Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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Ludwig rode home, as has been intimated, much pleased with what he had heard; but he did not proceed, immediately on his arrival at Umtongo, to pass on the news, as an English parent would probably have done. He took an opportunity, a day or two afterwards, when there was nothing of importance to attend to, of communicating it to his wife. A debate was held, at which it was agreed that a message should be sent to Malopo’s Kloof, inviting young Rudolf Kransberg to pay a visit at Umtongo on the following Monday, and that, shortly before his arrival, Thyrza should be apprised of his visit and its purport.
Mrs Mansen therefore had had a twofold object in sending her out of the room: first, to stop her malapropos remarks about Annchen Vander Heyden, and secondly, that she might be informed respecting Rudolf’s visit. Thyrza herself, however, did not anticipate any more important communication than that possibly her stepfather had purchased a new dress for her in Zeerust. She was a good deal surprised when he inquired of her what might be her exact age.
“Nineteen last December, father,” she answered.
“Nineteen,” he repeated gravely; “it is an early age at which to marry.”
“I daresay it would be,” she answered, somewhat startled; “but then, I am not going to marry.”
“You do not know that,” he observed gravely. “An offer of marriage has been made for you – in most respects a suitable one.”
“An offer of marriage to me!” repeated Thyrza in astonishment.
“I did not say to you, but for you,” he replied; “the offer will not be made to you just yet.”
“And who is to make it?” inquired the damsel hastily.
“You know my neighbour, Mynheer Kransberg of Malopo’s Kloof?”
“Yes, but I suppose he doesn’t want to marry me?” cried Thyrza.
“Why, no, my daughter,” returned Ludwig with a broad smile; “he is somewhat past the age of matrimony. Nay, it is his nephew Rudolf.”
“Rudolf Kransberg!” again exclaimed Thyrza; “he wishes to marry me!”
“Even so,” rejoined Ludwig. “Does the idea surprise you?”
“I should as soon have expected the wooden soldier outside your summer-house to make love to me!”
“Nay, Thyrza,” said Mansen in a displeased tone, “this does not become you. He is a worthy youth, and deserves due consideration.”
“Well, but I may tell him, as soon as he comes – I suppose he is coming?”
“He comes to-day,” answered Ludwig.
“Well, then, I may tell him I can’t marry him, and there will be an end of it.”
“By no means; matters cannot be settled so hastily. Do you remember that he came over here about three months ago?”
“Oh yes, when we found out that George was at his uncle’s house. I remember that quite well.”
“Well, it appears that he came over with credentials from his uncle then, intending to address you. But Mr Margetts, not suspecting his purpose, insisted on riding back with him at once.If he had known the object of his visit, Mr Margetts would not have so taken him away.”
Not feeling quite so sure of that, Thyrza remained silent for a minute or two, and then rejoined —
“But if he has put off any renewal of his visit for more than three months, he cannot be very much in earnest about this.”
“You do not understand our ways. We do not do things in a hurry. No, Thyrza, you must receive him with all consideration, and must not, at all events, reject him before he makes his offer.”
“And how long will it be before he makes it?”
“I cannot say; probably some months. He will come over occasionally, at intervals, and then you will receive him in the proper manner.”
“And what is the proper manner?” inquired Thyrza, who was growing more and more discomposed at every fresh detail.
“Why, when he arrives, you will of course shake hands with him, and then he will probably say no more to you till after supper. Then he will remain in the parlour; and then you will wait till we are gone to bed, and then go to him – ”
“Gracious, father, you are not serious!”
“Perfectly so, Thyrza. The room will be dark, but you will take a piece of candle with you, which you will light; and the interview between you will last until the candle has burned out. Then you will retire to bed, and he will ride home. That is the usual custom.”
“And who is to provide the piece of candle?”
“You must do that. But stop a moment, Thyrza. The candle must be sufficiently long to allow of a proper interview. I have heard of young women taking not more than half an inch of candle – ”
“I shouldn’t have taken a quarter of an inch – ” muttered under her breath – “if it had rested with me.”
“I must insist that a proper-sized candle is used – not less than three inches long. Your mother will provide it, and place it on your table. And here is the young man coming,” he added; “I hear his horse’s steps outside.”
Thyrza fled to her room, resolved, at all events, not to encounter her swain before supper-time. Meeting George and Redgy an hour or two afterwards, she confided to them her troubles, and implored them at all events to keep her unwelcome suitor engaged until she was obliged to meet him at supper.
“See him while a bit of candle is burning!” exclaimed Margetts, to whom the custom seemed as outr? as it had to Thyrza. “Why don’t you take a bit of candle as thin as a crown-piece? You’d soon have done with him then.”
“Ah, I thought of that,” said Thyrza; “but they won’t allow it. My mother has looked up a piece of candle long enough for an hour and a halfs interview and laid it on my dressing-table. I must take that with me; and however I am to endure an hour and a half of it I cannot think.”
“Well, you must make the best of it,” said Redgy. “George, I think you had better take her out for a walk till supper-time. I’ll go in and entertain the enamoured gentleman, if he requires entertainment.”
On entering the parlour, however, it did not appear that the soupirant for Thyrza’s favour either expected or desired any entertainment. He had duly arrived, looking very stiff and solemn in his new leather and buckram suit, and, after shaking hands with everybody all round, had seated himself in the corner, where he had remained ever since without speaking a word to any one. So he continued the entire afternoon and evening, until the supper-hour arrived, and he took his place at the table with the others, but carefully keeping the whole length and breadth of the table between himself and the object of his affection. Not a syllable did he utter during the meal; and Thyrza had come to believe that he had changed his mind and did not intend to address her, when suddenly, a few minutes before the party broke up for the night, he moved across the room and whispered in her ear, though loud enough for every one to hear, “I say, we’ll sit up to-night!”
The dispersion of the party delivered Thyrza from the necessity of replying, and presently every one had retired to his chamber, excepting Rudolf Kransberg, who remained in the parlour, which was now pitch dark, and George and Redgy, who lingered in the passage.
“I say, George,” said Margetts, “shouldn’t you like to see the courtship?”
“Well,” answered Rivers with a smile, “I must say I should. But of course that is impossible.”
“No, it is not,” rejoined the other. “Look here: the big dresser runs right through the wall, and there is a cupboard behind that communicates with it, through the cracks in the door you can see everything that passes.”
“Wouldn’t Thyrza dislike it?” suggested George.
“No. I’ll be bound she would be as much amused as we are. It isn’t as though she cared a straw for him.”
“Well, that is not unlikely,” rejoined Rivers. “Come along then. I must own I am curious to see it.”
“Creep in here,” said Margetts, opening a door in the wall, “and mind you don’t make any noise. There are some holes in the dresser through which we shall be able to see.”
Almost as he spoke, the door of the parlour opened, and Thyrza was seen standing on the threshold, with the bit of candle in one hand and a match-box in the other. She proceeded to light the former, and placed it in an empty candlestick on the table, and then seated herself – not, as her swain had probably hoped, on the large heavy, wooden-legged sofa which ran along one side of the table, but in the large arm-chair, usually occupied by her mother.
Rudolf, though somewhat disappointed at the position thus taken up, glanced, nevertheless, with approbation at the bit of candle provided, which, in his view of the matter, intimated that the lady was not disposed to abridge the length of the interview. He seated himself in a chair, as near as he could contrive to his inamorata, and looked admiringly at her.
“I say,” he said, after a silence of some ten minutes or so, – “I say, I think you are very nice. I admire you greatly.”
“You are very obliging,” said Thyrza demurely.
There was another pause, after which Rudolf spoke again.
“I say, I mean to come over here very often to see you.”
“Indeed?” replied Thyrza with a glance at the candle. Alas! not a quarter of it had yet been expended.
“You don’t dislike me, do you, Miss Rivers?” inquired her suitor, after a third and still longer interval.
“I don’t know why I should,” was the answer.
Deriving some confidence, apparently, from this extremely guarded expression of opinion, Rudolf made a further venture.
“I should like to give you a kiss,” he said.
Not meeting with any response, and proceeding perhaps on that most delusive of all proverbs, that silence gives consent, he rose from his place and leaned over her chair, out of which she started with very evident alarm. Believing this to be only feigned reluctance, he pressed forward to urge his entreaty, when suddenly there came a loud explosion. The candle flew all to pieces out of the socket, scattering the tallow in all directions, and the room was left in complete darkness. George and Margetts could hear Thyrza making her escape through the door, while the unlucky lover, wiping the grease from his clothes, made his way to the stable, and rode off as fast as his horse could carry him.
“Redgy, you villain!” exclaimed George, after they had retreated to their room and given vent to their laughter, – “Redgy, you villain, that was your doing!”
“It was the plug of gunpowder, not I,” pleaded Redgy. “Mrs Rivers oughtn’t to have left the candle all that time on Thyrza’s dressing-table.”
“Did Thyrza know anything of the trick?” asked George.
“On my honour, she did not.”
“Well, it is a good job we are going to-morrow, or there might be a serious row about this.”
Chapter Twenty Two
It was a Sunday evening late in December, about nine months after the departure of George Rivers and his friend from Umtongo. George, who wore a suit of clerical black, had just returned from a long ride to Spielman’s Vley, where he had passed the day. He was now a deacon, having been ordained by the Bishop of Praetoria a month or two previously. The weather was delicious, but very warm, and George was glad to sit down by his friend’s side in a charming little summer-house which they had built under the shade of a tall eucalyptus planted by Mr Rogers when he first came to the Transvaal, forty years before.
“Well, George, what sort of a congregation had you?” inquired Margetts; “and how did you get on with your sermon?”
“I had a very good congregation,” was the reply. “The farmer who bought Spielman’s Vley of my stepfather is an Englishman, an emigrant from a Berkshire village. He and his wife and grown-up children were all there, and so were nearly all the farm-servants whom he had brought with him. He told me very earnestly how it delighted him to hear the Church service. It was like a voice from Old England, he said, and he couldn’t tell me how glad they all were that a clergyman would come over from Umvalosa every alternate Sunday now, instead of once a month.”
“And I daresay, when he was in Berkshire, he didn’t think much of the Church service,” suggested Margetts.
“No, he often didn’t go, he told me, and cared very little for it when he did. And it was the same with his labourers. They seldom miss the service here. Well, it is to be hoped that they will not come to neglect it again, now it is once more within their reach.”
“But how about the ‘natives’ service’?” asked Redgy. “Could you get on with that?”
“I am afraid I made a good many blunders,” said Rivers, “especially in the sermon. However, nothing but practice will set that right.”
“You think an interpreter doesn’t answer?”
“No, I am pretty sure it doesn’t. You know what Lambert told us about his interpreter, when he first went to preach to the Kaffirs in the Knysna.”
“No, I didn’t hear the story.”
“Lambert said he was puzzled how to address them, when it occurred to him that ‘Children of the Forest’ was a title that would be sure to take their fancy, and he accordingly began his discourse to them in that way. He thought he had done it rather well, until one of his friends, who had heard him, and who was a good Kaffir scholar, told him that the interpreter had rendered his ‘Children of the Forest’ as ‘Little men of big sticks.’ That story determined me never, anyhow, to employ an interpreter.”
Redgy laughed. “I think you are right,” he said, “and your Kaffir certainly improves. By-the-bye, did you see Hardy? His house is only seven or eight miles off from Spielman’s Vley, and I am told he always goes over when there is service there.”
“I believe he does, but he was not there to-day. Mr Bacon told me he had gone to Durban – went about a week ago.”
“Indeed. Do you know what took him there?”
“I fancy he was sent for to make some report of the state of things in this neighbourhood. You know he now holds an official position of some importance.”
“Yes, which you might have had if you had liked it, George. He has the credit of having given them warning at Rorke’s Drift in time to prepare themselves for the defence of the place. But it was you who brought them that information.”
“I did not want the post, Redgy; and, if I had, Hardy was the person really entitled to it. I did not know the way from Isandhlwana to Rorke’s Drift, and could not have found it. And to say the truth, I should not have thought of the garrison at Rorke’s Drift, if he had not reminded me of it. No, he fully deserved his appointment, and I am heartily glad he got it. But I believe, when he gets to Durban, he will warn the Government that the Transvaal is not merely in a condition of discontent and disloyalty, but on the verge of an armed outbreak.”
“Do you think it goes so far as that, George? An armed outbreak means a war with England, remember. What possible hope can they have in succeeding in that?”
“No reasonable hope, of course. The hundredth part of England’s power would be enough to crush them. I don’t suppose the Boers could bring 5000 men into the field, and England could easily send five times that number, or twenty times that number, if she chose. The Boers have but little discipline or material of war, or knowledge of strategy. England is a first-rate power in all those respects. It would be as absolute madness for the Transvaal to go to war with England, as it would be for a terrier dog to provoke a lion to fight with it. But, however great the madness, it does not follow that they will not do it.”
“What can induce them?”
“Their profound ignorance of the relative strength of the two countries. I was talking with a Boer of some intelligence, who, I found, really believed that Holland was one of the Great Powers in Europe – the equal, if not the superior of England. He knew nothing of history, apparently, since the times of Van Trompe and Admiral Blake. He fancied Isandhlwana had only been redeemed by a desperate and exhausting effort, which would make it impossible for us to engage in any other war for a generation to come. The accidental circumstance that a quantity of newly-coined money had been sent out here to pay the troops was enough to convince him that England was bankrupt, and driven to expend its last guinea. People who know no more than that of the true state of things may perpetrate any act of folly.”
“No doubt, George; and I daresay also they argued that the disasters at Isandhlwana and Intombe proved that the English were not so formidable in the field as their own troops had always been. They had repeatedly fought these Zulus, remember, and always with complete success.”
“Exactly; no doubt they did, and do, so argue. They were always on their guard, and we were taken off ours, and that made all the difference. But though the Dutch might practise their rude tactics with success on the natives, they will hardly get the English to approach them and be shot down after the same fashion. That is reckoning rather too much on even an Englishman’s contempt for his enemy. But they mean mischief, these Boers. They are flocking down this way from all parts of the Transvaal. Whom do you think I saw to-day, of all people in the world?”
“I don’t know, indeed – not old Kransberg, I suppose?”
“Not old Kransberg, but I did meet the young one – our friend Rudolf. What should bring him here, or Gottlob Lisberg, or Hans Stockmar, or Julius Vanderbilt, or half a dozen other fellows from near Zeerust, whom I have seen about in the course of the last week, unless what they say is true, and they are going to rebel against the English Government.”
“It looks like it, I’m afraid. But about Rudolf Kransberg – did you come to speech of him? How did he receive you?”
“I didn’t come to speech of him, as he didn’t say a single word. He received me as Dido did Aeneas in the infernal regions.”
“What! he bears us some grudge for the trick played on him at Umtongo?”
“I am not at all sure that he realises the fact that any trick was played on him. From what Lisberg told me, – Lisberg is very intimate with him, you know, – he fancies the explosion was the work of the Evil One, and that we are in league with him. You know Thyrza wrote us word that he had never turned up at Umtongo again. My mother thought it very odd, but she apparently still believes he is a suitor for Thyrza’s hand.”
“I suppose Thyrza herself has a pretty shrewd suspicion of the truth.”
“I suppose she has, but if she guessed that Rudolf had taken up that notion, she would be quite content to let him entertain it. But the upshot, I fancy, is that Rudolf owes us one, and will pay it if he has the opportunity. He is as thorough a specimen of the sullen Boer as I know, and your sullen Boer is not a pleasant article. But, Redgy,” he added, after a few minutes’ silence, “there is a matter which I have once or twice wished to speak to you about, but have always put it off. I have a fancy that you really do care for Thyrza, notwithstanding your chaff about her. We are very old friends, and out here, cut off from all the rest of the world, we are like brothers. I wish you would tell me the plain truth about this matter.”
“Well, old fellow, where is the use of telling it? I don’t see how any one could live as long as I did in your sister’s society, and not care for her. She is simply the sweetest and most beautiful creature I have ever seen. But where is the good of my saying this, George? I can’t ask her to marry me; I have nothing but a precarious allowance of a hundred pounds a year, and I am not likely to have anything more, unless I can make it myself out here.”
“But if Thyrza likes you – ”
“I don’t know that she does,” broke in Margetts. “I have fancied once or twice that she does. But most likely it was all fancy.”
“I am only saying, if she does like you, she will have something. Umtongo belongs to my mother, not to Mr Mansen.”
“But Umtongo will come to you, George,” said Margetts, surprised.
“I shall not want it. I shall never marry; and this life here suits me much better than such a farm as Umtongo, though, no doubt, that is a very good farm.”
“No doubt,” assented his friend. “I see what you mean, and I believe I understand you, when you say you won’t marry. But, in the first place, I hope you are mistaken there; and, in the next, supposing everything else arranged as you wish, Thyrza and I could never deprive you of your inheritance. No, George; I mean to stay here and work as I am doing now. I shall never make a parson; I’m not cut out for that. But I think I shall do well enough at farming and teaching; and, by and by, if your sister doesn’t marry a Boer, I may be in a position to ask her.”
“Be it so, Redgy. I believe you are right, and this had better not be mentioned again. And here, in good time, comes Mr Rogers. He is back from Newcastle earlier than I had expected.”
Mr Rogers, whose acquaintance the reader made in the first chapter of this story, was an extremely worthy man. It would have been well for both England and South Africa if there had been more like him. Left an orphan when quite young, and possessed of a considerable fortune, he had always disliked the ordinary round of English social life, and desired the freer air and habits of a new country. As soon as he could overcome the reluctance of his guardian to the step, he had visited the colonies, and chosen out from among them the border country of Natal and the Transvaal. There he had bought a large farm, – large even for farms in that country, – and built two or three different stations on various parts of it. Spielman’s Vley and Rylands were two of these, and here he placed men whose views accorded with his own. Ludwig Mansen, though a Dutchman, had been one of these; and it was with considerable regret that he heard, soon after his arrival in England, of Mrs Mansen’s succession to her uncle’s property near Zeerust and their removal thither. Notwithstanding his affection for colonial life, he was an Englishman to the backbone, and the blunders made by Colonial Secretaries, one after another, sorely disturbed him. In particular, the gigantic mistake of the annexation of the Transvaal so troubled him, that he made an expedition to England in the hope of persuading the Government to reconsider that disastrous measure. There was no doubt it was, for the moment, advantageous to the Boers, as a sentence of penal servitude would be less unwelcome to a convicted prisoner than a sentence of death. But when the danger of being hanged had passed away, it was not likely that penal servitude would be cheerfully accepted. Foreseeing the inevitable mischief that would ensue, Mr Rogers had urged the repeal, or, at all events, some modification of the decree. But the new Government could not be induced to pay any heed to South African matters, being completely absorbed by domestic and Continental questions; and Mr Rogers went back to Umvalosa, to do the best he could under the circumstances of the case.
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