Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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“Not more than any one must encounter, who goes on a campaign, I believe,” answered Hardy. “No; the greatest danger I was ever in, I think, was during the Abyssinian war, and the danger did not come from a man, but an elephant.”
“Tell us about it, Hardy,” said Walter Baylen. “I did not know King Theodore used elephants in his army.”
“No, it was not in battle, it was during the march,” was the rejoinder. “Ours was the advanced guard of the army, and we had entered Abyssinia, and were passing through a very wild country, partly covered with long grass, partly with dense forest, when suddenly an enormous elephant rushed out of the bush upon us. He was the biggest elephant I ever saw. I don’t think he could have stood less than some inches over eleven feet.”
“I thought they were found much larger than that,” said Margetts.
“Ah, so people say,” said Hardy. “They talk of their being fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen feet high, but that is all fancy. Matamo here, who has shot plenty of them, would tell you so. How high was the largest elephant you ever shot, Matamo?”
“The bull-elephants are mostly nine or ten feet,” said the Bechuana. “Some stand eleven feet, but not many. I once saw one eleven and a half feet high, but never bigger.”
“Just so,” said Hardy. “Well, this chap, I should think, might have been eleven and a half. He was, I fancy, what they call a rogue elephant – an elephant, that is to say, who has been sent to Coventry, for some offence, by his companions. They are always extremely dangerous, and will sometimes attack a man without provocation; which elephants, as an ordinary rule, will not do. He had the most magnificent tusks I ever saw; I suppose our commanding officer, Captain Sparrow, noticed this, and thought they would sell for a lot of money in Magdala. He gave the order for all of us to fire upon him, and kill him. I was aware of the danger, and ventured to step up to him, and ask him to recall his order. I knew how difficult the elephant is to kill, except to experienced hunters. It was before the days of the Martini-Henrys, you will remember. I suppose the captain thought that out of a hundred shots one must be mortal. The men fired before I could get his attention; and, I suppose, considering the size of the mark, every one must have hit him. He staggered under the shock, and his sides streamed with blood, but he did not fall.”
“No, Mr Hardy,” said Vander Heyden, smiling; “no more than a man would fall if he was pricked with a hundred needles. Well, what next?”
“The next thing was that he recovered his legs,” said Hardy, “and glared round at us with an angry eye, as much as to ask, who was to pay for this outrage? I was nearest to him, and I think he had seen me move out to Captain Sparrow, and had an idea that I might have been the author of the attack. Any way, I felt for a minute or two very uncomfortable; but, if he had suspected me, he changed his mind, and made a rush straight at Captain Sparrow.The captain ran for it, and dodged behind his men. It was no good. The elephant soon caught him with his trunk, whirled him into the air as if he had been a shuttlecock, and, when he came down again, trampled upon him again and again, till he had trodden all human likeness out of him. Then he looked round upon the ranks again, as much as to say, ‘That’s enough for this time, but you’d better not try this again.’ After which he turned quietly round and went into the bush. We dug a grave, and scraped together, as well as we could, the bloody and mangled remains. I shall never forget the look the elephant gave me. It was as much as to say, ‘If I thought you had anything to do with it, I’d give it to you too.’”
“Ha! that was a narrow escape, Mr Hardy,” said Moritz; “but I think my friend Henryk’s here was narrower still. I daresay he will tell it you himself.”
The others joining in the request, Vander Heyden complied willingly enough.
“It occurred some years ago,” he said. “I was staying at the time at Pretoria, with my relative Pieter Uys, and we had gone out for some bok-shooting in the wild country that runs up towards the Limpopo. It was generally believed that the wild beasts had left that neighbourhood; but I imagine that a hunt must have been going on somewhere near the Limpopo, and a number of elephants, some of them wounded, were making their way south. At all events, they broke upon us without our having had any suspicion of their being in our neighbourhood, bursting through the thick mimosas round us, as though they had been so many bulrushes. We were three in party – Frank, myself, and a Hottentot named Kololo. One of the largest of the herd came so suddenly upon us that we had no time to think of escaping. We did the only thing there was to do: we levelled our rifles and fired, hoping to strike him in the heart or brain. Kololo, poor fellow, aimed right enough; but the elephant tossed his head at the moment, and the ball struck his tusk and glanced off. The movement distracted my aim also, and my bullet only inflicted a flesh wound. Frank’s rifle, luckily for him, was at the moment empty. The elephant glared at us, then ran up and caught Kololo round the waist with his trunk and flung him up a great distance into the air, so that he fell among the Tambookie grass. Then he charged me, caught me, as he had Kololo, round the waist, and pitched me up as he had him, as easy as a boy shies a stone into the air. Fortunately for me, there was great motjeerie close at hand. I was thrown across one of the great branches, and was jammed into a fork of the tree, so tight that I could not release myself. The elephant stopped below and waited for me to fall, but, seeing that I did not, he rushed after Kololo, who was still lying half stunned in the Tambookie grass, and trampled him, very much as Mr Hardy describes, into powder. Then he came back to the tree where I was still lying insensible, and, seeing that I was out of his reach, twisted his trunk round the bole and tried to tear it up. Then he put his forehead against it and tried to push it down. Big as it was, it cracked under his enormous weight. But by this time Frank had reloaded his rifle, and got a clear sight of him, as he stood pushing at the tree. The ball passed through his heart, and he fell dead instantly. If Frank had taken a bad aim, I shouldn’t have been sitting here to tell the story.”
“Well, I think your escape was narrower than Hardy’s,” said Ernest Baylen. “Halloo, Willikind, what now?”
This question was addressed to his brother Wilhelm, who at this moment approached, accompanied by Sergeant Long.
“Your services are required, Mr Vander Heyden,” said the latter. “Our colonel wishes to obtain some information from Mr Pieter Uys, who has joined Colonel Wood as a volunteer at Bemta’s Kop. The colonel has been told that you are well known to Mr Uys.”
“Yes,” said Vander Heyden; “he was my guardian, and I have known him all my life.”
“So he was informed. He wishes to send a verbal message, and receive a verbal answer, as any writing might, by some accident, fall into the hands of the enemy. Will you and Mr Moritz go to the colonel, who is waiting for you at his quarters?”
The two Dutchmen rose, put on their swords and helmets, and went off in the direction indicated.
“The colonel thinks I ought to take eight or ten with me,” continued Sergeant Long, looking round him, “as the roads are said to be beset by a number of lawless fellows, both black and white, who would show no respect for the British flag. Will any of you gentlemen volunteer to accompany me?”
He was answered by a general cry of assent. Pleasant as their camp life was, there was something of monotony in it, and the young men were glad of a little variety. “I will,” and “I will,” was the cry on every lip.
“A ride to Bemta’s Kop will be some fun,” remarked Margetts. “Drill and sword-exercise are very well in their way, but there may be too much even of them.”
“You will soon see plenty of fun, sir,” observed Sergeant Long. “Cetewayo’s time will be up in two or three days now, and there is no chance of his knocking under.” In another quarter of an hour the party had set out. It consisted of ten persons – there was Sergeant Long, who was in command, the two Dutchmen, George, Margetts, and Hardy, the three young Baylens, and Matamo. The last-named had been very urgent to be allowed to accompany the party, and, as he was a strong, alert, and active fellow, Sergeant Long had made no objection.
The road lay for some distance along the bank of the Buffalo river, and was at first quite open and safe to travel. Knowing that the whole neighbourhood, except within the immediate contiguity of the camp, was full of dangerous characters of all kinds, Sergeant Long had impressed on the party the necessity of keeping a bright look-out Matamo, in particular, whose long training particularly qualified him for such duties, was told to report to the sergeant anything suspicious that might present itself to him. But for some time there was nothing that could occasion uneasiness. There was neither rock nor wood for a long distance on either side of the road, which could possibly afford shelter to an enemy. But after an hour’s ride the character of the country began to alter. Ridges of rock appeared rising one above another, until their height became sufficient to shut out the view beyond. Farther on, these ridges began to be clothed with thorns and shrubs of various kinds, presenting places from which it would be easy to fire unobserved on any one passing by. The farther the road ran, the more dangerous did it appear; and at last, when they were approaching Bemta’s Kop, Sergeant Long drew rein, and called up Matamo.
“I don’t like this,” he said. “Do you know this road? Have you often travelled by it?”
“I know the road pretty well,” answered Matamo. “But if the Zulus or the white robbers hide in the bank, it will not be possible to see them till they fire.”
“Just so. Are there many bad places before we reach Bemta’s Kop?”
“Plenty of bad places – as bad or worse than these. But I chance to know a way round. It is a mile or two longer, but we shall be safe from the robbers there.”
“We should lose time by taking that, but I really think it would be safer. What do you say, Mr Hardy?” he continued, drawing him aside. “I don’t like the look of the road; and if it is true that there are large gangs of ruffians of all kinds about, it is not safe to proceed farther in a route like this.”
“I am quite of your mind, sergeant,” said Hardy; “I know Matamo is entirely to be trusted.”
“Very good; so be it. Show us the way, Matamo, and we will follow.”
The Bechuana complied. Turning back about fifty yards, he urged his horse between two almost perpendicular masses of rock, and then made his way among the boles of the trees for perhaps a quarter of a mile. Then he turned sharp to the right, and followed a similar course, appearing to know his way, as if by instinct, among the yellow woods and oomahaamas, of which the wood chiefly consisted. A bare, open country followed, along which they rode for a long distance without seeing so much as an animal or a bird the entire way. Presently Matamo again turned sharply to the right, and after a short ride through some thickets of scrub, the summit of Bemta’s Kop, and soon afterwards Colonel Evelyn Wood’s encampment, came in sight.
On arriving there, Sergeant Long presented himself at the quarters of the commanding officer and stated his errand. Mr Uys, it appeared, was in the camp, and Vander Heyden and Moritz were immediately conducted to him. The others were invited to sit down to refreshments offered them. It was seen at once that they were not common soldiers, and the officers entered into friendly conversation with them.
“You are fortunate in having got along that road in safety,” observed Captain Forester to George. “It is not everybody who does. Only two days ago some waggons bringing in supplies were attacked by a lot of these fellows in open day, and several of our men were wounded. They got the worst of it, however, and perhaps that has induced them to sheer off. I believe one or two of them were killed – certainly hurt.”
“Well, we were not in charge of any valuables,” remarked George. “There was nothing to be got from us but our guns, and perhaps our horses.”
“Just so; unless they thought you were carrying despatches. Cetewayo would pay them well for any information that might be brought him.”
“Well, I suppose no white men would carry any information against their own countrymen to him,” remarked Margetts.
“Oh, wouldn’t they!” exclaimed Captain Forester. “You have much too good an opinion of our countrymen, Mr Margetts. I am afraid they would not only give information, but supply them with Martini-Henrys and Colt’s revolvers, and Gatling guns too, if they could get hold of them, always provided they could make fifty per cent, by the bargain. However,” continued the captain, “if they had meant to stop you at all, they would have done so on your way here. Most probably the losses they sustained the other day have given them such a lesson that they won’t meddle with our men again.”
In another hour the two Dutchmen returned, having had a satisfactory interview with Mr Uys, and received the reply which was to be carried to Rorke’s Drift. A consultation was then held, and it was agreed that they had better set out immediately, as it would be possible, by sharp riding, to reach the camp before dusk. It was thought better to follow the same road on their way back, as that by which they had come, it being plain that it was a route known to very few, if to any but Matamo himself. They set out accordingly, and arrived without adventure at the point in the road whence Matamo had turned off. Considering now that all danger was over, they set off at a round trot by the way which ran along the river-side; when suddenly, as they were passing a mass of rock, the top and sides of which were hidden by foliage, a puff of white smoke issued from a bush, and a bullet was fired which would have struck Vander Heyden in the chest, if it had not happened that Walter Baylen’s horse plunged forward at the moment, so that the ball intended for the Dutchman entered Walter’s shoulder. Hardy instantly fired his revolver at the spot whence the smoke had issued; and all the party, putting spurs to their horses, galloped through the first opening that presented itself into the broken ground which lay on the other side of the rock. Half a dozen rough-looking fellows, alarmed by their approach, were just springing on their horses, and making off in all directions, as they came up. One of the party, who had been wounded, doubtless, by Hardy’s shot, was leaning against a tree unable to move. By the sergeant’s direction, Hardy and Matamo alighted from their horses, and proceeded to secure him, at the same time tying up a wound in the thigh which he had received. The two Baylens and Margetts lifted Walter from his horse, and proceeded to examine his hurt. The sergeant and Moritz went off in pursuit of one knot of fugitives; George and Vander Heyden after another. The latter were not above two hundred yards ahead, and there was a long stretch of down country without shrub or stone to break the prospect. As their horses were evidently better than those of the robbers, they expected to overtake them. After a gallop of half an hour, they had approached within fire, and George, discharging his pistol, wounded one of the horses in the leg. Perceiving that he could go no farther, the man sprang from his saddle, and confronted his antagonist. An expression of surprise broke from George, as he recognised the leader of the mutineers on board the Zulu Queen, John Bostock. Vander Heyden also appeared surprised, though he made no remark.
“You here?” exclaimed Rivers. “I did not expect it, but I am glad you will not escape the punishment you so richly deserve. I suppose you will surrender yourself our prisoner, or we shall fire upon you at once.”
“You are two to one, Mr Rivers,” said Bostock, “and you are both armed. But I call upon Mr Vander Heyden here, if he is not a coward, to meet me in fair fight. He knows that I am entitled to it. My birth is as good as his own, I have served in the same army as himself, and I have twice challenged him. He is fond of saying that the English would be no match for the Dutch, if it wasn’t for the advantages that their position in the colony gives them. Does he dare meet an Englishman now, without advantage on either side? Mr Rivers, here, may stand by, and see that there is fair play.”
“Mr Vander Heyden, surely you will not think of allowing this,” said George, as he saw the Dutchman alight from his horse, and proceed to secure him to a solitary thorn which grew on the down. “Let him say what he likes, he cannot be entitled to a meeting at your hands.”
“It may be he is not, Mr Rivers,” said Vander Heyden. “He is no doubt by birth a gentleman, and has held a commission in our army. I agree with you that he has so lowered and degraded himself, that he cannot claim his privilege, either as an officer or a gentleman. But let that be as it may, no soldier, and, above all, no Hollander, can refuse to meet him face to face. You must act for both parties, Mr Rivers, and see that everything is fair. No Englishman shall ever say I refused his challenge.”
“If you insist upon it, I suppose I must,” said George, who, though greatly vexed and disgusted, knew enough of Vander Heyden to be assured he would not give way on the point. “If this duel is to take place, it had better be immediately. What weapons do you propose?”
“What he pleases,” replied Vander Heyden shortly.
“Pardon me, Mr Vander Heyden,” said George, “but if I am to have the management of this affair, I cannot allow that. You are the challenged, and, by a rule everywhere acknowledged, have the choice of weapons. I choose pistols for you, and twelve paces is the distance at which you are to fire. I presume no objection is raised to either point.” He looked at Bostock, who, though somewhat disappointed, as George fancied, at the proposed arrangement, answered sullenly, “Choose what weapons you like.”
“Very well,” said Rivers. “Then here is my revolver and Mr Vander Heyden’s; they are by the same maker, and as nearly equal as two pistols can be. Take your choice of them, and stand, if you please, on that spot. Now, Mr Vander Heyden, in what manner will you fire – alternately or at the same moment?”
“Alternately; that is the usual practice here,” said Vander Heyden. “We can toss for who is to have the first fire.”
A florin was accordingly flung up, and it was found the right of shooting first fell to Vander Heyden.
The signal was given, he fired, and his bullet tore a button from Bostock’s breast. The Englishman then discharged his revolver, and the bullet struck Vander Heyden’s helmet, through which it cut a furrow, without wounding him, though he reeled under the blow.
“I presume that is enough,” said George. “He cannot claim more at your hands.”
“Does he demand more?” asked Vander Heyden.
“I do,” said Bostock. “I claim a second shot.”
“Let him have it,” said the Dutchman.
“If you must, you must,” exclaimed Rivers. “But take notice that I will allow no more. If you persist after this, I shall ride off the ground.”
Vander Heyden bowed stiffly, and, raising his revolver, delivered his second shot. It evidently struck his antagonist, who raised, and then dropped his arm, as if in pain. Hastening up, George discovered that he had been hit in the right wrist. The wound did not appear to be a dangerous one, but it was obviously impossible for Bostock to hold a pistol.
“I cannot have my revenge to-day,” he exclaimed sullenly, when the bleeding had been stopped, and the wound bound up. “But the day will come when I shall return your fire.”
“When you please, sir,” answered the Dutchman haughtily. “After an affair of this kind, you must be allowed to go free. If we meet again, it will be different. I shall not feel obliged to answer your challenge a second time.”
They parted, Bostock leading away his wounded horse, and the other two, remounting, rode back to their companions.
“Mr Rivers,” said the Dutchman when they had ridden, a short distance, “I thank you for your friendly offices. Will you add to them by being entirely silent about this adventure?”
“Certainly,” returned George; “it would not be desirable on many accounts to speak of it.” No more was said until they rejoined their companions, who were somewhat impatiently awaiting their return.
“Did you kill either of those fellows?” asked the sergeant. “I fancied I heard several shots fired.”
“No, they got off,” said George vaguely. “I hope Walter is not much hurt.”
“Only a flesh wound, George,” said Walter Baylen. “The worst of it is that I am afraid it will prevent me from joining the other fellows when they march. They tell me I shan’t be able to stir for three weeks to come.”
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