February 2, 2022 at 11:53 am #6265
In reply to: The Elusive Samuel Housley and Other Family Stories
From Tanganyika with Love
continued ~ part 6
With thanks to Mike Rushby.
Mchewe 6th June 1937
Home again! We had an uneventful journey. Kate was as good as gold all the
way. We stopped for an hour at Bulawayo where we had to change trains but
everything was simplified for me by a very pleasant man whose wife shared my
compartment. Not only did he see me through customs but he installed us in our new
train and his wife turned up to see us off with magazines for me and fruit and sweets for
Kate. Very, very kind, don’t you think?
Kate and I shared the compartment with a very pretty and gentle girl called
Clarice Simpson. She was very worried and upset because she was going home to
Broken Hill in response to a telegram informing her that her young husband was
dangerously ill from Blackwater Fever. She was very helpful with Kate whose
cheerfulness helped Clarice, I think, though I, quite unintentionally was the biggest help
at the end of our journey. Remember the partial dentures I had had made just before
leaving Cape Town? I know I shall never get used to the ghastly things, I’ve had them
two weeks now and they still wobble. Well this day I took them out and wrapped them
in a handkerchief, but when we were packing up to leave the train I could find the
handkerchief but no teeth! We searched high and low until the train had slowed down to
enter Broken Hill station. Then Clarice, lying flat on the floor, spied the teeth in the dark
corner under the bottom bunk. With much stretching she managed to retrieve the
dentures covered in grime and fluff. My look of horror, when I saw them, made young
Clarice laugh. She was met at the station by a very grave elderly couple. I do wonder
how things turned out for her.
I stayed overnight with Kate at the Great Northern Hotel, and we set off for
Mbeya by plane early in the morning. One of our fellow passengers was a young
mother with a three week old baby. How ideas have changed since Ann was born. This
time we had a smooth passage and I was the only passenger to get airsick. Although
there were other women passengers it was a man once again, who came up and
offered to help. Kate went off with him amiably and he entertained her until we touched
down at Mbeya.
George was there to meet us with a wonderful surprise, a little red two seater
Ford car. She is a bit battered and looks a bit odd because the boot has been
converted into a large wooden box for carrying raw salt, but she goes like the wind.
Where did George raise the cash to buy a car? Whilst we were away he found a small
cave full of bat guano near a large cave which is worked by a man called Bob Sargent.
As Sargent did not want any competition he bought the contents of the cave from
George giving him the small car as part payment.
It was lovely to return to our little home and find everything fresh and tidy and the
garden full of colour. But it was heartbreaking to go into the bedroom and see George’s
precious forgotten boots still standing by his empty bed.
With much love,
Mchewe 25th June 1937
Last Friday George took Kate and me in the little red Ford to visit Mr Sargent’s
camp on the Songwe River which cuts the Mbeya-Mbosi road. Mr Sargent bought
Hicky-Wood’s guano deposit and also our small cave and is making a good living out of
selling the bat guano to the coffee farmers in this province. George went to try to interest
him in a guano deposit near Kilwa in the Southern Province. Mr Sargent agreed to pay
25 pounds to cover the cost of the car trip and pegging costs. George will make the trip
to peg the claim and take samples for analysis. If the quality is sufficiently high, George
and Mr Sargent will go into partnership. George will work the claim and ship out the
guano from Kilwa which is on the coast of the Southern Province of Tanganyika. So now
we are busy building castles in the air once more.
On Saturday we went to Mbeya where George had to attend a meeting of the
Trout Association. In the afternoon he played in a cricket match so Kate and I spent the
whole day with the wife of the new Superintendent of Police. They have a very nice
new house with lawns and a sunken rose garden. Kate had a lovely romp with Kit, her
three year old son.
Mrs Wolten also has two daughters by a previous marriage. The elder girl said to
me, “Oh Mrs Rushby your husband is exactly like the strong silent type of man I
expected to see in Africa but he is the only one I have seen. I think he looks exactly like
those men in the ‘Barney’s Tobacco’ advertisements.”
I went home with a huge pile of magazines to keep me entertained whilst
George is away on the Kilwa trip.
Lots of love,
Mchewe 9th July 1937
George returned on Monday from his Kilwa safari. He had an entertaining
tale to tell.
Before he approached Mr Sargent about going shares in the Kilwa guano
deposit he first approached a man on the Lupa who had done very well out of a small
gold reef. This man, however said he was not interested so you can imagine how
indignant George was when he started on his long trip, to find himself being trailed by
this very man and a co-driver in a powerful Ford V8 truck. George stopped his car and
had some heated things to say – awful threats I imagine as to what would happen to
anyone who staked his claim. Then he climbed back into our ancient little two seater and
went off like a bullet driving all day and most of the night. As the others took turns in
driving you can imagine what a feat it was for George to arrive in Kilwa ahead of them.
When they drove into Kilwa he met them with a bright smile and a bit of bluff –
quite justifiable under the circumstances I think. He said, you chaps can have a rest now,
you’re too late.” He then whipped off and pegged the claim. he brought some samples
of guano back but until it has been analysed he will not know whether the guano will be
an economic proposition or not. George is not very hopeful. He says there is a good
deal of sand mixed with the guano and that much of it was damp.
The trip was pretty eventful for Kianda, our houseboy. The little two seater car
had been used by its previous owner for carting bags of course salt from his salt pans.
For this purpose the dicky seat behind the cab had been removed, and a kind of box
built into the boot of the car. George’s camp kit and provisions were packed into this
open box and Kianda perched on top to keep an eye on the belongings. George
travelled so fast on the rough road that at some point during the night Kianda was
bumped off in the middle of the Game Reserve. George did not notice that he was
missing until the next morning. He concluded, quite rightly as it happened, that Kianda
would be picked up by the rival truck so he continued his journey and Kianda rejoined
him at Kilwa.
Believe it or not, the same thing happened on the way back but fortunately this
time George noticed his absence. He stopped the car and had just started back on his
tracks when Kianda came running down the road still clutching the unlighted storm lamp
which he was holding in his hand when he fell. The glass was not even cracked.
We are finding it difficult just now to buy native chickens and eggs. There has
been an epidemic amongst the poultry and one hesitates to eat the survivors. I have a
brine tub in which I preserve our surplus meat but I need the chickens for soup.
I hope George will be home for some months. He has arranged to take a Mr
Blackburn, a wealthy fruit farmer from Elgin, Cape, on a hunting safari during September
and October and that should bring in some much needed cash. Lillian Eustace has
invited Kate and me to spend the whole of October with her in Tukuyu.
I am so glad that you so much enjoy having Ann and George with you. We miss
them dreadfully. Kate is a pretty little girl and such a little madam. You should hear the
imperious way in which she calls the kitchenboy for her meals. “Boy Brekkis, Boy Lunch,
and Boy Eggy!” are her three calls for the day. She knows no Ki-Swahili.
Mchewe 8th October 1937
I am rapidly becoming as superstitious as our African boys. They say the wild
animals always know when George is away from home and come down to have their
revenge on me because he has killed so many.
I am being besieged at night by a most beastly leopard with a half grown cub. I
have grown used to hearing leopards grunt as they hunt in the hills at night but never
before have I had one roaming around literally under the windows. It has been so hot at
night lately that I have been sleeping with my bedroom door open onto the verandah. I
felt quite safe because the natives hereabouts are law-abiding and in any case I always
have a boy armed with a club sleeping in the kitchen just ten yards away. As an added
precaution I also have a loaded .45 calibre revolver on my bedside table, and Fanny
our bullterrier, sleeps on the mat by my bed. I am also looking after Barney, a fine
Airedale dog belonging to the Costers. He slept on a mat by the open bedroom door
near a dimly burning storm lamp.
As usual I went to sleep with an easy mind on Monday night, but was awakened
in the early hours of Tuesday by the sound of a scuffle on the front verandah. The noise
was followed by a scream of pain from Barney. I jumped out of bed and, grabbing the
lamp with my left hand and the revolver in my right, I rushed outside just in time to see
two animal figures roll over the edge of the verandah into the garden below. There they
engaged in a terrific tug of war. Fortunately I was too concerned for Barney to be
nervous. I quickly fired two shots from the revolver, which incidentally makes a noise like
a cannon, and I must have startled the leopard for both animals, still locked together,
disappeared over the edge of the terrace. I fired two more shots and in a few moments
heard the leopard making a hurried exit through the dry leaves which lie thick under the
wild fig tree just beyond the terrace. A few seconds later Barney appeared on the low
terrace wall. I called his name but he made no move to come but stood with hanging
head. In desperation I rushed out, felt blood on my hands when I touched him, so I
picked him up bodily and carried him into the house. As I regained the verandah the boy
appeared, club in hand, having been roused by the shots. He quickly grasped what had
happened when he saw my blood saturated nightie. He fetched a bowl of water and a
clean towel whilst I examined Barney’s wounds. These were severe, the worst being a
gaping wound in his throat. I washed the gashes with a strong solution of pot permang
and I am glad to say they are healing remarkably well though they are bound to leave
scars. Fanny, very prudently, had taken no part in the fighting except for frenzied barking
which she kept up all night. The shots had of course wakened Kate but she seemed
more interested than alarmed and kept saying “Fanny bark bark, Mummy bang bang.
Poor Barney lots of blood.”
In the morning we inspected the tracks in the garden. There was a shallow furrow
on the terrace where Barney and the leopard had dragged each other to and fro and
claw marks on the trunk of the wild fig tree into which the leopard climbed after I fired the
shots. The affair was of course a drama after the Africans’ hearts and several of our
shamba boys called to see me next day to make sympathetic noises and discuss the
I went to bed early that night hoping that the leopard had been scared off for
good but I must confess I shut all windows and doors. Alas for my hopes of a restful
night. I had hardly turned down the lamp when the leopard started its terrifying grunting
just under the bedroom windows. If only she would sniff around quietly I should not
mind, but the noise is ghastly, something like the first sickening notes of a braying
donkey, amplified here by the hills and the gorge which is only a stones throw from the
bedroom. Barney was too sick to bark but Fanny barked loud enough for two and the more
frantic she became the hungrier the leopard sounded. Kate of course woke up and this
time she was frightened though I assured her that the noise was just a donkey having
fun. Neither of us slept until dawn when the leopard returned to the hills. When we
examined the tracks next morning we found that the leopard had been accompanied by
a fair sized cub and that together they had prowled around the house, kitchen, and out
houses, visiting especially the places to which the dogs had been during the day.
As I feel I cannot bear many more of these nights, I am sending a note to the
District Commissioner, Mbeya by the messenger who takes this letter to the post,
asking him to send a game scout or an armed policeman to deal with the leopard.
So don’t worry, for by the time this reaches you I feel sure this particular trouble
will be over.
Mchewe 17th October 1937
More about the leopard I fear! My messenger returned from Mbeya to say that
the District Officer was on safari so he had given the message to the Assistant District
Officer who also apparently left on safari later without bothering to reply to my note, so
there was nothing for me to do but to send for the village Nimrod and his muzzle loader
and offer him a reward if he could frighten away or kill the leopard.
The hunter, Laza, suggested that he should sleep at the house so I went to bed
early leaving Laza and his two pals to make themselves comfortable on the living room
floor by the fire. Laza was armed with a formidable looking muzzle loader, crammed I
imagine with nuts and bolts and old rusty nails. One of his pals had a spear and the other
a panga. This fellow was also in charge of the Petromax pressure lamp whose light was
hidden under a packing case. I left the campaign entirely to Laza’s direction.
As usual the leopard came at midnight stealing down from the direction of the
kitchen and announcing its presence and position with its usual ghastly grunts. Suddenly
pandemonium broke loose on the back verandah. I heard the roar of the muzzle loader
followed by a vigourous tattoo beaten on an empty paraffin tin and I rushed out hoping
to find the dead leopard. however nothing of the kind had happened except that the
noise must have scared the beast because she did not return again that night. Next
morning Laza solemnly informed me that, though he had shot many leopards in his day,
this was no ordinary leopard but a “sheitani” (devil) and that as his gun was no good
against witchcraft he thought he might as well retire from the hunt. Scared I bet, and I
don’t blame him either.
You can imagine my relief when a car rolled up that afternoon bringing Messers
Stewart and Griffiths, two farmers who live about 15 miles away, between here and
Mbeya. They had a note from the Assistant District Officer asking them to help me and
they had come to set up a trap gun in the garden. That night the leopard sniffed all
around the gun and I had the added strain of waiting for the bang and wondering what I
should do if the beast were only wounded. I conjured up horrible visions of the two little
totos trotting up the garden path with the early morning milk and being horribly mauled,
but I needn’t have worried because the leopard was far too wily to be caught that way.
Two more ghastly nights passed and then I had another visitor, a Dr Jackson of
the Tsetse Department on safari in the District. He listened sympathetically to my story
and left his shotgun and some SSG cartridges with me and instructed me to wait until the
leopard was pretty close and blow its b—– head off. It was good of him to leave his
gun. George always says there are three things a man should never lend, ‘His wife, his
gun and his dog.’ (I think in that order!)I felt quite cheered by Dr Jackson’s visit and sent
once again for Laza last night and arranged a real show down. In the afternoon I draped
heavy blankets over the living room windows to shut out the light of the pressure lamp
and the four of us, Laza and his two stooges and I waited up for the leopard. When we
guessed by her grunts that she was somewhere between the kitchen and the back door
we all rushed out, first the boy with the panga and the lamp, next Laza with his muzzle
loader, then me with the shotgun followed closely by the boy with the spear. What a
farce! The lamp was our undoing. We were blinded by the light and did not even
glimpse the leopard which made off with a derisive grunt. Laza said smugly that he knew
it was hopeless to try and now I feel tired and discouraged too.
This morning I sent a runner to Mbeya to order the hotel taxi for tomorrow and I
shall go to friends in Mbeya for a day or two and then on to Tukuyu where I shall stay
with the Eustaces until George returns from Safari.
Mchewe 18th November 1937
My darling Ann,
Here we are back in our own home and how lovely it is to have Daddy back from
safari. Thank you very much for your letter. I hope by now you have got mine telling you
how very much I liked the beautiful tray cloth you made for my birthday. I bet there are
not many little girls of five who can embroider as well as you do, darling. The boy,
Matafari, washes and irons it so carefully and it looks lovely on the tea tray.
Daddy and I had some fun last night. I was in bed and Daddy was undressing
when we heard a funny scratching noise on the roof. I thought it was the leopard. Daddy
quickly loaded his shotgun and ran outside. He had only his shirt on and he looked so
funny. I grabbed the loaded revolver from the cupboard and ran after Dad in my nightie
but after all the rush it was only your cat, Winnie, though I don’t know how she managed
to make such a noise. We felt so silly, we laughed and laughed.
Kate talks a lot now but in such a funny way you would laugh to her her. She
hears the houseboys call me Memsahib so sometimes instead of calling me Mummy
she calls me “Oompaab”. She calls the bedroom a ‘bippon’ and her little behind she
calls her ‘sittendump’. She loves to watch Mandawi’s cattle go home along the path
behind the kitchen. Joseph your donkey, always leads the cows. He has a lazy life now.
I am glad you had such fun on Guy Fawkes Day. You will be sad to leave
Plumstead but I am sure you will like going to England on the big ship with granny Kate.
I expect you will start school when you get to England and I am sure you will find that
God bless my dear little girl. Lots of love from Daddy and Kate,
Mchewe 18th November 1937
Hello George Darling,
Thank you for your lovely drawing of Daddy shooting an elephant. Daddy says
that the only thing is that you have drawn him a bit too handsome.
I went onto the verandah a few minutes ago to pick a banana for Kate from the
bunch hanging there and a big hornet flew out and stung my elbow! There are lots of
them around now and those stinging flies too. Kate wears thick corduroy dungarees so
that she will not get her fat little legs bitten. She is two years old now and is a real little
pickle. She loves running out in the rain so I have ordered a pair of red Wellingtons and a
tiny umbrella from a Nairobi shop for her Christmas present.
Fanny’s puppies have their eyes open now and have very sharp little teeth.
They love to nip each other. We are keeping the fiercest little one whom we call Paddy
but are giving the others to friends. The coffee bushes are full of lovely white flowers
and the bees and ants are very busy stealing their honey.
Yesterday a troop of baboons came down the hill and Dad shot a big one to
scare the others off. They are a nuisance because they steal the maize and potatoes
from the native shambas and then there is not enough food for the totos.
Dad and I are very proud of you for not making a fuss when you went to the
dentist to have that tooth out.
Bye bye, my fine little son.
Three bags full of love from Kate, Dad and Mummy.
Mchewe 12th February, 1938
here is some news that will please you. George has been offered and has
accepted a job as Forester at Mbulu in the Northern Province of Tanganyika. George
would have preferred a job as Game Ranger, but though the Game Warden, Philip
Teare, is most anxious to have him in the Game Department, there is no vacancy at
present. Anyway if one crops up later, George can always transfer from one
Government Department to another. Poor George, he hates the idea of taking a job. He
says that hitherto he has always been his own master and he detests the thought of
being pushed around by anyone.
Now however he has no choice. Our capitol is almost exhausted and the coffee
market shows no signs of improving. With three children and another on the way, he
feels he simply must have a fixed income. I shall be sad to leave this little farm. I love
our little home and we have been so very happy here, but my heart rejoices at the
thought of overseas leave every thirty months. Now we shall be able to fetch Ann and
George from England and in three years time we will all be together in Tanganyika once
There is no sale for farms so we will just shut the house and keep on a very small
labour force just to keep the farm from going derelict. We are eating our hens but will
take our two dogs, Fanny and Paddy with us.
One thing I shall be glad to leave is that leopard. She still comes grunting around
at night but not as badly as she did before. I do not mind at all when George is here but
until George was accepted for this forestry job I was afraid he might go back to the
Diggings and I should once more be left alone to be cursed by the leopard’s attentions.
Knowing how much I dreaded this George was most anxious to shoot the leopard and
for weeks he kept his shotgun and a powerful torch handy at night.
One night last week we woke to hear it grunting near the kitchen. We got up very
quietly and whilst George loaded the shotgun with SSG, I took the torch and got the
heavy revolver from the cupboard. We crept out onto the dark verandah where George
whispered to me to not switch on the torch until he had located the leopard. It was pitch
black outside so all he could do was listen intently. And then of course I spoilt all his
plans. I trod on the dog’s tin bowl and made a terrific clatter! George ordered me to
switch on the light but it was too late and the leopard vanished into the long grass of the
Kalonga, grunting derisively, or so it sounded.
She never comes into the clearing now but grunts from the hillside just above it.
Mbulu 18th March, 1938
Journeys end at last. here we are at Mbulu, installed in our new quarters which are
as different as they possibly could be from our own cosy little home at Mchewe. We
live now, my dears, in one wing of a sort of ‘Beau Geste’ fort but I’ll tell you more about
it in my next letter. We only arrived yesterday and have not had time to look around.
This letter will tell you just about our trip from Mbeya.
We left the farm in our little red Ford two seater with all our portable goods and
chattels plus two native servants and the two dogs. Before driving off, George took one
look at the flattened springs and declared that he would be surprised if we reached
Mbeya without a breakdown and that we would never make Mbulu with the car so
However luck was with us. We reached Mbeya without mishap and at one of the
local garages saw a sturdy used Ford V8 boxbody car for sale. The garage agreed to
take our small car as part payment and George drew on our little remaining capitol for the
rest. We spent that night in the house of the Forest Officer and next morning set out in
comfort for the Northern Province of Tanganyika.
I had done the journey from Dodoma to Mbeya seven years before so was
familiar with the scenery but the road was much improved and the old pole bridges had
been replaced by modern steel ones. Kate was as good as gold all the way. We
avoided hotels and camped by the road and she found this great fun.
The road beyond Dodoma was new to me and very interesting country, flat and
dry and dusty, as little rain falls there. The trees are mostly thorn trees but here and there
one sees a giant baobab, weird trees with fantastically thick trunks and fat squat branches
with meagre foliage. The inhabitants of this area I found interesting though. They are
called Wagogo and are a primitive people who ape the Masai in dress and customs
though they are much inferior to the Masai in physique. They are also great herders of
cattle which, rather surprisingly, appear to thrive in that dry area.
The scenery alters greatly as one nears Babati, which one approaches by a high
escarpment from which one has a wonderful view of the Rift Valley. Babati township
appears to be just a small group of Indian shops and shabby native houses, but I
believe there are some good farms in the area. Though the little township is squalid,
there is a beautiful lake and grand mountains to please the eye. We stopped only long
enough to fill up with petrol and buy some foodstuffs. Beyond Babati there is a tsetse
fly belt and George warned our two native servants to see that no tsetse flies settled on
We stopped for the night in a little rest house on the road about 80 miles from
Arusha where we were to spend a few days with the Forest Officer before going on to
Mbulu. I enjoyed this section of the road very much because it runs across wide plains
which are bounded on the West by the blue mountains of the Rift Valley wall. Here for
the first time I saw the Masai on their home ground guarding their vast herds of cattle. I
also saw their strange primitive hovels called Manyattas, with their thorn walled cattle
bomas and lots of plains game – giraffe, wildebeest, ostriches and antelope. Kate was
wildly excited and entranced with the game especially the giraffe which stood gazing
curiously and unafraid of us, often within a few yards of the road.
Finally we came across the greatest thrill of all, my first view of Mt Meru the extinct
volcano about 16,000 feet high which towers over Arusha township. The approach to
Arusha is through flourishing coffee plantations very different alas from our farm at Mchewe. George says that at Arusha coffee growing is still a paying proposition
because here the yield of berry per acre is much higher than in the Southern highlands
and here in the North the farmers have not such heavy transport costs as the railway runs
from Arusha to the port at Tanga.
We stayed overnight at a rather second rate hotel but the food was good and we
had hot baths and a good nights rest. Next day Tom Lewis the Forest Officer, fetched
us and we spent a few days camping in a tent in the Lewis’ garden having meals at their
home. Both Tom and Lillian Lewis were most friendly. Tom lewis explained to George
what his work in the Mbulu District was to be, and they took us camping in a Forest
Reserve where Lillian and her small son David and Kate and I had a lovely lazy time
amidst beautiful surroundings. Before we left for Mbulu, Lillian took me shopping to buy
material for curtains for our new home. She described the Forest House at Mbulu to me
and it sounded delightful but alas, when we reached Mbulu we discovered that the
Assistant District Officer had moved into the Forest House and we were directed to the
Fort or Boma. The night before we left Arusha for Mbulu it rained very heavily and the
road was very treacherous and slippery due to the surface being of ‘black cotton’ soil
which has the appearance and consistency of chocolate blancmange, after rain. To get to
Mbulu we had to drive back in the direction of Dodoma for some 70 miles and then turn
to the right and drive across plains to the Great Rift Valley Wall. The views from this
escarpment road which climbs this wall are magnificent. At one point one looks down
upon Lake Manyara with its brilliant white beaches of soda.
The drive was a most trying one for George. We had no chains for the wheels
and several times we stuck in the mud and our two houseboys had to put grass and
branches under the wheels to stop them from spinning. Quite early on in the afternoon
George gave up all hope of reaching Mbulu that day and planned to spend the night in
a little bush rest camp at Karatu. However at one point it looked as though we would not
even reach this resthouse for late afternoon found us properly bogged down in a mess
of mud at the bottom of a long and very steep hill. In spite of frantic efforts on the part of
George and the two boys, all now very wet and muddy, the heavy car remained stuck.
Suddenly five Masai men appeared through the bushes beside the road. They
were all tall and angular and rather terrifying looking to me. Each wore only a blanket
knotted over one shoulder and all were armed with spears. They lined up by the side of
the road and just looked – not hostile but simply aloof and supercilious. George greeted
them and said in Ki-Swahili, “Help to push and I will reward you.” But they said nothing,
just drawing back imperceptibly to register disgust at the mere idea of manual labour.
Their expressions said quite clearly “A Masai is a warrior and does not soil his hands.”
George then did something which startled them I think, as much as me. He
plucked their spears from their hands one by one and flung them into the back of the
boxbody. “Now push!” he said, “And when we are safely out of the mud you shall have
your spears back.” To my utter astonishment the Masai seemed to applaud George’s
action. I think they admire courage in a man more than anything else. They pushed with a
will and soon we were roaring up the long steep slope. “I can’t stop here” quoth George
as up and up we went. The Masai were in mad pursuit with their blankets streaming
behind. They took a very steep path which was a shortcut to the top. They are certainly
amazing athletes and reached the top at the same time as the car. Their route of course
was shorter but much more steep, yet they came up without any sign of fatigue to claim
their spears and the money which George handed out with a friendly grin. The Masai
took the whole episode in good heart and we parted on the most friendly terms.
After a rather chilly night in the three walled shack, we started on the last lap of our
journey yesterday morning in bright weather and made the trip to Mbulu without incident.
Mbulu 24th March, 1938
Mbulu is an attractive station but living in this rather romantic looking fort has many
disadvantages. Our quarters make up one side of the fort which is built up around a
hollow square. The buildings are single storied but very tall in the German manner and
there is a tower on one corner from which the Union Jack flies. The tower room is our
sitting room, and one has very fine views from the windows of the rolling country side.
However to reach this room one has to climb a steep flight of cement steps from the
court yard. Another disadvantage of this tower room is that there is a swarm of bees in
the roof and the stray ones drift down through holes in the ceiling and buzz angrily
against the window panes or fly around in a most menacing manner.
Ours are the only private quarters in the Fort. Two other sides of the Fort are
used as offices, storerooms and court room and the fourth side is simply a thick wall with
battlements and loopholes and a huge iron shod double door of enormous thickness
which is always barred at sunset when the flag is hauled down. Two Police Askari always
remain in the Fort on guard at night. The effect from outside the whitewashed fort is very
romantic but inside it is hardly homely and how I miss my garden at Mchewe and the
grass and trees.
We have no privacy downstairs because our windows overlook the bare
courtyard which is filled with Africans patiently waiting to be admitted to the courtroom as
witnesses or spectators. The outside windows which overlook the valley are heavily
barred. I can only think that the Germans who built this fort must have been very scared
of the local natives.
Our rooms are hardly cosy and are furnished with typical heavy German pieces.
We have a vast bleak bedroom, a dining room and an enormous gloomy kitchen in
which meals for the German garrison were cooked. At night this kitchen is alive with
gigantic rats but fortunately they do not seem to care for the other rooms. To crown
everything owls hoot and screech at night on the roof.
On our first day here I wandered outside the fort walls with Kate and came upon a
neatly fenced plot enclosing the graves of about fifteen South African soldiers killed by
the Germans in the 1914-18 war. I understand that at least one of theses soldiers died in
the courtyard here. The story goes, that during the period in the Great War when this fort
was occupied by a troop of South African Horse, a German named Siedtendorf
appeared at the great barred door at night and asked to speak to the officer in command
of the Troop. The officer complied with this request and the small shutter in the door was
opened so that he could speak with the German. The German, however, had not come
to speak. When he saw the exposed face of the officer, he fired, killing him, and
escaped into the dark night. I had this tale on good authority but cannot vouch for it. I do
know though, that there are two bullet holes in the door beside the shutter. An unhappy
story to think about when George is away, as he is now, and the moonlight throws queer
shadows in the court yard and the owls hoot.
However though I find our quarters depressing, I like Mbulu itself very much. It is
rolling country, treeless except for the plantations of the Forestry Dept. The land is very
fertile in the watered valleys but the grass on hills and plains is cropped to the roots by
the far too numerous cattle and goats. There are very few Europeans on the station, only
Mr Duncan, the District Officer, whose wife and children recently left for England, the
Assistant District Officer and his wife, a bachelor Veterinary Officer, a Road Foreman and
ourselves, and down in the village a German with an American wife and an elderly
Irishman whom I have not met. The Government officials have a communal vegetable
garden in the valley below the fort which keeps us well supplied with green stuff.
Most afternoons George, Kate and I go for walks after tea. On Fridays there is a
little ceremony here outside the fort. In the late afternoon a little procession of small
native schoolboys, headed by a drum and penny whistle band come marching up the
road to a tune which sounds like ‘Two lovely black eyes”. They form up below our tower
and as the flag is lowered for the day they play ‘God save the King’, and then march off
again. It is quite a cheerful little ceremony.
The local Africans are a skinny lot and, I should say, a poor tribe. They protect
themselves against the cold by wrapping themselves in cotton blankets or a strip of
unbleached sheeting. This they drape over their heads, almost covering their faces and
the rest is wrapped closely round their bodies in the manner of a shroud. A most
depressing fashion. They live in very primitive comfortless houses. They simply make a
hollow in the hillside and build a front wall of wattle and daub. Into this rude shelter at night
go cattle and goats, men, women, and children.
Mbulu village has the usual mud brick and wattle dukas and wattle and daub
houses. The chief trader is a Goan who keeps a surprisingly good variety of tinned
foodstuffs and also sells hardware and soft goods.
The Europeans here have been friendly but as you will have noted there are
only two other women on station and no children at all to be companions for Kate.
Mbulu 20th June 1938
Here we are on Safari with George at Babati where we are occupying a rest
house on the slopes of Ufiome Mountain. The slopes are a Forest Reserve and
George is supervising the clearing of firebreaks in preparation for the dry weather. He
goes off after a very early breakfast and returns home in the late afternoon so Kate and I
have long lazy days.
Babati is a pleasant spot and the resthouse is quite comfortable. It is about a mile
from the village which is just the usual collection of small mud brick and corrugated iron
Indian Dukas. There are a few settlers in the area growing coffee, or going in for mixed
farming but I don’t think they are doing very well. The farm adjoining the rest house is
owned by Lord Lovelace but is run by a manager.
George says he gets enough exercise clambering about all day on the mountain,
so Kate and I do our walking in the mornings when George is busy, and we all relax in
the evenings when George returns from his field work. Kate’s favourite walk is to the big
block of mtama (sorghum) shambas lower down the hill. There are huge swarms of tiny
grain eating birds around waiting the chance to plunder the mtama, so the crops are
watched from sunrise to sunset.
Crude observation platforms have been erected for this purpose in the centre of
each field and the women and the young boys of the family concerned, take it in turn to
occupy the platform and scare the birds. Each watcher has a sling and uses clods of
earth for ammunition. The clod is placed in the centre of the sling which is then whirled
around at arms length. Suddenly one end of the sling is released and the clod of earth
flies out and shatters against the mtama stalks. The sling makes a loud whip like crack and
the noise is quite startling and very effective in keeping the birds at a safe distance.
Karatu 3rd July 1938
Still on safari you see! We left Babati ten days ago and passed through Mbulu
on our way to this spot. We slept out of doors one night beside Lake Tiawa about eight
miles from Mbulu. It was a peaceful spot and we enjoyed watching the reflection of the
sunset on the lake and the waterhens and duck and pelicans settling down for the night.
However it turned piercingly cold after sunset so we had an early supper and then all
three of us lay down to sleep in the back of the boxbody (station wagon). It was a tight
fit and a real case of ‘When Dad turns, we all turn.’
Here at Karatu we are living in a grass hut with only three walls. It is rather sweet
and looks like the setting for a Nativity Play. Kate and I share the only camp bed and
George and the dogs sleep on the floor. The air here is very fresh and exhilarating and
we all feel very fit. George is occupied all day supervising the cutting of firebreaks
around existing plantations and the forest reserve of indigenous trees. Our camp is on
the hillside and below us lie the fertile wheat lands of European farmers.
They are mostly Afrikaners, the descendants of the Boer families who were
invited by the Germans to settle here after the Boer War. Most of them are pro-British
now and a few have called in here to chat to George about big game hunting. George
gets on extremely well with them and recently attended a wedding where he had a
lively time dancing at the reception. He likes the older people best as most are great
individualists. One fine old man, surnamed von Rooyen, visited our camp. He is a Boer
of the General Smuts type with spare figure and bearded face. George tells me he is a
real patriarch with an enormous family – mainly sons. This old farmer fought against the
British throughout the Boer War under General Smuts and again against the British in the
German East Africa campaign when he was a scout and right hand man to Von Lettow. It
is said that Von Lettow was able to stay in the field until the end of the Great War
because he listened to the advise given to him by von Rooyen. However his dislike for
the British does not extend to George as they have a mutual interest in big game
Kate loves being on safari. She is now so accustomed to having me as her nurse
and constant companion that I do not know how she will react to paid help. I shall have to
get someone to look after her during my confinement in the little German Red Cross
hospital at Oldeani.
George has obtained permission from the District Commissioner, for Kate and
me to occupy the Government Rest House at Oldeani from the end of July until the end
of August when my baby is due. He will have to carry on with his field work but will join
us at weekends whenever possible.
Karatu 12th July 1938
Not long now before we leave this camp. We have greatly enjoyed our stay
here in spite of the very chilly earl mornings and the nights when we sit around in heavy
overcoats until our early bed time.
Last Sunday I persuaded George to take Kate and me to the famous Ngoro-
Ngoro Crater. He was not very keen to do so because the road is very bumpy for
anyone in my interesting condition but I feel so fit that I was most anxious to take this
opportunity of seeing the enormous crater. We may never be in this vicinity again and in
any case safari will not be so simple with a small baby.
What a wonderful trip it was! The road winds up a steep escarpment from which
one gets a glorious birds eye view of the plains of the Great Rift Valley far, far below.
The crater is immense. There is a road which skirts the rim in places and one has quite
startling views of the floor of the crater about two thousand feet below.
A camp for tourists has just been built in a clearing in the virgin forest. It is most
picturesque as the camp buildings are very neatly constructed log cabins with very high
pitched thatched roofs. We spent about an hour sitting on the grass near the edge of the
crater enjoying the sunshine and the sharp air and really awe inspiring view. Far below us
in the middle of the crater was a small lake and we could see large herds of game
animals grazing there but they were too far away to be impressive, even seen through
George’s field glasses. Most appeared to be wildebeest and zebra but I also picked
out buffalo. Much more exciting was my first close view of a wild elephant. George
pointed him out to me as we approached the rest camp on the inward journey. He
stood quietly under a tree near the road and did not seem to be disturbed by the car
though he rolled a wary eye in our direction. On our return journey we saw him again at
almost uncomfortably close quarters. We rounded a sharp corner and there stood the
elephant, facing us and slap in the middle of the road. He was busily engaged giving
himself a dust bath but spared time to give us an irritable look. Fortunately we were on a
slight slope so George quickly switched off the engine and backed the car quietly round
the corner. He got out of the car and loaded his rifle, just in case! But after he had finished
his toilet the elephant moved off the road and we took our chance and passed without
One notices the steepness of the Ngoro-Ngoro road more on the downward
journey than on the way up. The road is cut into the side of the mountain so that one has
a steep slope on one hand and a sheer drop on the other. George told me that a lorry
coming down the mountain was once charged from behind by a rhino. On feeling and
hearing the bash from behind the panic stricken driver drove off down the mountain as
fast as he dared and never paused until he reached level ground at the bottom of the
mountain. There was no sign of the rhino so the driver got out to examine his lorry and
found the rhino horn embedded in the wooden tail end of the lorry. The horn had been
wrenched right off!
Happily no excitement of that kind happened to us. I have yet to see a rhino.
Oldeani. 19th July 1938
Greetings from a lady in waiting! Kate and I have settled down comfortably in the
new, solidly built Government Rest House which comprises one large living room and
one large office with a connecting door. Outside there is a kitchen and a boys quarter.
There are no resident Government officials here at Oldeani so the office is in use only
when the District Officer from Mbulu makes his monthly visit. However a large Union
Jack flies from a flagpole in the front of the building as a gentle reminder to the entirely
German population of Oldeani that Tanganyika is now under British rule.
There is quite a large community of German settlers here, most of whom are
engaged in coffee farming. George has visited several of the farms in connection with his
forestry work and says the coffee plantations look very promising indeed. There are also
a few German traders in the village and there is a large boarding school for German
children and also a very pleasant little hospital where I have arranged to have the baby.
Right next door to the Rest House is a General Dealers Store run by a couple named
Schnabbe. The shop is stocked with drapery, hardware, china and foodstuffs all
imported from Germany and of very good quality. The Schnabbes also sell local farm
produce, beautiful fresh vegetables, eggs and pure rich milk and farm butter. Our meat
comes from a German butchery and it is a great treat to get clean, well cut meat. The
sausages also are marvellous and in great variety.
The butcher is an entertaining character. When he called round looking for custom I
expected him to break out in a yodel any minute, as it was obvious from a glance that
the Alps are his natural background. From under a green Tyrollean hat with feather,
blooms a round beefy face with sparkling small eyes and such widely spaced teeth that
one inevitably thinks of a garden rake. Enormous beefy thighs bulge from greasy
lederhosen which are supported by the traditional embroidered braces. So far the
butcher is the only cheery German, male or female, whom I have seen, and I have met
most of the locals at the Schnabbe’s shop. Most of the men seem to have cultivated
the grim Hitler look. They are all fanatical Nazis and one is usually greeted by a raised
hand and Heil Hitler! All very theatrical. I always feel like crying in ringing tones ‘God
Save the King’ or even ‘St George for England’. However the men are all very correct
and courteous and the women friendly. The women all admire Kate and cry, “Ag, das
kleine Englander.” She really is a picture with her rosy cheeks and huge grey eyes and
golden curls. Kate is having a wonderful time playing with Manfried, the Scnabbe’s small
son. Neither understands a word said by the other but that doesn’t seem to worry them.
Before he left on safari, George took me to hospital for an examination by the
nurse, Sister Marianne. She has not been long in the country and knows very little
English but is determined to learn and carried on an animated, if rather quaint,
conversation with frequent references to a pocket dictionary. She says I am not to worry
because there is not doctor here. She is a very experienced midwife and anyway in an
emergency could call on the old retired Veterinary Surgeon for assistance.
I asked sister Marianne whether she knew of any German woman or girl who
would look after Kate whilst I am in hospital and today a very top drawer German,
bearing a strong likeness to ‘Little Willie’, called and offered the services of his niece who
is here on a visit from Germany. I was rather taken aback and said, “Oh no Baron, your
niece would not be the type I had in mind. I’m afraid I cannot pay much for a companion.”
However the Baron was not to be discouraged. He told me that his niece is seventeen
but looks twenty, that she is well educated and will make a cheerful companion. Her
father wishes her to learn to speak English fluently and that is why the Baron wished her
to come to me as a house daughter. As to pay, a couple of pounds a month for pocket
money and her keep was all he had in mind. So with some misgivings I agreed to take
the niece on as a companion as from 1st August.
Oldeani. 10th August 1938
Never a dull moment since my young companion arrived. She is a striking looking
girl with a tall boyish figure and very short and very fine dark hair which she wears
severely slicked back. She wears tweeds, no make up but has shiny rosy cheeks and
perfect teeth – she also,inevitably, has a man friend and I have an uncomfortable
suspicion that it is because of him that she was planted upon me. Upon second
thoughts though, maybe it was because of her excessive vitality, or even because of
her healthy appetite! The Baroness, I hear is in poor health and I can imagine that such
abundant health and spirit must have been quite overpowering. The name is Ingeborg,
but she is called Mouche, which I believe means Mouse. Someone in her family must
have a sense of humour.
Her English only needed practice and she now chatters fluently so that I know her
background and views on life. Mouche’s father is a personal friend of Goering. He was
once a big noise in the German Airforce but is now connected with the car industry and
travels frequently and intensively in Europe and America on business. Mouche showed
me some snap shots of her family and I must say they look prosperous and charming.
Mouche tells me that her father wants her to learn to speak English fluently so that
she can get a job with some British diplomat in Cairo. I had immediate thought that I
might be nursing a future Mata Hari in my bosom, but this was immediately extinguished
when Mouche remarked that her father would like her to marry an Englishman. However
it seems that the mere idea revolts her. “Englishmen are degenerates who swill whisky
all day.” I pointed out that she had met George, who was a true blue Englishman, but
was nevertheless a fine physical specimen and certainly didn’t drink all day. Mouche
replied that George is not an Englishman but a hunter, as though that set him apart.
Mouche is an ardent Hitler fan and an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth
Movement. The house resounds with Hitler youth songs and when she is not singing,
her gramophone is playing very stirring marching songs. I cannot understand a word,
which is perhaps as well. Every day she does the most strenuous exercises watched
with envy by me as my proportions are now those of a circus Big Top. Mouche eats a
fantastic amount of meat and I feel it is a blessing that she is much admired by our
Tyrollean butcher who now delivers our meat in person and adds as a token of his
admiration some extra sausages for Mouche.
I must confess I find her stimulating company as George is on safari most of the
time and my evenings otherwise would be lonely. I am a little worried though about
leaving Kate here with Mouche when I go to hospital. The dogs and Kate have not taken
to her. I am trying to prepare Kate for the separation but she says, “She’s not my
mummy. You are my dear mummy, and I want you, I want you.” George has got
permission from the Provincial Forestry Officer to spend the last week of August here at
the Rest House with me and I only hope that the baby will be born during that time.
Kate adores her dad and will be perfectly happy to remain here with him.
One final paragraph about Mouche. I thought all German girls were domesticated
but not Mouche. I have Kesho-Kutwa here with me as cook and I have engaged a local
boy to do the laundry. I however expected Mouche would take over making the
puddings and pastry but she informed me that she can only bake a chocolate cake and
absolutely nothing else. She said brightly however that she would do the mending. As
there is none for her to do, she has rescued a large worn handkerchief of George’s and
sits with her feet up listening to stirring gramophone records whilst she mends the
handkerchief with exquisite darning.
Oldeani. 20th August 1938
Just after I had posted my last letter I received what George calls a demi official
letter from the District Officer informing me that I would have to move out of the Rest
House for a few days as the Governor and his hangers on would be visiting Oldeani
and would require the Rest House. Fortunately George happened to be here for a few
hours and he arranged for Kate and Mouche and me to spend a few days at the
German School as borders. So here I am at the school having a pleasant and restful
time and much entertained by all the goings on.
The school buildings were built with funds from Germany and the school is run on
the lines of a contemporary German school. I think the school gets a grant from the
Tanganyika Government towards running expenses, but I am not sure. The school hall is
dominated by a more than life sized oil painting of Adolf Hitler which, at present, is
flanked on one side by the German Flag and on the other by the Union Jack. I cannot
help feeling that the latter was put up today for the Governor’s visit today.
The teachers are very amiable. We all meet at mealtimes, and though few of the
teachers speak English, the ones who do are anxious to chatter. The headmaster is a
scholarly man but obviously anti-British. He says he cannot understand why so many
South Africans are loyal to Britain – or rather to England. “They conquered your country
didn’t they?” I said that that had never occurred to me and that anyway I was mainly of
Scots descent and that loyalty to the crown was natural to me. “But the English
conquered the Scots and yet you are loyal to England. That I cannot understand.” “Well I
love England,” said I firmly, ”and so do all British South Africans.” Since then we have
stuck to English literature. Shakespeare, Lord Byron and Galsworthy seem to be the
favourites and all, thank goodness, make safe topics for conversation.
Mouche is in her element but Kate and I do not enjoy the food which is typically
German and consists largely of masses of fat pork and sauerkraut and unfamiliar soups. I
feel sure that the soup at lunch today had blobs of lemon curd in it! I also find most
disconcerting the way that everyone looks at me and says, “Bon appetite”, with much
smiling and nodding so I have to fight down my nausea and make a show of enjoying
The teacher whose room adjoins mine is a pleasant woman and I take my
afternoon tea with her. She, like all the teachers, has a large framed photo of Hitler on her
wall flanked by bracket vases of fresh flowers. One simply can’t get away from the man!
Even in the dormitories each child has a picture of Hitler above the bed. Hitler accepting
flowers from a small girl, or patting a small boy on the head. Even the children use the
greeting ‘Heil Hitler’. These German children seem unnaturally prim when compared with
my cheerful ex-pupils in South Africa but some of them are certainly very lovely to look
Tomorrow Mouche, Kate and I return to our quarters in the Rest House and in a
few days George will join us for a week.
Oldeani Hospital. 9th September 1938
You will all be delighted to hear that we have a second son, whom we have
named John. He is a darling, so quaint and good. He looks just like a little old man with a
high bald forehead fringed around the edges with a light brown fluff. George and I call
him Johnny Jo because he has a tiny round mouth and a rather big nose and reminds us
of A.A.Milne’s ‘Jonathan Jo has a mouth like an O’ , but Kate calls him, ‘My brother John’.
George was not here when he was born on September 5th, just two minutes
before midnight. He left on safari on the morning of the 4th and, of course, that very night
the labour pains started. Fortunately Kate was in bed asleep so Mouche walked with
me up the hill to the hospital where I was cheerfully received by Sister Marianne who
had everything ready for the confinement. I was lucky to have such an experienced
midwife because this was a breech birth and sister had to manage single handed. As
there was no doctor present I was not allowed even a sniff of anaesthetic. Sister slaved
away by the light of a pressure lamp endeavouring to turn the baby having first shoved
an inverted baby bath under my hips to raise them.
What a performance! Sister Marianne was very much afraid that she might not be
able to save the baby and great was our relief when at last she managed to haul him out
by the feet. One slap and the baby began to cry without any further attention so Sister
wrapped him up in a blanket and took Johnny to her room for the night. I got very little
sleep but was so thankful to have the ordeal over that I did not mind even though I
heard a hyaena cackling and calling under my window in a most evil way.
When Sister brought Johnny to me in the early morning I stared in astonishment.
Instead of dressing him in one of his soft Viyella nighties, she had dressed him in a short
sleeved vest of knitted cotton with a cotton cloth swayed around his waist sarong
fashion. When I protested, “But Sister why is the baby not dressed in his own clothes?”
She answered firmly, “I find it is not allowed. A baby’s clotheses must be boiled and I
cannot boil clotheses of wool therefore your baby must wear the clotheses of the Red
It was the same with the bedding. Poor Johnny lies all day in a deep wicker
basket with a detachable calico lining. There is no pillow under his head but a vast kind of
calico covered pillow is his only covering. There is nothing at all cosy and soft round my
poor baby. I said crossly to the Sister, “As every thing must be so sterile, I wonder you
don’t boil me too.” This she ignored.
When my message reached George he dashed back to visit us. Sister took him
first to see the baby and George was astonished to see the baby basket covered by a
sheet. “She has the poor little kid covered up like a bloody parrot,” he told me. So I
asked him to go at once to buy a square of mosquito netting to replace the sheet.
Kate is quite a problem. She behaves like an Angel when she is here in my
room but is rebellious when Sister shoos her out. She says she “Hates the Nanny”
which is what she calls Mouche. Unfortunately it seems that she woke before midnight
on the night Johnny Jo was born to find me gone and Mouche in my bed. According to
Mouche, Kate wept all night and certainly when she visited me in the early morning
Kate’s face was puffy with crying and she clung to me crying “Oh my dear mummy, why
did you go away?” over and over again. Sister Marianne was touched and suggested
that Mouche and Kate should come to the hospital as boarders as I am the only patient
at present and there is plenty of room. Luckily Kate does not seem at all jealous of the
baby and it is a great relief to have here here under my eye.
Clara had an uneasy feeling which, try as she might, she could not shake it off. She attempted to distract herself by making a sandwich for lunch, but the feeling wouldn’t go away. She went outside to look for Bob, eventually finding him chatting away to himself out in the orchard. It sounded like he was arguing with someone.
Bob jumped. “Didn’t see you there, Clara!” He laughed shakily. “What are you doing sneaking up on me like that? It’s not good for me old heart.”
“Grandpa, I need to go and find Nora. I’ve got a bad feeling, like she’s in some sort of trouble.”
“Go and find her? Do you know where she is then? Has she been in touch?”
“I need to go to the Village. Where the statue man lives.”
“Well you’re not going by yourself. Not with all these strange goings ons and the numerous bits of paper and maps and whatnot which keep turning up all over the place.”
“The same thing happened to me when I was planting trees in Normandy!” Nora laughed.
“Why am I not surprised,” replied Will with a smile.
It did seem to Nora that Will was less surprised that she was at all the similarities in their stories. The way the little anecdotes would bounce back and forth and spark another memory, and another, how many of them were unaccountably bizarre or unusual incidents, was enchanting to Nora. Spellbound and quite giddy with the delight of it. Will, on the other hand, seemed delighted but in a different kind of way.
Nora noticed, but didn’t think any more of it until much later. The ping pong stories continued apace, and she was was gasping for breath by the end of a somewhat longer story, as they made the final ascent to the top of the hill.
“This is what I wanted to show you,” Will said.
Damn these municipal restrictions! Frustrated, Nora looked again at the photo of the inscriptions on the mysterious pear shaped box that Clara had found. She picked up a pen and copied the symbols onto a piece of paper. Glancing back over the message her friend had sent, her face softened at Clara’s pet name for her, Alienor. Clara had started called her that years ago, when she found out about the ouija board incident and the aliens Nora had been talking to. Was it really an alien, or….? Clara had asked, and Nora had laughed and said Of course it was an alien or! and the name had stuck.
Nora’s mood had changed with the reminiscence, and she had an idea. She was working from home, but all that really meant was that she had to have internet access. Nobody would have to know which home she was working from, if she could just make it past the town barriers. But she didn’t have to go by road: the barriers were only on the roads. There was nothing stopping her walking cross country.
Putting aside the paper with the symbols on, she perused a map. She had to cross three town boundaries, and by road it was quite a distance. But as the crow flies, not that far. And if she took the old smugglers track, it was surprisingly direct. Nora calculated the distance: forty nine kilometers. Frowning, she wondered if she could walk that distance in a single day and thought it unlikely. Three days more like, but maybe she could do it in two, at a push. That would mean one overnight stay somewhere. What a pity it was so cold! It would mean carrying a warm sleeping bag, and she hated carrying things.
Nora looked at the map again, and found the halfway point: it was a tiny hamlet. A perfect place to spend the night. If only she knew someone who lived there, somebody who wouldn’t object to her breaking the restrictions.
Nora yawned. It was late. She would finalize the plan tomorrow, but first she sent a message to Clara, asking her if she knew anyone in the little village.
“But I can’t stand bloody opera singing,” Tara whispered back, “It’ll drive me mad. When they said he had a melodious voice I was expecting something more modern than this ancient caterwauling.”
“Do you want to solve this case or not?”
“Oh alright then,” Tara said grudgingly. “But your thinking better be good!” She clapped loudly and whistled. “More! More!” she shouted, stamping her feet. The assorted middle aged ladies joined in the applause.
“Yeah, you had to listen to opera with him, poor thing, but he did tip well.”
“Well, he told me a lot about opera. I thought it was a waste of time knowing all that useless old stuff, but listen: this song what he’s singing now, he’s singing this on purpose. It’s a clue, you see, to Uncle Basil and why Vince wants to find him.”
“Go on,” whispered Tara.
“Wasn’t that obvious from the start?”
“Well yes, but we got very cleverly sidetracked with all these middle aged ladies and that wardrobe! This is where the mule comes in.”
“Shh! Keep your voice down! It’s not the same kind of mule as in the opera, these middle aged ladies are trafficking mules!”
“Oh well that would make sense, they’d be perfect. Nobody suspects middle aged ladies. But what are they trafficking, and why are they all here?”
“They’re here to keep us from finding out the truth with all these silly sidetracks and distractions. And we’ve stupidly let ourselves be led astray from the real case.”
“What’s the real case, then?”
“How do you know that for sure?” asked Tara.
“I don’t know for sure, but this is the theory. Once we have a theory, we can prove it. Now, about that wardrobe. We mustn’t let them take it away. No matter what story they come up with, that wardrobe stays where it is, in our office.”
“But why? It’s taking up space and it doesn’t go with the clean modern style. And people keep getting locked inside it, it’s a death trap.”
“That’s what they want you to think! That it’s just another ghastly old wardrobe! But it’s how they smuggle the stuff!”
“What stuff are they smuggling? Drugs? That doesn’t explain what it’s doing in our office, though.”
“Well, I had an interesting intuition about that. You know that modified carrot story they tried to palm us off with? Well I reckon it’s vaccines. They had to come up with a way to vaccinate the anti vaxxers, so they made this batch of vaccines hidden in hallucinogenic carrots. They’re touting the carrots as a new age spiritual vibration enhancing wake up drug, and the anti vaxxers will flock to it in droves.”
“Surely if they’re so worried about the ingredients in vaccines, they won’t just take any old illegal drug off the street?”
Tara smiled ruefully. “Yeah, I guess that was a silly thing to say. But now I’m confused. Whose side are we on? Surely the carrot vaccine is a good idea? Are we trying to stop them or what? And what is Vince up to? Falsifying a will?” Tara frowned, puzzled. “Whose side are we on?” she repeated.
“But what if the client is morally bankrupt? What if it goes against our guidelines?”
“Guidelines don’t come into it when you’re financially bankrupt!” Star snapped. “Hey, where has everyone gone?”
“They said they had to pick up a wardrobe,” said the waitress. “Shall I bring you the bill? They all left without paying, they said you were treating them.”
“Will you look at these prices!” exclaimed one of the middle aged ladies.
Privately, Tara called them the miserable old bag and the crazy old witch, or Mob and Cow for ease of reference. Anyway, it was Mob who was banging on about the prices.
“Feel free to take yourself somewhere cheaper to eat,” she snarled.
“Oh, no, that’s okay, as long as you’re happy paying these outrageous prices.”
Cow cackled. “I’ve not eaten for a month so bugger the prices! Not that I need to eat, airs good enough for me seeing as I have special powers. Still, a raspberry bun wouldn’t go amiss. Thank you, Ladies!”
“Sorry, I were trying to help,” she said with a shrug.
Tara scanned the room. The only other people in the cafe were an elderly gentleman reading the newspaper and a bedraggled mother with two noisy snot-bags in tow. Tara shuddered and turned her attention to the elderly man. “Those deep wrinkles and wasted muscles look genuine,” she whispered to Star. “There’s nobody here who could possibly be Vince French. I’m going to go and keep watch by the door.”
“Good thinking,” said Star, after covertly checking her Lemoon quote of the day app on her phone; she realised uneasily she was increasingly relying on it for guidance. “There’s a sunny seat over there; I’ll grab a coffee and look inconspicuous by doing nothing. I don’t want to blow our cover.”
Tara glared at her. “I saw you checking your app! What did the oracle say?”
“Oh, just some crazy stuff.” She laughed nervously. “There is some kind of peace in not feelign like there’s anythign to do.”
“Well that’s not going to get us far, is it now?”
“Wait!” said Star. “Have we unwittingly stumbled upon a secret meeting of the bellbird cult?”
The bouncer laughed. “Not exactly a secret meeting. It’s more of our monthly get-together. We have drinks and what-not and a bit of a sing-song”
“Sound great! Where do I sign up?” asked Tara, mesmerised by the burly bouncer’s biceps.
Tara sneered at the obvious lie. “Then why did you run? Huh?”
“If you must know, and it appears you must, I believe I saw him.” She pointed to the entrance. “He was wearing a disguise of course. When he saw me, he ran, clearly fearing I would see through his disguise and reveal to the world that he is not in a coma.”
Star scratched her head. “I see,” she said.
“So much for New Zealand and your remote viewing skills,” sneered Tara.
April shook her head. “Those are questions only Vincent French can answer.”
“Going around in circles a bit, aren’t you?” said BB with a kindly smile. “Cheer up! Look around you! Beauty is everywhere and drinks are on the house!”DevanParticipant
Working at the gas station gave me the possibility to not only be confined at home but also at work. At least I could enjoy the transit between places, that’s what I told me everyday. And better go to work than turn around all day in the studio I rented since I left the Inn.
You can’t imagine how many people need gas during the confinement. It looks like in this part of the country people don’t have as many dogs as them in the big cities, so they do all sorts of crazy things to be able to get out.
A man came to the station this morning. I’m sure it was to give the equivalent of a walk to his brand new red GMC Canyon, you know, treating his car like she needed fresh air and to get some exercise regularly. From behind the makeshift window made of transparent wrapper, I asked him how was his day. You know, to be polite. He showed me the back of his truck. I swear there was a cage with two dingos in it.
The guy told me he captured them the other day in case the cops stopped him in the street with no reason to be out. At least, he said, I could still say I’m giving them a walk. I told him them being in a cage would hardly pass as a walk but he answered me with a wink and a big grin that cops weren’t that intelligent. I’m glad we have makeshift windows now, at least seeing his teeth I didn’t have to smell his breath. I’m not sure who’s the less intelligent in absolute terms, but in that case I’d rather bet his IQ would fail him.
Well that’s probably the most exciting thing that happened before I went home after work. As soon as I got home I received a phone call from Prune. On the landline. It’s like she has some magical means to know when I’m there.
Anyway, she asked me if I washed my hand. I told her yes, though I honestly don’t recall. But I have to make her think all is ok. She started to talk again about Jasper. Each time she mention the subject I’m a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure I fancy having a brother, even if it’s kind of being in a TV series. She said she had looked for him on internet, contacted some adoption agencies, even tried a private called Dick. That’s all that I remember of the private’s name. Dick, maybe that’s because he never answered her calls. Might be dead of the pandamic I told her. PandEmic, She corrected. I know, I told her, I said that to cheer you up.
We talked about Mater too. That made me laugh. Apparently Idle saw her in a fuschia pink leotard. Prune half laughed herself when she mentioned the leotard, but she said : Truth is I don’t know what Dido had taken when she had seen Mater outside. I suspect the om chanting was simply snoring.
There was a silence afterward. Maybe Prune was thinking about age and the meaning of life, I was merely realising I was hungry. I swear I don’t know what crossed my mind. I have a tendency to want to help my sister even if I think there is no hope. You know, I told her, about Jasper we could still go and ask that woman in the bush. It’s like she already knew what I was going to say. Tiku? I knew by her tone that all the conversation was fated to lead there. Yeah. I can drive you there after work tomorrow.
Of course, we didn’t even have to go there after all.
The latex rompers were shaping her old body in a way she quite enjoyed. It was like being back in her… she counted on her fingers to be sure. To be even surer she counted twice. Yes! It was like being back in the sixties, especially with the choice of colours that had been made by whomever had made the rompers. Her silhouette looked gorgeous, if you didn’t pay too much attention to the bingo wings and the pelican throat. She laughed. It was like seeing a superposition of a younger and an older self. She would have loved the face of Ricardo if he saw her like that. And the beehive haircut, it certainly was a good idea. She wondered if she was still under LSD. But the walls and the beehive hair seemed too solid for that.
A sliding door that she had not noticed before opened.
“Good to see you’re settling in,” said the woman who entered with a puff of bacon smell. “I’m Barbara.” She was holding a tray with a steaming plate of sweet peas and carrots. Sophie always had a sharp eye but couldn’t see any real bacon among the peas and the carrots. She smiled to the newcomer anyway. Barbara had the same latex rompers with the same colours. And she had a beehive haircut.
“Hello! Barbara,” said Sophie. “I like that name. I knew a man once… well not that you’re a man. Are you? Anyway I see you have a beehive haircut too. Am I back in the sixties?” She realised she was a bit confused, not able to finish one sentence or follow a single narrative. But the smell of bacon was so unnerving.
Barbara put the tray on the table.
“Well, no,” she said to Sophie. “It’s just a haircut that I like and it’s very practical for all sort of things.” She reached into hers and got out a pen and a notebook. Sophie lifted her hand to her haircut.
“Do I have?..”
“No dear. But, I need your sign here… just a formality.” Barbara smiled and handed the notebook to Sophie along with the pen. Then she crossed her arms waiting. Her fingers were drumming on her soft pale skin and Sophie couldn’t help but notice that Barbara had six fingers on one of her hands.
“Where am I?” she asked.
answered rather granola
loved often wonder comes
laughed finally sorry close
person inspector asking
dust tell strange worn
Coming from the computer world that makes it a pun of sort. I’m overloaded with whales nowadays. They’re everywhere. Are you involved? Or were they around all along? I must say I never paid too much attention to whales before. Now it’s a sticker on the asphalt when I get out of the metro to my daily rendez-vous with myself at the café. Or an advertisement of a winking whale on a bus side for a whale cruise near Canada. Or a friend this morning who called me to tell his dream: A Ballistic Whale shut through huge distance in space, it was angry and ever arriving.
Let me think that something big is coming.
I ordered a macchiato and the waiter had made a funny whale design with the foamed cream. When I asked he said he didn’t know why because he had never made it before. I could see it. And it looked angrier as the foam melted. I decided not to pay too much attention to the whale, focusing my attention instead on finding a friend in the passing crowd. Lots of students that day. A group of girl came and stopped right in front of me, chatting loudly. I started to feel irritated and looked at them angrily. One of them saw my face and turned to tell something to her friends. I saw the blue whale keyring hanging from her backpack zipper. They all looked at me and laughed.
I think I’m whale cursed.
They keep calling me Belinda, I don’t know why. They’re all nice enough, the ones who come and bring my meals and keep the place tidy, so don’t make a fuss when they do. If I’m honest, I don’t always remember their names either.
Today they had white paper face masks on, which seems a bit rude if you ask me. I asked the morning one, do I smell or something? and she said, no, it’s the bolona virus, hadn’t I seen it on the news? My dear, I said, if you only knew how many times I’ve died of the plague! She laughed at me and said don’t you worry, you’re not dying of the plague, as if I didn’t know that. They sound patronizing at times but they do it to cover up how dense they are, some of these helpers.
The plague was long a-coming to our parish, I said, ignoring her remark, and when it did come, there was no parish in or about London where it raged with such violence. By the time the cart came for you to dump you in the pit, you were glad to be out of it, I tell you.
She gave me a funny look and reminded me to eat my toast.
The first thing the dwarf did was a finger of honor. “Take that darn blubbit queen!” he shouted before he crumbled butt naked down on the wooden floor surrounded by his former golden carapace. His skin was still glowing with a strange lucent light.
“What did he say?” asked Fox.
“What’s a blubbit?” asked Olliver.
Glynis put her hands on the baby snoots eyes, but there were too many of them and she only had two hands.
“Have you seen his skin?” asked Eleri.
“Well yes, he’s butt naked,” said Kumihimo.
Gorrash had had time to clear his mind and started to realise they were all looking at him.
“I mean, he HAS a skin now,” insisted Eleri. “Smooth and… all that comes with it. Not his former rocky mossy textured whatever it was before even after daylight.”
The dwarf who never had to worry about his own modesty before couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of that simple fact. “Am I still dreaming?” His stomach growled and he looked surprised at his belly. “Am I starving?” Fox laughed.
Glynis brought the dwarf a blanket, and he marvelled at the roughness of it on his new skin. They all started to talk at the same time, wanting to know about the blubbits, about the new skin, asking Kumihimo and Rukshan how it was possible.
“I don’t know,” they both said.
“Well! I don’t know about you, but now that he has skin he can certainly appreciate some champagne with us!” said Margoritt, trotting to the kitchen. She came back with a bottle and a sabre. “Who wants to crack it open?”
“How can he eat so much?” would ask Eleri later.EricKeymaster
“You’ve lost weight” Rukshan said, not knowing where to start. The shaman thinner look was besuiting.
“So have you, my friend.” They both laughed.
“So what have been up to, in these parts of the woods?”
“It just happens that I was a bit ahead of you, and have just come back from the Great Austral Dry Lands.”
They all became somber. The Fires had devastated the place, and the news which came were not good. There was little chance they could put an expedition in place to gather the pink clay, with all this devastation… unless… He smiled.
“You’ve brought some back, haven’t you?”
Kumihimo smiled back. “Indeed. Not easy to come by, pink clay, isn’t it?”
Fox who had been turning his head right and left, and right and left following the conversation marked a moment, and the realization came.
“Does it mean we can revive Gorrash?”
“It may well be my dear Fox, with this last ingredient now gathered, it may well be.”
Noor Mary Chowdhury had just been promoted to the role of housekeeper since the arrival of the new Iranian maid, May. It was a nice change of position but sadly the salary was not really following, she’ll have to talk to the chief of stuff, Mr August. She suspected him to have a crush on her and he might get a word in her favor to Mr Lump.
“Tskk,” she said to May. “You’re not doing it right, rub gently with the newspaper to make the silver shine.”
“Like that?” asked May. Norma bobbed her head the Indian way, and as May seemed a bit confused she added “close enough.”
The shout startled them both.
“Keep doing like that only. I’m the housekeeper, I’ll go check.”
Norma went to the nursery room and her lips tightened when she saw the two au pair aunties slumped on the couch. June’s eyes were misty, she turned her bottle upside down to show it was empty. April was busy on her phone as usual, ignoring the maid as if she was insignificant.
“I’m not your maid,” the housekeeper said.
It hurt but Norma kept her lips tight and left the room. She bumped into Mr August Finest and her mind went blank. He was tall and wore a handsome moustache. She had forgotten she wanted to talk to him about her salary.
“Here you are then,” said the driver. They were parked outside of an imposing iron gate with a large padlock. “This is as far as I can take you. I dont have authority to go any further.”
“Authority? You mean this is it?” said Maeve. “All I can see are trees.”
“Usually there is someone here to open the gate when visitors arrive. Must be running late. That’s not like them.”
“Oh,” said Maeve. “They aren’t actually expecting us. I mean, we didn’t make an appointment or anything.”
The driver shook his head and laughed. He turned his head to look at them. “I might as well take you back then. You don’t get in here without being expected.” He started the engine.
“Wait!” said Maeve. “We haven’t come all this way to give up. Have we?” She looked at Shaun-Paul who, after a moment of hesitation, nodded.EricKeymaster
Probably afraid to catch the floo, Muriel had packed in a jiffy, and left the place without saying much more than a few admonitions.
Glynis atchooed some more, in case Muriel was still within earshot, then laughed heartily. It was good to laugh. She disliked the saying that you always laugh at the expense of someone, but in that case it felt splendid. Muriel had been such a bag of chips on her shoulders, with her moaning and complaining and her hardly lifting a finger.
After all the belly laughing was done, and some more for good measure, she looked at Fox’s wrinkled nose, and laughed some more: “the loo is still in a dire situation though!”
He tittered jollily, hooting his reply “For sure! All the purple cabbage you fed that harpy didn’t help!”
I couldn’t offer Sanso a drink, as there wasn’t a drop of anything in my room, so I sent him down to the dining room to get a bottle of gin, and a couple of glasses of ice. I was a bit reluctant to let him out of my bedroom at such an early stage of the proceedings, but felt he was a man of his word when he assured me (with an engaging twinkle) that of course he’d be back, in just two shakes of a mongooses tail. Odd expression if you ask me, but then, where does he come from? Hard to say. He had a slight accent, but it was impossible to pin down to a location, and it had a changeable quality, too.
He wasn’t gone long, and said that the only person who’d seen him was Prune, but that was inevitable, he said. That kid sees everything! She’d be a fount of valuable information, if she didn’t put such a unique spin on everything.
I sat on the bed, and he sat in the wicker chair by the window, and after we’d clunked glasses and said cheers, he came right out and asked me what my mission was. Well! Mission? I asked. I’d never really thought about it in terms of a mission. Then a funny thing happened. I could hear myself speaking but hadn’t thought about what to say, you know how it is sometimes.
I said, “my mission is a glorious infinite wandering, threading multicoloured silken skeins of clues and riddles, people and places, weaving them in and out of time and to each other…”
Sanso laughed. “He said “That’s my mission, too!” and we raised our glasses in honour of that, and then he got serious. No, not like that. I mean, he started going on about the mines, and how we really had no time to lose because there were two daft tarts in extreme danger down there, and they needed rescuing. I rolled my eyes as you can imagine. I’d already started semi reclining in anticipation.
“It’ll be fun,” he said.
The old ruse was still working, so I continued to use it. Only way to get a bit of time to myself, especially lately. A bit of quiet time, to think. And there was so much to think about, what with all these people around. I wasn’t put on this earth to make beds and pander to tourists, and the clues were coming in thick and fast. Oh yes, some of these new guests were thick, and some were fast. Anyway, I pretended to be inebriated again and did a pretty good imitation of a lurching drunk to throw them off the scent. They always fall for it.
After turning the key in the lock of my bedroom door, I leaned my back against it for a minute and closed my eyes. It was the bird flying in the window at the crack of dawn that got me worried. Now I’m not a superstitious person by any means, but there have been times when a bird in the house has been followed by a death, and things like that stick in your mind. The sight of Mater in that red pantsuit had etched itself on my mind as well, which was almost as worrying as the bird.
I went over to the window and pulled down the blinds. The bright sun was making my head hurt. I was thirsty, and wished I’d brought a cup of tea with me, but lurching drunks can’t be seen to be making plans for a quiet afternoon of sober contemplation. I tried valiantly to ignore my parched mouth, but it was no good. I put my ear to the door, and the coast seemed clear so I inched it open, looking up and down the hallway. I sprinted to the bathroom, unfortunately tripping over the vacuum cleaner that Finley had no doubt left there deliberately to trip me up. She was a dark horse, that one. Good at dusting, and reliable, so I suppose that was something. Hard to get hired help out here so we had no choice, really.
I smashed my nose on Mater’s doorknob and skinned my shin on the hoover. My nose hurt like hell, and quickly spurted an astonishing quantity of bright blood, similar in colour to that ghastly pantsuit. My fall made a hell of a din so I staggered quickly to the bathroom wash basin for the much needed drink of water before anyone came to investigate the crash, hoping to get back to my room before anyone appeared on the scene.
Had the water in the cold tap been cold, it might have been different, but the new water pipes were still above ground, and the cold water was scalding hot from the heat of the sun on the black pipes. I didn’t have a moment to waste, so drank some quickly, horrid though it was. The unfortunate side effect of the cold water being hot was that it encouraged and diluted the blood, making the overall effect look considerably more alarming. I was tempted to blame Mater for the whole sorry affair, for starting the red theme with that damn pantsuit. I actually said “bloody pantsuit”, which struck me as inordinately funny, and made it hard to get back to the bedroom quickly. I was still laughing hysterically, leaving red hand prints and strange red markings along the corridor wall, when Sanso appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
“I saw cave paintings like that in Zimbabwe,” he said conversationally, taking a closer look at the bloody hand prints. “I’ve often wondered what the purpose was, the meaning.” He raised an eyebrow and smiled at me. “Have you interpreted these?”
I was momentarily speechless, as you might imagine. Then I had an impulse, and grabbed his elbow and propelled him into my room, slamming and locking the door behind him. He was almost unnaturally calm and unperturbed, albeit looking as if he was trying not to smile too broadly, which was just the kind of energy I needed. My kind of man! I gave him one of my famous coquettish looks, which made him laugh out loud, and then I caught sight of myself in the wardrobe mirror and hastily grabbed an old nightgown off the floor and spit on it to rub the blood off my face.
“My kind of girl!” he laughed. Oh, how he laughed.
The vegetable garden was luxurious and greener after the rain. The trees were trembling with delight in the light afternoon breeze.
“Are you meditating?” asked Rukshan who wanted to get going on the mission already.
“Kinda,” answered Fox without opening his eyes. “I’m using my imagination as a creative tool in order to make the carpenter show up and finish his work.” He breathed in deep and exhaled a humming sound.
“I think you’re mistaken. It’s not about making the other do what you want.”
Fox opened his eyes. “Don’t tell me what to do,” said Fox feeling a tad tense. “It’s a technique transmitted to me by Master Gibbon.”
“I’m just saying…” began the Fae.
“Oh! You’re happy, I can’t meditate now I’m too tense,” Fox bursted out.
“I guess if you got tense that easily, you weren’t that relaxed in the first place.”
Fox got up and squished a courgette. That seemed to put him into even more anger, but Rukshan couldn’t help laughing and Fox couldn’t keep angry very long. He walked on another courgette and laughed.
“I don’t like courgettes,” he said.
“I know. Glynis will not be very happy though if you crush all the vegetables.”
“Yeah. You’re certainly right. When are we leaving?”
“Mr Minn’s nephew, who’s a carpenter, was just visiting in the city and Margoritt asked them if they could help with the carpentry. You know how Mr Minn can’t resist her charms. They have collected the material from the other carpenter and they are coming tomorrow to finish the work. So we’ll be ready to go. I just have to convince Glynis to let Olli come with us.”
“Margoritt is coming back?”
“No. She’ll stay in the city. You know, her knees… and her sister being at the cottage.”
“Oh! I had forgotten about her,” said Fox raising his eyes to the sky.
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