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The Induna's Wife

Bertram Mitford

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Induna's Wife, by Bertram Mitford.


  ________________________________________________________________________THE INDUNA'S WIFE, BY BERTRAM MITFORD.


  Twilight was fast closing in upon the desolate site of the old KambulaCamp, and the short, sharp thunderstorm which at the moment ofoutspanning had effectually drenched the scant supply of fuel, renderingthat evening's repast, of necessity, cold commons, had left in its wakea thin but steady downpour. Already the line of low hills hard by wasindistinct in the growing gloom, and a far-reaching expanse of cold andtreeless plains made up a surrounding as mournful and depressing ascould be.

  The waggon stood outspanned in the tall grass, which, waist high, wasabout as pleasant to stand in as the drift of a river. Just above, theconical ridge, once crested with fort and waggon laagers, and swarmingwith busy life, and the stir and hum of troops on hard active service,now desolate and abandoned--the site, indeed, still discernible if onlyby ancient tins, and much fragmentary residue of the ubiquitous Britishbottle. Below, several dark patches in the grass marked theresting-place of hundreds of Zulu dead--fiery, intrepid warriors--mowndown in foil and sweeping rush, with lips still framing the war cry oftheir king, fierce resolute hands still gripping the deadly chargingspear. Now a silent and spectral peace rested upon this erewhile sceneof fierce and furious war, a peace that in the gathering gloom had in itsomething that was weird, boding, oppressive. Even my natives, usuallyprone to laughter and cheery spirits, seemed subdued, as though loth topass the night upon this actual site of vast and tolerably recentbloodshed; and the waggon leader, a smart but unimaginative lad, showeda suspicious alacrity in driving back the span from drinking at theadjacent water-hole. Yes! It is going to be a detestable night.

  Hard biscuit and canned jam are but a poor substitute for fizzlingrashers and wheaten cakes, white as snow within and hot from thegridiron; 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 proceedto make myself as snug as may be within the waggon, which is not sayingmuch, for the tent leaks abominably. But life in the Veldt accustomsone to such little inconveniences, and soon, although the night is yetyoung--has hardly begun, in fact--I find myself nodding, and becomingrapidly and blissfully oblivious to cold splashes dropping incontinentlyfrom new and unexpected quarters.

  The oxen are not yet made fast to the disselboom for the night, and oneof my natives is away to collect them. The others, rolled in theirblankets beneath the waggon, are becoming more and more drowsy in thehum of their conversation. Suddenly this becomes wide-awake and alert.They are sitting up, and are, I gather from their remarks, listening tothe approach of something or somebody. Who--what is it? There are nowild animals to reckon with in that part of the country, save for astray leopard or so, and Zulus have a wholesome shrinking from movingabroad at night, let alone on such a night as this. Yet on peeringforth, a few seconds reveal the approach of somebody. A tall formstarts out of the darkness and the long wet grass, and from it the deepbass tones of the familiar Zulu greeting: "Nkose!"

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

  "Greeting, Untuswa! Welcome, old friend," I answered. "Here is no fireto sit by, but the inside of the waggon is fairly dry; at any rate notso wet as outside. And there is a dry blanket or two and a measure ofstrong _tywala_ to restore warmth, likewise snuff in abundance. Soclimb up here, winner of the King's Assegai, holder of the White Shield,and make thyself snug, for the night is vile."

  Now, as this fine old warrior was in the act of climbing up into thewaggon, there came a sound of trampling and the clash of horns, causinghim to turn his head. The waggon leader, having collected the span, wasbringing it in to attach to the yokes for the night, for it promisedsoon to be pitch dark, and now the heads of the oxen looked spectral inthe mist. One especially, a great black one, with wide branching hornsrising above the fast gathering sea of vapour, seemed to float upon thelatter--a vast head without a trunk. The sight drew from Untuswa ashake of the head and a few quick muttered words of wonderment. Thatwas all then, but when snug out of the drizzling rain, warmed by ameasure of whisky, and squatting happy and comfortable in a dry blanket,snuff-box in hand, he began a story, and I--well, I thought I was inluck's way, for a wet and cheerless and lonely evening stood to lose allits depression and discomfort if spent in listening to one of oldUntuswa's stories.