The Emigrant's Cabin

AN EPISTLE IN RHYME

Where the young river, from its wild ravine,
Winds pleasantly through Eildon's pastures green, —
With fair acacias waving on its banks,
And willows bending o'er in graceful ranks,
And the steep mountain rising close behind,
To shield us from the Snowberg's wintry wind, —
Appears my rustic cabin, thatched with reeds,
Upon a knoll amid the grassy meads;
And, close beside it, looking o'er the lea,
Our summer-seat beneath an umbra-tree.

This morning, musing in that favourite seat,
My hound, old Yarrow, dreaming at my feet,
I pictured you, sage Fairbairn, at my side,
By some good Genie wafted cross the tide;
And, after cordial greetings, thus went on
In Fancy's Dream our colloquy, dear John.

P. — Enter, my friend, our beehive-cottage door:
No carpet hides the humble earthen floor,
But it is hard as brick, clean-swept, and cool.
You must be wearied? Take that jointed stool;
Or on this couch of leopard-skin recline;
You'll find it soft — the workmanship is mine.

F. — Why, Pringle, yes — your cabin's snug enough,
Though oddly shaped. But as for household stuff,
I only see some rough-hewn sticks and spars;
A wicker cupboard, filled with flasks and jars;
A pile of books, on rustic frame-work placed;
Hides of ferocious beasts that roam the waste;
Whose kindred prowl, perchance, around this spot —
The only neighbours, I suspect, you've got!
Your furniture, rude from the forest cut,
However, is in keeping with the hut.
This couch feels pleasant: is't with grass you stuff it?
So far I should not care with you to rough it.
But — pardon me for seeming somewhat rude —
In this wild place how manage ye for food?

P. — You'll find, at least, my friend, we do not starve:
There's always mutton, if nought else, to carve;
And even of luxuries we have our share.
But here comes dinner (the best bill of fare),
Drest by that " Nut-Brown Maiden," Vytje Vaal.
[ To the Hottentot Girl. ] Meid, roep de Juffrouwen naar't middagmaal:
[ To F. ] Which means — " The ladies in to dinner call."

[Enter Mrs. P. and her Sister, who welcome their Guest to Africa. The party take their seats round the table, and conversation proceeds.]

P. — First, here's our broad-tailed mutton, small and fine,
The dish on which nine days in ten we dine;
Next, roasted springbok, spiced and larded well;
A haunch of hartebeest from Hyndhope Fell;
A paauw, which beats your Norfolk turkey hollow;
Korhaan, and Guinea-fowl, and pheasant follow:
Kid carbonadjes, a-la Hottentot,
Broiled on a forked twig; and, peppered hot
With Chili pods, a dish called Caffer-stew;
Smoked ham of porcupine, and tongue of gnu.
This fine white household bread (of M — — t's baking)
Comes from an oven too of my own making,
Scooped from an ant-hill. Did I ask before
If you would taste this brawn of forest-boar?

Our fruits, I must confess, make no great show:
Trees, grafts, and layers must have time to grow.
But there's green roasted maize, and pumpkin pie,
And wild asparagus. Or will you try
A slice of water-melon? — fine for drouth,
Like sugared ices melting in the mouth.
Here too are wild-grapes from our forest-vine,
Not void of flavour, though unfit for wine.
And here comes dried fruit I had quite forgot,
(From fair Glen-Avon, M — — t, is it not?)
Figs, almonds, raisins, peaches. Witbooy Swart
Brought this huge sackful from kind Mrs. Hart —
Enough to load a Covent-Garden cart.

But come, let's crown the banquet with some wine,
What will you drink? Champagne? Port? Claret? Stein?
Well — not to tease you with a thirsty jest,
Lo, there our only vintage stands confest,
In that half-aum upon the spigot-rack.
And, certes, though it keeps the old Kaap smaak ,
The wine is light and racy; so we learn,
In laughing mood, to call it Cape Sauterne.
— Let's pledge this cup " to all our friends," Fairbairn!

F. — Well, I admit, my friend, your dinner's good.
Springbok and porcupine are dainty food;
That lordly paauw was roasted to a turn;
And, in your country fruits and Cape Sauterne,
The wildish flavour's really — not unpleasant;
And I may say the same of gnu and pheasant.
— But — Mrs. Pringle ... shall I have the pleasure ...?
Miss Brown, ... some wine? — — (These quaighs are quite a treasure.)
— What! leave us now? I've much to ask of you ...
But, since you will go — for an hour adieu.

But, Pringle — " a nos moutons revenons" —
Cui bono's still the burthen of my song —
Cut off, with these good ladies, from society,
Of savage life you soon must feel satiety:
The MIND requires fit exercise and food,
Not to be found 'mid Afric's deserts rude.
And what avail the spoils of wood and field,
The fruits or wines your fertile valleys yield,
Without that higher zest to crown the whole —
" The feast of Reason and the flow of Soul?"
— Food, shelter, fire, suffice for savage men;
But can the comforts of your wattled den,
Your sylvan fare and rustic tasks suffice
For one who once seemed finer joys to prize?
— When, erst, like Virgil's swains, we used to sing
Of streams and groves, and " all that sort of thing,"
The spot we meant for our " Poetic Den"
Was always within reach of Books and Men;
By classic Esk, for instance, or Tweed-side,
With gifted friends within an easy ride;
Besides our college chum, the Parish Priest;
And the said den with six good rooms at least. —
Here! — save for Her who shares and soothes your lot,
You might as well squat in a Caffer's cot!
Come now, be candid: tell me, my dear friend,
Of your aspiring aims is this the end?
Was it for Nature's wants, fire, shelter, food,
You sought this dreary, soulless solitude?
Broke off your ties with men of cultured mind,
Your native land, your early friends resigned?
As if, believing with insane Rousseau
Refinement the chief cause of human woe,
You meant to realise that raver's plan,
And be a philosophic Bosjesman! —
Be frank; confess the fact you cannot hide —
You sought this den from disappointed pride.

P. — You've missed the mark, Fairbairn: my breast is clear.
Nor wild Romance nor Pride allured me here:
Duty and Destiny with equal voice
Constrained my steps: I had no other choice.
The hermit " lodge in some vast wilderness."
Which sometimes poets sigh for, I confess,
Were but a sorry lot. In real life
One needs a friend — the best of friends, a wife;
But with a home thus cheered, however rude,
There's nought so very dull in solitude, —
Even though that home should happen to be found,
Like mine, in Africa's remotest bound.
— I have my farm and garden, tools and pen;
My schemes for civilising savage men;
Our Sunday service, till the sabbath-bell
Shall wake its welcome chime in Lynden dell;
Some duty or amusement, grave or light,
To fill the active day from morn to night:
And thus two years so lightsomely have flown
That still we wonder when the week is gone.
— We have at times our troubles, it is true,
Passing vexations, and privations too;
But were it not for woman's tender frame,
These are annoyances I scarce would name;
For though perchance they plague us while they last,
They only serve for jests when they are past.

And then your notion that we're quite exiled
From social life amid these mountains wild,
Accords not with the fact — as you will see
On glancing o'er this district map with me.
— First, you observe, our own Glen-Lynden clan.
(To whom I'm linked like a true Scottish man)
Are all around us. Past that dark ravine, —
Where on the left gigantic crags are seen,
And the steep Tarka mountains, stern and bare,
Close round the upland cleughs of lone Glen-Yair, —
Our Lothian Friends with their good Mother dwell,
Beside yon Kranz whose picture records tell.
Of Bushmen's huntings in the days of old,
Ere here Bezuidenhout had fixed his fold.
— Then up the widening vale extend your view,
Beyond the clump that skirts the Lion's Cleugh,
Past our old camp, the willow-trees among,
Where first these mountains heard our sabbath song;
And mark the Settlers' homes, as they appear
With cultured fields and orchard-gardens near,
And cattle-kraals, associate or single,
From fair Craig-Rennie up to Clifton-Pringle.

Then there is Captain Harding at Three-Fountains,
Near Cradock — forty miles across the mountains:
I like his shrewd remarks on things and men,
And canter o'er to dinner now and then.
— There's Landdrost Stockenstrom at Graaff-Reinet,
A man, I'm sure, you would not soon forget,
Who, though in this wild country born and bred,
Is able in affairs, in books well read,
And — what's more meritorious in the case —
A zealous friend to Afric's swarthy race.
We visit there; but, travelling in ox-wagon,
(And not, like you , drawn by a fiery dragon)
We take a month — eight days to go and come —
And spend three weeks or so with Stockenstrom.
— At Somerset, again, Hart, Devenish, Stretch.
And ladies — whose kind acts 'twere long to sketch;
The officers at Kaha and Roodewal,
Bird, Sanders, Morgan, Rogers, Petingal;
All hold with us right friendly intercourse —
The nearest thirty miles — five hours with horse.
— Sometimes a pleasant guest, from parts remote,
Cheers for a passing night our rustic cot;
As, lately, the gay-humoured Captain Fox,
With whom I roamed 'mid Koonap's woods and rocks,
From Winterberg to Gola's savage grot,
Talking of Rogers, Campbell, Coleridge, Scott,
Of Fox and Mackintosh, Brougham, Canning, Grey;
And lighter themes and laughter cheered the way —
While the wild-elephants in groups stood still,
And wondered at us on their woody hill.
— Here too, sometimes, in more religious mood,
We welcome Smith or Brownlee, grave and good,
Or fervid Read, — to Natives, kneeling round,
Proclaiming the GREAT WORD of glorious sound:
Or, on some Christian mission bravely bent,
Comes Philip with his apostolic tent;
Ingenious Wright, or steadfast Rutherfoord;
With whose enlightened hopes our hearts accord.

And thus, you see, even in my desert-den,
I still hold intercourse with thinking men;
And find fit subjects to engage me too —
For in this wilderness there's work to do;
Some purpose to accomplish for the band
Who left with me their much-loved Father-Land;
Something for the sad Natives of the soil,
By stern oppression doomed to scorn and toil;
Something for Africa to do or say —
If but one mite of Europe's debt to pay —
If but one bitter tear to wipe away.
Yes! here is work, my Friend, if I may ask
Of Heaven to share in such a hallowed task!

But these are topics for more serious talk,
So we'll reserve them for an evening walk.
Fill now a parting glass of generous wine —
The doch-an-dorris cup — for " Auld Lang Syne ";
For my good M — — t summons us to tea,
In her green drawing-room — beneath the tree; —
And lo! Miss Brown has a whole cairn of stones
To pose us with — plants, shells, and fossil bones.

[ Outside the Hut. ]

F. — 'Tis almost sun-set. What a splendid sky!
And hark — the homeward cow-boy's echoing cry
Descending from the mountains. This fair clime
And scene recal the patriarchal time,
When Hebrew herdsmen fed their teeming flocks
By Arnon's meads and Kirjath-Arba's rocks;
And bashful maidens, as the twilight fell,
Bore home their brimming pitchers from the well. —
— But who are these upon the river's brink?

P. — Ha! armed Caffers with the shepherd Flink
In earnest talk? Ay, now I mark their mien;
It is Powana from Zwart-Kei, I ween,
The Amatembu Chief. He comes to pay
A friendly visit, promised many a day;
To view our settlement in Lynden Glen,
And smoke the Pipe of Peace with Scottish men.
And his gay consort, Moya, too attends,
To see " the World" and " Amanglezi friends,"
Her fond heart fluttering high with anxious schemes
To gain the enchanting beads that haunt her dreams!

F. — Yet let us not these simple folk despise;
Just such our sires appeared in Caesar's eyes:
And, in the course of Heaven's evolving plan,
B Y TRUTH MADE FREE , the long-scorned African,
His Maker's image radiant in his face,
Among earth's noblest sons shall find his place.
P. — [ To Flink, the old Hottentot Shepherd, who comes forward. ]

Well, Flink, what says the Chief?

Flink. Powana wagh'
Tot dat de Baas hem binnenshuis zal vraagh'.

P. — [ To F. ] In boorish Dutch which means, " Powana waits
Till Master bid him welcome to our gates."
[ To Flink. ] — We haste to greet him. Let rush mats be spread
On th' cabin-floor. Prepare the Stranger's bed
In the spare hut, — fresh-strewed with fragrant hay.
Let a fat sheep be slaughtered. And, I pray,
Good Flink, for the attendants all provide;
These men dealt well with us at Zwart-Kei side:
Besides, you know, 'tis the Great Guide's command
Kindly to treat the Stranger in our Land.

L'ENVOI

Fairbairn, adieu! I close my idle strain,
And doff wild Fancy's Wishing Cap again,
Whose witchery, o'er ocean's wide expanse,
Triumphant over adverse Circumstance,
From Tyne's far banks has conjured you away,
To spend with me this summer holiday;
Half-realising, as I weave these rhymes,
Our kind companionship in other times,
When, round by Arthur's Seat and Blackford Hill,
Fair Hawthornden and homely Hyvotmill
(With a dear Friend, too early from us turn!)
We roamed untired to eve from early morn.

Those vernal days are gone: and stormy gales
Since then on Life's rough Sea have tossed our sails
Far diverse, — led by Fortune's changeful Star,
From quietude and competence afar.
Yet, Comrade dear! while memory shall last,
Let our leal hearts, aye faithful to the Past,
In frequent interchange of written thought,
Which half the ills of absence sets at nought,
Keep bright the links of Friendship's golden chain,
By living o'er departed days again;
Or meet in Fancy's bower, for ever green,
Though " half the convex globe intrudes between."
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