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The Induna's Wife   By: (1855-1914)

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The Induna's Wife, by Bertram Mitford.



Twilight was fast closing in upon the desolate site of the old Kambula Camp, and the short, sharp thunderstorm which at the moment of outspanning had effectually drenched the scant supply of fuel, rendering that evening's repast, of necessity, cold commons, had left in its wake a thin but steady downpour. Already the line of low hills hard by was indistinct in the growing gloom, and a far reaching expanse of cold and treeless plains made up a surrounding as mournful and depressing as could be.

The waggon stood outspanned in the tall grass, which, waist high, was about as pleasant to stand in as the drift of a river. Just above, the conical ridge, once crested with fort and waggon laagers, and swarming with busy life, and the stir and hum of troops on hard active service, now desolate and abandoned the site, indeed, still discernible if only by ancient tins, and much fragmentary residue of the ubiquitous British bottle. Below, several dark patches in the grass marked the resting place of hundreds of Zulu dead fiery, intrepid warriors mown down in foil and sweeping rush, with lips still framing the war cry of their king, fierce resolute hands still gripping the deadly charging spear. Now a silent and spectral peace rested upon this erewhile scene of fierce and furious war, a peace that in the gathering gloom had in it something that was weird, boding, oppressive. Even my natives, usually prone to laughter and cheery spirits, seemed subdued, as though loth to pass the night upon this actual site of vast and tolerably recent bloodshed; and the waggon leader, a smart but unimaginative lad, showed a suspicious alacrity in driving back the span from drinking at the adjacent water hole. Yes! It is going to be a detestable night.

Hard biscuit and canned jam are but a poor substitute for fizzling rashers and wheaten cakes, white as snow within and hot from the gridiron; yet there is a worse one, and that is no biscuit at all. Moreover, there is plenty of whisky, and with that and a pipe I proceed to make myself as snug as may be within the waggon, which is not saying much, for the tent leaks abominably. But life in the Veldt accustoms one to such little inconveniences, and soon, although the night is yet young has hardly begun, in fact I find myself nodding, and becoming rapidly and blissfully oblivious to cold splashes dropping incontinently from new and unexpected quarters.

The oxen are not yet made fast to the disselboom for the night, and one of my natives is away to collect them. The others, rolled in their blankets beneath the waggon, are becoming more and more drowsy in the hum of their conversation. Suddenly this becomes wide awake and alert. They are sitting up, and are, I gather from their remarks, listening to the approach of something or somebody. Who what is it? There are no wild animals to reckon with in that part of the country, save for a stray leopard or so, and Zulus have a wholesome shrinking from moving abroad at night, let alone on such a night as this. Yet on peering forth, a few seconds reveal the approach of somebody. A tall form starts out of the darkness and the long wet grass, and from it the deep bass tones of the familiar Zulu greeting: "Nkose!"

Stay! Can it be? I ought indeed to know that voice; yet what does its owner here thus and at such an hour? This last, however, is its said owner's business exclusively.

"Greeting, Untuswa! Welcome, old friend," I answered. "Here is no fire to sit by, but the inside of the waggon is fairly dry; at any rate not so wet as outside. And there is a dry blanket or two and a measure of strong tywala to restore warmth, likewise snuff in abundance. So climb up here, winner of the King's Assegai, holder of the White Shield, and make thyself snug, for the night is vile... Continue reading book >>

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