I am beginning now really to feel better: I think my cough is less, and I eat a great deal more. They cook nice clean food here, and have some good claret, which I have been extravagant enough to drink, much to my advantage. The Cape wine is all so fiery. The climate is improving too. The glorious African sun blazes and roasts one, and the cool fresh breezes prevent one from feeling languid. I walk from six till eight or nine, breakfast at ten, and dine at three; in the afternoon it is generally practicable to saunter again, now the weather is warmer. I sleep from twelve till two. On Christmas-eve it was so warm that I lay in bed with the window wide open, and the stars blazing in. Such stars! they are much brighter than our moon. The Dutchmen held high jinks in the hall, and danced and made a great noise. On New Year's-eve they will have another ball, and I shall look in. Christmas-day was the hottest day - indeed, the only HOT day we have had - and I could not make it out at all, or fancy you all cold at home.
I wish you were here to see the curious ways and new aspect of everything. This village, which, as I have said, is very like Rochefort, but hardly so large, is the CHEF LIEU of a district the size of one-third of England. A civil commander resides here, a sort of PREFET; and there is an embryo market-place, with a bell hanging in a brick arch. When a waggon arrives with goods, it draws up there, they ring the bell, everybody goes to see what is for sale, and the goods are sold by auction. My host bought potatoes and brandy the other day, and is looking out for ostrich feathers for me, out of the men's hats.
The other day, while we sat at dinner, all the bells began to ring furiously, and Capt. D- jumped up and shouted 'BRAND!' (fire), rushed off for a stout leather hat, and ran down the street. Out came all the population, black, white, and brown, awfully excited, for it was blowing a furious north-wester, right up the town, and the fire was at the bottom; and as every house is thatched with a dry brown thatch, we might all have to turn out and see the place in ashes in less than an hour. Luckily, it was put out directly. It is supposed to have been set on fire by a Hottentot girl, who has done the same thing once before, on being scolded. There is no water but what runs down the streets in the SLOOT, a paved channel, which brings the water from the mountain and supplies the houses and gardens. A garden is impossible without irrigation, of course, as it never rains; but with it, you may have everything, all the year round. The people, however, are too careless to grow fruit and vegetables.
How the cattle live is a standing marvel to me. The whole VELD (common), which extends all over the country (just dotted with a few square miles of corn here and there), is covered with a low thin scrub, about eighteen inches high, called RHENOSTER-BOSCH - looking like meagre arbor vitae or pale juniper. The cattle and sheep will not touch this nor the juicy Hottentot fig; but under each little bush, I fancy, they crop a few blades of grass, and on this they keep in very good condition. The noble oxen, with their huge horns (nine or ten feet from tip to tip), are never fed, though they work hard, nor are the sheep. The horses get a little forage (oats, straw and all). I should like you to see eight or ten of these swift wiry little horses harnessed to a waggon, - a mere flat platform on wheels. In front stands a wild-looking Hottentot, all patches and feathers, and drives them best pace, all 'in hand', using a whip like a fishing-rod, with which he touches them, not savagely, but with a skill which would make an old stage- coachman burst with envy to behold. This morning, out on the veld, I watched the process of breaking-in a couple of colts, who were harnessed, after many struggles, second and fourth in a team of ten. In front stood a tiny foal cuddling its mother, one of the leaders. When they started, the foal had its neck through the bridle, and I hallooed in a fright; but the Hottentot only laughed, and in a minute it had disengaged itself quite coolly and capered alongside. The colts tried to plunge, but were whisked along, and couldn't, and then they stuck out all four feet and SKIDDED along a bit; but the rhenoster bushes tripped them up (people drive regardless of roads), and they shook their heads and trotted along quite subdued, without a blow or a word, for the drivers never speak to the horses, only to the oxen. Colts here get no other breaking, and therefore have no paces or action to the eye, but their speed and endurance are wonderful. There is no such thing as a cock-tail in the country, and the waggon teams of wiry little thoroughbreds, half Arab, look very strange to our eyes, going full tilt. There is a terrible murrain, called the lung-sickness, among horses and oxen here, every four or five years, but it never touches those that are stabled, however exposed to wet or wind on the roads.
I must describe the house I inhabit, as all are much alike. It is whitewashed, with a door in the middle and two windows on each side; those on the left are Mrs. D-'s bed and sitting rooms. On the right is a large room, which is mine; in the middle of the house is a spacious hall, with doors into other rooms on each side, and into the kitchen, &c. There is a yard behind, and a staircase up to the ZOLDER or loft, under the thatch, with partitions, where the servants and children, and sometimes guests, sleep. There are no ceilings; the floor of the zolder is made of yellow wood, and, resting on beams, forms the ceiling of my room, and the thatch alone covers that. No moss ever grows on the thatch, which is brown, with white ridges. In front is a stoep, with 'blue gums' (Australian gum-trees) in front of it, where I sit till twelve, when the sun comes on it. These trees prevail here greatly, as they want neither water nor anything else, and grow with incredible rapidity.
We have got a new 'boy' (all coloured servants are 'boys,' - a remnant of slavery), and he is the type of the nigger slave. A thief, a liar, a glutton, a drunkard - but you can't resent it; he has a NAIF, half-foolish, half-knavish buffoonery, a total want of self-respect, which disarms you. I sent him to the post to inquire for letters, and the postmaster had been tipsy over-night and was not awake. Jack came back spluttering threats against 'dat domned Dutchman. Me no WANT (like) him; me go and kick up dom'd row. What for he no give Missis letter?' &c. I begged him to be patient; on which he bonneted himself in a violent way, and started off at a pantomime walk. Jack is the product of slavery: he pretends to be a simpleton in order to do less work and eat and drink and sleep more than a reasonable being, and he knows his buffoonery will get him out of scrapes. Withal, thoroughly good- natured and obliging, and perfectly honest, except where food and drink are concerned, which he pilfers like a monkey. He worships S-, and won't allow her to carry anything, or to dirty her hands, if he is in the way to do it. Some one suggested to him to kiss her, but he declined with terror, and said he should be hanged by my orders if he did. He is a hideous little negro, with a monstrous-shaped head, every colour of the rainbow on his clothes, and a power of making faces which would enchant a schoolboy. The height of his ambition would be to go to England with me.
An old 'bastaard' woman, married to the Malay tailor here, explained to me my popularity with the coloured people, as set forth by 'dat Malay boy', my driver. He told them he was sure I was a 'very great Missis', because of my 'plenty good behaviour'; that I spoke to him just as to a white gentleman, and did not 'laugh and talk nonsense talk'. 'Never say "Here, you black fellow", dat Misses.' The English, when they mean to be good- natured, are generally offensively familiar, and 'talk nonsense talk', i.e. imitate the Dutch English of the Malays and blacks; the latter feel it the greatest compliment to be treated AU SERIEUX, and spoken to in good English. Choslullah's theory was that I must be related to the Queen, in consequence of my not 'knowing bad behaviour'. The Malays, who are intelligent and proud, of course feel the annoyance of vulgar familiarity more than the blacks, who are rather awe-struck by civility, though they like and admire it.
Mrs. D- tells me that the coloured servant-girls, with all their faults, are immaculately honest in these parts; and, indeed, as every door and window is always left open, even when every soul is out, and nothing locked up, there must be no thieves. Captain D- told me he had been in remote Dutch farmhouses, where rouleaux of gold were ranged under the thatch on the top of the low wall, the doors being always left open; and everywhere the Dutch boers keep their money by them, in coin.