Umzimkulu— its magistrate — a tennis-party — in the court-house — Mr Strachan — a long drive through Griqualand East — I reach Matatiele — Mr Hogg — pack-ponies—my guides—over the Drakensberg—at Nquatsa's Nek — the Orange River — a hill-bound prison — a delicious bath — the Senkunyane — the Le Bihan Falls—a native's admiration for a photograph—over the Maluti, 9000 feet high—a narrow shave — provisions running short — Tembus — Sesaye, son of Sesake — the blue mountains — a rough-and-tumble with a native—sore backs and girth-galls —a native beer-feast—Machaulo, son of Leronthodi —Basuto loyalty — descent of korro korro — a six days' ride—I reach Maseru.
The loss of detail for this chapter is either due to neglect on the part of the ' Daily Mail,' who promised to keep all records of my life in South Africa ; or it may possibly arise from the sinking of the Union liner Mexican off Cape Town early in April. I hardly think the latter cause likety, as the ' Sphere,' for which I was acting, received all the photographs I sent by the same mail. I would therefore beg my readers to realise the difficulty in which I am placed when memory alone must serve me in one of the most interesting episodes of my six months' adventure.
My luggage, for which I had been waiting, turned up all right on March 22, and having no option but to hire Mr Strachan's Cape-cart and six mules, as no other vehicle could accommodate me for several clays, I decided to start for Matatiele the following morning. If you look at the map you may perhaps realise the position of Umzimkulu. Griqualand East, in which it is situated, is part of the Cape Colony, but so distant is it from any railway communication that it looks as if it should form part of Natal, through which it receives practically all its stores and transacts the greater part of its business. But whereas Natal would very much approve of a rectification of her frontier in this direction, it is not likely that Cape Colony will part without a struggle with quite one of her richest agricultural provinces. The land will grow anything, the Griquas furnish cheap and good labour, and the oxen fatten and horses grow faster than in any other part of the colony.
During my enforced stay at Umzimkulu I met the magistrate, Captain Whindus, who offered me every hospitality, including an invitation to dinner and a tennis-party. The idea of a tennis-party was so intensely funny to me, whose sole thought was of the war, that I decided to go, if only to satisfy myself once more of the extraordinary callousness of those who were taking no part in it. It was quite amusing, and my host and hostess most kind to me. Moreover, the next morning I was afforded an opportunity of listening to a charge of goat - stealing and wife - beating brought against some Kaffirs, and for which in the former case a very heavy sentence of imprisonment and fine were imposed, as against a severe lecture in the other. The curious part of the latter case, if I remember it right, was that among Kaffirs, or at any rate among the Griquas, on the death of a legitimate husband, the husband's brother or next-of-kin is entitled to claim his brother's wife; and this had been the result in this case ! I am rather astonished that such consanguinity has not affected the fine stature and physique of the Griquas. The way the goat-stealer had been tracked down by the native police was most amusing, the whole story being interpreted in the court-house by a half-caste American, who had lived there for years in this capacity.
Umzimkulu boasted of a curiously shaped but not uncomfortable hotel, though its proximity to a bar gave me my first sight of a drunken man since I landed in South Africa, and this notwithstanding the fact that the liquor store was almost cleared out. The river Umzimkulu cuts the village in half, and the post-office, which is on the Natal side, is reached b}^ the Union Bridge, which boasts the first toll-house and inland customs I have yet come across. I tried hard to get the price of my Cape-cart reduced, but Mr Strachan is a good man of business, and I bad to pay my £20 or remain a fixture; so I started early on Friday morning, March 23, and instead of going as the coach does (via Kokstad), I made a short cut through Sneezwood and New Amain, and did the sixty or seventy miles with two teams of mules in about twenty hours, stopping the night at the farm of Mr Strachan's son.
The usual South African track, at first a very steep one, passed through a somewhat wooded piece of country, and then emerged into a great wide expanse of prairie land, dotted here and there with hills and kopjes, but on all sides rich in growing crops and pasture, on which thousands of head of cattle, sheep, and horses were contentedly grazing, in striking contrast to those thin, hard-worked beasts of General Buller's army. Here and there on my drive I passed stores, those of Mountain Home, Sneezwood, and New Amain being fresh in my memory. Nor must I omit a word of kindly thanks to the younger Mr Strachan, whose farm I reached late at night, after struggling wildly over the veldt through spruits and dongas and over boulders which at one time bade fair to break down the extraordinary springs of the Cape - cart. I arrived there just as he, with a guest or two, was finishing his evening meal; but he kindly gave me his bed and a bite of supper, which I washed down with a drop of whisky, kept only for his guests, as he is a teetotaller.
A pouring wet night made the roads in splendid condition for a good slide, and we skidded down to New Amain, where I met a native witch-doctor, whose fame has spread far and wide in this country as a curer of dysentery. It was at this store that I found, among a miscellaneous collection of coloured blankets, straps, beads, and saddles, a quantity of polo clubs, and learnt that the game was much played among the neighbouring farmers. The value of the land can possibly be understood when I tell you that what was originally a Government concession at 7s. 6d. per acre is now fetching fully 30s., and paying hand over fist at that price ! Somebody, who had made his pile, was selling his farm and going home, and I wished I had had the capital to invest in it.
I reached Matatiele about three on Saturday afternoon, where Mr Hogg, the magistrate, had been advised of my arrival, and had succeeded in hiring me a cavalcade of ponies and two guides in readiness for my ride through Basutoland. I have come to the conclusion that it is only abroad that hospitality can be spelt with a big H, and I look back with the pleasantest memories to Mr Hogg's extreme courtesy during my short stay. There was nothing he and Mrs Hogg and their daughter did not do to make me comfortable, and only my anxiety to reach Lord Roberts prevented my remaining a longer time under their hospitable roof. Fresh meat, hard - boiled eggs, delicious white bread, tea, coffee, and butter were all added to my store of tinned foods; and Mr Hogg himself personally superintended the fitting on of the packs, and drove me the first ten miles of my journey in the direction of the Drakensberg hills, which divide Basutoland, as they do Natal, from Cape Colony.
Matatiele itself is a neat, compact little village, boasting a church, court-house, hotel, and nursery - garden of no mean proportions, besides a quantity of smart-looking villas, each with a little plot of ground smiling under its weight of fruit and flowers. There is a doctor resident there, and mails are brought by coach three times a week from Kokstad. I hope some day I may have the opportunity of revisiting this little place, which I looked back on from the top of the Drakensberg, fully twenty miles away, with regretful thoughts at my departure.
Something now about my cavalcade. My servant was with me, and Mr Hogg had given me two of his best native police, one of whom knew the short cut and the other how to cook. That meant four ponies, and four more were in readiness to carry my packs. I had to be initiated into the method of pack-carrying, and was much astonished when Mr Hogg told me that in a country such as Basutoland, for a long consecutive ride, no pony should carry more than 50 lb. of dead-weight. I had relied on packing 100 lb. at least on a pony, and it was therefore with some difficulty that we allotted to each an even share of my rather large baggage train. I had with me my tent, which, with pegs, &c, weighed over 100 lb.! Then there were two Wolseley valises, averaging 50 lb., besides two large bags of clothes, &c, and a portable canteen with my tinned stores in addition. However, all was saddled by 8 a.m. on the 25th, and having decided on the shorter, though practically unknown, route to Maseru through the heart of the country, we started on a lovely Sunday morning for Nquatsha's Nek, in the Drakensberg, where I intended to off-saddle and spend an hour or two with the easternmost resident magistrate of Basutoland. There was another well-known road round the south, which, however, would have taken five days instead of three, and which passed through Quitting, Mohalles Hoek, and Mafeteng. Had I realised how long my "short cut" was going to occupy, I might possibly have selected this mail route instead.
The names of my two guides were Joseph, a very small, cunning-looking man, full of talk and business, and delighted at the importance of taking his "baas" through Basutoland; and Solomon, in direct contrast to the little jockey, a tall, solemn individual. Both spoke English, though in this respect Joseph was facile princeps. It is worth noting here that the natives, especially the Christians, delight in Scriptural names, and when I reached Nquatsa's camp I was provided with a third guide, a huge Basuto policeman in corduroy kit, whose name was Lazarus ! "We arrived at the Basuto residency about one o'clock, where Mr Blyth did all he could to make me comfortable while I rested the ponies. He is a bachelor, and a more lonely spot for a young man I have never come across. I hope by the time this is in print his desire for promotion to some more social spot will have been attained. Certainly his little house, perched on the top of the Drakensberg, is not without interest, so far as landscape and scenery are concerned, for the varied ruggedness of this great mountain range was truly wonderful; but the only white man he has to speak to within twenty miles is the storekeeper at his camp. After lunch he rode with me some of the way to the Senku or Orange river, which we reached late at night, and, crossing the ford, made our first encampment, after a ride of about thirty-five miles. The tent was pitched in the darkness, and after making some soup and grilling a piece of meat at a roaring fire, I turned in and slept.
I had decided, on Mr Hogg's advice, to start early each morning and ride from 5 a.m. till the sun was at its height; and, having off-saddled and rested my horses a few hours, to resume my journey about three each afternoon, and pitch my camp at sundown. By this means both he and my guides thought I should reach my destination, if not on Tuesday night, at any rate by Wednesday, the 28th of March. So, though the arranging of the packs took longer than I had anticipated, and my guides were none too anxious to get up early, we started about six o'clock on our second day's journey, hoping to reach the Senkunyane or Little Orange river that night. But I soon discovered that
" The best-laid schemes o' mice and men Gang aft a-gley,"
and that daylight was fast disappearing and the ponies already showing signs of wear and tear without any river being in sight. So I halted for the night, having fortunately taken the precaution to fill all water-bottles, and water the ponies at a small stream we had crossed an hour previously. I asked Lazarus how far on the river was, but, pointing with his hand, all he could say was, " Just on, just on." It was as well I did not go any farther, as it was twelve o'clock on the third day before we reached the place where we had hoped to camp the previous night. The distance we had traversed, I felt sure, was far less than the fifty miles I had anticipated doing—in fact, I doubt if we did much more than twenty-eight; but with scarcely a kraal to mark our course, and with the names of hills so unspeakable and unmarked on any map, I had no idea as to where we were. All I did realise was, that at the pace we were going we should certainly not reach Maseru in four days, unless the country we crossed became less mountainous than that we had traversed during the preceding forty-eight hours.
When I crossed the Drakensberg I was 7000 feet above sea-level, and I climbed and descended three ranges quite as steep, and in one case higher. The country through which I passed was interesting enough from the sight I got of its natives, its kraals, its ponies, and its extraordinary fertility ; and if the regularity of its perpetual mountain ranges could have been broken by any wooded patch or district, I should have thought it heavenly. But the fierce sun beat on my little cavalcade with such pertinacity from six in the morning till six at night that I was not sorry to mark its setting in the direction I was going, leaving behind it the most brilliantly coloured illumination in which to eat my dinner and put myself to bed. After off-saddling on the third day for our morning meal, I had the most delicious bathe in the Little Orange river,—a deep, clear, sandy pool giving me the opportunity of diving (unfortunately unsuccessfully) for a cake of carbolic soap with which I had been performing my ablutions !
That afternoon we rode on, expecting to camp near the Le Bihan falls—one of the almost unseen sights of Basutoland, the huge waterfall losing itself in the bowels of the earth, and emerging Heaven knows where ! But this was not to be, and fearing we should not find water, I was compelled to stop near a small spring for my third night, and rather earlier than usual. The sight of a white man in this neighbourhood was evidently a rarity, for the hills resounded with shouts from the neighbouring kraals, and soon we had a little crowd of semi-nude men, women, and children watching us at a respectful distance as we pitched our tent and collected material for a fire, which was none too easily procured at this spot. Gradually their astonishment wore off, and those who remained were persuaded to come and look at the interior of my tent, round which they had been stalking with eyes of curious amazement. I showed a woman, who seemed to be the mother of a huge family of picaninnies, a photograph of a lady I had, and offered to take her with my kodak. She was too terrified to trust to the latter operation, but begged hard through my guides for the photograph, which was that of a lovely woman. What struck her most was the hair (which it took long to convince her was really hair), and I remember my guide's interpretation of what she said : " Oh, how I wish I could have the photograph. I would sit and worship it all day long !" I appeased her, however, with some pennies, and as I had sufficient I gave each of her children one, and explained that the head was that of the "great white Queen." The woman was incredulous, as she had been told that the Queen was a very old lady; but she grew to understand that this was a likeness of her Majesty during her younger days. I asked her what she would do with the coin, and in reply she held the penny at arm's-length and pointed upwards with her other hand, at the same time giving expression to a deep "Eh!" which is the Basuto sign of salutation.
We started again on Wednesday, and had quite an adventure, for after passing the Le Bihan falls we had to cross the Maluti or Double Mountains, a terrific range of hills 9000 feet high. It was fortunate that, to relieve our ponies, we had dismounted, for Lazarus missed the track and got on to the edge of a winding precipice, where we had either to go on or stand still. So close were the packs on the off side to the hill, that had they grazed or caught a projecting rock they would have been hurled to destruction thousands of feet below! One pony did stop, and it was only by dint of much coaxing that it was prevailed on to proceed. The danger past, we had as stiff a descent on the other side, and from the top I could not but wonder at the greatness of this prison-bound country. It looked as if there were no egress, so completely were we surrounded by the maze of consecutive mountain ranges. My heart fell as I realised it must be days yet before we reached Maseru, though my guide kept saying "Just on, just on," and pointing at the sky to show by the sun at what hour we should arrive the following day! The worst of it was, Mr Hogg had told me the guides were provisioned, and I had only brought sufficient for myself and servant for three days. The guides, however, were cunning enough to conceal their own food, and I had perforce to feed them too ! My store was almost exhausted, and I was lucky to buy a chicken, a few eggs, and some mealies at Carl's kraal, at the foot of the Maluti, as it was the last kraal I saw for thirty-six hours! Here I was introduced to quite the most old and savage types of Basuto people, who told my guides they had never seen a white man before.
We camped by another small river, whose name I forget, some fifteen miles beyond this kraal, having covered nearly thirty miles that day; but it was evident that my ponies could not hold out much longer, unless I relieved them for a day at least of their loads. Their backs and tails were sore from the rubbing of the packs and cruppers, and those we were riding were also suffering from girth - galls. Whilst I was preparing my camp, I saw two girls carrying enormous bundles of sticks on their heads, as they forded the stream and wended their way to the kraal I had just left. They Avere Tembus,—quite a different race to the Basutos (who are all marked with three cuts from the nose across the face), and much handsomer, if I can use the word, than any black women I had yet seen. One was most shy, as we observed that she was hiding behind her bundle of sticks. It was at this camp that Sesaye, son of Sesake, a Basuto chief, rode past. Though he could speak no English, he informed me through an interpreter that he was very pleased to see a Britisher in the country. Every man I met either raised his hat or his hand, and with "Eh! Morene" (I greet you, chief) testified to the general loyalty of the country.
Just before we started on our fifth day's ride over the Blue Mountains a native passed us driving two horses. Having bargained for a loan of them, he offered to escort us to a river before sundown, whence Maseru would prove a short day's ride. Nothing loath, I accepted, and two of my worst-conditioned ponies had an easy day nibbling the grass, as they were driven on ahead of us. Unfortunately, the river to which we were going was much farther than our tired ponies could reach in one day, and when we camped we tried to persuade the native to let us keep the horses, as he had bargained to take us before sundown to the river. He, however, did not see it in the same light, and said he must move on, so I paid him the 6s. I had agreed on with him for the hire of the horses, and was busy preparing a fire to cook the little packet of soup I had left when I heard a heated altercation between Solomon and the native, who had ridden off a hundred yards or so. Though I did not understand the language, I gathered that it was some good old-fashioned swearing in the Basuto tongue over the native's refusal to stay with his two horses. Solomon rushed after him with his sjambok, and as the native faced up to him I saw there was going to be a fight, which would prove quite a diversion. They closed, and after Solomon had struck him with the sjambok once but had not got the better of him, I saw little Joseph, his face purple with rage, rush after him with my best cooking-pot as an instrument of warfare ! Then I thought it time to interfere, and called my guides off the man. That was not the end of it, however. The man came back to me and accused my guides of having stolen 2s. from the money I had given him, which they strongly denied. I felt sure the man was lying, and that he had probably dropped it in the tussle, so I soon settled the point by saying that if I found the coin on the path where the fight took place I would keep it—otherwise he should have two more shillings. You should have seen the man run and pick up the lost 2s. and gallop away, to the questionable delight of Solomon and Joseph, who hurled complimentary Basuto epithets after him.
Our dinner to-night consisted of some soup, a very small tinned tongue, and a few Albert biscuits. A bottle of whisky, which was half full, had practically been emptied during the day, and I cannot help thinking Solomon is not such a man of morals as I took him to be, he having had charge of it in his saddle-bag. The result was we had only about a dozen biscuits, two table-spoonfuls of cocoa, and a packet of compressed soup, wherewith to reach Maseru, and we did not expect to meet a kraal for some time,—nor did we till late on the evening of our fifth day's ride, when, after vainly searching empty kraals for their owners, we at last found one tenanted, and containing, besides a family of young porkers, a fair quantity of lean chickens, some of which we bought and made a hearty meal of. The emptiness of the kraals we had visited was due to a "beer-feast" which was in progress some distance away, and which is a not uncommon ceremony in any Kaffir country. Certain days are fixed as holidays, and all the neighbours congregate to enjoy the products of the latest brewing. The beer is made of Kaffir corn, something like millet, and when drunk in large quantities, as it is, becomes very intoxicating ! The result is generally a free fight, though few are seriously damaged, owing to the thickness of the native skull!
The night of the fifth day's ride I celebrated by a bath in a small clear stream, when I am sure I sat on an eel, as something swift and slimy glided from under me, while a small crab, of which all the rivers and puddles are full, resented my squashing it with my hand. We got a little fresh milk, too, from some natives, and ascertained that really the next day we should reach Maseru. I determined, however, to start early in order to avoid another night out; and though the pony my servant was riding showed signs of giving out, we started at 6 a.m., and that afternoon reached Maseru— the journey having occupied me six clays instead of three, and the average distance covered being about twenty-eight miles per day of eight hours. On the ride into Maseru I met numbers of Basutos going east over the track I had come, and civility was everywhere apparent. Amongst those I passed was Machaulo, Leronthodi's fourth son. He spoke fairly good English, and being the owner of several thousand head of cattle, was dressed a la European, with collar and cuffs and trousers. He was on his way to raise men from his - district to help in repairing our broken railway near Aliwal North. He gave me much interesting-news of the war, which he had brought from Maseru, but I gathered that nothing much had occurred since I left Ladysmith.
The last day's journey was much the same as the previous ones, though possibly the Korro Korro was the roughest if not the highest hill I had yet descended. The heavy boulders made the track imperceptible, and sure-footed and clever as the Basuto ponies are, I thought it best to walk, or rather scramble, down, and left my pony to do the same by himself. Sir Godfrey Lagden was at home, and insisted on my staying with him. He gave me to understand my feat was a remarkable one. One thing I knew was, that it had been monotonous. On a journey like the one I performed through this hill-bound prison a friend is essential. Still, the experience was novel, and the country and its population full of interest to one who was out to see all he could of South Africa. I should not be surprised to hear of gold being discovered in quantities in Basutoland at no distant date, though the natives have a great aversion to your picking up a stone and examining it!
I paid off and said good-bye to my guides; and having dined, I went once more to bed between sheets, in a comfortable room in the Residency.