Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > Life in South Africa > PART VIII.
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】
PART VIII.
Maritzburg, May 10, 1876

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are these for?” I asked innocently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I have said before, I am no political economist, and the very combination of words fri............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading
   
 

Login into Your Account

Email: 
Password: 
  Remember me on this computer.
Tools

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2014 wenovel.com, All Rights Reserved