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Maritzburg, June 3, 1876.

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

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

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

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

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

A little time ago the dwellers in a certain small settlement far away on the frontier took alarm at the threatening attitude of their black neighbors. I need not go into the rights—or rather the wrongs—of the story here, but skip all preliminary details and start fair one fine morning when a commando was about to march. Now, a commando means a small expedition armed to the teeth, which sets forth to do as much retaliatory mischief as it can. It had occurred to the chiefs of this warlike force that a rocket apparatus would be a very fine thing, and likely to strike awe into savage tribes, and so would a small, light cannon. The necessary funds were forthcoming, and some kind friend in England sent them out a beautiful little rocket-tube, all complete, and the most knowing and destructive of light field-pieces. They reached their destination in the very nick of time—the eve, in fact, of the departure of this valiant commando. It was deemed advisable to make trial of these new weapons before starting, and an order was issued for the commando to assemble a little earlier in the market-square and learn to handle their artillery pieces before marching. Not only did the militia assemble, but all the townsfolk, men, women and children, and clustered like bees round the rocket-tube, which had been placed near the powder magazine, so as to be handy to the ammunition. The first difficulty consisted in finding anybody who had ever seen a cannon before: as for a rocket-tube, that was indeed a new invention. The most careful search only succeeded in producing a boer who had many, many years ago made a voyage in an old tea-ship which carried a couple of small guns for firing signals, etc. This valiant artilleryman was at once elected commander-in-chief of the rocket-tube and the little cannon, whilst everybody stood by to see some smart practice. The tube was duly hung on its tripod, and the reluctant fellow-passenger of the two old cannon proceeded to load, and attempted to fire it. The loading was comparatively easy, but the firing! I only wish I understood the technical terms of rocket-firing, but, although they have been minutely explained to me half a dozen times, I don’t feel strong enough on the subject to venture to use them. The results were, that some connecting cord or other having been severed contrary to the method generally pursued by experts in letting off a rocket, half of the projectile took fire, could not escape from the tube on account of the other half blocking up the passage, and there was an awful internal commotion instead of an explosion. The tripod gyrated rapidly, the whizzing and fizzing became more pronounced every moment, and at last, with a whish and a bang, out rushed the ill-treated and imprisoned rocket. But there was no clear space for it. It ricochetted among the trees, zigzagging here and there, opening out a line for itself with lightning speed among the terrified and flustered crowd. There seemed no end to the progress of that blazing stick. A wild cry arose, “The powder magazine!” but before the stick could reach so far, it brought up all standing in a wagon, and made one final leap among the oxen, killing two of them and breaking the leg of a third. This was an unfortunate beginning for the new captain, but he excused himself on the ground that, after all, rockets were not guns: with those he was perfectly familiar, having smoked his pipe often and often on board the tea-ship long ago with those two cannon full in view. Yet the peaceablest cannons have a nasty trick of running back and treading on the toes of the bystanders; and to guard against such well-known habits it seemed advisable to plant the trail of this little fellow securely in the ground, so that he must perforce keep steady. “Volunteers to the front with spades!” was the cry, and a good-sized grave was made for the trail of the gun, which was then lightly covered up with earth. There was now no fear in loading him, and instead of one, two charges of powder were carefully rammed home, and two shells put in. There was some hitch also about applying the fuse to this weapon, fuses not having been known on board the tea-ship; but at last something was ignited, and out jumped one shell right into the middle of the market-square, and buried itself in the ground. But, alas and alas! the cannon now behaved in a wholly unexpected manner. It turned itself deliberately over on its back, with its muzzle pointing full among the groups of gaping Dutchmen in its rear, its wheels spun round at the rate of a thousand miles an hour, and a fearful growling and sputtering could be heard inside it. The recollection of the second shell now obtruded itself vividly on all minds, and caused a furious stampede among the spectators. The fat Dutchmen looked as if they were playing some child’s game. One ran behind another, putting his hands on his shoulders, but no sooner did any person find himself the first of a file than he shook off the detaining hands of the man behind him and fled to the rear to hold on to his neighbor. However ludicrous this may have looked, it was still very natural with the muzzle of a half-loaded cannon pointing full toward you, and one is thankful to know that with such dangerous weapons around no serious harm was done. If you could only see the fellow-countrymen of these heroes, you would appreciate the story better—their wonderful diversity of height, their equally marvelous diversity of breadth, of garb and equipment. One man will be over six feet high, a giant in form and build, mounted on a splendid saddle fresh from the store, spick and span in all details. His neighbor in the ranks will be five feet nothing, and an absolute circle as to shape: he will have rolled with difficulty on to the back of a gaunt steed, and his horse furniture will consist of two old saddle-flaps sewn together with a strip of bullock-hide, and with a sheepskin thrown over all. You may imagine that a regiment thus turned out would look somewhat droll to the eyes of a martinet in such matters, even without the addition of a cannon lying on its back kicking, or a twirling rocket-tube sputtering and fizzing.
June 7.

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

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

I was drinking my afternoon tea as usual in the verandah one cold Sunday afternoon lately when Mazikali paid me this visit, so I had a good view of her as she walked up the drive attended by her maid of honor (one of whose duties is to remove stones and other obstructions from her lady’s path), and closely followed by about a dozen elderly, grave “ringed” men, who never leave her, and are, as it were, her body-guard. There was something very pretty and pathetic, to any one knowing how a Kafir woman is despised by her lords and masters, in the devotion and anxious care and respect which these tall warriors and councilors paid to this gentle-eyed, grave-faced girl. Their pride and delight in my reception of her were the most touching things in the world. I went to meet her as she walked at the head of her followers with her graceful carriage and queenly gait. She gave me her hand, smiling charmingly, and I led her up the verandah steps and placed her in a large arm-chair, and two or three gentlemen who chanced to be there raised their hats to her. The delight of her people at all this knew no bounds: their keen dusky faces glowed with pride, and they raised their right hands in salutation before sitting down on the edge of the verandah, all facing their mistress, and hardly taking their eyes off her for a moment. Maria came to interpret for us, which she did very prettily, smiling sweetly; but the great success of the affair came from the baby, who toddled round the corner, and seeing thi............
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