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19 Complete Works of Bertram MitfordA Frontier MysteryA Secret of the LebomboA Veldt OfficialA Veldt VendettaAlettaForging the BladesHarley Greenoak's ChargeHaviland's ChumIn the Whirl of the RisingJohn Ames, Native CommissionerRenshaw Fanning's QuestThe Induna's WifeThe King's AssegaiThe Luck of Gerard RidgeleyThe Sign of the SpiderThe Triumph of Hilary BlachlandThe White Hand and the BlackThe White Shield'Tween Snow and Fire
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The Complete Collection of Bertram Mitford
A Frontier Mystery
A Secret of theLebombo
A Veldt Official
A Veldt Vendetta
Forging the Blades
In the Whirl of the Rising
John Ames, Native Commissioner
The King's Assegai
The Luck of Gerard Ridgeley
The Sign of the Spider
The Triumph of HilaryBlachland
The White Hand and the Black
The White Shield
'TweenSnow and Fire
A Frontier Mystery, by Bertram Mitford
A Frontier Mystery
by Bertram Mitford.
"WHERE I COME IN."
"Ha! Calves of Matyana, the least of the Great One's cattle."
"Pups of Tyingoza, the white man's dog! Au!"
"Sweepings of the Abe Sutu!"
Such were but few of the opprobrious phrases, rolled forth alternately, in the clear sonorous Zulu, from alternate sides of the river, which flowed laughing and bubbling on in the sunlight, between its high banks of tree-shaded rocks. Yet in spite of the imputation of "whiteness" made by the one, they of the other party were in no shade of bronze duskiness removed from those who made it. Each party numbered about a dozen: young men all, with the same lithe straight forms destitute of all clothing but a skin mutya; armed with the same two or three assegais and a knobstick apiece, eke small hide shields. There was no outward visible difference between them, as how indeed, should there be, since both were sprung from absolutely the same stock? But the difference was essential for all that, for whereas one party dwelt upon the Natal side of the river, the other was composed of warriors of the king, the limits of whose territory they dared not overstep.
"Come over and fight!" challenged the latter, waving their shields.
"Ha! Come over to us," was the answer.
Here was an impasse. Brimming over with fight as they were, the first hesitated to embark on what would amount to nothing less than a raid upon English territory; for did the news of it reach the ears of the King--as it almost certainly would--why death to the whole lot of them was the least they could expect. On the other hand if the Natal party could be induced to cross why they would make such an example of these Amakafula--as they contemptuously called them--that the latter, for very shame's sake, would be only too careful to say nothing at all of the affair.
"We leave not our land," came the answer to this after a hesitating pause. "Cross ye hither, cowards. Ye are more than us by two."
"Ah--ah! But we shall be less by more than two when we reach the bank. You will strike us in the water."
"We will not," called out the spokesman on the Zulu side. "You shall even have time to recover breath. Is it not so, brothers?"
"Eh-he!" chorussed his followers in loud assent.
The awful name rolled forth sonorously from every throat. An oath ratified on the name of the greatest king their world had ever known was ratified indeed. Hardly had it sounded than a joyful whoop rent the air. A dozen bronze bodies flashed in the sunlight and amid a mighty splash a dozen dark heads bobbed up above the surface of the long deeply flowing reach. A moment later, and their owners had ploughed their way to the other side, and emerged streaming from the river, their shields and weapons still held aloft in the left hand, as they had been during the crossing in order to keep them dry.
"We will drop our weapons, and fight only with sticks, brothers," proposed the Zulu leader. "Is that to be?"
"As you will," returned the Natal party, and immediately all assegais were cast to the ground.
The place was an open glade which sloped down to the water, between high, tree-fringed rocks. Both sides stood looking at each other, every chest panting somewhat with suppressed excitement. Then a quick, shrill whistle from the Zulu leader, and they met in full shock.
It was something of a Homeric strife, as these young heroes came together. There was no sound but the slap of shield meeting shield; the clash and quiver of hard wood; the quick, throaty panting of the combatants. Then the heavy crunch of skull or joint, and half a dozen are down quivering or motionless, while their conquerors continue to batter them without mercy.
Leaping, whirling--gradually drawing away from the rest, two of the combatants are striving; each devoting every nerve, every energy, to the overthrow of the other. But each feint is met by counter feint, each terrible swinging stroke by the crash of equally hard wood or the dull slap of tough hide shield opposed in parry. Already more are down, still about even numbers on each side, and still these two combatants strive on. Both are tall, supple youths, perfect models of proportion and sinewy grace and strength. Then a sudden crunching sound, and the blood is pouring from the head of one of them.
"One to thee, son of Tyingoza!" cries the wielder of the successful stroke, nimbly swerving to avoid the return one.
"It was `white dog' but now," snarls the other, savagely, and with a deft underswing of his knobstick delivering a numbing blow on the side of his adversary's leg. It is a good blow, yet he is beginning to stagger, half stunned, and blinded with his own blood.
"Ha! Give up, and run to the river, while there is time," jeers his opponent, who is the leader of the Zulu party.
For answer, he who is apostrophised as the son of Tyingoza, rushes upon the speaker with such a sudden access of apparently resistless ferocity, that the latter is forced backward somewhat by the very fury of the onslaught; but--such are the fortunes of war. Already the bulk of those who have crossed from the Natal side are down, two of them stone dead-- and the rest, demoralised already, are plunging into the river and striking out for their own shore. They cannot get to the aid of their leader because of the foes who are pressing them hard, and barring their way. The said foes, now victors, thus freed, turn to spring to the aid of their own leader, and the whole group, uttering a loud bloodthirsty shout hurls itself upon the son of Tyingoza. He, though he has given up all hope, still battles valorously, when a stick, deftly hurled, strikes him hard and full upon one shin, snapping the bone, and vanquished he sinks to the earth, still instinctively holding up his shield to avert the rain of blows showered upon him, and which, in a moment or so will batter his skull to a pulp; for they see red now, those blood-frenzied combatants, and no considerations of mercy will avail to stay their murderous arms.
But that moment or so is destined to bring forth weighty results. There has been a spectator of the whole affray unseen by the combatants, and now he steps forth.
"Stand back!" he shouts, coming right between the slayers and their prey. "Back, I say! He is down and ye are many. Let him live."
"No, he shall die. Out of our way, white man!"
None but a white man--or their own chief--could have restrained these hot bloods at such a moment, yet this one was determined to do it, although the process was not much safer than that of attempting to snatch a bone from a hungry mastiff.
"You are boys, therefore foolish," he cried. "If you slay the son of a chief how long will it be before the English carry the word to the Great Great One's ears? Then--good-night!"
This told--as no other argument would have told. They held their hands, though some muttered that both should be slain to make things all the safer. And the white man so far had displayed no weapon. In fact he had none.
"Get up, son of Tyingoza," he said, "and get back to thine own side of the river, which it was foolish to leave."
The wounded youth managed to stagger to his feet, the white man aiding him. Several of those who had fallen did likewise, the conquerors sullenly drawing off, to help their own stricken comrades. And what a scene the place presented. Broken knobkerries and broken heads, battered shields and twisted limbs, and red, nauseous, sticky pools glittering among the grass. Three of those fallen would never rise again. And what was it all about? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
"Au! it is Iqalaqala," muttered the young Zulus, as the white man assisted the chief's son to cross the river. "Fare thee well, Iqalaqala. We have but played at a fight. Au! It was only play."
And that is how I come into the story.
It was hot. Away on the skyline the jagged peaks of Kahlamba rose in a shimmer of haze. In front and below, the same shimmer was upon the great sweep of green and gold bush. The far winding of the Tugela shone here and there through the billowy undulations of the same, and above, a gleam of silver where Umzinyati's waters babbled on to join it. So, too, over the far expanse of warrior Zululand--peaceful enough now to outward aspect in all conscience--the slumbrous yet far from enervating heat of mid-afternoon still brooded.
Yes, it was hot, decidedly hot, and I remarked thereupon to Tyingoza, who agreed with me of course. Every well-bred native agrees with you-- that is to say pretty well every native--and Tyingoza was a well-bred native, being of Umtetwa breed--the royal clan what time Tshaka the Usurper, Tshaka the Great, Tshaka the Genius, Tshaka the Terrible, shook up the dry bones and made the nation of Zulu to live. Incidentally Tyingoza was the chief of a very large native location situated right on the border--and in this connection I have often wondered how it is that with the fear of that awful and bloodthirsty tyrant Cetywayo (see the Blue Books) before their eyes, such a congested native population could have been found to plant itself, of its own free will, right bang within assegai throw of his "manslaying machine" (see again the Blue Books), that is to say, with only the division afforded by an easily fordable river between it and them. Tyingoza's father had migrated from Zululand what time the Dutch and Mpande fought Dingane, and Dingane fought both; for, like a wise man, he held that he could not konza to three kings, and now Tyingoza would have returned to his fatherland, with which all his sympathies--sentimental--lay, but for the material fact that he--and incidentally, his followers--were exceedingly comfortable where they were.
"M-m!" hummed Tyingoza. "In truth it is hot here, but--not over there, Iqalaqala."
There was a quizzical twinkle in Tyingoza's eyes, as he pointed down into the valley beneath--and I understood him. The above, by the way, was my native name, meaning one who is wide awake at a deal; bestowed presumably because when I had bought out the former owner of the trading store at Isipanga the guileless native had discovered rather a more difficult subject to get round than that worthy dealer; who was all too frequently in his cups, and easy to "best" while in that halcyonic condition. I did not resent the use of the sobriquet on this or any other occasion: in the first place because it was not an unflattering one; in the next because I liked Tyingoza, who was a gentleman every inch of him, and--shrug not in horror, oh ye noble white brethren--in my heart of hearts I could not but recognise that this aristocratic scion of a splendid race was, taking him all round, every whit as good a man, albeit dusky, as a certain happy-go-lucky inconsequent and knockabout trader in the Zulu.
I understood his meaning. "Over there"--la pa--referred to the abode of my nearest neighbour, a retired British officer, who had lived to no better experience than to imagine himself expressly cut out for a second and farming career, entered on late in life--and, I suspected, on little beyond a commuted pension, here on the Natal border. He owned a comfortable homestead, and a grown-up family, including a brace of exceedingly good-looking daughters. Here then was a bright and wholesome British home circle to which I, a lonely, knockabout sort of semi-barbarian, had found a welcome; and indeed, while not outwearing this, I believe I did not underrate it; for the bush path between my trading store and Major Sewin's farm had become far more worn and easier to be found by the unskilled stranger since its former occupant, a bankrupt and stertorous Dutchman, had been obliged to evacuate it in favour of its present owner.
Now, as Tyingoza spoke, I looked longingly down into the valley on the other side. Away, where it wound beneath a towering cone, I could make out a film of smoke, and was wondering whether it was too soon after my last visit to send my horse down along the ten miles of rugged bush path between it and where we sat--in something over the hour. I could get back at midnight, or soon after, and time was no object to me in those days. I had spent enough of it among savages to have acquired something of their indifference to it. It mattered nothing what time I slept or woke. If I felt sleepy I slept, if I felt hungry I ate--if I felt neither I did neither--and that about summed up my rule of life, as, in those days, it did that of many another circumstanced like myself. But of making a point of turning in or turning out at a given time--no. I had long parted with anything of the kind; indeed the fact that there was such a thing as a watch or a clock on the place was the merest accident.
Tyingoza produced his snuff-box--his Zulu conservatism had restrained him from learning to smoke--and handed it to me. Then he helped himself.
"They will not be here long," he said presently.
"No? Why not?" I answered, knowing to whom he referred.
"Their feet are planted on strange ground. They have built a house where it cannot stand. Au! They are even as children these Amangisi."
I did not resent the mild suggestion--"Amangisi" meaning English-- because I knew that the speaker did not include myself, practically a son of the land, using the word as applicable to the newly imported emigrant.
"They do not understand the people," he went on, "nor do they try to. They treat the people as though they were soldiers under them. Now, Iqalaqala, will that do?"
I agreed that it would not; in fact I had more than once ventured to hint as much to Major Sewin--but that veteran, though a dear old man, was likewise a stiff-necked one, and had not taken my well-meant advice in good part.
"A nigger, sir," he had answered with heat, "is created to work. If he won't work he must be made to--and, damme, sir, I'm the man to make him."
I had ventured to remind him that there were about four hundred thousand of the said "niggers" in the colony of Natal, and that we stood in a precious deal more need of them than they did of us. But, as the last thing in the world I wished was to quarrel with him, I fear I did so half-heartedly.
"So," now continued Tyingoza, "they will have to herd their own sheep and milk their own cows themselves, for none will do it for them. Will they not soon become tired of this, and go elsewhere?"
This I thought more than likely, but I did not wish it. The chief's words had pretty well summed up the situation. The Natal native, especially there on the Zulu border, is a difficult animal to lead and nearly impossible to drive, and the hot-headed old soldier was of the sort which prefers driving.
"All you say is true," I answered. "Yet--We are friends, Tyingoza, wherefore for my sake, use your influence with your people not to join in driving out these. I do not want them to leave. See, I am lonely here, and if I had no neighbours I might leave too."
"Au! it is difficult," was the answer. "They are like children. Still for your sake, I will do what I can."
We were interrupted by the appearance of two young men. Their bronze figures, straight and tall, moved with easy, supple grace as they advanced to where we were seated, and, having saluted the chief with infinite respect, they squatted down at a becoming distance; for they would not interrupt our conversation. However I wanted to get rid of them, so allowing sufficient time for the requirements of etiquette, I asked them what they had come for.
They answered that they were in need of a few articles such as I kept in the store, and so I took them within. I reached down from the shelves the things they required, a matter of trifles whose aggregate value hardly amounted to a shilling, and I thought as I moved thus, clad in an old shirt, and ditto pair of trousers, among green blankets and pots and kettles, and sheepskins and goatskins, with strings of beads and brass buttons festooned from the beams, and the shelves loaded with roll Boer tobacco and sugar pockets and coffee canisters and butcher knives, and all sorts of minor "notions" in demand for native trade--I wondered, I say, what sort of figure I should cut in the eyes of Major Sewin's highbred looking daughters should they happen suddenly to ride up and thus discover me; then I wondered why the deuce I should have thought about it at all.
The boys were soon satisfied, and I gave them a bit of tobacco apiece by way of clenching the deal, for it is bad policy to earn a name for stinginess among natives. But instead of going away they squatted themselves down outside. I did not immediately follow them.
"What was I saying, Iqalaqala?" began Tyingoza, as soon as I did. "The Ingisi down there is clearly anxious to herd his own sheep himself. These children he has sent away, saying they were of no use. But, you may hear from themselves. Speak."
Thus ordered, the two, squatting there, told their tale over again, and it did not take long in telling. They had been employed to herd sheep, and that morning the Major's "son"--as they described him--had ridden up to them in the veldt, and had become very angry about something; what it was they had no notion for they could not understand one word he said, which seemed to anger him still more, for he had cuffed one of them over the head and kicked him. One thing he was able to make them understand and this was that they should clear off the place. They had done so, but neither of them were pleased, as was natural; indeed there was that in the face of the cuffed and kicked one, which savoured of vindictiveness, and was a clear indication that sooner or later, and in some shape or form, the ill-advised settler would have to pay somewhat dearly for that act of violence.
I smoothed matters down as far as I was able: pointing out, I hoped with some tact, that they were young, and a little roughness now and then must be expected to come their way--it was not as if they had attained the dignity of head-ringed men--and so forth. They appeared to accept it, but I'm afraid they did not.
"What is thy name?" I said to the aggrieved youth.
"Ha! Atyisayo! Meaning hot. Hot water," I rejoined. "Well you have got into hot water, as the proverb runs among us whites--as we all do sooner or later especially when we are young. But we get out of it again, and so have you, and you must think no more about it," I concluded.
"M-m! But he has not paid us anything. The Ingisi has sent us away without our hire."
"He will give it you. He is hot tempered but not a cheat. You will have it. I myself will see to that. Hambani gahle."
"Iqalaqala is our father," they murmured, rising to leave. "Amakosi! Hlalani gahle!"
I watched their receding forms, and shook my head. Then I looked at Tyingoza.
"It is a pity," I said. "Yes, a great pity. These people down there are good people--yes, even of the best of the land. It is only that they lack understanding, yet even that will come--with experience. I will go and talk again with them--yes--this very evening. Come with me, Tyingoza. Your words as a chief will carry much weight, and these people will treat you with consideration."
He answered something about having to go home and see about some new cattle that were being sent in to him. Then with a waggish expression of countenance he said:
"Au! Iqalaqala. When are you going to build a new hut?"
The joke was obvious. I did not live in the trading store but in a large, well-built native hut adjoining; as being cooler, and free from the mingled odours of the varying commodities in which I dealt. When a native sends lobola for a new wife he has a new and additional hut built for her accommodation. Tyingoza was chaffing me.
I called out an order to my native boy, whose quarters were at the back of the store. Presently he came trotting up, bearing a steaming kettle, and cups, and sugar. Tyingoza's face lit up at the sight. He had a weakness for strong black coffee, abundantly sweetened, and when he came to see me always got it, and plenty of it. So for another half-hour he sat imbibing the stuff, completely happy. Then he got up to go.
I bade him farewell, reminding him again of our conversation and his influence with his people; the while, he smiled quizzically, and I knew that his mind was still running upon his joke as to the new hut. Then I went into the old one, and carefully, and for me, somewhat elaborately, changed my attire, what time my boy was saddling up my best horse. I went to no pains in locking up, for was not Tyingoza my friend, and his people dusky savages, who wore no trousers--only mutyas; in short the very people to whom we are most anxious to send missionaries.
OF AN EVENING VISIT.
As I rode down the rugged bush path I began to undergo a very unwonted and withal uneasy frame of mind. For instance what on earth had possessed me to take such an interest in the well-being or ill-being of Major Sewin and his family? They would never get on as they were. The best thing they could do was to throw it up and clear, and, for themselves, the sooner the better. And for me? Well, exactly. It was there that the uneasiness came in.
The sun was dipping to the great bush-clad ridge up the side of the Tugela valley, and the wide sweep of forest beneath was alight with a golden glow from the still ardent horizontal shafts. Innumerable doves fluttered and cooed around, balancing themselves on mimosa sprays, or the spiky heads of the plumed euphorbia; or dashing off to wing an arrow-like flight somewhere else, alarmed by the tread of horse-hoofs or the snort and champ at a jingling bit. Here and there a spiral of blue smoke, where a native kraal in its neat circle stood pinnacled upon the jut of some mighty spur, and the faint far voices of its inhabitants raised in musical cattle calls, came, softened by distance, a pleasing and not unmelodious harmony with the evening calm. Downward and downward wound the path, and lo, as the sun kissed the far ridge, ere diving beyond it, a final and parting beam shot full upon the face of a great krantz, causing it to flush in red flame beneath the gold and green glow of its forest fringed crest. All those evenings! I think it must be something in their sensuous and magic calm that permeates the soul of those whose lot has once been cast in these lands, riveting it in an unconscious bondage from which it can never quite free itself; binding it for all time to the land of its birth or adoption. I, for one, Godfrey Glanton, rough and ready prosaic trader in the Zulu, with no claim to sentiment or poetry in my composition, can fully recognise that the bond is there. And yet, and yet--is there a man living, with twenty years' experience of a wandering life, now in this, now in that, section of this wonderful half continent, who can honestly say he has no poetry in him? I doubt it.
The wild guinea fowl were cackling away to their roosts and the shrill crow of francolins miauw-ed forth from the surrounding brake as I dismounted to open a gate in the bush fence which surrounded what the Major called his "compound." As I led my horse on--it was not worth while remounting--a sound of voices--something of a tumult of voices, rather--caught my ear.
"Good Heavens! Another row!" I said to myself. "What impossible people these are!"
For I had recognised an altercation, and I had recognised the voices. One was that of the Major's nephew, and it was raised in fine old British imprecation. The other was that of a native, and was volubly expostulative--in its own tongue. Then I came in view of their owners, and heard at the same time another sound--that of a hard smack, followed by another. For background to the scene the fence and gate of a sheep-kraal.
The native was a youth, similar to those who had called at my store that afternoon. Unarmed he was no sort of match for the powerful and scientific onslaught of his chastiser. He had nimbly skipped out of harm's way and was volubly pouring forth abuse and threats of vengeance.
"What on earth--Are you at it again, Sewin?" I sung out. "Great Scott, man, you'll never keep a boy on the place at this rate! What's the row this time?"
"Hallo Glanton! That you? Row? Only that when I tell this cheeky silly idiot to do anything he stands and grins and doesn't do it. So I went for him."
The tailing off of the remark was not quite suitable for publication, so I omit it.
"That all he did?" I said, rather shortly, for I was out of patience with this young fool.
"All? Isn't that enough? Damn his cheek! What business has he to grin at me?"
"Well you wouldn't have had him scowl, would you?"
"I'd have hammered him to pulp if he had."
"Just so. You may as well give up all idea of farming here at this rate, Sewin, if you intend to keep on on that tack. The fellow didn't do it, because in all probability he hadn't the ghost of a notion what you were telling him to do. Here. I'll put it to him."
I did so. It was even as I had expected. The boy didn't understand a word of English, and young Sewin couldn't speak a word of Zulu--or at any rate a sentence. I talked to him, but it was not much use. He would leave, he declared. He was not going to stand being punched. If he had had an assegai or a stick perhaps the other would not have had things all his own way, he added meaningly.
In secret I sympathised with him, but did not choose to say so. What I did say was:
"And you would spend some years--in chains--mending the roads and quarrying stones for the Government? That would be a poor sort of satisfaction, would it not?"
"Au! I am not a dog," he answered sullenly. "Tyingoza is my chief. But if the Government says I am to stand being beaten I shall cross Umzinyati this very night, and go and konza to Cetywayo. Now, this very night."
I advised him to do nothing in a hurry, because anything done in a hurry was sure to be badly done. I even talked him over to the extent of making him promise that he would not leave at all, at any rate until he had some fresh grievance--which I hoped to be able to ensure against.
"Come on in, Glanton," sung out young Sewin, impatiently. "Or are you going to spend the whole evening jawing with that infernal young sweep. I suppose you're taking his part."
This was pretty rough considering the pains I had been at to smooth the way for these people in the teeth of their own pig-headed obstinacy. But I was not going to quarrel with this cub.
"On the contrary," I said, "I was taking yours, in that I persuaded the boy not to clear out, as he was on the point of doing."
"Did you? Well then, Glanton, you won't mind my saying that it's a pity you did. D'you think we're going to keep any blasted nigger here as a favour on his part?"
"Answer me this," I said. "Are you prepared to herd your own sheep--slaag them, too--milk your own cows, and, in short, do every darn thing there is to be done on the farm yourselves?"
"Of course not. But I don't see your point. The country is just swarming with niggers. If we kick one off the place, we can easily get another. Just as good fish in the sea, eh?"
"Are there? This colony contains about four hundred thousand natives-- rather more than less--and if you go on as you're doing, Sewin, you'll mighty soon find that not one of those four hundred thousand will stay on your place for love or money. Not only that, but those around here'll start in to make things most unpleasantly lively for you. They'll slaag your sheep and steal your cattle--and you'll find it too hot altogether to stay. Now you take my advice and go on a new tack altogether."
"Mr Glanton's quite right, Falkner," said a clear voice from the verandah above us--for we had reached the house now, only in the earnestness of our discussion we had not noticed the presence of anybody. "He has told us the same thing before, and I hope he will go on doing so until it makes some impression."
"Oh, as to that, Miss Sewin," I said, idiotically deprecatory, as the Major's eldest daughter came forward to welcome me, "I am only trying to make my experience of service to you."
"I don't know what we should have done without it," she answered, in that sweet and gracious way of hers that always made me feel more or less a fool. In outward aspect she was rather tall, with an exceeding gracefulness of carriage. Her face, if it lacked colour perhaps, was very regular and refined; and would light up in the sweetest possible of smiles. She had grey eyes, large and well-lashed, and her abundant hair was arranged in some wonderful manner, which, while free from plaits and coils, always looked far more becoming than any amount of dressing by a fashionable hairdresser could have rendered it. But there you are. What do I, a prosaic trader in the Zulu, for all my experience of border and up-country matters, know about such things? So you must take my plain impressions as I give them.
It seemed to me that Falkner Sewin's face had taken on an unpleasant, not to say scowling expression, at his cousin's remarks, and he had turned away to hide it. He was a personable young fellow enough, tall and well set-up, and muscular; handsome too, with a square, determined chin. He had been a few years in the Army, where he had much better have remained, for he seemed to have qualified for civil life by a superlative arrogance, and an overweening sense of his own importance; both doubtless valuable to the accompaniment of jingling spurs and the clank of scabbards, but worse than useless for farming purposes on the Natal border. Towards myself he had begun by adopting a patronising attitude, which, however, he had soon dropped.
The house was a single storied one, surrounded on three sides by a verandah. A large and newly made garden reached round two sides of it, and away, at the further end of this, I could see the residue of the family, occupied with watering-pots, and other implements of the kind. It was a bright and pleasant spot was this garden, and its colour and sweet odours always conveyed a soothing effect, to my mind, at any rate; for little time or inclination had I for the cultivation of mere flowers. A patch or two of mealies or amabele, in a roughly schoffeled-up "land" was about the extent of any "gardening" I allowed myself; wherefore this amazing blend of colour and scent appealed to me all the more.
"Take that chair, Mr Glanton," Miss Sewin went on, pointing to a large cane chair on the verandah. "You must have had a hot ride. Falkner, you might see that Mr Glanton's horse is looked after. Call one of the boys and have him taken round and fed. The others are somewhere down in the garden, Mr Glanton. You know, my father is just wild on getting up a garden here. It occupies his time nearly the whole day long."
"And very well he has done with it hitherto, Miss Sewin," I answered heartily. "It is a pleasure to see it. You know, we rough knockabouts haven't much time for that sort of thing. But we appreciate it, or its results, all the more when we see them."
"But don't you ever feel inclined to make things bright and pretty about your place?" she went on. "I should have thought you could have managed to find an hour or two a day. Or are you always so very busy up there?"
I felt guilty, as I remembered how I was prevented, not by lack of time but inclination: my spare time being occupied mainly by taking it easy, and smoking pipes and chatting with any chance natives who happened along; or it might be, sneaking about in the thick bushy kloofs to get a shot at a buck. But I answered, somewhat lamely:
"Oh, as to that, it isn't exactly a matter of time. The fact is, Miss Sewin, we get into certain habits of life, and can't get out of them in a hurry. I suppose a knockabout like myself gets all the taste for the fine arts knocked out of him. And the art of laying out gardens is one of the fine arts."
She looked at me, I thought, with something of interest in her wide eyes. Then she said:
"Ah, but, you knockabouts--your own word remember, Mr Glanton--" she interjected, with a smile, "are, or ought to be, among the most useful men a country like this can produce. You are constantly in touch with the savages by whom we are surrounded. You know their ways and their thoughts and all about them, and your knowledge cannot but be invaluable to your fellow-countrymen."
I felt pleased. She had a way of what I will call for want of a better expression--smoothing you down the right way. I said:
"But these savages, Miss Sewin. Believe me, they are not half bad fellows at bottom if you take them the right way. You haven't got to go very far down to find them so, either."
"And we take them the wrong way, isn't that what you mean?" she answered, with another of her somewhat disturbing smiles. "I believe you are quite right--in fact I know you are--and I am always saying so. But, here are the others. I hope you will keep on telling them the same thing, over and over again until they see it themselves, if it isn't too late."
"I will. But you? You yourself. Don't you find this rough country and rough life a sadly different thing to what you had expected?" I said.
"Not `sadly' different. On the contrary, it is full of interest. To begin with, these same savages interest me immensely. I should like to learn their language. Is it easy?"
"To tell the truth I don't know whether it is or not. I didn't learn it, myself. I sort of absorbed it. But I can tell you it makes all the difference in the world if you can talk with them and understand them or not. If you can I can't imagine any people more easy to get on with."
"Then I will begin to learn it at once. You will help me, won't you, Mr Glanton?"
Great Heavens! What was this? I began to see all over the world, as if my head was screwed on all ways at once. Would I help her? Oh, wouldn't I! Here was a bond of union set up between us--one that would afford me ample pretext for riding over here very often: that would bring us together often and constantly. It seemed as if a new and very bright world had opened in front of me--and yet and yet--what an utter fool I was--I, Godfrey Glanton, prosaic knockabout trader in the Zulu, and not a particularly young one at that!
MY NEIGHBOUR'S HOUSEHOLD.
"Ha, Glanton! Glad to see you!" cried the Major, shaking me heartily by the hand. "Why, I was beginning to wonder when we should see you again. Was afraid you had started again on some up-country trip, and by Jove, there are one or two things I want your opinion about. We'll talk of them bye and bye."
"All right, Major. Only too glad to be of use."
He was a fine specimen of the best type of old soldier--tall, straight, handsome, hearty and straightforward in manner--in short a gentleman every inch of him. I had a great liking for him, and for his own sake alone would have gone far towards smoothing his difficulties and straightening things out for him no matter how crooked they might be, thanks to his own wrongheadedness. His wife was a good counterpart of him--without his wrongheadedness--and quite free from the fads and fussiness apparently inseparable from most elderly ladies, which render their presence and company a matter for resigned toleration rather than any sort of pleasure or advantage. To such Mrs Sewin was a rare and remarkable exception. The youngest daughter, Edith, was outwardly a complete contrast to her stately sister, being shorter, and plump and fair-haired, but very pretty--and sunny-natured to a degree. In fact I believe that to most men she would have proved the more attractive of the two.
"Have a glass of grog, Glanton, after your ride," said the Major. "Well, and how's trade?"
"So so. Much as usual. I'm thinking of a couple of months' trip to the north of Zululand soon. I might pick up some good cattle in Hamu's and Majendwa's part, and Zulu oxen always find a good sale."
"Into Zululand?" repeated Falkner, who had just entered. "By Jove, Glanton, I'd like to go with you. Wouldn't I just."
I hope I didn't show that I wouldn't like anything of the sort. I may have, for I was never a good actor, except in dealing with savages.
"That wouldn't be impossible," I answered. "But what about the farm?"
I read "Hang the farm!" as plain as possible in his face, though he hadn't said it. What he did say was:
"Oh well. We might think out some plan so as to work it."
"You must have had some very exciting adventures among the savages in your time, Mr Glanton," said Mrs Sewin.
"The liveliest adventures I have ever had were among white men, and not among savages at all," I answered. "But there, you must excuse me filling the role of the up-country yarner."
"Mr Glanton is most provokingly and proverbially impossible to `draw,' you know, mother," said Miss Sewin, with a laugh and a shake of the head.
"That's more than most fellows in his line are," guffawed Falkner, in a way that was rather unpleasant, and, I thought, intentionally so, as he helped himself to a glass of grog.
"Come and have a look round the garden, Glanton," said the Major. "We sha'n't get dinner for nearly an hour, and it'll help fill up the time. You girls coming?"
"Aida, you go," said the youngest. "Mother and I will see about getting dinner ready."
Dusk was already beginning to fall, and there isn't much dusk in that latitude. The scents of evening were in the air, the myriad distilling perfumes from the surrounding bush no less fragrant to my nostrils than those of the sweet-scented flowers which represented the Major's favourite hobby; but this, you may be sure, I did not tell him. But to me it was an enchanted hour and an enchanted scene, as I furtively watched the tall graceful figure at my side, noting each changing attitude, from the poise of the well-set-on head to the delicate tapering fingers put forth to handle, or here and there pluck some blossom. The while I was listening to the old man's enthusiastic dissertations, trying not to agree in the wrong place; trying, in short, to look as if I knew something about it all, yet not altogether succeeding, I fear, as I became aware when I caught the glance of Miss Sewin's eyes, and the smile upon her sweet, half-averted face. Then the stars came out with a rush, and the jackals began to bay along the hillside in the gloom of the bush.
"Confound it!" grumbled the Major, looking upward. "It's dark already; pitch dark, by Jove! and Glanton hasn't seen half what I've been doing yet, since he was here last. You get no twilight at all in this infernal country. Well, I suppose we must go in."
Nothing could be more pleasant and home-like than that cheerful, lighted room, as we sat at table. We talked about the country and surroundings, the life and its drawbacks, and the Major waxed reminiscent on byegone sport in India, and his anecdotes thereon interested me though I fear the others had heard them more than once before. Falkner was inclined to be extra friendly and had discarded his usual offhand and supercilious manner, which I own was wont to try my patience sorely, and questioned me repeatedly as to my projected trip into Zululand, to which I had incidentally referred. Afterwards the two girls played and sang-- uncommonly well. Falkner too, sang a very good song or two, and altogether I found I was thoroughly enjoying myself, the said enjoyment being doubtless enhanced by an obtruding recollection of my lonely hut, away up the mountain, and evenings spent in my own company until such time as I should smoke myself to sleep.
"Mr Glanton, we would so much like to see your trading store," said Edith, the youngest girl, when the music was ended.
I answered that there was little on earth to see there, that it was a greasy, dusty place, hardly fit for ladies, and so on, but that such as it was they would be more than welcome.
"And you will show us some Zulus for the occasion?" added her sister, with one of those glances which made me resolve to assemble half Tyingoza's location if she set her heart upon it.
"Well, yes," I said. "Only you mustn't take me by surprise. It's a rough and tumble place, and I might be taken just at the very moment when I couldn't offer you a decent lunch."
But they declared that this was just what they wanted--to take me by surprise, and see exactly how I lived, and so on. The while a desperate idea had come into my head, but, would it bear carrying out?
"Look here," I said. "If you would really like to ride up there, it occurs to me I might show you something that would interest you--nothing to do with the store particularly. But I could collect a lot of Tyingoza's people and scare up a regular native dance. They do it well, and it's worth seeing, I can tell you."
"Why that would be charming," cried the youngest girl. "Aida, we must go. Do you hear? Father, what do you think? Let's all go, and make a day of it."
"I was going to venture yet further, Major," I said. "I was going to suggest that you make a night of it. There's my hut--it's very cool and comfortable--and I have a capital tent waggon. If the ladies could make shift with such by way of sleeping quarters, why we could turn in under a blanket in the store. It isn't a luxurious bedroom, but I daresay, for one night, a couple of soldiers like yourselves could manage."
"Rather," cried Falkner enthusiastically. "That's a ripping idea of yours, Glanton. What d'you think, uncle? Shall we fix up a day? No time like the present."
"Well, I think the idea isn't a bad one, if we are not putting you out, Glanton. But--what about the farm? We can't leave it entirely to itself."
This certainly was a difficulty. I thought for a moment; then I said:
"I might be able to straighten that for you, Major. I will send you down a man--a native, one of Tyingoza's people, but as trustworthy as steel. You know, most of them are that way if put in a position of trust. Well you needn't be afraid of anything going wrong--stocklifting and that--while he's in charge. How's that?"
"Capital!" went up from the girls.
"You seem to `straighten' everything for us, Mr Glanton," said the eldest, gratefully.
"Well this is a very small thing after all," I protested. "I'm only afraid you will find the quarters a bit rough."
But this they declared was nothing. It only remained to fix the day. They would enjoy it above all things, they repeated.
"You'll have the same room as last time, Mr Glanton," said Mrs Sewin, as she bade me good-night.
"Why, I was just thinking of going home," I protested.
But this was over-ruled, and that unanimously. The Major wanted to have a talk with me, and couldn't do it comfortably if I was in a hurry to be off all the time. Besides--what did it matter? Nobody would be wanting to do a deal during the night, so I might just as well remain where I was, and so on. Well, I didn't want much pressing, and it was obvious my welcome hadn't worn thin just yet.
"Let's take the grog out on to the stoep, uncle," said Falkner. "It's cooler there."
"What d'you think, Glanton?" said the Major, when we were comfortably seated outside, each with a glass of grog before him and a pipe of good Magaliesberg--than which there is no better tobacco in the world--in full blast. "Why is it I can't do anything with these damned fellows of yours? Now in India I could make any sort of native do anything I wanted, and no bother about it. He had to, don't you know."
"Exactly, Major, he had to and these haven't. Wherein lies all the difference."
"I believe I was a damned fool to come and squat here at all," he growled.
"I don't agree with you, Major," I said. "You've only got to try and understand them, and they're all right. I don't mean to say they're perfect, no one is, but make the best of them. To begin with, learn the language."
"Good Lord, I'm too old to begin learning languages."
"Not a bit of it," I said. "I knew a man once--he must have been about your age, Major, an old Indian, too, only he had been a civilian--who had gone stone blind late in life. But he had a hobby for languages, and I'm blest if he hadn't taken up this one among others. He had got hold of the Bible in Zulu, done up by missionaries of course, and began putting all sorts of grammar cases to me. I own he fairly stumped me. I told him I didn't know anything of Biblical Zulu--had always found that in use at the kraals good enough. Then he had the crow over me. But you ought to have a try at it, certainly your nephew ought."
"By Jove, I believe I will," growled Falkner. "Only it'd be an infernal grind."
"Not much more grind than punching a boy's head because he can't understand you," I said, "especially when the weather's hot; and far more profitable. Still I can rather enter into your feelings. The feeling of helplessness when we can't make out what the other fellow is talking about is prone to engender irritability. I was not guiltless myself in that line when I first went up-country. You set to work. Miss Sewin was saying this evening that she intended to."
"Oh was she?" growled Falkner again, with renewed interest, and the glance he gave me was not at all friendly, I thought.
"Well, you take my tip, Major, and then I don't think you'll at all regret coming here. No, by Jove, I don't."
"You don't, eh? Well I'm getting up a first-rate garden certainly. And the shooting around here isn't bad of its kind."
I hugged myself, metaphorically. Less than ever, by the experiences of a few hours, did I wish these people to give up in disgust.
A DISAPPEARANCE AND A REVEL.
"What is this about Nyakami?"
"U' Nyakami? Is he dead?" answered Tyingoza, pausing with his snuff-spoon in mid air.
"That is what some would like to know," I went on. "But they have not found him yet."
I had named, by his native name, a neighbour of mine, who farmed some way down the river. Though in actual fact he was rather too far off to be termed exactly a neighbour. His real and British name was Hensley, and he had disappeared.
Sounds strange, doesn't it, and it certainly was. People don't disappear in Natal like they do in London, or any other large and civilised city, least of all highly respectable and fairly substantial colonists, of which Hensley was one. But this man had, and the strangest part of it was that he had not only disappeared but had done so leaving no trace. Not only that, but no one could be found who could swear to having been the last to see him.
He lived alone, and was an ordinary type of the frontier stock farmer. He was fairly prosperous and there was no reason on earth why he should have taken himself out of the way. No reason on earth was there either why he should have been put out of the way. He was on good terms with the natives, could always get plenty of servants, and so on. No, there was no reason in the world for his disappearance, yet he had disappeared--how and when nobody seemed to have the faintest idea.
The news had reached me through native sources, as a large portion of my news did. Indeed it is hardly credible the quantity I used to learn about my neighbours in this way; some of whom would have been mightily disconcerted could they have guessed that I, or anybody else, had an inkling of anything of the sort. The Natal Mounted Police had been investigating, but neither they nor their native detectives had been able to lay hand on the slightest clue. The man might have been caught up to heaven at midnight for all there was to show what had become of him.
"Not found him yet?" echoed Tyingoza, when he had absorbed his snuff. "Au! he will find himself. Men are strange, Iqalaqala, especially white men. And this one--if he wants to disappear why should he not?"
"Wants to disappear? But this one has no reason to want anything of the kind. Some men might, but this one not. You know him, Tyingoza, as well as I. What do you think?"
There was a comical twinkle in the chief's eyes. He merely answered:
"Who can think in such a case?"
Obviously there was nothing to be got out of Tyingoza--as yet--so I left the subject. In fact I had a far more interesting subject on my mind just then, for this was the day the Sewins had fixed upon for their visit to me, and so I fell to discussing with the chief the arrangements which were to be made for their entertainment. He had promised that a goodly number of his people should muster, and I had promised them cattle to kill in proportion to the number that would require feasting. This ought to ensure a very good roll up indeed. The disappearance of Hensley was to me a very secondary matter to-day.
By the way, I was in a state of fidget absolutely unwonted with me; and my "boy" Tom simply gaped with astonishment at the thorough turn-out I made him give my hut; and when I fetched a roll of Salampore cloth to hang around the walls so as to conceal the grass thatching I could see that he was entertaining considerable doubts as to his master's sanity.
He would have entertained even graver doubts could he have witnessed a still further stage of imbecility into which I lapsed. I found myself looking in the glass--not for ordinary purposes of toilet, be it noted, and I have set out upon this narrative determined to spare none of my own weaknesses, but because I was anxious to see what sort of fellow I looked--and I don't know that I felt particularly flattered by the result; for, confound it, I was no longer in my first youth, and a face bronzed and roughened by twenty years of knocking about, struck me as nothing particularly attractive to the other sex. Yet it was only the roughness of weather and more or less hard times that had told upon it, for I had always been rather abstemious and had set my face like a flint against the wild roaring sprees that some of my friends in the same line were prone to indulge in. If I had not the "clean run" look of Falkner Sewin, my eye was every whit as clear and I had a trifle the advantage of him in height, and held myself quite as straight. No, it was absurd to try and start comparisons with Sewin, who was quite ten years younger, and had never known any hardening experiences, so I turned from the looking-glass imprecating one Godfrey Glanton as a silly ass, who had much better trek away right up-country and stay there altogether. And this idea was the first intimation that I had returned to sanity again.
My guests arrived earlier than I had expected, somewhere in the middle of the afternoon to wit, and the first thing they did was to reproach me for having put myself out for them so as they called it.
"I warned you there was nothing particular to see, didn't I?" I said, as I showed them the inside of the store.
"But I think there is," declared Miss Sewin, gazing around at the various "notions" disposed along the shelves or hanging about from the beams. "And how tidy you keep it all. Ah--" as an idea struck her, "I believe you have had it all put ship-shape for the occasion. Confess now, Mr Glanton, haven't you?"
"Well, you know, it's a sort of general holiday, so of course things are a little more ship-shape than usual," I answered.
"Ah, but the fun would have been to have taken you by surprise, when you were in the thick of it. How is it there are no natives here to-day?"
"They'll roll up directly for the fun this evening. I expect quite a lot of them."
"Are they hard at a deal?" she went on, still gazing with interest at the trade goods. "Do they haggle much?"
"Haggle? Rather! Haggle like any Italian. Only they're much more difficult to bring down. But, won't you come round now and have tea? I've had a waggon sail rigged up for shade because I thought you'd prefer it outside."
The ladies were delighted, and I will own in candour that there didn't seem to be anything wanting, if about four kinds of biscuits; and rolls, white and fresh, done on a gridiron; some very excellent tinned jam; butter and potted meats; tea and coffee, and for us men a decanter of first-rate Boer brandy--contributed a sufficient afternoon tea.
"So this is the `roughing it' you warned us against, Mr Glanton?" laughed Mrs Sewin, who was pouring out. "Why, it is luxury, positive luxury."
"But it's a great occasion," I answered. "Major, have a glass of grog after your ride."
"Well, that's no bad idea. Capital stuff this," holding up his glass.
"So it is," pronounced Falkner, tossing off his. "Here's luck, Glanton. By Jove, you've got an uncommonly snug crib up here. Hanged if it don't feel like turning Zulu trader myself."
"And if Tyingoza came here rather often, and stuck here a little longer than you wanted, how long would it be before you started to kick him off the place?"
"Oh, not long, I expect," answered Falkner equably, amid the general laugh at his expense.
"Quite so. Then from that, moment you might as well shut up shop."
"Isn't this Tyingoza the chief of the location?" asked Miss Sewin.
"Yes. He was here this morning."
"Oh, I should like to see him."
"You shall," I answered. "He's sure to be here to-night. If not I'll send over for him the first thing in the morning. He's a great friend of mine."
Falkner guffawed. "Friend of yours! Oh, I say now, Glanton. A nigger!"
"All serene, Sewin. I've known quite as fine fellows in their way among `niggers' as you call them--as among white men. Strange, isn't it? But, fact, for all that."
"Now I come to think of it," said the Major, "I've noticed that the men I've met over here, who have large experience of natives, invariably speak well of them."
I rejoiced that the old man was coming to his senses on that point, because there was less likelihood of him getting disgusted with and leaving the neighbourhood.
"You have a perfectly lovely view from here, at any rate," said Miss Sewin, when he had debated the oft-threshed-out question a little further. "How black and jagged the Drakensberg peaks look over there. And so that is Zululand?" turning to the expanse beyond the Tugela.
"By Jove!" said the Major. "It strikes me we are pretty much at Cetywayo's mercy, right on the border as we are."
"If you're never at the mercy of anybody worse, you won't have cause for uneasiness, Major," I said. "As long as he's let alone he'll let us alone. There isn't a native chief in the whole of Africa who is less likely to molest us in any way."
"And are these people round you Zulus, Mr Glanton?" went on Miss Sewin, her beautiful eyes wide open as she gazed forth upon the country that had awakened her interest.
"Yes. Those on the immediate border here, Tyingoza's people, and two or three more of the large locations along the river. Further in they are made up of all sorts of the tribes originally inhabiting what is now Natal. Ah! Do you hear that? Here come some of them at any rate."
"Yes. They are singing, and quite well too."
I looked at her as she stood listening; her beautiful face lit up with animation, and, I must admit, I was enjoying the position of host and entertainer to her.
"But now, if there was a war with Cetywayo," struck in the Major, "would these people go over to him or stand by us?"
"Well that would depend on how our forces behaved at first. Sentimentally their sympathies would be with him, but then a savage is pre-eminently a practical animal, Major, with a hard keen eye to the side on which his bread is buttered, and that would tell. Look now, here they come."
All eyes were turned with interest, as a body of natives emerged from the bush about a quarter of a mile from my store. They were a good bit got up, and wore feather adornments and tufts of cow-tails round leg and arm. They carried the isihlangu, or large war shield, instead of the small irau, or dancing shield, they usually moved about with, and the quiver of assegai hafts kept time with the tread of feet and the deep sonorous thunder of their marching song. In number they were about a hundred.
"That's all right," I said gleefully. "I told Tyingoza to turn them out in good form, and he has."
"Why, they're splendid," pronounced Miss Sewin, as they drew near, making a brave show with their multi-coloured shields, and the gleam of assegais in the afternoon sun, and I delighted to watch her animated face and kindling eyes, as the whole body marched up to where we stood, and halting suddenly with weapons lowered and right hand uplifted, chorussed forth one deep-voiced word of salute:
I went forward and spoke to them. Most of them I knew personally or by sight. They were all young men and unringed, and in high glee at the prospect of an abundant beef feast. And it would be an abundant one, for were it to run to half my herd, I was determined to stint nothing to render the entertainment complete on this occasion.
Hardly had they withdrawn to the place I had pointed out and squatted themselves upon the ground than a sound of singing was heard from another quarter and soon a second company came in sight likewise bravely got up, and then another, till I reckoned there must be something over three hundred of them. The ladies were delighted, and pronounced it well worth coming to see: so was I, because they were.
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