flock formed the ground, and these alarming flowers, far larger
than life, bloomed and nodded all over it. The chairs and sofa were gay
with an equally remarkable chintz, and brilliant mats of beads and wool
adorned the tables. China ornaments and pictures were in profusion,
though it took time to get accustomed to those roses and lilies, so as
to be able to perceive anything else. In one part of the tiny room some
bricks had been taken out of the wall and a recess formed, fitted up
with shelves on which stood more vases and statuettes, the whole being
framed and draped with pink calico cut in large vandykes. I must say,
my black hostess and her numerous female friends, who came flocking to
see me, stood out well against this magnificent background. We all sat
for some time exchanging compliments and personal remarks through the
medium of an interpreter. But one smiling sable understood English, and
it was she who proposed that the “lady-chief” should now be shown the
bedroom, which was English fashion. We all flocked into it, gentlemen
and all, for it was too amusing to be left out. Sure enough, there
was a gay iron bedstead, a chest of drawers, and, crowning glory of
all, a real dressing-table, complete with pink and white petticoat and
toilette-glass. The glass might have been six inches square—I don’t
think it was more—but there was a great deal of wooden frame to it,
and it stood among half a dozen breakfast cups and saucers which were
symmetrically arranged, upside down, on the toilette-table.

“What are these for?” I asked innocently.

“Dat English fashion, missis: all white ladies hab cup-saucers on deir
tables like dat.”

It would have been the worst possible taste to throw any doubt on this
assertion, which we all accepted with perfect gravity and good faith,
and so returned to the drawing-room, much impressed, apparently, by the
grandeur of the bedroom.

Of course, the babies came swarming round, and very fat and jolly they
all looked in their nice cotton frocks or shirt-blouses. I did not see
a single ragged or squalid or poverty-stricken person in the whole
settlement, except one poor mad boy, who followed us about, darting
behind some shelter whenever he fancied himself observed. Poor fellow!
he was quite harmless—a lucky circumstance, for he was of enormous
stature and strength. Over his pleasant countenance came a puzzled,
vacant look every now and then, but nothing repulsive, though his
shaggy locks hung about his face like a water-spaniel’s ears, and he
was only wrapped in a coarse blanket. I was sorry to notice a good deal
of ophthalmia among the children, and heard that it was often prevalent
here.

In another house, not quite so gay, I was specially invited to look
at the contents of the good wife’s wardrobe, hung out to air in the
garden. She was hugely delighted at my declaring that I should like to
borrow some of her smart gowns, especially when I assured her, with
perfect truth, that I did not possess anything half so fine. Sundry
silk dresses of hues like the rainbow waved from the pomegranate
bushes, and there were mantles and jackets enough to have started a
second-hand clothes’ shop on the spot. This young woman—who was quite
pretty, by the way—was the second wife of a rich elderly man, and I
wondered what her slight, _petite_ figure would look like when buried
in those large and heavy garments. It chanced to be Saturday, and there
was quite as much cleaning and general furbishing up of everything
going on inside and outside the little houses as in an English country
village, and far less shrewishness over the process.

I wanted to have one more look at the principal school-room, whose
scholars were just breaking up for a long play; so we returned, but
only in time for the outburst of liberated children, whooping and
singing and noisily joyful at the ending of the week’s lessons. The
little girls dropped their pretty curtsies shyly, but the boys kept to
the charming Kafir salutation of throwing up the right hand with its
two fingers extended, and crying “Inkosi!” It is a good deal prettier
and more graceful than the complicated wave and bow in one which our
village children accomplish so awkwardly.

Oh, how I should like to “do up” that school-room, and hang gay prints
and picture-lessons on its walls, for those bright little creatures
to go wild with delight at! There has been so much needed in the
settlement that no money has been or can be forthcoming just yet for
anything beyond bare necessaries. But the school-room wanted “doing
up” very much. It was perfectly sweet and clean, and there was no
occasion for any inspector to measure out so many cubic feet of air
to each child, for the breeze from the mountains was whistling in at
every crevice and among the rafters, and the floor was well scrubbed
daily; but it wanted new stands and desks and forms—everything, in
short—most sadly. Then just think what a boon it would be if the most
intelligent and promising among the girls could be drafted from this
school when twelve years old into a training-school, where they could
be taught sewing and cooking and other homely accomplishments! There is
no place in the colony where one can turn for a good female servant,
and yet here were all these nice sharp little girls only wanting the
opportunity of learning to grow up into capital servants and good
future wives, above merely picking mealies or hoeing the ground.

As I have said before, I am no political economist, and the very
combination of words frightens me, but still I can’t help observing how
we are wasting the good material which lies ready to our hands. When
one first arrives one is told, as a frightful piece of news, that there
are three hundred thousand Kafirs in Natal, and only seventeen thousand
whites. The next remark is that immigration is the cure for all the
evils of the country, and that we want more white people. Now, it seems
to me that is just what we _don’t_ want—at least, white people of what
is called the lower classes. Of course, every colony is the better for
the introduction of skilled labor and intelligence of every kind, no
matter how impecunious it may be. But the first thing a white person
of any class at all does here is to set up Kafirs under him, whom he
knocks about as much as he dares, complaining all the time of their
ignorance and stupidity. Every man turns at once into a master and an
independent gentleman, with black servants under him; and the result
is, that it is impossible to get the simplest thing properly done, for
the white people are too fine to do it, and the black ones either too
ignorant or too lazy. Then there is an outcry at the chronic state of
muddle and discomfort we all live in. English servants directly expect
two or three Kafirs under them to do their work; and really no one
except ladies and gentlemen seem to do anything save by deputy. Now, if
we were only to import a small number of teachers and trained artisans
of the highest procurable degree of efficiency, we could establish
training-schools in connection with the missions which are scattered
all over the country, and which have been doing an immense amount of
good silently all these years. In this way we might gradually use up
the material we have all ready to our hand in these swarming black
people; and it appears to me as if it would be more likely to succeed
than bringing shiploads of ignorant, idle whites into the colony. There
is no doubt about it: Natal will never be an attractive country to
European immigrants; and if it is not to be fairly crowded out of the
list of progressive English colonies by its population of blacks, we
must devise some scheme for bringing them into the great brotherhood of
civilization. They are undoubtedly an intelligent people, good-humored
and easy to manage. Their laziness is their great drawback, but at such
a settlement as Edendale I heard no complaints, and certainly there
were no signs of it. No one learns more readily than a savage how good
are clothes and shelter and the thousand comforts of civilized people.
Unhappily, he learns the evil with the good, especially in the towns,
but that is our own fault. In a climate with so many cold days as this
the want of clothing is severely felt by the Kafirs, and it is one of
the first inducements to work. Then they very soon learn to appreciate
the comfort of a better dwelling than their dark huts, and a wish for
more nourishing food follows next. It is easier to get at the children
and form their habits and ideas than to change those of the grown-up
men, for the women scarcely count for anything at present in a scheme
of improvement: they are mere hewers of wood and drawers of water.
So the end of it all is, that I want a little money from some of you
rich people to encourage the Edendale settlers by helping them with
their existing schools, and if possible setting up training-schools
where boys could be taught carpentering and other trades, and the
girls housewifery; and I want the same idea taken up and enlarged, and
gradually carried out on a grand scale all over the country.

There are several Norwegian missions established on the borders of
Zululand, presided over by Bishop Schreuder; and I have been so
immensely interested in the bishop’s report of a visit he paid last
year to Cetywayo (there is a click in the C), the Zulu king, that
I have copied some of it out of a _Blue Book_ for you. Do you know
there is a very wrong impression abroad about blue books? They contain
the most interesting reading possible, full of details of colonial
difficulties and dangers which are not to be met with anywhere else,
and I have never been better entertained than by turning over the
leaves of one whenever it is my good fortune to come across it. I
remember one in particular upon Japan, beautifully written, and as
thrillingly sensational as any of Miss Braddon’s novels. However, you
shall judge for yourself of the bishop’s narrative. I will only mention
what he is too modest to cause to appear here—and which was told me
by other people—that he is one of the most zealous and fearless of
the great band of missionaries, beloved and respected by black and
white. In fact, my informant managed to convey a very good impression
of the bishop’s character to me when he summed up his panegyric in
true colonial phraseology, though I quite admit that it does not sound
sufficiently respectful when applied to a bishop: “He is a first-rate
fellow, all round.”

This document, which I have shortened a little, was addressed as a
letter to our minister for native affairs, and has thus become public
property, read and re-read with deep interest by us here, and likely, I
am sure, to please a wider circle:


  UNTUNJAMBILI, August 20, 1875.

DEAR SIR: I beg to send you a short sketch of my last trip to and
interview with the Zulu king, in order to present to him your report
of your embassy, 1873, and leave it to your discretion to lay before
His Excellency the whole or a part of this sketch, got up in a language
foreign to me.

After an irksome traveling right across the Tugela from here to Undi, I
arrived the fifth day (August 5) at the king’s head kraal sufficiently
early to have a preliminary interview with the headmen then
present—viz., Umnjamana, Usegetwayo, Uganze, Uzetzalusa, Untzingwayo,
etc.—and, according to Zulu etiquette, lay before them the substance
of my message in the main points, the same as I, the day after (6th
August), told the king.

N.B. In the course of the evening one of the headmen hinted to me that
as regards the killing of people, all was not as it ought to be,
and that I ought to press the matter when I had the interview with
the king, as he needed to have his memory (I would rather say his
conscience, for his memory is still very good—even remarkably good)
stirred up, and that the present occasion was the very time to do that.
The result proved this to be a very safe and timely hint.

They spent the forenoon communicating in their bulky way this news to
the king, so it was midday before I got an interview with the king,
when I opened the interview verbatim, thus:

“My arrival here to-day is not on my own account. I have come at the
request of the chiefs across (the Tugela) to cause you to receive by
hand and by mouth a book which has come from Victoria, the queen of the
English—the book of the new laws of this Zulu country, which Somtseu
(Mr. Shepstone) proclaimed publicly at Umlambongwenya the day he, being
called to do so, set you apart to be king of the Zulus. Victoria, queen
of the English, says: ‘I and my great headmen (ministers) have read
the new laws of the Zulu country, which you, king, and all the Zulus,
agreed to with Somtseu; and as we adhere to our words, so also I wish
you, chief of the Zulus, to hold fast to these words of yours of this
law which you agreed to adhere to the day you were made king by Mr.
Shepstone, who was sent to do that by the government of Natal.’ I have
now finished: this is the only word I have brought with me from the
chiefs across (the Tugela).”

The royal inscription of the copy was of course literally translated.

After having thus delivered the government message entrusted to me,
I added, in the way of explaining to the king and his councilors the
merits of the case at issue, by saying:

“You have heard the government word, but that you may clearly see the
line of this book of the new laws, I wish to explain to you as follows:
The day the Zulu nation brought the head of the king, laid low, four
oxen, to the government, the Zulu nation asked that Mr. Shepstone
might come and proclaim the new laws of Zululand, and set apart the
real royal child, because they no longer had power of themselves to
set apart for themselves a king. Mr. Shepstone came, and began by
consulting you, the Zulu nation, at Umlambongwenya on the fifth day of
the week, on all the points of the new law which he had been sent for
to proclaim; and he conversed with you until the sun went down, having
begun early in the day. He then left you Zulus to consult together and
investigate the new laws on the last day of the week and on the Sunday;
and when Mr. Shepstone returned to the wagons (camp) he wrote in a book
all the points of the new law; and on Monday he again came with all
his attendants, and it was in accordance with his previous arrangement
with you; and he came to the Umlambongwenya, the residence appointed
for the purpose, that he might set apart in becoming manner the young
king. We all were present: we heard him, standing publicly, holding
in his hand a paper, and pointing to it, saying, ‘That forgetfulness
may never, never happen, I have written in this paper all the points
of the new laws of the country which we agreed upon, two days ago and
to-day, in the presence of all the Zulu nation, the royal children and
the nobles;’ and he then handed that paper to his son, that it might be
accessible and speak when he himself is no more; and this proclamation
of the new laws was confirmed by the English custom of firing cannons
seventeen times, and according to the Zulu by the striking of
shields. On the second day of the week Mr. Shepstone returned to the
Umlambongwenya to take his leave of the king, and again the points of
the new law were explained; and Ut-tamn (Cetywayo’s brother) explained
to Mr. Shepstone the history of this house; and on the third day the
nobles all went to the wagons (camp), being sent to the king to take
leave, and Mr. Shepstone went home satisfied; and when he returned to
the colony he wrote this book of the narrative of his journey and his
work in Zululand; and, as is done (in the colony), then he sent it to
the governor, and the governor read it, and read it all, and said the
work of Somtseu is good, and the new laws of the Zulu country are good;
and, as is done there too, he sent it forward to Victoria, the queen of
the English; and Victoria sent back this book of the new laws by the
same way to the governor, and the governor returned it to Somtseu, and
here it is come back to its work (discharge its function) in Zululand,
where it was set up to rule over you. And as Victoria binds herself by
her words, so are you also, king, and you, the Zulu nation, bound by
this new law made for you here by Somtseu at Umlambongwenya. And this
is the generation of this book of the new law: It was born an infant;
it went across (the water), the child of a king, to seek for kingship,
and it found it; it was made king far away, and here it is returned
with its rank to its own country, Zululand; therefore do not say it is
only the book that speaks. No, I tell you, Zulus, of a truth, that this
book has to-day rank: it took that rank beyond (the water): it has come
back a king, and is supreme in this country.

“The words of the governor are finished, and my explanation is
finished; but there are small items of news which I wish to tell you
in your ears, which the authorities (in Natal) did not tell me, but
which I speak for myself because I wish to see for you and reprove you
gently, that you may understand.”

Uganze then commenced in his usual tattling way to make some remarks,
that they, as black people, did not understand books and the value
of such written documents; whereupon I said to him, “That won’t do,
Ganze, that you, after having applied, as in the present case, to
people who transact business through written documents, now afterward
say you do not understand the value of books. You all know very well
that book-rules are supreme with white people: it is therefore of no
use that you, after having obtained what you wanted from the white
people, now come and plead ignorance about book. If you don’t know
yourselves to read book, there is nothing else for you to be done
but to get a trustworthy person to read for you, or learn to read
yourselves.”

By these remarks I stopped effectually all further talk of that kind;
and, evidently displeased at Uganze’s talk, the king repeated very
correctly all I had endeavored to say. (You know the king has a good
memory.)

While I was translating, the king and his nobles often expressed their
astonishment, uttering occasionally that it was as if they were living
the thing over again, and that what was translated was exactly what was
spoken and transacted in your way to and under your stay at the place
of encampment; and, having finished, I told them that the fullness and
correctness of the details of the report was a natural result of the
habit of white people under such circumstances, daily to take down in
writing what transpired, in order not to forget it itself long time
afterward.

As the king and his nobles now entered upon a discussion of the merits
of the new laws as set forth in your report, and this discussion
evidently would take the turn of being an answer to the message
delivered, I found it necessary to tell them that I had received no
commission to bring back any answer to the government message; and
stated my own private opinion about not having received such commission
by saying most explicitly, “My opinion is that the chiefs across the
Tugela did not tell me to take back to them your answer, because your
right words to adhere to the new law are completed. They are many: no
more are necessary. The thing wanted now is your acts in accordance
with the law.”

Here, again, Uganze asked what I meant by _acts_; and the answer was,
“That you rule and manage this Zululand in accordance with the new
law, and never overstep it;” and I explained this further by telling
them frankly that many reports circulated in Natal of the extensive
killing of people all over the Zululand; that from the time I this
year had crossed the Tugela, Natal people had with one mouth asked me
if the killing of people in Zululand now really was carried on to such
an extent as reported, in spite of the new law; that I had not with
my own eyes seen any corpse, and personally only knew of them said to
have been killed; that I myself had my information principally from
the same sources as people in Natal, and often from Natal newspapers;
that I myself personally believed that there were some, and perhaps
too much, foundation for said reports: there were many who pretended
having seen corpses of people killed both with guns and spears. And,
after having lectured my Zulu audience very earnestly upon this vital
point, I concluded, saying, “Well-wishers of the Zulus are very sorry
to hear of such things, as they certainly had hoped that the new
constitution would have remedied this sad shedding of blood; while, on
the other hand, people who did not care whether the Zulu nation was
ruined or not, merely laughed at the idea that any one ever could have
entertained the hope of altering or amending the old-cherished Zulu
practice of bloodshed, as the Zulus were such an irrecoverable set of
man-butchers. Further, I tell you seriously, king, your reputation
is bad among the whites; and, although it is not as yet officially
reported to the government, still it has come to its ears, all these
bloody rumors, and nobody can tell what may be the consequences
hereafter—to-morrow.”

The king and his izinduna seemed wonderfully tame—even
conscience-smitten all along—while the rumors were mentioned, for I
had expected some of their usual unruly excitement; but nothing of
that kind was seen. But, although the king and his nobles present
had, as mentioned above, with astonishment uttered that your report
had reported exactly everything done and said there and then, he now
tried to point out that you, in your report, had left out to inform the
queen that he, in his transactions with you, had reserved to himself
the right of killing people who kill others, who lie with the king’s
girls, who sin against or steal the king’s property—that it is the
royal Zulu prerogative “from time immemorial,” at the accession to
the throne, to make raid on neighboring tribes. I went into details
of both questions, and proved by plain words of your report, as well
as by logical conclusion therefrom, the fallacy of both complaints;
and especially as to the pretended “from time immemorial,” that this
was nonsense, as that bloody system of raid only was from yesterday
(_chaka_), and therefore there were no reasons why it should not
be broken off to-morrow; and much more so as this raid-system only
tended to exasperate all neighboring tribes against the Zulus, and
eventually bring on their (Zulus’) ruin, for it was well known that all
neighboring tribes were gradually coming under the protection of the
white people. The king made, in self-defence, some irrelevant remarks,
and was of course supported by the izinduna in the usual Zulu-duda way,
but, most remarkably, in a very tame way; but I thought by myself, “It
is easy to make an end to this support and combination, for I shall
split your interest, and then combat you singly.” So I turned the
current of the discussion in this way, saying, “I do really believe
that there is going on killing people in such a manner that the king is
blamed in Natal for doings he first afterward is made aware of—viz.,
the grandees will, for example, kill a man of no note, take a few heads
of cattle to the king in order to shut his mouth, saying, ‘I found a
rat spoiling my things, and struck this rat of mine, and here is the
few cattle it left behind.’ Then the king will—although the thing
does not suit him—think by himself, ‘If I stir up in this poltroon
matter, my grandees will say that I trouble them;’ and so the thing is
growing on, and brings on such rumors and bad names over in Natal. But
was it not agreed upon, king, at your installation, that the common
saying, ‘My man,’ or ‘My people,’ must not be tolerated any longer? It
must cease in the mouth of the grandees in the country. Here in the
Zululand is now ‘my people’ of the grandees, but all are people of the
king. The grandees have no right to the people: the king is the owner
of them all solely. And was it not agreed upon that no Zulu—male or
female, old or young—could be executed without fair, open trial and the
special previous sanction of the king? But now, by the old practice
creeping into use again, and the grandees killing their so-called
people, and the king killing his, it is like the real owner and the
other imaginary owners killing independently cattle out of the same
herd, without telling each other, till the herd is cut up. By executing
people who really only belong to the king, the grandees will, in the
same degree as they do so, detract from and diminish the royal power
and prerogative, so that there in fact reign several kings in this same
kingdom, at least as far as the authority over life and death concerns.
The grandees are concealed behind their king in the bad rumors over in
Natal; so the king gains a bad name and blame for the whole, while the
grandees gain the satisfaction of succeeding in killing people they
dislike.”

The king assented to these my remarks; so the izinduna found themselves
deserted and silenced. Umnjamana only tried to put in a few very tame
remarks of his usual ones, but I quickly brought him to his senses by
remembering him sharply of his sayings and doings at the installation.
I now thought it high time to cut the further parlance short by
saying, “I find that I am going to be dragged into an argument about
matters that are no business of mine, and I will therefore talk no more
of these things, for the new law-owners are still alive; and, moreover,
the new law is there invested with undeniable royalty; so that even
when Her Majesty Victoria, her present councilors and the rest of us
are no more, the Umteto will be there, and numerous copies of it are in
the hands of the white people, so that they at present and in future
times will be able to compare whether the doings of yours (Zulu) are
in accordance or at variance with that law, and take their measures
accordingly. Victoria binds herself by books, and so you are bound by
this book of new law that now is ruling supreme: that is the long and
short of it, for this book of the law will decay with the country.... I
have now talked myself tired, finished my verbal errand to you, king,
and now I will hand over to you this splendid copy of the new law.” He
then said, “Lay it down here” (pointing to the mat under his feet).
“No,” I replied, “that won’t do: the book is not at your feet, but you
are at the feet of the book; and if my hands are not too good to hand
it over to you, your hands ought not to be too good to receive it.
Don’t make any difficulty.” So he received the copy with his hands,
laid it himself on the mat, placed both his elbows on his knees, and
holding bent over his head between his hands, uttered that peculiar
native “Oh dear! oh dear! what a man this is!”

The king evidently felt himself so out of his depth that he quite
forgot his usual final topics, begging for a royal cloak (the standing
topic of late) or some similar thing, and dropped into begging for a
dog to bark for him at night.

Lastly, in order to test him how he now was disposed toward
mission-work, I told him that, as my business with him was finished, I
should immediately, without sleeping that night at Undi, commence my
homeward journey, for I had left much work to be done behind, having
commenced a new station over in Natal, as here in Zululand is no
work for us missionaries as long as he prohibited his subjects from
becoming Christians; therefore it was at present quite sufficient for
me in Zululand, where it, under present circumstances, was useless to
get new stations only to live and not work on, while we over in Natal
could buy, and from government, who approved of the mission-work,
get land for stations; moreover, the people—for example, over at
Untunjambili—were very anxious to be taught. With an heedful air the
king asked, “Do the Kafirs really wish to be taught?” “Yes, they really
do,” I answered him.

Thinking that it would do them (the king and councilors) good to
hear a bit of those proceedings, I inserted a few words about the
contemplated and proposed federation between the colony of Natal, Cape,
the Transvaal, and Orange States by mentioning that an important
letter from the great people beyond the water had come and proposed a
grand meeting of men chosen from these four states to deliberate of the
best mode of establishing such federation among themselves, and the
advantage and importance of this federation, which I tried to point
out by a few practical instances. The king and his induna now insisted
upon my not leaving before next morning, as the king wanted to prepare
for me (get me some living beef); and in the course of the evening I
got a special message from him to you to get from a doctor medicine for
a complaint he had in the chest, rising at times from regions about
the liver, and medicine for an induna who of late had been completely
deaf. The messenger also told that the king already had sent to you
for medicines, but as yet got no answer. I think that he has found out
that it comes very expensive to call a dotela from Natal, and that it
therefore would be cheapest to get the aid of genuine doctors through
your kind unpaid assistance.

Under the conversation with the king the headman Usagetwayo (a rather
stupid man, but whose assumed grandeur is so great and supercilious
that he pretends never to know anybody, but always must ask somebody
who this is) asked in his well-known hoarse way, “Who is he there
who speaks with the king?” (meaning me). Umnjamana answered, “Bishop
Schreuder, native man: he is Panda’s old headman. You are joking
in saying you don’t know him: it was he for whom they cut off the
large bit of land at Enlumeni.” (One of my Christian natives present
overheard this conversation getting on in a subdued tone while I was
speaking with the king.)

When our interview commenced the king seemed rather sulky, but got
gradually brighter, at least very tame, which hardly could have been
expected after such dusky beginning, for which there were also other
reasons, needless to specify here. I remain, etc.,

  H. SCHREUDER.



PART IX.


  MARITZBURG, June 3, 1876.

Dust and the bazaar! These are the topics of the month. Perhaps I
ought to put the bazaar first, for it is past and over, to the intense
thankfulness of everybody, buyers and sellers included, whereas the
dust abides with us for ever, and increases in volume and density and
restlessness more and more. It certainly seems to me a severe penalty
to pay for these three months of fine and agreeable weather to have
no milk, hardly any butter, very little water, and to be smothered by
dust into the bargain. But still, here is a little bit of bracing,
healthy weather, and far be it from me to depreciate it. We enjoy every
moment of it, and congratulate each other upon it, and boast once more
to new-comers that we possess “the finest climate in the world.” This
remark died out in the summer, but is again to be heard on all sides;
and I am not strong-minded enough to take up lance and casque and tilt
against it. Besides which, it would really be very pleasant if only
the tanks were not dry, the cows giving but a teacupful of milk a day
for want of grass, whilst butter is half a crown a pound, and of a
rancid cheesiness trying to the consumer. Still, the weather is bright
and sunny and fresh all day—too hot, indeed, in the sun, and generally
bitterly cold in the evening and night. About once a week, however,
we have a burning hot wind, and are obliged still to keep our summer
clothes close at hand. The rapidity with which cold succeeds this hot
wind is hardly to be believed. Our “season” is just over. It lasts
as nearly as possible one week, and all the gayety and festivity of
the year is crowded into it. During this time of revelry I drove down
the hill to a garden-party one sunny afternoon, and found a muslin
scarf absolutely unbearable, so intensely hot was the air. That was
about three o’clock, and by five I was driving home in the darkening
twilight, dusty as a miller and shivering in a seal-skin jacket. It
is no wonder that most of us, Kafirs and all, have fearful colds and
coughs, or that croup is both common and dangerous among the little
ones. Still, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is “the
finest climate in the world,” and exceptionally favorable, or so they
say, to consumptive patients.

I am more thankful than words can express that we live out of the
town, though the pretty green slopes around are sere and yellow now,
with here and there patches of black where the fires rage night and
day among the tall grass. About this season prudent people burn strips
around their fences and trees to check any vagrant fire, for there is
so little timber that the few green trees are precious things, not
to be shriveled up in an hour by fast-traveling flames for want of
precautions. The spruits or brooks run low in their beds, the ditches
are dry, the wells have only a bucketful of muddy water and a good many
frogs in them, and the tanks are failing one after another. Yet this
is only the beginning of winter, and I am told that I don’t yet know
what dust and drought mean. I begin to think affectionately of those
nice heavy thunder-showers every evening, and to long to see again the
familiar bank of cloud peeping up over that high hill to the west,
precursor of a deluge. Well! well! there is no satisfying some people.
I am ready to swallow my share of dust as uncomplainingly as may be,
but I confess to horrible anxiety as to what we are all to do for
milk for the babies presently. Every two or three days I get a polite
note from whoever is supplying me with milk to say they are extremely
sorry to state they shall be obliged to discontinue doing so, as their
cows don’t give a pint a day amongst them all. The little which is
to be had is naturally enormously dear. F—— steadily declines to buy
a cow, because he says he knows it will be just like all the rest,
but I think if only I had a cow I should contrive to find food for it
somewhere. I see those horrid tins of preserved milk drawing nearer and
nearer day by day.

It is very wrong to pass over our great bazaar with so little notice. I
dare say you who read this think that you know something about bazaars,
but I assure you you do not—not about such a bazaar as this, at all
events. We have been preparing for it, working for it, worrying for it,
advertising it, building it, decorating it, and generally slaving at it
for a year and more. When I arrived the first words I heard were about
the bazaar. When I tried to get some one to help me with my stall, I
was laughed at: all the young ladies in the place had been secured
months before as saleswomen. I don’t know what I should have done if
a very charming lady had not arrived soon after I did. No sooner had
she set foot on shore than I rushed at her and snapped her up before
any one else knew that she had come, for I was quite desperate, and
felt it was my only chance. However, luck was on my side, and my fair
A. D. C. made up in energy and devotion to the cause for half a dozen
less enthusiastic assistants. All this time I have never told you what
the bazaar was for, or why we all threw ourselves into it with so
much ardor. It was for the Natal Literary Society, which has been in
existence some little time, struggling to form the nucleus of a public
library and reading-room, giving lectures and so forth to provide some
sort of elevating and refining influences for the more thoughtful
among the Maritzburgians. It has been very up-hill work, and there
is no doubt that the promoters and supporters deserve a good deal of
credit. They had met with the usual fate of such pioneers of progress:
they had been overwhelmed with prophecies of all kinds of disaster,
but they can turn the tables now on their tormentors. The building did
_not_ take fire, nor was it robbed; there were no riots; all the boxes
arrived in time; everybody was in the sweetest temper; no one died for
want of fresh air (these were among the most encouraging prognostics);
and last, not least, after paying all expenses two thousand guineas
stand at the bank to the credit of the society. I must say I was
astonished at the financial result, but delighted too, for it is an
excellent undertaking, and one in which I feel the warmest interest.
It will be an immense boon to the public, and cannot fail to elevate
the tone of thought and feeling in the town. This sum, large as it is
for our slender resources, will only barely build a place suitable for
a library and reading-room, and the nucleus of a museum. We want gifts
of books and maps and prints, and nice things of all kinds; and I only
wish any one who reads these lines, and could help us in this way,
would kindly do so, for it will be a long time before we can buy such
things for ourselves, and yet they are indispensable to the carrying
out of the scheme.

Everybody from far and near came to the bazaar and bought liberally.
The things provided were selected with a view to the wants of a
community which has not a large margin for luxuries, and although they
were very pretty, there was a strong element of practical usefulness
in everything. It must have been a perfect carnival for the little
ones. Such blowing of whistles and trumpets, such beating of drums
and tossing of gay balls in the air, as were to be seen all around!
Little girls walked about hugging newly-acquired dolls with an air
of bewildered maternal happiness, whilst on every side you heard
boys comparing notes as to the prices of cricket-bats (for your
true colonial boy has always a keen sense of the value of money) or
the merits of carpenters’ tools. A wheelwright gave half a dozen
exquisitely-finished wheelbarrows to the bazaar, made of the woods of
the colony, and useful as well as exceedingly pretty. The price was
high, but I shut my economical eyes tight and bought one, to the joy
and delight of the boys, big and little. There were heaps of similar
things, besides contributions from London and Paris, from Italy and
Austria, from India and Australia, to say nothing of Kafir weapons
and wooden utensils, of live-stock, vegetables and flowers. Everybody
responded to our entreaties, and helped us liberally and kindly; and
this is the result with which we are all immensely delighted.

Some of our best customers were funny old Dutchmen from far up country,
who had come down to the races and the agricultural show, which
were all going on at the same time. They bought recklessly the most
astounding things, but wisely made it a condition of purchase that they
should not be required to take away the goods. In fact, they hit upon
the expedient of presenting to one stall what they bought at another;
and one worthy, who looked for all the world as if he had sat for his
portrait in dear old Geoffrey Crayon’s _Sketch-books_, brought us at
our stall a large wax doll dressed as a bride, and implored us to
accept it, and so rid him of its companionship. An immense glass vase
was bestowed on us in a similar fashion later on in the evening, and
at last we quite came to hail the sight of those huge beaver hats with
their broad brims and peaked crowns as an omen of good fortune. But
what I most wanted to see all the time were the heroes of the rocket
practice. You do not know perhaps that delicious and veritable South
African story; so I must tell it to you, only you ought to see my dear
boers or emigrant farmers to appreciate it thoroughly.

A little time ago the dwellers in a certain small settlement far away
on the frontier took alarm at the threatening attitude of their black
neighbors. I need not go into the rights—or rather the wrongs—of the
story here, but skip all preliminary details and start fair one fine
morning when a _commando_ was about to march. Now, a commando means a
small expedition armed to the teeth, which sets forth to do as much
retaliatory mischief as it can. It had occurred to the chiefs of this
warlike force that a rocket apparatus would be a very fine thing, and
likely to strike awe into savage tribes, and so would a small, light
cannon. The necessary funds were forthcoming, and some kind friend in
England sent them out a beautiful little rocket-tube, all complete,
and the most knowing and destructive of light field-pieces. They
reached their destination in the very nick of time—the eve, in fact, of
the departure of this valiant commando. It was deemed advisable to make
trial of these new weapons before starting, and an order was issued
for the commando to assemble a little earlier in the market-square
and learn to handle their artillery pieces before marching. Not
only did the militia assemble, but all the townsfolk, men, women
and children, and clustered like bees round the rocket-tube, which
had been placed near the powder magazine, so as to be handy to the
ammunition. The first difficulty consisted in finding anybody who had
ever seen a cannon before: as for a rocket-tube, that was indeed a new
invention. The most careful search only succeeded in producing a boer
who had many, many years ago made a voyage in an old tea-ship which
carried a couple of small guns for firing signals, etc. This valiant
artilleryman was at once elected commander-in-chief of the rocket-tube
and the little cannon, whilst everybody stood by to see some smart
practice. The tube was duly hung on its tripod, and the reluctant
fellow-passenger of the two old cannon proceeded to load, and attempted
to fire it. The loading was comparatively easy, but the firing! I only
wish I understood the technical terms of rocket-firing, but, although
they have been minutely explained to me half a dozen times, I don’t
feel strong enough on the subject to venture to use them. The results
were, that some connecting cord or other having been severed contrary
to the method generally pursued by experts in letting off a rocket,
_half_ of the projectile took fire, could not escape from the tube on
account of the other half blocking up the passage, and there was an
awful internal commotion instead of an explosion. The tripod gyrated
rapidly, the whizzing and fizzing became more pronounced every moment,
and at last, with a whish and a bang, out rushed the ill-treated and
imprisoned rocket. But there was no clear space for it. It ricochetted
among the trees, zigzagging here and there, opening out a line for
itself with lightning speed among the terrified and flustered crowd.
There seemed no end to the progress of that blazing stick. A wild cry
arose, “The powder magazine!” but before the stick could reach so far,
it brought up all standing in a wagon, and made one final leap among
the oxen, killing two of them and breaking the leg of a third. This was
an unfortunate beginning for the new captain, but he excused himself on
the ground that, after all, rockets were not guns: with those he was
perfectly familiar, having smoked his pipe often and often on board
the tea-ship long ago with those two cannon full in view. Yet the
peaceablest cannons have a nasty trick of running back and treading on
the toes of the bystanders; and to guard against such well-known habits
it seemed advisable to plant the _trail_ of this little fellow securely
in the ground, so that he must perforce keep steady. “Volunteers to the
front with spades!” was the cry, and a good-sized grave was made for
the trail of the gun, which was then lightly covered up with earth.
There was now no fear in loading him, and instead of one, two charges
of powder were carefully rammed home, and two shells put in. There
was some hitch also about applying the fuse to this weapon, fuses
not having been known on board the tea-ship; but at last something
was ignited, and out jumped _one_ shell right into the middle of the
market-square, and buried itself in the ground. But, alas and alas!
the cannon now behaved in a wholly unexpected manner. It turned itself
deliberately over on its back, with its muzzle pointing full among the
groups of gaping Dutchmen in its rear, its wheels spun round at the
rate of a thousand miles an hour, and a fearful growling and sputtering
could be heard inside it. The recollection of the second shell now
obtruded itself vividly on all minds, and caused a furious stampede
among the spectators. The fat Dutchmen looked as if they were playing
some child’s game. One ran behind another, putting his hands on his
shoulders, but no sooner did any person find himself the first of
a file than he shook off the detaining hands of the man behind him
and fled to the rear to hold on to his neighbor. However ludicrous
this may have looked, it was still very natural with the muzzle of a
half-loaded cannon pointing full toward you, and one is thankful to
know that with such dangerous weapons around no serious harm was done.
If you could only see the fellow-countrymen of these heroes, you would
appreciate the story better—their wonderful diversity of height, their
equally marvelous diversity of breadth, of garb and equipment. One
man will be over six feet high, a giant in form and build, mounted
on a splendid saddle fresh from the store, spick and span in all
details. His neighbor in the ranks will be five feet nothing, and an
absolute circle as to shape: he will have rolled with difficulty on
to the back of a gaunt steed, and his horse furniture will consist
of two old saddle-flaps sewn together with a strip of bullock-hide,
and with a sheepskin thrown over all. You may imagine that a regiment
thus turned out would look somewhat droll to the eyes of a martinet in
such matters, even without the addition of a cannon lying on its back
kicking, or a twirling rocket-tube sputtering and fizzing.


  JUNE 7.

Let me see what we have been doing since I last wrote. I have had
a Kafir princess to tea with me, and we have killed a snake in the
baby’s nursery. That is to say, Jack killed the snake. Jack does
everything in the house, and is at once the most amiable and the
cleverest servant I ever had. Not Zulu Jack. _He_ is so deaf, poor
boy! he is not of much use except to clean saucepans and wash up pots
and pans. He seems to have no sense of smell either, because I have
to keep a strict watch over him that he does not introduce a flavor
of kerosene oil into everything by his partiality for wiping cups and
plates with dirty lamp-cloths instead of his own nice clean dusters.
But he is very civil and quiet, leisurely in all he does, and a strict
conservative in his notions of work, resenting the least change of
employment. No: the other Jack is a tiny little man, also a Zulu,
but he speaks English well, and it is his pride and delight to dress
as an English “boy”—that is what he calls it—even to the wearing of
agonizingly tight boots on his big feet. Jack learns all I can teach
him of cooking with perfect ease, and gives us capital meals. He is the
bravest of the establishment, and is always to the fore in a scrimmage,
generally dealing the _coup de grace_ in all combats with snakes. In
this instance my first thought was to call Jack. I had tried to open
the nursery-door one sunny midday to see if the baby was still asleep,
and could not imagine what it was pressing so hard against the door
and preventing my opening it. I determined to see, and lo! round the
edge darted the head of a large snake, held well up in air, with the
forked tongue out. He must have been trying to get out of the room, but
I shut the door in his face and called for Jack, arming myself with my
riding-whip. Jack came running up instantly, but declined all offers of
walking-sticks from the hall, having no confidence in English sticks,
and preferring to trust only to his own light strong staff. Cautiously
we opened the door again, but the snake was drawn up in battle-array,
coiled in a corner difficult to get at, and with outstretched neck
and darting head. Jack advanced boldly, and fenced a little with the
creature, pretending to strike it, but when he saw a good moment he
dealt one shrewd blow which proved sufficient. Then I suddenly became
very courageous (after Jack had cried with a grin of modest pride,
“Him dead now, inkosa-casa”) and hit him several cuts with my whip,
just to show my indignation at his having dared to invade the nursery
and to drink up a cup of milk left for the baby. Baby woke up, and was
delighted with the scrimmage, being extremely anxious to examine the
dead snake, now dangling across Jack’s stick. We all went about with
fear and suspicion after that for some days, as the rooms all open on
to the verandah, and the snakes are very fond of finding a warm, quiet
corner to hibernate in. There is now a strict search instituted into
all recesses—into cupboards, behind curtains, and especially into F——
’s tall riding-boots—but although several snakes have been seen and
killed quite close to the house, I am bound to say this is the only one
which has come in-doors. Frogs hop in whenever they can, and frighten
us out of our lives by jumping out upon us in the dark, as we always
think it is a snake and not a frog which startles us. It requires a
certain amount of persuasion and remonstrance now to induce any of us
to go into a room first in the dark, and there have been many false
alarms and needless shrieks caused by the lash of one of G—— ’s many
whips, or even a boot-lace, getting trodden upon in the dark.

My Kafir princess listened courteously to a highly dramatic narrative
of this snake adventure as conveyed to her through the medium of Maria.
But then she listened courteously to everything, and was altogether
as perfect a specimen of a well-bred young lady as you would wish to
see anywhere. Dignified and self-possessed, without the slightest
self-assumption or consciousness, with the walk of an empress and the
smile of a child, such was Mazikali, a young widow about twenty years
of age, whose husband (I can neither spell nor pronounce his name)
had been chief of the Putili tribe, whose location is far away to the
north-west of us, by Bushman’s River, right under the shadow of the
great range of the Drakensberg. This tribe came to grief in the late
disturbances apropos of Langalibalele, and lost all their cattle,
and what Mr. Wemmick would call their “portable property,” in some
unexplained way. We evidently consider that it was what the Scotch call
“our blame,” for every year there is a grant of money from our colonial
exchequer to purchase this tribe ploughs and hoes, blankets and
mealies, and so forth, but whilst the crops are growing it is rather
hard times for them, and their pretty chieftainess occasionally comes
down to Maritzburg to represent some particular case of suffering or
hardship to their kind friend the minister for native affairs, who is
always the man they fly to for help in all their troubles. Poor girl!
she is going through an anxious time keeping the clanship open for her
only son, a boy five years old, whom she proudly speaks of as “Captain
Lucas,” but whose real name is Luke.

I was drinking my afternoon tea as usual in the verandah one cold
Sunday afternoon lately when Mazikali paid me this visit, so I had a
good view of her as she walked up the drive attended by her maid of
honor (one of whose duties is to remove stones and other obstructions
from her lady’s path), and closely followed by about a dozen elderly,
grave “ringed” men, who never leave her, and are, as it were, her
body-guard. There was something very pretty and pathetic, to any one
knowing how a Kafir woman is despised by her lords and masters, in the
devotion and anxious care and respect which these tall warriors and
councilors paid to this gentle-eyed, grave-faced girl. Their pride and
delight in my reception of her were the most touching things in the
world. I went to meet her as she walked at the head of her followers
with her graceful carriage and queenly gait. She gave me her hand,
smiling charmingly, and I led her up the verandah steps and placed
her in a large arm-chair, and two or three gentlemen who chanced to
be there raised their hats to her. The delight of her people at all
this knew no bounds: their keen dusky faces glowed with pride, and
they raised their right hands in salutation before sitting down on the
edge of the verandah, all facing their mistress, and hardly taking
their eyes off her for a moment. Maria came to interpret for us, which
she did very prettily, smiling sweetly; but the great success of the
affair came from the baby, who toddled round the corner, and seeing
this brightly-draped figure in a big chair, threw up his little hand
and cried “Bayete!” It was quite a happy thought, and was rapturously
received by the indunas with loud shouts of “Inkosi! inkosi!” whilst
even the princess looked pleased in her composed manner. I offered her
some tea, which she took without milk, managing her cup and saucer,
and even spoon, as if she had been used to it all her life, though I
confess to a slight feeling of nervousness, remembering the brittle
nature of china as compared to calabashes or to Kafir wooden bowls. F——
gave each of her retinue a cigar, which they immediately crumbled up
and took in the form of snuff with many grateful grunts of satisfaction.

Now, there is nothing in the world which palls so soon as compliments,
and our conversation, being chiefly of this nature, began to languish
dreadfully. Maria had conveyed to the princess several times my
pleasure in receiving her, and my hope that she and her people would
get over this difficult time and prosper everlastingly. To this the
princess had answered that her heart rejoiced at having had its own
way, and directed her up the hill which led to my house, and that even
after she had descended the path again, it would eternally remember the
white lady. This was indeed a figure of speech, for by dint of living
in the verandah, rushing out after the children, and my generally gypsy
habits, Mazikali is not very much darker than I am. All this time the
little maid of honor had sat shivering close by, munching a large slice
of cake and staring with her big eyes at my English nurse. She now
broke silence by a fearfully distinct inquiry as to whether that other
white woman was not a secondary or subsidiary wife. This question set
Maria off into such fits of laughter, and covered poor little Nanna
with so much confusion, that as a diversion I brought forward my gifts
to the princess, consisting of a large crystal cross and a pair of
ear-rings. The reason I gave her these ornaments was because I heard
she had parted with everything of that sort she possessed in the world
to relieve the distresses of her people. The cross hung upon a bright
ribbon which I tied round her throat. All her followers sprang to
their feet, waved their sticks and cried, “Hail to the chieftainess!”
But, alas! there was a professional beggar attached to the party, who
evidently considered the opportunity as too good to be lost, and drew
Maria aside, suggesting that as the white lady was evidently enormously
rich and very foolish, it would be as well to mention that the princess
had only skins of wild beasts to wear (she had on a petticoat or kilt
of lynx-skins, and her shoulders were wrapped in a gay striped blanket,
which fell in graceful folds nearly to her feet), and suffered horribly
from cold. He added that there never was such a tiresome girl, for she
never _would_ ask for anything; and how was she to get it without?
Besides which, if she had such a dislike to asking for herself, she
surely might speak about things for them: an old coat, now, or a hat,
would be highly acceptable to himself, and so would a little money. But
Mazikali turned quite fiercely on him, ordering him to hold his tongue,
and demanding if that was the way to receive kindness, by asking for
more?

The beggar’s remark, however, had the effect of drawing my attention
to the princess’s scanty garb. I have said it was a bitterly cold
evening, and so the maid of honor pronounced it, shivering; so Nurse
and I went to our boxes and had a good hunt, returning with a warm
knitted petticoat, a shawl and two sets of flannel bathing-dresses.
One was perfectly new, of crimson flannel trimmed with a profusion
of white braid. Of course this was for the princess, and she and her
maiden retired to Maria’s room and equipped themselves, finding much
difficulty, however, in getting into the bathing-suits, and marveling
much at the perplexing fashion in which white women made their clothes.
The maid of honor was careful to hang her solitary decorations, two
small round bits of looking-glass, outside her skeleton suit of blue
serge, and we found her an old woolen table-cover which she arranged
into graceful shawl-folds with one clever twist of her skinny little
arm. Just as they turned to leave the room, Maria told me, this
damsel said, “Now, ma’am, if we only had a little red earth to color
our foreheads, and a few brass rings, we should look very nice;” but
the princess rejoined, “Whatever you do, don’t ask for anything;”
which, I must say, I thought very nice. So I led her back again to her
watchful followers, who hailed her improved appearance with loud shouts
of delight. She then took her leave with many simple and graceful
protestations of gratitude, but I confess it gave me a pang when she
said with a sigh, “Ah, if all white inkosa-casas were like you, and
kind to us Kafir-women!” I could not help thinking how little I had
really done, and how much more we might all do.

I must mention that, by way of amusing Mazikali, I had shown her some
large photographs of the queen and the royal family, explaining to her
very carefully who they all were. She looked very attentively at Her
Majesty’s portrait, and then held it up to her followers, who rose of
their own accord and saluted it with the royal greeting of “Bayete!”
and as Mazikali laid it down again she remarked pensively, “I am very
glad the great white chieftainess has such a kind face. I should not be
at all afraid of going to tell her any of my troubles: I am sure she is
a kind and good lady.” Mazikali herself admired the princess of Wales’
portrait immensely, and gazed at it for a long time, but I am sorry to
say her followers persisted in declaring it was _only_ a very pretty
girl, and reserved all their grunts and shouts of respectful admiration
for a portrait of the duke of Cambridge in full uniform. “Oh! the great
fighting inkosi! Look at his sword and the feathers in that beautiful
hat! How the hearts of his foes must melt away before his terrible
and splendid face!” But indeed on each portrait they had some shrewd
remark to make, tracing family likenesses with great quickness, and
asking minute questions about relationship, succession, etc. They took
a special interest in hearing about the prince of Wales going to India,
and immediately wished His Royal Highness would come here and shoot
buffalo and harte-beeste.


  JUNE 15.

We had such a nice Cockney family picnic ten days ago, on Whit-Monday!
F—— had been bewailing himself about this holiday beforehand,
declaring he should not know what to do with himself, and regretting
that holidays had ever been invented, and so on, until I felt that it
was absolutely necessary to provide him with some out-door occupation
for the day. There was no anxiety about the weather, for it is only
too “set fair” all round, and the water shrinks away and the dust
increases upon us day by day. But there was an anxiety about where to
go and how to get to any place. “Such a bad road!” was the objection
raised to every place I proposed, or else it was voted too far. At last
all difficulties were met by a suggestion of spending a “happy day” at
the falls of the lower Umgeni, only a dozen miles away, and the use of
the mule-wagon. Everything was propitious, even to the materials for a
cold dinner being handy, and we bundled in ever so many boys, Nurse and
myself, and Maria in her brightest cotton frock and literally beaming
with smiles, which every now and then broke out into a joyous, childish
laugh of pure delight at nothing at all. _She_ came to carry the baby,
who loves her better than any one, and who understands Kafir better
than English. The great thing was, that everybody had the companions
they liked: as I have said, Baby had his Maria, F—— had secured a
pleasant friend to ride with him, so as to be independent of the wagon,
G—— had his two favorite little schoolfellows, and I—well, I had the
luncheon-basket, and that was quite enough for me to think of. I kept
remembering spasmodically divers omissions made in the hurry of packing
it up; for, like all pleasant parties, it was quite _à l’imprévu_, and
that made me rather anxious. It was really a delicious morning, sunny
and yet cool, with everything around looking bright and glowing under
the beautiful light. The near hills seemed to fold the little quiet
town in soft round curves melting and blending into each other, whilst
the ever-rising and more distant outlines showed exquisite indigo
shadows and bold relief of purple and brown. The greenery of spring
and summer is all parched and dried away now, but the red African
soil takes in the distance warm hues and tints which make up for the
delicate coloring of young grass. Here and there, as it glows beneath
the sun and a slow-sailing cloud casts a shadow, it changes from its
own rich indescribable color to the purple of a heather-covered Scotch
moor, but while one looks the cloud has passed away, the violet tints
die out, and it is again a bare red hillside which lies before you. A
steep hillside, too, for the poor mules, but they breast it bravely at
a jog trot, with their jangling bells and patient bowed heads, and we
are soon at the top, looking down on the clouds of our own dust. The
wind—or rather the soft air, for it is hardly a wind—blows straight
in our faces as we trot on toward the south-west, and it drives the
mass of finely-powdered dust raised by the heels of the six mules far
behind us, to our great contentment and comfort. The two gentlemen
on horseback are fain to keep clear of us and our dust, and to take
a short cut whenever they can get off the highroad, which in this
case and at this time of year is really a very good one. Inside the
wagon, under the high hood, it is deliciously cool, but the boys are
in such tearing spirits that I don’t know what to do with them. Every
now and then, when we are going up hill, they jump out of the wagon
and search the hillside for a yellow flower, a sort of everlasting,
out of the petals of which they extemporize shrill whistles; and when
their invention in this line falls short, Maria steps in with a fresh
suggestion. They make fearful pipes of reeds, they chirp like the
grasshoppers, they all chatter and laugh together like so many magpies.
When I am quite at my wits’ end I produce buns, and these keep them
quiet for full five minutes, but not longer.

At last, after two hours’ steady up-hill pulling on the part of the
mules, we have reached the great plateau from which the Umgeni takes
its second leap, the first being at Howick. There, the sight of the
great river rolling wide and swift between its high banks keeps the
boys quiet with surprise and delight for a short space, and before
they have found their tongues again the wagon has noisily crossed a
resounding wooden bridge and drawn up at the door of an inn. Here
the mules find rest and shelter, as well as their Hottentot drivers,
whilst we are only beginning our day’s work. As for the boys, their
whole souls are absorbed in their fishing-rods: they grudge the idea of
wasting time in eating dinner, and stipulate earnestly that they may
be allowed to “eat fast.” We find and charter a couple of tall Kafirs
to carry the provision-baskets; F—— and his companion take careful and
tender charge each of a bottle of beer; Maria shoulders the baby; I
cling to my little teapot; Nurse seizes a bottle of milk, and away we
all go down the dusty road again, over the bridge (the boys don’t want
to go a yard farther, for they see some Kafirs fishing below), across
a burnt-up meadow, through scrub of terrible thorniness, and so on,
guided by the rush and roar of the falling water, to our dining-room
among the great boulders beneath the shade of the chief cascade. Unlike
the one grand, concentrated leap of the river we saw at Howick, _here_
it tumbles in a dozen places over a wide semicircular ledge of basalt.
It is no joke to any one except the boys—who seem to enjoy tumbling
about and grazing their elbows and chins—getting over the wet, slippery
rocks which have to be crossed to get to the place we want. I tremble
for the milk and the beer, and the teapot and I slip down repeatedly,
but I am under no apprehension about Maria and the baby, for she plants
her broad, big, bare feet firmly on the rocks, and steps over their
wet, slippery surface with the ease and grace of a stout gazelle. Once,
and once only, is she in danger, but it is because she is laughing so
immoderately at the baby’s suggestion, made in lisping Kafir when he
first caught sight of the waterfall, that we should all have a bath
there and then.

The falls are not in their fullest splendor to-day, for this is the dry
season, and even the great Umgeni acknowledges the drain of burning
sunshine day after day, and is rather more economical in her display
of tumbling water and iridescent spray. Still, all is very beautiful,
and in spite of our hunger—for we are all wellnigh ravenous—we climb
various rocks of vantage to see the fine semicircle of cascades
gleaming white among tufts of green scrub and massive boulders. In the
wet season, of course, much that we see now of rock and tree is hidden
by the greater volume of water, but they add greatly to the sylvan
beauty of the fair scene. It is quite cold in the shade, but we have
no choice, for where the sun shines invitingly there is not a foot of
level rock and not an inch of soft white sand like the floor of our
dining-room. Such an indignant twitter as the birds raise, hardly to be
pacified by crumbs and scraps of the rapidly-vanishing bread and meat,
salad and pudding! But the days are so short now that we cannot spare
ourselves half the time we want either to eat or rest, or to linger
and listen to the great monotonous roar of falling water, so agitating
at first, so soothing after a little while. The boys have bolted their
dinner, plunged their heads and hands under a tiny tricklet close by,
and are off to the shallows beneath the bridge, where the river runs
wide and low, where geese are cackling on the boulders, fish leaping
in the pools, and Kafir lads laughing and splashing on the brink. We
leave Baby and his nurse in charge of the birds’ dinner until the
men return for the lightened baskets, and we three “grown-ups” start
for a sharp scramble up the face of the cliff, over the bed of a dry
watercourse, to look at the wonderful expanse of the great river coming
down from the purple hills on the horizon, sweeping across the vast,
almost level, plain in a magnificent tranquil curve, wide as an inland
lake, until it falls abruptly over the precipice before it. Scarcely
a ripple on the calm surface, scarcely a quickening of its steady,
tranquil flow, and yet it has gone, dropped clean out of sight, and
that monotonous roar is the noise of its fall. I should like to see it
in summer, when its stately progress is quickened and its limpid waters
stained by the overflow of countless lesser streams into its broad
bosom, and when its banks are fringed with tufts of tall white arum
lilies—now only green folded leaves, shrunken as close to the water’s
edge as they can get—and when the carpet of violets beneath our feet
is a sheet of blossom flecked with gayer flowers all over this great
spreading veldt. To-day the wish of my heart, of all our hearts, is for
a canoe apiece. Oh for the days of fairy thievery, to be able to swoop
down upon Mr. Searle’s yard and snatch up three perfect little canoes,
paddles, sails, waterproof aprons and all, and put them down over there
by that clump of lilies and crimson bushes! What a race we could have
for clear eight miles up that shining reach, between banks which are
never nearer than sixty or seventy feet to each other, and where the
river is as smooth as glass, and free from let or hindrance to a canoe
for all that distance! But, alas! there are neither roguish fairies
nor stolen canoes to be seen—nothing except one’s rough-and-ready
fishing-rod and the everlasting mealie-meal worked into a paste for
bait. We are too impatient to give it a fair trial, although the fish
are leaping all around, for already the sun is traveling fast toward
those high western hills, and when once he gets behind the tallest of
the peaks darkness will be upon us in five minutes. We should be much
more careful of our minutes even, did there not chance to be an early
moon, already a silver disk in yonder bright blue sky. The homeward
path is longer and easier, and leads us more circuitously back to the
bridge, beneath which I am horrified to find G—— and his friends, their
fishing-rods and one small fish on the bank, disporting themselves in
the water, with nothing on save their hats. G—— is not at all dismayed
at my shrill reproaches to him from the high bridge above, but suggests
that I should throw him down my pocket handkerchief for a towel, and
promises to dress and come up to the house directly. So I, with the
thoughts of my tea in my mind—for we have not been able to have a fire
at the falls—hurry up to the inn, and have time for a look round before
the boys are ready. It is all so odd—such a strange jumble, such a
thorough example of the queer upside-down fashion of colonizing which
reigns here—that I cannot help describing it. A fairly good, straggling
house with sufficiently good furniture, and plenty of it, and an
apparent abundance of good glass and crockery. A sort of bar also, with
substantial array of bottles and tins of biscuits and preserved meats
and pickles of all sorts and kinds. But what I want you to bear in mind
is, that all this came from England, and has finally been brought up
here, nearly seventy miles from the coast, at an enormous trouble and
expense. There are several young white people about the place, but a
person of that class in Natal is too fine to work, and in five minutes
I hear fifty complaints of want of labor and of the idleness of the
Kafirs. There is no garden, no poultry-yard, no dairy. Here, with the
means of irrigation at their very doors, with the possibility of food
for cattle all the year round at the cost of a little personal trouble,
there is neither a drop of milk nor an ounce of butter to be had. Nor
an egg: “The fowls don’t do so very well.” I should think not, with
such accommodation as they have in the way of water and food. For more
than twenty years that house has stood there, a generation has grown
up around it and in it, and yet it might as well have been built last
year for all the signs of a homestead about it. There is somewhere a
mealie-patch, and perhaps a few acres of green forage, and that is all.
Now, in Australia or New Zealand, in a more rigorous climate, under
far greater disadvantages, the dwellers in that house would have had
farmyard and grain-fields, garden and poultry-yard, about them in five
years, and all the necessary labor would have been performed by the
master and mistress and their sons and daughters. Here they all sit
in-doors, listless and discontented, grumbling because the Kafirs won’t
come and work for them. I can’t make it out, and I confess I long to
give all this sort of colonists a good shaking, and take away every
single Kafir from them. I am sure they would get on a thousand times
better. The only thing is, it is too late to shake energy and thrift
into elderly or already grown-up people. They get on very well as it
is, they say, and make money, which is all they care for, having no
pride in neatness or order, and setting no value on the good opinion
of others. They can sell their beer and pickles and tins of meat and
milk at double and treble what they cost; and that is less fatiguing
than digging and fencing and churning. So the tea has no milk and the
bread no butter where twenty years ago cows were somewhere about five
shillings apiece, and we get on as well as we can without them; but I
long, up to the very last, to shake them all round, especially the fat,
pallid young people. Fortunately for Her Majesty’s peace, I refrain
from this expression of my opinion, and get myself and all my boys into
the mule-wagon, and so off again, jogging homeward before the sun has
dipped behind that great blue hill. Long ere we have gone halfway the
daylight has all died away, and the boys find fresh cause for shouts of
delight at the fantastic shadows the moon casts as she glides in and
out of her cloud-palaces.

It would have been an enchanting drive home, wrapped up to the chin as
we all were, except for the dust. What air there was came from behind
us, from the same point as it had blown in the morning, but now we
carried the dust along with us, and were powdered snow-white by it.
Every hundred yards or so the drivers put on the brake and whistled to
the mules to stop. They did not mind losing sight altogether of the
leaders in a dense cloud of dust, nor even of the next pair, but when
the wheelers were completely blotted out by the thick stirred-up mass
of fine dust, then they thought it high time to pause and let it blow
past us. But all this stopping made the return journey rather long and
tedious, and all the curly little heads were nodding on our shoulders,
only rousing up with a flicker of the day’s animation when we came to
where a grass-fire was sweeping over the veldt, and our road a dusty
but wide and safe barrier against the sheets of crackling flame. All
along the horizon these blazing belts showed brightly against the deep
twilight sky, sometimes racing up the hills, again lighting up the
valleys with yellow belt and circle of smoke and fire, but everywhere
weird and picturesque beyond the power of words to tell.

I noticed during that drive what I have so often observed out here
before—the curious layers of cold air. Sometimes we felt our wraps
quite oppressive: generally, this was when we were at the top of a
hill, or even climbing up it: then, when we were crossing a valley or
a narrow ravine, we seemed to drive into an ice-cold region where we
shivered beneath our furs; and then again in five minutes the air would
once more be soft and balmy—crisp and bracing indeed, but many degrees
warmer than those narrow arctic belts here and there.

[Illustration: Decoration]



PART X.


  MARITZBURG, July 3, 1876.

I have seen two Kafir weddings lately, and, oddly enough, by the merest
chance they took place within a day or two of each other. The two
extremes of circumstances, the rudest barbarism and the culminating
smartness of civilization, seemed to jostle each other before my very
eyes, as things do in a dream. And they went backward, too, to make
it more perplexing, for it was the civilized wedding I saw first—the
wedding of people whose mothers had been bought for so many cows, and
whose marriage-rites had probably been celebrated with a stick, for
your Kafir bridegroom does not understand coyness, and speedily ends
the romance of courtship by a few timely cuffs.

Well, then, I chanced to be in town one of these fine bright winter
mornings (which would be perfect if it were not for the dust), and I
saw a crowd round the porch of the principal church. “What is going
on?” I asked naturally, and heard, in broken English dashed with Dutch
and Kafir, that there was an “umtyado” (excuse phonetic spelling),
a “bruitlof,” a “vedding.” Hardly had I gathered the meaning of all
these terms—the English being by far the most difficult to recognize,
for they put a click in it—than the bridal party came out of church,
formed themselves into an orderly procession and commenced to walk
up the exceedingly dusty street two by two. They were escorted by a
crowd of well-wishers and a still greater crowd of spectators—more or
less derisive, I regret to state. But nothing upset the gravity and
decorum of the bride and bridegroom, who walked first with a perfectly
happy and self-satisfied expression of face. Uniforms were strictly
excluded, and the groom and his male friends prided themselves on
having discarded all their miscellaneous red coats for the day, and
on being attired in suits of ready-made tweed, in which they looked
queerer than words can say. Boots also had they on their feet, to their
huge discomfort, and white felt soft hats stuck more or less rakishly
on their elaborately combed and woolly pates. The general effect of
the gentlemen, I am sorry to say, was that of the Christy Minstrels,
but the ladies made up for everything. I wish you could have seen
the perfect ease and grace of the bride as she paced along with her
flowing white skirts trailing behind her in the dust and her lace veil
thrown over a wreath of orange-flowers and hanging to the ground. It
was difficult to believe that probably not long ago she had worn a
sack or a fold of coarse salempore as her sole clothing. She managed
her draperies, all snowy white and made in the latest fashion, as if
she had been used to long gowns all her life, and carried her head as
though it had never known red clay or a basket of mealies. I could not
see her features, but face and throat and bare arms were all as black
as jet, and shone out in strong relief from among her muslin frills,
and furbelows. There were many yards of satin ribbon among these same
frills, and plenty of artificial flowers, but everything was all white,
shoes and all. I am afraid she had “disremembered” her stockings. The
principal couple were closely followed by half a dozen other pairs of
sable damsels, also “gowned in pure white” and made wonderful with
many bows of blue ribbon. Each maiden was escorted by a groomsman, the
rear-guard of guests trailing off into colored cottons and patched
suits. Everybody looked immensely pleased with him and herself, and
I gradually lost sight of them in the unfailing cloud of dust which
rises on the slightest provocation at this time of year. I assure you
it was a great event, the first smart wedding in Maritzburg among the
Kafirs, and I only hope the legal part is all right, and that the
bridegroom won’t be free to bring another wife home some day to vex the
soul of this smart lady. Kafir marriage-laws are in a curious state,
and present one of the greatest difficulties in the process of grafting
civilized habits on the customs of utter barbarism.

In spite of the imposing appearance of bride and bridegroom, in spite
of the good sign all this aping of our ways really is, in spite of
a hundred considerations of that nature which ought to have weighed
with me, but did not, I fear I took far more interest in a real Kafir
marriage, a portion of whose preliminary proceedings I saw two days
after this gala procession in white muslin and gray tweed. I was
working in the verandah after breakfast—for you must know that it is
so cold in-doors that we all spend the middle part of the day basking
like lizards in the delicious warmth of sunny air outside—when I
heard a distant but loud noise beyond the sod fence between us and
a track leading over the hills, in whose hollows many a Kafir kraal
nestles snugly. I knew it must be something unusual, for I saw all
our Kafirs come running out in a state of great excitement, calling
to each other to make haste. G—— too left the funeral obsequies of a
cat-murdered pigeon in which he was busily employed, and scampered off
to the gate, shouting to me to come and see. So I, who am the idlest
mortal in the world, and dearly love an excuse for leaving whatever
rational employment I am engaged upon, snatched up the baby, who was
supremely happy digging in the dust in the sunshine, called Maria in
case there might be anything to explain, and ran off to the gate also.
But there was nothing to be seen, not even dust: we only heard a sound
of monotonous singing and loud grunting coming nearer and nearer, and
by and by a muffled tread of bare hurrying feet shuffling through the
powdered earth of the track. My own people had clambered up on the
fence, and were gesticulating wildly and laughing and shouting, Tom
waving the great wooden spoon with which he stirs his everlasting
“scoff.” “What is it, Maria?” I asked. Maria shook her head and looked
very solemn, saying “I doan know,” but even while she spoke a broad
grin broke all over her face, and she showed her exquisite teeth from
ear to ear as she said, half contemptuously, “It’s only a wild Kafir
wedding, lady. There are the warriors: that’s what they do when they
don’t know any better.” Evidently, Maria inclined to the long white
muslin gown of the civilized bride which I had so minutely described to
her, and she turned away in disdain.

Yes, here they come—first, a body of stalwart warriors dressed in
skins, with immense plumes of feathers on their heads, their lithe,
muscular bodies shining like ebony as they flash past me—not so
quickly, however, but that they have time for the _politesse_ of
tossing up shields and spears with a loud shout of “Inkosi!” which
salutation the baby, who takes it entirely to himself, returns with
great gravity and unction. These are the vanguard, the flower of Kafir
chivalry, who are escorting the daughter of a chieftain to her new home
in a kraal on the opposite range of hills. They make it a point of
honor to go as quickly as possible, for they are like the stroke oar
and give the time to the others. After them come the male relatives of
the bride, a motley crew, numerous, but altogether wanting in the style
and bearing of the warriors. Their garb, too, is a wretched mixture,
and a compromise between clothes and no clothes, and they shuffle
breathlessly along, some with sacks over their shoulders, some with old
tunics of red or blue and nothing else, and some only with two flaps
or aprons. But all wear snuffboxes in their ears—snuffboxes made of
every conceivable material—hollow reeds, cowries, tiger-cats’ teeth,
old cartridge-cases, acorn-shells, empty chrysalises of some large
moth—all sorts of miscellaneous rubbish which could by any means be
turned to this use. Then comes a more compact and respectable-looking
body of men, all with rings on their heads, the Kafir sign and token
of well-to-do-ness, with bare legs, but draped in bright-colored rugs
or blankets. They too fling up their right arm and cry “Inkosi!” as
they race along, but are more intent on urging on their charge, the
bride, who is in their midst. Poor girl! she has some five or six miles
yet to go, and she looks ready to drop now; but there seems to be no
consideration for her fatigue, and I observe that she evidently shrinks
from the sticks which her escort flourish about. She is a good-looking,
tall girl, with a nice expression in spite of her jaded and hurried
air. She wears only a large sheet of coarse brownish cloth draped
gracefully and decently around her, leaving, however, her straight,
shapely legs bare to run. On her right arm she too bears a pretty
little shield made of dun and white ox hide, and her face is smeared
over brow and cheeks with red clay, her hair also being tinged with it.
She glances wistfully, I fancy, at Maria standing near me in her good
clothes and with her fat, comfortable look. Kafir girls dread being
married, for it is simply taking a hard place without wages. Love has
very rarely anything to do with the union, and yet the only cases of
murder of which I have heard have been committed under the influence of
either love or jealousy. This has always seemed odd to me, as a Kafir
girl does not appear at all prone to one or the other. When I say to
Maria, “Perhaps you will want to marry some day, Maria, and leave me?”
she shakes her head vehemently, and says, “No, no, I should not like to
do that: I should have to work much harder, and no one would be kind
to me.” Maria too looks compassionately at her savage sister racing
along, and murmurs, “Maria would not like to have to run so fast as
that.” Certainly, she is not in good condition for a hard gallop across
these hills, for she is bursting out of all her gowns, although she is
growing very tall as well.

There is no other woman in the bridal cavalcade, which is a numerous
one, and closes with a perfect mob of youths and boys grunting and
shuffling along. Maria says doubtfully, “I think they are only taking
that girl to look at her kraal. She won’t be married just yet, for they
say the heer is not ready so soon.” This information is shouted out
as some of the party rush past us, but I cannot catch the exact words
amid the loud monotonous song with a sort of chorus or accompaniment of
grunts.

Ever since my arrival I have wanted to see a real Kafir kraal, but the
difficulty has been to find one of any size and retaining any of the
distinctive features of such places. There are numbers of them all
about the hills which surround Maritzburg, but they are poor degenerate
things, the homes of the lowest class of Kafir, a savage in his most
disgusting and dangerous state of transition, when he is neither one
thing nor the other, and has picked up only the vices of civilization.
Such kraals would be unfavorable specimens of a true Kafir village, and
only consist of half a dozen ruinous, filthy hovels whose inhabitants
would probably beg of you. For some time past I had been inquiring
diligently where a really respectable kraal could be found, and at
last I heard of one about eight miles off, whose “induna” or head-man
gave it a very good character. Accordingly, we set out on a broiling
afternoon, so early in the day that the sun was still beating down
on us with all his summer tricks of glowing heat and a fierce fire
of brightest rays. The road was steep over hill and dale, and it was
only when we had climbed to the top of each successive ridge that a
breath of cool breeze greeted us. A strange and characteristic panorama
gradually spread itself out before and behind us. After the first steep
ascent we lost sight of Maritzburg and its bosky streets. From the next
ridge we could well see the regular ring of wooded homesteads which
lie in a wide circle outside the primitive little town. Each rising
down had a couple or so of these suburban villas hid away in gum trees
clinging to its swelling sides. Melancholy-looking sides they were now,
and dreary was the immediate country around us, for grass-fires had
swept the hills for a hundred miles and more, and far as the eye could
reach all was black, sere and arid, the wagon-tracks alone winding
about in dusty distinctness. The streams had shrunk away to nothing,
and scarcely showed between their high banks. It was a positive relief
to horse and rider when we had clambered up the rocky track across
the highest saddle we had yet needed to mount. Close on our left
rose, some three hundred feet straight up against the brass-bright
sky, a big bluff with its basalt sides cut down clean and sharp as
though by a giant’s knife. In its cold shade a few stunted bushes were
feebly struggling to keep their scraggy leaves and branches together,
and on the right the ground fell irregularly away down to a valley
in which were lovely patches of young forage, making a tender green
oasis, precious beyond words in contrast with the black and sun-dried
desolation of the hills around. Here too were the inevitable gum
trees, not to be despised at this ugly time of year, although they are
for all the world like those stiff wooden trees, all of one pattern,
peculiar to the model villages in the toys of our youth. With quite as
little grace and beauty do these gum trees grow, but yet they are the
most valuable things we possess, being excellent natural drainers of
marshy soil, kindly absorbers of every stray noxious vapor, and good
amateur lightning-conductors into the bargain. Amid these much-abused,
not-to-be-done-without trees, then, a gable peeped: it was evidently
a thriving, comfortable homestead, yet here my friendly guide and
companion drew rein and looked around with deep perplexity on his
kindly face.

“How beautiful the view is!” I cried in delight, for indeed the distant
sweep of ever-rising mountains, the splendid shadows lying broad and
deep over the hills and valleys, the great Umgeni, disdaining even this
long drought, and shining here and there like a silver ribbon, now
widening into a mere, now making almost an island of some vast tract
of country, but always journeying “with a gentle ecstasy,” were all
most beautiful. The burnt-up patches gave only a brown umber depth to
the hollows in the island hills, and the rich red soil glowed brightly
on the bare downs around us as the westering sun touched and warmed
them into life and color. I was well content to drop the reins on my
old horse’s neck whilst I gazed with greedy eyes on the fair scene,
which I felt would change and darken in a very short while. Perhaps it
was also this thought which made my companion say anxiously, “Yes, but
look how fast the sun is dropping behind that high hill; and _where_
is the kraal? It ought to be exactly here, according to Mazimbulu’s
directions, and yet I don’t see a sign of it, do you?”

If his eyes, accustomed since childhood to every nook and cranny in
these hills, could not make out where the kraal hid, little chance was
there of mine finding it out. But even he was completely at fault, and
looked anxiously around like a deer-hound which has lost the scent. The
narrow track before us led straight on into the interior for a couple
of hundred miles, and in all the panorama at our feet we could not see
trace or sign of living creature, nor could the deadliest silence bring
sound of voice or life to our strained ears.

“I dare not take you any farther,” Mr. Y—— said: “it is getting much
too late already. But how provoking to come all this way and have
to go back without finding the kraal!” In vain I tried to comfort
him by assurances of how pleasant the ride had been, beguiled by
many a hunting-story of days when lions and elephants drank at the
stream before us, and when no man’s hand ever lost its clasp of his
gun, sleeping or waking. We had come to see a kraal, and it was an
expedition _manqué_ if we could not find it. Still, the sun seemed in
a tremendous hurry to reach the shelter of that high hill yonder, and
even I was constrained to acknowledge we must not go farther along the
rocky track before us. At this moment of despair there came swiftly
and silently round the sharp edge of the bluff just ahead of us two
Kafir-women, with huge bundles of firewood on their heads, and walking
rapidly along, as though in a hurry to get home. To my companion Kafir
was as familiar as English, so he was at no loss for pleasant words and
still more pleasant smiles with which to ask the way to Mazimbulu’s
kraal.

“We go there now, O great chieftain!” the women answered with one
voice; and, true to the savage code of politeness, they betrayed no
surprise as to what _we_ could possibly want at their kraal so late. We
had scarcely noticed a faint narrow track on the burnt-up ground to our
right, but into this the women unhesitatingly struck, and we followed
them as best we could. Scarcely three hundred yards away from the main
track, round the shoulder of a down, and nestling close in a sort of
natural basin scooped out of the hillside, was the kraal, silent enough
now, for all except a few old men and babies were absent. The women,
like our guides, were out collecting firewood; some of the younger
men and bigger children had gone into town to sell poultry and eggs;
others were still at work for the farmer whose homestead stood a mile
or two away. There must have been at least a hundred goats skipping
about beneath the steep hillside down which we had just come—goats who
had ventured to the very edge of the shelf along which our bridle-path
had lain, and yet who had never by bleat or inquisitive protruded head
betrayed their presence to us. In the centre of the excavation stood a
large, high, neatly-wattled fence, forming an enclosure for the cattle
at night, a remnant of the custom when Kafir herds were ravaged by wild
animals and still wilder neighbors. A very small angle of this place
was portioned off as a sty for the biggest and mangiest pig it has ever
been my lot to behold—a gaunt and hideous beast, yet the show animal
of the kraal, and the first object which Mazimbulu pointed out to us.
Of course, Mazimbulu was at home: what is the use of being an induna
if you have to exert yourself? He came forward at once to receive us,
and did the honors of his kraal most thoroughly and with much grace and
dignity. Mr. Y—— explained that I was the wife of another inkosi, and
that I was consumed by a desire to see with my own eyes a real Kafir
kraal. It is needless to say that this was pleasantly conveyed, and a
compliment to this particular kraal neatly introduced here.

Mazimbulu—an immensely tall, powerful elderly man, “ringed” of course,
and draped in a large gay blanket—looked at me with half-contemptuous
surprise, but saluted to carry off his wonder, and said deprecatingly
to Mr. Y——: “O chief, the chieftainess is welcome; but what a strange
people are these whites! They have all they can desire, all that is
good and beautiful of their own, yet they can find pleasure in looking
at where we live! Why, chief, you know their horses and dogs have
better places to sleep in than we have. It is all most wonderful, but
the chieftainess may be sure we are glad to see her, no matter for what
reason she comes.”

There was not very much to see, after all. About twenty large,
substantial, comfortable huts, all of the beehive shape, stood in a
crescent, the largest in the middle. This belonged to Mazimbulu, and in
front of it knelt his newest wife, resting on her heels and cutting up
pumpkins into little bits to make a sort of soup, or what she called
“scoff.” I think young Mrs. Mazimbulu was one of the handsomest and
sulkiest Kafir-women I have yet seen. She was very smart in beads and
bangles, her coiffure was elaborate and carefully stained red, her
blanket and petticoat were gay and warm and new, and yet she looked
the very picture of ill-humor. The vicious way she cut up her pumpkins
and pitched the slices into a large pot, the sarcastic glances she
cast at Mazimbulu as he invited me to enter his hut, declaring that he
was so fortunate in the matter of wives that I should find it the pink
of cleanliness! Nothing pleased her, and she refused to talk to me or
to “saka bono,” or anything. I never saw such a shrew, and wondered
whether poor Mazimbulu had not indeed got a handful in this his latest
purchase. And yet he looked quite capable of taking care of himself,
and his hand had probably lost none of its old cunning in boxing a
refractory bride’s ears, for the damsel in question seemed rather on
the watch as to how far she might venture to show her temper. Such
a contrast as her healthy, vigorous form made to that of a slight,
sickly girl who crawled out of an adjoining hut to see the wonderful
spectacle of an “inkosa-casa!” This poor thing was a martyr to
sciatica, and indeed had rheumatism apparently in all her joints. She
moved aside her kilt of lynx skins to show me a terribly swollen knee,
saying plaintively in Kafir, “I ache all over, for always.” Mazimbulu
declared in answer to my earnest inquiries that they were all very kind
to her, and promised faithfully that a shilling which I put in her hand
should remain her own property. “Physic or beads, just as she likes,”
he vowed, but seemed well content when I gave another coin into his own
hand for snuff. There were not many babies—only three or four miserable
sickly creatures, all over sores and dirt and ophthalmia. Yet the youth
who held our horses whilst we walked about and Mr. Y—— chatted fluently
with Mazimbulu might have stood for the model of a bronze Apollo, so
straight and tall and symmetrical were his shapely limbs and his lithe,
active young body. He too shouted “Inkosa-casa!” in rapturous gratitude
for a sixpence which I gave him, and vowed to bring me fowls to buy
whenever the young chickens all around should be big enough.

My commissariat is always on my mind, and I never lose an opportunity
of replenishing it, but I must confess that I get horribly cheated
whenever I try bargaining on my own account. For instance, I sent out
a roving commission the other day for honey, which resulted in the
offer of a small jar containing perhaps one pound of empty, black and
dirty comb and a tablespoonful of honey, which apparently had already
been used to catch flies. For this treasure eight shillings were asked.
To-day I tried to buy a goat from Mazimbulu, but he honestly said
it would be of no use to me, nor could I extract a promise of milk
from the cows I saw coming home just then. He declared that there was
no milk to be had; and certainly, when one looks at the surrounding
pasture, it is not incredible.

Mazimbulu’s own hut contained little beyond a stool or two, some skins
and mats for a bed, a heap of mealie-husks with which to replenish the
fire, his shield and a bundle of assegais and knobkerries. There was
another smaller wattled enclosure holding a great store of mealies,
and another piled up with splendid pumpkins. At the exact top of
Mazimbulu’s hut stood a perfect curiosity-shop of lightning-charms—old
spear-points, shells, the broken handle of a china jug, and a painted
portion of some child’s toy: all that is mysterious or unknown to them
must perforce be a lightning-charm. They would no more use a conductor
than they would fly, declaring triumphantly that our houses, for all
their “fire-wires,” get more often struck by lightning than their
huts. Indeed, Mazimbulu became quite pathetic on the subject of the
personal risk I was running on account of my prejudice against his
lightning-charms, and hinted that I should come to a bad end some day
through it.

By the time we had spent half an hour in the kraal the sun had long
since gained the shelter of the western hills and sunk behind them,
taking with him apparently every vestige of daylight out of the sky.
No one who has not felt it could believe the rapidity of the change
in the temperature. So long as there was sunlight it was too hot. In
half an hour it was bitingly, bitterly cold. We could not go fast
down the rocky tracks, but we cantered over every inch of available
space—cantered for the sake of warming ourselves as much as to get
home. The young moon gave us light enough to keep on the right track,
but I don’t think I ever was so cold in my life as when we reached
home about half-past six. The wood-fire in the little drawing-room—the
only room with a fireplace—seemed indeed delicious, and so did a cup
of tea so hot as to be almost scalding. F—— declared that I was of a
bright-blue color, and I admit that I came nearer to understanding what
being frozen to death meant than I had ever done before. Yet there was
not much frost, but one suffered from the reaction after the burning
heat of the day and from the impossibility of taking any wraps with
one.


  JULY 12.

Don’t think I am going to let you off from my usual monthly grumble
about the weather. Not a bit of it! It is worse than ever. At this
moment a violent and bitterly cold gale of wind is blowing, and I
hear the red tiles flying off the house, which I fully expect will
be a regular sieve by the time the rains come. Not one drop of rain
have we had these six weeks, and people remark that “the dry season
is _beginning_.” Everything smells and tastes of dust—one’s clothes,
the furniture, everything. If I sit down in an arm-chair, I disturb
a cloud of dust; my pillow is, I am convinced, stuffed with it; my
writing-table is inches deep in it. All the food is flavored with it,
and Don Quixote’s enemies could not more persistently “bite the dust”
than we do at each meal. Yet when I venture to mention this drawback
in answer to the usual question, “Is not this delicious weather?” the
answer is always, “Oh, but you can have no dust _here_: you should see
what it is in town!” Between us and the town is an ever-flying scud of
dust, through which we can but ill discern the wagons. I wonder there
are no accidents, for one often _hears_ a wagon before and behind
one when it is impossible to _see_ anything through the choking,
suffocating cloud around one. Of a still day, when you carry your own
dust quietly along with you, there is nothing for it except to stop
at home if you wish to keep your temper. The other day little G—— was
about to suffer the extreme penalty of the domestic law for flagrant
disobedience, and he remarked dryly to the reluctant executioner,
“You had better take care: _I am very dusty_.” It was quite true, for
the slipper elicited such clouds of dust from the little blue serge
suit that the chastisement had to be curtailed, much to the culprit’s
satisfaction. As for the baby, he was discovered the other day taking
a dust-bath exactly like the chickens, and considered it very hard to
be stopped in his amusement. Every now and then we have a dust-storm:
there have been two this month already, perfect hurricanes of cold
wind driving the dust in solid sheets before them. Nearer the coast
these storms have been followed by welcome rain, but here we are still
dry and parched. The only water-supply we (speaking individually)
have is brought in buckets from the river, about half a mile off, and
one has to wash in it and drink it with closed eyes. But it cannot be
unwholesome, thank Heaven! for most of us take nothing else and are
very well. I owe it a grudge, however, on account of its extraordinary
hardness. Not only does it spoil the flavor of my beloved tea, but
it chaps our skins frightfully; and what with the dust in the pores,
and the chronic irritation caused by some strange peculiarity in the
climate, we are all like nutmeg-graters, and one can understand the
common-sense of a Kafir’s toilette, into which grease enters largely.
Yet in spite of dust and dryness—for everything is ludicrously dry,
sugar and salt are so many solid cakes, not to be dealt with by means
of a spoon at all—one is very thankful for the cold, bracing weather,
and unless there is a necessity for fronting the dust, we contrive
to enjoy many of the pleasant sunshiny hours in the verandah; and I
rejoice to see the roses blooming again in the children’s cheeks. Every
evening we have a wood-fire on the open hearth in the drawing-room,
and there have been sharp frosts lately. The waving tips of the poor
bamboos look sadly yellow, but I have two fine flourishing young
camellias out of doors without shelter of any kind, and my supply of
roses has never failed from those trees which get regularly watered.
The foliage, too, of the geraniums is as luxuriant as ever, though each
leaf is white with dust, but the first shower will make them lovely
once more.

Quail passed over here a few days ago in dense, solid clouds, leaving
many weary stragglers here and there on the veldt to delight the
sportsmen. I am told it is a strange and wonderful sight to see these
birds sweep—sometimes in the dead silence of a moonlight night, flying
low and compactly, beating the air with the monotonous whir of their
untiring wings—down one of the wide, empty streets of quiet Maritzburg,
so close to the bystander that a stick would knock some over. And
to think of the distance they have traveled thus! For hundreds and
hundreds of miles, over deserts and lakes at whose existence we can but
dimly guess, the little wayfarers have journeyed, from the far interior
down to the seaboard of this great continent. Last season a weary pair
dropped down among my rose-bushes, but no sportsman knew of their
visit, for I found them established there when I came, and jealously
guarded their secret for them; but I don’t know yet whether any others
have claimed my hospitality and protection, in the same way, poor
pretty creatures!

I was seized with a sudden wish the other day to see the market here,
and accordingly got my household up very early one of these cold
mornings, hurried breakfast over, and drove down to the market-square
exactly at nine A. M., when the sales commence. Everything is sold by
auction, but sold with a rapidity which seemed magical to me. I saw
some fine potatoes a dozen yards away from where the market-master
was selling with lightning speed wagon-load after wagon-load of fresh
green forage. I certainly heard “Two and a halfpenny, two and three
farthings—thank you! gone!” coming rather near, and I had gone so far
in my own mind as to determine which of my friends—for heaps of people
I knew were there—I should ask to manage it for me. But like a wave the
bidding swept over my potatoes—I quite looked upon them as mine—and
they were gone. So, as I did not want any firewood, and there were
only about a dozen huge wagons piled high up with lopped branches and
limbs of trees, and as I had begun to perceive that a dozen wagon-loads
were nothing to the rapid utterance of the market-master, I went into
the market-hall to look at the fruit and vegetables, eggs and butter,
with which the tables were fairly well covered. There was very little
poultry, and a pair of ducks toward which I felt somewhat attracted
went for six shillings sixpence each, directly the bidding began. So I
consoled myself by purchasing, still in a vicarious manner by means
of a friend, three turkeys. _Such_ a bargain! the only cheap things I
have seen in Natal. Only nine shillings ninepence apiece!—beautiful
full-grown turkeys—two hens and a cock, just what I wanted. Of course,
everybody clustered round me, and began to damp my joy directly by
pouring statistics into my ears of the mortality among turkey-chicks
and the certain ill-fortune which would attend my efforts to rear
them. But it is too early in the season yet for such anxieties, and
I am free for the next two months to admire my turkeys as much as
I choose without breaking my heart over the untimely fate of their
offspring. Yes, these turkeys were the only cheap things: butter sold
easily at three shillings ninepence a pound, eggs at three shillings
a dozen, and potatoes and other vegetables at pretty nearly Covent
Garden prices. It gave one a good idea of the chronic state of famine
even so little a town as this lives in to see the clean sweep made of
every single thing, live and dead—always excepting my turkeys—in ten
minutes after the market-master entered the building. I am sure treble
the quantity would have been snapped up quite as quickly. Such odd
miscellaneous things!—bacon, cheese, pumpkins, all jumbled together.
Then outside for a few moments, to finish up with a few wheelbarrows of
green barley, a basket or two of mealies, and some fagots of firewood
brought in by the Kafirs; and lo! in something less than an hour it
was all over, and hungry Maritzburg had swallowed up all she could get
for the day. The market-master was now at liberty—after explaining to
a Kafir or two that it was not, strictly speaking, right to sell your
wheelbarrow-load twice over, once privately and once publicly—to show
me the market-hall, a very creditable building, large and commodious,
well roofed and lighted. Knowing as I did the exceeding slowness of
building operations in Maritzburg, it struck me as little less than
marvelous to hear that it had actually been run up in twenty-one days.
No lesser pressure than Prince Alfred’s visit about fifteen years
ago could have induced such Aladdin-like rapidity; but the loyal
Maritzburgers wanted to give their sailor-prince a ball, and there was
no room in the whole town capable of holding one-quarter of the people
who wanted to see the royal midshipman. So Kafirs and whites and men of
all colors fell to with a will, and hammered night and day until all
was finished, extempore chandeliers of painted hoops dangling in all
directions, flowers and flags hiding the rough-and-ready walls, and
the “lion and the unicorn fighting for the crown” in orthodox fashion
over the doorway, where they remain to this day. The only thing that
puzzles me is whether the floor was at all more even then than now, for
at present it is nearly as much up and down as the waves of the Indian
Ocean.

Now, too, that there were no more domestic purchases to be made, I
could look about and see how quaint and picturesque it all was. In
summer the effect must really be charming with the double bordering of
acacia trees fresh and green instead of leafless and dusty; the queer
little Dutch church, with its hugely disproportionate weathercock
shining large and bright in the streaming sunlight; the teams of
patient bullocks moving slowly off again through the dust with wagons
of forage or firewood to be dragged to their various destinations;
and the fast-melting, heterogeneous crowd of Kafirs and coolies,
Dutch and English—some with baskets, some with dangling poultry
or carefully-carried tins of eggs, but _none_ with turkeys. The
market-hall and its immediate vicinity became quite deserted, but the
crowd seemed reassembling a little lower down, where a weekly auction
was being held in a primitive fashion out in the open air beneath the
acacia trees. A stalwart Kafir wandered about listlessly ringing a
large bell, and the auctioneer, mounted on a table, was effecting what
he called a clearance sale, apparently of all the old rubbish in the
place. Condemned military stores, such as tents and greatcoats, pianos
from which the very ghost of tone had fled years ago, cracked china,
broken chairs, crinolines, fiddles, kettles, faded pictures under
flyblown glasses, empty bottles, old baskets,—all were “going, going,
gone” whilst we stood there, drifting away to other homes all over
the place. I pass every day an ingenious though lowly family mansion
made solely and entirely of the sheets of zinc out of boxes, fastened
together in some strange fashion: roof, walls, flooring, all are of it.
There is neither door nor window facing the road, so I don’t know how
they are put in, but I can imagine how that hovel must creak in a high
wind. What mysterious law of gravitation keeps it down to the ground
I have failed to discover, nor do I know how the walls are supported
even in their leaning position. Well, I saw the owner of this cot, a
Dutchman, buying furniture, and he was very near purchasing the piano
under the impression it was a folding-up bedstead. I have always taken
such an interest in the zinc dwelling that it was with difficulty I
could refrain from giving my opinion about its furniture.

But the sun is getting high, and it is ten o’clock and past—quite
time for all housewives to be at home and the men at their business;
so the clearance sale ends like a transformation-scene. Kafirs hoist
ponderous burdens on their heads and walk off unconcernedly with them,
and the odds and ends of what were once household goods disappear round
the corner. My early rising makes me feel as dissipated as one does
after going to a wedding, and I can’t help a reluctance to go back to
the daily routine of G—— ’s lessons and baby’s pinafores, it seems so
delightful to idle about in the sunshine in spite of the dust. What
is there to do or to see? What excuse can any one find at a moment’s
notice to prevent my going home just yet? It is an anxious thought,
for there is nothing to do, and nothing to see beyond wagons and
oxen, in the length and breadth of Maritzburg. Some one fortunately
recollects _the_ mill—there is only one in the whole place—and avers
that wool-scouring is going on there at the present time. At all
events, it is a charming drive, and in five minutes we are trotting
along, raising a fine cloud of dust on the road which leads to the
park. When the river-side has been reached— poor, shrunken Umsindusi!
it is a mere rivulet now, and thoroughly shrunken and depressed—we
turn off and follow the windings of the banks for a few hundred yards
till we come to where the mill-wheel catches and makes use of a tiny
streamlet just as it is entering the river. It is a very picturesque
spot, although the immediate country around is flat and uninteresting;
but there is such a profusion of willow trees, such beautiful tufts of
tall willow-ferns, such clumps of grasses, that the old brick buildings
are hidden and shaded by all manner of waving branches. Then in front
is the inevitable wagon, the long, straggling span of meagre oxen
with their tiny black forelooper and attendant Kafirs. This is indeed
beginning at the end of the story, for into the wagon big neat bales
all ready for shipment—bales which have been “dumped” and branded—are
being lowered by a crane out of a large upper story. Very different
do these bales look as they now depart from those in which the wool
arrives. With the characteristic untidiness and makeshift fashion of
the whole country, the wool is loosely and carelessly stuffed into
inferior bales, which become ragged and filthy by the time they reach
this, and are a discredit to the place as they pass along the streets.
That is the state in which it is brought here and delivered over to
the care of the wool-scourers. The first step is to sort it all, sift
the coarsest dirt out of it, and then away it goes, first into a bath
of soda and water, and afterward into many succeeding tubs of cooler
water, until at last it emerges, dripping indeed, but cleansed from
burrs and seeds, and white as the driven show, to be next laid out
on a terrace sheltered from dust and wind and dried rapidly under
the burning South African sun. Then there is the steam-press, which
squeezes it tightly into these neat, trim bales, and a hydraulic
machine which gives it that one turn more of the screw which is
supposed to constitute the difference between neuralgia and gout,
but which here marks the difference between “dumped” and “undumped”
bales. The iron bands are riveted with a resounding clang or two, the
letters are rapidly brushed in over their iron plate, and the bale is
pronounced finished. A very creditable piece of work it is, too—neat
and tidy outside and fair and honest inside. I heard none of the usual
excuses for dirt and untidiness—no “Oh, one cannot get the Kafirs to
do anything.” There was a sufficiency of Kafirs at work under the eyes
of the masters, but there was no ill-temper or rough language. All
was methodical and business-like, every detail seen to and carried
thoroughly out from first to last, and the result something to be proud
of. The machinery combed and raked and dipped with monotonous patience,
and many an ingenious connecting-rod or band saved time and labor. I
declare it was the most encouraging and satisfactory thing I have seen
since I came, apart from the real pleasure of looking at a bale of
wool turned out as it used to be from every wool-shed in New Zealand,
instead of the untidy bundles one sees slowly traveling down to Durham,
not even well packed in the wagons. Apart from this, it is inspiriting
to see the resources of the place made the best of, and everything
kept up to the mark of a high standard of excellence. There were no
incomplete or makeshift contrivances, and the two bright, active young
masters going about and seeing to everything themselves, as colonists
ought to do, were each a contrast to the ordinary loafing, pale-faced,
unkempt overseer of half a dozen creeping Kafirs that represent the
labor-market here.

I feel, however, as if I were rather “loafing” myself, and am
certainly very idle, for it is past midday before G—— has half enough
examined the establishment and tumbled often enough in and out of the
wool-press; so we leave the cool shade of the willows and the mesmeric
throb of the mill-wheel, and drive home through the dust once more to
our own little house on the hill.

Ever since I began this letter I have been wanting to tell you of an
absurd visitor I had the other day, and my poor little story has very
nearly been crowded out by other things. A couple of mornings ago I
was very busy making a new cotton skirt for “Malia”—for I am her sole
dressmaker, and she keeps me at work always, what with growing into
a stout grenadier of a girl, and what with rending these skirts upon
all occasions. Well, I was getting over the seams at a fine rate on
the sewing-machine, which I had moved out into the verandah for light
and warmth, when I became aware of a shadow between me and the sun.
It was a very little shadow, and the substance of it was the tiniest
old Dutchman you ever saw in your life. I assure you my first idea
was that I must be looking at a little goblin, he was so precisely
like the pictures one sees in the illustrations of a fairy-tale. His
long waistcoat of a gay-flowered chintz, his odd, square-tailed coat
and square shoes, his wide, short breeches and pointed hat were all
in keeping with the goblin theory. But his face! I was too startled
to laugh, but it ought to have been sketched on the spot. No apple
ever was more rosy, no snake-skin ever more wrinkled. Eyes, blue and
keen as steel, gleamed out at me from beneath enormous shaggy brows,
and his nose and chin were precisely like Punch’s. I wonder what he
thought of _me_? _My_ eyes were as round as marbles, and I do believe
my mouth was wide open. He gave a sort of nod, and in a strange dialect
said something to which I in my bewilderment answered “Ja,” being the
one single word of Dutch I know. This misleading reply encouraged my
weird visitor to sit down on the steps before me, to take off his
hat, mop his thin, long gray locks, and to launch forth with much
pantomime into a long story of which I did not understand one word,
for the simple reason that it was all literally in High Dutch. Here
was a pretty predicament!—alone with a goblin to whom I had just told
a flat falsehood, for evidently his first inquiry, of which I only
caught the word “Hollands,” and which I imagined to refer to gin, must
have been a demand as to whether I understood his language! And I had
said “Ja!” It was dreadful. In my dismay I remembered having heard
somebody say “Nic,” and I even followed it up with a faltering “Stehts
nic” (“I don’t understand”), which also came to me in my extremity.
This contradictory answer puzzled my old gentleman, and he looked
at me frowningly; but I had always heard that courage is everything
with goblins, so I smiled and said inquiringly “Ja?” again. He shook
his head reprovingly, and then by the aid of ticking off each word
on his fingers, and stopping at it until he thought I understood, he
contrived, by means of German and English and Kafir, only breaking
out into Dutch at the very interesting parts, to tell me that he was
in search of a little black ox. I must clearly understand that it was
“schwartz,” and also that the “pfennigs” it had cost were many. The ox
seems to have been a regular demon if his story was anything like true.
No rest had he had (here a regular pantomime of going to sleep); from
over Berg had he come; he had bought this wayward beast from one Herr
Schmidt, an inkosi. A great deal of shaking of the head here, which
must have meant that this Herr Inkosi had cheated him. Yet I longed to
ask how one could get the better of a goblin. I didn’t know it was to
be done. From the moment the “klein schwartz” ox changed masters my
small friend’s troubles began. “Früh in de morgen” did that ox get away
every day: in vain was it put in kraals at night, in vain did Kafirs
search for it (great acting here of following up a spoor): it was over
the berg and far away. He was drie tags mit nodings to eat av mealies.
It was a long story, but the _refrain_ was always, “Vere hat dat leetel
ox, dat schwartzen ox, got to?” If I am to say the exact truth, he
once demanded, “Vere das teufels dat leetel ox hat be?” but I looked
so shocked that he took off his steeple-crowned hat deprecatingly.
“Sprechen Sie Kafir?” I asked in despair, but it was no better. His
countenance brightened, and he went through it all again in Kafir,
and the “inkomo” was quite as prominent as the ox had been. Of course
_I_ meant that he should speak to some of my Kafirs about it if he
knew their language. I believe we should have been there to this day
talking gibberish to each other if little G—— had not appeared suddenly
round the corner and taken the matter into his own hands.

“Why, what a queer old man that is, mumsey! Wherever _did_ you find
him, and what _does_ he want?” G—— demanded with true colonial brevity.

“I _think_ he is looking for a little black ox,” I answered guardedly.

“Ja, wohl, dat is it—ein leetel black ox, my tear” (I trust he meant
G——).

“Oh, all right!” G—— shouted, springing up. “Osa (come), old
gentleman. There’s rather a jolly little black bullock over there: I
know, because I’ve been with Jack there looking for a snake.”

The goblin was on his feet in a moment, with every wrinkle on the
alert. “Danks, my tear umfan: du air ein gut leetel boy. Früh in
de morgen;” and so on with the whole story over again to G——, who
understood him much better than I did, and gave me quite a minute
account of the “leetel black ox’s” adventures. The last thing G—— saw
of it it was taking a fence like a springbok, with the goblin and three
Kafirs in full chase after it.

[Illustration: Decoration]



PART XI.


  MARITZBURG, August 1, 1876.

The brief winter season seems already ended and over, so far as the
crisp, bracing atmosphere is concerned. For many days past it has been
not only very hot in the sun, but a light hot air has brooded over
everything. Not strong enough to be called a hot wind, it is yet like
the quivering haze out of a furnace-mouth. I pity the poor trees: it
is hard upon them. Not a drop of rain has fallen for three months
to refresh their dried-up leaves and thirsting roots, and now the
sun beats down with a fiercer fire than ever, and draws up the drop
of moisture which haply may linger low down in the cool earth. Cool
earth, did I say? I fear that is a figure of speech. It almost burns
one’s feet through the soles of thin boots, and each particle of dust
is like a tiny cinder. I think regretfully of the pleasant, sharp,
frosty mornings and evenings, even though the days are lengthening,
and one may now count by weeks the time before the rain will come, and
fruits and vegetables, milk and butter, be once more obtainable with
comparative ease. What I most long for, however, is a good pelting
shower, a down-pour which will fill the tanks and make water plentiful.
I am always rushing out in the sun to see that the horses and the fowls
and all the animals have enough water to drink. In spite of all my
care, they all seem in a chronic state of thirst, for the Kafirs are
too lazy and careless to think that it matters if tubs get empty or if
a horse comes home too late to be led down to the river with the rest.
The water that I drink myself—and I drink nothing else—would give a
sanitary inspector a fit to look at, even after it has passed through
two filters. But it goes through many vicissitudes before it reaches
this comparatively clean stage. It is brought from the river (which is
barely able to move sluggishly over its ironstone bed) through clouds
of dust. If the Kafir rests his pails for a moment outside before
pouring their contents into the first large filter, the pony, who is
always on the lookout for a chance, plunges his muzzle in among the
green boughs with snorts of satisfaction; the pigeons fly in circles
round the man’s head, trying to take advantage of the first favorable
moment for a bath; and not only dogs, but even cats, press up for a
drop. This is because it is cool, and not so dusty as that in pans
outside. There is not a leaf anywhere yet large enough to give shade,
and the water outside soon becomes loathsomely hot. Of course it is
an exceptionally dry season. All the weather and all the seasons I
have ever met with in the course of my life always have been quite out
of the ordinary routine. Doubtless, it is kindly meant on the part
of the inhabitants, and is probably intended as a consolation to the
new-comer. But I am too well used to it to be comforted. Even when one
comes back to dear old England after three or four years’ absence, and
arrives, say, early in May, everybody professes to be amazed that there
should be a keen east wind blowing, and apologizes for the black hard
buds on the lilac trees and the iron-bound earth and sky by assurances
that “There have been _such_ east winds this year!” Just as if there
are not “such” east winds every year!

After these last few amiable lines it will hardly surprise any one to
hear that this is the irritating hot wind which is blowing so lightly.
You must know we have hot winds from nearly opposite quarters. There
is one from the north-east, which comes down from Delagoa Bay and all
the fever-haunted region thereabouts, which is more unhealthy than
this. _That_ furnace-breath makes you languid and depressed: exertion
is almost an impossibility, thought is an effort. But _this_ light
air represents the healthy hot wind, a nice rasping zephyr—a wind
which dries you up like a Normandy pippin, and puts you and keeps you
in the most peevish, discontented frame of mind. It has swept over
the burning deserts of the interior, and comes from the north-west,
and I can only say there is aggravation in every puff of it. The only
person toward whom I feel at all kindly disposed when this wind is
blowing is Jim. Jim is a new Kafir-lad, Tom’s successor, for Tom’s
battles with Charlie became rather too frequent to be borne in a quiet
household. Jim is such a nice boy, and Jim’s English is delightful. He
began by impressing upon me through Maria that he had “no Inglis,” but
added immediately, “Jim no sheeky.” Certainly he is not cheeky, but,
on the contrary, the sweetest-tempered creature you could meet with
anywhere. He must be about sixteen years old, but he is over six feet
high, and as straight as a willow wand. To see Jim stride along by
the side of my little carriage is to be reminded of the illustrations
to the _Seven-League-Boots_ story. At first, Jim tried to coil and
fold and double his long legs into the small perch at the back of the
pony-carriage, but he always tumbled out at a rut in the road, and kept
me in perpetual terror of his snapping himself in two. Not that there
are many ruts now in my road, I would have you know. It is all solid
dust, about three feet deep everywhere. A road-party worked at it in
their own peculiar way for many weeks this fall, and the old Dutch
overseer used to assure me with much pride every time I passed that he
“vas making my ladyships a boofler road mit grabels.” Of course it was
the queen’s highway at which he and his Kafirs dug, but it pleased him
to regard it as my private path, and this gave him greater courage to
throw out “schnapps” as a suggestion worthy of my attention.

Will you believe me when I declare that in spite of all these weary
weeks of drought, in spite of this intense blaze of burning sunshine
all through the thirsty day, the long stretches of the blackened
country are showing tender green shoots round the stumps of the old
rank grass burned away long ago? It seems little short of a miracle
when one sees the baked earth, hard as a granite cliff, dry as a last
year’s bone, and through its parched, pulverized surface little clumps
of trefoil are springing everywhere, and young blades of grass. On
the mulberry trees, too, the buttons have burst into tufts of dainty
leaves, which assert themselves more and more every day, and herald
that wealth of freshest greenery in which Natal was clad over hill and
dale when first I saw her last November. Then I could not take in that
the smiling emerald downs which stretched around me could ever be the
arid desolate wasteland they now appear; and now I can scarcely summon
up faith enough to believe in the miracle of the spring resurrection
close at hand, of which these few lonely leaves and blades are the sign
and token.

Yes, Jim’s English is very droll—all the more so for his anxiety to
practice it, in spite of his protestations to the contrary. Jim is a
great meteorologist, unlike the majority of Kafirs, from whom you can
extract no opinion whatever. They say the rain-doctor is the proper
person to determine whether it is going to be fair or foul weather. I
have asked Charlie whether it was going to rain when the heavy clouds
have been almost over our heads, just to hear what he would say; and
Charlie has answered with Turkish fatalism, “Oh, ma’, I doan know: if
it like to rain, it will, but if it don’t, it won’t.” Now, Jim does
proffer an opinion, expressed by a good deal of pantomime, and Jim is
quite as often right as most weather-prophets. Jim studies the skies on
account of getting and keeping his wood-heap dry, and prides himself
on neat stacks of chopped-up fuel. I gave Jim an orange the other day,
and he took it in the graceful Kafir fashion with both hands, and burst
forth into all his English at once: “Oh, danks, ma’: inkosa-casa vezy
kind new face, vezy. Jim no sheeky: oh yaas, all lite!” His meaning can
only dimly be guessed at, especially about the new face. I wish with
all my heart I _could_ get a new face, for this one is much the worse
for the South African sun and my inveterate habit of loitering about
out of doors whenever I can, and spending most of my waking hours in
the verandah.


  AUGUST 4.

Since I last wrote there has not been much loitering out of doors,
nor has any one who could possibly avoid doing so even put his nose
outside. The hot zephyr I alluded to three days ago suddenly changed
to a furious hot gale, the worst I have ever seen—hotter than a New
Zealand nor’-wester, and as heavy as a hurricane. The clouds of dust
baffle description. The direction, too, from whence it came must also
have changed, for a sort of epidemic of low fever is hanging about,
and the influenza would be ludicrous from the number of its victims
if it were not so disagreeable and so dangerous. All the washermen
and washerwomen in the whole place are ill, the entire body of Kafir
police is on the sick list, all one’s servants are laid up—Charlie says
pathetically, “Too moch plenty cough inside, ma’”—and everybody looks
wretched. The “inkos” which one hears in passing are either a hoarse
growl or a wheezy whisper. When you consider how absolutely dry the
atmosphere must be, it is difficult to imagine how people catch such
constant and severe colds as they do here. I am bound to say, however,
that except with this influenza a cold does not last so long as it does
in England, but I think you catch cold oftener; and the reason is not
far to seek. In these hot winds, or out of the broiling midday sun,
some visitor rides up from town, and arrives here or elsewhere very hot
indeed. Then he comes into a little drawing-room with its thick stone
walls and closed, darkened windows, and exclaims, “How delightfully
cool you are here!” but in five minutes he is shivering; and the next
thing I hear is that he has cold or fever. Yet what is one to do? I
have to keep in-doors all day: I must have a cool room to sit in; and
as long as one has not been taking exercise out of doors, it does no
harm.

The gale of hot wind seemed to set the whole place on fire. I should
not have thought a tussock had been left anywhere, but every night
lately has been made bright as day by the glare of blazing hillsides.
Then I leave my readers to imagine the state of a house into which
all these fine particles of soot filter through ill-fitting doors
and windows, driven by a furious hurricane. The other morning poor
little G—— ’s plate of porridge set aside to cool in the dining-room,
with every door and window closed, had a layer of black burnt grass
on the top in five minutes; and the state of the tablecloth, milk,
etc. baffles description. Indeed, one’s life is a life of dusting
and scrubbing and cleaning generally, if a house is to be kept even
tolerably tidy in these parts.

I forget if I have ever told you of the spiders here. They are another
sorrow to the careful housewife, spinning webs in every corner, across
doorways, filling up spaces beneath tables, flinging their aërial
bridges from chair to chair—all in a single night—and regarding glass
and china ornaments merely as a nucleus or starting-point for a filmy
labyrinth.


  AUGUST 10.

Every now and then, when I give way to temper and a hot wind combined,
and write crossly about the climate, my conscience reproaches me
severely with a want of fairness when the weather changes, as it
generally does directly, and we have some exquisite days and nights.
For instance, directly after I last wrote our first spring showers
fell—very coyly, it is true, and almost as if the clouds had forgotten
how to dissolve into rain. Still, the very smell of the moist earth was
delicious, and ever since that wet night the whole country has been

    Growing glorious
    Quietly, day by day;

and except in the very last-burnt patches a faint and hesitating tinge
of palest green is stealing over all the bleak hillsides. My poor
bamboos are still mere shriveled ghosts of the fair green plumes which
used to rustle and wave all through the drenching summer weather, but
everything else is pushing a leaf here and a shoot there wherever it
can, and, joy of joys! there has been no dust for a day or two. All
looks washed and refreshed: parched-up Nature accepts this shower as
the first installment of the deluge which is coming presently. In the
mean time, the air is delicious, and even the poor influenza victims
are creeping about in the sunshine. The Kafirs have suffered most, and
it is really quite sad to see how weak they are, and how grateful for a
little nourishing food, which they absolutely require at present.

I took advantage of the first of these new spring days, with their
cool air, to make a little expedition I have long had on my mind. From
my verandah I can see on the opposite hills, at about my own lofty
elevation of fifty feet or so, the white tents beyond the dark walls
of Fort Napier. Now, this little spot represents the only shelter and
safety in all the country-side in case of a “difficulty” with our
swarming dusky neighbors. Here and there in other townships there are
“laagers,” or loopholed enclosures, within which wagons can be dragged
and a stand made against a sudden Kafir raid; but here, at the seat of
government, there is a battalion of an English regiment, a thousand
strong, and a regular, orthodox fortified place, with some heavy pieces
of ordnance. But you know of old how terribly candid I am, so I must
confess at once that it was not with the smallest idea of ascertaining
for myself the military strength and capability of Fort Napier that
I paid it a visit that fine spring morning. No: my object was of the
purest domestic character, and indeed was only to see with my own eyes
what these new Kafir huts were like, with a view to borrowing the idea
for a spare room here. Could anything be more peaceful than such a
project? I felt like the old wife in Jean Ingelow’s _Brides of Enderby_
as I drove slowly up the steep hill, at the brow of which I could
already see the pacing sentries and the grim cannon-mouth—

    And why should this thing be?
    What danger lowers by land or sea?

I might have answered as she did,

  For storms be none, and pyrates flee;

for, although there are skirmishes beyond our borders, we ourselves,
thank God! dwell in peace and safety within them. Nothing could be
more picturesque than the gleaming white points now standing sharply
out in snowy vandykes against a cobalt sky, or else toned harmoniously
down against a soft gray cloud; now glistening on a background of
green hillside, or nestling dimly in a dusty hollow. There is only
barrack-room for half the regiment, and the other half, under canvas,
takes a good many tents and covers a good deal of ground. Although
the soldiers have got through the winter very well, it would not be
prudent to trust them to the shelter of a tent during the coming
summer months of alternate flood and sunshine. So Kafirs have been
busy building nearly a hundred of their huts on an improved plan all
this dry weather, and these little dwellings are now just ready for
their complement of five men apiece. They are a great step in advance
of the original Kafir hut, and it was for this reason I came to see
them, lured also by hearing that they only cost four pounds apiece.
We are so terribly cramped for room here. I have only ventured on one
tiny addition—a dressing-room about as big as the cabin of a ship,
which cost nearly eighty pounds to build of stone like the rest of the
house. So I have had it on my mind for some time that it would be a
very fine thing to build one of these glorified Kafir huts close to the
house for a spare room. The real Kafir hut is exactly like a beehive,
without door or window, and only a small hole to creep in and out at.
These new military huts have circular walls, five feet high and about
a dozen feet in diameter, made of closely-woven wattles, and covered
within and without with clay. I stood watching the Kafirs working at
one for some time. It certainly looked a rude and simple process.
Some four or five stalwart Kafirs were squatting on the ground hard
by, “snuffing” and conversing with much gesticulation and merriment.
They were the off-gang, I imagine. Three or four more were tranquilly
and in a leisurely fashion trampling the wet clay and daubing it on
with their hands inside and out. They had not the ghost of a tool of
any sort, and yet the result was wonderfully good. I wondered why
finely-chopped grass was not mixed with the clay, as I have seen the
New Zealand shepherds do in preparing the “cob” for their mud walls;
but I was told that the Kafir would greatly object to anything so
uncomfortable for his bare legs and feet. Of course, the shepherd works
up the ugly mass with a spade, whilst here these men slowly trample
it to the right consistency. The plastering is really a triumph of
(literally) handiwork, though the process is exasperatingly slow. At
first the mud comes out all over thumb-marks, and dries so, but in a
day or two buckets of water are dashed over it, so as to remoisten it,
and then it is once more patiently smoothed all over with the palm of
the hand until an absolutely smooth surface is obtained, as flat and
flawless as though the best of trowels had been used. A neatly-fitting
door and window have meantime been made in the regimental workshop, and
hung in the spaces left for them in the wattled walls. More wattles,
closely woven together, are put on in the shape of a very irregular
dome, and this is thatched nearly a foot deep with long rank grass tied
securely down by endless ropes of finely-plaited grass. The result is
a spacious, cool, and most comfortable circular room, and those which
are finished and fitted up with shelves and camp furniture look as nice
as possible. A little tuft of straw at the apex of each dome is at
once a lightning-conductor and a finish to the quaint little building.
The plastered walls of some huts are whitewashed, but the most popular
idea seems to be to tar them and make them still more weather-proof. A
crooked stick or two, being merely the rough branch of a tree, stands
in the centre and acts as a musket-rack and tent-pole to the little
dwelling. The Kafirs get only one pound ten shillings for each hut,
and the wooden fittings are calculated to cost about two pounds ten
shillings more; but I hear that they grumble a good deal on account
of the distance from which they have to bring the grass, all in the
neighborhood having been burnt. They also regard it as women’s work,
for all the kraals are built by women.

On the whole, I am more than ever taken with the idea of a Kafir spare
room, and quite hope to carry it out some day, the huts look so cool
and healthy and clean. The thatch and mud walls will keep off the sun
in the hot weather before us; and as all the huts stand on a gentle
slope, there is no fear of their being damp. It is wonderful how well
the soldiers have managed hitherto under canvas, and how healthy they
have been; but I can quite understand that it is not well to presume
upon such good luck during another wet season. As we were up in camp,
we looked at all the soldiers’ arrangements—the canteen, where mustard
and pickles seemed to be the most popular articles of food; the
schoolhouse, a wee brick building, in which both the children and the
recruits have to learn, and which is also used as a chapel on Sunday.
Everything was the pink of neatness and cleanliness, as is always the
case where soldiers or sailors live, and I was much struck by the
absolute silence and repose of so small an enclosure with a thousand
men inside it. I wondered whether a thousand women could have kept so
quiet? Of course I peeped into the kitchen, and instantly coveted the
beautiful brick oven out of which sundry smoking platters were being
drawn. But curry and rice was the chief dish in the bill of fare for
that day, and I can only say the smell was excellent and exceedingly
appetizing. The view all round, too, was charming. Just at our feet lay
the hollow where the men’s gardens are. Such potatoes and pumpkins!
such cabbages and onions! The men delight in cultivating the willing
soil in which all vegetables grow so luxuriantly and easily; and it is
so managed that it shall be a profit as well as a pleasure to them. In
many ways this encouragement of a taste for gardening is good: there
is the first consideration of the advantage to themselves, and it
is indirectly a boon to us, for if a thousand men were added to the
consumers of the few potatoes and vegetables which daily find their
way into the Maritzburg market, I know not what would become of us.
Our last stroll was to the brow of another down close by, also crowned
with white tents. Beneath it lay the military graveyard, and I have
seldom seen anything more poetic and touching than the effect of this
lovely garden—for so it looked, a spot of purest green, tenderly cared
for—amid the bare winter coloring of all the country-side. The hills
folded it softly, as if it were a precious place, the sun lay brightly
on it, and the quiet sleeping-ground was made orderly and tranquil
by many a sheltering tree and blooming shrub. I promised myself to
come in summer and look down on it again when all the wealth of roses
and geraniums are out, and when these brown hillsides are green and
glorious with their tropic pasture.

You will think I have indeed taken a sudden mania for soldiers and
camps when I tell you that a very few days after my visit to Fort
Napier I joyfully accepted the offer of a friend to take me to see the
annual joint encampment of the Natal Carbineers and D’Urban Mounted
Rifles out on Botha’s Flat, rather more than halfway between this and
D’Urban. Not only was I delighted at the chance of seeing that lovely
bit of country more at my leisure than dashing through it in the
post-cart, but I have always so much admired the pluck and spirit of
this handful of volunteers, who keep up the discipline and prestige
of their little corps in the teeth of all sorts of difficulties and
discouragements, that I was glad to avail myself of the opportunity of
paying them a visit when they were out in camp. For many years past
these smart light-horse have struggled on in spite of obstacles to
attending drill, want of money, lack of public attention and interest,
and a thousand other lets and hinderances. Living as we do in such
a chronically precarious position—a position in which five minutes’
official ill-temper or ever so trifling an injudicious action might
set the whole Kafir population in a blaze of discontent, and even
revolt—too much importance cannot, in my poor judgment, be attached
to the volunteer movement; and it seems to me worthy in the highest
degree of every encouragement and token of appreciation which it is
in our power to give. Of either pence or praise these Natal mounted
volunteers (for they would be very little use on foot over such an
extent of railway-less country) have hitherto had a very small share,
and yet I found the pretty little camp as full of military enthusiasm,
as orderly, as severely simple in its internal economy, as though
the eyes of all Europe were upon it. Each man there in sacrificing a
week of his time was giving up a good deal more than most volunteers
give up, and it would make too long a story if I were to enter into
particulars of the actual pecuniary loss which in this country attends
the lawyer leaving his office, the clerk his desk, the merchant his
counting-house, and each providing himself with horses, etc. to come
out here twice a year and drill pretty nearly from morning till night.
The real difficulty, I fancy, lies in subordinates being able to
obtain leave. Every sugar-estate, every office, every warehouse, has
so few white men employed in it, exists in such a chronic state of
short-handedness, that it is the greatest inconvenience to the masters
to let their clerks go out. Both corps are therefore stronger on paper
than in the field, but from no lack of willingness to serve on the part
of the volunteers themselves.

I don’t want to be spiteful or invidious, but I have seen volunteer
camps nearer the heart of civilization, where there were flower-gardens
round the tents and lovely “fixings” inside, portable couches and
chairs, albums, and clocks, besides a French cook and iced champagne
flowing like a river. Dismiss from your mind all ideas of that sort
if you come with me next year to Botha’s Flat. I can promise you
scrupulous and exquisite neatness and cleanliness, but in every other
respect you might as well be in a real camp on active service. Even
the Kafir servants are left behind, the men—some of them very fine
gentlemen indeed—cleaning their own horses and accoutrements, pitching
their own tents, cooking their own food, and in fact acting precisely
as though they had really taken the field in an enemy’s country. The
actual drill, therefore—though more than half the hours of daylight
are spent in the saddle under the instruction of one of the most
enthusiastic and competent drill-instructors you could find anywhere—is
by no means all that is practiced in these brief, hardly-won camp-days.
The men learn to rely solely on their own resources. Their commissariat
is arranged by themselves, one single small wagon to each corps
conveying tents, forage, stores, firewood—all that is needed for man
and horse—for ten days or so. They have no “base of operations”—nothing
and nobody to depend upon but themselves. It is literally a “flying
camp,” and all the more interesting for being so evidently what we
shall most need in case of any native difficulty. I don’t suppose they
ever dream of visitors, for in this languid land few people would
journey thirty miles to look at anything, especially in a hot wind. Nor
am I sure the volunteers want visitors. It is real, earnest, practical
hard work with them, done with their utmost diligence, and without
expecting the smallest reward, even in fair words. It strikes me as
very remarkable and characteristic of the lack of general interest in
public subjects how little one hears of the very men on whom we may at
any moment be only too glad to rely. However, I never can attempt to
fathom causes: rather let me describe effects for you as best I may.

And a very pretty effect the camp has as we dash round the shoulder
of a steep hill with the brake hard down, the leaders plunging wildly
along with slack traces, and a general appearance of an impending upset
over everything. It has been a lovely drive, though rather hot, but
the roads are ever so much better than they were in the summer, and
I have never seen the country looking more beautiful, as it seems to
grow greener with every mile out of Maritzburg. When the hills open out
suddenly and show the great fertile cleft of undulating downs, green
ravines with trickling silver threads down them, and purple mountains
in the distance stretching away to the coast, which is known as the
Inanda Location, one feels as if one were looking at the Happy Valley.

    O mortal man, who livest here by toil,
    Do not complain of this, thy hard estate,

for neither the imaginary kingdom of Amhara nor any other kingdom in
all the fair earth can show a more poetical or suggestive glimpse of
scenic beauty. Yet when a few miles more of rushing and galloping
through the soft air brings us to the top of the pass of the Inchanga,
I make up my mind that _that_ is the most beautiful stretch of country
my eyes have ever beheld. It is too grand to describe, too complete to
break up into fragments by words. Far down among the sylvan slopes of
the park-like foreground the Umgeni winds, with the sunshine glinting
here and there on its waters: beyond are bold, level mountains with
rich deep indigo shadows and lofty crests cut off straight against
the dappled sky, according to the South African formation. But we
soon climb the lofty saddle, and put the brake hard down again for
the worst descent on the road. If good driving and skill and care can
save us, we need not be nervous, for we have all these; but the state
of the harness fills me with apprehension, and it is little short of
a miracle why it does not all give way at once and tumble off the
horses’ backs. Luckily, there is very little of it to begin with, and
the original leather is largely supplemented by reins or strips of
dried bullock hide, so we hold together until the vehicle draws up at
the door of a neat little wayside inn, where we get out and begin at
once to rub our elbows tenderly, for they are all black and blue. There
is the camp, however, on yonder green down, and here are two of the
officers from it waiting for us, and wanting to know all about hours
and plans and so forth. A little rest and luncheon are first on the
programme, and a good deal of soap and water also for us travelers,
and then, the afternoon being still young, we mount our horses and
canter up the rising ground to where the flagstaff stands. The men
are just falling in for their third and last drill, which will last
till sundown, so there is time to go round the pretty little spot and
admire the precision and neatness, the serviceable, business-like
air, of everything. There is the path the sentries tread, already
worn perfectly bare, but straight as though it had been ruled: yonder
is the bit of sod-fencing thrown up as a shelter to the kettles and
frying-pans. The kitchen range consists of half a dozen forked sticks
to leeward of this rude shelter, and each troop contributes a volunteer
cook and commissariat officer. The picket-ropes for the horses run
down the centre of the little camp, and we must look at the neat pile
of blankets and nose-bags marked with separate initials. The officers’
tents are at one end, and the guard tents at the other, and those for
the privates, holding five men each, are between. It is all as sweet
and clean and neat as possible, and one can easily understand what is
stated almost as a joke—that the first night in camp no one could sleep
for his own and his neighbor’s cough, and now there is not such a sound
to be heard.

We are coming back into camp presently, for I am invited to dine at
the officers’ mess to-night, so we must make the most of the daylight.
It is a gray evening, and the hot wind has died away, allowing the
freshness from the hills to steal down to this green spur, which is
yet high enough to be out of the cold mists of the valley. The drill
is not very amusing for a lady this afternoon, because it is real
hard work—patiently doing the same thing over and over again until
each little point is perfect—until the horses are steady and the men
move with the ease and precision of a machine. But it is just because
there is little else to distract one’s attention that I can notice
what fine stalwart young fellows they all are, and how thoroughly in
earnest. Their uniforms and accoutrements are simple, but natty, and
clean as a new pin, the horses especially being ever so much better
groomed and turned out by their masters’ hands than if each had been
saddled by his usual Kafir groom. So, after a short while of watching
the little squadron patiently wheel and trot and advance by those
mysterious “fours,” manœuvre across a swamp, charge down a hill,
skirmish up that burnt slope over there, and so forth, we leave them
hard at work, and canter over some ridges to see what lies beyond. But
there is nothing much to reward us, and the only effect of our long
evening ride is to make us all ravenously hungry and anxious for six
o’clock and dinner. Long before that hour the dusk has crept down, and
by the time we have returned, and I have exchanged my riding-habit
for a splendid dinner-costume of ticking, it is cold enough and dark
enough to make us glad of all the extra wraps we can find, and of the
light and shelter of the snug little tent. Here, again, it is real camp
fare. I am given _the_ great luxury of the encampment—to sit upon a
delicious _karosse_, or rug of dressed goat skins. It is snowy white,
and soft and flexible as a glove on the wrong side, and on the right
it is covered with long, wavy cream-colored hair with black patches
at each corner. The ground is strewn with grass, dry and sweet as
hay, and carriage candles are tied by wire to a cross stick fastened
on a tent-pole: the tablecloth is a piece of canvas, the dishes are
billies, but the food is excellent, and, above all, we have tea as
the sole beverage for everybody. We are all provided with the best of
sauces, and I assure you we very soon find ourselves at our dessert of
oranges in a basket-lid. Never have any of us enjoyed a meal more, and
certainly everybody except myself has earned it. Then there is a little
tinkling and tuning up outside, and the band turns out to play to us.
By this time the wind has got up again from another point, and is so
bitterly bleak and cold that the musicians cannot possibly stand still,
but have to keep marching round and round the little tent, playing away
lustily and singing with a good courage. Every now and then a stumble
over a tent-peg jerks out a laugh instead of a note, but still there
is plenty of “go” and _verve_ in the music, and half the camp turns
out to join in the chorus of “Sherman’s March through Georgia.” We
all declare loudly that we are going to carry “the flag that makes us
free” through all sorts of places, especially from “Atlanta to the
sea,” and I am quite sure that Sherman’s own “dashing Yankee boys”
could not possibly have made more noise themselves. This is followed
by the softest and sweetest of sentimental songs, given in a beautiful
falsetto which would be a treasure to a chorister; but it is really too
cold for sentiment, so we have one more song, and then the band sings
“Auld Lang Syne” with great spirit, and as the wind is now rising to
a hurricane, the musical performances are wound up somewhat hurriedly
by “God Save the Queen!” For this the whole camp turns out of their
own accord. The cooks leave their fires, the fatigue-party their
scrubbing and the lazy ones their pipes. Under the clear starlight,
with the Southern Cross sloping up from the edge of yonder dusky hill,
with the keen wind sweeping round the camp of this little handful of
Englishmen in a strange and distant country, the words of the most
beautiful tune in the world come ringing as though straight from each
man’s heart. Of course we all come out of our tent to stand bareheaded
too, and I assure you it is a very impressive and beautiful moment. One
feels as one stands here amid the flower of the young colonists, each
man holding his cap aloft in his strong right hand, each man putting
all the fervor and passion of his loyal love and reverence for his
queen into every tone of his voice, that it is well worth coming down
for this one moment alone. It is very delightful to see the English
people, whether in units or tens of thousands, greet their sovereign
face to face, but there is something even more heart-stirring, more
inexpressibly pathetic, in such outbursts as this, evoked by none of
the glamour and glitter of a royal pageant, but called into being
merely by a name, a tune, a sentiment. I often think if I were a queen
I should be more really gratified and touched by the ardent and loyal
love of such handfuls of my subjects in out-of-the-way corners of my
empire, where the sentiment has nothing from outside to fan it, than
with the acclamations of a shouting multitude as my splendor is passing
them by. At all events, _I_ have never seen soldiers or sailors,
regulars or volunteers, more enthusiastic over our own anthem. It is
followed by cheer upon cheer, blessing upon blessing on the beloved and
royal name, until everybody is perfectly hoarse from shouting in such a
high wind, and we all retreat into the tiny tents for a cup of coffee
and—what do you think? Stories. I am worse than any child in my love of
stories, and we have one or two really good _raconteurs_ in the little
knot of hosts.

Of course one of the first inquiries I make is whether any snakes have
been found in the tents, and I hear, much to my disappointment—because
the bare fact will not at all lend itself to a story for G—— when I get
home—that only one little one had crept beneath a folded great-coat
(which is the camp pillow, it seems), and been found in the morning
curled up, torpidly dozing in the woolen warmth. No, it is not a story
G—— will ever care about, for the poor little snake had not even been
killed: it was too small and too insignificant, they say, and it merely
got kicked out of its comfortable bed. To console me for this bald and
incomplete adventure, I am told some more snake-stories, which, at all
events, _ought_ to have been true, so good are they. Here are two for
you, one of which especially delights me.

Hard by this very camp a keen sportsman was lately pursuing a buck. He
had no dogs except a pet Skye terrier to help him in the chase—nothing
but his rifle and a trusty Kafir. Yet the hard-pressed buck had to dash
into a small, solitary patch of thorny scrub for shelter and a moment’s
rest. In an instant the hunter was off his pony, and had sent the
Kafir into the bush to drive out the buck, that he might have a shot
at it the moment it emerged from the cover. Instead of the expected
buck, however—I must tell you the story never states what became of
_him_—came loud cries in Kafir from the scrub of, “Oh, my mother! oh,
my friends and relations! I die! I die!” The master, much astonished,
peeped as well as he could into the little patch of tangled briers and
bushes, and there he saw his crouching Kafir stooping, motionless,
beneath a low branch round which was coiled a large and venomous snake.
The creature had struck at the man’s head as he crept beneath, and its
forked tongue had got firmly imbedded in the Kafir’s woolly pate. The
wretched beater dared not stir an inch: he dared not even put up his
hands to free himself; but there he remained motionless and despairing,
uttering these loud shrieks. His master bade him stay perfectly still,
and taking close aim at the snake’s body, fired and blew it in two.
He then with a dexterous jerk disentangled the barbed tongue, and
flung the quivering head and neck outside the bushes. Here comes the
only marvelous part of the story. “How did he know it was a poisonous
snake?” I ask. “Oh, well: the little dog ran up to play with the head,
and the snake—or rather the half snake—struck out at it and bit it in
the paw, and it died in ten minutes.”

But the following is _my_ favorite Munchausen: There was once a certain
valiant man of many adventures whose Kafir title was “the prince
of—fibs,” and he used to relate the following experience: One day—so
long ago that breech-loading guns were unknown, and the process of
reloading was a five-minute affair—he came upon a large and deadly
snake making as fast as it could for its hole hard by. Of course, such
a thing as escape could not be permitted, and as there was no other
weapon at hand, the huntsman determined to shoot the huge reptile. But
first the gun must be loaded, and whilst this was being done, lo! the
snake’s head had already disappeared in the hole: in another instant
the whole body would have followed. A sudden grasp at the tail, a
rapid, bold jerk, flung the creature a yard or two off. Did it attempt
to show fight? Oh no: it glided swiftly as ever toward the same shelter
from which it had been so rudely plucked. The ramrod was rapidly
plied, the charge driven home, but there was yet the percussion-cap
to be adjusted. Once more the tail was grasped, the snake pulled out
and flung still farther away. Again did the wily creature approach
the hole. In another instant the cap would be on and the gun cocked,
but everything depended on that instant. The sportsman kept his eye
fixed on his artful foe even whilst his fingers deftly found and fixed
the percussion-cap. What, then, was his horror and dismay to find
that he had, for once, met his match, and that the snake, recognizing
the desperate nature of the position, and keeping a wary eye on the
hunter’s movements, instead of going into his hole for the third time
in the usual method, had turned round and was backing in _tail first_!
Is it not delightful?

As soon as we had finished laughing at this and similar stories it was
high time to break up the little party, although it was only about the
hour at which one sits down to dinner in London. Still, there were
early parades and drills and goodness knows what, and I was very tired
and sleepy with my jolting journey and afternoon on horseback. So we
all went the “grand rounds,” lantern in hand, and with a deep feeling
of admiration and pity for the poor sentries pacing up and down on
the bleak hillside, walked down to the little inn, where a tiny room,
exactly like a wooden box, had been secured for me, the rest of the
party climbing heroically up the hill again to sleep on the ground
with their saddles for a pillow. This was playing at soldiers with
a vengeance, was it not? However, they all looked as smart and well
as possible next morning, when they came to fetch me up to breakfast
in the camp. Then more drill—very pretty this time—a sham attack and
defence, and then another delightful long ride over a different range
of hills. It was a perfect morning for exploring, gray and cool and
cloudy—so different from the hot wind and scorching sun of yesterday.
We could not go fast, not only from the steep up-and-down hill, but
from the way the ground was turned up by the ant-bears. Every few yards
was a deep burrow, often only a few hours’ old; and unless you had
seen it with your own eyes I can never make you believe or understand
the extraordinarily vivid color of this newly-turned earth. During
yesterday’s journey I had noticed that the only wild-flower yet out was
a curious lily growing on a fat bulb more than half out of the ground,
and sometimes of a deep-orange or of a brilliant-scarlet color. With
the recollection of these blossoms fresh in my mind, I noticed a patch
of bright scarlet on the face of an opposite down, and thought it must,
of course, be made by lilies. As I was very anxious to get some bulbs
for my garden, I proposed that we should ride across the ravine and dig
some up. “We can come if you like,” said the kindest and pleasantest of
guides, “but I assure you it is only a freshly-dug ant-bear’s hole.”
Never did I find belief so difficult, and, like all incredulous people,
I was on the point of backing up my hasty opinion by half a dozen
pairs of gloves when the same friendly guide laughingly pointed to a
hole close by, bidding me look well at it before risking my gloves.
There was nothing more to be said. The freshly scratched-out earth was
exactly like vermilion, moist and brilliant in color—“a ferruginous
soil,” some learned person said; but, however that may be, I had never
before seen earth of such a bright color, for it was quite different
from the red-clay soil one has seen here and in other places.

The line of country we followed that morning was extraordinarily
pretty and characteristic. The distant purple hills rolled down to the
gently-undulating ground over which we rode. Here and there—would that
it had been oftener!—a pretty homestead with its sheltering trees and
surrounding patches of pale-green forage clung to the steep hillside
before us. Then, as we rode on, one of the ravines fell away at our
feet to a deep gully, through which ran a streamlet among clustering
scrub and bushes. In one spot the naked rock stood out straight and
bare and bold for fifty yards or so, as though it were the walls of
a citadel, with a wealth of creeping greenery at its foot, and over
its face a tiny waterfall, racing from the hill behind, leapt down to
join the brook in the gully. We saw plenty of game, too—partridges,
buck, two varieties of the bald-headed ibis, secretary-birds, and, most
esteemed of all, a couple of paauw (I wonder _how_ it is spelt?), a
fine kind of bustard, which is quite as good eating as a turkey, but
daily becoming more and more scarce. There were lots of plover, too,
busy among the feathery ashes on the newly-burned ground, and smaller
birds chirruped sweetly every now and then. It was all exceedingly
delightful, and I enjoyed it all the more for the absence of the
blazing sunshine, which, however it may light up and glorify the
landscape, beats too fiercely on one’s head to be pleasant. If only
we women could bring ourselves to wear pith helmets, it would not be
so bad; but with the present fashion of hats, which are neither shade
nor shelter, a ride in the sun is pretty nearly certain to end in a
bad headache. At all events, _this_ ride had no worse consequence than
making us very hungry for our last camp-meal, a solid luncheon, and
then there was just time to rush down the hill and clamber into the
post-cart for four hours of galloping and jolting through the cold
spring evening air. My last look was at the white tents of the pretty
camp, the smoke of its fires and the smart lines of carbineers and
mounted rifles assembling to the bugle-call for another long afternoon
of steady drill down in the valley, or “flat,” as it is called—a
picturesque and pretty glimpse, recalling the memory of some very
pleasant hours, the prettiest imaginable welcome, and a great deal of
hearty and genuine hospitality.



PART XII.


  MARITZBURG, September 1, 1876.

I have had many pleasant cups of tea in my life, indoors and out of
doors, but never a pleasanter cup than the one I had the other day in a
wagon, or, to speak more exactly, by the side of a wagon—a wagon, too,
upon which one looked with the deepest respect, for it had just come
down from a long journey up the country, where it had been trekking
these four months past—trekking night and day right up to the territory
of the Ama-Swazies, through the Thorn country, over hundreds of miles
of these endless billowy hills, rolling in wearying monotony day after
day; but—and this “but” made up for every other shortcoming—amid
hunting-grounds happier than often fall to the lot of even the South
African explorer. And there were the spoils of the little campaign
spread out before us. The first result, however, which struck me was
the splendid health of the travelers. Sunburned indeed they were,
especially the fair young English girl-face which had smiled good-bye
to me from the depths of a sun-bonnet last April. But who would
not risk a few shades of tan to have gone through such a novel and
delightful journey? I never saw two people look so well in all my life
as this adventurous couple, and it was with one voice they declared
they had enjoyed every moment of the time. And what a pleasant time it
must have been, rewarded as they were—and deserved to be—by splendid
sport! On the fore part of the wagon lay a goodly pile of skins and
quantities of magnificent horns, from the ponderous pair on the shaggy
buffalo-skulls down to taper points which might have belonged to a
fairy buck, so slender, so polished, so inexpressibly graceful, were
they. But the trophy of trophies was the skin of a lion, which had
been shot in the earliest morning light some twenty yards from the
hunter’s tent. It was a splendid skin, and the curved claws are to be
made into a necklace and earrings for the sportsman’s wife, who indeed
deserves them for bearing her share of the dangers and discomforts
of the expedition so cheerfully and bravely. It was very difficult
to elicit the least hint of what the discomforts were, or might have
been, until at last my eager questions raked out an admission that a
week of wet weather (the only one, by the way, in all the four months)
was tedious when cooped up under the tilt of the wagon, or that some
of the places up and down which the lumbering, unwieldy conveyance had
crept were fearful to look at and dangerous to travel, necessitating a
lashing together of the wheels by iron chains, as well as the use of
the ordinary heavy brake. Yet there had been no upset, no casualty, no
serious trouble of any sort; and I think what these English travelers
were more impressed with than anything else was the honesty of the
Kafirs. The wagon with its stores of food and wine, of comforts and
conveniences of all sorts, had been left absolutely alone by the side
of a track crossed and recrossed every hour by Kafirs, and twenty
miles short of the place whither the tent had been carried for greater
facilities of getting at the big game. The oxen were twenty miles off
in another direction, under no one’s care in particular; the wagon
stood absolutely alone; and yet when the moment of reassembling came
every bullock was forthcoming, and nothing whatever of any description
was missing from the unguarded wagon. The great attraction to the
Kafirs along the line of travel had been the empty tins of preserved
milk or jam: with tops and bottoms knocked out they made the most
resplendent bangles, and became a violent fashion up among the Thorns.

Nor was that grand lion’s skin the only one. There were quagga skins,
wolf skins, buck skins of half a dozen different species, eland skins,
buffalo skins, lynx and wild-cat skins enough to start a furrier’s
shop, and all in excellent preservation, having been tightly pegged
out and thoroughly dried. The horns—or rather the skulls—were still
a little high, and needed to be heaped well to leeward before we
settled down to tea, camping on kegs and boxes and whatever we could
find. I was made proud and happy by being accommodated with a seat on
the lion skin; and exactly opposite to me, tranquilly grazing on the
young grass, was the identical donkey which had attracted the king of
animals to the spot where his fate awaited him. Although camped in
the very heart of the lion country, the hunter had neither seen nor
heard anything of his big game until this donkey chanced to be added
to the stud, and then the lions came roaring round, half a dozen at a
time. A huge fire had to be kept up night and day, and close to this
the unhappy ass was tethered, for his life would not have been worth
much otherwise; and he seems to have been thoroughly alive to the
perils of his situation. Lions can resist anything except ass-flesh,
it appears; but it is so entirely their favorite delicacy that they
forget their cunning, and become absolutely reckless in pursuit of it.
When at the last extremity of terror, the poor donkey used to lift
up his discordant voice, and so keep the prowling foe at bay for a
while, though it invariably had the double effect of attracting all
the lions within earshot. And so it was that in the early dawn the
hunter, hearing the lion’s growls coming nearer and nearer, and the
poor donkey’s brays more and more frequent, stole out, rifle in hand,
just in time to get a steady shot at the splendid brute only fifteen
yards away, who was hungrily eyeing the miserable ass on the other
side of the blazing fire. In spite of all legends to the contrary, a
lion never attacks a man first, and this lion turned and moved away
directly he saw the sportsman’s leveled rifle. Only one shot was fired,
for the dull thud of the bullet told that it had struck the lion, and
nothing upon earth is so dangerous as a wounded lion. The huge beast
walked slowly away, and when the full daylight had come the sportsman
and a few Kafirs followed up the blood-flecked trail for a quarter of
a mile, or less, to find the lion lying down as if asleep, with his
head resting on his folded fore paw, quite dead. I don’t think I ever
understood the _weight_ of a lion until I was told that it took two
strong Kafirs to lift one of its ponderous fore feet a few inches even
from the ground, and it was almost more than ten men could manage to
drag it along the ground by ropes back to the tent. Twenty men could
scarcely have carried it, the size and weight of the muscle are so
enormous. The Kafirs prize the fat of the lion very highly, and the
headman of the expedition had claimed this as his perquisite, melting
it down into gourds and selling it in infinitesimal portions as an
unguent. I don’t know what the market-price up country was, but whilst
we were laughing and chatting over our tea I saw the crafty Kafir
scooping out the tiniest bits of lion’s fat in return for a shilling.
One of my Kafirs asked leave to go down and buy some. “What for, Jack?”
I asked. “Not for me, ma’—_for my brudder_: make him brave, ma’—able
for plenty fight, ma’.” I am certain, however, that this was a ruse,
and that Jack felt his own need of the courage-giving ointment.

Talking of Jack, reminds me of a visit I had the other day from a
detachment of his friends and relatives. They did not come to see Jack:
they came to see me, and very amusing visitors they were. First of all,
there was a bride, who brought me a young hen as a present. She was
attended by two or three scraggy girls of about fifteen, draped only in
short mantles of coarse cloth. The bride herself was exceedingly smart,
and had one of the prettiest faces imaginable. Her regular features,
oval outline, dazzling teeth and charming expression were not a bit
disfigured by her jet-black skin. Her hair was drawn straight up from
her head like a tiara, stained red and ornamented with a profusion of
bones and skewers, feathers, etc., stuck coquettishly over one ear,
and a band of bead embroidery, studded with brass-headed nails, being
worn like a fillet where the hair grew low on the forehead. She had
a kilt—or series of aprons, rather—of lynx skins, a sort of bodice of
calf skin, and over her shoulders, arranged with ineffable grace, a gay
table-cover. Then there were strings of beads on her pretty, shapely
throat and arms, and a bright scarlet ribbon tied tight round each
ankle. All the rest of the party seemed immensely proud of this young
person, and were very anxious to put her forward in every way. Indeed,
all the others, mostly hard-working, hard-featured matrons, prematurely
aged, took no more active part than the chorus of a Greek play, always
excepting the old induna or headman of the village, who came as escort
and in charge of the whole party. He was a most garrulous and amusing
individual, full of reminiscences and anecdotes of his fighting days.
He was rather more frank than most warriors who

  Shoulder their crutch and show how fields are won,

for the usual end of his battle-stories was the naïve confession, “And
then I thought I should be killed, and so I ran away.” He and I used up
a great many interpreters in the course of the visit, for he wearied
every one out, and nothing made him so angry as any attempt to condense
his conversation in translating it to me. But he was great fun—polite,
as became an old soldier, full of compliments and assurances that
“now, the happiest day of his life having come, he desired to live no
longer, but was ready for death.” The visit took place on the shady
side of the verandah, and thither I brought my large musical-box and
set it down on the ground to play. Never was there such a success. In
a moment they were all down on their knees before it, listening with
rapt delight, the old man telling them the music was caused by very
little people inside the box, who were obliged to do exactly as I bade
them. They were all in a perfect ecstasy of delight for ever so long,
retreating rapidly, however, to a distance whenever I wound it up. The
old induna took snuff copiously all the time, and made me affectionate
speeches, which resulted in the gift of an old great-coat, which he
assured me he never should live to wear out, because he was quite in
a hurry to die and go to the white man’s land, now that he had seen
me. We hunted up all manner of queer odds and ends for presents, and
made everybody happy in turn. As a final ceremony, I took them through
the house: tiny as it is, it filled them with amazement and delight.
My long looking-glass was at once a terror and a pleasure to them,
for they rather feared bewitchment; but I held up the baby to see
himself in it, and then they were pacified, saying, “The chieftainess
never would go and bewitch that nice little chieftain.” As usual, the
pictures were what they most thoroughly enjoyed. Landseer’s prints of
wild cattle elicited low cries of recognition and surprise: “Zipi in
korno!” (“Behold the cows!”) My own favorite print of the three little
foxes was much admired, but pronounced to be “lill catties.” The bride
was anxious to know why I kept the beds of the establishment on the
floor and allowed people to walk over them. She did not consider that a
good arrangement evidently; nor could she understand how matting could
be of any use except to sleep on. At last it became time for “scoff,”
and they all retired to partake of that dainty, the old induna having
begged leave to kiss my hands, which he did very gallantly, assuring me
he had never been so happy before in all his life, and that he could
quite believe now what I had told him about the great white queen over
the sea being just as careful for and fond of her black children as of
her white ones. I made a great point of this in my conversations with
him, and showed them all Her Majesty’s picture, to which they cried
“Moochlie!” (“Nice!”), and gave the royal salute. I must say I delight
in these little glimpses of Kafir character; I find in those whom I
come across, like my visitors of last week, so much simple dignity
with shrewd common sense. Their minds, too, seem peculiarly adapted
to receive and profit by anything like culture and civilization, and
there certainly is a better foundation on which to build up both these
things than in any other black race with which I am acquainted.


  SEPTEMBER 15.

Such an expedition as we have just made! It reminded me exactly of the
dear old New Zealand days, only that I should have been sure to have
had a better horse to ride in New Zealand than here. I have a very poor
opinion of most of the animals here: anything like a tolerable horse is
rare and expensive, and the ordinary run of steeds is ugly to look at,
ill-groomed and ill-favored, besides not being up to much work. Upon
this occasion I was mounted on a coarsely-put-together chestnut, who
was broken in to carry a lady a few evenings ago whilst I was getting
ready for my ride. However, beyond being a little fidgety and difficult
to mount, owing to lurking distrust of my habit, he has no objection
to carry me. But he is as rough as a cart-horse in his paces, and the
way he stops short in his canter or trot, flinging all his legs about
anywhere, is enough to jolt one’s spine out of the crown of one’s head.
As for his mouth, it might as well be a stone wall, and he requires to
be ridden tightly on the curb to keep him from tripping. When you add
to these peculiarities a tendency to shy at every tuft of grass, and
a habit of hanging the entire weight of his head on your bridle-hand
as soon as he gets the least bit jaded, it must be admitted that it
would be easy to find a pleasanter horse for a long, hurried journey.
Still, on the principle of all’s well that ends well, I ought not to be
so severe on my steed, for the expedition ended well, and was really
rather a severe tax on man and beast. This is the way we came to take
it:

Ever since I arrived, now nearly a year ago, I have been hearing of a
certain “bush” or forest some forty-five or fifty miles away, which is
always named when I break into lamentations over the utter treelessness
of Natal. Latterly, I have had even a stronger craving than usual to
see something more than a small plantation of blue gums, infantine oaks
and baby firs, making a dot here and there amid the eternal undulation
of the low hills around. “Seven-Mile Bush” has daily grown more
attractive to my thoughts, and at last we accepted one of many kind and
hospitable invitations thither, and I induced F—— to promise that he
would forego the dear delight of riding down to his barn-like office
for a couple of days, and come with Mr. C—— and me to the “bush.” This
was a great concession on his part; and I may state here that he never
ceased pining for his papers and his arm-chair from the moment we
started until we came back.

It was necessary to make a very early start indeed, and the stars
were still shining when we set off, though the first sunbeams were
creeping brightly and swiftly over the high eastern hills. It was a
fresh morning, in spite of the occasional puff of dust-laden air, which
seemed to warn us every now and then that there was such a thing as
a hot wind to be considered, and also that there had not been a drop
of rain for these last five months. The whole country seems ground to
powder, and the almost daily hot winds keep this powder incessantly
moving about; so it is not exactly pleasant for traveling. We picked up
our Kafir guide as we rode through the town, and made the best of our
way at once across the flats between this and Edendale, which we left
on our right, climbing slowly and tediously up a high hill above it;
then down again and up again, constantly crossing clear, cold, bright
rivulets—a welcome moment to horse and rider, for already our lips
are feeling swollen and baked; across stony reefs and ridges cropping
out from bare hillsides; past many a snug Kafir kraal clinging like
the beehives of a giant to the side of a steep pitch, with the long
red wagon-track stretching out as though for ever and ever before
us. The sun is hot, very hot, but we have left it behind us in the
valleys below, and we sweep along wherever there is a foothold for the
horses, with a light and pleasant air blowing in our faces. Still, it
is with feelings of profound content that at the end of a twenty-mile
stage we see “Taylor’s,” a roadside shanty, looking like a child’s
toy set down on the vast flat around, but uncommonly comfortable and
snug inside, with mealie-gardens and forage-patches around, and more
accommodation than one would have believed possible beneath its low,
thatched eaves from the first bird’s-eye glance. The horses are made
luxuriously comfortable directly in a roomy, cool shed, and we sit down
to an impromptu breakfast in the cleanest of all inn-parlors. I have
no doubt it would have been a very comprehensive and well-arranged
meal, but the worst of it was it never had a chance of being taken as
a whole. Whatever edible the nice, tidy landlady put down on her snowy
cloth vanished like a conjuring trick before she had time to bring the
proper thing to go with it. We ate our breakfast backward and forward,
and all sorts of ways, beginning with jam, sardines, and mustard,
varied by eggs, and ending with rashers of bacon. As for the tea, we
had drunk up all the milk and eaten the sugar by the time the pot
arrived. The only thing which at all daunted us was some freshly-made
boers’ bread, of the color of a sponge, the consistency of clay and
the weight of pig iron. We were quite respectful to that bread, and
only ventured to break off little crusts here and there and eat it
guardedly, for it was a fearful condiment. Still, we managed to eat an
enormous breakfast in spite of it, and so did the horses; and we all
started in highest condition and spirits a little before two o’clock,
having had more than a couple of hours’ rest. After riding hard for
some time, galloping over every yard of anything approaching to broken
ground, we ventured to begin to question our guide—who kept up with us
in an amazing manner, considering the prominence of his little rough
pony’s ribs—as to the remaining distance between us and “Seven-Mile
Bush.” Imagine our horror when he crooked his hand at right angles to
his wrist, and made slowly and distinctly five separate dips with it,
pointing to the horizon as he did so! Now, the alarming part was, that
there were five distinct and ever-rising ranges of hills before us, the
range which made a hard ridge against the dazzling sky being of a deep
and misty purple, so distant was it. We had been assured at Taylor’s
that only twenty-five miles more lay between us and the “bush,” and
those mountains must be _now_ at least thirty miles off. But the guide
only grins and nods his head, and kicks with his bare heels against his
pony’s pronounced ribs, and we hasten on once more. On our right hand,
but some distance off, rises the dark crest of the Swartzkopf Mountain,
and beneath its shadow, extending over many thousand acres of splendid
pasture-ground, is what is known as the Swartzkopf Location, a vast
tract of country reserved—or rather appropriated—to the use of a large
tribe of Kafirs. They dwell here in peace and plenty, and, until the
other day, in prosperity too. But a couple of years ago lung-sickness
broke out and decimated their herds, reducing the tribe to the very
verge of starvation and misery. However, they battled manfully with the
scourge, but it gave them a distrust of cattle, and they took every
opportunity of exchanging oxen for horses, of which they now own a
great number. What we should have called in New Zealand “mobs” of them
were to be seen peacefully pasturing themselves on the slopes around
us, and in almost every nook and hollow nestled a Kafir kraal. Here
and there were large irregular patches of brown on the fast greening
hillsides, and these straggling patches, rarely if ever fenced, were
the mealie-gardens belonging to the kraals.

By four of the clock we have made such good way that we can afford
immediately after crossing Eland’s River, a beautiful stream, to
“off saddle” and sit down and rest by its cool banks for a quarter
of an hour. Then, tightening up our girths, we push off once more.
It has been up hill the whole way, just excepting the sudden sharp
descent into a deep valley on the farther side of each range; but
the increasing freshness—nay, sharpness—of the air proved to us how
steadily we had been climbing up to a high level ever since we had
passed through Edendale. From this point of the journey the whole
scenic character of the country became widely different from anything
I have hitherto seen in Natal. For the first time I began to understand
what a wealth of beauty lies hidden away among her hills and valleys,
and that the whole country is not made up of undulating downs, fertile
flats and distant purple hills. At the top of the very first ridge
up which we climbed after crossing Eland’s River a perfectly new and
enchanting landscape opened out before us, and it gained in majesty
and beauty with every succeeding mile of our journey. Ah! how can I
make you see it in all its grandeur of form and glory of color? The
ground is broken up abruptly into magnificent masses—cliffs, terraces
and rocky crags. The hills expand into abrupt mountain-ranges, serrated
in bold relief against the loveliest sky blazing with coming sunset
splendors. Every cleft—or _kloof_, as it is called here—is filled
with fragments of the giant forest which until quite lately must have
clothed these rugged mountain-sides. Distant hill-slopes, still bare
with wintry leanness, catch some slanting sun-rays on their scanty
covering of queer, reddish grass, and straightway glow like sheets of
amethyst and topaz, and behind them lie transparent deep-blue shadows
of which no pigment ever spread on mortal palette could give the
exquisite delicacy and depth. Under our horses’ feet the turf might be
off the Sussex downs, so close and firm and delicious is it—the very
thing for sheep, of which we only see a score here and there. “Why
are there not more sheep?” I ask indignantly, with my old squatter
instincts coming back in full force upon me. Mr. C—— translates my
question to the Kafir guide, who grins and kicks his pony’s ribs and
says, “No can keep ship here. Plenty Kafir dog: eat up all ships two,
tree day.” “Yes, that is exactly the reason,” Mr. C—— says, “but I
wanted you to hear it from himself.” And ever after this, I,
remembering the dearness and scarcity of mutton in Maritzburg, and
seeing all this splendid feed growing for nothing, look with an eye
of extreme disfavor and animosity on all the gaunt, lean curs I
see prowling about the kraals. Almost every Kafir we meet has
half a dozen of these poaching-looking brutes at his heels, and
it exasperates me to hear that there _is_ a dog law or ordinance, or
something of that sort, “only it has not come into operation yet.” I
wish it would come into operation to-morrow, and so does every farmer
in the country, I should think. Yes, in spite of this fairest of fair
scenes—and in all my gypsy life I have never seen anything much more
beautiful—I feel quite cross and put out to think of imaginary fat
sheep being harried by these useless, hideous dogs.

But the horses are beginning to go a little wearily, and gladly pause
to wet their muzzles and cool their hoofs in every brook we cross.
I am free to confess that I am getting very tired, for nothing is
so wearying as a sudden, hurried journey like this, and I am also
excessively hungry and thirsty. The sun dips down quite suddenly behind
a splendid confusion of clouds and mountain-tops, lights up the whole
sky for a short while with translucent masses of crimson and amber,
which fade swiftly away into strangest, tenderest tints of primrose and
pale green, and then a flood of clear cold moonlight breaks over all
and bathes everything in a differing but equally beautiful radiance.
Three ridges have now been climbed, and the pertinacious guide only
dips his hand twice more in answer to my peevish questions about the
distance. Nay, he promises in wonderful Dutch and Kafir phraseology to
show me the “baas’s” house (whither we are bound) from the very next
ridge. But what a climb it is! and what a panorama do we look down
upon from the topmost crag before commencing the steep descent, this
time through a bit of dense forest! It is all as distinct as day, and
yet there is that soft, ineffable veil of mystery and silence which
moonlight wraps up everything in. We look over immense tree-tops, over
plains which seem endless beneath the film of evening mist creeping
over them, to where the broad Umkomanzi rushes and roars amid great
boulders and rocks, leaping every here and there over a crag down to
a lower level of its wide and rocky bed. In places the fine river
widens out into a mere, and then it sleeps tranquilly enough in the
moonlight, making great patches of shimmering silver amid the profound
shadows cast by hill and forest. Beyond, again, are mountains, always
mountains, and one more day’s journey like this would take us into
Adam Kop’s Land. As we look at it all now, it does indeed seem “a
sleepy world of dreams;” but in another moment the panorama is shut
out, for we are amid the intense darkness of the forest-path, stepping
carefully down what resembles a stone ladder placed at an angle of 45°.
Of course I am frightened, and of course my fright shows itself in
crossness and in incoherent reproaches. I feel as if I were slipping
down on my horse’s neck; and so I am, I believe. But nobody will “take
me off,” which is what I earnestly entreat. Both my gentlemen retain
unruffled good-humor, and adjure me “not to think about it,” coupled
with assurances of perfect safety. I hear, however, a great deal of
slipping and sliding and rolling of displaced rocks even after these
consoling announcements of safety, and orders are given to each weary
steed to “hold up;” which orders are not at all reassuring. Somebody
told me somewhere—it seems months ago, but it must have been early
in the afternoon—that this particular and dreadful hill was only
three-quarters of a mile from the “baas’s;” so you may imagine my
mingled rage and disappointment at hearing that it was still rather
more than three miles off. And three miles at this stage of the journey
is equal to thirteen at an earlier date. It is wonderful how well the
horses hold out. This last bit of the road is almost flat, winding
round the gentlest undulation possible, and it is as much as I can
do to hold the chestnut, who has caught sight evidently of twinkling
lights there under the lee of that great wooded cliff. No sound can
ever be so delightful to a wearied and belated traveler as the bark
of half a dozen dogs, and no greeting more grateful than their rough
caresses, half menace and half play. But there is a much warmer and
more cordial welcome waiting for us behind the _sako bono_ of the
dogs, and I find myself staggering about as if the water I have been
drinking so freely all day had been something much stronger. On my
feet at last in such a pretty sitting-room! Pictures, books, papers,
all sorts of comforts and conveniences, and, sight of joy! a tea-table
all ready, even to the tea-pot, which had been brought in when the
dogs announced us. If I had even sixpence for every cup of tea I drank
that evening, I should be a rich woman to the end of my days. As for
the milk, deliciously fresh from the cow, it was only to be equaled by
the cream; and you must have lived all these months in Natal before
you can appreciate as we did the butter, which looked and tasted like
butter, instead of the pale, salt, vapid compound, as much lard as
anything else, for which we pay three shillings and sixpence a pound in
Maritzburg, and which has been costing six shillings in Port Elizabeth
all this winter.

It is always a marvel to me, arriving at night at these out-of-the-way
places, which seem the very Ultima Thule of the habitable globe, _how_
the furniture, the glass and china, the pictures and ornaments and
books, get there. How has anybody energy to think of transporting
all these perishable articles over that road? Think of their jolting
in a bullock-wagon down that hill! One fancies if one lived here it
must needs be a Robinson-Crusoe existence; instead of which it is as
comfortable as possible; and if one did not remember the distance and
the road and the country, one might be in England, except for the Kafir
boys, barefooted and white-garmented, something like choristers, who
are gliding about with incessant relays of food for us famished ones.
The sweet little golden-haired children, rosy and fresh as the bough
of apple-blossoms they are playing with, the pretty châtelaine in her
fresh toilette,—all might have been taken up in a beneficent fairy’s
thumb and transported, a moment ago, from the heart of civilization
to this its farthest extremity. As for sleep, you must slumber in
just such a bed if you want to know what a good night’s rest is,
and then wake up as we did, with all memories of the long, wearying
day’s journey clean blotted out of one’s mind, and nothing in it but
eagerness not to lose a moment of the lovely fresh and cool day before
us. Even the sailing clouds are beautiful, and the shadows they cast
over the steep mountains, the broad rivers and the long dark belt of
forest are more beautiful still. Of course, the “bush” is the great
novelty to us who have not seen a tree larger than a dozen years’
growth could make it since we landed; and it is especially beautiful
just now, for although, like all native forests, it is almost entirely
evergreen (there is a more scientific word than that, isn’t there?),
still, there are patches and tufts of fresh green coming out in
delicate spring tints, which show vividly against the sombre mass of
foliage. But oh, I wish they had not such names! Handed down to us
from our Dutch predecessors, they must surely have got changed in some
incomprehensible fashion, for what rhyme or reason, what sense or
satire, is there in such a name as “cannibal stink-wood”?—applied, too,
to a graceful, handsome tree, whose bark gives out an aromatic though
pungent perfume. Is it not a libel? For a tree with a particularly
beautifully-veined wood, of a deep amber color, they could think of
no more poetical or suggestive name than simply “yellow-wood:” a tree
whose wood is of a rich veined brown, which goes, too, beautifully with
the yellow-wood in furniture, is merely called “iron-wood,” because it
chances to be hard; and so forth.

Before going to the “bush,” however, we consider ourselves bound to
go and look at the great saw-mill down by the Umkomanzi, where all
these trees are divided and subdivided, cut into lengths of twenty
feet, sawn into planks, half a dozen at a time, and otherwise changed
from forest kings to plain, humdrum piles and slabs and posts for
bridges, rooftrees, walls, and what not. There is the machinery at
work, with just one ripple, as it were, of the rushing river turned
aside by a little sluice, to drive the great wheel round and set all
the mysterious pistons and levers moving up and down in their calm,
monotonous strength, doing all sorts of miraculous things in the most
methodical, commonplace manner. I was much struck by the physiognomy
of the only two white men employed about this mill. There were some
assistant Kafirs of course, but these two in their widely-different
ways were at once repellent and interesting. One of them was, I think,
the biggest man I ever saw. To say that he looked like a tall tree
himself among his fellows is to give you, after all, the best idea
of his enormous height and powerful build. He moved huge logs about
with scarcely an effort, and it was entirely for his enormous physical
strength that our host kept him in his place. I did not need to be
told he was one of the most persistent and consistent bad characters
imaginable, for a single glance at his evil countenance was enough
to suggest that he could hardly be a very satisfactory member of
society. He had only one eye, and about as hang-dog, sullen, lowering
a countenance as one would see out of the hulks. His “mate” was a
civil, tidy, wizen-looking, elderly man, who might have appeared
almost respectable by the side of the bigger villain if his shaking
hand and bleared, restless eyes had not told _his_ story plainly
enough. Still, if he could only be kept out of temptation the old man
might be trusted; but our host confessed that he did not half like
retaining the services of the other, and yet did not know where to
find any one who would or could do his work so easily and admirably.
It is almost impossible to get any men to come and live up here, so
far away from their fellow-creatures and from everything except their
work; so one has to put up with a thousand drawbacks in the service
one is able to procure. I was glad when we turned our backs upon that
villainous-looking giant and strolled beneath a perfect sun and sky
and balmy air toward the lowest kloof or cleft where the great “bush”
ran down between two steep spurs. The grass of the downs over which
we walked had all the elasticity of tread of turf to our feet, but
they ended abruptly in a sort of terrace, under which ran a noisy,
chattering brooklet in a vast hurry to reach the Umkomanzi over yonder.
It is easy to scramble down among the tangle of ferns and reeds and
across the boulders which this long dry winter has left bare, and so
strike one of the Bushmen’s paths without difficulty, and get into
the heart of the forest before we allow ourselves to sit down and
look around us. How wonderfully poetical and beautiful it all is!—the
tall, stately trees around us, with their smooth magnificent boles
shooting up straight as a willow wand for sixty feet and more before
putting forth their crown of lofty branches, the more diminutive
undergrowth of gracefulest shrubs and plumy tufts of fern and lovely
wild flowers—violets, clematis, wood-anemones and hepaticas—showing
here and there a modest gleam of color. But indeed the very mosses and
lichens at our feet are a week’s study, and so are the details of the
delicate green tracery creeping close to the ground. The trees, the
actual great forest trees, are our delight, however, and we never weary
of calling to each other to “come and look at this one,” extemporizing
measuring-lines from the endless green withies which hang in loops and
festoons from the higher branches. Thirty feet round five feet from the
ground is not an uncommon measurement, and it is half sad, half amusing
to see how in an hour or so we too begin to look upon everything as
timber, to call the most splendid trees “blocks” (the woodman’s word),
and to speculate and give opinions as to the best way of “falling” the
beautiful stems. Up above our heads the foliage seems all interlaced
and woven together by a perfect network of these monkey ropes—a stout
and sturdy species of _liane_, really—such as I have seen swinging
from West India forest trees. Here they are actually used as a sort
of trapeze by the troops of baboons which live in these great woods,
coming down in small armies when the mealies are ripe, and carrying
off literally armsful of cobs. The Kafirs dread the baboons more than
anything else, and there is a regular organized system of warfare
between them, in which the baboons by no means get the worst. I heard
a sickening story of how only last season the Kafirs of a kraal close
by, infuriated by their losses, managed to catch an old baboon, leader
of his troop, and skinned him and let him go again into the woods. It
is too horrible to think of such cruelty, and it seemed a blot upon
the lovely idyllic scene around us. All the wild animals with which
the bush was teeming until a very few years ago are gradually being
driven farther and farther back into the highest part, which has not
yet been touched by axe or hatchet. There are still many kinds of buck,
however—we saw three splendid specimens grazing just outside—besides
other game. It must—not so long ago, either—have been the quiet forest
home of many a wild creature, for there are pits now to be seen, one
of which we came across with sharp stakes at the bottom, dug to trap
elephants, whose bones lie there to this day. Tigers also have been
seen, and panthers and leopards, but they grow scarcer every year.
The aboriginal inhabitants of the border country beyond, the little
Bushmen—the lowest type of human creatures—used to come down and hunt
in great numbers here in this very spot where we are sitting, and
traces of their ingenious methods of snaring their prey are to be seen
in many places.

As I sat there, with the tinkle of the water in my ears, sole break in
the “charmèd silence” around, I could not make up my mind which was the
most enchanting, to look up or down—up to where the tenderest tint of
cobalt blue showed through the flicker of green leaves nearly a hundred
feet above us, and where a sudden terror among the birds drove them in
bright-plumaged flight from bough to bough; or down on the ground among
the delicious brown leaves and wonderful minutiæ of diminutive tendril
and flower. Here and there were fallen crimson and yellow leaves,
riveting the eye for a moment by their vivid glow, or the young fronds
of a rare fern over yonder are pushing up their curled horns of pale
green. A month hence it will be all carpeted with wild flowers, and the
heaths will be spires of tiny bells. There is also a coarse but sweet
grass, growing luxuriantly, on which the cattle love to feed when all
the herbage outside is parched and burned to the very root.

As I read over what I have written, I am filled with a deep disgust to
perceive how impossible it has been for me to catch even the faintest
reflection of the charm of that forest-glade—how its subtle beauty is
not, by any poor words of mine, to be transferred to paper—how its
stillness and its life, its grandeur and its delicate prettinesses, the
aroma of the freshly-cut logs, the chirrup of the cicalas, the twitter
of the birds, all, all escape me. Yet I shall have failed indeed if
I have not been able to convey to you that it was a delicious hour,
and that I enjoyed every moment of it. I am only a woman, so I was
content to sit there plaiting a crown of ferns, and thinking how I
should tell you all about it some day, perhaps. My companions conversed
together, and their talk was entirely about killing something—“sport”
they called it—how best they could get a shot at those graceful bucks
over yonder; what a pity the close season had begun; what partridges
there were; when the wild-ducks would come down to that large mere
shining in the distance; whether there were any wild-pigeons; how far
into the unexplored bush one must penetrate to get a shot at a panther;
and so forth. It seemed a desecration to talk of taking life on such a
heavenly morning, and I was glad when it all ended in a project of a
fishing-excursion after a late luncheon.

As we found we should be obliged to start early to-morrow morning, I
decided to stay at home and rest this afternoon; and I did not regret
my resolution, for it was very pleasant by the fire, and our beautiful
morning turned into a raw, cold drizzle. But, as the people about
here say, it has really forgotten how to rain, and it is more like a
Scotch mist than anything else. Whatever it may be called, it blots
out mountain and forest and river, and causes the fishing-excursion
to turn into the dismalest failure. Next morning, too, when we start
after breakfast, we are all glad of our waterproofs (what _should_ I
do without my ulster?), and the ground is as slippery as though it
had been soaped. Our farewells are made, and we declare that we have
no need of our Kafir guide again, though I confess to misgivings as
to how we are to find our road through so thick a mist. It has also
been decided, for the sake of the horses, to take them only as far as
Taylor’s to-night, and so break the journey. But the question is, Shall
we ever find Taylor’s? for it is a little off the track, and we cannot
see five yards to our right hand or our left. We are obliged to go very
slowly, and there are places, steep up and down hill, where in spite
of precaution and picking out grass or stones to go over, our horses’
feet fly from under them, and we each in our turn come down on the damp
red clay in an awkward sprawl. However, we do not disgrace ourselves
by tumbling off, and my poor habit fares the worst, for the chestnut
always seems to pick himself up, in some odd way, by its help; and the
process is not beneficial to it. Eland’s River is crossed early in
the afternoon, and then, slippery or not, we are forced to push on,
for it seems as though it intended to be pitchy dark by four o’clock,
and the mist turns into a thick, fine rain. At last, about half-past
four, we hear on our left the joyful sound of barking dogs and crowing
cocks, and the horses of their own accord show a simultaneous desire to
turn off the track, to which, with its guiding wagon-wheels, we have
so persistently clung. If it be _not_ Taylor’s—if it turns out that
these sounds come only from a Kafir kraal—then indeed I don’t know what
we shall do, for we can never find the track again. It is an anxious
moment, and Taylor’s is so small and so low that we are as likely as
not to ride right over it; but no, there is a wagon, and behind the
wagon, and not much higher, is a thatched roof, and under that thatched
roof are warmth and food and shelter and a warm, cordial welcome; all
of which good things we are enjoying in five minutes’ time. As for the
horses, they are rubbed down and put to stand in a warm shed, with
bedding up to their knees and a perfect orgie of mealies and green
forage before them in boxes. Let us hope they enjoyed the contrast
between indoors and out of doors as much as we did. At all events, they
were freshness itself next morning, when we made another start—not
quite so early, for only the lesser half of our long journey lay before
us, and the flood of sunshine made it worth while to wait a little and
let the soapy clay tracks have a chance to get dry.

It was exquisitely fresh and balmy about nine o’clock, when, after a
capital breakfast, we did start at last, and the well-washed hills
had actually put on quite a spring-green tint since we passed them a
couple of days ago from yesterday’s long looked-for, much-wanted rain.
I went through many anxieties, however, on that return journey, because
my two companions, who were in the most tearing, school-boy spirits,
insisted on leaving the road with its guiding marks of wagon-wheels, as
well as every landmark to which I fondly clung, and taking me across
country, over hill and dale, through swampy hollows and over rocky
goat-paths, until I was quite bewildered and thoroughly incredulous as
to where we should emerge. It is true that the dark crest of Swartzkopf
lay steadily to our left, just where it should be, but I invariably
protested we were all wrong when I had any leisure or breath to do
anything but “hold on with my eyelids” up and down hill. At last we
climbed up our last hill-face, and there, below us, literally smiling
in the sunshine, lay the pretty little mission settlement of Edendale.
We were exactly where we wanted, topographically speaking, to be, but
between us and Edendale the mountain dropped sheer down, as it seemed
to me, and naught but a goat-path was there. “Of course we are going
to get off and lead our horses down,” I fondly hope. No such thing!
I can’t very well get off by myself, for the precipice is so sheer
that I should certainly drop down a hundred feet or so. F—— steadily
declines to “take me off,” and begins to slip and slither down the
track on horseback. I feel my saddle getting into all sorts of odd
positions, and I believe I am seated on my horse’s ears, although I
lean back until I can nearly touch his tail. It is really horrible. I
get more and more cross every moment, and scold F—— and reproach Mr.
C—— furiously all the way down, without eliciting the smallest sign
of remorse from either. But it is very difficult to remain cross when
once we have reached the foot of that cruel descent, for it is all
inexpressibly lovely and calm and prosperous that beautiful spring
morning. Everybody seems busy, and yet good-humored. The little black
children grinned and saluted on their way to school; the elders cried
“Sako bono, inkosa!” as they looked up from their basket-plaiting or
their wagon-making; the mill-wheel turned merrily with a busy clatter
inexpressibly cool and charming; the numerous fowls and ducks cackled
and quacked as they scuttled from under our horses’ feet. We rode down
the main street, with its neat row of unburnt brick houses on either
hand, across a little river, and so, under avenues of syringas whose
heavy perfume filled the delicious air, out into the open country once
more. It is nearly a dead level between this and Maritzburg, and the
road is in good order after the long winter drought; so we make the
best of our way, and hardly draw rein until we are under the lee of the
hill on which Fort Napier stands. Here is a villainous bit of road,
a perfect study of ingenuity as to cross-drains, holes and pitfalls
generally; so the horses take breath once more for an easy canter down
the quiet straight streets of the sleepy little Dutch town. Our cottage
lies beyond it and across the river, but it is still early, hardly noon
in fact, when we pull up at our own stable-door, and the horses seem
every whit as fresh and in as good condition as when we started, yet
they have gone close upon one hundred miles from first to last,

    Over hill, over dale,
      Through brush, through brier.


  SEPTEMBER 25.

I declare I have not said anything about the weather for a long
time. I cannot finish more appropriately than by one of my little
meteorological reports. The skies are trying to remember how to
rain; we have every now and then a cold, gray day—a day which is my
particular delight, it is so like an English one; then rain more or
less heavy, and an attempt at a thunderstorm. The intervening days
are brightly glaring and exceedingly hot. Everything is bursting
hurriedly and luxuriantly into bloom; my scraggy rose-bushes are
thickly covered with buds, which blow into splendid roses after every
shower; the young oaks are a mass of tender, luxuriant green, and even
the unpoetical blue gums try hard to assume a fresh spring tint; the
fruit trees look like large bouquets of pink blossom, and the laquot
trees afford good sport for G—— in climbing and stone-throwing. On
the veldt the lilies are pushing up their green sheaths and brilliant
cups through the still hard ground, the black hill-slopes are turning
a vivid green, and the weeds are springing up in millions all over my
field-like flower-beds. Spring is always lovely everywhere, but nowhere
lovelier than in “fair Natal.”

[Illustration: Decoration]



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       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber’s note:

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected. All other
variations in hyphenation, spelling and punctuation remain unchanged.

In the first section of Part III “an old artillery bushy” might well
be a typographical error for busby.

isiZulu words have been left unchanged, although the spelling used is
not necessarily correct by modern standards.





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