Poor Jerry Goldboy, however, had sufficient faith in the reality of the vision to increase his nervous condition considerably, and he resolved to lie down with his "arms handy." These arms consisted of a flint-lock blunderbuss, an heirloom in his father's family, and a bowie-knife, which had been presented to him by an American cousin on his leaving England. Twice during that day's march had the blunderbuss exploded owing to its owner's inexperience in fire-arms. Fortunately no harm had been done, the muzzle on each occasion having been pointed to the sky, but the ire of the Dutch driver in front of Jerry had been aroused, and he was forbidden to reload the piece. Now, however, observing the preparations above referred to, he felt it to be his duty to prepare for the worst, and quietly loaded his bell-mouthed weapon with a heavy charge of buckshot.
"What's that you're after, boy?" asked George Dally, who was making some final arrangements at the fire, before lying down for the night.
"Oh, nothing," replied Jerry, with a start, for he had thought himself unobserved, "only seein' to my gun before turnin' in."
"That's right," said George. "Double-load it. Nothin' like bein' ready for whatever may turn up in a wild country like this. Why, I once knew a man named Snip who said he had been attacked one night in South America by a sarpint full forty feet long, and who saved his life by means of a blunderbuss, though he didn't fire at the reptile at all."
"Indeed, how was that?" asked Jerry.
"Why, just because his weapon was bell-mouthed an' loaded a'most to the muzzle. You see, the poor fellow was awoke out of a deep sleep and couldn't well see, so that instead o' firin' at the brute, he fired his blunderbuss about ten yards to one side of it, but the shot scattered so powerfully that one o' the outside bullets hit a stone, glanced off, and caught the sarpint in the eye, and though it failed to kill the brute on the spot, the wound gave it such pain that it stood up on its tail and wriggled in agony for full five minutes, sending broken twigs and dry leaves flying about like a whirlwind, so Snip he jumped up, dropped his weapon, an' bolted. He never returned to the encampment, and never saw the big snake or his blunderbuss again."
"What a pity! then he lost it?" said Jerry, looking with some anxiety at a decayed branch, to which the flickering flame gave apparent motion.
"Yes, he lost the blunderbuss, but he saved his life," replied Dally, as he lay down near his little friend and drew his blanket over him. "You'd better put the gun between us, my boy, to be handy to both—an' if anything comes, the one of us that wakes first can lay hold of it and fire."
There was, we need scarcely observe, a strong spice of wickedness in George. If he had suggested a lion, or even an elephant, there would have been something definite for poor Jerry's anxious mind to lay hold of and try to reason down and defy, but that dreadful "anything" that might come, gave him nothing to hold by. It threw the whole zoological ferocities of South Africa open to his unanchored imagination, and for a long time banished sleep from his eyes.
He allowed the blunderbuss to remain as his friend had placed it, and hugged the naked bowie-knife to his breast. In addition to these weapons he had provided himself with a heavy piece of wood, something like the exaggerated truncheon of a policeman, for the purpose of killing snakes, should any such venture near his couch.
The wild shrieks of laughter at the neighbouring Hottentot fire helped to increase Jerry's wakefulness, and when this at last lulled, the irritation was kept up by the squalling of Master Junkie, whose tent was about three feet distant from Jerry's pillow, and who kept up a vicious piping just in proportion to the earnestness of Mrs Scholtz's attempts to calm him.
At last, however, the child's lamentations ceased, and there broke upon the night air a sweet sound which stilled the merriment of the natives. It was the mellow voice of Stephen Orpin singing a hymn of praise, with a number of like-minded emigrants, before retiring to rest. Doubtless some of those who had already retired, and lay, perchance, watching the stars and thinking dreamily of home, were led naturally by the sweet hymn to think of the home in the "better land," which might possibly be nearer to some of them than the old home they had left for ever—ay, even than the new "locations" to which they were bound.
But, whatever the thoughts suggested, the whole camp soon afterwards sank into repose. Tent-doors were drawn and curtains of waggon-tilts let down. The boers, sticking their big pipes in their hatbands, wrapped themselves in greatcoats, and, regardless of snake or scorpion, stretched their limbs on the bare ground, while Hottentots, negroes, and Bushmen, rolling themselves in sheepskin karosses, lay coiled up like balls with their feet to the fire. Only once was the camp a little disturbed, during the early part of the night, by the mournful howl of a distant hyena. It was the first that the newcomers had heard, and most of those who were awake raised themselves on their elbows eagerly to listen.
Jerry was just dropping into slumber at the time. He sat bolt upright on hearing the cry, and when it was repeated he made a wild grasp at the blunderbuss, but Dally was beforehand. He caught up the weapon, and this probably saved an explosion.
"Come, lie down, you imp!" he said, somewhat sternly.
Jerry obeyed, and his nose soon told that he had reached the land of dreams.
Dally then quietly drew the charge of shot, but left the powder and laid the piece in its former position. Turning over with the sigh of one whose active duties for the day have been completed, he then went to sleep.
Gradually the fires burned low, and gave out such flickering uncertain light, when an occasional flame leaped up ever and anon, that to unaccustomed eyes it might have seemed as though snakes were crawling everywhere, and Jerry Goldboy, had he been awake, would have beheld a complete menagerie in imagination. But Jerry was now in blessed oblivion.
When things were in this condition, that incomprehensible subtlety, the brain of Junkie Brook—or something else—so acted as to cause the urchin to give vent to a stentorian yell. Strong though it was, it did not penetrate far through the canvas tent, but being, as we have said, within a few feet of Jerry's ear, it sounded to that unhappy man like the united, and as yet unknown, shriek of all the elephants and buffaloes in Kafirland.
Starting up with a sharp cry he stretched out his hand towards the blunderbuss, but drew it back with a thrill of horror. A huge black snake lay in its place!
To seize his truncheon was the act of a moment. The next, down it came with stunning violence on the snake. The reptile instantly exploded with a bellowing roar of smoke and flame, which roused the whole camp.
"Blockhead! what d'you mean by that?" growled George Dally, turning round sleepily, but without rising, for he was well aware of the cause of the confusion.
Jerry shrank within himself like a guilty thing caught in the act, and glanced uneasily round to ascertain how much of death and destruction had been dealt out. Relieved somewhat to see no one writhing in blood, he arose, and, in much confusion, replied to the numerous eager queries as to what he had fired at. When the true state of affairs became manifest, most of the Dutchmen, who had been active enough when aroused by supposed danger, sauntered back to their couches with a good-natured chuckle; the settlers who had "turned out" growled or chaffed, according to temperament, as they followed suit, and the natives spent half an hour in uproarious merriment over Booby's dramatic representation of the whole incident, which he performed with graphic power and much embellishment.
Thereafter the camp sank once more into repose, and rested in peace till morning.
SPREADING OVER THE LAND.
With the dawn next morning the emigrants were up and away. The interest of the journey increased with every novel experience and each new discovery, while preconceived notions and depressions were dissipated by the improved appearance of the country.
About the same time that the Scotch "party" left the Bay, several of the other parties set out, some large and some small, each under its appointed leader, to colonise the undulating plains of the Zuurveld.
Soon the pilgrims became accustomed to the nightly serenade of hyena and jackal—also to breakneck steeps, and crashing jolts, and ugly tumbles. But they were all hopeful, and most of them were young, and all, or nearly all, were disposed to make light of difficulties.
The country they were about to colonise had been recently overrun by Kafir hordes. These had been cleared out, and driven across the Great Fish River by British and Colonial troops, leaving the land a wilderness, with none to dispute possession save the wild beasts. It extended fifty miles along the coast from the Bushman's River to the Great Fish River, and was backed by an irregular line of mountains at an average distance of sixty miles from the sea.
Leaving the Zwartkops River, not only the Scottish party, but all the other parties, filed successively away in long trains across the Sundays River, over the Addo Hill and the Quagga Flats and the Bushman's River heights, until the various points of divergence were reached, when the column broke into divisions, which turned off to their several locations and overspread the land.
There was "Baillie's party," which crossed Lower Albany to the mouth of the Great Fish River, and on the way were charmed with the aspect of the country, which was at that time enriched and rendered verdant by recent rains, and enlivened by the presence of hartebeests, quaggas, springboks, and an occasional ostrich. There was, however, a "wash" of shadow laid on part of the pleasant picture, to counteract the idea that the Elysian plains had been reached, in the shape of two or three blackened and ruined farms of the old Dutch colonists—sad remains of the recent Kafir war—solemn reminders of the uncertainties and possibilities of the future.
Then there was the "Nottingham party." They took possession of a lovely vale, which they named Clumber, in honour of the Duke of Newcastle, their patron. "Sefton's party" settled on the Assegai Bush River and founded the village of Salem, afterwards noted as the headquarters of the Reverend William Shaw, a Wesleyan, and one of the most able and useful of South Africa's missionary pioneers. Wilson's party settled between the Waay-plaats and the Kowie Bush, across the path of the elephants, which creatures some of the party, it is said, attempted to shoot with fowling-pieces. Of the smaller parties, those of Cock, Thornhill, Smith (what series of adventurous parties ever went forth without a "Smith's party"?), Osler, and Richardson, located themselves behind the thicket-clad sand hills of the Kowie and Green Fountain. But space forbids us referring, even in brief detail, to the parties of James and Hyman and Dyson, and Holder, Mouncey, Hayhurst, Bradshaw, Southey; and of Scott, with the Irish party, and that of Mahony, which at the "Clay Pits," had afterwards to meet the first shock of every Kafir invasion of Lower Albany. Among these and other parties there were men of power, who left a lasting mark on the colony, and many of them left numerous descendants to perpetuate their names—such as Dobson, Bowker, Campbell, Ayliffe, Phillips, Piggott, Greathead, Roberts, Stanley, and others too numerous to mention.
But with all these we have nothing to do just now. Our present duty is to follow those sections of the great immigrant band with the fortunes of which our tale has more particularly to do.
At the points of separation, where the long column broke up, a halt was made, while many farewells and good wishes were said.
"So you're gaun to settle thereawa'?" said Sandy Black to John Skyd and his brothers as they stood on an eminence commanding a magnificent view of the rich plains and woodlands of the Zuurveld.
"Even so, friend Black," replied John, "and sorry am I that our lot is not to be cast together. However, let's hope that we may meet again ere long somewhere or other in our new land."
"It is quite romantic," observed James Skyd, "to look over this vast region and call it our own,—at least, with the right to pick and choose where we feel inclined. Isn't it, Bob?"
To this Bob replied that it was, and that he felt quite like the children of Israel when they first came in sight of the promised land.
"I hope we won't have to fight as hard for it as they did," remarked Frank Dobson.
"It's my opeenion," said Sandy Black, "that if we haena to fight for it, we'll hae to fight a bit to keep it."
"Perhaps we may," returned John Skyd, "and if so, fighting will be more to my taste than farming—not that I'm constitutionally pugnacious, but I fear that my brothers and I shall turn out to be rather ignorant cultivators of the soil."
Honest Sandy Black admitted that he held the same opinion.
"Well, we shall try our best," said the elder Skyd, with a laugh; "I've a great belief in that word 'try'.—Goodbye, Sandy." He held out his hand.
The Scot shook it warmly, and the free-and-easy brothers, after bidding adieu to the rest of the Scotch party, who overtook them there, diverged to the right with their friend Frank Dobson, and walked smartly after their waggons, which had gone on in advance.
"Stoot chields they are, an' pleesant," muttered Sandy, leaning both hands on a thick cudgel which he had cut for himself out of the bush, "but wofu' ignorant o' farmin'."
"They'll make their mark on the colony for all that," said a quiet voice at Sandy's elbow.
Turning and looking up, as well as round, he encountered the hazel eyes and open countenance of Hans Marais.
"Nae doot, nae doot, they'll mak' their mark, but it'll no' be wi' the pleugh, or I'm sair mista'en. Wull mair o' the settlers be pairtin' frae us here?"
Hans, although ignorant of the dialect in which he was addressed, understood enough to make out its drift.
"Yes," he replied, "several parties leave us at this point, and here comes one of them."
As he spoke, the cracking of whips announced the approach of a team. A moment later, and a small Hottentot came, round a bend in the road, followed by the leading pair of oxen. It was the train of Edwin Brook, who soon appeared, riding a small horse. George Dally walked beside him. Scholtz, the German, followed, conversing with the owner of the waggon. In the waggon itself Mrs Brook, Mrs Scholtz, and Junkie found a somewhat uneasy resting-place, for, being new to the style of travel, they had not learned to accommodate themselves to jolts and crashes. Gertie preferred to walk, the pace not being more than three miles an hour.
"Oh, father!" said Gertie, running up to the side of her sire, with girlish vivacity, "there is the tall Dutchman who was so polite to me when I was pricked by the thorn bush."
"True, Gertie, and there also is the Scot who was so free and easy in giving his opinion as to the farming powers of the brothers Skyd."
"Your road diverges here, sir," said Hans, as Brook rode up; "I fell behind my party to bid you God-speed, and to express a hope that we may meet again."
"Thanks, friend, thanks," said Brook, extending his hand. "I am obliged for the aid you have rendered me, and the advice given, which latter I shall no doubt find valuable.—You are bound for the highlands, of course," he added, turning to Sandy Black. "We of the Albany lowlands must have a friendly rivalry with you of the highlands, and see who shall subdue the wilderness most quickly."
This remark sent the Scot into a rather learned disquisition as to the merits and probable prospects of a hill as compared with a low-lying region, during which Hans Marais turned to Gertie. Being so very tall, he had to stoop as well as to look down at her pretty face, though Gertie was by no means short for her age. Indeed, she was as tall as average women, but, being only twelve, was slender and girlish.
"How very tall you are, Mr Marais!" she exclaimed, with a laugh, as she looked up.
"True, Gertie," said Hans, using the only name which he had yet heard applied to the girl; "true, we Cape-Dutchmen are big fellows as a race, and I happen to be somewhat longer than my fellows. I hope you don't object to me on that account?"
"Object? oh no! But it is so funny to have to look up so high. It's like speaking to father when he's on horseback."
"Well, Gertie, extra height has its advantages and its inconveniences. Doubtless it was given to me for some good end, just as a pretty little face and figure were given to you."
"You are very impudent, Mr Hans."
"Am I? Then I must ask your pardon. But tell me, Gertie, what do you think of the new life that is before you?"
"How stupid you are, Hans! If the new life were behind me I might be able to answer, but how can I tell how I shall like what I don't know anything about?"
"Nay, but you know something of the beginning of it," returned the young Dutchman, with an amused smile, "and you have heard much of what is yet to come. What do you think of the prospect before you?"
"Think of the prospect?" repeated Gertie, knitting her brows and looking down with a pretended air of profound thought; "let me see: the prospect as I've heard father say to mother,—which was just a repetition of what I had heard him previously say to these queer brothers Skyd—is a life in the bush—by which I suppose he means the bushes—in which we shall have to cut down the trees, plough up the new soil, build our cottages, rear our sheep and cattle, milk our cows, make our butter, grow our food, and sometimes hunt it, fashion our clothing, and protect our homes. Is that right?"
"Well, that's just about it," was the answer; "how do you like that prospect?"
"I delight in it," cried the girl, with a flash in her brilliant black eyes, while she half laughed at her own sudden burst of enthusiasm. "Only fancy! mother milking the cows, and me making butter, and Scholtz ploughing, and Dally planting, and nurse tending Junkie and making all sorts of garments, while father goes out with his gun to shoot food and protect us from the Kafirs."
"'Tis a pleasant picture," returned Hans, with a bland smile, "and I hope may be soon realised—I must bid you goodbye now, Gertie, we separate here."
"Do you go far away?" asked the girl, with a touch of sadness, as she put her little hand into that of the young giant.
"A goodish bit. Some six or eight days' journey from here,—according to the weather."
"You'll come and see us some day, won't you, Hans?"
"Ja—I will," replied Hans, with emphasis.
The whips cracked again, the oxen strained, the lumbering waggons groaned as they moved away, and while the Scotch band passed over the Zuurbergen range and headed in the direction of the Winterberg mountains, their English friends spread themselves over the fertile plains of Albany.
A few days of slow but pleasant journeying and romantic night-bivouacking brought the latter to their locations on the Kowie and Great Fish River.
On the way, the party to which Edwin Brook belonged passed the ground already occupied by the large band of settlers known as "Chapman's party," which had left Algoa Bay a few weeks before them in an imposing procession of ninety-six waggons. They had been accompanied to their future home by a small detachment of the Cape Corps, the officer in command of which gave them the suggestive advice, on bidding them goodbye, never to leave their guns behind them when they went out to plough! Although so short a time located, this party had produced a marvellous change in the appearance of the wilderness, and gave the settlers who passed farther eastward, an idea of what lay before themselves. Fields had already been marked out; the virgin soil broken up; timber cut, and bush cleared; while fragile cottages and huts were springing up here and there to supplant the tents which had given the first encampments a somewhat military aspect. Grotesque dwellings these, many of them, with mats and rugs for doors, and white calico or empty space for windows. It was interesting, in these first locations, to mark the development of character among the settlers. Those who were practical examined the "lie" of the land and the nature of the soil, with a view to their future residence. Timid souls chose their sites with reference to defence. Men of sentiment had regard to the picturesque, and careless fellows "squatted" in the first convenient spot that presented itself. Of course errors of judgment had to be corrected afterwards on all hands, but the power to choose and change was happily great at first, as well as easy.
As Brook's party advanced, portions of it dropped off or turned aside, until at last Edwin found himself reduced to one family besides his own. Even this he parted from on a ridge of land which overlooked his own "location," and about noon of the same day his waggons came to a halt on a grassy mound, which was just sufficiently elevated to command a magnificent view of the surrounding country.
"Your location," said his Dutch waggon-driver, with a curious smile, as though he should say, "I wonder what you'll do with yourselves."
But the Dutchman made no further remark. He was one of the taciturn specimens of his class, and began at once to unload the waggon. With the able assistance of Brook and his men, and the feeble aid of the "Tottie," or Hottentot leader of the "span" of oxen, the boxes, ploughs, barrels, bags, cases, etcetera, which constituted the worldly wealth of the settlers, were soon placed on the green sward. Then the Dutchman said "goeden-dag," or farewell, shook hands all round, cracked his long whip, and went off into the unknown wilderness, leaving the Brook family to its reflections.
In the midst of the confused heap of their property, Edwin Brook sat down on a large chest beside his wife and daughter, and gazed for some time in silence on his new estate and home.
To say truth, it was in many respects a pleasant prospect. A bright blue sky overhead, a verdant earth around. Grassy hills and undulations of rich pasture-land swept away from their feet like a green sea, until stopped in the far distance by the great blue sea itself. These were dotted everywhere with copses of the yellow-flowered mimosa-bush, through openings in which the glitter of a stream could be seen, while to the left and behind lay the dark masses of a dense jungle filled with arboreous and succulent plants, acacias and evergreens, wild-looking aloes, tall euphorbias, quaint cactuses, and a great variety of flowering shrubs—filled also, as was very soon discovered, with antelopes, snakes, jackals, hyenas, leopards, and other wild creatures. The only familiar objects which broke the wild beauty of the scene were the distant white specks which they knew to be the tents just put up by those settlers who chanced to be their "next neighbours."
"May God protect and bless us in our new home!" said Edwin Brook, breaking the silence, and reverently taking off his cap.
A heartfelt "Amen" was murmured by Mrs Brook and Gertie, but a strange, though not unpleasant, feeling of loneliness had crept over their spirits, inducing them to relapse into silence, for they could not avoid realising strongly that at last they were fairly left alone to fight the great battle of life. Edwin Brook in particular, on seeing the long team of the Dutch driver disappear over a distant ridge, was for the first time deeply impressed with, as it were, the forsaken condition of himself and his family. It was plain that he must take root there and grow—or die. There was no neighbouring town or village from which help could be obtained in any case of emergency; no cart or other means of conveyance to remove their goods from the spot on which they had been left; no doctor in case of sickness; no minister in cases either of joy or sorrow—except indeed (and it was a blessed exception) Him who came to our world "not to be ministered unto, but to minister."
Strong in the comfort that this assurance gave, Edwin Brook shook off the lethargy that had been stealing over him, and set about the duties of the present hour. The tent had to be pitched, the trunks and boxes conveyed into it, a fire kindled, the kettle boiled, the goods and chattels piled and secured from the weather, firewood cut to prepare for the night-bivouac, etcetera.
Much of this work was already in progress, for George Dally,—with that ready resource and quiet capacity of adaptation to circumstances which he had displayed on the voyage out and on the journey to the location,— had already kindled a fire, sent Scholtz to cut firewood, and was busy erecting the tent when Brook joined him.
"That's right, George," he said, seizing a tent-peg and mallet; "we have plenty to do here, and no time to waste."
"Very true, sir," replied George, touching his cap, for George was an innately respectful man—respectful to all, though with a strong tendency to humorous impudence; "very true, sir; that's just what I thought when I see you a-meditatin', so I went to work at once without wastin' any time."
"Is zat enough?" asked Scholtz, staggering up at the moment with a heavy load of firewood, which he threw on the ground.
The question was put to George, for whom the big German had a special regard, and whose orders he consequently obeyed with unquestioning alacrity, although George had no special right to command.
"Enough!" exclaimed George, with a look of surprise, "why, zat is not enough to scare a weasel with, much less a elephant or a—a platzicumroggijoo."
George was ignorant of South African zoology, and possessed inventive powers.
"Bring ten times as much," he added; "we shall have to keep a blazin' bonfire agoin' all night."
Scholtz re-shouldered his axe, and went off to the jungle with a broad grin on his broader countenance.
He was a man who did not spare himself, yet of a temperament that kicked at useless labour, and of a size that forbade the idea of compulsion, but George Dally could have led him with a packthread to do anything.
Before he had reached the jungle, and while the smile was yet on his visage, his blood was curdled and his face elongated by a most appalling yell! It was not exactly a war-whoop, nor was it a cry of pain, though it partook of both, and filled the entire family with horror as they rushed to the tent on the mound from which the cry had issued.
The yell had been given by Junkie, who had been bitten or stung by something, and who, under the combined influence of surprise, agony, and wrath, had out-Junkied himself in the fervour and ferocity of his indignant protest.
The poor child was not only horrified, but inconsolable. He wriggled like an eel, and delivered a prolonged howl with intermittent bursts for full half an hour, while his distracted nurse and mother almost tore the garments off his back in their haste to discover the bite or the brute that had done it.
"It must have bin a serpent!" cried the nurse, agonising over a knotted string.
"Perhaps a tarantula," suggested Gertie, who only clasped her hands and looked horrified.
"Quick!" exclaimed Mrs Brook, breaking the unmanageable tape.
"Ze chile is growing black and vill bust!" murmured Scholtz in real alarm.
It did seem as if there were some likelihood of such a catastrophe, for Junkie's passion and struggles had rendered him blue in the face; but it wes found that the bite or sting, whichever it was, had done little apparent damage, and as the child cried himself out and sobbed himself to sleep in half an hour without either blackening or bursting, the various members of the family were relieved, and resumed their suspended labours.
The shades of evening had fallen, and, among other orbs of night, the stars of that much too highly complimented constellation, the "Southern Cross," had for some time illumined the sky before these labours were completed, and the wearied Brook family and household retired to rest, with weapons ready at hand and fires blazing. Wild beasts—to whose cries they were by that time accustomed—soon began their nightly serenade and carried it on till morning, but they were not wild enough to disturb the newcomers with anything more formidable than sound.
Next morning early, George Dally was the first to bestir himself. On taking a general view of surrounding nature he observed a thin column of smoke rising above the tree-tops in the direction of the stream or river to which reference has already been made.
"Perhaps it's Kafirs," thought George.
Following up that thought he returned to what we may style his lair—the place where he had spent the night—under a mimosa-bush, and there girded himself with a belt containing a long knife. He further armed himself with a fowling-piece. Thus accoutred he sallied forth with the nonchalant air of a sportsman taking his pleasure. Going down to the stream, and following its course upwards, he quickly came in sight of the camp-fire whose smoke had attracted his attention. A tall man in dishabille was bending over it, coaxing the flame to kindle some rather green wood over which a large iron pot hung from a tripod. The fire was in front of a large, but not deep, cavern, in the recesses of which three slumbering figures were visible.
Drawing cautiously nearer, George discovered that the man at the fire was John Skyd, and of course jumped to the conclusion that the three slumbering figures were his brothers and friend. These enterprising knights of the quill, having found what they deemed a suitable spot, had selected a cave for their residence, as being at once ready and economical.
Now, George Dally, being gifted with a reckless as well as humorous disposition, suddenly conceived the idea of perpetrating a practical joke. Perhaps Junkie's performances on the previous evening suggested it. Flinging his cap on the ground, he ran his fingers through his thick hair until it stood up in wild confusion, and then, deliberately uttering a hideous and quite original war-whoop, he rushed furiously towards the cave.
The brothers Skyd and company proved themselves equal to the occasion, for they received him at the cavern mouth with the muzzles of four double-barrelled guns, and a stern order to halt!
Next moment the muzzles were thrown up as they exclaimed in surprise—
"Why, Dally, is it you?"
"Didn't you hear it?" gasped George, supporting himself on the side of the cavern.
"Of course we did—at least we heard a most unearthly yell. What was it?"
"We'd best go out and see," cried George, cocking his gun; "if it was Kafirs the sooner we follow them up the better."
"Not so, friend George," said Frank Dobson, in a slightly sarcastic tone. "If it was Kafirs they are far beyond our reach by this time, and if they mean us harm we are safer in our fortress here. My opinion is that we should have our breakfast without delay, and then we shall be in a fit state to face our foes—whether they be men or beasts."
Acting on this suggestion, with a laugh, the brothers leaned their guns against the wall of the cavern and set about the preparation of breakfast in good earnest.
Meanwhile George gravely assented to the wisdom of their decision, and sat down to his morning pipe, while he questioned the brothers as to their intentions.
They pointed out to him the spot where they thought of commencing agricultural operations and the site of their future dwelling—close, they said, to the cave, because that would be conveniently near the river, which would be handy for both washing, drinking, and boiling purposes.
"That's true—wery true," said George, "but it seems to me you run a risk of bein' washed away, house and all, if you fix the site so low down, for I've heard say there are floods in these parts now and again."
"Oh, no fear of that!" said Robert Skyd, who was the quietest of the three brothers; "don't you see the foundation of our future house is at least ten feet above the highest point to which the river seems to have risen in times past?"
"Ah, just so," responded George, with the air of a man not convinced.
"Besides," added John Skyd, lifting the iron pot off the fire and setting it down, "I suppose that floods are not frequent, so we don't need to trouble ourselves about 'em.—Come, Dally, you'll join us?"
"No, thank 'ee. Much obleeged all the same, but I've got to prepare breakfast for our own party.—Goin' to begin plantin' soon?"
"As soon as ever we can get the soil broken up," replied Dobson.
"Studied farmin'?" inquired George.
"Not much, but we flatter ourselves that what we do know will be of some service to us," said John.
Dally made no reply, but he greatly doubted in his own mind the capacity of the brothers for the line of life they had chosen.
His judgment in this respect was proved correct a week later, when he and Edwin Brook had occasion to visit the brothers, whom they found hard at work ploughing and sowing.
"Come, this looks business-like!" exclaimed Brook heartily, as he shook hands with the brothers; "you've evidently not been idle. I have just come to ask a favour of you, gentlemen."
"We shall grant it with pleasure, if within our powers," said Robert Skyd, who leaned on a spade with which he had been filling in a trench of about two feet deep.
"It is, that you will do me and Mrs Brook the pleasure of coming over to our location this afternoon to dinner. It is our Gertie's birthday. She is thirteen to-day. In a rash moment we promised her a treat or surprise of some sort, but really the only surprise I can think of in such an out-of-the-way place is to have a dinner-party in her honour. Will you come?"
The brothers at once agreed to do so, remarking, however, that they must complete the sowing of their carrot-seed before dinner if possible.
"What did you say you were sowing?" asked Brook, with a peculiar smile.
"Carrot-seed," answered Robert Skyd.
"If your carrot-seed is sown there," said George Dally, pointing with a broad grin to the trench, "it's very likely to come up in England about the time it does here,—by sendin' its roots right through the world!"
"How? what do you mean?"
"The truth is, my dear sir," said Brook good-humouredly, "that you've made a slight mistake in this matter. Carrot-seed is usually sown in trenches less than an inch deep. You'd better leave off work just now and come over to my place at once. I'll give you some useful hints as we walk along."
The knights of the quill laughed at their mistake, and at once threw down their implements of husbandry. But on going over their farm, Brook found it necessary to correct a few more mistakes, for he discovered that the active brothers had already planted a large quantity of Indian corn, or "mealies," entire, without knocking it off the cobs, and, in another spot of ground, a lot of young onions were planted with the roots upwards!
"You see, Miss Gertie," said John Skyd, when commenting modestly on these mistakes at dinnertime, "my brothers and I have all our lives had more to do with the planting of 'houses' and the growth of commercial enterprise than with agricultural products, but we are sanguine that, with experience and perseverance, we shall overcome all our difficulties. Have you found many difficulties to overcome!"
Gertie was not sure; she thought she had found a few, but none worth mentioning. Being somewhat put out by the question, she picked up a pebble—for the dinner was a species of picnic, served on the turf in front of Mr Brook's tent—and examined it with almost geological care.
"My daughter does not like to admit the existence of difficulties," said Mrs Brook, coming to the rescue, "and to say truth is seldom overcome by anything."
"Oh, ma, how can you?" said Gertie, blushing deeply.
"That's not true," cried Mr Brook; "excuse me, my dear, for so flat a contradiction, but I have seen Gertie frequently overcome by things,—by Junkie's obstinacy for instance, which I verily believe to be an insurmountable difficulty, and I've seen her thoroughly overcome, night after night, by sleep.—Isn't that true, lass?"
"I suppose it is, father, since you say so, but of course I cannot tell."
"Sleep!" continued Brook, with a laugh, "why, would you believe it, Mr Skyd, I went into what we call the nursery-tent one morning last week, to try to stop the howling of my little boy, and I found him lying with his open mouth close to Gertie's cheek, pouring the flood of his wrath straight into her ear, and she sound asleep all the time! My nurse, Mrs Scholtz, told me she had been as sound as that all night, despite several heavy squalls, and notwithstanding a chorus of hyenas and jackals outside that might almost have awakened the dead.—By the way, that reminds me: just as I was talking with nurse that morning we heard a most unearthly shriek at some distance off. It was not the least like the cry of any wild animal I have yet heard, and for the first time since our arrival the idea of Kafirs flashed into my mind. Did any of you gentlemen happen to hear it?"
The brothers looked at each other, and at their friend Dobson, and then unitedly turned their eyes on George Dally, who—performing the combined duties of cook and waiter, at a fire on the ground, not fifteen feet to leeward of the dinner-party—could hear every word of the conversation.
"Why, yes," said John Skyd, "we did hear it, and so did your man Dally. We had thought—"
"The truth is, sir," said George, advancing with a miniature pitchfork or "tormentor" in his hand; "pardon my interrupting you, sir,—I did hear the screech, but as I couldn't say exactly for certain, you know, that it was a Kafir, not havin' seen one, I thought it best not to alarm you, sir, an' so said nothing about it."
"You looked as if you had seen one," observed Frank Dobson, drawing down the corners of his mouth with his peculiar smile.
"Did I, sir!" said George, with a simple look; "very likely I did, for I'm timersome by nature an' easily frightened."
"You did not act with your wonted wisdom, George, in concealing this," said Edwin Brook gravely.
"I'm afraid I didn't sir," returned George meekly.
"In future, be sure to let me know every symptom of danger you may discover, no matter how trifling," said Brook.
"It was a very tremendous yell, wasn't it, Dally?" asked John Skyd slily, as the waiter-cook was turning to resume his duties at the fire.
"And alarmed us all dreadfully, didn't it?"
"Oh! dreadfully, sir—'specially me; though I must in dooty say that you four gentleman was as bold as brass. It quite relieved me when I saw your tall figurs standin' at the mouth o' your cavern, an' the muzzles o' your four double-guns—that's eight shots—with your glaring eyes an' pale cheeks behind them!"
"Ha!" exclaimed John Skyd, with a grim smile—"but after all it might only have been the shriek of a baboon."
"I think not, sir," replied George, with a smile of intelligence.
"Perhaps then it was the cry of a zebra or quagga," returned John Skyd, "or a South African ass of some sort."
"Wery likely, sir," retorted George. "I shouldn't wonder if it was— which is wery consolin' to my feelin's, for I'd sooner be terrified out o' my wits by asses of any kind than fall in with these long-legged savages that dwell in caves."
With an appearance of great humility George returned to his work at the fire.
It was either owing to a sort of righteous retribution, or a touch of that fortune which favours the brave, that George Dally was in reality the first, of this particular party of settlers, to encounter the black and naked inhabitant of South Africa in his native jungle. It was on this wise.
George was fond of sport, when not detained at home by the claims of duty. But these claims were so constant that he found it impossible to indulge his taste, save, as he was wont to say, "in the early morn and late at eve."
One morning about daybreak, shouldering his gun and buckling on his hunting-knife, he marched into the jungle in quest of an antelope. Experience had taught him that the best plan was to seat himself at a certain opening or pass which lay on the route to a pool of water, and there bide his time.
Seating himself on a moss-covered stone, he put his gun in position on his knee, with the forefinger on the trigger, and remained for some time so motionless that a North American Indian might have envied his powers of self-restraint. Suddenly a twig was heard to snap in the thicket before him. Next moment the striped black and yellow skin of a leopard, or Cape tiger, appeared in the opening where he had expected to behold a deer. Dally's gun flew to his shoulder. At the same instant the leopard skin was thrown back, and the right arm of a tall athletic Kafir was bared. The hand grasped a light assagai, or darting spear. Both men were taken by surprise, and for one instant they glared at each other. The instance between them was so short that death to each seemed imminent, for the white man's weapon was a deadly one, and the cast of the lithe savage would doubtless have been swift and sure.
In that instant of uncertainty the white man's innate spirit of forbearance acted almost involuntarily. Dally had hitherto been a man of peace. The thought of shedding human blood was intensely repulsive to him. He lowered the butt of his gun, and held up his right hand in token of amity.
The savage possessed apparently some of the good qualities of the white man, for he also at once let the butt of his assegai drop to the ground, although he knew, what Dally was not aware of, that considering the nature of their weapons, he placed himself at a tremendous disadvantage in doing so—the act of throwing forward and discharging the deadly fire-arm being much quicker than that of poising and hurling an assagai.
Without a moment's hesitation George Dally advanced and held out his right hand with a bland smile.
Although unfamiliar with Kafir customs, he had heard enough from the Dutch farmers who drove the ox-teams to know that only chiefs were entitled to wear the leopard skin as a robe. The tall form and dignified bearing of the savage also convinced him that he had encountered no ordinary savage. He also knew that the exhibition of a trustful spirit goes a long way to create good-will. That his judgment was correct appeared from the fact of the Kafir holding out his hand and allowing George to grasp and shake it.
But what to do next was a question that puzzled the white man sorely, although he maintained on his good-natured countenance an expression of easy nonchalance.
Of course he made a vain attempt at conversation in English, to which the Kafir chief replied, with dignified condescension, by a brief sentence in his own tongue.
As George Dally looked in his black face, thoughts flashed through his brain with the speed of light. Should he kill him outright? That would be simple murder, in the circumstances, and George objected to murder, on principle. Should he suddenly seize and throw him down? He felt quite strong enough to do so, but after such a display of friendship it would be mean. Should he quietly bid him good morning and walk away? This, he felt, would be ridiculous. At that moment tobacco occurred to his mind. He quietly rested his gun against a tree, and drew forth a small roll of tobacco, from which he cut at least a foot and handed it to the chief. The dignity of the savage at once gave way before the beloved weed. He smiled—that is, he grinned in a ghastly way, for his face, besides being black, was streaked with lines of red ochre—and graciously accepted the gift. Then George made an elaborate speech in dumb-show with hands, fingers, arms, and eyes, to the effect that he desired the Kafir to accompany him to his location, but the chief gravely shook his head, pointed in another direction and to the sun, as though to say that time was on the wing; then, throwing his leopard-skin robe over his right shoulder with the air of a Spanish grandee, he turned aside and strode into the jungle.
George, glad to be thus easily rid of him, also turned and hurried home.
This time he was not slow to let his employer know that he had met with a native.
"It behoves us to keep a sharp look-out, George," said Brook. "I heard yesterday from young Merton that some of the settlers not far from his place have had a visit from the black fellows, who came in the night, and while they slept carried off some of the sheep they had recently purchased from an up-country county Dutchman. We will watch for a few nights while rumours of this kind are afloat. When all seems quiet we can take it easy. Let Scholtz take the first watch. You will succeed him, and I will mount guard from the small hours onward."
For some days this precaution was continued, but as nothing more was heard of black marauders the Brook family gradually ceased to feel anxious, and the nightly watch was given up.
SHOWS THE PLEASURES, PAINS, AND PENALTIES OF HOUSEKEEPING IN THE BUSH.
"Don't you think this a charming life?" asked Mrs Brook of Mrs Merton, who had been her guest for a week.
Mrs Merton was about thirty years of age, and opinionated, if not strong-minded, also rather pretty. She had married young, and her eldest son, a lad of twelve, had brought her from her husband's farm, some three miles distant from that of Edwin Brook.
"No, Mrs Brook, I don't like it at all," was Mrs Merton's emphatic reply.
"Indeed!" said Mrs Brook, in some surprise.
She said nothing more after this for some time, but continued to ply her needle busily, while Mrs Scholtz, who by some piece of unusual good fortune had got Junkie to sleep, plied her scissors in cutting out and shaping raw material.
The two dames, with the nurse and Gertie, had agreed to unite their powers that day in a resolute effort to overtake the household repairs. They were in a cottage now, of the style familiarly known as "wattle and dab," which was rather picturesque than permanent, and suggestive of simplicity. They sat on rude chairs, made by Scholtz, round a rough table by the same artist. Mrs Brook was busy with the rends in a blue pilot-cloth jacket, a dilapidated remnant of the "old England" wardrobe. The nurse was forming a sheep skin into a pair of those unmentionables which were known among the Cape-colonists of that period by the name of "crackers." Mrs Merton was busy with a pair of the same, the knees of which had passed into a state of nonentity, while other parts were approaching the same condition. Gertie was engaged on a pair of socks, whose original formation was overlaid by and nearly lost in subsequent deposits.
"Why do you like this sort of life, Mrs Brook?" asked Mrs Merton suddenly.
"Because it is so new, so busy, so healthy, so thoroughly practical. Such a constant necessity for doing something useful, and a constant supply of something useful to do, and then such a pleasant feeling of rest when at last you do get your head on a pillow."
"Oh! it's delightful!" interpolated Gertie in a low voice.
"Well, now, that is strange. Everything depends on how one looks at things.—What do you think, Mrs Scholtz?" asked Mrs Merton.
"I've got no time to think, ma'am," replied the nurse, giving the embryo crackers a slice that bespoke the bold fearless touch of a thorough artist. "When Junkie's not asleep he keeps body and brain fully employed, and when he is asleep I'm glad to let body and brain alone."
"What is your objection to this life, Mrs Merton?" asked Mrs Brook, with a smile.
"Oh! I've no special objection, only I hate it altogether. How is it possible to like living in a wilderness, with no conveniences around one, no society to chat with, no books to read, and, above all, no shops to go to, where one is obliged to drudge at menial work from morning till night, and one's boys and girls get into rags and tatters, and one's husband becomes little better than a navvy, to say nothing of snakes and scorpions in one's bed and boots, and the howling of wild beasts all night? I declare, one might as well live in a menagerie."
"But you must remember that things are in a transition state just now," rejoined Mrs Brook. "As we spread and multiply over the land, things will fall more into shape. We shall have tailors and dressmakers to take the heavy part of our work in this way, and the wild beasts will retire before the rifle and the plough of civilised man; no doubt, also, shops will come in due course."
"And what of the Kafirs?" cried Mrs Merton sternly. "Do you flatter yourself that either the plough or the rifle will stop their thievish propensities? Have we not learned, when too late—for here we are, and here we must bide,—that the black wretches have been at loggerheads with the white men ever since this was a colony, and is it not clear that gentle treatment and harsh have alike failed to improve them?"
"Wise treatment has yet to be tried," said Mrs Brook.
"Fiddlesticks!" returned Mrs Merton impatiently. "What do you call wise treatment?"
"Gospel treatment," replied Mrs Brook.
"Oh! come now, you know that that has also been tried, and has signally failed. Have we not heard how many hundreds of so-called black converts in this and in other colonies are arrant hypocrites, or at all events give way before the simplest temptations?"
"I have also heard," returned Mrs Brook, "of many hundreds of so-called white Christians, whose lives prove them to be the enemies of our Saviour, and who do not even condescend to hypocrisy, for they will plainly tell you that they 'make no pretence to be religious,' though they call themselves Christians. But that does not prove gospel treatment among the English to have been a failure. You have heard, I daresay, of the Hottentot robber Africaner, who was long the terror and scourge of the district where he lived, but who, under the teaching of our missionary Mr Moffat, or rather, I should say, under the influence of God's Holy Spirit, has led a righteous, peaceful, Christian life for many years. He is alive still to prove the truth of what I say."
"I'll believe it when I see it," returned Mrs Merton, with a decisive compression of her lips.
"Well, many people have testified to the truth of this, and some of these people have seen Africaner and have believed."
"Humph!" returned Mrs Merton.
This being an unanswerable argument, Mrs Brook smiled by way of reply, and turned a sleeve inside out, the better to get at its dilapidations. Changing the subject, she desired Gertie to go and prepare dinner, as it was approaching noon.
"What shall I prepare, mother?" asked Gertie, laying down her work.
"You'd better make a hash of the remains of yesterday's leg of mutton, dear; it will be more quickly done than the roasting of another leg, and we can't spare time on cookery to-day. I daresay Mrs Merton will excuse—"
"Mrs Brook," interrupted Mrs Merton, with that Spartan-like self-denial to which she frequently laid claim, without, however, the slightest shadow of a title, "I can eat anything on a emergency. Have the hash by all means."
"And I'm afraid, Mrs Merton," continued Mrs Brook, in an apologetic tone, "that we shall have to dine without bread to-day—we have run short of flour. My husband having heard that the Thomases have recently got a large supply, has gone to their farm to procure some, but their place is twelve miles off, so he can't be back till night. You won't mind, I trust?"
Mrs Merton vowed that she didn't mind, became more and more Spartanic in her expression and sentiments, and plied her needle with increased decision.
Just then Gertie re-entered the cottage with a face expressive of concern.
"Mother, there's no meat in the larder."
"No meat, child? You must be mistaken. We ate only a small part of yesterday's leg."
"Oh! ma'am," exclaimed the nurse, dropping the scissors suddenly, and looking somewhat guilty, "I quite forgot, ma'am, to say that master, before he left this morning, and while you was asleep, ma'am, ordered me to give all the meat we had in the house to Scholtz, as he was to be away four or five days, and would require it all, so I gave him the leg that was hanging up in the larder, and master himself took the remains of yesterday's leg, bidding me be sure to tell George to kill a sheep and have meat ready for dinner."
"Oh, well, it doesn't matter," said Mrs Brook; "we shall just have to wait a little longer."
Nurse looked strangely remorseful.
"But, ma'am—" she said, and paused.
"I forgot, ma'am—indeed I did—to tell George to kill a sheep."
Mrs Brook's hands and work fell on her lap, and she looked from Mrs Scholtz to her visitor, and from her to the anxious Gertie, without speaking.
"Why, what's the matter?" asked Mrs Merton.
"My dear," replied Mrs Brook, with a touch of solemnity, "George Dally, our man, asked me this morning if he might go into the bush to cut rafters for the new kitchen, and I gave him leave, knowing nothing of what arrangements had been made before—and—and—in short, there's not a man on the place, and—there's nothing to eat."
The four females looked at each other in blank silence for a few seconds, as the full significance of their circumstances became quite clear to them.
Mrs Merton was the first to recover.
"Now," said she, while the Spartanic elements of her nature became intensified, "we must rise to this occasion like true women; we must prove ourselves to be not altogether dependent on man; we must face the difficulty, sink the natural tenderness of our sex, and—and—kill a sheep!"
She laid down the crackers on the table with an air of resolution, and rose to put her fell intent in execution.
But the carrying out of her plan was not so easy as the good lady had, at the first blush of the thing, imagined it would be. In the first place, like other heroes and heroines, she experienced the enervating effects of opposition and vacillating purpose in others.
"You must all help me," she said, with the air of a commander-in-chief.
"Help you to kill a sheep, ma'am?" said Mrs Scholtz, with a shudder, "I'll die first! I couldn't do it, and I wouldn't, for my weight in gold."
Notwithstanding the vehemence of her protestation, the nurse stood by and listened while the other conspirators talked in subdued tones, and with horrified looks, of the details of the contemplated murder.
"I never even saw the dreadful deed done," said Mrs Brook, becoming pale as she thought of it.
"Oh, mamma! much better go without meat; we could dine on cakes," suggested Gertie.
"But my love, there is not a cake or an ounce of flour in the house."
"Women!" exclaimed Mrs Merton severely, "we must rise to the occasion. I am hungry now, and it is not yet noon; what will be our condition if we wait till night for our dinner?"
This was a home-thrust. The conspirators shuddered and agreed to do the deed. Gertie, in virtue of her youth, was exempted from taking any active part, but an unaccountable fascination constrained her to follow and be a witness—in short, an accomplice.
"Do you know where—where—the knife is kept?" asked Mrs Merton.
Mrs Scholtz knew, and brought it from the kitchen.
It was a keen serviceable knife, with a viciously sharp point. Mrs Merton received it, coughed, and hurried out to the sheep-fold, followed by her accomplices.
To catch a sheep was not difficult, for the animals were all more or less tame and accustomed to gentle treatment by the females, but to hold it was quite another thing. Mrs Merton secured it by the head, Mrs Scholtz laid hold of the tail, and Mrs Brook fastened her fingers in the wool of its back. Each female individually was incapable of holding the animal, though a very small one had been purposely selected, but collectively they were more than a match for it. After a short struggle it was laid on its side, and its feet were somewhat imperfectly secured with a pocket-handkerchief.
"Now, ma'am," cried Mrs Scholtz, holding tight to the tail and shutting her eyes, "do be quick."
Mrs Merton, also shutting her eyes, struck feebly with the knife. The others, having likewise shut their eyes, waited a few seconds in a state of indescribable horror, and then opened them to find that the Spartan lady had missed her mark, and planted her weapon in the ground! So feeble, however, had been the stroke that it had barely penetrated an inch of the soil.
"Oh, Mrs Merton!" exclaimed Mrs Brook remonstratively.
Mrs Merton tried again more carefully, and hit the mark, but still without success.
"It won't go in!" she gasped, as, on opening her eyes a second time, she found only a few drops of blood trickling from a mere scratch in the sheep's neck; "I—I can't do it!"
At that moment the unfortunate animal suddenly freed its head from the Spartan matron's grasp. A sharp wriggle freed its tail and feet, and in another moment it burst away from its captors and made for a shallow pond formed by Edwin Brook for a colony of household ducks.
Roused to excessive indignation by the weakness and boastfulness of Mrs Merton, Mrs Scholtz sprang to her feet and gave chase. The others joined. Hunger, shame, determination, disappointment, combined to give them energy of purpose. The sheep rushed into the pond. Mrs Scholtz recklessly followed—up to the knees—caught it by the horns, and dragged it forth.
"Give me the knife!" she shouted.
Mrs Merton hurriedly obeyed, and the nurse, shutting her eyes, plunged it downwards with a wild hysterical shriek.
There was no mistake this time. Letting the animal go, she fled, red-handed, into the innermost recess of the cottage, followed by her horrified friends.
"Oh! what have I done?" groaned Mrs Scholtz; burying her face in her hands.
Mrs Brook and the others—all shuddering—sought to soothe her, and in a short time they regained sufficient composure to permit of their returning to the victim, which they found lying dead upon the ground.
Having thus got over the terrible first step, the ladies hardened themselves to the subsequent processes, and these they also found more difficult than they had anticipated. The skinning of a sheep they did not understand. Of the cutting up they were equally ignorant, and a terrible mess they made of the poor carcass in their varied efforts. In despair Mrs Brook suggested to Mrs Scholtz, who was now the chief and acknowledged operator, that they had better cut it up without skinning, and singe off the wool and skin together; but on attempting this Mrs Scholtz found that she could not find the joints, and, being possessed of no saw, could not cut the bones; whereupon Mrs Merton suggested that she should cut out four slices from any part that would admit of being penetrated by a knife, and leave the rest of the operation to be performed by Dally on his return. This proposal was acted on. Four fat slices were cut from the flanks and carried by Gertie to the kitchen, where they were duly cooked, and afterwards eaten with more relish than might have been expected, considering the preliminaries to the feast.
This was one of those difficulties that did not occur to them again. It was a preventable difficulty, to be avoided in future by the exercise of forethought; but there were difficulties and troubles in store against which forethought was of little avail.
While they were yet in the enjoyment of the chops which had caused them so much mental and physical pain, they were alarmed by a sudden cry from Junkie. Looking round they saw that urchin on his knees holding on to the side of his home-made crib, and gazing in blank amazement at the hole in the wall which served for a window. And well might he gaze, for he saw the painted face of a black savage looking in at that window!
On beholding him Mrs Merton uttered a scream and Mrs Brook an exclamation. Mrs Scholtz and Gertie seemed bereft of power to move or cry.
Perhaps the Kafir took this for the British mode of welcoming a stranger. At all events, he left the window and entered by the door. Being quite naked, with the exception of the partial covering afforded by a leopard-skin robe, his appearance was naturally alarming to females who had never before seen a native of South Africa in his war-paint. They remained perfectly still, however, and quite silent, while he went through the cottage appropriating whatever things took his fancy. He was the native whom we have already introduced as having been met by George Dally, though of course the Brook household were not aware of this.
A few other savages entered the cottage soon after, and were about to follow the example of their chief and help themselves, but he sternly ordered them to quit, and they submissively obeyed.
When he had gone out, without having condescended to notice any of the household, Master Junkie gave vent to a long-suspended howl, and claimed the undivided attention of Mrs Scholtz, whose touching blandishments utterly failed in quieting him. The good nurse was unexpectedly aided, however, by the savage chief, who on repassing the window, looked in and made his black face supernaturally hideous by glaring at the refractory child. Junkie was petrified on the spot, and remained "good" till forgetfulness and sleep overpowered him.
Meanwhile Mrs Merton swooned into a chair—or appeared to do so—and Mrs Brook, recovering from her first alarm, went out with Gertie to see what the black marauders were about.
They were just in time to see the last tail of their small flock of sheep, and their still smaller herd of cattle, disappear into the jungle, driven by apparently a score of black, lithe, and naked devils, so ugly and unearthly did the Kafirs seem on this their first visit to the unfortunate settlers.
It was a peculiarly bitter trial to the Brooks, for the herd and flock just referred to had been acquired, after much bargaining, from a Dutch farmer only a few days before, and Edwin Brook was rather proud of his acquisition, seeing that few if any of the settlers had at that time become possessors of live stock to any great extent. It was, however, a salutary lesson, and the master of Mount Hope—so he had named his location—never again left his wife and family unguarded for a single hour during these first years of the infant colony.
OFF TO THE HIGHLANDS AND BLACK SNAKES IN THE BUSH.
While the settlers of this section were thus scattering far and wide, in more or less numerous groups, over the fertile plains of Lower Albany, the Scotch party was slowly, laboriously, toiling on over hill and dale, jungle and plain, towards the highlands of the interior.
The country through which the long line of waggons passed was as varied as can well be imagined, being one of the wildest and least inhabited tracts of the frontier districts. The features of the landscape changed continually from dark jungle to rich park-like scenery, embellished with graceful clumps of evergreens, and from that again to the sterility of savage mountains or parched and desert plains. Sometimes they plodded wearily over the karroo for twenty miles or more at a stretch without seeing a drop of water. At other times they came to a wretched mud hovel, the farm-house of a boer, near a permanent spring of water. Again, they were entangled among the rugged, roadless gorges and precipices of a mountain range, through which no vehicle of European construction could have passed without absolute demolition, and up parts of which the Cape-waggons were sometimes compelled to go by means of two teams,—that is, from twenty to thirty or more oxen,—being attached to each. At other times they had to descend and re-ascend the precipitous banks of rivers whose beds were sometimes quite dry and paved with mighty boulders.
"It's an unco' rough country," observed Sandy Black to Charlie Considine, as they stood watching the efforts of a double team to haul one of their waggons up a slope so rugged and steep that the mere attempt appeared absolute madness in their eyes.
Considine assented, but was too much interested in the process to indulge in further remark.
"Gin the rope brek," continued Sandy, "I wadna gie muckle for the waggon. It'll come rowin' an' stottin' doon the hill like a bairn's ba'."
"No fear of the rope," said Hans Marais, as he passed at the moment to render assistance to Ruyter, Jemalee, Booby, and some others, who were shouting at the pitch of their voices, and plying the long waggon-whips, or the short sjamboks, with unmerciful vigour.
Hans was right. The powerful "trektow" stood the enormous strain, and the equally powerful waggon groaned and jolted up the stony steep until it had nearly gained the top, when an unfortunate drop of the right front wheel into a deep hollow, combined with an unlucky and simultaneous elevation of the left back wheel by a stone, turned the vehicle completely over on its side. The hoops of the tilt were broken, and much of the lading was deposited in a hollow beside the waggon, but a few of the lighter and smaller articles went hopping, or, according to Sandy Black, "stottin'" down the slope, and were smashed to atoms at the bottom.
Ruyter, Booby, and Jemalee turned towards Hans Marais with a shrinking action, as if they expected to feel the sjambok on their shoulders, for their own cruel master was wont on occasions of mischance such as this to visit his men with summary punishment; but Hans was a good specimen of another, and, we believe, much more numerous class of Cape-Dutchmen. After the first short frown of annoyance had passed, he went actively to work, to set the example of unloading the waggon and repairing the damage, administering at the same time, however, a pretty sharp rebuke to the drivers for their carelessness in not taking better note of the form of the ground.
That night in talking over the incident with Ruyter, Considine ventured again to comment on the wrongs which the former endured, and the possibility of redress being obtained from the proper authorities.
"For I am told," he said, "that the laws of the colony do not now permit masters to lash and maltreat their slaves as they once did."
Ruyter, though by nature a good-humoured, easy-going fellow, was possessed of an unusually high spirit for one of his race, and could never listen to any reference to the wrongs of the Hottentots without a dark frown of indignation. In general he avoided the subject, but on the night in question either his wonted reticence had fled, or he felt disposed to confide in the kindly youth, from whom on the previous journey from Capetown he had experienced many marks of sympathy and good-will.
"There be no way to make tings better," he replied fiercely. "I knows noting 'bout your laws. Only knows dey don't work somehow. Allers de same wid me anyhow, kick and cuff and lash w'en I's wrong—sometimes w'en I's right—and nebber git tanks for noting."
"But that is because your master is an unusually bad fellow," replied Considine. "Few Cape farmers are so bad as he. You have yourself had experience of Hans Marais, now, who is kind to every one."
"Ja, he is good master—an' so's him's fadder, an' all him's peepil—but what good dat doos to me!" returned the Hottentot gloomily. "It is true your laws do not allow us to be bought and sold like de slaves, but dat very ting makes de masters hate us and hurt us more dan de slaves."
This was to some extent true. At the time we write of, slavery, being still permitted in the British colonies, the Dutch, and other Cape colonists, possessed great numbers of negro slaves, whom it was their interest to treat well, as being valuable "property," and whom most of them probably did treat well, as a man will treat a useful horse or ox, though of course there were—as there always must be in the circumstances—many instances of cruelty, by passionate and brutal owners. But the Hottentots, or original natives of the South African soil, having been declared unsaleable, and therefore not "property," were in many cases treated with greater degradation by their masters than the slaves, were made to work like them, but not cared for or fed like them, because not so valuable. At the same time, although not absolute slaves, the Hottentots were practically in a state of servitude, in which the freedom accorded to them by Government had, by one subterfuge or another, been rendered inoperative. Not long before this period the colonists possessed absolute power over the Hottentots, and although recent efforts had been made to legislate in their favour, their wrongs had only been mitigated,—by no means redressed. Masters were, it is true, held accountable by the law for the treatment of their Hottentots, but were rarely called to account; and the Hottentots knew too well, from sad experience, that to make a complaint would be in many cases worse than useless, as it would only rouse the ire of their masters and make them doubly severe.
"You say de Hottentots are not slaves, but you treat us all de same as slaves—anyhow, Jan Smit does."
"That is the sin of Jan Smit, not of the British law," replied Considine.
Ruyter's face grew darker as he rejoined fiercely, "What de use of your laws if dey won't work? Besides, what right hab de white scoundril to make slave at all—whether you call him slave or no call him slave. Look at Jemalee!"
The Hottentot pointed with violent action to the Malay, who, with a calm and sad but dignified mien, stood listening to the small-talk of Booby, while the light of the camp-fire played fitfully on their swarthy features.
"Well, what of Jemalee!" asked Considine.
"You know dat him's a slave—a real slave?"
"Yes, I know that, poor fellow."
"You never hear how him was brought up here?"
"No, never—tell me about it."
Hereupon the Hottentot related the following brief story.
Abdul Jemalee, a year or two before, had lived in Capetown, where his owner was a man of some substance. Jemalee had a wife and several children, who were also the property of his owner. Being an expert waggon-driver, the Malay was a valuable piece of human goods. On one occasion Jan Smit happened to be in Capetown, and, hearing of the Malay's qualities, offered his master a high price for him. The offer was accepted, but in order to avoid a scene, the bargain was kept secret from the piece of property, and he was given to understand that he was going up country on his old master's business. When poor Jemalee bade his pretty wife and little ones goodbye, he comforted them with the assurance that he should be back in a few months. On arriving at Smit's place, however, the truth was told, and he found that he had been separated for ever from those he most loved on earth. For some time Abdul Jemalee gave way to sullen despair, and took every sort of abuse and cruel treatment with apparent indifference, but, as time went on, a change came over him. He became more like his former self, and did his work so well, that even the savage Jan Smit seldom had any excuse for finding fault. On his last journey to the Cape, Smit took the Malay with him only part of the way. He left him in charge of a friend, who agreed to look well after him until his return.
Even this crushing of Jemalee's hope that he might meet his wife and children once more did not appear to oppress him much, and when his master returned from Capetown he resumed charge of one of the waggons, and went quietly back to his home in the karroo.
"And can you tell what brought about this change?" asked Considine.
"Oh ja, I knows," replied Ruyter, with a decided nod and a deep chuckle; "Jemalee him's got a powerful glitter in him's eye now and den—bery powerful an' strange!"
"And what may that have to do with it?" asked Considine.
Ruyter's visage changed from a look of deep cunning to one of childlike simplicity as he replied—"Can't go for to say what de glitter of him's eye got to do wid it. Snakes' eyes glitter sometimes—s'pose 'cause he can't help it, or he's wicked p'raps."
Considine smiled, but, seeing that the Hottentot did not choose to be communicative on the point, he forbore further question.
"What a funny man Jerry Goldboy is!" said Jessie McTavish, as she sat that same evening sipping a pannikin of tea in her father's tent.
From the opening of the tent the fire was visible.
Jerry was busy preparing his supper, while he kept up an incessant run of small-chat with Booby and Jemalee. The latter replied to him chiefly with grave smiles, the former with shouts of appreciative laughter.
"He is funny," asserted Mrs McTavish, "and uncommonly noisy. I doubt if there is much good in him."
"More than you think, Mopsy," said Kenneth (by this irreverent name did the Highlander call his better-half); "Jerry Goldboy is a small package, but he's made of good stuff, depend upon it. No doubt he's a little nervous, but I've observed that his nerves are tried more by the suddenness with which he may be surprised than by the actual danger he may chance to encounter. On our first night out, when he roused the camp and smashed the stock of his blunderbuss, no doubt I as well as others thought he showed the white feather, but there was no lack of courage in him when he went last week straight under the tree where the tiger was growling, and shot it so dead that when it fell it was not far from his feet."
"I heard some of the men, papa," observed Jessie, "say that it was Dutch courage that made him do that. What did they mean by Dutch courage?"
Jessie, being little more than eight, was ignorant of much of the world's slang.
"Cape-smoke, my dear," answered her father, with a laugh.
"Cape-smoke?" exclaimed Jessie, "what is that?"
"Brandy, child, peach-brandy, much loved by some of the boers, I'm told, and still more so by the Hottentots; but there was no more Cape-smoke in Jerry that day than in you. It was true English pluck. No doubt he could hardly fail to make a dead shot at so close a range, with such an awful weapon, loaded, as it usually is, with handfuls of slugs, buckshot, and gravel; but it was none the less plucky for all that. The old flint-lock might have missed fire, or he mightn't have killed the brute outright, and in either case he knew well enough it would have been all up with Jerry Goldboy."
"Who's that taking my name in vain?" said Jerry himself, passing the tent at the moment, in company with Sandy Black.
"We were only praising you, Jerry," cried Jessie, with a laugh, "for the way in which you shot that tiger the other day."
"It wasn't a teeger, Miss Jessie," interposed Sandy Black, "it was only a leopard—ane o' thae wee spottit beasts that they're sae prood o' in this country as to ca' them teegers."
"Come, Sandy," cried Jerry Goldboy, "don't rob me of the honour that is my due. The hanimal was big enough to 'ave torn you limb from limb if 'e'd got 'old of you."
"It may be sae, but he wasna a teeger for a' that," retorted Black.—"D'ee know, sir," he continued, turning to McTavish, "that Mr Pringle's been askin' for 'ee?"
"No, Sandy, but now that you've told me I'll go to his tent."
So saying the Highlander rose and went out, to attend a council of "heads of families."
Hitherto we have directed the reader's attention chiefly to one or two individuals of the Scotch party, but there were in that party a number of families who had appointed Mr Pringle their "head" and representative. In this capacity of chief-head, or leader, Mr Pringle was in the habit of convening a meeting of subordinate "heads" when matters of importance had to be discussed.
While the elders of the party were thus engaged in conclave at the door of their leader's tent, and while the rest were busy round their several fires, a man with a body much blacker than the night was secretly gliding about the camp like a huge snake, now crouching as he passed quickly, but without noise, in rear of the thick bushes; now creeping on hands and knees among the waggons and oxen, and anon gliding almost flat on his breast up to the very verge of the light thrown by the camp-fires. At one and another of the fires he remained motionless like the blackened trunk of a dead tree, with his glittering eyes fixed on the settlers, as if listening intently to their conversation.
Whatever might be the ultimate designs of the Kafir—for such he was— his intentions at the time being were evidently peaceful, for he carried neither weapon nor shield. He touched nothing belonging to the white men, though guns and blankets and other tempting objects were more than once within reach of his hand. Neither did he attempt to steal that which to the Kafir is the most coveted prize of all—a fat ox. Gradually he melted away into the darkness from which he had emerged. No eye in all the emigrant band saw him come or go in his snake-like glidings, yet his presence was known to one of the party—to Ruyter the Hottentot.
Soon after the Kafir had taken his departure, Ruyter left his camp-fire and sauntered into the bush as if to meditate before lying down for the night. As soon as he was beyond observation he quickened his pace and walked in a straight line, like one who has a definite end in view.
The Hottentot fancied that he had got away unperceived, but in this he was mistaken. Hans Marais, having heard Considine's account of his talk with Ruyter about Jemalee, had been troubled with suspicions about the former, which led to his paying more than usual attention to him. These suspicions were increased when he observed that the Hottentot went frequently and uneasily into the bushes, and looked altogether like a man expecting something which does not happen or appear. When, therefore, he noticed that after supper, Ruyter's anxious look disappeared, and that, after looking carefully round at his comrades, he sauntered into the bush with an overdone air of nonchalance, he quietly took up his heavy gun and followed him.
The youth had been trained to observe from earliest childhood, and, having been born and bred on the karroo, he was as well skilled in tracking the footprints of animals and men as any red savage of the North American wilderness. He took care to keep the Hottentot in sight, however, the night being too dark to see footprints. Lithe and agile as a panther, he found no difficulty in doing so.
In a few minutes he reached an open space, in which he observed that the Hottentot had met with a Kafir, and was engaged with him in earnest conversation. Much however of what they said was lost by Hans, as he found it difficult to get within ear-shot unobserved.
"And why?" he at length heard the savage demand, "why should I spare them for an hour?"
He spoke in the Kafir tongue, in which the Hottentot replied, and with which young Marais was partially acquainted.
"Because, Hintza," said Ruyter, naming the paramount chief of Kafirland, "the time has not yet come. One whose opinion you value bade me tell you so."
"What if I choose to pay no regard to the opinion of any one?" demanded the chief haughtily.
Ruyter quietly told the savage that he would then have to take the consequences, and urged, in addition, that it was folly to suppose the Kafirs were in a condition to make war on the white men just then. It was barely a year since they had been totally routed and driven across the Great Fish River with great slaughter. No warrior of common sense would think of renewing hostilities at such a time—their young men slain, their resources exhausted. Hintza had better bide his time. In the meanwhile he could gratify his revenge without much risk to himself or his young braves, by stealing in a quiet systematic way from the white men as their herds and flocks increased. Besides this, Ruyter, assuming a bold look and tone which was unusual in one of his degraded race, told Hintza firmly that he had reasons of his own for not wishing the Scotch emigrants to be attacked at that time, and that if he persisted in his designs he would warn them of their danger, in which case they would certainly prove themselves men enough to beat any number of warriors Hintza could bring against them.
Lying flat on the ground, with head raised and motionless, Hans Marais listened to these sentiments with much surprise, for he had up to that time regarded the Hottentot as a meek and long-suffering man, but now, though his long-suffering in the past could not be questioned, his meekness appeared to have totally departed.
The Kafir chief would probably have treated the latter part of Ruyter's speech with scorn, had not his remarks about sly and systematic plunder chimed in with his own sentiments, for Hintza was pre-eminently false-hearted, even among a race with whom successful lying is deemed a virtue, though, when found out, it is considered a sin. He pondered the Hottentot's advice, and apparently assented to it. After a few moments' consideration, he turned on his heel, and re-entered the thick jungle.
Well was it for Hans Marais that he had concealed himself among tall grass, for Hintza chanced to pass within two yards of the spot where he lay. The kafir chief had resumed the weapons which, for convenience, he had left behind in the bush while prowling round the white man's camp, and now stalked along in all the panoply of a savage warrior-chief; with ox-hide shield, bundle of short sharp assagais, leopard-skin robe, and feathers. For one instant the Dutchman, supposing it impossible to escape detection, was on the point of springing on the savage, but on second thoughts he resolved to take his chance. Even if Hintza did discover him, he felt sure of being able to leap up in time to ward off his first stab.
Fortunately the Kafir was too much engrossed with his thoughts. He passed his white enemy, and disappeared in the jungle.
Meanwhile the Hottentot returned to the camp—assuming an easy-going saunter as he approached its fires—and, soon after, Hans Marais re-entered it from an opposite direction. Resolving to keep his own counsel in the meantime, he mentioned the incident to no one, but after carefully inspecting the surrounding bushes, and stirring up the watch-fires, he sat down in front of his leader's tent with the intention of keeping guard during the first part of the night.
THE LOCATION ON THE RIVER OF BABOONS.
The Scotch immigrants at last found themselves in the wild mountain-regions of the interior, after a weary but deeply interesting march of nearly two hundred miles.
They had now arrived at the mouth of the Baboons or Baviaans river, one of the affluents of the Great Fish River, and had already seen many of the wild inhabitants of its rugged glen.
Their particular location was a beautiful well-watered region among the mountains which had been forfeited by some of the frontier boers at the time of their insurrection against the English Government some years before. They had now crossed the Great Fish River, and, though still within the old boundary of the colony, were upon its utmost eastern verge. The country beyond, as we are told by Pringle, in his graphic account of the expedition, [see Note 1] "for a distance of seventy miles, to the new frontier at the Chumi and Keisi rivers, had been, the preceding year, forcibly depeopled of its native inhabitants, the Kafirs and Ghonaquas, and now lay waste and void, 'a howling wilderness,' occupied only by wild beasts, and haunted occasionally by wandering banditti of the Bushman race (Bosjesmen), who were represented as being even more wild and savage than the beasts of prey with whom they shared the dominion of the desert."
Just before their arrival at this point, the old waggons, with the drivers who had accompanied them from Algoa Bay, were exchanged for fresh teams and men, and here Ruyter, Jemalee, and Booby left them, to proceed over a spur of one of the mountain ranges to Jan Smit's farm on the karroo. But Hans Marais, having taken a fancy to some of the Scotch men, determined to proceed with them until he had seen them fairly established in their new homes. Of course Charlie Considine accompanied Hans.
In a wild spot among the mountains they were hospitably received at the solitary abode of a field-cornet named Opperman, who said that he had orders to assist them with an escort of armed boers over the remaining portion of their journey, and to place them in safety on their allotted ground. This remaining portion, he told them, was up the Baviaans River glen, and, although little more than twenty-five miles, would prove to be harder than any part of the journey they had yet encountered.
Remembering some of the breakneck gorges of the Zuurberg, Jerry Goldboy said that he didn't believe it possible for any route to be worse than that over which they had already passed, to which Sandy Black replied with a "humph!" and an opinion that "the field-cornet o' the distric' was likely to know what he was speakin' aboot." But Jerry never had been, and of course never could be, convinced by reason. "Nothing," he candidly admitted, "but hard facts had the least weight with him."
"'Ee've got hard fac's noo, Jerry," said Sandy, about noon of the following day, as he threw down the axe with which he had been hewing the jungle, and pulled off his hat, from the crown of which he took a red cotton handkerchief wherewith to wipe his thickly-beaded brow.
Jerry could not deny the truth of this, for he also had been engaged since early morning with a South African axe nearly as large as himself, in assisting to out a passage up the glen.
Not only was there no road up this mountain gorge, but in some parts it was scarcely possible to make one, so rugged was the ground, so dense the jungle. But the preliminary difficulties were as nothing compared to those which met them further up; yet it was observable that the Dutch waggoners faced them with the quiet resolution of men accustomed to the overcoming of obstacles.
"You'd go up a precipice, Hans, I do believe, if there was no way round it," said Considine, as he gazed in admiring wonder at his tall friend driving his oxen up an acclivity that threatened destruction to waggon, beasts, and men.
"At ony rate he'd try," remarked Sandy Black, with one of his grave smiles.
Hans was too busy to heed these remarks, if he heard them, for the oxen, being restive, claimed his undivided attention, and the wielding of the twenty-foot whip taxed both his arms, muscular though they were.
When the long line of emigrants had slowly defiled through the poort, or narrow gorge, of the mountains from which Baviaans River issues into the more open valley where it joins the Great Fish River, they came suddenly upon a very singular scene, and a still more singular man. In the middle of the poort they found a small farm, where tremendous precipices of naked rock towered all round, so as to leave barely sufficient space on the bank of the river for the houses and cattle-folds, with a well-stocked garden and orchard. There was also a small plot of corn-land on the margin of the stream.