Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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Rivers assented. They were as conveniently placed as they could well be for learning what was going on. There was a hollow in the rock large enough to shelter them from wind and rain, if either should come on, and a quantity of moss and heather would make a comfortable bed, if they lay down to sleep. They agreed that they would keep alternate watch through the night, so that nothing that might occur should escape their notice.
The night, however, passed without disturbance, and when the morning dawned it revealed an unexpected spectacle. The British force was clearly to be discerned, by the first beams of the sun, stationed on the top of the Amajuba hill, the ascent of which must have occupied the hours of darkness. It must have been a most difficult and perilous undertaking, and it seemed wonderful that it could have been accomplished in the dark, and without arousing the vigilance of the Boers, who were encamped in the immediate vicinity. There they were, however,†Ц the scarlet uniforms forming bright spots against the background of rock and sky,†Ц and the brass gun, which, by a marvel of engineering skill, had been dragged up the precipitous steeps, sparkling in the sun, as it was fixed in its position, commanding the camp of the sleeping Boers below.
УHow in the world can they have managed that?Ф exclaimed Rivers. УNothing but a bird, I should have thought, could get up there. The gun, of course they must have hoisted up after them. It is a most daring exploit; but I suppose Sir George has got the upper hand of them now.Ф
УI am not so sure of that,Ф rejoined Hardy. УI grant you this is as bold and venturous a feat as ever has been attempted in war. But I donТt know that it will succeed against these Boers. You see, though they have taken possession of the heights, they have not intrenched themselves. The broken masses of rock furnish a cover behind which sharpshooters may hide themselves while they fire on the enemy. But the Boers will be able to fire up at them quite as securely as they will be able to fire down at the Boers. And if the Boers, whose numbers greatly exceed theirs, clamber up on all sides, under cover of the fire of their friends, there is nothing to keep them back. Our men will be overpowered by weight of numbers. I wish I could see them begin to intrench themselves, but there is no sign of it. I hope we are not going to see the Isandhlwana disaster acted over again.Ф
УI suppose they must have been too tired, when they got up there last night to throw up intrenchments,Ф remarked George.
УVery likely indeed,Ф returned Hardy, Уbut they do not appear to be too tired this morning. If they are wise, they will not begin firing until they have made their position safe.Ф
Meanwhile on the summit of the hill there was triumph and rejoicing. The soldiers had felt keenly the defeats which they had again and again sustained at the hands of an enemy for whom they had entertained a traditional contempt, and who, they were persuaded, if they could once bring them to a fair encounter, would fly before them.But they had been shot down from behind cover, without the chance being given them of returning their adversariesТ fire. But here, at last, the tables were turned. They occupied now the vantage-ground from which the foe might be assailed without the risk of suffering retaliation. A genuine British cheer broke forth as the gun opened on the slumbering Dutchmen below, followed by bursts of merriment as the sleepers started up in alarm and confusion, rushing in all directions to find protection from the deadly hail from above. But they did not take to immediate flight, as their assailants had expected. Niching themselves in the hollows of the rocks or behind the mountain ridges, they opened a fire from all directions on the occupants of the hill, obliging these to keep close behind the cover of the rocks as the only mode of escaping the storm of musketry that continued to be poured upon them. No attempt, however, was made to dislodge them, and it was obvious that, if they retained their position on the crest of the hill, the Boer camp must be broken up, leaving the way open for the British troops to enter the Transvaal.
But the English had been once more deceived by the skilful manoeuvring of their enemies. Under cover of a tall cliff which interposed between them and Amajuba hill, the Boer leaders were determining their plan of operations.
УI am sure one of the paths is practicable,Ф Vander Heyden was saying. УIt is on the opposite side to that by which the English made their way to the top, and I think it most likely that they know nothing of it. It is completely sheltered from their fire until you are close to the top, and there is a hollow near that where a number of men may be massed. Our adversaries, with their usual contempt for their enemies, have omitted to intrench themselves or fortify their position. There would probably not be more than half a dozen men keeping guard at the point in question. A rush of a dozen or twenty would force the way in, and then the others would follow. As there is no shelter or means of escape except down the steep sides of the hill, they must all surrender or be killed.Ф
УDo you yourself know the way up the path, Vander Heyden?Ф asked the Boer general.
УYes,Ф answered Henryk; УI have twice been up to the top that way to make an examination of the English camp.Ф
УThen I think you are the man to lead the assault. What say you?Ф
УI desire nothing better,Ф returned Vander Heyden, the dark light, which had become habitual with him at seasons of danger, flashing in his eyes.
УGood. Who is there prepared to follow you?Ф
There was no lack of volunteers; and Vander HeydenТs only difficulty consisted in his unwillingness to reject any. Presently the number was made up. Orders were given to the sharpshooters in ambush to pour their fire more hotly on every crevice of the rocks above, so as to engage as much as possible the attention of the garrison.
Then Vander Heyden, rifle in hand, crept cautiously and silently up the rocky ladder, pausing continually to allow those behind him to approach closely to him, until the hollow place, of which he had spoken, was reached, and a dozen of his most trusted followers assembled in it. Then the word was given. The foremost of the party rushed round the corner of the rock, poured in a close fire, and pressed on to force the passage. For the moment they succeeded, but the next a shout was raised, and a bayonet charge met the assailants, bearing them back and almost forcing them down the rocky descent. But more of the Dutchmen had now come on the scene. A second volley cleared the way, and the assailants rushed in in ever-increasing numbers. Presently the whole plateau had become a battlefield, and the English, outnumbered and borne back by the overwhelming mass of Boers, were either shot down, or made their escape by the steep mountain paths, followed by their victorious enemies, who stabbed and shot them down without mercy. If the guns from the camp had not opened their fire and checked the pursuit, it is probable that scarcely any of the British soldiers who had climbed those heights on the previous evening would ever have descended them again, unless as corpses carried to interment.
About the centre of the plateau a group of Boers were gathered round an English officer, who had been struck by a bullet which apparently had instantly killed him. Vander Heyden directed them to take off the leather helmet which partially concealed his features.
УIt is he!Ф he exclaimed, as his order was obeyed. УThat is the English general; that is Sir George Colley.Ф
He had scarcely uttered the words when a stray bullet struck him in the breast, and he fell to the ground beside his prostrate enemy. His companions raised him in their arms and earned him down the hill to a room in an adjoining farmhouse, where his wound was examined by a surgeon. The latter shook his head after a brief inspection. The bullet had not touched either heart or lungs; but the internal haemorrhage could not be stopped, and life could not be long protracted. Vander Heyden himself was aware of his condition. He made no other request than that a flag of truce might be sent to the English lines, asking permission for the Reverend George Rivers, who was serving, he was informed, as a chaplain in the camp, to visit him on his deathbed. The request was granted; and in an hourТs time after the conclusion of the fight Rivers entered the chamber where he was lying.
Vander Heyden raised himself as well as he was able to greet him, and desired that the room might be cleared.
УGeorge,Ф he said when this had been done, УI am glad you have come. There is no time to lose, for I feel that death is very near. You remember our conversation about my sister many months ago near Intombe.Ф
УIt is not likely that I should forget it,Ф answered George.
УI told you two things Ц first, that my father had forbidden me to give her in marriage to an Englishman; and secondly, that if she did marry one, she would forfeit the whole of her inheritance.Ф
УThat is what you said.Ф
УAnd I said no more than the fact. But I thought even then, and I am now more fully persuaded of it, that my father was mistaken in the resolution to which he came. The English had been harsh and unjust to us. But every Englishman is not harsh and unjust; and if my sister has chosen Ц as in my heart I believe she has Ц a generous and upright man, it is hard that she should be denied her wish merely because he was an Englishman.Ф
He paused a moment to recover breath, and then went on.
УMen alter strangely. A twelvemonth ago I thought it impossible I could ever feel as I do now. And if I had married, and had children to follow in my steps, I do not think I could have so altered. But that hope died out and could never be revived, and AnnchenТs future was all I had to care for. She does not know my change of feeling. When I took leave of her last night, I felt assured that I was parting from her for the last time, though I could not tell her so; but this letter will convey to her my dying wishes. I have drawn up a fresh will, by which everything is left to her and to you. Give me your hand.Ф
They exchanged a cordial grasp. УNow, Rivers,Ф he continued, Уwe will speak no more of this. But you must remain with me to the end.Ф
There is no need to dwell on what followed. Vander Heyden lingered for an hour, and then passed away quietly, without pain, remaining conscious to the last. When all was over, George gave the order, as his friend had desired him to do, for the conveyance of the body to the burying-ground at Utrecht, where the remains of the hapless Lisa van Courtlandt had been deposited. He himself accompanied the corpse as chief mourner, and saw the funeral rites performed. Then he proceeded to Newcastle, and sought an interview with Annchen, with whom his mother and Thyrza were now staying. They had gone over, by his request, to convey to her the melancholy tidings, and had remained at her earnest entreaty to comfort her.
She did indeed feel unutterably desolate. Her brother and Frank Moritz had been her only near relatives, and of both these she had been bereaved; and the man who, she felt, might have been nearer and dearer than any, was hopelessly separated from her by HenrykТs decree. His wishes had always been law to her while he lived; and, now that he had been taken from her for ever, her only satisfaction in life would be to fulfil his pleasure. When the message was brought to her that George desired an interview, she was at first unwilling to grant it. It was possible that he might renew his suit, considering all obstacles to their union as being now removed; and if so, their meeting would be needlessly painful. It was only when Thyrza told her that her brother was the bearer of a letter, which Henryk had sent her from his dying bed, that she consented to receive him.
She was sitting near the window when he entered. Her black dress rendered the dazzling fairness of her complexion more remarkable. Even the look of unutterable sadness seemed to enhance her beauty. He went slowly up to her, took her hand and pressed it to his lips, and then without speaking, placed the letter in her hands. Her tears fell fast over it as she opened it, and it seemed as if they must have prevented her from deciphering its contents; for she twice read it through without appearing to understand its purport. At last a faint flush on her cheek and a strange light in her eye told him that she had realised the meaning of her brotherТs words. She sat for a few minutes with her eyes fixed on the ground, and then looked up into her loverТs face, as if seeking there a confirmation of the wondrous joy that had broken thus suddenly upon her. His smile seemed to satisfy her. She rose and threw herself into his arms.
УOh, George,Ф she exclaimed, Уis it wicked, at a time of sorrow like this, to feel so happy?Ф
УIt is what he wished,Ф answered Rivers. УIt was the thought which comforted him at the last.Ф
A few days afterwards, Annchen joined the family circle at DykemanТs Hollow, when it was found that she was not the only bride to whom congratulations were due. George had taken an early opportunity of explaining to his mother and stepfather Ц to whom the former referred him Ц the change that had taken place in his circumstances. He was now, or would shortly be, the owner of PieterТs Dorf and Vander HeydenТs other property, and, for a resident in that country, a very wealthy man. It was his wish to surrender all interest in his motherТs estate in favour of Thyrza. At the same time he pleaded the cause of his friend Redgy Margetts. He had known, he said, for some time past that he was deeply attached to Thyrza, and had reason to believe that she was not indifferent to him. If that should prove to be the case, might not a second marriage take place? Mr Rogers had been consulted, and had declared himself so well satisfied with Margetts, that he was willing to put him into the farm hitherto occupied by George Ц which was already in a thriving state, with every prospect of improvement. Here he and Thyrza might live, until the time came when Umtongo would be their own.
Farmer Mansen heard his stepson to the end,†Ц he had never, indeed, been known to interrupt any one,†Ц and then answered that he and his wife had already spoken together on this subject, and had no fault to find with Mr Margetts. But it would be impossible for them to accept him as a suitor for Thyrza, because Mynheer Rudolf Kransberg had been received in that capacity, and no decisive answer had as yet been given him. To this George replied that he had had some conversation with Thyrza on the subject, and she had informed him that young Kransberg had never visited her since the day when he himself had left Umtongo, and as that was fully nine months ago, Thyrza had concluded he had abandoned all idea of seeking her as his wife.
УShe is too hasty,Ф remarked Ludwig. УNine months are no unreasonable time for a Dutch suitor to delay; we do not do things in this country in a hurry. She cannot allow the addresses of a new suitor, until the old one has been formally dismissed.Ф
УBut, good gracious! how long is that to go on?Ф pleaded George. УHe may pay another visit six months hence, and another a twelvemonth after that. And Thyrza may be an old maid before she has the opportunity of relieving herself from the attentions of her admirer by refusing him.Ф
УYou do not understand our customs,Ф said Ludwig sedately. УWe do everything deliberately.Ф
This reply George was obliged to transmit to Margetts, by whom, it needs not to say, it was not received with much satisfaction. Redgy, in fact, propounded a variety of schemes for bringing Rudolf von Kransberg up to the scratch, the mildest of which was lassoing him after the fashion of the South American hunters and conveying him in that condition to ThyrzaТs presence, when she would avail herself of the opportunity of giving her inamorato his cong?. All these were rejected by George and Thyrza, and the dissatisfaction of the baffled suitor every day waxed more grievous to behold, when one day he chanced to encounter Hardy in the street at Newcastle, and learned from him that Rudolf Kransberg was not only paying his addresses to Gretchen Groetweld, the plump and comely daughter of the Landrost of Lichtenberg, but, it was generally believed, had been accepted by her.
УI met him riding down the street,Ф said Hardy, Уdressed in his best holiday suit, and a large nosegay in his buttonhole. He was mounted on a showy horse,†Ц Сthe courting horse,Т as they call it,†Ц which he made amble and prance down the street to the great admiration of the spectators. Presently he drew up at Mynheer GroetweldТs door, when the worthy burgess greeted him with ceremonious politeness and requested him to enter. I heard from the Landrost, who delayed a few minutes to speak to me, that Mistress Gretchen is well satisfied with her sweetheart, and the formal betrothal is straightway to take place.Ф
This intelligence, which was presently confirmed by Mynheer Groetweld himself, overcame even Ludwig MansenТs punctilio; and Reginald Margetts and Thyrza were allowed to plight their troth to one another.
Mr Rogers, who had always felt a warm interest in the Mansens, and who latterly conceived a still warmer regard for Rivers and Margetts, was much pleased at the course which events had taken. Notwithstanding the recent death of Henryk Vander Heyden, it was not thought advisable to postpone for more than a few weeks RiversТ and AnnchenТs wedding; and the Mansens agreed that Redgy and Thyrza should be married on the same day, the chapel attached to Mr RogersТ house being chosen as the place where both ceremonies were to be performed.
The guests were limited to the near relatives of the brides, the only exception being Hardy, who arrived on the wedding morning, bearing the intelligence that the terms between the English Government and the Boers had been finally arranged. The suzerainty of the Queen was to be maintained, but, apart from this, the most complete independence was conceded to the Transvaal Republic, all the terms for which they had stipulated being fully granted.
УWell,Ф said Mr Rogers, УI never thought I should live to regret the reversal of that most mischievous and ill-judged of measures, the annexation of the Transvaal, but I have lived to regret it nevertheless. It appears to me that every blunder that was possible has been made. First of all, advantage is taken of a temporary reverse to impose on a nation a yoke which they are supposed to desire, but which they really dislike. Then, when reasonable and respectful petitions are presented, pointing out that the step is to the injury of both countries, and praying that it might be undone, they are curtly refused. Then, when the aggrieved citizens take up arms to compel the recognition of their rights, an attempt is made to crush them by force of arms, but the campaign is conducted in such a manner as to give them an easy and certain victory. I donТt suppose the Tenth Legion of Caesar, or the Old Guard of Napoleon, or WellingtonТs Peninsular veterans, could have done anything but stand to be killed, if they had been led into action as our soldiers were. And lastly, when the prestige of England has suffered so seriously that a victory (which could easily have been gained) has become imperatively necessary for its restoration, all that had been refused to moderate entreaty is granted to defiant and almost insolent demand! I donТt suppose the injury that has been done to British ascendancy in South Africa will be undone in less than fifty years, if it is undone then! Well, things are at their worst now; and when they have come to the worst, then the proverb says they will begin to mend! That must be our comfort, for I am afraid we have no other!Ф
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