Transcribed from the 1921 edition by David Price, email email@example.com. Second proof by Margaret Price.
LETTERS FROM THE CAPE
LETTER I—THE VOYAGE
Wednesday, 24th July. Off the Scilly Isles, 6 P.M.
When I wrote last Sunday, we put our pilot on shore, and went down Channel. It soon came on to blow, and all night was squally and rough. Captain on deck all night. Monday, I went on deck at eight. Lovely weather, but the ship pitching as you never saw a ship pitch—bowsprit under water. By two o'clock a gale came on; all ordered below. Captain left dinner, and, about six, a sea struck us on the weather side, and washed a good many unconsidered trifles overboard, and stove in three windows on the poop; nurse and four children in fits; Mrs. T- and babies afloat, but good- humoured as usual. Army-surgeon and I picked up children and bullied nurse, and helped to bale cabin. Cuddy window stove in, and we were wetted. Went to bed at nine; could not undress, it pitched so, and had to call doctor to help me into cot; slept sound. The gale continues. My cabin is water-tight as to big splashes, but damp and dribbling. I am almost ashamed to like such miseries so much. The forecastle is under water with every lurch, and the motion quite incredible to one only acquainted with steamers. If one can sit this ship, which bounds like a tiger, one should sit a leap over a haystack. Evidently, I can never be sea- sick; but holding on is hard work, and writing harder.
Life is thus:- Avery—my cuddy boy—brings tea for S-, and milk for me, at six. S- turns out; when she is dressed, I turn out, and sing out for Avery, who takes down my cot, and brings a bucket of salt water, in which I wash with vast danger and difficulty; get dressed, and go on deck at eight. Ladies not allowed there earlier. Breakfast solidly at nine. Deck again; gossip; pretend to read. Beer and biscuit at twelve. The faithful Avery brings mine on deck. Dinner at four. Do a little carpentering in cabin, all the outfitters' work having broken loose. I am now in the captain's cabin, writing. We have the wind as ever, dead against us; and as soon as we get unpleasantly near Scilly, we shall tack and stand back to the French coast, where we were last night. Three soldiers able to answer roll-call, all the rest utterly sick; three middies helpless. Several of crew, ditto. Passengers very fairly plucky; but only I and one other woman, who never was at sea before, well. The food on board our ship is good as to meat, bread, and beer; everything else bad. Port and sherry of British manufacture, and the water with an incredible borachio, essence of tar; so that tea and coffee are but derisive names.
To-day, the air is quite saturated with wet, and I put on my clothes damp when I dressed, and have felt so ever since. I am so glad I was not persuaded out of my cot; it is the whole difference between rest, and holding on for life. No one in a bunk slept at all on Monday night; but then it blew as heavy a gale as it can blow, and we had the Cornish coast under our lee. So we tacked and tumbled all night. The ship being new, too, has the rigging all wrong; and the confusion and disorder are beyond description. The ship's officers are very good fellows. The mizen is entirely worked by the 'young gentlemen'; so we never see the sailors, and, at present, are not allowed to go forward. All lights are put out at half-past ten, and no food allowed in the cabin; but the latter article my friend Avery makes light of, and brings me anything when I am laid up. The young soldier-officers bawl for him with expletives; but he says, with a snigger, to me, 'They'll just wait till their betters, the ladies, is looked to.' I will write again some day soon, and take the chance of meeting a ship; you may be amused by a little scrawl, though it will probably be very stupid and ill-written, for it is not easy to see or to guide a pen while I hold on to the table with both legs and one arm, and am first on my back and then on my nose. Adieu, till next time. I have had a good taste of the humours of the Channel.
29th July, 4 Bells, i.e. 2 o'clock, p.m.—When I wrote last, I thought we had had our share of contrary winds and foul weather. Ever since, we have beaten about the bay with the variety of a favourable gale one night for a few hours, and a dead calm yesterday, in which we almost rolled our masts out of the ship. However, the sun was hot, and I sat and basked on deck, and we had morning service. It was a striking sight, with the sailors seated on oars and buckets, covered with signal flags, and with their clean frocks and faces. To-day is so cold that I dare not go on deck, and am writing in my black-hole of a cabin, in a green light, with the sun blinking through the waves as they rush over my port and scuttle. The captain is much vexed at the loss of time. I persist in thinking it a very pleasant, but utterly lazy life. I sleep a great deal, but don't eat much, and my cough has been bad; but, considering the real hardship of the life—damp, cold, queer food, and bad drink—I think I am better. When we can get past Finisterre, I shall do very well, I doubt not.
The children swarm on board, and cry unceasingly. A passenger-ship is no place for children. Our poor ship will lose her character by the weather, as she cannot fetch up ten days' lost time. But she is evidently a race-horse. We overhaul everything we see, at a wonderful rate, and the speed is exciting and pleasant; but the next long voyage I make, I'll try for a good wholesome old 'monthly' tub, which will roll along on the top of the water, instead of cutting through it, with the waves curling in at the cuddy skylights. We tried to signal a barque yesterday, and send home word 'all well'; but the brutes understood nothing but Russian, and excited our indignation by talking 'gibberish ' to us; which we resented with true British spirit, as became us.
It is now blowing hard again, and we have just been taken right aback. Luckily, I had lashed my desk to my washing-stand, or that would have flown off, as I did off my chair. I don't think I shall know what to make of solid ground under my feet. The rolling and pitching of a ship of this size, with such tall masts, is quite unlike the little niggling sort of work on a steamer—it is the difference between grinding along a bad road in a four-wheeler, and riding well to hounds in a close country on a good hunter. I was horribly tired for about five days, but now I rather like it, and never know whether it blows or not in the night, I sleep so soundly. The noise is beyond all belief; the creaking, trampling, shouting, clattering; it is an incessant storm. We have not yet got our masts quite safe; the new wire-rigging stretches more than was anticipated (of course), and our main-topmast is shaky. The crew have very hard work, as incessant tacking is added to all the extra work incident to a new ship. On Saturday morning, everybody was shouting for the carpenter. My cabin was flooded by a leak, and I superintended the baling and swabbing from my cot, and dressed sitting on my big box. However, I got the leak stopped and cabin dried, and no harm done, as I had put everything up off the floor the night before, suspicious of a dribble which came in. Then my cot frame was broken by my cuddy boy and I lurching over against S-'s bunk, in taking it down. The carpenter has given me his own, and takes my broken one for himself. Board ship is a famous place for tempers. Being easily satisfied, I get all I want, and plenty of attention and kindness; but I cannot prevail on my cuddy boy to refrain from violent tambourine-playing with a tin tray just at the ear of a lady who worries him. The young soldier- officers, too, I hear mentioned as 'them lazy gunners', and they struggle for water and tea in the morning long after mine has come. We have now been ten days at sea, and only three on which we could eat without the 'fiddles' (transverse pieces of wood to prevent the dishes from falling off). Smooth water will seem quite strange to me. I fear the poor people in the forecastle must be very wet and miserable, as the sea is constantly over it, not in spray, but in tons of green water.
3d Aug.—We had two days of dead calm, then one or two of a very light, favourable breeze, and yesterday we ran 175 miles with the wind right aft. We saw several ships, which signalled us, but we would not answer, as we had our spars down for repairs and looked like a wreck, and fancied it would be a pity to frighten you all with a report to that effect.
Last night we got all right, and spread out immense studding-sails. We are now bowling along, wind right aft, dipping our studding-sail booms into the water at every roll. The weather is still surprisingly cold, though very fine, and I have to come below quite early, out of the evening air. The sun sets before seven o'clock. I still cough a good deal, and the bad food and drink are trying. But the life is very enjoyable; and as I have the run of the charts, and ask all sorts of questions, I get plenty of amusement. S- is an excellent traveller; no grumbling, and no gossiping, which, on board a ship like ours, is a great merit, for there is ad nauseam of both.
Mr.—is writing a charade, in which I have agreed to take a part, to prevent squabbling. He wanted to start a daily paper, but the captain wisely forbade it, as it must have led to personalities and quarrels, and suggested a play instead. My little white Maltese goat is very well, and gives plenty of milk, which is a great resource, as the tea and coffee are abominable. Avery brings it me at six, in a tin pannikin, and again in the evening. The chief officer is well-bred and agreeable, and, indeed, all the young gentlemen are wonderfully good specimens of their class. The captain is a burly foremast man in manner, with a heart of wax and every feeling of a gentleman. He was in California, 'HIDE DROGHING' with Dana, and he says every line of Two Years before the Mast is true. He went through it all himself. He says that I am a great help to him, as a pattern of discipline and punctuality. People are much inclined to miss meals, and then want things at odd hours, and make the work quite impossible to the cook and servants. Of course, I get all I want in double-quick time, as I try to save my man trouble; and the carpenter leaves my scuttle open when no one else gets it, quite willing to get up in his time of sleep to close it, if it comes on to blow. A maid is really a superfluity on board ship, as the men rather like being 'aux petits soins'. The boatswain came the other day to say that he had a nice carpet and a good pillow; did I want anything of the sort? He would be proud that I should use anything of his. You would delight in Avery, my cuddy man, who is as quick as 'greased lightning', and full of fun. His misery is my want of appetite, and his efforts to cram me are very droll. The days seem to slip away, one can't tell how. I sit on deck from breakfast at nine, till dinner at four, and then again till it gets cold, and then to bed. We are now about 100 miles from Madeira, and shall have to run inside it, as we were thrown so far out of our course by the foul weather.
9th Aug.—Becalmed, under a vertical sun. Lat. 17 degrees, or thereabouts. We saw Madeira at a distance like a cloud; since then, we had about four days trade wind, and then failing or contrary breezes. We have sailed so near the African shore that we get little good out of the trades, and suffer much from the African climate. Fancy a sky like a pale February sky in London, no sun to be seen, and a heat coming, one can't tell from whence. To-day, the sun is vertical and invisible, the sea glassy and heaving. I have been ill again, and obliged to lie still yesterday and the day before in the captain's cabin; to-day in my own, as we have the ports open, and the maindeck is cooler than the upper. The men have just been holystoning here, singing away lustily in chorus. Last night I got leave to sling my cot under the main hatchway, as my cabin must have killed me from suffocation when shut up. Most of the men stayed on deck, but that is dangerous after sunset on this African coast, on account of the heavy dew and fever. They tell me that the open sea is quite different; certainly, nothing can look duller and dimmer than this specimen of the tropics. The few days of trade wind were beautiful and cold, with sparkling sea, and fresh air and bright sun; and we galloped along merrily.
We are now close to the Cape de Verd Islands, and shall go inside them. About lat. 4 degrees N. we expect to catch the S.E. trade wind, when it will be cold again. In lat. 24 degrees, the day before we entered the tropics, I sat on deck in a coat and cloak; the heat is quite sudden, and only lasts a week or so. The sea to- day is littered all round the ship with our floating rubbish, so we have not moved at all.
I constantly long for you to be here, though I am not sure you would like the life as well as I do. All your ideas of it are wrong; the confinement to the poop and the stringent regulations would bore you. But then, sitting on deck in fine weather is pleasure enough, without anything else. In a Queen's ship, a yacht, or a merchantman with fewer passengers, it must be a delightful existence.
17th Aug.—Since I wrote last, we got into the south-west monsoon for one day, and I sat up by the steersman in intense enjoyment—a bright sun and glittering blue sea; and we tore along, pitching and tossing the water up like mad. It was glorious. At night, I was calmly reposing in my cot, in the middle of the steerage, just behind the main hatchway, when I heard a crashing of rigging and a violent noise and confusion on deck. The captain screamed out orders which informed me that we were in the thick of a collision— of course I lay still, and waited till the row, or the ship, went down. I found myself next day looked upon as no better than a heathen by all the women, because I had been cool, and declined to get up and make a noise. Presently the officers came and told me that a big ship had borne down on us—we were on the starboard tack, and all right—carried off our flying jib-boom and whisker (the sort of yard to the bowsprit). The captain says he was never in such imminent danger in his life, as she threatened to swing round and to crush into our waist, which would have been certain destruction. The little dandy soldier-officer behaved capitally; he turned his men up in no time, and had them all ready. He said, 'Why, you know, I must see that my fellows go down decently.' S- was as cool as an icicle, offered me my pea-jacket, &c., which I declined, as it would be of no use for me to go off in boats, even supposing there were time, and I preferred going down comfortably in my cot. Finding she was of no use to me, she took a yelling maid in custody, and was thought a brute for begging her to hold her noise. The first lieutenant, who looks on passengers as odious cargo, has utterly mollified to me since this adventure. I heard him report to the captain that I was 'among 'em all, and never sung out, nor asked a question the while'. This he called 'beautiful'.
Next day we got light wind S.W. (which ought to be the S.E. trades), and the weather has been, beyond all description, lovely ever since. Cool, but soft, sunny and bright—in short, perfect; only the sky is so pale. Last night the sunset was a vision of loveliness, a sort of Pompadour paradise; the sky seemed full of rose-crowned amorini, and the moon wore a rose-coloured veil of bright pink cloud, all so light, so airy, so brilliant, and so fleeting, that it was a kind of intoxication. It is far less grand than northern colour, but so lovely, so shiny. Then the flying fish skimmed like silver swallows over the blue water. Such a sight! Also, I saw a whale spout like a very tiny garden fountain. The Southern Cross is a delusion, and the tropical moon no better than a Parisian one, at present. We are now in lat. 31 degrees about, and have been driven halfway to Rio by this sweet southern breeze. I have never yet sat on deck without a cloth jacket or shawl, and the evenings are chilly. I no longer believe in tropical heat at sea. Even during the calm it was not so hot as I have often felt it in England—and that, under a vertical sun. The ship that nearly ran us and herself down, must have kept no look- out, and refused to answer our hail. She is supposed to be from Glasgow by her looks. We may speak a ship and send letters on board; so excuse scrawl and confusion, it is so difficult to write at all.
30th August.—About 25 degrees S. lat. and very much to the west. We have had all sorts of weather—some beautiful, some very rough, but always contrary winds—and got within 200 miles of the coast of South America. We now have a milder breeze from the SOFT N.E., after a BITTER S.W., with Cape pigeons and mollymawks (a small albatross), not to compare with our gulls. We had private theatricals last night—ill acted, but beautifully got up as far as the sailors were concerned. I did not act, as I did not feel well enough, but I put a bit for Neptune into the Prologue and made the boatswain's mate speak it, to make up for the absence of any shaving at the Line, which the captain prohibited altogether; I thought it hard the men should not get their 'tips'. The boatswain's mate dressed and spoke it admirably; and the old carpenter sang a famous comic song, dressed to perfection as a ploughboy.
I am disappointed in the tropics as to warmth. Our thermometer stood at 82 degrees one day only, under the vertical sun, N. of the Line; ON the Line at 74 degrees; and at sea it FEELS 10 degrees colder than it is. I have never been hot, except for two days 4 degrees N. of the Line, and now it is very cold, but it is very invigorating. All day long it looks and feels like early morning; the sky is pale blue, with light broken clouds; the sea an inconceivably pure opaque blue—lapis lazuli, but far brighter. I saw a lovely dolphin three days ago; his body five feet long (some said more) is of a FIERY blue-green, and his huge tail golden bronze. I was glad he scorned the bait and escaped the hook; he was so beautiful. This is the sea from which Venus rose in her youthful glory. All is young, fresh, serene, beautiful, and cheerful.
We have not seen a sail for weeks. But the life at sea makes amends for anything, to my mind. I am never tired of the calms, and I enjoy a stiff gale like a Mother Carey's chicken, so long as I can be on deck or in the captain's cabin. Between decks it is very close and suffocating in rough weather, as all is shut up. We shall be still three weeks before we reach the Cape; and now the sun sets with a sudden plunge before six, and the evenings are growing too cold again for me to go on deck after dinner. As long as I could, I spent fourteen hours out of the twenty-four in my quiet corner by the wheel, basking in the tropical sun. Never again will I believe in the tales of a burning sun; the vertical sun just kept me warm—no more. In two days we shall be bitterly cold again.
Immediately after writing the above it began to blow a gale (favourable, indeed, but more furious than the captain had ever known in these seas),—about lat. 34 degrees S. and long. 25 degrees. For three days we ran under close-reefed (four reefs) topsails, before a sea. The gale in the Bay of Biscay was a little shaking up in a puddle (a dirty one) compared to that glorious South Atlantic in all its majestic fury. The intense blue waves, crowned with fantastic crests of bright emeralds and with the spray blowing about like wild dishevelled hair, came after us to swallow us up at a mouthful, but took us up on their backs, and hurried us along as if our ship were a cork. Then the gale slackened, and we had a dead calm, during which the waves banged us about frightfully, and our masts were in much jeopardy. Then a foul wind, S.E., increased into a gale, lasting five days, during which orders were given in dumb show, as no one's voice could be heard; through it we fought and laboured and dipped under water, and I only had my dry corner by the wheel, where the kind pleasant little third officer lashed me tight. It was far more formidable than the first gale, but less beautiful; and we made so much lee-way that we lost ten days, and only arrived here yesterday. I recommend a fortnight's heavy gale in the South Atlantic as a cure for a blase state of mind. It cannot be described; the sound, the sense of being hurled along without the smallest regard to 'this side uppermost'; the beauty of the whole scene, and the occasional crack and bear-away of sails and spars; the officer trying to 'sing out', quite in vain, and the boatswain's whistle scarcely audible. I remained near the wheel every day for as long as I could bear it, and was enchanted.
Then the mortal perils of eating, drinking, moving, sitting, lying; standing can't be done, even by the sailors, without holding on. THE night of the gale, my cot twice touched the beams of the ship above me. I asked the captain if I had dreamt it, but he said it was quite possible; he had never seen a ship so completely on her beam ends come up all right, masts and yards all sound.
There is a middy about half M-'s size, a very tiny ten-year-older, who has been my delight; he is so completely 'the officer and the gentleman'. My maternal entrails turned like old Alvarez, when that baby lay out on the very end of the cross-jack yard to reef, in the gale; it was quite voluntary, and the other newcomers all declined. I always called him 'Mr. -, sir', and asked his leave gravely, or, on occasions, his protection and assistance; and his little dignity was lovely. He is polite to the ladies, and slightly distant to the passenger-boys, bigger than himself, whom he orders off dangerous places; 'Children, come out of that; you'll be overboard.'
A few days before landing I caught a bad cold, and kept my bed. I caught this cold by 'sleeping with a damp man in my cabin', as some one said. During the last gale, the cabin opposite mine was utterly swamped, and I found the Irish soldier-servant of a little officer of eighteen in despair; the poor lad had got ague, and eight inches of water in his bed, and two feet in the cabin. I looked in and said, 'He can't stay there—carry him into my cabin, and lay him in the bunk'; which he did, with tears running down his honest old face. So we got the boy into S-'s bed, and cured his fever and ague, caught under canvas in Romney Marsh. Meantime S- had to sleep in a chair and to undress in the boy's wet cabin. As a token of gratitude, he sent me a poodle pup, born on board, very handsome. The artillery officers were generally well-behaved; the men, deserters and ruffians, sent out as drivers. We have had five courts-martial and two floggings in eight weeks, among seventy men. They were pampered with food and porter, and would not pull a rope, or get up at six to air their quarters. The sailors are an excellent set of men. When we parted, the first lieutenant said to me, 'Weel, ye've a wonderful idee of discipline for a leddy, I will say. You've never been reported but once, and that was on sick leave, for your light, and all in order.'
Cape Town, Sept. 18.
We anchored yesterday morning, and Captain J-, the Port Captain, came off with a most kind letter from Sir Baldwin Walker, his gig, and a boat and crew for S- and the baggage. So I was whipped over the ship's side in a chair, and have come to a boarding house where the J-s live. I was tired and dizzy and landsick, and lay down and went to sleep. After an hour or so I woke, hearing a little gazouillement, like that of chimney swallows. On opening my eyes I beheld four demons, 'sons of the obedient Jinn', each bearing an article of furniture, and holding converse over me in the language of Nephelecoecygia. Why has no one ever mentioned the curious little soft voices of these coolies?—you can't hear them with the naked ear, three feet off. The most hideous demon (whose complexion had not only the colour, but the precise metallic lustre of an ill black-leaded stove) at last chirruped a wish for orders, which I gave. I asked the pert, active, cockney housemaid what I ought to pay them, as, being a stranger, they might overcharge me. Her scorn was sublime, 'Them nasty blacks never asks more than their regular charge.' So I asked the black-lead demon, who demanded 'two shilling each horse in waggon', and a dollar each 'coolie man'. He then glided with fiendish noiselessness about the room, arranged the furniture to his own taste, and finally said, 'Poor missus sick'; then more chirruping among themselves, and finally a fearful gesture of incantation, accompanied by 'God bless poor missus. Soon well now'. The wrath of the cockney housemaid became majestic: 'There, ma'am; you see how saucy they have grown- -a nasty black heathen Mohamedan a blessing of a white Christian!'
These men are the Auvergnats of Africa. I was assured that bankers entrust them with large sums in gold, which they carry some hundred and twenty miles, by unknown tracks, for a small gratuity. The pretty, graceful Malays are no honester than ourselves, but are excellent workmen.
To-morrow, my linen will go to a ravine in the giant mountain at my back, and there be scoured in a clear spring by brown women, bleached on the mountain top, and carried back all those long miles on their heads, as it went up.
My landlady is Dutch; the waiter is an Africander, half Dutch, half Malay, very handsome, and exactly like a French gentleman, and as civil.
Enter 'Africander' lad with a nosegay; only one flower that I know- -heliotrope. The vegetation is lovely; the freshness of spring and the richness of summer. The leaves on the trees are in all the beauty of spring. Mrs. R- brought me a plate of oranges, 'just gathered', as soon as I entered the house—and, oh! how good they were! better even than the Maltese. They are going out, and DEAR now—two a penny, very large and delicious. I am wild to get out and see the glorious scenery and the hideous people. To-day the wind has been a cold south-wester, and I have not been out. My windows look N. and E. so I get all the sun and warmth. The beauty of Table Bay is astounding. Fancy the Undercliff in the Isle of Wight magnified a hundred-fold, with clouds floating halfway up the mountain. The Hottentot mountains in the distance have a fantastic jagged outline, which hardly looks real. The town is like those in the south of Europe; flat roofs, and all unfinished; roads are simply non-existent. At the doors sat brown women with black hair that shone like metal, very handsome; they are Malays, and their men wear conical hats a-top of turbans, and are the chief artisans. At the end of the pier sat a Mozambique woman in white drapery and the most majestic attitude, like a Roman matron; her features large and strong and harsh, but fine; and her skin blacker than night.
I have got a couple of Cape pigeons (the storm-bird of the South Atlantic) for J-'s hat. They followed us several thousand miles, and were hooked for their pains. The albatrosses did not come within hail.
The little Maltese goat gave a pint of milk night and morning, and was a great comfort to the cow. She did not like the land or the grass at first, and is to be thrown out of milk now. She is much admired and petted by the young Africander. My room is at least eighteen feet high, and contains exactly a bedstead, one straw mattrass, one rickety table, one wash-table, two chairs, and broken looking-glass; no carpet, and a hiatus of three inches between the floor and the door, but all very clean; and excellent food. I have not made a bargain yet, but I dare say I shall stay here.
Friday.—I have just received your letter; where it has been hiding, I can't conceive. To-day is cold and foggy, like a baddish day in June with you; no colder, if so cold. Still, I did not venture out, the fog rolls so heavily over the mountain. Well, I must send off this yarn, which is as interminable as the 'sinnet' and 'foxes' which I twisted with the mids.
Cape Town, Oct. 3.
I came on shore on a very fine day, but the weather changed, and we had a fortnight of cold and damp and S.W. wind (equivalent to our east wind), such as the 'oldest inhabitant' never experienced; and I have had as bad an attack of bronchitis as ever I remember, having been in bed till yesterday. I had a very good doctor, half Italian, half Dane, born at the Cape of Good Hope, and educated at Edinburgh, named Chiappini. He has a son studying medicine in London, whose mother is Dutch; such is the mixture of bloods here.
Yesterday, the wind went to the south-east; the blessed sun shone out, and the weather was lovely at once. The mountain threw off his cloak of cloud, and all was bright and warm. I got up and sat in the verandah over the stoep (a kind of terrace in front of every house here). They brought me a tortoise as big as half a crown and as lively as a cricket to look at, and a chameleon like a fairy dragon—a green fellow, five inches long, with no claws on his feet, but suckers like a fly—the most engaging little beast. He sat on my finger, and caught flies with great delight and dexterity, and I longed to send him to M-. To-day, I went a long drive with Captain and Mrs. J-: we went to Rondebosch and Wynberg- -lovely country; rather like Herefordshire; red earth and oak- trees. Miles of the road were like Gainsborough-lane, on a large scale, and looked quite English; only here and there a hedge of prickly pear, or the big white aruns in the ditches, told a different tale; and the scarlet geraniums and myrtles growing wild puzzled one.
And then came rattling along a light, rough, but well-poised cart, with an Arab screw driven by a Malay, in a great hat on his kerchiefed head, and his wife, with her neat dress, glossy black hair, and great gold earrings. They were coming with fish, which he had just caught at Kalk Bay, and was going to sell for the dinners of the Capetown folk. You pass neat villas, with pretty gardens and stoeps, gay with flowers, and at the doors of several, neat Malay girls are lounging. They are the best servants here, for the emigrants mostly drink. Then you see a group of children at play, some as black as coals, some brown and very pretty. A little black girl, about R-'s age, has carefully tied what little petticoat she has, in a tight coil round her waist, and displays the most darling little round legs and behind, which it would be a real pleasure to slap; it is so shiny and round, and she runs and stands so strongly and gracefully.
Here comes another Malay, with a pair of baskets hanging from a stick across his shoulder, like those in Chinese pictures, which his hat also resembles. Another cart full of working men, with a Malay driver; and inside are jumbled some red-haired, rosy-cheeked English navvies, with the ugliest Mozambiques, blacker than Erebus, and with faces all knobs and corners, like a crusty loaf. As we drive home we see a span of sixteen noble oxen in the marketplace, and on the ground squats the Hottentot driver. His face no words can describe—his cheek-bones are up under his hat, and his meagre- pointed chin halfway down to his waist; his eyes have the dull look of a viper's, and his skin is dirty and sallow, but not darker than a dirty European's.
Capetown is rather pretty, but beyond words untidy and out of repair. As it is neither drained nor paved, it won't do in hot weather; and I shall migrate 'up country' to a Dutch village. Mrs. J-, who is Dutch herself, tells me that one may board in a Dutch farm-house very cheaply, and with great comfort (of course eating with the family), and that they will drive you about the country and tend your horses for nothing, if you are friendly, and don't treat them with Engelsche hoog-moedigheid.
Oct. 19th.—The packet came in last night, but just in time to save the fine of 50l. per diem, and I got your welcome letter this morning. I have been coughing all this time, but I hope I shall improve. I came out at the very worst time of year, and the weather has been (of course) 'unprecedentedly' bad and changeable. But when it IS fine it is quite celestial; so clear, so dry, so light. Then comes a cloud over Table Mountain, like the sugar on a wedding-cake, which tumbles down in splendid waterfalls, and vanishes unaccountably halfway; and then you run indoors and shut doors and windows, or it portends a 'south-easter', i.e. a hurricane, and Capetown disappears in impenetrable clouds of dust. But this wind coming off the hills and fields of ice, is the Cape doctor, and keeps away cholera, fever of every sort, and all malignant or infectious diseases. Most of them are unknown here. Never was so healthy a place; but the remedy is of the heroic nature, and very disagreeable. The stones rattle against the windows, and omnibuses are blown over on the Rondebosch road.
A few days ago, I drove to Mr. V-'s farm. Imagine St. George's Hill, and the most beautiful bits of it, sloping gently up to Table Mountain, with its grey precipices, and intersected with Scotch burns, which water it all the year round, as they come from the living rock; and sprinkled with oranges, pomegranates, and camelias in abundance. You drive through a mile or two as described, and arrive at a square, planted with rows of fine oaks close together; at the upper end stands the house, all on the ground-floor, but on a high stoep: rooms eighteen feet high; the old slave quarters on each side; stables, &c., opposite; the square as big as Belgrave Square, and the buildings in the old French style.
We then went on to Newlands, a still more beautiful place. Immense trenching and draining going on—the foreman a Caffre, black as ink, six feet three inches high, and broad in proportion, with a staid, dignified air, and Englishmen working under him! At the streamlets there are the inevitable groups of Malay women washing clothes, and brown babies sprawling about. Yesterday, I should have bought a black woman for her beauty, had it been still possible. She was carrying an immense weight on her head, and was far gone with child; but such stupendous physical perfection I never even imagined. Her jet black face was like the Sphynx, with the same mysterious smile; her shape and walk were goddess-like, and the lustre of her skin, teeth, and eyes, showed the fulness of health;—Caffre of course. I walked after her as far as her swift pace would let me, in envy and admiration of such stately humanity.
The ordinary blacks, or Mozambiques, as they call them, are hideous. Malay here seems equivalent to Mohammedan. They were originally Malays, but now they include every shade, from the blackest nigger to the most blooming English woman. Yes, indeed, the emigrant-girls have been known to turn 'Malays', and get thereby husbands who know not billiards and brandy—the two diseases of Capetown. They risked a plurality of wives, and professed Islam, but they got fine clothes and industrious husbands. They wear a very pretty dress, and all have a great air of independence and self-respect; and the real Malays are very handsome. I am going to see one of the Mollahs soon, and to look at their schools and mosque; which, to the distraction of the Scotch, they call their 'Kerk.'
I asked a Malay if he would drive me in his cart with the six or eight mules, which he agreed to do for thirty shillings and his dinner (i.e. a share of my dinner) on the road. When I asked how long it would take, he said, 'Allah is groot', which meant, I found, that it depended on the state of the beach—the only road for half the way.
The sun, moon, and stars are different beings from those we look upon. Not only are they so large and bright, but you SEE that the moon and stars are BALLS, and that the sky is endless beyond them. On the other hand, the clear, dry air dwarfs Table Mountain, as you seem to see every detail of it to the very top.
Capetown is very picturesque. The old Dutch buildings are very handsome and peculiar, but are falling to decay and dirt in the hands of their present possessors. The few Dutch ladies I have seen are very pleasing. They are gentle and simple, and naturally well-bred. Some of the Malay women are very handsome, and the little children are darlings. A little parti-coloured group of every shade, from ebony to golden hair and blue eyes, were at play in the street yesterday, and the majority were pretty, especially the half-castes. Most of the Caffres I have seen look like the perfection of human physical nature, and seem to have no diseases. Two days ago I saw a Hottentot girl of seventeen, a housemaid here. You would be enchanted by her superfluity of flesh; the face was very queer and ugly, and yet pleasing, from the sweet smile and the rosy cheeks which please one much, in contrast to all the pale yellow faces—handsome as some of them are.
I wish I could send the six chameleons which a good-natured parson brought me in his hat, and a queer lizard in his pocket. The chameleons are charming, so monkey-like and so 'caressants'. They sit on my breakfast tray and catch flies, and hang in a bunch by their tails, and reach out after my hand.
I have had a very kind letter from Lady Walker, and shall go and stay with them at Simon's Bay as soon as I feel up to the twenty- two miles along the beaches and bad roads in the mail-cart with three horses. The teams of mules (I beg pardon, spans) would delight you—eight, ten, twelve, even sixteen sleek, handsome beasts; and oh, such oxen! noble beasts with humps; and hump is very good to eat too.
Oct. 21st.—The mail goes out to-morrow, so I must finish this letter. I feel better to-day than I have yet felt, in spite of the south-easter.
28th Oct.—Since I wrote, we have had more really cold weather, but yesterday the summer seems to have begun. The air is as light and clear as if THERE WERE NONE, and the sun hot; but I walk in it, and do not find it oppressive. All the household groans and perspires, but I am very comfortable.
Yesterday I sat in the full broil for an hour or more, in the hot dust of the Malay burial-ground. They buried the head butcher of the Mussulmans, and a most strange poetical scene it was. The burial-ground is on the side of the Lion Mountain—on the Lion's rump—and overlooks the whole bay, part of the town, and the most superb mountain panorama beyond. I never saw a view within miles of it for beauty and grandeur. Far down, a fussy English steamer came puffing and popping into the deep blue bay, and the 'Hansom's' cabs went tearing down to the landing place; and round me sat a crowd of grave brown men chanting 'Allah il Allah' to the most monotonous but musical air, and with the most perfect voices. The chant seemed to swell, and then fade, like the wind in the trees.
I went in after the procession, which consisted of a bier covered with three common Paisley shawls of gay colours; no one looked at me; and when they got near the grave, I kept at a distance, and sat down when they did. But a man came up and said, 'You are welcome.' So I went close, and saw the whole ceremony. They took the corpse, wrapped in a sheet, out of the bier, and lifted it into the grave, where two men received it; then a sheet was held over the grave till they had placed the dead man; and then flowers and earth were thrown in by all present, the grave filled in, watered out of a brass kettle, and decked with flowers. Then a fat old man, in printed calico shirt sleeves, and a plaid waistcoat and corduroy trousers, pulled off his shoes, squatted on the grave, and recited endless 'Koran', many reciting after him. Then they chanted 'Allah-il-Allah' for twenty minutes, I think: then prayers, with 'Ameens' and 'Allah il-Allahs' again. Then all jumped up and walked off. There were eighty or a hundred men, no women, and five or six 'Hadjis', draped in beautiful Eastern dresses, and looking very supercilious. The whole party made less noise in moving and talking than two Englishmen.
A white-complexioned man spoke to me in excellent English (which few of them speak), and was very communicative and civil. He told me the dead man was his brother-in-law, and he himself the barber. I hoped I had not taken a liberty. 'Oh, no; poor Malays were proud when noble English persons showed such respect to their religion. The young Prince had done so too, and Allah would not forget to protect him. He also did not laugh at their prayers, praise be to God!' I had already heard that Prince Alfred is quite the darling of the Malays. He insisted on accepting their fete, which the Capetown people had snubbed. I have a friendship with one Abdul Jemaalee and his wife Betsy, a couple of old folks who were slaves to Dutch owners, and now keep a fruit-shop of a rough sort, with 'Betsy, fruiterer,' painted on the back of an old tin tray, and hung up by the door of the house. Abdul first bought himself, and then his wife Betsy, whose 'missus' generously threw in her bed- ridden mother. He is a fine handsome old man, and has confided to me that 5,000 pounds would not buy what he is worth now. I have also read the letters written by his, son, young Abdul Rachman, now a student at Cairo, who has been away five years—four at Mecca. The young theologian writes to his 'hoog eerbare moeder' a fond request for money, and promises to return soon. I am invited to the feast wherewith he will be welcomed. Old Abdul Jemaalee thinks it will divert my mind, and prove to me that Allah will take me home safe to my children, about whom he and his wife asked many questions. Moreover, he compelled me to drink herb tea, compounded by a Malay doctor for my cough. I declined at first, and the poor old man looked hurt, gravely assured me that it was not true that Malays always poisoned Christians, and drank some himself. Thereupon I was obliged, of course, to drink up the rest; it certainly did me good, and I have drunk it since with good effect; it is intensely bitter and rather sticky. The white servants and the Dutch landlady where I lodge shake their heads ominously, and hope it mayn't poison me a year hence. 'Them nasty Malays can make it work months after you take it.' They also possess the evil eye, and a talent for love potions. As the men are very handsome and neat, I incline to believe that part of it.
Rathfelder's Halfway House, 6th November.—I drove out here yesterday in Captain T-'s drag, which he kindly brought into Capetown for me. He and his wife and children came for a change of air for whooping cough, and advised me to come too, as my cough continues, though less troublesome. It is a lovely spot, six miles from Constantia, ten from Capetown, and twelve from Simon's Bay. I intend to stay here a little while, and then to go to Kalk Bay, six miles from hence. This inn was excellent, I hear, 'in the old Dutch times'. Now it is kept by a young Englishman, Cape-born, and his wife, and is dirty and disorderly. I pay twelve shillings a day for S- and self, without a sitting-room, and my bed is a straw paillasse; but the food is plentiful, and not very bad. That is the cheapest rate of living possible here, and every trifle costs double what it would in England, except wine, which is very fair at fivepence a bottle—a kind of hock. The landlord pays 1 pound a day rent for this house, which is the great resort of the Capetown people for Sundays, and for change of air, &c.—a rude kind of Richmond. His cook gets 3 pounds 10s. a month, besides food for himself and wife, and beer and sugar. The two (white) housemaids get 1 pound 15s. and 1 pound 10s. respectively (everything by the month). Fresh butter is 3s. 6d. a pound, mutton 7d.; washing very dear; cabbages my host sells at 3d. a piece, and pumpkins 8d. He has a fine garden, and pays a gardener 3s. 6d. a day, and black labourers 2s. THEY work three days a week; then they buy rice and a coarse fish, and lie in the sun till it is eaten; while their darling little fat black babies play in the dust, and their black wives make battues in the covers in their woolly heads. But the little black girl who cleans my room is far the best servant, and smiles and speaks like Lalage herself, ugly as the poor drudge is. The voice and smile of the negroes here is bewitching, though they are hideous; and neither S- nor I have yet heard a black child cry, or seen one naughty or quarrelsome. You would want to lay out a fortune in woolly babies. Yesterday I had a dreadful heartache after my darling, on her little birthday, and even the lovely ranges of distant mountains, coloured like opals in the sunset, did not delight me. This is a dreary place for strangers. Abdul Jemaalee's tisanne, and a banana which he gave me each time I went to his shop, are the sole offer of 'Won't you take something?' or even the sole attempt at a civility that I have received, except from the J-s, who, are very civil and kind.
When I have done my visit to Simon's Bay, I will go 'up country', to Stellenbosch, Paarl and Worcester, perhaps. If I can find people going in a bullock-waggon, I will join them; it costs 1 pound a day, and goes twenty miles. If money were no object, I would hire one with Caffres to hunt, as well as outspan and drive, and take a saddle-horse. There is plenty of pleasure to be had in travelling here, if you can afford it. The scenery is quite beyond anything you can imagine in beauty. I went to a country house at Rondebosch with the J-s, and I never saw so lovely a spot. The possessor had done his best to spoil it, and to destroy the handsome Dutch house and fountains and aqueducts; but Nature was too much for him, and the place lovely in neglect and shabbiness.
Now I will tell you my impressions of the state of society here, as far as I have been able to make out by playing the inquisitive traveller. I dare say the statements are exaggerated, but I do not think they are wholly devoid of truth. The Dutch round Capetown (I don't know anything of 'up country') are sulky and dispirited; they regret the slave days, and can't bear to pay wages; they have sold all their fine houses in town to merchants, &c., and let their handsome country places go to pieces, and their land lie fallow, rather than hire the men they used to own. They hate the Malays, who were their slaves, and whose 'insolent prosperity' annoys them, and they don't like the vulgar, bustling English. The English complain that the Dutch won't die, and that they are the curse of the colony (a statement for which they can never give a reason). But they, too, curse the emancipation, long to flog the niggers, and hate the Malays, who work harder and don't drink, and who are the only masons, tailors, &c., and earn from 4s. 6d. to 10s. a day. The Malays also have almost a monopoly of cart-hiring and horse- keeping; an Englishman charges 4 pounds 10s. or 5 pounds for a carriage to do what a Malay will do quicker in a light cart for 30s. S- says, 'The English here think the coloured people ought to do the work, and they to get the wages. Nothing less would satisfy them.' Servants' wages are high, but other wages not much higher than in England; yet industrious people invariably make fortunes, or at least competencies, even when they begin with nothing. But few of the English will do anything but lounge; while they abuse the Dutch as lazy, and the Malays as thieves, and feel their fingers itch to be at the blacks. The Africanders (Dutch and negro mixed in various proportions) are more or less lazy, dirty, and dressy, and the beautiful girls wear pork-pie hats, and look very winning and rather fierce; but to them the philanthropists at home have provided formidable rivals, by emptying a shipload of young ladies from a 'Reformatory' into the streets of Capetown.
I am puzzled what to think of the climate here for invalids. The air is dry and clear beyond conception, and light, but the sun is scorching; while the south-east wind blows an icy hurricane, and the dust obscures the sky. These winds last all the summer, till February or March. I am told when they don't blow it is heavenly, though still cold in the mornings and evenings. No one must be out at, or after sunset, the chill is so sudden. Many of the people here declare that it is death to weak lungs, and send their poitrinaires to Madeira, or the south of France. They also swear the climate is enervating, but their looks, and above all the blowsy cheeks and hearty play of the English children, disprove that; and those who come here consumptive get well in spite of the doctors, who won't allow it possible. I believe it is a climate which requires great care from invalids, but that, with care, it is good, because it is bracing as well as warm and dry. It is not nearly so warm as I expected; the southern icebergs are at no great distance, and they ice the south-east wind for us. If it were not so violent, it would be delicious; and there are no unhealthy winds—nothing like our east wind. The people here grumble at the north-wester, which sometimes brings rain, and call it damp, which, as they don't know what damp is, is excusable; it feels like a DRY south-wester in England. It is, however, quite a delusion to think of living out of doors, here; the south-easters keep one in nearly, if not quite, half one's time, and in summer they say the sun is too hot to be out except morning and evening. But I doubt that, for they make an outcry about heat as soon as it is not cold. The transitions are so sudden, that, with the thermometer at 76 degrees, you must not go out without taking a thick warm cloak; you may walk into a south-easter round the first spur of the mountain, and be cut in two. In short, the air is cold and bracing, and the sun blazing hot; those whom that suits, will do well. I should like a softer air, but I may be wrong; when there is only a moderate wind, it is delicious. You walk in the hot sun, which makes you perspire a very little; but you dry as you go, the air is so dry; and you come in untired. I speak of slow walking. There are no hot-climate diseases; no dysentery, fever, &c.
Simon's Bay, 18th Nov.—I came on here in a cart, as I felt ill from the return of the cold weather. While at Rathfelder we had a superb day, and the J-s drove me over to Constantia, which deserves all its reputation for beauty. What a divine spot!—such kloofs, with silver rills running down them! It is useless to describe scenery. It was a sort of glorified Scotland, with sunshine, flowers, and orange-groves. We got home hungry and tired, but in great spirits. Alas! next day came the south-easter—blacker, colder, more cutting, than ever—and lasted a week.
The Walkers came over on horseback, and pressed me to go to them. They are most kind and agreeable people. The drive to Simon's Bay was lovely, along the coast and across five beaches of snow-white sand, which look like winter landscapes; and the mountains and bay are lovely.
Living is very dear, and washing, travelling, chemist's bills—all enormous. Thirty shillings a cart and horse from Rathfelder here— twelve miles; and then the young English host wanted me to hire another cart for one box and one bath! But I would not, and my obstinacy was stoutest. If I want cart or waggon again, I'll deal with a Malay, only the fellows drive with forty Jehu-power up and down the mountains.
A Madagascar woman offered to give me her orphan grandchild, a sweet brown fairy, six years old, with long silky black hair, and gorgeous eyes. The child hung about me incessantly all the time I was at Rathfelder, and I had a great mind to her. She used to laugh like baby, and was like her altogether, only prettier, and very brown; and when I told her she was like my own little child, she danced about, and laughed like mad at the idea that she could look like 'pretty white Missy'. She was mighty proud of her needlework and A B C performances.
It is such a luxury to sleep on a real mattrass—not stuffed with dirty straw; to eat clean food, and live in a nice room. But my cough is very bad, and the cruel wind blows on and on. I saw the doctor of the Naval Hospital here to-day. If I don't mend, I will try his advice, and go northward for warmth. If you can find an old Mulready envelope, send it here to Miss Walker, who collects stamps and has not got it, and write and thank dear good Lady Walker for her kindness to me.
You will get this about the new year. God bless you all, and send us better days in 1862.
LETTER IV—JOURNEY TO CALEDON
Caledon, Dec. 10th.
I did not feel at all well at Simon's Bay, which is a land of hurricanes. We had a 'south-easter' for fourteen days, without an hour's lull; even the flag-ship had no communication with the shore for eight days. The good old naval surgeon there ordered me to start off for this high 'up-country' district, and arranged my departure for the first POSSIBLE day. He made a bargain for me with a Dutchman, for a light Malay cart (a capital vehicle with two wheels) and four horses, for 30s. a day—three days to Caledon from Simon's Bay, about a hundred miles or so, and one day of back fare to his home in Capetown.
Luckily, on Saturday the wind dropped, and we started at nine o'clock, drove to a place about four miles from Capetown, when we turned off on the 'country road', and outspanned at a post-house kept by a nice old German with a Dutch wife. Once well out of Capetown, people are civil, but inquisitive; I was strictly cross- questioned, and proved so satisfactory, that the old man wished to give me some English porter gratis. We then jogged along again at a very good pace to another wayside public, where we outspanned again and ate, and were again questioned, and again made much of. By six o'clock we got to the Eerste River, having gone forty miles or so in the day. It was a beautiful day, and very pleasant travelling. We had three good little half-Arab bays, and one brute of a grey as off-wheeler, who fell down continually; but a Malay driver works miracles, and no harm came of it. The cart is small, with a permanent tilt at top, and moveable curtains of waterproof all round; harness of raw leather, very prettily put together by Malay workmen. We sat behind, and our brown coachman, with his mushroom hat, in front, with my bath and box, and a miniature of himself about seven years old—a nephew,—so small and handy that he would be worth his weight in jewels as a tiger. At Eerste River we slept in a pretty old Dutch house, kept by an English woman, and called the Fox and Hound, 'to sound like home, my lady.' Very nice and comfortable it was.
I started next day at ten; and never shall I forget that day's journey. The beauty of the country exceeds all description. Ranges of mountains beyond belief fantastic in shape, and between them a rolling country, desolate and wild, and covered with gorgeous flowers among the 'scrub'. First we came to Hottentot's Holland (now called Somerset West), the loveliest little old Dutch village, with trees and little canals of bright clear mountain water, and groves of orange and pomegranate, and white houses, with incredible gable ends. We tried to stop here; but forage was ninepence a bundle, and the true Malay would rather die than pay more than he can help. So we pushed on to the foot of the mountains, and bought forage (forage is oats au natural, straw and all, the only feed known here, where there is no grass or hay) at a farm kept by English people, who all talked Dutch together; only one girl of the family could speak English. They were very civil, asked us in, and gave us unripe apricots, and the girl came down with seven flounces, to talk with us. Forage was still ninepence— half a dollar a bundle—and Choslullah Jaamee groaned over it, and said the horses must have less forage and 'more plenty roll' (a roll in the dust is often the only refreshment offered to the beasts, and seems to do great good).
We got to Caledon at eleven, and drove to the place the Doctor recommended—formerly a country house of the Dutch Governor. It is in a lovely spot; but do you remember the Schloss in Immermann's Neuer Munchausen? Well, it is that. A ruin;—windows half broken and boarded up, the handsome steps in front fallen in, and all en suite. The rooms I saw were large and airy; but mud floors, white- washed walls, one chair, one stump bedstead, and praeterea nihil. It has a sort of wild, romantic look; I hear, too, it is wonderfully healthy, and not so bad as it looks. The long corridor is like the entrance to a great stable, or some such thing; earth floors and open to all winds. But you can't imagine it, however I may describe; it is so huge and strange, and ruinous. Finding that the mistress of the house was ill, and nothing ready for our reception, I drove on to the inn. Rain, like a Scotch mist, came on just as we arrived, and it is damp and chilly, to the delight of all the dwellers in the land, who love bad weather. It makes me cough a little more; but they say it is quite unheard of, and can't last. Altogether, I suppose this summer here is as that of '60 was in England.
I forgot, in describing my journey, the regal-looking Caffre housemaid at Eerste River. 'Such a dear, good creature,' the landlady said; and, oh, such a 'noble savage'!—with a cotton handkerchief folded tight like a cravat and tied round her head with a bow behind, and the short curly wool sticking up in the middle;—it looked like a royal diadem on her solemn brow; she stepped like Juno, with a huge tub full to the brim, and holding several pailfuls, on her head, and a pailful in each hand, bringing water for the stables from the river, across a large field. There is nothing like a Caffre for power and grace; and the face, though very African, has a sort of grandeur which makes it utterly unlike that of the negro. That woman's bust and waist were beauty itself. The Caffres are also very clean and very clever as servants, I hear, learning cookery, &c., in a wonderfully short time. When they have saved money enough to buy cattle in Kaffraria, off they go, cast aside civilization and clothes, and enjoy life in naked luxury.
I can't tell you how I longed for you in my journey. You would have been so delighted with the country and the queer turn-out—the wild little horses, and the polite and delicately-clean Moslem driver. His description of his sufferings from 'louses', when he slept in a Dutch farm, were pathetic, and ever since, he sleeps in his cart, with the little boy; and they bathe in the nearest river, and eat their lawful food and drink their water out of doors. They declined beer, or meat which had been unlawfully killed. In Capetown ALL meat is killed by Malays, and has the proper prayer spoken over it, and they will eat no other. I was offered a fowl at a farm, but Choslullah thought it 'too much money for Missus', and only accepted some eggs. He was gratified at my recognising the propriety of his saying 'Bismillah' over any animal killed for food. Some drink beer, and drink a good deal, but Choslullah thought it 'very wrong for Malay people, and not good for Christian people, to be drunk beasties;—little wine or beer good for Christians, but not too plenty much.' I gave him ten shillings for himself, at which he was enchanted, and again begged me to write to his master for him when I wanted to leave Caledon, and to be sure to say, 'Mind send same coachman.' He planned to drive me back through Worcester, Burnt Vley, Paarl, and Stellenbosch—a longer round; but he could do it in three days well, so as 'not cost Missus more money', and see a different country.
This place is curiously like Rochefort in the Ardennes, only the hills are mountains, and the sun is far hotter; not so the air, which is fresh and pleasant. I am in a very nice inn, kept by an English ex-officer, who went through the Caffre war, and found his pay insufficient for the wants of a numerous family. I quite admire his wife, who cooks, cleans, nurses her babes, gives singing and music lessons,—all as merrily as if she liked it. I dine with them at two o'clock, and Captain D- has a table d'hote at seven for travellers. I pay only 10s. 6d. a day for myself and S-; this includes all but wine or beer. The air is very clear and fine, and my cough is already much better. I shall stay here as long as it suits me and does me good, and then I am to send for Choslullah again, and go back by the road he proposed. It rains here now and then, and blows a good deal, but the wind has lost its bitter chill, and depressing quality. I hope soon to ride a little and see the country, which is beautiful.
The water-line is all red from the iron stone, and there are hot chalybeate springs up the mountain which are very good for rheumatism, and very strengthening, I am told. The boots here is a Mantatee, very black, and called Kleenboy, because he is so little; he is the only sleek black I have seen here, but looks heavy and downcast. One maid is Irish (they make the best servants here), a very nice clean girl, and the other, a brown girl of fifteen, whose father is English, and married to her mother. Food here is scarce, all but bread and mutton, both good. Butter is 3s. a pound; fruit and vegetables only to be had by chance. I miss the oranges and lemons sadly. Poultry and milk uncertain. The bread is good everywhere, from the fine wheat: in the country it is brownish and sweet. The wine here is execrable; this is owing to the prevailing indolence, for there is excellent wine made from the Rhenish grape, rather like Sauterne, with a soupcon of Manzanilla flavour. The sweet Constantia is also very good indeed; not the expensive sort, which is made from grapes half dried, and is a liqueur, but a light, sweet, straw-coloured wine, which even I liked. We drank nothing else at the Admiral's. The kind old sailor has given me a dozen of wine, which is coming up here in a waggon, and will be most welcome. I can't tell you how kind he and Lady Walker were; I was there three weeks, and hope to go again when the south-easter season is over and I can get out a little. I could not leave the house at all; and even Lady Walker and the girls, who are very energetic, got out but little. They are a charming family.
I have no doubt that Dr. Shea was right, and that one must leave the coast to get a fine climate. Here it seems to me nearly perfect—too windy for my pleasure, but then the sun would be overpowering without a fresh breeze. Every one agrees in saying that the winter in Capetown is delicious—like a fine English summer. In November the southeasters begin, and they are 'fiendish'; this year they began in September. The mornings here are always fresh, not to say cold; the afternoons, from one to three, broiling; then delightful till sunset, which is deadly cold for three-quarters of an hour; the night is lovely. The wind rises and falls with the sun. That is the general course of things. Now and then it rains, and this year there is a little south-easter, which is quite unusual, and not odious, as it is near the sea; and there is seldom a hot wind from the north. I am promised that on or about Christmas-day; then doors and windows are shut, and you gasp. Hitherto we have had nothing nearly so hot as Paris in summer, or as the summer of 1859 in England; and they say it is no hotter, except when the hot wind blows, which is very rare. Up here, snow sometimes lies, in winter, on the mountain tops; but ice is unknown, and Table Mountain is never covered with snow. The flies are pestilent—incredibly noisy, intrusive, and disgusting— and oh, such swarms! Fleas and bugs not half so bad as in France, as far as my experience goes, and I have poked about in queer places.
I get up at half-past five, and walk in the early morning, before the sun and wind begin to be oppressive; it is then dry, calm, and beautiful; then I sleep like a Dutchman in the middle of the day. At present it tires me, but I shall get used to it soon. The Dutch doctor here advised me to do so, to avoid the wind.
When all was settled, we climbed the Hottentot's mountains by Sir Lowry's Pass, a long curve round two hill-sides; and what a view! Simon's Bay opening out far below, and range upon range of crags on one side, with a wide fertile plain, in which lies Hottentot's Holland, at one's feet. The road is just wide enough for one waggon, i.e. very narrow. Where the smooth rock came through, Choslullah gave a little grunt, and the three bays went off like hippogriffs, dragging the grey with them. By this time my confidence in his driving was boundless, or I should have expected to find myself in atoms at the bottom of the precipice. At the top of the pass we turned a sharp corner into a scene like the crater of a volcano, only reaching miles away all round; and we descended a very little and drove on along great rolling waves of country, with the mountain tops, all crags and ruins, to our left. At three we reached Palmiet River, full of palmettos and bamboos, and there the horses had 'a little roll', and Choslullah and his miniature washed in the river and prayed, and ate dry bread, and drank their tepid water out of a bottle with great good breeding and cheerfulness. Three bullock-waggons had outspanned, and the Dutch boers and Bastaards (half Hottentots) were all drunk. We went into a neat little 'public', and had porter and ham sandwiches, for which I paid 4s. 6d. to a miserable-looking English woman, who was afraid of her tipsy customers. We got to Houw Hoek, a pretty valley at the entrance of a mountain gorge, about half-past five, and drove up to a mud cottage, half inn, half farm, kept by a German and his wife. It looked mighty queer, but Choslullah said the host was a good old man, and all clean. So we cheered up, and asked for food. While the neat old woman was cooking it, up galloped five fine lads and two pretty flaxen-haired girls, with real German faces, on wild little horses; and one girl tucked up her habit, and waited at table, while another waved a green bough to drive off the swarms of flies. The chops were excellent, ditto bread and butter, and the tea tolerable. The parlour was a tiny room with a mud floor, half-hatch door into the front, and the two bedrooms still tinier and darker, each with two huge beds which filled them entirely. But Choslullah was right; they were perfectly clean, with heaps of beautiful pillows; and not only none of the creatures of which he spoke with infinite terror, but even no fleas. The man was delighted to talk to me. His wife had almost forgotten German, and the children did not know a word of it, but spoke Dutch and English. A fine, healthy, happy family. It was a pretty picture of emigrant life. Cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry, and pigeons innumerable, all picked up their own living, and cost nothing; and vegetables and fruit grow in rank abundance where there is water. I asked for a book in the evening, and the man gave me a volume of Schiller. A good breakfast,—and we paid ninepence for all.
This morning we started before eight, as it looked gloomy, and came through a superb mountain defile, out on to a rich hillocky country, covered with miles of corn, all being cut as far as the eye could reach, and we passed several circular threshing-floors, where the horses tread out the grain. Each had a few mud hovels near it, for the farmers and men to live in during harvest. Altogether, I was most lucky, had two beautiful days, and enjoyed the journey immensely. It was most 'abentheuerlich'; the light two-wheeled cart, with four wild little horses, and the marvellous brown driver, who seemed to be always going to perdition, but made the horses do apparently impossible things with absolute certainty; and the pretty tiny boy who came to help his uncle, and was so clever, and so preternaturally quiet, and so very small: then the road through the mountain passes, seven or eight feet wide, with a precipice above and below, up which the little horses scrambled; while big lizards, with green heads and chocolate bodies, looked pertly at us, and a big bright amber-coloured cobra, as handsome as he is deadly, wriggled across into a hole.
Nearly all the people in this village are Dutch. There is one Malay tailor here, but he is obliged to be a Christian at Caledon, though Choslullah told me with a grin, he was a very good Malay when he went to Capetown. He did not seem much shocked at this double religion, staunch Mussulman as he was himself. I suppose the blacks 'up country' are what Dutch slavery made them—mere animals—cunning and sulky. The real Hottentot is extinct, I believe, in the Colony; what one now sees are all 'Bastaards', the Dutch name for their own descendants by Hottentot women. These mongrel Hottentots, who do all the work, are an affliction to behold—debased and SHRIVELLED with drink, and drunk all day long; sullen wretched creatures—so unlike the bright Malays and cheery pleasant blacks and browns of Capetown, who never pass you without a kind word and sunny smile or broad African grin, SELON their colour and shape of face. I look back fondly to the gracious soft- looking Malagasse woman who used to give me a chair under the big tree near Rathfelders, and a cup of 'bosjesthee' (herb tea), and talk so prettily in her soft voice;—it is such a contrast to these poor animals, who glower at one quite unpleasantly. All the hovels I was in at Capetown were very fairly clean, and I went into numbers. They almost all contained a handsome bed, with, at least, eight pillows. If you only look at the door with a friendly glance, you are implored to come in and sit down, and usually offered a 'coppj' (cup) of herb tea, which they are quite grateful to one for drinking. I never saw or heard a hint of 'backsheesh', nor did I ever give it, on principle and I was always recognised and invited to come again with the greatest eagerness. 'An indulgence of talk' from an English 'Missis' seemed the height of gratification, and the pride and pleasure of giving hospitality a sufficient reward. But here it is quite different. I suppose the benefits of the emancipation were felt at Capetown sooner than in the country, and the Malay population there furnishes a strong element of sobriety and respectability, which sets an example to the other coloured people.
Harvest is now going on, and the so-called Hottentots are earning 2s. 6d. a day, with rations and wine. But all the money goes at the 'canteen' in drink, and the poor wretched men and women look wasted and degraded. The children are pretty, and a few of them are half-breed girls, who do very well, unless a white man admires them; and then they think it quite an honour to have a whitey-brown child, which happens at about fifteen, by which age they look full twenty.
We had very good snipe and wild duck the other day, which Capt. D- brought home from a shooting party. I have got the moth-like wings of a golden snipe for R-'s hat, and those of a beautiful moor-hen. They got no 'boks', because of the violent south-easter which blew where they were. The game is fast decreasing, but still very abundant. I saw plenty of partridges on the road, but was not early enough to see boks, who only show at dawn; neither have I seen baboons. I will try to bring home some cages of birds—Cape canaries and 'roode bekjes' (red bills), darling little things. The sugar-birds, which are the humming-birds of Africa, could not be fed; but Caffre finks, which weave the pendent nests, are hardy and easily fed.
To-day the post for England leaves Caledon, so I must conclude this yarn. I wish R- could have seen the 'klip springer', the mountain deer of South Africa, which Capt. D- brought in to show me. Such a lovely little beast, as big as a small kid, with eyes and ears like a hare, and a nose so small and dainty. It was quite tame and saucy, and belonged to some man en route for Capetown.
Caledon, Dec. 29th.
I am beginning now really to feel better: I think my cough is less, and I eat a great deal more. They cook nice clean food here, and have some good claret, which I have been extravagant enough to drink, much to my advantage. The Cape wine is all so fiery. The climate is improving too. The glorious African sun blazes and roasts one, and the cool fresh breezes prevent one from feeling languid. I walk from six till eight or nine, breakfast at ten, and dine at three; in the afternoon it is generally practicable to saunter again, now the weather is warmer. I sleep from twelve till two. On Christmas-eve it was so warm that I lay in bed with the window wide open, and the stars blazing in. Such stars! they are much brighter than our moon. The Dutchmen held high jinks in the hall, and danced and made a great noise. On New Year's-eve they will have another ball, and I shall look in. Christmas-day was the hottest day—indeed, the only HOT day we have had—and I could not make it out at all, or fancy you all cold at home.
I wish you were here to see the curious ways and new aspect of everything. This village, which, as I have said, is very like Rochefort, but hardly so large, is the chef lieu of a district the size of one-third of England. A civil commander resides here, a sort of prefet; and there is an embryo market-place, with a bell hanging in a brick arch. When a waggon arrives with goods, it draws up there, they ring the bell, everybody goes to see what is for sale, and the goods are sold by auction. My host bought potatoes and brandy the other day, and is looking out for ostrich feathers for me, out of the men's hats.
The other day, while we sat at dinner, all the bells began to ring furiously, and Capt. D- jumped up and shouted 'Brand!' (fire), rushed off for a stout leather hat, and ran down the street. Out came all the population, black, white, and brown, awfully excited, for it was blowing a furious north-wester, right up the town, and the fire was at the bottom; and as every house is thatched with a dry brown thatch, we might all have to turn out and see the place in ashes in less than an hour. Luckily, it was put out directly. It is supposed to have been set on fire by a Hottentot girl, who has done the same thing once before, on being scolded. There is no water but what runs down the streets in the sloot, a paved channel, which brings the water from the mountain and supplies the houses and gardens. A garden is impossible without irrigation, of course, as it never rains; but with it, you may have everything, all the year round. The people, however, are too careless to grow fruit and vegetables.
How the cattle live is a standing marvel to me. The whole veld (common), which extends all over the country (just dotted with a few square miles of corn here and there), is covered with a low thin scrub, about eighteen inches high, called rhenoster-bosch— looking like meagre arbor vitae or pale juniper. The cattle and sheep will not touch this nor the juicy Hottentot fig; but under each little bush, I fancy, they crop a few blades of grass, and on this they keep in very good condition. The noble oxen, with their huge horns (nine or ten feet from tip to tip), are never fed, though they work hard, nor are the sheep. The horses get a little forage (oats, straw and all). I should like you to see eight or ten of these swift wiry little horses harnessed to a waggon,—a mere flat platform on wheels. In front stands a wild-looking Hottentot, all patches and feathers, and drives them best pace, all 'in hand', using a whip like a fishing-rod, with which he touches them, not savagely, but with a skill which would make an old stage- coachman burst with envy to behold. This morning, out on the veld, I watched the process of breaking-in a couple of colts, who were harnessed, after many struggles, second and fourth in a team of ten. In front stood a tiny foal cuddling its mother, one of the leaders. When they started, the foal had its neck through the bridle, and I hallooed in a fright; but the Hottentot only laughed, and in a minute it had disengaged itself quite coolly and capered alongside. The colts tried to plunge, but were whisked along, and couldn't, and then they stuck out all four feet and SKIDDED along a bit; but the rhenoster bushes tripped them up (people drive regardless of roads), and they shook their heads and trotted along quite subdued, without a blow or a word, for the drivers never speak to the horses, only to the oxen. Colts here get no other breaking, and therefore have no paces or action to the eye, but their speed and endurance are wonderful. There is no such thing as a cock-tail in the country, and the waggon teams of wiry little thoroughbreds, half Arab, look very strange to our eyes, going full tilt. There is a terrible murrain, called the lung-sickness, among horses and oxen here, every four or five years, but it never touches those that are stabled, however exposed to wet or wind on the roads.
I must describe the house I inhabit, as all are much alike. It is whitewashed, with a door in the middle and two windows on each side; those on the left are Mrs. D-'s bed and sitting rooms. On the right is a large room, which is mine; in the middle of the house is a spacious hall, with doors into other rooms on each side, and into the kitchen, &c. There is a yard behind, and a staircase up to the zolder or loft, under the thatch, with partitions, where the servants and children, and sometimes guests, sleep. There are no ceilings; the floor of the zolder is made of yellow wood, and, resting on beams, forms the ceiling of my room, and the thatch alone covers that. No moss ever grows on the thatch, which is brown, with white ridges. In front is a stoep, with 'blue gums' (Australian gum-trees) in front of it, where I sit till twelve, when the sun comes on it. These trees prevail here greatly, as they want neither water nor anything else, and grow with incredible rapidity.
We have got a new 'boy' (all coloured servants are 'boys,'—a remnant of slavery), and he is the type of the nigger slave. A thief, a liar, a glutton, a drunkard—but you can't resent it; he has a naif, half-foolish, half-knavish buffoonery, a total want of self-respect, which disarms you. I sent him to the post to inquire for letters, and the postmaster had been tipsy over-night and was not awake. Jack came back spluttering threats against 'dat domned Dutchman. Me no WANT (like) him; me go and kick up dom'd row. What for he no give Missis letter?' &c. I begged him to be patient; on which he bonneted himself in a violent way, and started off at a pantomime walk. Jack is the product of slavery: he pretends to be a simpleton in order to do less work and eat and drink and sleep more than a reasonable being, and he knows his buffoonery will get him out of scrapes. Withal, thoroughly good- natured and obliging, and perfectly honest, except where food and drink are concerned, which he pilfers like a monkey. He worships S-, and won't allow her to carry anything, or to dirty her hands, if he is in the way to do it. Some one suggested to him to kiss her, but he declined with terror, and said he should be hanged by my orders if he did. He is a hideous little negro, with a monstrous-shaped head, every colour of the rainbow on his clothes, and a power of making faces which would enchant a schoolboy. The height of his ambition would be to go to England with me.
An old 'bastaard' woman, married to the Malay tailor here, explained to me my popularity with the coloured people, as set forth by 'dat Malay boy', my driver. He told them he was sure I was a 'very great Missis', because of my 'plenty good behaviour'; that I spoke to him just as to a white gentleman, and did not 'laugh and talk nonsense talk'. 'Never say "Here, you black fellow", dat Misses.' The English, when they mean to be good- natured, are generally offensively familiar, and 'talk nonsense talk', i.e. imitate the Dutch English of the Malays and blacks; the latter feel it the greatest compliment to be treated au serieux, and spoken to in good English. Choslullah's theory was that I must be related to the Queen, in consequence of my not 'knowing bad behaviour'. The Malays, who are intelligent and proud, of course feel the annoyance of vulgar familiarity more than the blacks, who are rather awe-struck by civility, though they like and admire it.
Mrs. D- tells me that the coloured servant-girls, with all their faults, are immaculately honest in these parts; and, indeed, as every door and window is always left open, even when every soul is out, and nothing locked up, there must be no thieves. Captain D- told me he had been in remote Dutch farmhouses, where rouleaux of gold were ranged under the thatch on the top of the low wall, the doors being always left open; and everywhere the Dutch boers keep their money by them, in coin.
Jan. 3d.—We have had tremendous festivities here—a ball on New Year's-eve, and another on the 1st of January—and the shooting for Prince Alfred's rifle yesterday. The difficulty of music for the ball was solved by the arrival of two Malay bricklayers to build the new parsonage, and I heard with my own ears the proof of what I had been told as to their extraordinary musical gifts. When I went into the hall, a Dutchman was SCREECHING a concertina hideously. Presently in walked a yellow Malay, with a blue cotton handkerchief on his head, and a half-bred of negro blood (very dark brown), with a red handkerchief, and holding a rough tambourine. The handsome yellow man took the concertina which seemed so discordant, and the touch of his dainty fingers transformed it to harmony. He played dances with a precision and feeling quite unequalled, except by Strauss's band, and a variety which seemed endless. I asked him if he could read music, at which he laughed heartily, and said, music came into the ears, not the eyes. He had picked it all up from the bands in Capetown, or elsewhere.
It was a strange sight,—the picturesque group, and the contrast between the quiet manners of the true Malay and the grotesque fun of the half-negro. The latter made his tambourine do duty as a drum, rattled the bits of brass so as to produce an indescribable effect, nodded and grinned in wild excitement, and drank beer while his comrade took water. The dancing was uninteresting enough. The Dutchmen danced badly, and said not a word, but plodded on so as to get all the dancing they could for their money. I went to bed at half-past eleven, but the ball went on till four.
Next night there was genteeler company, and I did not go in, but lay in bed listening to the Malay's playing. He had quite a fresh set of tunes, of which several were from the 'Traviata'!