Chapter 20.

Mhudi's Leap in the Dark.

Mhudi was suffering from an attack of malarial fever when the armies of the Allies left Thaba Ncho. Although she was growing worse, she assured Ra-Thaga that she dared not prevent him from carrying out his long nurtured revenge against Mzilikazi.

Two days after the departure of her husband, her condition was causing her friends some anxiety. Old women came to massage her, and herbalists cast bones and consulted them on her illness, but all with unsatisfactory results. As her condition became more serious, her friends fetched away her two younger children, and left only the eldest boy to run her messages.

One night, a week later, while Matshilo was watching by Mhudi's bedside, the patient fell in to a deep sleep. She dreamt that she was gazing upon the battlefield and saw the clash of the two armies. The Matebele hosts advanced with spears aloft as they did on the night of the sacking of Kunana. She beheld a Matebele giant leading the impis and coming to grips with her husband. They were next wrestling in a hand-to-hand struggle, and, as Ra-Thaga measured strength with the giant, another Matebele drove his spear into her husband's body. At the sight of this the dreamer screamed aloud. Her scream woke her drowsy cousin with a shudder.

“What is the matter?” asked Baile, quickly. “Are you delirious?”

“Oh!” replied the patient, “I am so glad it was only a dream! I hope it is not true.”

Then Mhudi rose, and Baile noticed a wonderful change

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in her condition, for she no longer appeared ill. But before she had had time to congratulate her cousin on her improved health, the patient made an unexpected proposal that almost took her cousin's breath away.

“Baile,” she said, “I would be pleased if you will do me a real cousinly favour. That is, take care of my hut for me while I go away for a few days, or, say, for a month. The children could stay with Matsitselele while you mind the hut. Now, don't ask me any questions, cousin mine, for I must depart. I had a call in my dream which I must obey. I feel strong and healthy now — I will not wait until morning in case I have a relapse. Don't disappoint me, Coz.”

Before her astonished cousin could think of an effective remonstrance, Mhudi had tied up a bundle with some boiled maize and some parched corn, and, throwing her arms round Baile in a farewell embrace, went out into the darkness. “Of course,” thought Mhudi, as she went along, “I may not locate my husband, and yet again I may. He is with the biggest army that ever went to war. It would be impossible to miss the trail of a force of such dimensions.”

She had been gone some time before Baile recovered from her astonishment, and wondered how in the morning she would explain her cousin's absence.

By that time Mhudi had cleared the outskirts of the town, and was already traversing the plains of Thaba Ncho, and proceeding in the direction of Moroto. She had not gone very far when she observed a dense cloudbank swelling in the south-western horizon growing longer, higher and thicker as it rolled onward. It was accompanied by a deep rumble that grew louder and louder, while a dense, dark shroud covered the sky and intensified

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the blackness of the night. Successive peals of the thunder shook the earth as the clouds ascended higher and higher, while flashes of forked lightning played all round the dark heavens. Speedily there followed a cloudburst which deluged the earth, and covered it with a lake-like sheet of water; still the rain kept falling, the flashes continued to blind her eyes, and the thunder-claps kept up their awful detonations. But in spite of the fury and rage of the storm the brave woman struggled along her chosen route. There being neither trees nor shelter of any description, she had to endure in full the heavy onslaughts of these angry elements. It was as though the legions of nature were in conflict, and she — poor little human wreck — a mere plaything at their mercy.

Before daybreak the winds subsided and the storm ceased, and the clouds were swiftly passing away; and Mhudi, still pressing forward, waded through the water in wild hope of rescuing her husband. The unprecedented severity of the storm, far from depressing her spirit, only served to inspire her with hope. According to the belief of her people, Jupiter Pluvius is the god of Good Fortune, hence she regarded the downpour as his special benediction on her journey. At sunrise she stood near the side of a kopje, and saw the plains spread out before her in one great prospect, still covered by the moving sheet of water.

Oppressed by the vastness of the country stretching before her and the uncertainty of ever finding Ra-Thaga, she wondered how long her journey would last. The peltry she wore was ruined by the rain. But, drenched as she was, her determination remained unshaken, and, having wrung out her garments, she proceeded on her perilous journey.

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She travelled all day across a trackless and unpeopled country, and, by the next evening, she was passing over some ridges, the names of which — if they had any — she would probably never know. Fortunate for her it was that the rain had cased the previous night, for, refreshed in the soft balmy air of the cool atmosphere after the thunder-storm, Mhudi travelled quite thirty miles that day. Late at night she wrapped her little lamb-skin kaross around her, and lay down to rest upon the slope of a hillock. In her exhausted condition she slept — as the Natives would put it — like a wolf that could be skinned when asleep without waking.

During the next day Mhudi ate nothing but boiled maize and cold water. She saw more than one drowned spring-hare floating on the floods, but, without a fire, they were of no use to her. As she picked her way along the hillsides, she frightened several coveys of meercats which, scampering away from her, never stopped until well out of her sight. Their burrows being flooded out, the little creatures were compelled to seek shelter in the open.

The water-courses having ceased to roar, there was a dead silence over the immense plains, broken occasionally by the music of the birds as they chirped their songs on the hill-tops. But Mhudi missed the forests and the cooing of the wood pigeons of Bechuanaland. She missed the compact Mokgalo and Mononono trees, the leaves of which had provided her with excellent awning when it rained, by day or by night; and longed for the leafy undergrowth which, during her early wanderings, had shielded her from the cold winds.

Travellers in Bechuanaland, when accosted by a lion or a buffalo, have saved their lives by scrambling up a tree. “What,” thought she, “could a lonely woman do

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in this desolate and treeless land should the King of Beasts appear over that ridge and attack her?”

She remembered how, when moving from Mamuse to Thaba Ncho, she and her family traversed those windswept plains and spent their nights in the open, exposed to every blast; throughout that journey of many days they had never seen a shadow except the passing flitter of a vulture's wing.

She recalled the number of travellers through this unshaded country who stopped at her home in Thaba Ncho, and related stories of dreary journeys under the sun. She recalled the adventures of another wayfarer through the same unsheltered territory who was badly wounded and almost pelted to death by hailstones, the size of a hen's egg; there being not a tree and not a cave under which he could take cover. “How barren is this level country! All grass and kopjes, nothing useful. Truly, “ she sighed, “this is the most inhospitable land my wanderings have shown to me.”

Still all this did not damp her ardour; on the contrary, she put her best foot forward and eagerly pursued her way. As she proceeded, Mhudi roused myriads of multi-coloured lady-birds and butterflies which flittered hither and thither in variegated liveries that challenged the colours of the rainbow; the damp ground was quick with the unceasing activities of red ants and centipedes while full-throated bull frogs announced that they too were among the denizens of the wilds.

Passing a miniature lake — called a pan in South Africa — filled with the waters of the recent flood, Mhudi paused to admire a flock of wild ducks swimming gracefully on the still water and inviting a number of wild muscovies to join their cruise; but the latter seemed unsociable.

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Climbing to the top of the next ridge, another expanse of level country was exposed to view. Here the country was over-run with antelopes, and as far as her eye could reach, the barren plains swarmed with springbuck and blesbuck. “Some luscious bulb must be sprouting here,” she thought, “to have attracted so much game, for buck from all points of the compass seem to have congregated here.”

Now in the distance there emerged a drove of gnu with a speed as great as if they were fleeing before a hunter's pack. Near the edge of the horizon, the mirage floated like a succession of moving lakes. Into this shimmering gleam, the running wildebeest plunged and glimmered in the rays of the noonday sun. They had to cross the mirage before she could make out what they were. As they approached her, galloping furiously through the herd of buck, she could see the switches of their white tails fluttering in the air. Mhudi soon discovered that they were running away from their bull, which vainly attempted to round them off into the opposite direction. Before they disappeared behind the horizon, the wildebeest outpaced their angry sire, which indignantly lagged astern.

Late that night she sought another unsheltered rest, and, stretching her tired limbs, she lay exposed to the heavy fall of dew.

Before sunrise, she was up and wading through the dewy grass. It was not until the morning of her fourth day of travel that Mhudi saw a man driving a flock of sheep and goats. She knew that this was not enemy stock, as the armies of the Allies would long since have accounted for them, so she confidently walked up to the man, who proved to be a Hottentot in the service of a Boer caravan going north in the trail of Potgieter's army. Joining the

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Hottentot, she helped him drive his sheep along until they overtook the Boer waggons beyond the ridge.

The demands of the war had necessitated the bulk of the Native servants of the Boers being at the front with the armies. In consequence, the Boers who remained behind were suffering from a shortage of Native servants, therefore Mhudi's presence as an additional help at the waggons was very welcome to them.

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Chapter 20.

Mhudi's Leap in the Dark.

Mhudi was suffering from an attack of malarial fever when the armies of the Allies left Thaba Ncho. Although she was growing worse, she assured Ra-Thaga that she dared not prevent him from carrying out his long nurtured revenge against Mzilikazi.

Two days after the departure of her husband, her condition was causing her friends some anxiety. Old women came to massage her, and herbalists cast bones and consulted them on her illness, but all with unsatisfactory results. As her condition became more serious, her friends fetched away her two younger children, and left only the eldest boy to run her messages.

One night, a week later, while Matshilo was watching by Mhudi's bedside, the patient fell in to a deep sleep. She dreamt that she was gazing upon the battlefield and saw the clash of the two armies. The Matebele hosts advanced with spears aloft as they did on the night of the sacking of Kunana. She beheld a Matebele giant leading the impis and coming to grips with her husband. They were next wrestling in a hand-to-hand struggle, and, as Ra-Thaga measured strength with the giant, another Matebele drove his spear into her husband's body. At the sight of this the dreamer screamed aloud. Her scream woke her drowsy cousin with a shudder.

“What is the matter?” asked Baile, quickly. “Are you delirious?”

“Oh!” replied the patient, “I am so glad it was only a dream! I hope it is not true.”

Then Mhudi rose, and Baile noticed a wonderful change in her condition, for she no longer appeared ill. But before she had had time to congratulate her cousin on her improved health, the patient made an unexpected proposal that almost took her cousin's breath away.

“Baile,” she said, “I would be pleased if you will do me a real cousinly favour. That is, take care of my hut for me while I go away for a few days, or, say, for a month. The children could stay with Matsitselele while you mind the hut. Now, don't ask me any questions, cousin mine, for I must depart. I had a call in my dream which I must obey. I feel strong and healthy now — I will not wait until morning in case I have a relapse. Don't disappoint me, Coz.”

Before her astonished cousin could think of an effective remonstrance, Mhudi had tied up a bundle with some boiled maize and some parched corn, and, throwing her arms round Baile in a farewell embrace, went out into the darkness. “Of course,” thought Mhudi, as she went along, “I may not locate my husband, and yet again I may. He is with the biggest army that ever went to war. It would be impossible to miss the trail of a force of such dimensions.”

She had been gone some time before Baile recovered from her astonishment, and wondered how in the morning she would explain her cousin's absence.

By that time Mhudi had cleared the outskirts of the town, and was already traversing the plains of Thaba Ncho, and proceeding in the direction of Moroto. She had not gone very far when she observed a dense cloudbank swelling in the south-western horizon growing longer, higher and thicker as it rolled onward. It was accompanied by a deep rumble that grew louder and louder, while a dense, dark shroud covered the sky and intensified the blackness of the night. Successive peals of the thunder shook the earth as the clouds ascended higher and higher, while flashes of forked lightning played all round the dark heavens. Speedily there followed a cloudburst which deluged the earth, and covered it with a lake-like sheet of water; still the rain kept falling, the flashes continued to blind her eyes, and the thunder-claps kept up their awful detonations. But in spite of the fury and rage of the storm the brave woman struggled along her chosen route. There being neither trees nor shelter of any description, she had to endure in full the heavy onslaughts of these angry elements. It was as though the legions of nature were in conflict, and she — poor little human wreck — a mere plaything at their mercy.

Before daybreak the winds subsided and the storm ceased, and the clouds were swiftly passing away; and Mhudi, still pressing forward, waded through the water in wild hope of rescuing her husband. The unprecedented severity of the storm, far from depressing her spirit, only served to inspire her with hope. According to the belief of her people, Jupiter Pluvius is the god of Good Fortune, hence she regarded the downpour as his special benediction on her journey. At sunrise she stood near the side of a kopje, and saw the plains spread out before her in one great prospect, still covered by the moving sheet of water.

Oppressed by the vastness of the country stretching before her and the uncertainty of ever finding Ra-Thaga, she wondered how long her journey would last. The peltry she wore was ruined by the rain. But, drenched as she was, her determination remained unshaken, and, having wrung out her garments, she proceeded on her perilous journey.

She travelled all day across a trackless and unpeopled country, and, by the next evening, she was passing over some ridges, the names of which — if they had any — she would probably never know. Fortunate for her it was that the rain had cased the previous night, for, refreshed in the soft balmy air of the cool atmosphere after the thunder-storm, Mhudi travelled quite thirty miles that day. Late at night she wrapped her little lamb-skin kaross around her, and lay down to rest upon the slope of a hillock. In her exhausted condition she slept — as the Natives would put it — like a wolf that could be skinned when asleep without waking.

During the next day Mhudi ate nothing but boiled maize and cold water. She saw more than one drowned spring-hare floating on the floods, but, without a fire, they were of no use to her. As she picked her way along the hillsides, she frightened several coveys of meercats which, scampering away from her, never stopped until well out of her sight. Their burrows being flooded out, the little creatures were compelled to seek shelter in the open.

The water-courses having ceased to roar, there was a dead silence over the immense plains, broken occasionally by the music of the birds as they chirped their songs on the hill-tops. But Mhudi missed the forests and the cooing of the wood pigeons of Bechuanaland. She missed the compact Mokgalo and Mononono trees, the leaves of which had provided her with excellent awning when it rained, by day or by night; and longed for the leafy undergrowth which, during her early wanderings, had shielded her from the cold winds.

Travellers in Bechuanaland, when accosted by a lion or a buffalo, have saved their lives by scrambling up a tree. “What,” thought she, “could a lonely woman do in this desolate and treeless land should the King of Beasts appear over that ridge and attack her?”

She remembered how, when moving from Mamuse to Thaba Ncho, she and her family traversed those windswept plains and spent their nights in the open, exposed to every blast; throughout that journey of many days they had never seen a shadow except the passing flitter of a vulture's wing.

She recalled the number of travellers through this unshaded country who stopped at her home in Thaba Ncho, and related stories of dreary journeys under the sun. She recalled the adventures of another wayfarer through the same unsheltered territory who was badly wounded and almost pelted to death by hailstones, the size of a hen's egg; there being not a tree and not a cave under which he could take cover. “How barren is this level country! All grass and kopjes, nothing useful. Truly, “ she sighed, “this is the most inhospitable land my wanderings have shown to me.”

Still all this did not damp her ardour; on the contrary, she put her best foot forward and eagerly pursued her way. As she proceeded, Mhudi roused myriads of multi-coloured lady-birds and butterflies which flittered hither and thither in variegated liveries that challenged the colours of the rainbow; the damp ground was quick with the unceasing activities of red ants and centipedes while full-throated bull frogs announced that they too were among the denizens of the wilds.

Passing a miniature lake — called a pan in South Africa — filled with the waters of the recent flood, Mhudi paused to admire a flock of wild ducks swimming gracefully on the still water and inviting a number of wild muscovies to join their cruise; but the latter seemed unsociable.

Climbing to the top of the next ridge, another expanse of level country was exposed to view. Here the country was over-run with antelopes, and as far as her eye could reach, the barren plains swarmed with springbuck and blesbuck. “Some luscious bulb must be sprouting here,” she thought, “to have attracted so much game, for buck from all points of the compass seem to have congregated here.”

Now in the distance there emerged a drove of gnu with a speed as great as if they were fleeing before a hunter's pack. Near the edge of the horizon, the mirage floated like a succession of moving lakes. Into this shimmering gleam, the running wildebeest plunged and glimmered in the rays of the noonday sun. They had to cross the mirage before she could make out what they were. As they approached her, galloping furiously through the herd of buck, she could see the switches of their white tails fluttering in the air. Mhudi soon discovered that they were running away from their bull, which vainly attempted to round them off into the opposite direction. Before they disappeared behind the horizon, the wildebeest outpaced their angry sire, which indignantly lagged astern.

Late that night she sought another unsheltered rest, and, stretching her tired limbs, she lay exposed to the heavy fall of dew.

Before sunrise, she was up and wading through the dewy grass. It was not until the morning of her fourth day of travel that Mhudi saw a man driving a flock of sheep and goats. She knew that this was not enemy stock, as the armies of the Allies would long since have accounted for them, so she confidently walked up to the man, who proved to be a Hottentot in the service of a Boer caravan going north in the trail of Potgieter's army. Joining the Hottentot, she helped him drive his sheep along until they overtook the Boer waggons beyond the ridge.

The demands of the war had necessitated the bulk of the Native servants of the Boers being at the front with the armies. In consequence, the Boers who remained behind were suffering from a shortage of Native servants, therefore Mhudi's presence as an additional help at the waggons was very welcome to them.