Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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“He is all that, I can answer for it. If any young fellow is more likely than another to succeed in such a position, it is George Rivers.”
“Very good. If he engages with me, I shall undertake to provide his outfit, and pay his passage to Durban and from thence to Umvalosa. But he must make up his mind at once. I must leave this place for London to-morrow.”
“You had better see him without loss of time. He was to go out for a short walk with his friend, Reginald Margetts; but he will be back by dinner-time. I think he will probably accept your offer. I should certainly advise him to do so.”
Dr Stansfield proved to be right in his anticipations. George was at first inclined to be somewhat sceptical as to the identity of his mother with Mrs Mansen, and also made many inquiries as to the man who, according to Mr Rogers’ theory, was her second husband. He was told that Ludwig Mansen was a very worthy man, well educated, and much respected. George would find him a very desirable relative. He was not rich, but in good circumstances. He and Mrs Mansen were generally thought to live very happily together. As regards himself, Mr Rogers knew that his mother had never ceased to deplore his death, which she supposed had certainly occurred, and that his reappearance would be like new life to her. If George had had no other reason for accepting Mr Rogers’ offer, this would have been sufficient to induce him to do so; in fact, the desire of meeting her again grew so greatly on him, that it was with difficulty that he could bring himself to consent to the delay of five or six weeks, which Mr Rogers had declared to be necessary for making the required arrangements. His passage was taken in the Zulu Queen, – Captain Ranken, commander, – a large vessel carrying a cargo to Durban, and taking a few first-class passengers at a lower rate than was usually charged by the great steam companies.
About a week after Mr Rogers’ departure for London, Redgy Margetts came to Rivers with a letter, which he had that morning received from his father.
“All right,” he said, “old fellow! The governor has given his consent, like a brick, as he is!”
“Given his consent to what, Redgy?” inquired George with surprise.
“To my sailing with you for Durban in the Zulu Queen” answered Margetts. “I hoped from the first that he would; but I said nothing about it till I was sure.”
“You go to the Transvaal, Redgy!” exclaimed Rivers. “What should take you there?”
“Oh, I have always intended to go out to one of the colonies. There is nothing for any one to do in England, you know; and it will be very jolly having you for my messmate and fellow-settler.”
“It will be very jolly for me anyway,” said Rivers, shaking him heartily by the hand. “I really think the thing is quite perfect now.”
The Zulu Queen had cleared the Channel and the Bay of Biscay, and was somewhere about abreast of Lisbon, when Redgy Margetts came on deck to join his friend Rivers.The latter was a good sailor, and had some considerable experience of the sea. Even the Channel and the Bay, though they had been more than usually rough, had not discomposed him. But the other passengers, of whom there were not more than seven or eight on board, had had a bad time of it. Two Dutch gentlemen, whose names he had discovered to be Vander Heyden and Moritz, had not left their cabin, and Rivers had heard their groans very distinctly through the thin partition of the cabin. Redgy, whose berth was immediately under his own, had been almost as bad, and had only been comforted by George’s assurances that when they were well south of Cape Finisterre, his troubles would be at an end.
The prophecy seemed likely now to be fulfilled. The ship had ceased to pitch and roll, and the bright sky and warm sun were delightful after the confined gloom of the cabin. It was a grand sight indeed that met Redgy’s eyes as he stepped on deck. There was the vast blue dome above, hardly flecked by a single cloud. There was the illimitable ocean below, the waves dancing gaily in the sunshine, and in the distance the coast of Portugal, lying like a soft cloud, through which some shadowy outlines of the mountains were visible.
“Well, this is jolly enough!” exclaimed Margetts, as he seated himself by his friend’s side. “If the voyage is going to be like this, there won’t be so much to complain of.”
“It will be like this, only a little warmer – a good deal warmer – when we get in the tropics,” said Rivers. “But otherwise the appearance of things won’t be greatly different from this for a good many weeks to come. How are the Dutchmen, Redgy? Have they ceased groaning?”
“I haven’t heard them this morning,” returned Margetts. “I fancy they are getting up. The lady has been the worst, I believe.”
“Lady! I didn’t know there was a lady on board. What, is she the big Dutchman’s wife?”
“No, sister. I heard the second biggest Dutchman call to the other, and tell him his sister wanted him!”
“Do you know their names, Redgy? I only saw them for a few minutes when they came aboard at Plymouth. I didn’t see the lady at all. I suppose she must have gone straight down into her cabin.”
“I know nothing but their Christian names,” returned Redgy. “The big one is called Henryk, and the other Frank, or, as they pronounced it, Vrank. The lady, I think, is Annchen. That’s their way of pronouncing the name.”
“Well, I hope they’ll make themselves agreeable. As they are to be our companions for four or five weeks at least, it will make a considerable difference to us whether they are pleasant or not.”
“I too should like to know something about them,” said Margetts. “Here’s the skipper. Perhaps he’ll be able to tell us something. Good morning, Captain Ranken,” he added, as the captain came up.
“Good morning, gentlemen. Good morning, Mr Margetts,” said the skipper; “glad to see you’ve got over it. Mr Rivers here is an old salt, and doesn’t mind even the Bay of Biscay.”
“We want you to tell us something about our fellow-passengers,” said George.
“Fellow-passengers! We’ve very few – two Englishmen, besides yourselves. One is Mr Whittaker, a clerk in a house at Pieter Maritzburg, the other Mr Walters, who has some Government appointment in the colony. There’s a Portuguese too. He’s in the wine trade, I fancy, but he goes no farther than Madeira. And there’s a Dutch officer and his sister – Mynheer Vander Heyden and his friend Moritz. They all three hail from the Transvaal. I never had so few passengers on board before.”
“Well, you know the old proverb,” said Margetts: “the fewer the better cheer. We must try to make that good.”
“All right, Mr Margetts! Nothing is pleasanter than these voyages, when the passengers are on good terms with one another. I will do my best, I promise you, to make things pleasant. Here they come,” he added a moment afterwards, as the head and shoulders of a tall man came up the hatchway. “Come with me, and I will introduce you.”
The two Dutchmen looked round them as they mounted the companion ladder, with the air of persons who were familiar with what they saw. They were both somewhat heavily built, but rather fine-looking men. The taller of the two might be eight or nine-and-twenty. His figure showed great muscular strength, and there was an alacrity in his movements which betokened one well accustomed to bodily exertion. His features were rather handsome, though there was an expression to be traced on them which indicated an imperious, and somewhat irascible, temper. His friend Moritz was of a slighter build, but still wiry and strong. His features were not so regular, but he looked more good-natured than his companion. It may be added that their demeanour accorded with these impressions.
“Mynheer Vander Heyden, Mynheer Moritz, let me introduce you to Mr Rivers and Mr Margetts. You will have much in common with them, I fancy, as their destination is only a few hundred miles short of your own.”
Vander Heyden bowed distantly. “English settlers, I suppose,” he said. “Do you propose to establish yourselves, gentlemen, in Natal, or Zululand?”
“In neither,” replied Rivers a little stiffly, for he did not like the tone in which Vander Heyden spoke. “The place to which I am proceeding is in the Transvaal.”
“I thought as much,” muttered Vander Heyden. Rivers only half caught the words, but there could be no mistake as to Vander Heyden’s demeanour. Some unpleasant altercation might have ensued, if Moritz had not stept forward and said pleasantly, “The Transvaal! that is our country, and it is a very fine one to settle in. May I ask what is the name of your station?”
“Dykeman’s Hollow,” replied Rivers. “It lies, I am told, some twenty miles from the Zulu frontier.”
“Yes, at Umvalosa,” assented Moritz. “I know where it is, and have often been by it, though I have never visited there. I believe the land is very good in that neighbourhood.”
“Is the hunting good there?” asked Redgy; “are there plenty of wild animals about there?”
“More than perhaps you would desire,” returned Moritz, smiling. “The lions and the elephants are not often to be seen; they never continue long in any neighbourhood in which Europeans have settled. Still, in the northern parts of the Transvaal you will meet with them – occasionally, at all events. But of the tigers – or rather the leopards, for that is what they really are – and of the hyenas, there are plenty. There is also no lack of snakes – cobras, ondaras, and puff-adders; there is no dearth of any of them.”
“I shall enjoy the lion-hunting, at all events,” said Redgy.
“I hardly think you will,” observed Vander Heyden with something of a sneer. “You will find that a different matter from what you in England are pleased to call sport – hunting a hare or a fox, or shooting at a bird. Hunting in the Transvaal requires both skill and courage.”
“No doubt, Mr Vander Heyden,” said George shortly; “but there is no reason, I suppose, why an Englishman may not possess both.”
“It is possible that he may,” returned the Dutchman coldly.
Captain Ranken looked uncomfortable. He foresaw altercations in the distance, if not open quarrels, and these on board ship were especially to be deprecated. He saw that though George apparently was good-tempered, he was not disposed to submit to insolence; and Vander Heyden evidently entertained the strong dislike to the English for which so many of his countrymen were notorious. Nothing, however, had been said as yet which required his interference. He was looking about for some means of diverting the conversation into another channel, when the arrival of a new person on the scene effected his purpose for him. A delicate white hand appeared on the top of the companion, and immediately after a female figure issued forth. The captain stepped forward to offer his hand.
“I am rejoiced, Miss Vander Heyden, to welcome you on deck. This is a charming morning for your first appearance. It is quite warm, though there is a pleasant breeze.”
The young lady untied the woollen scarf she had wrapped round her head, and requited the captain’s civility by a bow. The latter would have proceeded to present her to the two Englishmen, but her brother stepped stiffly forward, and, offering his arm, led her to a seat near the taffrail Moritz followed, and the captain turned off to give some directions to the mate.
“I don’t like that fellow, George,” said Margetts. “He seems inclined to be insolent. I’m afraid we shall have a row with him before long.”
“I don’t know about a row, Redgy,” said Rivers; “that is, if you mean an open quarrel. I don’t mean to quarrel with him, or with any one else. But he must be more civil, if we are to be on friendly terms. The other seems inclined to be more sociable.”
“And his sister too,” observed Redgy. “She looks good-natured enough, and only look how handsome she is! Don’t you think so, George?”
“She is not bad-looking,” assented Rivers; “I shouldn’t call her regularly handsome, but she is certainly both pretty and sweet-looking.”
“Her society will make the voyage pleasanter,” said Redgy.
“I should doubt that,” returned George. “If I don’t mistake, this Dutchman doesn’t mean us to make her acquaintance.”
“She may have something to say to that,” observed Margetts. “He isn’t either her father or her husband, you know.”
“No,” said Rivers; “he couldn’t prevent our knowing her, if she desired it herself. But I shall take my cue from him, and stand aloof if he shows that he wishes it. But here come two more – and Englishmen evidently. I don’t think the Portuguese will show on deck to-day, from what the steward told me. I suppose we needn’t stand on ceremony here. Mr Whittaker and Mr Walters, I believe,” he added, taking off his hat. “My name is Rivers, and my friend’s here is Margetts. As we are to be fellow-voyagers for some weeks, we had better make acquaintance.”
“My name is Whittaker,” said the elder of the two travellers, a pleasant-looking man of about thirty, “and I am happy to be introduced to you, Mr Rivers. This is Mr Walters. He lands at East London, but all the rest of us, I believe, are going on to Durban.”
“I believe so,” assented Rivers. “Do you reside in Durban, may I ask?”
“No. I am the chief clerk in the Colonial Bank at Pieter Maritzburg. I have been home on business connected with the bank, and am now returning.”
“Do you know these Dutchmen?” asked Margetts, looking as he spoke at the group of three who were still seated by the taffrail.
Mr Whittaker looked in the direction indicated.
“Yes,” he said, “I do know them; and I am not particularly glad to have them for my fellow-passengers. I have seen them once or twice in Natal, and I met them at the house of one of our correspondents a week or two ago in London.”
“What do you know about them?” inquired Redgy. “I know that they have an especial dislike to Englishmen,” said Whittaker; “that is, Vander Heyden has; I don’t know about the other. If you knew the colony as well as I do, Mr Rivers, you would be aware that there is a great difference observable among the Dutch settlers. Some of them are kind and friendly enough with all white men – ”
“All white men?” interposed Redgy. “Not with blacks, then?”
“No, Mr Margetts,” returned the other gravely. “A man can know very little about the colony not to be aware that every Dutchman regards the natives as being of little more account than dogs or horses – of a good deal less account than many horses.”
“So I have heard. But what about their relationship with other whites?”
“As I was saying, some of them will receive kindly and hospitably all Europeans; but others entertain a rooted dislike to all but their own countrymen. Englishmen in particular they regard as their natural enemies. They will not do them the slightest service, or exchange the most ordinary civilities with them. I have known some Boers refuse even a glass of cold water to an Englishman when he was almost perishing with thirst.”
“And this Vander Heyden is one of that sort, hey?” asked Margetts. “By the way, did not Captain Ranken say he was an officer?”
“He has been some years in the Dutch service. He left the Transvaal when his father died; but he is now returning to marry, and live on his property with his wife and sister. Some years ago, when visiting a friend at Maritzburg who is a merchant there, there was a quarrel with an English officer, which attracted a good deal of attention, and made Vander Heyden, for the time at all events, very notorious. That was caused by his manner of dealing with the natives.”
“What were the particulars?” asked Mr Walters.
“He was on his way to Maritzburg,” said Whittaker, “and on the road he met a servant of Captain Tarleton’s, who was taking two horses belonging to his master to Rorke’s Drift. The spot where they met was at a small spring in the middle of a long dry tract of country. They arrived nearly about the same time; but Tarleton’s servant got there first, and was proceeding to water the horses, when Vander Heyden ordered him imperiously to desist, and wait until his party had watered their cattle. He took the captain’s servant for a native, – a Kaffir or Zulu; but the man really was a Sikh, and as bold and fierce as Vander Heyden himself. He angrily refused; and, when the Dutchman thrust him violently on one side, he drew his knife, and would have stabbed his assailant, if the others of the party had not seized him. While the altercation was going on, Captain Tarleton himself rode up, and, having heard the particulars from the bystanders, took up the quarrel. The result was a challenge; and there would have been a duel in Maritzburg a day or two afterwards, if the matter had not reached the ears of one of the local magistrates. He sent for the parties, convicted Vander Heyden of an assault, and required him to find securities to keep the peace, or leave the colony. The Dutchman chose the latter course. But the affair, I take it, has not increased his affection for us English.”
“Well, he must keep the peace here,” remarked the captain, who had again joined them; “and I shall take care that he does. But I agree with Mr Whittaker that he is not very likely to be over cordial with us English. I have already seen some indications of his feelings towards us.”
“The other man – Moritz his name is, I think,” observed Redgy – “appears to be more amiably disposed.”
“The young lady too seems pleasant,” said Mr Whittaker; “but I suppose she will be in a great measure under her brother’s orders.”
“No doubt,” said Rivers. “Well, of course, it rests with herself whether we are to be friendly with her or not.”
Several days passed on. Madeira was reached; and then the ship’s course was set for Saint Helena, where there was to be a delay of at least twenty-four hours. The anticipations expressed as to Vander Heyden’s demeanour were fully verified. He stood aloof himself from all the passengers except Moritz and the Portuguese, Martinez; and it was tolerably plain that he only sought his society as a means of keeping the others at a distance. At the meals, which took place in the principal cabin, he seated his sister at the end of the table, on the captain’s right. He himself sat next to her, with Moritz immediately opposite, and Martinez next to him. As he never addressed a single word to the Englishmen, and the Portuguese could not speak English, all conversation with Annchen became almost impossible; indeed, as none of them had been introduced to her, they could hardly under such circumstances presume to address her. Indeed, they felt too much offended at the haughty dislike which Vander Heyden made no show of concealing, to have any desire to do so; and the voyage to the Cape might have been accomplished without the interchange of a word between the young lady and her English fellow-passengers, if it had not been for an occurrence which took place when they were some days’ voyage south of Madeira, and approaching the equator.
All the party were on deck. Annchen, dressed entirely in white, and wearing a large hat of the same colour, – the crown being thickened as a defence against the sun, – was sitting on a low stool under the shade of the companion. Rivers, Redgy, and Mr Walters were lying on the deck under an awning which they had constructed with the help of an old sail. A sharp wind had been blowing since daybreak, which threatened to rise to a gale at sundown. Presently one of the sailors, carrying a load of potatoes to the coop, came up the hatchway. He had evidently been drinking, and was extremely unsteady on his legs. A gust of wind caught him as he stepped on deck. He reeled, and struck against Vander Heyden, upsetting him, and knocking him against Annchen, who was standing close by. She lost her balance, and the wind, catching her hat, swept it across the deck. It would have been carried into the sea, if it had not been caught in the rigging. Rivers started up, skimmed nimbly up the ropes, recovered the hat, and, descending, presented it to its owner. Annchen coloured, and glanced hurriedly round at her brother, expecting him to acknowledge the civility.
But Vander Heyden was differently employed. He had regained his feet, and was on the point of angrily reproving the sailor for his clumsiness, when he suddenly exclaimed, —
“Ha! you here, you English scoundrel! What has brought you into this ship? How dare you intrude yourself on me?”
“I want to have nothing to do with you,” retorted the man sullenly. “I couldn’t help the wind blowing, could I? As for my being an English scoundrel, a Dutch coward is worse any day!”
“Insolent hound!” cried Vander Heyden, striking him a heavy blow as he spoke; “I will teach you to insult a Hollander.”
The man reeled and fell on the deck, knocking over another sailor, named Van Ryk, who was passing at the moment. Their dislike of the Boer seemed to be as great as his of them. They leaped up and rushed together on Vander Heyden, and an angry fray would have ensued, if Wyndham, the first mate, had not interfered. He had seen what had occurred, and desired the combatants to desist.
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