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PART VI.
Maritzburg, March 5, 1876.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of roads, I only wish anybody who grumbles at rates and taxes, which at all events keep him supplied with water and roads, could come here for a month. First, he should see the red mud in scanty quantities which represents our available water-supply (except actually in the town); and next he should walk or ride or drive—for each is equally perilous—down to the town, a mile or two off, with me of a dark night. I say, “with me,” because I should make it a point to call the grumbler’s attention to the various pitfalls on the way. I think I should like him to drive about seven o’clock, say to dinner, when one does not like the idea of having to struggle with a broken carriage or to go the remainder of the way on foot. About 7 P. M. the light is peculiarly treacherous and uncertain, and is worse than the darkness later on. Very well, then, we will start, first looking carefully to the harness, lest Charlie should have omitted to fasten some important strap or buckle. There is a track—in fact, there are three tracks—all the way down to the main road, but each track has its own dangers. Down the centre of one runs a ridge like a backbone, with a deep furrow on either hand. If we were to attempt this, the bed of the pony carriage would rest on the ridge, to the speedy destruction of the axles. To the right there is a grassy track, which is as uneven as a ploughed field, and has a couple of tremendous holes, to begin with, entirely concealed by waving grass. The secret of these constant holes is that a nocturnal animal called an ant-bear makes raids upon the ant-hills, which are like mole-hills, only bigger, destroys them, and scoops down to the new foundation in its search for the eggs, an especial dainty hard to get at. So one day there is a little brown hillock to be seen among the grass, and the next only a scratched-up hole. The tiny city is destroyed, the fortress taken and razed to the ground. All the ingenious galleries and large halls are laid low and the precious nurseries crumbled to the dust. If we get into one of these, we shall go no farther (a horse broke his neck in one last week). But we will suppose them safely passed; and also the swamp. To avoid this we must take a good sweep to the left over perfectly unknown ground, and we shall be sure to disturb a good many Kafir cranes—birds who are so ludicrously like the black-headed, red-legged, white-bodied cranes in a “Noah’s ark” that they seem old friends at once. Now, there is one deep, deep ravine right across the road, and then a steep hill, halfway down which comes a very pretty bit of driving in doubtful light. You’ve got to turn abruptly to the left on the shoulder of the hill. Exactly where you turn is a crevasse of unknown depth, originally some sort of rude drain. The rains have washed away the hoarding, made havoc around the drain, and left a hole which it is not pleasant to look into on foot and in broad daylight. But, whatever you do, don’t, in trying to avoid this hole, keep too much to the right, for there is what was once intended for a reasonable ditch, but furious torrents of water racing along have seized upon it as a channel and turned it into a river-course. After that, at the foot of the hill, lies a quarter of a mile of mud and heavy sand, with alternate big projecting boulders and deep holes made by unhappy wagons having stuck therein. Then you reach—always supposing you have not yet broken a spring—the willow bridge, a little frail wooden structure, prettily shaded and sheltered by luxuriant weeping willows drooping their trailing green plumes into the muddy Umsindusi; and so on to the main road into Pieter-Maritzburg. Such a bit of road as this is! It ought to be photographed. I suppose it is a couple of dozen yards wide (for land is of little value hereabouts, and we can afford wide margins to our highways), and there certainly is not more than a strip a yard wide which is anything like safe driving. In two or three places it is deeply furrowed for fifty yards or so by the heavy summer rains. Here and there are standing pools of water in holes whose depth is unknown, and everywhere the surface is deeply seamed and scarred by wagon-wheels. Fortunately for my nerves, there are but few and rare occasions on which we are tempted to confront these perils by night, and hitherto we have been tolerably fortunate.
March 10.

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

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

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

We grown-up people catch violent colds here; and it is no wonder, considering the changes of weather, far beyond what even you, with your fickle climate, have to bear. Twenty-four hours ago it was so cold that I was glad of my sealskin jacket at six o’clock in the evening, and it was really bitterly cold at night. The next morning there was a hot wind, and it has been like living at the mouth of a furnace ever since. What wonder is it that I hear of bronchitis or croup in almost every house, and that we have all got bad colds in our throats and chests? I heard the climate defined the other day as one in which sick people get well, and well people get sick, and I begin to think it is rather a true way of looking at it. People are always complaining, and the doctors (of whom there are a great many in proportion to the population) seem always very busy. Everybody says, “Wait till the winter,” but I have been here four months now, three of which have certainly been the most trying and disagreeable, as to climate and weather, I have ever experienced; nor have I ever felt more generally unhinged and unwell in my life. This seems a hard thing to say of a climate with so good a reputation as this, but I am obliged to write of things as I find them. I used to hear the climate immensely praised in England, but I don’t hear much said in its favor here. The most encouraging remark one meets with is, “Oh, you’ll get used to it.”
Howick, March 13.

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

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

Now, ever since I arrived in Natal I have been pining to see a real mountain and a real river—not a big hill or a capricious spruit, sometimes a ditch and sometimes a lake, but a respectable river, too deep to be muddy. Here it is before me at last, the splendid Umgeni, curving among the hills, wide and tranquil, yet with a rushing sound suggestive of its immense volume. We can’t waste a moment in-doors: not even the really nice fresh butter—and what a treat that is you must taste Maritzburg butter to understand—nor the warm tea can detain us for long. We snatch up our shawls and run out in the gloaming to follow the river’s sound and find out the spot where it leaps down. It is not difficult, once we are in the open air, to decide in which direction we must go, and for once we brave ticks, and even snakes, and go straight across country through the long grass. There it is. Quite suddenly we have come upon it, so beautiful in its simplicity and grandeur, no ripple or break to confuse the eye and take away the sense of unity and consolidation. The river widens, and yet hurries, gathering up strength and volume until it reaches that great cliff of iron-stone. You could drop a plumb-line over it, so absolutely straight is it for three hundred and fifty feet. I have seen other waterfalls in other parts of the world, but I never saw anything much more imposing than this great perpendicular sheet of water broken into a cloud of spray and foam so soon as it touches the deep, silent basin below. The water is discolored where it flings itself over the cliff, and there are tinges and stains of murky yellow on it there, but the spray which rises up from below is purer and whiter than driven snow, and keeps a great bank of lycopodium moss at the foot of the cliff, over which it is driven by every breath of air, fresh and young and vividly green. Many rare ferns and fantastic bushes droop on either side of the great fall—droop as if they too were giddy with the noise of the water rushing past them, and were going to fling themselves into the dark pools below. But kindly Nature holds them back, for she needs the contrast of branch and stem to give effect to the purity of the falling water. Just one last gleam of reflected sunlight gilded the water’s edge where it dashed over the cliff, and a pale crescent moon hung low over it in a soft “daffodil sky.” It was all ineffably beautiful and poetic, and the roar of the falling river seemed only to bring out with greater intensity the absolute silence of the desolate spot and the starlight hour.
March 15.

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

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

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

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