Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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“Have you been long settled in this country, Mr Bilderjik?” asked George, as they drew rein after a sharp ride of half an hour.
“Do you mean in South Africa, or in Natal?”
“I mean in Africa generally. How long is it since you left Europe?”
“A great many years – five-and-thirty or so. It is certainly nearly that time since I landed at Cape Town, and was sent up to Namaqualand.”
“Ah, you have been there, among the Hottentots?”
“I was about five years there.”
“Were you settled in one place, or did you travel about?”
“My residence was always in the same place, but I and my wife made continual excursions into different parts of the country.”
“Did you find the people willing to receive you?”
“That is a question which it is not easy to answer,” said the Swedish minister. “They showed no dislike to us; indeed, they were willing enough to listen, but, I fear, to very little purpose. For the first two or three years, I continually fancied that I was making some progress, getting some hold upon them. But I am afraid it was nearly all fancy.”
“What stood in your way?”
“In the first place, the profound ignorance of the people, and their low intellectual capacity. They could understand all that was necessary for supplying their wants, averting dangers, relieving pain, and the like. If Christianity consisted in the proper discharge of duties like these, one might have made good Christians of them without any great difficulty. They might have been taught to be diligent, and kind, and truthful, and forgiving – though those last two qualities were not so easy to teach. But when any one tried to impress upon them the notion of an Unseen Power watching over them, to whom they owed obedience, one entered upon an almost impossible task. They couldn’t understand that any being could exist whom they could not see, much less that he could have power or authority over them. Where was any evidence of so extraordinary a thing, beyond my bare word? It was useless, again, to tell them that their relatives, who had been taken away from earth, were not dead, but living elsewhere. They had seen them die, they said, and knew that they turned to dust, and there was no more left of them than there was of the wood they had burned for their fire yesterday. They were on the whole a kindly race, and had received such hard usage from the Dutch that they appreciated in proportion the kindness shown to them. But it was impossible to lift their minds – so at least it seemed – from the degradation to which they had sunk.”
“Had you not a better chance with the children, sir?” asked Margetts.
“That is every missionary’s hope,” answered Bilderjik. “Yes, we succeeded in teaching some of the children to read and write, though, to be sure, not very efficiently; and they could take in some very simple teaching on plain subjects, as, for instance, natural history, or geography. I suppose this might have been further developed, until, in process of time, the intellect was fully awakened.But it would be a long and difficult task, extending probably over more than one man’s entire life.”
“But to have accomplished any part of such a work would be worth the labour of a life,” said George.
The missionary looked pleased. “You are right, Mr Rivers,” he said. “That is the true way in which to view it. A man’s work is often to be estimated – not by what he himself does, but by what he enables others after him to do. ‘One soweth and another reapeth,’ is truer, I think, of the work of the gospel than of anything else. Have you any idea of giving yourself to it?”
“I have come out to South Africa mainly with that intention,” said George. “It has struck me, since we left Colenso, that entering the Volunteers, as I declared my intention of doing, may not be quite consistent with it. What do you think?”
The clergyman smiled. “A minister of the gospel is a man of peace,” he said. “But war is sometimes absolutely necessary to the preservation of peace. And that, I am inclined to believe, is the case in the present instance. If you were actually an ordained minister, I think you ought not to take part in any violent proceedings, unless for the purpose of preventing some actual deed of violence. But you are at present a layman, and the cause is one which every right-minded man ought to uphold. Situated as you are, I don’t see why you should not enlist. Did I not hear you say that you were going to Umvalosa?”
“Yes, to Dykeman’s Hollow – Mr Rogers’ place.”
“Oh ay, I know him,” said Mr Bilderjik. “He is a good and worthy man, and so is his chaplain, Mr Lambert. He often visits me. We agree that there is very little difference between our churches, in respect either of doctrine or discipline – very little even at home, none at all, it may be said, out here. Are you to be one of Mr Rogers’ schoolmasters?”
“Yes,” said George; “one of his schoolmasters for some time, and afterwards one of his chaplains.”
“You will be doing a good work. He has several at Umvalosa, and at Pieter’s Kop, and Spielman’s Vley, and Landman’s Drift, and several other places. Mr Rogers is one of those who make a good use of the means entrusted to them. I wish we had many like him.”
“I wish so too,” said George. “But we have got away from what we were talking of, the Hottentots. I had heard that they are as a rule untruthful and sensual, but also that they are kind-hearted and affectionate. What is your experience on this point, I should like to know?”
“In all countries, so far as my experience extends,” answered Mr Bilderjik, – “in all countries of the world, I believe, parents are affectionate to their children, unless where some strong motive influences them to be otherwise. It is little more, in fact, than a natural instinct that prompts their affection. But where there is this strong motive, the parental instinct is soon disregarded. In countries, for instance, where boys are a source of profit, and girls a burden and a cost, as in China, female child-murder becomes a common practice. In lands, again, where food is with difficulty obtained, and every additional mouth deprives others of their full supply of sustenance, infants are killed without scruple. The Hottentots are no exception to this. This is the case even where the natural affection of parents might have influenced them to make sacrifices for their own children. Where the children of others are concerned, there is the most absolute indifference to suffering. That Hottentot groom of mine, Haxo, is an evidence in his own person of it.”
“Your Hottentot groom yonder? What of him?”
“I have had him ever since he was a baby,” said the Swede. “This is the way in which I came by him. While we were on our way to the upper part of Namaqualand, and were a mile or two from the Hottentot village where we meant to pass the Sunday, we fell in with a tribe of Hottentots, who were emigrating to a different part of the country. We sat down to rest at the spring at which the Hottentots had been drinking. We soon got very friendly with them, making them presents of a few toys which we had brought with us, to their great delight. They listened very attentively to all I had to say to them, and we parted with them having formed a very favourable impression of them. There was one family in particular that took our fancy. It consisted of a fine handsome man, a rather delicate wife with an infant, not yet weaned, and two lads almost grown up. They went off in the cool of the evening, taking the same path which we meant to take on the Monday. We passed the Sunday as we intended, and the next day set out. After a journey of an hour or two we came upon a woman who lay under the shadow of a rock with an infant in her arms, evidently dying of exhaustion and hunger. We gave her some nourishment, but it was plain that she was too far gone to be restored. She appeared to know us, and with some difficulty we recognised her as the young mother we had so greatly admired. It appeared that after the party had proceeded some distance, it was reported to them that there was a lion in an adjoining donga, which would probably attack them if it was not destroyed. All the men had gone in pursuit of it and killed it. But before this could be done, the woman’s husband had been struck by a blow from the lion’s paw, and died in a few minutes. There was a debate held as to what was to be done with the family. The two boys were strong and active, and would soon become useful as hunters. It was worth while keeping them, but they could not, or would not, support their mother. No one was willing to take her as a wife, she being notoriously weak and sickly. She tried hard, she told us, to induce one of the women to take her child, and save its life. Her own, she knew, would soon come to an end. But the baby was to all appearance as sickly as herself. After an hour’s talk, the whole party went on, leaving her and her infant to die in the wilderness. I should much doubt whether her boys ever gave her another thought.”
“Shocking!” said Margetts. “I suppose the poor thing died, did she not?”
“Yes, died in a few hours. We gave her what sustenance we had with us, and did what we could for her. But she was dying when we fell in with her, and I do not suppose that the most skilful physician in Europe could have restored her.”
“And you took the baby and brought it up?” suggested George.
“Yes, that was the only thing that gave her any comfort. We promised that we would take charge of it, and see that it was cared for. She died quite contentedly, when she had seen it go to sleep in Mrs Bilderjik’s arms, and we buried her in the same grave to which the remains of her husband had been committed on the previous day.”
“How has the boy turned out?” asked Margetts.
“Very well,” said the Swede. “He makes a good farm servant, and thoroughly understands the management of horses. But he is better at hunting than anything else. He has all the instincts of his race. I frequently send him out with his pony into the wild country, and he is pretty sure to come back before long with a springbok or two, or a hartebeest, or eland; what we don’t eat we can dispose of to our neighbours. Mr Baylen spoke in high praise of his Bechuana Matamo. But I think Haxo is pretty nearly his match.”
“Any way, he will be so by the time he reaches Matamo’s age,” said George. “He must be a good deal younger.”
“Yes, Haxo is not much more than thirty. By-the-bye, you were speaking of making an expedition to Zeerust, when this miserable war is over. I did not hear clearly what was passing, but I thought I understood that.”
“Yes,” said George. “They tell me that my mother has removed there; and my first object in life is to find her.”
“Ah, I thought so. Well, I daresay I can lend you the services of Haxo. In fact, it would be as much to my advantage as yours that he should accompany you. There is a message I must send to Kolobeng, and I had thought of sending Haxo with it. If he travelled across the Transvaal with your party, it would be an advantage both to him and to you.”
“To us certainly,” said Rivers. “And I thank you for the offer. But I have not yet done with my inquiries about the natives. You have told me about the Hottentots, but not about the Kaffirs and Zulus; I want to know more about them than any other of the natives. I am in no way surprised that you found it difficult to make any way with the Namaquas and Bosjesmans. They are by all accounts the very lowest types of humanity. But from what I have seen of the Kaffirs, the case must be quite different with them. They strike me as being a highly intelligent race – as intelligent, I should say, as the lower classes in any European country. The same obstacles that stand in the way of the conversion of the Hottentots cannot surely exist in their instance.”
“You are right, Mr Rivers,” returned Mr Bilderjik. “There are not the same obstacles. But, unfortunately, there are as bad, or, as some would say, worse obstacles. The Hottentots have, strictly speaking, no religious ideas at all. They are simply intelligent animals, and not too intelligent either. But the Kaffir has a religion, though one so wholly false as to render him in a great measure incapable of conceiving the true one. He believes in a God, and even, in a wild, confused way, in a Creator of the universe. But these are in his view only men. The dead, according to his ideas, become potent spirits, which must be propitiated, or they will do the living the most terrible injuries. There is no sense of love or of benefits conferred, but only the power of working evil. If the seasons are mild and genial, and the crops productive, that is the ordinary course of nature, and there is no need to be thankful for it. If there comes tempest, or blight, or wasting disease, it is because the spirits are angered at neglect shown, or insult offered them; and sacrifices, often of the most bloody and cruel kind, must be offered, or the vengeance of the angry gods will fall still more heavily on the people. In short, it is a religion of fear and hate, instead of being what it should be, a religion of love.”
“Are they not thankful, sir, to any one who will deliver them from such a yoke of bondage?” asked George.
“One would certainly expect that they would be. But the gospel does not make the progress that might be looked for. It is in direct opposition to two of their ruling passions, their thirst for revenge and their sensuality. The preachers of the gospel especially forbid bloodshed and polygamy; and these are the two things their chiefs live for.”
“Polygamy! Ay, I was going to ask you about that. I can understand that you would find yourself in a difficulty there. But I do not quite know what your practice is. If a Kaffir chief, who has a number of wives, is converted, would you oblige him to put them all away but one, as a condition on which you will admit him to baptism?”
“It is a point on which Christian ministers are not fully agreed. I see a difficulty myself. A man has solemnly promised to take and keep a woman for his wife, and she has been faithful to him. If he puts her away, she may not only be distressed for the loss of her husband, whom she loves, but may be placed in very painful and degrading circumstances, which she has in no way merited. It seems contrary to the genius of Christianity, which is replete with justice and mercy, that she should so suffer. The Scripture no doubt allows but of one wife, that being God’s primary institution of marriage. It cannot, therefore, permit any to contract polygamy, but that hardly meets the case. Scripture also commends the man ‘who swears unto his neighbour and disappoints him not.’ It is a great difficulty.”
“How do you yourself meet it, sir?”
“I do not lay down any hard and fast rule. I make a point of talking the matter over with the husband and with the wives, and try to induce them voluntarily to separate, in every case but that of the wife first married. But if I cannot succeed in this, I do not refuse baptism. We must remember that, though polygamy has always been a thing contrary to the divine intention, it was tolerated ‘for the hardness of men’s hearts,’ until the truth in all its fulness was bestowed upon men.”
“It is not the first time that the difficulty has occurred,” said George. “The French Church, after the conversion of the northern barbarians, was long embarrassed by the same question.”
“True; and the custom gradually died out, and was heard of no more, as Christian light grew stronger,” said Mr Bilderjik. “We must hope that the same result will follow in Southern Africa. But here I think we are at last. If I do not mistake, that is the Buffalo river that we see glancing in the distance, and those small specks are the houses at Rorke’s Drift.”
“Yes, that must be the place,” said George. “See the baggage-waggons, and the horses and men on either side the ford. But there is nothing even resembling a village, that I can see.”
This opinion was confirmed as they drew nearer. There was a stone kraal, and a storehouse near it, and at a distance of a hundred feet or so another building, which, as they afterwards learned, was used as an hospital for thirty sick soldiers. Nearly a quarter of a mile off, in a hollow between two hills, stood the house in which Mr Bilderjik’s brother minister resided.
Mr Bilderjik rode up to his brother pastor’s abode, by whom he and his young friends were very kindly received, and they were all invited to enter his parlour; where, considerably to George’s surprise, he encountered his old companions on board the Zulu Queen, the two Vander Heydens, and Mynheer Moritz. Annchen came forward with a smile and a blush to welcome George and Redgy, and Moritz was extremely cordial in his greetings. Vander Heyden also, though somewhat stiffer in his demeanour, saluted them with courtesy, expressing his satisfaction at meeting them again. He explained what, however, the young men had already been informed of, his intention to join as a volunteer the force which was to be sent for the purpose of putting down Cetewayo’s lawless rule. “It is not only,” he said, “that I have the barbarous murder of a near relative to avenge, but I feel that there will be neither law nor justice in this land until his power is destroyed. I do not know what brings you here, Mr Rivers; but I should be glad to think that our aims and intentions are the same.”
“That is so,” said George cordially. “I am persuaded that, whatever may have been said of former wars which England may have waged with this country, the one she has now undertaken is the cause of justice and right. I am glad to think we shall be fellow-campaigners in it. I suppose there is no doubt that they will accept our services.”
“None indeed,” answered Vander Heyden. “You may assure yourself of that. There will be few recruits that they will welcome more readily.”
Vander Heyden’s words proved true. George and Redgy were admitted without any demur, as was also Hardy, who arrived two or three days afterwards. He was a more valuable recruit than any of the party, having served many years in various campaigns under Havelock, Napier, and Wolseley. His advice and help were most serviceable to George and Redgy, and a close intimacy soon sprang up between the three. Their example proved catching. About a fortnight after their arrival at Rorke’s Drift, the three young Baylens and Matamo made their appearance, having persuaded their father, after many entreaties, to allow them to enter the same company as their friends, in the Mounted Volunteers. George was surprised to see them, for the Baylens had been gone more than a week. A message had been sent to the President of the Orange Free State, and it was thought necessary, in the disturbed state of the country, that the messenger should have a military escort. As they would pass very near Horner’s Kraal, Farmer Baylen had obtained permission to accompany it. But it now appeared that, as soon as they reached home, the young men had made such urgent representations, as to wring from their father a reluctant consent. He had insisted, however, that Matamo should accompany them, upon whom he laid both his commands and entreaties to keep a careful watch on his sons.
The eight friends, for so they soon became, found the time pass pleasantly enough, while the preparations for the campaign were going on. There was the morning drill and parade, the mess-table, at which the six English and the two Dutchmen sat next each other, and there were sword-exercises, and practices with the rifle, which filled up the time, so as to allow of little leisure. In the evening they would commonly adjourn to a neighbouring seat under the trees, where they beguiled the time with narratives of past adventures, and speculations as to the approaching struggle. Hardy was a particularly pleasant companion. His anecdotes of the Indian Mutiny, the Abyssinian and Ashantee expeditions, had a great interest for young soldiers who had never yet encountered the enemy. He told them of the relief of Lucknow, and how he had stood by the terrible Well of Cawnpore; how he had accompanied Sir Garnet Wolseley in his march to Coomassie; and how he had witnessed the final discomfiture of King Theodore. He regarded the Sepoys, he told them, as more dangerous enemies, than either the Abyssinians or the Ashantees. But none of them could, for a moment, compare with the Zulus. It was not merely the brute courage of these last-named savages that rendered them so formidable, for almost all barbarous nations are indifferent to danger. It was their discipline, their devotion to their king’s commands, and their contempt for Europeans, that made them so formidable. They could not be cowed or terrified. Nothing but downright hard blows would quell them; and they would endure an amazing amount of hard blows, before they would knock under.
“Were you ever in very great danger during the Ashantee campaign?” asked Redgy, at one of these evening s?ances.
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