Yankee Girls in Zulu Land

Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

Louise Vescelius-Sheldon

“Yankee Girls in Zulu Land”

Chapter Two.

Well, it had rained, and snowed, and “fogged” for six months during the year we were in London, and we had seen the sun only on ten separate days during that period. The doctor ordered a change of climate for Frank, to a land of heat and sunshine, and advised us to go to South Africa, that land of “Zulus and missionaries.”

The old strain ran through my head, “From Greenland’s icy mountains, From India’s coral strands, Where Afric’s sunny fountains,” etc, and as anything that suggested sunshine, even if it were in a diluted state, was what we wanted, we considered that a health excursion to the antipodes was worth a trial, if it wrought the desired effect.

There lived in the house with us an African lady who had recently come “home” for a trip to see the wonders of a civilised world. You must not imagine that by African I mean a Zulu or a Kafir or Hottentot. Oh, dear, no! The lady in question was as white as we, and very much more fashionable. She never tired of expatiating on the glories of her country, its marvellous fertility, its thousands of miles of grasslands, its myriads of birds of dazzling plumage and bewitching song, its flocks of sheep, flocks so large that even their owners could only approximately count their numbers, its mighty rivers, and above all, its immense wealth in gold and diamonds. Then the hospitality of the farmers, the way in which they welcomed strangers and treated them to the best of everything, was quite beyond the conception of any one who had not visited this wonderful country.

These descriptions, tallying with the doctor’s directions, decided us, and having counted up our pounds, shillings, and pence, we made adieus, packed our Saratogas, and took passage on board the mail steamer Trojan, Captain Lamar, sailing from the London Docks.

We had left ourselves so very little time to make our final arrangements that, as soon as the cab started, there commenced a running fire of questions.

“Did you pack the gloves in the big box?”

“Did you put the thin dresses on top, for we shall want them in the tropics,” etc, when all of a sudden Louise sprang up with a gasp and a shout:

“Stop the cab! stop the cab!”

“What for?”

“Stop the cab, I say!”

“She must be ill,” we cried. “Stop the cab!” and an unharmonious trio immediately assailed the ears of the driver: “Stop the cab!”

The cab stopped. “What’s up anyhow?” inquired the London Jehu.

“I have left my diary on the dressing-table!”

If any of you have kept a diary you will understand the dread horror that overwhelmed us all at this awful announcement: one gasp, one moment of terrible silence, and then—action. “I must go back for it at once. You go on. I will take a hansom and gallop all the way. If I miss the boat, I will catch you at Dartmouth. I would sooner die than have that diary read! Hi, driver! Montague Place, Kensington! A half-sovereign if you drive as fast as you can.” Bang! slam! a rush! a roar! and Louise is whirled away in the hansom cab, with the white-horse and the dashing-looking driver, with a flower in his button-hole. How the horse flew! What short cuts the driver took, darting across street-corners, shaving lamp-posts and imperilling the lives of small boys and old women selling apples, as only a London hansom-cab driver can! Everybody turns around as the white horse with the short tail, dragging the cab with its pale-faced occupant, dashes down the street, through the squares, across the park, round the crescent, where the policeman looks almost inclined to stop it, until he sees the anxious look of the girl inside; up the terrace, down two more streets, and finally, with a clatter, rattle, bang, a plunge and a bump, horse, cab, and “fare” come to a standstill at Montague Place. The door is thrown open by the servant-girl. “Have you seen a red-covered book with a brass lock that I left on the dressing-table in my room?”

“No, miss.”

“Very well, where is Mrs — Oh! there you are! Oh! please, have you seen a brass book with a red lock, that I left on the—Why, there it is in your hand! Oh, thank you ever so much! I know you were going to bring it to me. Good-bye! I shall be just in time.

“London Docks! Cabman, quick! Catch the Trojan before she leaves.” “All right, miss!” A twist, a plunge, a flick with the whip, and the bob-tailed nag is half-way down Oxford Street before the astonished landlady can realise the fact that her chance of finding out all the secrets of Miss Louise is gone forever.

Meanwhile Eva and Frank are anxiously awaiting her arrival on board the ship: they have visited their state-room and seen their luggage carefully stored away, and are now left with nothing to do but speculate as to the result of Louise’s expedition. Presently the clanging of the bell on the bridge gives warning that the warps are to be cast off, there is a rush to the gangway of the weeping friends of the passengers, and the hoarse cry passes along the quay: “Ease her off gently there! Forward! Stand by the cast-off!” The two girls are almost in despair, and have resigned themselves to the possible postponement of the journey, for Louise’s catching the boat at Dartmouth seems to them only a bare possibility; when the people idling on the quay suddenly part from side to side, and a hansom cab with the self-same short-tailed “white” horse and knowing-looking driver dash triumphantly up the gangway, already in course of being drawn from the ship, and deposit the diary (for that seems to be for the moment of the most importance) and Louise into the arms of the quartermaster. Blessings on that London hansom cab, its horse, and knowing driver. They had nobly done their duty and at 11:29, one minute before the ship casts off to drop down the river, the three sisters with the recovered diary are safe on board the steamer.

Moral: Don’t keep a diary.