Chapter 4.

Rays of Sunshine.

Mhudi continues her story. “At day-break I found myself at the bottom of a deep ravine, in which I crouched for the greater part of the day — afraid of the crawling, venomous snakes, if I lay there long — and in fear of the tigers, if I wandered out of it; but hunger and thirst forced me to get out eventually and find something just to moisten my parched throat. So dry was my tongue that it seemed to have stuck to the roof of my mouth. When I raised myself, my limbs ached so painfully that I imagined I was a mass of sores. I was stiff as a result of the night's running and perpetual anxiety.”

“Raising myself, I stumbled along the ravine afraid lest I should meet Matebele or fierce wild beasts. The loneliness was nerve-racking. I saw rows and rows of trees covered with ripe berries, but hungry as I was, I felt too thirsty to eat the fruit. At length I saw a couple of hartebeest in the distance, which shied at me. As they bolted, four smaller buck also darted away from the same place. This satisfied me that there must be some drinking water and no Matebele about; as the animals would not then come near the place. The spot from which the antelopes ran was about two hundred yards distant; yet, being so stiff and footsore, I was all the afternoon trying to get there. I reached the place eventually and found a beautiful pool of water.”

“Shaded as it was by trees and the scarp above the ravine, it was nice and cool. I must have drunk too much of it for though my thirst was gone, my pains had

page 23
become worse. Passing slowly along the gully I picked and ate some wood-berries; and before I had gone very far the sun had set. There was an uncanny stillness all around me in the gathering darkness and the hideous silence accentuated my loneliness. Finding a convenient cove, sheltered by a cluster of trees, I laid down upon it and afterwards fell asleep. In my sleep during the night, I suffered from awful hallucinations. I saw all over again the butcheries at Kunana and the terrible faces of the ferocious Majahas  1 . More than once I would dream of a stark naked Matebele rushing at me open-mouthed and ready to fling his spear at me. The terror would force me to to scream aloud and, screaming, I would wake up with a start to find it was only a dream. After each such awakening, my heart would beat loudly for I feared that the scream had penetrated the darkness that shielded me from the view of dangerous nocturnal prowlers. The howling of wolves and jackals, some of them uncomfortably near my hiding place, did not allay my fears. Then I would lie awake, my heart beating rapidly, before I could fall asleep again.”

“When my fears had become unbearable, it was with some relief that I heard the first notes of the signing of the early birds and knew that there harbingers of the dawn which would soon dispel the night and its unseen terrors.”

“I continued my stay at this spot for several days. Beginning to feel less fearful, I used to saunter out by day, refresh myself with a drink of water at the pool, then wander along the gully to gather some roots and wood berries about the slope; then I would get back to my

page 24
recess and remain in hiding in an attitude that enabled me to see without being seen.”

“In this position I would watch the different kinds of game that came to the pool or wandered away from there, in groups or in files, after browsing about the undergrowth around the water. I couldn't tell what I was expecting from my continued stay at that place. My one desire was not to be seen at all.”

“One day, I decided to walk along the stony slope to the summit of a kopje at the far end of the ridge. My limbs, being much better in spite of the abiding stiffness, I could pick my way much more easily over the rocks. I couldn't tell what part of the world that was, but when I reached the summit, a wide stretch of country was exposed to view and the sight of the outer world fascinated me immensely. Emerging from my limited outlook of many days in the ravine, where only the music of the birds could reach my ears, the sight of the extensive landscape was like being born afresh. The succession of woods and clearings, depressions and rising ground, with now and then the gambols of a frisky troupe of gnu among the distant trees, where the woods were less dense, refreshed me, for I had never seen the world to such perfection.”

“A gentle breeze was blowing with a rustle over the grasstops; the leaves of the mimosa and wacht'nbietje bushes and the silver leaves of the yellow-wood tree waved like fans in the path of the wind; it was bracing to find so much life in the air in spite of the awe of death by which I had been surrounded.”

“As I inhaled the fragrance of the leafy trees, the wind, which had a stimulating effect, acted like medicine upon my system. Now and again I would hear some rustle behind the trees nearest to me as a duiker or two, having

page 25
suddenly descried me, took fright and scampered down the hillside.”

“I enjoyed the refreshing view for a time, although haunted by fear and loneliness; then I retraced my steps and wandered back towards the ravine where there was food and water. Moving along the Vaalbush overlooking the gully on which my cover was nestled, I noticed two men walking in the hollow gully bottom near the foot of the kopje where I happened to be. A chilly thrill of terror passed through me as I noticed that they were following my footmarks. They walked round and round the little tree from which I had picked some berries. They followed my spoors to the side of the kopje, where on the stony slope my footmarks became invisible; then my alarm increased when they returned to the pool, apparently to waylay me there; and before they went back I had seen enough to convince me that they were not Bechuana but Matebele on the war path.”

“The water of that pool, fresh as it was, had no further attraction for me; the berries of the neighbouring slopes had lost their taste; and I decided to leave the place.”

“Descending the kopje on the further side, I ran as fast as I did on my first night out of Kunana. The poignant memories of the massacre helped to accelerate my paces, but I had once more lost my bearings. I knew that my safest course was to run with my right hand towards the sunset, but after dark it became difficult to follow my direction. When I stopped in the woods to take a breath and get some bearings, my heart beat so loudly that I feared the Matebele would hear it.”

“The darkness covered the woods like a heavy skin rug. Some jackals started to bark, and the wild hounds commenced to howl, while some near and distant cries

page 26
of wolves caused a chill of fright to run all down my spine. The big star, Kopadilalelo (Venus) shone brightly, supported by myriads of smaller planets, but it did not help me to find my bearings.”

“Suddenly a red glow appeared towards what I took to be the Western horizon. The skies grew red and brilliant to the West, and reminded me of a tale that I heard long ago. It was to this effect: Two men, it was said, decided to determine the course of the sun from West to East, or how he managed, after setting in the West, to return and resume his journey from the East every morning. Someone told them that those desirous of watching the sun's home-coming could do so by staying up all night with their eyes fixed to the West. Their curiosity would be satisfied, so the story went, but they could never live to tell the tale; for none but children of death ever beheld the sun going East.”

“These men, the story proceeds, having taken a strong dose of medicine to prevent death, made up their minds to stay up and chance the consequences.”

“One of them got afraid and entered his hut, leaving his companion to wait and watch alone. As he prepared to go to sleep he heard his friend shouting outside the hut: 'Come! come and see, there he is! There he is … a big round ball as red as blood! Come quickly, he is tearing the skies like a meteor! …… Come and see, he is now returning East!' The man in the hut trembled with fear and would not come out; but when he got up in the morning, he who had seen the big red ball going East, was no more. He had died before the dawn.

“I meditated over this story as I stood and watched the sky in the West becoming redder. I believed that I was about to witness the appearance of 'the blood red

page 27
ball,' see the return of the sun, and die before dawn. I wondered why, after what I had gone through, I should still be afraid of death, which should put an end to all my sufferings, yet, there I was, afraid to die.”

“My heart beat quicker and louder while I could not keep my eyes from the West. At length a wide red rim rose from behind the hills — it emerged slowly — a huge red round ball. It cleared the horizon, grew appreciably smaller, and became whiter the higher it ascended the heavens; then it changed into a silvery white disc, the size of a melon, and I realized that what I had seen was nothing more dangerous than the rising of the moon. Her appearance in the West simply meant that I had not yet found my bearings and it coincided with the appearance of the big star in the East. So, remembering the two Matebele of the previous afternoon, I decided once more to journey on. Every night, thereafter, had its dangers and it seemed that life could not last much longer. Two nights after, I was awakened by a tremendous roar and I started to run. I kept on running, I know not whither or for how long, till an uncanny premonition checked my flight in time to hear a disturbing rustle in the bush to the right of me. Then I felt that I had fled from one danger straight into the horns of another. I had the presence of mind to stand absolutely motionless, when, a huge dark object emerged from the woods alongside and waddled along slowly yet uncomfortably near to where I stood. What the animal was, I knew not, but truly it petrified me with fear, for each moment I expected it to turn around and rush at me. Now and then it would stop as though scenting my presence, then move on slowly again.”

“Cold drops of perspiration rolled down my face and the fright caused shivers to run all over me. It was all I

page 28
could do to stifle my trembling, maintain a deathlike silence and so avert detection. The tension was unbearable for the beast was in no hurry to get away. Each of its slow movements was like an age and intensified my agony. To my relief, the brute at length vanished into the dark woods; but my joy was of short duration for, soon afterwards, I heard the approach of another coming in the same direction almost straight up to me. As it came nearer, my endurance entirely gave out for it seemed that I stood right in the creature's way. I held my breath and assumed a standing posture as the animal halting in front of me, chewed with a champing noise, and swallowed a mouthful of herbs. Whether it was unconscious of my presence, or mistook me for a tree trunk, I know not. By the curved horn over its nose I concluded that it must be a rhinoceros, and mate to the one that first frightened me. Passing so close to me, it seemed that my shaking alone should betray me and provoke an attack. Happily I was left trembling where I stood and my enemy disappeared in the wake of his fellow.”

“After both creatures had gone I started to run. In my haste to get away I found no time to avoid the thorny trees, and the briars played havoc with my limbs.”

“In the course of my flight I thought that someone had struck me a nasty blow across both knees. The earth seemed to give way beneath my feet and I dropped vertically downwards. My chin hit the ground almost at the same time as my elbow, nearly dislocating my right shoulder. I found myself standing straight up, and being partly underground I was unable to move. Then at last I was no longer afraid to die. I had done everything to avoid danger and death, and further endurance seemed impossible. All things in this world have an ending, thought I,

page 29
and my pursuers had now overtaken me; and so surrendering myself to the impending tragedy, I calmly awaited my doom …… I waited but nothing happened. Then, pulling myself together, I found that I had stumbled into a porcupine's hole or it may have been that of an anteater, from which I extricated myself after a long struggle.”

“Happily the moon and stars were there to guide my course, for, on emerging from the hole, I had lost all sense of direction. So I ran and ran; and then I ran again, until I dropped down from sheer exhaustion.”

“It was late in the morning when I woke to dig for roots and continue my aimless wanderings, ever haunted by the melancholy feeling that I would never see my people again.”

*   *   *   *

“Proceeding after sunset, along a sparsely wooded field, I came upon an inviting little nook between two trees. Here I crouched down for the night, and slept like a log. In my sleep, I dreamt that I was travelling alone in search of human company. Pursuing my quest in the heat of a broiling sun, I reached a gigantic tree standing on the bank of a running rivulet, its branches overhanging the flooded spruit. The roaring torrent of the stream dispelled all my hopes of ever venturing across. Being fatigued and footsore, I rested my weary limbs in the shade of the weeping branches of this giant of the woods. Bees had evidently built their hives in the dim cavities around its mighty trunk, for they flew up and down and gathered honey from the blossoms that ornamented its drooping branches. In a familiar buzzing language, they hummed an invitation to me to take shelter in the shade of their stronghold, to eat of

page 30
their fruit and honey and be happy. Notwithstanding this hospitality, I dreamt that I was oppressed by the absence of any sign of human life. Then I was frightened by a rhinoceros approaching me from the river bank. At sight of the beast, I shook in every limb, and I wept as the monster made for me. At that moment a handsome man descended from the tree top, raised me into a hammock which he carefully fastened to two branches high up beyond the reach of the curved horn of the rhinoceros. He was a well-spoken man with a beautiful voice, and he treated me to the joy of hearing our language spoken once again.”

“Awakened from this vision by the cooing of the friendly doves, and the coo-coor-r-roo of the bush pigeons, at daybreak I found myself in a strange country and a different landscape from the land I travelled through at sunset the day before. The koorhan, at the bottom of nearly every grass knoll made the morning lively with their friendly cackling, while the butcher-birds and other warblers also sang or whistled in a variety of dialects.”

“Continuing my ramble I spent the morning in silent thought over the happy import of that dream. Since this morning, I have been wishing to dream again. My only living friends were the turtle doves whose language I thought I could almost understand. I think that if this solitude had been prolonged for another month, I should have been able to sing their songs and learn to converse with them; yet I longed for the company of a man, like the one who appeared in my dream. After my dream, something — I couldn't say what, but, inwardly I had a feeling that something — was about to happen and effect a change in my solitary existence. With my mind thus occupied, I walked over a grassy ridge, where the

page 31
trees were rather sparse. Proceeding more like a girl wandering through her mother's corn-field than one lost in the wilderness, I finally reached the point where I thought I saw the moving tuft of grass, but really a lion, which frightened me and caused me to run straight into your arms.”
page 32

Chapter 4.

Rays of Sunshine.

Mhudi continues her story. “At day-break I found myself at the bottom of a deep ravine, in which I crouched for the greater part of the day — afraid of the crawling, venomous snakes, if I lay there long — and in fear of the tigers, if I wandered out of it; but hunger and thirst forced me to get out eventually and find something just to moisten my parched throat. So dry was my tongue that it seemed to have stuck to the roof of my mouth. When I raised myself, my limbs ached so painfully that I imagined I was a mass of sores. I was stiff as a result of the night's running and perpetual anxiety.”

“Raising myself, I stumbled along the ravine afraid lest I should meet Matebele or fierce wild beasts. The loneliness was nerve-racking. I saw rows and rows of trees covered with ripe berries, but hungry as I was, I felt too thirsty to eat the fruit. At length I saw a couple of hartebeest in the distance, which shied at me. As they bolted, four smaller buck also darted away from the same place. This satisfied me that there must be some drinking water and no Matebele about; as the animals would not then come near the place. The spot from which the antelopes ran was about two hundred yards distant; yet, being so stiff and footsore, I was all the afternoon trying to get there. I reached the place eventually and found a beautiful pool of water.”

“Shaded as it was by trees and the scarp above the ravine, it was nice and cool. I must have drunk too much of it for though my thirst was gone, my pains had become worse. Passing slowly along the gully I picked and ate some wood-berries; and before I had gone very far the sun had set. There was an uncanny stillness all around me in the gathering darkness and the hideous silence accentuated my loneliness. Finding a convenient cove, sheltered by a cluster of trees, I laid down upon it and afterwards fell asleep. In my sleep during the night, I suffered from awful hallucinations. I saw all over again the butcheries at Kunana and the terrible faces of the ferocious Majahas  1 . More than once I would dream of a stark naked Matebele rushing at me open-mouthed and ready to fling his spear at me. The terror would force me to to scream aloud and, screaming, I would wake up with a start to find it was only a dream. After each such awakening, my heart would beat loudly for I feared that the scream had penetrated the darkness that shielded me from the view of dangerous nocturnal prowlers. The howling of wolves and jackals, some of them uncomfortably near my hiding place, did not allay my fears. Then I would lie awake, my heart beating rapidly, before I could fall asleep again.”

“When my fears had become unbearable, it was with some relief that I heard the first notes of the signing of the early birds and knew that there harbingers of the dawn which would soon dispel the night and its unseen terrors.”

“I continued my stay at this spot for several days. Beginning to feel less fearful, I used to saunter out by day, refresh myself with a drink of water at the pool, then wander along the gully to gather some roots and wood berries about the slope; then I would get back to my recess and remain in hiding in an attitude that enabled me to see without being seen.”

“In this position I would watch the different kinds of game that came to the pool or wandered away from there, in groups or in files, after browsing about the undergrowth around the water. I couldn't tell what I was expecting from my continued stay at that place. My one desire was not to be seen at all.”

“One day, I decided to walk along the stony slope to the summit of a kopje at the far end of the ridge. My limbs, being much better in spite of the abiding stiffness, I could pick my way much more easily over the rocks. I couldn't tell what part of the world that was, but when I reached the summit, a wide stretch of country was exposed to view and the sight of the outer world fascinated me immensely. Emerging from my limited outlook of many days in the ravine, where only the music of the birds could reach my ears, the sight of the extensive landscape was like being born afresh. The succession of woods and clearings, depressions and rising ground, with now and then the gambols of a frisky troupe of gnu among the distant trees, where the woods were less dense, refreshed me, for I had never seen the world to such perfection.”

“A gentle breeze was blowing with a rustle over the grasstops; the leaves of the mimosa and wacht'nbietje bushes and the silver leaves of the yellow-wood tree waved like fans in the path of the wind; it was bracing to find so much life in the air in spite of the awe of death by which I had been surrounded.”

“As I inhaled the fragrance of the leafy trees, the wind, which had a stimulating effect, acted like medicine upon my system. Now and again I would hear some rustle behind the trees nearest to me as a duiker or two, having suddenly descried me, took fright and scampered down the hillside.”

“I enjoyed the refreshing view for a time, although haunted by fear and loneliness; then I retraced my steps and wandered back towards the ravine where there was food and water. Moving along the Vaalbush overlooking the gully on which my cover was nestled, I noticed two men walking in the hollow gully bottom near the foot of the kopje where I happened to be. A chilly thrill of terror passed through me as I noticed that they were following my footmarks. They walked round and round the little tree from which I had picked some berries. They followed my spoors to the side of the kopje, where on the stony slope my footmarks became invisible; then my alarm increased when they returned to the pool, apparently to waylay me there; and before they went back I had seen enough to convince me that they were not Bechuana but Matebele on the war path.”

“The water of that pool, fresh as it was, had no further attraction for me; the berries of the neighbouring slopes had lost their taste; and I decided to leave the place.”

“Descending the kopje on the further side, I ran as fast as I did on my first night out of Kunana. The poignant memories of the massacre helped to accelerate my paces, but I had once more lost my bearings. I knew that my safest course was to run with my right hand towards the sunset, but after dark it became difficult to follow my direction. When I stopped in the woods to take a breath and get some bearings, my heart beat so loudly that I feared the Matebele would hear it.”

“The darkness covered the woods like a heavy skin rug. Some jackals started to bark, and the wild hounds commenced to howl, while some near and distant cries of wolves caused a chill of fright to run all down my spine. The big star, Kopadilalelo (Venus) shone brightly, supported by myriads of smaller planets, but it did not help me to find my bearings.”

“Suddenly a red glow appeared towards what I took to be the Western horizon. The skies grew red and brilliant to the West, and reminded me of a tale that I heard long ago. It was to this effect: Two men, it was said, decided to determine the course of the sun from West to East, or how he managed, after setting in the West, to return and resume his journey from the East every morning. Someone told them that those desirous of watching the sun's home-coming could do so by staying up all night with their eyes fixed to the West. Their curiosity would be satisfied, so the story went, but they could never live to tell the tale; for none but children of death ever beheld the sun going East.”

“These men, the story proceeds, having taken a strong dose of medicine to prevent death, made up their minds to stay up and chance the consequences.”

“One of them got afraid and entered his hut, leaving his companion to wait and watch alone. As he prepared to go to sleep he heard his friend shouting outside the hut: 'Come! come and see, there he is! There he is … a big round ball as red as blood! Come quickly, he is tearing the skies like a meteor! …… Come and see, he is now returning East!' The man in the hut trembled with fear and would not come out; but when he got up in the morning, he who had seen the big red ball going East, was no more. He had died before the dawn.

“I meditated over this story as I stood and watched the sky in the West becoming redder. I believed that I was about to witness the appearance of 'the blood red ball,' see the return of the sun, and die before dawn. I wondered why, after what I had gone through, I should still be afraid of death, which should put an end to all my sufferings, yet, there I was, afraid to die.”

“My heart beat quicker and louder while I could not keep my eyes from the West. At length a wide red rim rose from behind the hills — it emerged slowly — a huge red round ball. It cleared the horizon, grew appreciably smaller, and became whiter the higher it ascended the heavens; then it changed into a silvery white disc, the size of a melon, and I realized that what I had seen was nothing more dangerous than the rising of the moon. Her appearance in the West simply meant that I had not yet found my bearings and it coincided with the appearance of the big star in the East. So, remembering the two Matebele of the previous afternoon, I decided once more to journey on. Every night, thereafter, had its dangers and it seemed that life could not last much longer. Two nights after, I was awakened by a tremendous roar and I started to run. I kept on running, I know not whither or for how long, till an uncanny premonition checked my flight in time to hear a disturbing rustle in the bush to the right of me. Then I felt that I had fled from one danger straight into the horns of another. I had the presence of mind to stand absolutely motionless, when, a huge dark object emerged from the woods alongside and waddled along slowly yet uncomfortably near to where I stood. What the animal was, I knew not, but truly it petrified me with fear, for each moment I expected it to turn around and rush at me. Now and then it would stop as though scenting my presence, then move on slowly again.”

“Cold drops of perspiration rolled down my face and the fright caused shivers to run all over me. It was all I could do to stifle my trembling, maintain a deathlike silence and so avert detection. The tension was unbearable for the beast was in no hurry to get away. Each of its slow movements was like an age and intensified my agony. To my relief, the brute at length vanished into the dark woods; but my joy was of short duration for, soon afterwards, I heard the approach of another coming in the same direction almost straight up to me. As it came nearer, my endurance entirely gave out for it seemed that I stood right in the creature's way. I held my breath and assumed a standing posture as the animal halting in front of me, chewed with a champing noise, and swallowed a mouthful of herbs. Whether it was unconscious of my presence, or mistook me for a tree trunk, I know not. By the curved horn over its nose I concluded that it must be a rhinoceros, and mate to the one that first frightened me. Passing so close to me, it seemed that my shaking alone should betray me and provoke an attack. Happily I was left trembling where I stood and my enemy disappeared in the wake of his fellow.”

“After both creatures had gone I started to run. In my haste to get away I found no time to avoid the thorny trees, and the briars played havoc with my limbs.”

“In the course of my flight I thought that someone had struck me a nasty blow across both knees. The earth seemed to give way beneath my feet and I dropped vertically downwards. My chin hit the ground almost at the same time as my elbow, nearly dislocating my right shoulder. I found myself standing straight up, and being partly underground I was unable to move. Then at last I was no longer afraid to die. I had done everything to avoid danger and death, and further endurance seemed impossible. All things in this world have an ending, thought I, and my pursuers had now overtaken me; and so surrendering myself to the impending tragedy, I calmly awaited my doom …… I waited but nothing happened. Then, pulling myself together, I found that I had stumbled into a porcupine's hole or it may have been that of an anteater, from which I extricated myself after a long struggle.”

“Happily the moon and stars were there to guide my course, for, on emerging from the hole, I had lost all sense of direction. So I ran and ran; and then I ran again, until I dropped down from sheer exhaustion.”

“It was late in the morning when I woke to dig for roots and continue my aimless wanderings, ever haunted by the melancholy feeling that I would never see my people again.”

*   *   *   *

“Proceeding after sunset, along a sparsely wooded field, I came upon an inviting little nook between two trees. Here I crouched down for the night, and slept like a log. In my sleep, I dreamt that I was travelling alone in search of human company. Pursuing my quest in the heat of a broiling sun, I reached a gigantic tree standing on the bank of a running rivulet, its branches overhanging the flooded spruit. The roaring torrent of the stream dispelled all my hopes of ever venturing across. Being fatigued and footsore, I rested my weary limbs in the shade of the weeping branches of this giant of the woods. Bees had evidently built their hives in the dim cavities around its mighty trunk, for they flew up and down and gathered honey from the blossoms that ornamented its drooping branches. In a familiar buzzing language, they hummed an invitation to me to take shelter in the shade of their stronghold, to eat of their fruit and honey and be happy. Notwithstanding this hospitality, I dreamt that I was oppressed by the absence of any sign of human life. Then I was frightened by a rhinoceros approaching me from the river bank. At sight of the beast, I shook in every limb, and I wept as the monster made for me. At that moment a handsome man descended from the tree top, raised me into a hammock which he carefully fastened to two branches high up beyond the reach of the curved horn of the rhinoceros. He was a well-spoken man with a beautiful voice, and he treated me to the joy of hearing our language spoken once again.”

“Awakened from this vision by the cooing of the friendly doves, and the coo-coor-r-roo of the bush pigeons, at daybreak I found myself in a strange country and a different landscape from the land I travelled through at sunset the day before. The koorhan, at the bottom of nearly every grass knoll made the morning lively with their friendly cackling, while the butcher-birds and other warblers also sang or whistled in a variety of dialects.”

“Continuing my ramble I spent the morning in silent thought over the happy import of that dream. Since this morning, I have been wishing to dream again. My only living friends were the turtle doves whose language I thought I could almost understand. I think that if this solitude had been prolonged for another month, I should have been able to sing their songs and learn to converse with them; yet I longed for the company of a man, like the one who appeared in my dream. After my dream, something — I couldn't say what, but, inwardly I had a feeling that something — was about to happen and effect a change in my solitary existence. With my mind thus occupied, I walked over a grassy ridge, where the trees were rather sparse. Proceeding more like a girl wandering through her mother's corn-field than one lost in the wilderness, I finally reached the point where I thought I saw the moving tuft of grass, but really a lion, which frightened me and caused me to run straight into your arms.”


Footnotes & References

#NoteDescription
1MajahasSoldiers