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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 ma?tre 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 10s. 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.”

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