On arriving at Lourenco Marques in 1874 I met a man named Good, whom I had known slightly up country. I have been told but I do not guarantee the statement that he was the original of Rider Haggard's "Allan Quatermain." From Good I heard sad news; poor Pat Foote, one of my best friends, had died in the fortress during the previous night. I went up at once to see his remains; they lay on a wretched truckle-bed in a dingy cell.
The funeral took place that afternoon. The grave was dug among some cocoanut palms out beyond the fetid swamp which lay in those days a crescent of foulness on three sides of the town. A wall separated the swamp from the houses, and over this wall the sewage used to be cast. Poles, bearing human heads, stuck out here and there. The swamp was crossed by a causeway.
The proceedings were marked by a melancholy lack of dignity. Several of those forming the cortege were drunk. Among them was a Portuguese officer. The military guard at the causeway gate failed to present arms, so the officer rushed at the men and belabored them with a stick. However, poor Foote was too sound asleep to be disturbed by such trifles. I wonder whether, besides myself, any who took part in those squalid obsequies are alive. I believe the palms which shaded that lonely grave have been long since cut down and that the town has extended over the site.
In the early part of 1875, after I left "The Reef," I worked for a short time near the head of the creek. One day a friend named McCallum came and showed me a piece of gold he had picked up on a headland which jutted over the Blyde River near Peach tree Creek. Next day was Sunday, so we went together to the spot and took a prospect. The result was most encouraging; not alone was there a good yield for the amount of wash we had panned, but the quality of the gold suggested that it belonged to a genuine lead. Next morning we struck our tents and moved down to the scene of the discovery. As the area was not far enough from the nearest proclaimed diggings to entitle us to an extended miner's right, we just marked out a claim apiece and made no report of the matter. We pitched our tents in a little grove of peach-trees below the bluff, close to the river bank.
The thing was a "surface" proposition; that is to say, the wash was only a few inches deep; it lay on a soft slate bottom. We fixed our sluice box in a rapid of the river which was some two hundred yards from the claim, and was reached by a footpath we scarped down the face of the bluff. We hired a couple of boys to carry down the wash. I did the pick and shovel work, which included the filling of the gunny-bags. McCallum washed out each installment as it arrived. This was the easiest contract I ever took on; it meant about one minute's work alternating with nearly ten minutes' rest, all day long. The first couple of days' work gave splendid results; from the gravel cleared off a space about eight feet square we got, so far as I can remember, about a pound weight of gold.
Naturally, we considered that at length our fortunes were made. Our claims measured together forty five thousand square feet, the area we had cleared was but sixty four. The latter number, when worked into the former, went nearly seven hundred times. And the surface appeared to be exactly the same over the whole area.
Assuming that any reliance could be placed on arithmetic, we were potential capitalists. We began to speculate as to what we would do with our money. 14,000 apiece was a large sum. I think McCallum decided to go to Scotland, there to recommence some lawsuit he had been obliged to drop for want of funds. My own firm intention was to organize an expedition to the Zambezi not to go "foot-slogging," as I had been doing in the Low Country, but with properly equipped wagons, the most modern armament, salted horses and all the rest of it. Well, for one night, at all events, we enjoyed ourselves. I do not think we slept at all.
But we never found so much as another half-ounce of gold in those claims; we had struck the one little "patch" they contained. We hired more boys, we ran prospecting trenches in every direction, we worked late and early often carrying the bags of wash down the scarped footpath ourselves, long after the boys had knocked off. But all was in vain. Our pound of gold melted like an icicle in the sun. We were, in local parlance, "bust."
Prospectors start for Swaziland—Rumors as to their fate—MacLean and I decide to follow them—Precautions against lions—The Crocodile River—The Boer and the pessimist—Game and honey—Crocodiles—Difficulties in crossing the river—MacLean nearly drowned in the rapids—I go on alone First sight of De Kaap—A labyrinth of dongas—I reach Swaziland—Baboons On the trail of the prospectors—The mystery solved—'Ntshindeen's Kraal Swazi hospitality—How I became celebrated—A popular show—Repairing guns Character of the Swazis—Contempt for money and love of salt—Prospecting My welcome outstayed—A dangerous crisis—Return to the Crocodile River The rhinoceros—Our bearers decamp—We abandon our goods—Attacked by fever—Terror of partridges—Arrival at Mac Mac.
In the early part of 1875 a large party of Australian prospectors started from Pilgrim's Rest to seek for gold on the north-eastern borders of Swaziland. They took with them a light wagon which could easily be taken to pieces and a span of oxen. They were accompanied by guides. At that time little was known of the country beyond the boundaries of the Transvaal on its eastern side. Swaziland was, in fact, an unknown region. But rumor was rife as to fabulously rich deposits of gold in the tracts lying to the east and south-east of Lydenburg. There were, needless to say, no maps of the country in question. But under such circumstances the less known of any given region, the greater its fascination.
Some six weeks having passed without news of the party, the camp seethed with wild report as to its fortune. Some maintained that the Swazis, who were believed to be averse to the opening up of their country, had wiped out the intruders. More or less circumstantial details of the supposed massacre were current, but critical examination proved such to be quite without foundation. Then came wafts of rumor to the effect that the prospectors had "struck it rich," but were determined to keep the strike to themselves. My youthful imagination inclined to the latter view. I had a friend who knew the Swazis well, and he held it to be unlikely in the last degree that a party of peaceful prospectors would be molested. Accordingly, I made up my mind to get on the trail of the adventurers and stick to it until I found them.
My "mate" at the time was a man whom I will call MacLean. That was not his name, but it will do as well as if it were. MacLean belonged to an old Scottish family, and had brought a suit before the House of Lords in which he claimed a certain peerage to which great estates and many titles were attached. He failed through being unable to prove the marriage of one of his ancestors. We had made a small strike of gold on one of the terraces of the Blyde River, but this was soon worked out, and we spent most of our gains in pursuing a vanished "lead." After some hesitation MacLean agreed to accompany me.
Our united means amounted to less than five pounds sterling. This we invested in flour, tea, strong boots, and other indispensables. We possessed an old gun a double-barreled fowling-piece that had once been a flint-lock. The spring driving one hammer was too weak to discharge a percussion cap, that of the other was just strong enough to cause detonation on an average twice out of three attempts. We could get no bullet mould the gun being of an unusual caliber so we used to chop off chunks of lead and roll them between flat stones until the requisite degrees of size and rotundity had been attained. By using stones with the surface slightly roughened we could always reduce the size of the bullet, but the work of doing so was laborious in the extreme.
We hired two Bapedi boys to carry some of our goods. One was named Indogozan; I forget the name of the other. They turned out to be lazy scoundrels, and gave endless trouble by loitering. On weighing our "swags" at Mac Mac the day we started, Maclean's and mine tipped the scale at fifty-six pounds each. Those of the boys weighed, respectively, about fifteen pounds less.
We descended the mountain range at Spitzkop. The trail was easily found. After entering the Low Country we halted each night at a camping place of the party we were pursuing, and built our fire on the cold ashes of their one-time hearth. Occasionally we reached some obstacle over which no wagon could possibly have been drawn, and where there were evidences that these practical explorers had taken the vehicle to pieces and carried it over. Game was not very plentiful; even had it been so our gun was not of the kind to do much execution. As we approached the Crocodile River Valley lions began to make themselves heard at night. MacLean was nervous; I fear it was my habit to trade on this. It was he who used to collect an immense pile of fuel every night, and I felt I could turn in and sleep soundly fortified with the knowledge that the watch-fire would not be left untended.
At the Crocodile River we met with a serious check. There was no drift, and the stream was still swollen from the summer rains. Drawn up on the opposite bank was a raft, by means of this the prospectors had crossed. We camped and considered the situation.
We found two men with a wagon at the river. The owner of the wagon was an old Boer named Niekerk; he owned a farm in the Lydenburg District, but spent most of his life wandering about in search of game. Niekerk's companion was an ex-man-of-war's man named Rawlings, one of the most ill-tempered and pessimistic beings I have ever met. He was small, hatchet faced, and foxy in appearance. His face was much disfigured by a bullet-wound through both jaws received, so he said, in a skirmish with slavers near Zanzibar. Rawlings's disposition suggested a possible descent from Mr. Squeers and Mrs. Gummidge.
Niekerk and Rawlings were a strangely assorted couple. They could not quarrel, for the reason that Niekerk had no English and Rawlings no Dutch. Niekerk held stoutly to the theory that all Englishmen were mad, more or less, and excused his companion's peculiarities accordingly. He had met Rawlings tramping in the Transvaal and given him a lift. Rawlings was not particular as to locality, having inverted the theory of Dr. Pangloss, and settled to his own satisfaction that this was the worst of all possible worlds, he held all places to be more or less equally vile. So he had followed Niekerk grumblingly down the mountain pass leading to the Low Country, and had been wasting his pessimism on the desert air of the Crocodile River Valley for several weeks before our arrival.
Game was here more plentiful. I borrowed Niekerk's rifle and shot a waterbuck and several klipspringers. Our camp was surrounded by immense domes of granite, and each morning the summit of almost every dome was occupied by several klipspringers. The bearers were much delighted, they had hated our diet of unvarying askoek. We also found quantities of honey. Honey-birds were numerous, and ever ready to oblige by pointing out a bees' nest. The scenery, was very beautiful. To the north-west towered some of the loftiest peaks of the Drakensberg. The bare, granite domes around us were almost hemispherical in shape. They arose out of swamp rooted forest. The vegetation was very rich.
The problem as to how we were to cross the river now became very pressing indeed. We could not afford to waste any time, as our food supply was extremely limited. The weather was hot and moist, so we could not manage to dry any meat; the flies got at it at once. One of two things had to be done: we had to cross the river within a very few days or else turn back. And turning back was a thing I had always hated doing.
The river was indeed a formidable obstacle. It showed no signs of subsiding, for thunderstorms still broke on and behind the mountain range. In the vicinity where the raft lay the channel was about a hundred yards wide and was very deep. The current here was sluggish, but just above was a long and dangerous rapid with many rocks projecting from the water. On these rocks crocodiles of various sizes used to bask with half opened jaws. Around the head of each saurian several little birds would flutter and hop, occasionally entering the toothed death-trap without the least apparent fear. These birds were useful in picking parasites from between the monsters' teeth.
One day in exploring the river bank above the rapids in search of a drift, I walked along the edge of the water immediately at the foot of a steep sand-dune about fifteen feet in height. The top of this, but I was unaware of the fact, was occupied by a large number of crocodiles of all sizes, they ranged from one to about fifteen feet in length. These took alarm and flung themselves into the water, both in front and behind me. One cut me across the shin with its tail in passing. I carry the mark of the cut to this day.
To return to the problem of crossing the river. We had brought with us some strong, light, hempen rope for the purpose of lowering our swags down steep and difficult places. This, with infinite labor we unwound, separating the strands and joining them again lengthwise. The result was still too short for our purpose, so we sought in the forest for monkey-ropes. These we crushed, and, after separating and partly drying the fibers, we twisted the latter into a strong, light cable.
When we judged that our cable, plus the line a was long enough to reach the other side, we attempted to carry one end of the latter across the river for the purpose of towing back the raft. Over and over again one of the bearers and I made the attempt, but when we got about three parts of the way across, the slow, steady pressure of the current would fill the bend of the line and sweep us down stream. We had spent most of the previous day in shooting at crocodiles on the rocks in the rapid, for the purpose of driving them from the neighborhood. We had wounded several. On the day of our attempt not a saurian was to be seen. Nevertheless, I felt extremely nervous. The carcass of one monster we had wounded afterwards washed up; it measured upwards of sixteen feet.
After our repeated failures to carry the line across, nothing remained to be done but to attempt a crossing at the rapids. This we succeeded in doing, but the attempt nearly cost MacLean his life. He was an indifferent swimmer. The day was blazing hot. I stripped, but MacLean, disregarding every one's advice, insisted on swimming in his shirt. We had to creep slowly from rock to rock, through tumbling water, with an occasional short swim through a deeper channel. The river was here much wider than at the scene of our former attempt.
When we were about half-way across MacLean stumbled. As he attempted to recover his foothold, facing the time down-stream, the current filled his shirt from behind and carried it over his head. Then he rolled helplessly down the rapid towards the deep reach. I floundered after, and succeeded in overtaking him. He was quite exhausted; it was only with great difficulty that I succeeded in getting him to the bank, fortunately to that side on which the raft lay.
After a short rest we launched the raft, or, as it turned out to be, a sort of square, flat bottomed boat, with sides only a few inches deep, and built of planks. But it was shrunken and gaping from the heat, and at once filled with water. It was sufficiently buoyant to float when empty, but would not sustain any weight. We drew it out again; caulking was out of the question, so we collected dry reeds and tied them into bundles with grass ropes made on the spot. We fastened these bundles to the bottom and sides, and launched our galley once more. This time we propelled her triumphantly, but very slowly, to the other side, where landing was comparatively easy. We had found in her two rough wooden paddles.
I had, by this time, been exposed stark naked to the sun for over five hours. I felt and no doubt looked like a raw beefsteak. Maclean's foot had got severely hurt in the course of his adventure, and he was much bruised and battered.
Accordingly it was decided that I should go on with Indogozan and his companion, leaving MacLean behind.
So next afternoon the Pessimist and MacLean ferried the two bearers and me across. The Pessimist bade me a doleful farewell, and suggested that I should leave any mementos for my friends behind, with instructions as to their disposal. To comfort him I wrote the names and addresses of my nearest relations on a leaf torn out of my pocket-book, and gave him the latter. He was absolutely certain that the prospectors had met their doom under the Swazi spears, and that a like fate would be mine.
My course lay along a winding pathway until it topped the first ridge, then it turned abruptly to the left to avoid a swampy hollow. However, a rhinoceros, startled by my approach, plunged through this hollow, clearing a pathway through the dense brushwood, so I followed his tracks and ascended the hill on the other side. Here, as I expected, I again found the old trail. That rhinoceros saved me a detour of several miles.
Night was now falling; the full moon arose as I stepped forward briskly; the trail lay clear across the long grass. It led mainly uphill for about fifteen miles, with occasional undulations. Once I heard lions roaring in the distance. The bearers begged of me to halt and allow them to light a fire, but I was so delighted at being safely across the river that I determined not to stop. However, we eventually reached the edge of an almost precipitous slope, which fell into a hollow brimming with dense, snow white mist. A solitary tree stood at the very edge of the steep; here I decided to camp.
When I awoke next morning I was wet through and chilled to the bone. The mist was so dense that objects six feet away were almost invisible. After some difficulty we managed to gather twigs from the tree sufficient to make a "billy" of tea. The light waxed; a strange and undefinable sensation thrilled me. I seemed to be near some surprise. For a considerable time the air was perfectly still. Then, suddenly, a movement became noticeable; a sudden breeze sang out of the west, and the mist-shroud rolled away, leaving a perfectly clear atmosphere.
To my dying day I shall never forget the sight that met my gaze. I was just on the northern verge of the Great Kaap Basin. It is in extent probably thirty miles long by twenty wide, and is shaped somewhat like a pear the larger end being scooped out of the mighty mass of the Drakensberg. At the narrow end the hills dwindled somewhat, but straight across the widest part of the valley the dark-blue mountains of Swaziland were piled in abrupt immensity, shimmering through an opaline medium which I cannot describe as haze, for the atmosphere was as clear and limpid as a dew-drop. This medium seemed to make the more distant salient contours miraculously palpable, and to fill every hollow with richest mystery.
Tier upon mighty tier the Delectable Mountains arose, the higher peaks shining in the new sunlight. I must have felt like Linnaeus when for the first time he saw a field of gorse in bloom.
With a glad and hopeful heart I followed the trail in its zigzag course down the steep mountain-side, which was vocal with the chanting call of myriads of partridges. Covey after covey flushed around me; the whole country, far and near, seemed to be alive with them. Before the end of that trip I got to hate and dread partridges more than any living thing, but that morning I loved them.
Now arose another difficulty: the bottom of the Kaap Valley, towards the centre, was a labyrinth of dongas, and the trail, hitherto so definite, split up into innumerable strands. These crossed and re-crossed each other bewilderingly, like the fibers of an unraveled rope. The dongas were both wide and deep; in many instances they were quite impassable. Occasionally I would find myself on the tip of a promontory, the sides of which were precipices perhaps several yards high. These were footed in jungle, which sometimes was quite impenetrable. However, like Theseus, I eventually managed; to win through, although no kind Ariadne came to my assistance. But I had hopelessly lost the trail.
It was dusk when I reached the foothills of the Swaziland mountains. Far off, as I approached, I could see the twinkling lights at the kraals on the high ledges. I camped at the foot of a very high, naked peak of granite, which was almost sheer on the side facing me. This peak turned out to be densely populated by, baboons. At intervals, all night long, pandemonium reigned among these brutes. Occasionally a general fight seemed to take place; then stones would come crashing down the face of the precipice, sometimes falling in dangerous proximity to the camp. Once or twice the wrath of the community was apparently directed against one individual, who would be hunted round and round the upper zone of the peak. When caught this (presumable) delinquent's yells of anguish would peal shrilly above the hoarse chorus of his pursuers' angry voices.
Next morning I struck eastward along the base of the foothills, searching for the trail. The country was intersected by many pathways, but none of these showed signs of a wagon having passed. It seemed, moreover, inconceivable that a vehicle could have ascended such a lofty, steep mountain range as the one which towered on my right. I noticed some cattle grazing on a high ledge, so I wended thither. Here I found three herd-boys, and they gave me the information I was seeking. The prospectors had ascended the mountains through a valley still farther to the eastward and had gone on. They had been heard of very far ahead still going. With somewhat damped enthusiasm I followed.
Well, I kept like a hound on the trail of the prospectors right through Swaziland. When the trail turned suddenly westward, I threw up the sponge, for I immediately and correctly inferred what had happened: the party had given up its quest and returned, taking a course through that part of the Transvaal known as New Scotland. Their prospecting could not have amounted to much. I often, long subsequently, wondered as to what their feelings were when they heard of the discovery of the Sheba Reef, for they must have walked over almost the very spot.
Sadly, and with chastened feelings, I began to retrace my steps. My two Bapedi were in constant dread of their lives, for an old and deadly feud existed between their tribe and the Swazis. They followed me like my shadow, sometimes in a most embarrassing manner. Having been on my forward journey hospitably entertained at the kraal of a prominent induna named 'Ntshindeen, I decided to return there and rest. I felt half-dead from fatigue and semi-starvation. My clothing was in rags. The only, supplies I had left were a little meal and some salt.
At 'Ntshindeen's kraal I spent a few halcyon days. For one reason or another, possibly on account of my extremely youthful appearance, I was treated with great consideration. A very large hut, the whole inside of which was lined with the finest basket-work, was given me to occupy. It was the beginning of the season of green maize; every morning an armful of luscious cobs was deposited at my door. An immense earthen pot of honey and a skin milk sack were placed at my disposal. All day long I would drowse under a tree which stood within a few yards of the hut door, with Indogozan or his companion waving a bough to keep off the flies. I only woke up to eat or to smoke. The prospectors were forgotten; so were MacLean and the Pessimist. I tasted, to the fullest extent, the sweetness of long-needed rest.
But the evenings were somewhat trying to one of my bashful temperament. My fame had spread abroad; from distant kraals people flocked to see me every night. For the one and only, time in my life I knew what it was to be celebrated.
One very old woman, a "doctor," took me under her patronage. I would lie near a small fire towards the back of the hut, the two Bapedi crouching behind me. The old woman, with a sheaf of dry reeds in her withered hand, would squat on the floor near my head. Then the hut would fill up with men and women, who would arrange themselves in a crescent shaped mass, with the front rank lying down, the next crouching, those farthest from me standing.
The old woman would select a few suitable reeds from the bundle, light them as a torch, which she held so that I would be illuminated, and deliver a lecture. All my points would be gone over in detail the unusual color of my eyes, the whiteness of my skin, and the length of my hair were the occasion of much comment. By request I would take off my shirt or pull up a leg of my much tattered trousers. Farther than this modesty prevented my going. Sometimes a similar ordeal would have to be gone through several times in the course of an evening.
The only work I did was in the matter of repairing guns, of which, by the way, the Swazis possessed but very few. I had a knife, the handle of which contained a screwdriver and various other tools; the condition of my own gun necessitated the carrying of a nipple wrench. The latter was a very old instrument; it had sockets graded to fit nipples of various sizes. The trouble with the Swazi guns was almost invariably dirt or rust. Some I put right without much difficulty; others were quite beyond the possibility of repair.
After a somewhat wide experience I can truthfully say that the Swazis, at the time I knew them, were the finest savages I ever came in contact with. They were gentlemen in all essentials, they were manly, brave, and independent. The white race had not yet degraded them by contact with its corroding fringe.
The following incident will serve to illustrate their courage: Six of 'Ntshindeen's men, armed with nothing but spears and sticks, came upon a full-grown lion among the foothills through which I had journeyed. The brute was a well known depredator among the herds. He had, in fact, given up killing game in favor of the easier pursuit of killing cattle. He had also killed two herd boys. The six attacked without hesitation. They slew the lion, but in the struggle three men lost their lives. Two were killed on the spot; the third had his arm chewed to a pulp. He was brought back to his kraal, but gangrene at once set in, and he died on the third day. The other three were badly mauled, but they recovered.
The Swazis knew nothing of money, except that it was supposed to be worth something in parts remote from their then-isolated land. The value of cash was gauged according to size; you could get more for a penny than for a sovereign but not much for either. Gunpowder, lead, and caps they were, of course, anxious to obtain for even if an individual did not own a gun, it was always possible to borrow such a weapon.
But the thing they valued above all else was salt. Their country contained no saltpans, and they were cut off from the sea by a strip of pestiferous jungle, which, moreover, belonged to the Portuguese or was supposed so to belong. Fortunately I had brought with me a small bag of salt; it contained about a pound in weight. Men used to come from long distances to beg for a pinch. As I did not want the bag to be seen, it was my practice, when salt was asked for, to enter the hut and bring out a small pinch in my hand. On such occasions the old show-woman would watch for me, and after I had transferred the salt to the one who came for it, she used to seize my hand and lick out the palm.
After a week's rest I began prospecting in the neighborhood. I must have "panned" in the present Sheba Valley and all over the vicinity, in which Barberton now stands. It was only alluvial gold for which I sought; there was a theory current among diggers of those days that South African quartz contained no metal. It was thought that quartz reefs had been subjected to such heat that all metals had been expelled. "Color" I found almost everywhere I tried, but no coarse gold.
Soon after I commenced prospecting I noticed a change in the demeanor of the natives; they no longer treated me with the same friendliness. In this matter they were, it must be confessed, actuated by sound instinctive considerations; it was the subsequent discovery of gold that caused their sad deterioration. 'Ntshindeen, who was always my good friend but who often had to be away from home on the king's business, gave me a confidential warning to beware of the boys, as they did not like me. This dislike was shown mainly in a petty persecution of my two Bapedi, to whom insulting remarks were often made. I felt I had outstayed my welcome, so prepared to depart.
Accordingly, one morning I packed the swags, distributed the remainder of the salt among the elders of the kraal giving the old woman who used to lick my palm an extra allowance bade farewell to my kind hosts, and started. About five and twenty big boys several of them almost men in stature surrounded my little party. All these boys had sticks; several carried assegais. Just below the kraal, on the steep hillside, was a fence with an open gap; through this I had to pass. The boys ran forward and collected just beyond the gap. A number of men stood together, about a hundred yards away. It was abundantly clear that trouble was coming.
Several boys collected behind me as I approached the gap. I sent the two Bapedi through first. They went in fear and trembling; I followed immediately after. As the second of my bearers passed through the gap a big boy sprang forward and seized his swag. I at once struck the assailant a smashing blow on the chest with the butt-end of my gun. He fell headlong among his companions. I then, with deliberation, cocked both barrels, walked slowly forward, and told the Bapedi to follow. The boys opened a passage through their ranks and we passed through. Then the men began to shout and jeer, and the boys, stung by this, ran down the hillside after us, brandishing their sticks. One poised his assegai, as though he were about to throw it, but I leveled my gun at him and he swerved. I then turned, and we went on without further molestation. But the war-cry pealed forth, and for a long time we could see people running hither and thither among the kraals.
I believe that on this occasion my Bapedi had a narrow escape, although I do not think any harm was intended to me, personally. A few months afterwards a prospector named Coffin was in the same vicinity. His two boys, also Bapedi, were killed in his presence.
I had for some days been suffering from intestinal disturbance and a slight headache, so strongly suspected that I had contracted fever. It took me sixty long and fatiguing hours to get back to the Crocodile River. I arrived there after dusk, and shouted for the raft. MacLean and the Pessimist soon paddled across. The latter was, I am quite convinced, much disappointed at my having turned up. During supper, while I was relating my experiences, the Pessimist interjected the remark that I was a liar. After a more or less drawn battle, MacLean and Niekerk restored peace, so that both supper and narrative were finished without further interruption. But Niekerk, who had been unable to understand the words which gave rise to the disturbance, was confirmed in his ideas as to the essential insanity of the English.
Our little patrol tent stood about ten yards from the tail of Niekerk's wagon. One morning at daybreak a big black rhinoceros stood grunting and sniffing in the space between. The barrel of Niekerk's rifle protruded slowly from the wagon-tilt. When the animal felt the sting of the bullet it swung round and went off at a gallop along the river bank. Rhino could not have been much hurt, for his spoor was to be seen a few days afterwards fifteen miles away, and it was still the spoor of a running animal. Game was now scarce, so Niekerk decided to shift his quarters.
As we had done no prospecting to speak of, it was decided to explore the Crocodile Valley, in the direction of the mountains, before going home. We accordingly once more crossed the river, and proceeded against the stream along its southern bank, panning as we went. "Color" was to be found everywhere, but no sign of "pay." On the second morning we had an unpleasant surprise; the Bapedi had bolted during the night. They had taken nothing of our belongings. I was very wrathful; but time brings perspective; today I am inclined to think that these boys were justified in clearing out. They had been terribly frightened in Swaziland, and when we again crossed the river they may have thought, naturally enough, that we were going back.
In sadness we sorted our belongings, selecting the indispensable and the more valuable; we cached the remainder in a krantz cleft. I wonder if it is still where we hid it? Then, the flood having somewhat subsided, we went westward along the river bank until we found a fordable spot. Here we crossed and, feeling much chastened, tramped off in the direction of Pilgrim's Rest. As we struggled on we tried to comfort ourselves with a foretaste of the vengeance which we would wreak on Indogozan and his companion when we caught them. However, catch them we never did.
It now became quite clear that I had contracted fever. Headache, dizziness, internal pains, and deadly weakness had me in their grip. Partridges got on my nerves, and became the terror of my life. The country was full of these birds, which were very tame. The whirring scream of a covey, when it flushed around me, almost caused distraction. On such occasions I have often dropped flat in my tracks.
In its early stages, fever is generally more or less intermittent; the subject generally feels either worse or better than he really is. Eventually, however, by hook or by crook, I got back to Mac Mac. MacLean went on to Pilgrim's Rest. I collapsed, and lay in my patrol tent, alone and untended, for several days. Then Mr. (afterwards Sir Drummond) Dunbar and his kind wife look me in, and tended me like truly Good Samaritans. I was as tough as nails. The attack proved to be a comparatively light one, so I managed to pull through.
Weakness after fever—I engage in commerce—Bats—The commandeered cat—My commercial ineptitude—Tom Simpson surprises—Wolff—Close of my commercial career—Saulez—His thrashing of the bullies—Gardiner holds up the bank—Nicknames—Conferring a patent of nobility—"Old Nelly"—"A poor man's lead"—"Charlie Brown's Gully"—Swindled by my partner—My discovery on the mountain—A lonely time—Waiting for rain—Disappointment and despair—Abandonment of my work—Departure—Once more a tramp.
After rallying from my bout of fever I felt terribly weak. I was kindly looked after for a few weeks by some friends, but it was imperatively necessary that I should, at the earliest possible date, once more begin to earn a livelihood. I was now absolutely penniless. Manual labor was, for the time, quite out of the question. The least physical exertion, more especially if it involved bending down, caused a sickening sense of dizziness and loss of vision. For some little time I resembled one of those dolls whose eyes disappear when placed in any but an upright position.
A Natal firm, R. T. N. James & Co., had a store on top of the steep hill, just where the up-creek road left the Lower Camp. Mr. Shepperd, the manager, was a friend of mine. One day he saw me at Mac Mac, and, taking pity on my condition, offered me work in the shop. I jumped at the chance.
So next Sunday I started for Pilgrim's Rest. The path, which could only be traversed on foot, led over the big divide, and involved a heavy climb, followed by a steep descent. I took all day for the journey of nine miles. It necessitated a terrible effort. Fortunately, however, the day was cool. Several times I was on the point of fainting, and was obliged to lie down. Strangely enough, it was the descent that I found more distressing than the climb. The tendons just above my knees had become slackened through weakness, and refused to act as a brake. I shall never forget that walk.
The business was a general one in the most comprehensive sense of the term. We sold groceries, drapery, hardware, butcher's meat, bread, and strong drink. The building was a large one of galvanized iron. It stood on one side of the road, Mr. Shepperd's dwelling-house was on the other. The store was overrun with rats. I had to sleep on the counter, and the beastly vermin ran squeaking over the premises all night long. Often they awoke me by running across my face. I dreaded those rats more than ever I did the lions hi the Low Country.
A friend, hearing of my plight, commandeered a cat at Mac Mac, and brought it to me in a bag late one Saturday night. That Eastern potentate we all have read of in our childhood was not more grateful to Dick Whittington than I was to this benefactor. The shop was closed at 11 p.m., so, after shutting every place of exit, I let the cat out of the bag. Although very wild and fierce, after the long imprisonment and the rough journey, it soon settled down to work.
That night was one of great enjoyment both to the cat and to myself. I lay awake for hours listening to this good angel preying on the Hosts of Midian which had so grievously tormented me. Next morning rats lay dead all over the shop, each with its head bitten off. The cat showed signs of scandalous repletion, but it, nevertheless, fought the good fight all through Sunday. It came up at my call to be stroked as though I had known it from kittenhood. It never made the least attempt to escape. Soon there was not a rat or a mouse on the premises.
Commerce never attracted me. At the store of Mr. James I thoroughly hated my work. Mr. Shepperd, the butcher, the baker, and I formed the staff. The butcher and baker, respectively, killed and baked by night, and sold the products of their skill by day. I was principally responsible for the grocery and hardware branches. But I could never wrap up a pound of sugar neatly, however hard I might try; and the entries I made in the books of the firm would, I am sure, have puzzled the best actuary. Although a good deal of merchandise passed through my hands, I fear I must have done the business a lot of harm, for there were many complaints on the part of customers as to the manner in which their orders were executed.
I well remember the case of a man who came very late one Saturday night to purchase a pair of boots. The foot-gear then affected by the digger was enormously heavy and had heel-plates almost as thick as horseshoes. The boots were joined in pairs by pieces of string, and hung by these on nails stuck in the rafters, the latter being about twelve feet above the floor. When a pair had to be lifted down, a long bamboo, with a spike at right angles to the end, was placed under the string.
This particular customer was difficult to fit; pair after pair was hooked down, but none were just what he wanted. As bad luck would have it, he happened to look up as I was Endeavoring to get hold of a particularly large pair which were hanging just over his head. The connecting string broke, and one of the boots, iron heel-plate downwards, caught him across the bridge of the nose and cut him to the bone. For this purely accidental occurrence I was severely blamed, yet I never could see that I was at fault.
Tom Simpson, the butcher, was a character in his way. He was a middle-sized, wiry, foxy-colored man, with a squeaky voice. His habits were retiring, and his manner was shy. He was, in fact, about the last man one would have thought capable of "putting up" a fight. However, a somewhat wide experience has taught me that appearances in this connection are apt to be deceitful; the quiet, unassuming man is very often a dangerous customer.
One Sunday afternoon Simpson and I were taking a stroll together. We met Wolff, who had been my mate at "The Reef." Wolff was a man with the appearance of enormous strength, but he was slow in movement and muscle-bound. He very seldom touched alcohol, and the slightest indulgence made him quarrelsome.
Wolff stopped me, and we had a conversation, about nothing in particular. Simpson was in a hurry to get back to the scene of his work, so he asked me if I were going on with him. Wolff, who evidently had been drinking although he was by no means intoxicated resented this, and made use of some very insulting language. Simpson made no reply, so Wolff gave him a hard slap across the face. Simpson retreated a few steps, rolled up his sleeves, and stood in an attitude of defense. Wolff rushed at him like a furious bull, and I began to wonder as to where I would be able to borrow a wheelbarrow for the purpose of taking home the Simpson remains.
Then followed a most astounding spectacle. For a few minutes Simpson acted strictly on the defensive, retreating before his antagonist and guarding himself from the sledge-hammer blows. I noticed that he was very smart on his feet always a good sign in a boxing-match and that he was cunningly drawing Wolff uphill after him. Wolff began to breathe hard and to perspire; I felt that the barrow might not be wanted after all.
Suddenly Simpson's tactics changed; he got in over Wolff's guard and, in as many seconds, planted six terrible blows on the latter's face. With both eyes closed, his nose streaming blood, and his lips badly tattered, Wolff collapsed a melancholy object-lesson of the truth of the preacher's text: "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong."
About four weeks brought my commercial career to a close. The manager and I parted good friends, but he made no secret of his satisfaction at getting rid of me. I was as unskillful in the matter of tying up parcels at the end of my term of service as I was at the beginning. But I had been of some use in the matter of clearing the store of rats. The cat and I had become very good friends; it was quite a wrench parting with that devoted animal. If the progeny, which were expected to arrive soon after I left, only inherited the keenness and skill of their mother, there ought not to have been a rat left, a year afterwards, in the Northern Transvaal.
Reminiscences of a
Tom Simpson and his David-like victory over Goliath-Wolff reminds me of another man who was very skilful in the use of his hands. He went by the name of Saulez. I know his real name, but will not mention it, although I am absolutely convinced that its concealment was not due to any unworthy cause. Saulez was young, very slightly built, fair-haired, and almost effeminate in appearance. But he was the wickedest and most wonderful fighter I have ever seen floor a bully. Although he thoroughly enjoyed using his fists, he never sought a quarrel. There were four men in the creek who were always spoiling for a fight. They were rather dreaded, for on Saturday afternoons they used to go from bar to bar, looking for an excuse to thrash somebody. In the natural course of events Saulez met them, and a fight or rather a series of fights was the result. He thrashed them soundly in detail without getting so much as a scratch.
A couple of weeks afterwards, three of the four laid in wait for Saulez and tackled him collectively. He again thrashed them, and with the greatest ease.
On another occasion Saulez struck a man by mistake. He immediately apologized, but the man refused to be placated. Saulez then offered to allow the aggrieved party to strike him, promising not to return the blow. But there was a condition attached: if the man took advantage of the offer Saulez would afterwards "go for" him. The man, who was powerfully built, thought he had the game in his hands, so he hauled off and struck Saulez a terrible blow between the eyes. But he soon had cause to regret his action, for he got a most severe thrashing.
I once saw a very smart thing done by an old Australian digger named Gardiner. He was the one after whom "Gardiner's Point," just below the Middle Camp, was named. One afternoon he appeared at the Lower Camp with a barrow, a pick, a shovel, a pan, and four pegs. The latter he gravely hammered into the ground, enclosing a square with sides of a hundred and fifty feet. In the middle of this stood the local branch of the Natal Bank. Gardiner then entered the bank and gave notice to the manager to remove the building, as the site was required for mining purposes. This proceeding was strictly in accordance with the Mining Law. The person giving notice in such a case would, of course, be obliged to pay the expenses of removal.
Before the manager had time to recover from his surprise, Gardiner went to a spot on the right-hand side of the steps leading to the bank entrance, loosened a couple of square yards of the surface ground, shoveled it into his barrow, and trundled the latter down to the nearest part of the creek. After a short time he returned and informed the manager that, as he had changed his mind, the bank need not be shifted. Then he pulled out his pegs. Here is the explanation: Most of the creek gold was crusted with flakes of ironstone, so that when nuggets were brought to the bank for sale, they used to be placed in a large iron mortar and pounded. The pounding was done by a native always at the spot from which Gardiner removed the surface ground. This practice had been followed for a very long time, and Gardiner inferred that small particles of gold must have escaped from time to time under the loose cover of the mortar and through the central hole in which the pestle worked. The amount of the "wash up" was three and a half ounces.
Quite a large number of the diggers were known by nicknames; in most instances these quite superseded the original patronymics. Most men who knew the Transvaal thirty years ago will remember "Count" Nelmapius. The title was subsequently dropped, but for years it was used, and apparently enjoyed, by the holder. It may be of interest if I describe how the patent of nobility came to be conferred in this case. The thing happened at Mac Mac, in a hostel known as "The Spotted Dog," which was run by old Tommy Austin. Half a dozen diggers were lounging in the bar. Quoth one "I hear a new chum's turned up today."
"So. What's his name?"
"Oh, I did hear it, but I've forgotten. It sounded like Nellapius, or Nelampus, or something of that sort."
"I expect he's some foreigner," said old Austin; "let's call him the Count."
Accordingly, Count he became, and Count he remained for many years. Up to the middle eighties the papers invariably referred to this individual as Count Nelmapius.
Many other nicknames come to mind as I think of those old days. "Yankee Dan," "Boozer," "Texas Dan," and "Old Nelly" are specimens. The latter was a strange character. He was seventy years of age, but was as active as a cat and as strong as a buffalo. He was, except Sandow, probably the strongest man I have ever seen. Bred from a navvy stock, Old Nelly had wandered over the world for many years, from one mining camp to another. He invariably got drunk on Saturdays, and, whenever he could afford it, on other days as well. For some reason, which I could never fathom, this strange being took a fancy to me, and used to inflict on me long homilies on the dangers to which youth was exposed. He continually urged me never to get drunk on anything but beer. When I suggested the application of his principles to himself, he would say "Ah! lad, but oi'm different."
Whenever he had money in hand Old Nelly would spend it in drink. I once asked him how long he had been doing this sort of thing. His reply was "All me loife, lad, all me loife."
I left the James Emporium with about 2 in my pocket. I was still too weak to be able to earn wages; ague used to recur regularly every fortnight. So I decided to go down and "fossick" among the Blyde River terraces. Here was "a poor man's lead," out of which one could make about a pound a week by working hard. By working easily I thought I might be able to earn about half that sum. This would be enough to keep body and soul together. So I spent most of my 2 in buying a wheelbarrow, and in this I trundled down more than half a ton of wash every day to the rapid in which my sluice box was fixed. I managed to earn about two shillings per day.
One afternoon I saw several diggers going over to one of the terraces, where a man I knew named Charlie Brown was working in a shallow gully. I saw that a "rush" was in progress, so joined in. The gully was short; it contained but seven claims in all. As I got my pegs in at one end of a claim, another digger was putting his in at the corresponding corner opposite. There was nothing to do but take up the claim in partnership.
My partner was a Swede, who went under an Irish name. I hated him from the beginning, feeling that he was a rogue. We harrowed the stuff down to old Lochhead's race, where we hired a water right. Our wash-up for the first week was a couple of ounces of gold. I worked in the claim while my partner attended to the sluice-box. He became more and more offensive. Soon a friend of his came along and offered me 15 for my share. I accepted the offer.
It is quite certain that I was swindled, that my partner had found much more gold than he divided with me. The lead was both narrow and shallow, so that the claim was soon worked out. The gold found in it sold for over 1,400. "Charlie Brown's Gully" was one of the richest of the smaller leads that were struck.
Immediately after leaving the Lower Camp, when proceeding up-creek, if one looked squarely to the right, a high saddle between two mountain peaks was visible. I had several times walked over this place and been struck by its similarity to the formation at "The Reef," which I have already described. On the day after I sold out at "Charlie Brown's Gully" I again visited this saddle and took a "prospect." There was a small spring some distance down the mountainside. I bagged about fifty pounds of wash, carried it down to the spring, and panned it out. The result was most encouraging; I found several small nuggets of rough gold.
Reaching the top of the saddle involved a breathless climb. There was no water in its vicinity nearer than the little spring I have mentioned. This was a mere trickle at the base of a big rock. However, by "puddling" I managed to make a small dam which would at night collect enough water to admit of a limited amount of panning or cradling by day.
For several consecutive days I ascended the mountain. The wash, which consisted of rough quartz pebbles mixed with earth, was about nine inches deep; it lay on a soft slate bottom. The wind blew hard and the wash was dry, so I lifted shovelful after shovelful of the latter as high as I could and let it trickle slowly down. The object of this was to winnow out as much of the sand as possible. After picking out nearly all the pebbles, I placed about forty pounds' weight of the residue in the gunny bag and humped it down to the spring. Load after load I carried down. It was then too late to do any panning, so I stumbled down the mountain side in the gathering gloom.
Next morning I recommenced my humping. Early in the afternoon I panned out all I had carried down. I found nearly half a pennyweight of gold in the heel of the dish. This was a splendid prospect. It was evident that the ground was rich. On the following days I took a prospect from a different spot on the saddle, with a similar result. I should, perhaps, explain that the finding of "rough" gold in a new place is always an event of considerable significance. Fine gold, or, as it is called, "color," does not count; it is to be found everywhere.
Here, then, was payable gold; that is to say, it would have been payable had there been water in the neighborhood. The prospect I had taken was an extremely rich one. What was to be done? After long consideration I decided to excavate a reservoir on the hillside in the vicinity of the deposit, and trust to its being filled with rain. The month was October; thunderstorms were due. So far, however, the season had been exceptionally dry.
With the assistance of a couple of boys, hired for the purpose, I moved my tent and other belongings up to the saddle. My commissariat arrangements were simple mealie-meal and sugar, being all I required in the way of food. Bush tea grew all over the mountain; I could pluck sackfuls of it within fifty feet of my tent.
I marked out the site for my reservoir just below the gravel deposit, at a spot where the fall of the hillside was about one in fifteen. Then I sank an approximately level trench, the upper end to be flush with the bottom of the reservoir, and the lower running out to the surface of the ground. In this I placed a long wooden box which was open at the lower end, and had a small flood-gate working in a vertical slide at the other.
I then excavated my reservoir, working longer hours than I have at any other time. When completed it was thirty-five feet long, ten broad, and four deep; but of course the holding capacity was much greater than these dimensions would imply, owing to the excavated ground being banked on the lower side, thus forming a dam wall.
I was quite alone, but I seldom felt lonely. I worked so hard that I slept soundly from the moment I finished supper until day broke. Sometimes I was so weary that I would fall asleep as I sat, with a half-consumed plate of porridge resting on my outstretched legs, and would wake up at dawn in this position.
The rains were overdue, but at first I did not mind this, because dry ground is easier to lift than wet, and I was anxious to have my reservoir completed before the heavy thunderstorms set in. At length the work was finished, so I set my sluice-box in position below the vent. Then I spent some days in opening out shallow trenches from the dam along the sides of the mountains to left and right, so as to catch the storm water.
But the rain still held off; an occasional thunderstorm would trail over the ranges, but none came to the saddle. Sometimes it was as though an invisible hand held them back; I had more than once seen a rain cloud heading straight for the saddle, only to swerve to right or left, and pass sometimes within a few hundred yards of it.
I loosened quantities of wash, and harrowed it to the sides of the trench in which my sluice box lay embedded. I computed, taking the prospect I had as my basis, that there was upwards of two hundred pounds' worth of gold in those two heaps.
Having now come literally to the end of my resources, I again started carrying down stuff to the little spring and there panning it out. But the spring was failing on account of the drought, and the little puddled dam hardly collected enough water during the night to admit of panning. The result of a fortnight's unspeakably hard work was about four shillings' worth of gold. The trickle of water diminished daily, until the spring yielded barely enough for my drinking. Then my boots began to wear out under the strain of clambering up and down the steep, rocky path. So I plied my barrow barefoot, only using my boots when I went down to the spring for my daily supply of drinking-water.
Few (excluding, of course, those suffering from actual thirst) have ever longed for rain as I did. But the sky remained pitiless, and from my mountain eyry I could see the valley bottoms growing sere and yellow. Then I suddenly turned against my work; for a few days despair and I tented together. I lost heart, for that Fate seemed to have declared against me. During previous seasons I had seen torrents foaming down the gorge from the saddle; the mountain tops between which it lay had been the favorite haunts of thunderstorms. It was now late in December, and not a drop of rain had fallen. When I look back at myself then, from where I now am, I seem a very pathetic figure.
On Christmas Eve I struck my tent, packed my swag, and descended the mountain. The spot at which I expended so much useless labor has since become well-known as the Theta Mine, one of the best gold producers belonging to the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates Company.
Within a few days I unexpectedly became possessed of about 10. But I was at the end of my tether in the matter of mining. I made up my mind to leave the goldfields; to return to the old Cape Colony, via Natal, as a tramp.
So in the afternoon of the 3rd of January, 1876, I climbed up the long and steep mountain out of the valley of the Blyde River, along the very pathway by which "Artful Joe" and I had descended with our hearts full of hope. My dreams of affluence had eventuated in nothing; my hard work had been thrown away. Three times had fortune tantalized me by placing rich gifts almost within my reach and then snatching them from my outstretched hand.
When I reached the rocky summit I threw my heavy swag to the ground and gazed back with dimming eyes. A lump rose in my throat. It had, after all, been a man's life that I had led. I had made many friends and but few enemies.
As I gazed, the sun was low behind me, and the immense valley at my feet was filled with gloom. Deepening purple shadows were stealing up Pilgrim's Creek in a slow brimming flood. Through this the scattered tents gleamed white, here and there a tiny sparklet showed where some digger was preparing his evening meal. . . . I knew the occupants of these tents; with some I had shared danger, with others toil.
I was loath to leave them all. One last look and the scene was obliterated by a sudden gush of tears.
Then I once more humped my swag and started on my long journey through the cool night, under the inscrutable stars.
On the road—Heavy rain—Mosquitoes—Natal—Thunderstorms—A terrible night Maritzburg—My cash runs out—A halcyon day—Hospitality—D'Urban—Failure to get work—The Fighting Blacksmith and the eccentric old gentleman Narrow escape of the latter—East London—Experiences in a surfboat—A Perilous venture—I enter the Civil Service—Further reminiscences deferred—Au revoir.
My swag was heavy, but my frame was tough. It was early in the forenoon of the following day when I reached Lydenburg. Having had to purchase boots, socks, flannel shirts, and a waterproof, more than half of my 10 had melted away; it would be necessary, therefore, to exercise the strictest economy.
From Lydenburg and through the Eastern Transvaal I was fortunate in finding wagons going Natalwards on which I could load my swag. Once or twice I got a lift myself but this I was not particularly anxious for. I had my small Low Country tent with me. For its capacity this was the lightest thing of the kind I have ever seen. It weighed with poles, pegs, and whipcord guys about six pounds. Its height was two feet six inches; its poles were of bamboo which had been split in two and rejoined, the split pieces being relatively reversed. Its pegs were made of a very hard but comparatively light wood which I had found in one of the forests of the Blyde River Valley.
When about half-way to the Natal border I encountered heavy rain. One-tenth of the thunderstorms that broke over my luckless head would, had they but visited the mountain saddle a couple of weeks previously, have made an independent man of me. This was quite typical of my luck.
Mosquitoes were a terrible plague in the Transvaal. I shall never forget my experiences one night close to the source of the Vaal River. The sun was hardly down before the tormentors came out in myriads. They seemed to thrive on smoke; at all events they were less incommoded by it than I was. I closed my tent up tightly and placed some live embers inside. On these I laid some tobacco and damp grass, at the same time pulling at my pipe as furiously as I could. 'But all was in vain; the wretched insects crowded in as though they enjoyed the dense reek.
Although dead tired after an exceptionally fatiguing day, I struck the tent, repacked my swag, and tramped on until morning. Then I left the road and made for a kopje about a mile away, on which were some very large rocks. I flung myself down under a ledge, and was fast asleep almost before I reached a recumbent position. It was late in the afternoon when I was awakened by the heat of the sun. Then, after a hearty meal of askoek and tea, I tramped on again until another morning broke.
I passed Laing's Nek and Majuba Hill, the slopes of which were destined within a few years to flow with the blood of brave men, and to be the scene of feats of arms which startled the world, and, in a certain respect, revolutionized warfare. But it was water that was there flowing on the day I passed, for the whole range was lashed by a succession of furious thunder storms.
From Newcastle onward I adopted a different system one which enabled me to travel much more quickly. At Newcastle I went to the Resident Magistrate's office, and through the police secured the services of a strong native to act as carrier of my swag as far as Ladysmith. I left ten shillings the amount of remuneration agreed upon with the Chief Constable, to be drawn when the native returned with a note from me certifying that he had done his duty. It was a wonderful relief to be free from the straps which had galled my shoulders for so long. The distance to Ladysmith is, I think, about a hundred miles. We covered it easily in three nights.
At Ladysmith I disposed of my tent for ten shillings, which was less than a quarter of its value. But my money, was rapidly running out; the heavy rains had on several occasions driven me to ask for shelter, and this always meant spending money. At Ladysmith I engaged another native to accompany me to Maritzburg. This was necessary; had I attempted to travel alone I should certainly have lost my way.
The heat for it was now midsummer was extremely trying. I accordingly made it my rule to travel by night, trusting to being able to get a sheltered place wherein to sleep by day. This kind of accommodation which I was usually fortunate in being able to secure did not cost anything. When I bought food at a farmhouse I would usually ask to be allowed to lie down in one of the sheds.
The thunderstorms were a serious embarrassment. In the comparatively flat Transvaal they did not matter so much, but among the convoluted hills which are such a salient feature of the Natal landscape, some kloof which ordinarily held a mere rivulet was apt to be suddenly filled by, a roaring torrent. Occasionally I was hung up for hours at a time by such obstacles.
At a small village, the name of which I forget, but which must have been about forty miles from Maritzburg on the Ladysmith side, I was detained for two days by a cold, drenching rain. I was forced to take refuge in the hotel. Here the cost of accommodation for myself and my bearer depleted my capital almost to vanishing-point.
The weather cleared, and I made another start, but the condition of the roads was such that I was unable to travel at more than half my usual rate. Next day, just after I crossed the Umgeni River, the rain came down again. I intended to get to Maritzburg that night, but was only able to reach the heights from which that town is visible. We entered the forest on the left-hand side of the road and camped. After enormous difficulty we managed to kindle a fire and make some tea. There was plenty of dead wood lying about, so we made a roaring blaze and sat as close to it as we could. That night was a miserable one; the rain never ceased for a moment, so sleep was quite out of the question.
It was still raining when we started next morning. We reached Maritzburg after a tramp of a couple of hours. I went to an hotel on the market square, kept by a man named King. He promptly refused to take me in; this did not surprise me in the least, for I must have been a sorry object. However, on my explaining the situation and producing my few remaining shillings, the proprietor relented so far as to let me have some food and allow me to sleep in a forage store. He nevertheless insisted on taking away my pipe, tobacco, and matches. He wanted to lock me in, but this I would not stand. I slept warm and dry, at least, I was dry when I awoke next morning.
In the afternoon the rain ceased, so I again set out. My capital was now reduced to one and ninepence. Just before sundown I called at a farmhouse a few hundred yards from the road and asked for work. Here I was kindly entertained, and given a corner of an outhouse wherein to sleep, and some bags and straw wherewith to make a bed. But I insisted on paying for my entertainment by working. Before darkness fell I mended a fowl house, and I got up early in the morning and chopped a lot of firewood.
After a hearty breakfast of delicious bread, butter, and milk I made another start. But that day I loitered. The sky was bright, the sun shone mildly, the wind was warm and caressing. I wandered slowly along, enjoying the incomparable scenery, and feeling that the world, which had hitherto shown me its rough side, was not such a bad place after all. I began seriously to regard the universe from the standpoint of a professional tramp to realize that there is something to be said for the philosophy of the unmitigated vagrant.
At an especially enticing spot I turned out of the road and strolled for a while along the bank of a stream. I stripped and plunged into a swirling pool. Then I washed my entire wardrobe and spread it out on the grass to dry. I lit my pipe, laid myself naked under an erythrina tree, and praised the gods for the gift of life.
When my clothes were sufficiently dry I dressed and went on. It was now fairly late in the afternoon. I caught sight of another farmhouse, so I went to it. The men-folk were away, but a dear old lady of ample proportions and kindly countenance was standing in her garden mourning the damage wrought therein by the heavy weather of the past week. I asked for a spade and a rake; within little more than an hour I had vastly improved things. Vegetables and flowers, which grew side by side in an eccentric jumble, had been flattened out by the rain into a wallow of mud. I obtained the cover of a packing-case; this I split up, and a judicious use of the fragments, together with some string, soon showed that little irreparable damage had been done.
Two small children, a boy and a girl they were grandchildren of the old lady made my task entertaining by virtue of their quaint and original talk. However, they rather embarrassed me by bringing quantities of biscuits and coffee, being distressed when I was unable to consume all. At dusk the proprietor of the farm, with his wife and a baby, returned in a cart. They warmly seconded the old lady's invitation for me to stay over the night. So I slept in a real bed an experience I had not enjoyed for years. I hope that kindly roof-tree still stands firm, and that the little children have not alone prospered, but taken after their immediate forbears.
Next morning I started very early, for I felt I had dawdled enough. I passed down the long, lovely Intshanga Ridge, and must have walked well, for I reached Pine Town fairly early in the afternoon. Here I met a man whose name I have forgotten; he also was about to walk to D'Urban. We did not, however, go together, for the reason that I had made up my mind to go by a direct route over the Berea, whilst he had some special reason for taking a more round-about course.
I passed a number of coolie huts, each standing in a little pineapple patch. I spent ninepence of my capital in the purchase of a dozen pines, getting three separate lots of four at three-pence per lot. It was late in the afternoon when I reached D'Urban. The date was the 27th of January, so I had spent twenty four days on the road. Considering the weather I had encountered, I had not done so badly. Next morning I read in a newspaper that the man with whom I had foregathered on the previous day had died from the effects of the bite of a mamba; the reptile had attacked him as he was walking through the bush close to the town.
I knew two men at D'Urban. One was Mr. Jack Ellis, at present of the firm of Dyer and Dyer, East London. The other was a man named Sims, who had been known on the diamond-fields as "The Fighting Blacksmith." He was of small stature, but possessed great strength, and was skilled in the use of his fists. Mr. Ellis was in those days not by any means the prosperous merchant he is today. Nevertheless he gave me what assistance he could, and thus earned a claim on my gratitude which I shall not forget.
Sims was working at his trade, but was not making more than a bare living. I walked from one end of D'Urban to the other looking for work, but times were bad and employment correspondingly scarce. Besides, I knew no trade but mining, and was utterly without such education as would have fitted me for office employment.
Three dolorous weeks I spent at D'Urban. Once I got a job with a roustabout gang ballasting a ship, but the wages were only two shillings a day; besides, the job did not last. The problem for me to solve was, how to get away to East London. Once there I would be with my family. Every morning I would go to Sims's shop to see if he had succeeded in getting me anything to do.
At length tidings of joy Sims thought he had secured for me a suitable billet. Could I drive four horses in a cart, he asked? Well, I had certainly driven a pair of mules in a Scotch cart with fair success and I could, in a way, handle a team of oxen. But when Sims explained the situation further, my heart sank. An eccentric old gentleman, lately from England, had purchased a cart and four and wanted some one to drive him to King William's Town. This meant traversing the Native Territories, where, at that period, the present fine highways were not in existence. In fact, the only roads were, as I happened to know, a series of criss-cross tracks leading from one trading station to another over an extremely mountainous country. And I had never driven two much less four horses in my life.
However, beggars cannot be choosers; moreover, Sims appeared to consider that I was unduly conscientious. He thought I should be able to learn how to handle my team before starting. Besides, the practice I would get in driving over the high-roads of Natal before reaching the more difficult country ought to make me an efficient whip. There was something in this idea, and if Sims and the old gentleman were prepared to take the risks, why should not I? So a bargain was struck, and I was provisionally hired. My remuneration was to be 5 for the trip, plus all expenses while on the road.
But on nights I used to be harassed by doubts. Which was most likely to be the result, I would ask myself, assassination or suicide? Most probably both, conscience would shriek. However, Providence occasionally interferes to protect the innocent; the old gentleman trod on the edge of a step and sprained his ankle severely. Thus do unspeakably great blessings sometimes come painfully disguised. That eccentric old gentleman little knew that in twisting his ankle he was saving his neck.
There was no hope of his immediate recovery. To an elderly person a sprained ankle necessitates lying up for weeks. The steamer for East London, the old Basuto, was due in a few days. I could not bear the thought of hanging on any longer in idleness, so inquired as to where the agency of the Union Line was to be found. Then I boldly presented myself before Mr. Escombe, the agent, explained the plight I was in, and asked him to let me have, on credit, a deck passage to East London.
Fortunately Mr. Escombe knew something of my people. He invited me to sit down, and seemed interested when I told him something of my adventures. He let me have the passage ticket on credit, I promising to remit the price out of the first money I earned. So next day I embarked on board the Basuto, and in the afternoon of the day following reached my destination.
After a short visit to Breidbach, near King William's Town, where my people were at that time staying, I returned to East London and entered the service of the boating company. The work was not congenial. For one thing, although sea sickness has never troubled me on board ship, I was constantly ill when in a lighter. Moreover, the boatmen with whom I had constantly to associate were unintermittently foul-mouthed and blasphemous. I was not easily shocked; the men with whom I had for years foregathered were much given to realism of speech, as well as to picturesquely lurid verbal illustration. But this was different; the language of these men was crammed with filth for filth's sake, and flat, pointless profanity. I have no doubt that my inability to avoid expressing disgust made them worse than they otherwise would have been.
It was my habit to get up at 2.30 a.m., breakfast on coffee and bread, and then report myself at the wharf, where I was due at 3 a.m. About half an hour later we would man a lighter, pick up a thick Manila rope from the bottom of the river, lay it between the chocks, and haul out across the bar to the roadstead where the ships were anchored. From the main warp others branched off in various directions, and by means of one of these we would get as close to the ship which we were discharging as we could. Then the lighter would be towed alongside.
All going well, we were usually back at the wharf at 2.30 p.m. with the boat loaded. But things did not invariably go well; the wind had a habit of springing up suddenly, and the breakers 011 the bar would follow suit. Under such circumstances we often had to cast off from the vessel's side and anchor in a tumbling sea, with only a small portion of the appointed cargo on board. Perhaps, if it were not considered too dangerous, Captain Jackson might come out with the harbor tug and tow us in; otherwise we ran the risk of having to remain all night on the lighter.
The work was apt to be very dangerous indeed. It was nothing so very unusual for a boat to capsize on the bar and for half the crew to be drowned. Once only had I to swim for my life; on that occasion all in the boat escaped. But a few weeks afterwards a lighter capsized under almost similar circumstances, and either four or five of those on board lost their lives.
My most striking experience in this connection happened one day towards the end of my term of service with the boating company. We were alongside a French vessel, the Notre Dame de la Garde, taking in boxes of Gossage's blue mottled soap. Before we had received more than a quarter of our appointed cargo, the wind and the sea rose suddenly together. We had to cast off from the vessel, and in getting clear the lighter shipped some water. Before we got the hatches fixed, a number of the boxes had broken up, and the fragments, mixed with bars of soap, were awash. It was about eight o'clock in the morning when we cast loose and dropped our anchor.
The wind increased to a gale; this brought a bitterly cold rain. We bobbed and curtsied at the end of our cable until about four in the afternoon, listening to Gossage's products churning and lathering down below. It grew colder and colder; we were wet to the skin and almost numbed. A consultation was held, and it was unanimously decided that the risk of drowning was preferable to the certainty of slowly perishing to death; therefore we would make a dash for the harbor.
To use the warp was, of course, out of the question, so we rigged a sail from the big hatchway tarpaulin. We lashed the hatch-battens together in the form of a parallelogram, fastened the sail to this, and stayed the structure by means of various devices. We slipped our cable and made for the bar. Wind, tide, and sea were all with us; had the tide been unfavorable, the attempt would have spelt almost certain death.
There was more than a mile of open sea between where we had anchored and the breakers. The port-office signals were against us, but what did we care? When people on shore realized what we were attempting, they came down by hundreds, in spite of the rain, and thronged the breakwaters on either side of the harbor entrance.
We ran gallantly, straight before the wind. I never thought a lighter could sail as ours did. As good luck would have it, we reached the worst part of the bar just after one bad set of breakers had passed, and before the arrival of the next. But there was no child's play in the matter. We had one very tense moment; the boat was flung sideways in the turmoil, and nearly got taken aback. However, a providential buffet on the port bow gave us a set in the right direction; once more our tarpaulin filled, and we drew slowly and laboriously out of the area of danger. I looked back and saw the angry combers roaring after us, as though enraged at our escape. As we ran into the harbor, the people Who were watching cheered themselves hoarse.
Upwards of four months were spent at this purgatorial work. Then release came unexpectedly. One day I got a letter from the Civil Commissioner, Mr. Orpen, asking me to call at his office. I went, and to my amazement he read me a telegram from Captain Mills, who was then Under-Colonial Secretary, offering me the post of clerk on probation to the Resident Magistrate of Tarka, with a salary of 120 per annum.
Were I now to be offered the Prime Ministership of the Union my surprise would hardly be greater than it then was. Curiously enough I was on the same day offered a post in a mercantile firm, that of Joseph Walker & Sons, at a salary of 7 per month. But, for family reasons, the difference of 3 per month was just then an important consideration, so I accepted the first offer, a step I have ever since regretted.
I had grave doubts as to my ability to do the duties required of me. While at East London I had worked every day at a copy-book, striving to improve my handwriting, but my fingers were more at home with the trigger and the pick than with the pen. Moreover, my spelling was phonetic and wonderful. Although I knew most of Shakespeare's sonnets by heart, I did not know a single rule of English grammar. This ignorance has remained with me to the present day, but I cannot say I feel it much of a handicap. However, there was no examination to pass, and my chief would have to put up with my shortcomings for the present. I had faced lions on the Lebomba and crocodiles in the Komati; why should I quail before a mere magistrate?
It may be advisable to explain how my appointment came to be offered. My father and the then Lord Carnarvon, who happened to be Colonial Secretary, had been friends in the old days. Lord Carnarvon wrote to Government House, Cape Town, asking that something might be done for us. My father was beyond the age-limit; I, clearly, was not. Responsible Government had arrived; nevertheless, a certain amount of informal patronage was still occasionally exercised.
Thus it was that I, after a strange and varied apprenticeship in some of the roughest of life's workshops, became cogged down as a little wheel in that clumsy, expensive, and circumlocutory mill, which, consuming much grist but producing little meal, is still believed to be an indispensable adjunct to our civilization.
Here I must break off. But my reminiscences are by no means complete; some day and I trust before very long they will be brought up to date.
Whether or not the supplementary volume will reach the printer's hands, depends on how far the public becomes interested in the work of which I am now writing the last words of the closing chapter.
After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that so long as the official collar galls my neck, I cannot adequately deal with the period during which I have been a public servant; I would have to walk too delicately. [I have since modified this decision.] For one of the disadvantages of being in the public service lies in the circumstance that it is impossible to speak or write of experiences gained therein, without embarrassing reserve.
But the days of my retirement are rapidly drawing nigh; when they arrive, and the collar drops, I shall have much to say about many things, for my life as a public servant during six-and-thirty years has been an interesting one. Most of it has been spent in places as far as possible from centers where conventionality reigns.
My still unrecorded experiences include, inter alia, war, hunting, the administration of native tribes in remote areas, rovings under special commission in those waterless regions to the north-west through which the boundary common to British and German territory runs and perhaps most interesting of all, a microscopic study of human infusoria inhabiting isolated and therefore stagnant towns and hamlets.
I intend to retire soon with a typewriting machine and some beehives, to a little farm I have acquired in a sleepy locality on the south coast. There I hope to be spared for some few years to develop the economic products of the honey-bee, to meditate on the Universal Postulate, and to watch, from afar, my children cultivating the difficult fields of Experience. May their task be easier than mine has been!
Having thus taken the public into my confidence, I will say
As a pack of wolves is the hungry Past; It hunts Man laden with hopes and fears; Its bay swells loud with the hasting years, Till the red fangs sink in his flank at last.
The bay grows louder, the flame ringed een Glow with greed as the night sinks, black; Swerve and double still o'er your track The pitiless, questing nostrils lean.
Mark, O brothers, before I fall, I fling this sheaf of script to your care; Take and read it; I fain would share My scanty gatherings with you all.
With all with the hunted, whose eyes search mine In vain for the hint of a 'scaping clue; With those still tranc'd, where the skies bedew The half-op'd blossoms that round them shine.
Take my sheaf it was gleaned with toil From fields now dimm'd in a long-sped day; In a clime where naught but dim shadows stray Yet its grain may sprout from a kindly soil.
UNWIN BROTHERS, LIMITED, THE PRESS, WOKING AND LONDON.