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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” (angli?è, 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 na?vely, 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.

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