Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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He was a good deal surprised when, on the following evening, Rudolf Kransberg, who had been absent all day, returned to Malopo’s Kloof, but with a companion. He was sitting alone in the arbour, the time for old Kransberg’s pipe having not yet arrived, when a well-known figure suddenly presented itself, and the voice of Redgy Margetts greeted him.
“Hooray, old fellow! this is glorious indeed! Why, here have we been scouring the country for you for weeks past, and your mother and Thyrza – your mother and your sister,” added Redgy, correcting himself, “have put off going into mourning for you day after day, only because they couldn’t bear to think you were dead. And here have you been alive all the time, only twenty miles from us. Old Kransberg, they say, never holds any intercourse with his neighbours, and it must be so, or he must have heard of the hue and cry that has been raised. Matamo had gone back to Horner’s Kraal, and we only heard from some people in Heidelberg of his having parted company with you somewhere near Koodoo’s Vley. We searched the whole country, Hardy and Haxo and I, and some of Ludwig Mansen’s men, and we found at last the skeleton of your horse; we knew it by your saddle. And by the spring, where it was quite clear you had camped for the night, there were the remains of one of the most venomous snakes in the country. We were afraid you had been bitten by it, and had staggered somewhere into the bush and died. There would have been small chance for you, they said, if it had bitten you. But it doesn’t matter, happily, what we thought, only I should like to know if you are able to tell me the true history of the matter.”
“You shall hear presently,” said George. “But first of all I want to know about my mother. Is she looking well?”
“Well, I never saw her before, you know,” said Redgy, “and of course she has been in great distress about you; but as regards looks, I’m sure she’s an extremely handsome woman, and she will soon now be at her best again. You should have seen what a difference there was in her when we found out all about you from young Kransberg.”
“Young Kransberg,” repeated George. “I supposed he guessed the truth, then, from what I told him yesterday, and rode over to tell you about me.”
“Hem! no,” said Margetts shortly; “that wasn’t the object of his visit. He didn’t know that you were in any way connected with Mrs Mansen – didn’t know what your name was indeed. He only mentioned quite casually at dinner that a young Englishman had been found close to his uncle’s house, nearly two months ago, who had been seized with a bad attack of marsh fever. We all caught at it at once, and felt almost sure, from his description, that the person of whom he had been speaking must be you. But Mrs Mansen couldn’t bear to be kept in suspense a moment, and I offered to ride over here the moment dinner was over; and Rudolf Kransberg,” added Redgy with something of a chuckle, “was obliged to accompany me.”
“Well!” said Rivers.“But there’s plenty more I want to know. I haven’t seen my sister since she was quite a child. She must be grown up now.”
“Yes, she is grown up,” assented Redgy shortly. “And she promised to be pretty?”
“That’s a matter of opinion,” said Redgy with evident embarrassment. “Some people, I believe, do think her so.”
“But you don’t, eh?” said George, glancing at him in some surprise. “But never mind that, I shall soon be able to judge for myself. There are other things I want to know about. What has become of – of the Vander Heydens?”
“Oh, they are all right,” said Margetts. “Vander Heyden recovered rapidly, and got home in three weeks after the time you left us. Their place is only a few miles from Umtongo. They have been continually over there to see your mother and sister. Miss Vander Heyden and Miss Rivers have struck up a very close friendship, and I must do Vander Heyden the justice to say that nobody has been more active in the search after you than he was.”
“He’s a good fellow,” said George, “though he is a Dutchman, and hates the English, and is as proud as Lucifer into the bargain. Well, and Hardy – what of him?”
“Hardy is at Pieter’s Dorf – that’s the name of Vander Heyden’s place. He has designed a capital house, which they have already begun building. It will go on all the faster now that the search for you is happily over. Well now, it’s my turn, George, to ask questions. Do you think you are strong enough to be moved? Mr Mansen proposes to send over his light bullock waggon for you. Of course you couldn’t sit in the saddle for twenty miles, and won’t be fit to do so for some time yet. But you might be able to bear the motion of the waggon. You look quite as strong as Vander Heyden did, and you haven’t so far to go.”
“I should think I certainly might,” said George. “I don’t know whether it is in consequence of seeing you and hearing your good news, but I feel ever so much better than I did this morning.”
“Very good,” said Margetts. “Then I will ride back at once and tell them to send the waggon. It will take one day to come here, then you can go back the next. That will be the day after to-morrow, you know.”
“Very good. I must of course consult my kind host. But I don’t fancy he will make any difficulty. We shall have to arrange, also, what I am to pay him for my lodging and nursing. I must have been a considerable expense, as well as trouble to him.”
Margetts took his leave, and George went in quest of Mynheer Kransberg, whom he found in his usual seat in his summer-house. He listened in silence to George’s proposed arrangements, as well as to his thanks for the great kindness shown him. But when his guest inquired how much money was due for the lodging and attendance he had received. Mynheer Kransberg answered quietly, —
“There is nothing due. This is not an inn.”
“I am aware of that,” returned Rivers, colouring a little, for he had entertained the idea that all Dutchmen were eager to make any profit in their power, and had spoken accordingly. “But I must have occasioned some considerable outlay, and besides have given your servants and yourself and nephew, a great deal of trouble,” he pursued.
“We do not, any of us, grudge it,” said the old man in the same tone as before. “We do not want money for doing a simple act of Christian charity. You have rendered me your thanks – that is enough.”
“I do indeed render them most heartily,” said Rivers, “and I shall never lose the recollection of your generous kindness.”
During the journey in Farmer Mansen’s ox-waggon, which occupied nearly the whole of the day, he had time to reconsider the opinion which he had formed respecting the Boers, and which had been very much the same that is entertained by Englishmen generally. There is undoubtedly a strong prejudice felt against them. They are believed to be selfish, cold-blooded, and cowardly, – harshly oppressive to the helpless, but descending to falsehood and trickery in their dealings with those whom they dare not openly defy. A good deal of disgust also is felt at the strictness of their religious profession, which is thought to be inconsistent with their harsh and worldly conduct.
That there is some truth in these censures is not to be denied. They have been for many generations slaveholders, and no nation ever yet escaped the degradation which that most odious of all customs entails. Slaveholders become inevitably selfish, unjust, and brutal, and incline to become cowardly also. It is the coward only that oppresses the weak, and they who habitually oppress the weak cannot but become cowards. But the Boers have virtues to which justice has not been done. They are kind-hearted and generous to all except the blacks. No nation exceeds them in industry, in simplicity of life, and in the practice of domestic virtues. The profound respect rendered to parents, the faithful affection subsisting between husband and wife, the anxious care bestowed on their children, the loyal attachment and devotion to their country, might put to shame many who are their severest censors. And their religious profession is sincere enough, however blinded their eyes may have become as regards some obvious Christian duties.
Prayer is offered in almost every Dutch household morning and evening to Almighty God. The Sunday is given up to the strictest religious observances; the periodical communions are punctually and reverently attended. If the curse of slavery could be torn out by the roots, and the natives recognised by them as of equal value with themselves in the sight of Heaven, there would be few worthier races to be found on the face of the earth than they.
Chapter Twenty One
“Here is a letter for you, George,” said Mrs Mansen, as the former entered the parlour at Umtongo, about three months after his arrival at his mother’s house. “It looks like Mr Rogers’ handwriting. But I believe Mr Rogers is still in England.”
“It is from him, though,” said George when he had finished reading the letter. “He has returned to Dykeman’s Hollow – has been there about a fortnight, he says.”
“What has made him come back so much sooner than he had intended? He wrote us word that his business in England was prospering, but he would be obliged, he thought, to remain another twelvemonth.”
“Ah, but there is, it appears, a total change of things in England. Another Government has come in, and is likely to reverse altogether the policy of the old one. He says, too, that a lot of people have taken up Cetewayo’s cause, and declare that he is a very ill-used man, that he never hurt or wronged anybody, and if we had left him alone, he would have left us.”
“Do they?” said Mrs Mansen. “I wish some of them had been Cetewayo’s neighbours, as we were.”
“Well, the upshot is, that Mr Rogers thought it was of no use for him to stay any longer in England, so he has come back. And now he wants me to go back to Dykeman’s Hollow, and take up my old work as schoolmaster and teacher.”
“Well, I hoped you were going to settle here,” said Mrs Mansen. “There is as much need for your services here as there could be at Dykeman’s Hollow. And my husband would be willing, as you know, to give you a part of this farm to look after, – quite as large as you could manage, – and to build you a house to live in, or rather, I should say, enlarge the small house at Droopsdorf. Two more rooms would make it a comfortable house.”
“He and you are very kind, mother. But, you see, I engaged myself to Mr Rogers, and I ought to keep to my engagement.”
“Yes, but that was a year and a half ago, and things have happened since then which make all the difference. Mr Rogers didn’t know that we had removed from Spielman’s Vley, and that you, by engaging yourself to him, would be, not half an hour’s ride from us, but a good week’s journey at least, and you didn’t know it, and couldn’t guess it, either.”
“No doubt that is true, mother; and I must allow that if I had known that there would be all the width of the Transvaal between you and me, I shouldn’t have made the agreement. But, you see, I did make it.”
“Yes, but I don’t think Mr Rogers could refuse to cancel it. It would be very unhandsome of him if he did. Then again, I don’t suppose he has heard of your long illness. He thinks you have been living with us nearly six months, as Mr Margetts has; whereas for three months, or for two at all events, you didn’t come here at all, and for a good month more you were quite an invalid. I haven’t had more than two real months of you yet, my dear boy, and after so long a separation, – I may say after what seemed like a recovery of you from the grave – I can’t afford to part with you. Isn’t that reason, Thyrza?”
“Yes,” answered Thyrza. “I think Mr Rogers would at least give you a longer holiday, if he didn’t consent to your staying here altogether. I know father thinks so too.”
“I am sure I don’t want to leave you,” said George, looking affectionately at his mother and sister. “I have never been made so happy by anything as by finding you.”
Mrs Mansen and her daughter were indeed two relatives of whom any one might be proud. The mother was a little past middle age, but was still strikingly handsome, and though her dress differed in some particulars from that of an English lady, she would have passed muster, both as regards appearance and manners, in good English society. Her daughter nearly resembled her in height and feature; and if the reader could have seen her, he would not have been surprised that even the ponderous Rudolf Kransberg should have been captivated by her charms. She was a lively girl in her nineteenth year, and, as yet, fancy-free. It had never occurred to her that Mynheer Rudolf had viewed her with any sentiment of admiration; and we are afraid that, if the idea had entered her head, it would have had no other effect than that of affording her unmixed amusement.
“And it isn’t father only,” pursued Thyrza, “who wants you to remain at Umtongo. There’s another person – ”
“Redgy Margetts, I suppose,” interrupted George. “I have no doubt he likes his quarters well enough – ”
“Mr Margetts!” broke in Thyrza hastily, and with a little accession of colour; “I wasn’t thinking about him. I don’t suppose he knows his mind on that subject or any other. No, it is a different person altogether – ”
“My dear Thyrza,” interposed Mrs Mansen, “there is your father out in the garden, beckoning. He wants you, I am pretty sure. Go out and speak to him.”
Thyrza departed, and Mrs Mansen, after a pause of a minute or two, addressed her son in a tone of some embarrassment.
“I am sorry you said that about Mr Margetts,” she said – “sorry for two reasons. In the first place, I fancy – if indeed it is only fancy – that he is attracted by Thyrza.”
“Redgy is as easily attracted by a handsome girl as a bee is by a honeysuckle,” said George; “but his attachment does not generally last much longer.”
“I hope you may be right,” returned his mother; “but I own I think otherwise. I grant Thyrza either does not see, or does not much care for, his preference. But how long that might continue, I do not know.”
“Well, mother, even if it were so, what objection is there to Redgy Margetts? He is a gentleman by birth, well educated, and a capital fellow every way. Thyrza might do much worse.”
“No doubt. But he is, I understand, in no position to marry. He is a younger son, with no fortune, only a precarious allowance, and his family would probably be opposed to such a marriage.”
“That is true,” assented George; “but then Redgy is too honourable a fellow to engage Thyrza’s affections, if he did not see his way to marrying her.”
“Very likely. He would not intentionally make her fond of him. But he might do so, nevertheless. No, George, it is certainly better that he should leave Umtongo; and my idea is that he should go and take your place at Dykeman’s Hollow.”
“We had both better go,” said George. “There is a reason – ”
“Yes, I think I understand it,” interrupted Mrs Mansen. “And I was going to say I was sorry you introduced Mr Margetts’ name, because it led to Thyrza’s remark. You would not like her to speak to you on the subject. But may not I do so?”
George again coloured and walked once or twice across the room. Then he spoke.
“I do not affect to misunderstand you, mother. I know to whom Thyrza meant to refer. But – ”
“But hear me for a moment, George. I can understand your unwillingness to address Miss Vander Heyden, knowing, as you do, her brother’s rooted dislike to the English. But you do not know all that I know. When the brother and sister reached their home, several months ago, we were just beginning to be seriously anxious about you. Rumours reached us, first, that you had been one of a party attacked near Heidelberg, and secondly, that you had left your friends on the day after the attack, and had set out for Umtongo. What had become of you during the last month? Of course we were anxious and alarmed, and the alarm soon spread. Miss Vander Heyden herself came over here to inquire. Her distress had completely broken down all the barriers of reserve. She did not, indeed, tell us of her attachment to you, but it was impossible for us not to see it. After another month of continual inquiry, we were all convinced that you must have perished in the bush. Then Annchen spoke to me – she could not, in fact, keep it to herself. Considering you as no longer belonging to this world, she told me of the vows of affection which had been interchanged between you.”
“They never ought to have been,” said George. “I was to blame. But I should be still more culpable if I allowed myself to be influenced by what you have told me. It cannot be, and that is all I have to say.
“Yet,” he resumed a few minutes afterwards, “I am not sorry that we have had this conversation, painful as it has been. You know now my main reason for wishing to return to Dykeman’s Hollow. It has been very nice being with you and Thyrza. But Umtongo is too near Pieter’s Dorf for me to fix my residence there. Perhaps, by and by, when she has married and gone away – ”
“There is but little chance of her marrying any one, unless it is yourself, George,” interposed Mrs Mansen.
“That may be so – I cannot say. But as our wishes can never be fulfilled, it is unwise – indeed, it would be cruel in me, were I to reside where my continual presence must needs be continually thrust upon her.”
“Only one word more, George. Is your scruple founded on your want of money? Do you know that Umtongo is my property, not my husband’s, and that it will of course one day come to you? I have already said that we would provide you with a house and an income at once. But the future also would be provided for. Mr Vander Heyden could not allege – ”
“My scruples, as you term them, have no connection with money. You must urge me no more. I must go, and at once. I shall speak to Margetts without delay,” he continued. “He, too, will be sorry to leave Umtongo. But I shall be much surprised if he does not fall in with my suggestion at once.”
Meanwhile Thyrza, who had joined her stepfather in the garden, was having an interview with him which altogether took her by surprise. Old Ludwig Mansen – he was always called old Ludwig, though he wanted a year or two of fifty – was a man very generally respected and beloved. To the shrewdness of the Dutchman and his placid temper, he added a generosity and unselfishness which are not so common with that people. He was particularly fond of his stepdaughter, and was just now greatly pleased at a piece of information imparted to him a few days before, which he considered to be the best possible thing for her, and of which he was now going to apprise her.
On the previous Monday he had ridden into Zeerust, to attend a meeting convened for the purpose of protesting against the annexation of the Transvaal, which had taken place several years previously, but which had become every year more odious in the eyes of the Boers. At Zeerust, to his great surprise, he had met old Kransberg, who also had ridden in from Malopo’s Kloof. Mansen knew that his neighbour cared no more about the annexation than he did himself. Influenced probably by his English connections, he did not regard the rule of Queen Victoria with any aversion, and knew that, although the English might administer the law with little regard to Boer prejudices, they would at least administer it justly. As for old Kransberg, he had seen too many changes of government to care much who governed the country, so long as they maintained law and order. This was so well known to Ludwig, that he could hardly believe his eyes, when, on turning from a bridle path into the road near Zeerust, he fell in with Kransberg leisurely riding along in the same direction.
Zeerust is one of the loveliest spots in the whole of the Transvaal. It lies in a valley nearly surrounded by hills, which rise to a considerable height on the north, east, and south, while towards the west the level plain extends into the far distance, beyond the range of human vision. It differs from many other valleys of the same country in being supplied abundantly with water throughout the entire year. The vegetation is in consequence always of the freshest green, and every kind of tropical fruit and grain is cultivated, and yields a rich return.
The town, into which the neighbours rode, is not large, but consists of solid, substantial houses, with the great Dutch Presbyterian meeting-house towering in its centre. In the market place adjoining, the horses and waggons of the Boers from the neighbourhood were grouped together, while their owners were flocking in to take part in the meeting. Mansen and Kransberg did not join them. At the request of the latter they betook themselves to the principal inn, where, with much solemnity, but no unnecessary expenditure of words, he made his communication to his neighbour. His nephew Rudolf, it appeared, had arrived at the conclusion that a marriage between himself and Ludwig’s stepdaughter would be a desirable arrangement, if it could be arrived at, and he desired permission to pay formal addresses to her if agreeable to her parents. Old Ludwig replied, with equal gravity, that he would inform his wife of the proposal, and answer to it should be sent in due season. The two Gerontes then adjourned to the Town Hall, and listened with imperturbable stolidity to the speeches delivered.
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