Chapter 8.

Strangers.

Continuing their stay at Re-Nosi, Ra-Thaga and his wife saw new moons wax and wane, and waning wax again, until one evening when he chanced to be walking out and thought that he heard human voices. This caused him to climb the look-out tree in the enclosure from which elevated position he saw the light of a fire some six hundred yards off. He told his wife and she agreed that he should go and examine them at close quarters; for, if the strangers were Matebele, she said, the two of them would have to leave their home and forthwith make good their escape.

Ra-Thaga returned and told his wife that they were not Matebele but a party of Qoranna hunters who were camping in the neighbourhood. His appearance, in what was known as an untenanted wilderness, caused a great surprise among the hunters who thought at first that their visitor was a ghost. Two of the Qoranna men could speak a few Sechuana words. The meeting was very friendly as the hunters brought him and his wife the first news of the world since their marriage. Mhudi had on that day made quantities of berry-beer of which the hunters partook with gusto. “Bechuana women,” said Ton-Qon the Qoranna learder, “are noted for the excellence of their Kafir-corn beer. But I have never heard that they could brew such fine beer without any corn. How do you manage it?” he asked … “I was on my way to Kunana last year to marry a Rolong woman when news of the massacre of their women and annihilation of their men reached us. They are clever, those Bldi women, although I am surprised to hear that they cannot milk

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their cows; onnly their men folk can milk, for they learnt it while working for our people. Still the plan would have worked well, as I was going to have a Qora wife to milk my cows and a Rolong wife to hoe the fields for corn seeds and brew beer.”

The idea of the daughter of a Hammersmith marrying a man whose language was as full of clicks as that of the wild Masarwa, was too hard for Mhudi's conception. The destruction of her people and burning of their homes seemed to have had no effect on her tribal pride. She knew very little about the Qoranna; in all her life she had never seen more than one; so that a group of them, nearly all sounding the Qoranna clicks in turn, was a spectacle so grotesque that she felt it difficult to believe that they understood one another. “What a life,” she thought, “to be married to a man whose language a girl could not understand! What would have been my fate had I missed my husband and fallen in with these people? Why, a woman could not master their language in a lifetime. Barolong have crossed the desert at times and gone to Hereroland. When they returned after eight or twelve moons they could speak the Kalahari and Herero languages fluently; but I have never met anyone who could master the clicks and gibberish of the Masarwa.”

After nearly a whole night's talk, Ra-Thaga was persuaded to join the hunters who were no returning home to Mamuse. This was entirely against Mhudi's wish. She disliked the squint-eyed Qoranna headman whose reckless conversation and crude manners did not appeal to her. Her husband, however, had made up his mind to give up Re-Nosi, which for over eight moons had been their home. He preferred to be near other people and so collect information concerning the fate of the remainder of

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his fellow-tribesmen; so the next day, Ra-Thaga and his wife joined Ton-Qon's party and proceeded to the land of the Qorannas.

*   *   *   *

Ra-Thaga became great among the Qoranna people. For hours men would sit at the chief's court and listen to the account of his experiences. “He must be a witch,” said someone, “to have magnetized unto himself such a pretty girl just when he needed company.” “No,” replied others, “she must be the witch to have influenced the arrival of such a brave man, just when she needed him the most.”

Thus Mhudi also became the talk of the people and many were the yarns spun concerning the two supernatural Bldis, as the Qorannas call the Bechuana. Anecdotes in the history of the strangers were related and exaggerated with each repetition. Gossipers wagged their tongues and twisted the story about. Some reported that Ton-Qon's party had returned with ten hides of lions killed single-handedly by Mhudi, while the hunters could not bring back the pile of skins of other lions and tigers killed by Ra-Thaga. One chatterer had had ocular testimony of what he said, for he “saw the lions' skins in a hut at the chief's court.”

Another story was to the effect that Ra-Thaga alone had vanquished the armies of Mzilikazi after all the Barolong were slain, and rescued his beautiful wife, who was a captive among the Matebele. Again, that she herself slew two Matebele soldiers who were attempting to follow her and thus inspired the remainder with fear. Such were the wild stories that circulated in the Qoranna huts, which the strangers unacquainted with the Qoranna tongue were unable to correct.

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Ra-Thaga during his stay at Re-Nosi had benefited much from the sober judgement of his clever wife. None of his countrymen ever adored his wife as intensely as he did Mhudi. He could not withhold his veneration from — as far as he could see — the only living Morolong beside himself, lest the change should reverse his fortunes. With regard to manly occupations however, he recalled a Sechuana proverb which his comrades used to quote, viz.:— Never be led by a female lest thou fall over a precipice.” And so when Mhudi warned him against this powerful headman he put it down to some idiosyncrasy, peculiar to women, which would no doubt wear off in time. On his part he felt grateful to the man who brought them from the lonely wilderness where, among other people, they could drink milk, eat meat and have company. When she was inclined to be fidgety he would remind her of her exclamation at Mamusa when she said, “What a treat to hear once again the hens cackle by day, the cocks crow at night, the raucous bark of the sheep dog, to say nothing of the jabbering of the children even if one knows not their language. It makes my heart swell with joy.” Therefore, in spite of her warning, he planned to go out hunting with a party of which Ton-Qon was the leader.

This headman was one of the few men in the village besides the chief, who owned a musket — an old elephant flint-lock muzzle-loader — the best rifles of those days. They left on foot, Ton-Qon and two others remaining behind to follow the party next day on horseback.

The evening after the departure of the men, Ra-Thaga among them, the Qoranna leader called at Mhudi's hut and engaged her in some highly objectionable conversation. She thought of his popularity among his people and

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feared that she could never succeed in showing him up, as he could easily turn the tables against her. It was a situation as perilous as she had ever been in. she found herself in the power of a man who feared no lions, and who, besides other worldly signs of power, owned horses, a saddle and a gun; and above all commanded a following among a section of Qoranna that would go through fire and water at his bidding. Never since she met her husband in the woods of Re-Nosi, did she so need his presence as she did that evening, but his obstinacy had placed him out of her reach. Ra-Thaga was noble, but a man like the rest of them, or he would never have joined this wicked man's party against her advice; nevertheless, her cool judgement, which was the secret of the charmed life she bore, did not fail her. Ton-Qon did the talking in the light of the wood-fire on the hearth while she did the thinking.

“The fire is burning low,” she said at length, “and we need more wood. Let me go for some!” leaving Ton-Qon to cogitate by the fire. Mhudi resolved not to return to her hut that night. She hastened to the Chief's harem where by means of signs to aid her imperfect knowledge of the language, she informed the ladies that her husband being out hunting, she was afraid to spend the night alone in her hut. She at once found refuge with one of the chief's wives. During the night Mhudi decided to follow up her husband and call him back from the hunting field. She must get him home at any cost and leave the villain to hunt with the other Qorannas.

By daybreak she was off. She carried a wooden jar full of milk and some boiled corn in a small bag, which she believed would last her until she could find Ra-Thaga. The way was dreary and lonely.

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All afternoon, as long as the daylight lasted, she traced their spoors through the plains and forests, now running, now walking, until evening when in the twilight It became invisible and made it necessary for her to rest till dawn. After a year of home life, the prospect of a night alone in the woods was far from bright.

The stars hung over the purple sky. For a while there was tense silence and not a breeze to stir the leaves until — first a hyena, then a jackal began to howl and soon she renewed her acquaintance with the bay of wolves and the yelping of wild dogs, while other animals made the night still more hideous with their cries.

Amidst these discordant sounds she found peace at the foot of a large tree in the centre of a thicket of shrubbery. Here she levelled a pile of glass — a really comfortable outdoor bed, across which she stretched herself for the night. The undergrowth served as a screen against the sharp South wind that rose later, while the top branches of the tree served her excellently as an awning. Crouching down for the night she opened her eyes and looked away into the immense depth of the skies overhead, reading something there that she had never observed before. This immense dome, so lofty and yet so brilliant, suggested the power of its Maker, who apparently also made the trees and birds, and beasts and men — yes, brutal men!

“Where is the God, this Spirit, that made all these things? Does he not stroll round sometimes and examine His handiwork, and even me? I wonder how long it took Him to make this immense universe? Is He satisfied with it all and with me? Surely He cannot be pleased with the Matebele or with Ton-Qon; and if they too are the creatures of the God of Life, what did He make

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such people for? Did He also make the dreadful venomous reptiles that infest the land, I wonder? And if so, why?”

She marvelled at the stars and at their numbers; she did not seem to have noticed that there were so many before. While she admired the greater and lesser brilliancy of each planet, she was baffled to find that what looked like vacant spaces betwixt the constellations proved, on closer scrutiny, to be no spaces at all but further clusters of numerous smaller stars. It was a glorious, if immobile audience, watching her with eyes too numerous to be counted. She wondered if, they too, were classed into tribes such as the people were on earth. Can it be that the stars also engage in fighting sometimes, and if so, did they kill one another's wives and children? Could it be that the thunder and lightning and hailstones that accompany the rain at times were the result of aerial battles?

Then her native superstitions got the better of her. “It is said that we should never attempt to count the stars. Have I not perhaps been trying to count them?” Her flesh began to creep. “If so what could happen to me? Had someone been trying to count the stars and so brought about the fate of Kunana?”

After hours of timid wakefulness, she fell into a deep slumber and woke up at dawn to find that the wolves were quiet and the jackals had ceased to yelp; and that their noises had given place to the chatter of a host of monkeys. The jabbering of these denizens of the woods enlivened the forests on the right, while the hillocks opposite resounded with the echoes of their voices. Truly a lively prattle, enhanced by the damp of the dewy morning before the appearance of the rising sun. Mhudi thought

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at first that the noise was that of the men shouting to one another in the distance; so, concluding that it might be men of the hunting party, she listened more intently, only to shudder as she realized the true character of the babble. Again her native superstitious beliefs overcame her as she recalled the traditional folk-tales, according to which, monkeys were among “the things that should never be seen.” She thought of her own little chequered life and remembered that, throughout that period of her early wanderings she had never seen any monkeys, hence her consistent safety. “But why,” she protested, “should these mischievous creatures come to blight my prospects with their evil forebodings on this grave morning? The misery portended by their presence, was it meant for me or for my beloved Ra-Thaga?” Tears rolled down her cheeks as she thought of him. She had shed tears, it is true, on the morning of her first meeting with her husband, but they were tears of joy at the sensational termination of their lonesome and solitary hazards. But the stream of tears this morning told her that all was not well with him.

As Mhudi resumed her journey along the spoor of the hunters, where she had left it the previous night, the ugliest thoughts tormented her. Wondering if the Qorannas had strangled him, she walked with her head bowed down through fear of sighting any of the “things that should never be seen!”

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Chapter 8.

Strangers.

Continuing their stay at Re-Nosi, Ra-Thaga and his wife saw new moons wax and wane, and waning wax again, until one evening when he chanced to be walking out and thought that he heard human voices. This caused him to climb the look-out tree in the enclosure from which elevated position he saw the light of a fire some six hundred yards off. He told his wife and she agreed that he should go and examine them at close quarters; for, if the strangers were Matebele, she said, the two of them would have to leave their home and forthwith make good their escape.

Ra-Thaga returned and told his wife that they were not Matebele but a party of Qoranna hunters who were camping in the neighbourhood. His appearance, in what was known as an untenanted wilderness, caused a great surprise among the hunters who thought at first that their visitor was a ghost. Two of the Qoranna men could speak a few Sechuana words. The meeting was very friendly as the hunters brought him and his wife the first news of the world since their marriage. Mhudi had on that day made quantities of berry-beer of which the hunters partook with gusto. “Bechuana women,” said Ton-Qon the Qoranna learder, “are noted for the excellence of their Kafir-corn beer. But I have never heard that they could brew such fine beer without any corn. How do you manage it?” he asked … “I was on my way to Kunana last year to marry a Rolong woman when news of the massacre of their women and annihilation of their men reached us. They are clever, those Bldi women, although I am surprised to hear that they cannot milk their cows; onnly their men folk can milk, for they learnt it while working for our people. Still the plan would have worked well, as I was going to have a Qora wife to milk my cows and a Rolong wife to hoe the fields for corn seeds and brew beer.”

The idea of the daughter of a Hammersmith marrying a man whose language was as full of clicks as that of the wild Masarwa, was too hard for Mhudi's conception. The destruction of her people and burning of their homes seemed to have had no effect on her tribal pride. She knew very little about the Qoranna; in all her life she had never seen more than one; so that a group of them, nearly all sounding the Qoranna clicks in turn, was a spectacle so grotesque that she felt it difficult to believe that they understood one another. “What a life,” she thought, “to be married to a man whose language a girl could not understand! What would have been my fate had I missed my husband and fallen in with these people? Why, a woman could not master their language in a lifetime. Barolong have crossed the desert at times and gone to Hereroland. When they returned after eight or twelve moons they could speak the Kalahari and Herero languages fluently; but I have never met anyone who could master the clicks and gibberish of the Masarwa.”

After nearly a whole night's talk, Ra-Thaga was persuaded to join the hunters who were no returning home to Mamuse. This was entirely against Mhudi's wish. She disliked the squint-eyed Qoranna headman whose reckless conversation and crude manners did not appeal to her. Her husband, however, had made up his mind to give up Re-Nosi, which for over eight moons had been their home. He preferred to be near other people and so collect information concerning the fate of the remainder of his fellow-tribesmen; so the next day, Ra-Thaga and his wife joined Ton-Qon's party and proceeded to the land of the Qorannas.

*   *   *   *

Ra-Thaga became great among the Qoranna people. For hours men would sit at the chief's court and listen to the account of his experiences. “He must be a witch,” said someone, “to have magnetized unto himself such a pretty girl just when he needed company.” “No,” replied others, “she must be the witch to have influenced the arrival of such a brave man, just when she needed him the most.”

Thus Mhudi also became the talk of the people and many were the yarns spun concerning the two supernatural Bldis, as the Qorannas call the Bechuana. Anecdotes in the history of the strangers were related and exaggerated with each repetition. Gossipers wagged their tongues and twisted the story about. Some reported that Ton-Qon's party had returned with ten hides of lions killed single-handedly by Mhudi, while the hunters could not bring back the pile of skins of other lions and tigers killed by Ra-Thaga. One chatterer had had ocular testimony of what he said, for he “saw the lions' skins in a hut at the chief's court.”

Another story was to the effect that Ra-Thaga alone had vanquished the armies of Mzilikazi after all the Barolong were slain, and rescued his beautiful wife, who was a captive among the Matebele. Again, that she herself slew two Matebele soldiers who were attempting to follow her and thus inspired the remainder with fear. Such were the wild stories that circulated in the Qoranna huts, which the strangers unacquainted with the Qoranna tongue were unable to correct.

Ra-Thaga during his stay at Re-Nosi had benefited much from the sober judgement of his clever wife. None of his countrymen ever adored his wife as intensely as he did Mhudi. He could not withhold his veneration from — as far as he could see — the only living Morolong beside himself, lest the change should reverse his fortunes. With regard to manly occupations however, he recalled a Sechuana proverb which his comrades used to quote, viz.:— Never be led by a female lest thou fall over a precipice.” And so when Mhudi warned him against this powerful headman he put it down to some idiosyncrasy, peculiar to women, which would no doubt wear off in time. On his part he felt grateful to the man who brought them from the lonely wilderness where, among other people, they could drink milk, eat meat and have company. When she was inclined to be fidgety he would remind her of her exclamation at Mamusa when she said, “What a treat to hear once again the hens cackle by day, the cocks crow at night, the raucous bark of the sheep dog, to say nothing of the jabbering of the children even if one knows not their language. It makes my heart swell with joy.” Therefore, in spite of her warning, he planned to go out hunting with a party of which Ton-Qon was the leader.

This headman was one of the few men in the village besides the chief, who owned a musket — an old elephant flint-lock muzzle-loader — the best rifles of those days. They left on foot, Ton-Qon and two others remaining behind to follow the party next day on horseback.

The evening after the departure of the men, Ra-Thaga among them, the Qoranna leader called at Mhudi's hut and engaged her in some highly objectionable conversation. She thought of his popularity among his people and feared that she could never succeed in showing him up, as he could easily turn the tables against her. It was a situation as perilous as she had ever been in. she found herself in the power of a man who feared no lions, and who, besides other worldly signs of power, owned horses, a saddle and a gun; and above all commanded a following among a section of Qoranna that would go through fire and water at his bidding. Never since she met her husband in the woods of Re-Nosi, did she so need his presence as she did that evening, but his obstinacy had placed him out of her reach. Ra-Thaga was noble, but a man like the rest of them, or he would never have joined this wicked man's party against her advice; nevertheless, her cool judgement, which was the secret of the charmed life she bore, did not fail her. Ton-Qon did the talking in the light of the wood-fire on the hearth while she did the thinking.

“The fire is burning low,” she said at length, “and we need more wood. Let me go for some!” leaving Ton-Qon to cogitate by the fire. Mhudi resolved not to return to her hut that night. She hastened to the Chief's harem where by means of signs to aid her imperfect knowledge of the language, she informed the ladies that her husband being out hunting, she was afraid to spend the night alone in her hut. She at once found refuge with one of the chief's wives. During the night Mhudi decided to follow up her husband and call him back from the hunting field. She must get him home at any cost and leave the villain to hunt with the other Qorannas.

By daybreak she was off. She carried a wooden jar full of milk and some boiled corn in a small bag, which she believed would last her until she could find Ra-Thaga. The way was dreary and lonely.

All afternoon, as long as the daylight lasted, she traced their spoors through the plains and forests, now running, now walking, until evening when in the twilight It became invisible and made it necessary for her to rest till dawn. After a year of home life, the prospect of a night alone in the woods was far from bright.

The stars hung over the purple sky. For a while there was tense silence and not a breeze to stir the leaves until — first a hyena, then a jackal began to howl and soon she renewed her acquaintance with the bay of wolves and the yelping of wild dogs, while other animals made the night still more hideous with their cries.

Amidst these discordant sounds she found peace at the foot of a large tree in the centre of a thicket of shrubbery. Here she levelled a pile of glass — a really comfortable outdoor bed, across which she stretched herself for the night. The undergrowth served as a screen against the sharp South wind that rose later, while the top branches of the tree served her excellently as an awning. Crouching down for the night she opened her eyes and looked away into the immense depth of the skies overhead, reading something there that she had never observed before. This immense dome, so lofty and yet so brilliant, suggested the power of its Maker, who apparently also made the trees and birds, and beasts and men — yes, brutal men!

“Where is the God, this Spirit, that made all these things? Does he not stroll round sometimes and examine His handiwork, and even me? I wonder how long it took Him to make this immense universe? Is He satisfied with it all and with me? Surely He cannot be pleased with the Matebele or with Ton-Qon; and if they too are the creatures of the God of Life, what did He make such people for? Did He also make the dreadful venomous reptiles that infest the land, I wonder? And if so, why?”

She marvelled at the stars and at their numbers; she did not seem to have noticed that there were so many before. While she admired the greater and lesser brilliancy of each planet, she was baffled to find that what looked like vacant spaces betwixt the constellations proved, on closer scrutiny, to be no spaces at all but further clusters of numerous smaller stars. It was a glorious, if immobile audience, watching her with eyes too numerous to be counted. She wondered if, they too, were classed into tribes such as the people were on earth. Can it be that the stars also engage in fighting sometimes, and if so, did they kill one another's wives and children? Could it be that the thunder and lightning and hailstones that accompany the rain at times were the result of aerial battles?

Then her native superstitions got the better of her. “It is said that we should never attempt to count the stars. Have I not perhaps been trying to count them?” Her flesh began to creep. “If so what could happen to me? Had someone been trying to count the stars and so brought about the fate of Kunana?”

After hours of timid wakefulness, she fell into a deep slumber and woke up at dawn to find that the wolves were quiet and the jackals had ceased to yelp; and that their noises had given place to the chatter of a host of monkeys. The jabbering of these denizens of the woods enlivened the forests on the right, while the hillocks opposite resounded with the echoes of their voices. Truly a lively prattle, enhanced by the damp of the dewy morning before the appearance of the rising sun. Mhudi thought at first that the noise was that of the men shouting to one another in the distance; so, concluding that it might be men of the hunting party, she listened more intently, only to shudder as she realized the true character of the babble. Again her native superstitious beliefs overcame her as she recalled the traditional folk-tales, according to which, monkeys were among “the things that should never be seen.” She thought of her own little chequered life and remembered that, throughout that period of her early wanderings she had never seen any monkeys, hence her consistent safety. “But why,” she protested, “should these mischievous creatures come to blight my prospects with their evil forebodings on this grave morning? The misery portended by their presence, was it meant for me or for my beloved Ra-Thaga?” Tears rolled down her cheeks as she thought of him. She had shed tears, it is true, on the morning of her first meeting with her husband, but they were tears of joy at the sensational termination of their lonesome and solitary hazards. But the stream of tears this morning told her that all was not well with him.

As Mhudi resumed her journey along the spoor of the hunters, where she had left it the previous night, the ugliest thoughts tormented her. Wondering if the Qorannas had strangled him, she walked with her head bowed down through fear of sighting any of the “things that should never be seen!”