Chapter 2 HOW SUZANNE FOUND RALPH KENZIE
Our farm where we lived in the Transkei was not very far from the ocean; indeed, any one seated in the kopje or little hill at the back of the house, from the very top of which bubbles a spring of fresh water, can see the great rollers striking the straight cliffs of the shore and spouting into the air in clouds of white foam. Even in warm weather they spout thus, but when the south-easterly gales blow then the sight and the sound of them are terrible as they rush in from the black water one after another for days and nights together. Then the cliffs shiver beneath their blows, and the spray flies up as though it were driven from the nostrils of a thousand whales, and is swept inland in clouds, turning the grass and the leaves of the trees black in its breath. Woe to the ship that is caught in those breakers and ground against those rocks, for soon nothing is left of it save scattered timbers shivered as though by lightning.
One winter-it was when Suzanne was seven years old-such a south-east gale as this blew for four days, and on a certain evening after the wind had fallen, having finished my household work, I went to the top of the kopje to rest and look at the sea, which was still raging terrible, taking with me Suzanne. I had been sitting there ten minutes or more when Jan, my husband, joined me, and I wondered why he had come, for he, as brave a man as ever lived in all other things, was greatly afraid of the sea, and, indeed, of any water. So afraid was he that he did not like the sight of it in its anger, and would wake at nights at the sound of a storm-yes, he whom I have seen sleep through the trumpetings of frightened elephants and the shouting of a Zulu impi.
"You think that sight fine, wife," he said, pointing to the spouting foam; "but I call it the ugliest in the world. Almighty! it turns my blood cold to look at it and to think that Christian men, ay, and women and children too, may be pounding to pulp in those breakers."
"Without doubt the death is as good as another," I answered; "not that I would choose it, for I wish to die in my bed with the predicant saying prayers over me, and my husband weeping-or pretending to-at the foot of it."
"Choose it!" he said. "I had sooner be speared by savages or hanged by the English Government as my father was."
"What makes you think of death in the sea, Jan?" I asked.
"Nothing, wife, nothing; but there is that fool of a Pondo witch- doctoress down by the cattle kraal, and I heard her telling a story as I went by to look at the ox that the snake bit yesterday."
"What was the story?"
"Oh! a short one; she said she had it from the coast Kaffirs-that far away, up towards the mouth of the Umzimbubu, when the moon was young, great guns had been heard fired one after the other, minute by minute, and that then a ship was seen, a tall ship with three masts and many 'eyes' in it-I suppose she meant portholes with the light shining through them-drifting on to the coast before the wind, for a storm was raging, while streaks of fire like red and blue lightnings rushed up from her decks."
"Well, and then?"
"And then, nothing. Almighty! that is all the tale. Those waves which you love to watch can tell the rest."
"Most like it is some Kaffir lie, husband."
"May be, but amongst these people news travels faster than a good horse, and before now there have been wrecks upon this coast. Child, put down that gun. Do you want to shoot your mother? Have I not told you that you must never touch a gun?" and he pointed to Suzanne, who had picked up her father's roer -for in those days, when we lived among so many Kaffirs, every man went armed-and was playing at soldiers with it.
"I was shooting buck and Kaffirs, papa," she said, obeying him with a pout.