Page images
PDF
EPUB

(but instead of a donkey, generally mounted on a piebald horse) heading the bacchanalian procession ; his queens, wives, and concubines, all in the same happy state, following bare-backed en catalier, on ponies or oxen, and bringing up the rear. Under such circumstances, the Court of the African monarch, and the state of the great chief himself, would no doubt have given abundant cause of moralizing, to the advocates of the

pure, simple, and nomadic Kaffir race,' to the members of the Temperance Society, and to the worthy Father Matthew himself. Sometimes, however, the son of Gažka* preferred getting quietly drunk in his own kraal ; and in such cases a swift messenger would be despatched to Fort Beaufort, in breathless haste, for the requisite supplies. This fellow, who went by the name of · Will-o'-the-Wisp,' but more commonly by that of . Kaffir Bill,' had from the frequency of such missions, become well known at the Fort, and had in the course of his numerous enterprises picked up a few words of English from the soldiers in the Barracks and Canteen, whom he used often to amuse by feats of activity, and a most wonderful display of speed,

“Well, just as we had concocted all our plans for giving Fitz-Mortimer a specimen of a South African "run,' Will-o'-the-Wisp made his appearance at the Fort, to procure a supply of liquor for his thirsty chief. A bright thought suddenly struck one of our sporting party, to whom it occurred that Kaffir Bill might be made subservient to our designs. He was accordingly forthwith summoned, and promised a bottle of brandy on his own account, provided he could escape with it across the Chumie from our pursuit,-being allowed a couple of miles of start. Bill' was given distinctly to understand that we would follow him on horseback, that if overtaken the brandy would be seized, and that therefore he had better make for his kraal on the other side of the River, at his very best pace, and by the shortest and most difficult road he could.

“Gladly acceding to these terms, he was led by one of our party to a spot about two miles distant, situated on a rising ground, which was visible from the Fort ; and was there slipped from the leash, with a profuse sprinkling of spirit of aniseed over his kaross.

“On the signal agreed upon, Fitz-Mortimer was summoned forth, duly mounted on the hardest-mouthed and most fiery, unmanageable brute in the whole corps, and we all cantered forward, followed by our lean and hungry-looking pack, which failed not to elicit on his part, expressions of unqualified contumely and unconcealed contempt. In fact the appearance of the whole turn-out contrasted strongly with that of our

Leicestershire' friend, and seemed to give him no small degree of satisfaction at our expense. His smooth and shining castor set jauntily on one side, was fastened by an elastic' (tipped with a fox's tusk) to the button-hole of a respiendent pink,' of the newest and most fashionable cut; the elegance of his tie;' the unsullied beauty of a waistcoat profuscly ornamented with foxes' heads, and whose dark ground was advantageously set off by his white unmentionables,' made apparently of some soft comfortable sort of woollen stuff: the well • got up' top-boots of highly-polished leather ; the very brightness of

* Both Macomo and Sandilli are sons (by different mothers) of the Kaffir chief Gaika ; but the latter, although the younger of the two, takes precedence in con. sequence of the superior rights of his mother Sutu, the great wife of the former chief.

his spurs; and the elegance of his light, silver-mounted hunting-whip-the tout ensemble of this fashionable votary of the chase, shone forth with redoubled' lustre, as compared with our war-worn and weatherbeaten appointments--shapeless “ wide-awakes,” leather jackets, soiled dingy-looking crackers, '* and rusty old jack-boots.

“ On arriving near the spot where our confederate had slipped his “ bagged Kaffir,” he managed to join us as it were by chance, and as if while taking his usual morning ride. Halloo !' said he, approaching; • what! got again together some of the old pack? I should like to join you in a gallop, if the poor devils have a gallop left in them ; and not twenty minutes ago I viewed a fine jackal' stealing away over yonder rising knoll.'

“ Our pack was laid on the line he pointed out, opened instantly on the drag, and went merrily away at a slapping pace ; leading us over ground which plainly evinced the instinctive cunning of the savage creature whom we pursued. The object of 'Will-o'-the-Wisp' had evidently been to keep as long as possible out of view, whilst leaving behind him as little spoor' as he could ; for he-suspected not that we meant to rely on aught save our own resources in his pursuit--not a word having been said to him about the hounds.

“The dew was still upon the ground-there happened that morning to be a most promising and unusual scent,--and we were thus enabled to track him step by step, throughout the whole of his devious course.

“ On descending the first declivity from whence he had made his start, the hounds led us for about a mile through a dense, thorny, mimosa covert, in a direction quite opposite to what a novice in Kaffir tactics might have imagined to be the line of country which the fugitive would most naturally have taken up. We crashed through the mimosas at a tremendous rate our wide-awakes' protecting our faces, as did the leathern garments in which we were encased, effectually guard our persons against the long, but slender thorns, which were, however, severely punishing poor Fitz-Mortimer, as his rim-away brute of a horse mercilessly carried him amidst the densest portions of the bush. Next, a protruding bough rudely displaced his hat, which, becoming entangled in the branches of the high mimosa underwood, snapped the elastic,' and was necessarily left behind--for the pace was too good, and the animal he bestrode far too impetuous to admit the thought of pulling up (and to do him justice, Fitz-Mortimer, spite of his dandyism and affectation, showed too much 'game' to entertain such an idea); but by the time we had cleared the mimosas-although his garments showed as yet few signs of punishment-his face, streaming with blood, looked rather the worse for having come in contact with this first mild specimen of the abrading effects of the bush.' But mimosa thorns were cats without claws,' in comparison to those he shortly afterwards became acquainted with, during that eventful day of initiatory probation in the mysteries of South African sport.

“ I must not, however, anticipate. Our pack, on clearing this high thorny underwood--if a growth of ten or twelve feet can deserve that name—turning sharp to the right, led us over a bare stony and scrubby

* Leather trousers, much worn in the "bush ;" and a capital defence against the thorns.

ridge, where scarcely a blade of grass was to be seen ; but even here, at a momentary check which occurred, Cupido, my achter Reiter-a half Hottentot, half Bush-boy, who had been let into the secret, and whose eye was far more acute than the noses of our dogs--soon took up the • spoor' and put them again upon the drag, which was slowly followed up, until we sank the ridge, and dived into some moist low ground forming a marshy valley on the opposite side, along which they now ran at their topmost speed, nearly mute, and with the scent apparently breast high.

“ Fitz-Mortimer was the leading man ; his horse still boring away with all his might, and under very little control

.. “Oh! de listig schelm! (the cunning rogue),' exclaimed Master Cupido aside to me ; him take now de softe ground, where wid de parde, us neber can follow him spoor! Dis way, Baas,' added he, turning his horse, and skirting the marshy ground, which Fitz-Mortimer was fast approaching at a furious pace ; • dis way, better tell Roedebash gentleman, pas op van--take care, or him go into het moeras !'

"The words were scarcely out of Cupido's capacious mouth, when Fitz-Mortimer's runaway brute was floundering up to his shoulders in a fine black bog ; having pitched his rider head foremost into the slush, two or three yards in advance.

“ Cupido held our horses, and we all hastened instantly to the rescue. First, with not a little difficulty, extricating the horse, which was desperately struggling in the marsh.

“Now Fitz we'll fish you out,' said one of the party, throwing him the double thong of his whip. “Just effect a lodgment on the short reeds near yonder clump of papyrus,* and then you'll be all right.'

“Pap-pap-puff-puff-pi-rus,' sputtered out poor Fitz, clearing his mouth and eyes of the black slimy mud with which they were well filled what do you mean?'

“ Here man, here! those rushes, where you'll find sound footing. Now then, you're all right again,' said we, as we hauled him out. To horse! to horse! there's no time to lose.'

* All this was the work of a couple of minutes, and we were soon again bowling along the edge of the morass, with our gallant pack once more in view, which, taking now a turn to the right, suddenly disappeared amidst dense foliage of tall trees and underwood, bordering one side of the morass, and indicating the margin of a stream.

• Bill, him cross de Gaga here,' said Cupido in a whisper to me ; uš neber can get ober here. Dis way, dis way, Baas, to de drift, added he, raising his voice ; and, at the top of our speed, we followed this Flibbertigibbet-looking guide to a neighbouring drift ’or ford, and shortly again caught up the pack, making, as the Bushboy said, straight for the Chumie, beyond which, in this direction, was known to be Macomo's kraal.

“ We now began to consider our bottle of brandy fairly lostthe spirit' which had urged us forward as completely gone--and that Kaffir Bill had proved to us more than an equal match ; besides, the

* A dwarf fac-simile of the celebrated papyrus of the Nile is common along the banks of the South African streams, affording one of many instances of the similarity of the vegetable productions of these regions with those of a correspond. ing northern latitude on the same continent.

question was seriously mooted, as to how far it would be consistent with prudence, to cross the enemy's boundary, under the-tous-very precarious protection of a temporary truce, and we therefore talked of whipping off the hounds, and just,' as the Scotchman said, 'ganging baack again 'to whence we came.

“ Fitz-Mortimer was, however, strongly opposed to such a plan—his blood was fairly up ; he said he had no idea of having spoiled for nothing, the only suit of sporting toggery he possessed, which could not be here replaced, and that he was determined, coute qui coute, to leave nothing untried to get the brush of the jackal, which had already given

us such a run. “ Foraad! foraad ! was, therefore, again the word ; and the hounds now dashed into a mass of underwood, quite different in character from the mimosa thicket we had traversed at the opening of the run.

“ The bush' was here composed of stiff turgid plants and thorny shrubs, far more characteristic of South African growth. The milky euphorbia threw aloft their bare, candelabra-like, skeleton arms, through which peered the glistening leaves of the parasitical ivy geranium, mingled with the bright crimson flowers of the aloe, and ever and anon a formidable wack-een-beetje* bush' opposed its tangled branches, and fish-hook like thorns, to the onward progress of both man and beast. Such was the nature of the covert through which the hounds now led us at a still slapping pace, and without the slightest check.

“ Fitz-Mortimer, in his anxiety to make up the ground he had lost by being bogged, had liberally plied both whip and spur ; and as we dashed in the wake of our pack, through this thorny covert, his horse was, if possible, more unmanageable than before. The brute, with his head well down, appeared to have got the bit between his teeth, and charged recklessly through the opposing thorns. I saw him first carry his rider amidst a thick mass of euphorbia, the broken fleshy branches of which, liberally besprinkled poor Fitz's face and person with their acrid and blistering juice ; then, as he bored through, or raked under the wack-een-beetje, portions of his garments were invariably left behind : mementoes depending from many a bramble ; till, on breaking at last from this tangled covert, of all the poor Meltonian's former equipment, little in sooth remained, save the waistband of his breeches, his boots, and gloves.

“ Still, lacerated, bleeding, and in tatters, Fitz-Mortimer showed himself game to the very back bone.

“ • Foraad ! foraad !' he continued gallantly to cheer along the hounds, as they now dashed through the Chumie, and strained on, in view of a strange looking creature breasting an opposing height.

“ It was Kaffir Bill, his kaross streaming behind him in the breeze, and making a noble effort, as he strained every nerve to secure his prize, by gaining the covert of his kraal, which loomed on the mountain's brow, only a few hundred yards in front.

“ Tally-ho : foraad! foraad!' frantically screeched forth the nearly naked, soiled, blistered, and bloody horseman, as he pressed madly forward, lashing along the stragglers of the pack, who appeared to fly in terror before the spectral-looking huntsman in their wake.

* Literally " wait-a-little," from the effect its terrific hooked thorns invariably produce on whatever comes in contact with their abrading points.

« • Forward, forward,' was re-echoed from all around ; for, though ready to drop with laughter from our saddles at poor Fitz's enthusiasm and ludicrous appearance, we now felt with redoubled ardour all the maddening excitement of the chase, terminating, as it appeared likely to do, in a neck-and-neck race between the brandy-bottle and Kafir Bill.

“ So completely were we all carried away by the excitement of the moment, that we did not even perceive a Kaffir kraal, which lay almost in our path, till a shower of assegaïs whizzed about our ears, and saw, as we shot by, one of the hounds struggling in the agonies of death, as he rolled over in the dust, convulsively gnawing the dart by which he had been so suddenly transfixed.

*** Yoiks, foraad, foraad,' screeched Fitz-Mortimer, either heedless or regardless of this attack, as we pressed nearer and nearer on • Will-o'-the-wisp." What a brush the brute has got,' he eagerly exclaimed, as Bill's kaross waved over an undulation of the ground, behind which he immediately disappeared.

“A few minutes carried us--hounds, horses, the spectral huntsman and all-over this very ridge, and we found ourselves in the midst of Macomo's kraal.

“ Kaffir Bill was fairly earthed in one of its bee-hive looking huts, from the entrance of which he triumphantly shook the brandy-bottle, grinning all the time from ear to ear.

“ Poor Fitz-Mortimer looked, as you may well suppose, very much mystified at first, but could not help laughing at the joke, when it was severally explained, both to him and to Macomo's royal family, who crowded eagerly around.

"Fitz said it put him in mind of olden times, when at Oxford they used to run a long-legged, long-winded, fellow, called Anniseed, on a drag; and, like a sensible fellow, instead of showing temper, laughed heartily at the trick that we had played.

“ oid Macomo was soon dead drunk ; and, whilst his queens administered to our thirsty wants, by producing calabashes and baskets * full of milk and curds, his lovely daughter, Amakayah, had taken poor Fitz-Mortimer under her especial charge ; carefully bathing and anointing his many and smarting wounds.

"Amakayah! swarthy, but graceful daughter of the South !--whose tender susceptibilities and platonic loves have since been recorded both in proset and verse, and widely disseminated throughout the regions of the North-did'st thou not then make another conquest of a British heart?

“ Fitz-Mortimer could best answer such a question ; and as he basked in the sunshine of her dusky charms, la belle sauvage,' displayed, though in a somewhat different style, all the coquetry of the most civilized ball-room belle.

" After dressing his numerous wounds, she dressed his denuded person in her own soft kaross ; then, taking off her cap, made of the beautiful blaw-bock's skin, with nimble fingers she sought, and soon captured certain little parasitical creepers’ from its inmost folds--attend I

* The Kaffir women manufacture baskets of so close and beautiful a texture that they are employed to contain and carry milk and other liquids. ** See Amakeya, a “Tale of Kaffirland," by the author of Fire Years in Kaffira land.”_" New Monthly Magazine " for January, 1849.

I

« PreviousContinue »