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Letters from South Africa by Lady Barker


MARITZBURG, February 10, 1876.

In the South African calendar this is set down as the first of the autumnal months, but the half dozen hours about mid-day are still quite as close and oppressive as any we have had. I am, however, bound to say that the nights—at all events, up here—are cooler, and I begin even to think of a light shawl for my solitary walks in the verandah just before bedtime. When the moon shines these walks are pleasant enough, but when only the "common people of the skies" are trying to filter down their feebler light through the misty atmosphere, I have a lurking fear and distrust of the reptiles and bugs who may also have a fancy for promenading at the same time and in the same place. I say nothing of bats, frogs and toads, mantis or even huge moths: to these we are quite accustomed. But although I have never seen a live snake in this country myself, still one hears such unpleasant stories about them that it is just as well to what the Scotch call "mak siccar" with a candle before beginning a constitutional in the dark.

It is not a week ago since a lady of my acquaintance, being surprised at her little dog's refusal to follow her into her bedroom one night, instituted a search for the reason of the poor little creature's terror and dismay, and discovered a snake coiled up under her chest of drawers. At this moment, too, the local papers are full of recipes for the prevention and cure of snake-bites, public attention being much attracted to the subject on account of an Englishman having been bitten by a black "mamba" (a very venomous adder) a short time since, and having died of the wound in a few hours. In his case, poor man! there does not seem to have been a chance from the first, for he was obliged to walk some distance to the nearest house, and as they had no proper remedies there, he had to be taken on a farther journey of some miles to a hospital. All this exercise and motion caused the poison to circulate freely through the veins, and was the worst possible thing for him. The doctors here seem agreed that the treatment of ammonia and brandy is the safest, and many instances are adduced to show how successful it has been, though one party of practitioners admits the ammonia, but denies the brandy. On the other hand, one hears of a child bitten by a snake and swallowing half a large bottle of raw brandy in half an hour without its head being at all affected, and, what is more, recovering from the bite and living happy ever after. I keep quantities of both remedies close at hand, for three or four venomous snakes have been killed within a dozen yards of the house, and little G—— is perpetually exploring the long grass all around or hunting for a stray cricket-ball or a pegtop in one of those beautiful fern-filled ditches whose tangle of creepers and plumy ferns is exactly the favorite haunt of snakes. As yet he has brought back from these forbidden raids nothing more than a few ticks and millions of burs.

As for the ticks, I am getting over my horror at having to dislodge them from among the baby's soft curls by means of a sharp needle, and even G—— only shouts with laughter at discovering a great swollen monster hanging on by its forceps to his leg. They torment the poor horses and dogs dreadfully; and if the said horses were not the very quietest, meekest, most underbred and depressed animals in the world, we should certainly hear of more accidents. As it is, they confine their efforts to get rid of their tormentors to rubbing all the hair off their tails and sides in patches against the stable walls or the trunk of a tree. Indeed, the clever way G——'s miserable little Basuto pony actually climbs inside a good-sized bush, and sways himself about in it with his legs off the ground until the whole thing comes with a crash to the ground, is edifying to behold to every one except the owner of the tree. Tom, the Kafir boy, tried hard to persuade me the other day that the pony was to blame for the destruction of a peach tree, but as the only broken-down branches were those which had been laden with fruit, I am inclined to acquit the pony. Carbolic soap is an excellent thing to wash both dogs and horses with, as it not only keeps away flies and ticks from the skin, which, is constantly rubbed off by incessant scratching, but helps to heal the tendency to a sore place. Indeed, nothing frightened me so much as what I heard when I first arrived about Natal sores and Natal boils. Everybody told me that ever so slight a cut or abrasion went on slowly festering, and that sores on children's faces were quite common. This sounded very dreadful, but I am beginning to hope it was an exaggeration, for whenever G—— cuts or knocks himself (which is every day or so), or scratches an insect's bite into a bad place, I wash the part with a little carbolic soap (there are two sorts—one for animals and a more refined preparation for the human skin), and it is quite well the next day. We have all had a threatening of those horrid boils, but they have passed off.

In town the mosquitoes are plentiful and lively, devoting their attentions chiefly to new-comers, but up here—I write as though we were five thousand feet instead of only fifty above Maritzburg—it is rare to see one. I think "fillies" are more in our line, and that in spite of every floor in the house being scrubbed daily with strong soda and water. "Fillies," you must know, is our black groom's (Charlie's) way of pronouncing fleas, and I find it ever so much prettier. Charlie and I are having a daily discussion just now touching sundry moneys he expended during my week's absence at D'Urban for the kittens' food. Charlie calls them the "lil' catties," and declares that the two small animals consumed three shillings and ninepence worth of meat in a week. I laughingly say, "But, Charlie, that would be nearly nine pounds of meat in six days, and they couldn't eat that, you know." Charlie grins and shows all his beautiful even white teeth: then he bashfully turns his head aside and says, "I doan know, ma': I buy six' meat dree time." "Very well, Charlie, that would be one shilling and sixpence." "I doan know, ma';" and we've not got any further than that yet.

But G—— and I are picking up many words of Kafir, and it is quite mortifying to see how much more easily the little monkey learns than I do. I forget my phrases or confuse them, whereas when he learns two or three sentences he appears to remember them always. It is a very melodious and beautiful language, and, except for the clicks, not very difficult to learn. Almost everybody here speaks it a little, and it is the first thing necessary for a new-comer to endeavor to acquire; only, unfortunately, there are no teachers, as in India, and consequently you pick up a wretched, debased kind of patois, interlarded with Dutch phrases. Indeed, I am assured there are two words, el hashi ("the horse"), of unmistakable Moorish origin, though no one knows how they got into the language. Many of the Kafirs about town speak a little English, and they are exceedingly sharp, when they choose, about understanding what is meant, even if they do not quite catch the meaning of the words used. There is one genius of my acquaintance, called "Sixpence," who is not only a capital cook, but an accomplished English scholar, having spent some months in England. Generally, to Cape Town and back is the extent of their journeyings, for they are a home-loving people; but Sixpence went to England with his master, and brought back a shivering recollection of an English winter and a deep-rooted amazement at the boys of the Shoe Brigade, who wanted to clean his boots. That astonished him more than anything else, he says.

The Kafirs are very fond of attending their own schools and church services, of which there are several in the town; and I find one of my greatest difficulties in living out here consists in getting Kafirs to come out of town, for by doing so they miss their regular attendance at chapel and school. A few Sundays ago I went to one of these Kafir schools, and was much struck by the intently-absorbed air of the pupils, almost all of whom were youths about twenty years of age. They were learning to read the Bible in Kafir during my visit, sitting in couples, and helping each other on with immense diligence and earnestness. No looking about, no wandering, inattentive glances, did I see. I might as well have "had the receipt of fern-seed and walked invisible" for all the attention I excited. Presently the pupil-teacher, a young black man, who had charge of this class, asked me if I would like to hear them sing a hymn, and on my assenting he read out a verse of "Hold the Fort," and they all stood up and sang it, or rather its Kafir translation, lustily and with good courage, though without much tune. The chorus was especially fine, the words "Inkanye kanye" ringing through the room with great fervor. This is not a literal translation of the words "Hold the Fort," but it is difficult, as the teacher explained to me, for the translator to avail himself of the usual word for "hold," as it conveys more the idea of "take hold," "seize," and the young Kafir missionary thoroughly understood all the nicety of the idiom. There was another class for women and children, but it was a small one. Certainly, the young men seemed much in earnest, and the rapt expression of their faces was most striking, especially during the short prayer which followed the hymn and ended the school for the afternoon.

I have had constantly impressed upon my mind since my arrival the advice not to take Christian Kafirs into my service, but I am at a loss to know in what way the prejudice against them can have arisen. "Take a Kafir green from his kraal if you wish to have a good servant," is what every one tells me. It so happens that we have two of each—two Christians and two heathens—about the place, and there is no doubt whatever which is the best. Indeed, I have sometimes conversations with the one who speaks English, and I can assure you we might all learn from him with advantage. His simple creed is just what came from the Saviour's lips two thousand years ago, and comprises His teaching of the whole duty of man—to love God, the great "En' Kos," and his neighbor as himself. He speaks always with real delight of his privileges, and is very anxious to go to Cape Town to attend some school there of which he talks a great deal, and where he says he should learn to read the Bible in English. At present he is spelling it out with great difficulty in Kafir. This man often talks to me in the most respectful and civil manner imaginable about the customs of his tribe, and he constantly alludes to the narrow escape he had of being murdered directly after his birth for the crime of being a twin. His people have a fixed belief that unless one of a pair of babies be killed at once, either the father or mother will die within the year; and they argue that as in any case one child will be sure to die in its infancy, twins being proverbially difficult to rear, it is only both kind and natural to kill the weakly one at once. This young man is very small and quiet and gentle, with an ugly face, but a sweet, intelligent expression and a very nice manner. I find him and the other Christian in our employment very trustworthy and reliable. If they tell me anything which has occurred, I know I can believe their version of it, and they are absolutely honest. Now, the other lads have very loose ideas on the subject of sugar, and make shifty excuses for everything, from the cat breaking a heavy stone filter up to half the marketing being dropped on the road.

I don't think I have made it sufficiently clear that besides the Sunday-schools and services I have mentioned there are night-schools every evening in the week, which are fully attended by Kafir servants, and where they are first taught to read their own language, which is an enormous difficulty to them. They always tell me it is so much easier to learn to read English than Kafir; and if one  studies the two languages, it is plain to see how much simpler the new tongue must appear to a learner than the intricate construction, the varying patois and the necessarily phonetic spelling of a language compounded of so many dialects as the Zulu-Kafir.


In some respects I consider this climate has been rather over-praised. Of course it is a great deal—a very great deal—better than our English one, but that, after all, is not saying much in its praise. Then we must remember that in England we have the fear and dread of the climate ever before our eyes, and consequently are always, so to speak, on our guard against it. Here, and in other places where civilization is in its infancy, we are at the mercy of dust and sun, wind and rain, and all the eccentric elements which go to make up weather. Consequently, when the balance of comfort and convenience has to be struck, it is surprising how small an advantage a really better climate gives when you take away watering-carts and shady streets for hot weather, and sheltered railway-stations and hansom cabs for wet weather, and roads and servants and civility and general convenience everywhere. This particular climate is both depressing and trying in spite of the sunny skies we are ever boasting about, because it has a strong tinge of the tropical element in it; and yet people live in much the same kind of houses (only that they are very small), and wear much the same sort of clothes (only that they are very ugly), and lead much the same sort of lives (only that it is a thousand times duller than the dullest country village), as they do in England. Some small concession is made to the thermometer in the matter of puggeries and matted floors, but even then carpets are used wherever it is practicable, because this matting never looks clean and nice after the first week it is put down. All the houses are built on the ground floor, with the utmost economy of building material and labor, and consequently there are no passages: every room is, in fact, a passage and leads to its neighbor. So the perpetually dirty bare feet, or, still worse, boots fresh from the mud or dust of the streets, soon wear out the matting. Few houses are at all prettily decorated or furnished, partly from the difficulty of procuring anything pretty here, the cost and risk of its carriage up from D'Urban if you send to England for it, and partly from the want of servants accustomed to anything but the roughest and coarsest articles of household use. A lady soon begins to take her drawing-room ornaments en guignon if she has to dust them herself every day in a very dusty climate. I speak feelingly and with authority, for that is my case at this moment, and applies to every other part of the house as well.

I must say I like Kafir servants in some respects. They require, I acknowledge, constant supervision; they require to be told to do the same thing over and over again every day; and, what is more, besides telling, you have to stand by and see that they do the thing. They are also very slow. But still, with all these disadvantages, they are far better than the generality of European servants out here, who make their luckless employers' lives a burden to them by reason of their tempers and caprices. It is much better, I am convinced, to face the evil boldly and to make up one's mind to have none but Kafir servants. Of course one immediately turns into a sort of overseer and upper servant one's self; but at all events you feel master or mistress of your own house, and you have faithful and good-tempered domestics, who do their best, however awkwardly, to please you. Where there are children, then indeed a good English nurse is a great boon; and in this one respect I am fortunate. Kafirs are also much easier to manage when the orders come direct from the master or mistress, and they work far more willingly for them than for white servants. Tom, the nurse-boy, confided to me yesterday that he hoped to stop in my employment for forty moons. After that space of time he considered that he should be in a position to buy plenty of wives, who would work for him  and support him for the rest of his life. But how Tom or Jack, or any of the boys in fact, are to save money I know not, for every shilling of their wages, except a small margin for coarse snuff, goes to their parents, who fleece them without mercy. If they are fined for breakages or misconduct (the only punishment a Kafir cares for), they have to account for the deficient money to the stern parents; and both Tom and Jack went through a most graphic pantomime with a stick of the consequences to themselves, adding that their father said both the beating from him and the fine from us served them right for their carelessness. It seemed so hard they should suffer both ways, and they were so good-tempered and uncomplaining about it, that I fear I shall find it very difficult to stop any threepenny pieces out of their wages in future. A Kafir servant usually gets one pound a month, his clothes and food. The former consists of a shirt and short trousers of coarse check cotton, a soldier's old great-coat for winter, and plenty of mealy-meal for "scoff." If he is a good servant and worth making comfortable, you give him a trifle every week to buy meat. Kafirs are very fond of going to their kraals, and you have to make them sign an agreement to remain with you so many months, generally six. By the time you have just taught them, with infinite pains and trouble, how to do their work, they depart, and you have to begin it all over again.

I frequently see the chiefs or indunas of chiefs passing here on their way to some kraals which lie just over the hills. These kraals consist of half a dozen or more large huts, exactly like so many huge beehives, on the slope of a hill. There is a rude attempt at sod-fencing round them; a few head of cattle graze in the neighborhood; lower down, the hillside is roughly scratched by the women with crooked hoes to form a mealy-ground. (Cows and mealies are all they require except snuff or tobacco, which they smoke out of a cow's horn.) They seem a very gay and cheerful people, to judge by the laughter and jests I hear from the groups returning to these kraals every day by the road just outside our fence. Sometimes one of the party carries an umbrella; and I assure you the effect of a tall, stalwart Kafir, clad either in nothing at all or else in a sack, carefully guarding his bare head with a tattered Gamp, is very ridiculous. Often some one walks along playing upon a rude pipe, whilst the others jog before and after him, laughing and capering like boys let loose from school, and all chattering loudly. You never meet a man carrying a burden unless he is a white settler's servant. When a chief or the induna of a kraal passes this way, I see him, clad in a motley garb of red regimentals with his bare "ringed" head, riding a sorry nag, only the point of his great toe resting in his stirrup. He is followed closely and with great empressement by his "tail," all "ringed" men also—that is, men of some substance and weight in the community. They carry bundles of sticks, and keep up with the ambling nag, and are closely followed by some of his wives bearing heavy loads on their heads, but stepping out bravely with beautiful erect carriage, shapely bare arms and legs; and some sort of coarse drapery worn across their bodies, covering them from shoulder to knee in folds which would delight an artist's eye and be the despair of a sculptor's chisel. They don't look either oppressed or discontented. Happy, healthy and jolly are the words by which they would be most truthfully described. Still, they are lazy, and slow to appreciate any benefit from civilization except the money, but then savages always seem to me as keen and sordid about money as the most civilized mercantile community anywhere.


I am often asked by people who are thinking of coming here, or who want to send presents to friends here, what to bring or send. Of course it is difficult to say, because my experience is limited and confined to one spot at present: therefore I give my opinion very guardedly, and acknowledge it is derived in great part from the experience of others who have been here a long time. Amongst  other wraps, I brought a sealskin jacket and muff which I happened to have. These, I am assured, will be absolutely useless, and already they are a great anxiety to me on account of the swarms of fish-tail moths which I see scuttling about in every direction if I move a box or look behind a picture. In fact, there are destructive moths everywhere, and every drawer is redolent of camphor. The only things I can venture to recommend as necessaries are things which no one advised me to bring, and which were only random shots. One was a light waterproof ulster, and the other was a lot of those outside blinds for windows which come, I believe, from Japan, and are made of grass—green, painted with gay figures. I picked up these latter by the merest accident at the Baker-street bazaar for a few shillings: they are the comfort of my life, keeping out glare and dust in the day and moths and insects of all kinds at night. As for the waterproof, I do not know what I should have done without it; and little G——'s has also been most useful. It is the necessary of necessaries here—a real, good substantial waterproof. A man cannot do better than get a regular military waterproof which will cover him from chin to heel on horseback; and even waterproof hats and caps are a comfort in this treacherous summer season, where a storm bursts over your head out of a blue dome of sky, and drenches you even whilst the sun is shining brightly.

A worse climate and country for clothes of every kind and description cannot be imagined. When I first arrived I thought I had never seen such ugly toilettes in all my life; and I should have been less than woman (or more—which is it?) if I had not derived some secret satisfaction from the possession of at least prettier garments. What I was vain of in my secret heart was my store of cotton gowns. One can't very well wear cotton gowns in London; and, as I am particularly fond of them, I indemnify myself for going abroad by rushing wildly into extensive purchases in cambrics and print dresses. They are so pretty and so cheap, and when charmingly made, as mine were (alas, they are already things of the past!), nothing can be so satisfactory in the way of summer country garb. Well, it has been precisely in the matter of cotton gowns that I have been punished for my vanity. For a day or two each gown in turn looked charming. Then came a flounce or bordering of bright red earth on the lower skirt and a general impression of red dust and dirt all over it. That was after a drive into Maritzburg along a road ploughed up by ox-wagons. Still, I felt no uneasiness. What is a cotton gown made for if not to be washed? Away it goes to the wash! What is this limp, discolored rag which returns to me iron-moulded, blued until it is nearly black, rough-dried, starched in patches, with the fringe of red earth only more firmly fixed than before? Behold my favorite ivory cotton! My white gowns are even in a worse plight, for there are no two yards of them the same, and the grotesque mixture of extreme yellowness, extreme blueness and a pervading tinge of the red mud they have been washed in renders them a piteous example of misplaced confidence. Other things fare rather better—not much—but my poor gowns are only hopeless wrecks, and I am reduced to some old yachting dresses of ticking and serge. The price of washing, as this spoiling process is pleasantly called, is enormous, and I exhaust my faculties in devising more economical arrangements. We can't wash at home, for the simple reason that we have no water, no proper appliances of any sort, and to build and buy such would cost a small fortune. But a tall, white-aproned Kafir, with a badge upon his arm, comes now at daylight every Monday morning and takes away a huge sackful of linen, which is placed, with sundry pieces of soap and blue in its mouth, all ready for him. He brings it back in the afternoon full of clean and dry linen, for which he receives three shillings and sixpence. But this is only the first stage. The things to be starched have to be sorted and sent to one woman, and those to be mangled to another, and both lots have to be fetched home again by Tom and Jack. (I have forgotten  to tell you that Jack's real name, elicited with great difficulty, as there is a click somewhere in it, is "Umpashongwana," whilst the pickle Tom is known among his own people as "Umkabangwana." You will admit that our substitutes for these five-syllabled appellations are easier to pronounce in a hurry. Jack is a favorite name: I know half a dozen black Jacks myself.) To return, however, to the washing. I spend my time in this uncertain weather watching the clouds on the days when the clothes are to come home, for it would be altogether too great a trial if one's starched garments, borne aloft on Jack's head, were to be caught in a thunder-shower. If the washerwoman takes pains with anything, it is with gentlemen's shirts, though even then she insists on ironing the collars into strange and fearful shapes.

Let not men think, however, that they have it all their own way in the matter of clothes. White jackets and trousers are commonly worn here in summer, and it is very soothing, I am told, to try to put them on in a hurry when the arms and legs are firmly glued together by several pounds of starch. Then as to boots and shoes: they get so mildewed if laid aside for even a few days as to be absolutely offensive; and these, with hats, wear out at the most astonishing rate. The sun and dust and rain finish up the hats in less than no time.

But I have not done with my clothes yet. A lady must keep a warm dress and jacket close at hand all through the most broiling summer weather, for a couple of hours will bring the thermometer down ten or twenty degrees, and I have often been gasping in a white dressing-gown at noon and shivering in a serge dress at three o'clock on the same day. I am making up my mind that serge and ticking are likely to be the most useful material for dresses, and, as one must have something very cool for these burning months, tussore or foulard, which get themselves better washed than my poor dear cottons. Silks are next to useless—too smart, too hot, too entirely out of place in such a life as this, except perhaps one or two of tried principles, which won't spot or fade or misbehave themselves in any way. One goes out of a warm, dry afternoon with a tulle veil on to keep off the flies, or a feather in one's hat, and returns with the one a limp, wet rag and the other quite out of curl. I only wish any milliner could see my feathers now! All straight, rigidly straight as a carpenter's rule, and tinged with red dust besides. As for tulle or crêpe-lisse frilling, or any of those soft pretty adjuncts to a simple toilette, they are five minutes' wear—no more, I solemnly declare.

I love telling a story against myself, and here is one. In spite of repeated experiences of the injurious effect of alternate damp and dust upon finery, the old Eve is occasionally too strong for my prudence, and I can't resist, on the rare occasions which offer themselves, the temptation of wearing pretty things. Especially weak am I in the matter of caps, and this is what befell me. Imagine a lovely, soft summer evening, broad daylight, though it is half-past seven (it will be dark directly, however): a dinner-party to be reached a couple of miles away. The little open carriage is at the door, and into this I step, swathing my gown carefully up in a huge shawl. This precaution is especially necessary, for during the afternoon there has been a terrific thunderstorm and a sudden sharp deluge of rain. Besides a swamp or two to be ploughed through as best we may, there are those two miles of deep red muddy road full of ruts and big stones and pitfalls of all sorts. The drive home in the dark will be nervous work, but now in daylight let us enjoy whilst we may. Of course I ought to have taken my cap in a box or bag, or something of the sort; but that seemed too much trouble, especially as it was so small it needed to be firmly pinned on in its place. It consisted of a centre or crown of white crêpe, a little frill of the same, and a close-fitting wreath of deep red feathers all round. Very neat and tidy it looked as I took my last glance at it whilst I hastily knotted a light black lace veil over my head by way of protection during my drive. When  I got to my destination there was no looking-glass to be seen anywhere, no maid, no anything or anybody to warn me. Into the dining-room I marched in happy unconsciousness that the extreme dampness of the evening had flattened the crown of my cap, and that it and its frill were mere unconsidered limp rags, whilst the unpretending circlet of feathers had started into undue prominence, and struck straight out like a red nimbus all round my unconscious head. How my fellow-guests managed to keep their countenances I cannot tell. I am certain I never could have sat opposite to any one with such an Ojibbeway Indian's head-dress on without giggling. But no one gave me the least hint of my misfortune, and it only burst upon me suddenly when I returned to my own room and my own glass. Still, there was a ray of hope left: it might have been the dampness of the drive home which had worked me this woe. I rushed into F——'s dressing-room and demanded quite fiercely whether my cap had been like that all the time.

"Why, yes," F—— admitted; adding by way of consolation, "In fact, it is a good deal subdued now: it was very wild all dinner-time. I can't say I admired it, but I supposed it was all right."

Did ever any one hear such shocking apathy? In answer to my reproaches for not telling me, he only said, "Why, what could you have done with it if you had known? Taken it off and put it in your pocket, or what?"

I don't know, but anything would have been better than sitting at table with a thing only fit for a May-Day sweep on one's head. It makes me hot and angry with myself even to think of it now.

F——'s clothes could also relate some curious experiences which they have had to go through, not only at the hands of his washerwoman, but at those of his temporary valet, Jack (I beg his pardon, Umpashongwana) the Zulu, whose zeal exceeds anything one can imagine. For instance, when he sets to work to brush F——'s clothes of a morning he is by no means content to brush the cloth clothes. Oh dear, no! He brushes the socks, putting each carefully on his hand like a glove and brushing vigorously away. As they are necessarily very thin socks for this hot weather, they are apt to melt away entirely under the process. I say nothing of his blacking the boots inside as well as out, or of his laboriously scrubbing holes in a serge coat with a scrubbing-brush, for these are errors of judgment dictated by a kindly heart. But when Jack puts a saucepan on the fire without any water and burns holes in it, or tries whether plates and dishes can support their own weight in the air without a table beneath them, then, I confess, my patience runs short. But Jack is so imperturbable, so perfectly and genuinely astonished at the untoward result of his experiments, and so grieved that the inkosacasa (I have not an idea how the word ought to be spelt) should be vexed, that I am obliged to leave off shaking my head at him, which is the only way I have of expressing my displeasure. He keeps on saying, "Ja, oui, yaas," alternately, all the time, and I have to go away to laugh.


I was much amused the other day at receiving a letter of introduction from a mutual friend in England, warmly recommending a newly-arrived bride and bridegroom to my acquaintance, and especially begging me to take pains to introduce the new-comers into the "best society." To appreciate the joke thoroughly you must understand that there is no society here at all—absolutely none. We are not proud, we Maritzburgians, nor are we inhospitable, nor exclusive, nor unsociable. Not a bit. We are as anxious as any community can be to have society or sociable gatherings, or whatever you like to call the way people manage to meet together; but circumstances are altogether too strong for us, and we all in turn are forced to abandon the attempt in despair. First of all, the weather is against us. It is maddeningly uncertain, and the best-arranged entertainment cannot be considered a success if the guests have to struggle through rain and tempest and streets  ankle-deep in water and pitchy darkness to assist at it. People are hardly likely to make themselves pleasant at a party when their return home through storm and darkness is on their minds all the time: at least, I know I cannot do so. But the weather is only one of the lets and hinderances to society in Natal. We are all exceedingly poor, and necessary food is very dear: luxuries are enormously expensive, but they are generally not to be had at all, so one is not tempted by them. Servants, particularly cooks, are few and far between, and I doubt if even any one calling himself a cook could send up what would be considered a fairly good dish elsewhere. Kafirs can be taught to do one or two things pretty well, but even then they could not be trusted to do them for a party. In fact, if I stated that there were no good servants—in the ordinary acceptation of the word—here at all, I should not be guilty of exaggeration. If there are, all I can say is, I have neither heard of nor seen them. On the contrary, I have been overwhelmed by lamentations on that score in which I can heartily join. Besides the want of means of conveyance (for there are no cabs, and very few remises) and good food and attendance, any one wanting to entertain would almost need to build a house, so impossible is it to collect more than half a dozen people inside an ordinary-sized house here. For my part, my verandah is the comfort of my life. When more than four or five people at a time chance to come to afternoon tea, we overflow into the verandah. It runs round three sides of the four rooms called a house, and is at once my day-nursery, my lumber-room, my summer-parlor, my place of exercise—everything, in fact. And it is an incessant occupation to train the creepers and wage war against the legions of brilliantly-colored grasshoppers which infest and devour the honeysuckles and roses. Never was there such a place for insects! They eat up everything in the kitchen-garden, devour every leaf off my peach and orange trees, scarring and spoiling the fruit as well. It is no comfort whatever that they are wonderfully beautiful creatures, striped and ringed with a thousand colors in a thousand various ways: one has only to see the riddled appearance of every leaf and flower to harden one's heart. Just now they have cleared off every blossom out of the garden except my zinnias, which grow magnificently and make the devastated flower-bed still gay with every hue and tint a zinnia can put on—salmon-color, rose, scarlet, pink, maroon, and fifty shades besides. On the veldt too the flowers have passed by, but their place is taken by the grasses, which are all in seed. People say the grass is rank and poor, and of not much account as food for stock, but it has an astonishing variety of beautiful seeds. In one patch it is like miniature pampas-grass, only a couple of inches long each seed-pod, but white and fluffy. Again, there will be tall stems laden with rich purple grains or delicate tufts of rose-colored seed. One of the prettiest, however, is like wee green harebells hanging all down a tall and slender stalk, and hiding within their cups the seed. Unfortunately, the weeds and burs seed just as freely, and there is one especial torment to the garden in the shape of an innocent-looking little plant something like an alpine strawberry in leaf and blossom, bearing a most aggravating tuft of little black spines which lose no opportunity of sticking to one's petticoats in myriads. They are familiarly known as "blackjacks," and can hold their own as pests with any weed of my acquaintance.

But the most beautiful tree I have seen in Natal was an Acacia flamboyante. I saw it at D'Urban, and I shall never forget the contrast of its vivid green, bright as the spring foliage of a young oak, and the crown of rich crimson flowers on its topmost branches, tossing their brilliant blossoms against a background of gleaming sea and sky. It was really splendid, like a bit of Italian coloring among the sombre tangle of tropical verdure. It is too cold up here for this glorious tree, which properly belongs to a far more tropical temperature than even D'Urban can mount up to.

I am looking forward to next month  and the following ones to make some little excursions into the country, or to go "trekking," as the local expression is. I hear on all sides how much that is interesting lies a little way beyond the reach of a ride, but it is difficult for the mistress—who is at the same time the general servant—of an establishment out here to get away from home for even a few days, especially when there is a couple of small children to be left behind. No one travels now who can possibly help it, for the sudden violent rains which come down nearly every afternoon swell the rivers and make even the spruits impassable; so a traveler may be detained for days within a few miles of his destination. Now, in winter the roads will be hard, and dust will be the only inconvenience. At least, that is what I am promised.