Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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“‘No one would hurt her surely,’ my father said.
“‘Dingaan would hurt any one,’ Mr Scheren answered. But he was more afraid of his kindness than his cruelty. He feared that Wilhelmine’s beauty had attracted Dingaan’s notice, and before long he would insist on having her for one of his wives.
“‘Why, she cannot be thirteen years old,’ my father observed.
“‘No, she is little more than twelve. But they marry young in this country, and in another year or so she will be thought old enough.’
“We comforted Mr Scheren as well as we could, promising him Dutch protection, if Retieff succeeded in his design. The next day we had our interview with Dingaan. He was extremely friendly, and complained of nothing but the theft of his cattle. ‘If these were restored,’ he said, ‘he would be willing to leave the Dutch settlers in possession of Natal, provided they did not interfere with him. But if they stole his cattle, and would not restore them, it was impossible for him to regard them as friends.’
“This sounded reasonable enough, and good Peter Retieff was quite taken in by it. He agreed to recover the cattle, and we all went off with him, nearly two hundred in number, and soon succeeded in tracing the oxen, and obliging those who had stolen them to give them up. We returned in a kind of triumphal procession, driving the cattle before us. We were received with the greatest friendliness; all Retieff’s demands were conceded, and we were invited to a royal feast, to be given on the following day to the king’s Dutch allies.”
“I think I have heard what was the issue of that feast,” remarked George. “But I had thought that all who attended it.” – He paused.
“That all had been murdered, I suppose,” supplemented Baylen. “You heard right: all who attended that horrible feast were murdered. But I and my father did not go. We were just setting out when Mr Scheren stopped us. He told us that throughout he had suspected treachery was intended. But half an hour ago one of his converts had warned him that all the white men would be shot or stabbed. He had returned in all haste; but it was too late to warn Retieff and his friends, who were already in the royal kraal. All he could do was to save us. To convince us of the truth of his story, he pointed out to us a large force of armed Zulus, creeping stealthily up and surrounding the kraal. There was nothing to be done but to escape. We went into his stable, – where most fortunately we had kept our horses, instead of the place provided by the king for Retieff’s train, – saddling and mounting with all possible expedition. We rode off without a moment’s pause, but had not cleared the village, when we heard yells and screams which made our blood run cold.”
“None of Retieff’s party escaped, did they?” asked Hardy.
“Not one, unless you count my father and myself, and we had the narrowest of narrow escapes. We were seen by an Induna, who was late in attending the feast, and he instantly told Dingaan.He at once sent half a dozen of his fleetest men after us. They were on foot, and our horses, though cumbered with two riders, at first left them a long way behind. But the Zulus are wonderfully swift of foot, and their powers of endurance are still more surprising. When we reached the Tugela, they were not a hundred yards behind us. The river was not high, but it was with the greatest difficulty that our jaded horses could cross it. The Zulus came up before we had reached the bank, and hurled their weapons at us. One of the assegays struck Mr Scheren, who was sitting behind my father, and he fell dead into the river. Another grazed my horse’s flank, while a third stuck in the saddle, nailing Wilhelmine’s gown to it. Fortunately for us, Dingaan’s order forbade any Zulu to pass into Natal, for we could have gone no farther, and could have offered no effectual resistance.”
“What is to be our next halting-place?” asked George of Ernest Baylen, as they rode out in the rear of the party on the following morning, having waited behind to see that none of the articles removed from the waggons on the previous day had been forgotten. “We have a long day’s journey before us, I expect.”
“We shall stop at Colenso,” replied Ernest, “rather a neat little town, and growing fast in size and importance. It stands near the Little Tugela. After that our next halting-places will be Helpmakaar, then Dundee, and lastly Newcastle. We might go farther to-day, but I expect we shall have some trouble in passing the Mooi. It is a good deal swollen by the heavy rain and the overflow of the Tugela. The flood, as yet, has fallen but very little.”
He pointed as he spoke to the river, which lay at the distance of a mile or two. George drew his rein for a moment, quite entranced by the varied features of the landscape before him. There was a stretch of green veldt, reaching almost from the point where they had bivouacked to the river’s banks, which were densely fringed with mimosas and willow-trees, through which its waters glanced, here and there, bright in the sunshine. To the right and left the ground was broken into declivities, clothed in many places with brushwood, in others presenting picturesque outlines of rock and shrub, while in the far distance towered the range of the Drakenbergs, the grandest mountains of Southern Africa.
“What are those dark objects I see floating about in the water?” inquired George, pointing with his whip to a broad bend in the river, which for some distance in both directions was free from wood on either side.
“Sea-cows! what you call hippopotamuses, I declare!” cried Ernest in some surprise. “They are not often to be seen in the Mooi; but I suppose they have come down from the Tugela. Yes, they are hippopotamuses; I can see them clearly now. If we can spare the time, we may have a hippopotamus hunt; there are few things that are better fun. It requires caution, though, or there may be an ugly accident.”
“What, from an attack of the animals?” suggested George. “I should have thought they were too large and unwieldy for there to be any danger from them.”
“Ah, but there is. The banks of the river are for the most part covered very thickly with reeds or rushes, among which these creatures are accustomed to lie. When they think that an enemy is at hand, they will rush out suddenly from their covert, and their weight is so great that a blow from them would probably be fatal. Matamo here had a narrow escape from one of them once, which I daresay he will relate to you, if you like to hear it. He speaks very good English, better than you would expect; and there is nothing that he likes better than relating his adventures, which sometimes border on the marvellous. Shall I call him?”
“By all means,” said George. “He is there, riding on your father’s left hand.”
The Bechuana was accordingly summoned, and he at once expressed his readiness to gratify George’s curiosity.
“A scrimmage with a sea-cow?” he said. “Oh yes, I remember it. It was when I was a boy. I went out fishing, and I had no gun, only an assegay with me. I caught lots of fish, but by and by I was tired, and went to sleep on the long grass. Presently I was woke up by a great noise close to me, and I saw a big sea-cow coming out of the river with his mouth wide open. I thought perhaps he was going to eat the fish, or perhaps he was going to eat me. I jumped up and ran off, and the sea-cow ran after me. I was in such a fright that I didn’t see where I was running to, until I found I had got into a swamp, and was sinking in it. These swamps are sometimes ever so deep, and there is nothing to hold to, to keep you from going down. The more you struggle, the faster you go down. I was already up to my ankles, and should soon have been up to my knees, when I heard the sea-cow flounder in after me. He couldn’t stop himself either. He was heavier than I was, and went down faster. I caught him by his great big ear and scrambled on to his back. He grunted, but he couldn’t help it. Then I stood on his head, gave a great jump, and just reached the bank. He grunted louder than before, and went down into the swamp. Ho, ho, ho! – I dessay he is still going down, and hasn’t got to the bottom yet.”
“But I suppose,” said George, after bestowing due praise on Matamo’s story, “there is no real danger if care is taken.”
“No, sir, no danger if you take care. There are some fine sea-cows there. Your father sees them too, Mr Ernest.”
Mr Baylen now rode up and asked George whether he and his friend would like to take part in a hippopotamus hunt. George expressed his obligations, and presently the necessary preparations were made. All the party dismounted, leaving their horses in charge of the waggon-drivers, and took their rifles, which they carefully loaded. Then they separated into two companies. One of these mounted to the top of a rocky ledge covered with creepers, among which they carefully concealed themselves; while the other, consisting of Ernest, George, and one or two followers, crept stealthily through the long weeds and grass, until they had reached a point beyond that at which the animals were lying. Some of these were basking in the sun, some standing in the water with their heads above it; others were half concealed by the long rushes, which grew thickly on the bank.
“She will be our best mark,” whispered Ernest, as he pointed to a huge female, whose carcase was half in, half out, of the river. “It will be very difficult, as she is lying now, to kill her on the spot. But as soon as she feels the shot, she will probably rush away into the reeds or into the water. In either case my father and Matamo, not to speak of the others, will get a good aim at her as she rises up, and will be pretty safe to kill her. Any way, you will get your shot at her, and mind you aim at her ear or her eyes.”
George promised acquiescence, and he and Ernest gradually crept nearer, until they were within tolerably easy distance. Then George fired, but apparently did not greatly injure the beast. The whole herd sprang up with loud snortings, and those lying on the edge of the stream plunged into it. The female whom George had wounded rushed away under cover of the rocky ledge, which at that part bordered the stream, encountering, as Ernest had anticipated, the fire of the party stationed above, and the farmer’s ball finished the business. The animal fell dead almost immediately at the foot of the rock, and Redgy and the others crowded to the edge to get a sight of the huge carcase. The farmer calmly reloaded, and it was well that he did so; for almost immediately afterwards there came a rushing noise from the bank above, and he caught sight of a huge male hippopotamus rushing down upon them. It was in all likelihood the mate of the female that had just been killed, and he was charging down to avenge its slaughter. With the instinctive readiness which long habit had produced, Baylen raised his rifle and fired. The bullet was happily aimed. It pierced the heart of the monster, and was instantly fatal. The muscular force carried it on for a few yards, and it fell dead only just short of the spot where the party was standing. Another moment or two, and its blind fury would have carried it and them over the edge of the precipice, on to the rocky ledge beneath.
“A near thing that!” exclaimed old Baylen coolly. “Lads, you should be always on the look-out for this kind of thing in hippopotamus-hunting. You are never safe from a charge.”
This exciting adventure would naturally have been the topic of a good deal of discussion; but so much of the morning had now passed, that the farmer told them they had no time to bestow on talking. Prime pieces were cut off from both the slain beasts, and put into the cart, Matamo assuring George that they would be regarded by their friends at Colenso as rare delicacies. The whole party then returned to the waggons, and prepared to cross the river; which, in its present swollen condition, it would be no easy matter to accomplish. The quantity of sand brought down by the flood, it should be remarked, presented a more serious difficulty than the depth of the stream, and all the more so because the extremely turbid state of the water made it impossible to see what the depth of the sand was.
The farmer and his sons, aided by Matamo and the other servants, undertook the convoy of the larger waggon first, arguing that if that could be got across without difficulty, the smaller and slighter one in which Mrs Baylen and Clara were located would follow easily enough. Both spans of oxen were fastened to it, one in front of the other; it was hoped that the line of oxen would thus become so long that the foremost ox would reach the opposite bank before the hindmost yoke had entered it. But the river was so greatly swollen that this could not be accomplished. Matamo had to cross, with a long rope tied to the front bullock’s horns, and thus guided the team, nearly all of which were swimming, to the bank. Then with great difficulty the oxen struggled up the opposite shore, and the big waggon was safely landed, though its contents had been completely wetted through.
Men and oxen now returned across the river to undertake the transport of the second waggon. But here a terrible misfortune took place. Just as they were approaching the water, the disselboom broke in half, and rendered the waggon quite unmanageable. Until this disaster was remedied, it became impossible for the oxen to draw; and, as they had not the means of mending the breakage on the spot, the waggon must necessarily remain there all night, until the damage could be repaired by workmen from Colenso. Mrs Baylen and her daughter had the option of either remaining on the bank of the river all night, or being conveyed across the river on horseback. They chose the latter; and the two young Englishmen, riding up, volunteered their services. They placed the ladies in their saddles and swam by their sides, drawing their horses after them. After this fashion Mrs Baylen and Clara reached the bank, though almost as completely soaked through as their cavaliers. A consultation was now held. It was proposed to procure a change of clothes for the ladies; but it appeared that all their wardrobe was in a smaller waggon; and even if they could have allowed the young men a second time to encounter the stream on their account, it would have been next to impossible to bring the clothes across in a dry condition. It was presently agreed that the best course would be for the four who had been soaked through to ride straight into Colenso, with Matamo as their guide, and there procure a change of clothes, while the large waggon followed at a slower pace. The riders accordingly set off, and arrived in due time at the Swedish pastor’s house.
Mr Bilderjik and his wife, who were old friends of the Baylens, and were in expectation of their arrival, were in readiness to receive them. The ladies and the young men were soon supplied with dry clothes. Carpenters were despatched to the banks of the Mooi to repair the damage done to the waggon, and a message sent up to the hotel in the main street of Colenso to provide beds for Hardy, George, and Redgy, for whom the house of the Swedish pastor could not supply sufficient accommodation.
A few hours afterwards Farmer Baylen arrived with the larger waggon, and he and his sons, as well as Hardy, who was also an old acquaintance, were hospitably welcomed. In an hour or two after their arrival, the whole party sat down to a comfortable repast, at which, as Matamo had before assured George would be the case, the hippopotamus steaks formed the chief delicacy.
There was nevertheless, independently of these, a very appetising meal provided. Sago soup was served up, fish from the Little Tugela river, which ran close to the town; fowls, and pancakes, as well as abundance of ripe fruits, – loquots, oranges, peaches, bananas, and nectarines – all of them from the missionary’s garden, – which could only be tasted in their perfection in the climates of which they are the natives.
All the party appeared to be contented with their quarters, except the indefatigable Matamo, who insisted on returning to the Mooi, where he said his presence would be needed to look after the workpeople who had been sent to execute the repairs, and who, as he affirmed, were never to be trusted. As soon as he had finished his dinner, he mounted his horse and rode off.
“You have a valuable servant in that Kaffir,” remarked George. “It would not be easy to find his match, even in England.”
“Are you speaking of Matamo?” said Mr Baylen. “Yes, he is a good servant – good at farm labour, and better at hunting; but he is not a Kaffir, nor a Hottentot either, but a Bechuana, though a very dark-skinned one. You haven’t been long enough in the country to be aware of the difference, but we old residents see it easily enough.”
“A Bechuana!” said George. “I think I know where their country is – on the other side of the Transvaal, isn’t it, three or four hundred miles away from here? What brought him into these parts?”
“Well, I brought him,” was the answer. “I brought him to Natal about five-and-thirty years ago.”
“Five-and-thirty years!” remarked Margetts. “He couldn’t have been very old then.”
“No; he was an infant,” said the farmer. “I was a young fellow of four or five-and-twenty myself, and we hadn’t been so very long settled in Natal ourselves. My mother, who had been brought up a Presbyterian, though she conformed to her husband’s form of belief, had once heard David Livingstone preach, and had been so impressed by him that she had never forgotten it. After my father’s death she fell into low spirits, and there was no one near about us who could give her any comfort. Nothing would satisfy her but that Mr Livingstone must come and see her. We tried to pacify her by telling her that Mr Livingstone, who was a great traveller, would some day come our way. You have heard of him, I suppose, gentlemen?”
“All the world has heard of him,” remarked Rivers. “I should think there is hardly an Englishman but knows his history.”
“I am not surprised to hear it. But he was a young man at the time I speak of, and was but little known. My mother, however, was bent on seeing him. She had heard that he was living at Barolong, and she was sure that he would come to visit her, and she would die if he didn’t. At last I saw there was no help for it; I must travel across the country, and find Mr Livingstone out.”
“And you went?” inquired George, as he paused.
“Yes, I went; and a terrible journey I had; and after all I couldn’t find the gentleman. He had gone up the country, and it was impossible to say, they told me, when he would come back. But that has nothing to do with Matamo; and my story was to be about him. Well, I took a good stout horse, and rode through what is now called the Orange Free State. It was almost wild in those days. Native tribes were living here and there, with whom I sometimes got a lodging; though, to be sure, their kraals were not the pleasantest places in the world, even to me. Once or twice I came across the house of a Dutchman, who had emigrated thither from the Cape.”
“I don’t expect you got much of a welcome from them,” remarked Hardy.
“As an Englishman, I did not expect that I should,” said the farmer. “But you see my grandfather, old Fieter Van Schuylen, had been a leading man among the Dutch, and so was my brother-in-law, Cornelius. I had only to mention their names, and they were ready to do anything for me. I got on well enough until I was within a day or two’s ride of the village where Mr Livingstone was believed to be living; but there a misfortune befell me. My horse, which had carried me well up to that time, – indeed, was as quiet a beast as ever I remember to have ridden, – suddenly reared and plunged violently, and very nearly threw me. I got off and tried to quiet him; but he continued to struggle, and would not let me remount.”
“He had been bitten, I expect,” remarked Hardy.
“That is my opinion too; indeed, there was a swelling on his fore-leg, which looked very like the bite of a snake. But I was not sure even of that, and had no remedy at hand, even if I had known how to apply it. I soon saw that, whatever had been the cause of his illness, there was little or no hope of his recovery. His restlessness soon gave way to a kind of dull stupor. He presently lay down, stretched out his limbs, stark and rigid, and was dead in less than two hours from the time when he had been bitten.
“I was quite at a loss what to do. There were no trees near at hand into which I might have climbed and slept in safety. I did not know what wild animals there might be about. Remember this was five-and-thirty years ago, before the settlers had driven the lions and rhinoceroses away. The country consisted of long undulating downs, covered with tall grass, which might shelter any number of poisonous snakes; and a bite from any one of them could hardly help being fatal, seeing how far I was from any place where a remedy could be applied. So I resolved to keep on. The darkness was rapidly gathering, and the moon wouldn’t rise, I knew, for several hours. But there was just enough of a glimmer in the sky to enable me to distinguish the track. So I went on, holding my double-barrelled rifle ready cocked.”
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