Chapter 19.

War against the Matebele.

Potgieter held his last council of war at Thaba Ncho. He told the Barolongs that the Boers had their forces and munitions all complete, and if the Natives would join them, they were ready to march against the Matebele. He sincerely hoped that the Barolong wouldkeep their word and help him to rid the country of the Matebele impis. Further he gave them his word of honour that after killing off the Matebele and looting their property, they would make a just division of the spoil by keeping all the land for the Boers and handing over the captured cattle to the Barolong.

“What an absurd bargain!” exclaimed Chief Tauana of the Ra-Tshidi, “what could one do with a number of cattle if he possessed no land on which to feed them? Will his cattle run on the clouds! and their grass grow in the air? No, my lords; I would rather leave the Matebele where they are and remain a sojourner with my people in the land of the Selekas under my cousin, Moroka.”

“What would you have then?” asked Potgieter.

“I will go on one condition only,” replied Tauana. “If we succeed to dislodge Mzilikazi, I want the land of my fathers back. The Boers could keep all the land to the East, but I want the whole of the Molopo River and its tributaries. I have asked the Griqua King to send an army to help us in the expedition and he was generous enough to agree to come and help me in the recovery of my lands.”

“On Tauana's terms,” said Chief Moroka, “I, too, am prepared to help with the further condition that, while you all share the lands at present occupied by the Matebele,

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I remain at Thaba Ncho and continue in possession of my present territories.”

After much wrangling and arguing the Barolong terms were accepted by the Boers and communicated to the Griqua King who sent two hundred horsemen equipped with fire-arms; and in due course the expedition, armed to the teeth, set out against the Matebele. Sarel Siljay led the Boers, Motshegare (Chief Tauana's son) led the Barolong, and a brave horseman named Dout led the Griquas, the whole army being under the supreme command of Hendrik Potgieter. As they proceeded north from day to day, the Allies were joined en route by large numbers of Bakwena, Bakhatla and Bahurutshe who lived in the neighbourhood through which they marched.

A month after leaving Thaba Ncho, the expedition swooped down upon the outlying Matebele outposts and captured many cattle with their shepherds and cowherds. Some of the young herds were taken captive and permanently retained by the Boers as slaves. Those who resisted or tried to run away were shot.

Potgieter encountered his first serious opposition on the plains between the Matloang and the Matloasane Rivers. This was a stand by a hastily collected army of about a thousand Matebele determined to hold the invaders in check until Mzilikazi's main forces should arrive. The Matebele, however, soon found out that against mounted men armed with fire-arms their assegais were of no avail. Helplessly outranged, terrified by the deafening noise of the guns and outmanoeuvred by the mobility of their enemy's horses, they rapidly turned and fled, leaving the field strewn with their dead and wounded. In the rout and confusion many of their cattle were scattered and lost.

Meanwhile a large army of Matebele were gathering

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near the source of the Marico in answer to Gabuza's call. They had been massing there during the day, and sunset was given as the time they should start so as to reach and attack the invaders. Swift runners had been arriving with news of the first day's encounter and these acted as guides to lead the army back to where the enemy was supposed to be.

When Gubuza, the brave commander, marshalled his huge army the warriors hailed him as the hope of the nation. As the serried ranks marched out under their several indunas, they constituted a formidable mass of black humanity. Going through their initial exercises, thousands of limbs would straddle after a thousand different patters; innumerable spears described circles in the air as if slaying as many visionary enemies; myriads of shields waved to and fro or vertically up and down as if to parry a host of imaginary thrusts; and they chanted a war song to the rhythmical tramping of countless feet. “Death before dishonour!” they cried, and swore to vindicate their King and the glory of Matebele arms. The guides on the other hand were not so sanguine. They had participated in the initial skirmishes and knew that in the face of firearms, their assegais, however well-aimed, could make no impression on the invaders.

The army marched all night. Towards dawn their attention was drawn to the eastern skies where they saw the tail of a comet transfixed above horizon. The repeated prophecies of Matebele seers at once came back to mind and many of the soldiers began to murmur. They complained that they were driven to fight against the forces of aerial sorcery which were far above the powers of their own witchcraft.

“I know,” said one sable warrior, “that our doctors

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can perform miracles on earth; but I am also sure that have never heard of any Matebele whose wizardry planted a loadstar in the skies to confound his enemy and lead his warriors to victory as our present enemy is apparently doing. Don't you see! Look, look at the tail of that star,” and many heads were turned upward. “Why, the tail is pointing straight in the direction of Inzwinyani! What could we, poor mortals, do to a heavenly rod which, predicted years ago by our own wizards, is now visible to the eye of the uninitiated?”

Gubuza too remembered the prophecies. He knew how the apparition would affect the minds of the men of his army, but he did his best to cheer them on.

Behind a distant ridge, the invaders waited with beating hearts, their fingers on the triggers, and prayed that the Matebele arrival should be delayed till after daybreak, when the good light would aid them to shoot more effectively. Gubuza's great army continued to advance and gathered fresh courage as the sun rose above the tree tops; but with dramatic suddenness there emerged from the top of the swell four hundred horsemen of the Allies who galloped up to meet them and Gubuza ordered his men to the attack. The horsemen stopped, dismounted and fired. The crash of the volley was as frightful as the effect of the fire. The Matebele had never seen horses before; and, to them, each horse with a man on its back resembled one hideous monster. Hence the mounted men advancing in mass presented a spectacle so grotesque as to form a horrible apparition. When the riders dismounted to shoot, the Matebele were further bewildered by the strange action of creatures dividing themselves into two parts and still continuing to act.

Gubuza, a warrior by profession and a genius by intuition,

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had arranged the march of his army in semi-circles — one within the other — so as to surround the invaders. Each such circle marched inside a larger circle; a mile beyond that there came another, and yet another semi-circle with its flanks stretching for miles to the east and west behind the others. Thus, when the inner circle was broken up the the first volley, Gubuza's indunas would marshal the next circle, and so on. But the bulk of these mobile crescents were soon reduced to carrion for the vultures of the air.

The first volley threw the inner circle back into the next one, the riflemen of the Allies finding enough time during the resulting confusion to reload their muskets. The next circle coming up to reinforce the confused ranks of its predecessors, suffered the same fate. The battle was a one-sided affair; only Matebele could keep on rushing to such certain death, and even they discovered that they were engaged in a struggle hitherto unknown in human warfare.

The devastating machines of war had spread a pall of death and desolation over the plains. The forests shook with the awful thunder of the guns, which stirred a wild agitation among the denizens of the day. Terrified game of every description scattered in all directions and fled for dear life; oxen bellowed in surprise and wild hounds yelped, wolves and jackals ran as though possessed by a legion of devils.

Wild birds rushed out of their nests and protested loudly against this unholy disturbance of the peace of their haunts. The very bees hived in hollow tree-stems swarmed forth as if to enquire what the matter was. Meeting the charges and counter charges of the two armies, they probably demanded a reason for the upheaval. Of course, neither the Matebele nor the invaders understood the language

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of the bees, who failing to get a satisfactory explanation proceeded to attack the intruders in mass formation. Myriads of them distributed their stings impartially among the ranks of the Allies and of their foes. The Matebele being undressed of course suffered the worst from the bee-stings. At this they were convinced that they were now fighting the evil influences of the comet which had illumined the skies the night before.

The riflemen continuing to drive home this additional advantage in their favour still further decimated the now demoralized armies of Gubuza.

The sombre shades of evening fell upon a field bestrewn with dead and wounded Matebele. A general retreated was ordered; but, as the order failed to reach all ranks, the scattered groups continued to attack and suffered severely.

Gubuza was a dignified personage of powerful build who carried himself with a lordly gait. He had certainly been marked out for nothing if not for the role of an army leader — but that day's fight had proved too much even for his wonderful resources. The demoralization of his army was humiliating. Only one consideration deterred his men from deserting him. It was the belief that they would be executed, according to custom, if they returned home defeated. Their General on the other hand was glad that such a false fear kept his men together. He knew that the flower of the Matebele army had been severely mauled; that it needed a superior force to put a defeated army to death. Such a force no longer existed, and the execution of his army was out of the question.

None of his warriors had been able to sleep. In the night he was obliged to interview each messenger before sending him off with a message. He could neither shout his orders nor call anyone aloud for fear of helping

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his uncanny adversaries to locate his whereabouts. This meant that he had been running incessantly throughout the night; and, cool as the night wind was, just before dawn, Gubuza found himself drenched with perspiration as the sweat oozed from every pore of his ample physique.

Bechuana villagers, near the Marico, who had been for years paying tribute to the Matebele King, now saw the sorry plight of their tormentors, and hurried to the Allies' camp to offer their congratulations. Many dead logs, remnants of majestic mimosa and camel-thorn trees that waxed for years and withered with age, were burning to cinders, and chunks of beef were roasting on the live coals. Such a magnificent slaughter of kine had never before been witnessed in that part of the country. The effect of this display was that everyone who visited the camp of the Allies was given enough beef to eat and a portion to carry to his home and celebrate with his family the victory of the Allies.

The atmosphere reeked with the smell of roast meat, and prolific beefeaters like the Bechuana thought that war was a blessing indeed if one's sympathies were on the winning side. The Bechuana had themselves fought battles and knew that winners always got cheap meat, but not in such superabundance. It seemed to them that White men in warfare first slaughter the owners by the hundreds, then help themselves to the dead men's cattle without any opposition. Having enjoyed the roast beef, the villagers proceeded to discuss the wonderful effect of White men's firearms.

No people need be poor, who are allied to these Boers, they said. In fruitful years folk could revel in plenty; and when supplies ran short they could always raid their neighbours, kill off the people with little opposition,

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round up their stock and distribute the raided cattle among the needy.

“How will Mzilikazi claim further taxes from us after this?” asked one enthusiastic admirer of the Boers.

“He won't be left alive to claim any,” said a bystander, “for if he be alive at this moment his body will be food for the jackals before many suns have set.”

Villagers in the vicinity resounded with a thrilling song of joy. The inhabitants told one another that the hour of deliverance from Matebele domination had already struck. On many a hill could be seen puffs of smoke burnt by friendly wizards whose incantations breathed malediction upon Mzilikazi's impis and invoked further victories for the Allies; and many were the praises sung in honour of the Boers.

In other villages where there were converted Natives, they gathered in their grass-thatched chapels and sang other songs to the God of Moses, of Joshua and of Gideon. Their supplications were for new priests to blow the ramhorn and the trumpet, bring down the walls of the modern Jericho on the banks of the Marico, and thus hasten the emancipation of all the Bechuana tribes.

At home at Inzwinyani some old men gathered round their King and supported a large number of wizards who were employed in dispensing other charms to propitiate the fates in favour of Gubuza's army. Stragglers from the first day's attack had already arrived with gloomy accounts, depicting the deadly fire of the foe, but with the hopeful assurance that Gubuza's main army might yet turn the oncoming tide in favour of the distressed nation. They little knew that Gubuza and his lieutenants were at that time in serious trouble with their broken armies, fleeing in wild disorder.

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While the ceremony of propitiation was in progress the courtiers whiled away the time in conversation on other topics in anticipation of better news from the front.

In the course of this conversation one grey beard asked: “Do you men know what? When I got up this morning I noticed in the sky a star with a very long tail.”

“Yes,” replied another, “I saw it there yesterday morning and wondered what it portended. I was told by Ntongolwane that it was there two mornings previously, and that its tail is growing longer and longer every morning.”

“H'm,” grunted Umbiko, “it must be the star prophesied by Doctor Maji some time back. He said it would cause us terror and destruction unless indeed we move the nation from here.”

“Most extraordinary!” said another, “what was it like? Wiseacres say that such comets never appeared unless the portended the downfall of kings and destruction of nations by wars or sickness. Have you heard the latest news? I overheard to-day the Great One telling Somebebe that Dingana, King of all the Zulus, was no more; and if great trees like those crumble down over their own roots, what must become of shallow sprouts like the Matebele — strangers in a strange land?”

“What did he die of?” asked a number of men.

“I don't know. Some say he was sick, others believe that he was bewitched by his brother Mpanda, while others assert that he was killed by the very witches who are attacking us to-day.”

“Impossible,” exclaimed several voices, “are they then flying across the world and slaying everything in their way? What about Moshueshue! What about the Barolong and those Becahuana lap-dogs?”

“I don't know about the Barolong,” said another, “but

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a wise man like Moshueshue would surely send them a white ox and pacify them before they reach his country.”

“Oh, woe to us!” exclaimed one portly Matebele. “Our fathers were idiots to advise us to leave Zululand and follow a madman like Mzilikazi. In Zululand at any rate we would have perished in our own country, but who will recognise our bones in this unfriendly part of the world? If Mzilikazi had only listened to the wise words of the doctors and moved us away, all might have been well, but he is as obstinate as a gnu.”

Groups of Matebele were soon discussing the comet and Dingana's death, almost forgetting that the Court was at that time expecting important news about the luck of their armies. The discussion grew more animated and several “ringed-heads” raised their voices on purpose that their words should reach the ears of the King. These grumblers wished him to understand, though indirectly, that if the star were there next morning the nation should forthwith evacuate the city according to the wise words of the magicians. But if, on the other hand, the star was not visible next morning, the people were to know that Dr. Maji and other oracles had misread the destinies of fate, and stay where they were.

During the night, King Mzilikazi received two swift runners with a message from Gubuza, the supreme commander of his armies. “Come forth, my sons!” he said, “and let me hear your message.”

“Hail, Great King, Animal of the Wind and Storm! Gubuza salutes thee and says: Tell Mzilikazi my King that I have previously fought witchcraft nut not after this fashion. This day we have been fighting not human beings but thunder. Lightning flashes are dangerous enough when they explode in the air whence they have not

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been known to strike the same place twice. To-day we had thunder in the hands of witches who scattered it over the battle-field with a series of detonations that wrought havoc among our ranks. For all the Matebele that fell this day, and all the cattle captured by the enemy — and no man can count them — we have not inflicted any appreciable injury on the foe. My advice, therefore, is that the Great-One should evacuate the city and move the nation to the North. The forces arrayed against us are supernatural and no human effort can stay their advance.”

“I have seen my men mown down as if they were so many ears of corn. I have not seen any spears or darts cast at them yet unseen missiles issued from the clouds of smoke that screened the enemy, gashed, on the bodies of our helpless warriors, wounds from which they bled to death; and the miracle is how I managed to escape. The runners will explain to the Great one the valour of the armies and the valiant princes and gallant warriors who fell to the thunder of these witches. Had they fallen on one sport and not over a wide field their blood must certainly have cut a big red river, and I cannot but believe that to-day's events were the harbinger of the disasters foretold by the magicians. If the invincible foe would permit our retreat, two days' forced march should land our remnants at Inzwinyani. This is hardly time enough to evacuate the capital, but it must be done if the complete destruction of the Matebele is to be avoided. This is a discouraging message to send to a King as great as Mzilikazi, but believe me, Great Ruler, we have done our best.”

This message being accurately delivered word by word, by a Matebele endowed with a strong memory, the news of the humiliation of the flower of the Matebele army caused the nation to shudder. Everyone made up his

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mind that, orders or no orders, comet or no comet, Inzwinyani was a good place to get away from. After receipt of the alarming news men and women spent a restless night arranging their portable belongings so as to start with the first streak of dawn. Indeed, some of them actually started before daylight, but the bulk of the nation waited for the word of command. In the early morning a shout went out to the outskirts of Inzwinyani, by calls from hut to hut, and the exodus had begun.

Whether the command to start was due to the appearance of the comet, or to the entry of the enemy, no one knew. Everyone was aware, however, that Gubuza, the hope of the Matebele, supported by the crack regiments of the nation, had been completely defeated by the invaders. And when at length the comet became visible in the sky, several voices moaned lugubriously. The predictions of the magicians having proved so accurate in regard to the long-tailed star there could no longer be any doubt that the further prophecies, regarding the rivers of blood and other calamities, would likewise be fulfilled. Few of the people knew where they were going, and fewer still could estimate the length of the journey before them, and what they would encounter on the road; everybody had but one impulse, namely, to hurry forward, as fast as their burdens of babies and other impedimenta would allow, to safety in the unknown North.

Some days after the Allies struck camp, and having moved their wagons two days' march into the interior they bivouacked at a place on the edge of the forest along the trail of the army. Here the drivers disposed themselves among the wagons. Several of them lay in the shade and smoked, and some prepared the food while others smoked, and the camp-followers went to water the cattle.

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Chapter 19.

War against the Matebele.

Potgieter held his last council of war at Thaba Ncho. He told the Barolongs that the Boers had their forces and munitions all complete, and if the Natives would join them, they were ready to march against the Matebele. He sincerely hoped that the Barolong wouldkeep their word and help him to rid the country of the Matebele impis. Further he gave them his word of honour that after killing off the Matebele and looting their property, they would make a just division of the spoil by keeping all the land for the Boers and handing over the captured cattle to the Barolong.

“What an absurd bargain!” exclaimed Chief Tauana of the Ra-Tshidi, “what could one do with a number of cattle if he possessed no land on which to feed them? Will his cattle run on the clouds! and their grass grow in the air? No, my lords; I would rather leave the Matebele where they are and remain a sojourner with my people in the land of the Selekas under my cousin, Moroka.”

“What would you have then?” asked Potgieter.

“I will go on one condition only,” replied Tauana. “If we succeed to dislodge Mzilikazi, I want the land of my fathers back. The Boers could keep all the land to the East, but I want the whole of the Molopo River and its tributaries. I have asked the Griqua King to send an army to help us in the expedition and he was generous enough to agree to come and help me in the recovery of my lands.”

“On Tauana's terms,” said Chief Moroka, “I, too, am prepared to help with the further condition that, while you all share the lands at present occupied by the Matebele, I remain at Thaba Ncho and continue in possession of my present territories.”

After much wrangling and arguing the Barolong terms were accepted by the Boers and communicated to the Griqua King who sent two hundred horsemen equipped with fire-arms; and in due course the expedition, armed to the teeth, set out against the Matebele. Sarel Siljay led the Boers, Motshegare (Chief Tauana's son) led the Barolong, and a brave horseman named Dout led the Griquas, the whole army being under the supreme command of Hendrik Potgieter. As they proceeded north from day to day, the Allies were joined en route by large numbers of Bakwena, Bakhatla and Bahurutshe who lived in the neighbourhood through which they marched.

A month after leaving Thaba Ncho, the expedition swooped down upon the outlying Matebele outposts and captured many cattle with their shepherds and cowherds. Some of the young herds were taken captive and permanently retained by the Boers as slaves. Those who resisted or tried to run away were shot.

Potgieter encountered his first serious opposition on the plains between the Matloang and the Matloasane Rivers. This was a stand by a hastily collected army of about a thousand Matebele determined to hold the invaders in check until Mzilikazi's main forces should arrive. The Matebele, however, soon found out that against mounted men armed with fire-arms their assegais were of no avail. Helplessly outranged, terrified by the deafening noise of the guns and outmanoeuvred by the mobility of their enemy's horses, they rapidly turned and fled, leaving the field strewn with their dead and wounded. In the rout and confusion many of their cattle were scattered and lost.

Meanwhile a large army of Matebele were gathering near the source of the Marico in answer to Gabuza's call. They had been massing there during the day, and sunset was given as the time they should start so as to reach and attack the invaders. Swift runners had been arriving with news of the first day's encounter and these acted as guides to lead the army back to where the enemy was supposed to be.

When Gubuza, the brave commander, marshalled his huge army the warriors hailed him as the hope of the nation. As the serried ranks marched out under their several indunas, they constituted a formidable mass of black humanity. Going through their initial exercises, thousands of limbs would straddle after a thousand different patters; innumerable spears described circles in the air as if slaying as many visionary enemies; myriads of shields waved to and fro or vertically up and down as if to parry a host of imaginary thrusts; and they chanted a war song to the rhythmical tramping of countless feet. “Death before dishonour!” they cried, and swore to vindicate their King and the glory of Matebele arms. The guides on the other hand were not so sanguine. They had participated in the initial skirmishes and knew that in the face of firearms, their assegais, however well-aimed, could make no impression on the invaders.

The army marched all night. Towards dawn their attention was drawn to the eastern skies where they saw the tail of a comet transfixed above horizon. The repeated prophecies of Matebele seers at once came back to mind and many of the soldiers began to murmur. They complained that they were driven to fight against the forces of aerial sorcery which were far above the powers of their own witchcraft.

“I know,” said one sable warrior, “that our doctors can perform miracles on earth; but I am also sure that have never heard of any Matebele whose wizardry planted a loadstar in the skies to confound his enemy and lead his warriors to victory as our present enemy is apparently doing. Don't you see! Look, look at the tail of that star,” and many heads were turned upward. “Why, the tail is pointing straight in the direction of Inzwinyani! What could we, poor mortals, do to a heavenly rod which, predicted years ago by our own wizards, is now visible to the eye of the uninitiated?”

Gubuza too remembered the prophecies. He knew how the apparition would affect the minds of the men of his army, but he did his best to cheer them on.

Behind a distant ridge, the invaders waited with beating hearts, their fingers on the triggers, and prayed that the Matebele arrival should be delayed till after daybreak, when the good light would aid them to shoot more effectively. Gubuza's great army continued to advance and gathered fresh courage as the sun rose above the tree tops; but with dramatic suddenness there emerged from the top of the swell four hundred horsemen of the Allies who galloped up to meet them and Gubuza ordered his men to the attack. The horsemen stopped, dismounted and fired. The crash of the volley was as frightful as the effect of the fire. The Matebele had never seen horses before; and, to them, each horse with a man on its back resembled one hideous monster. Hence the mounted men advancing in mass presented a spectacle so grotesque as to form a horrible apparition. When the riders dismounted to shoot, the Matebele were further bewildered by the strange action of creatures dividing themselves into two parts and still continuing to act.

Gubuza, a warrior by profession and a genius by intuition, had arranged the march of his army in semi-circles — one within the other — so as to surround the invaders. Each such circle marched inside a larger circle; a mile beyond that there came another, and yet another semi-circle with its flanks stretching for miles to the east and west behind the others. Thus, when the inner circle was broken up the the first volley, Gubuza's indunas would marshal the next circle, and so on. But the bulk of these mobile crescents were soon reduced to carrion for the vultures of the air.

The first volley threw the inner circle back into the next one, the riflemen of the Allies finding enough time during the resulting confusion to reload their muskets. The next circle coming up to reinforce the confused ranks of its predecessors, suffered the same fate. The battle was a one-sided affair; only Matebele could keep on rushing to such certain death, and even they discovered that they were engaged in a struggle hitherto unknown in human warfare.

The devastating machines of war had spread a pall of death and desolation over the plains. The forests shook with the awful thunder of the guns, which stirred a wild agitation among the denizens of the day. Terrified game of every description scattered in all directions and fled for dear life; oxen bellowed in surprise and wild hounds yelped, wolves and jackals ran as though possessed by a legion of devils.

Wild birds rushed out of their nests and protested loudly against this unholy disturbance of the peace of their haunts. The very bees hived in hollow tree-stems swarmed forth as if to enquire what the matter was. Meeting the charges and counter charges of the two armies, they probably demanded a reason for the upheaval. Of course, neither the Matebele nor the invaders understood the language of the bees, who failing to get a satisfactory explanation proceeded to attack the intruders in mass formation. Myriads of them distributed their stings impartially among the ranks of the Allies and of their foes. The Matebele being undressed of course suffered the worst from the bee-stings. At this they were convinced that they were now fighting the evil influences of the comet which had illumined the skies the night before.

The riflemen continuing to drive home this additional advantage in their favour still further decimated the now demoralized armies of Gubuza.

The sombre shades of evening fell upon a field bestrewn with dead and wounded Matebele. A general retreated was ordered; but, as the order failed to reach all ranks, the scattered groups continued to attack and suffered severely.

Gubuza was a dignified personage of powerful build who carried himself with a lordly gait. He had certainly been marked out for nothing if not for the role of an army leader — but that day's fight had proved too much even for his wonderful resources. The demoralization of his army was humiliating. Only one consideration deterred his men from deserting him. It was the belief that they would be executed, according to custom, if they returned home defeated. Their General on the other hand was glad that such a false fear kept his men together. He knew that the flower of the Matebele army had been severely mauled; that it needed a superior force to put a defeated army to death. Such a force no longer existed, and the execution of his army was out of the question.

None of his warriors had been able to sleep. In the night he was obliged to interview each messenger before sending him off with a message. He could neither shout his orders nor call anyone aloud for fear of helping his uncanny adversaries to locate his whereabouts. This meant that he had been running incessantly throughout the night; and, cool as the night wind was, just before dawn, Gubuza found himself drenched with perspiration as the sweat oozed from every pore of his ample physique.

Bechuana villagers, near the Marico, who had been for years paying tribute to the Matebele King, now saw the sorry plight of their tormentors, and hurried to the Allies' camp to offer their congratulations. Many dead logs, remnants of majestic mimosa and camel-thorn trees that waxed for years and withered with age, were burning to cinders, and chunks of beef were roasting on the live coals. Such a magnificent slaughter of kine had never before been witnessed in that part of the country. The effect of this display was that everyone who visited the camp of the Allies was given enough beef to eat and a portion to carry to his home and celebrate with his family the victory of the Allies.

The atmosphere reeked with the smell of roast meat, and prolific beefeaters like the Bechuana thought that war was a blessing indeed if one's sympathies were on the winning side. The Bechuana had themselves fought battles and knew that winners always got cheap meat, but not in such superabundance. It seemed to them that White men in warfare first slaughter the owners by the hundreds, then help themselves to the dead men's cattle without any opposition. Having enjoyed the roast beef, the villagers proceeded to discuss the wonderful effect of White men's firearms.

No people need be poor, who are allied to these Boers, they said. In fruitful years folk could revel in plenty; and when supplies ran short they could always raid their neighbours, kill off the people with little opposition, round up their stock and distribute the raided cattle among the needy.

“How will Mzilikazi claim further taxes from us after this?” asked one enthusiastic admirer of the Boers.

“He won't be left alive to claim any,” said a bystander, “for if he be alive at this moment his body will be food for the jackals before many suns have set.”

Villagers in the vicinity resounded with a thrilling song of joy. The inhabitants told one another that the hour of deliverance from Matebele domination had already struck. On many a hill could be seen puffs of smoke burnt by friendly wizards whose incantations breathed malediction upon Mzilikazi's impis and invoked further victories for the Allies; and many were the praises sung in honour of the Boers.

In other villages where there were converted Natives, they gathered in their grass-thatched chapels and sang other songs to the God of Moses, of Joshua and of Gideon. Their supplications were for new priests to blow the ramhorn and the trumpet, bring down the walls of the modern Jericho on the banks of the Marico, and thus hasten the emancipation of all the Bechuana tribes.

At home at Inzwinyani some old men gathered round their King and supported a large number of wizards who were employed in dispensing other charms to propitiate the fates in favour of Gubuza's army. Stragglers from the first day's attack had already arrived with gloomy accounts, depicting the deadly fire of the foe, but with the hopeful assurance that Gubuza's main army might yet turn the oncoming tide in favour of the distressed nation. They little knew that Gubuza and his lieutenants were at that time in serious trouble with their broken armies, fleeing in wild disorder.

While the ceremony of propitiation was in progress the courtiers whiled away the time in conversation on other topics in anticipation of better news from the front.

In the course of this conversation one grey beard asked: “Do you men know what? When I got up this morning I noticed in the sky a star with a very long tail.”

“Yes,” replied another, “I saw it there yesterday morning and wondered what it portended. I was told by Ntongolwane that it was there two mornings previously, and that its tail is growing longer and longer every morning.”

“H'm,” grunted Umbiko, “it must be the star prophesied by Doctor Maji some time back. He said it would cause us terror and destruction unless indeed we move the nation from here.”

“Most extraordinary!” said another, “what was it like? Wiseacres say that such comets never appeared unless the portended the downfall of kings and destruction of nations by wars or sickness. Have you heard the latest news? I overheard to-day the Great One telling Somebebe that Dingana, King of all the Zulus, was no more; and if great trees like those crumble down over their own roots, what must become of shallow sprouts like the Matebele — strangers in a strange land?”

“What did he die of?” asked a number of men.

“I don't know. Some say he was sick, others believe that he was bewitched by his brother Mpanda, while others assert that he was killed by the very witches who are attacking us to-day.”

“Impossible,” exclaimed several voices, “are they then flying across the world and slaying everything in their way? What about Moshueshue! What about the Barolong and those Becahuana lap-dogs?”

“I don't know about the Barolong,” said another, “but a wise man like Moshueshue would surely send them a white ox and pacify them before they reach his country.”

“Oh, woe to us!” exclaimed one portly Matebele. “Our fathers were idiots to advise us to leave Zululand and follow a madman like Mzilikazi. In Zululand at any rate we would have perished in our own country, but who will recognise our bones in this unfriendly part of the world? If Mzilikazi had only listened to the wise words of the doctors and moved us away, all might have been well, but he is as obstinate as a gnu.”

Groups of Matebele were soon discussing the comet and Dingana's death, almost forgetting that the Court was at that time expecting important news about the luck of their armies. The discussion grew more animated and several “ringed-heads” raised their voices on purpose that their words should reach the ears of the King. These grumblers wished him to understand, though indirectly, that if the star were there next morning the nation should forthwith evacuate the city according to the wise words of the magicians. But if, on the other hand, the star was not visible next morning, the people were to know that Dr. Maji and other oracles had misread the destinies of fate, and stay where they were.

During the night, King Mzilikazi received two swift runners with a message from Gubuza, the supreme commander of his armies. “Come forth, my sons!” he said, “and let me hear your message.”

“Hail, Great King, Animal of the Wind and Storm! Gubuza salutes thee and says: Tell Mzilikazi my King that I have previously fought witchcraft nut not after this fashion. This day we have been fighting not human beings but thunder. Lightning flashes are dangerous enough when they explode in the air whence they have not been known to strike the same place twice. To-day we had thunder in the hands of witches who scattered it over the battle-field with a series of detonations that wrought havoc among our ranks. For all the Matebele that fell this day, and all the cattle captured by the enemy — and no man can count them — we have not inflicted any appreciable injury on the foe. My advice, therefore, is that the Great-One should evacuate the city and move the nation to the North. The forces arrayed against us are supernatural and no human effort can stay their advance.”

“I have seen my men mown down as if they were so many ears of corn. I have not seen any spears or darts cast at them yet unseen missiles issued from the clouds of smoke that screened the enemy, gashed, on the bodies of our helpless warriors, wounds from which they bled to death; and the miracle is how I managed to escape. The runners will explain to the Great one the valour of the armies and the valiant princes and gallant warriors who fell to the thunder of these witches. Had they fallen on one sport and not over a wide field their blood must certainly have cut a big red river, and I cannot but believe that to-day's events were the harbinger of the disasters foretold by the magicians. If the invincible foe would permit our retreat, two days' forced march should land our remnants at Inzwinyani. This is hardly time enough to evacuate the capital, but it must be done if the complete destruction of the Matebele is to be avoided. This is a discouraging message to send to a King as great as Mzilikazi, but believe me, Great Ruler, we have done our best.”

This message being accurately delivered word by word, by a Matebele endowed with a strong memory, the news of the humiliation of the flower of the Matebele army caused the nation to shudder. Everyone made up his mind that, orders or no orders, comet or no comet, Inzwinyani was a good place to get away from. After receipt of the alarming news men and women spent a restless night arranging their portable belongings so as to start with the first streak of dawn. Indeed, some of them actually started before daylight, but the bulk of the nation waited for the word of command. In the early morning a shout went out to the outskirts of Inzwinyani, by calls from hut to hut, and the exodus had begun.

Whether the command to start was due to the appearance of the comet, or to the entry of the enemy, no one knew. Everyone was aware, however, that Gubuza, the hope of the Matebele, supported by the crack regiments of the nation, had been completely defeated by the invaders. And when at length the comet became visible in the sky, several voices moaned lugubriously. The predictions of the magicians having proved so accurate in regard to the long-tailed star there could no longer be any doubt that the further prophecies, regarding the rivers of blood and other calamities, would likewise be fulfilled. Few of the people knew where they were going, and fewer still could estimate the length of the journey before them, and what they would encounter on the road; everybody had but one impulse, namely, to hurry forward, as fast as their burdens of babies and other impedimenta would allow, to safety in the unknown North.

Some days after the Allies struck camp, and having moved their wagons two days' march into the interior they bivouacked at a place on the edge of the forest along the trail of the army. Here the drivers disposed themselves among the wagons. Several of them lay in the shade and smoked, and some prepared the food while others smoked, and the camp-followers went to water the cattle.