Chapter 11.

A Timid Man.

“Mhudi,” exclaimed Ra-Thaga, when he came home with two companions, “You must see the visitors who arrived at the Chief's court to-day. A most interesting group.”

Mhudi: Where from, Basutoland?

Ra-Thaga: No, No! They come out of the sea — away beyond where the clouds do end.

Mhudi: And what best did you like about them? Are they good people like Moner' Atsibele  1  and his family?

Ra-Thaga: They are white, but they don't look like Missionaries. They can't be from the same sea. What did I like best? O Mhudi, you should see them. I have never seen so many kololos  2  in one herd, as those in possession of the strangers. Not since that morning when you and I saw that troupe of zebras in the Kolong  3  valley; (and every one of them with a rider.)

1st Companion: I was tremendously impressed by their guns — a forest of them — a gun for every Boer. I said to myself “If we ever acquire half as many guns, and the Matabele come again, they shan't kill any more Barolong.”

2nd Companion: I liked their stately beards best. I have never in all my life seen so much beard as I saw today, hanging on the chins of those Boers. Mhudi

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should see those beards. Did you ever see a beard flowing down to a man's belly? Did you see that short, stout Boer, who laughed the loudest, and how he emptied the gourd of sour milk?

1st Companion: Didn't I? Why, I should like to face the Matabele standing beside him, with his stout gun in his hand.

2nd Companion: After he swallowed the milk, much of it stuck in his bear; he caught hold of his growth like that (demonstrating) — folded it like a cloth, mopped his mouth twice, and his face was as clean as that of a man who never drank milk. By the great dead Barolong, and the dead mother who gave me life, I wish that I had a beard like that.

“And what would you do with it?” queried Mhudi.

1st Companion: With a beard like that, I could chase a blesbok against the South wind, throughout a wintry day and never catch a cold; then swagger back home, with the buck on my back, flop it down in the court yard; swell out my chest and stroke my woolly chin, for the whole world to admire the dignified face of the master hunter.

2nd Companion: Exactly what the Boers were doing all day to excite admiration.

Mhudi: Did they bring their wives with them?

Both Companions: By the way, were there any wives?

Ra-Thaga: I did not see the wives, unless, they too, be bearded.

Mhudi: What a queer surmise!

Ra-Thaga: I have heard that wanderers from the sea, when crossing the Bechuana forests, always leave their wives — at sea!

Mhudi: I should like to have been there, and seen the

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Boer wives (if there were any) and found out what they wore.

A number of girls went to draw water at the pools outside the village. After filling their pails, and before leaving the pools, they entertained one another with the latest scandal and the current gossip, and having exhausted every topic, one of them began to extol the heroism of Mhudi and Ra-Thaga.

Suddenly, on the distant plain, they noticed the approach of a man running bare-headed in their direction. The fugitive, swift of foot, came, as one of the girls put it “as if pursued by a tiger.”

“A man, a man running,” shouted Kong-goane, one of the girls, “ let us be off.”

“Nay,” cried Tsetanyana, “ shall we not stay and find out the cause of his haste?”

“Let us run,” repeated Kong-goane, “you will be finding out and finding out till it is too late for us to escape. Do you not see that a man, and not a woman, flees? What more would you find out? Let us be off.”

“Wait!” retorted Tsetsanyana, successfully concealing her own nervousness. “Everybody's name is not Ra-Thaga, you know. Some men are braver than others, but one cannot always tell the difference merely by looking at them; for outwardly men look almost alike, and bestride the land in similar gait, but their physical resemblance proceeds no further than their beards. Even as some women who resemble one another outwardly; the breasts that feed their babes are so much alike, yet the diaphragm that harbours the courage of each woman is made of different clay to that which moulded the diaphragms of all the rest; hence, some women, like some men, are less plucky than others. If yonder runner

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be a coward, then Kong-goane would rob us of the laughter we might enjoy at his expense; moreover, we should appear to share in his cowardice. Again, if he be pursued by Matebele or by tigers that are not yet in sight, let him but come and tell us so, and I will assure him in advance that he will run no faster than we can.”

“Tsetsanyana is right.” said Matsitselele, with a security she was very far from feeling. “Kong-goane is as white-livered as that man who comes flying so swiftly from the invisible bogey. I think I notice some similarity between that runner and a man that accompanied my father to last winter's chase. He roused the camp one night (so the men related on their return) with a plausible story about a lion preparing to spring on my father's party in their sleep — and what do you think it was that he mistook for a roaring lion? A bush, a stationary little bush.”

“Very well,” said Kong-goane, “you may stop there gossiping, chuckling and cackling like a dozen hens that have all laid eggs at the same time. I must away. If that man be pursued by lions or Matebele I shall be safe in my mother's hut when he overtakes you. Goodbye to the lot of you, I am off.”

Having said so, she balanced the water-pail on her heard and left the spot in a hurry. Two or three other girls soon remembered that their mothers were waiting for them, although it must be said that their memories were refreshed by the sight of the running man than by consideration for their others. The others were anxious to see the fun to the end.

“Women, women,” the fugitive, now almost in their midst, shouted at the top of his voice, panting heavily

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like a race-horse, “women, take to your legs and let them save you; never mind the water pots, save your lives. I have seen a milk-white house filled with a load of blood-red devils, some hairy in the face, some smooth, some big, some small — devils in a moving white house crawling in this direction with all the sheep and cattle and live-stock from Hades. Some of the devils had four legs, long tails and two heads — one head hairy and almost like that of a man, and the other shaped like that of a cow, but with great ears instead of horns. Women, run I say! The monsters are almost here.”

But the girls, far from running away, stood and scrutinized the horizon in the direction whence the man came and demanded ocular proof of the existence of the alleged monsters. Now, it would have been impossible for a man to run away and leave the girls to face the danger alone without risking his own reputation, so the fugitive had perforce to control his terror and check his flight. Stopping to look back, he seemed puzzled when he found that nothing was pursuing him. How could he explain his behaviour to the satisfaction of the girls? The humour of the situation created by his attitude appealed to the girls so strongly that he could scarcely look them in the face. He was beginning to wonder if instead of devils in a crawling house he had not really seen “apparitions in the air, devils in space and a boggard in every tree.”

Maupenyana, one of the girls, solved the riddle for him, to the intense amusement of the others.

“This man,” explained Maupenyana, “never saw the Boers who, mounted on many horses, visited the Chief yesterday.”

“Nor a new waggon either,” cried another girl.

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He admitted he had heard of waggons, but had never seen one and added “What are Boers?”

This question produced a fresh outburst of hilarity which confused the timid man, and the hallucination of “the man who had fled from imaginary sprites” supplied an absorbing topic for conversations in the village for many evenings after. Anyone betraying faintheartedness was at once pronounced “as timid and as swift as Tlholo,” which was the timid man's name. Tlholo had himself decided never to mention the episode to anyone. Whenever he heard the subject alluded to, he remembered a pressing appointment elsewhere; and throughout his life he never regretted anything so much as his inability, on that afternoon, to seal the lips of those chatter-boxes who saw him running.

Barolong travellers, from near and far, continued to bring news of waggon loads of Boers, the cause of Tlholo's alarm that afternoon, all moving in a northerly direction, at distances of from twenty to fifty miles west of Thaba Ncho. They spoke of the number of sheep, cattle and horses accompanying the waggons, and of the quaint animals never before seen by the Barolong. Some of those weird creatures seemed to be cared for by the women among the emigrants; they looked almost like guinea-fowl and wild ducks though not of the same colour; and, unlike the familiar wild fowl, they were as tame as goats. Huge web-footed birds followed behind some waggons like flocks of sheep. When these walking birds reached the foot of a hill they flew up the hillock over the waggons, and over the heads of the Boers and of their native drivers, and waited for the people and the waggons on top, then continued the journey downhill on their web-feet as before. These were the first geese ever seen in that country.

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Again, a certain Morolong came home one day with a report of “a horse with very long ears, the size and shape of a zebra, but without its stripes,” which he had seen among the animals accompanying a party of Boers. It was quite natural that his tribesmen, who had never before heard of an ass, should think that he was drawing on his imagination. Naturally these stories lost nothing by repetition, as they were passed on from speaker to speaker, and from village to village, during the months that followed. And, as five different narrators would each give a separate and distinct description of the same party of Boers, it became increasingly difficult to correctly estimate the actual numbers of the trekkers.

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Chapter 11.

A Timid Man.

“Mhudi,” exclaimed Ra-Thaga, when he came home with two companions, “You must see the visitors who arrived at the Chief's court to-day. A most interesting group.”

Mhudi: Where from, Basutoland?

Ra-Thaga: No, No! They come out of the sea — away beyond where the clouds do end.

Mhudi: And what best did you like about them? Are they good people like Moner' Atsibele  1  and his family?

Ra-Thaga: They are white, but they don't look like Missionaries. They can't be from the same sea. What did I like best? O Mhudi, you should see them. I have never seen so many kololos  2  in one herd, as those in possession of the strangers. Not since that morning when you and I saw that troupe of zebras in the Kolong  3  valley; (and every one of them with a rider.)

1st Companion: I was tremendously impressed by their guns — a forest of them — a gun for every Boer. I said to myself “If we ever acquire half as many guns, and the Matabele come again, they shan't kill any more Barolong.”

2nd Companion: I liked their stately beards best. I have never in all my life seen so much beard as I saw today, hanging on the chins of those Boers. Mhudi should see those beards. Did you ever see a beard flowing down to a man's belly? Did you see that short, stout Boer, who laughed the loudest, and how he emptied the gourd of sour milk?

1st Companion: Didn't I? Why, I should like to face the Matabele standing beside him, with his stout gun in his hand.

2nd Companion: After he swallowed the milk, much of it stuck in his bear; he caught hold of his growth like that (demonstrating) — folded it like a cloth, mopped his mouth twice, and his face was as clean as that of a man who never drank milk. By the great dead Barolong, and the dead mother who gave me life, I wish that I had a beard like that.

“And what would you do with it?” queried Mhudi.

1st Companion: With a beard like that, I could chase a blesbok against the South wind, throughout a wintry day and never catch a cold; then swagger back home, with the buck on my back, flop it down in the court yard; swell out my chest and stroke my woolly chin, for the whole world to admire the dignified face of the master hunter.

2nd Companion: Exactly what the Boers were doing all day to excite admiration.

Mhudi: Did they bring their wives with them?

Both Companions: By the way, were there any wives?

Ra-Thaga: I did not see the wives, unless, they too, be bearded.

Mhudi: What a queer surmise!

Ra-Thaga: I have heard that wanderers from the sea, when crossing the Bechuana forests, always leave their wives — at sea!

Mhudi: I should like to have been there, and seen the Boer wives (if there were any) and found out what they wore.

A number of girls went to draw water at the pools outside the village. After filling their pails, and before leaving the pools, they entertained one another with the latest scandal and the current gossip, and having exhausted every topic, one of them began to extol the heroism of Mhudi and Ra-Thaga.

Suddenly, on the distant plain, they noticed the approach of a man running bare-headed in their direction. The fugitive, swift of foot, came, as one of the girls put it “as if pursued by a tiger.”

“A man, a man running,” shouted Kong-goane, one of the girls, “ let us be off.”

“Nay,” cried Tsetanyana, “ shall we not stay and find out the cause of his haste?”

“Let us run,” repeated Kong-goane, “you will be finding out and finding out till it is too late for us to escape. Do you not see that a man, and not a woman, flees? What more would you find out? Let us be off.”

“Wait!” retorted Tsetsanyana, successfully concealing her own nervousness. “Everybody's name is not Ra-Thaga, you know. Some men are braver than others, but one cannot always tell the difference merely by looking at them; for outwardly men look almost alike, and bestride the land in similar gait, but their physical resemblance proceeds no further than their beards. Even as some women who resemble one another outwardly; the breasts that feed their babes are so much alike, yet the diaphragm that harbours the courage of each woman is made of different clay to that which moulded the diaphragms of all the rest; hence, some women, like some men, are less plucky than others. If yonder runner be a coward, then Kong-goane would rob us of the laughter we might enjoy at his expense; moreover, we should appear to share in his cowardice. Again, if he be pursued by Matebele or by tigers that are not yet in sight, let him but come and tell us so, and I will assure him in advance that he will run no faster than we can.”

“Tsetsanyana is right.” said Matsitselele, with a security she was very far from feeling. “Kong-goane is as white-livered as that man who comes flying so swiftly from the invisible bogey. I think I notice some similarity between that runner and a man that accompanied my father to last winter's chase. He roused the camp one night (so the men related on their return) with a plausible story about a lion preparing to spring on my father's party in their sleep — and what do you think it was that he mistook for a roaring lion? A bush, a stationary little bush.”

“Very well,” said Kong-goane, “you may stop there gossiping, chuckling and cackling like a dozen hens that have all laid eggs at the same time. I must away. If that man be pursued by lions or Matebele I shall be safe in my mother's hut when he overtakes you. Goodbye to the lot of you, I am off.”

Having said so, she balanced the water-pail on her heard and left the spot in a hurry. Two or three other girls soon remembered that their mothers were waiting for them, although it must be said that their memories were refreshed by the sight of the running man than by consideration for their others. The others were anxious to see the fun to the end.

“Women, women,” the fugitive, now almost in their midst, shouted at the top of his voice, panting heavily like a race-horse, “women, take to your legs and let them save you; never mind the water pots, save your lives. I have seen a milk-white house filled with a load of blood-red devils, some hairy in the face, some smooth, some big, some small — devils in a moving white house crawling in this direction with all the sheep and cattle and live-stock from Hades. Some of the devils had four legs, long tails and two heads — one head hairy and almost like that of a man, and the other shaped like that of a cow, but with great ears instead of horns. Women, run I say! The monsters are almost here.”

But the girls, far from running away, stood and scrutinized the horizon in the direction whence the man came and demanded ocular proof of the existence of the alleged monsters. Now, it would have been impossible for a man to run away and leave the girls to face the danger alone without risking his own reputation, so the fugitive had perforce to control his terror and check his flight. Stopping to look back, he seemed puzzled when he found that nothing was pursuing him. How could he explain his behaviour to the satisfaction of the girls? The humour of the situation created by his attitude appealed to the girls so strongly that he could scarcely look them in the face. He was beginning to wonder if instead of devils in a crawling house he had not really seen “apparitions in the air, devils in space and a boggard in every tree.”

Maupenyana, one of the girls, solved the riddle for him, to the intense amusement of the others.

“This man,” explained Maupenyana, “never saw the Boers who, mounted on many horses, visited the Chief yesterday.”

“Nor a new waggon either,” cried another girl.

He admitted he had heard of waggons, but had never seen one and added “What are Boers?”

This question produced a fresh outburst of hilarity which confused the timid man, and the hallucination of “the man who had fled from imaginary sprites” supplied an absorbing topic for conversations in the village for many evenings after. Anyone betraying faintheartedness was at once pronounced “as timid and as swift as Tlholo,” which was the timid man's name. Tlholo had himself decided never to mention the episode to anyone. Whenever he heard the subject alluded to, he remembered a pressing appointment elsewhere; and throughout his life he never regretted anything so much as his inability, on that afternoon, to seal the lips of those chatter-boxes who saw him running.

Barolong travellers, from near and far, continued to bring news of waggon loads of Boers, the cause of Tlholo's alarm that afternoon, all moving in a northerly direction, at distances of from twenty to fifty miles west of Thaba Ncho. They spoke of the number of sheep, cattle and horses accompanying the waggons, and of the quaint animals never before seen by the Barolong. Some of those weird creatures seemed to be cared for by the women among the emigrants; they looked almost like guinea-fowl and wild ducks though not of the same colour; and, unlike the familiar wild fowl, they were as tame as goats. Huge web-footed birds followed behind some waggons like flocks of sheep. When these walking birds reached the foot of a hill they flew up the hillock over the waggons, and over the heads of the Boers and of their native drivers, and waited for the people and the waggons on top, then continued the journey downhill on their web-feet as before. These were the first geese ever seen in that country.

Again, a certain Morolong came home one day with a report of “a horse with very long ears, the size and shape of a zebra, but without its stripes,” which he had seen among the animals accompanying a party of Boers. It was quite natural that his tribesmen, who had never before heard of an ass, should think that he was drawing on his imagination. Naturally these stories lost nothing by repetition, as they were passed on from speaker to speaker, and from village to village, during the months that followed. And, as five different narrators would each give a separate and distinct description of the same party of Boers, it became increasingly difficult to correctly estimate the actual numbers of the trekkers.


Footnotes & References

#NoteDescription
1AtsibeleThe Archbells — Wesleyan Missionaries at Thaba Nchu
2KololosHorses
3KolongHartz River