Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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It was one of the last days of January, when George and Redgy, who were sitting under shelter of the kraal wall, saw on the river bank what seemed to be a wounded Zulu, who was making his way with toil and pain to the camp.
“Do you see that darky there,” said Margetts, “creeping up this way, and keeping out of sight as much as possible? He is up to no good, I expect.”
“He seems to me to be wounded,” said George, “or rather to be recovering from the effects of a wound. Perhaps he has been lying hurt by the river’s bank, and has just recovered strength to crawl up here.”
“Well, if so, we oughtn’t to refuse to give the poor beggar shelter, I suppose,” said Redgy. “But we had better not go near him until we have made sure. These black fellows take it for granted that you are going to assegay them, and generally try to anticipate the compliment. Here he comes, crab fashion! Hallo, darky, what may you please to want at Rorke’s Drift?”
“I want your help, Mr Redgy,” was the reply, – “yours and Mr Rivers’. You haven’t forgotten Matamo, have you?”
“Hey, what!” exclaimed both the young men, starting up. “Matamo!” continued George. “Why, you don’t mean it! I declare it is he! Why, we all thought you were dead, if not buried!”
“No, sir,” returned the native, grinning and showing his white teeth. “I am not dead, nor buried. There is nobody buried yet at Isandhlwana. But I am almost dead with hunger. Please to give me some food, and I will tell you all about it.”
Interested and astonished, the young men took Matamo to their tent and supplied him with food; after which he told his story.
“Mr George, you saw me knocked down by a blow from a knobkerry. I was stunned, not killed. I lay for some time, and then came to. I tried to get up, but the big Zulu you killed had fallen over me, and the dead horse lay on the other side of me. I was fast jammed in, but I could see under the Zulu’s arm what was going on.”
“What did you see? Tell us. No one seems to know the exact details,” exclaimed Rivers eagerly. “Was the fighting still going on?”
“It was still going on; but there was no chance for the red soldiers. They were nearly all killed. There were half a dozen here, a dozen there, two dozen there, with hundreds of Zulus round them. Most of them were standing back to back, and stabbing with their bayonets. They were dropping one after another, but killing at least three men for every one. I saw one tall man kill five blacks without stopping, but the bayonet stuck for a moment in the ribs of the fifth, and then they assegayed him. The red soldiers died out, one by one, like the sparks in tinder. But none of of them ran away, and none called out for mercy.”
“Could you distinguish who held out the longest?” asked Margetts.
“Yes, sir. One company had moved back against the steep rock and stood in three sides of a square. They were the last.”
“Ay; that was Younghusband’s company. I saw them retreating to the base of the precipice just as Hardy and I rode off the ground.They kept the Zulus off the longest, did they?”
“Yes, sir. They stood side by side, and couldn’t be attacked from behind. They shot the blacks down by twenties at a time, till there were great heaps of dead in front of them. The Zulus kept back at last, and only threw at them from a distance. By and by all their cartridges were used up. Then the blacks rushed at them again. But the soldiers kept them off ever so long with their bayonets. At last the Zulus picked up the dead bodies and threw them on the bayonets, and so broke into the square and killed all.”
“And how did you manage to get off yourself?” inquired Redgy.
“I contrived to pull off my uniform, bit by bit, and hid it under the horse’s neck. Then I took the big Zulu’s feathers and bracelets and put them on, and tied his cowtails round my waist. No one came near the part of the field where I was lying while I was doing it. Then I got up, took the Zulu’s assegay, and nobody guessed that I was not a Zulu. I went first to Mr Ernest, meaning to bury his body. But he was alive, and did not want to be buried!”
“Ernest alive!” exclaimed George. “Why, I saw the assegay pierce him through and through?”
“No, it only grazed his ribs, and the handle remained in his side, so that the blood had stopped. As soon as it got dark, I carried him into the wood, to a cave which I found there. There he has been lying ever since, and I have nursed him. I got some supply of food from the camp before the Zulus took it all. But it was all done yesterday, and Mr Ernest would have died of hunger, so I came here.”
“And you would have died of hunger too, you good fellow, though you never seem to think of that,” said Redgy. “Where have you left Ernest now?”
“He is still in the cave, Mr Margetts. He is much better, but not able to walk yet. But he might be brought here quite safely.”
“I’ll go and speak to the lieutenant, or to Evetts, whichever of them I can find first,” said George. “I have no doubt he will send out a party to fetch Ernest in. But tell me, Matamo, are the Zulus still in great numbers about there? Would they attack our fellows if they went out to bring him here?”
“The Zulus have been gone from Isandhlwana a long while ago,” said Matamo. “If they had remained about there, they must have discovered Mr Ernest. No; they have carried off the cannon and the rifles and the revolvers, and everything they fancied. There are nothing but dead bodies there.”
“Very well. As soon as you are rested, a party shall set out. I will go with it myself.”
“Thank you, sir, I want no rest. I can go at once.”
A long interval had passed since the occurrence of the events recorded in the last chapter. It was now July, the depth of the southern winter. Although Zululand is on the border of the tropics, there is often at that season damp and chilly weather, which is extremely trying to Europeans. When our story re-opens, George, Vander Heyden, and Redgy were lying on some tiger-skin karosses, under the shelter of a Cape waggon, enjoying the warm beams of the sun, which in the forenoon had considerable power.
The scene was very different from that surrounding Rorke’s Drift, being extremely picturesque and beautiful. A rich undulating plain was spread out before them, terminating in woody heights. The green surface was varied by patches of mimosa scrub and groves of acacias and date palms. Under the hills to the right, which were mostly covered with thorns, the course of the noble Zulu river, the White Umvalosi, was distinctly to be traced, now lost between graceful masses of feathery foliage, now flashing out from behind its screen into the full sunlight.
“Do you know what that mound is yonder?” inquired Margetts, pointing to a vast green tumulus, conspicuous in the distance in the direction of the north-east. “Has a battle been fought there, or what?”
“That is King Panda’s tomb!” said Vander Heyden, – “Cetewayo’s father, you know. He was interred there in a sitting attitude, as is the custom of the country. The meaning of it, I suppose, is to signify that he is still ruling the land, as they have a sort of superstitious belief that he does. They are very particular about their funeral ceremonies. They have an idea that the spirits of the dead will punish severely any omission of them!”
“And they have an unpleasant custom of killing some hundreds of people to do honour to the dead, haven’t they?” inquired Redgy.
“Yes, they have,” assented Vander Heyden; “but to do your English Government justice, they would not allow that. One reason why I resolved to follow this out to the last, is because I know Cetewayo’s barbarity has only been kept within any bounds by the power of the English. Were he to be able to defy that, the horrors of the past would be revived.”
“Shall we pass Panda’s tomb on our way to attack Ulundi to-morrow?” asked Margetts. “I am not sure that even now I know the exact position of the royal kraal!”
“It is there,” said Vander Heyden, pointing with his hand, “in the centre of those masses of the mimosa scrub. It is as much as fifteen or sixteen miles from here. If we are to march to attack it to-morrow, as you say, Margetts, and as is generally believed in the camp, it will be a long day’s work over a country like this.”
“I agree with you,” said George; “but, nevertheless, the attempt will be made. In a very few days, perhaps in a single day, the opportunity will be lost to Lord Chelmsford of recovering the laurels he lost at Isandhlwana. Sir Garnet Wolseley has already arrived from England, and may take the command over any day.”
“I don’t suppose we shall ever get very near Ulundi without having a brush with these black fellows,” observed Margetts. “They are about in great numbers, and will never allow the royal kraal to be taken, if they can prevent it.”
Much had happened during the last few months of public interest, as well as affecting the personal concerns of the characters of our story. In the first place, hostilities had altogether been broken off after the action at Rorke’s Drift. Lord Chelmsford, over-estimating perhaps the gravity of the situation, as he had before certainly underrated it, resolved not to recommence operations until he was in command of a force sufficient to bear down all resistance. He argued, and perhaps rightly, that, after his experience at Isandhlwana, the native troops could not be relied upon in any action with the Zulus; and without them the forces at his command were insufficient to face the vast multitude still under Cetewayo’s orders. Pearson had had to intrench himself at Ekowe, where he would be obliged to defend himself, until troops sufficient for his relief could be got together. Colonel Wood was in like manner under the necessity of fortifying a camp on Kambula Hill, unable to advance; though the terror in which his name was held, and his own extreme vigilance, rendered any attack upon him too dangerous to be attempted.
Lord Chelmsford’s demands for powerful reinforcements were promptly granted. Two regiments of cavalry, five of infantry, two field batteries of artillery, and a company of engineers, were sent out in large and powerful steam-vessels, placing, with those already in Natal, not less than twenty-two thousand men at his disposal.
But, notwithstanding all the exertions made, a long delay ensued, during which the prestige of England seemed to be continually on the wane, and the terror inspired by Cetewayo continually on the increase. The general belief throughout Natal – it might be said throughout the whole of Southern Africa – was that if Cetewayo, leaving a sufficient force to keep Wood and Pearson within their camps, were to lead say thirty thousand of his braves into the colony, no resistance could be offered. The inhabitants would have to shut themselves up in the towns, which had been fortified in anticipation of such a danger, leaving their villages, their farm and country houses, their cattle and their crops, an undisputed prey to their invaders.
The anxiety was in a great measure relieved when, early in April, the battle of Ginghilovo was fought and the relief of Ekowe effected. But the disaster at Intombi, occurring at nearly the same time, which proved only too plainly how completely the blacks were masters of the country, and not long afterwards the melancholy death of the Prince Imperial, saddened all hearts. The universal feeling throughout the country was that, if the lustre of the British arms was to be vindicated, it must be by some brilliant achievement, which would throw all previous disasters into the shade.
All our friends, George and Redgy and Hardy and Vander Heyden, had been embarrassed by the untoward course of events. George had obtained leave of absence from camp duties. The Mounted Volunteers indeed had been reduced to a mere handful, and though he and Margetts and Vander Heyden all intended to accompany the British forces to the end of the campaign, they had to wait until they were drafted into some other corps. Rivers and Margetts proceeded to Dykeman’s Hollow, where they learned that Mr Rogers was still detained in England by business connected with Cape politics. He had written, however, to George, of course in ignorance of Umbelini’s raid and the disastrous issue of the invasion of Zululand, and George proceeded to carry out his instructions, as far as he was able. All the waggons and farm stock had been brought back, and nearly all the native servants had returned to their work. George commenced his duties as a Sunday school teacher, and though he felt somewhat strange and awkward in the discharge of them, he was not on the whole dissatisfied. His house was convenient enough, though curiously different in many respects from an English house. There was room enough for Redgy to be lodged in it also; and George took upon himself to engage him as an assistant at the farm, until he could hear from Mr Rogers, to whom he had written on the subject. The two young men had agreed that, although the present delay was extremely inconvenient to them, – Redgy being anxious to find some settled work, and George to set out in search of his mother, – their honour was pledged to accompany the British troops in accomplishing the overthrow of Cetewayo, and they must persevere. George had written to his mother, and a trader going up the country had promised to deliver his letter. But the weeks and months went by, and no reply was received, and he could not but be aware how slight the likelihood was that his letter had reached its destination.
The delay was equally embarrassing to Henryk Yander Heyden. He was not only weary of the enforced inactivity and anxious to set in order his new home, but his relations with his sister distressed him. He and Annchen had removed to Newcastle, to which town such of his goods and possessions as had escaped destruction at the hands of Umbelini had been conveyed. There he had found a tolerably comfortable abode, but there was nothing to employ his time, and inaction was particularly trying to him. If he had not felt himself bound by the vow he had made not to lay down his arms until Cetewayo had been deposed or slain, he would have set out for Zeerust without further concerning himself in the war. But he was a man who, when he had once taken a determination, persisted in it till the last. And when day after day passed, and the English troops, for reasons which it seemed impossible to understand, still delayed their march into Zululand, he only chafed and fretted, and made his comments on the English commander-in-chief in terms which were perhaps just, but not flattering.
As for Annchen, the present period of inactivity was even more trying to her. She had mourned sincerely for the loss of Frank Moritz, of whose good qualities she had been fully sensible. But along with this there was a sense of relief; for which she reproached herself, perhaps too severely. She had never been in love with him, in the real sense of that expression; and as time went on, the conviction stole upon her that she was falling in love, if she had not already done so, with some one else. The scenes during the wreck had brought Rivers before her in a very striking light; and she could not but be sensible (though nothing could be more respectful and reserved than his demeanour) of his devotion to herself. She saw that it was her brother’s opposition alone which prevented his coming forward, and she rebelled against her brother’s prejudices as unreasonable and even ungrateful. The mutual embarrassment that had for some time been felt increased during her residence at Newcastle. It was the nearest town of any size to Dykeman’s Hollow, and George, who had temporarily assumed the management of Mr Rogers’ property, had continual occasions of riding in thither on matters of business. Sometimes they met in the street and exchanged greetings, and some conversation passed. Sometimes it was the brother he encountered, and Vander Heyden was always cordial and courteous, though he never spoke of his sister or invited Rivers to his house. Considering that George must necessarily need refreshment after his long ride, and the hospitable habits of the Dutch, Annchen could not but feel that this was ungracious and marked. Once or twice she tried to express this to him, but stammered and hesitated so much over it that she was obliged to desist. If Vander Heyden had known much of feminine nature, he would have been aware that, if he wished to check the growth of an attachment on his sister’s part for Rivers, he was taking the most likely means possible of defeating his object.
At last, one day about the middle of June, Henryk encountered his friend in the street at Newcastle, with an expression on his face which had long been absent from it.
“We are summoned to headquarters,” he said, “at last. The march to Ulundi is to begin immediately. We are to set off to-morrow. We are to advance to Luneberg, where a junction will be effected with Sir Evelyn Wood; and then the whole army will proceed to Ulundi for what will be, I trust, the final struggle.”
On the following morning, accordingly, the three adventurers set forth, and on reaching Lord Chelmsford’s quarters, found Hardy already there. The three Baylens and Matamo, remained at Horner’s Kraal, though the farmer adhered to the promise he had given of lending them Matamo for their expedition across the Transvaal.
In a few days more the march began. George was interested and almost amused at noticing the extreme caution which was now observed in securing the troops against the attacks of the enemy. Whenever any spot was approached where a ledge of rocks or a wooded hillside might afford protection to an assailing force, scouts were always sent forward to make the most careful examination of it. Immediately after a halt, the camps were always strongly fortified, and even surrounded by lines of galvanised wire, which the soldiers humorously called “Cetewayo catchers.” The heliograph, too, was invariably set up, by which messages in cases of emergency could be despatched. The change from reckless indifference to danger, and unbounded contempt for the enemy, to the most extreme and jealous caution, was curious to notice.
On the 3rd of July, as the reader has heard, the English force had approached so near to Ulundi that an action was evidently imminent. The broad, open plain which extends between Nodwengu and Ulundi seemed to have been chosen by mutual consent to determine what might be called the decisive encounter between civilisation and barbarism. On the day following the conversation between George and his friends, the English army formed in square and marched on the royal kraal. It was an unusual order for a march, but one which rendered a surprise impossible. The infantry formed all four sides of a square; the cavalry, mounted infantry, and volunteers protected the front and flanks; the Basutos covered the rear. The cannon were placed at the angles; the ammunition and waggons in the centre.
The march proceeded past the green tomb of King Panda already mentioned, steadily moving onwards towards Ulundi. Presently there was visible in the distance a vast array of oval-shaped shields, above which rose multitudes of feathered head-dresses and the blades of glittering assegays, where the interminable host of Cetewayo’s warriors were advancing to commence the battle.
The order was now given to halt, the ranks were formed in close order, four deep, – the two in front kneeling as though to repel a charge of cavalry, and the two behind firing steadily over their heads.
“They mean it,” exclaimed George to Redgy, as they sat side by side on their horses, watching the movements of the enemy; “Ginghilovo hasn’t frightened them after all.”
“No,” said Hardy, who was next to George on his other side. “I don’t expect that any of these fellows were there, and it isn’t an easy matter to cow them at any time.”
“And look what multitudes of them there are!” said Redgy; “the whole plain seems full of them. They outnumber us, four or five to one, I should say.”
“Quite,” assented Hardy. “But if there were forty to one, it would not affect the result, if our fellows stand firm. It is impossible for them to approach the line of fire.”
“They don’t think so, though,” observed Redgy. “Here they come.”
As he spoke the dark columns were seen moving forward, the men advancing with a kind of springing step, holding their shields before them on their left arms. After firing their carbines, they did not stop to reload, but pressed forward, brandishing their assegays in their right hands. A stern silence was observed in the British line until they were within rifle fire. Then the word was given, and the fusillade began. The effect was terrific. The Gatling guns opened whole lanes in the advancing masses, and the leaden storm from the rifles struck down hundreds at every discharge. The ground was almost instantly heaped with bodies, so that the rearward file had to struggle over the piles of slain. They continued, however, to press forward with fierce shouts and undaunted valour to inevitable death, though the fire only grew heavier as they struggled nearer to it.
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