Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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“Ay, just at the farthest point behind the ridge, I remember,” said Margetts. “She was almost out of sight.”
“Exactly. Well, they fell in with Sullivan and one or two other fellows, got aboard, and rowed straight off for land. I daresay they had reached it, before their absence was discovered.”
“Very likely. What do you think they will do, then?”
“Most likely land on some solitary spot, scuttle their boat, and make their way into the interior. They have their carbines, and will have no difficulty in providing themselves with food. Perhaps they will make their way to the diamond fields, and there change their names, and make a pot of money; or perhaps they’ll take to hunting or farming, and you’ll meet them some years hence, driving bullock waggons, or taking flocks of sheep to the market – thriving men and respectable – at least according to their ideas of respectability; or perhaps, once more, they’ll come across a band of criminals, who have escaped from prison, and go about robbing and murdering travellers.”
“Nothing more likely, I should say. And what will become of the others?”
“Well, as you suggested, half a dozen or so are safe to be hanged – Shirley and Andersen, for example, who were among the leaders, though not the main movers, of the outbreak. As for the others, the captain is mercifully disposed. You see, the whole thing (as has been proved now) was got up by those three villains, Bostock, Van Ryk, and Sherwin, after the ship had left Cape Town. They persuaded the new men – Shirley and Sullivan among them – to enlist. Only three or four in the first instance were told about Whittaker’s money. They expected to find that in his cabin, and they would then have launched one of the boats and gone off, leaving us on the reef. When they learned, as they did from Andersen, that it had been locked up in the captain’s cabin, they told half a dozen more about the money, and persuaded them to join in the attack on the officers and passengers. Then they induced the rest of the crew to believe that their only hope of escaping hanging lay in silencing the captain and his men, and getting away from the reef. The men have been the victims of several clever scoundrels, and I hope the law won’t be put in force too severely against them.”
An hour or two afterwards, the bar having become practicable, the steam-tug arrived which was to convey such of the party as desired it to the shore. But the surf dashing over the bar was still so formidable, that it was judged necessary to secure the passengers against damage, after the very curious fashion resorted to on such occasions. They were sent down below, in what would have been total darkness, if it had not been for the glimmering light of a lantern. Then the hatches were covered over, and the passage accomplished, with an amount of shaking and rolling which was considerably worse than a stiff gale at sea. As Redgy afterwards described it, it was like as though they had been a lot of marbles thrown into a bag, and then shaken up.Happily, however, it did not last very long; and they were presently safely landed on the quay, and free to examine the prospect before them. Land is said always to look attractive in the eyes of those who have just accomplished a long sea voyage, but the scene which George and his companions beheld, when they emerged from the cabin of the steam-tug, did not need this consideration to enhance its beauties.
It was indeed a lovely sight which met their eyes. The streets of the town were spacious, and built at right angles to one another, – most of them of a dark stone, which is said to harden by exposure to the air, – but some of them of brick, or wattle covered with plaster; many of them having deep verandahs, with rows of trees in front. Along the quays, which exhibited a busy scene of cargoes in the course of landing or shipping, a mass of vessels bearing the flags of all nations were lying; and on either side of the town rich forests bordered the whole coast. A little inland were seen pastures, and plantations of sugar-cane. The monotonous appearance which this kind of landscape usually presents was varied by high hills, and valleys here and there intervening. The wonderful blue of both sky and sea, which only those who have beheld it can realise to themselves, formed a glorious background to the picture. George and Margetts, accompanied by the other passengers, made their way to a hotel in one corner of the principal street, and partook of a luxurious repast, which to be duly appreciated ought to be eaten by persons who had just landed after many weeks at sea.
This over, they had next to obtain a conveyance to Umvalosa; and for help in providing this they applied to Mynheer Moritz, who had always been friendly, and more especially since the memorable day of the battle on the reef.
“I will help you as well as I can,” he said. “I wish I could ask you to join our party, which will pass Umvalosa on our way to Vander Heyden’s place, ‘Bushman’s Drift.’ Henryk, his sister, and myself mean to ride, and the luggage will be conveyed in his bullock waggon, which is one of the best in Natal. But it would be no use for me to propose that.”
“None at all,” assented George drily.
“Well, I don’t defend him. He might, and ought to be, more courteous to you. But you mustn’t be too hard on him. He has his good qualities. He is brave, and honourable, and high-minded, and capable of very warm and strong affection. He is very fond of his sister, and there is a lady, Lisa Van Courtland, his cousin, to whom he is almost romantically attached, and whom he is soon to marry. As for you, it is not you he dislikes, but your country, and that feeling, I am afraid, is not peculiar to him. A great many of our people believe that they have been hardly used by the English. You see, the whole country once belonged to us – was our undisputed possession for more than a century. We had done nothing to forfeit it – so we feel, because we had nothing to do with the quarrels of the governments in Europe; which were the only grounds on which it was taken from us. Then, when we couldn’t live under English rule, and left the Cape to settle elsewhere, giving up the homes to which we were so long used, in order that we might live undisturbed, the English followed us to Natal, and we were again obliged to move elsewhere. And now, since this annexation, many of us fear that we shall not be left alone even in the Transvaal, and may be obliged to break up our homes for the third time, to go to some new country; where, even then, we may not be secure from interference. Henryk is one of those who feel this keenly, and he’s apt to show his feelings rather too plainly.”
“No doubt of that,” said George, smiling. “However, I am disposed to make all possible allowance for him under the circumstances you have mentioned; which are, I ought to add, but very imperfectly known to me. I suppose, as is generally the case, there are two versions of the story.”
“Probably there are,” said Mr Moritz, returning his smile, “and perhaps it is too much to expect that you should credit my version. However, whatever may come of it, I hope you and I will remain friends. I could never forget the service you have rendered me, and, indeed, Annchen also: for she tells me that she believes she is indebted to you for saving her life on the night of the attack.”
“I don’t know how that may be,” said George. “I did my best to protect her, certainly. But as you and her brother were not so close at hand as I was, to defend her, I do not know how I could possibly have done less. I hope we shall be allowed to take leave of her.”
“She will wish that too,” said Moritz, “but I am afraid her brother will not permit it. She has, indeed, charged me to give you her adieux, together with her regrets that she cannot speak them in person. But now you want my assistance in getting to your destination. Your best course, I think, will be to make the acquaintance of a Natal farmer, named Baylen; who, I have learned, means to set out in a few days for Horner’s Kraal, and will therefore pass very near, if he does not stop at, Umvalosa. He is a thriving man, and knows the country well. He is neither wholly English nor Dutch, his father having been an Englishman and his grandfather a Hollander, but his sympathies are mainly English. I will give you a letter to him. I would go with you to his son’s house, ‘Hakkluyt’s Kloof,’ where he now is, but time will not allow it, as Vander Heyden sets out in a few hours.”
George thanked him, and they cordially shook hands and parted. The two friends then walked out to Hakkluyt’s Kloof, and delivered Moritz’s letter; which at once secured a hearty welcome from the old man. He was a fine specimen of a colonial farmer, standing more than six feet high, and strongly, if somewhat heavily built. He introduced the young men first to his wife, a still comely matron of fifty, and his daughter Clara, a handsome girl of twenty, then to his sons, Stephen, the eldest, and owner of the Kloof, Walter, Wilhelm, and Ernest. They were all stout and sturdily-built young men, though hardly equalling their father’s height or breadth of shoulder. He readily agreed to convey the Englishmen and their baggage to Umvalosa, naming a very reasonable sum as their passage-money. He also invited them to take up their quarters at his farmhouse until the day of his departure came, an offer which the two lads were thankful to accept. George then went out to look at the waggons in which the journey was to be made – each of which, he found, would be drawn by no less than sixteen oxen. They were in construction not unlike an English waggon, only a good deal stronger and more solid. They were arranged not only for the conveyance of goods, but for the accommodation of travellers. At one end there were seats arranged on either side, and from the roof hammocks might be suspended, in which the females of the party might sleep; the men usually making their beds either under the waggons, or at the farther end. Two entire days were consumed in loading them. As George and Redgy were not to go the whole distance, their boxes were put in last, and then one day more was passed in careful examination of the cattle, to make sure they were all in sound condition. On the morning of the fourth day, however, they set out; the party consisting of the farmer, his wife and daughter and his three sons, three native servants, a boy, and the two young Englishmen. The first thing was to harness, or, as it is termed in that country, to inspan the cattle. This is a curious process for a stranger to witness. The oxen, which in a well-trained team are fully as well experienced in the operation as their masters, are driven close up to the wheel of the waggon, with their heads towards it. Then the waggon driver calls each ox by its name, which it knows as well as any English dog knows his, and the animal bends forward to allow the yoke to be put upon its neck. Then they are arranged in a double line – eight couple, one behind the other, a Kaffir lad, called the fore-louper, leading the way. He brandishes in his hand a huge whip of cameleopard’s hide, which he delivers with terrific effect on the shoulders or back of the unhappy animals, generally towards the close of the journey, when the team are becoming weary, or, at all events, lazy.
The farmer and one of his sons accompanied the waggon on horseback, while the rest of the party walked by the side, or took a few hours’ siesta in the waggons. Farmer Baylen proposed to George to ride the first part of the journey in his and his son’s company, and the latter gladly accepted the offer. He was greatly struck with the beauty of the scenery in the neighbourhood of Durban. The journey for the first two days lay over Cowie’s Hill, which rises to a considerable height, affording a wide prospect of the sea-coast, with its rich line of woods; while inland, the country for a considerable distance presents a succession of elevated ridges, extending as far as the Umkomanzi river. The road itself was in the highest degree picturesque. It was November, the May of the Southern Hemisphere. Every now and then the waggons would enter upon a thick undergrowth of shrubs, ploughing their way, as it were, through an inland sea; the fragrance and beauty of the shrubs far exceeding anything that an English landscape presents. When a few miles had been accomplished, the oxen were outspanned, and allowed to graze, while the men took their mid-day meal, and afterwards smoked their pipes, under the shelter of some fragrant shrubs. Just as they reached the first halting-place, George discerned in the distance some singular-looking circular erections, which, the farmer informed him, were a native village; and finding that George was anxious to see it, offered to ride up and make an examination of it. The offer was gladly accepted, and after a short canter the kraal was reached. It was situated on one of the slopes above a rapid stream, and was built after the design usual among the Kaffirs. There were two circular enclosures, one inside the other, the whole being protected by a strong palisade. The outer circle is for the Kaffirs themselves, the inner one for the cattle. As these latter constitute the wealth of the villagers, they are careful to secure them against theft or violence, and by this arrangement they could only be seized after all the resistance the men could offer had been overcome. Each hut is circular in shape, and consists of a framework, constructed of long poles, driven into the ground, and bent towards the top, so as to meet at one point in the centre. Similar poles are laid horizontally at intervals one above another, and secured to the uprights by strips of fibre, so that the whole structure resembles a huge circular crate. The portion which forms the roof is covered with grass pegged down and secured to the poles, something after the way in which ricks are thatched in England. The floor usually consists of clay, when it can be found in the neighbourhood, levelled and beaten hard. It is sometimes even polished, by being rubbed over with a flat stone. There is a circular elevation in the centre of the hut similarly formed, which serves as a fireplace, but there is nothing resembling a chimney, the smoke escaping, as used to be the case in the dwellings of the ancient Britons, through the framework above. There is generally a door formed of wattle-work, which can be closed in inclement weather, and sometimes a kind of screen of similar material can be placed to windward of the fire, when the weather is unusually severe. George was struck with the fine proportions and intelligent faces of the men, many of them exhibiting muscular, stalwart frames and expressive features, which a Greek sculptor might not have disdained to copy. The women, though some of them were not ungraceful in figure, were not nearly equal, either in personal beauty or intelligence, to their male companions. Their features were, indeed, altogether too flat to satisfy the European idea of beauty, a fault which was not observable among the men. On George’s remarking this disparity of the sexes to the farmer, he answered it was no doubt caused by the severe and incessant labour imposed upon the women, for which nature had not designed them.
“They are required,” said he, “to perform the entire manual labour of the kraal – all the digging, planting, and reaping, which in other lands is performed by the men; while the men themselves sit at home, engaged in sewing their karosses, in which they display great dexterity, and by which they realise considerable sums. There is, however, no lack of manhood among them. Their bravery in the chase and in war is not inferior to that of civilised nations.”
“If ever they should learn from us how to fight,” said old Baylen to George, “and possess themselves of the Gatling gun and Martini rifle, it would be a bad day for the whites. They outnumber us ten to one, and are as fearless and resolute as any European race.”
“But if they are converted to Christianity,” said George, “they would hardly rise against their benefactors, would they?”
“Ay,” said the old farmer, “so many think. But to my mind that is a rotten reed to lean on. The nations of Europe have been Christianised many centuries ago, but that does not prevent their going to war with one another, when they think themselves wronged, or even when they imagine some advantage is to be gained. How mistaken the idea is, was to be seen in Sandilli’s war, only a little time ago. Some of the chiefs, and some of their men too, who had been baptised in their infancy, and had lived as Christians all their lives, nevertheless took part with their heathen countrymen in the struggle with the English. Several of the chiefs – Dukwana among others, who had been a very zealous proselyte – hesitated for some time as to what course they should pursue, and did not renounce their Christianity. But they took part with Sandilli, nevertheless; and if they could have succeeded in exterminating the whites, and regaining possession of Southern Africa, would not have hesitated to do so.”
“That is a very serious consideration,” said George. “You say they are greatly more numerous than the whites, do you not?”
“There is no proportion between the two,” said the farmer. “Our European population in Natal – English, Dutch, German, and all others – is considerably under twenty thousand; the Kaffirs number not less than three hundred and fifty thousand; and, what is more serious still, the Zulu kingdom, which immediately adjoins ours, is governed by a native king, the most powerful that has ever reigned in South Africa. His army alone contains four times as many men as our whole white population, and every man among them is a trained warrior, as fearless of wounds and death, as any man in your English regiments.”
“How is it they do not attack you?” asked George.
“There are several reasons,” answered Baylen. “In the first place, the native races are not at unity among themselves. They hate one another even more bitterly than they hate the white man, and thus the English are enabled to array one tribe against another. The Basutos and the Fingos will help you to put down the Gaikas and the Galekas; and these, when reduced to obedience, would very possibly aid you against the Zulus, if you were indeed going to war with them. That is one reason. Another is, that so far, whenever your English troops have come into collision with the natives, they have always had the better of them, and there is a very general idea that the English cannot be conquered. If any one race should ever succeed in any campaign against your troops, the consequences would be very grave indeed. Indeed, I believe that the general opinion entertained respecting the Zulu king, and his irresistible military power, has already done enormous mischief; and he will have to be put down before English supremacy in South Africa can be effectually secured. But here we are back again, and it is time to resume our journey.”
About nightfall they reached their halting-place, a small village about ten miles distant from Durban, where they obtained a supply of fresh milk and mealies, resuming their journey on the following day.
For several hours they proceeded without any unusual occurrence; but about noon Matamo, as the principal driver was called, came up to Mr Baylen and exchanged a few words with him, pointing in the direction of a small knoll, which lay at a distance of a few hundred yards. The farmer, who had been on the point of dismounting, put his horse in motion, and rode in company with the driver to the spot indicated. He returned in a few minutes, and ordered the cattle to be outspanned and carefully secured inside a small thicket which lay close at hand.
“Have you ever seen one of our South African storms?” he asked of George, when he had finished these preparations.
“No,” was the answer. “But surely you cannot apprehend a storm now, Mr Baylen! It is one of the most calm and beautiful days I ever remember to have witnessed.”
“Ay, I daresay you think so,” returned the farmer. “But nevertheless we are going to have it sharp and strong, as the saying is, and that within a quarter of an hour. The suddenness with which storms come on, and pass away again, is one of the peculiar features of Southern Africa. You had better get inside the waggon, and that without loss of time. The women have been wise enough to take shelter already.”
While the farmer was speaking, he had been engaged in carefully securing his horse by a strong rheim, and then, climbing up after Redgy and George into the waggon, drew down and fastened the curtain in front. While this conversation was going on, the air had perceptibly darkened, and there came a rush of cold wind from the north, the precursor apparently of the hurricane. Then the storm broke out with a suddenness and violence which fairly took George’s breath away. The wind swept down with such force that, but for the shelter of the trees, neither man nor horse could have stood against it. The air grew so dark that they could hardly discern each other’s faces; and the hail, or rather the blocks of ice, poured down from the skies, beating against the covering of the cart with such violence, that George expected every moment to see it driven in. Presently the hail ceased and a deluge of rain followed. The men had been careful to place the waggon on a piece of ground which was slightly raised above the rest. But for this the water would have risen almost to the level of the floor of the waggon; and the ground on both sides of them was soon converted into a small river, which poured along with the fury of a mountain torrent, sweeping away shrubs and small trees, and even large stones, as though they had been so many straws. It was two hours good before the storm was over. Then the clouds dispersed, the sun came out again, and no other trace of the fury of the elements was left, but what was supplied by the uprooted shrubs and the streams of water which continued to pour along with unabated force.
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