Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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“Surrender?” he cried. “Not I, at all events. I believe I am done for this time, but there is still some fight left in me. Henryk Vander Heyden, I told you I should one day return your fire; there is time to do so yet.”
He raised himself with difficulty, and, levelling his revolver, fired at his antagonist, who was only a few feet from him. With fell satisfaction he noted that the shot had taken effect. Then he fell back and expired without a groan.
“Are you much hurt?” cried Rivers, rushing up to Vander Heyden and raising him, while Hardy supported him on the other side.
“I don’t know, I hardly felt it,” he answered. “I don’t think it struck the ribs.”
“We must get his coat off and stop the bleeding,” said Hardy. “If you will hold him, I will unfasten the coat. Bring the lantern closer.”
“Leave him to me, sir,” said a voice behind. “I know something of surgery, as a man has need to do who lives in this country.”
Both Rivers and Hardy turned round in great surprise. The speaker was Mr Prestcott.
“Ah, you wonder to see me here! I had no intention of leaving home when we parted, but I was summoned to Heidelberg two days afterwards, and was on my way to Mr Evetts when Mr Margetts met me. We must cut the coat away. If the wound is where I suspect, it would give him great pain to take it off his shoulders. Ah, I thought so,” he continued when the sleeve had been cut away and the shoulder had been laid bare. “You have had a narrow escape, sir. The bullet struck the cartridge-belt which was hanging round your neck, and glanced off, passing out through the fleshy part under the arm-pit, just missing the rib. But it is a nasty wound too. You will have to lie quite quiet for some time, and be careful that the bleeding does not burst out again. There must be some proper person to nurse him.”
“His sister, Miss Vander Heyden, is here, sir,” said Rivers. “She is in the waggon yonder. She does not know anything about this yet.”
“You had better go and warn her,” said Mr Prestcott; “then we will carry him to the waggon.”
His instructions were obeyed. Annchen was of course terribly distressed, but repressed her emotion, and instantly set about the necessary preparations. The boxes were removed from the waggon, and as soft a bed as possible made upon the floor of dried grass and reeds, over which several rugs were laid. The waggon fortunately stood in a sheltered place under two large trees, whither it had been moved to render it as secure from attack as possible. Annchen and Rose undertook the nursing; and Mr Prestcott engaged to send over the necessary medicines from Heidelberg.
“He must be kept as quiet as possible, remember. I suppose there are enough here,” glancing round as he spoke at the Hottentot servants, as well as at Matamo and Haxo, “to secure him against disturbance or attack.”
“There will be no further fear of attack,” said George, to whom this remark appeared to be addressed.“This wretched Bostock is dead, and all the rest of the gang have either been killed or are prisoners. Stay, though,” he added; “I see Gott is prisoner, and Van Ryk was hanged at Rorke’s Drift; but I am afraid Sullivan has escaped.”
“It will be a pity if he has,” remarked Lieutenant Evetts. “I hear at Heidelberg that the whole gang has been for months past the pest of the neighbourhood.”
“Sullivan has not escaped,” said Margetts; “I can account for him. He had been set to watch for me as I returned to the camp, and pick me off, I suppose; but he fell into his own trap.”
“Ha, that must have been the shot, then, that we heard,” said Rivers. “What made you so long in returning, Redgy? We were getting alarmed.”
“Well, I missed the track,” said Margetts, “and had ridden past Heidelberg. By good luck I met Mr Prestcott, who was riding in to see Mr Evetts, and he took me with him. It was after all no loss of time, I believe, for he knew where to find Evetts, which I did not. And during our ride to Heidelberg, he told me something, George, which you will be interested to hear. But first I will tell you about Sullivan. Evetts got his men together, and Mr Prestcott volunteered to come with us, wanting to identify some of the gang, who had more than once stolen his property. When we got within a mile or two Evetts scattered his men, and told them to move up with as little noise as possible. One of them in this manner got past Sullivan without being seen by him. He chanced to look back, and saw Sullivan just levelling his gun at me, and he anticipated the shot by sending a bullet through the back of his skull. He was lying dead by the roadside when I passed, and I recognised him as Sullivan, notwithstanding his disguise.”
“Talking of his disguise,” observed Rivers, “I wonder where they got the soldiers’ uniforms from. I know there are fellows among them who are clever enough at staining Europeans so as to look like natives; but how did they come by the uniforms?”
“That is a question easily enough answered,” remarked Lieutenant Evetts, who had now joined the party. “The Zulus stripped soldiers enough at Isandhlwana to fit out a regiment or two, and for months afterwards they were to be had for anything the Zulus could get for them. But I must say the get-up, on the whole, was not bad.”
“No,” assented Hardy; “and the fellows who wore the uniforms had all, I fancy, been really in the army at one time or another. Certainly the corporal had.”
“Yes,” said Rivers. “When I first spoke with the man I thought I knew his face, and probably I had seen him in the ranks. That was one of the circumstances that for a long time prevented me from entertaining any suspicion.”
“By-the-bye, George,” said Margetts, “I have forgotten to ask you how you discovered Bostock. I thought, as I told you, there was something strange about the party, but did not suspect Bostock was among them, and his disguise was so perfect that I can hardly believe he is the fellow lying dead yonder. There was no time to ask you when you sent me off to Heidelberg; but I should like to ask you how you recognised him.”
“It was your remark and his limp that first made me suspect him,” said George. “He has always limped since he received the wound on board the Zulu Queen. I happened to know he had received another wound a few months since – a bullet-wound on the wrist. I went and stood close at hand while the pretended corporal was putting the handcuffs again on the prisoners’ wrists; and there was the scar of the wound plain enough. I saw Bostock glance suspiciously at me, as he saw I was scrutinising his wrist, and I had some trouble to keep myself from showing that I had discovered him. But you were saying, Redgy, that Mr Prestcott had told you something which I should be interested to hear. May I ask what it was?”
“Well, Mr Rivers,” said Prestcott, “it was simply that I am well acquainted with your mother. In the course of my business I make frequent journeys to Zeerust, and know old Ludwig Mansen and his family quite well. I was there not many weeks ago. It is odd that his name did not come up in the course of our conversation about Zeerust. I did not particularly notice yours, or it would certainly have done so. You wrote to her some time ago, did you not?”
“Yes,” said George, “eight or nine months ago; but I have never received any reply to my letter.”
“Ah, I supposed so. The man to whom you gave it was several months in getting to Umtongo, which was the name of Mansen’s farm. Then she could get no messenger to carry her reply for several weeks, and it must have reached Rorke’s Drift somewhere about the beginning of June. But it appeared you had left the Natal Volunteers, and it was thought you were going to join some other corps; but that was not known for certain. She is in a terrible state of alarm now, that you have been killed at Ginghilovo, or Ulundi, or one of the smaller battles.”
“Well, her anxiety will soon be relieved now,” observed Margetts.
“I trust so. But in that case Mr Rivers must not wait to accompany Mr Vander Heyden to Zeerust Mr Vander Heyden cannot be moved for three weeks, and then he must travel very slowly. I do not suppose he can get to his destination under a month, at the very earliest.”
“Of course I shall not wait for that,” said Rivers. “I shall ride across country, if I can find a guide. I suppose it will not occupy very long, Mr Prestcott?”
“No, sir. Your horse, if that is your horse yonder, would take you there in four days – probably in three, but certainly in four.”
“And as for a guide,” interposed Hardy, “you will not find a better in all the Transvaal than Matamo. He knows the whole of this country as well as I know the paths about my own farm. I am sorry that I myself cannot remain here; I have another engagement to fulfil at Newcastle. But I will undertake to return before Mr Vander Heyden can reach Zeerust. Meanwhile Mr Margetts will stay here and look after the party.”
“Must that be so?” asked George. “I should have liked Redgy to accompany me.”
“It must be, I am afraid,” said Hardy. “I am sorry that my engagement must be kept.”
“I am sorry too,” said Margetts; “but of course we cannot leave Vander Heyden here alone. When shall you set out, George?”
“To-morrow, if Matamo is prepared,” was the answer. “But we must lie down now and take some rest. The dawn must be close at hand.”
“I shall return with my party and the prisoners at once,” said Lieutenant Evetts; “and I suppose you also, Mr Prestcott, will accompany me.”
“Yes,” said Mr Prestcott. “The medicines and lint ought to be sent out at once.”
They parted, and our travellers, lying down, took some hours’ repose. Then George summoned Matamo, and inquired of him whether he knew the way to Umtongo, and would undertake to guide him thither.
“The way to Umtongo,” repeated Matamo. “I know it quite well. I have been there two, three times. I could ride it in the dark.”
“That’s all right, then,” said George.
“Yes, sir; we can get there in three days, – Koodoo’s Vley one day, Malapo’s Kloof two days, Umtongo three days. But they will be long days.”
“Then had we not better start at once?”
“Yes, sir, or we shall not reach Koodoo’s Vley to-night. I will go and get everything ready.”
In two hours they set off, the Bechuana appearing to be in high spirits. The track he pursued led through a country wilder than any George had yet seen. It ran for some miles along the banks of a small but most picturesque stream, the banks of which were clothed with trees of every variety. The mimosa predominated, but it was intermingled with date-trees and Kaffir plums and huge cacti, with their swordlike leaves, and acacias already coming into flower. Overhead hoopoes and parrots kept up a never-ending chorus, while countless tribes of monkeys and squirrels leaped and chattered among the branches. Occasionally there sprang up, with the whirring noise so familiar to the sportsman, a covey of red-brown partridges. Notwithstanding that they were well supplied with provisions, George’s instinct could not forego the opportunity. He let fly right and left with both barrels. Two partridges dropped dead just in front of them, while others flew off wounded. Matamo dismounted and secured them, and they proved a most appetising addition to their supper when they halted a few hours after.
“How far are we from Koodoo’s Vley?” said Rivers, as he leaned back against the sloping bank, after having made a delicious meal.
“Koodoo’s Vley? About three hours’ ride. Give the horses a long rest, and we shall get there before the moon goes down.”
George relapsed into thought. The excitement of the last few hours had left no time for reflection, but now the recollection of what had passed between himself and Annchen came vividly back. He had long felt assured that, notwithstanding the distance at which he had always been kept from her, she was not indifferent to him, but now he had had a distinct assurance to that effect from her lips. For a moment the doubt crossed him whether, in the few hurried words he spoke to her before the attack, he had not in some measure broken his promise to Vander Heyden. There had been little time for reflection, and his had been dictated by a sudden impulse. But no. He felt sure it had not been so. His promise to Vander Heyden had been that he would not ask her to be his wife, and he had not asked her. Doubtless she would expect him to follow up his declaration by a formal offer, but it must rest with her brother whether that must be made. On the whole, he had good hope, when he recalled the particulars of Vander Heyden’s interview with him, that he would withdraw his opposition. At all events, there was no need to be down-hearted about it, and perhaps the less his thoughts rested upon it the better.
He turned to Matamo, who was sitting on the other side of the fire, sorely disturbed, apparently, at the long silence to which George’s reverie had consigned him. He responded at once to George’s advances, who inquired of him whether he had known Mr Prestcott before he met him a few days previously.
“Do I know Mr Prestcott? Yes, sir, I have known him a long time. Very good Baas, is Mr Prestcott. He tells pretty stories.”
“More pretty than true, hey, Matamo?” suggested George. “Did you hear his story about the lion and the powder-flask?”
“Yes, sir; I have heard that more than once. It gets nicer every time it is told. Mr Hardy, too, he tells a nice story about the cobra in the tree, but not so nice as my story about the big boa.”
“Your story – an adventure of your own, like the leap off the hippopotamus’s head, eh? Let us hear it by all means, Matamo.”
“Yes, sir. It happened a great many years ago. I had been sent on an errand to the Kasal Mountains. A fat old Dutchman seized me, and would not believe my story, but made a slave of me. If I said a word, he tied me up to the cart-wheel and flogged me with the jambok. One day he sent me after an ox that had strayed. He was always afraid that I should run away, and if I was any time out, came to meet me with the jambok ready in his hand. I couldn’t find the ox anywhere, but I thought I saw something moving in a thick bush, and I fancied it might be the stray beast. I forced my way inside, and trod on what I thought was the end of a log. But it was a great boa, not a log. The boa put up its head and was going to spring; but I ran like a springbok, and the boa after me. I never went so fast in my life, but the boa went faster. Just on the edge of the wood, I saw the fat Dutchman coming with the whip. When the Dutchman saw the boa, he too turned and ran. But I ran faster than the Dutchman anyhow. The boa thought he was better eating than a lean Bechuana boy, and he caught him round the waist and twisted himself all about him. The Dutchman was so big that the boa only went twice round him. He bellowed for help so loud that every one could hear him, so there was no need for me to tell them.”
“What did you do then, Matamo?”
“I ran away as fast as I could, and went home to Mr Baylen.”
“I suppose the Dutchman was killed, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, sir. The big snake ground him up like corn in a mill, – jambok and all,” added Matamo significantly.
“Well, you must tell that story to Mr Prestcott and Mr Hardy. I don’t think either of them could beat it.”
“Ah, but I had another escape, from a rhinoceros, closer than that,” said the Bechuana, evidently much gratified at George’s approval.
“Closer than that!” said George. “It must have been a near one, then, indeed. Let us hear it, by all means.”
“It was in the rocky country above Standerton,” said Matamo. “I was hunting, and had to climb some steep crags two or three hundred feet high, and in some places as steep as a wall. I got to the top, and sat down to rest under a small tree that grew close to the edge of the precipice. Presently I got up and went on to the wood, where there were plenty of elands and antelopes. All of a moment a big female rhinoceros broke out and ran at me. I put up my gun and hit her just in the right place, and she dropped. I was going to load again, when I saw close behind her the male rhinoceros, and he made a rush at me. There was no time to load. I threw my gun away, and ran for it as hard as I could. But the precipice was right in front, and no room to turn to the right or the left. The rhinoceros is very swift of foot. He was close behind me as I approached the edge. I thought we should both go over together, but just at the last moment I seized the bole of the tree and swung myself round. The rhinoceros couldn’t catch hold of the tree, and couldn’t stop himself. Over he went in a moment, and I heard him strike the ground three hundred feet down. I went below and took a look at him. He was smashed to atoms.”
“That was a close shave too,” said George. “But come, Matamo, it is time we were off again. The horses must be fully rested.”
They remounted, and proceeded for several hours. But for some reason they did not make good progress. The horse ridden by the Bechuana appeared to be completely tired out, and could with difficulty be urged to an easy trot. The moon had set while they were still fully three miles from Koodoo’s Vley, and Matamo declared it would not be safe to proceed further that night.
He off-saddled his horse with more care than usual, and, instead of knee-haltering and turning him out to graze as usual, secured him by a headstall under the shelter of some trees, and brought him some grass and water. But the animal, though it drank thirstily, seemed unable to eat, and presently lay down, too much exhausted, apparently, by its day’s journey to stand.
“Bad job this, Mr Rivers,” said Matamo, after carefully noting the horse’s condition.
“What do you think is the matter with him?” inquired Rivers.
“The horse-sickness, sir. I’ve been afraid of it for an hour or two, but there is no doubt of it now. It is less common at this time of the year, but it happens sometimes.”
“Can’t anything be done?” asked George. “I know this horse-sickness is a strange malady, which no one seems to understand. But is there really no cure for it?”
“None that I have ever heard of,” was the answer. “Yes, he’s getting worse. He’ll die; nothing can cure him.”
“Has he been bitten by the tsetse, do you think?” asked George.
“The tsetse? no, sir. The tsetse is not found here; there is no mistake about it, where it is found. I know it well, and its buzz too. It is certain to kill any horse it attacks, or ox either.”
“Doesn’t it hurt a man, then?” inquired George.
“It never bites a man, or a donkey, or a mule. But what this poor brute has is the horse-sickness, and nobody knows either the cause or the cure of that.”
An hour or two afterwards Matamo’s predictions were verified. As the darkness came on, the poor brute’s malady got worse. Its flanks heaved; it drew its breath with ever-increasing difficulty; its tongue lolled from the jaws, which were tightly clenched on it. Then violent convulsions came on, and it expired.
“What is to be done now, Matamo? Can you go on with me on foot?” asked George. “We could ride alternately, you know; of course we should not go nearly as fast, but we should get there in time.”
“I am very sorry, Mr Rivers, but I can’t go. Mr Baylen wants me back. I must have returned to Horner’s Kraal the very day after the party reached Lichtenberg.”
George remembered that Mr Baylen, while they were at Colenso, had told him that the time of the year when he could never spare Matamo was the spring. At the time when he made George the offer of the Bechuana’s services, there had been no idea of the journey to Zeerust being delayed so long. He felt, therefore, that he ought not to urge Matamo to remain longer with him. But, on the other hand, if he returned to Heidelberg with Matamo, and obtained another guide, at least a week would be lost. Knowing his mother’s anxiety and distress, he was most unwilling to protract them. Besides, he could remain only a certain time at Umtongo, and he would not cut that any shorter, if he could help it.
“Do you think I could find my way by myself, Matamo, if you gave me full directions?” he asked.
“I am not able to say that, sir. I will tell you the way as well as I can. But if you go on to Koodoo’s Vley, you will find the Kaffirs’ kraal, which is close to it, and they will show you the way to Mansen’s farm, if you pay them money. The Kaffirs will go anywhere for money, and they know the place well.”
With this George was obliged to be contented, and, having obtained the most minute directions as regarded the road to Koodoo’s Vley, which lay only two miles off, he said goodbye to the Bechuana on the following morning and rode off alone. There was no difficulty in finding his way, Matamo’s directions having been very clear, and the landmarks easy to find. He proceeded, however, cautiously, and in about two hours reached the Vley, which he clearly enough recognised, as well as the Kaffir kraal, standing, as Matamo had described it, on the banks of a small stream and in an open glade surrounded by a wood. But, to his great disappointment, it was wrecked and deserted. Either there had been a quarrel with some hostile tribe, or a Dutch commando had been sent against it. But, whichever may have been the case, all its inhabitants were gone. George searched all round, but could nowhere find one single Kaffir.
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