Thomas Pringle

(5 January 1789 – 5 December 1834 / Blaiklaw)

The Bechuana Boy


I sat at noontide in my tent,
And looked across the Desert dun,
Beneath the cloudless firmament
Far gleaming in the sun,
When from the bosom of the waste
A swarthy Stripling came in haste,
With foot unshod and naked limb;
And a tame springbok followed him.

With open aspect, frank yet bland,
And with a modest mien he stood,
Caressing with a gentle hand
That beast of gentle brood;
Then, meekly gazing in my face,
Said in the language of his race,
With smiling look yet pensive tone,
"Stranger -- I'm in the world alone!"

"Poor boy!" I said, "thy native home
Lies far beyond the Stormberg blue:
Why hast thou left it, boy! to roam
This desolate Karroo?"
His face grew sadder while I spoke;
The smile forsook it; and he broke
Short silence with a sob-like sigh,
And told his hapless history.

"I have no home!" replied the boy:
"The Bergenaars -- by night they came,
And raised their wolfish howl of joy,
While o'er our huts the flame
Resistless rushed; and aye their yell
Pealed louder as our warriors fell
In helpless heaps beneath their shot:
-- One living man they left us not!

"The slaughter o'er, they gave the slain
To feast the foul-beaked birds of prey;
And, with our herds, across the plain
They hurried us away --
The widowed mothers and their brood.
Oft, in despair, for drink and food
We vainly cried: they heeded not,
But with sharp lash the captive smote.

"Three days we tracked that dreary wild,
Where thirst and anguish pressed us sore;
And many a mother and her child
Lay down to rise no more.
Behind us, on the desert brown,
We saw the vultures swooping down:
And heard, as the grim night was falling,
The wolf to his gorged comrade calling.

"At length we heard a river sounding
'Midst that dry and dismal land,
And, like a troop of wild deer bounding,
We hurried to its strand --
Among the maddened cattle rushing;
The crowd behind still forward pushing,
Till in the flood our limbs were drenched,
And the fierce rage of thirst was quenched.

"Hoarse-roaring, dark, the broad Gareep
In turbid streams was sweeping fast,
Huge sea-cows in its eddies deep
Loud snorting as we passed;
But that relentless robber clan
Right through those waters wild and wan
Drove on like sheep our wearied band:
-- Some never reached the farther strand.

"All shivering from the foaming flood,
We stood upon the stranger's ground,
When, with proud looks and gestures rude,
The White Men gathered round:
And there, like cattle from the fold,
By Christians we were bought and sold,
'Midst laughter loud and looks of scorn --
And roughly from each other torn.

"My Mother's scream, so long and shrill,
My little Sister's wailing cry,
(In dreams I often hear them still!)
Rose wildly to the sky.
A tiger's heart came to me then,
And fiercely on those ruthless men
I sprang. -- Alas! dashed on the sand,
Bleeding, they bound me foot and hand.

"Away -- away on prancing steeds
The stout man-stealers blithely go,
Through long low valleys fringed with reeds,
O'er mountains capped with snow,
Each with his captive, far and fast;
Until yon rock-bound ridge we passed,
And distant stripes of cultured soil
Bespoke the land of tears and toil.

"And tears and toil have been my lot
Since I the White Man's thrall became,
And sorer griefs I wish forgot --
Harsh blows, and scorn, and shame!
Oh, Englishman! thou ne'er canst know
The injured bondman's bitter woe,
When round his breast, like scorpions, cling
Black thoughts that madden while they sting!

"Yet this hard fate I might have borne,
And taught in time my soul to bend,
Had my sad yearning heart forlorn
But found a single friend:
My race extinct or far removed,
The Boor's rough brood I could have loved;
But each to whom my bosom turned
Even like a hound the black boy spurned.

"While, friendless thus, my master's flocks
I tended on the upland waste,
It chanced this fawn leapt from the rocks,
By wolfish wild-dogs chased:
I rescued it, though wounded sore
And dabbled in its mother's gore;
And nursed it in a cavern wild,
Until it loved me like a child.

"Gently I nursed it; for I thought
(Its hapless fate so like to mine)
By good Utíko it was brought
To bid me not repine, --
Since in this world of wrong and ill
One creature lived that loved me still,
Although its dark and dazzling eye
Beamed not with human sympathy.

"Thus lived I, a lone orphan lad,
My task the proud Boor's flocks to tend;
And this poor fawn was all I had
To love, or call my friend;
When suddenly, with haughty look
And taunting words, that tyrant took
My playmate for his pampered boy,
Who envied me my only joy.

"High swelled my heart! -- But when a star
Of midnight gleamed, I softly led
My bounding favourite forth, and far
Into the Desert fled.
And here, from human kind exiled,
Three moons on roots and berries wild
I've fared; and braved the beasts of prey,
To 'scape from spoilers worse than they.

"But yester morn a Bushman brought
The tidings that thy tents were near;
And now with hasty foot I've sought
Thy presence, void of fear;
Because they say, O English Chief,
Thou scornest not the Captive's grief:
Then let me serve thee, as thine own --
For I am in the world alone!"

Such was Marossi's touching tale.
Our breasts they were not made of stone:
His words, his winning looks prevail --
We took him for `our own.'
And One, with woman's gentle art,
Unlocked the fountains of his heart;
And love gushed forth -- till he became
Her Child in every thing but name.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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