Chapter 3.

Mhudi's Alarming Experiences.

A royal pair never sat down to a meal with greater relish than the rescued Mhudi and her chivalrous comrade, as together they partook of the wild beef from a flat stone, which served as an improvised dish and table in one. Musing the while over their unexpected meeting; “and after all,” thought Ra-Thaga, “the gods are indeed propitious to allow someone to comfort me after the massacre of our people.” Each of them thought it rather fortunate that the other was of the opposite sex.

“Now tell me,” said Ra-Thaga at the end of their meal, “where did you come from, my friend, and how did you get here?”

“No,” replied Mhudi, “though I have lost my people, I have not lost my manners. Men first; you have the right-of-way. You tell me, brother, how you came here in time to save me from the lion, and I will give you my story afterwards.”

They exchanged a few more pleasantries, then Ra-Thaga, having recounted his part in the memorable cataclysm added: “Future generations will never know war, for the Barolong are an exterminated people. The famous race of warriors and descendants of Tau — the Lion of the North — who in their wars never tarnished their spears with children's blood, are no more. The Barolong, noted for their agility and dexterity with the sword — a clean sword that never stained itself with the blood of a woman — are wiped out. Their fire is extinguished, their city flattened and their name blotted off the face of the earth. In our wars men killed other warriors, and captured

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the unarmed and non-resisting. They took the women and children home. But the Matebele, oh, the Matebele! Could it be real or was it only a dream? In fact, I am not even certain whether the bloody operations I have described took place in two or more nights, or only one. Until I met you, I did not believe that another of our tribe existed, and I had never expected to hear our language spoken again. On seeing you I did not believe that you were a Morolong. But it turns out that two of us, at any rate, are left alive to tell the story, but — to whom? Ah, yes, to whom? …”

“Now,do tell me how you left Kunana that used to be our home. Kunana, where we enjoyed a peace and prosperity that were unequalled anywhere; where our cattle waxed fat along the green valleys and bred like so many wild animals; where our flocks with the jocund lambs around their dams would frolic, while the she-goats fed from two to three kids each, till we were forced to increase and extend our outposts to give them more and still more space to roam about; Kunana, where maidens sang and danced in the moonlight and made life merry with their mirth; Kunana, our former home, but now, one of the Matebele outposts. Do tell me, my sister, how you escaped and how you ever reached here.”

“How can I explain?” commenced Mhudi; “where shall I begin, for, who could have foretold in my childhood days, that the sweet life at Kunana would end like this?”

“On that terrible day after the sun had risen and cleared the horizon, we girls took our water-pails as usual and fetched the sweet water from the spring near the valley. The flocks had left the fold and we separated the kids from their mothers in order to milk the goats on their

page 19
return from the bush next afternoon. The summer sun shone overhead and the shades of the camelthorn trees were cool; so we took our wooden pestles, sat merrily in a circle under the shady branches busily pounding the corn to prepare porridge for the evening meal.”

“On that last afternoon I had taken a pestle to hurry along with my cookery duties, when, suddenly, the watchmen's horns sounded in different parts of the town. Being pre-occupied with my work I paid but passing attention to such masculine affairs, until I observed my mother hurrying indoors — I know not whence — and was terrified to see her weeping. At the same moment I noticed a commotion among the crowd of men all around, everybody hurrying towards the Chief's Court. Rushing forward to find out the cause of my mother's grief, and how I could help her, I learned from the dear soul the meaning of the alarm.”

“My mother had told us one evening that two Matebele had been killed. In our girlish simplicity we hardly enquired for the reason. We took it that these Khonkhobes had no business in our country, and that it was just proper that they should be sent off or put to death. We had often heard how they carry off women and children, and we felt that we were safer with Bhoya's dead bones in the ravine than with Bhoya himself prowling about the country and levying taxes; but, ah! that's where we were mistaken. The news of the death of the two Matebele Indunas had hardly got about when the alarm was sounded. We were ordered to prepare to leave with the children at nightfall, and while we were tying up some provisions, a hideous cry rent the air to the north end of the town as the enemy attacked, and we had to flee before sunset. Mother had the baby, and I carried my little brother and

page 20
a few articles. The bushes on the southern outskirts of the town were swarming with a moving mass of women and children; while the tramp, tramp of the march of many pairs of feet was drowned by the wild screams of thousands of people at the far end of the town, as they received the thrusts of the Matebele spears.”

“A young mother and friend of mine who joined me later in the course of our flight, gave me some harrowing details of the attack. She herself had one of her breasts ripped open by one of those human vultures and the running and bleeding exhausted her soon after she joined me. She begged me to leave her and fly with the little ones. She told me that the Matebele took her baby from her and dashed its little head upon a rock till its brains bespattered those around. Other women, she told me, met their death heroically. My cousin Baile, she said, was near her when she received a stab from a Matebele who spoke our tongue fluently; and Baile said to him: 'Kill me, you coward, go back and brag that you have killed a woman in kirtles. If that be your Zulu prowess, I admire the Bechauna trait of measuring strength with bearded men, and never defiling their spears with women's blood.' She was still speaking when another stabbed her from behind; and, as she dropped, this Matebele speared his comrade for allowing the dog of a Chuana woman time to curse his King's armies; many similar incidents she told me, before she entreated me to leave her and flee.”

“We had not gone far out of Kunana when we found that the place was completely surrounded, and there was little hope of escape. Some women were already turning back, but we, who came last, had seen enough to satisfy us that it was better to meet our death endeavouring to get away. I shall never forget the happenings of that night.

page 21
The screams of women and children as the Matebele hordes met us reminded me of the shambles of which my mother used to tell us; for, up till then, the women were unaware how carefully they were waylaid. There were five or six Matebele behind every little bush greeting a woman with a stab as she tried to pass a tree. And if one woman managed to pass while these gallant soldiers were engaged in slaying another woman and her children, there would be another soldier behind the next tree ready to prod her, and so things went on until my turn came. As I passed a shrub, behind which it was impossible to suspect that a man could be hiding, a big naked soldier waved his assegai in the air, and brought it down upon my little brother who was still strapped to my back. The point of the assegai just grazed the skin of my nape. The force felled me and the Matebele withdrew his spear and let me and the child on the ground. It was then, while in this position that I saw more butchery than I had ever heard of. Here a defenceless woman, there an innocent child would be ambushed and stabbed to death; the ferocious brutes were evidently pleased with the evening's work.”

“My little brother on my back only moaned a little and died shortly after. I noticed that the blood around me was the poor child's and not my own, and that I had escaped with a slight scratch. Placing the child beneath the tree, near other victims, I fled from the hideous place. With my relatives wiped out, I wondered why I still cared to live, but I ran from the field of carnage to where I do not know. I had lost my bearings and knew not which was east, west or home; but I knew that so long as I kept my back towards the lurid sky, reddened by the flames of the burning city, I was running away from danger.”

page 22

Chapter 3.

Mhudi's Alarming Experiences.

A royal pair never sat down to a meal with greater relish than the rescued Mhudi and her chivalrous comrade, as together they partook of the wild beef from a flat stone, which served as an improvised dish and table in one. Musing the while over their unexpected meeting; “and after all,” thought Ra-Thaga, “the gods are indeed propitious to allow someone to comfort me after the massacre of our people.” Each of them thought it rather fortunate that the other was of the opposite sex.

“Now tell me,” said Ra-Thaga at the end of their meal, “where did you come from, my friend, and how did you get here?”

“No,” replied Mhudi, “though I have lost my people, I have not lost my manners. Men first; you have the right-of-way. You tell me, brother, how you came here in time to save me from the lion, and I will give you my story afterwards.”

They exchanged a few more pleasantries, then Ra-Thaga, having recounted his part in the memorable cataclysm added: “Future generations will never know war, for the Barolong are an exterminated people. The famous race of warriors and descendants of Tau — the Lion of the North — who in their wars never tarnished their spears with children's blood, are no more. The Barolong, noted for their agility and dexterity with the sword — a clean sword that never stained itself with the blood of a woman — are wiped out. Their fire is extinguished, their city flattened and their name blotted off the face of the earth. In our wars men killed other warriors, and captured the unarmed and non-resisting. They took the women and children home. But the Matebele, oh, the Matebele! Could it be real or was it only a dream? In fact, I am not even certain whether the bloody operations I have described took place in two or more nights, or only one. Until I met you, I did not believe that another of our tribe existed, and I had never expected to hear our language spoken again. On seeing you I did not believe that you were a Morolong. But it turns out that two of us, at any rate, are left alive to tell the story, but — to whom? Ah, yes, to whom? …”

“Now,do tell me how you left Kunana that used to be our home. Kunana, where we enjoyed a peace and prosperity that were unequalled anywhere; where our cattle waxed fat along the green valleys and bred like so many wild animals; where our flocks with the jocund lambs around their dams would frolic, while the she-goats fed from two to three kids each, till we were forced to increase and extend our outposts to give them more and still more space to roam about; Kunana, where maidens sang and danced in the moonlight and made life merry with their mirth; Kunana, our former home, but now, one of the Matebele outposts. Do tell me, my sister, how you escaped and how you ever reached here.”

“How can I explain?” commenced Mhudi; “where shall I begin, for, who could have foretold in my childhood days, that the sweet life at Kunana would end like this?”

“On that terrible day after the sun had risen and cleared the horizon, we girls took our water-pails as usual and fetched the sweet water from the spring near the valley. The flocks had left the fold and we separated the kids from their mothers in order to milk the goats on their return from the bush next afternoon. The summer sun shone overhead and the shades of the camelthorn trees were cool; so we took our wooden pestles, sat merrily in a circle under the shady branches busily pounding the corn to prepare porridge for the evening meal.”

“On that last afternoon I had taken a pestle to hurry along with my cookery duties, when, suddenly, the watchmen's horns sounded in different parts of the town. Being pre-occupied with my work I paid but passing attention to such masculine affairs, until I observed my mother hurrying indoors — I know not whence — and was terrified to see her weeping. At the same moment I noticed a commotion among the crowd of men all around, everybody hurrying towards the Chief's Court. Rushing forward to find out the cause of my mother's grief, and how I could help her, I learned from the dear soul the meaning of the alarm.”

“My mother had told us one evening that two Matebele had been killed. In our girlish simplicity we hardly enquired for the reason. We took it that these Khonkhobes had no business in our country, and that it was just proper that they should be sent off or put to death. We had often heard how they carry off women and children, and we felt that we were safer with Bhoya's dead bones in the ravine than with Bhoya himself prowling about the country and levying taxes; but, ah! that's where we were mistaken. The news of the death of the two Matebele Indunas had hardly got about when the alarm was sounded. We were ordered to prepare to leave with the children at nightfall, and while we were tying up some provisions, a hideous cry rent the air to the north end of the town as the enemy attacked, and we had to flee before sunset. Mother had the baby, and I carried my little brother and a few articles. The bushes on the southern outskirts of the town were swarming with a moving mass of women and children; while the tramp, tramp of the march of many pairs of feet was drowned by the wild screams of thousands of people at the far end of the town, as they received the thrusts of the Matebele spears.”

“A young mother and friend of mine who joined me later in the course of our flight, gave me some harrowing details of the attack. She herself had one of her breasts ripped open by one of those human vultures and the running and bleeding exhausted her soon after she joined me. She begged me to leave her and fly with the little ones. She told me that the Matebele took her baby from her and dashed its little head upon a rock till its brains bespattered those around. Other women, she told me, met their death heroically. My cousin Baile, she said, was near her when she received a stab from a Matebele who spoke our tongue fluently; and Baile said to him: 'Kill me, you coward, go back and brag that you have killed a woman in kirtles. If that be your Zulu prowess, I admire the Bechauna trait of measuring strength with bearded men, and never defiling their spears with women's blood.' She was still speaking when another stabbed her from behind; and, as she dropped, this Matebele speared his comrade for allowing the dog of a Chuana woman time to curse his King's armies; many similar incidents she told me, before she entreated me to leave her and flee.”

“We had not gone far out of Kunana when we found that the place was completely surrounded, and there was little hope of escape. Some women were already turning back, but we, who came last, had seen enough to satisfy us that it was better to meet our death endeavouring to get away. I shall never forget the happenings of that night. The screams of women and children as the Matebele hordes met us reminded me of the shambles of which my mother used to tell us; for, up till then, the women were unaware how carefully they were waylaid. There were five or six Matebele behind every little bush greeting a woman with a stab as she tried to pass a tree. And if one woman managed to pass while these gallant soldiers were engaged in slaying another woman and her children, there would be another soldier behind the next tree ready to prod her, and so things went on until my turn came. As I passed a shrub, behind which it was impossible to suspect that a man could be hiding, a big naked soldier waved his assegai in the air, and brought it down upon my little brother who was still strapped to my back. The point of the assegai just grazed the skin of my nape. The force felled me and the Matebele withdrew his spear and let me and the child on the ground. It was then, while in this position that I saw more butchery than I had ever heard of. Here a defenceless woman, there an innocent child would be ambushed and stabbed to death; the ferocious brutes were evidently pleased with the evening's work.”

“My little brother on my back only moaned a little and died shortly after. I noticed that the blood around me was the poor child's and not my own, and that I had escaped with a slight scratch. Placing the child beneath the tree, near other victims, I fled from the hideous place. With my relatives wiped out, I wondered why I still cared to live, but I ran from the field of carnage to where I do not know. I had lost my bearings and knew not which was east, west or home; but I knew that so long as I kept my back towards the lurid sky, reddened by the flames of the burning city, I was running away from danger.”