"We propose now to go on and cross the Zambesi just below
the Victoria Falls. I should like to have the spray of the
water over the carriages."—Letter from the Right Hon. C.J.
Rhodes to E.S. Grogan, Esq., September 7, 1900.
These words came to my mind as I sat under the verandah of one of the newly thatched huts which formed the camp of the Native Commissioner at Livingstone, Victoria Falls, on a glorious morning early in July, 1903, gazing at one of the fairest landscapes to be seen on God's earth. I was ostensibly occupied with my mail home, but the paper lay in all its virgin whiteness before me, while my eyes feasted on the marvellous panorama stretching away to the south, east, and west. My heart sank as I realized how difficult—nay, impossible—it would be for anyone with only a very limited vocabulary and very moderate powers of description to convey to those far away even a limited idea of this glorious vision—of these vivid colourings intensified by the lonely grandeur of the whole scene and the absence of human habitations.
"Constitution Hill," as the aforesaid camp had been christened, was situated on high ground, four miles to the north of the then drift of the Zambesi River, which, again, was several miles above the actual falls themselves. With the advent of the railway and of the magnificent bridge now spanning the mighty river, that drift has actually fallen into disuse, but at the time of our visit it was the scene of much activity, and quite a nest of stores, houses, and huts, had sprung up near the rough landing-stage on the north side. As transport, not only for individuals and for every ounce of food required by the vast country stretching away to the north, but also for the huge and valuable machinery, boilers, boats in sections, etc., destined for the various mining companies, the only means of maintaining communication with the struggling but promising new colony were one very rickety steam-launch and one large rowing-boat, beside a few canoes and native dug-outs. A fine steam-barge, which would greatly have facilitated the passage of all kinds of merchandise, had most disastrously slipped its moorings during one stormy night of last wet season, and had not since been seen, the presumption being that the relentless stream had carried it to the mighty cataract, which, like a huge ogre, had engulfed it for all time. But this disaster had not caused anything like consternation among the small community to whom it meant so much, and the thought occurred to one how remarkable are the qualities of dogged perseverance, calm disregard of drawbacks and of any difficult task before them, which makes Englishmen so marvellously successful as pioneers or colonists. The precious barge for which they had waited many weary months had disappeared, and there was nothing more to be said. Such means as remained were made the most of.
Owing to this calamity, however, the stores on the north bank were wellnigh run out of their usual stock, but I was amazed to find such luxuries of life as eau de Cologne, scented soaps, ladies' boots and shoes, and brightly coloured skirts. Leaving the small river township—the embryo Livingstone—we followed a very sandy road uphill till we reached the summit of Constitution Hill, already mentioned. There our buggy and two small, well-bred ponies swept into a smartly-kept compound surrounded by a palisade, the feature of the square being a flagstaff from which the Union Jack was proudly fluttering. As a site for a residence Constitution Hill could not well be surpassed, and many a millionaire would cheerfully have given his thousands to obtain such a view as that which met our eyes from the humble huts, and held me enthralled during the whole of my stay. It must be remembered we had been travelling, since leaving the rail-head, eighty miles north of Bulawayo, through a thickly wooded and mountainous country where any extensive views were rare. Even when nearing the Zambesi, with the roar of the Falls in one's ears, so little opening-up had hitherto been done that only an occasional peep of coming glories was vouchsafed us; hence the first glimpse of a vast stretch of country was all the more striking. I must ask my readers to imagine the bluest of blue skies; an expanse of waving grass of a golden hue, resembling an English cornfield towards the harvest time, stretching away till it is lost in far-distant tropical vegetation of intense green, which green clearly marks the course of the winding Zambesi; again, amid this emerald verdure, patches of turquoise water, wide, smooth, unruffled, matching the heavens in its hue, are to be seen—no touch of man's hand in the shape of houses or chimneys to mar the effect of Nature and Nature's colouring. If you follow with your eyes this calm, reposeful river, now hiding itself beneath its protecting banks with their wealth of branching trees, tall cocoanut palms, and luxuriant undergrowth, now emerging like a huge blue serpent encrusted with diamonds, so brightly does the clear water sparkle in the sun, you note that it finally loses itself in a heavy, impenetrable mass of green forest. And now for a few moments the newcomer is puzzled to account for a dense white cloud, arisen apparently from nowhere, which is resting where the forest is thickest and most verdant, now larger, then smaller, anon denser or more filmy, but never changing its place, never disappearing, while the distant thunder, to which you had almost got accustomed, strikes upon your ear and gives the explanation you are seeking.
Yes, that white cloud has been there for centuries, and will be there while the world lasts, in spite of trains, bridges, etc. It marks the Victoria Falls, and is a landmark for many miles round. How amazed must the great Livingstone and his intrepid followers have been to see this first sign of their grand discovery after their weary march through a country of dense forests and sandy wastes, the natural features of which could not in the least have suggested such marvels as exist in the stupendous river and the water-power to which it gives birth! When mentioning that great explorer—whose name in this district, after a lapse of nearly fifty years, remains a household word among the natives, handed down from father to son—it is a curious fact, and one that should prove a lesson to many travellers from the old world as well as from the new, that only on one tree is he believed to have cut his initials in Africa, and that tree stands on the island in the centre of the Zambesi, the island that bears his name, and that absolutely overhangs and stems the centre of the awe-inspiring cataract.
I must now try in a few words to give a short account of what we saw at the Victoria Falls in July, 1903, when the breath of civilization had scarcely touched them. To-day they are easy of access, and the changes that have been wrought have come so swiftly that, no doubt, recent visitors will scarcely recognize the localities of which I write. I must first ask such to be lenient with me, and to follow me down the sandy road leading from the Constitution Hill Compound to the Controller's Camp on the bank of the river, about two miles nearer the Falls. There were to be seen a collection of huts and offices, where the Controller conducted his important business of food-purveyor to the community, and a Government inspector of cattle had equally arduous duties to perform. I must mention that, owing to disease in the south, cattle were then not allowed to cross the Zambesi, and horses and dogs had to be disinfected before they were permitted to leave the south bank. Their troubles were not even then over, as they had to be swum across the river, and, owing to its enormous width, the poor horses were apt to become exhausted halfway over, and had to be towed the rest of the way, their heads being kept out of the water—an operation attended with a certain amount of risk. It followed that very few horses were crossed over at all, and that these animals in North-Western Rhodesia were at a premium.
From the Controller's Camp I had another opportunity to admire the river itself, just as wonderful in its way as the Falls, and I remember thinking of the delights that might be derived from boating, sailing, or steaming, on its vast surface. Since that day the enterprising inhabitants have actually held regattas on the mighty stream, in which some of the best-known men in the annals of rowing in England have taken part. But seven years ago our river trip was attended with mild excitements; the small skiff, carrying our party of six, was an excessively leaky canoe, which had to be incessantly baled out to keep it afloat, and wherein, notwithstanding our efforts, a deep pool of water accumulated, necessitating our sitting with feet tucked under us in Oriental fashion. Hence I cannot say we realized to the full the enjoyments of boating as we know it at home in far less beautiful surroundings, or as others know it there at the present time.
The principal features that struck me were, first, the colossal width of the river. As we gazed across the translucent surface, reflecting as in a looking-glass the fringe of trees along the edge, the first impression was that your eyes actually perceived the opposite bank; but we were undeceived by one of the residents, who observed that was only an island, and that there were several such between us and the north side. Secondly, we marvelled at the clearness of the water, reflecting the blueness above; and, thirdly, at the rich vegetation and the intense green of the overhanging foliage, where the graceful and so rarely seen palms of the Borassus tribe were growing to an immense height. All was enhanced by the most intense solitude, which seemed to accentuate the fact that this scene of Nature was indeed as God left it. These reflections were made as we floated on in our rickety canoe to a creek, where we landed to walk to the actual Falls. A new path had just been cut in the wooded part of the north bank, and we were almost the first visitors to profit by it. Formerly the enterprising sight-seers had to push their way through the scrubby undergrowth, but we followed a smooth track for two miles, the roar of the cataract getting louder and louder, with only occasional peeps of the river, which was fast losing its calm repose and degenerating into restless rapids hurrying on to their bourne. Now and then a buck would dance across our path, pause affrighted for an instant at the unusual sight of man, and bound away again into the thickness beyond; and once three fine wart-hogs almost stumbled into our party, only to gallop away again like greyhounds, before the rifles, which were carried by the black boys behind, could be made use of.
At last we emerged suddenly, without any warning, on the northern extremity of the cataract, which at this point measures over a mile from bank to bank, but of which only about a quarter of that distance is visible, owing to the blinding spray. It is wellnigh impossible to describe a scene of such wonder, such wildness. It is awe-inspiring, almost terrible in its force and majesty, and the accompanying din prevents speech from being heard. Standing on a point flush with the river before it makes its headlong leap, we gazed first on the swirling water losing itself in snowy spray, which beat relentlessly on face and clothes, while the great volume was nosily disappearing to unknown and terrifying depths. The sight-seer tries to look across, to strain his eyes and to see beyond that white mist which obscures everything; but it is an impossible task, and he can but guess the width of the Falls, slightly horseshoe in shape, from the green trees which seem so far away on the opposite bank, and are only caught sight of now and then as the wind causes the spray to lift. At the same time his attention is fixed by a new wonder, the much-talked-of rainbow. Never varying, never changing, that perfect-shaped arc is surely more typical of eternity there than anywhere else. Its perfection of colours seems to be reflected again and yet again in the roaring torrent, and to be also an emblem of peace where all is turmoil. We were hurried away to remove our wet rainproof coats and to dry our hats and faces in the brilliant sunshine. It seemed as if the Falls guard their beauties jealously, and do not allow the spectator to gaze on them without paying the price of being saturated by their spray. For the next two hours we were taken from one point of vantage to the other, and yet felt we had not seen half of even what is known as the north side. We were shown the barely commenced path leading right away down to the edge of the foaming, boiling gorge, which is to be known as "The Lovers' Walk," and from its steepness it occurred to me that these same lovers will require to possess some amount of endurance. We examined from afar the precipitous Neck jutting right out opposite the main cataract, its sides running sheer down to unfathomable depths of water, which has caused this rocky formation to be called "The Knife's Edge," and along which, up to the date of our visit, only two men had ventured. We saw the actual site for the existing railway-bridge, which site had only been finally selected a few days before by two of the party who were with us. The travellers over this great work now see all we saw on that long morning, and a great deal more besides, while the carriage windows are soused by the all-pervading spray, thus carrying out one of Mr. Rhodes's cherished sentiments. Finally—musing at the marvellous and confusing twists and turns of the river, changing in character and appearance so as to be wellnigh unrecognizable—we walked on a hundred yards, and came upon a deep, deep gorge, rocky, barren, and repelling, at the bottom of which, sluggish and dirty in colour, a grey stream was winding its way, not a hundred yards wide, but of unfathomable depths; and this represented the Zambesi after it has taken its great leap, when, bereft of all life and beauty, it verily looks tired out. This gorge continues for forty miles, and so desolate is the surrounding country, that not only is it uninhabited by man, but even game cannot live there. The shadows were lengthening and the day was approaching its close. Early on the morrow we were to leave for the northern hunting grounds. We regained our canoe, and paddled away to our temporary camp.
Again we were delighted with the calm beauty of that river scene, and found it difficult to decide when it was most beautiful—whether the morning light best gilded its glories or whether the evening lent additional calm. We passed island after island in bewildering succession. Away towards the drift three huge black masses were splashing in the water, which we easily made out to be hippopotami taking their evening bath, and as we glided along a sleepy crocodile slipped back into the water from a muddy eminence where it had been basking in the sun. Then our canoe ran into a creek where leaves and ferns grew in delightful confusion, and we landed in soft marshy ground just as the sun was sinking like a red ball into the river, and giving way to the sovereignty of a glorious full moon, which soon tinged everything with a silver light, making glades of palms look delightfully romantic.
Civilization has since found its way to Livingstone. Engines are whistling and trains are rumbling where then the only tracks were made by the huge hippos and the shy buck, but they can never efface the grandeur of the river in its size and calmness; the incomparable magnificence of the cataract itself; the rainbow, which one cannot see without retaining a lasting impression of its beauty; and, lastly, that cloud of white spray, seemingly a sentinel to watch over the strength and might of the huge river, for so many ages undiscovered.
Many who knew the Falls in their pristine solitude have gladly welcomed there the advent of twentieth-century developments, of sign-posts, of advertisements, of seats, of daily posts and papers; but others, some of the older pioneers, still, perchance, give a passing sigh for the days when they paddled about the river in a leaky canoe, and letters and telegrams were not events of everyday occurrence.
In spite of the railway constructed since our visit, few people, comparatively, have been to North-Western Rhodesia, and yet it is a country of over 400,000 square miles. It was in October, 1897, that the then administrator of the country, with five policemen, crossed the Zambesi and declared the territory to be under the protection of Her Late Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria. For many years previously the natives, who are not of a particularly warlike disposition, had been decimated, and the country laid waste, by the fierce Matabele, who were in the habit of making periodical raids into this fair land, and of killing the old men and the young warriors, who made but a slight resistance; of annexing the attractive ladies as wives and the fat cattle as prized booty, and then of retreating again south of the mighty river without fear of reprisals. For this reason there was, in 1903, a very meagre population for many hundreds of miles north of the Zambesi in this direction; and of cattle, for which there is pasture in abundance, there was hardly one to be seen. One has to travel much farther north and west to find the densely populated valleys, whose inhabitants own Lewanika, Chief of the Barotse, as their ruler, who look to the great white British King as their protector, and to the Chartered Company as the immediate purveyor of their wants.
Of these natives the chief tribes are, first, the Barotse themselves, who are the most numerous, and who inhabit the low-lying country along the Zambesi Valley north of Sesheke, and up to Lia-Lui, their capital.
The second in importance are the Mushukulumbwe, which, translated literally, means "naked people." This designation was given them as a reproach by their friends, as the male element wear no clothes; and should they possess a blanket, they would only throw it round their shoulders whilst standing still or sitting down. When remonstrated with by the well-meaning missionaries on the absence of any attire, they are wont to reply: "Are we women or children, that we should fear the cold? Our fathers needed no clothes, nor do we." They are keen hunters and trackers, essentially a warlike people, tall and good-looking, while the women also are of more than average height, and gracefully made. What the men lack in clothes they make up for in their head-dress, which has been so often illustrated, and which is sometimes 5 feet in height. It is the result of much care and trouble, and the cause of great pride to the wearer. Ruled over by a number of small chiefs, they mostly own Lewanika as their paramount chief, and to him they pay tribute. They are withal a curious, wild kind of people, but are now becoming less afraid of, and in consequence less hostile to, the white man, the first of whose race they saw in 1888, when Mr. Selous penetrated into their country, and very nearly lost his life at their hands. Now they are well-disposed, and it is safe to travel through their land with a comparatively small escort.
Thirdly, the Batokas. These are, and always have been, a servile race. They are lazy in disposition, for the most part of unprepossessing appearance, and their country has the Kafue River on the east, and the Zambesi on the south, as natural boundaries. As carriers they do fairly well, and, while also owning Lewanika's authority, they are well aware of the fact that this chief only rules in virtue of the support of the "Great King" in a far-off land, whom they often hear of, but can never hope to see.
In consequence of having lived for so many generations in terror of being raided by their more bellicose neighbours, all these tribes acclaimed with joy the advent of their English protectors, and their demeanour is strikingly expressive of gratitude and respect. This is evinced by their native greeting, which consists of sitting down and clapping their hands together in a slow rhythm whenever a white man passes. Sometimes a traveller hears this clapping proceeding out of the immensely high and thick grass which encloses the road, and he is by this sound alone made aware of the presence of a human being. Their food consists entirely of grain, which they greatly prefer to meat, even when this is offered to them. They boil this grain, which resembles millet or canary seed, into a sort of porridge, which they eat with the greatest gusto, and one meal a day seems to suffice them.
And now to describe the fatherland of these natives, just emerging as it is from darkness and strife to prosperity, peace, and, quite possibly, riches beyond the dreams of avarice, but in any case riches, sufficiently proved to enable it to take its place ere long among the treasure-producing territories of God's earth. Once north of the Zambesi, and with the thunder of those magnificent Falls still ringing in one's ears, two things were evident even to the most casual traveller—viz., the changed aspect of the country and of its inhabitants. Of the latter and of their quaint greeting I have already spoken. And as regards the road itself and the surrounding landscape there is a still greater change. Instead of a track of deep sand blocked with huge stones or by veritable chasms of soft, crumbling earth, one finds there good roads, while numerous streams of clear running water constantly intersect the highway. In England it is difficult to realize the inestimable boon this plentiful supply of water is to the traveller and his beasts, who are thereby saved the very serious necessity of frequently having to push on, weary and thirsty, another stretch of eight or ten miles, simply because of the oft-heard cry, "No water." The scenery itself is fair and restful to the eye; there are no huge mountains, no precipitous dongas, yet an ever-changing kaleidoscope which prevents any monotony. Now the road winds for several miles through woods and some small trees; again, these are left behind, and the traveller emerges on plains of yellow waving grass (so high as to hide both horse and rider), resembling from afar an English barleyfield, and broken up by clumps of symmetrically arranged trees. In these clumps the tropical euphorbia sends up its long and graceful shoots, reminding one of Gargantuan candelabra, and the huge "baobab," of unwieldy bulk, seems to stand as the sentinel stretching out its bare arms to protect those who shelter beneath. These trees are the great feature of the country, owing to the enormous size they attain, and to the fact that, being the slowest-growing trees known, their ages can only be reckoned by thousands of years. Except these kings of the forest, the trees indigenous to the land are somewhat dwarfed, but cacti of all kinds flourish, clinging to and hanging from the branches of the mahogany and of the "m'pani" trees, looking now and then for all the world like long green snakes. The "m'hoba-hoba" bush, with its enormous leaves, much loved by the elephant, forms patches of vivid green summer and winter. This shrub is supposed to have been introduced by the Phoenicians, when these wonderful people were occupied with their mineral workings in this land, the remains of which are to be seen in many places. In the grass itself, and round the edge of these groups so artistically assorted by the hand of Nature, lies slyly hidden the "wait-a-bit" bush, according to the literal translation from the Dutch, whose thorny entanglements no one can gauge unless fairly caught.
During July and August, which is mid-winter, the grass plains are set on fire, in parts purposely, but sometimes accidentally. They are usually left intact near the road, for transport oxen find plenty of pasture in the coarse high grass which no other animal will touch; but the seeker after game will burn miles and miles of this grass when it is sufficiently dry at the roots. It has acted as a sheltering mantle for its four-footed population for many months, and now the "hunters' moon" is fairly risen and the buck must beware. Therefore, if one leaves the road for two or three miles to the right or left, vast black plains are discovered, on which only about a fortnight after burning a very vivid green, and, it is said, a very sweet, grass springs up, which game of all sorts greatly love. Here they graze in herds morning and evening, and here probably they meet their death—but of this more anon. It took our party ten days to reach Kalomo, then the capital of North-Western Rhodesia. This included a six days' halt in quest of game on a rocky kopje eight miles off the road—a veritable Spion Kop, rising from a flat country and commanding views for miles round.
As regards travelling, I can only say it was very comfortable as we did it. Riding ourselves, our baggage (divided into loads each weighing about 30 pounds) was carried by natives, who generally preceded us out of camp. The day's journey was divided as follows: Up before the sun, and dressing by the uncertain light of a candle lantern. It was cold enough to render no dawdling possible, and one hurried one's toilet in order to get to the already brightly burning fire and steaming hot coffee. The sun would just then be showing its red head in the far east, and already the camp was in commotion; tents were being struck, bedding rolled up, while a certain amount of scrambling would be going on amongst the cunning blacks, each wishing to possess himself of the lightest load. To prevent shirking, one or two of the native police who accompanied us watched the proceeding with lynx-like eyes, and, amid much arguing, chattering, and apparent confusion, a long line of carriers would emerge like a black snake from the camping-ground into an orderly string—quaint figures, some of them wrapped in gaudy blankets, and even then shivering in the keen morning air; some with their load on their heads, others carrying it on long sticks, all with the inevitable native vessel, fashioned from a gourd, containing their daily ration of grain. As a supplement to these carriers, we were also accompanied by the (in Africa) familiar "Scotch cart." In other words, this is a strong cart on two wheels, drawn by bullocks, and its usual pace is about two and a half miles an hour. It apparently possesses the delightful qualification of being able to travel on any road, no matter how rough, without breaking down or turning over; in fact, when travelling by road in Africa, it facilitates matters as much as the employment of a charwoman oils the wheels in an English household, and it is therefore as much to be recommended.
We ride for an hour or so with coats tightly buttoned up, blue noses, and frozen fingers—for the hoar-frost still lingers on the ground—but the air is delightfully exhilarating, and we know that we shall not have to complain of the cold long. By degrees the sun makes itself felt, and we discard first one wrap and then another, till by ten o'clock even light overcoats are not required. And now it is time to "off-saddle" and breakfast. The carriers straggle in more or less in the order they left, but they gladly "dump" down their loads, and before many minutes the fire is burning and the breakfast frizzling. After breakfast comes the midday rest of two or three hours, beguiled by some ancient newspapers or some dust-begrimed book. It is remarkable that, when far away from home, the date of a newspaper is of little import, while none are voted dull, and one finds oneself reading the most obscure publications, and vaguely wondering how or why they reached this distant land. At two o'clock marching orders come again. This is the hot trek, but there is generally a cool breeze to temper the fierce rays of the winter's sun; and when that sun gets low down on to the horizon, and becomes a crimson ball, tingeing the world with its rosy hue, we look about for our evening resting-place. During our journey to Kalomo, as well as on our southward route a month later, we enjoyed the light of a glorious moon, whose assistance to the traveller cannot be exaggerated when the short twilight is remembered. By the moon we frequently made our camp, by the moon we dined. Those were never-to-be-forgotten evenings, spent on that lonely veldt all bathed in silver light. We also had excitements—much lions' spoor on the roads by day, many scares of lions round the camps by night, when the danger is that the horses may be taken while the camp is asleep. Every evening our animals were put into a "skerm," or high palisade, constructed of branches by the ubiquitous carriers with marvellous rapidity.
One dark night before the moon had risen, just as we had finished dinner and were sitting round the fire listening to thrilling stories of sport and adventure, a terrific noise suddenly disturbed our peaceful circle—a noise which proceeded from a dark mass of thick bush not 200 yards away, and recalled one's childish recollections of "feeding-time" at the Zoo. Not one, but five or six lions, might have been thus near to us from the volume of growls and snarls, varied by short deep grunts, which broke the intense stillness of the night in this weird fashion. Each man rushed for his rifle, but it was too dark to shoot, and gradually the noise died away. The natives opined it was a slight difference of opinion between some wolves and a lion, which animals, curiously enough, very often hunt in company, the lion doing the killing, and the wolf prowling along behind and picking up the scraps. It was but an incident, but it served as an uncanny reminder of the many eyes of the animal world, which, though unseen, are often watching travellers in these solitudes. Another night, when we were encamped in the very heart of a rumoured "lion country," ourselves and our beasts securely protected by an unusually high and thick "skerm," we were, to our regret, left undisturbed; but the aforementioned Scotch cart, which rumbled away from the sleeping camp about midnight, had a series of adventures with Leo felis. Sniffing the fat oxen, no less than three lions followed the waggon all night, charging close up at times, and finally causing the oxen to stampede, in consequence of which, instead of finding the precious vehicle, containing grain for carriers and forage for horses, at the next outspan, we did not come up with it till evening, nearly thirty miles farther on, when we learnt the adventures it had had.
The truth regarding lion-shooting in these parts is, that the animals are exceedingly difficult to locate, and the finding of them is a matter of pure luck. The traveller may, of course, meet a lion on the road by broad daylight; but many experienced hunters, who count their slain lions by the dozen, will tell you they were years in the country before they ever saw the kings of beasts, and these are men who do not belittle the danger incurred in hunting them. One old hunter is supposed to have said to an enthusiastic newcomer, who had heard of a lion in the vicinity, and immediately asked the old stager if he were going after it: "I have not lost any lions, therefore I am not looking for any"; but, all the same, to kill one or more fine specimens will ever remain the summit of the ambition of the hunter, and unquestionably the spice of danger is one of the attractions.
At the time of which I write the township of Kalomo consisted of about twenty white people, including the Administrator, his secretary and staff; the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or Accountant, who controlled the purse; a doctor, whose time was fairly well taken up; an aspiring light of the legal profession, who made and interpreted the laws; and, finally, the gallant Colonel and officers of the North-Western Rhodesia Native Police, a smart body of 380 natives, officered by eleven or twelve Englishmen. To Colonel Colin Harding, C.M.G., was due the credit of recruiting and drilling this smart corps, and it was difficult to believe that these soldierly-looking men, very spruce in their dark blue tunics and caps, from which depend enormous red tassels, were only a short time ago idling away their days in uninviting native kraals.
I was much impressed in a Kalomo house with the small details of a carefully arranged dinner-table, adorned with flowers and snowy linen; the cooking was entirely done by black boys, and of these the "Chinde" boys from the Portuguese settlements are much sought after, and cannot be excelled as cooks or servants, so thoroughly do the Portuguese understand the training of natives. The staple meat was buck of all kinds; sheep were wellnigh unknown, oxen were scarce and their meat tough; but no one need grumble at a diet of buck, wild-pig, koran, guinea-fowl, and occasionally wild-duck. As regards other necessities of life, transport difficulties were enormous; every ounce of food besides meat, and including precious liquids, had then to be dragged over nearly 250 miles of indifferent roads; and not only groceries, but furniture, roofs of houses, clothes—all had to be ordered six to eight months before they were required, and even then disappointments occurred in the way of waggons breaking down, of delays at the rail-head and at the crossing of the river. To us who are accustomed to the daily calls of the butcher, the baker, and the grocer, the foresight which had to be exercised is difficult to realize, and with the best management in the world great philosophy was required to put up with the minor wants.
As to the climate of North-Western Rhodesia in the dry season—which lasts from April or May to November, or even later—it is ideal. Never too hot to prevent travelling or doing business in the heat of the day, it is cold enough morning and evening to make fur coats by no means superfluous; rain is unknown, and of wind there is just enough to be pleasant, although now and then, especially towards sunset or before dawn, a very strong breeze springs up from a cloudless horizon, lasts about thirty minutes, making the trees bend and tents flap and rattle, and then dies away again as suddenly as it has come. Sometimes, in the early morning, this breeze is of an icy coldness, and might be blowing straight from the South Pole. During the dry season the traveller should not contract fever, unless he happens to have the germs in his system, and in this case he may have been immune the whole wet season, and then the first cold weather brings out the disease and lays him low.
I must now devote a few words to the veldt and to its animal life as we learnt to know it during some delightful weeks spent in camp eight miles from the township, where game was then still abundant. There we lived in comfortable tents, and our dining-room was built of grass held in place by substantial sticks. The delight of those days is fresh in my memory. Up and on our horses at dawn, we would wander over this open country, intersected with tracks of forest. The great charm was the uncertainty of the species of game we might discover. It might be a huge eland, or an agile pig, or a herd of beautiful zebra. Now and then a certain amount of stalking was required, and on one occasion a long ride round brought us to the edge of a wood, from whence we viewed at twenty yards a procession of wildebeeste—those animals of almost mythical appearance, with their heads like horses and their bodies like cattle—roan antelope, and haartebeeste; but as a rule, the game having been so little shot at, with an ordinary amount of care the hunter can ride to within shooting distance of the animal he would fain lay low. Should they take fright and be off, we found to gallop after them was not much use, owing to the roughness of the veldt and the smallness of the ponies. Occasionally we had to pursue a wounded animal, and one day we had an exciting chase after a wildebeeste, the most difficult of all bucks to kill, as their vitality, unless absolutely shot through the heart, is marvellous. When we at last overtook and finished off the poor creature, we had out-distanced all our "boys," and it became necessary for my fellow-sportsman to ride off and look for them (as the meat had to be cut up and carried into camp), and for me to remain behind to keep the aas-vogels from devouring the carcass. These huge birds and useful scavengers, repulsive as they are to look at, always appear from space whenever a buck is dead, and five minutes suffices for a party of them to be busily employed, while a quarter of an hour later nothing is left but the bones. Therefore I was left alone with the dead wildebeeste and with the circling aas-vogels for upwards of two hours, and I realized, as I had never done before, the intense loneliness of the veldt, and something of what the horror must be of being lost on it. Even residents have to dread this danger.
At that season the veldt boasted of few flowers, but birds were plentiful, especially the large ones I have mentioned as forming a valuable addition to the daily menu, and flocks of guinea-fowl, which run along the ground making a peculiar chuckling noise, rarely flying, but very quick at disappearing in the long grass. The quaint secretary-bird was often to be seen stalking majestically along, solitary and grotesque, with its high marching action. Then the honey-birds must not be forgotten. They give voice to their peculiar note as soon as they see a human being, whom they seem to implore to follow them; and if they succeed in attracting attention, they fly from tree to tree reiterating their call, till they lead the man whose assistance they have sought to the spot where the honey is hidden, but which they cannot reach unaided. As a rule, it is the natives who take the trouble to obey their call and turn it to account.
The weeks slipped by all too quickly, and it was soon time to bid farewell to Kalomo and its game-haunted flats, over which the iron horse now winds its prosaic course on its way to the dim, mysterious North, bringing noise and bustle in its train. In consequence the hunter and the animal-lover have to travel farther on, but there will always be room for all on that vast continent.
No matter what paths of life it may be the fortune of my readers to tread, let me recommend those wearied with social bustle and the empty amenities of present-day existence to pass a few weeks in the comparative solitude of several pleasant companions "under the stars" in North-Western Rhodesia, where they can still catch a glimpse of the elusive zebras, with coats shining in the sun like burnished steel, and hear the persistent call of the honey-bird. At night the roar of lions may now and then cause them to turn in their sleep, and in their dreams they may have visions of the animals that have charmed them during the day—the stately eland, the graceful roan and sable antelopes, the ungainly wildebeeste, and the funny old wart-hog, trotting along with high action and tail erect. Besides gaining health and experiencing the keenest enjoyment, they will know some of the pleasures vouchsafed to those of their countrymen whose fate it is to live, and sometimes to die, in far-off climes—men who have helped to make England famous, and are now, step by step, building up our mighty Empire. Curious are the lives these men, and many like them, lead, cut off as it were from the bustling, throbbing world. A handful of white men, surrounded by thousands of blacks, with calm complacency they proceed, first to impress on the natives the importance, the might, and the justice, of the great Empire which they represent in their various capacities; then to establish beyond question their own dignity and wisdom; and finally to make themselves as comfortable, and their surroundings as attractive and homelike, as possible, with such means as they can command. They are to be seen superintending a court of justice, looked up to and trusted by the natives, who have quickly found out that the "boss" is just, firm, and that he will not believe a falsehood. The blacks have their native names for all these officials, most of them showing great discernment, and some of quite an affectionate nature.
The Commissioners, whose work is entirely among the native population, requiring the greatest tact and patience, besides a perfect knowledge of the language, lead, perhaps, the most arduous, as well as the most lonely, existences. Most of the year is occupied in making tours of inspection through their vast districts; they live continually in the open, in constant contact with Nature, and for weeks together they never see a white man. Almost unattended, they move fearlessly in little-known places, among an uncivilized if friendly people, and to some extent they have their lives in their hands. And yet they do not regard their solitary existence as anything to occasion surprise or admiration; they realize the importance of their mission, and wet seasons, bad attacks of fever, and impaired health, do not quench their energy or their keenness for the great work of development. It is true, indeed, that one and all live in anticipation of the biennial holiday, of the seven months spent "at home," and that all events in their lives are dated from those precious days in England; and then, when the time comes to return to duty, they probably depart without a murmur, and very few, if any, would exchange a life in an office, or that of any ordinary profession in England, for the one, untrammelled and free, they lead in the wilds of Africa. As distractions in this life which they love, they can only look to the weekly mail and the goodly supply of illustrated papers from home, the attentive perusal of which has made them almost as conversant as the veriest Cockney with all the people of note and the fair women of the time, besides giving them an intimate knowledge of passing events. As hosts they are perfection, and all they have is at their guests' disposal. Their incentive to the great work for ever going on, not only in their district, but in so many far-away localities where the Union Jack flies, is the knowledge that the dark clouds of oppression, plunder, and crime, are, in consequence of their efforts, rolling away as mists disappear before the rising sun.
Some parts of this chapter appeared in the Christmas number of the Pall Mall Magazine, 1903, and in the Bulawayo Chronicle of the same date.
Introduction to Mr. Grogan's work, "From the Cape to Cairo."
Sir Charles Metcalfe, Bart., consulting engineer of the Chartered Company, and Mr. G. Pauling, contractor for the same company.
R.T. Coryndon, Esq.
"Life and Adventures in South-East Africa," by F.C. Selous.
The seat of government has since been transferred to Livingstone, on the Zambesi.
A kind of pheasant.