It is really astonishing what a difference the weather makes to the morals of the South African nigger. Give him plenty of sunshine, and he forgets he ever had a soul, and throws slabs of blasphemy, picked up from the Tommies around him, with painful liberality. When he gets tired of English oaths, he drops into Cape Dutch, and some of the curses contained in that language are solid enough to hurt anything they hit. Later on he drifts into his native tongue, raises his voice a couple of octaves, and streaks the atmosphere with multi-coloured oaths, until you imagine you are listening to a vocal rainbow. But take away the sunshine, give him a wet hide and a wet floor to camp on, and he straightway becomes all penitence and prayer. His face, peering out dismally between the upturned collar of his weather-stained coat and the down-drawn brim of his battered hat, looks like a soiled sermon, and he is altogether woeful.
When the weather is warm he decks himself out in any piece of gaudy finery he can lay hands upon. He loves to wear a glaring yellow roll of silk or cloth around his hat, a blue or green ’kerchief about his throat, and a crimson girdle encircled about his loins. Then he thinks he is a midsummer sunset, and swaggers round like a peacock in full plumage, looking for something to “mash.” He has no sense of the eternal law of averages. It does not trouble him if the whole seat of his most important garment is represented by a hole big enough to put a baby in, if he only has the artistic decorations I have mentioned above. Nor does he see anything out of the way in the fact that one of his feet is encased in an officer’s top boot and the other in a remnant of a Boer farmer’s cast-off veldtschoon. His soul yearns towards feathers. He will pluck a grand white plume from the tail of an ostrich if he gets a favourable opportunity, and place it triumphantly in his torn and soiled slouch hat, or he will pick up a discarded bonnet from a dust pile and rob it of feathers placed there by feminine hands, in order that he may look a black Beau Brummell.
His manners, like his morals, change with the weather. When the barometer registers “fine and clear,” you may expect a saucy answer if you rate him for a late breakast; when it registers “warm, and likely to be warmer,” you may consider yourself lucky if you get a morning meal at all. But when it indicates “hot,” and the mercury still rising, you know that the time has arrived for you to climb out of your coat and commence cooking for yourself, unless you feel equal to the task of spreading a saucy nigger in sections around the adjacent allotments. It is not always healthy to adopt the latter plan, especially if your “boy” happens to be a Basuto or a Zulu. Should he belong to either of those tribes, threaten him as much as you like, but don’t hurry to put your threats into practice; or the nigger may do the scattering, and you may do the penitent part of the business. You may bully him as much as you like when the barometer is falling, for then the life is all out of him, and he has not sufficient spirit left in him to resent any sort of insult.