Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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“Indeed, sir! That looks ugly, certainly. You must get rid of Bostock when we get to Port Elizabeth.”
“I have already said that I meant to do so. Indeed, I would have dismissed him at Cape Town, if Mr Whittaker had spoken to me in time. All that we can now do is to keep a bright look-out. Mr Whittaker and I are alternately to keep watch in my cabin, until we drop anchor in Algoa Bay. You had better keep an eye on Bostock; and it would be as well if you asked Mr Rivers to help you in doing so. Mr Rivers is, to my mind, as stout-hearted and cool-headed a fellow as any we have on board.”
“I agree with you in that, sir, and will see Mr Rivers at once. But I don’t apprehend much mischief from John Bostock. The man seems to me as if he had lost his head.”
If Mr Wyndham could have been present at a conversation which had taken place an hour or two before between Bostock, Van Ryk, Andersen, the captain’s servant, and a sailor named Sherwin, he would hardly have expressed this opinion. John Bostock, little as Wyndham suspected it, was by birth a gentleman. He was the son of a Lincolnshire squire of ancient family, but very reduced means. His father was the last of a long series of spendthrifts, who had gradually reduced a noble inheritance to a heap of encumbrances. Langley Cargill, or, as he now called himself, John Bostock, was one of his younger sons. He followed in his father’s steps, and was soon hopelessly involved in debt. He tried to live by successful betting and gambling, but failed here also, and was reduced to extreme straits, when a boon companion, a man of some influence, obtained for him a commission in a Dutch regiment quartered at the Hague. Here he was safe from creditors, and had an income upon which it would have been possible to live decently, if strict economy had been observed. But to Cargill economy had become impossible. He fell into his old courses, and would probably have soon been expelled from the Dutch service, if his ruin had not been precipitated by an outrage which drew on him the punishment of the law.
In the second year of his residence he was attracted by the grace and beauty of a young girl, who had just made her first appearance in public. Langley contrived to obtain an introduction, which he tried for several months to improve into an acquaintance. The lady’s friends, who were aware of his character, interfered to prevent this. Her brother, in particular, a haughty young officer, had forbidden all intercourse; and on the occasion of a public ball, when Cargill was more than usually importunate, had insisted on his leaving the room. Cargill replied by drawing his sword on Vander Heyden. The police interfered, and Cargill was insane enough to resist, wounding several men, and one severely. He would have received a heavy sentence, if he had not contrived to escape from prison, and enlist as a sailor in a ship just leaving the harbour. After several voyages he found himself in London, and in the autumn of 1879 engaged himself, under the name of Bostock, as an A.B.on board the Zulu Queen, about to sail for Durban. Here he found Jans Van Ryk, Amos Sherwin, and Eric Andersen, old companions of his coarse debauches. A day or two after leaving harbour, he also recognised Annchen Vander Heyden and her brother, as the reader has heard in the previous chapter. Annchen had no suspicion that she had even seen him before; but her brother’s memory was better, though with the scornful hauteur of his character he paid no further heed to Bostock’s presence.
It will readily be believed that Bostock was not so indifferent to their former relations. He had devised a scheme by which he was to revenge himself on Vander Heyden, during the ship’s stay at Cape Town. He had resolved to follow him on shore, force him to a personal encounter, in which, being himself a first-rate swordsman, he expected to get the better of his antagonist, and, in event of his wounding or killing him, make his escape to the Transvaal, which was at the time full of lawless characters. He had been baffled by Wyndham, who had refused him permission to leave the ship during the stay at Cape Town. Provoked to fury by this failure, he had resolved to enter Vander Heyden’s cabin on the night of his return to the Zulu Queen, kill him, or be killed; and, if he should prove the survivor, throw himself into the sea and swim ashore. His purpose was a second time defeated – in this instance by Mr Whittaker, who occupied the next cabin to Vander Heyden, and who, as Bostock could see through the glass in his door, was awake and completely dressed. Surprised as well as disconcerted, he looked through the square of glass, and saw Whittaker engaged in counting a number of packages, which he perceived to be rouleaus of gold. The strong iron-bound chest was evidently full of them; in which case, he must have a very large sum of money with him. This discovery turned his thoughts into a different channel. He took an opportunity the next day of visiting Mr Whittaker’s cabin, to make some examination of the chest, but was surprised by the sadden entrance of its owner. Mr Whittaker threatened to complain to the captain, and Bostock had no doubt he had carried out his threat. He felt at once that if he was to execute his designs either on Vander Heyden or the chest of specie, it must be done before the ship reached Algoa Bay. He had therefore invited his three mates in evil to a conference in the hold of the vessel. At this he imparted to them the discovery he had made, and the three worthies between them had hatched a plot, which was that very night to be put into execution.
When Wyndham left Captain Ranken, he went immediately to George Rivers’ cabin, to whom he imparted the information received from the captain. George at once agreed to do all that lay in his power, and promised to join the first mate on deck, after he had taken a few hours’ sleep. Wyndham, on his part, went to take his supper, which was brought him by Amos Sherwin, one of the quartermasters, his own servant, it appeared, being ill.
The night came on suddenly, as is usual in those latitudes, and the moon was obscured by clouds. About ten o’clock the first mate came on deck to take his watch. He complained of feeling drowsy and heavy; but was nevertheless quite able to take his work. A steady hand was placed at the wheel, and everything was quiet on deck. Walters and Margetts, who had not been disposed to turn in, were seated near the taffrail, smoking. Notwithstanding the darkness, the night was pleasant, and it was possible occasionally to discern the coast-line, – which was distant two or three miles, – though very indistinctly. The first mate seated himself near them, leaning his head on his hand. A few minutes afterwards, some one came up with a message to the steersman, and the latter, surrendering the wheel to the newcomer, went below. The night wore on, and after a while the moon, forcing its way through the clouds, lit up the scene. The two young men now noticed that the ship appeared to be a good deal nearer to the coast than it had been all day. Walters called out to the first mate to point out the fact to him. He hailed him once or twice, but received no answer.
“I say,” he exclaimed, “Wyndham must be asleep. Oughtn’t we to wake him, Redgy?”
“He can hardly be asleep,” returned Margetts, – “a smart hand such as he is. But I’ll go and speak to him.”
He stepped up to Mr Wyndham’s side, and, finding he still took no notice, shook him. But the mate did not bestir himself, and the two young men perceived that he was either seriously ill, or intoxicated.
“I say, this is serious,” said Redgy; “we had better go down and bring the captain, hadn’t we? Look here, if you’ll take charge of him, I’ll go to the skipper’s cabin.”
He hurried to the companion accordingly, and on his way encountered George Rivers, who was coming up, according to promise, to join the first mate. He hastily informed him of what was going on up above; and George, a good deal startled, hastened to the place where Wyndham was still sitting, with Walters leaning over him. But, while crossing the deck, he caught sight of an object which filled him with astonishment and alarm. This was the coast-line, which was now clearly visible in the broad moonlight.
“What can you be about?” he shouted to the man at the wheel. “We are more than half a mile nearer shore than we ought to be. If our course is not immediately changed, we shall run upon a reef; and, by Heaven!” he added, a moment afterwards, “there is a reef just ahead of us! Starboard hard! – starboard, I say! Are you drunk, or mad, that you don’t see where you are taking us?” he continued, as the man, paying no heed to his warnings, allowed the ship to drive on straight towards the reef.
George rushed up, and endeavoured to wrest the helm from his grasp; but it was too late. The next moment a grinding noise was heard, as the ship’s keel grated over a sunk rock. Then came a tremendous crash, which shook her from stem to stern, and the Zulu Queen was lodged hard and fast on the reef. George collared the steersman; but he was a powerful man, and shook off his assailant’s hold. Pulling his cap farther over his face, he ran down the hatchway, but not before Rivers had recognised Jans Van Ryk, a Dutch sailor, against whom Wyndham had warned him as one of Bostock’s intimate companions.
It was no use following the man. Indeed it would have been impossible to do so; for in another minute the hatchway was crowded with men, who rushed up, half-dressed and in deadly terror, to know what had happened.
“Where is Mr Wyndham?” shouted the captain. “How can he have allowed the ship to run on a rock after this fashion, in a light where everything is as clear as noonday?”
“Mr Wyndham is in a kind of fit, sir,” said Margetts. “He has been sitting there without moving for the last hour or two. You had better go to him yourself.”
The captain stepped across the deck, and took a look at the first mate’s face.
“Come here, McCarthy!” he cried to the surgeon. “He has been drugged, hasn’t he?”
The surgeon put his hand to Wyndham’s pulse, and, bending down, inhaled his breath.
“Yes, sir; he has been drugged with opium. This has been a preconcerted thing!”
There was an uneasy silence for a minute or two, and then the captain spoke again.
“There cannot be a doubt of it,” he said. “My lads,” he continued, advancing towards a number of men who were gathered in a confused huddle on the forecastle, “I have a few words to say to you. We have traitors on board. The ship has been run intentionally on the reef. By and by a searching inquiry will have to be made respecting it; meanwhile I shall take the necessary steps for preserving discipline, and I call upon all here to help me in doing so. Let those who are willing to support me come forward and say so.”
The men looked doubtfully at one another; and presently the greater part of them slunk off and went below. About a dozen of the best hands remained, and, going up to the captain, declared their resolution of standing by him whatever might happen.
“Thank you, my hearts,” said the captain; “that’s cheery! There is nearly a dozen of you, I see. There’s Radburn, Marks, Coxwell, Daley, Rutley, Wall, Bateman, Hurd, Hooper, and Cookesley. I am obliged to you all, and I hope your example may help to keep the others right. But we must guard against a possible outbreak. The first thing will be to bring out some of the arms and distribute them. I had them all stowed away in my cabin yesterday, half expecting something of this kind. Come with me, Mr Rivers, and we’ll hand them up.”
This was soon done, and it was found that enough had been brought up to make an ample supply for all the party. Besides the carbines, revolvers, and cutlasses, there were several rifles belonging to the officers and passengers. The captain had two, the surgeon and first mate one each, Vander Heyden and Moritz, George and Margetts, also had one each; and all these gentlemen were well acquainted with the use of their weapons. They were a formidable party. Even supposing that all the crew, excepting those on deck, joined the mutineers, – as the captain evidently feared they would, – they might well hesitate to attack so well-armed and determined a company. At all events, it looked as if such was the case.
“I wonder where Bostock and the others can be,” remarked Walters, when half an hour had passed, and everything remained quiet below.
“I have no doubt where they are,” said Captain Ranken. “They are ransacking Mr Whittaker’s cabin, fancying that what they want is there, though cleverly hidden away. It is fortunate that they made that mistake, as it has allowed us time to make our preparations. Now the next thing is to send a boat to Mossel Bay – which is the nearest place where any ships are likely to be found – and request that something may be sent to fetch the crew and cargo off this reef.”
The pinnace – the most suitable boat for the purpose – was accordingly got ready; and by the time this had been done, and the men chosen who were to go in her, the first mate had recovered sufficiently to take charge of her. When he was informed of what had happened, he said he had no doubt that the opium must have been given him in a glass of grog, which he had taken before going on deck. He had poured it out, he said, and mixed it, when he unexpectedly received a message that the captain wanted to speak with him immediately in the cabin. He had hastened thither, but found the door locked. Supposing that the captain had gone on deck, he had hurriedly drunk off the grog, and followed him. The opium must have been put in while he was out of the cabin. He remembered that there had been something strange in the taste; but he was thinking of important matters, and did not notice trifles, he supposed.
“Do you remember who it was that brought you the message?” asked Captain Ranken.
“Not very clearly,” replied Mr Wyndham; “but I fancy it was Sherwin.”
“Likely enough,” remarked the captain. “He and Van Ryk are this man Bostock’s bosom friends. Well, all this must be gone into at a later time. What we have to do now is to get away as quick as we can.”
“There isn’t any hope of getting the ship off the reef, is there?” asked Redgy.
“Not the slightest. She can never swim again. But we must remember that our chief danger is from these mutinous scoundrels. I am convinced this plot has been hatched since we left Cape Town. I understand that all you gentlemen are prepared to stand by me?” he continued, addressing himself more particularly to Vander Heyden and Moritz, who had hitherto said very little.
“I am prepared to take my part,” answered Vander Heyden, bowing somewhat haughtily. “If we are attacked, I shall, of course, protect my sister and property. I have no doubt Mynheer Moritz will do the same.”
“Certainly,” said Moritz in a more friendly tone; “I am prepared to stand by the captain, whatever may happen.”
“I thank you,” said the captain. “Then we have twenty men on whom we can rely. I am afraid I must reduce the number to sixteen, as I cannot send less than three men with Wyndham in the pinnace; but sixteen will, I hope, be sufficient for our purpose. We must keep an armed watch, – four of us in my cabin, and four on deck, – relieving every four hours. I will take charge of one party; Mr Rolfe, the second mate, had better take the other. Remember the spirit-room must be carefully watched, and any one fired on who tries to force it.”
The dawn had broken before the work was half done, and it was morning when the pinnace, with the first mate and his men on board, took its departure. There was a favourable breeze inshore; and to Mossel Bay it was only an hour or two’s sail. But it was quite uncertain how long it might be before she could return, or rather how long it might be before another vessel could be sent, large enough to carry off the crew and cargo. There might not be any such vessel in the bay, and Mr Wyndham might have to go overland to Cape Town, before the required assistance could be procured. In this event, of course, there would be a much longer delay – several days, perhaps. If this should prove to be the case, their situation would be far from agreeable. To say nothing of the danger from the mutinous sailors, if a storm should come on, the ship might go to pieces, and their only hope then would be to get on the reef itself, and shelter themselves as well as they could until help came. Vander Heyden suggested that such as chose it might be allowed to get on board the three remaining boats, and make their way to Mossel Bay, from whence they might get across the country to their destination at Natal. But the captain would not agree to this. He pointed out that of the three remaining boats, the launch had been so damaged when the ship ran on the reef, that it could not swim, another – the long-boat – was in such a position that it could not be got at, unless with the consent of the party below, and the remaining one would not hold more than four or five with safety. They were but just enough as it was to resist an attack. If they should be further reduced in numbers, the safety of those who remained behind would be seriously imperilled.
“And what is to become of my sister?” exclaimed Vander Heyden, “if these scoundrels do attack us?”
“We will all die in her defence, will we not, lads?” exclaimed Captain Ranken, looking round him. He was answered by a cheer.
“Nay, do not think of me,” said Annchen; “I am not afraid. Any way, I cannot allow the safety of the others to be endangered, in order to preserve me from harm.” There was a second cry of approval.
“None of us will allow a hair of your head to be hurt,” cried Margetts.
“No,” said Rivers, “you may be sure of that. But I would nevertheless suggest that the boat should be launched, and kept in readiness for an emergency. If we should be attacked and overpowered, that might enable some of us at the last moment to escape. In any case, if a skirmish appears imminent, Miss Vander Heyden and her brother might be put on board, and lie off the reef until the result of the encounter is known.”
“Why do you propose that, sir?” exclaimed Vander Heyden angrily. “Do you suppose I am a coward, that I should shrink from an encounter with these scoundrels?”
“I implied nothing of the kind, sir,” returned Rivers. “I was only carrying out your own suggestion. I suppose Miss Vander Heyden could not be put into the boat with no one to take care of her?”
Vander Heyden would have made an angry answer, but the captain interposed.
“You are quite wrong, Mr Vander Heyden, and, I must add, ungrateful too. Mr Rivers merits our thanks for his suggestion, which I shall at once put in force. We had better launch the boat at once, while the deck is in our possession. As soon as she is in the water, we can put a few provisions in her, and then she can lie off at a little distance. We had better set to work upon that at once.”
All hands went to work accordingly with a will, and presently the gig was lowered, and got ready for sailing. Then dinner was served, and the afternoon passed quietly away. Bostock and his companions, if they had intended any violence, appeared to have abandoned the idea. Probably the captain’s promptitude had disheartened them, – so it was thought, – and as they knew the pinnace had been sent off to Mossel Bay, they were aware that assistance would probably come from the shore in a few hours’ time.
Late in the afternoon the captain, who was very tired, went down to get a few hours’ sleep. He was aroused not long afterwards by Rivers.
“Captain,” said the latter, “I fear mischief is brewing.”
“What makes you suppose that?” said the captain, who had roused himself on the instant.
“There are two things I don’t like. In the first place, the men must have got into the spirit-room – ”
“Hasn’t careful watch been kept upon it?” asked the captain.
“Yes,” said George, “most careful watch. No one has approached the door the whole day. They must have broken into the room another way. Any way, there is furious drinking going on on the lower deck. I clambered round on the outside, and could see what was passing. Bostock, Van Ryk, and Sherwin are inciting the men to drink. Half of them, indeed, are drunk already.”
“Could you hear what they are saying?” asked the captain.
“Not very distinctly; there was too much shouting and yelling. But I could make out that they were inciting the men to attack us.”
“They would hardly do that,” answered the captain. “They know that we are armed, and on our guard.”
“No doubt, but they are armed too.”
“Armed? are you sure? I myself conveyed all the arms in the ship into the cabin, on the night after we left Cape Town.”
“In that case, there is either a traitor among the men who have access to your cabin, or they have brought their own arms on board. All the fellows we suspect are provided with cutlasses and revolvers, and I could see more lying about on the tables and benches.”
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