Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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“What splendid fellows!” said George admiringly; “it really seems a shame to massacre them after this fashion, though no doubt there is no help for it.”
“They are stopping now, though,” said Hardy. “They have advanced nearer than any other troops in the world would, I think, have done, but they are wavering and recoiling now. Ha! there is the signal to charge,” he added, as the bugle sounded. “Now for it, then, George?”
As he spoke, the cavalry darted forth from either flank, and swept down with the force of a hurricane on the disorganised and disheartened masses. In an instant the whole body of Zulus broke and fled in all directions, the horsemen with their sabres plunging among them and mercilessly hewing them down. Even in this extremity the gallant blacks turned again and again on their pursuers, pouring in desultory volleys or hurling assegays, which cost the conquerors many a life. Nor did resistance entirely cease till tracts of broken country were reached, where it was impossible for the cavalry to follow farther. Then they halted, recalled the stragglers, and slowly returned over the scene of the long encounter, the whole route being heaped with the dead and dying with a sad and terrible sameness.
“Well, Vander Heyden,” said Rivers, as they lay on their karosses that evening, too much exhausted with their day’s work to raise their heads from their pillows, “our vows are fulfilled at last. Cetewayo is completely crushed. His army is destroyed, or too widely scattered to be gathered together again. He will never fight another battle nor summon another council. Now at last we may think of our long-delayed journey to Zeerust.”
“I do not know what the terms of your vow were, Rivers,” answered the Dutchman, “but mine remains to be fulfilled Cetewayo is neither slain nor captive yet I grant his power is to all appearance broken. But he is a brave and resolute savage, and his people are still devotedly attached to him. So long as he is alive and at liberty, my vow is not accomplished. You of course can do as you will. But I am not free to depart at present.”
George looked disappointed. “My own resolve,” he said, “no doubt, was to see an end of Cetewayo before I left, and I should not like to set out without you,” – possibly George may have added inwardly, “or without Annchen.” But if this was his thought, he kept it to himself. “I suppose,” he added a moment afterwards, “Hardy also will wait to accompany you.”
“No doubt,” assented the Dutchman; “and besides, Rivers, I ought to tell you that, anxious as I am to set out, I should not like to do so at this season of the year. Even here the weather is extremely trying, – trying even to those who have lived as long in the country as I have. But in the camp here we have sufficiency of food and firing and shelter, as well as medical attendance close at hand, if we should want it. None of these things are to be had with any certainty in the Transvaal.It would be unwise, for you and Mr Margetts at all events, to make the attempt for five or six weeks to come. One of the things that vexed me most last April, when that extraordinary delay occurred, was that I knew that we could not then set out until the beginning of September. But by that time, I have no doubt, Cetewayo will have been killed or be a prisoner in our hands.”
“I suppose you are right,” said George reluctantly. “Well, if I must remain, I shall try to make part of the force that is sent to catch him. I only hope there will not be as long a delay about this part of the affair as there was about the march to Ulundi.”
The feeling expressed by George was one generally entertained throughout the camp. But nevertheless the search after the Zulu king seemed to partake of the same inactivity which had prevailed from the first. Rumours were brought in that Cetewayo, who had refused all the offers made him, in deep distrust, no doubt, of the good faith of the English in making them, had fled into the recesses of a wild primeval forest on the borders of the Black Umvalosi, known as the Ngome Country. Here it was almost impossible to pursue him. The scenery was wild, broken, covered with rock and wood, presenting innumerable fastnesses, which could only be approached with the utmost caution, and great numbers of Zulus were still lurking in the neighbourhood, quite capable of exterminating any party which they might surprise unawares. A cordon was drawn round this district, and the circle gradually contracted; but for a long time, notwithstanding the rewards offered, and the fact that numbers of Cetewayo’s bitterest enemies were on his trail, no certain intelligence of his lurking-place could be obtained. At last, on the 26th of August, information came in, which indicated exactly where the fugitive was to be found. Major Marter of the Dragoon Guards was ordered to take a squadron of his men, together with some of the native horse and a few mounted infantry, to effect the capture. With some difficulty, Rivers and Vander Heyden were included among the latter.
On the morning of the 27th they set out, the mounted infantry acting as scouts, and the others following. They made their way through wild and picturesque scenes, where the foot of civilisation seemed never to have trodden. Here and there the rude pathway was interrupted by mountain streams, leaping over rocky heights. The horsemen passed under groups of date palms, mimosas, and euphorbias, the giant trailers dropping from branch and crag in tropical luxuriance round them; overhead jays and parrots, exhibiting the brightest hues, screamed and croaked; and troops of monkeys chattered. Every now and then a watchful eye could see venomous snakes creeping off through the brushwood or making their way along the boughs of trees, scared by the sight of the scarlet tunics or the tramping of the horses’ hoofs. It was a strange, bewildering journey.
At length they reached a mountain height, from which, at the distance of a mile or two at the most, a small kraal was to be seen, in which, as the spies confidently assured Major Marter, the royal fugitive had taken refuge.
It was a difficult point to approach. The wooded valley in which it was situated lay at a great depth, more than a thousand feet, it might be twice that distance, below; and if the party should be seen before they were close to the kraal, escape would be possible into a tangled wilderness, where pursuit would be extremely difficult.
The major made his arrangements accordingly. He caused the dragoons to lay aside their scabbards and all the rest of their accoutrements, which would make a rattling noise as they advanced. Then he sent some of the native contingent and volunteers, among whom George and Vander Heyden were included, to creep down the mountain-side, keeping carefully out of sight, and making no noise, until they reached the edge of the stream on the banks of which the kraal stood. Arrived there, they were to conceal themselves among the dense bushes which fringed the stream, until the major himself with his dragoons were seen coming up on the opposite side. Then they were to cross the stream, which a good leap would be sufficient to surmount, and surround the kraal. Marter himself led his Dragoon Guards to a point three miles distant, where the slope of the hills was sufficiently easy to allow of their riding down.
George and his companions accomplished the difficult descent successfully, clinging to the baboon ropes, – as a species of long trailer is called, and swarming down the date palms, all in profound silence. The chief danger arose from the incessant screaming of the monkeys, which rose in such a chorus that the adventurers were afraid that the attention of the occupants of the kraal might be attracted by it. But Cetewayo and his followers either felt confident in the security of the place of their retreat or were over-wearied by their recent exertions. George and his companions succeeded in reaching the bank of the stream unobserved. They could see a Zulu soldier or two moving about, and now and then a woman coming out and going back into the kraal. But all was listless and dispirited. The alert and watchful activity of the Zulus seemed completely to have deserted them. Presently the sound of hoofs was heard, and the Dragoons, sabre in hand, came galloping up. At the same moment George and his comrades rushed from their concealment and cleared the little stream at a bound.
The Zulus offered no resistance. It might be that they felt that the struggle would be hopeless, but it seemed as though all heart and hope had deserted them. They raised a feeble cry. “The white soldiers are here, my father! You are their prisoner.”
There was a moment’s pause, then the door opened, and the huge and sinewy figure of Cetewayo came forth. He looked worn and over-wearied, but he still retained something of his native dignity. George and Vander Heyden stepped up on either side, as if to arrest him, but he waved them off.
“Lay no hands on me,” he said, “white men. I am a king; I surrender not to you, but only to your chief.”
The waggons had stopped for the night, the oxen were outspanned, and the native servants were engaged in knee-haltering their masters’ horses, which were then turned into the veldt to graze. They had not yet advanced far enough into the Transvaal country for any danger to be apprehended from wild animals. George and Margetts, assisted by Hardy, were engaged in lighting two large fires, partly to cook the supper, partly to dispel the chill which they felt creeping over them; for, though winter was now past, and the early spring was usually mild and balmy, yet after nightfall it is apt to become extremely cold. There is no country in the world, it may be remarked, more liable to sudden and rapid changes from cold to heat, and again from heat to cold, than that which they were now traversing.
They had left Zululand – that is, Vander Heyden, George, and Redgy had left it – a day or two after the capture of Cetewayo, and proceeded straight to Luneberg, whither the waggons had been despatched from Newcastle to join them. Annchen had travelled under the charge of her brother’s two chief Hottentot servants, Koboo and Utango. Matamo and Haxo had been despatched by their respective masters to join the party at Newcastle, and Hardy arrived the following day from Landman’s Drift. The whole party being assembled, they set off about the end of the first week of September.
There were two waggons, each with its full team of oxen and four servants attached to each. All these belonged to Vander Heyden, and contained valuables of all kinds, household furniture, farm implements, guns and ammunition, and a considerable supply of provisions, it being difficult and sometimes impossible to procure even the commonest articles at various places on their route. They were to proceed first to Heidelberg, by Elandsberg and Standerton; afterwards journeying north of Potchefstroom to Lichtenberg, and so to Zeerust. Supposing them to be able to travel every day, and no casualties to delay them, it would probably be five or six weeks before they would reach their destination. But there might be obstacles of all descriptions to encounter. Heavy rains might oblige them to remain inactive for days together. Disease might attack the cattle, especially the lung disease, of which mention has already been made, to which horses were so liable in that country. There was also a risk from wild animals. The more dangerous beasts, the lion, the rhinoceros, and the like, had become very scarce of late years in all the southern portion of the Transvaal, unable to endure the vicinity of the white man and his rifle. Still they might be met with at various points of their route, and the tiger (that is, the African leopard, which is so-called in that country) and the hyena were still numerous. Annchen and her attendant were accommodated in the best waggon. Vander Heyden and Hardy usually slept in the other, as did the others indeed also, Vander Heyden having courteously offered sleeping berths to George and Margetts. The native servants usually made their bed on the ground outside.
It was now the end of the second day of their journey, and they were beginning to make their way into the wilder country of the Transvaal, leaving the more civilised parts behind them. The road during the greater part of the day had lain across lonely tracts of country – such kraals and farmhouses as they had fallen in with being few and far between. The main features of the scenery had been long undulating downs, over which the tall coarse grass was growing up in abundance, diversified now and then by masses of rock rising abruptly into sharp eminences, and crossed occasionally by deep watercourses overgrown with weeds. These were, in general, difficult and sometimes dangerous to pass. Every now and then herds of springboks came by, bounding straight up into the air, as they caught sight of the travellers, like Jacks-in-the-box, to an astonishing height, and then rushing away with the fleetness of the wind. More rarely elands and hartebeests appeared, and once a number of gnus – these strange animals, which seem to be something half-way between the horse and the ox – went by at their awkward gallop. George and Matamo rode in pursuit and succeeded in killing a hartebeest and two springboks, the more dainty parts of which were cooked for the evening meal.
Annchen took her supper with the rest of the party, but soon afterwards retired to her waggon; and the four Europeans, sitting round the largest fire, for the night was unusually cold, began to converse together.
“This is near the place where that disaster occurred – Intombe – isn’t it?” asked Margetts, knocking the ashes out of his pipe.
“Yes,” answered Hardy; “the spot where the massacre took place is down on the bank of the river, only a little way from this. One would have thought that Isandhlwana would have been enough to teach even our countrymen common prudence. But I suppose nothing ever will.”
“It looks like it, certainly,” said George. “But it does not often happen that three such instances of carelessness, followed by such terrible results, follow in the course of one single campaign, as Isandhlwana, Intombe, and the death of the Prince Imperial.”
“That last was rather cowardice than carelessness, wasn’t it?” asked Margetts.
“I don’t think so,” said George. “The Prince Imperial was an entirely raw and inexperienced officer. The country was known to be in a most dangerous state, full of armed Zulus, who are among the most stealthy and cunning of all enemies; and he was allowed to go out in command of a party with no one competent to advise him. They tried to make out that he was not in command of the party, but nothing could be plainer than that he was; and that it was his total ignorance of the Zulus and the Zulu country that caused the disaster.”
“The troopers might have stopped to help him,” suggested Margetts.
“They were told to mount and ride,” said George, “and they did what they were told. How can you blame them for obeying their officer’s orders? Don’t you think so, Hardy?”
“Most certainly,” assented Hardy. “It does not appear that any of them, except his own French attendant, knew that the Prince was in any more danger than the rest of the party, until it was too late to do anything for him. The attempt to make out that that unfortunate Lieutenant Carey had the command of the party and was answerable for the loss of the Prince, was one of the most dishonest things I ever remember. The person really to blame was the officer who sent out the party under the Prince Imperial’s charge. But I suppose it was necessary to have a scapegoat, and this poor young Carey was the most convenient person to select.”
“What will become of Cetewayo?” suggested Vander Heyden. “Will they send him to Robben Island, along with Langalabalele and a lot of others?”
“Most likely,” said Hardy; “and there he will enjoy himself along with his wives, and grow fat, and die an old man most likely.”
“Yes, if a party in England don’t take him up,” said Rivers. “I am told there are persons in England who are raising a great clamour and making out that he has been shamefully used.”
“I wish they could be made to come out and live under his rule in Zululand,” suggested Hardy. “What is that?” he exclaimed a moment afterwards, starting up. “There is something in the bush there, creeping near us. Take your rifles. We must see to this.” He caught up a long burning stick from the fire and threw it down among a number of dry canes and reeds which lay at a short distance. A bright flame sprang up and showed some dark figures moving off into the scrub at a little distance; but the shadows fell so confusedly that it was difficult to make out whether they were men or animals. A minute afterwards Matamo passed them on horseback, cantering off in the direction of the scrub.
“That’s all right,” said Vander Heyden; “he’s sure to truck them, if any one can. We may sit down again. I suppose you couldn’t see what they were, Hardy?”
“It was something crawling on four legs,” said Hardy, “and I caught a momentary glimpse of a spotted skin, but whether it was the kaross of a Zulu, or a real tiger, I can’t say.”
“The tigers are very bold,” said Vander Heyden, “in this country. I suppose they are not such formidable beasts as the tigers of Bengal, though.”
“No, indeed,” said Hardy. “If you had ever come into contact with them, you would know the difference.”
“Did you ever kill a tiger in Bengal?” asked Margetts.
“Why, no, Mr Margetts, but one very near killed me.”
“Did he? Tell us about it,” said Redgy.
“Well, it was very soon after I went to India, when I was quite a young man. There was a letter of importance to be taken to the officer in command at Meerut; there was no one at hand who could take it, and they were obliged to entrust it to me. I was to travel by what they call dak, – travelling all night in a palanquin on men’s shoulders, and resting during the hot hours of the day. We were travelling in the wildest part of the country, when one of the bearers put his head in between the curtains. ‘Would massa like to see a tiger?’ he said.
“I had been dozing, but I started up. ‘No,’ I said; ‘there are few things I should like to see less.’
“‘Massa see one if he like it. Very big tiger yonder!’
“I looked out, and there, sure enough, about two hundred yards ahead of us there was a big tiger, trotting along in advance; I could see his striped skin clearly in the moonlight.
“‘Won’t you stop?’ I inquired of the bearers.
“‘No good stop!’ was the comforting reply; ‘tiger see us before we see him. If he mean to eat us, he eat us; if he don’t, he leave us alone.’
“I looked carefully to the loading of my gun, and lay back in the litter, watching our fellow-traveller, who jogged on, apparently entirely regardless of us. Presently he turned into the jungle and disappeared.
“‘Well!’ I said, ‘to be sure you are not going to pass the spot where he very likely is laying wait for us?’
“‘If he mean to have us, he have us,’ was the only answer I got.
“I had a strong presentiment that he did mean to have us, and I was half inclined to get out of the litter and leave them to make the experiment in their own persons. But at this moment there was a ringing noise heard in the distance, and a troop of native horsemen, who had been sent on some errand, came riding up. I informed the officer in command of our predicament, and he gave us an escort of his men to the nearest station. We heard afterwards that the tiger in question had been for many weeks past the terror of the neighbourhood, having killed great numbers of men. I was exceedingly glad to hear, when I returned that way a week or two afterwards, that he had been tracked out and shot.”
“I know they are formidable beasts,” said Vander Heyden. “I saw some of them when I was in England, and also at the Cape. The so-called tiger of this country is an awkward beast to come into contact with, though. But I consider the buffalo, if he is wounded, a much more dangerous animal.”
“I agree with you,” said Hardy. “A full-grown buffalo is pretty nearly a match for a lion, and a herd of them can put a lion to flight at any time.”
“Yes, I have seen that myself,” said Vander Heyden. “I remember once, when I was out hunting in the country near the Crocodile river, I came upon a lion who had just seized a buffalo calf, which had strayed, I suppose, for none of the herd were in sight. He was carrying it off to his lair probably. I fired, and my bullet struck one of his legs. It was a bad shot, and only inflicted a flesh wound. The lion turned, and I suppose would have rushed upon me. But at that moment a trampling was heard, and a troop of buffalo came in sight, headed probably by the mother. The lion left the calf and galloped off as fast as he could to the jungle, which lay a mile or so off. He would have got clear of them, I have no doubt, if it hadn’t been for the wound I had given him. But that crippled him so much, that the herd presently overtook and charged him. He turned and sprang upon one of them. But they had him down in a minute, and gored him to death with their horns, without his being able to make any resistance.”
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