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Full text of "Home life on an ostrich farm"

GIFT OF 




HOME LIFE 



ON AN 



OSTRICH FARM 



HOME LIFE 



ON AN 



OSTRICH FARM 



WITH TEN ILL USTRA TIONS. 



BY 



ANNIE MARTIN 




LONDON: 

GEORGE PHILIP & SON, 32 FLEET STREET, E.G. 
LIVERPOOL : 45 TO 51 SOUTH CASTLE STREET. 

1890. 



\jr r 




To T. M. 

IN REMEMBRANCE OF OUR SOUTH AFRICAN LIFE. 



M1.114GO 



PEEFACE. 



Some portions of the chapters on " Ostriches " and 
" Bobby " have already appeared, in an abridged form, 
in the Saturday Review. Part of the chapter on 
" The Climate of the Karroo " has also appeared in the 
St. James's Gazette. 

By the kind permission of the editors of both papers 
I am now enabled to reprint these pages. 

A. M. 



CONTENTS. 



CHAPTER I. 

PORT ELIZABETH AND WALMER. PAGE 

Early ambitions realized Voyage to South Africa Cape Town and 
Wynberg Profusion of flowers Port Elizabeth Christmas 
decorations Public library Malays Walmer Hottentot 
huts Our little house Pretty gardens Honey-suckers 
Flowers of Walmer Common Wax-creeper Ixias Scarlet 
heath Natal lilies " Upholstery flower " Ticks Commence 
ostrich -farming Counting the birds A ride after an ostrich 9 

CHAPTER II. 

SOME OF OUR PETS. 

Friendliness of South African birds and beasts Our secretary bird 
Ungainly appearance of Jacob His queer ways Tragic fate 
of a kitten A persecuted fowl Our Dikkops A baby buffalo 
Wounded buffalo more dangerous than lion A lucky stumble 
Hunter attacked by "rogue" buffalo A midnight ride 
Followed by a lion Toto A pugnacious goose South African 
climate dangerous to imported dogs Toto and the crows 
Animals offered by Moors in exchange for Toto 25 

CHAPTER III. 

PLANTS OF THE KARROO. 

We move up-country Situation of farm Strange vegetation of 
Karroo district Karroo plant Fei-bosch Brack-bosch Our 
flowers Spekboom Bitter aloes Thorny plants IVacht-een- 
Beetje Ostriches killed by prickly pear Finger-poll Wild 
tobacco fatal to ostriches Carelessness of colonists Euphor- 
bias Candle-bush ... ... ... ... 46 

CHAPTER IV. 

OUR LITTLE HOME. 

Building operations A plucking Ugliness of Cape houses Our 
rooms Fountain in sitting-room a failure Drowned pets 
Decoration of rooms Colonist must be Jack-of-all-trades 
Cape waggons Shooting expeditions Strange tale told by 
Boer . 61 



CONTENTS. 
CHAPTER V. 

CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. PAGE 

Cape Colony much abused Healthy climate Wonderful cures of 
consumption Karroo a good place for sanatorium Rarity of 
illness and accidents The young colonist An independent 
infant Long droughts Hot winds Dust storms Dams 
Advantage of possessing good wells Partiality of thunder- 
stormsDelights of a brack roof Washed out of bed After 
the rain Our horses Effects of rain indoors Opslaag The 
Cape winter What to wear on Karroo farms 72 



CHAPTER VI. 

OSTRICHES. 

An unwilling ride First sight of an ostrich farm Ridiculous 
mistakes about ostriches Decreased value of birds and feathers 
Chicks Plumage of ostriches A frightened ostrich The 
plucking-box Sorting feathers Voice of the ostrich Savage 
birds " Not afraid of a dicky-bird !" Quelling an ostrich 
Birds killed by men in self-defence Nests An undutiful hen 
Darby and Joan A disconsolate widower A hen-pecked 
husband Too much zeal Jackie Cooling the eggs The 
white-necked crow Poisoning jackals Ostrich eggs in the 
kitchen A quaint old writer on ostriches A suppliant bird 
Nest destroyed by enraged ostrich An old bachelor ... 98 



CHAPTER VII. 
OSTRICHES (continued]. 

Vagaries of an incubator Hatching the chicks A bad egg 
Human foster-mothers Chicks difficult to rear " Yellow- 
liver" Cruel boys Chicks herded by hen ostrich Visit to 
Boer's house A carriage full of ostriches" The melancholy 
Jaques" Ostriches at sea A stampede Runaway birds 
Branding Stupidity of ostriches Accidents Waltzing and 
fighting Ostrich soup An expensive quince A feathered 
Tantalus Strange things swallowed by ostriches A court- 
martial The ostrich, or the diamond? A visit to the Zoo ... 130 



CONTENTS. 

CHAPTER VIII. 

MEERKATS. PAGE 

Meerkats plentiful in the Karroo Their appearance Intelligence 
Fearlessness Friendship for dogs A meerkat in England 
Meerkat an inveterate thief An owl in Tangier Taming full- 
grown meerkat Tiny twins A sad accident Different char- 
acters of meerkats The turkey-herd Bob and the meerkat 
"The Mouse" 157 

CHAPTER IX. 

BOBBY. 

Bobby's babyhood Insatiable appetite Variety of noises made by 
Bobby His tameness Narrow escape from drowning A 
warlike head-gear Bobby the worse for drink His love of 
mischief He disarms his master Meerkat persecuted by 
Bobby Bobby takes to dishonest ways He becomes a prisoner 
His clever tricks Death of Bobby 170 

CHAPTER X. 

OUR SERVANTS. 

A retrospective vision Phillis in her domain Her destructiveness 
Her ideas on personal adornment The woes of a mistress 
Eye-service Abrupt departure of Phillis Left in the lurch 
Nancy and her successors Cure of sham sickness The thief's 
dose Our ostrich-herd A bride purchased with cows 
English and natives at the Cape Character of Zulus and 
Kaffirs 182 

CHAPTER XI. 

HOW WE FARED. 

Angora goats Difficulty of keeping meat The plague of flies 
Rations Our store Barter Fowls Chasing a dinner 
Fowls difficult to rear Secretary birds as guardians of the 
poultry-yard Jacob in the Karroo He comes down in the 
world He dies Antelopes A springbok hunt The Queen's 
birthday in the Karroo Colonial dances Our klipspringer 
Superstition about hares Game birds Paauw Knorhaan 
Namaqua partridges Porcupines A short-lived pet Indian 
corn Stamped mealies Whole-meal bread Plant used for 
making bread rise Substitutes for butter Priembcsjes A 
useful tree Wild honey The honey-bird Enemies of bees 
Moth in bees' nests Good coffee Sour milk ... ... 203 



CONTENTS. 
CHAPTER XII. 

KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. PAGE 

Leopard drowned in well Baboons Egyptian sacred animals on 
Cape farms " Adonis " A humiliating retreat A baby 
baboon Clever tricks performed by baboons Adonis as a 
Voorlooper A four-handed pointsman Sarah A baboon at 
the Diamond Fields Adonis's shower-bath His love of 
stimulants His revengeful disposition Pelops the dog-headed 
Horus Aasvogds Goat-sucker The butcher-bird 's larder 
Nest of the golden oriole The kapok-bird Snakes in 
houses A puff-adder under a pillow Puff-adder most dan- 
gerous of Cape snakes Cobras Schaap sticker Ugly house- 
lizards Dassie-adder The dassie the coney of Scripture 
Stung by a scorpion Fight between tarantula and centipede 
Destructive ants The Aardvaark, or ant-bear Ignominious 
flight of a sentry Ant-lion Walking-leaves The Hottentot 
god A mantis at a picnic ... ... ... ... ... 237 

CHAPTER XIII. 

OUR NEIGHBOURS. 

Hospitality of Cape colonists Cheating and jealousy in business 
Comfortless homes Spoilt children Education The 
" Schoolmaster " Convent schools A priest-ridden nation 
The Nachtmaal Old French names A South African duke 
in Paris Fine-looking men Fat women Ignorance of 
Vrouws Boers unfriendly to English A mean man 266 

CHAPTER XIV. 

GOOD-BYE. 

Recalled to England Regrets and farewells Cape horses lacking 
in intelligence "Old Martin" A chapter of accidents A 
horse " after Velasquez " The Spy's revenge Virtues and 
faults of Cape horses Horse-sickness Good-bye to Swaylands 
Kaffir crane The voyage home Dogs in durance St. 
Helena A visit to Longwood Home again 277 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 



I. Troop of Ostriches and Cart, with Prickly- 

Pear Leaves for food ......... Frontispiece. 

H. i. Jacob. 2. Toto ........ ..... Facing page 26 

III. Some of the best kinds of Ostrich-bush: 

i. Brack-bosch. 2. Ghanna. 3. Fei-bosch. 48 

IV. Our Sitting-room ............ 

V. Ostriches in a Hot Wind ......... 80 

VI. Ostrich-chicks ........ IO 4 

VII. i. Ostrich-chick (Photographed from case in 

Stanley and African Exhibition) 
2. Ostriches meditating Escape through de- 

fective fence 1 5 



VIII. A Meerkat 








HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM, 



CHAPTER I. 

PORT ELIZABETH AND WALMER. 

Early ambitions realized Voyage to South Africa Cape Town and 
Wynberg Profusion of flowers Port Elizabeth Christmas deco- 
rations Public library Malays Walmer Hottentot huts Our 
little house Pretty gardens Honey-suckers Flowers of Walmer 
Common Wax-creeper Ixias Scarlet heath Natal lilies 
"Upholstery flower" Ticks Commence ostrich-farming Count- 
ing the birds A ride after an ostrich. 

IN the year 1881, leaving our native land wrapped in 
the cold fogs of November, my husband and I started 
for South Africa; where it was the intention of the 
former to resume the occupation of ostrich-farming, 
engaged in which he had already spent many years in 
the Cape Colony. It was my first visit to South Africa, 
and I was looking forward with great pleasure to the 
realization of a very early wish ; for the adventures of 
settlers in far-off lands had always from childhood 
been my favourite reading, and I had become firmly 
convinced that a colonial life would suit me better 
than any other. Nor have I been disappointed ; but, 



io -; ^ ftOME fET&fi ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 



\lookisgf baclr *jo;w wx\oui\life in South Africa, I can 
'trutMullSr^ajK that, ^though certainly lacking in ad- 
venture, it has unlike many things long wished for 
and attained at last in no way fallen short of my 
expectations. 

The few hours we spent at Madeira were unfortu- 
nately during the night; and the beautiful island I 
was so longing to see remained hidden from view 
in a most tantalizing manner, without even the moon- 
light to give us some faint outline of its far-famed 
loveliness. 

After a safe, but most uneventful voyage, enlivened 
by no more stirring incidents than the occasional 
breaking down of the engines, we at last looked up 
at the glories of Table Mountain, and came suddenly 
into summer ; enjoying the flowers and bright sunshine 
of Cape Town all the more after the dreary weather 
we had left in England. We landed, and spent a few 
very pleasant days at the pretty suburb of Wynberg, 
from whence we took several beautiful drives. On 
one occasion we left the carriage, and walked over such 
a carpet of lovely and bright-coloured wild flowers 
as I have only once seen equalled, when riding some 
years before through Palestine and Syria. At the end 
of five minutes we stopped, and counted all the different 
sorts we had gathered, finding twenty-eight. 

Another day we collected a number of leaves of the 
silver tree, which is found only on Table Mountain. 
The long, pointed leaves seem made of the glossiest 
pale-grey satin ; you can write and paint on their soft 



PORT ELIZABETH AND WALMER. n 

surface, and numbers of them are for sale in the Cape 
Town shops, adorned with highly-coloured pictures of 
Table Mountain, steamers going at full speed, groups of 
flowers, Christmas good wishes, etc. We preferred, 
however, when enclosing the leaves in our letters home, 
to send them in all their native beauty, and with no 
clumsy human attempts at improvement. 

The beautiful plumbago is one of the most common 
plants, and many of the hedges about Wynberg con- 
sist entirely of it ; the masses of its delicate blue-grey 
flowers forming as graceful a setting for the pretty, 
neatly-kept gardens as can well be imagined. 

We were quite sorry when the time came for going 
back to our steamer, Port Elizabeth being our destina- 
tion. We landed there a few days before Christmas ; 
and, soon after our arrival, walked out to Walmer to 
call on friends, whom we found busily engaged in deco- 
rating the little church. Their materials consisted 
simply of magnificent blue water-lilies evidently the 
sacred blue lotus of the ancient Egyptians, with the 
sculptured representations of which they are identical 
and large, pure white arums, or, as the colonists 
unromantically call them, " pig -lilies ; " both being 
among the commonest of wild flowers about Walmer. 
These, with a few large fern-fronds, and the arum's 
own glossy leaves, formed the loveliest Christmas deco- 
ration I have ever seen. 

There is not much to see in Port Elizabeth ; indeed, 
it is rather uglier than the generality of colonial towns, 
built simply for business, and with no thought of the 



12 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

picturesque and what few attempts at ornament have 
been made are rather disfiguring than otherwise. On 
a bare hill above the town there is a conspicuous 
monument, the builders of which appear to have been 
long undecided as to whether it should be a small 
pyramid or large obelisk ; the result being an ugly 
compromise between the two. Another work of art, 
more nearly approaching the obelisk form, but equally 
far from the Egyptian model both in its shape and in 
the designs which decorate it, stands in the market- 
place, in front of the town hall. This latter was by 
far the best-looking building in Port Elizabeth, until, 
a few years ago, its appearance was completely spoilt 
by the addition of an ugly and ponderous clock-tower, 
quite out of proportion to the rest of the structure, 
which it seems threatening to crush with its over- 
powering size and weight. The interior of the town 
hall, however, compensates for its outward deficiencies ; 
for it contains a most excellent public library, plenti- 
fully supplied with books of all kinds, newspapers, 
and magazines, in two comfortable and well-arranged 
rooms. It would be well indeed if England would take 
a lesson from the Cape Colony in this respect ; for in all 
the smaller towns which we visited, i.e., Cradock, Graaff- 
Reinet, Uitenhage, etc., we found good public libraries. 
There is a good club in Port Elizabeth, and several 
hotels, all of which we have tried at different times, 
finding the Standard (Main Street), though small and 
of unpretending exterior, "by far the most comfortable. 
A little way out of the town there is a very good 



PORT ELIZABETH AND WALMER. 13 

botanical garden, with a large conservatory, containing 
many beautiful palms, tree-ferns, and other tropical 
plants. 

The Malays are the most picturesque feature of Port 
Elizabeth ; and their bright-coloured Eastern dresses, 
and the monotonous chant of the priest announcing 
the hours of prayer from the minaret of the mosque, 
form a pleasing contrast to the surrounding everyday 
sights and sounds. Like most other Orientals, they 
are perfect artists in their appreciation of colour ; and, 
fortunately, they are still old-fashioned enough not yet 
to have adopted the hideous coal-tar dyes with which 
Europe has demoralized the taste of some of their 
brethren in Cairo and Algiers. On Fridays, when all 
are wearing their best, you often see the most beautiful 
materials, and the loveliest combinations of colour; 
especially in the flowing robes of the priests, the tints 
of which always harmonize perfectly. Thus, for 
instance, you will see an outer garment of turquoise 
blue, worn over an inner one of " old gold ; " delicate 
salmon colour over soft creamy white ; rich orange in 
combination with the deepest maroon ; with an infinite 
variety of other lovely tints, any of which a painter 
might covet for his studio. The Malays often wear as 
turbans some of the beautiful sarongs of Java, which 
are simply ordinary calico, painted by hand with a few 
good colours, and in the most artistic designs ; of course 
there are never two alike, and in these days of machine- 
made sameness they are refreshing to behold. Some 
of the men wear immense hats, made of palm leaves 

U~ B 



i 4 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

very firmly and solidly plaited, and tapering to a point ; 
they are made to fit the head by means of a small 
crown fixed inside, very like that of a college cap. 

The Malay women, instead of gliding about veiled to 
the eyes, like their Mohammedan sisters in other parts 
of the world, wear the quaint costume which was the 
fashion among the Dutch women at the time when the 
Malay race first came as slaves to the Cape. The waist 
of the dress is extremely short ; and the long and 
voluminous skirts, of which an infinite number seem to 
be worn, commence close under the arms, spreading out, 
stiffly starched and spotlessly clean, to dimensions 
rivalling those of the old hooped petticoats. The good- 
natured brown faces are most unbecomingly framed by 
bright-coloured silk handkerchiefs tightly bound under 
the chin, somewhat after the fashion of the Algerian 
Jewesses giving the wearers an appearance of per- 
petual toothache. Many of the women wear noisy 
wooden clogs ; kept from parting company with the 
bare feet by nothing but a kind of large button, 
curiously ornamented, projecting between the two first 
toes. 

In the early days of slavery, when the Malays were 
brought up in the Dutch families, nearly all were 
Christians ; and even so recently as when Sir Bartle 
Frere was governor there were comparatively few 
among them who could read the Koran. During the 
last few years, however, Mohammedanism has been 
rapidly gaining ground everywhere the great uni- 
versity of El Azhar in Cairo, especially, training thou- 



PORT ELIZABETH AND WALMER. 15 

sands of students to go out as emissaries into all parts 
of the East to make converts and the Malays, in 
constantly increasing numbers, are embracing the creed 
of Islam. Many of them now save up their money 
for the pilgrimage to Mecca, which is their great 
ambition. They are very ignorant ; and their Moham- 
medan fatalism, prejudicing them against all sanitary 
precautions especially vaccination adds very much 
to the difficulty of contending with small-pox and other 
epidemics when they appear. In 1882, when there 
was so severe an outbreak of small-pox in Cape Town 
and other parts of the colony, the Malays not only 
opposed all attempts made by the authorities to isolate 
cases, but did all in their power to spread the disease ; 
many of them being found throwing infected clothing 
into houses. 

After staying about a week in the town, we went 
out to live at Walmer, which is by far the pleasantest 
part of all the surroundings of Port Elizabeth, and 
which deserves to be more generally chosen as a 
residence by the wealthier inhabitants. It stands high, 
in a most healthy situation, and full in the path of that 
rough but benevolent south-east wind, which, owing to 
its kindly property of sweeping away the germs of 
disease, is called "the Cape doctor." Away beyond 
Walmer stretch miles of undulating common, covered 
with short bush and numberless varieties of wild 
flowers ; and a breezy walk across part of this same 
common leads to Port Elizabeth. The walk is rather a 
long one ; and often, before the arrival of our little 



16 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

" spider " from America, it would have been a comfort, 
after a long day in town, to avail ourselves of one of 
the numerous hired carriages for the return journey, 
were not the drivers of these vehicles so exorbitant in 
their charges as almost to rival those of New York. 
They demand ten shillings for the drive to Walmer, 
taking the passenger only one way ; and this too often 
in a vehicle so near the last stage of dilapidation as to 
suggest fears of the final collapse occurring on the road. 
The importunity of the drivers is most troublesome ; 
and when, in spite of their efforts, you remain obdurate, 
and they fail to secure you as a " fare," they do their 
best to run over you, hoping no doubt that they may 
thus at least have a chance of driving you to the 
hospital. Their cab-stand, where, like a row of vultures, 
they sit waiting for their prey, is on the market-place ; 
and as you cross the latter, bound for the reading-room, 
with ears deaf to their shouts, and eyes resolutely fixed 
on the door of the town hall, leaving no doubt as to your 
intention not to take a drive, the whole rank move 
forward in a simultaneous charge ; pursuing and sur- 
rounding you with artful strategic movements and 
demoniac cries, and with so evident an intention to 
knock you down if possible, that when at last you stand 
safe on the town hall steps, you realize the feelings of 
Tarn O'Shanter on gaining " the keystane of the brig." 
On the common, about half-way between Port 
Elizabeth and Walmer, there is a little group of 
Hottentot huts, shaped like large bee-hives, and made 
of the strangest building-material I ever saw, i.e., a 



PORT ELIZABETH AND WALMER. 17 

thick mass of the oldest and filthiest rags imaginable. 
How they hold together has always been a mystery to 
me ; for they flap and flutter ominously in the almost 
incessant wind, and seem threatening to wing their 
way across the common and invade the verandahs and 
gardens of Walmer. Although I have ventured into 
a good many queer human habitations in different 
parts of the world, I have never felt inclined to 
explore the interior of one of these huts, which look 
as forbidding as their ugly, yellow-skinned inmates. 
There is no window, no proper outlet for smoke, no 
room for any one of average figure to stand upright, 
and the hole which serves as a door is much too low 
for any more dignified entrance than on all fours 
an attitude which, though quite worth while when 
threading the passages of the Great Pyramid, would 
hardly be repaid by the sight of the Hottentot in his 
home ; and by the possible acquaintance of creeping, 
crawling and hopping legions. Numbers of dirty, 
monkey-like children, and ugly, aggressive dogs of 
the pariah type, swarm round these huts ; the dogs 
often taking the trouble to pursue the passer-by a 
long distance on his way, irritating his horse and him- 
self by their clamour, and always keeping just out of 
reach of the whip. 

With the exception of the few remaining Bushmen, 
the Hottentots are the ugliest and most degraded of 
all the South African natives. The Kaffirs are much 
pleasanter to look at, some of the young girls being 
rather nice-looking, with graceful figures, on which 



iS HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

blankets of a beautiful artistic terra-cotta colour are 
draped in folds worthy of an Arab burnous. Occasion- 
ally some of the red ochre with which the blankets are 
coloured is daubed over the face and head, the effect 
being rather startling. The slender, bronze-like arms 
are often completely hidden from wrist to elbow by a 
long spirally-twisted brass wire, looking like a succes- 
sion of the thinnest bangles quite close together. 

We found a comfortable little furnished house at 
Walmer, in which we spent the first five months after 
our arrival. It was just a convenient size for our small 
party, consisting, besides my husband and myself, of 
our two English servants, and Toto, a beautiful collie. 
The rooms were all on the ground floor ; shaded, and 
indeed almost darkened, by a broad verandah running 
the whole length of the front. This absence of suffi- 
cient light in nearly all colonial houses strikes the 
new-comer unpleasantly ; but one gets used to it, and 
in the heat and strong glare of the Cape summer the 
darkened rooms are restful and comforting. At one 
end of our verandah we made a little fernery, which 
we kept green and bright with trophies brought home 
from some of our longer walks and rides also an 
aviary, the little inhabitants of which kept up a 
constant chorus, always pleasant to hear, and never 
loud enough to be troublesome. The Cape canary is 
a greenish bird, with a very pretty soft note, quite 
different from the piercing screech of his terrible yellow 
brother in English homes. Another soft-voiced little 
singer is the rooibeck, or red-beak, a wee thing very 



PORT ELIZABETH AND WALMER. 19 

like an avadavat ; a few goldfinches completed our col- 
lection, and all were very tame and happy in their 
little home. The broad leaves of two fine banana- 
plants shaded birds and ferns from the sun, which 
otherwise would have beaten in on them too fiercely 
through the window of the verandah. A banana-plant 
is a delightful thing to cultivate ; it grows so rapidly, 
and is so full of health and strength ; and the unfold- 
ing of each magnificent leaf is a new pleasure. 

We were within a short walk of our friends' house ; 

and during the frequent absences of T , my husband, 

often away for several weeks at a time while search- 
ing in different parts of the country for a suitable 
farm, it was very pleasant for me to have kind neigh- 
bours so near, and a bright welcome always awaiting 
me. Their garden was a large and beautiful one, and 
its luxuriance of lovely flowers, roses especially, gave 
ample evidence of their mistress's own care and love 
for them. Nearly all the houses in Walmer have good 
gardens, enclosed by the prettiest of hedges, sometimes 
of pomegranate, plumbago, or passion flowers, but most 
often of tall American aloes, round the sweet flowers 
of which the pretty honey-suckers magnified hum- 
ming-birds, substantial instead of insect-like are con- 
tinually hovering, their jewelled dresses of green, red, 
and yellow flashing in the sun at every turn of their 
rapid flight. Close under the hedge, and shaded by 
the aloe's blue-green spikes, the white arums grow in 
the thickest profusion. No dining-table in Walmer 
need be without a simple and beautiful decoration, for 



20 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

if there is no time for a ramble in search of flowers on 
the surrounding common, you need only run out and 
pick a few arums from the nearest hedge or small 
stream ; and a few of them go a long way. 

But the treasures of the common are endless; and 
first and loveliest among them all is the little " wax- 
creeper," * than which, tiny as it is, I do not think a 
more perfect flower could be imagined. It is as modest 
as a little violet ; and you have to seek it out in its 
hiding-places under the thick foliage of the bushes, 
round the stems of which it twines so tightly that it 
is a work of some time to disentangle it. You also 
get many scratches during the process, for it loves to 
choose as its protectors the most prickly plants ; but 
when at last you hold the delicate wreath in your 
hands, and look into its minute beauties the graceful 
curves of the slender stalk and tendrils, no two of 
which ever grow alike ; the long, narrow, dark-green 
leaves ; and the clusters of brilliant, carmine-tinted 
flowers, each like a tiny, exquisitely-shaped vase cut 
out in glistening wax you are amply rewarded. It is 
indeed one of the masterpieces of nature, and the first 
sight of it was a pleasure I can never forget. 

This little flower does not bear transplanting. We 
often tried to domesticate it in our garden, but the 
plants invariably died. It was quite the rarest of all 
our flowers. We have never seen it anywhere but about 
Walmer, and there it grows only in small patches ; five 

* Microloma lineare. 



PORT ELIZABETH AND WALMER. 21 

or six plants close together, and then perhaps no more 
of them to be seen during the whole of a long walk. 

Another of our favourites was the aantblom, a kind 
of ixia, whose lovely flowers range through all possible 
shades of rose-colour and orange, from the deepest to 
the palest tints of pink and yellow, down to the purest 
white. A large bouquet of nothing but these delicate, 
fragile-looking blossoms, each one of a different shade, 
brought to us by some little neighbours soon after our 
arrival, was a delightful surprise. So also was the first 
finding of the sweet Cape jessamine growing wild ; but 
this is one of the rarer plants. 

Then there is the scarlet heath ; its cluster of large, 
velvet-like flowers so vivid in colouring as to look like 
a flame of fire when the sun comes glancing through it. 
It is the most beautiful of all the Cape heaths, numer- 
ous and lovely as they are though a delicately-shaded 
pink and white one comes very near it in beauty. 
The blue lobelias grow profusely all over the common ; 
they are much larger and finer than those in English 
gardens, and are of the deepest ultra-marine, only a 
few here and there being a very pretty pale blue. 
Occasionally but this is very rare you find a pure 
white lobelia. Another flower of our home gardens, 
the gazania, is very plentiful, the ground being every- 
where studded with its large, bright orange- coloured 
stars. 

Pink and white immortelles, gladioli, ixias, and irises 
of all kinds abound ; some of the latter are tiny 
specimens, yet they are pencilled with all the same 



22 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

delicate lines as the larger sorts, though on so small a 
scale that you almost need a magnifying glass to enable 
you to see all their beauties. Then there are the Natal 
lilies, growing in large round clusters, each in itself 
sufficient to fill a flower- vase ; you have but to break 
a thick, succulent stem, and a perfect, ready-made 
bouquet of pink, sweet-scented flowers is in your hand. 

Some of the plants about Walmer are more curious 
than beautiful ; one especially which, not knowing its 
real name,* we called " the upholstery flower " is like 
an enormous tassel of red or pink fringe, gaudily 
ornamented outside with a stiff pattern in green and 
brown. It is about seven or eight inches long, solid 
and heavy in proportion ; and looks as if in the fitness 
of things it ought to be at the end of a thick red and 
green cord looping up the gorgeous curtains of an 
American hotel. The flower is shaped like a gigantic 
thistle, but the plant on which it grows is a shrub, with 
a hard, woody stem, and laurel-like leaves. These are 
only a few specimens of the common's wealth of 
flowers ; each time we went out we brought home a 
different collection, and our little rooms were bright 
with that intensity of colouring which makes the great 
difference between these children of the sun and the 
flora of colder climates. 

A search for flowers on the common, or, indeed, a 

walk anywhere about Walmer, is attended by one very 

unpleasant penalty you invariably come home covered 

with ticks. There are several varieties of these tor- 

* We have since found that this plant is a Protea. 



PORT ELIZABETH AND WALMER. 23 

mentors ; the tiny, almost invisible ones being by far 
the worst and most numerous, and their bites, or 
rather their presence beneath one's skin, causing in- 
tense irritation. The large ticks, though they do not 
confine their attentions wholly to animals, are much 
more troublesome to them than to the human race, 
and our poor horses, dog, and other creatures suffered 
terribly from their attacks. One day, soon after our 
arrival, I was much amused by the clumsy antics of a 
number of fowls, which were continually jumping up 
and pecking at some cattle grazing near. On investi- 
gation, I found that they were regaling on the fat ticks 
with which the poor animals were covered ; and our 
appetite for the Walmer poultry was considerably 
lessened by the discovery. Ticks abound everywhere 
along the coast, but as soon as you move inland you 
are free from the torment. 

We had not been very long in Walmer before T 

commenced his ostrich-farming with the purchase of 
forty-nine young birds, most of them only a few 
months old, and all wearing the rough, black and grey 
plumage which, under the name of " chicken-feathers," 
forms the ostrich's clothing during the first three or 
four years of his life. We kept them at night in a 
small enclosure near the house, and during the day- 
time they grazed on the common, herded by a trouble- 
some little Kaffir boy, who required more looking after 
than all his charges. The business of counting the 
latter when they were brought home in the evening 
was by no means so easy as one would imagine, for the 



24 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

tiresome birds did all in their power to hinder it, and 
if quiet enough before, seemed always prompted by 
some mischievous demon to begin moving about as 
soon as the counting commenced ; then, just when 
we were about half " through " to use a convenient 
Americanism they would get so hopelessly mixed up 
that we had to begin all over again. 

One day T and I had the excitement of an 

ostrich-hunt on horseback. One of our birds, which 
was much larger than any of the others, being nearly 
full-grown, and which had to be kept separate lest he 
should ill-treat his weaker brethren, had got away, and 

we had a long ride after him ; T following him up 

by his spoor, or footprints, with as unerring an eye as 
that of a Red Indian, until at last we were rewarded 
by the sight of a small head and long snake-like neck 
above the distant bushes. Then came the very en- 
joyable but somewhat difficult work of driving our 
prisoner home. He would trot before us quietly 
enough for a while, with his curious springy step, till 
he thought we were off our guard, when he would 
make an abrupt and unexpected run in the wrong 
direction ; and a prompt rush, like that of the picador 
in a bull-fight, was necessary to cut off his retreat. 
The horses quite understood what they had to do, 
and seemed to enter into the spirit of it, and enjoy it 
as we did. 



CHAPTER II. 

SOME OF OUR PETS. 

Friendliness of South African birds and beasts Our Secretary bird- 
Ungainly appearance of Jacob His queer ways Tragic fate of 
a kitten A persecuted fowl Our Dikkops A baby buffalo 
Wounded buffalo more dangerous than lion A lucky stumble 
Hunter attacked by " rogue " buffalo A midnight ride Followed 
by a lion Toto A pugnacious goose South African climate 
dangerous to imported dogs Toto and the crows Animals offered 
by Moors in exchange for Toto. 

SOUTH AFRICA is the land of pet animals. The feath- 
ered and four-footed creatures are all delightful. They 
have the quaintest and most amusing ways, and they 
are very easily tamed. The little time and attention 
which in a busy colonial home can be spared for the 
pets is always repaid a hundredfold ; and often you 
are surprised to find how quickly the bird or beast 
which only a few days ago was one of the wild crea- 
tures of the veldt torn suddenly from nest or burrow, 
and abruptly turned out from the depths of a sack or 
of a Hottentot's pocket into a human home has be- 
come an intimate friend, with a clearly-marked indi- 
vidual character, most interesting to study, and quite 
different from those of all its fellows, even of the same 
kind. On one point, however, the whole collection is 



26 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

sure to be unanimous, and that is a strong feeling of 
rivalry, and jealousy of one another, each one striving 
to be first in the affections of master and mistress. 
A great fondness for and sympathy with animals is 

not the least among the many tastes which T and 

I have in common ; and in our up-country home, far 
off as we were from human neighbours, we were 
always surrounded by numbers of animal and bird 
friends. 

We began to form the nucleus of our small men- 
agerie while still at Walmer ; and one of our first 
acquisitions was a secretary bird. The friends near 
whom we lived possessed three of these creatures, 
which had all been found, infants together, in one 
nest on an ostrich farm near Port Elizabeth ; and to 
my great delight, one of them was given to us. " Jacob," 
as we named him, turned out a most amusing pet. 
His personal appearance was decidedly comical ; re- 
minding us of a little old-fashioned man in a grey 
coat and tight black knee-breeches ; with pale flesh- 
coloured stockings clothing the thinnest and most 
angular of legs, the joints of which might have been 
stiff with chronic rheumatism, so slowly and cautiously 
did Jacob bend them when picking anything up, or 
when settling himself down into his favourite squatting 
attitude. Not by any means a nice old man did Jacob 
resemble, but an old reprobate, with evil-looking eye, 
yellow parchment complexion, bald head, hooked nose 
and fiendish grin ; with his shoulders shrugged up, his 
hands tucked away under his coat-tails, and several 




JACOB. 




TOTO. 



SOME OF OUR PETS. 27 

pens stuck behind his ear. Altogether an uncanny- 
looking creature, and one which, had he appeared in 
England some two or three centuries ago, would have 
stood a very fair chance of being burned alive in com- 
pany with the old witches and their cats ; indeed, he 
looked the part of a familiar spirit far better than the 
blackest cat could possibly do. 

Yet with all his diabolical appearance, Jacob was 
very friendly and affectionate, and soon grew most 
absurdly tame too tame, in fact. He would come 
running to us the moment we appeared in the verandah, 
and would follow us about the garden, nibbling like a 
puppy at our hands and clothes. He would walk, 
quite uninvited, into the house, where his long-legged 
ungainly figure looked strangely out of place, and 
where he was much too noisy to be allowed to remain, 
although the broadest of hints in the shape of wet 
bath-sponges, soft clothes-brushes, Moorish slippers, 
and what other harmless missiles came to hand, were 
quite unavailing to convince him he was not wanted. 
The noisy scuffle and indignant gruntings attendant 
on his forcible expulsion had hardly subsided before 
he would reappear, walking sedately in at the first 
door or window available, as if nothing had happened. 

His objectionable noises were very numerous ; and 
some of them were unpleasantly suggestive of a hos- 
pital. He would commence, for instance, with what 
seemed a frightful attack of asthma, and would appear 
to be very near the final gasp ; then for about ten 
minutes he would have violent and alarming hiccups ; 



28 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

the performance concluding with a repulsively realistic 
imitation of a consumptive cough, at the last stage. 
His favourite noise of all was a harsh, rasping croak, 
which he would keep up for any length of time, and 
with the regularity of a piece of clockwork ; this noise 
was supposed to be a gentle intimation that Jacob was 
hungry, though the old impostor had probably had a 
substantial feed just before coming to pose as a starving 
beggar under our windows. The monotonous grating 
sound was exasperating; and, when driven quite beyond 

endurance, T would have recourse to extreme 

measures, and would fling towards Jacob a large dried 
puff-adder's skin, one of a collection of trophies hang- 
ing on the walls of our cottage. The sight of this 
always threw Jacob into a state of abject terror. He 
seemed quite to lose his wits, and would dance about 
wildly, jumping up several feet from the ground in a 
grotesque manner ; till at last, grunting his loudest, 
and with the pen-like feathers on his head bristling 
with excitement, he would clear the little white fence, 
and go off at railway speed across the common, where 
he would remain out of sight all the rest of the day; 
only returning at dusk to squat solemnly for the night 
in his accustomed corner of the garden. 

His dread of the puff-adder's skin inclined us to 
doubt the truth of the popular belief in the secretary's 
usefulness as a destroyer of snakes, on account of 
which a heavy fine is imposed by the Cape Govern- 
ment on any one found killing one of these birds. I 
certainly do not think Jacob would have faced a full- 



SOME OF OUR PETS. 29 

grown puff-adder, though we once saw him kill and 
eat a small young one in the garden, beating it to 
death with his strong feet, and then swallowing it at 
one gulp. He was like a boa-constrictor in his capa- 
city for " putting himself outside " the animals on which 
he fed lizards, rats, toads, frogs, fat juicy locusts, 
young chickens, alas ! and some of the smaller pets 
if left incautiously within his reach, even little kittens 
all went down whole. The last-named animals were 
his favourite delicacy, and he was fortunate enough 
while at Walmer to get plenty of them. His enormous 
appetite, and our difficulty in satisfying it, were well 
known in the neighbourhood, and the owners of several 
prolific cats, instead of drowning the superfluous pro- 
geny, bestowed them on us as offerings to Jacob. They 
were killed and given to him at the rate of one a day. 
Once, however, by an unlucky accident, one of them 
got into his clutches without the preliminary knock on 
the head ; and the old barbarian swallowed it alive. 
For some minutes we could hear the poor thing mew- 
ing piteously in Jacob's interior, while he himself stood 
there listening and looking all round in a puzzled 
manner, to see where the noise came from. He evi- 
dently thought there was another kitten somewhere, 
and seemed much disappointed at not finding it. 

One day, when there had been a great catch of rats, 
he swallowed three large ones in succession, but these 
were almost too much even for him; the tail of the 
last rat protruded from his bill, and it was a long time 
before it quite disappeared from view. The butcher 

c 



\ 

\ 

30 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

had orders to bring liberal supplies for Jacob every 
day, and the greedy bird soon learned to know the hour 
at which he called. He would stand solemnly looking 
in the direction from which the cart came, and as soon 
as it appeared, he would run in his ungainly fashion to 
meet it. 

Jacob was largely endowed with that quality which 
is best expressed by the American word " cussedness ; " 
and though friendly enough with us, he was very spite- 
ful and malicious towards all other creatures on the 
place. He grew much worse after we went to live up- 
country, and became at last a kind of feathered 
Ishmael ; hated by all his fellows, and returning their 
dislike with interest. Some time after we settled on 
our farm we found that he had been systematically in- 
flicting a cruel course of ill-treatment on one unfortu- 
nate fowl, which, having been chosen as the next victim 
for the table, was enclosed, with a view to fattening, 
in a little old packing-case with wooden bars nailed 
across the front. Somehow, in spite of abundant 
mealies and much soaked bread, that fowl never would 
get fat, nor had his predecessor ever done so ; we had 
grown weary of feeding up the latter for weeks with 
no result, and in despair had killed and eaten him at 
last a poor bag of bones, not worth a tithe of the food 
he had consumed. And now here was another, ap- 
parently suffering from the same kind of atrophy ; the 
whole thing was a puzzle to us, until one day the mystery 
was solved, and Jacob stood revealed as the author of 
the mischief. He had devised an ingenious way of per- 



SOME OF OUR PETS. 31 

secuting the poor prisoner, and on seeing it we no 
longer wondered at the latter 's careworn looks. Jacob 
would come up to his box, and make defiant and 
insulting noises at him none could do this better than 
he until the imbecile curiosity of fowls prompted the 
victim to protrude his head and neck through the bars ; 
then, before he had time to draw back, Jacob's foot 
would come down with a vicious dab on his head. The 
foolish creature never seemed to learn wisdom by ex- 
perience, though he must have been nearly stunned 
many times, and his head all but knocked off by Jacob's 
great powerful foot and leg ; yet as often as the foe 
challenged him, his poor simple face would look in- 
quiringly out, only to meet another buffet. As he 
would not take care of himself, we had to move him 
into a safe place ; where he no longer died daily, and 
was able at last to fulfil his destiny by becoming respect- 
ably fat. 

One day T returned from bathing, his Turkish 

towel, instead of being as usual filled with blue lotus 
for the dining-table, showing very evident signs of 
living contents ; and two of the queerest little birds 
came tumbling out of it. They were young dikkops, 
a little covey of which he had surprised near his 
bathing-place. They possessed very foolish, vacant 
faces ; and their large, round, bright yellow eyes were 
utterly void of expression, just as if a bird-stuffer had 
furnished them with two pairs of glass eyes many sizes 
too large. Their great thick legs, on the enormously 
swollen-looking knee-joints of which they squatted in 



32 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

a comical manner, were just as much out of proportion 
as the eyes, and of the same vivid yellow ; indeed, the 
bird-stuffer seemed to have finished off his work with 
a thick coating of the brightest gamboge over legs and 
bill. They had no tail to speak of, and their soft 
plumage was of all different shades of brown and grey, 
very prettily marked. The dikkop (a Dutch name, 
meaning " thickhead "), is a small kind of bustard, and 
is by far the best of the many delicious game-birds of 
South Africa. It is a nocturnal bird, sleepy during 
the daytime, but lively and noisy at night as we soon 
found to our discomfort. Not being able to decide at 
once on a place for our newly-acquired specimens, we 
put them into our bedroom for the first night, but 
they were soon awake so, alas ! were we and their 
plaintive cry, sounding incessantly from all parts of the 
room as they ran restlessly to and fro, speedily obliged 
us to turn them out. We found permanent quarters 
for them at the end of the verandah, opposite the 
fernery, where my American trunks too large to go 
into the house had been placed. These we arranged 
to form a little enclosure, in which the dikkops were 
safe from the voracious Jacob, who would soon have 
swallowed them, legs and all, if he had had the chance. 
One, evidently the smallest and weakest of the covey, 
we named Benjamin ; but, unlike his Scriptural name- 
sake, he received rather a smaller than a larger portion 
of the good things of this world, the greedy Joseph 
taking advantage of his own superior size and strength 
to get the lion's share of all the food, and Benjamin 



SOME OF OUR PETS. 33 

meekly submitting ; till we interfered, and by separa- 
ting the two at feeding-time ensured an equal division. 
Joseph's general conduct was cruel and unbrotherly ; 
and when one day, during the process of packing to 
move up-country, he came to an untimely end, being 
accidentally crushed under the heaviest " Saratoga," 
we naturally expected Benjamin to rejoice. Instead 
of this, however, the little fellow pined and fretted ; 
refusing to eat, and calling incessantly with his little 
mournful cry of three soft musical notes in a minor 
key, as if hoping to bring back his oppressor from 
whom he ought to have been thankful to be free and 
at the end of two days he also was dead. 

During one of T 's journeys up-country he made 

a strange purchase, which he forwarded at once to me 
by train. It was a baby buffalo, which had been taken 
alive by the hunters who shot its mother. The buffalo 
being a rare animal in the Cape Colony, we looked on 
this little specimen as a great acquisition ; and, had he 
lived, he would have been a very valuable, though 
perhaps in time somewhat formidable addition to the 
menagerie ; but the railway officials to whose care he 
was consigned being no exception to the generality of 
Cape colonists whose usual way of doing business is 
to let things take care of themselves the poor little 
fellow was put into the train without being fastened 
or secured in any way, and the jolting he received en 
route knocked him about so that he arrived in a very 
sad state, with his head cut and bleeding in several 
places ; and did not live many days. 



34 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

The buffalo is considered by all hunters a far more 
dangerous animal to encounter than the lion, and almost 
as formidable as the elephant or rhinoceros. When 
wounded, he has an ugly trick of lying in wait, hidden 
in the bush, with only his nose out ; and turning the 
tables on the pursuer by making an unexpected charge. 
Many hunters have been killed in this manner by 
infuriated buffaloes. 

When T was hunting in the interior some years 

before, a friend who was there with him met with an 
exciting adventure. Having come across a herd of 
buffaloes he fired into the midst of them ; then, unaware 
that he had wounded one of the animals, he rode in 
pursuit of the herd. On coming up with them, he 
dismounted, and was just preparing to fire again, when 
a shout from his brother, who was behind, made him 
look round, just in time to see the wounded buffalo, 
which had emerged from the bush, charging him fu- 
riously. He gave him both barrels, each shot striking 
him in the centre of the forehead ; but, as the buffalo- 
always charges with his nose in the air, both bullets 

glanced off, and Mr. B escaped only by a quick 

jump on one side. The buffalo passed him ; then turn- 
ing round, tossed and killed the horse. The next shot 
finished the buffalo's career ; and on the great head, 
which has been kept as a trophy, are the marks of the 
two first bullets, showing how calm was the presence 
of mind, and how true the aim, in that moment of 
danger. 

Another of T 's hunting companions, chased in a 



SOME OF OUR PETS. 35 

similar manner by a wounded buffalo, owed his life to 
a lucky stumble, which so astonished the animal that 
he stood still for a few seconds staring at the prostrate 
figure; giving the hunter time to get up and take refuge 
behind a tree, from whence he shot his assailant. 

The most dangerous buffaloes are the old solitary 
bulls which have been turned out of the herd ; they 
become as artful and malicious as rogue elephants, and 
often hide in the bush when they get your wind, to 

rush out on you unexpectedly. On another of T 's 

hunting expeditions, on the river Sabie, not far from 
Delagoa Bay, one of the party was walking quietly 
along with his rifle over his shoulder, when he was 
suddenly attacked by one of these "rogues," and so 
frightfully gored that for a time he was not expected 

to live. T started off at once to fetch a doctor ; 

and rode all through the night, steering his course by 
the stars, to an encampment which most fortunately 
happened to be within about thirty miles. It was that 
of a party who were bringing up a number of mitrail- 
leuses and other arms, taken in the Franco-Prussian 
war and presented by Germany to the Transvaal Gov- 
ernment. In the camp there were an immense number 
of donkeys, which were used for the transport of the 
guns ; and when one commenced braying, all the others 
immediately following suit, it was a Pandemonium 
which made night hideous indeed. On retracing his 

course the next day, accompanied by the doctor, T 

saw by the spoor that during that midnight ride he 
had been followed by a lion. 



36 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

And now, though the transition seems rather an 
abrupt one from savage beasts to the sweetest and 
gentlest of domestic pets, our dear old dog Toto 
deserves a little notice. We brought him from 
England with us he is a dog of Kent, being a native 
of the Weald and when put on board the steamer 
at Southampton he was not many months old. He 
still had the blunt nose and thick paws of puppyhood ; 
also its mischievous little needle-like teeth, with which 
he ate off the straps of our portmanteaus, and, when 
allowed an occasional run on deck, did considerable 
damage to the Madeira chairs of the passengers. 
Fortunately he was so general a favourite that his 
iniquities were overlooked. The children on board 
were especially fond of him, and would often petition 
for him to be let loose, to join in their games. He 
seemed to grow up during the voyage possibly the 
sea air hastened his development and he had almost 
attained full size and perfect proportions by the time 
we landed in Cape Town; he, poor fellow, being in 
such wild delight at finding himself again on terra 
firma and released from the narrowness of ship life, 
that he was quite mad with excitement, jumping and 
dragging at his chain, and knocking us nearly off our 
legs, besides involving us and himself in numerous 
entanglements with the legs of others. We had to 
be perpetually apologizing for his conduct, and really 
felt quite ashamed of him. 

He is a large black-and-tan collie ; with a soft glossy 
coat, a big black feather of a tail, and the most superb 



SOME OF OUR PETS. 37 

white frill ; of which latter he is justly proud, drawing 
himself up to show it off to the best advantage when- 
ever it is stroked or admired. Altogether he is a very 
vain dog, quite conscious of his good looks. His big, 
honest, loving brown eyes have none of that sly, shifty 
look which gives a treacherous appearance to so many 
collies; his face, which is as good and kind as it is 
pretty, has a great range of expression, and it is 
wonderful to see how instantly it will change from a 
benevolent smile, or even a downright laugh, to a 
pathetic, deeply injured, or scornful look, if Toto 
considers himself slighted or insulted. We have to 
study his feelings carefully, for he is proud and sensi- 
tive even beyond the usual nature of collies ; and if 
we have been unfortunate enough to offend him 
as often as not quite unintentionally he will give us 
the cut direct for several days ; repelling all advances 
with the most freezing indifference, and plainly, 
though always politely, for he is a thorough gentle- 
man, intimating his wish to drop our acquaintance. 

Sometimes we are puzzled to know why Toto is 
haughty and distant towards us, or ignores our 
existence; and, on looking back, recall perhaps that 
so long ago as the day before yesterday one of us, 
in the hurry of daily work, finding his large form 
obstructing the door through which we had to pass, 
told him, somewhat impatiently, to get out of the way. 

Or perhaps worse still we may have laughed at 
him. Possibly the mouse he was chasing on the veldt 
popped into the safety of a hole just as he had all but 



38 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

caught it, and we unfeelingly made a joke of his dis- 
appointment or, in his excessive zeal to hold himself 
very upright when sitting up to beg at dinner, dear 
Toto may have leaned back just a little too far and 
rolled over on to his back ; a painful position for so 
majestic an animal, and one which ought to have com- 
manded respectful silence, instead of provoking an 
unkind laugh. This misfortune has happened several 
times to poor Toto, especially during the process of 
learning his threefold trick of sitting up to beg, 
" asking " with a little short bark for bone or 
biscuit, and finally catching the contribution in his 
mouth. It is really difficult to refrain from laughing 
at his sudden collapse, preceded as it always is by an 
extra self-satisfied look just the expression of the dog 
in Caldecott's "House that Jack built," as he sits 
smiling and all-unconscious of the cow coming up 
behind to toss him. A conceited protrusion of Toto's 
big white shirt-frill is usually the occasion of falling, 
and no doubt he deserves to be laughed at ; but the 
poor fellow's evident distress, and his " countenance 
more in sorrow than in anger " at our cruel mirth, have 
led us to make great efforts to keep our gravity, and, 
with true politeness, to pretend not to see him. 

Though Toto is not generally a demonstrative dog, 
there is no mistake about his affection for us ; he shows 
it in many quiet little sympathetic ways, and seems 
even more human than the generality of collies. He 
has constituted himself my special guardian and pro- 
tector, and though at all times a very devoted attendant, 



SOME OF OUR PETS. 39 

he would always take extra care of me whenever, 

during T 's journeys about the country, I was left 

at home alone. Then the faithful old fellow would not 
leave me for an instant. The silent sympathy with 
which he thrust his nose lovingly into my hand cheered 

the dreary moment when, after watching T out of 

sight, I turned to walk back to the lonely house ; and 
his quiet unobtrusive presence enlivened all the weeks 
of solitude. He would lie at my feet as I sat working 
or writing ; follow me from room to room or out of 
doors, always close at my heels ; and curl himself up to 
sleep under my bed, when at any time during the night 
the slightest word or movement on my part would 
produce a responsive " tap, tap," of his tail upon the 
floor. And when his master returned, he always 
seemed to look to him for approbation ; his whole 
manner expressing his pride in the good care he had 
taken of house and mistress. 

Our garden at Walmer was constantly invaded by 
neighbouring fowls and ducks, which would lie in wait 
outside, ready to slip in the instant the little gate was 
left open ; the fowls of course found plenty of occupa- 
tion among the flowers ; while the ducks would at once 
make for a large tub, generally full of photographic 
prints taking their final bath under a tap of slowly- 
trickling water. The horrid birds seemed to take a 
delight in driving their clumsy bills through the soft, 
sodden paper ; and after several prints from our best 
negatives had been destroyed, we summoned Toto to 
our aid. He threw himself with great energy into the 



4 o HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

work of ridding us of the intruders. He would lie in 
ambush for them, and when, much to his delight, they 
appeared inside the gate, he would rush to the attack, 
chasing first one and then another about the garden 
till he caught it ; then, lifting it and carrying it out in 
his mouth as gently as a cat carries her kitten, he 
would deposit it outside, with much angry quacking or 
frightened screeching from the victim, as the case 
might be, but without the loss of a feather. 

Once he, in his turn, was attacked by a pugnacious 
goose, which he was endeavouring to drive out of the 
garden ; and which turned on him savagely, keeping 
up a desperate battle with him for a long time, until it 
was quite exhausted, and sat down panting. It chased 
him many times round our small lawn, and once, in its 
excitement, put its head right into his mouth. Luckily 
for the goose, Toto was so utterly bewildered by its 
strange conduct, that he missed the golden opportunity 
of snapping off the imbecile head so invitingly presented. 

He was equally zealous in keeping the garden free 
from cats ; and in pursuit of one of these he actually 
climbed so far into the lower branches of a tree that 
his victim, evidently expecting to see him come all the 
way to the top, gave himself up for lost, and dropped 
to the ground in a fit. 

Imported dogs often die in South Africa ; especially 
if they remain near Port Elizabeth, or if they have 
distemper, which is much more severe in the colony 
than it is in Europe. Poor Toto laboured under both 
these disadvantages ; for during our stay at Walmer he 



SOME OF OUR PETS. 41 

was attacked with distemper, and, the summer being 
also an unusually hot one, everything seemed against 
him. He was so ill that we quite gave up all hope of 
saving him, and bitterly regretted having brought him 
out with us. Just when he was at his worst, however, 
business called us away for a few days to Cradock, 

which is some distance inland ; and T , knowing it 

to be a healthy place for dogs, suggested that we should 
take the poor creature with us dying as he seemed to 
be on the slight chance that the change of climate 
might save him. We left him there parting from 
him sadly and without much hope of seeing him again ; 
but we were leaving him in the kindest of hands, and, 
thanks to the careful nursing he received, as well as to 
the timely change of air, he lived indeed, I am glad to 
say, lives still. He remained some months at Cradock, 
whence from time to time came the good news of his 
steady improvement, and finally, some time after we 
had settled up-country, the announcement that he- 
would be sent off to us at the first opportunity. 

Then, one day as we sat at dinner, we heard a 
sudden and startling tumult in the kitchen ; the wel- 
coming voices of the servants ; a frantic scuffle outside 
the sitting-room door ; and in rushed Toto, handsomer 
and fuller of life and spirits than ever ; whining and 
howling with delight, and nearly upsetting us, chairs 
and all, besides endangering everything on the table, 
as he jumped wildly to lick our faces. He had been 
brought from Klipplaat by a passing waggon, in the 
usual " promiscuous " manner in which property, ani- 



42 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

mate as well as inanimate, is delivered at its destina- 
tion on Cape farms. 

After thus paying his footing in South Africa nearly 
with his life, Toto was thoroughly acclimatized, and 
passed through several very hot summers on the farm 
without a day's illness; only showing by increased 
liveliness his preference for the cooler weather ; being 
very happy on the occasional really cold days of our 
short winter, and like everyone else cross during a 
hot wind. He has now accompanied us back to England, 
where probably on the strength of being an old 
traveller who has twice crossed the line he gives 
himself great airs, and makes no secret of his contempt 
for the stay-at-home dogs who have not had his ad- 
vantages. This involves him in many fights ; and the 
brother and sister with whom having no settled home 
in England we have occasionally left him, have several 
times been threatened with summonses for his misdeeds. 

Toto is now getting on in years those few years, 
alas ! which make up the little span of a dog's life but 
he is still lively enough; and the crows at Mogador, 
where we spent the winter of 1888-89, will long re- 
member the games they have had with that comical 
foreign dog, so unlike any of the jackal-like creatures 
to which they were accustomed. They knew him well, 
&nd always seemed to look out for him ; and, as soon 
.as he emerged from the ugly white-washed gateway of 
the town, and approached their favourite haunt, the 
dirty rubbish-heaps just outside the walls, they would 
fly close up to him, challenging him to catch them. 



SOME OF OUR PETS. 43 

Undaunted by invariable failure, he was always 
ready, and would dash noisily after them ; while they, 
enjoying the joke -for every crow is a fellow of infinite 
jest new tantalizingly along close in front of his nose, 
and only just out of his reach. Sometimes they would 
settle on the ground a long way off, and apparently 
oblivious of him become so deeply absorbed in search- 
ing for the choicest morsels of rubbish that Toto, 
deluded by the well-acted little play, would make a 
wild charge. But the artless-looking crows, who all 
the while were thinking of him, had accurately cal- 
culated time and distance ; and as he galloped up 
confident that this time at least he was really going to 
catch one they would allow him to come within an 
inch of touching them before they would appear to see 
him at all ; then, rising slowly into the air as if it 
were hardly worth the trouble to get out of his way 
they would hover, croaking contemptuously, above his 
head, just out of reach of his spring. 

And when at last he was tired out with racing after 
them, and being, like Hamlet, "fat and scant of 
breath " could only fling himself panting on the sand, 
they would walk derisively all round him ; come up 
defiantly, close to his gasping mouth, and all but perch 
on him. Before we left, several of the native dogs had 
learned the game ; possibly their descendants will keep 
it up, and who knows ? some naturalist of the future 
may record his discovery of a strange friendship 
between dogs and crows in Mogador. 

From the latter place T made several expeditions 



44 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

to the interior, travelling on foot and in native dress, 
for the purpose of distributing Arabic Testaments on 
one occasion going as far as the city of Morocco. On 
these trips Toto accompanied his master, and far from 
being the object of contempt and aversion, as a dog 
usually is in Mohammedan lands was universally 
admired and coveted by the natives ; by some of whom 

had T not eaten of their bread and salt, thus 

placing them on their honour it is extremely likely 
that he would have been stolen. It was something 
quite new to them to see a dog actually fond of his 
master, and treated by the latter as a friend ; full of 
intelligence, too, and altogether different from their own 
uninteresting dogs ; his clever tricks which seemed to 
them almost uncanny earned him many a good feed ; 
and among the variety of animals offered at different 
times in exchange for him, were two donkeys, a horse, 
and a young camel. 

Toto can boast, too, of having spent many nights in 
quarters where probably never dog has slept before 
i.e. in Mohammedan mosques. These were the usual 
sleeping-places assigned to the travellers by the simple 
village folk, whose toleration contrasts strongly with 
the fanaticism of the towns. There the mosques are 
held very sacred ; and for Europeans to look in at their 
doors, even from across the street, gives great offence. 
***** 

And now, as I write, the old dog faithful and 
friendly as ever sits up begging; no longer con- 
ceitedly and unsteadily as in his youth, but in the 



SOME OF OUR PETS. 45 

more sober fashion of the poor, fat, apoplectic-looking 
bears at the Zoo; with legs well spread out to afford 
the firm foundation needed by the portliness of ad- 
vancing years. His kind eyes are fixed very lovingly 
and deferentially on the tiny face of his present queen 
and mistress, the little fair-haired girl who has come 
to us since we left the Cape ; and who, with a regal 
air of command, holds out her biscuit to the seated 
Colossus, who, not so long ago, towered above her 
small head, and bids him " ask for it." Together these 
two friends and playfellows make so pretty a picture, 
that we could wish Briton Riviere or Burton Barber 
were here to see it and give it to the world. 



CHAPTER III 

PLANTS OF THE KARROO. 

We move up-country Situation of farm Strange vegetation of Karroo 
district Karroo plant Fei-bosch Brack-bosch Our flowers 
Spcckboom Bitter aloes Thorny plants Wacht-een-Beetje 
Ostriches killed by prickly pear Finger-poll Wild tobacco fatal 
to ostriches Carelessness of colonists Euphorbias Candle-bush. 

OUR five months at Walmer passed so pleasantly, that 
in spite of my longing to be settled on a place of our 
own, and the impatience I felt to enter on all the 
duties and pleasures of farm life among the ostriches, 
I was really sorry when the time of departure came, 
and in the beginning of winter i.e. towards the latter 
part of May we left the little house, the first home 
of our married life, and took our journey up-country. 
We had no very long distance to travel, for the farm 

in the Karroo district which T had chosen was 

only a day's journey from " The Bay," as Port Eliza- 
beth, like San Francisco, is familiarly called; and 
instead of being, like many proprietors of farms, quite 
out of the world, and obliged to drive for two or even 
three days to reach the railway, we had our choice of 
two stations ; the nearest, Klipplaat, being only fifteen 
miles from us, and the railway journey not more than 
eight hours. 



PLANTS OF THE KARROO. 47 

Our farm, extending over twelve thousand acres, was 
situated in a long valley running between two ranges 
of mountains, the steepness of which rendered enclos- 
ing unnecessary in many parts ; thus saving much 
expense in starting the farm, an entirely new one, and 

chosen purposely by T on this account. For it 

sometimes happens that land on which ostriches have 
run for years becomes at last unhealthy for the birds. 
We were in that part of the Karroo which is called 
the Zvvart Ruggens, or " black rugged country ; " so 
named from the appearance it presents when, during 
the frequent long droughts, the bush loses all its 
verdure, and becomes outwardly so black and dry- 
looking that no one unacquainted with this most 
curious kind of vegetation would suppose it capable 
of containing the smallest amount of nutriment for 
ostriches, sheep, or goats. But if you break one of 
these apparently dried-up sticks, you find it all green 
and succulent inside, full of a very nourishing saline 
juice; and thus, even in long droughts which some- 
times last more than a year, this country is able to 
support stock in a most marvellous manner, of which, 
judging by outward appearance, it certainly does not 
seem capable. It seems strange that in this land of 
dryness the plants are so full of moisture ; one wonders 
whence it can possibly have come. 

The little karroo plant, from which the district 
takes its name, is one of the best kinds of bush for 
ostriches, as well as for sheep and goats ; it grows in 
little compact round tufts not more than seven or 



48 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

eight inches from the ground, and though so valuable 
to farmers, it is but unpretending in appearance, with 
tiny, narrow leaves, and a little, round, bright yellow 
flower, exactly resembling the centre of an English 
daisy after its oracle has been consulted, and its last 
petal pulled by some enquiring Marguerite. 

The fei-bosch is another of our commonest and most 
useful plants ; its pinkish-lilac flower is very like that 
of the portulacca, and its little flat succulent leaves 
look like miniature prickly pear leaves without the 
prickles ; hence its name, from TurJc-fei, Turkish fig. 
When flowering in large masses, and seen at a little 
distance, the fei-bosch might almost be taken for 
heather. 

The brack-bosch, which completes our trio of very 
best kinds of ostrich-bush, is a taller and more grace- 
ful plant than either of the preceding, with blue-green 
leaves, and blossom consisting of a spike of little 
greenish tufts; but there are an endless variety of 
other plants, among v/hich there is hardly one that is 
not good nourishing food for the birds. 

All are alike succulent and full of salt, giving out a 
crisp, crackling sound as you walk over them ; all have 
the same strange way of growing, each plant a little 
isolated patch by itself, just as the tufts of wool grow 
on the Hottentots' heads ; and the flowers of nearly 
all are of the portulacca type, some large, some small, 
some growing singly, others in clusters; they are of 
different colours white, yellow, orange, red, pink, 
lilac, etc. They are very delicate and fragile flowers ; 




A, MARTIN, del. ^ ^ ^ ^'-' "=>"T "*'< 

Some of the Best Kinds If drtr?c&-3t/s#^ 
i. BRACK-BOSCH. 2. GHANNA. 3. FEI-BOSCH. 



X-jYKOI'RT^X 

<^ V OF THE > 

NEW'YKK A 



PLANTS OF THE KARROO. 49 

and, pretty as they are, it is useless to attempt carry- 
ing them home, for they close up and fade as soon as 
they are gathered. 

Indeed, nearly all the flowers in that part of the 
world are unsatisfactory ; and those few among them 
which will keep for a very short time in water are 
almost useless for table decorations, as they seem in- 
capable of adapting themselves to any sort or form of 
flower- vase. They are pretfcy enough in themselves ; 
but the large, thick, stubborn stems, all out of propor- 
tion with the flowers, refuse to bend themselves to any 
graceful form or combination ; they all seem starting 
away from one another in an angular, uncomfortable 
manner, and of course any pretty arrangement of 
flowers which will not arrange themselves is impossible. 
Our thoughts often went back longingly to the flowers 
of Walmer, compared with which prolific region the 
Karroo is poverty indeed. 

A cineraria, very nearly as large as the cultivated 
varieties, and of a beautiful deep blue, on which the 
Dutch have bestowed the euphonious name of blaauw- 
blometje (little blue flower), several tiny irises, and a 
rather rare bulb, the hyacinth-like blossoms of which, 
as well as the upper part of the stalk, are of a lovely 
tint between scarlet and deep rose-colour, and all 
soft and velvety in texture, are among our prettiest 
flowers. 

Then there are the mimosa's balls of soft, sweet- 
scented yellow fringe, perfuming the air all round for 
a long distance, and making the trees seem all of gold 



50 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

when covered with their masses of bloom. Here and 
there is a Kaffir bean, a shrub with rather handsome 
large red flowers, but it is not common. There are a 
good many colourless, insignificant-looking flowers, and 
some which are quite uncanny ; one, especially, with 
pendent, succulent bells of livid green and dull red, 
looks worthy to be one of the ingredients of a witch's 
cauldron. These are all flowers of the plains ; the 
mountains are richer, but their treasures are only to 
be attained by making rather long excursions up their 
steep sides, over the roughest and stoniest of ground, 
and through a tangled mass of vegetation, most of 
which is very thorny. But even the weariest climb is 
well repaid on reaching the heights where the wild 
geraniums grow. The immense round bushes, five or 
six feet in diameter, and brilliant with great bunches 
of pink or scarlet flowers, are indeed a lovely sight. 
A creeping ivy-leaved geranium, and a very pretty 
pelargonium, which is also a creeper, grow in these 
same far-off' regions ; the flower of the latter is of a 
beautiful rich maroon and cream-colour, its curiously 
jointed stem and tiny leaves are very succulent, salt 
to the taste, and strongly scented with the sweet gera- 
nium perfume. It is strange to notice how plants 
which in Europe are neither saline nor particularly 
succulent, when growing in the Karroo assume the 
prevailing character of its vegetation. 

Large white 'marguerites, growing on a shrub with 
a hard, woody stem, inhabit the same heights as the 
geraniums and pelargoniums ; all these together would 



PLANTS OF THE KARROO. 51 

have been invaluable for the brightening of our little 
rooms, if we could possibly have brought them home. 
But they are all much too delicate to survive the long 
walk or ride back, and the only mountain flowers we 
could reasonably hope to bring home in a presentable 
condition were the large, bright yellow immortelles. 
The scanty little streams trickling down some of the 
cool shady kloofs between the mountains are the home 
of a few white arums ; and their rocky beds are 
fringed, though not very abundantly, with maiden- 
hair fern. 

The spekboom, which is a good-sized shrub, some- 
times attaining the height of fifteen or twenty feet, 
grows plentifully a little way up the mountains ; and 
in very protracted droughts, when the karroo and 
other bush of the plains begin at last to fail, it is our 
great resource for the ostriches, which then ascend 
for the purpose of feeding on it ; and though they do 
not care for it as they do for their usual kinds of food, 
it is good and nourishing for them. Elephants are 
very fond of the spekboom, but though a few of these 
animals are still found near Port Elizabeth, there are 
fortunately none in our neighbourhood to make inroads 
on the supplies reserved for the ostriches against what 
certainly in South Africa cannot be called " a rainy 
day." The spekboom has a large soft stem, very thick, 
round, succulent leaves, and its clusters of star-shaped, 
wax-like flowers are white, sometimes slightly tinged 
with pink. There are several plants very closely re- 
sembling the spekboom ; one with pretty, bright yellow 



52 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

flowers; and one, the soft stem of which, if cut into 
thin slices, looks exactly like very red salt tongue. 

Those unpleasant old acquaintances of childish days, 
the bitter aloes, are at home in the Karroo in great 
numbers ; and most brilliantly do they light up the 
somewhat gloomy-looking sides of the mountains in 
early spring with the great spikes of their shaded scar- 
let and orange-coloured flowers, looking like gigantic 
"red-hot poker plants." This African aloe has none 
of the slender grace of its American relative, and it is 
only when flowering that it has any claim to beauty ; 
at all other times it is simply a most untidy-looking 
plant, the thick, clumsy stem for about five or six feet 
below the crown of leaves being covered with the 
ragged, decaying remains of former vegetation, sug- 
gestive of numberless scorpions and centipedes. 

Thorny plants abound, especially on the mountains, 
where indeed almost every bush which is not soft and 
succulent is armed with strong, sharp, often cruelly 
hooked spikes. The wacht-een-beetje (wait-a-bit) does 
not grow in our neighbourhood, but we have several 
plants which seem to me no less deserving of the name ; 
and often, when held a prisoner on some ingenious 
arrangement of hooks and spikes viciously pointing in 
every possible direction, each effort to free myself in- 
volving me more deeply, and inflicting fresh damage 

on clothes and flesh, I should, but for T 's assurance 

to the contrary, have quite believed I had encountered 
it. The constant repairing of frightful " trap-doors " 
and yawning rents of all shapes and sizes in T 's 



PLANTS OF THE KARROO. 53 

garments and in my own, took up a large proportion of 
time ; and often did I congratulate myself on the fact 
that my riding-habit at least chosen contrary to the 
advice of friends at home, who all counselled coolness 
and lightness above everything was of such stout, 
strong cloth as to defy most of the thorns. Any less 
substantial material would have been reduced to rib- 
bons in some of our rides. 

On foot, you are perpetually assailed by the great 
strong hooks of the wild asparagus, a troublesome 
enemy, whose long straggling branches trailing over the 
ground are most destructive to the skirts of dresses ; 
while boots have deadly foes, not only in the shape of 
rough ground and hard, sharp-pointed stones, but also 
in that of numerous prickly and scratchy kinds of 
small bush. At the end of one walk in the veldt, the 
surface of a kid boot is all rubbed and torn into little 
ragged points, and is never again fit to be seen. For- 
tunately, in the Karroo, no one is over-particular about 
such small details. 

Among our troublesome plants, one of the worst and 
most plentiful is the prickly pear; and farmers have 
indeed no reason to bless the old Dutchwoman who, by 
simply bringing one leaf of it from Cape Town to 
Graaff-Reinet, was the first introducer of what has be- 
come so great a nuisance. It spreads with astonishing 
rapidity, and is so tenacious of life that a leaf, or even a 
small portion of a leaf, if thrown on the ground, strikes 
out roots almost immediately, and becomes the parent 
of a fast-growing plant ; and it is not without great 



54 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

trouble and expense that farms can be kept compara- 
tively free from it. Sometimes a little party of Kaffirs 
would be encamped on some part of our land especially 
overgrown with prickly pears ; and there for months 
together they would be at work, cutting in pieces and 
rooting out the intruders ; piling the disjointed stems and 
leaves in neatly-arranged stacks, where they would 
soon ferment and decay. Labour being dear in the 
colony, the wages of " prickly-pear-men " form a large 
item in the expenditure of a farm ; in many places 
indeed, where the plants are very numerous, it does not 
pay to clear the land, which consequently becomes 
useless, many farms being thus ruined. 

Sometimes ostriches, with that equal disregard of 
their own health and of their possessor's pocket for 
which they are famous, help themselves to prickly pears, 
acquire a morbid taste for them, and go on indulging 
in them, reckless of the long, stiff spikes on the leaves, 
with which their poor heads and necks soon become 
so covered as to look like pin-cushions stuck full of 
pins; and of the still more cruel, almost invisible 
fruit- thorns which at last line the interior of their 
throats, besides so injuring their eyes that they be- 
come perfectly blind, and are unable to feed themselves. 

Many a time has a poor unhappy ostrich, the victim 
of prickly pear, been brought to me in a helpless, 
half-dead state, to be nursed and fed at the house. 
Undaunted by previous experience, I perseveringly 
tended each case, hoping it might prove the exception 
to the general rule, but never were my care and 



PLANTS OF THE KARROO. 55 

devotion rewarded by the recovery of my patient. 
There it would squat for a few days, the picture of 
misery ; its long neck lying along the ground in a limp, 
despondent manner, suggestive of the attitudes of sea- 
sick geese and ducks on the first day of a voyage. Two 
or three times a day I would feed it, forcing its unwilling 
bill open with one hand, while with the other I posted 
large handf uls of porridge, mealies, or chopped prickly 
pear leaves in the depths of its capacious letter-box of 
a throat. All to no purpose ; it had made up its mind 
to die, as every ostrich does immediately illness or 
accident befalls it, and most resolutely did it carry out 
its intention. 

The pricey pear, mischievous though it is, is not 
altogether without its good qualities. Its juicy fruit, 
though rather deficient in flavour, is delightfully cool 
and refreshing in the dry heat of summer ; and a kind 
of treacle, by no means to be despised at those not in- 
frequent times when butter is either ruinous in price 
or quite unattainable, is made from it. A strong, 
coarse spirit, equal to the aguardiente of Cuba in 
horrible taste and smell, is distilled from prickly pears ; 
and though to us it seemed only fit to be burned in a 
spirit-lamp, when nothing better could be procured, it 
is nectar to the Boers and Hottentots, who drink 
large quantities of it. Great caution is needed in 
peeling the prickly pear, the proper way being to 
impale the fruit on a fork or stick while you cut it 
open and remove the skin. On no account must the 
latter be touched with the hands, or direful con- 



5 6 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

sequences will ensue. To the inexperienced eye the 
prickly pear looks innocent enough ; with its smooth, 
shiny skin, suggestive only of a juicy interior, and 
telling no tale of lurking mischief yet each of those 
soft-looking little tufts, with which at regular intervals 
it is dotted, is a quiver filled with terrible, tiny, hair- 
like thorns, or rather stings ; and woe betide the fingers 
of the unwary " new chum," who, with no kind friend 
at hand to warn him, plucks the treacherous fruit. 
He will carry a lively memento of it for many days. 

My first sad experience of prickly pears was gained, 
not in South, but in North Africa. Landing with a 
friend in Algiers some time ago, our first walk led us 
to the fruit market, where, before a tempting pile of 
figues de Barbarie, we stopped to quench the thirst of 
our thirty-six hours' passage. The fruit was handed 
to us, politely peeled by the Arab dealer ; and thus, as 
we made our first acquaintance with its delightful 
coolness, no suspicion of its evil qualities entered our 
minds. And when, a few days later, adding the excite- 
ment of a little trespassing to the more legitimate 
pleasures of a country ramble, we came upon a well- 
laden group of prickly pear bushes, we could not resist 
the temptation to help ourselves to some of the fruit 
and woeful was the result. Concentrated essence of 
stinging-nettle seemed all at once to be assailing hands, 
lips, and tongue ; and our skin, wherever it had come 
in contact with the ill-natured fruit, was covered with 
a thick crop of minute, bristly hairs, apparently grow- 
ing from it, and venomous and irritating to the last 



PLANTS OF THE KARROO. 57 

degree. Our silk gloves, transformed suddenly into 
miniature robes of Nessus, had to be thrown away, 
perfectly unwearable ; and the inadvertent use of our 
pocket-handkerchiefs, before we had fully realized the 
extent of our misfortune, caused fresh agonies, in which 
nose as well as lips participated. For many a day did 
the retribution of that theft haunt us in the form of 
myriads of tiny stings. It was a long time indeed 
before we were finally rid of the last of them ; and we 
registered a vow that whatever Algerian fruit we 
might dishonestly acquire in future, it should not be 
figues de Barbaric. 

In dry weather at the Cape these spiteful little stings 
do not even wait for the newly-arrived victim ; but fly 
about, light as thistle-down, ready to settle on any one 
who has not learned by experience to give the prickly 
pear bushes a wide berth. 

The leaves of the prickly pear are good for ostriches 
and cattle, though the work of burning off the thorns 
and cutting the leaves in pieces is so tedious that it is 
only resorted to when other food becomes scarce. One 
kind, the kahlblad, or " bald leaf," has no thorns. It 
is comparatively rare, and farmers plant and cultivate 
it as carefully as they exterminate its troublesome 
relative. 

Another kind of cactus, which, if the beautiful forms 
in Nature were utilized for artistic purposes half as 
much as they deserve to be, would long since have 
been recognized as a most perfect model for a graceful 
branched candlestick, is used as food for cattle during 



58 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

long droughts, being burnt and cut up in the same 
manner as the prickly pear. When the plant is in 
flower, each branch of the candlestick seems tipped 
with a bright yellow flame. 

Another of our many eccentric-looking plants, the 
finger-poll, is also used in very dry seasons to feed 
cattle ; the men who go about the country cutting it up 
being followed by the animals, which are very fond of 
it, but which, owing to its excessive toughness, are un- 
able to bite it off. It grows close to the ground ; its 
perfect circle of thick, short fingers, rather like gigantic 
asparagus, radiating stiffly from the centre. How the 
cattle manage to eat it without serious consequences 
has always been a matter of wonder to me, for the 
whole plant is filled with a thick, white, milky juice, 
which when dry becomes like the strongest india- 
rubber. We often used this juice for mending china, 
articles of jewellery, and many things which defied 
coaguline, to which, indeed, we found it superior. 

One of our plants always reminded me of those 
French sweets, threaded on a stiff straw, which often 
form a part of the contents of a bon-bon box. The 
thick, succulent leaves, shaded green and red, with a 
frosted, sparkling surface which increases the resem- 
blance to the candied sweets, and all as exactly alike 
in shape and size as if made in one mould, are threaded 
like beads at equal distances along the stem, which 
passes through a little round hole in the very centre of 
each. They can all be taken off and threaded on again 
just as they were before. 



PLANTS OF THE KARROO. 59 

Close to the ground, and growing from a little round 
root apparently belonging to the bulbous tribe, you 
sometimes though only rarely see a tiny mass of 
soft, curling fibres, delicate and unsubstantial-looking 
as a little green cloud. Even the foliage of asparagus 
would look coarse and heavy if placed beside this really 
ethereal little plant, which yet is durable, for I have 
now with me a specimen which, though gathered five 
years ago, is still quite unchanged. 

The wild tobacco is a common indeed too common 
plant in the Karroo ; it has clusters of long, narrow, 
trumpet-shaped flowers, of a light yellow, its leaves are 
small, and it resembles the cultivated tobacco neither 
in appearance nor in usefulness. Indeed it is one of 
our worst enemies, being poisonous to ostriches, which 
of course true to their character lose no opportunity 
of eating it. We made deadly war upon it, and when- 
ever during our rides about the farm we came upon a 
clump of its blue-green bushes, we would make up a 
little bonfire at the foot of each, and burn it down to 
the ground. But it is tenacious of life, and its roots go 
down deep, so its career of evil was only cut short for a 
time. Besides which, our efforts to keep it under were 
of little avail while our neighbours, " letting things 
slide," in true colonial fashion, allowed the plants to 
run wild on their own land ; from whence the seeds 
were always liable to be washed down to us during 
" a big rain," when the deep sluits which everywhere 
intersect the country become, in a few hours, raging 
torrents, dashing along at express speed. 



60 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

Strangely enough, when T , some years ago, 

was travelling in Australia, to which country he had 
brought some ostriches from the Cape, he found that 
wild tobacco grew nowhere throughout the length and 
breadth of the land, excepting just in the very region 
in which the birds had been established. During that 
trip he also found that the " salt-bush " of Australia, 
which is there considered the best kind of food for sheep, 
is almost identical with the brack-bosch of the Cape 
Colony, the only difference being that it grows higher. 
We have also seen the same bush growing in Algeria, 
and near Marseilles. 

On the lower slopes of some of our mountains grow 
tall euphorbias, shooting up straight and stiff as if 
made of metal, and branching out in the exact form 
of the Jewish candlestick sculptured on the arch of 
Titus in Rome. Some of these euphorbias attain the 
height of forty feet quite important dimensions in 
that comparatively treeless land. They impart an air of 
melancholy and desolation to the landscape ; and look 
particularly weird and uncanny when, on a homeward 
ride, you pass through a grove of them at dusk. 

One more queer plant in conclusion of these slight 
and very unscientific reminiscences of our flora, which 
I trust may never meet the eye of any botanist. The 
kerzbosch, or candle-bush, a stunted, thorny plant, if 
lighted at one end when in the green state, will burn 
steadily just like a wax candle, and is used as a torch 
for burning off the thorns of prickly pear, etc. 



CHAPTER IV. 

OUR LITTLE HOME. 

Building operations A plucking Ugliness of Cape houses Our rooms 
Fountain in sitting-room a failure Drowned pets Decoration of 
rooms Colonist must be Jack-of- all-trades Cape waggons Shoot- 
ing expeditions Strange tale told by Boer. 

ON our first arrival in the Karroo we were unable to 
take up our abode at once on our own farm ; the best of 
the three small Dutch houses on it being little better 
than a hut, and consisting but of two small and badly- 
built rooms ; with mud floors and smoke-blackened reed 
ceilings, as far removed from the horizontal as the 
roughly-plastered walls, which bulged and retreated in 
all unexpected directions, were from the perpendicular 
the whole architecture, if so pretentious a term may 
be used, being entirely innocent of any approach to a 
straight line or correct angle. We at once commenced 
building operations ; in the meanwhile renting a little 
house which happened to be vacant on the next farm, 
about an hour's rough, but pretty ride from our own. 

Now came a busy time for T , and for his manager 

the latter already installed, uncomfortably enough, 
in the old Dutch house for besides the brick-making 

61 T 



62 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

and building, and the deepening of the well near the 
house, there was, as must always be the case on starting 
a new farm, much to be done, and everything required 

to be done at once. T spent most of his time at 

" Sway lands," as we named our farm ; and very enjoy- 
able for me were the days when I could spare a few 
hours from household duties to ride over with him, to 
watch the progress of the new rooms, or to be initiated 
into some of the mysteries of ostrich-farming, all delight- 
fully new and strange to me. 

The first sight of a plucking interested me espe- 
cially ; and it was not without a proud feeling of 
ownership that I sat on the ground in one corner of 
the kraal, or small temporary enclosure, helping to tie 
up in neat bundles our own first crop of soft, white, 
black, or grey feathers while watching the busy scene. 
It all comes back to me now with the clearness of a 
photograph the bright, cloudless, metallic-looking 
South African sky above us ; and for a background the 
long range of rocky mountains, each stain on their 
rugged sides, each aloe or spekboom plant growing on 
them, sharply defined in that clear atmosphere as if 
seen through the large end of an opera-glass. In the 
foreground a forest of long necks, and a crowd of 
foolish, frightened faces, gaping beaks, and throats all 
puffed out with air the latter ludicrous grimace, 
accompanied sometimes by a short, hollow sound, half 
grunt, half cough, being the ostrich's mode of express- 
ing deepest disgust and dejection. There is a constant 
heavy stamping of powerful two-toed feet; an occa- 



OUR LITTLE HOME. 63 

sional difference of opinion between two quarrelsome 
birds eager to fight, craning their snake-like necks, 
hissing savagely, and " lifting up themselves on high," 
but unable, owing to the closeness with which they 
are packed, to do each other any injury ; and the real 
or fancied approach of a dog causes a sudden panic 
and general stampede of the silly birds into one corner 
of the kraal, threatening to break down its not very 
substantial hedge of dry bush one commotion scarcely 
having time to subside before another arises. 

And through it all, T , Mr. B , and our Kaffirs 

are calmly going in and out among the struggling 
throng ; all hard at work, the two former steadily and 
methodically operating with their shears on each bird 
as in its turn it is tugged along, like a victim to the 
sacrifice, by three men ; two holding its wings, and the 
third dragging at its long neck till one fears that with 
all its kicks, plunges, tumbles, and sudden wild leaps 
into the air, its flat, brainless little head will be pulled 
off*. One extra-refractory bird, when finally subdued, 
and helpless in the hands of the pluckers, avenges his 
wrongs upon the ostrich standing nearest to him in the 
crowd ; and, for every feather pulled from his own 
tail, gives a savage nip to the head of his unoffending 
neighbour, a mild bird, who does not retaliate, but 
looks puzzled, his own turn not yet having come. It is 
amusing to watch the rapid retreat of each .poor 
denuded creature when set free from his tormentors. 
He goes out at the gate looking crestfallen indeed, but 
apparently much relieved to find himself still alive. 



64 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

How we enjoyed that day ! and how delightful was 
our ride back to " Hume Cottage " in the evening, 
with the proceeds of the plucking tied up in two large 
white bags, and fastened to our saddles ; making us 
look as if we were taking our clothes to the wash. 
My bundle, by the way, came to grief en route, and 
suddenly somewhat to the discomposure of my 
horse we found ourselves enveloped in a soft snow- 
storm of feathers, which went flying and whirling 
merrily away across the veldt; many of them, in 
spite of our prompt dismounting to rush madly hither 
and thither in pursuit, quite evading all our efforts 
to catch them. 

The modern houses on Cape farms are all built 
entirely on utilitarian principles, with no thought of 
grace or beauty ; indeed, the square and prosaic pro- 
portions of the ordinary packing-case seem to have 
been chosen as the model in the construction of nearly 
every room. Even if the inmates had any idea of 
comfort, or feeling for the picturesque of both of 
which they are quite innocent it would be impossible 
ever to make such rooms look either home-like or 
pretty. As it is, they are most often like very un- 
comfortable schoolrooms. 

Our first plan on coming to South Africa was the 
ambitious one of setting our fellow-colonists a brilliant 
example by striking out something entirely new in 
farm architecture ; and many times during our stay at 
Walmer would we talk over the white Algerian house, 
with the comfort and loveliness of which our ostrich- 



OUR LITTLE HOME. 65 

farm, wherever it might be, was to be transformed into 

a little oasis in the desert. T covered many sheets 

of writing-paper with designs for the horse-shoe arches ; 
and with neatly-drawn plans for the long, cool Oriental 
rooms, surrounding the square open court ; in the centre 
of which was to be a fountain with bananas, ferns, blue 
lotus, and other water-loving plants. 

Alas ! however ; when we did take a farm, we found 
ourselves obliged after all to sacrifice beauty to useful- 
ness, just like our neighbours. The unlovely Dutch 
house, incapable as it was of adapting itself to Moorish 
arches, had to be utilized ; the press of other work 
allowing us no time for pulling down and re-building, 
neither for indulging in any artistic vagaries ; and the 
two first rooms which to meet immediate require- 
ments were added as soon as bricks could be made for 
them, were, for greater haste, built straight and square, 
in the true packing-case style. They were the same 
size as the two old Dutch rooms ; flat-roofed like them, 
and built on to them in a straight line the four, each 
with its alternate door and window, reminding us of the 
rows of little temporary rooms which form the dwellings 
of railway workmen when a new line is being made, 
and which are moved on as the work progresses. 

After this unpromising beginning, it is needless to 
say that our idea of building an Algerian house was 
given up ; and though in time we improved the out- 
ward appearance of our dwelling; breaking the straight- 
ness of its outlines by the addition of a pretty little 
sitting-room projecting from the front, and of a large 



66 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

bedroom and store at the back ; and plastering and 
whitewashing the dirty old bricks and the too-clean 
new ones ; nothing can ever make it anything but an 
ugly house as far as the outside is concerned. With the 
interior, however, we have been more successful ; and 
our sitting-room, now consisting of a T-shaped arrange- 
ment of three small rooms thrown into one, is really 
considering the roughness of the materials with which 
we started a very bright and cosy little nook. It is 
most quaint and irregular, for one end of it is a room 
of the crookedly-built Dutch house ; and when the 
strong old wall, three feet thick, dividing the latter 
from the new part, was knocked away, the old ceiling 
and floor turned out to be considerably lower than the 
new. We dignify the deep step thus formed by the 
name of " the dais." 

The latest-added portion of the room built from 

T 's own design is the prettiest of all ; and the bow 

window at the end, always filled with banana-plants, 
ferns, creepers, garden and wild flowers, forms quite 
a little conservatory. Though disappointed of our 
Moorish court, we could not give up the idea of our 
fountain without a struggle, and attempted to establish 
it on a very small scale in this little room ; in the cement 
floor of which, not far from the bow window, we made 
a round basin some four feet deep, which we filled with 
water. Then we wrote to Walmer for some roots of 
our favourite blue lotus ; with which, and with the 
arums' white cups, the surface of the water was to be 
studded ; and by-and-by we thought as soon as the 



OUR LITTLE HOME. 67 

completion of more necessary operations should allow 
leisure for ornamental work, how delightful it would 
be, on coming in out of the dust and the heat, to hear 
the sweet, refreshing sound of falling water ; and to see 
the bright drops splashing on the border of maidenhair 
fern which was to surround the tiny basin. 

But, after all, our anticipations were never realized ; 
for we soon saw that it would be necessary to choose 
between our fountain and our pet animals so numer- 
ous among the latter were cases of " Found Drowned." 
Our meerkats, in their irrepressible liveliness, were 
always tumbling in ; and, being unable to climb up the 
straight sides, would swim round and round calling 
loudly for assistance ; but we were not always at hand 
to play the part of Humane Society, and the losses were 
many, including saddest of all that of a too-inquisi- 
tive young ostrich. 

Thousands of gnats, too, as noisy and nearly as 
venomous as mosquitoes, were brought into existence ; 
and, romantic as was the idea of water-plants growing 
in our little room, it had to be given up ; and we con- 
tented ourselves with seeing our blue lotus in the form 
of a dado, on which we stencilled and painted them 
ourselves in the true Egyptian conventional style, on 
alternate long and short stalks. We bordered the fire- 
place, and decorated the tops of the doors, with a few 
good old tiles from Damascus, Tunis, Algiers, and 
the Alhambra ; three beautiful hand-painted sarongs, 

brought by T from Java, formed each as perfect 

and artistic a portiere as .could be wished, and hid the 




68 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

ugly, ill-made doors ; and with Turkish rugs, Oriental 
embroideries of all kinds, Moorish and Kabyle pottery, 
Algerian coffee-tables and brackets, ancient Egyptian 
curiosities, and other trophies of travel, we produced a 
general effect which especially in South Africa was 
not to be despised. 

I have conceitedly said " we," as if I had had a great 

share in the work, but it was in reality T who did 

it all, and to whose artistic taste the prettiness of our 
little home is entirely due. The capacity, too, for 
turning his hand to anything, which makes him so 
perfect a colonist, was invaluable to us on that out-of- 
the-way farm ; for, there being, after the departure of 
the itinerant workmen who built our rooms, no paint- 
ers, glaziers, masons, carpenters, or other such useful 
people anywhere nearer than Graaff-Keinet four hours 
by rail from Klipplaat all the repairs and improve- 
ments of the house devolved on him. One day he 
would be putting new panes of glass in the windows 
the next, bringing a refractory lock into proper work- 
ing order, or making and putting up bookshelves 
then, perhaps, a defective portion of the roof would 
claim his attention, or he would enter on a long and 
persevering conflict with a smoky chimney. One of 
the latter, indeed, carelessly run up by our ignorant 

builder, was not cured until T had taken it all 

down and built it over again ; since which its behaviour 
has been blameless. 

N.B. When a chimney wants sweeping in the 
Karroo, the usual mode of procedure is to send a fowl 
down it. 



OUR LITTLE HOME. 69 

Our furniture, most of which was of that best kind of 
all for a hot climate, the Austrian bent wood, arrived 
in very good condition ; and in spite of the rough roads 
along which the waggon had to bring it from Klip- 
plaat, hardly anything was damaged. 

These Cape waggons, clumsy as they look, are 
splendidly adapted to the abrupt ups and downs of the 
country over which they travel. They are very long ; 
and are made in such a way that, instead of jolting and 
jumping up and down as an English waggon, under 
the trying circumstances of a journey in South Africa, 
would certainly consider itself justified in doing, they 
turn and bend about in quite a snake-like manner, 
and the motion, even on the roughest road, is never 
unpleasant. They are usually drawn by a span of 
sixteen or eighteen oxen, sometimes by mules ; and very 
noisily they go along ; night their favourite travel- 
ling-time in hot weather being made truly hideous 
while a caravan of some four or five of them is coming 
slowly on, with wheels creaking and groaning in all 
possible discordant notes, and the Hottentot drivers and 
voorloopers boys who run in front cracking their 
long hide whips, and urging on their animals with more 
fiendish sounds than ever issued even from Neapolitan 
throats. One has to get accustomed to the noise ; but, 
apart from this drawback, the waggons are most com- 
fortable for travelling. They are large and spacious, 
and roofed in by firmly-made tents which afford com- 
plete protection from sun and rain ; and for night 
journeys no Pullman car ever offered more luxurious 



70 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

sleeping accommodation than does the /cartel, a large, 
strong framework of wood, as wide as a double-bed, 
suspended inside the tent of the waggon. Across this 
framework are stretched narrow, interlacing strips of 
hide ; mattresses and rugs are placed on it, and no 
more comfortable bed could be desired. The goods are 
all stowed underneath the kartel, in the bottom of the 
waggon. 

People often make shooting expeditions to the in- 
terior, travelling in waggons and sometimes remaining 

away a year at a time. T has taken several 

iourneys of this kind, and speaks of it as a most enjoy- 
able life. You take a horse or two and a couple of 
pointers ; you get plenty of shooting during the day ; 
and come back to the waggon in the evening to find a 
bright fire burning near, and dinner being prepared 
by the servants. The latter camp at night under the 
waggon. The average distance travelled is twenty-five 
miles a day. There is no need to take provisions for 
the cattle, as they are always able to graze on the way ; 
tracts of land, called public outspans, being set apart 
by Government at convenient distances along the road 
as halting-places for waggons. 

A Boer once told T a strange story of how 

during one of the numerous wars with the natives he, 
his wife, and children were travelling at night, when 
suddenly, without any apparent cause, the waggon 
came to a standstill ; the oxen, though beaten hard and 
pulling with all their might, being unable to move it, 
although the road at that place was perfectly level. 



OUR LITTLE HOME. 71 

After some delay, the cattle were just as suddenly again 
able to move the waggon without difficulty ; and the 
Boer and his family proceeded on their way. They 
found afterwards that, by this strange interruption to 
their journey, they had been prevented from encounter- 
ing an armed party of hostile natives, who just at that 
time were crossing their road some distance in front of 
them. 



CHAPTER V. 

CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 

Cape Colony much abused Healthy climate Wonderful cures of con- 
sumption Karroo a good place for sanatorium Rarity of illness 
and accidents The young colonist An independent infant Long 
droughts Hot winds Dust storms Dams Advantage of possess- 
ing good wells Partiality of thunderstorms Delights of a brack 
roof Washed out of bed After the rain Our horses Effects of 
rain indoors Opslaag The Cape winter What to wear on Karroo 
farms. 

OF all portions of the globe, surely none has ever been 
so much grumbled at, abused, and despised, both justly 
and unjustly, as the poor Cape Colony. Hardly any 
one who has lived under its cloudless skies has a kind 
word to say for it ; indeed, it is quite the usual thing 
to speak of one's residence in it as of an enforced and 
miserable exile a kind of penal servitude though, 
strangely enough, most of those who go so rejoicingly 
home to England, like boys released from school, 
manage sooner or later to find their way out again ; 
as though impelled by a touch of some such magic as 
that which is supposed to draw back to the Eternal 
City those who have once drunk at the Trevi fountain. 
One of the legion of grumblers tells you the Cape 

72 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 73 

Colony is the worst-governed country in the world, 
which indeed with the exception, perhaps, of Turkey 
and Morocco it undoubtedly is; the grievance of 
another is that the country in general, and ostrich- 
farming in particular, is played out, that no more for- 
tunes are to be made, and that life on the farms offers 
nothing to compensate sufficiently for the numerous 
discomforts and privations which have to be endured ; 
the heavy import duties and consequent ruinous prices 
of all the necessaries of life, with the exception of meat, 
depriving the colonist of even that small consolation of 
knowing that, though uncomfortable, he is at least 
economizing. Sybarites accustomed to home comforts 
make constant comparisons between English and colonial 
houses, greatly to the disparagement of the latter; 
epicures complain bitterly of the wearying sameness of 
the food, resenting most deeply the perpetual recurrence 
on the table, morning, noon, and night, of the ubiquitous 
though delicious Angora goat ; while ladies are eloquent 
on the never-ending topics of the bad servants cer- 
tainly the worst that can be found anywhere the 
difficulties of housekeeping, the rough roads, the incon- 
venient distance from everywhere, the trouble and 
delay of getting provisions, etc., sent up to the farms, 
and, saddest of all, the want of society and the intoler- 
able dulness. In fact, the general opinion seems to be 
that of Mrs. Jelly by 's daughter, that "Africa is a 
Beast ! " You hear so much grumbling, see such bored, 
dissatisfied faces, and are treated to so many gloomy 
and desponding views of colonial life, that it is quite a 



74 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

refreshing contrast when you chance to meet an 
American who is contemptuously jocular on the subject 
of the ugly scenery, eccentric plants, queer beasts, and 
general all-pervading look of incompleteness, and who 
guesses " South Africa was finished off in a hurry late 
on Saturday night, with a few diamonds thrown in to 
compensate." 

Even the climate comes in for its share of abuse : its 
long droughts, its hot winds, its incessant sunshine as 
if you could have too much of that ! and its general 
dissimilarity to the climate of England for which 
surely it ought to be commended, all are added to the 
long list of complaints against a land which seems, 
like the much-abused donkey, to have no friends. And 
yet that climate, with all its drawbacks and discomforts, 
is the healthiest in the world ; and most especially is 
the Karroo district the place of all others for invalids 
suffering from chest complaints. No one need die of 
consumption, however advanced a stage his disease may 
have attained, if he can but reach the Cape Colony and 
proceed at once inland. He must not stay near the 
coast ; it would be as well indeed better for him to 
have remained in England to die among friends ; for in 
the moist neighbourhood of the sea the disease cannot 
be cured, its progress is simply retarded for a while. 
But a railway journey of only a few hours lands the 
patient in the very heart of the Karroo ; and once in 
its dry atmosphere, he may hope nay expect not 
a mere prolongation for a few months of such a life as 
one too often sees sadly ebbing away in Mediterranean 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 75 

winter resorts, but a return to health and strength. 

Among our Cape acquaintances are some whom T 

knew when, years ago, they landed in the Colony 
given up by their doctors at home, and so near the last 
stage of consumption that on arriving they could not 
walk on shore, but had to be carried from the vessel 
and who are now as strong and well as any of their 
neighbours. Indeed, on rny introduction to more than 
one of these stout and hearty colonists, I have found 
it quite impossible to realize that they, at any time, 
could have been consumptive invalids ! Unfortunately, 
too many presume on the completeness of their cure ; 
and, instead of resigning themselves to settling and 
finding permanent occupation in the colony, as all whose 
lungs have once been seriously affected ought to do, 
return to England; and, having grown reckless with 
long residence in a land where "nothing gives you 
cold," soon fall victims to their treacherous native 
climate ; the first exposure to its damp chilliness 
generally bringing back in full force the foe from whose 
attacks they would always have been safe, had they 
not left the dry Karroo's protection. 

It is a pity European doctors do not know more 
about this wonderful climate for consumptive patients ; 
and also that so few inducements are held out for the 
latter to settle in the country. What a splendid plan 
it would be, and how many valuable lives might be 
saved, if some clever medical man himself perhaps 
just enough of an invalid to prefer living out of England 
were to take a large farm in the Karroo, and " run " 



76 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

it as a sanatorium. This could be done without the 
expenditure of any very large amount of capital, as 
land can be rented from Government at the rate of a 
very moderate sum per annum. It would be necessary 
to choose a farm possessing a good fountain ; thus a 
constant supply of vegetables could be kept up, and 
herds of cattle, flocks of sheep and Angoras, and plenty 
of fowls, turkeys, etc., be maintained to provide the 
establishment with meat, milk, butter, and eggs 
rendering it to a great extent self-supporting. The 
young men could occupy themselves in superintending 
the farming operations, and thus would not only have 
plenty to do, but would at the same time be gaining 
health. A good troop of horses would of course be kept, 
so that patients might have as much riding and driving 
as they wished ; there would be some shooting, as there 
are partridges, several birds of the bustard tribe, and a 
few antelopes ; and with a house whose interior pre- 
sented the comforts of a refined home, with prettily- 
furnished rooms, and with a good supply of books, 
papers, and magazines, life in that bright, sunny land 
might be made pleasant enough. The healthiness of 
the country is greatly owing, not only to its dryness, 
but also to the fact of its being a table-land, one thou- 
sand feet above the sea ; thus the nights are always 
cool, and one is generally glad of two blankets, even 
in summer. 

Nor is consumption the only enemy who has to 
retreat powerless before the Karroo's health-giving 
atmosphere ; many other illnesses seem equally unable 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 77 

to obtain a footing in that perfect climate. T , for 

instance, who from childhood had been subject to severe 
attacks of asthma, was completely cured by his residence 
on the ostrich farms; and a troublesome remittent fever, 
caught in the West Indies, from which I had suffered, 
off and on, during seven years, left me entirely from the 
time we went to live at Swaylands. There seems, indeed, 
to be much of truth in the boastful assertion one so often 
hears, " No one is ever ill here ! " and the wonder is, 
not that doctors are so sparsely distributed through- 
out the Karroo, but that they ever think it worth 
while to settle there at all. People live quite con- 
tentedly two or more days' drive from the nearest 
doctor medical help from Port Elizabeth being 
equally, if not more, inaccessible, owing to the fact 
that the train does not run every day and from year's 
end to year's end they not only are never ill, but seem 
also quite exempt from the usual accidents which in 
other parts of the world are apt to befall humanity. 
They go out shooting, and their horses buck them off 
a trifling, everyday event which is taken as a matter 
of course ; they gallop recklessly across the veldt, over 
ground so full of treacherous holes that a horse is 
liable at any moment to get a sudden and ugly fall 
indeed, he often does, but the colonist always rises 
unhurt ; they drive home late at night along the 
roughest of roads, at a furious pace often after im- 
bibing far more than is usually conducive to safety 
and their Cape carts or American spiders very naturally 
tumble into shuts, run into wire fences, perform somer- 

F 



78 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

saults down steep banks, and go through other startling 
acrobatic feats, all with perfect impunity to the occu- 
pants. No legs, arms, or ribs, to say nothing of necks, 
are ever broken. 

And when the young colonist makes his first appear- 
ance on this world's stage, his advent is not made the 
occasion for any undue display of fuss or anxiety. It 
is not thought worth while to summon the doctor from 
his distant abode ; some old Dutch or Hottentot 
woman, who has been a grandmother so often that 
her experience is large, is called in, and all goes well. 
The young colonist himself is invariably a flourishing 
specimen of humanity ; the childish ailments to which 
so many of his less robust European contemporaries 
succumb, cause him no trouble, and, if indeed they 
attack him at all, he weathers them triumphantly. 
He thrives in the pure fresh air, revels in the healthy 
out-door life, eats, of course, to an enormous and 
alarming extent, and grows up a young giant. He 
enjoys the same immunity from accident as his elders, 
passing safely through even more " hair - breadth 
'scapes " than they ; his sturdy, independent spirit 
makes him equal to any emergency, and enables him, 
in whatever circumstances of difficulty or danger he 
may be placed, to take very good care of himself. 

On the farm next to ours a tiny boy of three, while 
playing with the windlass of a deep well, and hanging 
on to the rope, suddenly let himself down with a run 
into the water. He was not much disconcerted, how- 
ever ; but, with wonderful presence of mind for such 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 79 

a baby, managed to get his feet firmly on the bucket, 
and finding the length of the rope just, though only 
just, allowed his mouth to come above the surface, 
remained immovable, roaring steadily and lustily till 
assistance came. 

The long droughts are certainly very trying ; indeed 
they could not possibly be endured by any country 
less wonderfully fertile than South Africa, where it 
is calculated that three good days' rain in the year, 
could we but have this regularly, would be sufficient 
to meet all the needs of the land But often, for more 
than a year, there will be no rain worth mentioning ; 
the dams, or large artificial reservoirs, of which each 
farm usually possesses several, gradually become dry ; 
and the veldt daily loses more of its verdure, till at 
last all is one dull, ugly brown, and the whole plain 
lies parched and burnt up under a sky from which 
every atom of moisture seems to have departed a 
hard, grey, metallic sky, as different as possible from 
the rich, deep-blue canopy which, far away to the 
north, spreads over lovely Algeria. The stock, with 
the pathetic tameness of thirst, come from all parts of 
the farm to congregate close round the house ; the 
inquiring ostriches tapping with their bills on the 
windows as they look in at you, and the cattle lowing 
in piteous appeal for water ; and you realize very 
vividly the force of such Scriptural expressions as, 
" the heaven was shut up," or, " a dry and thirsty land 
where no water is." 

Then the hot winds sweep across the country, 



8o HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

making everybody tired, languid, head-achy and cross. 
Indeed, excessive irritability seems to be the general 
result of hot winds in all parts of the world ; in Egypt, 
for instance, there is never so much crime among the 
natives as while the khamseen is blowing ; every out- 
break of the Arabs in Algiers invariably occurs during 
an extra bad sirocco ; and in a Spanish family I knew 
in Havana there obtained a very sensible rule, unani- 
mously adopted to avoid collisions of temper, i.e., on the 
days of an especially venomous hot wind peculiar to 
Cuba an unbroken silence was maintained ; no member 
of the family, on any pretence whatever, speaking to 
another. Even our pets were sulky on a hot wind day ; 
and as for the ostriches, they were deplorable objects 
indeed as they stood gasping for breath, with pendent 
wings, open bills, and inflated throats, the pictures of 
imbecile dejection. In fact, everything human, four- 
footed, and feathered, in the whole Karroo, was as 
thoroughly unhappy as it could well be ; with the sole 
exception of myself. My spirits, instead of falling 
below zero, would always rise in proportion as the sur- 
rounding air became more, like the breath of a furnace ; 
this was not owing, as may perhaps be supposed, to the 
possession of so rare a sweetness of temper as to render 
me happy under even the most adverse circumstances, 
but simply to a real and intense enjoyment of that 

weather which everyone else hated. While T , 

closing every door and window as tightly as possible 
(which, however, is not saying much), would retire to 
his bath, there to spend a couple of hours in company 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 81 

with books, papers, and numberless lemon-squashes, if 
lemons happened to be attainable ; I would carry my 
chair outside, and, as I darned socks or repaired the 
latest trap-doors torn in our garments by the thorns, 
would revel in my bath of hot, dry air. 

The dust which the hot wind brings with it is, how- 
ever, a nuisance. There is more than enough dust at 
the best of times ; and the difficulties already consider- 
able of keeping a Karroo house neat and clean, are not 
lessened by the fact that, ten minutes after a careful 
progress round the room with that most perfect of 
dusters, a bunch of ostrich-feathers, you can distinctly 
sign your name with your finger on the little black 
writing-table, or make a drawing on the piano. But in 
a good hot wind you have far more than this average, 
everyday amount of " matter in the wrong place," and 
you eat and breathe dust. 

Sometimes the wind carries the dust high up into the 
air, in straight, solid-looking columns rising from the 
ground just as a water-spout rises from the sea. An 
artist wishing to depict the pillar of the cloud going 
before the Israelites might well take the form of one of 
them as a model. Occasionally you see two or three of 
these columns wandering about the veldt in different 
directions ; and woe betide the imperfectly-built house, 
or tall wind-mill pump, which has the ill-luck to stand 
in the path of one of these erratic visitants ! We, alas ! 
can speak from experience, our own " Stover " mill 
having been chosen as a victim and whirled aloft to its 
destruction ! T , while at Kimberley, in the early 



82 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FA RM. 

days of the diamond-fields, has often seen these dusty 
whirlwinds going about the camp, passing between the 
long rows of tents as if hesitating for a time which to 
attack ; then suddenly " going for " one of them, causing 
instantaneous collapse and confusion. 

Every Karroo house has a dam near it, and on a large 
farm there are generally three or four more of these 
reservoirs in different parts of the land. The selection 
of a suitable site for a dam requires some experience. 
An embankment is thrown up across a valley, where 
from the rising ground on either side the water is 
collected. The ground must be " brack," a peculiar 
kind of soil which, though loose and friable, is not 
porous. This brack is often used to cover the flat roofs 
of the houses ; but unless it is well sifted and laid on 
thickly, dependence cannot always be placed on it, as 
we have several times found to our cost. Rows of 
willows or mimosas are generally planted along the 
banks of the dams ; and though the moisture which is 
sucked up by their thirsty roots can ill be afforded, yet, 
in that most treeless of lands, their bright, fresh green 
is of immense value ; and the poor ugly houses, standing 
so forlornly on the bare veldt, with but the narrowest 
and scantiest of gardens if any between them and 
the surrounding desert, seem redeemed from utter 
dreariness and desolation, and some slight look of home 
and of refinement is imparted by the dam's semicircle 
of trees. A good-sized dam is sometimes half a mile 
broad, and, when just filled after a good thunder- 
shower, is quite an imposing sheet of water. Occasion- 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 83 

ally, in very heavy thunder-storms, the glorious supplies 
pour in too lavishly ; the embankment, unable to resist 
the pressure, gives way ; and the disappointed farmer, 
who has ridden up in the hope of feasting his eyes on 
watery wealth, beholds his treasure flowing uselessly 
and aimlessly away across the veldt. 

Then, too, even the noblest of dams must dry up in 
a long drought ; and that landowner is wise who does 
not depend solely on this form of water-supply, but 
who takes the precaution of sinking one or more good 
wells. This is expensive work especially when, as in 
our case, the hard rock has to be blown away by dyna- 
mite ; a party of navvies, encamped on the farm for 
weeks, progressing but slowly and laboriously at the 
rate of about one foot per day, for which the payment 
is 5 a foot ; but the advantage is seen during the pro- 
tracted droughts. Then, on farms which only possess 
dams, the ostriches and other stock are seen lying dead 
in all directions, a most melancholy sight. Where there 
is a well, however, the animals can always be kept 
alive. The water may go down rather low, and the 
supply doled out to the thirsty creatures may not be 
very plentiful ; but with careful management no stock 
need be lost during the longest of droughts. But, even 
with our good well, we found it necessary to be very 
economical ; and the few small eucalypti and other 
trees which, with great difficulty, we kept alive near 
the house, have often for weeks together been obliged 
to content themselves with the soapy water from the 
baths ; while our poor little patch of kitchen-garden 



84 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

has more than once had to be sacrificed and allowed to 
dry up the water necessary for its irrigation being 
more than we could venture to spare. 

In some parts of the country the inhabitants are 
occasionally in terrible straits for want of water ; and 
during one severe drought some passing strangers, who 
rested a few hours at our house, told us a horrid story 
of how, at one of the " cantines " (combinations of inn 
and general store) along their road, they had asked for 
water to wash their hands, and a scanty supply was 
brought, with the request that no soap might be used, 
that same water being ultimately destined to make the 
tea ! It sounds incredible, but I fear it is more likely 
to be truth than fiction, for the Dutch at the Cape are 
dirty enough for anything. 

The partiality of the thunder-storms is surprising ; 
sometimes one farm will have all its dams filled, while 
another near it does not get a drop of rain. Often, 
during a whole season, the thunder-clouds will follow 
the same course ; one unlucky place being repeatedly 
left out. Swaylands was once for months passed over 
in this manner ; our neighbours on both sides having 
an abundance of water, while we, like the unhappy 
little pig of nursery fame, " had none," and found it 
difficult to restrain envy, hatred, and malice. 

Then, too, the clouds have such a deceitful and 
tantalizing way of collecting in magnificent masses, 
and coming rolling grandly up as if they really meant 
business at last only to disperse quietly in a few 
hours, disappointing all the hopes they have raised. 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 85 

Again and again you are deluded into believing the 
long, weary drought is indeed nearing its end ; you feel 
so sure there is a tremendous rain just at hand, that 
you prepare for action, and, doubting the trust- 
worthiness of those portions of the roof covered with 
brack, are careful to remove from beneath them every- 
thing liable to be spoilt by wet ; then, having set your 
house in order, you wait eagerly to hear the first 
pattering of the longed-for drops. They do not come, 
however ; it all ends in nothing, and soon every cloud 
is gone, and the sun blazes out once more in pitiless 
splendour. 

Then at last, after " Wolf ! " has been cried so often 
that you are off your guard, and obstinately refusing 
to be taken in by the promising bank of clouds you 
noticed in the evening have gone off to bed, expecting 
your waking eyes to rest only on the usual hard, hot, 
grey-blue sky suddenly, in the middle of the night, 
you are aroused by a deafening noise, and your first 
confused, half-dreaming thought is that somehow or 
other you have got underneath the Falls of Niagara 
house and all. Then a blue flash wakes you quite up, 
a terrific roar of thunder shakes the house, and you 
realize that what for months you have been so longing 
for has come at last ! But there are penalties to be paid 
for it ; and an ominous sound of trickling strikes your 
ear. Your bedroom unfortunately has a brack roof; 
and through the defective places in the latter, which 
every moment become larger and more numerous, 
streams of water are pouring in, till at last the room 



86 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

seems to be one large shower-bath. You think with 
horror of the books, writing-case, photographs, lace- 
trimmed hat, work-basket, boots, etc., all left in various 
exposed positions about the room, and most frightful 
thought of all of the coats and dresses hanging on the 
row of pegs in that corner where, to judge by the sound, 
the most substantial of all the cataracts seems to be 
descending ; and you feel that you must learn at once 
the extent of your misfortune, and rescue what you can. 
You try to light a candle ; but a well-directed jet of 
water has been steadily playing straight down into the 
candlestick, and a vicious sputter is the only response 
to your efforts. You are still struggling with the candle; 
trying to wipe it dry, using persuasive language to it, 
and as far from getting a light as ever; when your 
breath is suddenly taken away by a stream of ice-cold 
water pouring over your back, and you find that you 
have shipped as fine a " sea " as ever dashed through an 
incautiously-opened port. The flat roof, which has been 
collecting water till it has become like a tank, has given 
way under the pressure, and a wide crack has opened 
just above your head. Of course you are wet through, 
so is the bed on which you are sitting ; and you make 
a prompt descent from the latter, only to find the floor 
one vast, shallow bath, in which your slippers are 
floating. 

And now, as you grope about, hurriedly collecting 
the more perishable articles, and flinging them into the 
safety of the next room which has a corrugated iron 
roof you hear a dull roar ; far off at first, but advancing 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 87 

nearer and nearer ; till at last a grand volume of sound 
thunders past, and a broad, tossing river, impetuous as 
any mountain torrent, is suddenly at your very gates. 
It is the sluit coming down ; filling, and perhaps widely 
overflowing, its deep channel, which, straight and steep 
as a railway cutting, has stood dry so long. In all 
directions these sluits are now careering over the 
country ; and though occasionally their wild rush does 
some mischief, such as washing away ostriches' nests, 
drowning stock, or carrying into a dam such an accu- 
mulation of soil as to fill it up and render it useless 
still, on the whole, the sluit is a most beneficent friend 
to the farmer. And now, at the first welcome sound 
of that friend's approach, you hear overhead the loud 
congratulations of the gentlemen, who, attired in ulsters, 
are hard at work on the roof, whither they have 
hastily scrambled to lessen as far as possible the deluge 
within. " This is worth 200 to us ! " you hear in 
triumphant tones. "We're all right now for six 
months ! " Then less joyfully comes a query as to 
how the great dam in the upper camp, which on a 
former sad occasion has " gone," will stand this time ; 
but the general opinion is that, with the considerable 
strengthening it has since received, it will weather the 
storm ; and in the meanwhile souls must be possessed 
in patience till the morning. And still the rain keeps 
on, steadily and noisily; and with all the discom- 
fort, and with all the mischief it has wrought indoors, 
how thankful one is for it ! And how one's heart is 
gladdened by that " sound of abundance of rain," and 



88 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

" voice of many waters ! " It means everything to the 
farmer ; the long drought over at last, the dams full, 
the parched country revived, the poor thin cattle no 
longer in danger of starvation ; healthier ostriches, a 
better quality of feathers, a near prospect of nests, and 
in fact the removal of a load of cares and anxieties. 

How early we are all astir on the morning after a 
big rain ! and with what eager excitement we look 
out, in the first gleam of daylight, for that most wel- 
come sight, the newly-filled dam ! A wonderful trans- 
formation has indeed been worked in the appearance 
of things since last night. That unsightly dry bed of 
light- coloured soil, baked by the hot sun to the hard- 
ness of pottery, and broken up by a thousand inter- 
secting deep cracks and fissures, which has so long 
been the ugliest feature among all our unpicturesque 
surroundings, offends the eye no more ; and in its 
place there now lies in the early morning light a 
beautiful broad sheet of water, into which the yellow 
sluit, a miniature Niagara Rapids, is still lavishly 
pouring its wealth not for many hours indeed will 
the impetuous course of this and numerous other sluits, 
large and small, begin gradually to subside. Every- 
where the water is standing in immense pools and 
ponds ; how to feed one unlucky pair of breeding-birds 
my special charges in a low-lying camp on the 
other side of the sluit is a problem which for the 
present I do not attempt to solve ; indeed, to walk a 
yard from the door, even in the thickest of boots and 
shabbiest of garments, requires some courage, for it is 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 89 

anything but an easy matter to keep your feet, and it' 
you fell, you would go into a perfect bath of mud. In 
some places lie accumulations of hailstones (accounting 
for the icy coldness of that impromptu shower-bath), 
and, though partially melted, some of them are still of 
the size of hazel nuts. The rain is over ; and the 
friendly clouds to which we owe so much are already 
far off, and lie in white, round, solid-looking masses 
along the horizon. The sky, as if softened by its 
tempest of passion, seems of a bluer and more tender 
tint than it has been for a long time, and all nature 
appears full of joy and thanksgiving. From all sides 
you hear the loud chorus of myriads of rejoicing frogs, 
all croaking congratulations to each other, and all 
talking at once ; they seem to have sprung suddenly 
into existence since last night, and their noise, discord- 
ant as it is, is not unwelcome after the long silence of 
the drought. 

Toto, the instant he catches sight of the water, 
rushes out of the house, gallops wildly down to the 
dam, and plunges in, to swim round and round and 
round, barking with delight. He seems as if he could 
not have enough of the water ; for when, after a long 
time, he has come out, and is on his way back to us, 
he suddenly changes his mind, and dashes back for 
another bathe. Then he seems to lose his head alto- 
gether, and vents his wild spirits in a sort of frenzied 
war-dance along the banks of the dam ; seriously up- 
setting the composure, as well as the dignity, of the 
crow Bobby, a bird of neat and cleanly habits, who, 



go HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

long debarred from any more satisfactory bath than a 
washing-basin, has walked down, with the air of an 
explorer, to this new lake he has just discovered; and 
is croaking softly and contentedly to himself as he 
splashes the bright drops again and again over his 
dusty black plumage. He does not like Toto ; indeed, 
there is a mutual jealousy between these two favoured 
pets of ours, and they are always rather glad of an 
excuse for a good row, such as now ensues. 

When the commotion has subsided, and Toto is at a 
safe distance from the dam, a troop of ostriches come 
down to drink. They are no doubt delighted to find 
such an abundant supply of water, after the somewhat 
scanty allowance which has been portioned out to them 
of late ; and they stand greedily scooping up large 
quantities with their broad bills ; then assuming comical 
attitudes as they stretch out their distended necks to 
allow the fluid to run down. In the distance, about a 
dozen other ostriches are spreading their white wings 
and waltzing along magnificently a pretty way of 
expressing their satisfaction at this new and delightful 
change in their circumstances. But it is sometimes ail 
expensive amusement ; and we feel relieved when all 
have settled down, with unbroken legs, into a more 
sober mood. 

The fowls alone do not participate in the general 
rejoicing ; their house was even less water-tight than 
our room, and they all seem to have caught cold, and 
look draggled and miserable. Two poor sitting-hens 
have been washed out of their nests in the kraal hedge ; 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 91 

their eggs are under water, and they wander about 
clucking despondently. By-and-by they will all be 
happier, when the waters have subsided a little, and 
they can pick succulent insects out of the softened 
ground ; but in the meanwhile they show plainly that 
they do not see the good of living in a half -drowned 
world. 

And here come two of the horses, with " Septem- 
ber,"* one of our Kaffir herds, who has been out on the 
veldt to find and catch them. Like most of the other 
colonists, we have no stables, and when our animals 
have done their day's work, we let them go, unless an 
early start has to be made in the morning ; then, as 
they sometimes go long distances, and are not to be 
caught in a hurry, those that will be wanted are kept 
in the kraal over-night. During severe droughts the 
horses are fed at the house ; but when there is plenty 
of vegetation on the veldt, they pick up a living for 
themselves. They do not get very fat, nor are they 
handsome to look at ; and if an English coachman could 
see their bony frames and rough, ungroomed coats, he 
would no doubt be filled with the profoundest con- 
tempt. Yet, with all their uncouth appearance, they 
are far more serviceable than his fat, sleek, overfed 
animals. They can travel much longer distances ; they 
do not have such frequent colds and other ailments 
lameness especially is quite unknown among them 
and their services are always at the command of their 
master, of any of his friends and acquaintances, or 
* Many of the negroes on Cape farms are named after the months. 



92 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

even of perfect strangers who may happen to require a 
mount or a lift. For the colonist is as hospitable with 
his horses and his vehicles as he is with everything else 
that he possesses ; and the arrival of an invited guest 
in a hired conveyance, though no unfrequent event at 
English country homes, is a thing quite unheard-of on 
Cape farms. 

Although in many parts of South Africa horses do 
not require shoeing at all, they need it in the Karroo, 
where the ground is particularly stony. When a horse's 
shoes are worn out, he is worked for some time unshod, 
until the hoof, which had grown considerably, has worn 
down, and the animal begins to be a little tender-footed ; 
then fresh shoes are put on. This plan renders it un- 
necessary for the blacksmith to use his knife, and 
ensures that the hoof is worn evenly ; thus avoiding the 
lameness which in England is so often caused by the 
hoof not being pared straight. 

And in the meanwhile the two horses have been 

saddled, and off go T and Mr. B on a tour of 

inspection round the farm ; first of all making a bee- 
line for the opposite range of hills, where lies that 
particular dam in the fate of which we are so deeply 
interested. I cannot ride with them, much as I should 
have liked it ; for the scenes of devastation indoors 
claim my attention, and with my dark-skinned hand- 
maiden and another Kaffir woman, wife of one of the 
herds, whom I have pressed into the service, I go to 
work ; boldly attacking first the most herculean task of 
all, i.e., the cleaning of the bedroom out of which we 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 93 

were washed last night. Truly an Augean stable is this 
first room ; and the sight of its horrors by daylight 
makes me wonder how by any possibility it can ever 
again be fit for human habitation. The water with 
which the bed has been deluged was no clear crystal 
stream far from it and pillows, sheets, and counter- 
pane are of a rich brown hue; so are the toilet table 
and the once pretty window-curtains of blue-and- white 
Madras muslin, which now look melancholy indeed as 
they hang down, straight and limp, from their cornice. 
In fact, hardly anything in the room can boast of 
having remained perfectly dry and clean ; and the 
floor is a pool of dirty water several inches deep. It 
all looks hopeless ; but we refuse to be daunted, and set 
to work with a will ; things dry quickly in such a sun 
as is now shining brightly outside ; the mud is " clean " 
mud, too, and does not stain or spoil so irretrievably as 
that of most other places. A Falstaffian bundle is made 
up for the wash, which will keep a Kaffir hard at work 
for two good days turning the washing-machine ; a 
vigorous scrubbing and " swabbing of decks " goes on 
indoors ; and by the time the gentlemen return to lunch, 
in the best of spirits, and reporting the dam safe and 
splendidly full, things have already assumed a brighter 

aspect. T spends the afternoon in repairing the 

roof, and I walk about the house with a long broom, 
pc king and tapping the ceilings to indicate to him the 
f -ective spots ; he does the work far better than it 
as originally done by the builder of the house, and 
never afterwards do we have so bad a deluge. 

G 



94 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

It was, however, very nearly equalled in magnitude 
by a previous one, which, while we were living at Hume 
Cottage, gave me the first experience of a big rain and 

of a brack roof. T being away for a few days, I 

was alone in the house with my one black servant, who 
of course slept placidly through all the tumult of the 
elements. I, on the contrary the bedroom being 
water-tight was lying awake, listening and rejoicing 
as I thought of all the good this splendid rain would do 
us. Little did I suspect what it was doing in the 
sitting-room ; and I cheerfully and briskly opened the 
door of the latter next morning, all unprepared for the 
sight which met my eyes. Poor little room ! only a few 
days before we had taken such pride and pleasure in 
beautifying it and now ! It looked like nothing but 
the saloon of a steamer which had gone down and been 
fished up again. The treacherous roof had let in floods 
of dirty brown water in all directions ; the Turkish 
rugs were half buried in mud ; the new bent-wood chairs 
looked like neglected old garden seats which for years 
had braved all weathers ; and the table-cloth, on the 
artistic colours of which we had prided ourselves, gave 
a very good idea of the probable state of Sir "Walter 
Raleigh's cloak after serving as an impromptu carpet 
for his queen. But the brunt of the storm had fallen 
on two sets of hanging bookshelves, well filled with 
nicely-bound volumes, and gracefully draped with some 
of our pet pieces of Turkish needlework. The books 
all looked as if they had been boiled ; and the colour 
which had come out of their swollen and pulpy bindings 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 95 

had run down the saturated embroideries in long 
streaks, showing where a red book had stood, where a 
blue or green one, etc. Fortunately, a good cleaning and 
washing restored most things to a tidy, if not perfectly 
fresh appearance; but those poor books never recovered 

In a few days incredibly few the effects of a good 
rain are seen in the appearance of the veldt, which 
rapidly loses its dry, burnt-up look. But, even before 
the perennial bush has had time to recover its succu- 
lence and verdure, all the spaces between its isolated 
tufts are covered with the softest and most delicate- 
looking vegetation, which, as if by magic, has sprung 
suddenly into existence. All these plants, which are of 
many different kinds, and some of which possess very 
minute and pretty flowers, are indiscriminately called 
by the Dutch opslaag (" that which comes up ") ; and if 
you happen at the time of their appearance to have a 
troop of infant ostriches, there is no better food for the 
little creatures than this tender, bright-green foliage. 
They are but short-lived little plants ; the hot sun soon 
drying them up. 

If the Cape Colony only possessed mountains high 
enough to give an abundant rainfall, what a gloriously 
fertile country it would be ! Without droughts, what 
a splendid possession our farm would be to us ! Often, 
when the coveted clouds have passed so close that it 
seemed as if they must be just about to break over 

the farm, T , remembering how the firing of the 

great guns at Woolwich sometimes brings down the 
rain, has thought it might be a good plan to send up a 



9 6 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

fire-balloon with a charge of dynamite, and, catching 
the rain on our land, prevent it from going off so 
disappointingly elsewhere. 

The short Cape winter, corresponding in duration 
to the English summer, is never severe. Cold winds 
blow from the direction of Graaff-Reinet on the not 
very frequent occasions when the higher mountains 
round that little town are for a short time topped with 
snow. In June and July the evenings and early 
mornings are decidedly cold. There is sometimes a 
little frost at night, and fires are pleasant ; but in the 
middle of the day there is always warm, bright sun- 
shine. Altogether, our winter t under the Southern 
Cross has nothing cheerless or depressing about it ; 
and those to whom the heat of the long summer has 
been a little trying, find the change most bracing and 
invigorating. 

For farm life in the Karroo much the same kind of 
clothing is required as in England ; everything must 
of course be of good strong material, and black or 
very dark colours are, in that dustiest of lands, to be 
avoided. Ladies' washing dresses should not be too 
delicate, nor should they be such as to require elaborate 
getting up ; for of all the numerous things which on 
our isolated farms have to be done either well, badly, 
or indifferently at home, the laundry department is 
the very furthest from being our forte. The clothes 
become so discoloured from being continually washed 
in the yellow water of the dams ; and the Kaffir women 
if they profess to starch and iron at all do it so 



CLIMATE OF THE KARROO. 



97 



badly, that the things are often unwearable. As for 
myself, I was fortunate in possessing for everyday 
wear strong cotton dresses of Egyptian manufacture ; 
which required neither starching nor ironing, and, after 
being washed, and dried in the sun, were ready to be 
put on at once. For driving, and especially for the 
long journeys of several days, which sometimes have 
to be taken in Cape carts or spiders, a light dust-cloak 
is indispensable. Boots and shoes, more than anything 
else, need to be strong, and for gentlemen who live the 
active outdoor life of the farms, there is nothing so 
serviceable as the country-made veldtschoon. 



CHAPTER VI. 

OSTRICHES. 

An unwilling ride First sight of an ostrich farm Ridiculous mistakes 
about ostriches Decreased value of birds and feathers Chicks 
Plumage of ostriches A frightened ostrich The plucking-box 
Sorting feathers Voice of the ostrich Savage birds " Not afraid 
of a dicky-bird ! " Quelling an ostrich Birds killed by men in 
self-defence Nests An undutiful hen Darby and Joan A dis- 
consolate widower A hen-pecked husband Too much zeal 
Jackie Cooling the eggs The white-necked crow Poisoning 
jackals Ostrich eggs in the kitchen A quaint old writer on 
ostriches A suppliant bird Nest destroyed by enraged ostrich 
An old bachelor. 

A FEW years before my marriage, having, as usual, fled 
the terrors of the English winter, I was with a friend in 
Egypt. And one morning this friend and I stood in the 
court of the Hotel du Nil in Cairo ; preparing to mount 
donkeys and start on a photographing expedition to 
Heliopolis (the " On " of the Scriptures), and Matariyeh, 
one of the supposed resting-places of the Holy Family 
on their flight into Egypt. The fussy, bustling little 
German manager of the hotel, with his usual paternal 
care for his guests, was commending us, in a long and 
voluble Arabic speech, to the special care and attention 
of the donkey-boys ; with numerous minute instruc- 



OSTRICHES. 99 

tions, all unintelligible to us, as to our route, etc. Then, 
just as we had mounted, he turned to us and said, " I 
have told them to show you something more on the 
way back, something very interesting." " What is it ? " 
we were about to ask ; but before we could get the 
words out, the ubiquitous little man had bustled oft 
to other business ; and we ourselves were flying at a 
headlong pace down the narrow Arab street, closely 
pursued by our impetuous donkey-boys ; who, anxious 
to make an imposing start, urged on our animals, not 
only with savage yells and blows, but also with 
frequent and cruel digs from the sharp points of our 
camera's tripod stand. 

Even after we had left the town far behind us, and 
our tyrants, for lack of an admiring crowd before 
whom to exhibit us, allowed us to settle down into a 
peaceful trot, it was quite useless to look to them for 
any information concerning this promised interesting 
sight ; for our few words of Algerian Arabic did not 
avail in Egypt ; and as for the European vocabulary of 
the donkey -boys, it was, as usual, strictly limited to 
an accurate knowledge of all the bad words in English, 
French and German. N.B. A donkey-boy is never 
promoted to the dignity of being called a donkey-mow?/, 
but, however old and grey he may have grown in the 
service, always retains the juvenile appellation. 

On arriving at Heliopolis, our ungratified curiosity 
was soon forgotten in the interest of seeing that vener- 
able obelisk which once, in all probability, looked down 
011 the wedding procession of Joseph and the daughter 



ioo HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

of " Potipherah, priest of On ; " and the sun gave us 
some good pictures of that sole remaining relic of the 
city where he himself was formerly worshipped. We 
spent a long morning at Heliopolis and Matariyeh ; 
and it was not until we had proceeded some distance 
along the dusty road leading back to Cairo, that we 
suddenly recollected there was yet one more sight on 
our programme. The sun was blazing down fiercely 
on us ; we were very tired ; longing visions of the 
Hotel du Nil luncheon, the hour for which had already 
come, filled our minds ; and most devoutly did we hope 
the donkey-boys might forget they had something more 
to show us, and possibly being hungry themselves 
take us straight home. But no ! suddenly our reluc- 
tant donkeys were abruptly turned from the homeward 
course on which they were trotting so merrily ; and by 
main force pushed into a particularly uninviting path 
branching off at right angles from the road. We made 
one desperate effort to turn them back ; but our tor- 
mentors fiew to their heads, and, dragging, pushing, 
almost lifting them along, applied the tripod's spikes 
with fresh energy. In vain did we expostulate ; ex- 
plaining piteously, with all the powers of pantomime 
at our command, that we were tired and hungry, and 
wanted to go back to the hotel ; that we would come 
and see this interesting sight, whatever it was, to- 
morrow, bookra that favourite word of the procrasti- 
nating Orientals, which, like the manana of the 
Spaniards, soon becomes hatefully familiar from con- 
stant hearing, and which is second only to the terrible 



OSTRICHES. 



baksheesh I The relentless donkey-boys^ freybnd elmekP 
ling over our disappointment, took no notice whatever 
of our appeals ; and on we had to go at a rapid gallop, 
stirring up dense clouds of the blinding, choking, evil- 
smelling Egyptian dust; and realizing, as did Mark 
Twain when ascending the Pyramid, how powerless one 
is in the hands of Arabs, who surely, with such iron 
wills, ought to be good mesmerists. Resigning our- 
selves at last to our fate with the patience of despair, 
we tried, though with but languid interest, to find out 
what we were going to see ; but for a long time could 
get nothing intelligible from the donkey-boys, who 
only enjoyed our mystification. At last one of them, 
struck by a bright idea, pointed to J - 's hat, in which 
was an ostrich-feather ; and we guessed at once that 
the Khedive's ostrich farm, which we knew was some- 
where in the neighbourhood of Cairo, was the object of 
our unwilling ride. Here was another disappointment ! 
Not even a ruined mosque, picturesque Arab house, or 
other possible subject for the camera, to reward us for 
our fatigue and discomfort ; nothing but dry, barren- 
looking land, ugly modern European buildings, and 
ungainly birds ! We walked hurriedly, and with great 
indifference, past the rows of camps, each with its pair 
of breeding-birds ; felt little regret on being denied 
entrance to the incubator-rooms, which, happening to 
contain young chicks, were closed to the public ; and 
rejoiced exceedingly when, our task done, and our 
tyrants appeased by our complete subjugation, we were 
at last on our way back to Cairo. 



J03. _ f(W& LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 



Wriness tod indifference, I viewed an 
ostrich farm for the first time. Could I but have had 
one vision of the happy home, situated among just such 
surroundings, which awaited me in the future, with what 
different eyes would I have looked on all the minutest 
details of a daily life destined one day to be mine ! 
How eagerly would I have bribed the custodian of the 
incubators for just one peep at the little rough-coated 
baby ostriches, if I had known what numbers of these 
comical wee things were in future to be my carefully- 
tended nurslings ! And when T -- , anxious to com- 
pare notes, sometimes asks me how this or that was 
managed on the Khedive's farm, and I am unable to 
give accurate information, I still regret that lost oppor- 
tunity ; and blush at the remembrance of the base 
longing for luncheon, to which, I fear, the want of 
observation was chiefly due. 

It is rather surprising to find how little is known in 
England about ostrich-farming. Any information on 
the subject seems quite new to the hearers ; and the 
strangest questions are sometimes asked as, for in- 
stance, whether ostriches fly; whether they bite; whether 
we ever ride or drive them, etc. It is always taken 
for granted that a vicious bird administers his kick 
backwards, like a horse; and there seems still to be 
a very general belief in those old popular errors of which 
the natural history of these creatures possesses more 
than the average share. If you look at the picture of 
an ostrich, you will be sure to find, in nine cases out of 
ten, that the drawing is ludicrously incorrect ; the bird 



OSTRICHES. 103 

being almost invariably represented with three toes 
instead of two ; and with a tail consisting of a large and 
magnificent bunch of wm^-feathers, the finest and 
longest of "prime whites." Farmers would only be 
too thankful if their birds had such tails, instead of 
the short, stiff, scrubby tuft of inferior feathers which 
in reality forms the caudal appendage. 

Each of my friends and relatives, when first told, at 

the time of our engagement, that T was "an 

ostrich-farmer," received the intelligence with an 
amused smile ; and the clergyman at whose church we 
were married seemed quite taken aback on obtaining so 
novel and unexpected an answer to his question, during 

the vestry formalities, as to T 's vocation in life. 

He hesitated, pen in hand, for some time ; made T 

repeat and explain the puzzling word ; and at last only 
with evident reluctance inscribed it in the church books. 

In the early days of ostrich-farming splendid for- 
tunes were made. Then, feathers were worth 100 
per lb., the plumes of one bird at a single plucking 
realizing on an average 25. For a good pair of breed- 
ing-birds 400, or even 500, was no uncommon price ; 
and little chicks, only just out of the egg, were worth 
10 each. Indeed, the unhatched eggs have sometimes 
been valued at the same amount. But, since the supply 
has become so much greater than the demand, things 
are sadly changed for the farmers; our best pair of 
ostriches would not now sell for more than 12, and 
experience has taught us to look for no higher sum 
than thirty shillings for the feathers of the handsomest 



104 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

bird at one plucking. At the same time, if a lady 
wishes to buy a good feather in London or Paris, she 
has to pay nearly the same price as in former times.* 

There are not many young animals prettier than a 
little ostrich-chick during the first few weeks of life. 
It has such a sweet, innocent baby-face, such large eyes, 
and such a plump, round little body. All its move- 
ments are comical, and there is an air of conceit and 
independence about the tiny creature which is most 
amusing. Instead of feathers, it has a little rough coat 
which seems all made up of narrow strips of material, 
of as many different shades of brown and grey as there 
are in a tailor's pattern-book, mixed with shreds of 
black ; while the head and neck are apparently covered 
with the softest plush, striped and coloured just like a 
tiger's skin on a small scale. On the whole, the little 
fellow, on his first appearance in the world, is not un- 
like a hedgehog on two legs, with a long neck. 

One would like these delightful little creatures to 
remain babies much longer than they do ; but they grow 
quickly, and with their growth they soon lose all 
their prettiness and roundness; their bodies become 
angular and ill-proportioned, a crop of coarse, wiry 
feathers sprouts from the parti-coloured strips which 
formed their baby-clothes, and they enter on an ugly 
" hobbledehoy " stage, in which they remain for two or 
three years. 

* Although, since these pages were written, ostriches have some- 
what increased in value it cannot, of course, be expected that they 
will ever again command the prices of former days. 





OSTRICH-CHICKS, 



'. 




OSTRICHES. 105 

A young ostrich's rough, bristly, untidy-looking 
" chicken-feathers " are plucked for the first time when 
he is nine months old ; they are stiff and narrow, with 
very pointed tips, and their ugly appearance gives no 
promise of future beauty. They do not look as if they 
could be used for anything but making feather brooms. 
In the second year they are rather more like what 
ostrich-feathers ought to be, though still very narrow 
and pointed ; and not until their wearer is plucked for 
the third time have they attained their full width and 
softness. 

During the first two years the sexes cannot be dis- 
tinguished, the plumage of all being of a dingy drab 
mixed with black ; the latter hue then begins to pre- 
dominate more and more in the male bird with each 
successive moulting, until at length no drab feathers 
are left. At five years the bird has attained maturity ; 
the plumage of the male is then of a beautiful glossy 
black, and that of the female of a soft grey, both 
having white wings and tails. In each wing there are 
twenty-four long white feathers, which, when the wing 
is spread out, hang gracefully round the bird like 
a lovely deep fringe -just as I have sometimes in 
Brazilian forests, seen fringes of large and delicate 
fern-fronds hanging, high overhead, from the branches 
of some giant tree. 

The ostrich's body is literally " a bag of bones ; " and 
the enormously-developed thighs, which are the only 
fleshy part of the bird, are quite bare, their coarse skin 
being of a peculiarly ugly blue-grey colour. The little 



io6 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

flat head, much too small for the huge body, is also bald, 
with the exception of a few stiff bristles and scanty 
tufts of down ; such as also redeem the neck from 
absolute bareness. During the breeding season the 
bill of the male bird, and the large scales on the fore 
part of his legs, assume a beautiful deep rose-colour, 
looking just as if they were made of the finest pink 
coral ; in some cases the skin of the head and neck also 
becomes red at that time. 

The North African or Barbary ostriches, several of 
which are to be seen at the Jardin d'Essai, in Algiers, 
have bright red thighs, head, and neck, and are alto- 
gether far handsomer than the Cape birds ; their 
feathers also, being larger, softer, and possessing longer 
filaments, command much higher prices than those of 
their southern brethren. 

Altogether, ostriches are queer-looking creatures ; 
they are so awkward, so out of proportion, and every- 
thing about them, with the exception of their plumage 
and their big, soft, dark eyes, is so quaintly ugly as 
to suggest the idea that they have only by some 
mistake survived the Deluge, and that they would be 
more in their right place embedded in the fossiliferous 
strata of the earth than running about on its surface. 
And how they do run ! Only startle an ostrich ; and 
very little is sufficient to do this, his nerves being of 
the feeblest, and " his heart in his mouth " at even the 
smallest or most imaginary danger. What a jump he 
gives, and what a swerve to one side ! Surely it must 
have dislocated some of his joints. But no ; off he goes, 



OSTRICHES. 107 

Hinging out his clumsy legs, and twisting himself about 
as he runs, till you almost expect to see him come to 
pieces, or, at any rate, fling off a leg, as a lobster casts 
a claw, or a frightened lizard parts from its tail. An 
ostrich's joints seem to be all loose, like those of a lay- 
figure when not properly tightened up. He rapidly dis- 
appears from view ; and the last you see of him he is, 
as Mark Twain has it, "still running" apparently 
with no intention of stopping till he has reached the 
very centre of Africa. But his mad scamper will most 
probably end a few miles off, with a tumble into a 
wire fence, and a broken leg. 

Sometimes, however, ostriches, when they take 
fright, run so long and get so far away that their 
owner never recovers them. One we heard of, to 
whose tail a mischievous boy had tied a newspaper, 
went off at railway speed, and no tidings of it were 

ever received. Once, when T was collecting his 

birds for plucking, one of them was unaccountably 
seized with a sudden panic, and bolted; and though 

T mounted at once and rode after it, he neither 

saw nor heard of it again. 

On a large farm, when plucking is contemplated, 
it is anything but an easy matter to collect the birds 
the gathering together of ours was generally a 
work of three days. Men have to be sent out in all 
directions to drive the birds up, by twos and threes, 
from the far-off spots to which they have wandered ; 
little troops are gradually brought together, and col- 
lected, first in a large enclosure, then in a small one, 



io8 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

the plucking-kraal, in which they are crowded together 
so closely, that the most savage bird has no room to 
make himself disagreeable. 

Besides the gate through which the ostriches are 
driven into the kraal, there is an outlet at the opposite 
end, through the " plucking-box." This latter is a 
most useful invention, saving much time and trouble. 
It is a very solid wooden box, in which, though there 
is just room for an ostrich to stand, he cannot possibly 
turn round ; nor can he kick, the sides of the box 
being too high. At each end there is a stout door; 
one opening inside, the other outside the kraal. Each 
bird in succession is dragged up to the first door, and, 
after more or less of a scuffle, is pushed in and the 
door slammed behind him. Then the two operators, 
standing one on each side of the box, have him com- 
pletely in their power ; and with a few rapid snips of 
their shears his splendid wings are soon denuded of 
their long white plumes. These, to prevent their tips 
from being spoilt, are always cut before the quills are 
ripe. The stumps of the latter are allowed to remain 
some two or three months longer, until they are so ripe 
that they can be pulled out generally by the teeth 
of the Kaffirs without hurting the bird. It is neces- 
sary to pull them ; the feathers, which by their weight 
would have caused the stumps to fall out naturally at 
the right time, being gone. Some farmers, anxious to 
hurry on the next crop of feathers, are cruel enough 
to draw the stumps before they are ripe ; but nature, 
as usual, resents the interference with her laws, and 



OSTRICHES. 109 

the feathers of birds which have been thus treated 
soon deteriorate. It is best to pluck only once a year. 
The tails, and the glossy black feathers on the bodies 
of the birds, having small quills, are not cut, but pulled 
out ; this, everyone says, does not hurt the birds, but 
there is an unpleasant tearing sound about the opera- 
tion, and I think it must make their eyes water. 

After a plucking would come several very busy days 
of sorting and tying up the feathers in readiness for 

the market ; for T , whenever he could spare the 

time, preferred doing this work himself to employing 
the professional sorters in Port Elizabeth, who charge 
exorbitantly. During these few days everything had 
to give way to feathers, large piled-up masses of which 
crowded the rooms, till we seemed to be over head and 
ears in feathers. Feathers covered the floor and in- 
vaded every article of furniture, especially monopolizing 
the dining-table ; and when, at all sorts of irregular 
hours, we grudgingly allowed ourselves time for rough, 
impromptu meals of cold or tinned meat, we picnicked 
among feathers. It was useless to attempt keeping the 
rooms either tidy or clean while sorting was going on ; 
and we resigned ourselves to living for those two or 
three days in a state at which owners of neat English 
homes would shudder indeed, those only who have 
seen the process of sorting can form any idea of the 
untidiness, the dust, the fluffs, and the sneezing. But 
they were pleasant days ; and many an interesting book 
will always be associated in our minds with the sorting 

of ostrich-feathers; for, while T arranged prime 

H 



no HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

whites, blacks, tails, feminas, chicken-feathers, etc., 
according to length, colour, and quality, I enlivened 
the monotony of his work by reading aloud. 

Sometimes the white feathers would be dirty for 
there is nothing an ostrich likes better than sitting 
down to cool himself in the muddiest dam he can find 
then it was necessary to wash them, dip them into 
strong raw starch, and shake them in the hot sun, beat- 
ing two bundles of them together till quite dry. The 
starch makes them look very pretty and fluffy; and 
young ladies in England who economically wash their 
own feathers would find it a great improvement. 
Ostrich-feathers are quite tabooed by ladies in South 
Africa ; they are too common, every Kaffir or Hottentot 
wearing one in his dirty, battered hat. 

If an ostrich-feather is held upright, its beautiful 
form graceful as the frond-like branch of the cocoa- 
nut palm, which it somewhat resembles is at once seen 
to be perfectly even and equal on both sides, its stem 
dividing it exactly in the centre ; whereas the stems of 
other feathers are all more or less on one side. The 
ancient Egyptians, observant of this as of everything 
in nature chose the ostrich-feather as the sacred em- 
blem of truth and justice, setting it upon the head of 
Thmei, goddess of truth. 

After a good rain, ostriches soon begin to make 
nests ; the males become very savage, and their note of 
defiance brooming, as it is called by the Dutch is 
heard in all directions. The bird inflates his^neck in a 
cobra-like fashion, and gives utterance to three deep 



OSTRICHES. in 

roars ; the two first short and staccato, the third very 
prolonged. Lion-hunters all agree in asserting that the 
roar of the king of beasts and that of the most foolish 
of birds are identical in sound ; with this difference 
only, that the latter, when near, resembles the former 

very far away. T , when hunting in the interior, 

has often been deceived by the sound expecting a 
lion, and finding only an ostrich. 

When the birds are savage quei, as the Dutch call 
it they become very aggressive, and it is impossible 
to walk about the camps unless armed with a weapon 
of defence called a " tackey." This is simply a long 
and stout branch of mimosa, with the thorns all left on 
at the end. It seems but a feeble protection against a 
foe who, with one stroke of his immensely powerful 
leg, can easily kill a man ; the kick, no less violent 
than that of a horse, being rendered infinitely more 
dangerous by the formidable claw with which the foot 
is armed. Those, however, who are well practised in 
the use of the tackey are able, with the coolness of 
Spanish bull-fighters, to stand and await the charge of 
the terrible assailant. They allow him to come to 
what, to the inexperienced eye, seem unpleasantly close 
quarters ; then, just as he prepares to strike, the tackey 
is boldly thrust into his face. The thorns oblige him 
to close his eyes, and he can only run blindly forward ; 
the bearer of the tackey springing on one side, and 
gaining time to proceed some distance on his way, be- 
fore the silly bird has recovered from his bewilderment 
and makes a fresh charge, when the weapon is again 
presented. 



ii2 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

Fortunately, you are never assailed by more than 
one ostrich at a time ; for in the large camps of some 
two thousand acres each in which the birds are not 
fenced off in pairs, but live almost in the freedom of 
wild creatures each one has his own domain, separa- 
ted from those of others by some imaginary boundary- 
line of his own, visible only to himself, but as clearly 
marked out as the beat of a London policeman. There, 
in company with one or perhaps two hens, he dwells 
monarch of all he surveys ; any other ostrich daring to 
invade his territory is at once attacked ; and the human 
intruder is closely followed, his tackey in constant 
requisition, until the feathered lord of the land has 
seen him safely off the premises. Immediately after 
thus speeding the parting guest, the most savage bird 
is quite harmless ; he dismisses you from his thoughts, 
and walks quietly back, feeding as he goes. And in 
the distance you see the head and long neck of his 
neighbour, whose kingdom you have now entered, and 
whose sharp eyes spied you out the instant your foot 
crossed his frontier. He now advances towards you 
with jerky, spasmodic movements, as if he were bowing 
you a welcome ; this, however, is far from his thoughts, 
and after sitting down once or twice to give you his 
challenge whereby he hopes you will be intimidated 
he trots up defiantly, and the tackey's services are 
again required. Thus, during a morning's walk through 
the camps, you may be escorted in succession by four 
or five vicious birds, all determined to have your life 
if possible, yet held completely in check by a few 
mimosa thorns. 



OSTRICHES. 113 

When an ostrich challenges he sits down ; and, flap- 
ping each broad wing alternately, inflates his neck, and 
throws his head back, rolling it from side to side, and 
with each roll striking the back o his head against his 
bony body with so sharp and resounding a blow that 
a severe headache seems likely to be the result. 

A person on horseback is even more obnoxious to 
the ostriches than a pedestrian ; and a ride through 
the camps enables one to realize how true to life is the 
description, in the Book of Job, of a vicious bird: 
" What time she lif teth up herself on high, she scorneth 
the horse and his rider." The creature, when prepar- 
ing for an attack, draws itself up, stands on tiptoe, 
stretches its neck to the full extent, and really seems 
to gain several feet in height. And, indeed, it does its 

best to knock you off your horse. T once saw a 

man riding as desperately as Tarn O'Shanter, with an 
ostrich in close pursuit. It kept up with him, helping 
his horse along with an occasional well-placed kick ; 
while the unhappy rider, hoping to intimidate his 
assailant, was again and again firing off his revolver 
into the air, but without effect. 

As the new arrival in a country subject to earth- 
quakes begins by thinking very lightly of these dis- 
turbances, but finds his appreciation of their importance 
increase with every successive shock ; so the new chum 
in South Africa, inclined at first to look with contempt 
on the precautions taken against savage ostriches, 
learns in time to have a proper respect for the foolish, 
innocent-looking creatures, whose soft, dark-brown 



n 4 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

eyes look at him so mildly (when he is on the right 
side of the fence) that he finds it impossible to believe 
the stories told him of their wickedness, and nothing 
but a closer acquaintance can undeceive him. On one 
of the farms a sturdy new-comer, six feet in height, 
starting for an early morning walk, was cautioned 
against going into a certain camp where the ostriches 
were dangerous. He laughed at his friends' advice, 
told them he was " not afraid of a dicky-bird ! " and 
disdaining the proffered tackey started off straight- 
way in the forbidden direction. He did not return 
home to dinner ; a search was made for him ; and 
eventually he was found, perched up on a high iron- 
stone boulder; just out of reach of a large ostrich, which 
was doing sentry, walking up and down, and keeping 
a vicious eye on him. There he had sat for hours, 
nearly roasted alive (ironstone boulders in the Karroo 
can get so hot in the sun that it blisters your hand to 
touch them) ; and there he would have had to sit till 
sundown, had not the timely appearance of his friends 
relieved him of the too-pressing attentions of the 
" dicky-bird." 

Another gentleman had a theory that any creature, 
however savage, could be subdued " quelled," as he 
said by the human eye. One day he tried to quell 
one of his own ostriches ; with the result that he was 
presently found by T in a very pitiable pre- 
dicament, lying flat on the ground ; while the subject 
of his experiment jumped up and down on him, occa- 
sionally varying the treatment by sitting on him. 



OSTRICHES. 115 

T once bought an ostrich which had killed two 

men ; and which, although an unusually fine bird, was, 
on account of its evil reputation, sold to him for a very 
low price. Ostriches appear to have a strong aversion 
to all the negro race. They attack Kaffirs and Hotten- 
tots much more readily than they do their white 
masters ; and although as has just been seen they 
are very far from showing that amount of respect for 
the latter which is desirable, they seem except during 
the breeding season to stand in some sort of awe of a 
white man as compared with the " niggers," for whom 
they have the deepest contempt. 

They are uncertain, too, and take sudden and un- 
accountable dislikes. One poor Kaffir woman, coming 
up to work at the house, was attacked, inside the gate, 
by one of the tame old ostriches, which looking out 
for scraps thrown from the kitchen, stealing the fowls' 
food, or now and then picking up and swallowing a 
delicious piece of soap left for an unguarded moment on 
the washing-machine prowled about round the house, 
and of which no one had ever dreamed of being afraid. 
Her solitary and scanty skirt, torn from the top to the 
bottom, showed how narrow had been her escape ; and 
she looked livid under her dark skin, as she came in to 
ask me for needle and thread to repair the rent. 

It has several times happened that one of our herds, 
in danger of his life, has been obliged, in self-defence, 
to kill a vicious ostrich ; and, the finest and most 
promising birds naturally the most savage being 
invariably the victims, the loss is always a serious one. 



n6 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

It is indeed no small trial, when, perhaps just as you 
are comfortably seated at the breakfast table, the black 
face of " April," " August," or " September "fraught 
with bad news, and looking very frightened and 
ashamed is suddenly thrust in at the door ; and, with 
much rolling of white eyeballs, a tragic tale is told, in 
the most dismal of voices, and with many harrowing 
details, of how " Red Wing " or " White Neck " was 
quei, and attacked the narrator up in the big camp ; 
with the sad consequence that you are now minus one 
of the best birds on the farm. But the poor fellow 
cannot be blamed or fined for defending his life ; orders 
are given to pluck and bring down the unfortunate 
bird's feathers the last he will ever yield and some- 
how a dead bird's plumes always seem the most 
beautiful 

" And then to breakfast, with 
What appetite you have." 

Toto, although in general no coward, could never, 
after a severe kick he received on first coming to the 
farm, be brought to face a savage bird. Collies can, 
however, be made very useful in collecting and driving 
ostriches; and Mr. Evans, of Eietfontein, one of our 
neighbours, had several which were perfectly trained ; 
working as well with the birds as their relatives in 
Scotland and Wales do with sheep. 

A few of our birds were fenced off in breeding-camps ; 
each pair having a run of about one hundred acres. 
One of these camps was directly opposite the house ; 
and from the windows we could observe the regularity 



OSTRICHES. 117 

with which the two birds, sitting alternately on the 
eggs, came on and off at their fixed times. The cock 
always takes his place upon the nest at sundown, and 
sits through the night his dark plumage making 
him much less conspicuous than the light-coloured hen ; 
with his superior strength and courage, too, he is a 
better defender of the nest against midnight marauders. 
At nine in the morning, with unfailing punctuality, 
the hen comes to relieve him, and take up her position 
for the day. At the end of the six weeks of sitting, 
both birds, faithfully as the task has been shared 
between them, are in a very enfeebled state, and 
miserably poor and thin. 

One undutiful hen having apparently imbibed ad- 
vanced notions absolutely refused to sit at all; and the 
poor husband, determined not to be disappointed of his 
little family, did all the work himself ; sitting bravely 
and patiently day and night, though nearly dead with 
exhaustion, till the chicks were hatched out. The next 
time this pair of birds had a nest, the cock's mind was 
firmly made up that he would stand no more nonsense. 
He fought the hen ; giving her so severe a thrashing 
that she was all but killed and this Petruchio-like 
treatment had the desired effect, for the wife never 
again rebelled, but sat submissively. 

Very different from this couple were the Darby and 
Joan in the camp opposite our windows. One unlucky 
morning the hen, frightened by a Kaffir's dog, ran into 
the wire fence, and was so terribly injured that she 
had to be killed. For two years poor Darby was a dis- 



n8 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

consolate widower, and all attempts to find him a 
satisfactory second wife were unavailing ; several hens, 
which, soon after his loss, were in succession placed in 
his camp, being only rescued in time, and at the tackey's 
point, from being kicked to death. The bare idea of 
there being anything pathetic about an ostrich seems 
absurd and indeed this is the only instance I have 
known of anything of the kind but it was truly piti- 
ful to watch this poor bird, as, day after day, and 
nearly all day long, he wandered up and down, up and 
down, the length of his camp, in the hard, beaten track 
worn by his restless feet along the side of the fence. 

When his time of mourning at length came to an end, 
and poor Joan's long-vacant place was filled, we at 
first rejoiced. But we soon doubted whether, after all, 
he had not been happier as a widower. For the new 
wife, a magnificent hen, considerably above the average 
size, had him in complete subjection ; his spirit seemed 
quite broken, probably with long fretting, and he made 
no attempt to hold his own, but was for the rest of his 
days the most hen-pecked or ought I to say hen- 
kicked? of husbands. Some amount of stratagem 
was even necessary on my part, to ensure that he had 
enough to eat (this pair of birds, being near the house, 
were under my special care, and during droughts were 
daily fed by me) ; for every time he came near the food, 
the greedy hen would persistently drive him away, 
standing on tiptoe and hissing viciously at him and I 
soon saw that it was useless to attempt feeding them 
together. But the poor, ill-used old bird and I were 



OSTRICHES. 119 

good friends, and quite understood one another; and 
at all sorts of odd times watching for those golden 
opportunities when his tyrant was safely out of sight 
at the further end of the camp he would come down 
to the fence and look out for me, and I would bring him 
a good feed of mealies. 

As a father, Darby was no less devoted than he had 
formerly been as a husband; and to please him we 
allowed his chicks to remain with him, and set the 
whole family free to roam where they liked about the 
veldt; breaking through the usual rule, which is to 
take the little birds from the parents when two or three 
Jays old, and herd them near the house. For they 
never become as tame when brought up by the old ones 
as when accustomed from the first to human society. 
These poor little birds, I am sorry to say, did not 
nourish under parental guardianship; indeed, it was 
not long before they were all dead. For their well- 
meaning, but over-zealous father, apparently thinking 
no veldt good enough for them, kept them continually 
on the move ; and, in his perpetual search for " fresh 
woods and pastures new," took them such long distances 
that he literally walked them as well as himself to 
death. Not many days after the last chick's departure, 
Darby's own poor body, worn to a skeleton by these 
restless wanderings, following on six weeks of incuba- 
tion, was found on the veldt. 

When, as sometimes happens, one solitary chick is 
reared at the house, it becomes absurdly and often 
inconveniently tame. A friend of ours, on returning 



120 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

to his farm at the end of a severe thunderstorm, found 
that an ostrich's nest had been washed away. Some 
of the eggs were rescued from the water, and being 
of course deserted by the parents were placed in an 
incubator, where, contrary to all expectations, one 
chick came out. This bird, Jackie, became the tamest 
and most audacious of pets ; and, like many another 
spoilt only child, was often a terrible nuisance. All 
the little niggers about the place had a lively dread of 
him ; and he requisitioned their food in the boldest 
manner. As they sat on the ground at meals, with 
plates of boiled pumpkin and rice in their laps, he 
would come up, and, stretching his snake-like neck 
over their heads, or insinuating it under their arms, 
would coolly help himself to the contents of one plate 
after another. Occasionally he would make for the 
unhappy youngsters in so menacing a manner as to 
frighten them into dropping their plates altogether ; 
then, while his victims ran away crying, he would 
squat on his heels among the debris, and regale his 
enormous appetite at leisure. 

But one day retribution came. Being free of the 
kitchen simply because no one could keep him out 
he was not long in observing that the pumpkin and rice 
always came out of one particular pot ; and, the idea 
suddenly occurring to him that he could do no better 
than go straight to the fountain-head for his favourite 
dish, he walked up, full of joyful anticipation, to the fire 
where this pot was bubbling. The cook who, being 
mother to several of the ill-used children, did not love 



OSTRICHES. 121 

Jackie offered no friendly interference to save him 
from his fate ; and, plunging his bill into the pot, he 
greedily scooped up, and, with the lightning-like 
rapidity of ostriches, tossed down his throat, a large 
mouthful of boiling rice. Poor fellow I the next 
moment he was dancing round the kitchen, writhing 
with agony, shaking his head nearly off, and twisting 
his neck as if bent on tying it in a knot. Finally he 
dashed wildly from the house ; the cook, avenged at 
last for all the dinners he had devoured, called after 
him as he stumbled out at the door, "Serve you right, 
Jackie ! " and away he fled across the veldt, till the 
last that was seen of him was a little cloud of white 
dust vanishing on the horizon. He returned a sadder 
and a wiser bird ; and it was long before he again 
ventured inside the kitchen. 

When about a year old, Jackie was sold to a farmer 
who had long coveted him ; and who, no doubt, soon 
repented of his purchase. He was now sufficiently 
strong to give a good hard kick ; and, being a more 
daring freebooter than ever, and no respecter of per- 
sons, he would march up and attack any one he saw 
carrying food, or what he thought might be food; 
endeavouring, by a well-aimed blow, to strike it out of 
their hands ; his evil design generally succeeding. At 
length his master, tired of hearing constant complaints 
of his conduct, and impatient of his perpetual intru- 
sion indoors, tried putting him into a camp. There, 
however, he obstinately refused to remain. As soon as 
lie was put in, he would squat down, laying his head 



122 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

and neck on the ground ; then, making himself as flat 
as possible, he would " squirm " out, not without some 
difficulty, under the lowest wire of the fence. It was 
impossible to keep him in ; and he was left to his own 
devices, calmly regarded as a necessary evil, and 
allowed to be as great a nuisance as he liked. 

But poor Jackie soon ceased from troubling his 
end, as may well be imagined, being brought about by 
no other cause than his own moral obliquity. One day 
he wandered down to the river, where some Kaffir 
women were washing clothes ; their children, a group 
of little animated nude bronzes, playing near them. 
One little fellow, who was eating, was of course 
instantly spied out by the covetous Jackie ; who rushed 
to kick him, but in so doing tumbled down in the rocky 
bed of the river, and broke his own leg. The inevit- 
able result followed, and Jackie, like all other broken- 
legged ostriches, had to be killed. 

The hen ostrich lays every alternate day ; and if, for 
each egg laid, one is taken from the nest, she will con- 
tinue laying until she has produced from twenty to 

thirty. One, which belonged to T , laid sixty eggs 

without intermission. If no eggs are taken away, the 
hen leaves off laying as soon as she has from fifteen to 
twenty ; the latter being the greatest number that can 
be satisfactorily covered by the birds. The surplus eggs 
are placed in incubators. It is best not to give much 
artificial food to the birds while sitting ; as, if overfed, 
they become restless, and are liable to desert the nest. 

Every morning and evening the nest, or rather the 



OSTRICHES. 123 

shallow indentation in the sandy ground which forms 
this simplest of all " homes without hands," is left un- 
covered for a quarter of an hour, to allow the eggs to 
cool. The sight of nests thus apparently deserted has 
probably given rise to the erroneous idea that the 
ostrich leaves her eggs to hatch in the sun. The 
passage in the book of Job : " Which leaveth her eggs 
in the earth, and warmeth them in the dust," is also 
generally supposed to point to the same conclusion, 
though in reality there can be no doubt that the latter 
part of the sentence simply applies to the warming of 
the eggs by the heat of the bird's body as she sits over 
them in her dusty nest. Stupid though she is, she has 
more sense than to believe in the possibility of the sun 
hatching her eggs ; she is indeed quite aware of the fact 
that, if allowed to blaze down on them with untempered 
heat, even during the short time she is off the nest, it 
would be injurious to them ; and therefore, on a hot 
morning, she does not leave them without first placing 
on the top of each a good pinch of sand. This she does 
in order that the germ which, whatever side of the 
egg is uppermost, always rises to the highest point 
may be shaded and protected. Having thus set her 
nest in order, she walks off, to fortify herself with a 
good meal for the duties of the day. 

And now comes the white-necked crow's chance; 
for which, ever since at earliest dawn he drew out his 
artful old head from under his wing, he has been 
patiently waiting. An ostrich-egg is to him the 
daintiest of all delicacies ; but, nature not having be- 



124 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

stowed on him a bill strong enough to break its hard 
shell, he is only able, by means of an ingenious device, 
to regale on the interior. He carefully watches till 
the parent's back is turned, and she is a good distance 
from the nest ; then, flying up into the air, he drops a 
stone from a great height with a most accurate aim, 
and breaks an egg. He makes good use of his quarter 
of an hour ; and he, no less than the hen ostrich, has 
had an ample meal by the time the latter returns to 
the nest. Perhaps to-morrow she will not wander so 
far away. 

This crow, inveterate egg-stealer though he is, has a 
most respectable and clerical appearance ; and with his 
neat suit of black and his little white tie he looks 
indeed " unco guid." The Boers possibly on account 
of this pious exterior have a legend to the effect that 
these birds are the " ravens " which fed Elijah. They 
say that after the birds had carried the meat, a little 
of the fat remained on their necks ; in commemoration 
of which their descendants have this one conspicuous 
white patch on their otherwise black plumage. Num- 
bers of tortoise-shells, some of immense size, are found 
about the veldt ; which have been broken in the same 
manner as the ostrich-eggs, and their inmates devoured, 
by these crows ; who thus reverse the process by which, 
some twenty-three centuries ago, the eagle, dropping 
his tortoise on what seemed to him a convenient stone 
for his purpose, smashed the bald head of poor JEschylus. 

Among the denizens of the veldt the crows, unfortu- 
nately, are not the only appreciators of ostrich-eggs : 



OSTRICHES. 125 

and our worst enemies are the jackals. In lonely, far-off 
camps they plunder many promising nests ; rolling 
the eggs away with their paws, sometimes to great 
distances. Occasionally, too, little chicks fall victims. 
We waged deadly war against the depredators ; making 
liberal use of strychnine pills to " take us the foxes, 
the little foxes/' which, finding no vines to spoil in the 
Karroo, were instead spoilers of ostrich nests. On a 
large vine-farm in the Atlas Mountains, where, after 
leaving the Cape, we spent some months, we were able 
to note the accuracy of this passage of Scripture in 
which, I am told, the word rendered " foxes " ought in 
reality to have been translated "jackals." These 
animals did indeed work terrible havoc among the 

vines, eating incredible numbers of grapes ; and T 

did much good by his introduction among them of the 
South African plan of poisoning, to which many suc- 
cumbed. The pills, enclosed in pieces of fat, are 
dropped about the veldt ; generally by a man on horse- 
back, towing behind him a piece of very " high " meat, 
which, fastened by a riem (narrow strip of hide) to the 
horse's tail, drags along the ground. By-and-by the 
jackals, attracted by the odour of meat, come out ; and, 
following along the route taken by the poisoner, find 
and eat the tempting pieces of fat. In the morning a 
good number are sure to be found dead ; the survivors, 
apparently concluding that there is something very 
wrong about the place, take themselves off for a time 
to another neighbourhood ; and the comparative silence 
which reigns at night is a pleasant change after the 
chorus of their querulous, uncanny voices. 



126 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

The partiality of jackals and crows for ostrich-eggs, 
expensive though it is to us, reflects credit on their 
taste ; for the eggs are certainly delicious. Those 
which, being useless for setting, found their way into 
my kitchen, were always most acceptable ; and I have 
never had lighter cakes, nicer omelettes, custards, etc., 
than those made from them. And then they go so far ! 
Two large square biscuit tins can be filled to over- 
flowing with a noble batch of sponge finger biscuits, 
for which only one egg has been used. In spite of its 
large size equalling twenty-four fowls' eggs an 
ostrich-egg has no coarse flavour. It takes an hour to 
boil one hard ; in which state it is a splendid article of 
food for baby ostriches. 

Ostrich -eggs were much prized by the ancient 
Egyptians ; and Gardiner Wilkinson tells us that they 
" were required for some ornamental or religious use, as 
with the modern Copts ; and, with the plumes, formed 
part of the tribute imposed by the Egyptians on 
conquered countries." 

Not long ago, T and I were much amused by the 

discovery, among copious notes in an old Bible dated 
1770, of the following passage from a quaint old writer : 
<( The Ostrich, which the Arabians call Naama, is a 
wild Bird. of the Shape of a Goose, but much bigger 
than that; it is very high upon its Legs, and has a 
Neck of more than four or five Spans long : The Body 
is very gross, and in its Wings and Tail it has large 
Feathers black and white (like those of the Stork) and 
some grey ; it cannot fly, but it runs very fast ; in 



OSTRICHES. \yj 

which it is much assisted by the Motion of its Wings 
and Tail : And when it runs, it wounds itself with the 
Spurs which it has on its Legs. It is bred in the dry 
Desarts, where there is no Water, and lays ten or twelve 
Eggs together in the Sand, some as large as a great 
Bowl, and some less. They say this Bird hath so little 
Memc y that as soon as she hath made an End of 
layin her Eggs, she forgets the Place where she left 
then" so that when the Hen comes to a Place where 
ther are Eggs, let them be her own or not, she sets 
abrood upon them, and hatches them ; and as soon as 
the Chickens are hatched, they immediately run about 
the Country to look for Meat ; and they are so nimble, 
when they are little, before their Feathers grow, that 
'tis impossible to overtake them." 

One is inclined to think that the old author, Marmol, 
from whose " History of Africa " the above passage is 
quoted, cannot have written from any very accurate 
acquaintance with the Dark Continent ; at any rate, it 
is not likely that he ever saw an ostrich, or he would 
have known that it possesses no spurs. 

It is a strange fact that the most savage ostrich, if 
he comes up and finds you between himself and his 
nest, does not, as would naturally be supposed, rush to 
defend his eggs, and, if possible, kick you to death, but 
is instantly changed into the most abjectly submissive 
of creatures. " 'Umble " as Uriah Heep, he squats at 
your feet; making a peculiar rattling noise with his 
wings, biting the ground, snapping his bill, closing his 
eyes, and looking the very embodiment of imbecility 



128 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

as he meekly implores you to spare his eggs. This 
suppliant posture is, however, not to be trusted ; and, if 
tackey-less, you had better remain at the nest until 
assistance or night comes, for if once the positions of 
yourself and bird are reversed, " Richard's himself 
again." He squats, no longer in servile entreaty, but in 
defiance ; and his challenge is promptly followed by a 
charge. The hen ostrich, being destitute of a voice, has 
but one way of calling her chicks, which is by that 
same rattling and rustling of the wings. 

In strong contrast to the usual anxiety of the 
paternal ostrich for his nest was one case of which we 
heard. In a breeding-camp, containing a cock and two 
hens, troublesome complications had arisen. One hen 
persisted in sitting, while the other was as resolutely 
bent on laying ; and, the struggles of the two rivals for 
the possession of the nest being extremely perilous to 
the eggs, the Boer to whom the trio belonged removed 
the laying hen from the enclosure. Now came the 
cock's turn to be excited. The departed hen was 
evidently his favourite wife ; and, disconsolate at her 
loss, he ran restlessly about the camp for some time, 
brooming repeatedly ; then, as if struck by some 
sudden impulse probably of spite against his master 
he ran to the nest, on which he deliberately jumped 
till he had broken every egg. 

One of our birds was a morose old bachelor. 
Whether he had remained single from choice, or 
whether his surly temper had made him so unpopular 
that no hen would cast in her lot with him, we knew 



OSTRICHES. 129 

not ; but there he was, living in solitary grandeur on 
the lower slope of our big mountain. Every time 
we took a certain favourite walk, a portion of which 
he had marked out as his beat, he would dispute the 
right of way with us; resenting the invasion of his 
solitude with more fuss than was ever made by the 
father of the largest family of chicks. Sometimes he 
would lie in ambush, and rush out at us from unex- 
pected places, with all the artfulness of a rogue elephant. 
Fortunately, his domain being on the mountain-side, 
there was plenty of high bush, behind which it was 
not difficult to dodge him. 



CHAPTER VII. 

OSTRICHES (continued). 

Vagaries of an incubator Hatching the chicks A bad egg Human 
foster-mothers Chicks difficult to rear "Yellow-liver" Cruel 
boys Chicks herded by hen ostrich Visit to Boer's house A 
carriage full of ostriches " The melancholy Jaques " Ostriches at 
sea A stampede Runaway birds Branding Stupidity of 
ostriches Accidents Waltzing and fighting Ostrich soup An 
expensive quince A feathered Tantalus Strange things swallowed 
by ostriches A court-martial The ostrich, or the diamond ? A 
visit to the Zoo. 

AN incubator, considerably increasing as it does the 
number of chicks that can be hatched, is of course of 
the greatest value on a farm. We had one, capable of 
holding sixty eggs ; and a " finisher," in which thirty 
more could be placed. Two paraffin lamps, kept con- 
stantly burning, heated the large tank of the incubator ; 
and a thermometer, inserted in the water, had to be 
carefully watched in order that the temperature of the 
latter might neither exceed nor fall below 103. Be- 
neath the tank so that the eggs, as in nature, might 
be heated from above were four drawers, each with 
compartments for fifteen eggs. I was appointed mana- 
ger of the incubator ; and morning and evening 



OSTRICHES. 131 

following the example of the hen ostrich I gave the 
eggs their quarter of an hour's cooling by allowing the 
drawers to stand open ; also, as she does, I carefully 
turned each egg. 

The regulation of the temperature was a matter of 
some anxiety, and enabled me especially on first 
undertaking the work to form a very good idea of 
the responsibilities of a vestal tending the sacred fire. 
Some mischievous imp seemed to be perpetually at 
work causing that thermometer to indulge in the 
wildest vagaries. Perhaps just one degree of the re- 
quired temperature would be wanting ; and though, 
for the best part of the morning, I had been coming 
anxiously every ten minutes or so to look at the ther- 
mometer, it refused, with all the perversity of "a 
watched pot," to rise above 102. Then at last, a little 
off my guard, and absorbed in one of the numerous 
other home duties, I might possibly forget the incu- 
bator's existence for a little while ; and, on suddenly 
remembering and running to it, find that the treacher- 
ous mercury had jumped up two or three degrees. 
Then the drawers would have to be thrown open, and 
the contents of several jugs of cold water wildly dashed 
in through the opening at the top of the incubator 
and when at last, by still trembling hands, the ther- 
mometer was readjusted in the said opening, it would 
probably register as many degrees below as it had just 

been above 103. T was away for three weeks 

during the time the incubator was in full work ; and 
so great was the anxiety which haunted me, lest on 



132 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

his return I should present him with some sixty cooked 
birds, that I set an alarum every night for two o'clock, 
to assure myself that the temperature was playing me 
no tricks. 

When within about eight or ten days of hatching, 
the chick can be felt moving about in the egg ; and 
later on, when nearly ready to come out, he is heard 
squeaking, and tapping with his bill against the shell. 
Then at last, one day, when you come to turn the eggs 
in the finisher, where they are placed for the last fort- 
night, you find one with a hole in it generally a 
three-cornered piece is knocked clean out and in the 
opening a pinkish, soft-looking bill is making impatient 
movements, and a bright eye is peeping at you as 
knowingly as though already well acquainted with all 
the ways of a world on which its owner has yet to 
enter. An ostrich, by the way, seems far more intelli- 
gent as a baby than he ever is in after life. 

A strong chick is generally able to free himself, by 
his own unaided efforts, from the shell ; but if after a 
certain number of hours he is not out, it becomes 
necessary to assist him. This, however, requires ex- 
treme gentleness and caution, as there is great risk of 
inflicting injury ; and, although I have helped many 
young ostriches into the world losing but one patient 
in all my practice I always preferred leaving that 
delicate work to nature. And yet there is something 
so tempting about these little half-opened parcels ; one 
always longs to undo them and have a full view of the 
contents. The moment the little fellow is out of the 



OSTRICHES. 133 

egg, he seems to swell out, and looks so large that you 
wonder how he can possibly have been packed away 
in such a small space ; and I am quite sure that the 
task of replacing him in the shell would as far surpass 
the powers of " all the king's horses and all the king's 
men/' as did the reintegration of Humpty Dumpty. 

Occasionally and even at this time and distance it 
is hardly to be recalled without a shudder the incu- 
bator would contain a bad egg. Imagine all the horrors 
of a bad hen's egg, multiplied by twenty-four ! The 
whole drawer would be so pervaded by the odour that 
it was difficult for some time to discover the actual 
offender ; and when at last it revealed itself by an un- 
canny moisture exuding through the shell, an amount 
of courage and caution was required for its removal 
and safe depositing outside, which suggested very flat- 
tering comparisons of one's own conduct with that of a 
soldier winning the V.C. by carrying away a live shell. 

An incautious friend of T 's was too closely in- 
vestigating a doubtful ostrich-egg, when it exploded 
with a loud report. He was an old gentleman, with a 
beautiful white beard ; and his condition, as described 
by T , who luckily from a safe distance wit- 
nessed the accident, is best left to the imagination. 
Suffice it to say that an immediate and prolonged bath 
was imperative, and that a whole suit of clothes had 
to be destroyed. 

In the days when chicks were so valuable, people 
who did not possess incubators sometimes had recourse 
to a strange way of hatching those eggs which, during 



134 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

the sitting, were either left orphaned by accident, or, 
as in the case of Jackie, deserted in consequence of 
floods. Some poor old Hottentot woman would be 
carefully tucked up, in company with the eggs, under 
numerous blankets, where she would remain bed- 
ridden until she had hatched out the last chick. Some- 
times, even, the stout, lethargic Dutch vrouw herself, to 
whose indolent nature the task was doubtless congenial 
enough, would perform the part of foster-mother. 

When, either by natural or artificial means, the 
little ostriches are safely brought into the world, the 
farmer's next anxiety is to keep them there. They do 
well enough on the coast ; but in the Karroo they are 
most difficult to rear, and our experience with them 
has been sad and disheartening. Numbers of them die, 
when about a month or five weeks old, from an epi- 
demic which comes and goes in the strangest manner. 
During a whole season, for instance, one farmer will 
lose nearly every chick ; while brood after brood will 
be successfully reared by another at no very great 
distance. Next year, perhaps, it is the turn of the 
latter to be the sufferer ; and vice versa. Our unlucky 
year had a most promising beginning, unusually good 
rains having filled the country with nests ; yet at the 
end of the season all we had to show of the rising 
generation of ostriches was a poor little troop of fifteen 
lanky, ragged-looking creatures, which through some 
rare toughness of constitution had survived the perils 
of infancy over two hundred having succumbed. 

The disappointment of losing the chicks is much in- 



OSTRICHES. 135 

tensified by the fact that they always begin so well. 
For the first three weeks nothing can be more en- 
couraging than the appearance of the stout, sturdy 
toddlers ; they eat voraciously and are full of life and 
spirits, waltzing, in absurd imitation of their elders, to 
show their joy on being first let out in the morning 
the effort usually ending in a comical sprawl on the 
back. 

Again and again comes the delusive hope that the 
spell is broken at last ; that the luck has turned, and 
that this little brood is really going to live. But alas ! 
one morning, during that fatal fourth week, you 
notice that one little head, instead of being held up 
saucily and independently, is poking forward and 
downward in a dejected manner with which you are 
only too well acquainted. You know at once that the 
owner of that head is doomed, and that it will not be 
long before most, if not all, of his brethren show the 
same dreaded symptom. The disease is quite incurable 
indeed, I have never known of an ostrich, old or 
young, recovering from any illness whatever ; and 
though we tried all possible kinds of medicine, diet, 
and treatment, resolutely refusing to despair of any 
case while a spark of life remained, those chicks per- 
sisted in dying, sometimes at the rate of three or four 
a day. I was hospital nurse, and so deeply did I take 
to heart the loss of patient after patient that it became 

a joke with T ; and a plentiful sprinkling of grey 

happening just at this time to make its appearance on 
my head, he still attributes each silver thread to a little 



136 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

dead ostrich. A post-mortem examination of chicks 
which have died of this disease shows the liver to be 
of the bright colour of orange-peel. 

Internal parasites also destroy a good many chicks ; 
and altogether the little lives are precarious, and every 
troop of young birds successfully reared in the Karroo 
is a triumph. 

For the first two or three months the chicks are 
herded near the house by boys, whose duty it is to 
keep them well supplied with prickly pear leaves and 
other green food, cut up small. This work ought to 
take up the greater part of the young herd's time ; 
but small boys being no more satisfactory as servants 
in the Karroo than they are anywhere else we found 
it necessary to keep a very strict watch ; and often 
during the day, however busy I might be, I would 
" make time " to run down to the shady spot which 
was the chicks' place of encampment generally to 
find the infants hungry, and their useless nurse either 
asleep or plunged in some absorbing business of his 
own with a knife and a piece of wood. Sometimes, 
too, the boys, getting impatient with the chicks, were 
rough and cruel ; one budding criminal especially was 
several times caught making footballs of his innocent 
charges, kicking them up several feet into the air. 

And on a farm where T was once staying, a 

juvenile black fiend was found to have deliberately 
broken the legs of some twenty chicks under his care ; 
and, when asked the reason of his conduct, said, " They 
run about, give me too much trouble." 



OSTRICHES. 137 

The chicks are often attacked by old birds always 
spiteful to little ones which are not their own and 
we have had several kicked to death by their vindictive 
elders. On a neighbouring farm, however, dwelt the 
usual exception to the rule, in the shape of an old hen, 
which although herself not a mother showed such a 
strong affection for chicks, and took such devoted care 
of them, that at last, much to her delight, she was 
appointed to the post of herd, vice the small boy, dis- 
missed as incorrigible. She filled the place of the 
latter far better than he had ever done ; leading the 
little creatures, with the greatest care, wherever the 
tenderest veldt was to be found; never losing her 
temper with them, or failing to bring the full number 
home to bed at sundown; and altogether acquitting 
herself in a wonderfully sedate and business-like 
manner for so scatter-brained a creature as an ostrich. 

Her history ought of course to have ended here ; but 
truth compels me to state that at last, after she had 
successfully brought up many families of chicks, and 
had come to be respected and trusted as the steadiest 
and most useful of farm-servants, one day the idiotic 
ostrich-nature asserted itself ; she took a sudden and 
senseless fright probably at nothing lost her wits, 
bolted right away, leaving the chicks to get dispersed 
about the veldt, where only a few were found ; and was 
herself never heard of again. 

I think our friends at home would have been rather 
amused if they could have seen us one day, driving 
home from Mount Stewart with twelve ostriches in our 



138 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

extremely small American spider. On our way to a 

farm where T had business we happened to pass a 

Dutchman's house, round the door of which we noticed 

a lively little brood of chicks running about. T 

of course no sooner saw them than he coveted them (he 
frankly confesses himself quite unable to keep the 
tenth commandment as far as ostriches are concerned) ; 
and we pulled up, accepted the hospitable invitation of 
the Boer, who doubtless read in our eyes the chance of 
" doing a deal," and went into the house, where, first of 
all, a solemn, silent, and apparently endless course of 
hand-shaking had to be gone through. The Cape 
Dutch living in very patriarchal fashion, there were 
not only a wife and many sons and daughters, but a 
well-preserved parental couple, a mother-in-law, several 
sons and daughters-in-law, and needless to say a 
crowd of children of all sizes, including two babies. 
All but the two last came forward one after another 
and gravely took our hands ; then we all sat round the 

room, solemnly looking at each other, and T and I 

felt as if we were at a funeral. We would have been 
thankful to have fled ; but our own birds not having 
begun laying we did so want those chicks, and we 
felt that it was worth while to endure something for 
their sakes. 

Presently coffee was handed round in huge cups, 
evidently more than half filled with sugar. The more 
highly the good vrouw wishes to honour you, the more 
horribly and sickeningly she over-sweetens your cup 
of tea or coffee ; and the syrup we had to drink on this 



OSTRICHES. 139 

occasion left no doubt as to the kindly feeling of our 
hosts towards us. The entrance of the tray was the 
signal for conversation to commence ; and, once set free, 
ib flowed abundantly. As we sat drinking our coffee 
and talking of everything but the business on which 
we were bent, our thoughts flashed back to Oriental 
bazaars, where these identical preliminaries are neces- 
sary to every bargain. The relationship of everybody 
present to everybody else was accurately explained to 
us, with much pointing, or clapping on the back, as 
the case might be ; and we in our turn were minutely 
questioned as to our names, ages, number of brothers 
and sisters and other relatives, etc. ; the women again 
bringing back Eastern recollections by their resem- 
blance to the inquisitive, chattering inmates of harems. 

Then T ventured to lead the conversation round 

to the coveted chicks ; but it was a little too soon, the 
subject was abruptly dropped, and we again waded 
through all manner of irrelevant talk until, a becoming 
time having elapsed, and the requirements of etiquette 
being satisfied, the business was allowed to commence. 

After such an inauguration, it may well be imagined 
that the bargain was not concluded in a hurry ; and 
we had paid a tediously long visit before we were at 
last the happy possessors of the chicks for which we 
had suffered so much ; and, putting them loose into the 
spider at our feet, where being about as large as 
ducks they made rather a tight fit, drove off with 
them. 

A little further on, at another Dutchman's house, 



140 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

and with more bargaining, we bought a young paauw 
(pronounced " pow "). This game bird (the great bus- 
tard) grows to an immense size, some being occasionally 
shot which measure nine feet across the outspread 
wings ; but fortunately considering the number of 
passengers already on board the present specimen, 
being but a chick, was no larger than a fine fowl. 

When we arrived at last at our original destination, 
the young ladies of the house presented us with a 
pretty little baby hare, which had just been caught ; 
and with this wee creature nestling in my lap, and the 
paauw and the ostriches all scrambling about among 
our legs and apparently not on the best of terms, we 
drove the twenty miles home. The poor paauw was 
very unhappy, and kept bewailing his fate in a long, 
weird cry, like the moaning of the wind ; whence he 
immediately acquired his name of " the melancholy 
Jaques." We had an amusing though rather anxious 
journey ; for the spider consisting simply of a kind 
of magnified Japanese tea-tray, supporting the lightest 
of seats, and mounted on four wheels, almost bicycle- 
like in their slenderness was hardly the safest thing 
in which to convey restless live stock which was not 
fastened or secured in any way. The road, too, was 
terrible ; indeed, in one place it resembled a steep, 
rocky staircase, and after every bad jolt I looked 
anxiously back to see if any of our creatures were 
lying on the ground. Thanks to T 's careful driv- 
ing, however, we brought the whole collection safely 
home, none the worse for their long journey. 



OSTRICHES. 141 

Jaques, I may as well mention here, soon grew very- 
tame ; but, being we never knew why persistently 
snubbed by all the other pets, was driven to the com- 
panionship of the fowls, with which he struck up a 
close friendship ; spending most of his time among 
them, and always coming with them to be fed. He 
would also forage about in the kitchen for scraps ; 
and, if disappointed in his search, would utter his des- 
ponding cry, and seem quite heart-broken. He was a 
handsome bird ; with delicately-pencilled plumage of 
different shades of grey and brown, a little neat crest 
on his head, and absurdly small feet, which looked as 
if they could not possibly support so large a body. 
Unfortunately, poor Jaques did not live to attain his 
full size, but poisoned himself with pumpkin seeds ; 
which had been carelessly dropped on the kitchen 
floor, in spite of repeated orders that these seeds 
being a deadly poison to turkeys should always be 
instantly burnt as soon as a pumpkin was cut open. 
We lost several of our turkeys through the neglect of 
this rule by the stupid Hottentot girls. 

Although little ostriches are such good travellers, it 
is anything but easy to transport full-grown ones 

about the world. They are wretched sailors, as T 

has found to his cost ; for when, some time ago, he 
took several pairs of birds to Sydney, about half of 
them died at sea. The day before they were shipped 
from Port Elizabeth they were placed in a store where 
there was a large quantity of tobacco, on which some 
of them regaled, with the consequence that before they 

K 



142 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

had been at sea a week three were dead from nicotine 

poisoning. T does not mind a story told against 

himself, so I may mention that a plan adopted by him 
with a view to ensuring the comfort and cleanliness of 
the birds during the voyage did not as regards the 
former advantage turn out quite a success. He car- 
peted the pens with cocoa-nut matting ; and when the 
vessel began to roll, and the birds sat down, their legs 
were terribly chafed and rubbed by the roughness of 

the matting. And although T , to procure rag 

wherewith to bind up their sores, recklessly sacrificed 
shirts, pocket-handkerchiefs, and whatever other linen 
came to hand, several succumbed. The survivors did 
so well in Australia that arrangements were made to 
carry on ostrich-farming in that country on a large 

scale ; and T was about to export two hundred 

birds when the Cape Government, hearing of the pro- 
ject, imposed an export duty of 100 on every ostrich, 
and 5 on each egg. 

Ostriches are very bad railway travellers ; and avail 
themselves of every possible opportunity of coming to 
grief in the cattle-trucks ; in which they often seem to 
be too closely packed. And as for their behaviour 

when travelling on foot, T has had some experience 

of the infinity of trouble they can give to those in 
charge of them. Having once bought a troop of ninety 
birds on the West Coast, he accompanied them himself 
on the long journey to Port Elizabeth. One night 
there was a stampede ; and when daylight broke over 
the vast plain not one ostrich was in sight. Of course 



OSTRICHES. 143 

" there was mounting in hot haste ; " and poor T 

had to ride about the country after the runaways, which 
were so dispersed that they could only be collected by 
twos and threes. He had two days of very hard work 
before he succeeded in getting them all together again. 

When T first started ostrich-farming, a good 

many years ago, he and his partners little knowing 
the " kittle cattle " with which they had to deal 
thought they would do without fencing. They soon 
found all their birds gone ; and had to scour the 
country for hundreds of miles in pursuit of their 
erratic stock, riding all their horses to death. 

Profiting by this sad experience, T has carefully 

fenced Swaylands in all directions except where the 
steepness of the mountain forms a natural barrier. 
Yet in spite of all the trouble and money spent and 
enclosing is one of the heaviest of all expenses in- 
curred in starting a new farm our birds were con- 
tinually getting away. We have unfortunately the 
great disadvantage of a high-road running straight 
through the farm ; and often a lazy Boer, thinking it 
too much trouble to kick away the stone with which 
he had propped the gate open while his waggons 

passed through though T had carefully adjusted 

that gate to fall to and close itself would cause the 
loss of several of our birds ; which of course might or 
might not be heard of again. On one occasion over 
twenty birds seem to have gone out in a body, owing 
to the gate being left open ; and only a few were 
eventually recovered. 



I 4 4 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

Some birds artful old rovers who have been away 
before and have tasted the joys of freedom will spend 
days running up and down along the side of the fence ; 
keeping the gate well in sight, and watching for the 
chance of its being left open. 

The family of one of our herds, living close to a 
gate, were supposed to act as lodge-keepers ; but like 
most of the coloured race they could never be induced 
to attend steadily and systematically to their duty, 
and we often found the gate wide open, inviting an 
exodus of birds. A fine of five shillings was imposed 
for each offence ; but the hardened sinners knew that 

T 's kind heart made him reluctant to enforce the 

penalty. 

Ostriches, when very firmly bent on escaping, and 
finding no gate open, will sometimes charge the fence ; 
and, though occasionally one will succeed in tumbling 
safely over and getting away, the clumsy performance 
most frequently results in broken legs. 

Runaway birds are far from being the least among 
the many trials of an ostrich-farmer's life; and the 
annual losses caused by them even exceed in number 
those resulting from accident. Then they involve such 
endless waste of time and trouble. T was con- 
tinually riding about, searching and making inquiries, 
often in vain, for lost ostriches. When he was fortu- 
nate enough to find one, or hear of its whereabouts ; or 
perhaps see, from the advertised description of its brand, 
that it was an inmate of some distant pound, two of 
the herds never spared without difficulty from other 



OSTRICHES. 145 

work would be sent, often a long journey of three or 
more days, to bring it back. 

A returning runaway, always a joyful sight to us, 
was also rather a laughable one. As he was marched 
along between the two men, each with a tight grip on 
his shoulder, he looked just like a pickpocket in the 
hands of the police, going to prison ; and a large pieca 
of sacking, roughly sewn round his body to give his 
captors a firmer hold, made him appear as though 
already in convict dress. Then, to prevent his giving 
trouble on the road, his head would be in a bag. As 
often as not this bag would be one of my pillow-cases, 
surreptitiously abstracted by T from the linen- 
drawer before sending off the men. 

The very necessary operation of branding is per- 
formed on the ostrich's large, bare thigh, which seems 
just made for the purpose. Sometimes a considerable 
number of our young or newly-purchased birds would 
be branded at once. The irons with our brand, the 
Turkish crescent, were heated in a little portable forge 
placed in one corner of the plucking-kraal ; and each 
poor bird in turn received the mark of our ownership 
with an agonized start on one side ; the smell, and the 
hissing sound of the frizzling flesh always reminding 
me unpleasantly of the horrible performances of the 
A'issaoua, which (because every one else went) I was 
once foolish enough to go and see in Algiers. Old 
birds, which have frequently changed hands, some- 
times display a fine collection of initials and different 
designs, covering both thighs. 



146 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

Unfortunately, branding is not always the safe- 
guard against theft which it is intended to be ; for 
there are quite as many dishonest people in the Cape 
Colony as elsewhere (if not rather more), and it is no 
uncommon trick to obliterate the brand of a bird which 
has come astray by applying over it a much larger one 
a " frying-pan " brand, as one hears it occasionally 
called by victims. 

As regards the stupidity of ostriches, although indeed 
they are falsely accused on one point ; that of hiding 
their small heads in the sand and imagining therefore 
that their large bodies are quite invisible to the foe, 
they do many other things quite as foolish, and to 
revert again to the Book of Job their character could 
not possibly have been more perfectly summed up than 
it is in the words : " Because God hath deprived her of 
wisdom, neither hath He imparted to her understand- 
ing." And, indeed, no one looking at the ostrich's 
ridiculous little head, so flat immediately above the 
eyes as to leave no room for any brain, can wonder 
that he is an imbecile ; possessing even less intelligence 
than a common fowl, and not recognizing the man who 
has fed him every day for years, if the latter comes to 
the camp in a coat or hat to which he is unaccustomed. 

A friend of T 's was attacked and knocked down 

by one of his own ostriches, an old bird which had been 
constantly fed by him, but which, on seeing him for 
the first time in a black hat, took him for a stranger. 

Fortunately T was with him, and, having brought 

a tackey in spite of assurances that none would be 
needed came promptly to the rescue. 



OSTRICHES. 147 

Ostriches are long-lived creatures ; indeed, it is im- 
possible to say what venerable age they may be capable 
of attaining, for, however old they become, they never 
show any signs of decrepitude, nor do their feathers 
deteriorate ; while, as for an ostrich dying of old age, I 
do not believe any one has ever heard of such a thing. 
But it is accident which, sooner or later, ends the career 
of nearly every ostrich ; and in about ninety-nine cases 
out of a hundred the disaster is, in one way or another, 
the result of the bird's own stupidity. There surely 
does not exist a creature past earliest infancy more 
utterly incapable of taking care of itself than an 
ostrich ; yet he is full of conceit, and resents the idea 
of being looked after by his human friends ; and when, 
in spite of all their precautions for his safety, he has 
succeeded in coming to grief, he quietly opposes every 
attempt to cure his injuries, and at once makes up his 
mind to die. If his hurt is not sufficiently severe to 
kill him, he will attain his object by moping and re- 
fusing to eat anyhow, he dies often apparently for 
no other reason than because his master, against whom 
he has always had a grudge, wishes him to live. He 
seems to die out of spite ; just as a Hindoo servant will 
starve himself, waste rapidly away, and finally come 
and expire at the gate of the employer with whom he 
is offended. 

The worst and most frequent accidents by which 
ostriches contrive to make away with themselves are 
broken legs ; these even were the patients tractable 
it would be impossible to cure, owing to the strange 



148 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

fragility of that limb which, as we have seen, is capable 
of inflicting so deadly a kick, and any poor bird 
which breaks a leg has to be instantly killed. The 
bone seems almost as brittle as porcelain ; and a com- 
paratively slight blow is enough to splinter it into just 
such jagged and pointed fragments as result from 
breaking the spout of a china teapot. 

One very fruitful source of broken legs is the 
dervish-like habit ostriches have of waltzing when in 
particularly good spirits, and especially when first 
turned out of the kraal in the morning. They go 
sailing along so prettily in the bright sunshine ; their 
beautiful wings, spread and erect, giving them at a 
little distance the appearance of white balloons ; but 
they have a sad tendency to become giddy and tumble 
down, and, knowing the frailty of their legs, we do not 
look with unmixed pleasure on the graceful perform- 
ance. Some birds, indeed, have the sense to save 
themselves by " reversing," which they do as cleverly 
as practised human dancers ; but the accomplishment 
seems rare among them, and we calculate that waltzing 
costs us eight or ten per cent, per annum. 

Then they often fight savagely ; and the terrific 
" thud " of the blows they deal upon each other's bodies 
makes one tremble lest the next kick should fall on 
one of the brittle legs ; as indeed frequently happens. 
One day (a long drought having brought our birds 
round the house), two splendid young cocks began 
fighting close to the windows. In an instant one of 
them was down ; with his leg snapped across, and all 



OSTRICHES. 149 

but knocked off, by a frightful blow. T being 

from home, I had to go and inspect the poor bird's 
injuries a sickening sight and do him the only kind- 
ness possible, that of ordering his immediate execution. 
A couple of hours later, some of the flesh from one 
massive thigh was simmering in my stock -pot, sending 
forth a most delicious odour ; while both legs, joints 
from which indeed to " cut and come again," dwarfed 
the proportions of the Angora meat as they hung beside 
it, high out of reach of dog or jackal, in our open-air 
larder. For when by some untoward accident, such as 
that just described, our birds came suddenly by their 
death, we had the very small and melancholy consola- 
tion of eating them. That is to say, following the 
example of French frog-eaters, we ate the legs only ; 
there being no meat whatever on any other part of 
the creature's body. Instead of having a nice plump 
breast, like that of a fowl, turkey, or any other of the 
Carinat88 or keel-breasted birds, the ostrich has a flat 
breast-bone and large ribs shaped wonderfully like 
those of a human being. His body is always bony ; 
and, however well you may feed him, the nourishment 
all seems to go to his legs. An unpleasant stringiness 
prevents ostrich-steaks from being quite nice, but the 
soup is perfection. I never tasted any quite equal to 
it ; although some, made from the enormous tortoises 
found occasionally on the veldt, came very near it in 
goodness. The best beef -stock is not to be compared 
with ostrich-soup ; and I imagine the latter would be 
a most nourishing food for invalids. An ostrich which 



150 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

has died in good condition has a large quantity of 
beautiful, soft, bright yellow fat. This, being most 
useful, is always carefully put away in jars ; and there 
is no fat equal to it for guns, saddles, harness, boots, etc. 

Besides waltzing and fighting, there are endless other 
ways in which ostriches always ingenious in devising 
plans for their own destruction manage to get their 
legs broken, and their throats consequently cut ; but 
the favourite form of felo-de-se is collision with the 
wire fences. These seem to have some magnetic attrac- 
tion for the vogels, as the Dutch call them the word, 
appropriately enough, too, being pronounced " fools." 

" Another bird killed in the wires ! " How familiar 
any one living on an ostrich farm becomes with these 
words of woe ! Anything, or nothing the latter in- 
deed more frequently suffices either to frighten or 
embolden an ostrich into flinging himself headlong into 
the nearest fence. The appearance of a strange dog, 
for instance and in spite of strict orders the Kaffirs 
always will bring dogs about the place is quite certain, 
whatever may be the view taken of it by the ostrich, 
to lead but to one result. Say the dog is coming along 
on the opposite side of the fence. An imbecile bold- 
ness and pugnacity straightway inspire the ostrich ; he 
has no eyes for anything but the dog, and, leaving the 
fence entirely out of his calculations, he makes a mad, 
blind charge, which lands him well in the wires ; and 
if he is extricated from the latter with unbroken legs, 
his owner may be congratulated on a very unusual 
stroke of luck. If, on the other hand, the dog and bird 




OSTRICH-CHICK. 

(Photographed from case in Stanley and African Exhibition.) 




OSTRICHES MEDITATING ESCAPE THROUGH bsifowwvE F 



OSTRICHES. 151 

are on the same side of the fence then, even Burns's 
mouse' had no greater " panic " in his " breastie " than 
that which impels the senseless biped to dash straight 
into the wires on his left; though miles of unfenced 
veldt, along which he might run with safety and soon 
distance the dog, stretch away to his right. The dog, 
of course, was not in either case troubling his head 
about the ostrich ; and only wonders what all the 
commotion is about. 

One of T 's birds performed the "happy de- 
spatch " in quite a novel manner. Seeing a tempting 
quince growing on the further side of a hedge, he 
squeezed his head and neck through a narrow fork in 
the branches to reach it. Having secured and eaten 
his prize, he tried to draw his head back. But what 
was difficult enough before was now impossible; his 
neck, bulging with the quince, kept him a prisoner, 
there was no one at hand to help, and the more he 
tugged and jumped in the frenzied manner of ostriches 
when held by the head, the more firmly he stuck. 
And he was found at last, with his neck broken, and 
his head, to all intents and purposes, pulled off. 

Another ostrich, running up against some projecting 
ends of wire, tore his throat open ; inflicting so deep a 

gash as to divide the oesophagus. T (surgeon as 

well as everything else a colonist requires to be) went 
in quest of needle and thread to sew up the wound ; 
and, on returning, found that his patient, having dis- 
covered a sack of mealies, was busily helping himself 
to the contents ; though with the unsatisfactory result 



152 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

that the food, as soon as swallowed, tumbled out again 
through the slit in his throat. Nothing daunted, 
however, and apparently insensible to pain, the feathered 
Tantalus continued to feed ; wondering no doubt why, 
having eaten so much, he remained hungry. Thanks 

to T 's care, this bird, a rare exception to the general 

rule of wounded ostriches, actually recovered. 

Talking of the ostrich's food-passage, it is rather a 
curious sight to watch the progress of a large bone, or 
of a good beakful of mealies, as it travels down the 
long throat of the bird. During its journey, the large, 
slowly-moving lump is seen to make the circuit of the 
whole neck, and while passing round the back of the 
latter it looks comical indeed. Queer things sometimes 
find their way down this tortuous passage ; the exces- 
sive queerness of some of them giving rise to the fre- 
quent boast of those persons fortunately able to eat 
anything, fearless of consequences, that they " have the 
digestion of an ostrich." But those miscellaneous 

o 

collections of old bones, glass and china, stones, jewel- 
lery, hardware, and odds and ends of all sorts, with 
which the creature stores his interior, till one is 
reminded of Mark Twain's " solid dog," fed on paving- 
stones far from showing that an ostrich has a good 
digestion, are necessary to prevent his having a very 
bad one. They are, of course, simply his teeth, the 
millstones which grind his food ; only they are situated 
in his stomach instead of in his mouth, and, on an 
immensely-magnified scale, they only perform the work 
of those grains of sand with which the little cage-bird 



OSTRICHES. 153 

keeps himself healthy. Certainly ostriches occasionally 
show a sad want of discrimination, and make choice of 
articles which are quite unsuitable for their purpose. 
The manager's lighted pipe, for instance, was snatched 
and greedily swallowed by one of our birds before any 
one could stop him ; and for a while the thief was very 
anxiously watched to see if evil consequences would 
ensue. Luckily, however, the strange fare did not 
seem to disagree with him. Another bird picked a 
gimlet out of a post, in which, for one moment, it had 
been carelessly left sticking tossed it down his throat, 
and was none the worse for it. 

Ostriches, like magpies, are attracted by everything 
bright and glittering ; hence the frequent and just com- 
plaints brought against them for theft. But their own 
interior is the only hiding-place where they bestow the 
precious stones and other articles of jewellery which, 
whenever they have a chance, they will always steal. 

One day, while yet new to the colony, and to the 

ways of ostriches, I was standing with T by the 

side of one of the camps, looking over the fence at the 
birds, and much amused by the curious, dancing manner 
in which the creatures moved, as if hung on wires ; 
when suddenly one of them, with a motion as quick as 
lightning, made a dash at my earring, a little round 
knob of gold, exactly the size and colour of a mealie 
(Indian corn seed), for which perhaps he took it ; and 
I only drew back just in time to save it and probably 
a piece of the ear with it from going down his throat. 

A newly-arrived gentleman was less fortunate. He, 



154 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

too, was looking over a fence into a camp, when the 
sharp eye of an ostrich spied a beautiful diamond in 
his pin, and in an instant the jewel was picked out and 
swallowed. A kind of court-martial was held on the 
ostrich; the relative values of himself and of the 
diamond being accurately calculated, that his judges 
might decide whether he should live or die. Fortun- 
ately for him it was just the time when ostriches were 
expensive ; and his value was estimated at 100, while 
the diamond was only worth 90. Those 10 saved 
his life ; and the diamond was allowed to remain and 
perform the part of an extra-good millstone in his 
interior. Had he waited till the present time to furnish 
his internal economy thus expensively he would have 
been very promptly sacrificed. But people should not 
wear diamonds on ostrich farms. 

When, soon after our return from the Cape, we were 
staying for a time in London, one of our first expedi- 
tions was to the Zoo. There, with great delight and 
amusement, we walked about, looking up one after 
another of our old South African friends. But it was 
a cold, gloomy day ; and in the houses as well as out of 
doors the exiles from that sunny land seemed much 
depressed by their changed conditions of climate. The 
meerkats, curled up in a half-torpid state, were no 
longer the merry little rogues they had once been, when 
in happier days they stood on their hind legs outside 
their burrows, toasting their little backs in their native 
sunshine. The baboon was morose ; the snakes sleepy ; 
the African buffalo no longer terrible as in the wilds 



OSTRICHES. 155 

of his old home, but a poor dejected creature, utterly 
crushed and broken-hearted by long residence under 
cold, grey skies. Altogether, everything hailing from 
Austral Africa looked very homesick that dull day, 
with the sole exception of the secretary bird, which, 
after a long and persevering search for old Jacob's 
sake we at last succeeded in finding. He was a 
delightful bird ; as tame as our own old friend, and 
evidently a great favourite with his keeper. We felt 
wickedly covetous, as the man, pleased at the interest 
we showed, put the intelligent bird through a number 
of comical performances, which included the " killing " 
of a stuffed ratskin, kept for the purpose of displaying 
how the secretary in his wild state beats to death the 
mice, lizards, and other creatures on which he feeds. 

But where were the ostriches ? Just as actors, when 
they have a holiday, usually spend it in going to the 
theatre, so, of all the creatures in the Zoo, those we 
were most anxious to see were the great birds of whose 
company during the last few years we might reason- 
ably be supposed to have had enough. But no ostriches 
were to be seen ; and the keeper of whom we inquired 
told us that all were dead. On asking the cause of 
death, we heard that it was " because the people fed 
them on pennies." We went to the office of the secretary 
of the gardens, and found that this statement was 
really true, and that the post-mortem examination of 
each poor bird had brought to light a large number of 
copper coins which had been swallowed. We were 
glad to hear that any ostriches kept in the gardens in 



156 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

future were to be separated by glass from a public 
idiotic enough to waste its money in poisoning them. 

After this, we were quite able to believe a story told 
us of how a girl was one day seen at the Zoo, feeding 
these same unfortunate birds with some ten or twelve 
pairs of old kid gloves, evidently saved up for the 
purpose, and presented, one after another, tightly rolled 
up into a ball ; the creatures gulping them down quite 
as a matter of course, and looking out for more. 



CHAPTER VIII. 

MEERKATS. 

Meerkats plentiful in the Karroo Their appearance Intelligence 
Fearlessness Friendship for dogs A meerkat in England 
Meerkat an inveterate thief An owl in Tangier Taming full- 
grown meerkat Tiny twins A sad accident Different characters 
of meerkats The turkey-herd Bob and the meerkat "The 
Mouse." 

THE little meerkats were surely created for the express 
purpose of being made into pet animals. Certainly no 
prettier or funnier little live toys could possibly be 
imagined. Nearly every homestead in the Karroo has 
its tame meerkat, or more likely two or three, all as 
much petted and indulged, and requiring as much 
looking after, as spoilt and mischievous children. In 
their wild state, these little creatures are gregarious, 
and live, like the prairie-dogs and biscachas of the 
Western Continent, in deep holes underground, feed- 
ing chiefly on succulent bulbs, which they scratch 
up with the long, curved, black claws on their 
fore-feet. They are devoted sun- worshippers ; and 
in the early morning, before it is daylight, they 
emerge from their burrows, and wait in rows till their 
divinity appears, when they bask joyfully in his beams. 



158 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

They are very numerous in the Karroo ; and as you ride 
or drive along through the veldt you often come upon 
little colonies of them, sitting up sunning themselves, 
and looking, in their quaint and pretty favourite 
attitude, like tiny dogs begging. As you approach, 
they look at you fearlessly and impudently, allowing 
you to come quite close ; then, when their confiding 
manner has tempted you to get down in the wild 
hope of catching one of them, suddenly all pop so 
swiftly into their little holes, that they seem to have 
disappeared by magic. 

There are two kinds of meerkats ; one red, with a 
bushy tail like that of a squirrel, the other grey, with 
a pointed tail, and it is this latter kind which makes 
so charming a pet. The quaint, old-fashioned little 
fellow is as neatly made as a small bird ; his coat, of 
the softest fur, with markings not unlike those of a 
tabby cat, is always well kept and spotlessly clean ; 
his tiny feet, ears, and nose are all most daintily and 
delicately finished off; and the broad circle of black 
bordering his large dark eyes serves, like the anti- 
mony of an Egyptian beauty, to enhance the size 
and brilliancy of the orbs. A curious kind of seam, 
starting from the middle of his chin and running 
underneath him the whole length of his body, gives 
him somewhat the appearance of a stuffed animal 
which has not been very carefully sewn up. His 
bright, pretty little face is capable of assuming the 
greatest variety of expressions, that which it most 
frequently wears when in repose being a contented, 




A MEERKAT. 



MEERKATS. 159 

self-satisfied smirk ; impudence and independence dis- 
playing themselves at the same time in every line of 
his plump little figure. With his large, prominent 
forehead, giving evidence of the ample brain within, 
one need not, perhaps, wonder at his being one of the 
most sagacious of animals ; although it is certainly 
almost startling to find all the intelligence of a dog in 
a wee thing which you can put in your pocket, or 
which, if buttoned up on a cold day inside the breast 
of your ulster, is as likely as not, when tired of that 
retreat, to squirm out down your sleeve. He is abso- 
lutely without fear ; and with consummate coolness 
and audacity will walk up to the largest and most 
forbidding-looking dog, although a perfect stranger to 
him, and, carefully investigating the intruder on all 
sides with great curiosity, express disgust and defiance 
in a succession of little, short, sharp barks " quark ! 
quark ! quark ! " He is soon on the friendliest terms 
with all the resident dogs in the place; showing a 
marked preference for those possessing soft, long- 
haired coats, on which he evidently looks as a provision 
of nature existing solely for his benefit, and in which, 
like the little Sybarite that he is, he nestles luxuriously 
on cold days, chattering and scolding indignantly, with 
a vicious display of teeth, if the dog, getting up and 
going away, rudely disturbs his nap. Out of doors he 
is the inseparable satellite of the dog; and during 
strolls about the farm in which, by-the-by, one is. 
often attended by a motley crew of furred and feathered 
friends the meerkat is sure to be seen following 



160 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

immediately in the wake of the dog, as closely as the 
latter follows master and mistress. Even a good long 
walk does not seem to tire his strong little legs, or, at 
any rate, if it does he is too plucky to give in and 
turn back, and as long as the dog keeps going on, he 
valiantly follows every detour of that animal's erratic 
course. Often, when starting for a ride or drive, we 
have been obliged to shut up our meerkat, so deter- 
mined was he to come with us. 

The astonishment of dogs in England at a ineerkat 
brought home by us was most amusing. They would 
run after him, apparently taking him for some kind of 
rat ; and when, to their amazement, instead of running 
away, he boldly trotted up to them, and, calmly and 
somewhat contemptuously surveying them, began to 
beg, they would hang their heads and draw back, with 
looks plainly expressive of their opinion that he was 
" no canny." It was fortunate for him that he inspired 
them with such awe, for otherwise he would certainly 
have died the death of a rat on one of the numerous 
occasions when he got away and wandered on his own 
account through the Kentish village where we were 
staying. The human natives whose cottages and shops 
he invaded, and to whom, with patronizing coolness 
and colonial absence of ceremony, he introduced him- 
self, were scarcely less puzzled than the dogs at the 
queer animal we had brought from " foreign parts." 

Every meerkat is an inveterate little thief ; and if 
you leave him for one instant where a meal is prepared, 
you are sure on returning to see. him jump guiltily off 



- - 

MEERKATS. 161 

the table and make for the nearest hiding-place, chat- 
tering triumphantly as he goes, like a blackbird caught 
stealing fruit ; an overturned milk-jug, dishes rifled 
of their contents, and sticky trails of butter, jam, or 
gravy across the tablecloth, proclaiming how profitably 
he has used his opportunity. He revels in mischief; 
and the reckless destructiveness in which he indulges, 
with no possibility of advantage to himself, but just 
for the fun of the thing, often brings you to the end 
of your patience. You vow that you will endure him 
no longer. You must get rid of him. The great 
Newton himself could not have pardoned such a con- 
stantly-offending Diamond. But the little rogue knows 
what is passing through your mind ; and he knows, too, 
how to get on the right side of you. He assumes his 
prettiest attitude and his most benevolent smile ; and as 
he sits bolt upright, turning his little head from side 
to side with quick, jerky movements, calling to you 
in the softest and sweetest of the numerous voices 
with which nature has endowed him, he is so irresist- 
ibly comical that, whatever he may have done, you 
cannot find it in your heart to be wroth with him very 
long. He is soon restored to favour ; and then, to ex- 
press his extreme contentment, he goes and lies flat on 
his stomach in the sunshine, with his legs stretched out 
straight. He is so flat that he seems all poured out 
over the ground, and looks like an empty skin. What 
becomes of his bones on these occasions is a constant 
source of wonder. 

The only other creature I have seen capable of so 



162 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

entirely changing its form at a moment's notice was a 
little owl we have since had in Tangier. This was a 
delightful pet, full of character and intelligence, though 
but a tiny thing not more than four inches high a 
good part of this height consisting of the two long, ear- 
like tufts of feathers on the head. The absurd little 
fellow, who looked like one of the owl pepper-pots 
come to life, had many amusing ways; but what de- 
lighted us most about him was the startling abruptness 
with which not only his manner, but his whole appear- 
ance, even his shape, would change as if by magic, 
according to his frame of mind. He would sit, for in- 
stance, in a contemplative attitude, his eyes sleepily 
half-closed, his " ears " sticking up very straight, and 
his body looking extremely long and thin, as long as no 
one was interfering with him; but once disturb his 
repose, and instantly he would change his shape and 
become a fat little ball of soft fluffiness ; a grey powder- 
puff with no ears visible, and two great yellow eyes 
glaring at you with the most ireful expression. 

Unfortunately, relying too much on the tameness of 
our owl, and fearful of spoiling his beauty, we neglected 
the precaution of cutting one of his wings, in conse- 
quence of which we were one day left lamenting this 
prettiest of North African pets ; and though we tried 
hard to procure another, explaining, with the little 
amount of Spanish at our command, to all the small 
boys in Tangier that we wanted " un pajarito con ore- 
jas" ("a little bird with ears,") we never looked upon 
his like again, and I imagine he must have been an 
uncommon bird. 



MEERKATS. 163 

The best chance of capturing full-grown meerkats 
is when, during long droughts, little companies of them 
are travelling in search of water ; they often have to go 
long distances, and when they are thus far from their 
holes it is possible, though by no means easy, to run 
one down. In a few days, even if quite old when 
caught, a meerkat will know his name, come to you 
when called, or at least answer you with a little soft, 
bird-like note from whatever corner of the room he 
may be hiding in ; scramble up into your lap, eat out 
of your hand, and altogether be nearly as tame as one 
which has been brought up in the house from infancy ; 
though of course there is always the chance that, 
knowing the joys of liberty, he may some day, like the 
owl, take it into his head to desert. 

T , riding one day, and encountering a little 

travelling party of meerkats, gave chase on horseback. 
One of the animals, a very large, fat one, made for a 
hole, but found it a tight fit. He stuck fast, and 

T pulled him out ignominiously by the tail, 

and rode off with him. The mare a wild, half- 
broken young thing was so mad with fright at the 
way in which the little fury, though tethered by a 
handkerchief, dashed about, scratching and tearing 
at her sides, that she bolted all the way home. And 

when T set the new inmate down on the floor of 

the sitting-room, where it stood at bay, snarling 
savagely at us, it seemed about as unpromising a 
specimen on which to exercise our powers of taming 
animals as could well be imagined. But, refusing to 



164 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

be daunted, we began by tying our captive to the leg 
of the table, where he had to accustom himself to 
seeing us constantly passing and repassing ; and though 
at first he tried to fly at us every time we came near, 
he soon saw that we had no evil designs against him, 
and was reassured by our careful avoidance of abrupt 
movements and sudden noises most important of all 
rules to be observed in taming wild creatures. In a 
few hours he was sufficiently at home to drink milk 
though cautiously and watchfully from a teaspoon 
held out to him; and in four days he was following 
us about the house like a little dog. 

This meerkat, the largest and handsomest we have 
ever seen, cannot have been anything less than the 
chief of his tribe. His powerful, tusk-like teeth, his 
unusually broad and capacious forehead, his superior 
intelligence, even for so clever a creature as a meerkat, 
all proclaimed him born to command. When one day 
he repaid the care and affection of many weeks by 
cruelly and ungratefully leaving us, we felt little doubt 
that, after giving civilization a fair trial, and comparing 
it with his old life, he had decided in favour of the 
latter, and started off home. We have often wondered 
whether he succeeded in finding his way back to his 
subterranean kingdom. And if so, did he find his 
subjects still faithful? or was he forgotten, and did 
another king reign in his stead ? 

One evening, when the men returned from the camps, 
one of the ostrich-herds displayed, nestling together in 
the palm of his hand, two baby meerkats, no larger 



MEERKATS. 165 

than good fat mice, which he had caught in the veldt. 
Rewarding the captor, in the usual Karroo style of 
barter, with a pound of coffee, we took possession of 
his prize ; and though at first our chance of rearing 
the tiny animals seemed doubtful, they flourished, 
grew up into fine specimens of their kind, and were 
among the most amusing of all our pets. They looked 
like a perfectly- matched pair of little images with 
heads moving by clockwork, as they stood, bolt up- 
right, in their favourite places, one against each door- 
post, and, critically surveying the view with an air 
of never having seen it before, revelled in the hot 
sunshine which came pouring in through the open 
doorway. 

Unlike " birds in their little nests," and more after 
the unamiable fashion of human twins who generally 
have to be sent to separate schools they got on very 
badly together ; and their frequent fights displayed 
most comically the strong contrast of the two energetic 
little characters. One of them was selfish and greedy, 
and, however liberal the supply of food presented 
even though it were three times as much as he could 
possibly eat always wanted all for himself. Jumping 
into the middle of the plate, he would stand a 
miniature dog in the manger noisily defending the 
contents against his gentler brother, whom he would 
attack and bite savagely if he ventured near. The 
other was a far nobler and finer character ; and, though 
he too could " bark and bite " on occasion in an equally 
unbrotherly manner, it was no such base, material 



166 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

cause of jealousy which impelled him to do battle. 
Our notice and our affection were what he wanted all 
for himself; and so bitterly did he resent every kind 
word, every slightest caress bestowed on his companion, 
that it was the instant signal for war, and, flying at 
the other, he would attack him as vengefully as he in 
his turn was attacked at feeding-time. 

Both brothers were on terms of insolent and con- 
temptuous familiarity with Toto ; on whom they 
looked as their slave, whom they made the butt for 
their jokes, and in the soft warmth of whose coat they 
slept as on the most luxurious of fur rugs. And when 
he wanted to sleep and they did not, how they relished 
the fun of keeping him awake against his will ! What 
riotous games they would have, chasing each other 
backwards and forwards across his recumbent form, 
pulling his poor tired eyes open with their mischievous 
black claws, scratching and tickling his nose to make 
him sneeze, and trying their hardest to burrow into his 
ear or his mouth. One snap of his powerful jaws, and 
their frivolous career would promptly have been cut 
short ; but the good old dog who, in spite of all 
their teasing, loved the troublesome imps submitted 
patiently, though they did make his eyes water. 

One day, alas ! tired out with play, they were com- 
fortably nestling close up against their big friend's 
side, and all three were taking their afternoon nap. 
Perhaps Toto had a disturbing dream, perhaps the flies 
bothered him and made him restless, at any rate 
during his sleep he rolled over on to one of the 



MEERKATS. 167 

meerkats our favourite, of course and, all uncon- 
scious of what he was doing, crushed and suffocated 
the poor little fellow. Though no one thought of 
blaming Toto for what was purely accidental, he 
instantly and completely realized that he had caused 
the death; and as we stood lamenting over the flat- 
tened little body, the poor old dog's distress was most 
pathetic. He seemed quite overcome with shame ; and 
as he stole from one of us to the other, timidly licking 
our hands, his expressive face pleaded eloquently for 
the forgiveness he had no need to ask. With all our 
efforts to reassure him it was a long time before his 
sensitive conscience recovered from the shock. The 
surviving little brother lived to a good old age, came 
home with us, and succumbed at last to the severities 
of an English winter. 

The variety of character in our numerous meerkats 
formed quite an amusing study. They differed as much 
as human beings, and among them all there was but 
one which was stupid. He, poor fellow, met with 
injuries in early life at the hands of one of the cruel 
boys who looked after the little ostriches ; who, in a 
passion with him for getting in the way, picked him 
up and flung him across the kitchen. He landed in a 
saucepan, received spinal damage, and grew up stunted 
in mind and body. And when, one day, he came 
suddenly to his end by tumbling into that disappoint- 
ing fountain-basin of which mention has been made, 
we felt that on the whole it was rather a happy 
release. 



168 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

One of our meerkats was the devoted ally of the 
turkeys, and would go out into the veldt with them 
every day; accompanying them on all their wanderings, 
and apparently looking upon himself as their herd. He 
would come trotting home with them in the evening, 
full of his own importance, and evidently taking to him- 
self the credit of having brought them all safely back. 

Another was fond of rambling off all by himself, 
sometimes going a very long way from home. On one 
occasion some friends from a distant farm, driving to 
call on us, saw near the road what they took for a wild 
meerkat, and set their collie at it. But animals have 
a wonderful instinct for detecting the difference 
between tame and wild creatures ; and good Bob, 
dearly though he loved a scamper after any of the 
swift-footed denizens of the veldt, saw at once that this 
was not lawful game. So, instead of the expected 
chase, there was a friendly and demonstrative greeting 
between the two animals. The dog stood wagging his 
tail at the meerkat, the meerkat sat up " quarking " at 
the dog, and our friends, guessing that the little 
creature belonged to us, took him up into their Cape 
cart, and brought him to his home. 

Another meerkat, being so incorrigibly savage that 
handling him was always attended with serious damage 
to the fingers, had to wear a muzzle, improvised for 

him by T out of one of the little wire baskets 

made for the spouts of teapots. 

Another, though young and tiny, was a born tyrant ; 
displaying the most overbearing and imperious of 



MEERKATS. 169 

characters. In company with two full-grown meer- 
kats, we brought him to England ; the trio being taken 
on board the steamer in a large birdcage. There, how- 
ever, owing to the truculent conduct of " the Mouse," 
as we called the little one, it was soon found impossible 
for all three to remain together ; and separate quarters 
had to be provided for the two older animals. For the 
impudent mite, hardly out of babyhood, domineered 
over his seniors in most lordly fashion ; forbidding 
them to take their share of the food, and dancing and 
jumping excitedly in the dish if they ventured to 
approach it ; while they, although they could easily 
have made short work of the Mouse, calmly submitted ; 
enduring his tyranny with that wonderful patience and 
forbearance so often shown by animals to one another 
under provocation which we human beings would 
bitterly resent. Perhaps they were overawed by the 
antics of the pugnacious atom, and thought he was not 
quite canny ; or perhaps they looked leniently on his 
conduct as on that of a spoilt child accustomed to be 
humoured. 



CHAPTER IX. 

BOBBY. 

Bobby's babyhood Insatiable appetite Variety of noises made by 
Bobby His tameness Narrow escape from drowning A warlike 
head-gear Bobby the worse for drink His love of mischief He 
disarms his master Meerkat persecuted by Bobby Bobby takes 
to dishonest ways He becomes a prisoner His clever tricks 
Death of Bobby. 

" Out of question thou wert born in a merry hour." 

BOBBY was our tame crow. We brought him up from 
earliest infancy ; indeed our acquaintance with him 
commenced when he was nothing but a speckled, red- 
dish-brown egg, in a nest or, rather, a flat, untidy 
bundle of sticks in one of the few and stunted trees 
on the Klipplaat road. We were anxious to have one 
of these crows ; knowing what intelligent and amusing 
birds they are, and having struck up a friendship with 
one on a neighbouring farm, a comical old one-legged 
fellow, with an inexhaustible fund of high spirits and 
solemn impudence, which made him a general favourite. 
So we kept an eye on this egg ; riding up to the tree 
occasionally, and watching the progress of the young 
bird through various stages of ugliness and bareness ; 
until at last we took Bobby home with us, an ungainly, 



BOBBY. 171 

half-fledged creature, very unsteady on his legs and 
ragged as to his clothing, which latter indeed consisted 
more of stiff black quills than anything else. His im- 
mense bill was perpetually open ; displaying the depths 
of his wide red throat as he shouted defiantly for por- 
ridge, of which he never seemed to have enough. He 
would take it with a loud, greedy noise, swallowing as 
much of your finger with it as possible, and apparently 
very much disappointed at having to let the latter go 
again. He seemed to live in hope that, if he only held 
on long enough, it would surely come off at last and 
slip quite down his throat. If we passed anywhere 
near his basket even though he had just had an ample 
feed he would shoot up, like a black Jack-in-the-box 
with a large red mouth, demanding more porridge. 
The vegetarian diet suited him, and he grew into a 
very large, handsome bird, with the glossiest and softest 
of blue-black plumage. 

He soon refused to stop in his basket ; tumbling out 
head first, and hobbling about the room ; then, as his 
strength increased, he walked and flew about outside 
the house ; always coming at night to sleep on our 
window. In the morning, as soon as it was light, he 
would fly in, and wake us up by settling on us and 
pecking us gently. Then, having given us his morning 
greeting, he would depart on his rounds outside ; and 
presently we would hear him on the top of the house, 
or on the wire fence, practising some of his endless 
variety of noises ; imitating the fowls, the donkeys, the 
dogs, or holding long conversations with himself, the 



172 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

greater part of which sounded like very bad language. 
One day we heard the cackling of a hen, which had 
apparently laid an egg on the top of the American 
windmill ; and, on looking up, found that Bobby had 
selected this airy height as his practising-ground. It 
was one of his favourite places ; and often, when there, 
he would catch sight of us the moment we came out of 
the house, and would come flying straight down to us, 
settling, sometimes quite unexpectedly, on a head or 
shoulder. He knew his name, and would come to us 
when we called him ; unless indeed we had detected 
him in some mischief, when he would walk off, and 
keep carefully out of reach until he thought his offence 
was forgotten. 

He was our constant companion out of doors ; and 
when I went round to the store, gave out the men's 
rations, fed the ostriches and fowls, or superintended 
the washing, he was sure to be either following close at 
my heels like a dog, or perched on my shoulder, 
whispering confidentially in my ear in a most affec- 
tionate manner, while his bright little jewel of an eye 
watched all I did with great interest. His devotion to 
his master often led him to fly down the well after him, 
when work had to be done or superintended there. On 
one occasion he overshot the mark and got into the 
water, where he very narrowly escaped being drowned. 
He was pulled out with some difficulty, very wet and 
miserable, too frightened to know friends from foes, 
and biting his rescuer with all his might. 

He would accompany us on our walks; and often took 



BOBBY. 173 

long rides with T , whose white sun-helmet became 

a most imposing headgear, as Bobby surmounted it, 
spreading his great black wings ; reminding us of the 
raven-crest of some ancient Scandinavian warrior. 
Then, while in full gallop, he would dart after one of the 
great gaudy locusts four inches long, and looking like 
painted toys daubed with red, yellow, and green and, 
catching it on the wing with unerring aim, would 
fly back with it to his place on the sun-helmet, where 
he would regale with many noises expressive of satis- 
faction. 

Bobby was not a " temperance " bird ; indeed, his 
tastes lay in quite an opposite direction. We first dis- 
covered his propensity by accident, and in this manner. 
One day, when doctoring a sick fowl, which needed 
" picking up," I had mixed some porridge with wine, 
making it very strong. Just as I was about to admin- 
ister it, Bobby came hurrying up, with his inquiring 
mind, as usual, all on the qui vive to see what was 
going on. He plunged his bill into the porridge, and 
helped himself to a large mouthful ; then, finding it to 
his taste, he went on eating noisily and greedily, till he 
had " taken on board " a considerable amount, and 
walked off satisfied. Then, having attended to my 
patient, I went indoors, thinking no more of Bobby 
till, some time after, Nancy, our Hottentot "help," 
eame running to us, calling out, " Missis ! Missis ! 
Bobby drunk ! " We went outside ; and there, sure 
enough, was Bobby, on his back, his little black feet 
helplessly kicking the air, his bill wide open, and a 

M 



174 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

variety of the most astonishing sounds proceeding 
therefrom, compared with which his usual, every-day 
profanity was mild. 

He soon recovered, and was on his legs again, none 
the worse for the adventure ; but it left him with 
a decided taste for stimulants, which he strove to 
indulge on all possible occasions. From that day he 
followed me to the store more pertinaciously than ever ; 
sitting on the tap of the cask while I drew the wine 
for meals, bending down and twisting his neck to reach 
the stream as it flowed into the jug. He gradually 
learned to turn the tap himself, and was delighted if 
he could catch a few drops. At last he became clever 
enough to set the wine running altogether ; and, as 
he never learned to turn the tap back again, great 
caution was necessary to see that he did not remain 
behind in the store, which he was always trying to do. 
He would often give a good deal of trouble by flying to 
the very topmost shelf, from whence it was difficult to 
dislodge him ; and where a chase after him involved 
climbing over numerous sacks on my part, and much 
knocking over of bottles and tins on that of Bobby. 

Bobby loved mischief ; he revelled in it, not for the 
sake of any good which it brought him, but simply out 
of what the Americans call " cussedness." He was 
never so happy as when busily engaged in some work 
of destruction. When discovered, he would retreat to 
a safe distance, and, if pursued, would always manage 
to keep just out of reach ; though not too far for you 
to see the twinkle of enjoyment in his wicked old eye, 



BOBBY. 175 

and hear his defiant croak ; and as he strutted before 
you, looking back triumphantly over his shoulder, you 
felt that he was laughing at you. 

The garden was his favourite field of operations ; 
and, considering the time and trouble spent in produc- 
ing that little oasis, and in persuading plants to grow 
in it, it was no small trial to be disappointed of one 
crop of vegetables after another, simply owing to his 
careful destruction of the young plants almost as soon 
as they showed their heads above ground. It was pro- 
voking, on going down to the garden, to find that the 
few rows of peas or French beans, which we had so 
carefully sown and watered, and which only the day 
before were coming up so promisingly, had been but- 
chered to make Bobby's holiday, and were now all 
rooted up, dried and shrivelled in the hot sun, and lying, 
neatly arranged in order, each one in the place where 
it had grown. The culprit himself would probably be 
out of sight, for his gardening operations were usually 
carried on in the early morning, thus securing a quiet 
uninterrupted time among the plants before we were 
about ; but once we caught him. We were out earlier 
than usual, and found Bobby so deeply engrossed in 
putting the finishing touches to a row of beans which 
he had pulled up and laid in their places with even 
more than his usual neatness, that he only looked up 
in time to see his oftended master a few yards off, and 
just preparing to throw a good-sized stone. In an 
instant Bobby's mind was made up. Instead of at- 
tempting flight, and getting hit by the stone, he 



176 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

impulsively threw himself on T 's generosity, and 

flew straight to his hand ; looking up confidingly 
in his face, and at once winning the pardon he sought. 
His loving ways made us forgive many of his ini- 
quities. 

He liked to be " around " during meals ; experiment- 
ing on the different articles of food, and occasionally 
dipping his bill into a cup of tea, or what pleased him 
still more, a glass of wine. But, unfortunately, he did 
not confine his attentions to the provisions, and was 
constantly attempting to carry off the spoons and forks : 
we narrowly escaped losing several of them, and he 
succeeded in getting away with one knife, which we 

never saw again. He also flew off with one of T 's 

razors, and, when just above the middle of the dam, 
dropped it into the water. 

At last his thieving propensities obliged us to forbid 
him the house, and Toto learned to chase him out the 
instant he appeared inside the door ; the noisy hunt 
often ending in Bobby's being caught, and gently but 
firmly held down under the paws of Toto, who would 
lie wagging his tail contentedly, while Bobby, hurt 
nowhere but in his pride, vented Iiis rage in discordant 
croaks. He became very jealous of Toto and the other 
pets which, less mischievous than himself, were allowed 
indoors ; and he delighted especially in teasing the little 
meerkat, no less constant an attendant than himself 
among the small train of -animal friends which followed 
us outside. Bobby would come up noiselessly behind, 
and, catching the tip of the meerkat 's tail in his bill, 



BOBBY. 177 

would lift the little fellow off his legs, take him up a 
few feet into the air, and drop him suddenly. Then, 
after waitino* a few moments till his victim had re- 

o 

covered his composure, and was off his guard, he would 
repeat the performance. The meerkat, a plucky, in- 
dependent little character, resented the insult, and 
scolded and chattered vehemently, showing all his small 
teeth as he hung helplessly by the tail : but he was 
powerless against Bobby, and had to submit to being 
whisked up unexpectedly as often as his tormentor, by 
right of superior strength, chose to indulge his practical 
joke. 

As Bobby grew older he lost his simple vegetarian 
tastes, despised porridge, and began to pick up a dis- 
honest living about the fowl-house. He would fly to 
meet us in the morning, and perch on our shoulders 
with an impudent assumption of innocence ; quite un- 
conscious that the yellow stickiness of his bill told us 
he had just been breakfasting off several eggs. Then 
he took to eating the little chickens ; and here his 
talent for mimicking the fowls stood him in good stead, 
and no doubt gained him many a dinner ; his exact 
imitation of the hen's call to her young ones attracting 
victims within his reach. Many battles were fought 
by the maternal hens in defence of their progeny ; in 
which Bobby always got the best of it, going off tri- 
umphantly with his prize, to regale in safety on the 
roof, or at the top of the windmill. Our poor little 
broods of chickens, which had enemies enough before in 
the shape of hawks, wild cats, snakes, etc., diminished 



178 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

rapidly with this traitor in the camp, whose capacious 
appetite was equal to consuming as many as four a day, 
with eggs ad libitum. 

For this, and for his offences in the garden, Bobby 
was at last sentenced to be tied up : a little bangle of 
twisted wire was fastened round one leg, and attached 
to a long piece of stout wire outside our window ; and 
there, so long as there were little chickens about the 
house, or tender young vegetables in the garden, he had 
to remain. We felt much compunction at treating our 
old friend thus, and feared that with his keen appre- 
ciation of freedom, and love of independence, he would 
pine in captivity ; but Bobby did nothing of the kind. 
He was a far greater philosopher than we thought, and 
resigned himself at once to circumstances ; making the 
best of things in a manner which some of the human 
race might well imitate. He harboured no resentment 
against us for depriving him of freedom ; but, with 
his sweet temper quite unimpaired by his reverse of 
fortune, would give us just as warm and joyful a 
welcome, and caress us as lovingly, as in brighter days. 
He did not sit idle on the perch to which we had con- 
demned him ; but, his love of mischief breaking out in 
quite a new direction, he immediately consoled himself 
by commencing destructive operations on the window 
in which he sat, and on as much of the outside of the 
house as came within reach of his tether. He broke 
away the plaster from the wall, knocked out the mortar 
from between the bricks, and carefully picked all the 
putty out of the window, the panes of which he 



BOBBY. 179 

loosened so that they were always threatening to fall 
out ; and in a very short time our room, which was in 
reality the newest part of the house, looked like an old 
ruin, with crumbling wall and dilapidated window. 

He had a variety of resources at his command ; and 
when not engaged in the destruction of the house, he 
would often be found busy on another work he had in 
hand, that of trying to free himself from his bonds. No 
human prisoner, filing through the iron bars of his 
dungeon, ever worked more perseveringly for his 
freedom than did Bobby, biting through strand after 
strand of his cord of steel wires, or slowly, but surely, 
unfastening the twisted bangle on his leg ; until at last 
some day he would be missing from his place devas- 
tation in the garden, empty eggshells in the hens' nests, 
and sad gaps among the rising generation of fowls 
showing the good use he had made of his opportunities. 
No small amount of stratagem was required to re- 
capture him when loose ; and much time and trouble 
had to be expended, and tempting dainties displayed, to 
entice him within reach a fat mouse, if there happened 
to be one in the trap, being the most effective bait. 

Bobby would have been invaluable to an exhibitor 
of performing animals ; his intelligence in learning the 
few tricks we had the leisure to teach him showed that 
he would have been capable of distinguishing himself 
if he had been educated as a member of a "happy 
family." We often brought him in to show his tricks 
before visitors ; and his solemn way of performing 
them added much to the amusement he caused. He 



180 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

was a true humourist, and knew that his joke was 
more telling when made with serious face and grave 
deportment. 

He would lie " dead," flat on his back, with his blue 
eyelids drawn up over his eyes ; remaining motionless 
for any length of time we chose, and waiting for the 
word of command, when he would scramble to his feet 
in a great hurry, with a self-satisfied croak at his own 
cleverness. He would hang by his bill from one of 
our fingers, which he had swallowed to its point of 
junction with the hand ; and, with his wings drooping, 
and his legs hanging straight down in a limp and help- 
less manner, looking altogether a most strange and 
grotesque object, would allow us to carry him about 
wherever we liked. A little string of dark red beads, 
brought from Jerusalem, would always throw him into 
a perfect frenzy of real or pretended fright probably 
the latter ; and if they were put anywhere near him, 
or, worse still, flung across his back, he at once com- 
menced a series of startling antics, jumping and hopping 
about as if possessed, and uttering very uncanny 
sounds. 

As the time for our return to England drew near, 
we made up our minds that we could not leave Bobby 
behind he must be one of the little party of friendly 
animals which were to accompany us home ; and we 
were already discussing in what kind of cage or box he 
should travel, wondering how he would like being en- 
closed in so small a space, and how he would behave at 
sea ; friends in England had promised him a welcome, 



BOBBY. 181 

and were looking forward to seeing him when, after 
all, we had to part with him. Just three weeks before 
we sailed poor old Bobby was suddenly paralyzed, and 
died in a few hours. We never knew what caused his 
death : whether his unconquerable curiosity had led 
him to eat something poisonous ; whether the enforced 
sedentary life he had led for so many weeks together 
had undermined his constitution ; or whether occasional 
dead snakes, and the contents of the mouse-traps, which 
during his detention were always contributed in hope 
of partially satisfying his large appetite, were perhaps 
unwholesome diet, and shortened his days, we cannot 
tell. But Bobby was sadly missed ; and we still regret 
that brightest and most comical of all our pets. 

Some will perhaps say, " What foolish people these 
must have been, to tolerate a black imp of mischief 
who destroyed their vegetables, ate their eggs, killed 
their chickens, did his best to pull down their house, 
and whose neck ought to have been wrung ! " But, 
just as among the human race those characters we love 
best are not always the most faultless, so poor Bobby, 
full of imperfections as he was far from honest, not 
always sober, and with that terrible bent for mischief 
making him so often a nuisance yet possessed so many 
lovable qualities that his failings were redeemed ; and 
he lives in our recollection as one of the kindest and 
most faithful of all our South African friends. We 
could have better spared a better bird. 



CHAPTER X. 

OUR SERVANTS. 

A retrospective vision Phillis in her domain Her destructiveness 
Her ideas on personal adornment The woes of a mistress Eye- 
service Abrupt departure of Phillis Left in the lurch Nancy 
and her successors Cure of sham sickness The thief s dose Our 
ostrich-herd A bride purchased with cows English and natives 
at the Cape Character of Zulus and Kaffirs. 

" Man's work is from sun to sun, 
But woman's work is never done. " 

IT is always amusing, for those who have tried house- 
keeping in South Africa, to hear people in England 
talk of their " bad " servants. Ladies who, after the 
short quarter of an hour devoted to interviewing the 
cook and giving the day's orders, need trouble them- 
selves no more throughout the twenty-four hours as to 
the carrying out of those orders, but are free to pursue 
their own occupations, uninterrupted by a constant 
need of superintending those of their domestics, sit 
in their beautifully-kept drawing-rooms or at their 
well-appointed dining-tables, whose spotless linen and 
bright glass and silver are so delicious a novelty to eyes 
long accustomed to the Karroo's rough-and-ready back- 
woods style, and, much to your surprise, complain 

182 



OUR SERVANTS. 183 

bitterly of the unsatisfactory parlour-maid, or are 
pathetic over the iniquities of the cook who has just 
sent up a faultless little dinner. When any one, thus 
blissfully unconscious of what a really bad servant is, 
appeals to the lady colonist for sympathy, the unfeeling 
reply of the latter not unfrequently is : " You should 
try South African servants ! " And instantly, before 
the mind's eye of that lady colonist, there arises a 
retrospective vision of the average " coloured help " of 
Cape farms ; that yellow Hottentot or dark-skinned 
Kaffir, attired in a scanty and ragged cotton dress ; 
her woolly head surmounted by a battered and not 
always over-clean Jcappje (sun-bonnet), or tied up in a 
red and yellow handkerchief of the loudest pattern, 
twisted into an ugly little tight turban. She stands, in 
the bright morning sunshine, against a background of 
dirty dishes and unclean ed saucepans, left neglected 
since last evening's meal ; and of the comfort and 
advantage to herself of cleaning which before the 
adhering remnants of contents have dried and hardened 
it is absolutely impossible to convince her. Dogs, fowls, 
turkeys, and little pigs, in company with all the pet 
animals of the family and an occasional young ostrich, 
are kindly acting the part of scavengers on her unswept 
kitchen floor ; where they are habitues, her wasteful- 
ness and untidiness affording them so good a living 
that they have grown bold, and, refusing to get out of 
your way, get under your feet and trip you up at every 
turn if you are rash enough to enter the dirty domain 
of their protectress. The latter, like some malevolent 



184 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

goddess, is surrounded by an atmosphere of most evil- 
smelling fumes, prominent among which is the paraffin 
with which, to save herself trouble, she liberally feeds 
the fire every time it becomes low ; while the dense 
smoke and steam arising from several pots and sauce- 
pans on the stove proclaim the contents to be in various 
stages of burning, the climax being reached by what 
was once the soup, but of which nothing now remains 
but a few dried and charred fragments of bone, tightly 
adhering to an utterly ruined pot new last week. 
In answer to all expostulation the doer of the mis- 
chief has no word of regret or apology, but, taking the 
occurrence as a matter of course, shows all her even 
white teeth in a bright, good-tempered smile, as she 
says, " Yes, missis, de soup is burnt." 

Then still more horrible whiffs assail you, viz., the 
combined odours of the various articles of food which 
she has put away, carefully covered up in jars and tins, 
where she has forgotten them ; and where, in the close 
atmosphere of her stuffy kitchen, with the thermometer 
at 100, they have promptly gone bad. She has no 
"nose"; and, though her kitchen may be pervaded with 
odours which knock you down, she remains smiling and 
contented, and needs to be informed of the fact that 
there is a bad smell before she will set to work with 
great surprise to hunt out the cause of it ; too often 
revealing sights which make you shudder. 

If it is anywhere near a meal-time, her fire is sure 
to be very low, if not out altogether ; she has, of course, 
forgotten to tell the men, before starting for the camps 



OUR SERVANTS. 185 

in the morning, to chop wood for her day's needs; 
and as they, like all the coloured race, never perform 
the most e very-day duty unless specially reminded, 
she has to do this work herself, with much difficulty 
and dawdling; the luncheon or dinner being accord- 
ingly delayed indefinitely. If, on the contrary, it is 
between meals, and no cooking will be required for 
several hours, there is a roaring fire, over the hottest 
part of which the chances are ten to one that you will 
find the empty kettle ; while you are fortunate indeed 
if in your immediate and anxious investigation of the 
boiler you are yet in time to avert irretrievable damage. 

Any dirty water or refuse which is thrown away at 
all is flung just outside the kitchen door, where it lies 
in unsightly heaps and pools, attracting myriads of 
flies ; a plentiful sprinkling of which, needless to state, 
find their way, in a drowned, boiled, baked, roast or 
fried condition, into every article of food sent to table. 
Occasionally a teaspoon is tossed out among the rubbish, 
and lies glittering in the sunshine, ready to tempt the 
first ostrich that happens to prowl past the door. A 
very frequent counting of plate is necessary ; and in- 
deed, with such careless and not always honest servants, 
it is best to have no silver in daily use. 

Breakages are ruinously numerous ; each rough- 
handed Phillis in succession having her own private 
hiding-place, generally in the middle of some large 
bush, where- in spite of the standing promise that any 
accident honestly confessed will receive instant pardon 
the fragments of all the glass, earthenware, and 



i86 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

china destroyed through her carelessness are quietly 
put away out of sight, and, as she hopes, out of mind. 
Then perhaps, one day, having a little time to spare, 
you are looking about among the bushes to find out 
where the white turkey lays, and suddenly see, gleam- 
ing out through the dark foliage, what you at first 
take for a goodly number of the expected eggs. But 
alas ! on closer investigation you recognize the familiar 
patterns of your pretty breakfast and dinner services ; 
chosen carefully in England, with bright anticipations 
of the colonial home for which they were destined. 
For a long time their number has been mysteriously 
but steadily decreasing; till now there are but two 
soup-plates left, the cracked and chipped vegetable- 
dishes cannot among them boast of one handle, and 
the tureen, being without a lid, has to be covered igno- 
miniously with a plate. Egg-cups there are none, and 
their places have long been supplied not altogether 
unsuccessfully by napkin-rings. 

Constant relays of cups and saucers, as well as of 
glasses, are needed from Port Elizabeth; a dozen of 
either lasting but a very short time in the coloured 
girl's destructive hands. Opportunities of getting 
things sent up to the farm do not present themselves 
every week ; and to be provided, at one and the same 
time, with a sufficient supply of both glass and china is 
as unheard-of a state of affluence as was the possession, 
by poor Mr. Wilfer, of a hat and a complete suit of 
clothes all new together. An influx of unexpected 
visitors is sure to arrive at the time of greatest defi- 



OUR SERVANTS. 187 

ciency ; and the wine at dinner often has to be poured 
into a motley collection of drinking-vessels, among 
which breakfast and tea-cups, in a sadly saucerless and 
handleless condition, largely predominate over glasses. 
Another time it is the china which is conspicuous by its 
absence; a large party of strangers who have out- 
spanned at the dam are asked in to rest for an hour or 
two on their journey, and the hostess finds herself 
obliged to hand the afternoon tea to her guests in 
tumblers. 

The linen fares no better at the hands of Phillis than 
does the china. The best table-cloths and most delicate 
articles of clothing are invariably hung to dry, either 
on ungalvanized wires which streak them with iron- 
mould, or on the thorniest bushes available, from whose 
cruel hooks, pointing in all directions, it is impossible 
to free them without many a rent. You spend much 
time and trouble over the work of extricating them, 
remonstrate with Phillis for the hundredth time on her 
rough treatment of them, and soon after, passing again, 
find that, all having been spread out on the stony 
ground near the dam, right in the path of the ostriches 
coming up from the water, numerous muddy impressions 
of large, two-toed feet crossing and recrossing the linen 
necessitate the whole wash being done over again. 
Although a clothes-line and pegs are provided, they are 
contemptuously ignored, and the latter especially 
never used except under the closest supervision ; thus 
handkerchiefs, socks, and all the lighter articles of 
wearing-apparel are allowed to go flying away across 



i88 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

the veldt; where, on long rides, you occasionally 
recognize fragments of them napping about dismally 
on the bushes. 

A strict watch has to be kept on the table-napkins, 
or they are sure to be carried to the kitchen and pressed 
into the dirtiest of service as dish-cloths, lamp-cleaners, 
etc. However many kitchen-cloths and dusters may 
have been given out, you never find one which is fit to 
touch; nor, until experience has taught you to keep 
the paraffin and its attendant rags under lock and key, 
and yourself to superintend the cleaning and filling of 
the lamps, is there one cloth which does not communi- 
cate the smell and flavour of the oil to every plate, 
cup, and glass brought to table. Every cloth is satu- 
rated with grease, all have large holes burnt in them, 
and a good many have been deliberately torn into 
quarters, or into whatever smaller sizes Phillis may 
have judged convenient for her ends. She has spared 
only those which, with their broad pink-and-white 
borders with " Teacloth " in large letters, and a little 
teapot in each corner have pleased her eye, and struck 
her as suitable adornments for her person ; and which 
accordingly you often find twisted round the woolly 
head in place of the red and yellow turban, or grace- 
fully draped on neck and shoulders as a fichu. 

Like other daughters of Eve, she possesses her due 
amount of vanity, and has her own ideas though they 
are sometimes strange ones on the subject of improv- 
ing her personal appearance. If she is of a careful 
turn of mind, and mends her own dresses though 



OUR SERVANTS. 189 

most frequently she wears them torn and buttonless, 
fastened together only by the numerous black or 
white safety-pins which she has abstracted she scorns 
to patch with the same colour, or anything near it, 
but introduces as much variety as possible into the 
garment by choosing the strongest contrasts of hue and 
greatest diversity of materials. Thus her pink or 
yellow cotton dress will be patched with a piece of 
scarlet flannel or bright blue woollen stuff; the blue 
skirt, of which the latter is a portion, having been 
tastefully repaired with a large square of Turkey red. 

One day a bottle of salad oil is dropped and broken 
on the sitting-room floor ; and Phillis is called in to 
remove the traces of the accident. Why does she look 
so delighted as she goes down on her knees beside the 
unctuous pool? and why does she not proceed to wipe it 
up ? The reason is soon seen when she prepares for 
action by whisking off her bright handkerchief -turban. 
Then the pallid palms of her monkey-like hands are 
plunged blissfully into the oily mess, and again and 
again vigorously rubbed over head and countenance, 
till the thick mass of wool is saturated and dripping 
like a wet sponge, and the laughing face shines like a 
mirror. She is far too much absorbed to notice the 
amusement her performance is giving to hosts and 
guests ; and when all the late contents of the bottle 
have been successfully transferred to her person, she 
goes back in high glee to her kitchen, rejoicing in her 
increased loveliness. 

The house work is no less of a failure than are the 

K 



igo HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

kitchen and laundry departments. The art of bed- 
making has to be taught, with much patience and 
perseverance, to each successive untutored savage ; 
who if she has not come straight from some bee-hive- 
shaped hut where beds are totally unknown has lived 
in a Boer's house where, when it is thought worth while 
to make the beds at all (by no means an every-day 
business) it is never done till the evening, when it is 
just time to return to them and then is not done in a 
manner which at all accords with English ideas. In 
the morning, each portion of the room and each article 
of furniture which requires cleaning or dusting must 
be separately and individually pointed out to your 
handmaiden ; the corner where you do not specially tell 
her to sweep, and the table or bookshelf which you for- 
get to commend to the attentions of her feather-brush, 
being invariably left untouched. It is the same with 
all the rest of her work ; you have long ago found it 
impossible to make her understand a thing once for all, 
or to establish any sort of regular routine. She needs 
to be daily reminded of each daily duty, or it is not 
done. And then, unless under constant supervision, 
most wearying to her mistress, it is sure to be done 
wrong. Of course she never thinks of reminding you 
of anything, but is only too delighted if you have for- 
gotten it. If, through some unlucky oversight, you 
have not told her to put the joint into the oven and the 
potatoes on the fire, the chances are that both will be 
found uncooked when the dinner-hour arrives. And 
even when all is ready to be served up, you must 



OUR SERVANTS. igi 

again remind her of each dish, and of the proper order 
in which it is to make its entrance, or it is quite certain 
to be brought in at the wrong stage of the repast if 
brought at all. But perhaps you have become absorbed 
in the conversation at table, and so are unobservant of 
the non-appearance of the greens or other vegetables, 
till next morning you find them, still in the saucepan, 
and in a cold and sodden condition. 

Thus every detail of each day's " trivial round " has 
to pass through the mind of the mistress, who is com- 
-pelled to neglect her work in looking after that of a 
servant who will not use her own head. One goes to 
bed at night footsore with running after this terrible 
servant; and with a head still more wearied by the 
constant strain of doing all the thinking for every de- 
partment of the housekeeping. Of course it amounts 
to much the same as doing the work yourself; and 
but for " the honour of the thing " like the Irishman 
strutting along proudly inside the bottomless sedan- 
chair, though complaining that he " might as well have 
walked " you might as well be without a servant. 
With South African domestics one realizes indeed the 
meaning of the word " eye-service"; for not one of them, 
even the best, knows what it is to be conscientious. 
They never do a thing right because it is right ; what- 
ever they think will not be seen is neglected ; and they 
are placidly indifferent as to whether their work is 
done well or badly, and whether you are pleased or not. 
One gets so tired of the apathetic yellow or black faces ; 
which never brighten but into a childish laugh, gener- 



192 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

ally at something which is the reverse of a laughing 
matter for the employer. 

Altogether, Phillis is in every way exasperating, and 
is the great drawback to life on Cape farms. But she 
is the only kind of servant available ; and if you lose 
patience with her and let her go, you may have to do 
the whole work of the house yourself, possibly for a 
week or more, till another, closely resembling her, or 
perhaps worse, can be found. Therefore, you put up 
with much, rather than make a change which would 
involve the training of a raw recruit all unused to 
English ways, to cleanliness, and to comfort ; and indeed 
hardly acquainted with the rudiments of civilization. 

But, unluckily, Phillis herself loves change ; it is 
irksome to her volatile nature to remain lonsj in one 

O 

place ; and accordingly, just as she is becoming used 
to your ways, and you natter yourself that you will 
eventually get her into some sort of training, she flits 
off, regardless of the inconvenience she may cause. 
She never tells you in a straightforward manner that 
she wishes to leave ; never gives you time to look out 
for a substitute ; but departs unexpectedly, and always 
in one of two ways. Most commonly she rises in 
sudden insubordination, gets up a row of the first mag- 
nitude on some trifling pretence, and behaves in so 
turbulent and uproarious a manner that you are thank- 
ful to be rid of her at any cost, and dismiss her then 
and there ; which is just what she wanted. 

Or, if she is one of the more peaceful and amiable 
sort, and has some kindly feeling for the " missis, " she 



OUR SERVANTS. 193 

leaves the latter in the lurch in a less offensive, though 
even more heartless manner. She does not ask for a 
holiday, but announces her intention of taking one ; 
faithfully promises to return at the end of four days, 
and departs, riding astride on a lean and ragged scare- 
crow of a horse, brought for her by a party of 
Hottentot friends. It is true she leaves no possessions 
behind to ensure her coming back ; for she never has 
any luggage, and her wardrobe, being of the scantiest, 
is all well contained in the handkerchief-bundle which 
jogs at her side as she trots off. But new chums, fresh 
from England, and innocent of the ways of the Karroo, 
are always taken in the first time the trick is played 
on them ; and as the queer-looking cavalcade departs, 
bearing in its midst the giggling Phillis, no disquieting 
suspicions cross the mistress's mind. She determines 
to make the best of it for those four days, and goes 
bravely to work ; either single-handed, or with the so- 
called help of a small Hottentot girl, who comes just 
when she chooses sometimes remaining away a whole 
day, sometimes arriving in the afternoon when most of 
the work is done and who lives so far off that going 
after her would be useless waste of time. The hours 
are counted to the time appointed for Phillis's return, 
but needless to state she is never again seen or heard . 
of ; and the victim of her fraud learns by experience 
that as soon as a servant talks of a holiday it is time to 
begin the weary search for a successor ; never found 
without plenty of riding about the country, much in- 
quiring on neighbouring and distant farms, and many 
disappointments. 



194 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

It is not much use taking English servants to the 
Karroo ; the life is too dull for them, they hear of high 
wages to be had in Port Elizabeth and other towns, and 
you never keep them long. The man and wife, both 
excellent servants, who came with us from England, 
left us soon after we came up-country ; and from that 
time we had none but coloured servants for house and 
farm. There was indeed a sudden transformation in 
our little kitchen; from the quiet, neatly-dressed, white- 
aproned Mrs. Wells to noisy Hottentot Nancy, in 
dirtiest of pink cotton, profusely patched with blue 
and yellow. And the kitchen itself was no less changed 
than its presiding genius. Now began a time of good 
hard work for me for which the usual bringing-up of 
English girls, followed by years of travel and of hotel 
life, was not the best of training ; and, though I had 
learned much from Mrs. Wells, I was often sadly at a 
loss during the first weeks after her departure. No 
dish, however simple, which I myself was not able to 
cook, could be cooked by Nancy or any of her suc- 
cessors ; all were obliged to see it done at least once 
before they would attempt it. At this time cookery- 
books were almost my only literature ; and many times a 
day I sought counsel in a bulky volume wherein recipes 
and prescriptions, law and natural history, etiquette 
and the poultry-yard, formed a somewhat startling 
jumble ; and whose index presented, in immediate 
juxtaposition, such incongruous subjects as liver, lobster, 
lumbago marmalade, mayonnaise, measles, meat 
shrimps, Shropshire pudding, sick-room, sirloin, sitting- 



OUR SERVANTS. 195 

hens, etc. As many despairing sighs as ever fluttered 
the inky pages of a school lesson-book were breathed 

over this stout volume. T , who, after living for 

years in rougher places than the Karroo, has acquired 
considerable experience and is a capital cook, helped me 
out of many a difficulty ; and in time I learned to be a 
tolerably good general servant which you must be 
yourself, if you are ever to do any good with Kaffirs 
or Hottentots. But it was a pity that, when young, 
instead of many of the things learned at school, I did 
not acquire what would at this time have made me 
more independent of servants. 

Why is not a knowledge of cooking and house- 
keeping made a part of every English girl's education ? 
Then, in the event of a colonial life being one day her 
lot, she is to some extent prepared to encounter the 
difficulties of that life ; while, even if she should marry 
a millionaire, and be waited on hand and foot for the 
rest of her days, she is none the worse for possessing 
the knowledge of how things ought to be done in her 
house indeed, every woman who orders a dinner 
should know something of how it is to be cooked. 

Nancy, our first native servant, was also the best we 
ever had ; always bright and good-tempered, and sing- 
ing over her work in a really charming voice. On the 
whole she was far more intelligent than most of her 
race ; and we were really sorry when the equestrian 
family party carried her from our sight, never to 
return. Then came a succession of " cautions," each 
worse than her predecessor; and between them all 



ig6 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

we did indeed, as Mark Twain has it, " know something 
about woe." 

Nancy's immediate successor was in every respect 
her opposite ; idle, impudent, surly, and dishonest ; 
eating as much as two men, but doing no work that 
was worth anything. She kept yawning all day with 
loud howls that were most depressing to hear ; and 
when I went into the kitchen I was pretty sure to find 
her fast asleep, with head and arms on the table. 

Our next specimen was a nearly white half-caste, 
with light-coloured wool, and pale-grey, dead-looking 
eyes ; who always reminded us of one of the horrible, 
sickly-looking white lizards, so common in Karroo 
houses. She was half-witted, and most uncanny-look- 
ing ; with such a ghastly, cold, unsympathetic manner 
and stony stare that we named her Medusa. We could 
have picked out many a better servant from the Earls- 
wood Asylum. I was continually trying to think of 
all the idiotic things she might possibly do, and thus 
guard against them beforehand ; yet she always took me 
by surprise by doing something ten times more stupid 
than anything I had dreamed of. 

Then came a tall, gaunt old Mozambique negress ; in 
appearance unpleasantly like an ancient Egyptian 
mummy, and with clothing which looked as though it 
had been " resurrected " at the same time as herself 
from a repose of some three thousand years. Only a 
dirty old black pipe, seldom absent from her lips, 
savoured, not of the necropolis of Thebes or of Memphis, 
but of the very vilest Boer tobacco. Besides being an 



OUR SERVANTS. 197 

inveterate old thief, she was the exact opposite of a 
total abstainer ; and the frequent " drop too much " in 
which she indulged was always the occasion for a 
display of choice language and a reckless destruction 
of crockery. 

But these are enough ; suffice it to say that the same 
types of character ran through a long line of successors, 
and that, taking them all round, I had about the same 
amount of trouble with all of them. 

T 's men required almost as much looking after 

as my women ; and, in order to get his herds off to work 
in good time, it was generally necessary for him to go 
down himself at sunrise to their little huts, not far 
from the house, and wake them up. As a rule they 
were not fond of work ; and many were the excuses 
they would invent in order to avoid it as much as 
possible. Being " sick " was of course a favourite plea ; 
and, whatever the nature of the complaint from which 
they professed themselves to be suffering, they were 
always convinced that a suppje (drink) of prickly pear 
brandy or of "Cape smoke" '* would be just the thing 
to set them right. At one time quite an epidemic of sham 
sickness broke out ; but, as we soon saw through the 
trick, and knew that our would-be patients were per- 
fectly well, we did not indulge them with their favourite 
remedy, but determined to make an example. We 
accordingly treated a very palpable case of shamming 
with a medicine of our own concoction. We mixed a 
good saucerful of Gregory's powder and castor oil into 

* Boer brandy. 



I 9 8 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

the thickest of paste ; and prolonged the agony by 
making the man eat the stuff with a teaspoon, while 
we stood sternly on guard, to see that there was no 
evasion. And then we promised a second dose in the 
event of the first failing to effect a cure. No need to 
say that the victim hastened to report himself quite 
well, and that as long as he remained on the farm he 
was never "sick" again. The fame of the terrible 
medicine spread, and we did not hear of much more 
illness among our men. 

This dose was mild, however, in comparison with 
one of which I have heard, which was prepared by 
some gentlemen of our acquaintance. They were living 
in a tent on the Diamond Fields ; and for some time 
had noticed a very rapid diminution of their supply of 
brandy. Not knowing which of their native servants 
was the culprit, they resolved to set a trap; and, 
putting a little croton oil into the brandy-bottle, left 
the latter in a temptingly prominent position. The 
next morning one of the servants, a big, stout fellow, 
was missing ; and for ten days nothing was seen or 
heard of him. When, at the end of that time, he re- 
appeared, he was transformed into such a poor, limp, 
wasted living skeleton that he could hardly be recog- 
nised. He went back to his work without a word ; 
and never again did the brandy-bottle's attractions 
lure him from the path of honesty. 

The best and most hard-working of all our men 
was a sturdy Zulu, who, both in face and figure, 
exactly resembled that life-like wooden statue one 



OUR SERVANTS. 199 

of the oldest in the world which, in the Museum at 
Cairo, gives us so accurate a portrait of an ancient 
Egyptian. In looking at it you feel that you can read 
the character of this man who lived three or four 
thousand years ago ; and know that, although one of 
the best-tempered of souls, he was as obstinate as 
Pharaoh himself. Nor were these qualities lacking in 
his modern fac-simile, the ostrich-herd; whose broad 
countenance, as he strode after his long-legged charges, 
bearing, in place of the Egyptian's staff of office, a stout 
tackey, wore the identical expression which that artist 
of long ago has caught so well. The good fellow 
showed a laudable tenacity of purpose in the steady 
perseverance with which he was putting by all he could 
save of his wages, and investing the money in cows. 
With these latter it was his intention to purchase a 
wife, as soon as a sufficient number could be collected 
to satisfy the demands of the prospective father-in-law. 
A marriage after this fashion, although not quite in 
accordance with English ideas, has certainly the ad- 
vantage of inducing good habits in the intending 
Benedick. In the first place, he learns to economize 
instead of spending his money on drink. He will, of 
course, take as many swppjes as you like to offer him ; 
but you will never find him going off on the spree for 
two or three days, and coming back considerably the 
worse for his outing, as those of his brethren who have 
not his motive for thrift are too fond of doing. He is 
altogether a better servant than they, being less inde- 
pendent and more anxious to please. Often, too, he 



200 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

learns to exercise much patience ; for, if the girl is 
pretty, or the father who always has a keen eye to 
business observes that the swain is very devoted, a 
high price is fixed ; and the bridegroom-elect has to 
work for years, like Jacob for Rachel, till he has 
accumulated the required number of cows. 

Daughters, being such a profitable source of capital, 
are of course much valued by the parents ; to whom, 
besides, in that sunniest of climates, a large family 
brings none of the cares and anxieties which it entails 
on the English labouring-man. The more children a 
Zulu has, the better he is pleased ; the birth of a girl 
especially being welcomed as gladly as is that of a son 
among the Jews, and indeed among Orientals generally. 

English people settling in the Cape Colony usually 
start with a strong prejudice in favour of the coloured 
race. They think them ill-treated, bestow on them a 
good deal of unmerited sympathy, and credit them 
with many good qualities which they do not possess. 
By the time they have been a year or two in the country 
a reaction has set in ; they have discovered that the 
negro is a fraud ; they hate him, and cannot find any- 
thing bad enough to say of him. Then a still longer 
experience teaches them that the members of this 
childish race are, after all, not so bad, but that they 
require keeping in their places treating in fact as you 
would treat children twelve years old. In intelligence, 
indeed, they never seem to advance much beyond that 
age. You must, of course, be just with them ; but 
always keep them at a distance. Above all, never let 



OUR SERVANTS. 201 

either men or women servants know that you are 
pleased* with them, or they will invariably presume. 

It seems a hard thing to say, but it does not do to be 
too patient and indulgent ; excessive leniency only 
spoils them, just as it does the Hindoo servants. One 
of our relatives, a kind and gentle chaplain in India, 
finding that he was worse waited on than any of his 
neighbours, and asking his head servant one day why 
the latter and all his subordinates worked so badly, paid 
so little attention to orders, etc., received the following 
candid answer from- the man : " Why not sahib give 
plenty stick, and mem-sahib call plenty pig ? Then 
we good servants." 

A Boer gets much more work out of the natives than 
an Englishman. The latter is at one time too severe, 
and at another too lenient ; but the Boer's treatment is 
uniformly just and firm. Perhaps the expression, " like 
a Dutch uncle," may have originated in the Cape 
Colony. 

The Zulus and Kaffirs are by nature fine, generous 
characters, comparatively free from dishonesty and 
untruthfulness ; though unfortunately they too soon 
acquire both these vices, as well as numerous others, 
when they come in contact with civilization, which in 
their case certainly seems, as Bret Harte has it, "a 
failure." On the Diamond Fields the best servants are 
invariably those who are taken fresh from their kraals ; 
even the fact of their knowing a few words of English 
being found a disadvantage. 

A Zulu is always somewhat of a gentleman, and 



202 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

possesses a certain code of honour, although to us it 
seems rather a queer one. For instance, though he will 
on no account rob his own master, he will not hesitate 
to steal a sheep from a neighbouring farm, if he should 
happen to feel inclined for a " big feed"; on which occa- 
sion the amount of meat he is able to consume at one 
sitting is positively alarming. He evidently looks upon 
the sheep much as Queen Elizabeth is said to have re- 
garded the goose, viz., as a creature of most inconvenient 
size, " too much for one, but not enough for two." When 
periodical rations of meat are served out to him he 
always eats up the whole of his allowance on the first 
evening, apparently oblivious of the fact that he will 
have to go without for the rest of the week. And then 
he subsists, contentedly enough, on mealies, till the 
joyful time comes for his next good square meal of 
goat or mutton. He is the happiest and best-tempered 
of souls, never bearing any animosity, and always 
ready to forgive ; and although he seems incapable of 
any real attachment to his employers, and is most 
strangely destitute of all sense of gratitude, one cannot 
help liking him. Altogether the Zulus are quite the 
aristocracy of the negro race ; and, even at their worst, 
contrast very favourably with the Hottentots and 
Bushmen, whose character has hardly a redeeming 
point, and seems made up of all the lowest and most 
ignoble qualities. 



CHAPTER XI. 

HOW WE FARED. 

Angora goats Difficulty of keeping meat The plague of flies Rations 
Our store Barter Fowls Chasing a dinner Fowls difficult 
to rear Secretary birds as guardians of the poultry-yard Jacob 
in the Karroo He comes down in the world He dies Antelopes 
A springbok hunt The Queen's birthday in the Karroo 
Colonial dances Our klipspringer Superstition about hares 
Game birds Paauw Knorhaan Namaqua partridges Porcu- 
pines A short-lived pet Indian corn Stamped mealies Whole- 
meal bread Plant used for making bread rise Substitutes for 
butter Priembesjcs A useful tree Wild honey The honey bird 
Enemies of bees Moth in bees' nests Good coffee Sour milk. 

" How did you live ? " is a question we have very often 
been asked by friends, who, evidently thinking that our 
fare on that far-away South African farm must neces- 
sarily have been of the roughest, and that from a 
gastronomic point of view we were deeply to be pitied, 
have been quite surprised to hear that on the whole we 
lived very well. 

To be sure there were drawbacks. In the first place, 
however simply you may live in the Cape Colony, you 
cannot possibly live cheaply ; for import duties are 
ruinously heavy, and almost everything, with the ex- 
ception of meat, has to be imported. Wheat, for 

203 



20 4 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

instance, has to be brought from Australia ; the poor, 
dry South African colony being quite unable to produce 
anything like a sufficient supply for its needs. Then, 
too, green vegetables are very far from being an every- 
day item in the menu; and as for fresh fish, it is a 
still rarer luxury, indeed throughout all the long, hot 
summer it is absolutely unobtainable on the farms, and 
one almost forgets what it is like. Eggs and butter, 
too, have their long periods, first of excessive and in- 
creasing scarcity, and then of entire absence from 
kitchen and table. 

But in the colonies people soon learn to accommodate 
themselves to circumstances, and contentedly to do 
without many of the things which in England seemed 
such necessary adjuncts to daily life. They even become 
accustomed to a very sad lack of variety in the matter 
of meat. From one year's end to another merino mut- 
ton and Angora goat are almost unchangingly the order 
of the day ; the bill of fare being varied by beef only on 
those rare occasions, during the very coldest weather, 
when one of the. farmers having ascertained before- 
hand that a sufficient number of neighbours are willing 
to share the meat is enterprising enough to slaughter 
an ox. But the difficulties of keeping meat are such 
that sheep and goats are generally found to be quite 
large enough ; indeed, in the hot weather, they are very 
much too large, and one is continually wishing that a 
diminutive race of mutton-producing quadrupeds say 
of the size of Skye terriers were in existence for the 
benefit of housekeepers in sultry climates. Fortunately 



HOW WE FARED. 205 

you do not get so tired of perpetual mutton as might 
be expected, and it does not pall on the taste as beef or 
fowl would do under the same circumstances. As we 
had only a few sheep, but possessed a flock of several 
hundred Angoras, our standing dish was, of course, 
goat. Let not the traveller pity us who on his journey- 
ings in Southern Europe for instance has had the 
misfortune to partake of the tough, stringy, and 
strongly-flavoured goat's flesh too often iniquitously 
substituted for mutton by unprincipled hotel-keepers. 
As different as black from white is that unholy viand 
from our delicious Angora meat ; equal, if not superior, 
to the best mutton. 

The goats are beautiful creatures, with a profusion 
of long, wavy hair, which is as soft and glossy as the 
finest silk, and which, in the thoroughbred animals, is 
of the purest white, and nearly touches the ground. 
In the evening it is a pretty sight to watch the goats 
coming down from the mountains, on whose steep and 
rocky sides they have browsed all day ; and where, as 
they descend, they form a long line of snowy white 
against the red and green background of the aloes and 
spekboom. It is pleasant, too, to go out to the kraals 
when the little kids, which all arrive at about the same 
time, are only a few days old. These goats are prolific 
creatures, many of them having two, or even three 
young ones at once. The crowded enclosure is all alive 
with the merry, noisy little fellows, jumping and scam- 
pering about in all directions ; and within a few days 
the number of the flock seems to have almost doubled. 

o 



206 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

Angora goats are now more profitable than ostriches ; 
although the hair, like feathers, has sadly decreased in 
value, the price having fallen from 4s. 6d. to 9d. per Ib. 
It seems strange that Angora hair should remain at 
such a low price ; for a costly plush is now made from 
it, besides very beautiful rugs, many of them perfect 
imitations of leopard, tiger, and seal-skin the latter 
hardly less expensive than real seal. 

The morning on which a goat or sheep is killed 
especially during very hot weather ushers in a time 
of care and anxiety for the frugal housewife. From 
the moment when the animal expires under the black 
herd's hands, until the last joint has been brought to 
table, that meat is an incubus which sits heavy on her 
soul all day, and occasionally even haunts her dreams 
at night. She has to wage persistent war against 
adverse agencies, always in readiness to work its de- 
struction, and, with all her vigilance, too often success- 
fully robbing her of a good portion of it. 

First and foremost of all enemies the flies are in the 
field. As soon as the dead goat or sheep is hung up 
out of doors, in as cool and shady a place as can be 
found though this is by no means saying much it 
must instantly be enclosed in a capacious, tightly-tied 
and carefully-mended bag of mosquito-net, large enough 
to cover the whole animal. For all around, buzzing 
excitedly, and eagerly looking out for an opening, how- 
ever small, through which to squeeze in and do their 
deadly work, are crowds of big, noisy, determined 
blue-bottles though, by the way, if I may be allowed 



HOW WE FARED. 207 

so Irish an expression, in the Karroo these abominations 
are all green, and gorgeous as Brazilian beetles flash 
like great emeralds in the sunshine. 

Phillis, of course, cannot be trusted to go alone to 
that open-air larder, for she will invariably leave the 
bag unfastened, even if by her rough handling she does 
not tear a yawning rent in its side. In the house too, 
she does her utmost to further the evil designs of the 
flies, and, if she uses the meat-safe at all, makes a 
point of leaving it wide open till a host of "green- 
bottles" has collected inside ; when she closes it, leaving 
them in blissful possession of their prize. 

And oh, the house-flies ! Truly the plague of flies 
is in every Karroo home ; and, next to the servants, it 
is the greatest bane of farm life. And what flies they 
are ! Their brethren in other parts of the world, 
though obnoxious enough, can almost by comparison 
be called well-behaved. For, except when eatables are 
about, they do seem to have some idea of keeping to 
themselves and minding their own business ; which 
latter usually consists in dancing in the air, and 
always in the very centre of the room a kind of 
quadrille of many intricate figures,, the accurate per- 
formance of which, holding them completely engrossed, 
keeps them, for a time at least, out of mischief. But 
the South African fly has no such resources of his own 
to keep him amused ; consequently he devotes all his 
energy and the whole of his time to one object that of 
making life a burden to the unfortunate human beings 
on whom he has chosen to quarter himself. Not 



208 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

content with spoiling your appetite at meals by the 
exhibition of his repulsive little black body in every 
dish that comes to table, every cup of tea or glass 
of wine that is poured out where, whether cooked to 
death, or yet alive and struggling, it is an equally un- 
welcome and disgusting sight he makes it his business 
to see that throughout the whole day you do not, if he 
can help it, get one instant's peace. No matter how 
large the room may be, no place in it will suit him for 
a perch but just your nose, or the hand which happens 
to be busily engaged in some operation requiring 
extreme steadiness, to which a jerk would be fatal ; 
and however many times he is rebuffed, he comes back, 
with the most unerring and fiendish precision, to exact- 
ly the self-same spot, till he has set up a maddening 
irritation, not only of the skin, but still more of the 
temper. For he possesses, in the very strongest degree, 
the quality which led those most observant of natural- 
ists, the ancient Egyptians, to institute the military 
order of the Fly. A good general, they argued, is like 
a fly ; for, however often he may be repulsed, he always 
returns persistently to the attack. So they invested 
the successful leader of their armies with a gold chain, 
from which, at intervals, hung several large flies of 
pure, beaten gold, about four inches broad across the 
closed wings. And in the Cairo Museum a very 
beautiful chain of this kind is to be seen. 

That South African fly was, indeed, the torment of 
our lives, until one day we made a grand discovery. 
We found out that he could not stand Keating's insect- 



HOW WE FARED. 209 

powder. If only the smallest grain of it touched any 
part of his person he was doomed ; and in about five 
minutes would be sprawling helplessly on his back, pre- 
paring to quit a world in which he had been so great a 
nuisance. "Peppering the flies" became a regular 
institution, the first business of each morning ; and in 
all the rooms, most especially in the kitchen where the 
whole atmosphere seemed one vast buzz the foe would 
be driven, by the vigorous flapping of a cloth, into the 
well-sprinkled windows where his fate awaited him. 
Soon every fly would be dead ; and as we gloated over 
the dustpans full of slain we invoked benedictions on 
the name of Keating. 

By taking care to keep every door and window on 
the sunny side of the house either closed or covered 
with fine net, we managed, thanks to this delightful 
powder, to exist in peace, instead of being given over 
to the flies like our neighbours ; many of whom would 
calmly submit to any nuisance rather than take a little 
trouble to get rid of it, and would sit quite contentedly 
in the midst of a buzzing cloud, with flies popping into 
their tea one after another, or struggling by dozens in 
the butter-dish. We found that one of the small bellows 
made for blowing tobacco-smoke into bee-hives became, 
when filled with Keating, a very formidable engine of 
destruction ; a couple of puffs, sending the fine powder 
in all directions, would settle every fly in the room. 
In fact no one, even in the most tropical of climates, 
need be troubled with flies, if only this simple remedy 
is used. If I had but known of its efficacy a few years 



210 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

before, when up the Nile on a dahabieh swarming with 
flies ! And if, in that same Egypt, poor Menephtah 
had only known of it three thousand years ago ! Mr. 
Keating's fortune would have been a colossal one if he 
had lived then. 

But to return to our Angora. As soon as the meat 
has been cut up it is usually sprinkled very plentifully 
with salt, and wrapped up for a few hours in the skin ; 
after which the greater portion of it is put into pickle. 
For in the hot weather only a very small quantity can 
be eaten unsalted, as it becomes tainted almost at once. 
Even in strong brine, and with the most careful rubbing 
and turning, the meat is sometimes quite uneatable on 
the second day, especially if the weather happens to be 
thundery. And thunder-storms, when they do come, 
almost invariably select the time when an animal has 
just been killed. N.B. The " pope's eye " must always 
be carefully taken out as soon as the meat is cut up, or 
the joint will immediately become tainted. 

Where the family is a small one it is a good plan, 
during the hot weather, to include meat among the 
men's rations. The herds on the farms receive weekly, 
as part of their pay, a certain quantity of meal, coffee, 
sugar, salt, tobacco, etc. ; and the store where all these 
supplies are kept and weighed out on large and 
business-like scales, looks with its piles of sacks and 
packing-cases, its numerous shelves, rows of bottles, 
tins of preserved meats and other provisions not at 
all unlike the general shop of an English village, with 
a little in the chemist's and tobacconist's line as well. 



HOW WE FARED. 211 

It is the work of the mistress of the house to give 
out the rations ; and her movements, while manipu- 
lating the scales, are watched in a very criticizing and 
suspicious manner by the black recipients, who always 
seem terribly afraid that she will give them short 
weight. In reality she is anxiously and almost ner- 
vously careful that every pound she gives them shall 
be a good one ; and if she errs at all it is on their side, 
never on her own. In the matter of tobacco her heart 
is especially soft, and the spans she measures off those 
great coils of dark-brown rope which surely must be 
akin to " pigtail tobacco " are far longer than can be 
stretched by her hand, or indeed by any hand but that 
of a giant. But in this, as in every other item of the 
rations, she is most unjustly and ungratefully sus- 
pected of a systematic course of cheating. Sometimes 
" April " or " August," struck with a sudden bright 
idea, comes up to the table, and, with many monkey-like 
gestures, makes a close investigation of the scales and 
weights ; peeping beneath them and looking at them 
from all sides, to see by what artful device they have 
been made the means of tricking him. He fails to 
discover anything ; but retires shaking his woolly head 
dubiously, and as far off as ever from believing in the 
honesty of his employers. 

Sometimes a little barter is carried on, in quite a 
primitive, old-fashioned way, with Dutchmen travel- 
ling by in large waggons drawn by sixteen or eighteen 
oxen, and often bringing with them very good onions, 
oranges, naatjes or mandarines, nuts, dried peaches 



212 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

and figs both of which latter are excellent for stew- 
ing, and many other things, which they are glad to 
exchange on the farms for coffee, sugar, etc. This 
barter is quite the usual way of doing business in the 
Karroo ; and so many transactions are carried on with- 
out the aid of money, that the latter is hardly required, 
and indeed is seldom seen on the farms. If a man or 
woman servant comes to do an odd day's work, or a 
passing workman breaks his journey by staying a 
couple of days and making himself generally useful, 
payment is almost always made in meal, coffee, or 
other articles of food, instead of in money. Copper 
coins, being universally despised, are not in use ; con- 
sequently the most trifling service performed, however 
badly, by one of the coloured race, must be rewarded 
with no smaller sum than threepence, or to give it its 
familiar colonial name a " tickey." 

Fowls, of course, with their obligingly convenient 
size, are an invaluable boon in the hot weather ; and it 
is a delightful relief when, with an empty larder and 
consequent light heart, free for a while from the cares 
and anxieties of the meat, you prolong the respite, and 
putting off till to-morrow the slaying of the next 
four-legged incubus sacrifice in its stead the noisiest 
crower, or the most inveterate of the kitchen's feathered 
intruders. To be sure, hurried, as he is, straight from 
his last agonies, into the pot or the oven, you cannot 
expect him to be very tender ; but an attempt at hang- 
ing him is too likely to result in the sudden discovery 
that he has hung a little too long, and you have learnt 



HOW WE FARED. 213 

by experience that it is best to eat him at once. And 
a dessert-spoonful of vinegar, administered half an hour 
before his execution, will always considerably mitigate 
his toughness. 

Karroo fowls, living a free and active life, are exceed- 
ingly agile on their legs, and when their time comes 
for paying the debt of nature they are by no means 
easy to catch. But Toto took this duty upon himself, 
and very jealously asserted his right to perform it. 
All we had to do was to point out to him the selected 
victim. Then, with the true collie instinct, he would 
follow it up, never losing it or making any mistake ; 
and, though it might take refuge in the midst of some 
twenty or thirty other fowls, Toto would pick it out 
from among the crowd without an instant's hesitation. 
And when caught, it was never pounced on roughly, 
but just quietly held down by the big, gentle paws, 
from which it would be taken, perfectly unhurt. 

How I missed the aid of Toto one day when he 
being far away in Kent, and we living near Tangier 
I was at my wits' end for a dinner, and trying my 
hardest to catch a fowl ! It was Kamadan that 
terrible time when everything goes wrong and every- 
body is cross and no wonder; the cruel fast, more 
strictly kept in orthodox Morocco than it is in most 
Oriental lands, forbidding the votaries of Islam, from 
sunrise to sunset, not only to touch food, but even to 
moisten their parched lips with water and this in hot 
weather too ! No wonder the sunset gun, instead of 
being to them the welcome signal for a feast, often 



214 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

finds them so faint and exhausted that they are in rio 
hurry to begin eating. And no wonder, too, that 
Moorish servants never very far behind those of South 
Africa in stupidity are at this time a greater trial of 
patience than ever. One does not like to be hard on 
them, and the minimum of work is given to them ; but 
everything is done so badly that their services might 
almost as well be dispensed with until the fast is over. 
Altogether, during this time of woe, the tempers of 
employers and employed are about equally tried. 

Mohammed, our genius, who at the best of times was 
sure to forget one or more important items of the day's 
marketing, had on this occasion omitted just everything 
that was necessary to make a dinner. The bread was 
there, to be sure, so too were figs and dates ; but, all 
having been put loose into the donkey's panniers and 
well jolted along the roughest of roads, the eatables 
had become so hopelessly mixed up with a large dab of 
native soft soap, bought for the week's washing, that 
they were only disentangled with difficulty, and the 
most careful cleansing failed to make them fit for 
human food. An earthenware jar of honey had been 
bought ; but, being unprovided with a stopper, and left 
to roll about in the pannier as it pleased, it had poured 
its contents as a libation along the road, and, when com- 
placently handed to me by Mohammed, was perfectly 
empty. All the non-edible articles of the day's orders 
had been carefully remembered, and stowed well away 
from the soap ; but of fish, flesh, or fowl there was no 
sign. The poor fasting man could not be sent all the 



HOW WE FARED. 215 

way back to Tangier to make good the deficiencies ; yet 

a dinner had to be found somehow for T and for a 

gentleman guest, and with the aid of the servants I set 
to work to catch one of our own fowls. 

But I little knew what I was attempting. Our 
garden, on the steep slopes of Mount Washington, with 
its many terraces and walks, nights of rough stone 
steps, and tangle of luxuriant vegetation, offered so 
many points of vantage to the active birds, that at the 
end of half an hour we were all exhausted with running, 
breathless and giddy with the heat ; while the fowls, on 
the contrary, fresher and livelier than ever, seemed 
mocking all our efforts to catch them ; and in despair I 
took from its hiding-place a little weapon of defence, 
provided in view of possible midnight visits from bur- 
glarious Moors. 

Grasping the revolver in one hand, and with the 
other treacherously holding out a sieve of barley, I 
stalked one fowl after another in most unsportsman- 
like fashion ; inviting the guileless creatures to feed, 
and then firing at them, sometimes so close that it 
seemed as if the intended victim must be blown to 
pieces. But no, there he was, when the smoke cleared 
away, going off with a triumphant chuckle; wilder 
and more wary with each unsuccessful shot. 

What was to be done ? Time was passing ; T 

would be coming home hungry by dinner-time, ready 
for something better than a vegetarian repast ; and 
some creature or other I began to feel that I did not 
\wy much care what had not only to be caught and 



2i6 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

killed, but also cooked. Reckless and desperate, I 
began firing indiscriminately, even on my laying hens ; 
but, gladly though I would have killed the best of them, 
not one could I hit. At last all the hunted birds were 
in a state of the wildest excitement; none were in 
sight, and an agonized chorus of cackling resounded 
from all parts of the garden, as if the largest and most 
venomous of snakes had been seen. Flinging down 
the revolver in disgust, I meditated the crowning 
baseness of snatching the poor old sitting hen from the 
eggs on which she had quietly sat throughout the 
commotion, when joyful sight Mohammed, who had 
mysteriously vanished, suddenly reappeared, trium- 
phantly holding up by the neck a plucked fowl. It 
was but a poor, scraggy, spidery-looking thing, all legs 
and wings, and with an appearance of having kept 
Kamadan no less strictly than the Moorish owners from 
whose hut the poor fellow anxious to retrieve his 
fault had brought it. But it was something off which 
to dine ; and never was the fattest Christmas turkey 
more welcome than was its timely appearance. 

The rearing of fowls in South Africa is attended 
with endless difficulties and discouragements. Frequent 
epidemics of the fatal disease known as "fowl-sickness" 
decimate the poultry-yard, which, at the best of times, 
and with all care, can never be kept sufficiently stocked 
to supply the needs of the hot weather. Every possible 
foe of the gallinaceous tribe abounds in the Karroo ; 
snakes invade the hen-house, and the blackmail which 
they levy on the eggs always amounts to what the 



HOW WE FARED. 217 

Americans call "a large order;" birds of prey of many 
different sorts are constantly sailing over head, with 
sharp eyes on the look-out for opportunities of plunder; 
and jackals, wild cats, lynxes or, as the Dutch call 
them, rooikats and numerous other four-legged free- 
booters pounce at night on those hens foolish enough 
to make their nests far from the comparative safety 
of the house ; the occasional discovery, in some distant 
bush, of a collection of empty eggshells and a heap of 
drifted feathers proclaiming what has been the fate of 
some long-missing hen or turkey. 

Altogether, the poultry-keeper's troubles are con- 
siderably multiplied by the surpassing imbecility of the 
Karroo hens, which have no idea of taking care of 
themselves, and, like the ostriches, stoutly oppose all 
efforts made for their own welfare and that of their off- 
spring. Their insanely erratic conduct during sitting 
causes by far the larger proportion of nests to come 
to nothing; and when they have succeeded in hatching 
a few chickens, they look as if they did not quite know 
what to do with them. 

Secretary birds are sometimes taught to be very use- 
ful guardians of the poultry-yard, especially against 
aerial enemies, the long-legged, solemn-looking crea- 
ture stalking about all day among his feeble-minded 
charges, with much consciousness of his own importance. 
He is accused of now and then taking toll in the shape 
of an occasional egg or young chicken the latter being 
of course bolted, anaconda-fashion; but his depredations 
are not extensive, and one tolerates them as one does 



218 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

those of the courier who, though himself not entirely 
above suspicion, takes good care that his master is 
robbed by no one else. 

Our secretary, Jacob, whose education had been 
neglected in youth, refused to make himself useful as 
a protector of the poultry-yard. His character, never 
the most amiable, deteriorated rapidly after we brought 
him up-country, carefully packed for the long railway 
journey ; the numerous bandages in which he was 
swathed to secure his long, slender legs from breakage 
giving him but for his protruding, vulture-like head 
the appearance of a gigantic ibis-mummy. Our first 
plan of making him trudge on foot along the road with 
the Walmer caravan of ostriches was given up, as we 
felt sure that, with his already-mentioned "cussedness," 
he would give more trouble to the herds than all the 
rest of the troop together, and either get a knock on 
the head to settle him, or else escape, never to be heard 
of again. At any rate, he would be quite sure not to 
arrive at his destination. 

Poor Jacob did not nourish in the Karroo, where 
kittens were scarce, and where no butcher's cart brought 
daily and ample supplies for his colossal appetite ; and 
an existence in which fresh meat was so rare a luxury 
must have been for him a kind of perpetual Lent. 

With much resentment and plainly-expressed disgust 
at his reverse of fortune, he found himself obliged, late 
in life, to pick up a living for himself, and would 
wander dejectedly about the country for miles round, in 
search of the fat, succulent locusts, the frogs, small 



HOW WE FARED. 219 

snakes, lizards, and mice on which he fed. The latter 
he caught in a most ingenious manner. Walking up to 
a bush wherein he knew a mouse was concealed, he 
would strike a violent blow with his wing on one side ; 
then, as the startled animal ran out in the opposite 
direction, Jacob would make a lightning-like pounce, 
and bring down his murderous foot with unerring aim. 
On the whole he did not fare badly; but of course, 
after his luxurious bringing-up among the fleshpots of 
Walmer, it was but natural that he should object to 
working for a living. 

Even in prosperous days he loved to look ill-used, 
and no comic actor could have better represented the 
character of an ill-tempered old man nursing a griev- 
ance than did the well-fed Jacob croaking under the 
windows in mendacious pretence of starvation ; but 
now his part was so absurdly overacted that it became 
a burlesque. Nature at the same time assisted him in 
his make-up for the part, and, moulting and tail-less, 
with bald head and general out-at-elbows appearance, 
he looked indeed the seediest and most disreputable 
of old beggars. At the best of times he looked like 
a wicked old man, but now no longer a sleek, well- 
clothed old sinner he seemed to have degenerated 
into a ruined gambler, going rapidly to the dogs. 
Whenever there was a big rain he would come and 
stand in front of the windows, wet through and 
shivering ostentatiously, with the water running in 
a little stream from the tip of his hooked bill, giving 
him the appearance of one of the ugly gargoyles on 



220 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

an ancient cathedral. Obstinately refusing to come 
under cover, or even to keep himself comparatively 
dry by squatting under the kraal hedge, he would stand 
for hours out in the rain, looking ill-used and woe- 
begone ; a picture of squalid, unlovely poverty. 

We really pitied the old bird, and regretted our 
inability to give him daily the fresh meat which, in 
spite of frequent disappointments, he never failed to 
claim, noisily and importunately, as his right. He 
would come walking excitedly into the kitchen or 
bedroom, clamouring, with all the persistence of 
Shylock, for his pound of flesh ; or would run after 
Wells as the latter went to chop wood, knocking 
against his legs, getting in his way to attract attention, 
and keeping up his horrible clock-work noise, till we 
wondered that that most patient and even-tempered 
of men, with the hatchet so handy, was not provoked 
into chopping off his head. 

At last a long drought set in, and poor Jacob came 
still further down in the world ; for, as the ground 
hardened, and vegetation dried up, the " mice and rats 
and such small deer" of the veldt became more scarce, 
and he had to travel longer distances in search of 
his prey. We did all we could for him, and kept 
quite a battery of mousetraps constantly set for his 
benefit ; but, compared with his enormous demands, 
all we could give him was but as a drop in the ocean, and 
we felt that he despised us for our meanness. He grew 
daily more morose, and would vent his ill-humour by 
picking quarrels with the dogs and other creatures 



HOW WE FARED. 221 

about the place, especially with a pretty little duyker 
antelope. This gentle and timid little favourite a 
short-lived pet, which, wandering one day too far from 
home, was shot by a Boer in mistake for a wild animal 
was several times attacked so savagely by the 
vengeful Jacob, that, if Wells had not beaten off the 
assailant, the little buck would have been killed. For- 
tunately Jacob, when excited, always made such a 
horrible noise, that we could hear when a battle was 
going on, and rush to the rescue. As the drought 
continued Jacob took to wandering further and further 
afield, coming to the house only on rare occasions, 
until at last he became almost like a wild bird; and 
we have little doubt that these roving propensities, at 
a time when water was only to be found at the few- 
and-f ar-between homesteads, led at last to the poor old 
fellow's death from thirst a sad end for one of the 
most comical, if not the best-tempered of our pets. 

Game, of course, forms a very welcome break in the 
monotony of constant goat and mutton. The antelopes, 
though by no means plentiful, are all excellent eating, 
and afford good sport. The graceful springbok, one 
of the most common, is capable of becoming very 
tame ; and, with its slender limbs and bright-coloured, 
variegated coat, it is, but for its rather goat-like face, 
one of the prettiest of pet animals. On a large neigh- 
bouring farm the springbok were preserved, and now 
and then the somewhat even tenour of Karroo existence 
would be enlivened by a hunt, sometimes of several 
days' duration. The Queen's birthday is a favourite 

p 



222 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

occasion for these festive gatherings; and from far and 
wide, some from distances of two or three days' 
journey, travelling on horseback or in roomy American 
spiders and carts capable of accommodating large 
family parties, visitors arrive in rapid succession, till 
the house which at these times seems endowed with 
even more than the usual elasticity of the hospitable 
colonial homes appears like some large hotel over- 
flowing with guests. In the extensive plains surround- 
ing the house the chase goes on merrily throughout 
the whole day; many of the hunted bucks being 
observable from the verandah as they speed lightly 
along, with a bounding motion suggestive of india- 
rubber balls, and with the sunlight flashing upon the 
ridge of long white bristles along the back, invisible 
when the animal is in repose, but erected when it is 
startled. 

In the evening the trophies of the battue, sometimes 
amounting to the number of thirty, are laid side by side 
in close ranks upon the ground in front of the house, 
forming a noble display. The day's adventures are re- 
counted, with much chaffing of the by no means few 
who have been bucked off or who have otherwise come 

to grief ; T on one occasion bearing off the palm as 

the butt of the most pitiless jokes, his horse, declining 
the superadded weight of a fine buck, having deposited 
him on his head, in which acrobatic posture he is re- 
ported to have remained standing long enough to give 
rise to much speculation among the onlookers as to 
whether he intended finally to land on face or back. 



HOW WE FARED. 223 

By-and-by the silence of the veldt is further broken 
by the unaccustomed sound of fireworks, and of loud 
cheers for the Queen from the stout lungs of her lieges 
beneath the Southern Cross; then come some capital 
theatricals and a dance, the latter prolonged a good way 
into the small hours of the morning. There are no 
better dancers anywhere than the Cape colonists ; they 
are of course passionately fond of the art in which 
they so much excel ; and thus, when a large and merry 
party have collected not without considerable diffi- 
culties, and at the cost of the longest and roughest of 
journeys they naturally like to keep it up as long as 
possible, and it is by no means an uncommon thing on 
these occasions for people not to go to bed at all, but 
for the morning sun, peeping in under the vines of the 
verandah, to find the dance still in full swing. 

The Cape negroes, too, are all born dancers ; and it 
needs but a few notes scraped on a fiddle or wheezed 
on an asthmatic accordeon to set a whole company of 
even the roughest and most uncouth Hottentots waltz- 
ing in perfect time, and in a quiet and almost graceful 
manner, strangely out of keeping with their ungainly 
forms. 

Rarest among the antelopes is the klipspringer,* 
which is called the chamois of South Africa, and which, 
both in appearance and habits, closely resembles the 
Alpine animal. Its flesh, which is short and dark, with 
a flavour very like that of duck, is by far the best of 
all the venison ; and its pretty coat is a marvel of soft- 
* Oreotragus saltatrix. 



224 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

ness and lightness, each hair being a wide tube as thick 
as a hedgehog's bristle, but soft as a feather. In spite 
of its light weight, this curious coat is wonderfully 
thick and durable, and saddle-cloths made from it are 
simply perfection. 

A little klipspringer was brought to us, so young that 
for the first few weeks it was fed with milk from a 
baby's bottle. It soon grew tame, and it was very 
pretty to see the miniature chamois trotting confidingly 
about the house, always on the extreme tips of those 
natural alpenstocks, its little pointed feet. These tiny 
ferules, all four of which would have stood together on 
a penny-piece, were evidently capable of giving a firm 
foothold even in the most impossible places. This little 
creature was one of our unlucky pets by far the most 
numerous class in the collection, and our hope of 
taking him to England, where he would have enjoyed 
the proud distinction of being the first of his kind ever 
imported, was doomed to disappointment. Whether it 
is really the fact, as one is always told in South Africa, 
that this buck cannot live in captivity, or whether an 
inveterate habit of eating the contents of the waste- 
paper basket, with an impartial relish for printed and 
written matter, shortened the life of our specimen, I 
do not know; but rapid consumption set in, and the 
pathetic, almost human attacks of coughing were so 
distressing to witness that it was a relief when the 
poor little patient succumbed. 

Then, also among the smaller antelopes, there are the 
duyker and stenbok. Both these pretty little bucks 



HOW WE FARED. 225 

make forms like hares, and the stenbok, a wee thing 
very little larger than a hare, is not unlike that animal 
in flavour. 

As for " poor Wat " himself, the uncanny reputation 
which in all lands he seems so unjustly to have acquired 
is here intensified; and among Boers, Kaffirs, and 
Hottentots he is the object of so superstitious a dread 
that none will venture to eat him. His inoffensive 
little body is firmly believed to be tenanted by the 
spirits of dead-and-gone relatives and friends; and even 
Phillis, by no means a dainty feeder to whom a good 
epidemic of fowl-sickness is a welcome harvest, and the 
sudden and fatal apoplectic fit of the fattest turkey the 
occasion of a right royal feast and long-remembered red- 
letter day, is indignant and insulted if you offer her 
what is left of a particularly delicious jugged hare. To 
have lent a hand in cooking the unholy beast was 
sacrilege enough, but there her not over-sensitive con- 
science draws the line. Most uncanny of all the hares 
is the springhaas. This creature, with dispropor- 
tionately long hind-legs and kangaroo -like mode of pro- 
gression, is never seen in the daytime, and can only be 
shot on moonlight nights. 

The best game birds of the Karroo are those of the 
bustard tribe. Of the great bustard, or paauw, there 
are two kinds ; one, a gigantic bird, sometimes weighing 
as much as seventy pounds. In hunting the paauw 
as in stalking the wily mosquito your first and 
special care must be not to let the object of your chase 
see you looking at him. With well-acted unconscious- 



226 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

ness, and eyes carefully turned in any direction but 
towards the spot where the paauiv squats in the grass, 
you ride round and round him in an ever -lessening circle, 
until you get within range. Then you jump off, make 
a run at him, and fire. 

A smaller bustard, with beautifully-variegated plum- 
age, is about the size of a large fowl. His Dutch name 
of knorhaan which may be translated " scolding cock," 
or "growling fowl" is very justly bestowed on him to 
express his exceeding noisiness, and I do not think that 
throughout the whole length and breadth of the bird 
kingdom there exists such another chatterer. What 
a start he gives you sometimes when, on a brisk ride or 
drive through the veldt, you approach his hiding-place, 
and suddenly, before you have had time to see his 
slender dark neck and head peering out above the low 
bush, he springs up with a deafening clamour, as of a 
dozen birds instead of one ; and, unless silenced by a shot, 
he continues his harsh, discordant noise, apparently 
without once stopping for breath, until his swift wings 
have borne him far away out of hearing. A whole 
chorus of blackbirds, suddenly disturbed from revels 
among ripe fruit, would be nothing in comparison with 
him. 

The quaint, old -fashioned -looking little dikkop, 
smallest of the bustard tribe, is, in the opinion of 
epicures, the best of all. In the bustards the position 
of the white and dark meat is reversed, the flesh being 
dark on the breast and white on the legs. They possess 
certain feathers which are invaluable to the makers of 
flies for fishing. 



HOW WE FARED. 227 

Of partridges there are two kinds, the red-wing and 
grey-wing, the latter being found only on the moun- 
tains. The beautiful little "Namaqua partridges," 
which come in flights, are in reality a kind of grouse. 
It is a pretty sight when, at sundown, these neatest and 
most delicately-plumaged of little birds collect in large 
numbers to drink at the dams. 

Of some of our queer dishes, such as consomme 
d'autruche and the mock-turtle afforded by the gigan- 
tic tortoises of the veldt, I have already spoken. Now 
and then, too, when a porcupine was killed, we would 
follow the example of the Algerian Arabs, and dine 
sumptuously off its flesh, which was not unlike English 
pork with extra-good crackling. 

A baby porcupine, which was taken alive and un- 
hurt, was for some weeks an amusing addition to the 
menagerie ; and many were our regrets when just as 
he was getting tame and friendly he fell a victim to 
an unexpected cold night, against which, in his little 
box out of doors, we had ignorantly left him insuffi- 
ciently protected. At first his temper, which was 
decidedly of the kind usually described as "short," 
gave us much amusement ; and, when irritated by our 
approach, he would stamp his little feet, wheel round 
impetuously, and come charging at us backwards, with 
all his quills erect, and an absurd expression of ener- 
getic pugnacity depicted, not only on his small, snub- 
nosed countenance, but throughout the whole of his 
bristling body. 

Unfortunately, "the pig with the sticks on his back," 



228 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

as the Kaffirs call the porcupine, is the worst of 
gardeners; and provoking indeed is the devastation 
wrought by his omnivorous appetite among potatoes, 
carrots, parsley, pumpkins, water-melons, and indeed 
all other plants which, in our most thankless of kitchen 
gardens, are grown and irrigated with such infinite 
toil and difficulty. 

The crop which best repays cultivation in that arid 
soil is Indian corn. This most wholesome and nourish- 
ing food is much more suitable for hot climates than 
oatmeal, as it possesses none of the heating properties 
of the latter ; and, although in one form or another it 
is a standing dish at nearly every meal in a Karroo 
house, one never tires of it. The nicest way of pre- 
paring it is in the form called "stamped mealies." The 
ripe yellow grains of the Indian corn are moistened 
and placed in a large and massive wooden mortar, 
generally consisting of the stamp of a tree hollowed 
out. (The centre of an old waggon-wheel did duty 
very effectually as our mealie-stamper.) Then, with a 
heavy wooden pestle, they are bruised just sufficiently 
to remove the yellow husks, though not enough to 
break up the corn itself, as in the case of the American 
hominy. After a long and gentle boiling the mealies 
are as tender as young peas, and it is difficult for a 
stranger to believe that they have not been cooked in 
milk. 

It would be a good thing if those who make it their 
study to provide cheap and nourishing food for the 
starving poor of London and other over-populated 



HOW WE FARED. 229 

towns would try stamped mealies. The small cost of 
the Indian corn and the simple and easy manner of its 
preparation would enable it to be supplied in large 
quantities; and the really excellent dish, if it once 
became known in England, could not fail to be popular. 
In some parts of South Africa the natives live almost 
entirely on Indian corn, especially the Zulus, than 
whom no finer race of men could be found. 

If, among all the different competitions now set on 
foot, there were one for bread-makers of all countries, 
surely the Dutchwomen of the Karroo would bear 
away the prize for their delicious whole-meal bread, 
leavened with sour dough and baked in large earthen- 
ware pots. It is beautifully sweet and light ; and as 
Phillis's bread besides containing almost as plentiful 
a sprinkling of flies as there are currants in a penny 
bun is in every way more often a failure than a 
success, it is as well for the lady settler promptly on 
arrival to take a lesson from some neighbouring vrouw, 
and herself to undertake the bread-making. 

While on the subject of whole-meal bread, why is it 
that in England the nutritious, flinty part of the grain 
is almost invariably taken out and made into macaroni 
or used for other purposes, while the bread is made of 
flour from which all the goodness has been refined 
away ? If whole-meal bread is ordered of the English 
baker, he throws a handful of bran into this same 
flour ; and the brown loaf looks tempting enough, but 
both it and the white one are alike tasteless and 
insipid, and destitute of nutritious qualities. What is 



230 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

really wanted for good bread is just simply the entire 
contents of the grain, as nature, who after all knows 
best, has given it to us. 

Better than sour dough, yeast, and all the baking- 
powders in the world is a preparation made by the 
Kaffir women from a curious and rather rare little 
plant which grows in the Karroo. This plant is almost 
all root, the small portion which peeps above the 
ground consisting only of a few tight clusters of small, 
shiny knobs, of a dull leaden colour. There is nothing 
like it for making bread rise ; but it is most difficult 
to get any of it, as the Kaffir women, besides being 
too lazy to relish the work of preparing it, which is a 
long and tedious business, make a mystery and a secret 
of it: no servant will own to understanding it, and 
somehow one never gets to see the whole process, and 
is only shown certain stages of it, one of which con- 
sists in the hanging up of the substance for a while in 
a bag exposed to the air, during which time it increases 
enormously in bulk, in a manner which seems almost 
miraculous. 

Butter being so rare a luxury in the Karroo, a 
number of different substances have to be pressed into 
the service during long droughts to supply its place, 
such as lard, dripping, etc., and, for the table, the fat 
from the huge tails of sheep somewhat resembling 
those of Syria, though not, like the latter, kindly pro- 
vided with little carts on which to drag the cumbersome 
weight. English jams, of course, like all other im- 
ported provisions, are ruinously expensive ; and it is a 



HOW WE FARED. 231 

pity that the Natal preserves, plentiful as are both 
fruit and sugar in that most fertile of lands, are hardly 
less extravagant in price. But very good home-made 
jams can be obtained from the Cape gooseberry a kind 
of small tomato, enclosed in a loose, crackling bag much 
too large for it; also from priembesjes (pronounced 
"primbessies"), a delicious wild fruit which grows on 
small trees along the lower slopes of the mountains. 
These trees only bear biennially ; and, as if exhausted 
by the lavish profusion of fruit yielded each alternate 
season, produce nothing in the intermediate year. The 
pretty fruit, resembling a small, semi-transparent cherry, 
is at first completely enclosed in such a tight-fitting case 
that it looks like a soft, velvety green ball. As the fruit 
ripens this green covering divides in half, and gradually 
opens wider and wider, disclosing the vivid scarlet 
within. Amid the prevailing stiffness and sombreness of 
Karroo vegetation the pretty, rounded outline of these 
trees, and their bright, glossy, dark foliage forming 
an effective background for the jewel-like fruit as it 
peeps from the delicate pale-green cases in all different 
stages of expansion afford a pleasing contrast. 

In search of priembesjes we made many delightful 
expeditions on horseback to the foot of the mountains ; 
sitting in our saddles close to the trees and picking 

from our animals' backs, T occasionally standing 

up like a circus-rider to reach the higher boughs. Our 
horses became quite accustomed to the work, and, 
moving into the exact spot desired, would stand motion- 
less as lono- as we chose while we filled our baskets. 



232 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

The fruit is slightly acid and very refreshing ; and the 
preserve, not unlike cherry jam, well repays the trouble 
of making, which is considerable, the enormous stones 
being quite out of proportion to the size of the fruit, 
and very difficult to separate from the pulp. Even 
these stones, however, possess their good qualities, and 
contain a delicate little kernel, as nice a nut as you 
could wish to eat, from which an excellent oil can be 
pressed. Then, too, no small recommendation in the 
eyes of ladies, they make the most delightful beads, 
being just soft enough to pierce with a good strong 
needle, though not so soft as to shrivel up afterwards. 
They are of all different shades of rich brown, and, 
when threaded into necklaces, remind one of the old 
Arab rosaries in Cairo, made from the " Mecca seeds," 
and rubbed to a brilliant polish by devout Moham- 
medan thumbs. Jam, beads, oil, and nuts ! Surely a 
tree with such numerous and varied ways of making 
itself useful to humanity seems quite worthy to have 
figured in the pages of " The Swiss Family Robinson." 

The wild honey of the Karroo is generally very 
good, though some is occasionally found to which un- 
wholesome flowers have imparted their evil qualities. 
If, for instance, " where the bee sucks " there is much 
euphorbia-blossom, the honey is pungent and burns the 
tongue. Sometimes it is even poisonous. 

A most useful volunteer assistant in the taking of 
bees' nests is the honey-bird, an insignificant-looking 
little brown fellow who seems possessed of an almost 
uncanny amount of intelligence. Well does he know 



HOW WE FARED. 233 

that old tree or that hole in the ground where there is 
a goodly store of the sweet food into which he is long- 
ing to plunge his bill ; but, unfortunately, he cannot 
get it out for himself, and must needs call in the aid 
of a human ally to take the nest. So he wanders hither 
and thither, and, hailing the first person he meets, flies 
close up to him, chirping and calling loudly to attract 
attention, and behaving altogether in such a confidingly 
familiar and impudent manner that strangers unaccus- 
tomed to his ways would take him for a tame bird 
escaped from his cage. If you refuse to follow him he 
gets very angry, and shows his impatience by flying 
backwards and forwards, chirping excitedly; but if 
his guidance is accepted although he may give you a 
very long, rough walk he will lead you without fail 
to the nest. 

As soon as the spot is reached he changes his note ; 
and, while his featherless partner secures the prize, he 
sits close by, watching the proceedings with intense 
interest, and waiting for his share of the plunder. The 
natives are always superstitiously careful to leave him 
a liberal portion; for they credit him with a very 
vindictive disposition, and say that if any one is base 
enough to refuse him his well-earned reward, he will 
revenge himself on the next person he meets, however 
innocent the latter may be, and, under pretence of 
taking him to a bees' nest, will lure him to the lair of 
a leopard, the hole of a venomous snake, or some other 
equally undesirable spot. 

One day T , on a long homeward ride, was way- 



234 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

laid by one of these birds, which, taking him under his 
protection in the usual business-like and patronizing 
manner, led him by a most roundabout route, and at 
last, with many fussy demonstrations, conducted him 
triumphantly to our own beehive, close to the house. 
Then he perched on a little bush from whence he could 

contemplate the bees ; and T called me out to look 

at him as he sat chirping, immensely contented with 
himself, and scolding us loudly for our neglect of duty. 

Among the numerous enemies of bees the pretty bird 
called the bee-eater is one of the most destructive ; and 
wherever there is a hive or a nest several of these birds 
are almost sure to be seen, darting about swiftly and 
catching the poor little insects on the wing. A large 
kind of hornet is also continually on the watch for 
bees, which he slays apparently out of pure spite ; and 
last, though by no means least, a horrid little red 
scorpion-like creature invades the hive itself, killing 
many of the inmates. 

A large moth resembling the death's-head often 
takes up its abode in bees' nests, betraying its pre- 
sence by a peculiar plaintive sound, and apparently 
living in a perfectly friendly and peaceful manner with 
its hosts. The natives, however, and indeed also many 
of the colonists, stand in great awe of it, as they 
imagine it to be possessed of a most deadly sting. 
Throughout the whole country one hears accounts of 
men, oxen, etc., being killed by this terrible moth ; and 

T , wishing to investigate the matter and find out 

whether there were any truth in the tale, sent several 



HOW WE FARED. 235 

specimens to England, where, on examination by an 
authority on entomology, they all proved to be desti- 
tute of stings. 

You never get a bad cup of coffee in South Africa. 
That unholy ingredient, chicory, with which people in 
England persist in making their coffee undrinkable, is 
never used, and all, even on the roughest of farms, 
seem to understand the secret of preparing good coffee, 
which, after all, needs but the observance of a very 
simple rule ; i.e., never to roast or grind more at a time 
than is required for immediate use. The Dutch vrouw's 
coffee would be perfection if she would only refrain 
from making it the medium by which to express the 
depth of her kindly feelings towards her guests, and 
turning it to a sickly syrup by adding sugar in the 
proportion of Falstaff's "intolerable deal of sack." 
And Phillis, however hopelessly ignorant she may be 
on all other points of cookery, prepares the huge bowl 
of cafe au lait, which, in accordance with colonial 
custom, she brings to your bedside in the early morn- 
ing, in a manner which partially atones for her multi- 
tude of sins. 

Yet people at home do not seem to realize that 
coffee, if kept even for a little time after it is roasted, 
and worse still after it is ground, completely loses 
its flavour. As a rule they buy it ready ground, in 
large quantities, and keep it for weeks in the house 
and under such circumstances it is no wonder that 
even in the best hotels the coffee is not fit to drink, 
and that too often, but for the only flavour left in it 



236 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

that of the acrid chicory with which it has been 
bountifully doctored it might be taken for weak tea. 
And yet there is no better "pick-me-up" after a long walk 
or tiring day's work, nothing more warming and com- 
forting on a cold day, than a cup of really good coffee. 
Such, for instance, as you get in any of the numerous 
Arab cafis in Algiers ; a tiny cup of which, hardly 
larger than an egg-cup, does you more good than a 
glass of port wine. Indeed, wherever coffee is really 
well made as in France and Spain it does exten- 
sively take the place of intoxicating drinks; and it 
would be a good thing if in England, and especially 
among our poorer classes, this splendidly nutritious 
substance food no less than drink were as much 
used as it is abroad. The coffee-house where well-made, 
unadulterated coffee might be obtained would be a 
formidable rival to the gin-palace. As it is, however, 
the art of making coffee if ever possessed at all in 
England has been so completely lost that the increas- 
ing disuse of the beverage is no matter of surprise. 

Angora milk is excellent with coffee, but, though abun- 
dant at times, it is hardly to be obtained at all during 
droughts; and for months you have to be contented 
with Swiss milk. The Boers and Kaffirs think fresh, 
sweet milk very unwholesome ; a Dutchwoman never 
gives her child anything but sour milk to drink, and 
the Kaffirs always keep their milk in large gourds 
which have the property of rapidly turning it sour. 



CHAPTER XII. 

KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 

Leopard drowned in a well Baboons Egyptian sacred animals on Cape 
farms "Adonis" A humiliating retreat A baby baboon 
Clever tricks performed by baboons Adonis as a Voor looker A 
four-handed pointsman Sarah A baboon at the Diamond Fields 
Adonis's shower-bath His love of stimulants His revengeful 
disposition Pelops the dog-headed Horus Aasvogels Goat- 
sucker The butcher-bird's larder Nest of the golden oriole 
The kapok bird Snakes in houses A puff-adder under a pillow 
Puff-adder most dangerous of Cape snakes Cobras Schaap- 
sticker Ugly house-lizards Dassie-adder The dassie the coney 
of Scripture Stung by a scorpion Fight between tarantula and 
centipede Destructive ants The Aardvaark, or ant-bear Igno- 
minious flight of a sentry Ant-lion Walking-leaves The 
Hottentot god A mantis at a picnic. 

ALTHOUGH the elephant and lion are now no longer 
found in the Karroo, there still remain a good number 
of leopards, or, as the colonists, in calm defiance of 
natural history, persist in calling them, " tigers." These 
animals, by the way, seem fated at both ends of the 
Dark Continent to be the victims of a misnomer, and 
in Algeria rejoice in the name of panther e. Though 
the South African leopards are now following the 
example of the larger and more formidable game, and 
gradually retreating before the advance of man, it is not 

a *7 Q 



238 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

many years since three or four of them might be seen 
drinking together at night from the dam close to the 
Dutch house now transformed into the homestead of 
Swaylands. Even now, in the hills overlooking the 
Karroo, there are more of them about than the farmer 
likes ; and sheep, calves, colts and young ostriches are 
occasionally killed by them. 

One day, riding up to a well in an out-of-the-way 
part of the farm, we found that a magnificent full-grown 
leopard had fallen in and drowned himself. There he 
was, floating on the surface of the water only five feet 
below where we stood ; his large body extended across 
the whole diameter of the well, and on the steep but 
rough and unbricked sides of the latter we could see 
the traces of his desperate though unavailing struggles 
to climb out. Unfortunately, the weather being very 
hot, his beautiful skin was already spoilt ; and we rode 
home regretting the lovely rug "off our own farm," 
which we might have displayed to admiring friends at 
home if we had but found him one day earlier. 

A wounded leopard is a very dangerous customer. 
One of our neighbours, an old hunter, bears many scars 
in remembrance of severe injuries received long ago in 
following up one of these animals which he had shot. 
The encounter was a terrible one, nearly costing the 
colonist his life. 

Next to the leopard in ferocity comes the baboon. 
He is a big, deep-voiced, sturdy fellow ; his short, gruff 
bark is as dog-like as his head, and there is no doubt 
that he is identical with the dog-headed ape of ancient 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 239 

Egypt. Indeed, all the sacred animals and birds of 
Egyptian mythology, and many of the other creatures 
which are depicted in so life-like a manner on the walls 
of Nile temples and tombs, are to be found at this day 
in South Africa. Anubis the jackal; the grey ibis, 
now extinct in Egypt, but common enough in the Cape 
Colony, and audacious insult to that learned god to 
whom he was sacred irreverently and absurdly named 
by the colonials " oddida ; " the hawk Horus, with just 
the same plump little body, round baby-face, and deli- 
cately-tinted plumage of softest French grey and white 
which you see again and again in those comical, toy- 
like little wooden images in the museum at Cairo ; 
the wild geese, with the identical curious markings of 
those which, in the oldest picture in the world, may be 
seen in that same museum ; the scarab, rolling his un- 
wieldy ball with Atlas-like efforts ; all these are at 
home on the Karroo farms. 

Cynocephalus, indeed, was very much more at home 
at Swaylands than we liked, and would often frighten 
the ostriches into a wild state of panic, with the usual 
inevitable result of broken legs. On mountain excur- 
sions you frequently hear his surly bark, and some- 
times see him looking out defiantly at you from behind 
rock or bush, where possibly you have disturbed him 
in the midst of an exciting lizard-hunt, or careful 
investigation of loose stones in search of the centi- 
pedes, scorpions and beetles hidden beneath. These 
creatures, uninviting though they appear to us, are 
among his favourite dainties, and he catches them with 



240 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

wonderful dexterity. In the silence of night his voice 
is so distinctly audible from the homestead that you 
would imagine him to be close by, though in reality he 
is far off in one of the kloofs of the mountains. One 
night, as we strolled up and down near the house, 
enjoying the bright moonlight, a loud chorus of distant 
baboons to which we were listening was suddenly in- 
terrupted, evidently by the spring of a hungry leopard, 
the moment's silence being followed by the agonized 
and prolonged yells of the victim. 

Now and then Cynocephalus, or, as the Boers ironi- 
cally call him, "Adonis," gets too troublesome, and war 
has to be carried into his camp. Of no avail against 
him are those neat little strychnine pills, enclosed in 
tempting pieces of fat, by means of which Anubis is 
so successfully sent to his account. No vegetable 
poison has the slightest effect on the baboon's iron 
constitution, and indeed, if there exists any poison at 
all capable of killing him, it is quite certain that with 
his superior intelligence he would be far too artful to 
take it; and when the fiat for his destruction has gone 
forth a well-organized attack has to be made on him 
with dogs and guns. He can show fight, too, and the 
dogs must be well trained and have the safety of 
numbers to enable them to face him ; for in fighting 
he has the immense advantage of hands, with which 
he seizes a dog and holds him fast while he inflicts a 
fatal bite through the loins. Indeed, for either dog or 
man, coming to close quarters with Adonis is no trifling 
matter. 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 241 

One of our friends, travelling on horseback, came 
upon a number of baboons sitting in solemn parliament 
on some rocks. He cantered towards them, anticipat- 
ing the fun of seeing the ungainly beasts take to their 
heels in grotesque panic; but was somewhat taken 
aback on finding that far from being intimidated by 
his approach they refused to move, and sat waiting 
for him, regarding him the while with ominous calm- 
ness. The canter subsided into a trot, and the trot 
into a sedate walk and still they sat there ; and so 
defiant was the expression on each ugly face that at 
last the intruder thought it wisest to turn back and 
ride ignominiously away. 

A Dutch boy one of a family temporarily camp- 
ing in their own waggon on the farm, and employed 

by T , rambling one day in one of the far- oft* 

kloofs of the mountains, came near the haunt of a 
party of baboons. Though an occasional bark broke 
the stillness, only one of the animals was in sight, and 
that a little one, probably left alone for a while during 
the mother's search for food. With the baby baboon 
in his arms the boy was soon speeding at his best pace 
down the mountain ; and, if fortune had but favoured 
his enterprise as it deserved, what a delightful " new 
chum" would that day have been added to our collec- 
tion of animals ! But too soon the whole troop of 
baboons, missing their youngest hope, were in full 
pursuit of the robber, on whom they gained so rapidly, 
and with gestures so unmistakeably portending mis- 
chief, that young Piet was only too glad to drop his 
prize and run for his life. 



242 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

The baboon stands in no awe of women; he seems 
quite aware of their inferiority, in point of strength and 
courage, to the sterner sex, and despises them accord- 
ingly. At one place near Graaff-Reinet the women 
never dared to go and fetch water unless accompanied 
by men ; for the baboons, which were very numerous, 
would always chase and threaten any daughter of Eve 
who ventured, without masculine escort, near their 
haunts. 

Baboons captured in babyhood and brought up in 
human society are capable of becoming extremely tame. 
Like all other very intelligent animals, they vary much 
in disposition, a docile and tractable one soon learning 
to perform many clever tricks, and being an amusing 
companion, though too often a mischievous one. A 
gentleman at Willowmore owned two large, splendidly- 
trained performing baboons, which would have made 
the fortune of any circus-proprietor. They would to- 
gether enact a series of complicated tricks, each going 
through his allotted part without a mistake. Both 
were most attentive and obedient to orders, and never 
by any chance would "Joe" so far forget his duty as to 
respond to the command given to " Jim," or vice versa. 

Occasionally, too, Adonis who cannot, even by his 
best friends, be called ornamental is taught to make 
himself useful; he has in several instances been seen 
filling the post of voorlooper to the waggons of travel- 
ling Boers, acquitting himself on the whole quite as 
creditably as his Hottentot fellow-servants. And at 
one railway station in the colony a baboon was for a long 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 243 

time employed to work the points. The man in charge 
of the latter having in a railway accident lost one 
arm and part of the remaining hand had taught the 
ape to move the levers. This he did most cleverly with 
three of his powerful hands, using one of the hinder 
ones; and the fact of the novel pointsman retaining his 
situation makes it evident that his duties were satisfac- 
torily performed. 

On the occasion of a raid with dogs and guns on the 
baboons infesting a friend's farm, one of the animals 
killed was the mother of a very young infant. When 
the captors came up to the spot they found the poor 
little creature crying piteously as it clasped the trunk 
of the tree beneath which lay its dead parent. They 
took it home, and our friend, a great lover of animals, 
was successful in rearing it. " Sarah," a gentle, amiable 
character, soon became a great favourite, and her 
comical ways were a source of constant amusement to 
her human friends. At the word of command she 
would stand erect, with her arms behind her, and her 
mouth wide open to catch the pieces of potato, etc., 
which were thrown into it; and when told to open 
" wider ! wider ! " she would distend her jaws almost 
to the point of breaking. 

Of course she was occasionally what member of the 
ape tribe is not ? the victim of practical jokes. One 
day her favourite dish, pumpkin, was presented to her, 
and, all-unconscious of the treachery which lurked 
within, she applied herself with gusto to her dinner, 
which, unlike most of her tribe, she always preferred to 



244 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

eat direct from the dish without the intervention of her 
fingers. Alas ! between two of those succulent slices 
of pumpkin cruel hands had spread a thick layer of 
mustard; and poor Sarah, eating greedily, soon ex- 
perienced direful results on tongue, palate, throat, and 
eyes. She knew at once that she had been tricked ; 
and never were contempt and indignation better ex- 
pressed than by the lordly manner in which she kicked 
away the dish with all its remaining contents. After 
which she retired, much offended, to her bed, from 
whence she did not emerge for a long time. 

On another occasion poor Sarah was made the sub- 
ject of a still more unkind practical joke. She dearly 
loved sweets, which were often given to her wrapped 
up in a multitude of papers, one inside the other. It 
was amusing to watch the patient and deliberate 
manner in which she would unfold each paper in turn, 
taking the greatest care never to tear one, and proceed- 
ing with all the caution of a good Mohammedan 
fearful of inadvertently injuring a portion of the Koran. 
This time, instead of the expected tit-bit, a dead night- 
adder was wrapped up and presented. When she 
unfolded the innermost paper, and the snake slipped 
out, with a horrid writhe, across her hand, Sarah 
quietly sank backwards and fainted away, her lips 
turning perfectly white. By dint of throwing water 
over her, chafing her hands, and bathing her lips with 
brandy, she was revived from her swoon, though not 
without some difficulty. 

Sarah has now been for a long time the inmate of an 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 245 

English country rectory, where, let us hope, no unfeel- 
ing jokes at her expense embitter her declining years. 

Of a far less docile disposition than Sarah was a 

large baboon kept by T at the Diamond Fields. 

The incessant damage wrought by this creature among 
his master's property and that of neighbours, and the 
frequent doctors' bills of which he was the occasion, 
made him rather an expensive pet. He was kept 
chained up, but would now and then break loose, on 
which occasions he never failed to make an excellent 
use of his opportunities and enjoy as good a "time" 
as possible before Nemesis overtook him in the form of 
recapture and well-deserved chastisement. 

One day, for instance, T , on returning to his tent, 

was considerably surprised to find his bed occupied 
by Mr. Adonis, who, after getting into the shower- 
bath, pulling the string, and receiving the consequent 
ducking, had retired in a drenched and dripping con- 
dition to the blankets, within which he had comfortably 
ensconced himself, and from whence he gazed im- 
pudently at his master. He no doubt thought that 
he had well earned the luxuries of bath and bed by 

his busy morning's work among the contents of T 's 

canvas house ; and indeed that once cosy little abode 
now offered to the owner's eye a very good represen- 
tation of chaos on a small scale. A bottle of acid, in 
which were a number of diamonds, had been thrown 

outside and the contents scattered in the sand ; T 's 

watch had been pulled to pieces and flung through the 
window ; and altogether every conceivable piece of 



246 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

mischief had been done. On attempting to secure and 

tie up the offender, T received a severe bite through 

the leg ; on which, naturally irate, he seized his gun, 
and capital punishment would then and there have 
been inflicted but for the discovery that the wily 
Adonis had balked retributive justice by carefully 
pulling every cartridge to pieces. 

Among the numerous vices of this baboon was an 
incorrigible addiction to stimulants ; and after indulg- 
ing in his favourite drink gin and ginger-beer he 
might very profitably have been displayed on the plat- 
form of a temperance lecturer, as the Spartans exhibited 
their helots, in illustration of the evils of drunkenness. 
The manner in which, after a drop too much, he in- 
variably persisted in walking upright was unpleasantly 
suggestive of drunken humanity; so too was his urgent 
need of soda-water to allay the parched condition of 
his mouth on the following morning. He would draw 
the cork with his strong teeth, holding the bottle close 
to his lips, and taking the greatest care to lose none 
of the refreshing gas. 

He could throw stones with the unerring aim of a 
schoolboy ; and, being of a revengeful disposition, and 
possessed of a wonderful memory, he never failed to 
requite any insult or injury received. Once a Zulu 
offended him by striking him with a stick. A long 
time passed, and then one day the man, who had quite 
forgotten all about it, came within reach of the baboon's 
tether, and blissfully ignorant of the vengeful feelings 
lurking in the breast of the quadrumane offered him 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 247 

something to eat. But Adonis, who had not forgotten, 
and who was only too glad to pay off old scores, 
caught the man by the hand, and, drawing him towards 
him, bit and punished him severely. 

Here is another tale of revenge, in which the poor 
ape played but a passive part in the hands of the 
" superior " animal. A colonist, having killed a baboon, 
and owing several of his neighbours a long-standing 
grudge, bethought him of a truly fiendish manner of 
revenging himself. Though it is unlikely that he had 
ever read of Tantalus, he proceeded somewhat after that 
classical example, and, cutting up the baboon, made him 
into a stew, in which savoury disguise he served him 
up as the piece de resistance at a dinner to which all 
the obnoxious neighbours were bidden. The dish 
proved a delicious one, and all the visitors ate of Pelops 
Cynocephalus with great relish. The tableau may be 
imagined when, at the end of the banquet, the host told 
his guests what they had eaten. 

It must require considerable hardness of heart to kill 
a baboon ; for the creature is so horribly and uncannily 
human-looking, and, when wounded, cries in a pathetic 
manner which must appeal to all but the most callous 

of consciences. A hunter once told T that he felt 

like a murderer after shooting one of them, and seeing 
how in its dying agonies it pressed one finger upon the 
hole made by the bullet ; crying like a child as it fixed 
its eyes on him with piteous looks of reproach. 

Although the miniature Zoo at Swaylands never 
boasted of a tame cynocephalus, we numbered among 



248 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

our feathered friends one of the gods of ancient Egypt 
in the shape of as tiny and chubby a little Horus as 
ever sat for his portrait to the sculptors of Philas or 
Thebes. He was but a wee thing, about the size of a 
wild dove, but possessed an amount of intelligence 
which made him one of the most interesting even 
among Cape pets. Sad to say, the poor little fellow 

was minus one wing. T , noticing him one day 

flying near the house, and not knowing what bird he 
was, brought him down with a small rifle bullet. The 
shot passed through the wing, so completely smashing 
it that the only thing we could do was to take it off 
close to the body. We tied it up at once and stopped 
the bleeding, the plucky little patient never uttering a 
sound, though his jewel-like eyes seemed really to blaze 
with anger. They were the most wonderful eyes 
imaginable, almost owl-like in size and roundness, and of 
a lovely red with an orange tinge. A ruby with a candle 
behind it is what I imagine would come nearest to them 
in colour. The plumage of Horus, instead of being 
speckled and barred with different shades of brown 
like that of the falcons one is accustomed to see, was 
of the loveliest silver-grey, darkest on the back and 
wing, and shading off gradually into very pale grey 
on the head, and into purest white on the breast and 
beneath the body ; the breast feathers being soft and 
fluffy, like eider-down. The legs and feet were bright 
yellow, the bill dark grey, edged with yellow, and a 
circle of dark feathers round the eyes, drawn off into 
a long line at each side, gave a sphinx-like appearance 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 349 

to the wise-looking little head. Altogether, Horus was 
one of the most beautiful little birds we have seen. 
We took it for granted that he was the sacred falcon ; 
and it will be a disappointment to us if, one day, some 
learned ornithologist tells us we were quite wrong. 

The little fellow recovered rapidly ; and, although on 
the first day after the amputation we had to put food 
down his throat, getting viciously punished by his 
needle-pointed bill and claws, on the second he took 
meat from our hands, eating voraciously as much as 
we would give him, and even coming after us for more ; 
though, not having yet learned to steer himself under 
his altered circumstances, he hobbled in a very clumsy 
and crab-like fashion, now and then making futile 
efforts to fly, and tumbling down on his side. Soon, 
however, he learned to walk straight, and would follow 
us about like a little dog, with the quaintest short 
steps. He was soon tame and friendly with all but 
the meerkat, for which he showed great animosity, and 
on which he would jump spitefully or perhaps hun- 
grily ? whenever it came near him. Possibly, in a 
wild state, small animals of this kind were his natural 
prey. He did not object to To to, who indeed with 
the sole exception of his rival and arch-enemy Bobby 
has never failed to get on well with all his hetero- 
geneous companions. 

Horus, debarred by his infirmity from active exercise, 
and condemned to a somewhat humdrum life, sought 
consolation in the pleasures of the table, and developed 
an enormous appetite. He shared the spoils of the 



250 HOME LIFE QN AN OSTRICH FARM. 

mousetraps with Bobby, and would take raw and 
cooked meat from our hands with equal relish. Indeed 
I am afraid we overfed him, and induced apoplexy. 
At any rate, one evening as we sat reading after 
dinner, he dropped quietly from his perch, and died 
without a flutter. 

The aasvogel, a repulsively ugly, bald-headed, bare- 
necked bird of the most pronounced vulture type, is 
very common in South Africa, especially in the regions 
where game is most plentiful. These denizens of the 
air seem to be perpetually hovering, on the watch for 
prey, at such immense heights as to be quite out of 
range of human vision ; though their own keen sight 
enables them instantly to detect the prospect of a feed, 
and if an animal is killed, or even only wounded, they 
are at once aware of the fact, and, swooping down from 
their airy height, sail straight to the spot. 

Perhaps you are a " new chum " out hunting, and you 
bring down an antelope. Although, at the moment of 
firing your shot, you would have been ready to take 
your affidavit that 

" No birds were flying overhead, 
There were no birds to fly," 

your game has hardly fallen before, far up in the grey- 
blue, a tiny speck appears, at first only just visible, 
but rapidly increasing in size ; then another, and yet 
another floats into sight, "and still they come," till at 
last the heavens seem all alive with birds approaching 
from every direction, outlined against the cloudless sky 
in different degrees of size and clearness, according to 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 251 

perspective, but all making the straightest of bee-lines 
towards the wounded animal. In the Free State, where 

these birds are very numerous, T , hunting on 

horseback, has sometimes found that before he could 
reach the spot where his antelope had fallen the 
aasvogels were already on it, and had commenced 
operations by plucking out the eyes, their special tit- 
bits. 

These nastiest of birds think nothing of overeating 
themselves till their condition resembles that of Mark 
Twain's jumping frog after the famous dose of shot, 
and, when gorged after a good "square" meal, they are 
so heavy that they have to run a long way before they 
can rise into the air. On these occasions, if you are 
active and have a good long whip, you can catch them 
by switching the lash round their ugly, bare necks. 
But a little experience teaches you that this sport has 
its drawbacks, as the aasvogel invariably swarms with 
animal life of the most objectionable kind. 

Owls are plentiful enough in the Karroo ; so too are 
those other nocturnal birds, the goat-suckers, which at 
sundown begin to fly about, uttering their weird, 
plaintive cry. They are queer-looking birds, and seem 
all out of proportion, with a broad, short head and 
immensely wide bill, surrounded by stiff bristles like 
a cat's whiskers. On examining a specimen shot near 
our house, we were amused to find that, by looking into 
this preposterous bill, we could distinctly see the 
creature's eyes through the semi-transparent roof of 
the mouth. 



252 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

Another of our feathered eccentricities, the butcher- 
bird, called by the colonists Jack Hanger, likes to eat 
his game high ; and you often come across mimosa- 
bushes which, stuck all over with small birds, beetles, 
locusts, etc., impaled on the long, stiff thorns, form his 
well-stocked larder. 

In such a land of snakes as South Africa it is 
necessary for the birds to resort to many clever and 
thoughtful devices for the protection of eggs and 
young ; and some of the "homes without hands" are 
most ingeniously planned and exquisitely constructed. 

The golden oriole hangs her graceful nest on the very 
furthest end of a long bough over water, if possible, 
for extra safety, and always gives the preference to 
the drooping branches of the willow. The nest is 
shaped just like a Florence flask with the end curved 
over ; and it is next to impossible for a snake to pene- 
trate into its interior. 

Even prettier and more wonderfully made is the 
nest of the kapok bird, a little creature resembling a 
torn-tit. The material used in the construction of this 
small domicile is a kind of wild cotton, well named by 
the Boers kapok (snow). The nest, which is very com- 
pact, and looks as if it were made of soft, white felt, is 
of much the same shape as the oriole's brown flask; 
but near the outlet it is dented in, forming a kind of 
second or exterior nest, in which the little paterfamilias 
mounts guard over his household gods, effectually 
closing the aperture by the pressure of his back against 
the curving end of the tube above him. The white 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 253 

felt is very thick and firm throughout the globular 
part of the flask, but gradually diminishes in density 
along the neck, till at the orifice it is so thin and loosely 
woven that the soft edges, pressed together by the bird, 
remain interlaced even after he has flown from his 
sentry-box. No apparent aperture is left ; and the 
little stronghold is quite impregnable, and ready to 
baffle the wiliest of ophidian marauders, until Mrs. 
Kapok, by flying out, re-opens the tunnel. 

Snakes are indeed one of the greatest drawbacks to 
South African life. There are so many of them, they 
are of such deadly sorts, and the obtrusive familiarity 
and utter absence of ceremony with which they come 
into the houses render the nerves of newly-arrived 
inmates liable at any moment to receive a severe 
shock. After a time, of course, finding that every one 
you meet has some startling experiences to relate, of 
the discovery of intrusive snakes in all sorts of places 
where they were most unlooked-for and least desirable, 
you become somewhat inured to this unpleasant feature 
of colonial existence, and move about your house 
with the caution of one who would not be surprised 
to find a snake anywhere. 

T , dressing one morning during the early days 

of his Cape life, had just inserted his foot at one end 
of his trousers, when a night-adder a most deadly 
little snake, with an evil habit of going about at 
hours when all respectable reptiles are in bed dropped 
out at the other. One of our neighbours considerably 
damaged his drawing-room by firing several shots at a 

R 



254 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

large cobra, which had startled his wife by paying an 
unwelcome call. Another friend, exploring the depths 
of her rather dark china-closet, put her hand on a 
snake, comfortably coiled up beside the teacups. And 
a ghastly tale we heard, of some one in bed, putting 
his hand under the pillow at night for his pocket- 
handkerchief, and pulling out a puff-adder, makes one 
feel that for those at least who live at the Cape 
there is more of common sense than of irony in Mark 
Twain's assertion that it is safest not to go to bed. 

We were more fortunate than our neighbours, and 
never during our four years' residence did I find in 
any of our rooms that snake for which as the old lady 
for the burglar I was continually looking. Perhaps we 
owed our immunity to the narrow strips of horse-hair 
material, with the rough edge pointing upwards, which 

T , having read somewhere that no snake will 

cross this prickly barrier, had nailed along the thres- 
hold of each outer door. In the store, which did not 
communicate with the house, and the door of which 
was fortified by no friendly spikes, we did occasionally 
kill a snake attracted, no doubt, by the legions of fat 
mice which ran riot among the sacks. The fowl-house, 
too, would often be thrown into a state of wild excite- 
ment and frenzied cackling by the visits of these 
dreaded reptiles most inveterate of egg-stealers. 

One day, soon after we came up-country, Nancy 
suddenly burst in upon us, her red turban all awry, 
and her speech so incoherent with agitation that the 
only intelligible words were "Missis! Turkey ! I Missis ! 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 255 

Snake!!!" On running out, we found the whole 
poultry-yard in commotion, and the hens clamouring 
as if each had laid at least a dozen eggs ; while our 
nine turkeys stood drawn up in a row, pictures of 
imbecile consternation, chattering feebly as they, one 
and all, made a dead point at a little empty packing- 
case, protruding from behind which we could just see 
the ugly, broad head of a young puff-adder. The 
enemy was soon despatched; and while the turkeys 
recovered their equanimity which process took a long 
time I indulged in the pleasure so dear to any one 
with a taste for natural history, and took a thorough 
survey of this, the first good-sized puff-adder I had 
seen. And what a repulsive creature it was, with its 
short, thick, swollen-looking body, toad-like head, and 
utterly evil countenance ! Only the hideous cerastes, 
with little demon-like horns so common in North 
Africa comes anywhere near a puff-adder in thorough- 
paced villany of expression. 

Of all the Cape snakes the puff-adder is not only the 
deadliest, but by far the most to be feared. For, being 
of the same colour as the ground, it is extremely diffi- 
cult to see : it is lazy, too, and will not take the trouble 
to get out of your way as every other snake does ; yet, 
when roused, it is very active, and comes at you back- 
wards, springing a long distance with accurate aim. 
If you are in front of it you are safe, as it cannot strike 

forward. One morning, T , lifting up the rug in 

which he had been sleeping out on the veldt, found the 
flattened body of a puff-adder, which had evidently 



256 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

crept between the folds for warmth, and which he had 
unconsciously crushed to death. 

Cobras, some of which are quite six feet in length, are 
very numerous in the Karroo. At certain seasons this 
snake is very aggressive, and will come at you boldly 

if you happen to be between it and its nest. T , 

when out shooting one day with a pointer, suddenly saw 
a cobra lift itself up and strike the dog. The venom 
was so swift in its operation that the poor animal only 
turned round once, and died almost immediately. 

The schaapsticker, which always reminded me of the 
beautiful but deadly coral-snakes of South America, has 
a wonderfully-marked skin, the pretty pattern and 
bright tints of which might well be utilized by some 
artistic designer of floor-cloths. A delicate, coral-like 
red predominates among the colours ; and altogether 
the creature is so small and pretty that it is difficult to 
believe it is one of the most venomous of snakes. It 
is particularly destructive to cattle and sheep, hence 
its name, the literal translation of which is "sheep- 
stinger." 

Some of the tree-snakes, too, are very beautiful ; 
and, many of them being of the same bright green 
as the foliage, a close look is required to distinguish 
them as they lurk beneath it on the watch for birds, or 
for little mice which sometimes climb up into bushes, 
or into the lower branches of trees. 

Lizards are very plentiful throughout the Karroo ; 
and, as you walk through the veldt, hundreds of them, 
startled by your footsteps, dart away in all directions 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 257 

from one isolated tuft of bush to another, as if running 
for their little lives. In strong contrast to these bright, 
active creatures of the sunshine are the slow-moving, 
pallid-complexioned house-lizards which are so un- 
pleasantly common. There are few things uglier than 
one of these hikes. With his flat, round toes, serving 
the purpose of suckers whereby he is enabled to retain 
his foothold as he perches, fly -like, on the ceilings, his 
low, criminal type of face, brightened by none of the 
quaint, antediluvian air of wisdom which redeems the 
chameleon's honest ugliness, and with his general un- 
healthy and uncanny appearance, it is no wonder that 
among the ignorant natives he has the reputation of 
being as venomous as he looks, and that from one end 
of the country to. the other he is more dreaded than 
any snake. Yet it is somewhat puzzling to think how 
he can inflict a poisonous bite, when, on looking into 
his mouth, you perceive that he has no teeth. 

An object of even more superstitious dread is that 
mysterious and deadly creature half-quadruped, half- 
reptile, and certainly altogether fabulous the so-called 
dassie-adder. Throughout the whole country you hear 
accounts of this strange animal from Boers, Kaffirs, 
and Hottentots; many of the coloured race declare 
that they have seen it, and, though some laugh at the 
tale, the belief in it is evidently very general. The 
anterior portion of the mythical creature's body is 
supposed to be that of a dassie, or rock-rabbit (the 
coney of Scripture), to which are joined, in somewhat 
mermaid-like fashion, the thick body and blunt tail of 



258 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

a snake resembling a puff-adder. According to al] 
accounts the dassie-adder, whose bite is instantly fatal, 
is most vindictive, and, running with all the swiftness 
of a dassie, will chase any one who comes near it. 
Some say, too, that it goes about at night. 

The dassies, so terrible in their fictitious semi-reptile 
state, are in real life very harmless, timid little animals. 
They are gregarious, and live among the rocks in such 
inaccessible places that it is most difficult to capture 
one of them; and a tame dassie is among the rarest 
of Karroo pets, so securely do these "feeble folk" make 
"their houses in the rocks." In appearance the dassie 
is very like a little brown guinea-pig; as regards in- 
telligence, too, he is just about the equal of his rather 
uninteresting piebald cousins, and, although he is as 
pretty, soft-coated and gentle as you could wish, and 
in his mild, placid way gets very tame, he is nowhere 
in comparison with that prince of pets, a meerkat. 

A not unlikely solution of the dassie-adder mystery 
seems to be that in all probability the puff-adders prey 
upon the little denizens of the rocks; and a large snake 
may occasionally have been seen with a half -swallowed 
dassie in his mouth, just as a common snake sometimes 
displays, protruding from his jaws, the head and fore- 
legs of the inconveniently fat frog which he is unable 
to gulp down in a hurry. The negro mind is quite 
capable of evolving a fabulous animal out of even 
such slight grounds as this. 

Of " creepy-era wlies" of all kinds the Karroo pos- 
sesses more than enough, and like the snakes they 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 259 

invade the house, and make themselves at home in a 
manner which is free and easy rather than pleasant. 
Legions of venomous centipedes, scorpions, and big, 
bristly-legged spiders of the tarantula tribe lurk in 
the old reed ceilings; from whence they drop playfully 
down now and then, to the consternation of the un- 
wary inmate sitting beneath, on whose head or book 
they chance to land. Or, if they do not drop down 
on you, they lie in wait about the room in well-chosen 
points of vantage, where their sudden discovery is sure 
to give you a horrid jump, even if you are lucky 
enough to get off without a venomous bite or sting. 

One evening, as I was getting ready for bed 
oblivious for once of cautious habits acquired, years 
before, in that land of "jiggers," the West Indies, 
where you never venture to walk slippeiiess, even 
across your bedroom my bare foot suddenly en- 
countered what seemed like the point of a red-hot 
needle sticking straight up out of the floor; and, 
looking down, I found that I had trodden on a scorpion. 
Fortunately, it was not one of the large black ones, 
which are the most venomous, but only a light-coloured 
specimen, about two inches and a half in length. It 

was, however, quite bad enough ; and although T 

recklessly poured away over the foot our whole photo- 
graphic supply of ammonia, and made me drink the 
greater part of a bottle of strong Cape wine in the 
hope of neutralizing the poison though, alas ! only 
producing other and sad results it was many hours 
before that red-hot needle showed any signs of cooling 



260 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

down. And then an exaggerated form of "pins and 
needles" set in, followed by what resembled a suc- 
cession of powerful electric shocks running up the leg 
at intervals of two or three minutes. Altogether, the 
victim of a scorpion's sting can well realize the feelings 
of gouty patients, who dread to see even their best 
friends coming within five or six yards of them. It 
was two days before I could put my foot to the ground; 
and then, for several more, I could only hobble pain- 
fully with the aid of a stick. 

Colonial boys are fond of setting scorpions to fight 
with tarantulas. The great spiders are most pugnacious, 
and seem only too glad of an opportunity to fight with 
anything. T once watched one of them in desper- 
ate battle with a centipede. The vicious spider, whose 
body was as large as that of a mouse, seized his 
antagonist and shook him savagely, just as a terrier 
shakes a rat ; then, letting him go for a time, he would 
spring upon him, pick him up, and worry him again, 
apparently with fiendish pleasure. He continued this 
mode of warfare until the final collapse of the poor 
centipede, whose pluck in facing such an adversary at 
all deserves to be commended. 

Prominent among insect nuisances are ants of many 
different sorts and sizes, the worst of all being the 
mischievous rice ants. Many a carpet or curtain is 
utterly ruined by these creatures, which have a trick 
of coming up unexpectedly through the floor in large 
numbers, generally during the night, when they can 
carry on their destructive work without interruption. 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 261 

They work with a zeal worthy of a better cause, and 
the amount of damage their powerful jaws can do in 
one night is almost incredible. 

Very pretty necklaces are made of the threaded 
eggs of one kind of ant. They are rough and irregular 
in shape, and possess such a soft lustre, that but for 
their deep golden colour they might almost be taken 
for inferior pearls. 

It is some satisfaction to know that the ranks of 
Cape ants are considerably thinned by several inveterate 
enemies. One of these is that strange burrowing animal 
the ant-bear, called by the Dutch aardvaark (earth- 
pig). * There is one in the Zoo ; and it is about as un- 
canny and nightmare-like a beast as could be imagined 
or dreamed of a sort of crazy combination of calf and 
pig, reminding one of the Mock Turtle in "Alice's 
Adventures." Like that tearful animal, it possesses a 
head and body which do not in the smallest degree 
appear to belong to each other. The longest, narrowest 
and boniest of calves' heads, so pallid and sickly in 
complexion, and so entirely hairless, as to appear not 
only dead, but neatly scraped and cleaned all ready for 
cooking, is joined without the intervention of any 
neck to speak of to a fat, pig-like body, very scantily 
clothed with short, bristly hairs. The eyes are large 
and dark, the bare, pink ears are of rabbit-like pro- 
portions, and the calf's head terminates in a pig's 
snout, thickly lined with hair. This latter is the only 
hirsute adornment possessed by the goblin-like coun- 
* Orycteropus capensis. 



262 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

tenance, to which a very cynical expression is given by 
the animal's ugly trick of wrinkling up its enormously 
long snout. The thick legs, and the feet, armed with 
large claws, are immensely strong ; so, too, is the broad, 
flat, almost hairless tail, about the shape of which there 
is something unpleasantly suggestive of a puff-adder. 
The specimen in the Zoo has a damaged tail, the result 
of the force the captors found it necessary to use in 
dragging it from its hole. A riem was once tied to 
the tail of an ant-bear, and a span of oxen fastened on 
to draw it out of the ground. But, after much ineffec- 
tual tugging, the experiment ended in the breaking of 
the riem or of the tail our informant had forgotten 
which ; at any rate the animal remained in its hole. 

Many a time does the unwary rider, cantering across 
the veldt, come to sudden grief in one of the deep, 
trap-like holes made by the ant-bear, which seems by 
no means an uncommon animal. But it is quite pos- 
sible to live many years in South Africa, and, however 
often you may tumble into its holes, never once see 
the creature itself. For, being of nocturnal habits, it 
is active only at night, when it tunnels its way under- 
ground like a mole, occasionally coming to the sur- 
face, and now and then emerging in very unexpected 
places. 

Some members of a hunting-party, camping out for 
the night, were much surprised to see the ground heave 
up suddenly in the centre of their tent, the passing of 
an ant-bear a little below the surface being the cause 
of the miniature earthquake. And during the war in 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 263 

Zululand an Irish sentry was on guard at midnight, 
when suddenly, close to him, the ground opened, and 
out of it rose a ghastly living Jack-in-the-box. The 
moonbeams shone full on the horrid form, long head, 
and deadly-pale, calf -like face ; and the man small 
blame to him dropped his gun, deserted his post, and 
fled in horror, shouting to his astonished comrades the 
awful news that he had seen Old Nick himself ! And 
indeed, if, on one of our moonlight strolls about the 
farm, an ant-bear had suddenly risen in our path, I am 
quite sure that we should have taken to our heels with 
equal alacrity. 

The cage of the Cape ant-bear at the Zoo being 
next to that of the American ant-eater, a good oppor- 
tunity is afforded for observing the marked dissimilarity 
of the two animals, which indeed could hardly be more 
unlike each other. One of the numerous points in 
which they differ is that the American ant-eater is 
toothless, while the aardvaark possesses teeth. 

The ant-lion, so often pictured in books of natural 
history, is common in the Karroo ; and it was a great 
pleasure for us when, for the first time, we saw him in 
real life, and examined his cleverly-constructed, funnel- 
shaped trap, hollowed out in the soft, sliding sand, 
down which his victims tumble, to find him waiting 
open-mouthed at the bottom. 

Talking of the ant-lion reminds one of another exca- 
vator, still more familiar to Cape colonists, the trap-door 
spider. His "diggings" are in the form of a perpen- 
dicular, cylinder-shaped box, the lid of which, level with 



264 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

the surface of the ground, is so neatly made that it is 
quite impossible to detect it when closed. 

The walking-leaf tribe is very largely represented in 
South Africa ; and besides simulating leaves of many 
different kinds, the creatures assume numerous other 
forms, some looking just like pieces of dried stick, 
others like bits of straw, blades of grass, etc. The plant, 
or portion of a plant, which they personate so admirably, 
is always the chosen resting-place on which they sit, 
motionless and meditative, often defying detection. The 
praying mantis is worshipped by the Hottentots, who 
perhaps, like the ancient Greeks and Romans, look on 
him as a kind of soothsayer or fortune-teller (/mi/-?). 
But in spite of being the Hottentot god, and of possess- 
ing such a pious-sounding scientific name as Mantis 
religiosa, he is a most pugnacious little beast ; and if 
he has a difficulty to settle with one of his brethren, 
the pair will fight it out like the Kilkenny cats. 

Not long ago, at a North African picnic, one of these 
same little creatures caused much amusement by the 
tact which he displayed in doing just the right thing 
at the right time, and in the prettiest manner. It was 
a very hot day, so close and oppressive that we all felt 
rather languid ; and conversation flagged as we sat at 
luncheon round the table-cloth spread on the ground 
in the interior of a large tent. Suddenly, during a 
long pause, a little mantis appeared on the scene. 
With a jaunty air, and with all the cool self-possession 
of a popular performer advancing, confident of success, 
towards the footlights, he stepped on to the tablecloth, 



KARROO BEASTS, BIRDS AND REPTILES. 265 

and, crossing it in a bee-line, drew up before Her 
Britannic Majesty's Consul, to whom, with many jerky 
inclinations of his gaunt, bright-green body, he made 
what appeared to be a series of most obsequious bows. 
Then, having obeyed the first requirements of etiquette, 
he passed slowly along the line of guests, halting 
occasionally and paying his respects to one or the other. 
He seemed quite unabashed by all the notice and 
applause which he received ; and as the plate in which 
he finally deposited himself was handed round among 
the guests, he calmly surveyed each one in turn, while 
continuing, very literally, to " bow and scrape." If he 
had been a paid performer, engaged beforehand, he 
could not have played his little part better; and all 
agreed in giving him a vote of thanks for his timely 
appearance, which just gave us the mental pick-me-up 
which, on that enervating day, we all needed. I be- 
lieve some one carried him home at last in a paper 
cage ; though whether he fulfilled the brilliant promise 
of his first introduction to human society, and became 
an intelligent pet, we never heard. 



CHAPTER XIII. 

OUR NEIGHBOURS. 

Hospitality of Cape colonists Cheating and jealousy in business 
Comfortless homes Spoilt children Education The "School- 
master" Convent schools A priest-ridden nation The Nacht- 
maal Old French names A South African duke in Paris 
Fine-looking men Fat women Ignorance of Vrouws Boers 
unfriendly to English A mean man. 

THERE is much to be admired in the character of 
those decidedly unpolished diamonds, the colonial-born, 
English-speaking inhabitants of the Karroo. They 
are a fine, sturdy, self-reliant race, splendidly fitted in 
every way for their extremely rough-and-ready sur- 
roundings. In kindliness and hospitality they are 
unsurpassed, even by the much-praised dwellers in 
Arab tents or white, flat-roofed Moorish houses ; and 
in the isolated homesteads where they live their rough, 
but simple and healthy lives, the heartiest reception is 
invariably accorded alike to friends, slight acquaint- 
ances, and even perfect strangers. Perhaps you are 
one of the latter, and, on a long journey, you outspan 
at the dam of a farm, with the intention of remaining 
only long enough to give the horses the necessary water 
and rest before you trek again. But no sooner is your 



OUR NEIGHBOURS. 267 

cart or spider seen to stop than you are sought out, 
with kind and pressing invitation to come in. No 
matter how full the house may already be, how late 
or inconvenient the hour of your unexpected arrival 
on a Cape farm, a place is always found for you 
at the table; and, if needed, some sort of a night's 
lodging, of however impromptu a description, will 
be prepared for you. The colonist joyfully makes you 
welcome to his best. If you are staying in his house, 
a mount or a seat in his conveyance is always at your 
disposal; and the longer you can remain, the better 
he and all his kind-hearted family are pleased. It is 
true that their home is far from being a luxurious one, 
and that none of them have much idea of comfort ; but 
the latter article being, on account of the isolation 
and of the bad servants, somewhat difficult of attain- 
ment, it is on the whole just as well that no one misses 
it sufficiently to regret its absence; and one cannot 
but admire and envy the philosophical manner in which 
the colonists take things as they come, making them- 
selves perfectly happy under any circumstances. 

Altogether there is so much that is lovable in the 
colonial character, that you are sometimes disappointed 
to find that there is a reverse to this bright side of the 
picture, and that even by those who have received 
you the most hospitably, and who apparently, while 
you were their guest, could not do enough for you 
you are liable, in business transactions, to be woefully 
cheated. It is thought no disgrace to get the better 
of any one in a bargain, whether on an iniquitous] y 



263 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

large or contemptibly small scale ; on the contrary, it 
is considered rather clever and smart to "do a shot" on 
the guileless and unsuspecting new chum, fresh from 
a country where a somewhat different code of honour 
obtains. 

Business jealousies, too, are another source of trouble 
to the uninitiated. If any farmer has a project which 
seems likely to turn out a good thing for him, he had 
better be careful that no bird of the air whispers it 
about beforehand among his neighbours and rivals, 
who, one and all, will only be too glad if they can 
bring his plans to naught. 

Time seems to be of no more value to the Cape 
colonists than it is to the followers of Islam, and 
"letting things slide" is pretty generally the order of 
the day. One is rather puzzled at this weak point in 
otherwise active, energetic characters; and certainly, 
living as these people do in the splendid air of the 
Cape exhilarating as champagne, and making all who 
inhale it feel glad to be alive they cannot, like the 
limp, supine inhabitants of Eastern lands, plead the 
excuse of an enervating climate. Much of the dis- 
comfort in the houses is due to this frightful habit of 
procrastinating. Whatever is broken is, as often as 
not, left unmended for an indefinite time ; little repairs, 
which need but the minimum of time and trouble, but 
the neglect of which would cause daily annoyance and 
discomfort to any but these easy-going mortals, are 
put off from week to week and from month to month. 
And every one is just as happy and contented, with 



OUR NEIGHBOURS. 269 

violent draughts and clouds of dust blowing in through 
two or three broken windows at once ; or with a glass 
outer door whose handle has been off for months, and 
which continually flaps noisily backwards and forwards, 
admitting gusts of cold wind and flocks of turkeys 
and fowls into the room ; as if all things were in per- 
fect order. Poultry and domestic animals, indeed, have 
it all their own way on Karroo farms with the 
delightful freedom enjoyed by their brethren in Irish 
cabins. At one house, for instance, if the dining- 
room was left for a moment when the cloth was laid 
for a meal, half a dozen fowls would be on the table, 
picking the bread to pieces ; while in another I have 
several times assisted our hosts in ejecting a too- 
friendly pig from the bedroom. To give South African 
pigs their due, I must say that in that driest of climates 
they are less uncleanly in their persons, and hence 
rather less objectionable indoors, than they would be 
in Europe. But we had English prejudices, and dis- 
countenanced the visits of members of the farm-yard ; 
and Toto had standing orders, which he faithfully 
obeyed, to keep the rooms clear of live stock of all 
kinds, with the exception of privileged pets. 

Even more terrible than the intrusive animals are the 
spoilt children. During their earlier years the little 
colonists are left very much to themselves: they run 
wild, like young colts, about their native farm, no one 
takes the trouble to interfere with them, and they are 
allowed to retain, unchecked, all the rude, rough habits 
which they have acquired from their uncivilized Hot- 

s 



270 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

tentot nurse-girls. They do as they like, say whatever 
comes uppermost, and behave at table in any sort of out- 
rageous fashion that pleases them ; while the father and 
mother sit unmoved, apparently surprised at nothing 
their progeny may see fit to do. The latter being totally 
unencumbered by bashf ulness, the presence of strangers 
acts as n restraint ; and a dinner taken in the company 
of a large family of boys, of stolid parents, and in- 
different elder sisters, is for the newly-imported English 
visitor a novel and rather startling experience, the 
details of which, however, are best left to oblivion. 

But, on the whole, the young Africander's bringing- 
up unpleasant though he certainly is during the 
process is no doubt the best possible one to fit him 
for the rough and active life of the farms, and to form 
in him that independent character and those habits of 
self-reliance and smartness in money matters which, 
when he is grown up, stand him in such good stead. 
And he does grow up with astounding rapidity ; being 
at fifteen a thorough man of business, able to " do a 
deal " with any one, and taking good care, you may be 
sure, that the transaction is no unprofitable one to 
himself. In this respect he affords a decided contrast 
to the average young Englishman, who, at twenty-five, 
is often where business matters are concerned as in- 
experienced as a boy. 

The difficulties in the way of providing the children 
with a good education are by no means one of the least 
of South African drawbacks ; especially for those living 
on the far-off country farms. Colonial schools do not 



OUR NEIGHBOURS. 271 

seem to be much in favour, at least for boys, and the 
great ambition of a Cape parent is to send his sons home 
to be educated in Europe most frequently for the 
medical profession, a doctor's position being the most 
coveted one in the colony. In the Edinburgh University, 
especially, the Africander element is in great force. Those 
parents who cannot afford to have their boys educated 
in Europe generally contrive to secure the services of 
some broken-down gentleman, occasionally even of a 
clergyman, who lives on the farm and too often for a 
shamefully small salary, indeed in one or two instances 
for nothing but his keep fills the post of tutor, or, as 
his employers call him, " schoolmaster," to the turbulent 
young tribe. As may be imagined, his life is not a very 
enviable one, the breaking-in process being all the 
harder in consequence of the long period, prior to his 
advent, when his charges were allowed to run wild out 
of doors all day long to the immense benefit, no doubt, 
of their robust young bodies, but to the utter neglect 
of all intellectual and moral training. 

The schoolmaster does not seem to have been a very 
general institution in the days when some of the older 
colonists were young ; and a business correspondence 
with Karroo farmers sometimes elicits the wildest 

vagaries of orthography. T , for instance, received 

a letter from one of our neighbours, in which the 
following sentences occurred: "Your hostridges are vary 
onpleasand on the public outspan. Pleas to try and 
halter tham." Another correspondent, intent on the 
purchase of ostriches, told us he wished " to bye buirds." 



272 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

For girls, the convent schools in several of the larger 
towns are undoubtedly the best, both as regards the 
good, sensible education imparted, and the refined, lady- 
like manners which are invariably acquired by all who 
have been brought up under the tutelage of the nuns. 
Throughout the whole country, the convent-bred girls 
can always be recognised at a glance, and the contrast 
is very striking between them and the less fortunate 
ones who possess but the superficial education and 
second-rate manners of the average colonial boardino-- 

o o 

school. Even the daughters of the roughest Boers, if 
sent to a convent school, are turned out perfect ladies, 
and return to their up-country homes with gentle and 
gracious manners strangely out of keeping with their 
uncouth surroundings. But there are many parents, of 
course, to whom all the advantages of convent educa- 
tion could not compensate for that insuperable objection, 
the risk of Romanizing influence ; and intending settlers 
in the colony who do not wish to expose their daughters 
to that risk will do well to bring out a good governess 
with them, and keep the girls at home. 

The Boer's great desire, like that of his English- 
speaking neighbour, is to get his boys educated in 
Europe; but, instead of the medical profession, the 
pastorate is the object of his ambition. For these 
Cape Dutch, although Protestants, are quite as priest- 
ridden as any Roman Catholic nation ; the predikant 
is a great man indeed throughout the widespread circle 
of his parishioners, and to offend him, or even to fail in 
paying him the exact amount of deference he considers 
his due, means to be boycotted. 



OUR NEIGHBOURS. 273 

The nachtmaal,OY communion, is only administered 
as among Scotch Presbyterians twice or three times 
during the year ; and on these rare occasions the little 
town or village where there is a Dutch church becomes 
the lively scene of an immense gathering of Boers, 
vrouws, and families. They have come, many of them 
from long distances of three or four days' journey, plod- 
ding along in waggons drawn by long spans of oxen, 
driving in roomy conveyances of every possible queer 
and antiquated shape, or travelling on horseback 
the stout, ungainly women, in their white kappjes and 
gaudily-coloured dresses, cantering clumsily by the 
side of their lords. The crowd of outspanned vehicles, 
drawn up close together, form a kind of large camp ; 
and, the Boer being always ready to combine piety with 
business and, if need be, with a good deal of cheating, 
the nachtmaal ends with a busy fair or market, 
in which a very brisk trade is carried on, all kinds of 
farm produce being sold or bartered. 

In nearly all the Dutch houses you find curious old 
family Bibles, many of them in black-letter, with 
quaint and interesting maps. In some of the latter, 
representing Africa, the lakes Victoria and Albert 
Nyanza are marked, though quite in the wrong places. 
The good old French names borne by so many of the 
Boers tell of their Huguenot descent ; Du Plessis, De 
Villiers, Du Toit, Du Barry, etc., are all names of fre- 
quent occurrence in South Africa, although the French 
language is never spoken, the Dutch having prohibited 
its use among the refugees when the latter settled in 



274 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

the colony. Some time ago, Napoleon III., anxious to 
restore the ancient nobility, sent for one of these Boers, 
who, in the old country, was the heir to a dukedom, 
inviting him to resume his title and estates. The colo- 
nist came to Paris, and, after giving European life a fair 
trial, became homesick for his vineyard and his farm, 
and perhaps impelled by that attraction which seems 
to draw back to the Cape those who have once lived 
under its bright sky decided in favour of his old- 
fashioned life, and, resigning all his ancestral rights, 
went joyfully home to the rough surroundings of his 
childhood. 

Although the Boers are fine, well-built, handsome 
men, their feminine relatives, far from equalling them 
in good looks, are as fat and ungraceful as any inmates 
of Turkish harems. Fortunately, however, excessive 
obesity is in the eyes of a Boer the very quality of all 
others which constitutes the chief attraction of a mooie 
vrouw (handsome woman); and when he uses the 
latter expression you may be sure that he speaks of a 
ponderous being, no less than thirteen or fourteen 
stone in weight. In this matter of taste the Boers 
resemble not only the Turks, but also the Zulus, who 
can pay a woman no higher compliment than to com- 
pare her to a she-elephant. The vrouws become passees 
at a very early age, and are apparently shortlived in 
comparison with their lords, if one may judge from 
the fact that it is no uncommon thing to meet a man 
of fifty who has already had three wives. 

Intellectually, no less than physically, the Boer 



-OUR NEIGHBOURS. 275 

women are considerably the inferiors of the men. They 
have evidently lived for generations in blissful ignor- 
ance, with no more education than falls to the lot of 
the Oriental ladies they so closely resemble in figure. 
Their husbands and fathers have been quite contented 
with the existing state of things ; and it is only of late 
years that a few of the more enlightened parents, be- 
ginning at last to recognise the value of female educa- 
tion, have been sending their daughters to the convent 
schools. 

In Spain, an equally strong contrast may be observed 
between the men and the women ; but it is reversed, 
the advantage being on the side of the senoras, who 
somehow appear too handsome and intelligent to belong 
to the ignoble, mean-looking men. 

The Boers used to be very friendly with the English; 
but now thanks to the sad and too well-known 
manner in which our Government has muddled South 
African affairs we are most unpopular. Formerly, if 
an Englishman on his journey came to a Dutchman's 
house, he was most hospitably received though eti- 
quette demanded that on his departure he should offer 
money in payment for his food and bed, in order that 
his host might have the pleasure of refusing it; but 
now, were he to present himself, the chances are that 
the Boer would insultingly offer him a night's lodging 
in the negroes' quarters, as was once the case with 
T . 

Meanness is a prominent trait in the Boer's cha- 
racter. Indeed, the reputation which he has acquired 



276 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

not altogether justly for being such a splendid shot, 
really and truly proceeds from his excessive care to 
make sure of his game, and thus waste no cartridges. 
Here is an instance which almost equals Max Adeler's 

mean man. WhenT was at the Kimberley Diamond 

Fields, a Kaffir fell one day from the narrow pathway 
left between the claims into one of the latter, belonging 
to a Dutchman. He landed on the little table used by 
the Boer for sorting his diamonds, and the height 
from which he had fallen being eighty feet not only 
the table, but nearly every bone in the unfortunate 
man's body was broken. He seems, however, to have 
possessed a wonderfully strong constitution, and ac- 
tually recovered from his terrible injuries ; and, his 
case exciting very general sympathy among the kind- 
ly diamond-diggers, a subscription was made for him. 
But, long before he was convalescent, the Boer called 
on him, demanding payment for the broken table, the 
whole value of which did not amount to more than 
thirty shillings. 



CHAPTER XIV. 

GOOD-BYE. 

Recalled to England Regrets and farewells Cape horses lacking in 
intelligence "Old Martin" A chapter of accidents A horse 
"after Velasquez" The Spy's revenge Virtues and faults of Cape 
horses Horse-sickness Good-bye to Swaylands Kaffir crane 
The voyage home Dogs in durance St. Helena A visit to 
Longwood Home again. 

AT last, after several busy and most enjoyable years of 
ostrich-farming life, the time came when our presence 
being required in England we bade farewell to our colo- 
nial home, and, leaving the management of affairs in 
the able hands of a friend from the old country, with 

whom T had recently entered into partnership, 

took our departure from Swaylands, not without many 
regrets. Although, within the wide circle enclosed 
by our wire fence, we were not leaving many of our 
human fellow-creatures, there were plenty of good-byes 
to be said ; for those who live on these out-of-the-way 
farms come to be on very intimate and familiar terms 
with their live stock, and all our creatures even the 
fowls, and those tamer members of our large family of 
ostriches which for years had been daily looking in- 
quiringly in at our windows, and picking and stealing 



277 



278 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

round the kitchen door were old friends, from whom 
we were sorry to part. 

But, strange to say, the very animal which in Eng- 
land becomes one of the friendliest seems here the 
least domesticated ; and it cost us less of a pang to bid 
adieu to our horses than might be imagined by people 
at home, unacquainted with the surprising lack of in- 
telligence which, in the Cape Colony, distinguishes the 
equine race. Their independent lives, and the freedom 
which most of them enjoy to roam as they will about 
the veldt, unfettered by the restraints of a stable, seem 
to have rendered them very indifferent to human 
society. It is no use trying to make a friend of your 
horse; he contemptuously repels all your advances, 
obstinately refuses to eat out of your hand, despises 
pieces of bread, lumps of sugar, and all such delicate 
little attentions wherewith you have never failed to 
win the heart of his English brother, and, however 
many years he may have lived with you, persists to 
the last in remaining on the coldest and most distant 
of terms. 

Among all our horses the only really intelligent 
animal was one of Arab descent. But our good-bye to 
him was said a year before ; and now, on leaving 
Swaylands, we can but take our last look at " the place 
where the old horse died." The faithful old grey 
friend who lies under that rough clump of bush was a 

favourite of long standing. He had belonged to T 

many years ago, was sold by him on leaving the colony, 
and, after changing hands several times, chiefly among 



GOOD-BYE. 279 

acquaintances of his former owner in remembrance of 
whom he acquired the name of "Old Martin" was 
repurchased by T soon after we came out. Al- 
though by this time he was a long way past his prime, 
he was still considerably the best of all our horses, and 
for pluck and endurance we have never seen his equal. 
At the end of the longest day's journey even though 
it had covered sixty miles he would come in pulling 
as hard as at the start, and apparently as fresh. No 
matter how poor his condition and South African 
horses do indeed get poor during long droughts he 
was at all times equally ready for work. We never 
insulted him by carrying so unnecessary an article as 
a whip ; for he did everything with a will, and whether 
cantering, trotting, or only walking, always seemed to 
be endeavouring to run away with you. As a lady's 
horse he was simply perfect, all his paces being equally 
delightful for the rider. 

In former times T and his four-footed namesake 

had gone through many adventures together ; and now, 
when after the lapse of years these two friends and 
comrades met again, the old horse instantly recog- 
nised his master with unmistakeable signs of pleasure. 

One of these early adventures came very near costing 

the good grey his life. T , during a journey on 

horseback, came one evening to a river crossed by an 
open railway-bridge consisting only of iron girders. 
To save time and avoid a circuitous route he decided 
to take a somewhat reckless short cut and lead the 
horse over that bridge. In this Blondin-like fashion they 



280 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

had proceeded about half-way across, when poor old 
Martin's foot slipped, and down he came, falling in such 
a position that his body lay prone on the narrow iron 
pathway formed by the rail and girder, while on either 
side two of his legs dangled helplessly over space. Sun- 
down was approaching ; so too was a train which, as 

T remembered, was very nearly due ; but, though 

he tried his utmost to help the poor animal to his feet, 
all was unavailing, and presently the train hove in 
sight. T , waving his handkerchief with wild ges- 
tures, succeeded in attracting the attention of the 
engine-driver, who stopped the train and came to his 
assistance. But, with all their efforts, they could not 
succeed in raising the horse from his perilous position ; 
the train could wait no longer, and they had no choice 
but to resort to the kill-or-cure expedient of rolling 
him over into the water below. Falling from a height 
of some twenty -five feet, he went so deep into the mud 

at the bottom of the shallow African river that T 

was unable to pull him out, and had to leave him there 
all night. On coming back next morning with a 
span of oxen and some stout riems, he was horrified to 
find that during the night the unfortunate animal had 
sunk deeper and deeper into the mud, till little more 
than his nose remained above water. It was the work 
of much time and exertion to drag him out; and 
during the process his neck got such a twist that for 
the remainder of his days there was a crook in it, which 
caused his head to hang meditatively a little on one 
side. 



GOOD-BYE. 281 

Another time lie was attacked by a large swarm of 
vicious bees, which settled all over him, stinging him so 
severely that his whole body swelled up, and he 
assumed the proportions of that preposterously inflated 
horse by Velasquez in the picture-gallery at Madrid. 
For three days the poor old fellow stood immoveable ; 
then, after taking an enormous drink of water, he 
gradually recovered. 

Very different, too, from the unintelligent Cape 
horses was "The Spy," a well-known steeple-chaser, 

imported into the colony by T some years ago. 

An incident which occurred during his voyage out 
recalls the oft-told anecdote of the elephant and the 
tailor. The horse-box in which the Spy was placed 
being just outside the door of the saloon, his head 
was in close proximity to the waiters as they passed 
and repassed during their attendance at meals. One 
of these waiters, being of a malicious turn of mind, 
found great enjoyment in teasing the unoffending 
animal, and missed no opportunity of giving him a 
rough knock on the nose in passing. For a while the 
Spy bore this treatment patiently ; but he was biding 
his time, and at last had his revenge. One day, as the 
obnoxious waiter, bearing in either hand a steaming 
dish of currie and rice, was stepping briskly along to 
the saloon, he suddenly found himself grasped in a 
pair of powerful jaws, whisked clean off his legs, 
shaken like a rat in the grip of a terrier, and, finally, 
ignominiously dropped on to the deck among the 
debris and scattered contents of his dishes. 



282 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

Although the horses produced by the Cape Colony 
are the best in South Africa, they have been much 
over-rated. It is true that a large number of them are 
capable of getting through a good deal of slow, con- 
tinuous work under the saddle, with poor food and hard- 
ships as to shelter ; but the vast majority of the colonial 
horses are in all respects indifferent animals, and devoid 
of good looks. In one point, perhaps, they surpass all 
other equine races in the world their feet being gene- 
rally excellent, and the hoofs so firm and hard as rarely 
to require shoeing, even on very long journeys. Many 
horses of most unprepossessing exterior are scarcely 
to be matched for speed and endurance in the field ; 
but, taken en masse, South African horses are a failure. 
They are almost invariably poor and timid jumpers, 
and, when in harness, move but very small weights. 
A light cart containing two persons is sufficient to tax 
the powers of a pair of average horses, and even then 
jibbing is always imminent. At least eighty per cent, 
of the Cape horses are desperate stumblers, and uneasy 
in their paces faults attributable to round, heavy 
shoulders and defective hind-quarters. Among the 
good horses the greater proportion are ill-tempered, 
and delight in buck-jumping, whenever they have the 
rare chance of being in good condition. 

The terrible distemper known as " horse sickness " 
periodically causes great destruction in many parts of 
the colony; and the fear of it operates as a check 
on breeders, who would otherwise import better 
horses to improve their studs. A " salted horse " one 



GOOD-BYE. 283 

which has had horse-sickness is very valuable, even if 
abounding in all kinds of equine misfortunes or faults. 
Such animals range in price from 25 to 100, accord- 
ing to age and quality. Horse-sickness is most partial 
in its operations; and sometimes, in the case of two 
adjoining farms, one will be severely attacked by the 
disease, while the other remains perfectly free from it. 

And now, at length, the day of departure has come ; 
and we leave Swaylands, though not in our own cosy 
little American spider. That fairy chariot, alas ! is 
hors de combat; its strong, though delicate-looking 
wheels have succumbed at last to the roughness of 
Karroo roads and the dryness of the South African 
climate ; and as we pass out at the little gate we take 
our last look at it as it lies there on the ground, a for- 
lorn, sledge-like thing. What glorious drives we have 
had in that once daintiest and prettiest of little 
carriages travelling to hunts or dances, fetching our 
mail, or sending off precious freights of feathers to the 
Port Elizabeth market ! and how vividly the recollec- 
tion of them comes back to us as we pass for the last 
time along the familiar Mount Stewart road ! 

Even now, at this time and distance, we can still 
conjure them up, and see and hear once more the well- 
known and loved sights and sounds of the Karroo. 
Animal and bird life start into quick motion all round 
us : the little duyker antelopes spring up from their 
forms among the bush, and dart gracefully away; 
the flights of pretty Namaqua partridges run along 
the ground quite close to us ; the knorhaans, rending 



284 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

the air with discordant, over-powering noise, chatter 
out their loud disapproval of our approach ; the little 
bright-eyed meerkats stare audaciously at us, then 
dive into their holes in pretended fear of us ; the air 
is all full of the sweet scent of mimosa-blossoms, and 

T , singing joyously in the overflow of good spirits 

induced by its pure, fresh, exhilarating qualities, en- 
livens the journey with one song after another as we 
spin merrily along on our airy, bicycle-like wheels ; 
while Toto, equally happy, careers at our side, chasing 
every animal and bird that he sees, though seldom able 
to catch anything much swifter on its feet than a 
tortoise. 

These tortoises, by the way, always afforded Toto 
excellent sport ; he considered it his bounden duty to 
bring to us no matter from what distance all that 
he could possibly grasp with his teeth ; and, many of 
them being much too large to be carried in this way, 
he was often obliged to put them down for a while, to 
rest his poor aching jaws. Sometimes he would come 
to a standstill before a gigantic specimen, and call us, 
with loud, excited barks, to the spot where some fifty 
pounds of splendid material for soup were to be had 
for the picking-up. He would stand barking triumph- 
antly at the creature, which, in response, kept up a low, 
roaring noise, expressive of deepest disgust at his pro- 
ceedings. And when the prize was secured, and we 
drove off with it safely ensconced at our feet, Toto 
was a proud dog indeed. 

Somehow, on this last drive into Mount Stewart, 



GOOD-BYE. 285 

everything is tantalizingly looking its very best ; the 
veldt, refreshed by recent rains, is of a lovely soft 
green, and delicate flowers peep from it in all direc- 
tions ; the dazzling sunshine so soon to be exchanged 
for cold northern skies seems brighter than ever ; 
and, in the clear atmosphere of the Karroo, the bold 
outlines of the f ar-off Cock's Comb are lifted up, as it 
were, by a strange effect of mirage the mountain 
appearing quite detached from the horizon, and with 
blue water flowing at its foot. Just before we reach 
the turn in the road which hides the homestead of 
Swaylands from our view, we stop and look back ; 
and, if it must be owned, that last look at the poor 
little ugly house our dear home for the past few 
years is taken by not quite undimmed eyes. 

Then on, at a brisk pace, to Mount Stewart, where, at 
the pleasant little hotel in which we have so often been 
hospitably entertained, the host and his numerous 
family are assembled in full force to bid us God-speed. 
I take my last, wistful look at a long-coveted tame 
Kaffir crane, a delightful bird, who, in his neat suit of 
softest French-grey plumage, stalks solemnly as he 
has been doing any time these four or five years 
about the precincts of station and hotel ; and am intro- 
duced to a newly-captured baby jackal, which T 

has just bought, and which is to accompany us to 
England. Then the train, at its usual leisurely pace, 
crawls down with us to Port Elizabeth. More good- 
byes and at last we and all our zoological collection 
are safe on board the Union Company's S.S. Mexican ; 

T 



286 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

and soon the coast of Algoa Bay recedes from our 
view. 

Toto does not enjoy his journey as he did when out- 
ward-bound ; for there are too many of the canine race 
on board, and one little pair of pugs in particular 
belonging to richly-jewelled passengers of the Hebrew 
persuasion, who have not trained up their dogs in the 
way they should go commence the voyage by invad- 
ing everybody's cabin, and making themselves gene- 
rally so objectionable that on the second day the 
captain's fiat goes forth for the impartial consignment 
of all the dogs good, bad and indifferent to hen- 
coops. There they are accordingly, on the second-class 
deck, ranged in a dismal row, at one end of which poor 
little caged Anubis, the jackal-cub, yelps piteously for 
mother, brethren and freedom ; and there, for the four 
weeks of the voyage, they are condemned to remain. 
All are profoundly miserable ; but poor old Toto 
being so much the largest is the most to be pitied. 
In that narrow cage, where there is hardly room for 
him to turn round, he travels through the steaming 
heat of the tropics ; his legs become cramped and stiff 
from want of exercise ; he fattens like a Strasburg 
goose on the Irish stew and other substantial viands 
from the saloon table with which the waiters cruelly 
generous persist in stuffing him ; and when, as a rare 
treat, he is allowed half an hour's liberty for what is 
ironically called a "run" on deck, he is able to do little 
more than sit down and pant. 

With better luck than often falls to the lot of travel- 



GOOD-BYE. 287 

lers by steamer, we remain a sufficient time at St. 
Helena to allow of a somewhat hurried visit to Long- 
wood ; and, going ashore with a good number of fellow- 
passengers, we charter the few carriages and saddle- 
horses to be had in the little town, and proceed, as fast 
as we can, up the steep, zigzag road. We notice that 
in this island there seem to be two completely different 
climates within a very short distance of one another. 
Down near the sea-level, bananas and other tropical 
plants grow luxuriantly in the close, stifling heat : but 
as we ascend we come into another climate ; the air is 
almost cold, there is a fine, drizzling rain; blackberries, 
bracken, and other home-like plants border the roadside, 
and we might imagine ourselves in England, but for 
the bright-hued little birds which peep fearlessly at us 
from the bushes. Though the excursion is a most 
enjoyable one, especially after being cooped up on 
board ship, Longwood itself is disappointing, the house 
being quite dismantled, and containing nothing but a 
very beautiful bust of Napoleon, which has been placed 
by his family in one of the rooms. 

Our passage is throughout a calm and prosperous one: 
we have pleasant company on board ; there are none 
of the cliques and small enmities which so often spoil 
the enjoyment of a voyage ; some of the passengers 
play and sing well ; good concerts and theatricals en- 
liven many of our evenings ; and our only disappoint- 
ment is the unkind fate which again brings us through 
Madeira in the dark. And at last, one lovely April 
morning which seems to have been made on purpose 



288 HOME LIFE ON AN OSTRICH FARM. 

to welcome returning colonists, spoilt by a long con- 
tinuance of Cape sunshine we drop quietly into South- 
ampton ; English violets and primroses are brought on 
board in delicious profusion; the usual hurried farewells 
are exchanged while most of us struggle wildly with 
refractory bags and wraps; Toto, in an alarmingly 
plethoric condition, waddles forth from his hen-coop ; 
and very soon we are on terra firma, and paying the 
first dread penalty of the newly-landed pass through 
the ordeal of the Custom House. This turns out to be 
a very lengthy and tedious business ; for, since we have 
been away, new and stringent regulations have come 
into force, and we find that our innocent cabin-trunks 
and hand-bags are all suspected of containing dynamite. 
Not until every package has been thoroughly ransacked 
are we allowed to depart, and seek our train. Then 
the latter bears us along through woodland scenery, 
brilliant with all the fresh tints of an English spring, 
which for us seems to have a new beauty. And in a 
few hours we find ourselves back in old, familiar scenes ; 
friends from whom we have long been parted are 
round us once more ; and the dear, delightful, rough 
South African life is a thing of the past. 



^ S* 




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