Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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“We’re very sorry,” said Gott, – “sorry as you’re displeased, sir. But the most of us don’t know what we’ve done.”
“Do you call running the ship on a reef, and then trying to plunder her, and after that attempting to murder us, nothing?”
“It was only one or two as did that; we didn’t wreck the ship, or join in the attack as was made on you, sir,” said Sullivan.
“I am glad to hear it. What do you want now?”
“We want you and the others to come over here again, and we’ll go back to our duty,” answered Gott.
“And what about the mutineers?” asked the captain.
“There was but a few of they, and they was mostly killed in the scrimmage.”
“Indeed! were Bostock and Van Ryk killed, may I ask?”
There was no answer. The skipper repeated his question, and then Shirley said sullenly, “I don’t know as they was.”
“Very good. Van Ryk was the man who ran the ship on the reef; Mr Rivers saw him do it. Bostock fired deliberately at Mr Vander Heyden; I saw him do it. I don’t want to inquire too closely what others may have done, but these two are clearly guilty. If they are put into irons and brought over here, together with all the arms in your possession, we will return to the ship, and when help comes, no proceedings will be taken against anybody, except the two prisoners. These are the only terms I shall offer you. I shall expect to receive an answer in an hour or two.”
The men, after exchanging a few words, sullenly withdrew. The captain, and McCarthy, who had been chosen to accompany the skipper, because the men are always unwilling to hurt the doctor, also beat a hasty retreat, and informed their companions what had passed.
“Do you think they will give in, sir?” asked Whittaker.
“No,” replied the captain. “I fear Van Ryk and Bostock have too much weight with them. Besides, sailors on these occasions are apt to stick together. If we don’t get an answer within the hour, we must look for broken heads.”
The hour passed, and then another hour or two. The after noon slipped away, and there was no return of the deputies. The men kept quite out of sight. But the sound of hammering and sawing and the buzz of voices were plainly audible.
“They are up to something, sir,” said Rolfe; “making a raft, most likely, by which they hope to reach the shore. They’ve plenty of materials, and some smart hands among them. Don’t you think that is likely, sir?”
“I think it very likely,” answered the skipper; “only I am afraid they are more likely to use it to make an attack on us than to reach the shore – or rather, they will attempt the latter, but only when they have carried out the former. They won’t go without the money if they can help it. But the first thing for us will be to ascertain what they are really about, and we can do that, though not without some risk. The boat is still lying off at the place where we moored her when we came across for the last time. If we got aboard her we might row out to the other side of the reef, keeping at a safe distance, and then we should find out what they are doing.”
“No doubt, sir,” rejoined Rolfe; “but would they let us do it? I am pretty sure there are one or two fellows lying under the bulwarks, watching us from the deck.They could pick off any one who tried that.”
“I am afraid that is only too likely,” said Captain Ranken; “but it is so important to us to know what they are up to, that I think we must attempt it. Who will volunteer for the service?”
He was answered by half a dozen eager voices, declaring each man’s readiness to make the adventure.
“Very good, gentlemen; I thank you heartily,” said the skipper. “The men I want must be good divers, if possible, but certainly good swimmers. They must also, of course, understand the management of a boat.”
“I can’t swim, I am sorry to say,” cried Walters.
“I can swim, but I am no diver,” said Rolfe.
“And I can swim and dive, but I am a poor hand at managing a boat,” added Margetts. “But look here, captain, here’s your man – George Rivers. He swims like a fish, and dives like a cormorant, and can manage a boat first-rate.”
“He will do for one, no doubt,” said the captain. “And I think, Mynheer Moritz, you offered, did you not? You, I know, can both swim and dive, and, I believe, understand managing a boat?”
“Yes, sir,” returned Moritz, “I believe, without vanity, I can say I do. I shall be pleased to undertake this in company with Mr Rivers.”
“Very good,” said the skipper. “That is settled, then. Now, gentlemen, this is what you have to do. You must get into the water here, out of the sight of the ship, and swim round, keeping under water as much as possible. Then get under the lee of the boat, and bring her round, sheltering yourselves under the cover of her side. Of course our fears may be groundless. There may be no one lying in wait. But I fancy I have seen heads looking from time to time over the ship’s sides, and it is best to take every precaution. Now be off as quick as possible, for the daylight is dying out.”
George and Moritz complied. Going to the farther point of the reef, they stripped, and, slipping silently into the water, began swimming round the reef. When they got to the point where their heads would be visible from the ship, they dived, and swam under water, neither of them reappearing until their heads came to the surface close under the bows of the boat.
“Capitally managed!” cried the captain. “If they get her out from shore, all will be safe. I really hope our apprehensions were unfounded.”
But at this moment two or three guns were fired from the ship, and several bullets spattered in the water. Moritz, who had incautiously raised his head, had a narrow escape. George seized and dragged him down, himself only just escaping a bullet which whistled over his head. The boat, however, was by this time in motion, and they were enabled to drag it along with them, without again exposing themselves until they were out of shot. Then they climbed in and rowed to the place whence they had started. Here the captain received them with many commendations and thanks; and, while the two adventurers were resuming their clothes, went off in the boat with two of the men to the other side of the wreck, taking care to keep at a safe distance. He returned in half an hour with a very uncomfortable report.
“Have you found out what they are about, sir?” asked Margetts.
“I am sorry to say I have. They mean mischief, and, I fear, will be only too likely to be able to work it. They are putting together a raft, and are getting on fast with it.”
“But may not that be only to enable them to make their escape to the shore?” suggested Walters.
“If that had been their intention, they would not have fired on Rivers and Mr Moritz. There is no use in disguising facts. They mean to attack us.”
“But how can they contrive, sir?” asked the second mate. “Neither wind nor tide is favourable to them. A raft is a very difficult thing to manage at all times, and they would have to approach this part of the reef under the fire of all our guns.”
“You are right, Rolfe,” replied the captain; “but unfortunately the raft is not the only work they are engaged on. Somehow it appears that the launch was not so much injured as I had supposed. Two or three smart hands have been employed on it, and it looked as though it had been made all right again. What they mean to do, I expect, is to launch both raft and boat at nightfall, and the one will tow the other till our reef is reached. Then they will land in the dark, and then either take up a position behind our barricade, from which they can fire upon us whenever we go in or out of our hut, or else make an assault upon us as soon as the moon rises, and overpower us by superior numbers. The first would be the surest plan for themselves, but their dread of Wyndham’s return may induce them to adopt the other. They outnumber us, remember, at least six to one.”
“It is only too likely that you are right,” said George; “but what do you advise?”
“I think, in the first place, we must complete the barricade round the hut. At present we are open on two sides to a sudden rush, which would overpower us by force of numbers. Behind, the rise of the rock is so precipitous that they could only climb it with great difficulty, one by one. We must place our best marksmen up there, and the others behind our barricades down below. We must put a man, when the darkness comes on, at the very extremity of the reef, nearest to the wreck. He will be able to distinguish what they are doing sufficiently well to tell us when they are launching their raft. It cannot, I know, be completed for many hours yet. As soon as it does put off, we can burn a blue light, – I took care last night to bring some with me, – and that will enable us to fire on them, while approaching and landing, with effect. We may be fortunate enough to kill their leaders, in which case the others will submit at once.”
“If I catch sight of that Cargill,” exclaimed Vander Heyden, “he will not trouble us any more! Ha, Vrank?”
“No,” responded Moritz; “he doesn’t deserve much mercy, and I don’t imagine he would show us much.”
“None at all, I fear,” assented the captain. “But I don’t desire his death on that account, but because he is leading these poor misguided fellows into crime and ruin. But no more of him. If we mean to put up our barricades, we must go to work at once.”
“All right, captain!” said Rolfe; “we will not delay a minute.”
A quantity of barrels and boxes, with which the reef was still strewn, were brought up, and filled with stones, as well as some heaps of wreck-wood, which had been thrown up above high-water mark. In two hours’ time a barricade had been erected sufficiently strong to repel any sudden assault. Then attention was turned to the high ground behind the hut. Large stones and pieces of wood were laid along the highest ridge, behind which the riflemen might fire in safety. This party consisted of McCarthy, Rolfe, George Rivers, Margetts, Whittaker, and Walters, together with Vander Heyden and Moritz. The captain took the command of the party below, which consisted of the seven sailors. Here also Miss Vander Heyden was placed, under the captain’s special protection. When the hut was first erected, a space had been partitioned off to serve as Annchen’s sleeping-place, and George, during the captain’s absence in the boat, had employed his time in doubling this partition, and filling up the space between the boards with stones, so that even if all the other defences were carried, she would still have a last place of shelter.
When the job was done, the whole party sat down to rest and take some refreshment. The evening came on before they had finished their meal, and in a short time it was quite dark.
“If they mean to come,” remarked the captain, “it will be pretty soon now. The noise of hammering has ceased for the last half-hour; they must have completed their job; and now it will be seen whether they are going to make for the shore, or attack us.”
It was an anxious moment. The whole party sat in front of their barricade, on the stones or logs of which it was composed, listening intently to catch any sound which might determine the momentous question at issue. Presently the silence was broken by Coxwell, the sailor whom the captain had stationed at the farthest point of the reef. He came up with the information that the boat and raft were both afloat, and by the lanterns they had lighted he could see the men getting on board.
“We must all take our places,” said the captain. “I will go down to the water’s edge and listen. Mr Rivers, be ready to put a match to the blue lights as soon as I call to you.”
All obeyed in silence. Annchen took leave of her brother and Moritz, and bade also a general farewell to the others; her eye, as George could not help fancying, lighting with special kindness on him. When they had all taken up their stations, there was a silence of some minutes, and then the voice of the captain was heard, – “Light up! I hear them coming!” Rivers obeyed; and a lurid flame suddenly sprang forth, by the light of which the boat and raft were both distinctly visible, the former with only five or six rowers aboard, the other following in tow, and crowded with armed men.
“The party on the rocks fire on the boat?” shouted Captain Ranken; “those in the shed on the raft!”
He was obeyed on the instant. Eight rifles cracked almost at the same moment from the rocks. The steersman and two of the rowers dropped dead in their places. The other two flung themselves into the bottom of the boat, wounded, but not killed. Several also on board the raft fell into the sea, or into their companions’ arms, and a cry for quarter was raised. But the next moment the voice of Bostock sounded loud and clear.
“Step into the water!” he cried. “We are already on the reef; it is not above our knees.”
He sprang out himself as he spoke, and began wading ashore, followed, after a moment’s pause, by the other men. Several volleys were discharged from the barricade and rocks, not without their effect, though the mark was now more difficult to hit. In a few minutes the mutineers had found refuge, as the captain had anticipated, on the outer side of the barricade, which the besieged, if they may so be called, had run up for their own protection.
The riflemen were now called down from the rocks, and joined their companions in the shed. The fire not having been returned from either the boat or the raft, no injuries had been sustained. But the situation of Captain Ranken and his companions still appeared to be almost hopeless; as the fight would now be carried on on almost equal terms, and the mutineers still outnumbered them in the proportion of four to one. It seemed most likely now that they would try to surround the shed on all four sides, firing through the crevices, which were as available to them as to those within, and so soon pick off all the defenders. But for this light was necessary, and they were therefore waiting for the moon to rise.
While they were still waiting in anxious suspense, a stone with a paper wrapped round it was thrown through the open window. The captain picked it up and read it. It had no name attached to it, but professed to come from the whole of the crew, except those with Captain Ranken. It stated that the hut was completely surrounded, and that the assailants had the lives of all those within at their mercy. But they wished to avoid further bloodshed. If the five thousand pounds which had been removed from Mr Whittaker’s cabin should be given up, together with all the arms in the possession of the besieged party, they would go quietly away without hurting any one. But if this was refused, an attack would be made as soon as the moon rose, and no man’s life would be spared. It was added, that if no answer was sent before moonrise, that would be regarded as a refusal.
When the captain had finished reading, no one spoke for a while. At last McCarthy broke the silence, —
“Have you any idea, sir, of complying with their demand? You see they do not ask – what we could not have agreed to – the surrender of Miss Vander Heyden.”
“No,” said Mr Whittaker; “and I do not think my employers would blame you, if you did comply. I daresay we should all agree to bear some portion of the ransom.”
Several of the others broke in together, declaring their willingness to pay any portion in their power.
“What do you say, Mr Rivers?” asked the captain, observing that he had not spoken.
“I would pay my share, sir,” answered George; “anything that is in my power. But I fear it would be useless. The best hope these men have in escaping the penalty of their mutiny lies in our death. If we were to surrender ourselves to them, as this letter proposes, I think they would murder us in cold blood – all except – ”
“You need not mention her name, sir,” interposed Vander Heyden. “But you say well. I know the villain who leads these men; he is quite capable of that, or any other atrocity. We had better die sword in hand, like men, than be stabbed like sheep.”
“You speak only too truly, sir,” said the captain. “Our choice lies between one kind of death or another; and I, for one, choose that of a brave man, who will have no trafficking with villains.”
He looked round him, and read approval in every eye. “You are right, sir,” said McCarthy briefly, and the others echoed the sentiment.
No one spoke for the next ten minutes. Each was busy with his own thoughts; such as are likely to fill men’s minds when on the verge of eternity. The time seemed painfully protracted, and all wished that the trial was over. Suspense was worse than death itself. At last a sudden burst of yellow light streaming through the window warned them that their time had come. The next moment the door was burst in, and a crowd of men, armed with cutlasses and pistols, endeavoured to force an entrance. They were met by a general volley, which killed or wounded nearly all the foremost assailants. But the rush from behind was kept up. Several forced themselves into the hut, and a hand-to-hand struggle ensued. Miss Vander Heyden had been placed behind the screen which Rivers had strengthened for her; and he shouted to her, when the attack began, to throw herself on the ground, as the best chance there was of her escaping injury. The screen caught the eye of Bostock as he entered in the rush, and he and Van Ryk instantly made for it. Vander Heyden threw himself in Bostock’s way, and a fierce encounter began between them; while, George in like manner interposing between Van Ryk and the screen, they were soon engaged in deadly combat.
By this time the hut was nearly filled with the mutineers. The captain, with McCarthy on one side of him and Redgy on the other, was desperately defending himself against two or three assailants. The third mate, Whittaker, and Walters, had been all struck down, and several of the men were mortally wounded, when suddenly there came from the sea a strange and unexpected sound – the boom of a cannon!
The strife was instantly suspended. Each man looked in doubt and wonder upon his opponent’s face. Then the captain’s voice was once more heard, —
“Throw down your arms, you mutinous dogs, and yield yourselves prisoners, or every man among you shall swing at the yard-arm before another hour has passed!”
About a week had elapsed. George and Redgy were standing on the deck of the Government steamer Wasp, leaning over the bulwarks and contemplating the appearance of the harbour of Port Natal; which lay immediately in front of them, with the town of Durban in the middle distance, and the Natal country in the background. The ship could proceed no farther. The bar across the harbour mouth, on which seething masses of foam were breaking, presented an insuperable obstacle.
“How are we ever to get in, George?” asked Redgy. “I suppose ships do get in somehow. Indeed it is plain they do, for there is a lot of them lying off the quays yonder. But how they surmounted that bar, it is beyond me to imagine. I should think even the Yankee captain, who declared he could run his ship anywhere where there had been a heavy dew, would be puzzled here.”
“I don’t suppose Captain Deedes will take his ship in,” answered George. “He has only to deliver and take back despatches to Cape Town, and these can be brought to him out here.”
“What, in a boat, I suppose?” suggested Margetts; “and that is the way we shall go in, then? Well, every man knows his own business best; but I should have thought there was a very comfortable chance of any boat being swamped!”
“Wait, and you’ll see, Redgy. Captain Deedes told me we should be safe ashore before twelve o’clock.”
“Did he tell you anything about what is going on at Mossel Bay?” asked Margetts. “I know he has had letters from thence. I saw them brought aboard half an hour ago.”
“Yes, a good deal. I am sorry to say Rolfe is dead; that is the fifth of our party that was killed. Walters and three of the sailors were dead before we sailed, you know.”
“I am sorry for Rolfe. How are McCarthy and the captain and Whittaker?”
“They are all doing well. The captain’s was only a slight cut across the hand. He was much more hurt by Bostock’s and Van Ryk’s escape than by that wound.”
“I don’t wonder. It is certainly a pity that they were not run up to the yard-arm, as half a dozen others may be, who were less guilty than they were. I can’t think how they managed to get off.”
“Well, I can understand it. Van Ryk and I were having a desperate tussle, and we had been driven close to the door of the shed. When I heard the gun from the Wasp, our encounter was broken off, and I thought nothing more of my antagonist for the next ten minutes. As for Bostock, who was, I noticed, a first-rate swordsman, he had disarmed Vander Heyden, and would, I daresay, have run him through, if the cannon hadn’t been fired at that moment. I judge both he and Van Ryk, who had their wits well about them, made off as fast as they could to the place where the gig had been left, when Moritz and I landed from her.”
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