Prester John
John Buchan

Part 5 out of 5

always believed lay in the mountains. Some of the stones in
the cave, being unlike any ordinary African diamonds, confirmed
his suspicions and set him on the track. A Kaffir tribe
to the north-east of the Rooirand had known of it, but they
had never worked it, but only collected the overspill. The
closing down of one of the chief existing mines had created a
shortage of diamonds in the world's markets, and once again
the position was the same as when Kimberley began. Accordingly
he made a great fortune, and to-day the Aitken Proprietary Mine is
one of the most famous in the country. But Aitken did more than
mine diamonds, for he had not forgotten the lesson we had learned
together in the work of resettlement. He laid down a big fund for
the education and amelioration of the native races, and the first
fruit of it was the establishment at Blaauwildebeestefontein
itself of a great native training college. It was no factory for
making missionaries and black teachers, but an institution for
giving the Kaffirs the kind of training which fits them to be
good citizens of the state. There you will find every kind of
technical workshop, and the finest experimental farms, where the
blacks are taught modern agriculture. They have proved themselves
apt pupils, and to-day you will see in the glens of the Berg and
in the plains Kaffir tillage which is as scientific as any in
Africa. They have created a huge export trade in tobacco and
fruit; the cotton promises well; and there is talk of a new fibre
which will do wonders. Also along the river bottoms the
india-rubber business is prospering.

There are playing-fields and baths and reading-rooms and
libraries just as in a school at home. In front of the great hall
of the college a statue stands, the figure of a black man shading
his eyes with his hands and looking far over the plains to the
Rooirand. On the pedestal it is lettered 'Prester John,' but the
face is the face of Laputa. So the last of the kings of Africa
does not lack his monument.

Of this institution Mr Wardlaw is the head. He writes to me
weekly, for I am one of the governors, as well as an old friend,
and from a recent letter I take this passage: -

'I often cast my mind back to the afternoon when you and I
sat on the stoep of the schoolhouse, and talked of the Kaffirs
and our future. I had about a dozen pupils then, and now I
have nearly three thousand; and in place of a tin-roofed shanty
and a yard, I have a whole countryside. You laughed at me for
my keenness, Davie, but I've seen it justified. I was never a
man of war like you, and so I had to bide at home while you
and your like were straightening out the troubles. But when it
was all over my job began, for I could do what you couldn't
do - I was the physician to heal wounds. You mind how
nervous I was when I heard the drums beat. I hear them every
evening now, for we have made a rule that all the Kaffir farms
on the Berg sound a kind of curfew. It reminds me of old
times, and tells me that though it is peace nowadays we mean
to keep all the manhood in them that they used to exercise in
war. It would do your eyes good to see the garden we have
made out of the Klein Labongo glen. The place is one big
orchard with every kind of tropical fruit in it, and the irrigation
dam is as full of fish as it will hold. Out at Umvelos' there is a
tobacco-factory, and all round Sikitola's we have square miles
of mealie and cotton fields. The loch on the Rooirand is
stocked with Lochleven trout, and we have made a bridle-path
up to it in a gully east of the one you climbed. You ask about
Machudi's. The last time I was there the place was white with
sheep, for we have got the edge of the plateau grazed down,
and sheep can get the short bite there. We have cleaned up all
the kraals, and the chiefs are members of our county council,
and are as fond of hearing their own voices as an Aberdeen
bailie. It's a queer transformation we have wrought, and when
I sit and smoke my pipe in the evening, and look over the
plains and then at the big black statue you and Aitken set up,
I thank the Providence that has guided me so far. I hope and
trust that, in the Bible words, "the wilderness and the solitary
place are glad for us." At any rate it will not be my fault if they
don't "blossom as the rose". Come out and visit us soon, man,
and see the work you had a hand in starting. ...'

I am thinking seriously of taking Wardlaw's advice.


Back to Full Books