« ForrigeFortsæt »
He pointed in various directions up and down the valley. Wilmot saw three or four clusters of huts, varying from two to half-a-dozen, each group separated by a mile or more from the other. Hartley explained the family system prevailing among the Kafirs. "These Magatese occupy about a thousand square miles," said he, "and their huts are scattered as you see them. This is the royal kraal, and nobody comes to it but the head men of the different kraals, and then only when they are sent for. 'Mpfeu is sleepy; that means he is either getting drunk or sober. If he is starting a drunk, we are booked for a week before we shall see him; if he is tapering off, he will be fit in a day or two. Meanwhile we'll get the gun off-loaded."
Bulalie was appealed to for assistance. He despatched a Kafir to the nearest kraal, whence came, in the course of an hour, four or five able-bodied but flabby-muscled natives, who were given over to the charge of Golosh, and initiated into the business of removing the timbers from the waggon. A couple of English labourers would have completed the offloading easily in half an hour. By that time the Magatese had lifted off three timbers and deposited them on the ground at the tail of the waggon, where they impeded further work. So the party sat down and took snuff for a quarter of an hour. They would have returned to their toil then, but two girls came out of a hut and sat by them. Politeness forbade
"There's a sample of civilisation for you," he remarked. "In the old chief's time they dared not have sat down to snuff without permission, much less quit work. But this blackguard 'Mpfeu has been got hold of by civilisers. Look at the result! He is most of the time drunk, and all discipline is gone. I don't believe there's a manly Kafir left in the tribe. They'll be wiped out presently by the Boers, who dared not put their noses over the mountain in Magato's time. Man, but he was a chief-the sort of chap you read about, but rarely see. He was a man. It's hard to believe he should have a son like this. If Kafir ghosts walk, as these fellows believe they do, the old boy must spend the nights groaning. I hope this blessed gun will burst and blow 'Mpfeu to blazes."
Next morning Golosh and the two Kafirs completed the off-loading before breakfast,
without outside help, and by noon the gun was fitted.
Hartley put in a belt and prepared to apply the all-important question, Would it work? He trained it on to a hill distant a thousand yards, and turned the handle; an earpiercing rattle followed, and a small cloud of dust rose from the side of the kopje. Hartley turned the muzzle right and left, up and down, till the belt was emptied.
"Good old Adam! He's earned his money," was his only comment.
The reverberations had barely ceased to echo among the craggy rocks that surrounded the spot, before natives came pouring out of the distant kraals, running towards the gun where the smoke still lingered. Bulalie came too, a smile on his otherwise unemotional face. He was an elderly man, with something of the dignity of command, and, as was afterwards proved, the only worthy wearer of the mantle of the dead chief.
"Good byemby?" he asked, using the name for a cannon whose origin has puzzled phil. ologists since the Zulu war, and given rise to fifty explanations.
Bulalie stood well behind the Maxim, and without moving a muscle stolidly stared at it, beginning with the neat painted tripod on which it was mounted, and finishing with a hard scrutinising gaze at the polished brass muzzle. Then, without a word, he walked to the chief's kraal, and a quarter of an hour later came out with 'Mpfeu.
"Here's your civilised savage chief," Hartley remarked, and Wilmot looked and saw a tall Kafir intended by nature to be a shapely specimen of physical development untrammelled by the retarding influences of artificiality; but civilisation had triumphed over nature, and alcohol had undone in two years the work of generations. 'Mpfeu was a physical and mental wreck at twenty-five years of age. had the halting, slouching step of an old man, fishy eyes surrounded by a broad arch of red, raw flesh, a limp underhanging jaw, drooping shoulders, and a body covered with loose flabby skin. The only sign of his chieftainship was the royal leopard skin tied loosely round his waist, with the tail drooping between his legs. He was naked from the waist up, and his attenuated calves were concealed by a pair of leathern leggings of the latest English military pattern. His ornaments were a couple of brass-wire bangles round each ankle, and a lady's plain gold bracelet on the left wrist. He walked with a stick, the length of a billiard cue, bound with brass and copper wire, and carried in his left hand a silver tankard.
He halted a few feet from the gun, gave a nod of recognition to Hartley, stared at Wilmot, and glared at Smeer, whose obviously Boer appearance was too suggestive of his natural enemies to be pleasing.
Bulalie directed his attention to the gun. 'Mpfeu turned his oily eyes upon it, and stood
leaning on his stick in apathetic silence while his induna explained.
"He wants to see it fired," Bulalie interpreted, when 'Mpfeu had interrupted the lecture by a half-whispered monosyllable. To speak in a whisper is one of the privileges and signs of royal dignity, the only one that 'Mpfeu preserved, and that because raising the voice required an effort.
Hartley fed the gun with a belt of cartridges, and was about to use the kopje as a target when 'Mpfeu whispered again.
"He wants to see oxen killed," Bulalie explained.
The half-dozen indunas standing round showed signs of excitement. They knew that the victims of the experiment would be taken from their own herds, and they protested. The indaba was long and noisy, and ended in the chief consenting to the substitution of a flock of goats. Kafirs were sent to the neighbouring kraals to levy the royal tax, and Hartley took advantage of the interval to produce the case of a dozen bottles of gin he had brought as a present to the chief.
'Mpfeu's face showed the first sign of interest and animation when the bottles were exposed. He signed to his indunas to carry them to his hut, and thither he slouched to sample the gift.
"I reckon I've postponed this show for a day or two," Hartley remarked when, the goats having been driven to the side of the kopje and the fact intimated to the royal
drunkard, Bulalie came out to suggest a wachteen beetje (wait a bit).
"He's drinking alone," remarked Hartley. "Doesn't even invite me to have a tot of my own liquor. Sure sign that a man, black or white, has gone under when he drinks alone. Never knew it fail. Man, when I've been by myself in camp I always gave a tot to my Kafirs to save my own skin. Never drunk alone in my life. Reckon every drink I've had in this country cost me the price of two. If it wasn't for spoiling the deal I'd go and collar my share." And Hartley relieved his feelings by smothering them behind his efforts to light his pipe.
It was near sundown when 'Mpfeu reeled out of his hut, supported on each side by an induna, and accompanied by four of his wives, young girls on the border-line of twenty, but carrying the signs of premature age, brought on by the ill-treatment of their royal spouse.
Just before the arrival of the visitors one of the wives had perpetrated a scandal, unprecedented in the history of the court. She had run away to her father. Twenty years before, such an act would have ensured the destruction of her parents' kraal, and the prompt knobkerrying of the recaptured deserter; but 'Mpfeu had learned something of civilisation, and showed his annoyance in a more refined manner. He had merely taken back from the father the twenty oxen paid for the girl, put a
dog-chain round her neck, and kept her for a month fastened to the pole of her hut, sending in the other wives every other day to express the royal displeasure with a sjambok. As the girl's chief grievance had been the too lavish use of liquor by her husband, he ingeniously reminded her of it by forcing a bullock-horn into her mouth and pouring down it as much gin and whisky as he could spare. Hartley was informed by the induna who told him the story that the treatment had completely overcome her conscientious scruples against the use of alcohol, and she had not uttered a word against whisky since the sixth and last application of the corrective, which was satisfactory, as it prevented the waste of much good spirit. Under the old heathen régime she would have been given no opportunity for recantation, but would have died in her obstinate bigotry.
The goats, to the number of about twenty, had been herded on the side of the kopje, at a distance of about seven hundred yards, and after much shouting the herd boys got the animals in a crowd and ran out of the way. Hartley sighted the gun carefully and turned the handle. The disconcerting rattle brought shrieks of alarm from the women, and, a few seconds later, a chorus of admiring "ow's" from the men. The goats had been mowed down. Half a dozen, sorely wounded, were scrambling away broken limbs, and, in mercy,
Hartley gave them what remained of the cartridges in the feed-belt.
'Mpfeu looked on as apathetically as ever, the only sign of interest being excited when the Kafirs laid before him for inspection three mangled carcases. "Ask the white man what he wants," he whispered to Bulalie.
The induna interpreted. "The white stones I saw the other day: I'll take them now," was Hartley's curt reply.
The chief was led back to his hut, Hartley and his companions following.
Bulalie put his hand on the shoulder of Johannes Smeer.
"You may not come," said he in the Taal. "No Boer goes into the chief's kraal."
Hartley was confirmed in his surmise that the mantle of Magato had fallen on to the shoulders of the old induna. It was a saying of the dead chief, "When a Boer enters my hut, he will stay there."
The moment Smeer felt the hand of the induna on his shoulder, the innate hatred of his race for the Kafir asserted itself. He flushed through his grey, parchment skin, pushed Bulalie aside, and elbowed his way through the women and indunas, who made way for him. He stood for a few moments inside the door, then squatted defiantly on a mat.
He had unconsciously fulfilled the prophecy of the last three rulers of that tribe. Two years later a Boer commando entered and burned that hut, and drove the wreck of & dynasty to die the death of a
broken drunkard in the fever on the butt, 'Z. A. R.'
"Afrikanders don't drink with Kafirs," he said viciously, but fortunately in English.
"Shut up, you fool; you'll get no diamonds if you make a row," Hartley interposed without turning his head. He was squatting on the ground a few feet in front of 'Mpfeu, and watching every movement that was taking place among the indunas. Wilmot was observing too, and but for the placid unconcern on Hartley's face he would have been startled when Bulalie laid across his own knees a rifle.
"See that," said Hartley, addressing Smeer in English. "There's one of your Government guns. Look at the mark
run guns as well as Rooineks, eh?"
Before Smeer could reply, Bulalie handed to 'Mpfeu a tin box such as is used for biscuits.
"These are the stones-keep quiet," Hartley whispered.
'Mpfeu slowly removed the lid, and poured out upon the straw mat about a pint of white stones, varying in size from a pea to a marble.
"Tell the white man he may take one handful," he said to Bulalie.
The induna interpreted. Hartley spread his open hand, as if measuring its capacity, and hesitated, then took off his big smasher hat, laid it crown downwards before him, rubbed his palm on the muddy floor, and placed it gently over the heap of stones, pressing them into the smallest compass. He kept his hand stationary for the space of half a minute, then with a quick easy motion raised it, and dropped the stones into his hat.
"Man, but I could have grabbed twice that lot," exclaimed Smeer, who had got upon his feet on hearing the instructions interpreted, and stood stooping over Hartley.
"If the Boer had not been here you should have had two hands full," said 'Mpfeu; "but one handful is enough for him to steal."
Bulalie interpreted, stolidly. The old Boer glared savagely, and was about to reply, when Hartley sprang up, seized him by the shoulder, and bundled him out of the hut. He re