A LONELIER life than that led by a member of the Natal Police away on some out-station in the far north of Zululand, perhaps a couple of hundred miles off the nearest railway, it would be difficult to imagine ; and yet it has some indefinable attraction for the men. Just as the call of the East gnaws eternally at the soul of a wanderer who, having once passed into the magic at the other side of the Suez Canal, has returned to hum-drum old England, so the lonely life in Zululand grips those who have once grown accustomed to its peculiar charm. A man may be stationed for eight or ten years at a place like Ubombo, which is 150 miles from the railway, or Ingwavuma, which is even more remote, with only a few kafir kraals in the district, and still be contented, although his only white neighbours consist of a magistrate and a store-keeper.
At such places there is usually a sergeant in charge of the station, and he may have one, or possibly three European policemen to associate with. Speak to him of the Strand and Regent Street and a curious look comes into his eyes. He is living his life in the wilds, with little else than Zulus and snakes for companions, and is missing, year after year, all the good things that wonderful London has in its storecupboard. He is human, and when you remind him of these things he will tell you with a touch of pathos, which he would not like you to see, that he really would like to go home again for a while, " because things do get a bit slow sometimes here, don't you know." And yet he could no more live in London for the rest of his days than he could fly . A murderous Zulu rushing at him with an assegai he would tackle without turning a hair, but a motor 'bus coming round a corner suddenly in Regent Street would startle him so much that he would develop a craving to be back in the wilds amongst the snakes and kraals.
The men at headquarters at Pietermaritzburg have dozens of companions to associate with, both in barracks and in the town, and yet the majority of them prefer to be on an out-station. On the occasion of the coronation of King Edward VII a number of men were called in from the back blocks, some of them having been there for years. They went to London and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, but when they got back to Natal they asked to be sent back to their solitary posts.
A man who has grown to love life on an outstation cannot readily tell why he loves it, though he will say vaguely that it is " fine." He has plenty of hard work, but he has also plenty of clean, healthy pleasure. His expenditure is nothing per annum beyond the necessaries of life. He has his own horse, and opportunities to go out with his gun after game both small and big.
This strange fascination of the out-stations even holds good at such fever-stricken places as Maputa and Enselini, in the low-lying districts of Zululand, where malaria is very prevalent in the summer, and the men's diet consists solely of tinned meat and crushed mealies, supplemented by such things as the troopers can shoot.
There is nothing quite like the room in which a member of the Natal Police lives when he is in the wilds. Someone has drawn a very accurate picture of it :
A small wooden sofa without any head,
By day made a couch, by night made a bed ;
A chair with three legs, propped up with a stick,
An allowance of candle, all tallow, no wick ;
A pen-and-ink sketch of some pretty face,
A short double-barrel, half stuck in its case ;
A carpet that doesn't half cover the floor,
A target chalked out on the back of the door ;
An old Reitbuck skin, by way of a rug,
Whereon sits a terrier, pointer, or pug ;
Apparatus for washing, a foot tub, a pan,
Extract of Orders, and half of a fan ;
A fawn-coloured glove, a lock of dark hair,
Both highly prized, from some lady fair ;
A couple of razors, an old ostrich plume,
A fishing rod, shot belt, a rifle, a broom ;
A tumbledown candlestick smelling of brass,
The " N.P." drill-book and/ a cracked looking-glass ;
A mould to load cartridges, a piccolo, flute,
The bowl of a calabash, and half of a boot ;
A loaded revolver, kept at half cock,
A gun.case, a cash-box, lacking a lock ;
A treatise on " Zulu," a bottle of port,
A shield from Impanza, an unfinished report ;
Two assegais, a knobkerry, and a half-smoked cigar,
Some Boer tobacco in an old broken jar ;
A letter from home and the orderly book,
A hat, and a powder-flask hung on a hook ;
Some pairs of old boots, a part of a novel,
One-half of the tongs and a bit of the shovel ;
A large book of photos, a Zulu costume,
And towels and slippers all over the room ;
An easy armchair, only lacking its back,
A sketch in burnt cork of some wonderful hack ;
A pair of cord pants with a whip in the pocket,
A tea-caddy open, containing a locket.
In the midst of this chaos, as gay as you please,
On a rickety chair, perched quite at his ease,
A pipe in his mouth, his feet in the grate,
Sits the overworked trooper a-cursing his fate.
Next to the magistrate, the sergeant is the most important person within many miles. On him devolves the whole responsibility of the station ; and though life may be grey and uneventful for very many months at a stretch, he must be prepared to act, and to act quickly, when the occasion arises. Unrest amongst the natives occurs periodically, and though only whisperings of it may have reached the ears of the white men, an open rebellion might break out at any time. At such moments the Natal Police have proved their merit, quelling the disturbance either with tact or a sudden display of authority.
The work of the men on out-stations consists chiefly of going on patrol and dealing with such things as faction fights and cattle-stealing. The Zulu dearly loves a fight, and if he gets the opportunity of attacking an enemy with a couple of sticks, the pair of them will keep at it, hammer and tongs, until one or the other falls with a dent in his skull. On these occasions their uncles and cousins have a habit of joining in, until the affair becomes serious and someone stands a good chance of being killed.
As a general rule the fiercest of faction fights end abruptly when the police arrive, for the native greatly respects the force, although he does not particularly mind going to prison, especially for fighting, which to his mind is far from being a reprehensible pastime. Natives have been known to save up their money in order to have a good fight and then pay the inevitable fine. In cases where nobody has been killed, and only sticks have been used, the penalty is usually about 5 to 10 for the ringleaders, and 303. to 3 for those who only joined in for the fun of the thing. A Zulu gets miserable if he cannot have a fight now and again, so he has many excuses for a fray, though it generally concerns the lady of his dreams.
There were 166 Zulu prisoners arrested at Mapumulo towards the end of 1912 for taking part in a faction fight, in which one man was killed and forty injured. It was the most serious affair of the kind that had taken place for many years in the district. The Mapumulo court-house was not nearly large enough to hold the delinquents, so they were arranged in rows outside. The jailer filled the prison " to the brim," and was unable to take them all in, so fifty of the natives were allowed to go, their chiefs being made responsible for them.
The hardest work on an out-station is the annual inspection of the hut and dog taxes. Every kraal in the district has to be visited, however remotely it may be situated, and this often occupies four months.
The difficulties of this tedious inspection are manifold. It is strictly contrary to regulations to warn the natives to meet at different places so that they can show their hut tax receipts and dog licences to the police, but this arrangement is unavoidable at times. Like his more enlightened brethren, the Zulu goes out paying calls sometimes, and on these occasions he consumes a goodly quantity of native beer. Often the police climb over rough country and call at kraal after kraal, only to find that the men are away at a beer-drink. The children and dogs fly into the bush as soon as a patrol appears on the scene, and the receipts cannot be found. Sometimes the head of the kraal will remain away day after day, going to different beer-drinks, and as it would be a physical impossibility for the patrols to call every day until he happened to be in, his dogs are counted and a message is sent telling him to produce his tickets at the police camp.
The troopers occasionally go on a patrol extending over 80 or 100 miles, and this is a considerable undertaking when, owing to the danger of horsesickness, they have to go on foot. This malady, caused by a mosquito bite, ends in the animal choking suddenly before its owner is aware that it is ill. So prevalent is this trouble at certain seasons of the year that even at headquarters fires have to be lighted in the stables at night to smoke the mosquitoes out. Another disease that has to be carefully guarded against is nagana a slow but almost certain cause of death to the horse. It is caused by the bite of the tsetse fly. It would be crass folly to tether a horse out all night in Zululand in the hot weather, and so the trooper sometimes has to walk.
Almost the only thing to think about on an outstation is police work, and consequently the men get keenly enthusiastic about their duties. After a raw recruit has spent six months drilling and studying routine at headquarters, he is usually drafted off to some more or less lonely post, and the effect of this on him is curiously noticeable. A youth who showed little or no aptitude for the work while in the hands of the drill instructor, suddenly develops a sense of responsibility when he finds himself tackling his duties.
However remote the station may be, discipline is invariably maintained just as strictly as it is at headquarters. A sergeant and a trooper may be together in some lonely place for years, each dependent almost entirely on the society of the other all that time, but discipline is never relaxed, even though the two men may be good friends or have grown to hate the sight of one another. It is a severe test of good-fellowship to be thrown into the company of one man year after year at a benighted corner of the earth where nothing ever happens ; but ill-feeling hardly ever crops up, perhaps because the men realize that they have to put up with each other. Some of them grow strangely quiet and subdued after spending a long time in the back blocks, and for a little while after their return to headquarters there is something aloof about their demeanour. This has given rise to the jest that all men who live on an out-station in Zululand for a long time go mad, or, as they put it, suffer from " Zululand tap " though nobody seriously believes it.
The deadly monotony sometimes tells on them a little. Three men were sitting round a camp fire not long ago far from the madd'ing crowd at the headquarters canteen. The trio had been talked out for months, and there was no earthly prospect of seeing a stranger for a long time. An air of depression hung over them as they sat silently pulling at their pipes.
" Good Lord," said one wearily, " nothing interesting ever happens in this rotten hole. You always know what's coming months in advance."
" You don't know what's going to happen now," said another, as he reached out for a case of cartridges and threw them into the fire.
Half the chimney was blown out, but nobody was hurt. Something had happened and all three felt much happier for days afterwards.
Fortunately, extraordinary things do happen on back-stations now and again to relieve the monotony. One of the most remarkable official reports ever made came from Vant's Drift, on the Buffalo River, in the autumn of 1905.
While on patrol, a trooper called on a Dutch farmer, who for over twenty years had been sorely puzzled by oft-repeated statements that weird, inexplicable noises were heard on a part of his estate. The farmer, who still lives at Vant's Drift, was much afraid of being laughed at, and the trooper, growing interested, could only extract the Dutchman's story from him bit by bit.
Before the last Boer war he had been in the habit of sending sheep down to the part of his estate where these mysterious noises were heard, every lambing season. It was quite four miles from his house, in a valley through which a stream runs. A white man was always sent to take charge of the animals, and he had to camp out.
Sane, sober white men, on several of these occasions, returned complaining vaguely of the loneliness of the place, and saying they would not remain there as they were disturbed in the night by curious noises which they were unable to trace. The farmer invariably had the greatest difficulty in persuading his men to stop in the valley any length of time. He might have imagined they were joking but for the fact that they grew quite insolent if he persisted in asking them to go back to the sheep. New men invariably returned to the farm after spending two or three nights near the stream. So persistent did the complaints become that the farmer determined to go to the place himself and find out whether there was any foundation for the rumours ; but the war broke out, and it was not until 1905 that he got a forcible reminder of the affair.
A few weeks prior to his telling the trooper of his troubles he had sent a man down to the old place to look after some sheep, but the man returned in a hurry and said he dared not stay there another day alone. He begged that someone should be sent to keep him company, or that he could, for preference, be relieved of the duty altogether.
The Dutchman, now keenly interested, questioned the man closely and got from him an account of what had frightened him. He said that every night he had been disturbed by hearing the sound of a woman wailing loudly, and the crying of a child. At first he took no notice of it, but the noises continued for such a long time, and seemed so near, that he went out of his hut to discover what was wrong. He could see nobody, however, although he could still hear the wailing, which appeared to come from farther and farther away, until at last it died away in the distance.
Wondering what was the matter, the man called up his native boys. Their reply rather amused him. They said they, too, had heard the noise of crying, but there was no woman anywhere near, nor a child. They declared the place was evil and bewitched. There was no kraal within a couple of miles, and no native dared to pass the place at night.
Laughing, he returned to his hut, but he felt somewhat creepy the following night when the same thing happened. It began to get on his nerves when he heard it night after night, and on some occasions, he declared, he saw a dark, indistinct shape which was surrounded by " a faint wavering light which came and disappeared with the wailing. "
The natives also told him they saw the object, and at last, thinking that some practical joke was being played upon him, he lay in wait with a very tangible shot gun. It was a dark night, and he waited patiently for the spook for some hours. At last it appeared, wavering and howling as usual. Taking careful aim when it was within range, he emptied both barrels at it, expecting to see the object collapse. But to his horror nothing of the sort happened. The figure went on making a dis-mal row as before, and after floating about for a while vanished in the distance.
This was too much for him, and he went straight to the farmer early the following morning. When he left the place his native boys left also, refusing to remain without the protection of the white man.
The farmer promptly sent for two or three of his neighbours, all matter-of-fact men, and they decided to camp out at the place " for the fun of the thing." It was an eerie expedition, but they took it more or less as a joke, and pitched a square tent under an overhanging rock, on a slight rise overlooking the stream. After their evening meal they turned the lights out, lit their pipes, and waited to see what would happen. Soon they were startled to hear the wailing of a woman. The sound was clear and distinct, and seemed to come from immediately behind the tent. It was an uncanny experience, and they listened breathlessly until they also heard the crying of a child.
There was very little breeze, and as the sound died away the tent collapsed ; one man received a blow which dislocated some of his teeth, and another had his arm broken. They all made a dash to the tent flap, just as the tent was pitched on to a small plateau overlooking the stream.
There was a shadowy form near, with a light floating over it, gradually gliding away in the direction of the water ; and the hills echoed with the piercing shrieks of a woman in dire distress. The party of investigators had seen all they desired to see, and without waiting another moment, cleared off, nor did they stop until they reached the farmer's house.
The trooper, as much interested as the Dutchman's neighbours had been, suggested making an expedition to the place, and the farmer agreed to show him where these events had occurred. They started straight away, a native carrying a spade and pick, as it was suggested that the victim of some tragedy might have been buried by the side of the stream. They followed a track across an undulating plain, and climbed a steep rise where they found themselves looking into a deep, secluded valley, along which the stream flowed. They had to climb down a sharp descent, until they came to a large semi-circular cave which receded into the hill to a distance of about ten yards, a ledge of rock forming a natural roof about twelve feet above their heads. It was altogether a wild, isolated place to which only an occasional sheep was likely to penetrate but this was the spot on which the tent had been pitched on the eventful night when two men were hurt.
The wailing had arisen immediately behind the tent, so the trooper started digging there enthusiastically.
He was prepared to dig up the whole surface of the cave if necessary, but he had not been delving very long before he came upon the complete skeletons of a woman and a child.
The bones lay about three feet below the surface, and had obviously been there a long time. The district surgeon, who was called, said he fancied the large skeleton was that of a European woman. The police were never able to solve the mystery as to how it got there. At the request of the farmer the skeletons were given a more suitable resting-place, and the farmer never had occasion to complain about ghosts again.
The trooper who investigated the matter, and dug up the skeletons, is now on the headquarters staff where he keeps two curious ash-trays, each consisting of half of the woman's skull.
Ghost tales abound at all the police camps in Natal and Zululand, probably because there is hardly an old station at which a trooper has not committed suicide at one time or another. Estcourt Fort has a very-well-known spook. Years ago a member of the corps walked up the stairs with jingling spurs, carrying saddlery, and a few minutes later he put a bullet through his brain. Now and again very serious-minded troopers open the door when they hear the clanking of a man mounting the stairs, and, on seeing nobody there, remark, " Oh, it's only the ghost."
The laying of a ghost at Mid-Illovo in 1903 caused a good deal of excitement. It had been common knowledge for years that the police camp was haunted. Various people swore they had seen the spook on several occasions, and it began to take an active part in the life of the troopers, for every morning jugs, dishes, joints of meat, and other things disappeared, and were afterwards found in various parts of the grounds.
Matters became so serious that the men kept their revolvers ready loaded, and one night they were awakened by the crash of breaking crockery, and the wildly excited yell of " I've got him," uttered by Trooper Smith.
The other three members of the corps snatched up their weapons and dashed up to the entrance of the mess-room, where they found Smith declaring he had seen the milk -jug dancing about by itself. This sounded so idiotic that his comrades thought he had been dreaming, but at that instant there was another crash, accompanied by moaning.
Smith and one of his colleagues dashed round to the back, and mounted a wooden partition overlooking the mess-room. From this position they enjoyed the creepy sensation of observing the milkjug floating about in nothingness. They fired simultaneously. The jug dropped, and something could be heard rushing about in the darkness.
At this thrilling moment Trooper Woolley arrived with a light, and then it was seen that the disturbance had been caused by a kafir dog. It had evidently been in the habit of helping itself in the camp at night-time, and on this occasion had got into trouble by wedging its head in the milk-jug. As the light approached, the dog tried to get out of the window, but two more shots rang out, and then a fierce fusillade started. Bullets were sent flying in all directions, but the mongrel jumped through a broken window-pane and was not seen until the following day, when a herd-boy reported that he had found its body half a mile away. It had been hit in seven places, the lower jaw being completely blown off.
Life is not altogether without its humours on the out-stations. Some time ago a circular was issued to the police urging each man to carry permanganate of potash, which, if applied quickly to a snake-bite, is often effective. An Indian messenger rushed up to the home of a police officer near Pietermaritzburg and begged for a man to be sent down to a house near, where a snake had bitten some one . Hastily snatching up some permanganate of potash and a lancet, the only man available ran to the patient, meanwhile telling the messenger to go to the police station with all speed and send a doctor along. The messenger had just carried out these instructions and left the police station, when an Indian woman, sobbing hysterically, limped in and exhibited a wound in her leg. She was in a state of wild excitement, but could not speak a word of English.
Taking in the situation at a glance, and knowing that snake-bites need very prompt attention, the men on duty made her sit down, and with a lancet cut the place at which she pointed, afterwards rubbing in permanganate of potash thoroughly.
They were engaged on this operation when the district officer happened to walk in.
" What have you got here ? " he asked.
" Snake-bite, sir," said a trooper, as he rubbed in the drug.
" Why, you haven't cut the wound nearly enough/' replied the district officer. " I'll have a go at it."
He applied the lancet afresh, and rubbed in the drug liberally, the woman bearing the pain stoically.
" There ! " said the district officer at last. " She ought to be all right now. You should do a job like this thoroughly."
An Indian constable came in.
" Here," said the district officer. " Ask this woman what sort of a snake it was that bit her."
The man obeyed.
" She says she knows nothing about a snake, sir, but came to show you where her husband had been hitting her," explained the Indian constable.
The subject of the treatment of snake-bites was a delicate one to broach to that district officer for months afterwards.
At Grey town, in 1905, when the field force was stationed there, about forty horses belonging to the troopers broke loose and stampeded wildly at five o'clock in the morning. One or two men who attempted to stop them were powerless, and the animals disappeared in a body in a few minutes at full gallop. Search parties were sent out, but the animals had covered too great a distance to be re-captured easily. To the astonishment of the orderly sergeant at the Pietermaritzburg headquarters, nearly fifty miles away, a dozen of the horses galloped into barracks at 4.30 the following morning. Amongst them was one animal which had been going dead lame for days. It was afterwards found that they had not travelled on the main road, but had made a detour via York.
A comical story is told of a field force returning to headquarters from northern Zululand. The horses were being entrained under the supervision of a sergeant who had an exalted view of his own ability. In the dull glare of many lanterns, the scared animals were being driven into a row of cattle-trucks that lined one of the platforms.
" How many beasts are you getting into those boxes ? " demanded the sergeant.
" Ten, sir," replied the orderly.
" Ten ! why, man alive, you'll have to squeeze at least fifteen in," replied the non-commissioned officer, heatedly.
" It can't be done, sir. They're already overcrowded," replied the orderly.
" I'll show you how to put horses in," said the sergeant ; and he started to drive the animals into a box with care.
" That makes fifteen," he said at last, with great satisfaction. " I told you it could be done. Is there room for any more ? "
" Room for three more, sir," a recruit replied, casting his lantern round.
" That makes eighteen ! " observed the sergeant ; and three more horses were entrained.
" Full up ? " inquired the sergeant.
" Room for three more, sir," said the recruit imperturbably.
Somewhat surprised, but hiding the fact, the sergeant ordered the requisite number to be driven in.
" Still room for three more, sir," cried the recruit.
By the time forty-five horses had been entrained in the box, even the sergeant began to show signs of amazement.
" What on earth do you mean, idiot? " he shouted, as the recruit droned out the same remark which by now was becoming monotonous. " Room for three more, do you say ? " lf Yes, sir. There's room for one two three FOUR more ! " counted the recruit deliberately.
At that moment a night-clerk dashed up breathlessly.
“ The stationmaster wants to know what on earth you are doing/' he panted.
" Tell him," replied the sergeant, with a satisfied smile, " that I have just succeeded in entraining forty-five horses in one cattle-box and there is still room for four more, so we shan't want the other boxes."
" Heavens, man ! " replied the night-clerk," there are nearly fifty horses tearing up and down the line, and everything's going to the dogs."
" There's room for heaps more, sir," broke in the recruit. " There isn't a blooming horse in that box."
Then the mystery was explained. The door at the opposite side of the cattle-box had been left open, and almost as fast as the horses had been entrained they had escaped at the other side.
Practical jokes sometimes relieve the monotony at out-stations, with rather alarming effect on occasions. There was a violent-tempered trooper who had a perfect horror of cats, and when things grew dull one night another trooper tied a cat to a tree near the ill-tempered individual's room. He also balanced a bucket of water over the man's door and attached a string to the cat's tail. When the irritable trooper had settled down to read, his colleague gently pulled the string on the cat's tail. A mournful wail went up again and again, whereupon the easily angered trooper snatched up his gun with the intention of shooting the animal. As he dashed out of the door the practical joker at just the correct moment pulled another string which he had fastened to the bucket of water.
More furious than ever, the trooper with the gun turned his attention to his tormentor, and there was a keenly exciting chase until the culprit dashed into his room and locked the door behind him.
The cat-hater was in such a violent temper that the proceedings did not seem at all likely to end there, so the fugitive hastily piled boxes against the door through which a shot came just as the fugitive was climbing out of the window at the back. It hit the bed instead of the trooper, who rushed round to the front, jumped on to his adversary's back and took his weapon away before any further damage was done. It was quite a quarter of an hour, however, before the angered man could be persuaded to enter the other trooper's room. Then they both laughed, inspected the dent made by the bullet on the bed, and divided all that was left in a decanter between two glasses.
The man who pulled the cat's tail was Trooper Fairlie now an inspector in the force.
An exciting incident was related to the writer by an inspector of the Natal Police.
" I was a trooper on an out-station," he said, " where two Irishmen had a bitter quarrel, and late one night the ill-feeling grew to such a degree that it was decided to fight a duel. Things had been deplorably slow for months, so we were all delighted at the prospect of a little pleasant diversion. Two of us were appointed seconds. It was agreed that one principal should go out with his second and hide, and the other was to follow a few minutes afterwards. They both had carbines, and the man who saw his opponent first was to fire.
" They tossed to see which should go out first, and my man lost. It was pitch dark when we followed a little while afterwards, and very warily we peered about for some time, but nothing happened. In a fit of absent-mindedness I struck a match to light my pipe, and our opponent, who happened to be quite close, blazed away with his carbine. This so startled me that I hit my principal in the middle of the back with a knobkerry which I had taken out with me.
" I'm killed” he groaned, sinking to the ground.
" The other principal ran up and stooped over his enemy's prostrate form.
" Good Heavens, Larry" he cried bitterly, ' I've shot yez ! Now it's meself I'll shoot.'
" So overcome was he with grief that he probably would have done so had he not only with the utmost difficulty been persuaded to believe the fact that the bullets had been extracted from the cartridges before they were placed in the carbines.
“ The incident brightened us all up for days. The duellists were the best of friends ever afterwards, and nobody was a penny the worse excepting my unfortunate principal, who complained of a pain in his back for some time."
It is during times of rebellion that the isolated troopers are most liable to an attack of " nerves." Physically, they are as fit as men can be, but a subtle feeling of uneasiness creeps over them when the natives are in the mood for a rising. Nothing definite is stated to the white men, who never know exactly when to expect an outbreak, or in what form it will come ; but after living amongst the Zulus for a lengthy period they learn to detect signs of unrest which foreshadow the coming of the storm. Generally there is a telephone at the magistracy, though this cannot be relied on in case of fighting, because the natives have discovered the advantage they gain by cutting the wires. Cunning, and yet bland, the Zulus have to be watched closely when there is unrest amongst them, and the troopers get into the habit of " sleeping with one eye open " until the danger subsides. Before actually making an attack the Zulus drive their cattle away, and store their grain in pits, consequently these moves are watched for very anxiously.
A man literally carries his life in his hands in the back-blocks sometimes when he has been inquiring into a murder, especially if the murder has been a political one ; and it is more by good fortune than skill or wits that he learns of his danger. Sergeant F. L. Wilkinson had a particularly trying time in this way at Nkandhla, just after the Zulu rebellion of 1906. He had gone over to Mahlabatini in connection with the murder of Mr. Stainbank, the magistrate, and a native made an important statement to him, but subsequently said he would not repeat it in court. Soon after another Zulu observed to the sergeant, in front of a magistrate
" If the white man who has been sent here to work up this case implicates our chief he will be removed." This was a polite but firm intimation that Wilkinson would be killed if he interfered.
That was the first warning he received. For more than six months afterwards he was constantly dogged, and narrowly escaped death on several occasions. Time after time he was warned by friendly natives to be on his guard, not to use the same paths more frequently than he could help, and not to stay at the office late at night, as there were certain Zulus who were bent on assassinating him sooner or later.
On one occasion one of Sergeant Wilkinson's colleagues was nearly killed in error. Two armed natives leaped out of some bushes as a trooper passed, but fortunately discovered their mistake in time and ran away.
On another occasion the sergeant had gone thirty miles from Nkandhla to arrest a rebel. He discovered that the native's father had died, and the native was going to a krantz to perform some medicine rites at night. Wilkinson decided to go to the krantz a lonely enough place for any heathen rites and trap him there. While he was dogging the movements of the rebel, he, in turn, was being followed by two men who were awaiting a favourable opportunity to shoot him. When Wilkinson was far away this came to the ears of the Nkandhla magistrate, Mr. B. Colenbrander, who sent a mounted messenger warning the sergeant and recalling him. He was told he would be courting certain death if he remained out, so he returned.
The perpetual knowledge that one is being followed by murderers in Zululand is enough to try the stoutest heart, but Sergeant Wilkinson continued to investigate a number of political murder cases which needed very delicate handling. Friendly natives at Nkandhla constantly repeated warnings to him, and nearly every night during the six months he slept in a different room or changed the position of his bed, expecting any moment to hear bullets crash through the window.
On the 8th September 1907 he returned to Nkandhla, after following a man who was suspected of having murdered* the chief Tshishili, and was told that he would be killed that night unless he were careful. At midnight he had a cup of coffee with the magistrate his political enemies afterwards suggested that it was not coffee and left with Detective Rathbone for the police station. Rathbone, when leaving him, on the way, pressed him to take a lantern, but the sergeant preferred to go without one. His life was again saved, a few moments later, by an odd impulse which led him to turn off the main road, and make a detour of fifty yards. He had gone home hundreds of times by that road, but never before had he made the same detour : the next morning it was proved that two men with firearms had been lying in wait for him behind a hedge in the part of the road he avoided. Had he not gone round he would have been shot in the back.
On arriving at the police station he went straight to his bedroom, pulled down the blind, which left a two-inch gap at the bottom, got into bed, read for a few minutes, and then turned out the lamp. The moment he did so a shot was fired through the window, which was about a yard from his head. A revolver bullet passed within an inch of his face, and his cheek and nose were cut by splinters of falling glass. In almost every case of murder in the district for some time previously two shots had been fired. Realizing this in a flash, the sergeant instantly squeezed himself between the bed and the wall, waiting for a few torturing seconds for the second bullet. It came and would have killed him had he leaped up after the first shot. It buried itself in the floor close to him. A moment later he had reached his revolver, and, shouting to awake his colleagues in another room, ran outside. A figure was disappearing in a gap in an adjoining plantation, and Wilkinson fired but missed. As he did so Trooper de Ros hurried out, also armed, and together they searched the neighbourhood for quite an hour, but without success.
There is every reason to suppose that the man who fired at Wilkinson was subsequently shot by the Natal Police at Mbekamuzi.
When a member of the police has to make a long journey in remote districts, far from the railway, he treks from one police camp to another, and need hardly ever sleep in the open on such a trip, the camps having been distributed practically all over Natal and Zululand.
The comfort of being able to put up at one of the camps every night does not, however, fall to the lot of the police when they are moving about at full speed during war times. Some trooper who had tasted the full joys of trekking has placed his impressions on record in the Nongqai, (Meaning those who wander the Zulus' name for the Natal Police.) the quarterly magazine of the police. His views are shared very generally by those who have been through it. Here they are :
Ride in the rain, ride in the sun
(They both beat down like hell),
From this camp to some other one,
And you've got to hurry as well.
Camp in the wet, camp in the dry,
On the hill, the valley, or plain ;
You hope to God you may not die
Before you see home again.
Fall in for guard, fall in for drill,
It's all in the long day's work;
You get no rest unless you're ill,
Or are one of the rotters that shirk.
Fight like the devil, fight, seeing red,
With never a thought of retreat,
Remembering that you're a long time dead,
And a deuced hard lot to beat.
Drink what you can anything wet,
And pray for the wine that is red ;
But when it's the grape juice don't forget
To drink for your pals who're dead.
The principal duties which the members of the force have to perform in the out-stations are :Frequent and vigilant patrolling.
The suppression of tumults, riots, or breaches of the peace.
The detection of crime and the arrest of offenders.
The execution of criminal warrants and summonses.
The prevention of cattle being driven about the country without passes, and the prevention and the detection of the stock thefts.
The prevention of natives travelling about the country with firearms or assegais (without the written permission of a magistrate), and the seizure of all such weapons.
The inspection of licences in the various districts.
The collection of statistics for the annual blue book.
The issue of passes to natives.
The discovery of stolen property.
Escort of treasure and prisoners.
Acting as messengers of magistrates' courts.
Attending stock sales and inspecting slaughterhouses, with a view to tracing lost or stolen stock.
Inspecting hut and dog tax licences.
Acting as Customs and Excise officers.
Acting as postmasters.