Chapter 2.

Dark Days.

Ra-Thaga, in order not to be attacked by wild animals, was wont to sleep in the top branches of some large tree, where he would weave a hammock of ramblers and ropes of inner barks, tying it up with twigs. In this manner he spent many nights alone in different woods. This was a wise precaution, for, occasionally his sleep and the stillness of the night were disturbed by the awful roar of the king of beasts, making thunder in the forest. One morning, at the end of another restless night, when the wood pigeons began to address one another in their language, after the dawn of day had caused the whining of the hyenas to cease, the sun rose slowly, and Ra-Thaga, descending from his late solitary nest, commenced the misery of another day. Each of his mornings was but the resumption of his fruitless search for the company of human beings, which it seemed he was never to find in this world. As he dragged his feet through the dewy grass he seemed to have no particular destination in view. He wondered how much longer this solitude would last. With a drooping spirit he mused over the gloom of existence and asked himself if he still could speak his own language, or if, supposing he met anyone and was addressed, he could still understand it.

These thoughts tormented him for the sixtieth time, when, he suddenly saw a slender figure running swiftly towards him. It was clear that the maiden was frightened by something terrible, for she ran unseeingly towards him, and as he arrested her progress, the girl stood panting like a hunted fox. It was only after some moments that with a

page 12
supreme effort she could utter the short dyssyllable tau (that is a lion).

“Where?” asked Ra-Thaga.

“Oh, stranger!” gasped the girl, recovering her voice, “how good of you to appear just when my succession of misfortunes had reached a climax. I almost stumbled over a huge lion just beyond that ridge, not far from here — I am afraid he will hear us if we speak above a whisper. I did not notice the brute at first because his hair looked just like the tops of the autumn grass. He must have been eating something, for straight in front of me I heard a sound like the breaking of a tree. I think he was crushing the leg of a cow — oh, how silly of me to forget that there are no cows in this wilderness. Anyway,” continued the girl between her gasps, “I noticed that in front of me there was, not a tuft of grass, but a living animal feeding on something. So I stepped quietly backward, without turning round, until I was at some distance, and then I turned and ran.”

Ra-Thaga, successfully concealing his own fears, asked, “You were not, then, observed by the animal, were you?”

“No,” she replied, “I believe that he is still devouring his prey.”

Ra-Thaga did not know what to do, for, if there were two things he was against meeting, they were a Matabele and a lion. “But here is an awkward position,” he thought, “a young woman fleeing to me for protection. What is best to be done?”

His native gallantry urged him to go after the beast; the young woman persisted in following close behind him. Vainly he tried to persuade her to remain where she was, but she was obdurate. “Nay,” she replied, in a loud whisper, “I dare not remain alone.”

page 13

Ra-Thaga thought he knew what was passing through her mind before she spoke. She added; “I have wandered through this lonely wilderness for days and nights, since my people were scattered at Kunana; I have lived on roots and bulbs and wild berries, yearning to meet some human being, and now that I have met you, you cannot leave me again so quickly. In fact, I am not quite certain that you are a man, and even if you are a dream, I will stay with you and dream on while the vision lasts; whether you are man or ghost I have enjoyed the pleasure of a few words with you. I am prepared to see ten other lions with you rather than stay alone of my own free will. Walk on to the lion and I will follow you.”

Ra-Thaga heard this with a shiver. He believed that women were timid creatures, but here was one actually volunteering to guide him to where the lion was, instead of commanding him to take her far away from the maneater. How he wished that he might find it gone! However, he summoned up courage and proceeded, his companion following. At times he felt pleased that she had not obeyed him, for her presence stimulated his bravery. As they proceeded, however, he certainly began to doubt the wisdom of his adventure. “In our country,” he said to himself, “lions were usually hunted by large companies of men armed with spears and clubs, with the aid of fierce mastiffs, and not by one badly armed man guided by a strange girl.”

Suddenly, their extreme peril struck him, and before he had time to ponder over it, the maiden touched his shoulder and pointed to what looked like a tuft of moving grass, some fifty yards ahead — it was a black-maned lion.

The king of beasts was leisurely gorging himself with chunks of meat torn from the carcase of an eland which he

page 14
had recently killed. Ra-Thaga realizing that not only his own safety depended upon his prowess, but also that of the young woman who had appeared as if from the clouds, and commended herself to his care, his fears vanished. Yelling at the top of his voice and waving his cloak of skin in the air, he rushed at the feasting lion, the girl doing the same. This violent interruption of his meal caused the lion to jerk his head, whereupon he took fright and darted off as hard as he could go with his tail between his legs. The lion ran through the trees across the grassy plain and never stopped till he was out of view, thus leaving Ra-Thaga the master of the situation. With the lion out of sight Ra-Thaga was able to rejoice; though his pride was not greater than the joy of the girl who had realized that her trust in him had not been misplaced.

At last his eyes fell on the damsel who in her turn cast furtive glances at her unknown hero. “My man, my man,” she seemed to say, “my stranger man, whom the spirits have sent to save me from loneliness, starvation and the lion's jaw, I would willingly pass through another Matabele raid and suffer hair-breadth escapes if but to meet one like you.” And to herself she said, “I wonder what his name is?”

Ra-Thaga was also wondering who she was and whence she came; and guessing what questions were crossing her mind, he came nearer and offered her his hand.

“Dumela  1 , my sister,” he said, “I am Ra-Thaga, the son of Notto. I belonged to the Sehuba clan of the Barolong at Kunana, the burnt city. Pray who art thou?”

“My name is Mhudi,” replied the girl, “my people belonged to the Kgoro tribe. I, too, came from the

page 15
doomed city — curse that Matabele king! My father and mother are slain, also my two sisters and little brothers — tiny little children. I have never heard of any lions killing children, but Matabele seem to be fiercer than beasts of prey. Tell me, father, are these Zulus really human beings?”

“Well, Mhudi,” replied Ra-Thaga, “I, too, would like an answer to that poser. We are both very tired and hungry. The gods of our ancestors have watched over us these many lonely days and nights since the destruction of our homes and now we have met. See, here is the carcase of a fully developed young eland bull, of which the lion has eaten but little, there is the monthanthanyane shrub, I will spin a stick against its limb and start a spark while you keep watch. We will then roast some meat and appease our hunger, after which there ought to be plenty of time to relate our experiences to each other; although it seems, I think, that our stories will not be dissimilar.”

Ra-Thaga was nearly half an hour labouring to ignite the sticks, while Mhudi stooped beside him holding a bunch of grass in both hands, ready to encourage the first spark into a flame. The continued friction between the two sticks finally generated a spark which shooting into the tuft of grass, started a comfortable blaze. Mhudi entered quickly upon the duties of providing a meal, and not long after, the roast was sizzling on the coals.

While the girl nimbly did her part, Ra-Thaga made a careful study of the unexpected being who so dramatically altered the trend of his life, and he determined never to let her pass out of it again. Her curly hair was as carefully trimmed as though she had come from her mother's house that morning, but her general appearance showed that, even for a bucolic girl, she was frightfully travel-

page 16
stained. For all that, Mhudi had a magnificent figure. Her forehead completed the lovely contour of a slightly emaciated face, the colour of her skin being a deep brown that set off to advantage her brilliant black eyes. A pretty pair of dimples danced around her cheeks when she smiled; and the smile revealed an even set of ivories as pure as that of any child. Her bewitching mouth and beautiful lips created a sense of charm, and when she blew the fire she seemed to blow something into Ra-Thaga that almost maddened him with ecstasy and he wondered if her breath was charmed. In front she wore an apron of thin twisted strips, suspended evenly, from a belt round her waist, reaching just above the knees, while a springbok skin drooping from her hips downward formed the kirtle that matched her beautiful form. Round her shoulders hung a furry rug of speckled lamb-skins very carefully tanned. This she had put aside while preparing the meal. Her agile movements as she carefully piled up more and more wood on the now blazing fire, or turned the eland ribs on the glowing embers, so fascinated Ra-Thaga that he never tired of looking at her. He thought she had above her beaded anklets the most beautiful limbs he had ever seen. He recalled the halycon days at Kunana, when pretty girls bedecked with ornaments pranced about the court-yards, but could not remember one so perfectly proportioned and elegant in every movement.
page 17

Chapter 2.

Dark Days.

Ra-Thaga, in order not to be attacked by wild animals, was wont to sleep in the top branches of some large tree, where he would weave a hammock of ramblers and ropes of inner barks, tying it up with twigs. In this manner he spent many nights alone in different woods. This was a wise precaution, for, occasionally his sleep and the stillness of the night were disturbed by the awful roar of the king of beasts, making thunder in the forest. One morning, at the end of another restless night, when the wood pigeons began to address one another in their language, after the dawn of day had caused the whining of the hyenas to cease, the sun rose slowly, and Ra-Thaga, descending from his late solitary nest, commenced the misery of another day. Each of his mornings was but the resumption of his fruitless search for the company of human beings, which it seemed he was never to find in this world. As he dragged his feet through the dewy grass he seemed to have no particular destination in view. He wondered how much longer this solitude would last. With a drooping spirit he mused over the gloom of existence and asked himself if he still could speak his own language, or if, supposing he met anyone and was addressed, he could still understand it.

These thoughts tormented him for the sixtieth time, when, he suddenly saw a slender figure running swiftly towards him. It was clear that the maiden was frightened by something terrible, for she ran unseeingly towards him, and as he arrested her progress, the girl stood panting like a hunted fox. It was only after some moments that with a supreme effort she could utter the short dyssyllable tau (that is a lion).

“Where?” asked Ra-Thaga.

“Oh, stranger!” gasped the girl, recovering her voice, “how good of you to appear just when my succession of misfortunes had reached a climax. I almost stumbled over a huge lion just beyond that ridge, not far from here — I am afraid he will hear us if we speak above a whisper. I did not notice the brute at first because his hair looked just like the tops of the autumn grass. He must have been eating something, for straight in front of me I heard a sound like the breaking of a tree. I think he was crushing the leg of a cow — oh, how silly of me to forget that there are no cows in this wilderness. Anyway,” continued the girl between her gasps, “I noticed that in front of me there was, not a tuft of grass, but a living animal feeding on something. So I stepped quietly backward, without turning round, until I was at some distance, and then I turned and ran.”

Ra-Thaga, successfully concealing his own fears, asked, “You were not, then, observed by the animal, were you?”

“No,” she replied, “I believe that he is still devouring his prey.”

Ra-Thaga did not know what to do, for, if there were two things he was against meeting, they were a Matabele and a lion. “But here is an awkward position,” he thought, “a young woman fleeing to me for protection. What is best to be done?”

His native gallantry urged him to go after the beast; the young woman persisted in following close behind him. Vainly he tried to persuade her to remain where she was, but she was obdurate. “Nay,” she replied, in a loud whisper, “I dare not remain alone.”

Ra-Thaga thought he knew what was passing through her mind before she spoke. She added; “I have wandered through this lonely wilderness for days and nights, since my people were scattered at Kunana; I have lived on roots and bulbs and wild berries, yearning to meet some human being, and now that I have met you, you cannot leave me again so quickly. In fact, I am not quite certain that you are a man, and even if you are a dream, I will stay with you and dream on while the vision lasts; whether you are man or ghost I have enjoyed the pleasure of a few words with you. I am prepared to see ten other lions with you rather than stay alone of my own free will. Walk on to the lion and I will follow you.”

Ra-Thaga heard this with a shiver. He believed that women were timid creatures, but here was one actually volunteering to guide him to where the lion was, instead of commanding him to take her far away from the maneater. How he wished that he might find it gone! However, he summoned up courage and proceeded, his companion following. At times he felt pleased that she had not obeyed him, for her presence stimulated his bravery. As they proceeded, however, he certainly began to doubt the wisdom of his adventure. “In our country,” he said to himself, “lions were usually hunted by large companies of men armed with spears and clubs, with the aid of fierce mastiffs, and not by one badly armed man guided by a strange girl.”

Suddenly, their extreme peril struck him, and before he had time to ponder over it, the maiden touched his shoulder and pointed to what looked like a tuft of moving grass, some fifty yards ahead — it was a black-maned lion.

The king of beasts was leisurely gorging himself with chunks of meat torn from the carcase of an eland which he had recently killed. Ra-Thaga realizing that not only his own safety depended upon his prowess, but also that of the young woman who had appeared as if from the clouds, and commended herself to his care, his fears vanished. Yelling at the top of his voice and waving his cloak of skin in the air, he rushed at the feasting lion, the girl doing the same. This violent interruption of his meal caused the lion to jerk his head, whereupon he took fright and darted off as hard as he could go with his tail between his legs. The lion ran through the trees across the grassy plain and never stopped till he was out of view, thus leaving Ra-Thaga the master of the situation. With the lion out of sight Ra-Thaga was able to rejoice; though his pride was not greater than the joy of the girl who had realized that her trust in him had not been misplaced.

At last his eyes fell on the damsel who in her turn cast furtive glances at her unknown hero. “My man, my man,” she seemed to say, “my stranger man, whom the spirits have sent to save me from loneliness, starvation and the lion's jaw, I would willingly pass through another Matabele raid and suffer hair-breadth escapes if but to meet one like you.” And to herself she said, “I wonder what his name is?”

Ra-Thaga was also wondering who she was and whence she came; and guessing what questions were crossing her mind, he came nearer and offered her his hand.

“Dumela  1 , my sister,” he said, “I am Ra-Thaga, the son of Notto. I belonged to the Sehuba clan of the Barolong at Kunana, the burnt city. Pray who art thou?”

“My name is Mhudi,” replied the girl, “my people belonged to the Kgoro tribe. I, too, came from the doomed city — curse that Matabele king! My father and mother are slain, also my two sisters and little brothers — tiny little children. I have never heard of any lions killing children, but Matabele seem to be fiercer than beasts of prey. Tell me, father, are these Zulus really human beings?”

“Well, Mhudi,” replied Ra-Thaga, “I, too, would like an answer to that poser. We are both very tired and hungry. The gods of our ancestors have watched over us these many lonely days and nights since the destruction of our homes and now we have met. See, here is the carcase of a fully developed young eland bull, of which the lion has eaten but little, there is the monthanthanyane shrub, I will spin a stick against its limb and start a spark while you keep watch. We will then roast some meat and appease our hunger, after which there ought to be plenty of time to relate our experiences to each other; although it seems, I think, that our stories will not be dissimilar.”

Ra-Thaga was nearly half an hour labouring to ignite the sticks, while Mhudi stooped beside him holding a bunch of grass in both hands, ready to encourage the first spark into a flame. The continued friction between the two sticks finally generated a spark which shooting into the tuft of grass, started a comfortable blaze. Mhudi entered quickly upon the duties of providing a meal, and not long after, the roast was sizzling on the coals.

While the girl nimbly did her part, Ra-Thaga made a careful study of the unexpected being who so dramatically altered the trend of his life, and he determined never to let her pass out of it again. Her curly hair was as carefully trimmed as though she had come from her mother's house that morning, but her general appearance showed that, even for a bucolic girl, she was frightfully travel-stained. For all that, Mhudi had a magnificent figure. Her forehead completed the lovely contour of a slightly emaciated face, the colour of her skin being a deep brown that set off to advantage her brilliant black eyes. A pretty pair of dimples danced around her cheeks when she smiled; and the smile revealed an even set of ivories as pure as that of any child. Her bewitching mouth and beautiful lips created a sense of charm, and when she blew the fire she seemed to blow something into Ra-Thaga that almost maddened him with ecstasy and he wondered if her breath was charmed. In front she wore an apron of thin twisted strips, suspended evenly, from a belt round her waist, reaching just above the knees, while a springbok skin drooping from her hips downward formed the kirtle that matched her beautiful form. Round her shoulders hung a furry rug of speckled lamb-skins very carefully tanned. This she had put aside while preparing the meal. Her agile movements as she carefully piled up more and more wood on the now blazing fire, or turned the eland ribs on the glowing embers, so fascinated Ra-Thaga that he never tired of looking at her. He thought she had above her beaded anklets the most beautiful limbs he had ever seen. He recalled the halycon days at Kunana, when pretty girls bedecked with ornaments pranced about the court-yards, but could not remember one so perfectly proportioned and elegant in every movement.


Footnotes & References

#NoteDescription
1DumelaGood-day