Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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On the present occasion he had not returned from Newcastle (whither he had gone, as was his practice, to help in the church services on a Sunday) in the happiest frame of mind. Everywhere he saw the plainest indications of the mischief he had anticipated. Newcastle was full of Boers, who had come in from the more distant parts of the Transvaal, and their feelings and intentions could not be mistaken: not only was revolt designed, but it was close at hand. He greeted George and Redgy with his usual kindness, but his depression and vexation were evident.
“Did you know that your stepfather and mother, as well as your sister, were on the way here?” he asked, addressing Rivers.
“No, sir, I had no idea of it. I haven’t had a letter for the last fortnight; and Thyrza, from whom I heard three weeks ago, said nothing of any such intention.”
“No; I imagine it must have been a hasty thought. But they are certainly on their way to Newcastle, and will arrive in a day or two at furthest.”
“Who told you of it, sir?” asked George. “Perhaps it is some mistake.”
“No, that can hardly be. It was Henryk Vander Heyden who informed me. I met him in the street at Newcastle, where he arrived two days ago. Mansen, with his wife and daughter, were to follow him very shortly. Miss Vander Heyden is to travel in their company. Her brother thought it better.”
“What are all the ladies coming for?” inquired Redgy. “They are not going to fight the English, anyhow.”
“No,” said Mr Rogers; “but it may not be safe for them to stay behind. Nearly all the able-bodied men among the Boers will take part in the rising. The Kaffirs and Hottentots would have it their own way, and they might insult or injure the white women. I think Vander Heyden, and your stepfather too, George, are quite right to bring their ladies with them.”
“I suppose Vander Heyden is very hot about this,” suggested Rivers.
“Yes, he is determined enough, and he is a dangerous opponent to the English. He is a good officer; especially, he understands his countrymen’s mode of fighting, and knows from experience what are the faults into which our officers are likely to fall. And he is a desperate man into the bargain.”
“How so, sir? I do not understand you.”
“Don’t you know the story of the girl who was killed by the Zulus not long before the battle of Isandhlwana?”
“Yes; I heard something about it, I believe, from Mr Baylen or Hardy, I don’t remember which. Some female relative of his was killed in a very brutal manner. But they are always brutal, these Zulus.”
“It was too sad a matter to be much spoken about. The lady, Lisa van Courtlandt, had been engaged to him for some years, and he is said to have been greatly attached to her. She had been murdered just before he came up, and the sight of her mangled corpse drove him, they said, almost mad. It wasn’t merely for the purpose of avenging her death that he enlisted in our army – at least, so it is thought.He wanted, poor fellow, to get knocked on the head himself.”
“Well, that explains what I couldn’t understand before,” said Margetts, – “why he was so terribly vexed when it was settled that he was to remain at Rorke’s Drift. He was for a time almost beside himself.”
“And that, too, may account for his desperate exposure of himself during that night of the encounter with the Zulus,” added Rivers. “I never saw a man so utterly insensible to danger; and he hardly seemed rejoiced the next morning at his escape. Poor fellow, he has had a hard lot in life! Well, I agree with you, Mr Rogers; I have no doubt he will fight desperately enough in this outbreak, if it really is going to take place.”
“That, I am afraid, there is no doubt of. Vander Heyden told me as much. He wanted to know whether you and Margetts meant to volunteer again to serve in the English army. If you did, he said, you should leave the Transvaal immediately, or you might be arrested. He offered to give you a pass which would carry you across the frontier. That was very kind and generous.”
“What did you tell him, sir?” asked Rivers.
“Oh, I said that you were now in orders, and, of course, would not think of fighting; as for you, Mr Margetts, I said I did not know what you might do, but I would ask you, and let him know if you required his help.”
“I am obliged to him,” said Margetts; “but I have no idea of volunteering again. I consider this to be quite a different matter from the Zulu war, where it was a question whether barbarous or lawless cruelty should be put down. Unless I am myself interfered with, I shall not interfere in this business.”
“I am glad to hear you say so,” said Mr Rogers. “Then we shall all remain quietly here. I shall invite the Mansens to come and stay at Dykeman’s Hollow, and I think they will come. It will be quieter and more comfortable for them than Utrecht or Newcastle, which are overcrowded. I have no doubt Vander Heyden, who has a high command, will be able to secure us from molestation.”
Mr Rogers was not disappointed in either expectation. In a few days Mrs Mansen and Thyrza arrived; while Ludwig joined the assembled council of Boers which was now sitting at Heidelberg, exerting himself to prevent the rising which was evidently on the point of taking place. Simultaneously with the appearance of the ladies came a note from Vander Heyden, endorsing a protection from Praetorius for all the inmates of Mr Rogers’ household. Not long afterwards the standard of rebellion was openly displayed, and Ludwig joined his family at the Hollow. The Boers in all parts of the Transvaal now took the field with their Westley Richard rifles, and all through the Transvaal the English were obliged to fly for refuge to towns or villages, where they were besieged by the Boers.
Resolved not to provoke the animosity, or even the distrust of his neighbours, Mr Rogers kept himself and all his employ?s within the bounds of his own domains, not even sending a letter or a message to Newcastle, lest it might be supposed to have some political purpose. He advised his guests also to observe the same prudent demeanour. No doubt Mynheer Mansen was a Dutchman, and one very generally respected; but his wife and stepdaughter were English, and they were the guests of an Englishman; and at this time national feeling, as it might be termed, ran so high that the merest trifle might be enough to cause a general outbreak. The Mansens would have had no inclination to act otherwise than as he advised, even if their sense of what was due to him as their host had not forbade them to do so. They regarded the strife that was in progress as a vexation and a calamity; and whatever might be the issue of it, they were anxious to see an end put to it.
But the ladies felt the time hang heavily on their hands; and when one day had been expended on a visit to George and Redgy’s cottage and garden and an inspection of their farmyard and stock, and another to the church and school where he ministered and taught, they were at a loss how to employ themselves, until their host, by a happy inspiration, one day late in January suggested a visit to Kolman’s Kop, a most picturesque spot on the very edge of Mr Rogers’ estate, from which a wide prospect might be obtained of that part of the Orange Free State known as Harrismith. The road from Bloemfontein to Newcastle ran close beside it, and was visible for a long distance from the summit of the Kop, though the latter was so thickly wooded as to screen any visitors to it from being themselves seen by passing travellers.
To this spot it was agreed that an expedition should be made on the following day; and the whole party, inclusive of Mr Rogers, who acted as guide, set out after breakfast, on horses and mules, having sent some Kaffirs on before them to make the needful preparations.
Kolman’s Kop was situated on one of the spurs of the Drakensbergs, not ascending so high as to be bleak or chill, yet high enough to command a magnificent view of the landscape beneath, and there are few countries in the world in which so vast a panorama is visible from the higher lands as in the Orange Free State. It is not, indeed, an unbroken level, like the low country of the Netherlands, being continually varied by hill and ridge. But these hardly anywhere rise to any considerable height, so that from the slopes of the Drakenberg the eye may range in every direction, until the horizon line melts into the distance. It is a fertile and picturesque territory, watered by noble rivers, whose banks, for the most part, are fringed with foliage, rich with corn lands and fruit orchards, and pastures where sheep and oxen and horses are bred abundantly. The land on that side of the Drakensbergs being considerably more elevated than on that of Natal, the climate is cooler and more agreeable to European residents. A general cry of admiration broke from the visitors as they caught sight of it, and sitting down on the trunk of a fallen tree, they proceeded more leisurely to examine its beauties.
“Well, sir, the Dutch have not much to complain of here, at all events,” observed Redgy after a lengthened survey of the scene. “No wonder they halted here when driven from their homes by the English. I should have thought, for my part, that they might have been very thankful to the English for driving them here!”
“Well, so they might, Margetts,” remarked Mr Rogers, “if they had thought that the English had been anxious to find out pleasant quarters for them. But I am afraid the English thought of one thing only, and that was clearing them out of their old abodes.
“Yes,” he resumed; “the Dutchman has made himself comfortable enough here, if John Bull will only leave him alone. But that John Bull is too philanthropic to do – ha, Mansen?”
“There is no talk of annexing the Free State, is there?” asked old Ludwig with a smile.
“Why, no, Ludwig. The annexation of the other hasn’t proved an encouraging experiment, or I think it likely that it would have been proposed.”
“Well, sir,” observed George, “that annexation took place with the free consent of the Boers, and it was designed in kindness to them.”
“Was it?” returned Mr Rogers; “I have my doubts about that latter. No doubt the Boers agreed to it, or rather didn’t object to it, at the time. But it was very much like pulling a drowning man out of the water, on condition of his being your bond-servant for evermore. He would agree rather than be drowned, but I doubt whether you could call that his free consent. It was rather his forced consent, to my mind.”
“What would you have had England do, sir?” asked Redgy.
“Help the Transvaal out of its difficulties, without insisting on annexation,” answered Mr Rogers. “The policy would have been as wise as it would have been kind.”
“And you would have given them their independence back when they asked for it after the Zulu war, I suppose?” said Margetts. “Would you give it them now?”
“I should certainly have given it on the occasion you name, when they asked for it. It had then become clear that they did not really desire the annexation; and the only reasonable ground there could have been for it was shown by that request not to exist. I think compliance would have been as wise as it would have been just, and would have gone far to smooth away all difficulties. It is, of course, a very different thing now. England cannot give to armed menace what she has refused to peaceful entreaty. Compliance would be even worse than the previous refusal.”
“Well, sir,” urged Margetts, “no one, to be sure, could think that the Boers would ever really get the upper hand in a regular war with England. I speak with all possible respect to Mr Mansen, but that is surely impossible.”
“No one who understands the strength and resources of the two countries could think it possible,” returned Mr Rogers. “But the Boers possess very little information on the subject, and the coloured races still less. They would all think that England yielded now, because her weakness, not her magnanimity, obliged her. But I still trust there will be no war. Enough of this. What is it you have been looking at so intently, Thyrza, for the last ten minutes?”
“I think it is a man on horseback,” said Miss Rivers; “but the object is so far off that I cannot distinguish what it is.”
She pointed as she spoke to a black speck, on the road that led from Winberg to Newcastle, which was moving towards them.
They all watched it for several minutes, and then Mr Mansen said, “You have a long sight, Thyrza. It is a horseman, and he is riding fast. He will pass almost close to us.”
“It is an English soldier, or a man who has been one,” exclaimed Rivers presently; “there is no mistaking his seat on horseback.”
The rider continued to approach until he had arrived almost immediately under the spot where they were sitting. Then George and Redgy started up, simultaneously exclaiming, “It is Hardy, I declare! let us go down and speak to him.”
Chapter Twenty Three
Rivers and Margetts hurried down the steep descent without pausing to pick their way, and reached the bottom just as the traveller, whose horse was evidently tired out, passed them at a broken-winded canter, which was the utmost speed, apparently, to which the unlucky animal could be urged.
“Hallo!” shouted George, – “hallo, Hardy, if it really is you! Here are two old friends of yours, who would like to have some talk with you, if you can spare them the time.”
The horseman drew his rein in evident surprise.
“What! Rivers, Margetts!” he exclaimed. “Well, this is a piece of good luck. I was just thinking that the best thing I could do would be to ride round by Dykeman’s Hollow and ask you to help me. What brings you here?”
“Oh, we have been confined within the bounds of Rogers’ property for several weeks, and we made up a party to-day to come here, more for something to do than anything else.”
“And why are you confined within the bounds of Dykeman’s Hollow?” asked Hardy; “and who has confined you?”
“Well, it is more prudence than necessity,” said George. “We don’t want to provoke the Dutchmen to attack us.”
“You talk riddles,” said Hardy, “but I have no time to solve them. Can you tell me where Praetorius, – the great man among the Boers, – can you tell me where he is to be found?”
“I don’t know with any certainty,” said George; “I expect he has gone southward with the others.”
“Southward! what do you mean?” exclaimed Hardy hastily. “What can he have gone south for?”
“Well, he didn’t tell me,” said Redgy, “but I think I can form a pretty good guess for what he has gone. It is to attack the English troops.”
“English troops!” repeated Hardy in evident anxiety and alarm; “what English troops? I did not know that there were any in this neighbourhood.”
“We hear that Sir George Colley is marching to the relief of Praetoria with, some say 1000, some 1500 men. Mr Rogers thinks he has got as far as Newcastle, if not still farther north,” said Rivers.
“The relief of Praetoria!” again cried Hardy. “Is Pretoria besieged? Do you mean that the rebellion has actually broken out?”
“No doubt of that,” replied Margetts; “that is an old story now. The English have for two or three weeks past been besieged by the Boers in all the large towns, – Praetoria, Potchefstroom, Standerton, – and there has been sharp fighting in several places. About the end of December, 250 men belonging to the 94th Regiment were killed or taken prisoners at Bronker’s Spruit, near Middelburgh.”
“How did that come about?” asked Hardy.
“Well, I suppose Colonel Anstruther didn’t know that there was any chance of his being attacked, – didn’t know, in fact, that any outbreak was likely to take place, – or his neglect of precautions would seem to be of a piece with what we remember. He was marching, with a number of waggons and 250 men, as Redgy said, along the road, his train being half a mile long, when, at a place called Bronker’s Spruit, two Dutchmen rode up to him and handed him a paper, which was found to be a letter from Joubert, who calls himself the Boer General. It stated that war had been declared between the Republic of the Transvaal and England, and called on him to surrender his men and waggons. I suppose Colonel Anstruther hardly thought that the summons was seriously meant; at all events, there was no superior force visible, to which he would be unable to offer resistance, and he only replied by forming his men in column and desiring them to move on, but – ”
“But Joubert had planted his sharpshooters under cover everywhere round, and they opened their fire on the soldiers before they knew of their presence.”
“That was it, certainly. In ten minutes half the men had been shot down. They were entangled in a marsh, and had not been able to get sight of any enemy to shoot at in return.”
“Exactly; and then, I suppose, Colonel Anstruther surrendered?”
“Precisely; that is what he did, and he and his surviving men were taken prisoners.”
“He could do nothing else. But I am afraid this will prevent any good being done by my mission. You say this occurred some weeks ago?”
“Yes,” said Margetts; “the catastrophe near Middelburgh took place on the 28th of last month, and this is the 28th of January.”
“Why, the 28th of last month was just about the time when I set out for Bloemfontein!” cried Hardy. “It is most extraordinary that I never heard this before!”
“What have you been to Bloemfontein for?” asked Rivers.
“I was sent there by the authorities at Natal,” answered Hardy, “in consequence of a message from the Colonial Office in England. The Colonial Secretary wanted to come to terms with these Boers. I suppose he thought (as every one else thought) that the annexation had been a most foolish procedure, and that it would be better to come to some reasonable understanding with the Boers than keep up an irritating quarrel with them.”
“Small blame to him for that,” said George. “Well, go on.”
“He thought that Brandt, the President of the Orange Free State, would be a good person to mediate between us and the Boers, and he sent me with a letter to him.”
“Did you see him?” asked Margetts.
“Yes; I had two or three very satisfactory interviews with him. He seemed quite sincere in the desire he expressed of preventing bloodshed, and I am the bearer of a letter from him to Praetorius, which, as I was in hopes, would prevent any outbreak of hostilities. He certainly did not know, when I left Bloemfontein, that fighting was going on. I should be almost afraid it will be too late now.”
“Is it not extraordinary that no message was sent either from Durban or London, to stop any proceedings until the result of the negotiations with Mr Brandt were known?” asked Rivers.
“It seems so to me, certainly,” replied Hardy; “but very likely there are reasons for it, of which I know nothing. Well, anyhow, I had better carry President Brandt’s letter to Praetorius. It is only carrying out my orders, and cannot do any harm.”
“Not to any one but yourself, Hardy,” said Margetts; “but I am not sure it would be safe for you to put yourself in the way of these Boers. The leaders among them seem to behave well enough, but many of the subordinate officers, if one may call them so, are rude and brutal, and might shoot any Englishman who approached them, without inquiry and without listening to any representations.”
“You are right, Redgy, I am afraid,” said Rivers. “I think Hardy had, at all events, better go with us to Dykeman’s Hollow and consult Mr Mansen. He might go with him to Praetorius, and he is so well known to the Boers – indeed, he is one of them himself – that there could be no danger in his company.”
“Are the Mansens at Dykeman’s Hollow?” asked Hardy.
“Yes, they are Mr Rogers’ guests; but they are nearer to us than that. They are up on the Kop yonder, though the trees hide them from our sight. Leave your horse here in Redgy’s keeping, and I will go with you up to the Kop.”
Hardy accordingly dismounted, and he and George were just commencing the ascent, when three or four men, whose uniform showed that they belonged to the 58th Regiment, came running down one of the narrow passes at the utmost of their speed, close to the spot where the three friends were standing. They had evidently just escaped from some great danger. Their trousers were covered with mud, so that the regimental stripe could hardly be distinguished; their jackets were cut and stained with blood; two of them had lost their caps, and all had thrown away their arms, which would have impeded their flight. As they reached the corner of the road, they came in sight of George and Hardy, and would have turned another way, if the last-named had not called to them.
“Hallo, my lads!” he shouted; “what has happened, and where are you running to?”
Hearing themselves addressed in English, the fugitives stopped, and one of them, a corporal from his dress, answered, —
“There has been a brush with the enemy at Laing’s Nek, if you know where that is.”
“I know it well enough,” returned Hardy; “it is a narrow defile, filled with rocky boulders – just the sort of place where these Dutchmen would take up a position, quite out of sight, and shoot down our soldiers at their leisure. You don’t mean to say, I suppose, that you attacked the Boers there?”
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