Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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“Was Andersen, my servant, among them?”
“Yes, he was one of the most forward, apparently, of any.”
“He is the traitor, then. But that is of little consequence now. Do you think they will make their attack soon?”
“Not for another hour or two, I should say. They may ultimately succeed in getting the men to join them; but they are not ripe for it yet.”
“An hour or two may be time enough. Come with me, Rivers; I shall want your help.”
The captain went on deck, and, calling three or four of his best hands together, told them what he had learned. By his instructions, they provided eight or ten stout spars, which they carried down below and placed as a barricade, at the distance of about eight or ten feet from the captain’s cabin, lashing the ends of the spars, so as to make it impossible for any one to pass. Then the other hatchways were secured, and a man set to guard each. The captain next went down, accompanied by Rivers and Vander Heyden, taking with him the second mate, Rolfe, as well as Marks, Daley, Wall, and Bateman, four of the stoutest and most trustworthy of the sailors. He placed these in positions which would command the barricade, some inside the cabin, some in the passage. The strictest silence was to be observed, and no one was to fire until the word was given. The captain then lighted his dark lantern, obscuring the light until the moment of action should arrive. Annchen had been sent on deck under the charge of Moritz, Vander Heyden having insisted on remaining below. But Whittaker, Margetts, and Walters had constituted themselves her special bodyguard.
When all had taken their places, a long silence ensued. The shouts of the men below were now more plainly heard. It was evident that they were fast becoming drunk, and at any moment the expected attack might be made. Presently the noise below ceased.
“They are getting ready,” whispered the captain to George; “we shall have them up in another moment.”
His words had hardly been uttered, before they were made good by the sound of feet stealthily ascending the stairs.
“They think to take us unawares,” continued the captain. “They don’t suspect anything about the barricade.”
Presently there was a cry of surprise, followed by a volley of oaths. Then a light was struck, and the mutineers were seen trying to tear down the spars which blocked their passage.
“You had better leave off that, and go below!” shouted Captain Ranken. “We are prepared for you. If you attempt to remove those spars, you will take the consequences.”
“Let fly at them,” said a voice, which the captain recognised as that of Bostock, – “let fly at them, and particularly at that Dutchman.”
Half a dozen pistols were discharged, three of them directly levelled at Vander Heyden, who was standing close to the captain. He had a narrow escape. One of the bullets would have struck him in the heart if Captain Ranken had not at the moment changed his position, and it struck his epaulet.A second grazed his temple, the third was lodged in the partition behind him.
“Your blood be on your own heads!” cried the skipper. “Fire on them!” A general discharge followed, by which it was evident considerable execution was done. Several were seen to fall, and among them Bostock and Van Ryk; but whether these were killed or dangerously wounded did not appear. They were either able, however, to crawl down below, or were carried off by their companions.
“They got that hot and strong, sir,” remarked Rolfe; “I don’t think they’ll try it again.”
“It depends a good deal on whether the leaders are killed or severely wounded,” returned the captain. “As for Bostock, you hit him fairly, Mr Vander Heyden. The bullet struck him below the hip. But whether it was a slight or a severe wound, I can’t say.”
“I think it was only a flesh wound,” rejoined the Dutchman. “The other fellow – Van Ryk, his name is, I believe – was more seriously hurt, I fancy.”
“I hope he is. If those two men should be silenced, we needn’t be afraid of the others. Well, we are safe for the night, I think, and we must hope that help will come to-morrow.”
The captain’s words were so far made good, that the rest of the night passed in quiet. The forenoon of the next day was a time of great anxiety, which no one felt so keenly as the captain. He knew that if Wyndham did not return, it could be only because some accident had happened to his boat, or because he had been unable to obtain any help in Mossel Bay, and had been compelled to go overland to Cape Town. The distance thither from Mossel Bay was more than two hundred miles, and the means of getting there not easy to procure. Even if he could find horses to carry him the whole distance, it would probably take him a day or two to reach the town. Then, no doubt, a vessel would be fitted with as little delay as possible. But probably two or three days more must elapse before it could reach the reef.
Altogether, it was not unlikely that a full week would pass, during which they would have to remain in their present situation, unless, indeed, they could attract the attention of some passing vessel. As the hours went by, the captain grew more and more despondent; and at last it became only too evident that Wyndham’s speedy return could not be looked for.
“We are in for this, Rivers,” he said, as they stood together on deck, looking anxiously toward shore, half an hour or so before sunset; “unless we are picked up by some ship, we may have to stay a week on this reef, and there is no disguising that, if it should be so, our lives are in the greatest danger.”
“Do you apprehend a storm coming on, sir?” asked Rivers.
“I see no signs of that, though in this climate the changes of weather are so rapid that one is never secure for six hours together; but that is not what I am afraid of. These men will get desperate – the ringleaders, that is. They know there is a rope round their necks in consequence of last night’s work, and they will get away from the reef at all hazards before Wyndham’s return, if by possibility they can.”
“I don’t see how they can force their way on deck in the face of our fire, any more than they did last night, sir; I don’t see how they could remove the barricade either.”
“They might contrive to cut the ropes which hold one of the spars,” said the captain, – “that is, if they could work in the dark. But I shall take care that the passage is kept lighted all night, so they won’t attempt that I think they will try to blow up the hatchways. They have got plenty of powder, and it would not be a difficult thing to do. They would lose some men in forcing their way up; but their numbers so greatly exceed ours, that, once on deck, we should have no chance with them.”
“You think all the ship’s company will go along with Bostock and Van Ryk, then?”
“I am a good deal afraid of it. I don’t think they’d have done this of their own heads. But these two rascals are exceedingly clever, and will, I have no doubt, make out a plausible story. They will persuade the poor fellows that, if they are caught, they will be charged with mutiny for what has been done already. They’ll tell them it is their only hope to get off the reef before help comes, and they must cut all our throats to accomplish that.”
“And we can’t take to the boats, and be gone ourselves?”
“That is what the Dutchman proposed yesterday. But I then pointed out that we cannot get at the long-boat without exposing ourselves to the fire of the mutineers. Nor would they, of course, let us repair the other boat, even if she could be repaired. I only guessed then that they would attack us. It is unfortunately only too certain now. We should simply be playing their game. If they could overpower us, or, in plain English, murder us, they would no doubt go off in the three boats, or make a raft, if the boats would not hold them all. But while we remain here, that would be impossible.
“No,” resumed the captain presently; “we must go on as we have begun. It really looks as though the men were unable to devise any plan of attacking us; in which case it is most probable that they will submit, and throw themselves upon my mercy. It is only against a few, you see, that direct mutiny can be proved. Nor have I quite given up the hope that Wyndham may have found a ship at Mossel Bay, though her sailing may have been delayed. Perhaps the men also are reckoning on the possibility of that, and will not commit themselves further, until they feel sure that he will have to go on to Cape Town for help. But all that we can do is to keep a bright look-out, and be ready for action at a moment’s notice. I shall go and lie down now for two or three hours, as I feel quite worn out; but I shall trust to you, Rivers, to rouse me if there should be the slightest necessity. You are the only man on board I can thoroughly trust, for, though Rolfe and McCarthy are good fellows, they are not equal to an emergency. But you know what you are about.”
They parted. George took a turn or two up and down the deck, apparently buried in thought. Then he laid aside his cutlass and pistols, put on a sailor’s jacket that was lying on the deck, and tied a handkerchief round his head. Having completed these preparations without attracting notice, he disappeared below.
It was about three hours afterwards that the captain was a second time roused from his sleep by a hand laid on his chest. He started up instantly, and was about to speak, when George Rivers, who was his visitor, stopped him.
“Don’t wake the others, sir,” he said. “If you will come on deck, I have something important to tell you. I wish to say, sir,” he continued when they were seated out of the sight and hearing of any of their companions, “that I have been down among the men, and have learned pretty accurately what they mean to do.”
“Down among the men – among the mutineers?” exclaimed the captain. “How did you manage that?”
“Well, it was not so very difficult, sir. Several of the men had left their jackets on deck, as well as a handkerchief or two. I put two of these on, pulling the handkerchief well over my forehead, so that by the dim light on the lower deck it was hardly possible that I could be recognised, even if any one noticed me, which was hardly likely. Then I untied one of the ropes, and so got through the barricade. I went to the head of the ladder and listened. There was loud and angry talk going on, and several of the speakers seemed to be more than half drunk. I crept cautiously down, ready to make a bolt up again if any one hailed me, but they were all too busy to notice me. I crept into a corner and lay down, as if asleep, drawing a sailcloth half over me. I lay there for a couple of hours, I should think, and learned all I wanted to know. After that I took advantage of a violent quarrel which broke out among them, to creep up-stairs in the same way as I had crept down, and then secured the spar.”
“You have done nobly?” exclaimed the skipper. “And what have you learned?”
“I learned, first of all, that nothing will be attempted to-night, though an attempt will be made to-morrow. In the first place, it appears that Sherwin was one of those killed in the skirmish, though they contrived to carry him off. Van Ryk and Bostock were wounded, though not severely. Bostock was hit in the right leg, and is unable to use it, though the wound is already greatly better. They won’t stir unless he leads them, and that he can’t do this evening.”
“That is fortunate. They are not afraid of Wyndham’s return, then?”
“No; they seem to feel sure that he has failed to find a ship in Mossel Bay. Indeed, one of the men said he had gone over to the bay from Cape Town, only a day or two before the Zulu Queen sailed, and there was no ship there, and none expected.”
“I feared as much,” said the captain. “Well, then, what are the men’s intentions? Do they all go along with Bostock?”
“I am afraid they do,” returned George. “Bostock has persuaded them that there is an enormous sum of money in gold stowed away in the cabin – enough, as he told them, to make them all rich for life. If it hadn’t been for the barricade, he said, of which no one had any idea, this would have been in their possession already. But as it is, it is theirs as soon as they choose to seize it. They evidently believe they can get on deck whenever they please – ”
“Did you ascertain how?” interrupted the captain eagerly. “Not exactly, sir, but I fancy they mean to blow a hole in the ship’s side, and so get down on to the reef, which at low water extends for several feet beyond the ship – ”
“Yes, yes,” said the captain, “I was afraid so; no doubt they could do that. Go on.”
“Well, I expect they will make their way out in that manner, and, although we may be able to kill half a dozen of them before they knock us on the head, they would certainly do so, sooner or later. None of our party are to be spared, except, I am sorry to say, Miss Vander Heyden. Bostock means to carry her off with him.”
“The brute!” exclaimed the captain. “He shan’t do that, Rivers.”
“No, sir. I would blow out her brains with my own hand sooner than allow it?”
“And so, to do him justice, would her brother, or Mr Moritz either – nay, I am persuaded she would do it herself! Well, Rivers, we are in for this, and we must get out of it the best way we can. But I must own I am at my wits’ end. Can you suggest anything?”
“It has occurred to me, captain, that we might possibly, if we were hard driven, get on to the other part of the reef yonder, and take provisions with us enough to last two or three days. They couldn’t get at us there, I imagine.”
The captain looked in the direction to which George pointed. There was another reef, or, more properly, another part of the same reef, divided from that on which the ship was lying by a deep channel some twenty or thirty yards wide. It rose a good deal higher out of the water, and was so plainly visible at all states of the tide that nothing but design, or the most culpable carelessness, could have caused the disaster.
“That is a good thought,” he said. “If ever I command a ship again, I must make you my first mate. That reef will be our salvation. We must not lose a moment in getting across, and taking all we want with us. Go and wake all the hands, and bring them on deck at once. If we wait for the moon, the rascals may see us. It is lucky that we have Marks and Cookesley, the ship’s carpenters, among our party.”
The sailors who had remained loyal to Captain Ranken obeyed his summons with prompt alacrity. They were reduced to seven, three having gone with the first mate in the pinnace. The captain gave them their orders, which they proceeded to put into execution as rapidly and with as little noise as possible. The boat was brought immediately under the ship’s side, and a number of articles put into it, the first being the carpenter’s chests, and a load of spars and planks from the workshop. Then the boat returned for boxes and barrels, containing provisions to last for a fortnight, together with all the firearms and cutlasses on deck. Then a quantity of bedding, knives, forks, and crockery, and a large tarpaulin which had been used to form a shelter from the heat for the passengers. A number of empty boxes and barrels were also lowered into the sea, which, as the tide was then running, would be washed up on the further reef. There was a great deal to be done, but the hands were all active and willing; and by the time when the moon rose all the most necessary articles had been ferried over.
As soon as the light permitted, the men, under the direction of the carpenters, began putting up a hut at the spot indicated by the captain. They fortunately found one or two crevices in the rock, in which uprights could be fixed. A long spar was run across from two of these, and the tarpaulin stretched over it. Then four shorter posts were placed at the corners, but at two of these points there were no crevices, and the spars had to be placed in tall barrels filled with stones. The sides were next filled in with planks, with a door and an opening to serve as a window at the end farthest from the wreck. The gig continued her voyages under the conduct of Captain Ranken, George, and the second mate, and almost everything that would be required was brought over. Mr Whittaker’s chest had been one of the first things cared for.
By daybreak a very tolerable hut had been constructed; and the captain directed them, as the next job, to put up a barricade extending the whole length of the hut on the side facing the ship. This was formed of barrels and chests containing large stones, of which there was abundance on the reef, the spaces between them being similarly filled. When this had been completed, it was broad day, and it was impossible to expect that the crew, who by this time must have slept off their drunken debauch, could be kept any longer in ignorance of their officers’ proceedings. The second mate was sent, therefore, to inform the passengers of the removal to the further reef, and convey them over to it as quickly as possible. They were taken by surprise, but complied readily enough; only Vander Heyden making some complaint that the cabin party had been kept in ignorance of what they ought to have been told.
While they were being ferried across in the boat, the captain and George returned for the last time to the deck.
“We are well out of this, sir,” remarked George; “we shall be safe over there.”
“Yes, unless they come across to attack us.”
“Come across? what, in the long-boat?”
“Yes, in the long-boat. They can’t launch it while we have possession of the deck. But as the ship is left to them, there will be nothing to prevent their doing it.”
“It would be a desperate thing to attempt, landing on the reef under such a fire as we could open on them.”
“No doubt, if they attempted it by day. But in the dark they could get ashore unseen by us, and perhaps make one or two voyages before we found it out. Besides, the long-boat will hold a great number of men. We must not risk it.”
“What do you propose then, sir?”
“To destroy the boat,” answered the captain. “It is easily enough done, if you will lend a hand. But first, are all the others safely landed on the reef?”
“Yes. The boat, with Mr Rolfe in her, is just coming back for us.”
“Very good. Then we will go to work.”
He went below and fetched two iron pots, in each of which he placed a heavy charge of powder, rolling a piece of rag round it to prevent its escape. Then, motioning to George to pick up some heavy blocks of wood, he moved noiselessly across the deck, and laid the pots in the bottom of the boat, one at each end, with the blocks to keep them down. Next he laid a train of powder with a slow match, the end of which he ignited.
They now crept down to the boat, and put off. They had almost got across, when a loud explosion, followed almost simultaneously by a second, was heard. Immediately afterwards the men poured up on deck, having evidently contrived some way for themselves of getting up there. Some of them carried carbines, and they might have fired on the captain and his two companions, if these had not hastily drawn up the boat and made for the shelter of the shed.
“Safe now, sir,” remarked Rolfe, “unless they swim across to us.”
“They’ll hardly try that on,” rejoined the captain. “They would be an easy mark for our rifles, and they know we have several and can use them. We roust put a man to watch their movements; but I think that is all that will be needed. If breakfast is ready, we may go to it with an appetite.”
This had hardly been completed, when Hooper, the man set to watch, came in with the information that a flag of truce had been hoisted on the vessel, and three men, Gott, Shirley, and Sullivan had come down to the edge of the water to parley with the captain.
“Are they unarmed?” asked the second mate.
“Yes, sir,” answered Hooper.
“Can you see anything of the other men?” inquired the doctor.
“There are none on the reef, sir, but I thought I saw one or two peeping over the ship’s bulwarks.”
“I guessed as much,” said McCarthy. “You ought to think twice, sir, before you go to meet these men. You would be an easy mark for any one hiding in the forecastle; and they may think that, if they once got you out of the way, they could do anything they pleased.”
“That’s possible,” said Captain Ranken. “But I can’t help that. There is a chance of avoiding bloodshed, and it is my duty to go.”
“Well, any way, let us take any precautions we can,” urged Rolfe. “Five or six of us can take our rifles, and show ourselves over the top of the barricade. They will see that if they have you at their mercy, we have Gott and Shirley and Sullivan at ours.”
“You may do that, if you like,” said the skipper. “There is never any harm in showing that one is prepared.”
The mate’s suggestion was acted on. Half a dozen marksmen, including the two Dutchmen, Rivers, Margetts, Whittaker, and the mate, took their guns, climbed on to the top of the barricade, and then stationed themselves behind it, the muzzles of their rifles projecting from between the stones. Then the captain, accompanied by McCarthy, went down to the edge of the reef, and, hailing the three men opposite, asked what they had to say.
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