[MAGA. November 1829.]

My dear friend,—In my last I related to you all the circumstances of our settlement here, and the prospect that we had of a peaceful and pleasant habitation. In truth, it is a fine country, and inhabited by a fine race of people, for the Kousies, as far as I have seen of them, are a simple and ingenuous race, and Captain Johnstone having insured the friendship and protection of their chief, we lived in the most perfect harmony with them, trafficking with them for oxen, for which we gave them iron and copper in exchange, the former being held in high estimation by them. But alas! sir, such a fate has befallen to me since I wrote you last, as I am sure never fell to the lot of a human being. And I am now going to relate to you one of those stories which, were it to occur in a romance, would be reckoned quite out of nature, and beyond all bounds of probability, so true is it that there are many things in heaven and earth that are not dreamed of in our philosophy.

You knew my Agnes from her childhood—you were at our wedding at Beattock, and cannot but remember what an amiable and lovely girl she then was. I thought so, and so did you—at least you said you never had as bonny a bride on your knee. But you will hardly believe that her beauty was then nothing in comparison with what it became afterwards; and when she was going about our new settlement with our little boy in her arms, I have often fancied that I never saw as lovely a human being.

Be that as it may, the chief Karoo came to me one day with his interpreter, whom he caused to make a long palaver about his power, and dominion, and virtues, and his great desire to do much good. The language of this fellow being a mixture of Kaffre, High Dutch, and English, was peculiarly ludicrous, and most of all so when he concluded with expressing his lord’s desire to have my wife to be his own, and to give me in exchange for her four oxen, the best that I could choose from his herd!

As he made the proposal in presence of my wife, she was so much tickled with the absurdity of the proposed barter, and the manner in which it was expressed, that she laughed immoderately. Karoo, thinking she was delighted with it, eyed her with a look that surpasses all description, and then caused his interpreter make another palaver to her concerning all the good things she was to enjoy, one of which was, that she was to ride upon an ox whose horns were tipped with gold. I thanked the great Karoo for his kind intentions, but declared my incapability to part with my wife, for that we were one flesh and blood, and nothing could separate us but death. He could comprehend no such tie as this. All men sold their wives and daughters as they listed, I was told,—for that the women were the sole property of the men. He had bought many women from the Tambookies, that were virgins, and had never given above two cows for any of them; and because he desired to have my wife, he had offered me as much for her as would purchase four of the best wives in all the two countries, and that therefore I was bound to give her up to him. And when I told him finally that nothing on earth could induce me to part with her, he seemed offended, bit his thumb, knitted his brows, and studied long in silence, always casting glances at Agnes of great pathos and languishment, which were perfectly irresistible, and ultimately he struck his spear’s head in the ground, and offered me ten cows and a bull for my wife, and a choice virgin to boot. When this proffer was likewise declined, he smiled in derision, telling me I was the son of foolishness, and that he foretold I should repent it. Three times he went over this, and then went away in high dudgeon. Will you, sir, believe, or will any person alive believe, that it was possible I could live to repent this?

My William was at this time about eleven months old, but was still at the breast, as I could never prevail on his lovely mother to wean him; and at the very time of which I am speaking, our little settlement was invaded one night by a tribe of those large baboons called ourang-outangs, pongos, or wild men of the woods, who did great mischief to our fruits, yams, and carrots. From that time we kept a great number of guns loaded, and set a watch; and at length the depredators were again discovered. We sallied out upon them in a body, not without alarm, for they are powerful and vindictive animals, and our guns were only loaded with common shot. They fled at the first sight of us, and that with such swiftness that we might as well have tried to catch deers, but we got one close fire at them, and doubtless wounded a number of them, as their course was traced with blood. We pursued them as far as the Keys river, which they swam, and we lost them.

Among all the depredators, there was none fell but one youngling, which I lifted in my arms, when it looked so pitifully, and cried so like a child, that my heart bled for it. A large monster, more than six feet high, perceiving that he had lost his cub, returned brandishing a huge club, and grinning at me. I wanted to restore the abominable brat, for I could not bear the thought of killing it, it was so like a human creature; but before I could do this, several shots had been fired by my companions at the hideous monster, which caused him once more to take to his heels; but turning oft as he fled, he made threatening gestures at me. A Kousi servant that we had, finished the cub, and I caused it to be buried.

The very morning after that but one, Agnes and her black maid were milking our few cows upon the green: I was in the garden, and William was toddling about pulling flowers, when, all at once, the women were alarmed by the sight of a tremendous ourang-outang issuing from our house, which they had just left. They seem to have been struck dumb and senseless with amazement, for not one of them uttered a sound, until the monster, springing forward in one moment, snatched up the child and made off with him. Instead of coming to me, the women pursued the animal with the child, not knowing, I believe, what they were doing. The fearful shrieks which they uttered alarmed me, and I ran to the milking-green, thinking the cows had fallen on the women, as the cattle of that district are ticklish for pushing when any way hurt or irritated. Before I reached the green where the cows stood, the ourang-outang was fully half a mile gone, and only the poor feeble exhausted women running screaming after him. For a good while I could not conceive what was the matter, but having my spade in my hand I followed spontaneously in the same direction. Before I overtook the women, I heard the agonised cries of my dear boy, my darling William, in the paws of that horrible monster. There is no sensation of which the human heart is capable that can at all be compared with the horror which at that dreadful moment seized on mine. My sinews lost their tension, and my whole frame became lax and powerless. I believe I ran faster than usual, but then I fell every minute, and as I passed Agnes she fell into a fit. Kela-kal, the black girl, with an astonishing presence of mind, had gone off at a tangent, without orders, or without being once missed, to warn the rest of the settlers, which she did with all expedition. I pursued on, breathless, and altogether unnerved with agony; but, alas! I rather lost than gained ground.

I think if I had been fairly started, that through desperation I could have overtaken the monster, but the hopelessness of success rendered me feeble. The truth is, that he did not make great speed, not nearly the speed these animals are wont to make, for he was greatly encumbered with the child. You perhaps do not understand the nature of these animals—neither do I: but they have this peculiarity, that when they are walking leisurely or running down-hill, they walk upright like a human being; but when hard pressed on level ground, or up-hill, they use their long arms as fore-legs, and then run with inconceivable swiftness. When flying with their own young, the greater part of them will run nearly twice as fast as an ordinary man, for the cubs cling to them with both feet and hands, but as my poor William shrunk from the monster’s touch, he was obliged to embrace him closely with one paw, and run on three, and still in that manner he outran me. O may never earthly parent be engaged in such a heartrending pursuit! Keeping still his distance before me, he reached the Keys river, and there the last gleam of hope closed on me, for I could not swim, while the ourang-outang, with much acuteness, threw the child across his shoulders, held him by the feet with one paw, and with the other three stemmed the river, though then in flood, with amazing rapidity. It was at this dreadful moment that my beloved babe got his eyes on me as I ran across the plain towards him, and I saw him holding up his little hands in the midst of the foaming flood, and crying out, “Pa! pa! pa!” which he seemed to utter with a sort of desperate joy at seeing me approach.

Alas! that sight was the last, for in two minutes thereafter the monster vanished, with my dear child, in the jungles and woods beyond the river, and then my course was stayed, for to have thrown myself in, would only have been committing suicide, and leaving a destitute widow in a foreign land. I had therefore no other resource but to throw myself down, and pour out my soul in lamentation and prayer to God. From this state of hapless misery I was quickly aroused by the sight of twelve of my countrymen coming full speed across the plain on my track. They were all armed and stripped for the pursuit, and four of them, some of whom you know—Adam Johnstone, Adam Haliday, Peter Carruthers, and Joseph Nicholson—being excellent swimmers, plunged at once into the river and swam across, though not without both difficulty and danger, and without loss of time continued the pursuit.

The remainder of us, nine in number, were obliged to go half a day’s journey up the river, to a place called Shekah, where the Tambookies dragged us over on a hurdle; and we there procured a Kousi, who had a hound, which he pretended could follow the track of an ourang-outang over the whole world. Urged on by a sort of forlorn and desperate hope, we kept at a running pace the whole afternoon; and at the fall of night came up with Peter Carruthers, who had lost the other three. A singular adventure had befallen to himself. He and his companions had agreed to keep within call of each other; but as he advanced, he conceived he heard the voice of a child crying behind him to the right, on which he turned off in that direction, but heard no more of the wail. As he was searching, however, he perceived an ourang-outang steal from a thicket, which, nevertheless, it seemed loth to leave. When he pursued it, it fled slowly, as with intent to entice him in pursuit from the spot; but when he turned towards the thicket, it immediately followed. Peter was armed with a pistol and rapier; but his pistol and powder had been rendered useless by swimming the river, and he had nothing to depend on but his rapier. The creature at first was afraid of the pistol, and kept aloof; but seeing no fire issue from it, it came nigher and nigher, and seemed determined to have a scuffle with Carruthers for the possession of the thicket. At length it shook its head, grinning with disdain, and motioned him to fling the pistol away as of no use; it then went and brought two great clubs, of which it gave him the choice, to fight with it. There was something so bold, and at the same time so generous, in this, that Peter took one as if apparently accepting the challenge; but that moment he pulled out his gleaming rapier, and ran at the hideous brute, which frightened it so much that it uttered two or three loud grunts like a hog, and scampered off; but soon turning, it threw the club at Peter with such a certain aim that it had very nigh killed him.

He saw no more of the animal that night; but when we found Carruthers, he was still lingering about the spot, persuaded that my child was there, and that, if in life, he would soon hear his cries. We watched the thicket all night, and at the very darkest hour, judge of my trepidation when I heard the cries of a child in the thicket, almost close by me, and well could distinguish that the cries proceeded from the mouth of my own dear William—from that sweet and comely mouth which I had often kissed a hundred times in a day. We all rushed spontaneously into the thicket, and all towards the same point; but, strange to relate, we only ran against one another, and found nothing besides. I cried on my boy’s name, but all was again silent, and we heard no more. He only uttered three cries, and then we all heard distinctly that his crying was stopped by something stuffed into his mouth. I still wonder how I retained my reason, for certainly no parent had ever such a trial to undergo. Before day, we heard some movement in the thicket, and though heard by us all at the same time, each of us took it for one of our companions moving about; and it was not till long after the sun was up, that we at length discovered a bed up among the thick branches of a tree, and not above twelve feet from the ground; but the occupants had escaped, and no doubt remained but that they were now far beyond our reach. This was the most grievous and heartbreaking miss of all; and I could not help giving vent to my grief in excessive weeping, while all my companions were deeply affected with my overpowering sorrow.

We then tried the dog, and by him we learned the way the fliers had taken; but that was all, for as the day grew warm, he lost all traces whatever. We searched over all the country for many days, but could find no traces of my dear boy, either dead or alive; and at length were obliged to return home weary and broken-hearted. To describe the state of my poor Agnes is impossible. It may be conceived, but can never be expressed. But I must haste on with my narrative, for I have yet a great deal to communicate.

About three months after this sad calamity, one evening, on returning home from my labour, my Agnes was missing, and neither her maid-servant, nor one of all the settlers, could give the least account of her. My suspicions fell instantly on the Kousi chief, Karoo, for I knew that he had been in our vicinity hunting, and remembered his threat. This was the most grievous stroke of all, and in order to do all for the preservation of my dear wife that lay in my power, I and three of my companions set out and travelled night and day till we came to the chief’s headquarters. I have not time to describe all the fooleries and difficulties we had to encounter; suffice it, that Karoo denied the deed, but still in such a manner that my suspicions were confirmed. I threatened him terribly with the vengeance of his friend Captain Johnstone, and the English army at the Cape, saying I would burn him and all his wives and his people with fire. He wept out of fear and vexation, and offered me the choice of his wives, or any two of them, showing me a great number of them, many of whom he recommended for their great beauty and fatness; and I believe he would have given me any number if I would have gone away satisfied. But the language of the interpreter being in a great measure unintelligible, we all deemed that he said repeatedly that Karoo would not give the lady up.

What was I now to do? We had not force in our own small settlement to compel Karoo to restore her; and I was therefore obliged to buy a trained ox, on which I rode all the way to the next British settlement, for there are no horses in that country. There I found Captain Johnstone with three companies of the 72d, watching the inroads of the savage Boshesmen. He was greatly irritated at Karoo, and despatched Lieutenant M’Kenzie and fifty men along with me to chastise the aggressor. When the chief saw the Highlanders, he was terrified out of his wits; but nevertheless, not knowing what else to do, he prepared for resistance, after once more proffering me the choice of his wives.

Just when we were on the eve of commencing a war, which must have been ruinous to our settlement, a black servant of Adam Johnstone’s came to me, and said that I ought not to fight and kill his good chief, for that he had not the white woman. I was astonished, and asked the Kaffre what he meant, when he told me that he himself saw my wife carried across the river by a band of pongos (ourang-outangs), but he had always kept it a secret, for fear of giving me distress, as they were too far gone for pursuit when he beheld them. He said they had her bound, and were carrying her gently on their arms, but she was either dead or in a swoon, for she was not crying, and her long hair was hanging down.

I had kept up under every calamity till then, but these news fairly upset my reason. I fell a-blaspheming, and accused the Almighty of injustice for laying such fearful judgments on me. May He in mercy forgive me, for I knew not what I said; but had I not been deprived of reason I could not have outlived such a catastrophe as this; and whenever it recurs to my remembrance, it will make my blood run chill till the day of my death. A whole year passed over my head like one confused dream; another came, and during the greater part of it my mind was very unsettled; but at length I began to indulge in long fits of weeping, till by degrees I awakened to a full sense of all my misery, and often exclaimed that there was no sorrow like my sorrow. I lingered on about the settlement, not having power to leave the spot where I had once been so happy with those I loved, and all my companions joined in the cultivation of my fields and garden, in hopes that I would become resigned to the will of the Lord and the judgments of His providence.

About the beginning of last year a strange piece of intelligence reached our settlement. It was said that two maids of Kamboo had been out on the mountains of Norroweldt gathering fruits, where they had seen a pongo taller than any Kousi, and that this pongo had a beautiful white boy with him, for whom he was gathering the choicest fruits, and the boy was gambolling and playing around him, and leaping on his shoulders.

This was a piece of intelligence so extraordinary, and so much out of the common course of events, that every one of the settlers agreed that it could not be a forgery, and that it behoved us immediately to look after it. We applied to Karoo for assistance, who had a great number of slaves from that country, much attached to him, who knew the language of the place whither we were going, and all the passes of the country. He complied readily with our request, giving us an able and intelligent guide, with as many of his people as we chose. We raised in all fifty Malays and Kousies; nine British soldiers, and every one of the settlers that could bear arms, went with us, so that we had in all nearly a hundred men, the blacks being armed with pikes, and all the rest with swords, guns, and pistols. We journeyed for a whole week, travelling much by night, and resting in the shade by day, and at last we came to the secluded district of which we were in search, and in which we found a temporary village, or camp, of one of these independent inland tribes. They were in great alarm at our approach, and were apparently preparing for a vigorous resistance; but on our guide going up to them, who was one of their own tribe, and explaining our views, they received us joyfully, and proffered their assistance.

From this people we got the heart-stirring intelligence, that a whole colony of pongos had taken possession of that country, and would soon be masters of it all; for that the Great Spirit had sent them a queen from the country beyond the sun, to teach them to speak, and work, and go to war; and that she had the entire power over them, and would not suffer them to hurt any person who did not offer offence to them; that they knew all she said to them, and answered her, and lived in houses and kindled fires like other people, and likewise fought rank and file. That they had taken one of the maidens of their own tribe to wait upon the queen’s child; but because the girl wept, the queen caused them to set her at liberty.

I was now rent between hope and terror—hope that this was my own wife and child, and terror that they would be rent in pieces by the savage monsters rather than given up. Of this last, the Lockos (the name of this wandering tribe) assured us, we needed not to entertain any apprehensions, for that they would, every one of them, die rather than wrong a hair of their queen’s head. But that it behoved us instantly to surround them; for if they once came to understand that we were in pursuit, they would make their escape, and then the whole world would not turn or detain them.

Accordingly, that very night, being joined by the Lockos, we surrounded the colony by an extensive circle, and continuing to close as we advanced. By the break of day we had them closely surrounded. The monsters flew to arms at the word of command, nothing daunted, forming a close circle round their camp and queen, the strongest of the males being placed outermost, and the females inmost, but all armed alike, and all having the same demure and melancholy faces. The circle being so close that I could not see inside, I went with the nine red-coats to the top of a cliff that in some degree overlooked the encampment, in order that, if my Agnes really was there, she might understand who was near her. Still I could not discover what was within, but I called her name aloud several times, and in about five minutes after that, the whole circle of tremendous brutal warriors flung away their arms and retired backward, leaving an open space for me to approach their queen.

In the most dreadful trepidation I entered between the hideous files, being well guarded by soldiers on either hand, and followed by the rest of the settlers; and there I indeed beheld my wife, my beloved Agnes, standing ready to receive me, with little William in her right hand, and a beautiful chubby daughter in her left, about two years old, and the very image of her mother. Conceive, if you can, sir, such a meeting! Were there ever a husband and wife met in such circumstances before? Never since the creation of the world! The two children looked healthy and beautiful, with their fur aprons, but it struck me at first that my beloved was much altered: it was only, however, caused by her internal commotion, by feelings which overpowered her grateful heart, against which nature could not bear up, for on my first embrace she fainted in my arms, which kept us all in suspension and confusion for a long space. The children fled from us, crying for their mother, and took shelter with their friends the pongos, who seemed in great amazement, and part of them began to withdraw as if to hide themselves.

As soon as Agnes was somewhat restored, I proposed that we should withdraw from the camp of her savage colony; but she refused, and told me that she behoved to part with her protectors on good terms, and that she must depart without any appearance of compulsion, which they might resent; and we actually rested ourselves during the heat of the day in the shades erected by those savage inhabitants of the forest. My wife went to her hoard of provisions, and distributed to every one of the pongos his share of fruit, succulent herbs, and roots, which they ate with great composure. It was a curious scene, something like what I had seen in a menagerie; and there was my little William, serving out food to the young ourang-outangs, cuffing them and ordering them, in the broad Annandale dialect, to do this, that, and the other thing; and they were not only obedient, but seemed flattered by his notice and correction. We were then presented with delicious fruits, but I had no heart to partake, being impatient to have my family away from the midst of this brutal society; for as long as we were there, I could not conceive them safe or fairly in my own power.

Agnes then stood up and made a speech to her subjects, accompanying her expressions with violent motions and contortions to make them understand her meaning. They understood it perfectly; for when they heard that she and her children were to leave them, they set up such a jabbering of lamentation as British ears never heard. Many of them came cowering and fawning before her, and she laid her hand on their heads; many, too, of the young ones came running, and lifting the children’s hands, they put them on their own heads. We then formed a close circle round Agnes and the children, to the exclusion of the pongos that still followed behind, howling and lamenting; and that night we lodged in the camp of the Lockos, placing a triple guard round my family, of which there stood great need. We durst not travel by night, but we contrived two covered hurdles, in which we carried Agnes and the children, and for three days a considerable body of the tallest and strongest of the ourang-outangs attended our steps, and some of them came to us fearlessly every day, as she said, to see if she was well, and if we were not hurting her.

We reached our own settlement one day sooner than we took in marching eastward; but then I durst not remain for a night, but getting into a vessel, I sailed straight for the Cape, having first made over all my goods and chattels to my countrymen, who are to send me down value here in corn and fruit; and here I am, living with my Agnes and our two children, at a little wigwam about five miles from Cape Town.

My Agnes’s part of the story is the most extraordinary of all. But here I must needs be concise, giving only a short and general outline of her adventures; for among dumb animals, whose signals and grimaces were so liable to misinterpretation, much must have been left to her own conjecture. The creatures’ motives for stealing and detaining her appeared to have been as follows:—

These animals remain always in distinct tribes, and are perfectly subordinate to a chief or ruler, and his secondary chiefs. For their expedition to rob our gardens, they had brought their sovereign’s sole heir along with them, as they never leave any of the royal family behind them, for fear of a surprisal. It was this royal cub which we killed, and the queen his mother having been distractedly inconsolable for the loss of her darling, the old monarch had set out by night to try if possible to recover it; and on not finding it, he seized on my boy in its place, carried him home in safety to his queen, and gave her him to nurse! She did so. Yes, she positively did nurse him at her breast for three months, and never child throve better than he did. By that time he was beginning to walk, and aim at speech, by imitating every voice he heard, whether of beast or bird; and it had struck the monsters as a great loss that they had no means of teaching their young sovereign to speak, at which art he seemed so apt. This led to the scheme of stealing his own mother to be his instructor, which they effected in the most masterly style, binding and gagging her in her own house, and carrying her from a populous hamlet in the fair forenoon, without having been discovered. Their expertness, and the rapidity of their motions, Agnes described as inconceivable by those who had never witnessed them. They showed every sort of tenderness and kindness by the way, proffering her plenty of fruit and water; but she gave herself totally up to despair, till, behold! she was introduced to her own little William, plump, thriving, and as merry as a cricket, gambolling away among his brutal compeers, for many of whom he had conceived a great affection,—but then they far outgrew him, while others as fast overtook him in size.

Agnes immediately took her boy under her tuition, and was soon given to understand that her will was to be the sole law of the community; and all the while that they detained her, they never refused her in aught save to take her home again. Our little daughter she had named Beatrice, after her maternal grandmother. She was born six months and six days after Agnes’s abstraction. She spoke highly of the pongos, of their docility, generosity, warmth of affection to their mates and young ones, and of their irresistible strength. She conceived that, however, to have been a tribe greatly superior to all others of the race, for she never could regard them in any other light than as dumb human creatures. I confess that I had the same sort of feeling while in their settlement, for many of the young females in particular were much comelier than negro savages whom I have often seen, and they laughed, smiled, and cried very much like human creatures. At my wife’s injunctions, or from her example, they all wore aprons: and the females had let the hair of their heads grow long. It was glossy black, and neither curled nor woolly, and on the whole, I cannot help having a lingering affection for the creatures. They would make the most docile, powerful, and affectionate of all slaves; but they come very soon to their growth, and are but shortlived, in that way approximating to the rest of the brute creation. They live entirely on fruits, roots, and vegetables, and taste no animal food whatever.

I asked Agnes much of the civility of their manner to her, and she always describes it as respectful and uniform. For a while she never thought herself quite safe when near the queen, but the dislike of the latter to her arose entirely out of her boundless affection for the boy. No mother could possibly be fonder of her own offspring than this affectionate creature was of William, and she was jealous of his mother for taking him from her, and causing him instantly to be weaned. But then the chief never once left the two queens by themselves; they had always a guard day and night.

I have no objection to the publication of these adventures in Britain, though I know they will not obtain credit; but I should not like that the incidents reached the “Sidney Gazette,” as I intend emigrating to that country as soon as I receive value for the stock I left at the settlement, for I have a feeling that my family is scarcely safe as long as I am on any part of the coast of Africa. And for the sake of my rising family, I have an aversion at its being known that they were bred among creatures that must still be conceived to be of the brute creation. Do not write till you hear from me again; and believe me ever, your old affectionate friend,

Wm. Mitchell.

Vander Creek, near Cape Town,
Oct. 1, 1826.