Saturday, March 17, 2012

Settlers and Scouts, by Herbert Strang - Full Text

Cover art
"The Bengali hurled the canful at his head." See page 253.
The present story completes a series of three books in which I have endeavoured to give impressions of life in the immense region known as Equatorial Africa. The scene of Tom Burnaby was laid in the centre, around the great lakes; Samba was concerned with the western or Congo districts; Settlers and Scouts is a story of the east, more especially the magnificent highland region which seems destined to become one of the greatest provinces of the British African Empire.
The steady stream of emigration already flowing to British East Africa is bound to swell when it is more generally recognized that in the hill districts of Kenya, Naivasha, and Kisumu there are vast areas of agricultural land constituting an ideal "white man's country." In the following pages I have attempted to show some of the conditions under which the pioneers of emigration must work. The development of communications and the settlement of the remoter regions will soon relegate such alarums and excursions as are here described to the romantic possibilities of the past. But it will be long before the lion, the rhinoceros, the hippopotamus and other more or less formidable neighbours cease to be factors with which the emigrant has to reckon.
For many facts, stranger by far than fiction, concerning the wild inhabitants, human and other, of this most interesting region, I am indebted to Mr. Arkell-Hardwick's An Ivory Trader in North Kenya and Colonel Patterson's Man-Eaters of Tsavo, among several important works that have appeared during recent years.
It may be added that in the spelling of native names I have sometimes rather consulted the reader's convenience than conformed strictly to rule. The name Wanderobbo, for instance, applied to an individual, is a solecism, the prefix Wa being a sign of the plural. But it seemed better to err than to afflict the reader with so uncouth a form as N'derobbo.


The train was steaming over Mombasa Island, and Mr. David Halliday, ejaculating "Now we're off!" settled himself in his corner and comfortably fell asleep. Age has its weaknesses--or its privileges, according as you look at it. Not that Mr. Halliday was aged, or even old. He was nearly fifty, and might have passed for younger. His son, at any rate, was neither old nor sleepy. He was, in fact, but a few months past his seventeenth year; and being possessed of an average curiosity and a healthy interest in novel scenes, he looked with delight on the groves of lofty cocoa-nut palms, the wide-spreading mangoes and baobabs filled with chattering monkeys, and the long stretches of park-like glades, brilliant with flowers, through which runs the Uganda railway in the first stage of its long course to the shores of Victoria Nyanza.
Mr. Halliday, son of a Scots farmer who had emigrated from Ayrshire thirty years before, had been for many years agent--or "factor," as he, being a Scotsman, preferred to call himself--on the estates of Lord Sussex, who, as everybody knows, owns half the county from which his title is derived. He had managed to save some money during his stewardship, but having entrusted the greater part of it for investment to a bland London solicitor of his acquaintance, he had the misfortune to learn one day from the newspaper that the lawyer had absconded, leaving defalcations to the tune of some £50,000. A few weeks afterwards another calamity befell Mr. Halliday. His employer, a bachelor, died; the estates passed into the hands of a distant relative; and the new peer, taking alarm at the large sums demanded of him in the shape of death duties, announced his intention of cutting down expenses, and employing a younger man to steward his estates, at a lower salary. Luckily Mr. Halliday had a thousand or two safely invested, apart from what he had lost through the lawyer's rascality; and being disinclined, at his time of life, to seek similar employment, he cast about, during his six months' notice of the termination of his engagement, to find some new outlet for his energies and some secure channel for the use of his little capital.
The problem was complicated by the necessity of starting his son in life. He had intended David for one of the professions, and put him to a good school; but the boy had not shown any particular aptitude for book work, except in the one subject that interested him--natural history. He was never so happy as when he was with dogs and horses; he read with avidity every book about animals on which he could lay hands; and once, when his career was being talked about, he said bluntly that he knew he couldn't stand work at a desk in stuffy London, and implored his father to let him go out to Canada or Australia. Mr. Halliday merely grunted at the time; he was a man of few words; but he thought the matter out very carefully, and his attention having been called to the opening up of East Africa consequent upon the completion of the Uganda railway, he quietly made inquiries, obtained information about the country, its climate, soil, and prospects in regard to stock-raising, and one day startled his son with the news that he was going out in a few months to settle. Having once made up his mind he let no grass grow under his feet. One May day father and son left London in a Peninsular and Oriental Liner, transhipped at Aden into a vessel of the British India Steam Navigation Company, landed at Mombasa, and after spending a fortnight there in preliminary preparations, took tickets for Nairobi, three hundred and thirty miles down the line, whence they proposed to strike up country and select the ground for their settlement.
They travelled by the intermediate class--the third of the four classes into which passengers on the Uganda railway are divided. Mr. Halliday, as he said, had not come out to Africa for the fun of it and having spent considerably over £100 already in travelling expenses, he was not inclined to spend more was absolutely necessary now. By travelling intermediate, unusual though it was, they saved nearly a hundred rupees (the currency of British East Africa) on the first-class fare, and twenty-five on the second, and every rupee they could save would be of importance when they came to stock their ranch. "And I haven't taken return tickets, John," said Mr. Halliday.
Since the boy had been named David after his father, and had no other name, it is necessary to explain how he came to be called John. At school, his name being David, on the principle of association of ideas he was immediately dubbed Jonathan, though he might just as reasonably have been called Saul. Jonathan being too long was cut down to Johnny, and finally to John; and when one of his school-fellows, on a visit in the holidays, addressed him by this simple monosyllable, the name was laughingly accepted by his parents as an excellent means of distinguishing between the two Davids. People who knew him only as John were puzzled when he signed himself "D. Halliday," and one matter-of-fact lady was not quite pleased when he said gravely that, Prince Edward being known in the family circle as David, it was only right that David Halliday should be known as John. "I am glad I am not your godmother," she replied grimly.
John, then, as we, like all his intimates, will call him, smiled affectionately when he saw his father settle himself to slumber, and devoted his own very wide-awake eyes to the scenery. It was a feast for the senses and the imagination. The train, leaving Mombasa island for the mainland, runs through a tract of undulating richly-wooded country, with, here, groves of cocoa-nut palms and papaws; there, orchards of mangoes and cashew apples; anon, vast plantations of maize and millet and other grain crops. There is plenty of time to take in the details of this luxuriant panorama, for the train is climbing, climbing always, and the traveller is not whirled along at the bewildering speed of an English express. Leaning out of the window, and looking back over the route, John catches a last glimpse of the sea at Port Reitz, guarded by the Shimba hills, and realizes that a new chapter in his life is opening, full of romantic possibilities.
"A verree fine country, sir," says a thin staccato voice behind, and turning, he is smiled upon by a swarthy face, with black moustache and beard that have never known a razor, and surmounted by a spotless white turban.
"Magnificent," replies John, eyeing his fellow-passenger curiously.
"But this is not the best," says the man again. "We shall see, in due time, scenes of still more prepossessing appearance, together with myriads of four-footed beasts, et cetera."
"Indeed," says John, a trifle amused.
"Yes, sir. When we come to Tsavo we may behold lions, truly denominated the king of beasts, but no longer monarchs of all they survey, as William Cowper beautifully and poetically says. Man, sir, plays the very dickens with Nature; the surveyor molests the ancient solitary reign of Mr. Lion; he has to take a back seat."
John was quite unaccustomed to conversation interlarded with quotations from what he had at school irreverently called "rep.," and wondering what manner of man he had to do with he hazarded an indirect question.
"You seem to have read some of our poets," he said.
"Yes, sir, I am familiar with the masterpieces of English literature, edited with notes. My name, sir, is Said Mohammed, failed B.A. of Calcutta University."
"Failed B.A.?" said John, puzzled. He had met B.A.'s of several universities, and even junior masters who called themselves Inter. B.A. Lond. (honours); but a failed B.A. was a new species.
"Yes, sir; the honourable examiners formed a less elevated estimate of my intellectual attainments than was reasonably anticipated, and when the list was published, lo! my name was conspicuous by its absence. But that is a bagatelle. The honorific distinction--what is it but the guinea stamp? It is work, sir, that ennobles. I have accumulated a priceless store of knowledge; I am all there, I assure you."
John thought it only polite to murmur an assent to this, but he felt himself ill equipped to sustain a conversation on the dizzy heights to which Said Mohammed appeared inclined to ascend, and turning once more to the window, he viewed in silence the ever-changing scenery. The luxuriant vegetation of the coastal region had given place to a vast plateau covered with a dense scrub of umbrella-shaped acacias, with patches of dry grass, and here and there a massive baobab rearing its antic form from out the undergrowth. He was interested in the little stations, with their trim flower-beds and home-like appointments, at which the train stopped at intervals of several miles; and gave but perfunctory answers to the Bengali, who kept up, with every appearance of pleasure, a continual flow of talk, informing him that this tree was an aristolochia and that an aloe, and calling his attention at one spot to a herd of sable antelopes which were startled by the train as they drank at a stream, and dashed off into the jungle. "Their scientific name, sir, is Hippotragus niger," said Said Mohammed, and Mr. Halliday waking at this point, the Bengali favoured him with a smile, and said, "A verree fine country, sir; good-morning."
They took their lunch at Mackinnon Road station, at the foot of the Taru hills. Refreshed by his sleep and the meal, Mr. Halliday began to take more interest in things in general, and John having introduced Said Mohammed (mentioning impressively that he was a failed B.A. of Calcutta University), a three-cornered conversation was begun, in which the Bengali fluently expounded his views on many subjects.
"Yes, sir," said he, when the question of the treatment of native races cropped up, "that is a subject to which I have devoted considerable acumen. Is it just, I ask you, is it worthy of this immense and glorious empire on which the sun never sits, that the natives, the primordial owners of the soil, should be laid under such restrictions as are now in force? Are we Indians not subjects of the same gracious and glorious majesty, F.D., et cetera? Have we not shed our blood in defence of the Union Jack? Are we not ready to fight and conquer again and again like your jolly tars and all? And yet my countrymen, to wit, are not allowed in South Africa the full rights of citizens; and in this country, where this verree railway was built by the labour of Indians, it is becoming the rule to refuse them grants of land. Is this sauce for the gander, I ask you, gentlemen?"
"It's a very ticklish subject," said Mr. Halliday, "and I don't profess to understand it. I dare say those zebras yonder--look at them, John, hundreds of 'em--think it great impudence on the part of this engine to run snorting through their grounds. But the engine runs all the same."
At Tsavo the line crossed the river Athi. John looked out eagerly for a glimpse of the lions which were said to infest this region, but to his disappointment saw none. Indeed, as the train passed through mile after mile of uninteresting scrub, he began to feel that his first enthusiasm for the country was premature. But at Kibwezi the line enters another belt of forest, the trees looped together with festooning creepers, and filled with chattering monkeys and barking baboons; the undergrowth brilliant with colour, both of the flowers and of birds and butterflies innumerable. Some miles farther on, at Makindu, the forest yields to rich pasture land, the undulating plain stretching on both sides of the line, broken by streams whose beds are lined with date-palms and firs. All the vegetation was fresh and vivid through recent rains, and Mr. Halliday, viewing the country with a stock-breeder's eye, now for the first time allowed a remark on the scenery to pass his lips. "That's grand!" he said; and when the rumbling of the train set startled herds of antelope and gazelle, red congoni and black wildebeeste, scampering over the plain, he stood up in the carriage and gazed at them with kindling admiration.
The oppressive heat of the morning had now given place to a pleasant coolness, with a crisp exhilarating breeze. When John expressed his surprise at this, within a degree or two of the Equator, Said Mohammed explained that they were now four or five thousand feet above sea-level, among the Highlands of East Africa, where Europeans may live in health and comfort. By the time they reached Nairobi, indeed, the evening air was so chill that both Englishmen were glad to don their overcoats. Said Mohammed deferentially took leave of them on the platform of the station, and disappeared among a crowd of Orientals gathered there; while Mr. Halliday inquired for the coffee-planter to whom he had an introduction, and who had offered him the hospitality of his bungalow so long as he remained in Nairobi.

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