The Spike or Victoria College Review June 1914
Joltings and Jottings
Joltings and Jottings.
The heading is descriptive, and has been chosen after due deliberation. It is my apologia. Having thus warned you, I shall proceed.
Have you ever paid fourpence for a cup of hot tea and found yourself unable to enjoy a sip of it until it is almost cold and with a head on it from violent surging in the tea-cup? Have you ever sat up to look at an especially interesting piece of country, and, before you have had time to glimpse at a grass blade—whack! goes your chin on the window-sill, and your body slithers halfway down the leather seat? I have. I did things like that for almost a whole day, hence my profound knowledge of the art of jolting—a knowledge that has since been deepened by various little excursions over the rolling veldt.
My first experience of importance was from Durban to Jo'burg. After a hot day of grey sky and steady rain the clouds parted at evening, and showed us quickly widening spaces of delicate, freshly-washed blue, and a golden sun, near to setting. The train steamed out of the Durban station, away from the city of glowing flowers and gleaming fruits; smart rickshaw boys and bangled, bright-robed Indians. Away we went past low-lying fields of vivid green, where rose grey Coolie huts and little Kaffir shanties; past a ruined Coolie Temple with a brown discoloured dome; past Indian women pickaninnies, playing by the way-side,—and so, on into the hills.
In the west the sunset flamed; long streaks of gorgeous colour spread out against the dark skyline of the distant hills; while near at hand the green, umbrella-like flamboyants flamed with their scarlet blossom. In the west the sunset faded and the grey shadows crept down the hills and valleys, softening the green of the banana groves and the mealie patches. And then the short twilight deepened suddenly into the darkness of night On and on we went, still climbing, while the train rocked like page 16 a ship at sea, and the night grew very cold. Down came the mountain mists, and we looked out on a white world, and saw a grove of young wattle trees on a hill-top, show like the ranks of a ghostly army. Here and there from the white sea of mist rose mountain islands and bluff headlands. Then near ten o'clock we saw the golden lights of 'Maritzburg, and the moon struggled through, and the mist parted in long, silver wisps. Up and down the broad station platform were walking sturdy Kaffir boys, who, clad in white suits and red caps, were carrying trays of fruit and sweets, the latter fatally cheap.
We sat up some time after passing 'Maritzburg, and, before turning in, we resolved to be awake for Ladysmith, the gallant little town. What woke me I know not. It did not wake anyone else. When I mildly attempted to do so the ferociously muttered ejaculations of the drowsy one thoroughly unnerved me, and I hastily desisted. We flashed into the station; the lights shone on the black lettering of the name-board—Ladysmith. The train waited a minute, as though to take breath, and then we steamed out. I knelt by the window, a queer excitement possessing me, and looked out. The moon was high in the sky, and it was very cold. I saw little grey stone houses and tall ghostly gum trees. The town itself was further away. Near the railway line were old, fort-like buildings, their walls still showing the great holes mad by the Boer guns. I saw soldiers' grave-stones, white in the moonlight. Then came the open veldt, rising to hills in the distance. Very grey, very monotonous it was. There was very little cover, just ant-heaps or rocks, laboriously piled. The shallow water-courses, or spruits, were dry, and a little wind whispered among the short, wiry grass. The moon shone fitfully through rifts in the grey cloud, and all was solemn and very desolate. I watched for an hour or more, thinking and dreaming, dreaming and thinking, of this country fifteen long years ago.
Next day we woke to a different land. We had passed from Natal into the Transvaal—from green to gold. It was a wide and lonely land, a land of few trees, of scattered Boer farm-houses and of Kaffir kraals. We passed Lang's Nek and grim Majuba Hill, where the page 17 brown rock pushes through the short tufted grass. By the railway line grew here and there wild peaches and bright dahlias, while about the flowers fluttered tiny lemon-coloured butterflies. The veldt was studded with reddish-brown ant heaps, which looked like inverted pudding basins, and on them perched the queer saakabollas, black, long-tailed birds, that look like big dragon-flies. Cranes were standing in solitary state here and there; down one of the long red roads, which beckoned who-knows-whither, bumped an ox waggon; round the scattered farms were herds of goats and groups of stray chickens—all else was solitary. Tawny was the veldt; tawny were the kopjes; brown-red were the sandy roads; grey-brown were the Boer farmers; grey-brown their waggons,—only the great sky and the far-away mountains were blue and beautiful.
About this time the train sped over a small creek of dark yellow mud. "That," said our travelling companion, "is a river." We expressed surprise, and were told the following little saying:— "In South Africa are rivers without water, flowers without scent, women with" but I won't bother finishing the quotation, asthe last part is untrue, and therefore would not interest you.
We stayed a long time in the dining-car, or "Eet Salon," as the Dutch have it, not because we had a very big lunch, but it took a long time to get it. We watched with anxiety the passage perilous of the soup from the plate, and were oftimes reminded of the old adage: "There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip." A venerable Dutchman, who said grace in indistinguishable undertones, made me think at once of Huck Finn's Miss Watson, who used to "tuck down her head and grumble a bit over the victuals." It was a very good lunch, too.
I was asked some good questions about New Zealand on the train. I am collecting questions and writing them down, but my self-respect forbids me recording my replies. They generally assume that I am English, thanks to the pure accent I acquired at Salamanca. Sometimes I fall in with their ideas, and discourse picturesquely, and I hope truthfully, about the land of my page 18 forefathers. Sometimes I smile sweetly, saying, "Oh, no, I come from New Zealand." The result is generally a blank stare; occasionally somebody astonishes us by knowing that it is near Australia; one person had actually lived there. But that will not happen often, and the most we can hope for are questions, such as the following:—"Oh, New Zealand, is it near Australia, or part of it?" "Oh, it takes three and a-half days to get to Australia." "Do you come by train" "New Zealand;! once knew some people named Brown who went out there about thirty years ago; have you met them?" "It's very hot in New Zealand, isn't it? Do the natives wear clothes?" Yesterday a learned divine—a Presbyterian—asked me whether there were any churches. The day before a Gorman asked me whether I found the natives made good servants, or did we, perhaps, not live in houses? But enough of this. We have reached the Rand and passed the huge grey mining dumps, and here is Jo'burg, and our jolting is over—for a time, at least.