Images de page
PDF
ePub

conveyance from Durban to Pieter Maritzburg, I took advantage of that, and arrived in the capital of Natal, embarrassed as yet with no purchased animals and impeded by no property, but still with my heart very low as to the doubts and perils and fatigue before me.

At East London I had made the acquaintance of a gentleman of about a third of my own age, who had been sent out by a great agricultural-implement-making firm with the object of spreading the use of ploughs and reaping machines through South Africa, and thus of carrying civilization into the country in the surest and most direct manner. He too was going to Pretoria, and to the Diamond Fields,-and to the Orange Free State. He was to carry ploughs with him,-that is to say ploughs in the imagination, ploughs in catalogues, ploughs upon paper, and ploughs on his eloquent and facile tongue; whereas it was my object to find out what ploughs had done, and perhaps might do, in the new country. He, too, thought that the public conveyance would be a nuisance, that his luggage would not get itself carried, and that from the mail conveyances he would not be able to shoot any of the game with which the country abounds. When we had travelled together as far as Pieter Maritzburg we put our heads together, and our purses, and determined upon a venture among the dealers carts, horses, and harness.

in

I left the matter very much to him, merely requiring that I should see the horses before they were absolutely purchased. A dealer had turned up with all the articles wanted,--just as though Providence had sent him,--with a Cape cart running on two wheels and capable of holding three persons beside the driver, the four horses needed, -and the harness. The proposed vendor had indeed just come off a long journey himself, and was therefore

£200

able to say that everything was fit for the road. was to be the price. But when we looked at the horses, their merits, which undoubtedly were great, seemed to consist in the work which they had done rather than in that which they could immediately do again. In this emergency I went to a friendly British major in the town engaged in the commissariat department, and consulted him. Would he look at the horses? He not only did so, but brought a military veterinary surgeon with him, who confined his advice to three words, which, however, he repeated thrice, "Physical energy deficient!" The words were oracular, and the horses were of course rejected.

I was then about to start from Pieter Maritzburg on a visit of inspection with the Governor and was obliged to leave my young friend to look out for four other horses on his own responsibility, without the advice of the laconic vet whom he could hardly ask to concern himself a second time in our business. And I must own that while I was away I was again down at heart. For he was to start during my absence, leaving me to follow in the post cart as far as Newcastle, the frontier town of Natal. This was arranged in order that three or four days might be saved, and that the horses might not be hurried over their early journey. When I got back to Pieter Maritzburg I found that he had gone, as arranged, with four other horses;-but of the nature of the horses no one could tell me anything.

The mail cart from the capital to Newcastle took two and a half days on the journey, and was on the whole comfortable enough. One moment of discord there was between myself and the sable driver, which did not, however, lead to serious results. On leaving Pieter Maritzburg I found that the vehicle was full. There were

seven passengers, two on the box and five behind,-the sixth seat being crowded with luggage. There was luggage indeed everywhere, above, below and around us,but still we had all of us our seats, with fair room for our legs. Then came the question of the mails. The cart to Newcastle goes but once a week; and though subsidiary mails are carried by Zulu runners twice a week over the whole distance,-175 miles,—and carried as quickly as by the cart, the heavier bulk, such as newspapers, books, &c., are kept for the mail conveyance. The bags therefore are, in such a vehicle, somewhat heavy. When I saw a large box covered with canvas brought out I was alarmed, and I made some enquiry. It was, said the complaisant postmaster's assistant who had come out into the street, a book-post parcel; somewhat large as he acknowledged, and not strictly open at the ends as required by law. It was, he confessed, a tin box and he believed that it contained--bonnets. But it was going up to Pretoria, nearly 400 miles, at bookparcel rate of postage,—the total cost of it being, I think he said, 8s. 6d. Now passengers' luggage to Pretoria is charged 4s. a pound, and the injustice of the tin box full of bonnets struck my official mind with horror. There was a rumour for a moment that it was to be put in among us, and I prepared myself for battle. But the day was fine, and the tin box was fastened on behind with all the mails,―merely preventing any one from getting in or out of the cart without climbing over them. That was nothing, and we went away very happily, and during the first day I became indifferent to the wrong which was being done.

But when we arrived for breakfast on the second morning the clouds began to threaten, and it is known to all in those parts that when it rains in Natal it does

rain. The driver at once declared that the bags must be put inside and that we must all sit with our legs and feet in each other's lap. Then we looked at each other, and I remembered the tin box. I asked the conscientious mail-man what he would do with the bag which contained the box, and he immediately replied that it must come behind himself, inside the cart, exactly in the place where my legs were then placed. I had felt the tin box and had found that the corners of it were almost as sharp as the point of a carving knife. "It can't come here," said I. "It must," said the driver surlily. "But it won't," said I decidedly. "But it will," said the driver angrily. I bethought myself a moment and then declared my purpose of not leaving the vehicle, though I knew that breakfast was prepared within. "May I trouble you to bring a cup of tea to me here," I said to one of my fellow victims. "I shall remain and not allow the tin box to enter the cart." "Not allow!" said the custodian of the mails. "Certainly not," said I, with what authority I could command. "It is illegal." The man paused for a moment awed by the word and then entered upon a compromise. "Would I permit the mail bags to be put inside, if the tin box were kept outside?" To this I assented, and so the cart was packed. I am happy to say that the clouds passed away, and that the bonnets were uninjured as long as I remained in their company. I fear from what I afterwards heard that they must have encountered hard usage on their way from Newcastle to Pretoria.

The mail cart to Newcastle was, I have said, fairly comfortable, but this incident and other little trifles of the same kind made me glad that I had decided on being independent. Three of my fellow passengers were going on to Pretoria and I found that they looked forward

with great dread to their journey,-not even then expecting such hardships as did eventually befall them.

The country from Pieter Maritzburg to Newcastle is very hilly, with hills which are almost mountains on every side, and it would be picturesque but for the sad want of trees. The farm homesteads were few and far between, and very little cultivation was to be seen. The land is almost entirely sold,-being, that is, in private possession, having been parted with by the governing authorities of the Colony. I saw cattle, and as I got further from Maritzburg small flocks of sheep. The land rises all the way, and as we get on to the colder altitudes is capable of bearing wheat. As I went along I heard from every mouth the same story. A farmer cannot grow wheat because he has no market and no labour. The little towns are too distant and the roads too bad for carriage; and though there be 300,000 natives in the Colony, labour cannot be procured. I must remark that through this entire district the Kafirs or Zulus are scarce, -from a complication of causes. No doubt it was inhabited at one time; but the Dutch came who were cruel tyrants to the natives,-which is not surprising, as they had been most disastrously handled by them. And Chaka too had driven from this country the tribes who inhabited it before his time. In other lands, nearer to the sea or great rivers, and thus lying lower, the receding population has been supplied by new comers; but the Zulus from the warmer regions further north seem to have found the high grounds too cold for them. At any rate in these districts neither Kafirs or Zulus are now numerous,though there are probably enough for the work to be done if they would do it.

At Howick, twelve miles from Maritzburg, are the higher falls on the Umgeni,-about a dozen miles from

1

1

« PrécédentContinuer »