Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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School was just over. The boys belonging to Arlingford College poured out into the playing fields, the juniors tumbling over one another in haste and confusion, as though the premises were on fire behind them; the seniors strolling leisurely out, or gathering in small groups near the school door, to arrange their plans for the afternoon. Dr Stansfield, the headmaster, still remained, in conversation with Reginald Margetts, a connection of his wife’s, a young man of two-and-twenty, who was passing the Oxford long vacation at his house, and had come in with a message from Mrs Stansfield. One of the assistant masters also, George Rivers by name, sat at his desk, looking over some exercises of which he had not completed the revision. He was near about Margetts’ age, a well-built young fellow with an intelligent and pleasant face.
“Well, that will do, Redgy,” said the Doctor. “You may tell Mrs Stansfield that I do not know, and cannot conjecture who her visitor may have been; but if he is to return in half an hour, I shall be in the library ready to receive him. At present I must have a little talk with George Rivers here, before I leave the school.”
“I am going to walk with Rivers presently, sir,” said Margetts. “Shall you be long?”
“A quarter of an hour, I daresay. George will join you when we have done. George,” he continued, as Margetts left the room, “I have looked over the papers you have sent me. I intended to have had this conversation, even if you had not invited it. It is time that some conclusion was come to. You have not, I fear, received any fresh information?”
“I am sorry to say I have not.”
“I am sorry too; but I hardly expected anything else. You are, I think, more than one-and-twenty?”
“Two-and-twenty in a few months, sir.”
“Indeed. Well, there ought to be no further delay in the arrangement of your plans for the future. Do you not think so?”
“Yes, sir; and I believe I have made up my mind.”
“What have you resolved to do?”
“Before I go into that, Dr Stansfield, I ought to thank you for the great kindness you have shown me. I should be a pauper, or something like it, but for you.”
“We need not speak of that. Go on.”
“Well, sir, I feel that I ought not to remain longer in England. I have already trespassed too long on your bounty.”
“If that is your reason for leaving England, you had better reconsider it. Whatever might have been the case three years and a half ago, you are not costing me anything now. Your assistant-mastership, small as the salary is, with what you have of your own, is enough to keep you, and you fully earn it. You have, I believe, once or twice expressed a wish to enter holy orders?”
“It has been my wish for some time past, sir.”
“Very well. You could not be ordained for more than a year. Before that I think I could arrange with the Bishop for you to be ordained on your mastership here.There is not so much difficulty made about a title as used to be the case.”
“You are most kind, sir. I hope you will not think me ungrateful; but I feel it to be my first duty to find my mother and sister, if I can.”
“I cannot blame you. But I should like to know what steps you mean to take. I understood you to say you had obtained no further information.”
“No; and I do not expect to obtain any information, so long as I am in England. But if I were out in Australia, it might be different.”
“What do you propose to do, then?”
“Well, in the first place, to work my passage out to Australia – to Swan River, you know.”
“Ay, to Dalby’s Plot, to which it was ascertained that your mother went when she landed in Australia. But you doubtless remember that we ascertained, two years and a half ago, that she had left the colony, and had gone – some said to Tasmania, and others to Cape Town; but no one has ever given us a clue, by which we might discover the place to which she had really removed.”
“That is so. But if I were on the spot I think I might be able to hunt out information, which no one, who was not as deeply interested as I am, would be able to obtain.”
“You may be right in that. Well, suppose you went out, and succeeded in finding Mrs Rivers – what then?”
“Then I should like to buy land – a small farm. A little money goes a long way out there, you know, sir. Then, when I was getting on pretty well, I might be ordained by one of the colonial bishops, and do clerical work combined with farming. It isn’t the same kind of thing out there, I am told, that it is in England. There are no large populations – except, of course, in the towns – which take up a man’s whole time.”
“You are right, I believe. A number of educated and zealous men supporting themselves by their own industry, and yet having the power of ministering to their neighbours, would be a great boon in the colonies. I would willingly lend you all the assistance in my power towards carrying out your scheme; but, as I have already said, I am afraid I see but little hope of learning what has become of your mother and sister.”
“I do not see much more; but I think it my duty to make the trial.”
“Be it so then. What money have you?”
“Enough to pay my passage to Australia, sir, – that is, as a third-class passenger, if I should prefer that to serving as a sailor on board one of the steamers, – and perhaps 100 pounds over.”
“I think you must go as a passenger. It might prejudice your errand, when you get there, if you had been before the mast. We must contrive to get you a letter of introduction to one of the Australian bishops.”
“I’ll give him one!” exclaimed a voice. “I know two or three of them as well as I know my own brother.”
Dr Stansfield started up in great surprise. “What, Rogers!” he exclaimed. “Are you the visitor whom Mrs Stansfield told me to expect? I knew you were coming to England, but not so soon as this.”
“To be sure I am. I was told you would be out of school by a quarter past twelve at latest, and now it is half-past, and you are still there!”
“We had forgotten the lapse of time,” said the Doctor. “But tell me what has brought you to England so much earlier than was expected.”
“The rows with the Boers and the Zulus,” said Mr Rogers. “I have come home – partly at the request of many of the leading men in Natal, partly because my own interests were deeply concerned – to try and induce the Government to put matters on some satisfactory footing.”
“I had better leave you, sir, had I not?” said George, rising. “You can speak to me further at another time.”
Both the gentlemen turned and looked at the speaker, whose presence perhaps they had forgotten.
“Oh yes,” said Dr Stansfield; “I will bear what you have told me in mind, and speak to you about it in a day or two.”
George bowed, and left the room.
“Who is that lad?” inquired Mr Rogers. “I don’t suppose I can have seen him before; but his face seems strangely familiar to me.”
“No; you can’t have seen him before,” rejoined the Doctor, smiling, “unless it was in a dream. He has never been in South Africa, and you, I think, have never left it since he was a child.”
“No; I have never left the Transvaal, unless to visit Cape Town, or Zululand, or Natal, for twenty years. I wonder you knew me, Stansfield; but, to be sure, you were expecting me before long. But as regards this lad – has he any relatives in the Transvaal?”
“His mother and sister may be in the Transvaal for all I can tell. They left England some years ago, and the place where they are living is quite unknown.”
“What is his name?” asked Mr Rogers.
“Rivers,” answered the headmaster, – “George Rivers.” Mr Rogers shook his head. “I know no person of that name,” he said. “It must be a mere chance resemblance. But I should like to know his history; for some reason or other he interests me.”
“Well, I can tell it you now,” said the Doctor. “Sophia will not expect us until luncheon-time, and that is not for another half-hour yet. Sit down in that chair, and you shall hear it.
“George’s father was a country doctor; he lived in this neighbourhood, and was a very estimable man, and skilful in his profession, but very poor. He married Farmer Wylie’s daughter, a well-to-do man, and able to give his daughter Agnes a very comfortable portion, particularly as she was his only child. But he set himself against the marriage, forbade it for several years, and at last only agreed because he saw nothing could change his daughter’s mind. But he would give her nothing more than a hundred pounds, to buy her wedding clothes and help furnish the house. A country doctor’s practice is not very profitable, and Mr Rivers, though not an extravagant, was not a saving man. They found it hard work to live, still harder when their children began to grow up. George was born to them two years after their marriage, and Thyrza two years after that.”
“Thyrza, did you say?” interposed Mr Rogers suddenly.
“Yes, Thyrza,” said the Doctor. “It was an unusual name, but I believe it was her father’s fancy. Well, Mr and Mrs Rivers got poorer and poorer. He had sent George to the college here. The lad was clever and hard-working, and he obtained a scholarship, which went a long way towards paying his schooling. But Mr Rivers called upon me one day, when George was between sixteen and seventeen, and told me that he could not longer afford to pay even the slight cost of his son’s education. He had had an interview with his son, he said, and had told him the truth. I was interested in the lad, and told Mr Rivers that whatever school fees there were would be remitted in the case of his son. The poor man was very grateful; but when he reached home with the good news, he found it had come too late. The boy had disappeared, no one knew whither. It was not for nearly a month afterwards that a letter arrived, saying that he had resolved he would no longer be a charge upon his parents’ scanty means. He had therefore gone on board a ship bound for Australia. He meant to work his passage out there before the mast, and when out there hoped to be able to find employment enough to keep himself. As soon as he reached his destination, they should hear from him again. Mrs Rivers brought me this letter, in the hope that I might be able to assist her. She was wrapt up in this boy, and his departure had nearly broken her heart.
“‘We could bear anything,’ she said to me, ‘if he was only with us.’
“I promised that I would write to the owners of the ship in which he had sailed, and make arrangements for his return to England on the earliest opportunity. But a series of misfortunes ensued, which I have often wondered that she survived. First of all, there was a terrible fire, by which Mr Rivers’ house was burnt to the ground. No life was lost, but there was heavy loss, and, what was worse, Mrs Rivers was severely burned. One arm was so much injured that it was thought for a long time she would lose the use of it, and the scars on her wrist and thumb will never be erased.”
Mr Rogers again started, and was on the point of speaking. But he checked himself, and allowed the Doctor to go on.
“Before she had recovered from her wounds came the news that the Boomerang, in which George had sailed, had been wrecked. The crew had taken to the boats, some of which had landed safe on the Australian coast; but others, it was feared, were lost. Mr Rivers could not bear up against this continual current of misfortune. He took to his bed, lingered some weeks, and then died. That his widow did not speedily follow him has, as I have already intimated, always been a matter of wonder to me. I think the necessity of living for the sake of her daughter was the only thing that bore her up. She was left, of course, quite penniless. I had the not very pleasant task of calling upon old Farmer Wylie to inform him of his daughter’s destitute condition. The old man had turned more and more against the match, as it became evident that the Riverses were not thriving in the world. Mr Rivers had felt hurt and affronted at the language used by his father-in-law; and for the last few years all intercourse had been broken off. But it was now necessary to apply to him. I rode over accordingly, but found I had gone on a bootless errand. Old Wylie himself was dangerously ill, and died within a few days, never having recovered consciousness. When his will was opened, it was found that his whole property had been bequeathed to the county hospital. There was a small sum which had belonged to his wife, which it was agreed might be made over to his daughter. It was enough to pay her husband’s debts, and leave her about a couple of hundred pounds. She resolved with this to emigrate to Australia.”
“That was a strange resolution, was it not, under the circumstances?” remarked Mr Rogers.
“I think it was, but she had a reason for it. She fancied that her uncle Christopher, who had gone thither many years before, might still be living there. I believe, too, that the sight of the familiar scenes around her, associated as they were in her mind with her husband and son, were more than she could endure. At all events she went, and arrived safely in the colony. She wrote to apprise me of it, but I never heard from her again. Nor have I ever been able to discover what became of her, except that she left Australia soon afterwards.”
“And what of George, then?” asked Mr Rogers, who had become interested in the narrative.
“He returned to England about six months after his mother’s departure. The boat in which he had left the Boomerang had been driven out of its course, and had at last reached the Island of Timor. Thence George had obtained a passage to Singapore, and thence again home. He came to me in great distress. His father’s death and his mother’s departure from England had been terrible shocks to him. His first thought, of course, was of immediately joining his mother, wherever she might be. But I pointed out to him that it would be better for him to wait until we could learn more of her movements. All that I had heard at that time was that she had left Australia soon after her arrival there, her uncle, Mr Christopher Wylie, having gone somewhere else, though no one seemed to know where. Probably, however, she would write home again. Meanwhile, inquiry might continue to be made. George, who was now nearly eighteen, had better re-enter the college for a year. A small legacy left him by a relative would enable him to pay for his board, and the school fees we remitted. He agreed to this, and continued in the school for a year and a half, after which I found him some employment as an extra junior master. He has continued his studies, and is now a very tolerable scholar.”
“And he has never discovered his mother’s present residence?”
“Never. A friend in Swan River, to whom I wrote, made every inquiry, but could only learn what I have already told you, that Mrs Rivers went away soon after her arrival. She had discovered some clue, it was thought, to her uncle’s new place of abode. But even that is conjecture.”
“And what does the lad propose to do with himself?” asked Mr Rogers. “He will not, I suppose, remain here much longer.”
“No. He will go away at midsummer. He wanted to go at once, but I urged his remaining until the end of the half-year. Indeed, there are preparations which must be made before undertaking a long voyage.”
“He is going to Australia, then?”
“Yes. He thinks that, although Mr Welstead’s inquiries failed to elicit the required information, he himself might be more successful. I don’t agree with him; but it would be hard to discourage him.”
“And if he finds his mother and sister?”
“Then he would buy a little land with what remains of his cousin’s legacy, and settle in the colony with his relatives, combining farming with a clergyman’s work.”
“A clergyman’s work? Has he any fancy for that?”
“Yes, a very decided one. He is one of those who are anxious to do good, but who combine with it an impatience of settled habits of life, and a thirst for novelty and adventure. I do not know how to blame him. He has all the qualities that would fit him for the course on which he desires to enter. He is resolute, intelligent, and ready; capital at all field sports and outdoor exercises; capable of bearing considerable fatigue and hardships without murmuring; and withal extremely affectionate and right-minded. Whatever purpose he might conceive, he would be pretty sure to carry out, and, unless under very exceptional circumstances, successfully.”
“Indeed!” said Mr Rogers. “Then he is certainly the man for the colonies. Well, Stansfield, I have not interrupted you, because I wanted particularly to hear the whole of this story; but you will be surprised, I think, to hear that I not only know the place where young Rivers’ mother and sister are living, but am myself personally acquainted with them.”
“With Mrs Rivers and her daughter!” exclaimed the headmaster in surprise. “I thought you said just now that you knew no one of that name?”
“Nor do I,” said Mr Rogers; “but I do know a Mrs Mansen, the wife of a Dutch farmer, who lives at one of my farms, only a short distance from my station. She has a daughter named Thyrza Rivers, whose age corresponds nearly with that of the Thyrza of your story.”
“It is an uncommon name,” said the headmaster. “Still there might be two persons so called.”
“No doubt. But you said the mother had been disfigured in the hand by a severe burn. Mrs Mansen is a handsome woman past forty; but she has just such a scar as you describe on her wrist. But did I understand you to say her Christian name was Agnes?”
“Yes,” said Dr Stansfield; “I am pretty sure it is. But anyway it will be in the School Register. Yes,” he added, taking a book down; “here it is: ‘September 24, 18 – . George, son of George and Agnes Rivers, admitted.’”
“Then I think there can be no doubt of the identity,” said Mr Rogers. “Mrs Mansen’s name is certainly Agnes. She had occasion to sign her name before me, as a magistrate, a twelvemonth ago, and I remember it perfectly. Mrs Mansen, too, had lost, or rather, believed she had lost her only son, at sea. Well, this simplifies matters, I think, considerably. I conclude this young fellow will give up all idea of proceeding to Australia, and betake himself to Mansen’s place – ‘Spielman’s Vley,’ as it is called – instead?”
“Spielman’s Vley,” repeated the Doctor. “Is that in Natal or in Zululand?”
“It is in neither. My station – Umvalosa – is just on the very borders of the three countries, Zululand, Natal, and the Transvaal; and Spielman’s Vley lies a short distance only to the north-west, in the Transvaal. It is one of the places which my chaplain, – as I call him, – Lambert, continually visits.”
“Ay; his visitations are rather different, I expect, from those of our parochial clergy?”
“Very different. There are at least a dozen places round Umvalosa, which, but for him, would be wholly without spiritual care. He visits these in regular order, as well as he can; but some of them only get a service once in two months or so. Unless there is some special reason, such as some one on his deathbed wanting him, he is unable to visit them oftener.”
“That must cause a good deal of spiritual deadness,” observed Dr Stansfield. “They must soon forget all about his visits.”
“Ah, so you in England fancy; but nothing can be further from the fact. If the parson’s visits were looked for in England as they are in my neighbourhood, the English Church would be in a very different position. Our people never forget the day when Mr Lambert is due. They will come a long distance, and in all weathers, to be present at the services. But that is human nature after all. What a man can have for the asking, he cares little about, let it be ever so valuable; what he can only get by taking much trouble and incurring great risk, that he appreciates. But this has nothing to do with young Rivers. I think I ought to see him, and tell him my conjectures – or rather, I think I may say, my decided convictions – as to the identity of his mother with Mrs Mansen.”
“Of course,” returned the Doctor. “He must judge for himself; but it appears to me to be a clear case.”
“Well, but there is something further. If he is convinced that I am right, he will, I conclude, set out shortly – not for Australia, but for South Africa.”
“No doubt of that,” assented the headmaster.
“In that case I shall make him an offer, which I hope he will accept. I told you it was the political aspect of things that had brought me home a month or two sooner than I had originally intended; but I had other reasons besides. I wanted to get one or two young men, who would take situations as schoolmasters and readers, and who might ultimately be ordained, and serve churches out there, which I believe I can contrive to get built. Now this lad seems to be the very person I am looking after. I could put him into a small farm, which he could cultivate with the help of some natives, and there would be a salary enough to keep him until the farm began to pay. That it would soon do if he was capable and painstaking, as by your account he is.”
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