This indeed was the case because there was none, the Sisa kraal, for it could not be dignified by any other name, being round a projecting ridge and out of sight. For the rest the prospect was very fair, being park-like in character, with dotted clumps of trees among which ran, or rather wound, a silver stream that seemed to issue from between two rocky koppies in the distance.
These koppies, the guides told them, were the gates of Sisa Town. They neglected to add that it lay in a hot and unhealthy hill-ringed hollow beyond them, the site having originally been chosen because it was difficult to attack, being only approachable through certain passes. Therefore it was a very suitable place in which to kraal the cattle of the Zulu kings in times of danger. That day they travelled down the declivity into the plain, where they camped. By the following afternoon they came to the koppies through which the river ran, and asked its name. The answer was _Ukufa_.
“_Ukufa?_” said Thomas. “Why, that means Death.”
“Yes,” was the reply, “because in the old days this river was the River of Death where evil-doers were sent to be slain.”
“How horrible!” said Dorcas, for unfortunately she had overheard and understood this conversation.
By the side of the river was a kind of shelf of rock that was used as a road, and over this they bumped in their wagon, till presently they were past the koppies and could see their future home beyond. It was a plain some miles across, and entirely surrounded by precipitous hills, the river entering it through a gorge to the north. In the centre of this plain was another large koppie of which the river _Ukufa_, or Death, washed one side. Around this koppie, amid a certain area of cultivated land, stood the “town” of the Christian branch of the Sisa. It consisted of groups of huts, ten or a dozen groups in all, set on low ground near the river, which suggested that the population might number anything between seven hundred and a thousand souls.
At the time that our party first saw it the sun was sinking, and had disappeared behind the western portion of the barricade of hills. Therefore the valley, if it may be so called, was plunged in a gloom that seemed almost unnatural when compared with the brilliant sky above, across which the radiant lights of an African sunset already sped like arrows, or rather like red and ominous spears of flame.
“What a dreadful place!” exclaimed Dorcas. “Is our home to be here?”
“I suppose so,” answered Thomas, who to tell the truth for once was himself somewhat dismayed. “It does look a little gloomy, but after all it is very sheltered, and home is what one makes it,” he added sententiously.
Here the conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the Chief and some of the Christian portion of the Sisa tribe, who having been warned of its approach by messenger, to the number of a hundred and fifty or so had advanced to meet the party.
They were a motley crowd clad in every kind of garment, ranging from a moth-eaten General’s tunic to practically nothing at all. Indeed, one tall, thin fellow sported only a battered helmet of rusty steel that had drifted here from some European army, a _moocha_ or waistbelt of catskins, and a pair of decayed tennis-shoes through which his toes appeared. With them came what were evidently the remains of the church choir, when there was a church, for they wore dirty fragments of surplices and sang what seemed to be a hymn tune to the strains of a decadent accordion.
The tune was long and ended in a kind of howl like to that of a disappointed jackal. When at length it was finished the Chief Kosa appeared. He was a middle-aged man, become prematurely old because he had lived too fast in his pre-Christian days, or so report said. Now he had a somewhat imbecile appearance, for his fingers twitched and when he spoke his mouth jerked up at the corners; also he kept looking over his shoulder as though he were afraid of something behind him. Altogether he inspired Thomas with no confidence. Whatever else he might be, clearly he was not a staff for a crusader to lean upon.
Still he came forward and made a very nice speech, as a high-bred native noble, such as he was, can almost invariably do. With many pious expressions he welcomed the new Teacher, saying that he and his people, that is those of them who were Christians, would do their best to make him happy.
Thomas thanked him in appropriate language, adding that he on his part would do his best to promote their welfare and to save their souls.