HotFreeBooks.com
Kafir Stories - Seven Short Stories
by William Charles Scully
Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse

"Were you able to take the cartridges out of their revolvers as you did out of mine?"

"No, I had no opportunity; but it was not necessary, because my sons were so expert at throwing the thongs that they could always catch people over the arms, and thus render them unable to shoot."

"How did they manage to become so expert?"

"By continued practice, I used to walk up the path over and over again, and let them throw the thong over me. Then the woman was always there with the club, so that if one of the thongs missed, she was ready to strike. I, also, was usually ready to help in case of necessity."

"Why did you think it necessary to take the cartridges out of my revolver?"

"Because I feared you from the first, and were it not that he," baring his teeth, and glancing at Langley, who shuddered, "looked so nice, and that we wanted fresh meat so badly, I would not have risked bringing you. But it would have been all right if I had only let your revolver alone."

"You say Umhlonhlo has brought you plenty of food; did you ever get any one besides ourselves and the other two policemen to come up here by telling them that story?"

"Yes, two others—one a man who was searching for gold on the Free State side of the mountains, and the other a trader whom I met at Maseru. But these each came alone."

"I see the buckle of a woman's belt in there! Whom did that belong to? You surely never got a white woman up here?"

"Yes, we did," said Ghamba, with a horrible half smile which bared the gums high above the sockets of his tusks. "She was a young girl who strayed from a waggon passing over the mountain by the Ladysmith road, only a day's walk from here. I pretended to show her the shortest way to her waggon, and thus brought her as far as she could walk in this direction. I then killed her, and came up here and fetched my sons. We carried her up in the night. She was very young and plump, and I have never eaten anything that I enjoyed so much." (Whitson turned cold with horror. He remembered the girl's mysterious disappearance, and the fruitless searches undertaken in consequence.) "His flesh" (glancing again at Langley) "looks something like hers did, and I am sure it would taste just as nice. There was still a little of her left when I went away last week. If you will go in there and look where the rock is split on the right-hand side, you will——" But he did not finish the sentence, for a bullet from Whitson's revolver crashed through his brain, and he tumbled forward on his face into the fire.

It was only after tremendous difficulty that Whitson and Langley succeeded in escaping from the mountains. However, on the evening of the third day after their adventure in the cave, they came in sight of the police camp, Whitson sat down on a stone, and motioned his companion to do the same.

"See here, Sonny," he said, "I want to have a short talk with you. I am a bit cross with you as the cause of my having been sucked in by that damned, murdering old walrus. You ought to know the inhabitants of this country better than a simple stranger like me, and so I took your lead. Now, another thing, you nearly bust us both by your blasted foolishness in going to sleep that day; but let that pass, because perhaps it would have been worse if we had not been put on our guard; not but that it would take a damned smart cannibal to eat Hiram Whitson. But this is what I am coming to: you my boy are a darned sight too fond of hearing your own tongue clack. Now, lake a warning from me, and don't let a word of what has happened since we left Camp—for Pietermaritzburg— pass your lips. I did all the shooting, and I'm not a bit ashamed of it; but, by the eternal God, if you open your lips to a soul, I'll shoot you like a dog or a cannibal. Remember that, Sonny, and say it quietly over to yourself the first time you fee that you want to blab. Now shake hands."

This was probably the longest speech that Whitson had ever made.

About two years after the events narrated, Whitson took his discharge and returned to America. He left behind him a sealed packet addressed to his Commanding Officer, and which was not to be delivered for twelve months after his departure.

Owing, however, to a strange combination of fortuitous circumstances, this packet never reached its proper destination; its wrapper, bearing the address, having been scorched off in a fire which took place in the house where it was left.

NOTE.

Many people have heard or read of the cannibals of Natal, who turned large tracts of country into a shambles in the early part of this century, after Tshaka's impis had swept off all the cattle, and then kept the miserable people continually on the move, so that they were unable to cultivate. One Umdava originated the practice of eating human flesh. Gathering together the fragments of four scattered tribes, he trained them to hunt human beings as others hunted game. This gang was a greater scourge to the country surrounding the present site of Pietermaritzburg than even Tshaka's murdering hordes. It was broken up in or about the year 1824 when the Europeans first came to the country, and the remnants of many scattered tribes returned and settled under their protection.

All this is history with which most people in South Africa are familiar, but many do not know that some of the cannibals fled to Basutoland where, amongst almost inaccessible mountains, they carried on their horrible practices for many years.

It is a well-known fact that when men once surrender themselves to any unnatural and brutal vice, the gratification of the abnormal instinct thus acquired becomes the most imperative need of their nature. The Falkland Islands case, as bearing specially upon the foregoing narrative, may be mentioned. Some convicts escaped from the Falkland Islands convict station, and succeeded in reaching the coast of Patagonia. They then endeavoured to make their way to Monte Video, but, having to keep along the shore so as to avoid the natives who would have killed them had they ventured inland, were easily intercepted by the Government cutter which was always dispatched in cases of the kind to head off fugitives upon their only possible course. Of the party, only one man was found alive. In their dreadful need the men had cast lots as to who should be killed and eaten by the others, and this went on until only the one man remained. His sufferings had been so horrible that he was let off any further punishment, and simply brought back to the Island to complete the term of his sentence. Some months after, this man induced another to escape with him in a boat, and when the boat was overtaken it was found he had killed his companion for the purpose of eating the latter's flesh. This was apparent from the fact that the supply of food which the fugitives had taken with them was not exhausted.

UKUSHWAMA.

"No ghosts, they say. What is a ghost?— Nay, what are thoughts and stars and winds? They cannot tell—they show at most Those formal swathes the pedant binds Across clear eyes, the while he plugs The apertures of liberal lugs."

SHAGBAG on Dogmatism.

I.

I had been for two days endeavouring to frame a workable quarantine scheme in respect of an outbreak of lung sickness amongst the natives' cattle in several of those deep valleys which cleave the Xomlenzi range from the Northern bank of the Tina River, and it was late in afternoon when I reached the kraal of my friend Numjala, Headman over a section of the Baca tribe of Kafirs. The mounted policeman who had accompanied me let his tired horse fall in a particularly bad drift, thus laming the animal, and had had to remain behind in consequence. Thus I was alone, but this circumstance did not trouble me, because my horse was fresh, and I knew the country well.

Numjala is a roan of parts; he must be well over sixty years of age, but his eye is bright and his wit is keen. He is well off, for a native, and very hospitable.

The moon being new, her pale crescent sank quickly after the sun, but the sky was perfectly clear and the stars more than ordinarily bright. To reach home I had about twelve miles to ride, that is, by taking a short cut along footpaths; along the main road the distance was nearer twenty.

Numjala was very anxious that I should spend the night at his kraal, and offered, would I agree to remain, to kill a juicy looking kid and roast it for supper. I had, however, promised my wife to return by midnight, and I feared she might be uneasy were I not to do so; I therefore declined the invitation.

"Does your horse lead well?" asked Numjala.

"Not particularly," I replied; "why do you ask?"

"You say you are going by the footpath past the Ghoda bush?"

"Yes."

"Unless your horse leads well, you will never get him past the Ghoda to-night, this being the night of the New Moon. You will certainly never ride him past."

The Ghoda bush is a narrow strip of forest running down the side of a steep mountain which forms one side of a valley, the other side being formed of a perpendicular cliff, at the foot of which a stream brawls. The strip of forest does not quite reach the stream, a grassy glade, about twenty-five yards in width, lying between. Over this glade the footpath leads. The Ghoda is about a mile from Numjala's kraal, and just beyond it is the drift over the stream.

"What has the Moon to do with it?" I asked.

"That is a hard question. I only know that no horse can be ridden past the Ghoda after sundown when the Moon is new."

"Look here, Numjala," I said reprovingly, "a man of your intelligence ought to be ashamed of even pretending to believe such a thing. Why this is worse than what you told me about the grass not growing at the spot where Ncapayi and his men were killed by the Pondos."

"Is it?"

(Ncapayi, Great Chief of the Baca tribe, with many hundreds of his followers, was killed in 1845 in a battle fought with the Pondos on the Northern bank of the Umzimvubo river, between what is now Mount Frere and the sea.)

"Yes, and nearly as bad as your account of the snow falling on Tshaka's impi and killing hundreds of his soldiers, whilst it fell nowhere else in the neighbourhood."

"Why should not that be true?"

Fearing that it would be useless to attempt demonstrating to Numjala that, logically, no one is bound to prove a negative, I evaded his question, and said:

"You told me the other day that you believed in witchcraft. Surely you did not mean that?"

"Why not? Did not your great Prophet—every one of whose sayings all you white people believe so thoroughly and follow so carefully"—it will be seen that Numjala can be sarcastic—"believe in evil spirits, and even drive them forth? Is it not this that the witch-doctor claims to do? Did not the Prophet of the Wesleyans believe in witchcraft? Now, if you believe the words of your Prophets about some things, why not about others?"

I was surprised at these words, knowing Numjala to be a heathen, and I suppose I must have shown this, for he added:

"I have talked with the missionaries, or rather they have talked to me. Besides, my brother's son is an evangelist, and he has told me a lot about what is taught in the schools."

"But, surely, Numjala, your experience must have taught you that witchcraft is all humbug (imfeketu), and that before the English rule, the witch-doctor was simply the instrument of the chief for suppressing people who became too rich or too powerful."

"The witch-doctor may often be a humbug (kohlisi), and yet it is possible that there may be such a thing as witchcraft. A missionary, to whom I pointed out that some who preached the gospel had been since proved evil men, once said much the same thing to me about religion. I am an old man, and I have learnt many things, and one is this: He who always says of the thing he does not understand, 'This cannot be,' is in danger of being put to shame."

"Well, Numjala, tell me the story about the Ghoda bush, for I am sure there is a story."

"I will tell it if you stay here to-night."

"But I must go home."

"Well then, I will make a bargain with you. You have already passed the Ghoda, and therefore you know the footpath leading to the drift."

"Yes, I know it well. I traveled it only the day before yesterday."

"Very well. You will take the pathway tonight, and if you can ride your horse past the Ghoda, well and good—you will go home to your wife. If not, you will return and sleep here. The kid will be roasted, and you shall hear the story. Do you agree?"

"Certainly I do."

"Just one thing:—remember that you are to ride past. It is possible, although I think it unlikely, that you might reach the drift if you blind-folded the horse and led him."

"I quite understand. Good-bye."

"I will not say 'Good-bye.' You will return and hear the story."

As I rode away laughing, I heard Numjala calling out to his son Tantiso, telling him to catch a certain kid, kill it, and prepare it for immediate roasting. My course led down the hillside, and then along the level bottom of the valley on the left-hand side of which is the Ghoda Bush. The stream was on my right, and the pathway on which I was riding ran parallel with it, distant about twenty yards.

As I drew near the Ghoda I felt somewhat creepy. My horse was a steady old stager, not at all given to shying. He went along at a quick amble, and as I neared the fateful spot, I freshened up my courage with the thought that in a few moments I would have crossed the drift, and then the Ghoda and its ghost would be well behind me. My horse was stepping out briskly and without showing the least sign of suspicion, when all at once he gave a loud snort and wheeled sharply to the right, completely unseating me, However, I did not fall off, as I managed to clutch hold of his mane. As I swung back into the saddle, I saw that we had narrowly escaped falling down the sleep bank into the stream.

To save my self-respect, I made another attempt to pass, but more or less the same thing happened, except that I kept my seat, and managed to avoid going so near the bank, I then left the horse to himself, and he ambled back to Numjala's kraal. When I dismounted he was wet with perspiration, and trembling violently. I will not say how I felt, but my sensations were not comfortable.

Numjala evinced no surprise, nor did he attempt to triumph over me in any way. Neither did he (then, or ever) ask me what had happened. He took my return, quite as a matter of course.

We sat down to supper. The kid was excellent, and the foaming koumis from the big calabash equal to champagne. After supper I spread my rug at one side of the fireplace—Numjala unrolled his mat at the other. We lay down and smoked our pipes in silence for some time, and then Numjala told me the following story.

II.

It is many years since I first came to live on this spot. I was then a poor man, although the 'great son' of my father, who was a chief of some importance. He died with Ncapayi in the battle on the Umzimvubo, and shortly afterwards all our cattle were swept off, I had then only two wives, and the eldest child by the first wife was a girl whom I called Nomalie. Many daughters have been borne to me since, and my kraal is full of their 'lobola' cattle, but the only girl of the lot that I was ever really fond of was Nomalie—perhaps because she was my first child.

"She grew up—tall and straight, with well-formed limbs. I remember that from her birth she had a soft look in her face, and her eyes were very large. She was rather light in colour. It was said that her mother's grandfather was a white man. Her mother's family came from the Amavangwane country, which is on the sea-coast, and I have been told that long ago a white man came out of the sea and took a woman of the tribe as his wife. One of this man's daughters was the mother of my wife, who was Nomalie's mother. It was strange that my wife showed no trace whatever of white descent, whilst Nomalie most certainly did, both in colour and feature.

"As soon as ever Nomalie reached a marriageable age, many men wanted to marry her, but when the suitors came to 'metja' (woo) she would have nothing to do with them. I soon found out the reason of this; she had grown fond of a young man named Xolilizwe, a son of the right-hand house of one of Ncapayi's counselors who, like me, had lost all his wealth. Xolilizwe dwelt with his uncle Kwababana—a very old man—over the hill at the back of the cliff facing the Ghoda. He was a few years older than Nomalie, and he often used to stay for weeks at a time here at my kraal. Xolilizwe was all that a young man should be, except that he was poor, and his uncle, old Kwababana, could give him nothing.

"Xolilizwe was brave and strong, and I had gladly given him Nomalie, but you know what we Kafirs are; no man will give his daughter to one who cannot pay 'ikazi' (dowry). Besides, no girl would want to marry such a man—no matter how much she liked him—for she would always be known as the woman for whom no dowry had been paid, and this would be a reproach to her and all her relations.

"Nomalie was very young, and I was so fond of her that I did not want to force her to marry against her will. But seeing how matters stood, I told Xolilizwe that he had better keep away. Shortly after this he disappeared from the neighbourhood.

"In the days I speak of, Lukwazi was the most important man in these parts. Although inferior to me in rank, he was very rich, and Makaula, Ncapayi's successor, had made him Chief over the people in this neighbourhood; consequently I was under him. Nearly all my father's people having been killed, the few who remained were placed under Lukwazi, his kraal was the one on the top of the second ridge beyond the Ghoda. No one liked Lukwazi, though many feared him on account of his cunning, and his wealth gave him power. He was a very big man, of a wrathful temper, and they said that though he loved the smell of other men's blood, he feared to smell his own. At the time I speak of he was an elderly man, and had (I think) twelve wives and many children.

"Well, one day Lukwazi called here in passing, and saw Nomalie. About a week afterwards two of his messengers came and said that he wanted her as his wife. I was both glad and sorry. Glad, because I was poor and wanted cattle, and when it is a question of lobola, a chief gives more than an ordinary man; but sorry because I disliked Lukwazi, and felt uneasy at giving him my favourite daughter. Of course I could not refuse, I being Lukwazi's man.

"Nomalie cried bitterly, and at first declared that she would never go to him, but I told her that she must, and that I would, if necessary, make her do so. I could not afford to fall out with Lukwazi, my Chief, and a powerful, revengeful man. Besides, the girl had to marry some one, and I naturally wanted her to marry him who would pay the most cattle. After a while she ceased to object, but she went about looking so sad that I never liked to see her. She used to come near me, and look into my face, and this made me feel so sorrowful that I tried to avoid her as much as possible. Just before they took her away I was so distressed at the sight of her misery that I could have even then put a stop to the marriage only that I was afraid to make an enemy of Lukwazi.

"At length they came to fetch her, and I shall never forget the look she gave me over her shoulder whilst being led away. Then I comforted myself with the thought that when she came back after the fifth day, driving the ox for the marriage feast, she would not look so miserable.

"In the middle of the second night after Nomalie had gone I was sleeping in my hut, and I heard some one trying to open the door. I asked, 'Who is there?' and a voice (Nomalie's) replied, 'It is I, your child.' I removed the door-pole, and Nomalie entered. I said, 'My child, what is this thing?' but she did not speak. I threw some twigs on the embers, and when they blazed up, what I saw made me burn with wrath. The girl was naked, and her body and limbs were covered with wheals and scars where the women had beaten her because she would not allow Lukwazi to approach her.

"She sat down next to the fire and looked at me in silence until I could endure it no longer, so working up a semblance of anger to hide my pity, I said roughly, 'Why have you brought disgrace on your house, by leaving your husband? I shall send you back to-morrow!' Instead of replying, she stood up, and taking my large spear from where it was sticking in the roof, she handed it to me. She then knelt down, and placing a hand upon each of her breasts, she drew them apart, and looked into my face. I knew she meant this to indicate that she wished me to drive the spear into her, rather than to send her back. To see if she were in earnest, I lifted the spear as if to strike, still keeping up the semblance of anger—but she just closed her eyes, smiled, and leant slightly towards me, I then saw she was in earnest, so I flung down the spear and said in a kinder voice that she should remain, and that Lukwazi might keep his cattle. When I had said this, she flung herself to the ground on her face, and wept as though she would die.

"Next day, Lukwazi's messengers came for Nomalie, but I told them they could not have her. Afterwards Lukwazi himself came with ten men armed, and said he would take his wife by force. I stood in front of the door of the hut, leaving Nomalie alone inside, and told Lukwazi that the girl refused to return to him, and that after the way she had been ill-treated, I should not force her to do so, Lukwazi said that the girl was now his wife, that he had married her with my consent, that he had now come to fetch her, and that he meant to have her. Just then I felt something put into my hand from behind, and when I closed my fingers on it I found this thing to be the handle of my big, broad-bladed spear. Then I heard the wicker door of the hut being closed, and the cross-bar being slipt into its place.

"Now when I realised what Nomalie had done thus silently, and other own accord, my heart filled with pride in my daughter, and I began to answer Lukwazi more boldly. I told him that I knew I had the law on my side—the girl had returned showing marks of ill-treatment, and I was therefore justified in keeping her—at all events until an inquiry had been held. Lukwazi said that, law or no law, he was going to take the girl away then and there, so I told him that I would slay with my spear the first man who tried to enter the hut. At this, Lukwazi and his followers became very wrathful, and I think they would have attacked me had it not been for what my daughter then did.

"Over the loud voices of the men we heard hers calling Lukwazi by name, and then all ceased speaking for the moment, Lukwazi replied to her, saying, 'What is it, my wife?'"

"The door of the hut is fast barred, and you cannot break it down so quickly but that I may set the hut in flames in several places before you enter. I will die in the fire rather than go with you."

"On hearing this, they all looked at one another, and shortly afterwards they moved off, Lukwazi still looking wrathful, and muttering fierce threats against me and my house.

"About a month afterwards Xolilizwe returned. He brought eight head of cattle which he had stolen from the Fingoes. He came here and asked me to give him Nomalie as his wife, offering the cattle he had stolen as an installment of the dowry, the balance of which he would pay later on, when able to do so. I consented, as I wanted to make up to the girl for any previous hardness, so she went as the wife of Xolilizwe to the kraal of his uncle, old Kwababana. There was not much of a marriage feast, for I still feared the anger of Lukwazi, and did not want to annoy him further. I warned Xolilizwe to be careful, as I felt sure Lukwazi would try and be revenged on some of us—and most probably on him through the witchdoctor. In fact I strongly advised him to take Nomalie away quietly, and go and dwell with our people on the Umzimkulu.

"It was early in summer when Nomalie went to dwell with Xolilizwe as his wife, and about three months before the feast of the first-fruits (Ukushwama). You know something about what then happens. Each chief sends away by night, and has a pumpkin, a mealie-cob, and a stick of 'imfe' (sweet-reed) stolen from the territory of some chief belonging to another tribe. These are mixed with medicines by the witch-doctor, and partaken of by the Chief and his family, in the calf-kraal before dawn on the morning of the day of the new moon. You have no doubt also heard that when a chief confers the honours of chieftainship upon his 'great son,' who is to succeed him, a special Shwama is held, and that on such an occasion the stolen first-fruits have to be mixed, by the witch-doctor in the skull of a man who has been killed for the purpose. Many Europeans refuse to believe that this kind of thing still happens; nevertheless it does, and it will happen in spite of all the Government may do, so long as the Baca tribe is in existence. Even a Christian chief would require Ukushwama to be performed in respect of his son, or otherwise—as he well knows—the son would never be recognised as legitimately a chief.

"Now the skull used at Ukushwama must be that of a man of a certain rank, and is supposed to be that of an old man; but this is not absolutely indispensable. I have told you that Lukwazi, although a chief, was of low birth. Now, amongst the people in this neighbourhood were very few whose rank was even equal to his own, and therefore when it became known that at the next feast of first-fruits, his son Bobazayo was to take the great Shwama, people began to wonder whose skull would be required.

"I thought over the matter myself, and I found that the only three men about here whose skulls would do, were Kwababana—Xolilizwe's uncle— Xolilizwe, and myself. I at once made up my mind that Kwababana would be the man, because he was very old, and besides his rank was highest, his father having been the brother of Madikane.

"A short time before the feast, which begins with the new moon in the month which you call February, I went away to the 'great place' (residence of the paramount Chief of the tribe) intending to return in time for the opening ceremony.

"When I returned on the second-last day of the old moon, I was quite surprised to hear that Kwababana was quite well.

"As no one had heard of a killing, there was much speculation going on as to where a skull had been obtained; it being usual to kill for this purpose nearly a month before the feast—although this, again, is not a necessary condition.

"Well, we all assembled at Lukwazi's kraal on the last night of the old moon. I had not seen Xolilizwe since my return, and I was surprised at not finding him at Lukwazi's. Just before daylight the Shwama was administered to Bobazayo in the calf-kraal, and then to the members of his family. Upon two points I kept wondering: one was in connection with the skull—whose was it, and where had the witch-doctor obtained it? The other was the absence of Xolilizwe—where was he, and what excuse would he give for not being present when the great son of the Chief took the Shwama?

"We drank beer, and danced, and made merry all the forenoon. I saw a man near me who must have passed Kwababana's kraal in coming to the feast, and I asked him if he had seen anything of Xolilizwe. He told me he had heard that Xolilizwe was away following the spoor of old Kwababana's only milking cow, which had been stolen three days previously, and had not returned.

"Just after the sun had begun to fall, I saw my daughter Nomalie approaching. She walked in amongst the people and straight up to me without saying a word. I shall never forget her face—it was like the face of one that had been dead for several days—all except the eyes, which were full of fire. I knew at once that Xolilizwe was dead.

"She took my hand and silently drew me after her, and thus we walked down the footpath to the drift on the other side of the Ghoda, which you meant to have passed to-night. We crossed the stream, and she led me to the edge of the bush and pointed to something lying just inside the outer fringe of brushwood. I looked, and saw the headless body of Xolilizwe.

"I recognised the body at once. No other man that I knew hart such limbs as he. My unhappy daughter's husband had been slain by the thrust of a spear from behind through the left shoulder-blade. I tried to comfort Nomalie, and to get her to speak, but not a word passed her lips. After a while, she motioned me impatiently to leave her, so I went away, meaning to return later. I noticed a digging pick, and a stone nearly as large as my head, with a string of twisted bark tied around it, lying close to the body. I knew now in whose skull the first-fruits had been mixed.

"It was still early in the afternoon, so I went home. The day was hot, and I had drunk much beer, so I lay down and slept. I woke just at sundown, and went quickly down to the Ghoda, expecting to find my daughter there. But she was not to be found, neither was the body where I had seen it lying. Just afterwards, however, I found a heap of stones that appeared to have been just before piled over a mound of freshly turned earth. The pick was stuck into the soft ground next to it, so I inferred that Nomalie had buried the body of her husband and gone home.

"I went up to Kwababana's kraal, but Nomalie was not there. Old Kwababana was healthy in body for so old a man, but he was very childish, and just then the loss of his cow had quite upset him. He could tell me nothing about Nomalie, and when I told him that Xolilizwe was dead, he thought I meant the cow, and began to cry out. When I at last was able to make him understand that it was Xolilizwe I had said was dead, and not the cow, he appeared to be quite comforted, I then went back to my own kraal, but Nomalie was not there, nor had she been seen or heard of. So I ceased searching, thinking that she would be sure to return, sooner or later.

"Three days after, a little boy told me that something strange was lying in the pool just above the Ghoda drift. I went down at once to see what it was. The pool is quite shallow, it would hardly drown a man if he were to sit down in it. There I found my daughter's body, with the stone which I had seen lying near Xolilizwe's headless trunk tied to the neck by the string of twisted bark. It was a pity. She would have been the mother of men.

"I dug a hole where she had left the pick stuck in the ground, for I now understood she had meant the placing of the pick thus as a sign that she wished me to bury her next to Xolilizwe. Tomorrow, when you are going home, get off your horse and walk into the Ghoda bush at its lower extremity. You will see a large 'umgwenya' (kafir plum) tree just inside on your left, and underneath it two piles of stones. These are the graves. But my story is not yet finished.

"Lukwazi never saw another Shwama. The corn-yield that year was very plentiful, and in the early part of the winter beer flowed like water at every kraal. Lukwazi rode about with his followers from beer-drink to beer-drink, and he was drunk most of his days. On the evening of the fourth new moon after the feast of the first-fruits, Lukwazi and his men rode past here at full gallop. It was not yet dark. The sun had gone down and the moon was just disappearing. The party had been drinking beer for two days at the huts of Vudubele, the last kraal that you passed on your way here this afternoon, and all were mad drunk. They galloped down the valley, Lukwazi leading on a stout little grey stallion. He was beating his horse and yelling, and one blow made the horse swerve out of the path. There was an old ant-bear hole hidden in the grass, into which the horse trod, and falling, rolled over on its rider. Lukwazi lay quite still. His neck was broken.

"Since then, no horse will ever pass the Ghoda bush between sunset and sunrise when the Moon is new."

Next morning I dismounted at the Ghoda, and walked into the forest. I found the large umgwenya tree without any difficulty, and underneath it were the two piles of stones close together. They were much overgrown with ferns and creepers. A large bush-buck leaped up and crashed through the undergrowth. His doe followed immediately afterwards, passing so close that I could see the dew-drops glistening on her red, dappled flank.

UMTAGATI.

"The great witch-doctor has come, and all Sit trembling with cold and fear As they list to the words from his lips that fall,— The words all shrink to hear. Lo! look at the seer as he whirls and leaps The awestruck circle within, Where each one shudders, and silence keeps As he thinks of the untold sin.

"On his head is a cap of dark brown hair,— The skin of a bear-baboon, And the tigers' teeth on his throat, else bare, Jangle a horrible tune; The serpents' skins and the jackals' tails, Hang full around his hips, And a living snake from his girdle trails, And around each bare limb slips."

The Witch-Doctor.

I.

THE motive and controlling factors of great issues are not always recognised by those most interested, neither does honour nor yet reward always fall to those who best deserve or earn them. In proof of the foregoing propositions the following narrative is adduced.

Teddy's full name was Edmund Mortimer Morton. He was a Government official holding the appointment of clerk to the Resident Magistrate of Mount Loch, which district, as everybody knows, is situated in the territory of Bantuland East, and just on the border of Pondoland.

Vooda was a native Police Constable attached to the Mount Loch establishment.

Teddy's age was twenty-six, but he looked several years younger. He was a pleasant-looking little chap, about five feet four inches in height, slightly built, with blue eyes, yellow hair and an incipient moustache upon which he bestowed a great deal of attention. His hobby was popular chemistry. This he indulged in, greatly to the entertainment of his friends and the detriment of his hands, which were generally discoloured in a manner that defied soap. He lived in a little hut just outside the village. This hut consisted of one room, and was shaped like a round pagoda. It had a pointed roof and projecting eaves made of Tambookie grass. The walls were of sod-work, plastered over and white-washed. Here Teddy dwelt—taking his meals elsewhere—and experimented in parlour-magic to his heart's content.

Vooda was a constable. He was a short, stout man, with a deep, although not wide knowledge of human nature; not wide only for lack of experience. He had dwelt all his life amongst the natives surrounding Mount Loch, and he could read them like so many books of Standard I. He could, moreover, tell by looking at a witness in court, whether that witness were speaking truth or lying, and the magistrate recognised and utilised this faculty. Vooda and Teddy were great friends, Vooda taking a lively and intelligent interest in Teddy's experiments.

Every one knows that in the early part of 1894, Pondoland, the last independent native State south of Natal, was annexed to Cape Colony. Much to the general surprise, the annexation was effected peacefully, but for some months afterwards the greatest care had to be exercised in dealing with the Pondos. The people generally were glad of the change from the harsh, arbitrary, and irresponsible rule of the native chiefs to the settled and equitable conditions of civilised government; but the chiefs gave trouble. They naturally would not, without struggling and agitating, submit to the loss of power and prestige which they sustained, and they bitterly resented being no longer permitted to "eat up" those who annoyed them. Now, the instincts of clannishness and loyalty are so strong amongst the Kafirs, that even against what they well know to be their own vital interests, they will follow the most cruel and rapacious tyrant, so long as he is their hereditary tribal chieftain, into rebellion.

Now, the Kwesa clan of Pondos dwelt just on the boundary of Mount Loch, and within thirty miles of the Magistracy. The head of this clan, a chief named Sololo, had not objected to the annexation, and was consequently looked upon as well-affected towards the Government. But within a few months after the annexation, a serious difficulty arose between the authorities and this man. One of his followers quarrelled with another, and after the time-honoured local custom, assuaged his feelings by means of a spear-thrust, which had a fatal result. The murdered man was one whom Sololo disliked, whereas, on the other hand, the murderer was one whom the chief delighted to honour. Consequently, when the magistrate demanded the surrender of the culprit for the purpose of dealing with him according to law, Sololo refused delivery, and couched his refusal in an extremely insolent and rebellious message.

Cajolements, remonstrances, and threats were of no avail; Sololo remained obstinate. His tone, however, somewhat changed; he sent polite, but evasive and unsatisfactory replies to all messages on the subject. The Chief Magistrate was at his wits' end. Of course the law had to be vindicated, but were an armed force to be sent against Sololo, the odds were ten to one that within twenty-four hours signal fires would be blazing on every hill, and the war-cry sounding from one end of Pondoland to the other. The Chief Magistrate's native name was "Indabeni," which means "The one of counsel." He was a man of vast experience in respect of the natives, and moreover, he did not belong to that highly moral, but sometimes inconvenient class of officials who are known as "the hide-bound"; that is to say, his ideas ranged beyond the length of the longest piece of red tape in his office, and he knew for a certainty that things existed which could not conveniently be wrapped up in foolscap paper. He was, moreover, one who trusted much to the effect of his own considerable personal influence, and he believed in utilising the talents of such of his subordinates as possessed faculties similar to his own in this respect.

Indabeni had taken Vooda's measure accurately. He knew the Constable to have a persuasive tongue, to be honest, loyal, and discreet, and, above all, to possess that nameless and almost indescribable quality of imparting trustfulness in those with whom he came in contact.

One afternoon a telegram marked "confidential" came from Indabeni to the Resident Magistrate of Mount Loch. The purport of the message was that Vooda should go to Sololo and talk quietly to him, endeavouring by means of persuasion to effect a compliance with the reasonable demands of Government. Teddy, being in the fullest confidence of his Chief, was present when instructions were accordingly given to Vooda, who was directed to start early next morning for the kraal of the Chief of the Kwesas, in Pondoland.

When the offices were closed for the day, Teddy went home to his hut, and it was noticed by one who met him on the road that his manner was very preoccupied, and his walk unusually slow. Shortly afterwards he was seen to stroll over to the police camp, and go straight to Vooda's hut.

At eight o'clock that evening Vooda visited Teddy's dwelling, and a long and serious conversation ensued. This was varied by a series of experiments of a nature so striking that even Vooda was startled. At about ten o'clock a stranger passing noticed strange flashes lighting up the back of the hut behind the reed fence. Shortly before eleven Vooda returned to camp, carrying a small satchel which contained a packet of lycopodium powder, a piece of potassium about as large as a walnut, and a number of whitish lumps about an inch in diameter, such as are known amongst practitioners of parlour magic variously as "serpents' eggs" or "Pharaoh's serpents."

At daylight next morning Vooda left the police camp, but it was late in the afternoon when he reached the kraal of Sololo. He found a. number of strangers there, including Shasha, the "inyanga," or war doctor. The men, all of whom were armed, were sitting on the ground in a half-circle. Before them stood a number of large earthen pots of beer. Vooda, being an old friend of the Chief, was invited to sit down and drink, so, after removing the saddle from his horse, he joined the party. He soon saw, however, that his presence had imported an element of restraint. He was careful as yet not to allude to the business upon which he had come. Later on others began to arrive, some carrying guns, some spears, and some assegais. It was plain that an important discussion was on hand, and that Vooda's presence was unwelcome. The beer was not in sufficient quantities to cause intoxication, but nevertheless all were somewhat mellow when the sun went down.

Shortly afterwards Sololo asked the visitor point blank "Where he was thinking of." This was an unusual thing to do under the circumstances, such a question to a visitor being held amongst natives to be discourteous and suggestive of inhospitality.

Vooda replied to the effect that he had an important matter to discuss with the Chief, and asked Sololo to grant him a private interview.

Now Sololo, having had experience of Vooda's persuasive tongue and knack of casuistry, did not wish to argue the point—knowing, as he did full well, the object of Vooda's visit—and at once made up his mind that he would not see the glib-tongued constable alone.

"Son of my father," he said, "what you have to say, let it be said before these my councilors and friends."

Vooda saw there was no chance of a private discussion, and determined therefore to play his game boldly and in public. The dusk of evening was just setting in, and some women had kindled a bright fire.

"My Chief," he said, "I come with the words of Indabeni, who has chosen me because he knows I am your younger brother" (figurative).

"Indabeni is a great man," said Sololo; "he has eyes all round his head. His words are good to hear—speak them, son of my father."

"Indabeni's heart is heavy, my Chief, because you, the leopard, are placing yourself in the path of the buffalo, which is the Government. Men have told Indabeni that you refuse to deliver to the Magistrate one who has done wrong."

"The leopard may stand on one side and tear the flank of the buffalo as he passes. He may then hide in the caves of the rocks where the buffalo cannot follow," said Sololo, sententiously.

"The buffalo may call the wolves to his aid to drive the leopard from his cave," rejoined Vooda, developing the allegory further; "but why will you not give up the wrong-doer to the magistrate?"

"Why must I give up my friend to be choked with a rope?" said Sololo, excitedly. "He has not slain a white man, but one of my own people. Government must leave him to be punished according to the law of the native. If one of my tribe slays a white man, I will deliver up the slayer."

"But you know what the Government is, my Chief—it is over all of us. Even Indabeni himself has to do as it tells him."

"Indabeni is not a Pondo, neither am I Indabeni," said Sololo, appealing, with a look, to the audience.

"Yebo, Yebo, Ewe—E-hea," shouted all the men.

"I did not ask Government for its laws," continued the Chief. "'U-Sessellodes' [The native attempt at pronouncing the name of Mr. Cecil Rhodes, Premier of the Cape Colony.] came here and said in a loud voice that we all belonged to him. We were surprised, and could not think or speak. Besides, who listens to the bleating of a goat when an angry bull bellows? Now we have thought and spoken together, and we can also fight; I will never give up my friend to be choked with a rope."

"E-hea," shouted the audience.

"My Chief," said Vooda, "your words are like milk flowing from a great black cow ten days after she has calved, but there is one thing you have not seen, but which I have seen and trembled at."

"What is this thing that frightens a man who is the father of children?"

"The magic (umtagati) of U-Sessellodes, which he has taught to Indabeni—the terrible magic wherewith he overthrew Lo Bengula and the Matabele."

"We, also, have our magic," said Sololo, glancing at Shasha, the war-doctor.

Shasha came forward in a half-crouching attitude, and approached Vooda, who appeared to be very much impressed. The war-doctor's appearance was startling enough. He was an elderly man of hideous aspect. On his head he wore a high cap of baboon skin. Slung around his neck, waist, elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles were all sorts of extraordinary things—cowrie and tortoise-shells, teeth and claws of various beasts of prey, strips of skin from all kinds of animals, inflated gall bladders, bones, and pieces of wood. In his hand he carried a bag made by cutting the skin of a wild cat around the neck, and then tearing it off the body as one skins an eel. Out of this he drew a long, living, green snake (inusbwa, the boom-slang), which he hung over his shoulder, where it began to coil about, darting out its forked tongue.

As Shasha advanced quivering towards Vooda in short, abrupt springs, all the things hanging about him clashed and rattled together. He bent down and beat the ground with the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet, making the while a low rumbling in his throat, the apple of which worked up and down. His eyes glared and his nostrils dilated. The snake hissed, and wound itself round his neck and limbs. The whole audience appeared to be struck with superstitious dread.

Shasha suddenly drew himself straight up, and chanted in a sing-song voice, rattling his charms at every period:

"I am the ruler of the baboons and the master of the owls. I talk to the wild cat in the hush. I call Tikoloshe (a water spirit) out of the river in the night-time and ask him questions. I make sickness do my bidding on men and cattle. I drive it away when I like. I can bring blight to the crops, and stop the milk of cows. I can, by my magic medicines, find out the wicked ones who do these things. I alone can look upon Icanti (a fabulous serpent) and not die. I know the mountain where Impandulu (the Lightning Bird) builds its nest. I can make men invulnerable in battle with my medicines, and I can cause the enemies of my Chief to run like a bush-buck pursued by dogs."

The speech ended, Shasha again bowed down, quivering and contorting, beat the ground with his hands and the soles of his feet and then sprang aside into the darkness.

Sololo looked at Vooda as though he would say, "What do you think of that; is he not a most terribly potent war-doctor?" All the other men looked extremely terrified.

Dead silence reigned for a few moments, and then Vooda spoke:

"O Chief, the magic of your war-doctor is indeed dreadful to behold, but, believe me, the magic of U-Sessellodes and Indabeni is stronger, and I can prove it."

This caused a murmur of incredulity and indignation. The magic paraphernalia of the war-doctor rattled ominously in the gloom.

"U-Sessellodes," continued Vooda, "has found the Lightning Bird sitting upon its nest, and plucked its feathers; he has discovered how to make water burn, and he has robbed the cave of Icanti of its eggs, which he can strew over the land to hatch in the sun, and produce snakes that will kill all who see them. These secrets he has taught to Indabeni, and Indabeni has taught them to me so that I might warn you, and having warned, prove the truth of my words."

At this a loud "ho, ho," accompanied by a rattling noise, was heard from the war-doctor. Sololo laughed sarcastically. Several of the audience did the same. Then Sololo said:

"Are we children, to believe these things?"

"My Chief," said Vooda, impressively, "you are not a child, neither is Indabeni; as you know,—nor is the potent war-doctor, nor are any of these great men (madoda roakulu) that I see around me. For that matter, neither am I a child. I have said that I can prove my words, and I say so again."

"Prove them, then," said Sololo.

"Three things will I do to show the magic of U-Sessellodes, which he has taught to Indabeni—I will show you a feather of the Lightning Bird, I will make water burn like dry wood, and I will produce some of the eggs of Icanti and make them, when touched with fire, hatch into young serpents before your eyes."

There was not a breath of wind. Vooda seized a small firebrand, and stepped a few yards away from the fire. He held the firebrand in his left hand, and put his right into one of the pockets of his tunic. This pocket contained a quantity of loose lycopodium powder. He filled his hand with this, waved it over his head several times, and then projected the handful of powder high into the air with a sweeping throw. Then he slowly lifted the firebrand, and as the cloud of powder descended, it ignited with a silent, blinding flash. A loud "Mawo" from the spectators greeted the success of the experiment.

The war-doctor gave a harsh laugh and shouted that there was no magic in the business, and that the Lightning Bird's plumage was still intact so far as Vooda was concerned; he, the war-doctor, knew how the thing was done, and would presently explain. Sololo and the others murmured amongst themselves.

"Now," said Vooda, "I will make water burn with a bright flame like dry wood."

"You have, no doubt, brought the water with you in a bottle," said Shasha, the war-doctor, with a sneer in his voice. He was evidently thinking of paraffin.

"No, O most potent controller of baboons," said Vooda, "I will, on the contrary, ask you to get me some water for the purpose, in a vessel of your own choice."

Shasha went to one of the huts and returned with a small earthen pot full of water, which he placed on the ground near the fire.

Vooda look the lump of potassium which he had cut into the form of a large conical bullet, from his pocket, and advanced to where the chief was sitting. He beckoned to the war-doctor to approach, and then, said:

"This, O chief, and O discourser-with-the-wild-cat, is a new and wonderful kind of lead which U-Sessellodes has dug out of a hole in the ground far deeper than any other hole that was ever made. You will observe that my knife is sharp, and therefore I cut the lead easily. You may see how the metal shines when newly cut. Now, if a bullet such as this be shot into a river, the water blazes up and consumes the land."

"Give it to me that I may examine it," said Shasha.

Vooda handed a small paring of the potassium to the war-doctor, saying;

"Be very careful, O you-whom-the-owls-obey-in-the-dark, because it is dangerous stuff."

Shasha did exactly what Vooda anticipated—he looked carefully at the shred of metal, and lifted it to his mouth, meaning to test it with his teeth. When, however, the potassium touched the saliva, it blazed up, and the unhappy war-doctor spat it out with a fearful yell. His lips and tongue were severely burnt. Sololo and the men, who had seen the flame issuing from Shasha's mouth, were terror-stricken.

Vooda now cut the lump of potassium into several pieces, and these he dropped into the pot of water. The lumps began to flame brilliantly, dancing on the top of the water and gyrating across and around. All the spectators were horribly frightened, and shrank back, their eyeballs starting, and their lips wide apart.

"Now," said Vooda, who felt that he had practically won the game, "I will produce the eggs of Icanti, the terrible serpent, and make them hatch out live snakes. Were I to do this without having other greater magic ready wherewith to overcome them, the snakes would kill us all. The only magic stronger than that of Icanti is the magic of the Lightning Bird, so I will drop a feather plucked by U-Sessellodes from the tail of Impandulu upon the snakes as they come out of the eggs, and that will cause them to turn into dust."

Vooda took five large Pharaoh's serpent-eggs out of his pocket and placed them on a flat stone about a yard from the fire. He then asked Shasha to approach, warning him to be very careful, as the serpents might be dangerous. After the experience with the potassium, such a warning to Shasha was quite a work of supererogation. He came forward with hesitating steps, and stood behind Vooda, watching.

Vooda had a small quantity of lycopodium powder in his left hand. With his right he seized a blazing firebrand, and with this he touched each of the eggs in turn. At once five horrible looking snakes began uncoiling, blue flame surrounding the spot at which each emerged from its egg. Vooda then shouted loudly, calling on the name of Impandulu, and making mystic passes over the coiling horror with his fire-brand. Stretching forth his left hand, he liberated a small cloud of lycopodium powder, which ignited with a brilliant flash. At this, all the spectators leaped to their feet, wildly yelling, and, with the exception of Sololo, who stood still—although the picture of terror— disappeared into the surrounding darkness. For some seconds after the sound of the last footfall had died away, the rattle of Shasha's charms, as he fled, could be heard.

Vooda approached Sololo:

"My Chief, what word am I to carry to Indabeni?"

"Tell Indabeni that the wrong-doer will be given up to the Magistrate to choke with a rope. Yet you need not tell him, because the man will be in the Magistrate's hand before your voice can reach Indabeni's ear."

And so he was.

Thus was a war averted, and yet neither Vooda nor Teddy Morton ever received any reward for their distinguished services.

THE END

The Gresham Press Unwin Brothers Chilworth and London

SELECTED LIST OF BOOKS

PUBLISHED BY

MR. T. FISHER UNWIN.

The Autonym Library.

Paper, 1s/6d; cloth, 2s/-.

1. THE UPPER BERTH. By F. MARION CRAWFORO. Second Edition.

2. MAD SIR UCHTRED OF THE HILLS. By S. R. CROCKETT: Third Edition

3. BY REEF AND PALM. By LOUIS BECKE. Preface by the EARL Of PEMBROKE, and Ed.

4. THE PLAYACTRESS, By S. R. CROCKETT. Third Edition

5. A BACHELOR MAID. By MRS. BURTON HARRISON.

6. MISERRIMA. By G. W. T. OMOND

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse