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Near Mafeking
by [?]

To a man who has lived and travelled in the United States of America and the not yet United States of Australia, there is one characteristic of South Africa which is particularly noticeable. It is its oneness as a country. And this oneness is all the more remarkable when we take into consideration its racial and political divisions. A bird’s-eye view of America is beyond one; a similar glance at the seaboard of Australia from Rockhampton even round to Albany (which is then only round half its circle) gives me a mental crick in the neck. But in thinking of Africa, south of the Zambesi, there is no such mental difficulty. Even the existence of the Transvaal seemed to me an accident, and, if inevitable, one which Nature herself protests against. Some day South Africa must be federated, but if any politician asks me, “Under which king, Bezonian, speak or die,” I shall elect (in these pages at least) to die.

But though this disunited unity seemed to me a salient feature in cis-Zambesian Africa, it was the differences in that natural ring fence which attracted most of my attention as a story-writer even as a story-writer who so far has only written one tale about it. I began to ask myself how it was that, with one eminent exception, our African fiction writers had confined themselves to the native races, and the friction between these races and white men, Boer or English, when there were infinitely more attractive themes at hand. Perhaps it may seem like begging the question to call the political inter-play of the Cape Colony, of the Transvaal, and the Free State more interesting than tales in which the highest “white” interest appears in a love story betwixt some English wanderer and an impossible Boer maiden, or such as relate the rise and fall of Chaka and Ketchwayo. And yet to me the mass of intrigue, the political friction, the onward march of races, and the conflicts above and below board, called for greater attention than the Zulu, even at his best.

To a novelist (who sometimes pretends to think, however much such an unpopular tendency be hidden) environment and its necessary results are of infinite interest. Upon the Karroo, even when in the train, I tried to build up the aloof and lonely Boer, and, though I failed, there came to me in whiffs (like far odours borne on a westerly wind) some suggestions that I really understood deep in my mind how he came to be. The chill fresh air of the morning, before the sun was yet above the horizon, recalled to me some ancient dawns in far Australia: and then again I thought of days upon the Texan plateaux. But still the secret of the lone-riding Boer, who loves a country of magnificent distances, escaped me.

But one early dawn, when I was half-way between Krugersdorp and Mafeking, I came out upon the veldt in darkness, which was a lucid darkness, and in the silent crisp air I stumbled upon the truth. Betwixt sleep and waking as I walked I felt infinite peace pour over me. So had the silent Campo Santo at Pisa affected me; so had I felt for a moment among the ancient ruins of the abbey at Rivaulx. In this dawn hour came a time of reversion. I too was very solitary, and loved my solitude. The necessities of civilisation were necessities no more: I needed luxury even less than I needed news. I cared for nothing that the men of a city ask: there was space before me and room to ride. The lack of small urgent stimuli, the barren growth of civilisation’s weedy fields, left me to the great and simple organic impulses of the outstretched world. And in that moment I perceived that this silence is the very life of the wandering Boer, even though he knows it not; for it has sunk so deep into him that he is unaware of it. He belongs not to this age, nor to any age we know.