- CHAPTER I. A WILDERNESS HOME.
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A WILDERNESS HOME.
RHODESIA has often been called a "country of surprises." This is undoubtedly a very apt description. Indeed, it is so full of surprises that one never need be surprised at anything--a statement which has rather an Irish sound about it. It might also be called "a country of incongruities"--of wattle and daub huts--or, more correctly, "pole and daga"--sheltering a Bechstein piano; dainty, cultured women live in those same huts, or possibly for months under a buck-sail. Corrugated iron and evening dress. Beautiful household silver cleaned by dirty niggers on old packing-cases on the veldt. More dirty, despicable niggers in filthy huts, living amidst scenery to make an artist weep for his incompetency to reproduce it. The incongruous everywhere, yet shaded and softened and blended as only Rhodesia knows how.
It was, perhaps, this tender "mothering" spirit of the country that had helped to give so cosy and | | 8 home-like an air to the little group of pole and daga huts where Betty and Bobbie Glynn lived in the wilderness with their two brothers, choosing what are metaphorically "mud" huts and independence rather than arduous disheartening labours of earning a living in a grievously overstocked market.Not that they were free of arduous labours in Rhodesia, or had any wish to be, but at least it was in a little home of their own, in an interesting young country, with the two brothers they adored and for whom they gladly drudged. For life in the outside districts in Rhodesia must necessarily contain a considerable element of drudgery, with only dirty, incompetent natives to help, and none of the labour-saving appliances of the home countries.
But then, as Bobbie declared, it simplified things very much to pour all the dregs on the kitchen floor, and to possess only two saucepans and no extras at all.
"I'm dreadfully afraid we shall be obliged to invest in a third saucepan," she complained, "and that will be one more to get washed. Twice, when Toby has brought us vegetables, I have had to let some go bad because I had no saucepan at liberty."
"But they are dreadfully dear," urged the careful Betty. "If we buy anything at all, there are one or two more necessary items."
"I don't suppose we shall buy anything at all," laughed Bobbie cheerily. "It's a long time since we had money to buy anything." Then after a pause she added: " I might choose a saucepan and a mincing machine for my birthday present. Toby asked me what I would like. He could get them at trade price for his store."| | 9
The conversation took place while Bobbie was hunting round for something to make bread in, while Betty put a new knee into a trouser leg which one of the brothers had torn in the morning. Bobbie was not fond of bread-making, but she congratulated herself it was a great deal better than fitting a new knee on to an old pair of trousers. Of course, Twilight, the black cook-boy, ought to have made it, but his last two attempts had produced merely lumps of heavy dough, which they felt bound to try and eat because flour was so expensive, and finally Bobbie undertook the task.
The little Home Camp consisted of five huts picturesquely situated, with a background of trees and a lovely view of kopjes and vleis upon two sides. A reed screen with a wild creeper growing over it shut them off a little from the track, though it is a small matter in Rhodesia, when you live in huts, whether your bedroom opens directly on to the road or not; also whether your door has a fastener or not. In any case, an old packing-case will keep it closed, if you want it closed, so why bother with fastenings? The five huts at the Sirius Gold Mine, now being worked on tribute by Bay and Kenneth Glynn, consisted of a large s hut, with varying styles of architecture as to roofs and makeshifts as to doors.
In fact, the brothers' hut had no door at all, only a thin curtain, so they usually sang loudly as they had their baths, to warn their sisters to be on guard.They had two little beds made of leathern thongs stretched across a rough, wooden frame fixed upon four posts stuck in the ground--an excellent device | | 10 unless an army of ants took it into their heads to investigate what lay upon the top of the four posts. A little barrel on end did duty for a washstand, and a tiny glass hanging upon the wall for dressing-table. An old sack hung over the window opening --which was void of glass--not so much from any sense of modesty as to keep out the weird things that are apt to come in at night. An enamel basin and jug completed the furniture. The girls were a little better off. They possessed a camp-bed each, and the ants did not trouble to investigate, unless a portion of bed-clothes chanced to be touching the floor, and then they sometimes stormed the citadel in battalions, until the sleeping figure awoke to the situation. Then all the bed-clothes had to be thoroughly shaken, usually amid grunts of disgusted protest on the part of the awakened sleeper.
"Never mind," Bobbie was wont to say cheerfully; "it's for the Empire!" She said the same the night the rat ran over Betty's pillow, and poor Betty jumped up with a scream and ran out of the hut.
"It's all right," Bobbie assured her, standing in the open door clad only in her pyjamas, and looking out with keen relish upon the lovely, sleeping, moonlit world. "Glory! What a scrumptious night! My dear, it was only a nice clean field rat: I've just driven him out through that hole by the washstand. Do come back to bed before you take cold."
"Are you sure it wasn't a snake?" asked Betty, shivering with fright.
"Yes, quite sure. I saw him myself, the impudent little beggar I"| | 11
"But I hate rats, too. I simply can't come back at once!"
"Oh, come, Betty!"-coaxingly. "Not a nice friendly young field rat? Anyhow, it's for the Empire-don't forget that. We can't give Dread-noughts and things, but we can brave rats, and perhaps that's just as good in its way. Come, pat yourself on the back for a heroine and get into bed again quickly."
"It's all very fine," Betty murmured, as she came back into the hut, " but the rat didn't run over your pillow, and I'd rather care a fragment less about the precious Empire and dispense with rat visitors."
But the next morning her brother Kenneth daga'd the hole, and Betty was not called upon to be a heroine of that particular kind again for the present, though life in huts in the wilderness necessarily makes many calls upon the heroic spirit in one way or another.
Its particular call just now arose from the bad luck of the mining venture. The tributing had paid well at first, though, unfortunately, much of their gain had had to go in the paying of debts. A bad year had run these up alarmingly, and the girls began to view with misgivings the possibility that they must in the end say good-bye to their wilderness life, at any rate for a season, and attempt to obtain employment in one of the towns. Then, with Rhodesia's delightful uncertainty, a small, rich vein had shown itself, and with rapidly lightening hearts the debts had all been paid off and a fresh start made with a clean slate. Alas, only to meet with another surprise, for the vein gave out suddenly, or, at any rate, vanished, and the debts began to | | 12 mount again. But now they had a new hope. Not far from the property they were working was a waste piece of land, and it occurred to Bay Glynn that it was a likely direction for the unexpected rich vein to follow; and though no promising outcrop supported his belief, he held to it firmly, and finally persuaded his brother to agree to "peg" the area as their own private claim. They had no sooner done so than a prospector in the neighbourhood came forward and said the claim was his, but his "pegs" had been stolen. It was, as a matter of fact, a clear attempt to "jump" the Glynns' claim, but it only half succeeded, as the claim, instead of being given to the new claimant, was declared open. This meant that whoever pegged first at sunrise upon a given date should own the claim. It had worried the brothers a great deal, as the claim was un- doubtedly theirs; but they could not afford to fight the case, and could only take their chance of pegging first when the given morning arrived. The sisters spoke of it together while Bobbie thumped vigorously and a little impatiently at her bread, and Betty struggled manfully with the refractory knee of Kenneth's torn trousers.
"If they don't win," she said, a little sadly, "there isn't much left to hope about."
"Oh, yes, there is!" declared Bobbie. "For my part, I shall go on hoping they will be millionaires every single day--when I've any time left over from hoping this annoying bread will rise."
"That won't pay debts nor give us food"--with a little smile. "But Ken has great hopes of this new claim. Besides, they can't afford to move the machinery anywhere else,"| | 13
"Then, of course, they must win the claim. That is a splendid idea of Toby's to send for the sealed watch from Cape Town, if only the other side don't think of it too. We'll will them not to. Ugh, bread-making is a fag in this temperature I I wish you would all go mad, like Nebuchadnezzar, and eat grass! I know it won't rise. It is too depressed about the gold giving out and the new claim being jumped."
Betty was silent a moment, then she said: "It's funny, isn't it, how much less things seem to matter in Rhodesia than they did at home? We used to worry so about things that are mere trifles here; and things here that would almost have turned us grey at home are all in the day's work, more or less."
"It is one of the great compensations"-thumping on lustily. "I'd simply hate to make bread in England, and not know if there would be anything but bully beef to eat for a week, nor if I'd ever have a new frock again. But it is quite different in a colony. Something makes it worth while. I suppose it is the possibility always existing that one may strike it rich to-morrow or next year."
"That and Toby," suggested Betty slyly.
"Well, yes" --with a pretty blush. "Of course, one couldn't meet a Toby anywhere else. When I think of that dear innocent, fresh from Belgrave Square, with his butchery and his little tin-pot store, I feel I could just hug myself with delight. He made five pounds clear profit last week, and he said he felt like a millionaire already. He wrote sheets about it to his mother. You see, she wanted him to stay in the Inniskillings and have a three hundred a year allowance from his father; and | | 14 Toby said he couldn't make it do, and he would be better off here with nothing but a few hundreds capital, because he needn't buy any clothes nor pay a mess bill. In the end, his father gave him a thousand, and he promptly lost it all in a gold mine. Of course, his mother said it served him right, and that's why he had to write her such pages about his five pounds clear profit, and how rich and jolly he felt."
"I suppose, if the boys get this claim, and it turns out a good one, it will bring more miners here, and be a good thing for Toby and his store?"
"Yes, rather! That's why he is so excited about it. He wants me to promise to be engaged to him the first month he makes thirty pounds"--and she laughed happily. "I told him I should have to see the books, or he might stick a few noughts on and try to bluff me. I think this stuff has been pounded enough now" breaking off. "Hi, Twilight"- calling the native cook-" bring the bally bread-tin!".
The native emerged from the kitchen hut dressed in a pair of electric blue knickerbockers and a mustard-coloured shirt, with a back rent from his neck to his middle, and held out a battered-looking tin to Bobbie.
"Dirty!" said she, in a voice of disgust. "Hamba gaza" (Go and wash it). "No wonder your bread tastes like mouldy suet dumpling if you knead it for about two minutes and then cook it in a dirty tin. What garments!" she added to her sister. "Where did he raise them?"
"He did a deal with a mine boy yesterday for the knickerbockers. I told him they were hideous.
Bobbie laughed. "Except that he is so exactly like a chimpanzee, I half imagine him one. All the same, it is a relief the garments are whole. He was scarcely decent in the others. Hullo, who is this? I hear a bicycle bell." And she turned her head towards the screen and bushes from whence emerged the track from the road. Almost at the same moment a gay voice sang out, "Come into the garden, Maud!" and Toby Fitzgerald sprang off his bicycle beside the little rustic verandah in front of the sitting-room hut.
He approached Bobbie, holding out to her an ungainly parcel wrapped in an old piece of newspaper. "Fair lady," he said, while his sunny, blue eyes danced delightfully, "I have brought you a little gift--just a little bon-bon, don't you know. Not exactly a keepsake--at least, I shouldn't recommend it as such." Then, as he unwrapped the greasy newspaper: "Behold! A sirloin of beef from my very own butcher's shop!"
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