Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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“Mr Vander Heyden,” he said, “this cannot be allowed. Bostock has had more than his allowance of grog, and I shall see that he is punished for that; but I am pretty sure he did not mean to annoy you – ”
“Whom do you call Bostock?” interrupted the Dutchman, – “that schelm, Cargill? I know him better than you do, I fancy.”
“I know him by the name in which he entered this ship,” returned the mate. “But it does not matter what his name is. You had no right to strike him, and should beg his pardon.”
“Beg his pardon!” exclaimed the other haughtily; “you do not think I shall do that! He has hurt me a good deal. I believe I have sprained my ankle badly. But, anyway, I am not to be subjected to his drunken insolence. If he intrudes himself on me again, he will suffer sharply for it. Help me down below, Frank,” he continued; “I must get my shoe off, and bandage my ankle. The surgeon had better come to me.”
“Stop, sir,” said the mate. “I shall send for the captain, and inform him of what has passed. You will be pleased to wait till he comes on deck.”
Captain Ranken accordingly was summoned, and, having heard Wyndham’s statement, asked Vander Heyden whether the matter had been correctly reported; but the latter made no reply.
“I must assume, then, that the thing really occurred as reported. I beg to tell you, sir, that I command this ship; and any one who interferes with its discipline is accountable to me. You will beg this man’s pardon, as the mate has most properly required, and give your undertaking not to repeat your violence, or I shall confine you to your cabin. Any repetition of your offence will be punished by your being put into irons.”
“I shall give no promise,” said Vander Heyden angrily. “Frank, help me to my cabin, and send the surgeon to me. I suppose he will not be forbidden to attend me.”
“Certainly not, sir,” said Captain Ranken; “I did not know that you had been hurt. Perhaps when below you will think better of this, and give the promise I require. I hope you will forgive me, Miss Vander Heyden,” he continued, as the Dutchman was helped down the companion. “I am extremely sorry for what has occurred; but it is necessary for the comfort of the whole ship, that I should maintain strict discipline.”
Annchen bowed silently, and, taking her hat from George, who was still standing by, holding it in his hand, thanked him very civilly. She then expressed her intention of going down to her brother, to see if she could render him any help.
“I think you had better not,” said George. “The surgeon has just gone to him, and will do all that is necessary. Mr Moritz, too, is with him, and there is hardly room for more in the cabin. But I will go down and inquire.”
He went below accordingly, and presently returned with the information that the surgeon said there was a severe sprain. But he had bandaged and fomented the ankle, and it would be better for the patient to remain for the present quite quiet.Moritz also returned on deck with the same report, at the same time thanking Rivers with much courtesy for his services. George replied; and a conversation ensued, which altogether dispelled the awkwardness which had hitherto prevailed. Vander Heyden’s sprain was found to be worse than it was at first apprehended. It became evident that for a week at least he would be a prisoner in his cabin, thus rendering the captain’s sentence altogether needless. His absence from the deck and the daily meals, made an entire alteration in the relation of the passengers to one another. Annchen passed a considerable part of her time in her brother’s cabin, but she was still frequently on deck, and when there showed no disposition to repel the civilities of her fellow-passengers, and the whole party soon became extremely friendly with one another.
One evening Captain Ranken announced that they were now within a day’s sail of Saint Helena, and that he intended to make up a party, which he hoped all the passengers would join, to visit Longwood and Napoleon’s grave.
“I am afraid your brother will still be a prisoner, Miss Annchen,” he said. “But that need not deprive us of your and Mr Moritz’s company.”
Annchen made no reply, unless a slight tinge of colour which overspread her cheek might be regarded as one. She knew that her brother would in all likelihood insist on her remaining in the ship; but that she was very unwilling to do. She was very fond of him, and always sided with him, so far as she was able; but she was not blind to his faults, and knew that in the quarrel which had recently taken place he was almost entirely to blame. She had saved him from the indignity of giving the promise required by Captain Ranken, by assuring the captain privately that her brother would not repeat the offence, though he was too proud to say so; and Captain Ranken, taking into consideration the confinement which Vander Heyden had already undergone, and influenced doubtless, as all men are apt to be, by appeals from bright eyes and arguments from rosy lips, had agreed to make no further mention of the matter. But she was not disposed to submit to her brother’s dictation respecting her fellow-passengers, whom she had found extremely agreeable and friendly; against whom, too, there seemed to be no other objection than that they were Englishmen. George Rivers in particular was a very agreeable companion, and she was greatly diverted with the humorous sallies of Redgy Margetts and young Walters, who kept the whole party in a state of continual amusement. Mr Whittaker, again, was an agreeable fellow-passenger, though graver and less communicative than the others. She was more frank and easy with the young men, because it was generally known that there was an engagement between her and Mynheer Moritz, – one of those family compacts, with which both parties seemed to be satisfied, though there was no display of ardent affection on either side. On the whole, the party in the cabin and on the deck was a pleasant one, Moritz appearing to enjoy it as well as herself. But Annchen felt sure that if her brother should be told of the proposed expedition to visit the interior of Saint Helena, he would object to her joining it; and she was not disposed to forego the pleasure she promised herself, to gratify his fancy. She therefore said nothing on the subject until the captain’s boat, which was to convey the party on shore, had been made ready. Then she told Captain Ranken that she had resolved to go on the party with the others.
“Delighted to hear it, Miss Vander Heyden?” answered the captain; “and I think I can promise you that you will not regret your determination. I have already sent a message on shore to order a carriage, which will take us to Longwood. Now then for the detested residence, and the empty grave, of the ci-devant conqueror of Europe!”
“Nature must have intended this island for a prison,” remarked Miss Vander Heyden, as she looked up at the inaccessible precipices by which Saint Helena is environed. “Nothing but a bird could make its way into the interior, except by the landing-places, and the narrow paths which lead up the mountain-sides from them.”
“True,” asserted the captain; “and there are only four landing-places which it is possible for a boat to approach, and three of them are more or less dangerous. This one which we are now drawing near to is the only one in the island which deserves the name of a landing-place.”
“And it would be difficult for an enemy to assail that,” remarked Rivers, as he glanced at the fortified lines, bristling with cannon, which commanded the quay. “It would take a great many ships of the line to silence those batteries. Even then, from the tops of those cliffs, any force that attempted a landing might be destroyed without the possibility of retaliation. Yes, I agree with you, Miss Vander Heyden; Napoleon’s heart, if he ever really contemplated an escape from his captivity, must have died within him when he came within sight of these precipices.”
“You are right, sir,” said Captain Ranken. “That was his real ground of complaint against Saint Helena. He talked of the unhealthiness of the climate, and the badness of his accommodation, and the rudeness of the officials in charge of him. But the true grievance was that escape was impossible.”
“Ay,” said Mr Moritz; “your countrymen made better jailors than those who had charge of him at Elba. Small blame to you, too. If he had been shut up in any place, which he could have got out of, he would have lived long enough to turn Europe upside down once more.”
“Is the climate unhealthy?” inquired Mr Walters.
“Unhealthy! no, not a bit of it,” replied the captain. “I resided here once for two years, as one of the Company’s agents. I should say it was a particularly healthy country for Europeans. It is both mild and uniform in its temperature, never excessively hot, and never very cold. An English August and an English January would both of them astonish the natives of Saint Helena. The trade wind gives a succession of steady and equable breezes, and tropical storms are almost unknown.”
“It is very bare and ungenial in its appearance, any way,” remarked Annchen.
“Ah, Miss Annchen, that comes of trusting to first appearances,” said Captain Ranken. “You will find it greatly improve on nearer acquaintance. But here we are, and here are our conveyances waiting for us.”
They landed accordingly, and, after crossing the drawbridge, passed under the arched gateway, and entered the principal street of the town. This was not very long, not containing more than fifty or sixty houses, but these were mostly of a handsome appearance, resembling English houses for the most part, two storeys in height, and whitewashed. The population seemed to be almost entirely negro; but a bronzed old soldier, who told them that he had in his youth kept guard at Napoleon’s grave, offered himself as their guide, and his services were accepted. Under his guidance they began their ascent, which had been constructed with enormous labour along the side of the almost perpendicular precipices, and which tried the nerves of some of the party, who were not accustomed to climbing. For a long way the ascent exhibited nothing but the spectacle of naked and barren rocks, but after the first two miles were passed, the eyes of the travellers were relieved by the sudden sight of wooded heights, diversified by picturesque villas and cultivated gardens. Trees which were quite new to some of the party grew on either side of the pathway. The Indian banyan and bamboo, the mimosa, the aloe, and the prickly pear of Southern Africa, were to be found side by side with Australian gum trees, and the mulberries of Southern Europe. There appeared also to be a variety of tropical fruits; figs, limes, mangoes, guavas, citrons, bananas, and pomegranates grew and throve, apparently, in the gardens which they passed. The temperature altered sensibly as they approached Longwood, which indeed is nearly eighteen hundred feet above the level of the sea.
“This seems a comfortable house enough,” remarked Redgy, as they entered the grounds, – “not an imperial palace, to be sure, but that was hardly to be expected.”
“He was comfortable enough, I expect,” said Captain Ranken, – “as comfortable as he would have been anywhere. Indeed, he wouldn’t go into the big house which the English Ministry had built for him. No, it was the being shut up at all that he didn’t like.”
“You are right, sir,” remarked the old sergeant with a smile. “If they had taken the palace of Versailles over for him, he wouldn’t have liked it any better.”
“Did you ever see him?” inquired Rivers.
“No, sir; I didn’t come to the island till just before his death; but my father-in-law, who died a few years ago, was a soldier under Sir Hudson Lowe’s command; and he told me that he had often been set as one of the sentries round Longwood, and had seen Buonaparte again and again. It was a troublesome duty keeping guard on him.”
“How so?” asked Walters.
“Why, sir, they were obliged – one of them, that is, was obliged – to see Bony with his own eyes once in every twenty-four hours – to make sure of him, you see, sir. There was always a fancy that he was trying to make his escape to America.”
“There was some ground for that, if what I have read is true,” remarked Rivers.
“Maybe, sir,” said Sergeant Thorpe. “Anyhow, Sir Hudson always acted as though he believed it; and he insisted that one of the men should see Bony every day, and make sure he was there; and nothing that he did made Bony so angry. He would take every means of preventing it that he could. He would shut himself up sometimes for a whole day, and allow no one to enter his room but his own servants. They were all in the same mind as himself about it; and even if they hadn’t been, they durstn’t for the life of them let any one go into the room where he was. Some of our chaps hung about the entrance for an hour or two, or longer than that, before they could get a sight of him. My father-in-law told me that one day, when he had waited for ever so long without being able to see Buonaparte, he hid himself behind one of the curtains in the hall and stayed there till bed-time. About ten o’clock Bony came out on his way to bed. My father-in-law got a clear sight of him, but Bony caught a glimpse of the end of his shoe sticking out from under the curtain. My father-in-law was hauled out, and had to explain what brought him there. A complaint was sent to Sir Hudson – and to the Government, I believe, too – that an attempt had been made to assassinate him! But there were so many stories of the same kind, none of which had any foundation, that very little attention was paid to it.”
“No,” said Captain Ranken. “The Government would have had little else to do, if they had attended to all his complaints. So this is the house where the great emperor lived, is it?”
“Lived and died, sir,” said Sergeant Thorpe. “This is the room where he used to sit and dictate, and this the bedroom where he died. There was a terrible storm on the day of his death, the 4th of May 1821. I can just remember it, having come here when I was a young boy, a few weeks before. The people in the island say there has never been such a storm known before or since. All the trees about the place were torn up, and among them the willow, under which was his favourite seat.”
“Were you present at his burial?” inquired Margetts.
“No, sir, I was too young to be taken. I was left at home with my nurse and little sister, but almost every one in the island was there. We will go down and look at it now, if you please. It lies in a small valley. The spot was a favourite resort of his, and there he had asked to be buried.”
The party accordingly quitted Longwood, and followed the sergeant down to the spot he indicated. It was a lovely place, but very little attempt had been made further to beautify it. A mound of about three hundred feet in circumference, overgrown with grass, had been surrounded with a simple palisade. About the middle of this there was a tomb constructed of stone enclosed by an iron railing. There was neither inscription nor monument, the coffin having been deposited in a vault beneath, and the roof cemented over.
“I have stood here sentinel many a day, gentlemen,” said the sergeant, “when I was a young man. There used to be a many visitors who came to see it – mostly old soldiers who had fought under him.”
“Do you remember the removal of the body to France?” inquired Rivers.
“Yes, sir, I saw that myself,” replied Thorpe; “it was nearly twenty years after his burial. The son of the king of France, that then was, came to take the body to Europe. It was a grand sight. I was one of the soldiers on duty that day. The earth was dug away until they came to the vault, which had been overlaid with cement, but this was found to be so hard that the workmen’s tools broke one after another, and it was a long time before they could make the slightest impression upon it. At last they did make their way through it, and lifted up the large white stone, and exposed the coffin. When the lid was taken off there lay the great emperor, not the least changed, it appeared, by all the twenty years he had lain there. The features were not even shrunk, and there were the orders on his breast, and the cocked hat by his side, scarcely tarnished. After the coffin had been removed they replaced the stones as they were before. A good many people still visit this place, but not nearly so many, of course, as formerly.”
The party now took leave of Sergeant Thorpe, and returned to Jamestown.
“Why didn’t Whittaker make one of our party?” asked Margetts of Walters, as they rode side by side down the precipitous path.
“I don’t quite know,” said Walters. “For some reason or other, he is very unwilling to be absent from his cabin for any long time together. I have noticed that almost every hour he goes down to it. I suppose he has something valuable there, which he thinks it necessary to keep an eye upon.”
“I don’t know but what he’s right,” remarked Rivers. “One or two of the crew strike me as being by no means the most desirable shipmates. That fellow Bostock, and Van Ryk, the boatswain’s mate, and one or two others, if they are honest fellows, don’t look it. I spoke to the captain about it a day or two ago, and he agreed with what I said. But he told me that he and Wyndham kept a sharp look-out upon them, and when the ship reached Port Elizabeth, he meant to get rid of them. It is only a few of whom he has any suspicion; the rest are all right.”
The next day the voyage was resumed, and after rather more than a week’s run, Cape Town was reached. Here there was a delay of several days. Vander Heyden went ashore with his sister to the house of a friend, with whom he resided during the whole of the ship’s stay in harbour.
He had been very angry with his friend and sister for joining the English party to Longwood, and would have broken off all acquaintance with Rivers and his friend, if Moritz and Annchen would have allowed it. But though he succeeded so far to prevent anything like close intimacy, he could not prevent civilities from being offered and accepted; and Vander Heyden had seen too much of Captain Ranken, to venture upon any repetition of the conduct which had brought about the collision between them a fortnight before.
During the stay at Cape Town an unfortunate incident occurred, which caused the captain much greater vexation than the misconduct of his Dutch passenger. Nearly a dozen of his best men, who had been allowed by the second mate, in the absence of his superior officers, to go on shore, were reported missing, and all inquiries after them proved vain. Either they had been bribed to serve on board some foreign ship, or to join some party to the interior. Captain Ranken was obliged to supply their place, as well as he could, with some men whom he had picked up at Cape Town, but whose appearance he by no means liked.
“We must keep a sharp look-out upon them, Wyndham,” he said on the morning of the day after that on which they had resumed their voyage. “If it wasn’t that it would be impossible to navigate the ship without them, there’s hardly one of these fellows with whom I would like to sail. I shall send them adrift at Port Elizabeth, along with Bostock and Van Ryk and Sherwin. I expect there will be no lack of good hands there.”
“Well, it won’t be very long, sir,” said Wyndham, – “not above three or four days at the outside, and there are enough of us to put down any disturbance during that time. I’ll speak to Mr Rivers and Mr Whittaker, and the others. They’d be very useful if any disturbance occurs.”
“I will speak to Mr Whittaker myself,” said the captain. “He told me something yesterday, an hour or two after we left the harbour, which if he had mentioned before, I should have taken certain steps, which it would be too late to take now. I gave him my mind on the subject, though there was no great use in doing that.”
“What, he has something valuable on board, I suppose?” observed Wyndham; “I have suspected as much for a long time. That was why he would not go ashore at Saint Helena, then?”
“Yes,” said the captain; “I think under the circumstances it is quite as well you should know, Wyndham. He has got 5000 pounds in specie, which he is taking out to the bank at Maritzburg. Of course he was bound to tell me – to give it into my custody, in fact – before we sailed. He declares he did not know that. That may be true, though it seems strange he should be ignorant of it. But, any way, it is no use discussing that matter any further.”
“No, sir. I suppose you have it in your charge now?”
“Yes, of course. I have put it away in the strong cupboard, and will not deliver it up till we reach Durban.”
“And what made Mr Whittaker tell you about it this morning, more than on any other day?” asked Wyndham.
“That is one of the most unpleasant features in the matter,” rejoined the captain. “Mr Whittaker has always kept his cabin locked throughout the voyage, and has never been absent from it for any considerable time. Until this morning, he had no suspicion but what everything was perfectly safe. But last night, after the passengers had gone to bed, he fancied he heard a noise in the passage, and caught a glimpse of some one hurrying away. This morning, on going into his cabin, he found Bostock there; and on his inquiring what business the man had in his cabin, Bostock muttered something about having gone in to clean it out. But it is not Bostock’s business to clean the cabins. Mr Whittaker was alarmed, and came to me immediately afterwards.”
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