Chapter 21.

Mhudi and Umnandi.

The friendship between Phil Jay and Ra-Thaga had not suffered in the least from the events of the past few days; so leaving the wagons among the trees near the dell, they went to sit under a shady wild syringa, a little distance apart from the camp.

Phil Jay examined and permanganated his wound once again; and having re-adjusted the sling round his arm, he proceeded to use his ramrod on his own rifle and that of his wounded black friend. By the side of the kloof, not far from where they sat, was a trickling fountain. The tiny perennial streamlets that oozed from it had furrowed the escarpment, leading first through a patch of bulrushes, then, widening and deepening its course, the water wound its way underneath two rows of Modubu trees down to the dell below. Near the foot of the scarp the stream spouted and widened into a creek whose banks were rich with the verdant grass and other luxurious undergrowth. These provided food and shelter for the numerous herds of game that quickened the surrounding woods. Lilies and daisies along the glen had long since succumbed to the cold breath of Autumn and left their tender stubbles to mark the spots where once they bloomed. Fallen petals of withering wild poppies littered the earth beneath the Mopane trees, but the hardy marigolds survived the blast and garnished both sides of the rivulet which, unmindful of the seasons, wended its way beneath the water-lilies and rendered a perennial tribute to the great Marico River some miles to the west.

Leafy trees with creepers round their stout stems stood

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on the fertile banks of the rustling creek, where their branches furnished many an aerial tryst for birds of every plume. Nature had spread a peaceful calm around oasis, and it were gross sacrilege for man to rupture this the sublimity of the wilderness with his everlasting squabbles.

“I do wish the Matebele would come,” said Phil, still pushing and tugging at the ramrod, cleaning the guns.

“And what would you do with them?” asked his sable companion.

Phil: “I will catch Mzilikazi alive, and tie him to the wagon wheel; then Potgieter will make me his captain, and you will be my right-hand man.”

Ra-Thaga: “That will not do, for your people will not tolerate me. If they get enraged by nothing more than a drink of water out of their water-pail, they are not likely to allow me a place near their Captain.”

Phil: “But to tell the truth, I get on much better with you than with many of my own people. I owe you more than I could ever repay. But for you, Mogale's people would have killed me, or handed me to the Matebele as they did with Sarel Van Zyl. And since his disappearance, I realize all the more forcibly how much I am in your debt. If ever I become a Commander, you must come and stay near me.”

Ra-Thaga: “Oh no! I am not going to abide with a boy. You should get a wife first and take your place among men before thinking of that. What would my children think of me if I were to be the right-hand man of a wifeless youth?”

Phil: “Are those your terms?”

Ra-Thaga: “Without joking, it is time you did. Look at the advantages. Besides, marriage will give you

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two mothers — your own and the wife's; the latter the greatest of the two.”

Phil: “Is that the reason why your people call them the plain mother and the fine mother respectively?”

Ra-Thaga: “Yes, and let me tell you why I am so glad Mzilikazi is getting a beating. When he is killed, I shall return to Kunana, walk around the old place and venerate the ground where lived and worked my mother-in-law whom I never saw. I shall go down to the field of carnage, bestride the old battle-field, and say: Here fell the noble Rolong woman who gave life to my faithful Mhudi. Somewhere here lie the remains of the woman who mothered my wife and nourished every fibre of her beautiful form. Then I will call to her spirit and say : Come down from the heights and approve of the feeble cares I am trying to bestow on the noble treasure thou hast bequeathed to me. My mother, O, cradle of my wife! That after all thy pains and nursing, thou shouldst have been hounded out of this life without receiving a pin from the worthless fellow who wived thy noble offspring! (After a long pause.) Now, seriously, why don't you marry, Phil Jay?”

Phil: “Well, you see, the girls are — er — er … ”

Ra-Thaga: “Are what? I have been to Moroka's Hoek and seen the Boer girls. They are all crazy about you. I heard several of them say so.”

Phil: “Which one?”

Ra-Thaga: “Everyone.”

Phil: “But you know I cannot marry them all.”

Ra-Thaga: “Why, don't you fancy anyone?”

Again there was no answer, and Ra-Thaga continued:

“A man was not made to live alone. Had it not been for Mhudi, I don't think you would have known me at all.

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She made me what I am. I feel certain that your manhood will never be recognised as long as you remain wifeless. Marry a wife, Phil, and you will soon understand the Barolong, and — listen! After taking to yourself a wife, you will realise that you knew nothing at all about your own people, the Boers, for you will begin to understand them properly when your young wife has unbosomed herself to you. Now, Phil, why don't you marry Van Zyl's daughter?”

“Which one? Annetje? And why?” Phil's impatience was noticeable as he put the questions in rapid succession.

“I will tell you why,” said Ra-Thaga. “I don't go about Moroka's Hoek with my eyes and ears shut. She has got a pair of bewitching eyes, and the moment you appear I have noticed that she always slips away like a mouse at the sight of a cat. She will either go to play at the far end of the camp or disappear into the interior of her mother's hut. Most of the time she spends working with elderly women, mending clothes, cooking food or boiling soap, and her ways are so admirable I have often said to myself that this daughter of Van Zyl is fit to marry the future King of the Boers.”

“Do you remember when we returned from the spying trip? I noticed that many of the girls were openly shaking your hand and hugging you, glad to see you back. I was wondering where she was until I saw her in the interior of the hut, shyly devouring you with her dreamy eyes, but not daring to give vent to her raptures in public. Phil, that's the Nonnie for you! I tasted her roast meat only once since I have known you, and I think her cooking beats your mother's by far. And, oh! How beautifully she talks!”

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Phil Jay, who had been listening to these rhapsodies, remained quiet for some little time. The silence of the moment and the girl's absence, hundreds of miles away, was to him symbolical of her retiring disposition. He felt a strange sensation all over him as thoughts of Annetje flitted across his mind. He could not account for these unaccustomed thrills. He mopped his brow, but that did not stop the flow of his perspiration. Modest and retiring as Annetje Van Zyl had always been, he could not forget the occasions on which he discovered her peeping coyly at him through the folds of her cappie; and how quickly she would get out of his way and feel embarrassed if he surprised her anywhere by herself. He saw again in imagination the pure white face, the tender blue eyes and gentle smile. He thought he heard her mellifluous voice, and there was a kind glow all about him, for Ra-Thaga's praises of her stimulated all these feelings. Finally he exclaimed: “Main, Ra-Thaga, I always told you that you had a brown skin over a white heart, but you wouldn't believe me. Do you know I have been thinking of her too; I was too shy to ask anyone's opinion and now you have given me yours without asking. There are times I seem to lose my head over her. The night before last I was dreaming of her in the Camp. Now you have made me crazy and I will never get the frenzy out of my head.”

Suddenly the confabulation between Phil Jay and his solicitous match-maker was disturbed by a rush of men from the Camp. They ran forward to meet a party just arriving. Everybody wanted to be the first to meet the newcomers, and hear from them the very latest new from the front.

“Is Mzilikazi shot yet?” several voices asked.

Phil and Ra-Thaga jumped up and looked in the same

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direction. The piercing eyes of Ra-Thaga having at that distance established the identity of some of the new arrivals, he too raised his voice and shouted, “Praise, Phil Jay, Praise the God of the Boers.”

“What is the matter?” asked Phil Jay in surprise, still looking intently.

“The girl's brother!” replied Ra-Thaga.

“What girl?” queried Phil Jay, impatiently.

“Van Zyl, the spy we thought was killed; and there is Taolo who was with him.”

For a moment Phil did not know how to act; he seemed dazed with joy. He was not sure if in such circumstances his best course was to move forward or sit down again. He thought of Annetje far away at Moroka's Hoek. He remembered how she had wept over the supposed death of her lost brother, and he wondered if she would survive the reaction that must be caused by his reappearance. How he wished he could be the first bearer of the glad news and break it to her very gently. He knew not how to meet the returned friend, and so Ra-Thaga again rose to the occasion.

“You don't seem to believe that this is the brother of the Nonnie we have been speaking about,” said he.

“Now, what would you have me do?” enquired Phil, rather sheepishly.

“Go and offer him your good-wishes,” replied Ra-Thaga, “Tell him how sorry we are that we missed him when he came in search of us. Offer him some food, and, while he eats, relate to him the experiences of our mission of espionage. I will be there to supplement your remarks wherever necessary.”

Phil at once darted forward, and was soon struggling in the crowd that hurried to reach Van Zyl, whom he

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succeeded in monopolising. They strolled about together a little among the wagons, being the while immersed in discussing their adventures. After refreshments which Phil procured for his friend, they listened to his story of the sudden condemnation to death and dramatic reprieve of the spies after their captors had heard a rifle shot; how they were retained in order to teach the Matebele the use of the gun; and how they wasted their ammunition and asked to be allowed to go for a fresh supply. How after repeated refusals Moremi was sent, Van Zyl and Taolo being detained at the Matebele capital.

“He was a long time in coming back but we postponed the fatal day,” said Van Zyl, “by constantly reminding our captors that Colesberg, where the powder comes from, takes months and months to reach. If the Allies' attack had been delayed much longer, we must certainly have been put to death for the Matebele patience was well nigh exhausted. However, when the alarm was raised, and panicky reports arrived about the defeat of the Matebele armies, pandemonium reigned in the city and with the aid of some Bahurutshe cattlemen we took advantage of the confusion and effected our escape.”

*   *   *   *

The conversation was interrupted by a sensational movement in the camp. “Basadi, basadi!” (Women! Women!) shouted the crowd.

Everybody looked round and saw a small party arriving near one of the wagons with three women among them. Ra-Thaga and Phil Jay were dumbfounded to recognize Mhudi among the new arrivals.

Glad as Ra-Thaga was to see his wife, he found himself repressing a feeling of anger. He inwardly resented her appearance, because he feared that he would in future be

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chaffed by other men and called the poltroon who took his wife to war.

Ra-Thaga, still carrying his arm in a sling, came up to the wagon and hiding these feelings, affectionately greeted his wife. “Have you come to show us how to kill the Matebele, Mhudi? Could you not have trusted us men to do the work? Now, sit down and let us hear how you are going to do it.” They carried on a dialogue.

She laughed and replied. “I am not after Matebele, I am after you. What's the matter with your arm?”

“Where are the children?” he asked, without answering her question.

“At home with their aunts.”

“How did you manage to get here?” he asked again.

“Have I not the use of my legs and both arms? What's the matter with your arm?”

“Come over here, sit down and have some meat, then tell us all the news.”

Mhudi and her friends having had refreshments she said in answer to Ra-Thaga's questions that she had been restless since he left. She became indisposed and as the doctors failed to cure her she thought she would go and find her husband. So leaving the children with her relatives she departed, and the sickness left her the day she set out on her journey.

“Alone?” exclaimed Ra-Thaga in amazement.

“Yes, alone,” she replied.

“Silly woman! And how did they allow you to do it? Where did they expect you would land?”

“Exactly where I am now,” replied Mhudi triumphantly. I did not ask anybody's permission. Besides, the wake of the army is unmistakeable unless one deliberately intended to get lost. After a weary tramp of four days

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through a dreary country I overtook some Dutch wagons and travelled with them till after we crossed the Great River. Parties returning from the front with cattle were often met with and their good reports about the fight excited everybody. But some of them told us you had been killed. Thereafter the wagons travelled too slow for me and I left the Boers behind. I am thankful to them, however, for I could hardly have crossed the Great River alone. Besides, they provisioned me for several days.”

“I thought you always found the Boers such awful people?” said her husband with a smile.

“Wait until I tell you what happened at the river,” she retorted.

“And what was that?” asked Ra-Thaga.

“As we were crossing the Lekwa I sat in the rear of one of the wagons. Behind us, the Hottentot leader of the next wagon's team swam so near that he often touched the brake of our wagon. I could easily speak to him from where I sat. suddenly something went wrong with his team. Two of the middle oxen got entangled with their yoke and chain and the wagon stopped amid stream. His name was angrily shouted and abuses were hurled at him by nearly every Boer, each trying to out-do the others in their expletives. It was Dancer this, Dancer that and Dancer again and again, in a chorus of profanity that conveyed to me much meaning but very little intelligence. The Boers in our wagon also shouted their imprecations at Dancer — they frightened me terribly, for I feared they were going to fling me into the water. Perhaps they might have done so if the trouble had been among our oxen. Fortunately we got through and they unhooked our team and extricated the next wagon with the two teams of oxen.

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“As soon as the convoy got through Dancer was tied to the wagon wheel and flogged till he was half dead. For the life of me I cannot understand why a leader, any more than the other people in the wagon, should be flogged for a tangle among the bullocks. But that was not all. After Dancer was beaten, there were loud calls for another little Hottentot. I never found out what was his crime, but the Boers called out, 'Jan, Jan!' Poor little Jan who was minding some sheep hard by, was dragged along, tied up and mercilessly punished.

“A pretty Boer girl in the wagon in which I cam remonstrated with her mother for keeping quiet while Jan was being beaten for no cause whatever. The Boers are cruel but they sometimes breed angels,” concluded Mhudi, “and Annetje is one of them.”

“What is her name?” asked Ra-Thaga quickly.

“Annetje,” replied Mhudi, “the girl whose brother was killed by the Matebele while out spying with Taolo and Moremi.”

“And where did you leave their wagon?” he asked impatiently.

“I believe the name of the river is Matloasane, two days' drive from this side of the great Lekwa  1 .”

“And who are your friends?” enquired her husband, looking at the two women with whom Mhudi shared her food.

“This beautiful lady,” she said, “is Queen of the Matebele —“

Ra-Thaga started. “What! Mzilikazi's wife? Where did you find her, and what does she want among us?”

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“Sh-sh, not so loud or you might frighten her. This good lady was turned out of their city through the evil influence of her rivals three summers ago, and she has been hiding among Mogale's people; but hearing of her people's plight she felt she must at all hazards return to them. She is on her way to find her husband, take her place by his side and share in all his troubles.”

“What a noble woman!” exclaimed Ra-Thaga in admiration. “She is as well-bred as she is fair of countenance. But how will she get through? Mzilikazi is probably killed by now. Still death has become so tame that I am yet alive after having been twice accounted dead. Mzilikazi too might be just as fortunate, notwithstanding that report has killed him about six times during this campaign. Where did you meet her?”

“I met her two days ago, and being on the same quest we quickly fell in love with each other. The other one is a Rolong girl who has been captive among the Matebele since her childhood when Kunana was sacked. She wept for very joy on seeing me and talking once again to one of her own folk in her mother tongue after so many moons; but so attached has she become to this noble Queen, that she realizes the inhumanity of deserting her now in this war-devastated wilderness. After my own alarming experiences I cannot but encourage the girl in her sympathy for the lonely Queen, for indeed it is a shame that one so dear and so good-hearted should be a Matebele.”

Ra-Thaga abruptly broke the interview with his wife and ran after a young Boer.

Umnandi, the Matebele Queen, shuddered on seeing him start off. She thought he was going to betray her to the Boers. Mhudi however assured her that her husband, unlike many men, did not have a heart of stone.

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“What is your wife after?” enquired Phil Jay, who stopped in answer to Ra-Thaga's call.

“She has come to tell us that Annetje is not hundreds of miles away as you said awhile ago, but only a day or two's ride from here.”

This was greater news to Phil Jay than the expected information from the front. He was at once overwhelmed with ideas. His head was reeling with excitement and he wished to fly and meet Annetje. He could not desert the commando without disgracing himself, and possibly losing Annetje in the bargain — the natural punishment for such unmanly behaviour. He could not hope to disappear for two days and return to camp before he was wanted. What then was to be done? Oh! If he could only persuade the Field Cornet to send him back with the next field-post, he might be the first to break to Annetje the news of the dramatic return of her brother who was supposed to be dead. How could he manage this?

*   *   *   *

In due course the scouts reported that the woods were clear of the Matebele impis. The news of their rout being established, Potgieter gathered his burgers to his laager outside the ruins of Inzwinyani, where they held a service of thanksgiving to the God of the Boers.

“You know,” Ra-Thaga used to say, “the Boers can do many things in this world but singing is not one of them. On that day, however, the Boers sang as they never did before or since. I have been to Grahamstown and heard English congregations sing with a huge pipe organ that shook the building with its sound, like the pipes and brass horns of English soldiers on the march; I have been to Morija and heard Pastor Mabille, the best singer that ever held a church service, and the Basuto

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congregations render their beautiful hymns in answer to the signal he gave; I have been to Bethany and heard the most perfect singing by Native choristers under German leadership; but touched as I was by the rhythm of their drum-like voices, they always left something to be desired, when I thought of the manner in which those Boers sang that morning in the level valley bottom near Inzwinyani ruins, their old hymn “Juich aarde, juich alom den Heer.”  2 

Even those who knew not their language felt that they were listening to a stirring song of deliverance expressed by the souls of a people who, for the time being at any rate, felt profoundly grateful to their God.

*   *   *   *

By daybreak next day a detachment of Barolong were ordered to return with some cattle, and Phil Jay was placed in charge of the company and ordered to relate to the Boers all the news about the war. Ra-Thaga, who was one of the company, returned home with his wife — she had been deftly attending to his wound, which had now healed. Before their departure, Mhudi took an affecting farewell from Umnandi and wished her a safe journey and reunion with her consort.

“Good-bye, my sister,” she said. “I am returning to Thaba Ncho for I have found my husband: mayest thou be as fortunate in the search for thine own.”

“Umnandi salutes thee also and thanks thee for the brief but happy time we have spent together. Thou hast a welcome destination in Thabo Ncho while I (supposing I meet my husband) know not what the future may have in store for me.”

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“Nay, not so, my Matebele sister, for the gods who protected thee from the wrath of Mzilikazi will surely accompany thee in the search; seek him and when thou hast recovered the lost favour of thy royal lord, urge him to give up wars and adopt a more happy form of manly sport. In that he could surely do much more than my husband who is no king.”

“Nay,” retorted Umnandi ruefully. “Thine is a royal husband, the king of the morrow, with a home and a country to go to. What is my lord without his throne, for what is a defeated king with his city burnt? It is no bright destiny I look forward to, but a blank gloom. I shared the glory of Mzilikazi when his subjects came and prostrated themselves before him for then they always called at my dwelling to do me homage. The jealous machinations of my rivals drove me from out of the city and forced me abroad to seek for shelter; but now that I hear Mzilikazi's glory is overthrown, I regard it my duty to seek him and share his doom if he will but permit me.”

“How wretched,” cried Mhudi, sorrowfully, “that with so many wild animals in the woods, men in whose counsels we have no share, should constantly wage war, drain women's eyes of tears and saturate the earth with God's best creation — the blood of the sons of women. What will convince them of the worthlessness of this game, I wonder?”

“Nothing, my sister,” moaned Umnandi with a sigh, “so long as there are two men left on earth I am afraid there will be war.”

“Already the dust-clouds of the wagons are receding in the distance; the darkness will overtake us ere I reach them and make it difficult for me to trail my people; so we must part. Good-bye, my sister,” continued Mhudi

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as the two women clasped each other. “Farewell, thou first Matebele with a human heart that ever crossed my way. Mayest thou be as successful in thy quest as I have been in mine. May the gods be forgiving to thy lord and make him deserve thy nobility, and may the god of rain shower blessings upon thy reunion. Good-bye, my Matebele sister; may there be no more war but plenty of rain instead.”

“Oh, that I could share thy hopes,” rejoined Umnandi plaintively. “Good-bye, my beloved friend. Peace be to thee and thy husband. I am going into the wilderness and will not rest till I have found Mzilikazi. Sala hahle 3  my Mlolweni Sister.”

“That thou wouldest find him, is the ardent wish of Mhudi. Urge him, even as I would urge all men of my race, to gather more sense and cease warring against their kind. Depart in peace, my sister. Tsamaea Sentle  4 .”

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Chapter 21.

Mhudi and Umnandi.

The friendship between Phil Jay and Ra-Thaga had not suffered in the least from the events of the past few days; so leaving the wagons among the trees near the dell, they went to sit under a shady wild syringa, a little distance apart from the camp.

Phil Jay examined and permanganated his wound once again; and having re-adjusted the sling round his arm, he proceeded to use his ramrod on his own rifle and that of his wounded black friend. By the side of the kloof, not far from where they sat, was a trickling fountain. The tiny perennial streamlets that oozed from it had furrowed the escarpment, leading first through a patch of bulrushes, then, widening and deepening its course, the water wound its way underneath two rows of Modubu trees down to the dell below. Near the foot of the scarp the stream spouted and widened into a creek whose banks were rich with the verdant grass and other luxurious undergrowth. These provided food and shelter for the numerous herds of game that quickened the surrounding woods. Lilies and daisies along the glen had long since succumbed to the cold breath of Autumn and left their tender stubbles to mark the spots where once they bloomed. Fallen petals of withering wild poppies littered the earth beneath the Mopane trees, but the hardy marigolds survived the blast and garnished both sides of the rivulet which, unmindful of the seasons, wended its way beneath the water-lilies and rendered a perennial tribute to the great Marico River some miles to the west.

Leafy trees with creepers round their stout stems stood on the fertile banks of the rustling creek, where their branches furnished many an aerial tryst for birds of every plume. Nature had spread a peaceful calm around oasis, and it were gross sacrilege for man to rupture this the sublimity of the wilderness with his everlasting squabbles.

“I do wish the Matebele would come,” said Phil, still pushing and tugging at the ramrod, cleaning the guns.

“And what would you do with them?” asked his sable companion.

Phil: “I will catch Mzilikazi alive, and tie him to the wagon wheel; then Potgieter will make me his captain, and you will be my right-hand man.”

Ra-Thaga: “That will not do, for your people will not tolerate me. If they get enraged by nothing more than a drink of water out of their water-pail, they are not likely to allow me a place near their Captain.”

Phil: “But to tell the truth, I get on much better with you than with many of my own people. I owe you more than I could ever repay. But for you, Mogale's people would have killed me, or handed me to the Matebele as they did with Sarel Van Zyl. And since his disappearance, I realize all the more forcibly how much I am in your debt. If ever I become a Commander, you must come and stay near me.”

Ra-Thaga: “Oh no! I am not going to abide with a boy. You should get a wife first and take your place among men before thinking of that. What would my children think of me if I were to be the right-hand man of a wifeless youth?”

Phil: “Are those your terms?”

Ra-Thaga: “Without joking, it is time you did. Look at the advantages. Besides, marriage will give you two mothers — your own and the wife's; the latter the greatest of the two.”

Phil: “Is that the reason why your people call them the plain mother and the fine mother respectively?”

Ra-Thaga: “Yes, and let me tell you why I am so glad Mzilikazi is getting a beating. When he is killed, I shall return to Kunana, walk around the old place and venerate the ground where lived and worked my mother-in-law whom I never saw. I shall go down to the field of carnage, bestride the old battle-field, and say: Here fell the noble Rolong woman who gave life to my faithful Mhudi. Somewhere here lie the remains of the woman who mothered my wife and nourished every fibre of her beautiful form. Then I will call to her spirit and say : Come down from the heights and approve of the feeble cares I am trying to bestow on the noble treasure thou hast bequeathed to me. My mother, O, cradle of my wife! That after all thy pains and nursing, thou shouldst have been hounded out of this life without receiving a pin from the worthless fellow who wived thy noble offspring! (After a long pause.) Now, seriously, why don't you marry, Phil Jay?”

Phil: “Well, you see, the girls are — er — er … ”

Ra-Thaga: “Are what? I have been to Moroka's Hoek and seen the Boer girls. They are all crazy about you. I heard several of them say so.”

Phil: “Which one?”

Ra-Thaga: “Everyone.”

Phil: “But you know I cannot marry them all.”

Ra-Thaga: “Why, don't you fancy anyone?”

Again there was no answer, and Ra-Thaga continued:

“A man was not made to live alone. Had it not been for Mhudi, I don't think you would have known me at all. She made me what I am. I feel certain that your manhood will never be recognised as long as you remain wifeless. Marry a wife, Phil, and you will soon understand the Barolong, and — listen! After taking to yourself a wife, you will realise that you knew nothing at all about your own people, the Boers, for you will begin to understand them properly when your young wife has unbosomed herself to you. Now, Phil, why don't you marry Van Zyl's daughter?”

“Which one? Annetje? And why?” Phil's impatience was noticeable as he put the questions in rapid succession.

“I will tell you why,” said Ra-Thaga. “I don't go about Moroka's Hoek with my eyes and ears shut. She has got a pair of bewitching eyes, and the moment you appear I have noticed that she always slips away like a mouse at the sight of a cat. She will either go to play at the far end of the camp or disappear into the interior of her mother's hut. Most of the time she spends working with elderly women, mending clothes, cooking food or boiling soap, and her ways are so admirable I have often said to myself that this daughter of Van Zyl is fit to marry the future King of the Boers.”

“Do you remember when we returned from the spying trip? I noticed that many of the girls were openly shaking your hand and hugging you, glad to see you back. I was wondering where she was until I saw her in the interior of the hut, shyly devouring you with her dreamy eyes, but not daring to give vent to her raptures in public. Phil, that's the Nonnie for you! I tasted her roast meat only once since I have known you, and I think her cooking beats your mother's by far. And, oh! How beautifully she talks!”

Phil Jay, who had been listening to these rhapsodies, remained quiet for some little time. The silence of the moment and the girl's absence, hundreds of miles away, was to him symbolical of her retiring disposition. He felt a strange sensation all over him as thoughts of Annetje flitted across his mind. He could not account for these unaccustomed thrills. He mopped his brow, but that did not stop the flow of his perspiration. Modest and retiring as Annetje Van Zyl had always been, he could not forget the occasions on which he discovered her peeping coyly at him through the folds of her cappie; and how quickly she would get out of his way and feel embarrassed if he surprised her anywhere by herself. He saw again in imagination the pure white face, the tender blue eyes and gentle smile. He thought he heard her mellifluous voice, and there was a kind glow all about him, for Ra-Thaga's praises of her stimulated all these feelings. Finally he exclaimed: “Main, Ra-Thaga, I always told you that you had a brown skin over a white heart, but you wouldn't believe me. Do you know I have been thinking of her too; I was too shy to ask anyone's opinion and now you have given me yours without asking. There are times I seem to lose my head over her. The night before last I was dreaming of her in the Camp. Now you have made me crazy and I will never get the frenzy out of my head.”

Suddenly the confabulation between Phil Jay and his solicitous match-maker was disturbed by a rush of men from the Camp. They ran forward to meet a party just arriving. Everybody wanted to be the first to meet the newcomers, and hear from them the very latest new from the front.

“Is Mzilikazi shot yet?” several voices asked.

Phil and Ra-Thaga jumped up and looked in the same direction. The piercing eyes of Ra-Thaga having at that distance established the identity of some of the new arrivals, he too raised his voice and shouted, “Praise, Phil Jay, Praise the God of the Boers.”

“What is the matter?” asked Phil Jay in surprise, still looking intently.

“The girl's brother!” replied Ra-Thaga.

“What girl?” queried Phil Jay, impatiently.

“Van Zyl, the spy we thought was killed; and there is Taolo who was with him.”

For a moment Phil did not know how to act; he seemed dazed with joy. He was not sure if in such circumstances his best course was to move forward or sit down again. He thought of Annetje far away at Moroka's Hoek. He remembered how she had wept over the supposed death of her lost brother, and he wondered if she would survive the reaction that must be caused by his reappearance. How he wished he could be the first bearer of the glad news and break it to her very gently. He knew not how to meet the returned friend, and so Ra-Thaga again rose to the occasion.

“You don't seem to believe that this is the brother of the Nonnie we have been speaking about,” said he.

“Now, what would you have me do?” enquired Phil, rather sheepishly.

“Go and offer him your good-wishes,” replied Ra-Thaga, “Tell him how sorry we are that we missed him when he came in search of us. Offer him some food, and, while he eats, relate to him the experiences of our mission of espionage. I will be there to supplement your remarks wherever necessary.”

Phil at once darted forward, and was soon struggling in the crowd that hurried to reach Van Zyl, whom he succeeded in monopolising. They strolled about together a little among the wagons, being the while immersed in discussing their adventures. After refreshments which Phil procured for his friend, they listened to his story of the sudden condemnation to death and dramatic reprieve of the spies after their captors had heard a rifle shot; how they were retained in order to teach the Matebele the use of the gun; and how they wasted their ammunition and asked to be allowed to go for a fresh supply. How after repeated refusals Moremi was sent, Van Zyl and Taolo being detained at the Matebele capital.

“He was a long time in coming back but we postponed the fatal day,” said Van Zyl, “by constantly reminding our captors that Colesberg, where the powder comes from, takes months and months to reach. If the Allies' attack had been delayed much longer, we must certainly have been put to death for the Matebele patience was well nigh exhausted. However, when the alarm was raised, and panicky reports arrived about the defeat of the Matebele armies, pandemonium reigned in the city and with the aid of some Bahurutshe cattlemen we took advantage of the confusion and effected our escape.”

*   *   *   *

The conversation was interrupted by a sensational movement in the camp. “Basadi, basadi!” (Women! Women!) shouted the crowd.

Everybody looked round and saw a small party arriving near one of the wagons with three women among them. Ra-Thaga and Phil Jay were dumbfounded to recognize Mhudi among the new arrivals.

Glad as Ra-Thaga was to see his wife, he found himself repressing a feeling of anger. He inwardly resented her appearance, because he feared that he would in future be chaffed by other men and called the poltroon who took his wife to war.

Ra-Thaga, still carrying his arm in a sling, came up to the wagon and hiding these feelings, affectionately greeted his wife. “Have you come to show us how to kill the Matebele, Mhudi? Could you not have trusted us men to do the work? Now, sit down and let us hear how you are going to do it.” They carried on a dialogue.

She laughed and replied. “I am not after Matebele, I am after you. What's the matter with your arm?”

“Where are the children?” he asked, without answering her question.

“At home with their aunts.”

“How did you manage to get here?” he asked again.

“Have I not the use of my legs and both arms? What's the matter with your arm?”

“Come over here, sit down and have some meat, then tell us all the news.”

Mhudi and her friends having had refreshments she said in answer to Ra-Thaga's questions that she had been restless since he left. She became indisposed and as the doctors failed to cure her she thought she would go and find her husband. So leaving the children with her relatives she departed, and the sickness left her the day she set out on her journey.

“Alone?” exclaimed Ra-Thaga in amazement.

“Yes, alone,” she replied.

“Silly woman! And how did they allow you to do it? Where did they expect you would land?”

“Exactly where I am now,” replied Mhudi triumphantly. I did not ask anybody's permission. Besides, the wake of the army is unmistakeable unless one deliberately intended to get lost. After a weary tramp of four days through a dreary country I overtook some Dutch wagons and travelled with them till after we crossed the Great River. Parties returning from the front with cattle were often met with and their good reports about the fight excited everybody. But some of them told us you had been killed. Thereafter the wagons travelled too slow for me and I left the Boers behind. I am thankful to them, however, for I could hardly have crossed the Great River alone. Besides, they provisioned me for several days.”

“I thought you always found the Boers such awful people?” said her husband with a smile.

“Wait until I tell you what happened at the river,” she retorted.

“And what was that?” asked Ra-Thaga.

“As we were crossing the Lekwa I sat in the rear of one of the wagons. Behind us, the Hottentot leader of the next wagon's team swam so near that he often touched the brake of our wagon. I could easily speak to him from where I sat. suddenly something went wrong with his team. Two of the middle oxen got entangled with their yoke and chain and the wagon stopped amid stream. His name was angrily shouted and abuses were hurled at him by nearly every Boer, each trying to out-do the others in their expletives. It was Dancer this, Dancer that and Dancer again and again, in a chorus of profanity that conveyed to me much meaning but very little intelligence. The Boers in our wagon also shouted their imprecations at Dancer — they frightened me terribly, for I feared they were going to fling me into the water. Perhaps they might have done so if the trouble had been among our oxen. Fortunately we got through and they unhooked our team and extricated the next wagon with the two teams of oxen.

“As soon as the convoy got through Dancer was tied to the wagon wheel and flogged till he was half dead. For the life of me I cannot understand why a leader, any more than the other people in the wagon, should be flogged for a tangle among the bullocks. But that was not all. After Dancer was beaten, there were loud calls for another little Hottentot. I never found out what was his crime, but the Boers called out, 'Jan, Jan!' Poor little Jan who was minding some sheep hard by, was dragged along, tied up and mercilessly punished.

“A pretty Boer girl in the wagon in which I cam remonstrated with her mother for keeping quiet while Jan was being beaten for no cause whatever. The Boers are cruel but they sometimes breed angels,” concluded Mhudi, “and Annetje is one of them.”

“What is her name?” asked Ra-Thaga quickly.

“Annetje,” replied Mhudi, “the girl whose brother was killed by the Matebele while out spying with Taolo and Moremi.”

“And where did you leave their wagon?” he asked impatiently.

“I believe the name of the river is Matloasane, two days' drive from this side of the great Lekwa  1 .”

“And who are your friends?” enquired her husband, looking at the two women with whom Mhudi shared her food.

“This beautiful lady,” she said, “is Queen of the Matebele —“

Ra-Thaga started. “What! Mzilikazi's wife? Where did you find her, and what does she want among us?”

“Sh-sh, not so loud or you might frighten her. This good lady was turned out of their city through the evil influence of her rivals three summers ago, and she has been hiding among Mogale's people; but hearing of her people's plight she felt she must at all hazards return to them. She is on her way to find her husband, take her place by his side and share in all his troubles.”

“What a noble woman!” exclaimed Ra-Thaga in admiration. “She is as well-bred as she is fair of countenance. But how will she get through? Mzilikazi is probably killed by now. Still death has become so tame that I am yet alive after having been twice accounted dead. Mzilikazi too might be just as fortunate, notwithstanding that report has killed him about six times during this campaign. Where did you meet her?”

“I met her two days ago, and being on the same quest we quickly fell in love with each other. The other one is a Rolong girl who has been captive among the Matebele since her childhood when Kunana was sacked. She wept for very joy on seeing me and talking once again to one of her own folk in her mother tongue after so many moons; but so attached has she become to this noble Queen, that she realizes the inhumanity of deserting her now in this war-devastated wilderness. After my own alarming experiences I cannot but encourage the girl in her sympathy for the lonely Queen, for indeed it is a shame that one so dear and so good-hearted should be a Matebele.”

Ra-Thaga abruptly broke the interview with his wife and ran after a young Boer.

Umnandi, the Matebele Queen, shuddered on seeing him start off. She thought he was going to betray her to the Boers. Mhudi however assured her that her husband, unlike many men, did not have a heart of stone.

“What is your wife after?” enquired Phil Jay, who stopped in answer to Ra-Thaga's call.

“She has come to tell us that Annetje is not hundreds of miles away as you said awhile ago, but only a day or two's ride from here.”

This was greater news to Phil Jay than the expected information from the front. He was at once overwhelmed with ideas. His head was reeling with excitement and he wished to fly and meet Annetje. He could not desert the commando without disgracing himself, and possibly losing Annetje in the bargain — the natural punishment for such unmanly behaviour. He could not hope to disappear for two days and return to camp before he was wanted. What then was to be done? Oh! If he could only persuade the Field Cornet to send him back with the next field-post, he might be the first to break to Annetje the news of the dramatic return of her brother who was supposed to be dead. How could he manage this?

*   *   *   *

In due course the scouts reported that the woods were clear of the Matebele impis. The news of their rout being established, Potgieter gathered his burgers to his laager outside the ruins of Inzwinyani, where they held a service of thanksgiving to the God of the Boers.

“You know,” Ra-Thaga used to say, “the Boers can do many things in this world but singing is not one of them. On that day, however, the Boers sang as they never did before or since. I have been to Grahamstown and heard English congregations sing with a huge pipe organ that shook the building with its sound, like the pipes and brass horns of English soldiers on the march; I have been to Morija and heard Pastor Mabille, the best singer that ever held a church service, and the Basuto congregations render their beautiful hymns in answer to the signal he gave; I have been to Bethany and heard the most perfect singing by Native choristers under German leadership; but touched as I was by the rhythm of their drum-like voices, they always left something to be desired, when I thought of the manner in which those Boers sang that morning in the level valley bottom near Inzwinyani ruins, their old hymn “Juich aarde, juich alom den Heer.”  2 

Even those who knew not their language felt that they were listening to a stirring song of deliverance expressed by the souls of a people who, for the time being at any rate, felt profoundly grateful to their God.

*   *   *   *

By daybreak next day a detachment of Barolong were ordered to return with some cattle, and Phil Jay was placed in charge of the company and ordered to relate to the Boers all the news about the war. Ra-Thaga, who was one of the company, returned home with his wife — she had been deftly attending to his wound, which had now healed. Before their departure, Mhudi took an affecting farewell from Umnandi and wished her a safe journey and reunion with her consort.

“Good-bye, my sister,” she said. “I am returning to Thaba Ncho for I have found my husband: mayest thou be as fortunate in the search for thine own.”

“Umnandi salutes thee also and thanks thee for the brief but happy time we have spent together. Thou hast a welcome destination in Thabo Ncho while I (supposing I meet my husband) know not what the future may have in store for me.”

“Nay, not so, my Matebele sister, for the gods who protected thee from the wrath of Mzilikazi will surely accompany thee in the search; seek him and when thou hast recovered the lost favour of thy royal lord, urge him to give up wars and adopt a more happy form of manly sport. In that he could surely do much more than my husband who is no king.”

“Nay,” retorted Umnandi ruefully. “Thine is a royal husband, the king of the morrow, with a home and a country to go to. What is my lord without his throne, for what is a defeated king with his city burnt? It is no bright destiny I look forward to, but a blank gloom. I shared the glory of Mzilikazi when his subjects came and prostrated themselves before him for then they always called at my dwelling to do me homage. The jealous machinations of my rivals drove me from out of the city and forced me abroad to seek for shelter; but now that I hear Mzilikazi's glory is overthrown, I regard it my duty to seek him and share his doom if he will but permit me.”

“How wretched,” cried Mhudi, sorrowfully, “that with so many wild animals in the woods, men in whose counsels we have no share, should constantly wage war, drain women's eyes of tears and saturate the earth with God's best creation — the blood of the sons of women. What will convince them of the worthlessness of this game, I wonder?”

“Nothing, my sister,” moaned Umnandi with a sigh, “so long as there are two men left on earth I am afraid there will be war.”

“Already the dust-clouds of the wagons are receding in the distance; the darkness will overtake us ere I reach them and make it difficult for me to trail my people; so we must part. Good-bye, my sister,” continued Mhudi as the two women clasped each other. “Farewell, thou first Matebele with a human heart that ever crossed my way. Mayest thou be as successful in thy quest as I have been in mine. May the gods be forgiving to thy lord and make him deserve thy nobility, and may the god of rain shower blessings upon thy reunion. Good-bye, my Matebele sister; may there be no more war but plenty of rain instead.”

“Oh, that I could share thy hopes,” rejoined Umnandi plaintively. “Good-bye, my beloved friend. Peace be to thee and thy husband. I am going into the wilderness and will not rest till I have found Mzilikazi. Sala hahle 3  my Mlolweni Sister.”

“That thou wouldest find him, is the ardent wish of Mhudi. Urge him, even as I would urge all men of my race, to gather more sense and cease warring against their kind. Depart in peace, my sister. Tsamaea Sentle  4 .”


Footnotes & References

#NoteDescription
1LekwaVaal River
2'Juich aarde, juich alom den Heer.'The Old Hundredth in Dutch (Psalm 100:1)
3Sala hahleFare thee well in Zulu
4Tsamaea SentleFarewell in Rolong