As these signs multiplied the hunters proceeded with increased vigilance and caution, each exhibiting the peculiarity of his character, more or less, by his look and actions. The Mullers, Van Dyk, Rennie, Hans, and other experienced men, rode along, calmly watchful, yet not so much absorbed as to prevent a humorous glance and a smile at the conduct of their less experienced comrades. Considine and Rivers showed that their spirits were deeply stirred, by the flash of their ever-roving eyes, the tight compression of their lips, the flush on their brows, and the position of readiness in which they carried their guns—elephant-guns, by the way, lent them by their Dutch friends for the occasion. Sandy Black rode with a cool, sober, sedate air, looking interested and attentive, but with that peculiar twinkle of the eyes and slightly sarcastic droop at the corners of the mouth which is often characteristic of the sceptical Scotsman. On the other hand, Jerry Goldboy went along blazing with excitement, while every now and then he uttered a suppressed exclamation, and clapped the blunderbuss to his shoulder when anything moved, or seemed to move, in the jungle.
Jerry had flatly refused to exchange his artillery for any other weapon, and having learned that small shot was useless against elephants, he had charged it with five or six large pebbles—such as David might have used in the slaying of Goliath. Mixed with these was a sprinkling of large nails, and one or two odd buttons. He was a source of constant and justifiable alarm to his friends, who usually compelled him either to ride in front, with the blunderbuss pointing forward, or in the rear, with its muzzle pointing backward.
"There go your friends at last, Jerry," said Van Dyk, curling his black moustache, with a smile, as the party emerged from a woody defile into a wide valley.
"What? where? eh! in which direction? point 'em out quick!" cried Jerry, cocking the blunderbuss violently and wheeling his steed round with such force that his haunch hit Sandy Black's leg pretty severely.
"Hoot, ye loupin' eedyit!" growled the Scot, somewhat nettled.
Jerry subdued himself with a violent effort, while the experienced hunters pointed out the elephants, and consulted as to the best plan of procedure.
There were fifty at least of the magnificent animals scattered in groups over the bottom and sides of a valley about three miles in extent; some were browsing on the succulent spekboom, of which they are very fond. Others were digging up and feeding among the young mimosa-thorns and evergreens. The place where the hunters stood was not suitable for an attack. It was therefore resolved to move round to a better position. As they advanced some of the groups of elephants came more distinctly into view, but they seemed either not to observe, or to disregard, the intruders.
"Why not go at 'em at once?" asked young Rivers in an impatient whisper.
"Because we don't want to be killed," was the laconic reply from Diederik Muller.
"Don't you see," explained Van Dyk, with one of his quiet smiles, "that the ground where the nearest fellows stand is not suitable for horsemen?"
"Well, I don't see exactly, but I'll take your word for it."
While they were speaking, and riding through a meadow thickly studded over with clumps of tall evergreens, Considine observed something moving over the top of a bush close ahead of him.
"Look out there!" he exclaimed, but those in advance had already turned the corner of a bush, and found themselves within a hundred paces of a huge male elephant.
Jerry at once pointed the blunderbuss and shut his eyes, and would infallibly have pulled the trigger, if Sandy Black, who had in some measure become his keeper, had not seized his wrist and wrenched the weapon from his grasp.
"Man, ye'll be the death o' somebody yet," he said in a low stern tone.
Jerry at once became penitent and on giving a solemn promise that he would not fire till he obtained permission, received his weapon back.
"Een groot gruwzaam karl," whispered one of the Hottentots, in broken Dutch.
"My certie, but he is a great gruesome carl!" said Black, echoing in Scotch the Dutchman's expression as he gazed in admiration.
"He's fourteen feet high if he's an inch," observed George Rennie.
The scent and hearing of the elephant are both keen, but his sight is not very good. As the wind chanced to blow from him to the hunters he had not perceived them. This was fortunate, for it would have been highly dangerous to have attacked him in such ground. They wheeled round therefore and galloped away towards some scattered rocks, whence they could better approach him on foot. Dismounting, the leaders formed a hasty plan of operations, and immediately proceeded to put it in execution.
It may have been that their explanation of the plan was not lucid, or that Jerry Goldboy's head was not clear, but certain it is that after having been carefully told what to do, he dashed into the jungle after Sandy Black and did what seemed right in his own eyes.
Black kept close to the heels of Hans Marais, and so did Considine, but Jerry soon began to pant with excitement; then he stumbled and fell. Before recovering himself from a "wait-a-bit" thorn he had been left out of sight behind. He pushed valiantly on however and came to a small open plain, where he looked anxiously round, but his comrades were nowhere to be seen. Just then a shot was fired, it was followed quickly by another, and then was heard, above the shouting of excited Hottentots, the shrill screaming of wounded and enraged elephants. Jerry heard the tremendous sounds for the first time, and quaked in his spinal marrow.
Observing the smoke of a shot on the opposite side of the little plain, he proceeded to cross over hastily, but had barely gained the middle of the open space when the shrill screams were repeated with redoubled fury. At the same time Jerry heard cries of warning, coupled with his own name. He looked right and left in alarm, not knowing where the threatened danger was likely to come from. He was not kept long in suspense. Behind him he heard the crackling and crashing of branches caused by elephants bursting through the wood. Then a large female with three young, but by no means small, ones issued from the edge of the jungle and made straight at the unfortunate man. Jerry turned and ran, but he had no chance; the elephants gained on him so fast that he felt, with an awful sickening of the heart, it was not possible to reach the rocky ground beyond the meadow, where he might have been safe. With the courage of despair he faced about and fired straight in the face of the old female, which ran him down with a shriek of indignation. She had only one tusk, but with that she made a prod at Jerry that would have quickly ended his days if it had not missed the mark and gone deep into the ground. She then caught him by the middle with her trunk, threw him between her fore-feet, and attempted to tread him to death. This she certainly would have accomplished, but that Jerry was remarkably agile and very small; the ground being soft and muddy was also in his favour. Once she set her foot on his chest, and he felt the bones bending. Of course had the creature's full weight pressed it, Jerry would have been cracked like a walnut, but the monster's foot was rounded and wet, and, the poor man making a desperate wrench, it slipped into the mud; then she trod on his arm, and squeezed it into the ground without snapping the bone. Thus stamping and wriggling for a few seconds, the two fought on for vengeance and for life, while George Rennie, Hans, and the two Mullers ran to the rescue and fired a volley. This caused the animal to wince and look up. Jerry, taking advantage of the pause, jumped up and dived out from below her between her hind-legs—alighting on his head and turning a complete somersault. He regained his feet just as she turned round again to seize him. At that critical moment Lucas Van Dyk put a ball in her head, and Considine sent another into the root of her trunk, which induced her to turn and join her screaming offspring in the bushes.
The hunters pursued, while Jerry, covered with mud and bruises, and scarcely able to run, made off in the opposite direction. He had scarcely reached the shelter of some broken ground, when the enormous male elephant which had been previously encountered, came running past, either to the rescue of its mate, or flying in alarm at the firing. It caught one of the Hottentots who had loitered in rear of the attacking party, carried him some distance in its trunk, and then, throwing him on the ground, brought its four feet together and trod and stamped on him for a considerable time. The unfortunate man was killed instantly. It left the corpse for a little, and then returned to it, as if to make quite sure of its deadly work, and, kneeling down, crushed and kneaded the body with its fore-legs. Then seizing it again with its trunk, it carried it off and threw it into the jungle.
This delay on the elephant's part gave the hunters time to return from the destruction of the female, and with several successful shots to kill the male.
"'Tis a heavy price to pay for our sport," said Considine sadly, as he stood with his companions gazing on the body of the Hottentot, which was trodden into a shapeless mass.
"Hunters don't go out for mere sport," said Lucas Van Dyk, "they do it in the way of business—for ivory and hides. Of course they must take the chances of a risky trade."
This sad incident naturally cast a gloom over the party, and they remained there only long enough to cut out the tusks of the male elephant and stow them away with choice parts of the meat in their waggon.
After quitting the valley they fell in with the party under John Skyd and Frank Dobson, and led by Stephen Orpin. They were much surprised to find with these their friends Kenneth McTavish and Groot Willem, who soon accounted for their unexpected appearance. They had been steadily tracing the spoor of poor Junkie, had lost and re-found it several times and, during their pursuit, had crossed the waggon-tracks of Skyd and his party, whom they followed up, in the faint hope that they might have heard or seen something to guide them in their search. In this they were disappointed.
After a brief council of war it was resolved to join their forces and continue the search after Junkie.
Proceeding on their way, they fell in with a wounded Kafir. He lay dying under a bush, and made no attempt to escape, although he evidently regarded the white men as enemies. Having been reassured on this point, and comforted with a piece of tobacco, he told them that his village had been attacked by the Fetcani and completely destroyed, with all the women and children—only a few of the wounded warriors like himself having escaped, to perish in the jungle. The Fetcani he described as the most ferocious warriors ever seen. They did not use the ordinary assagai or throwing spear, but a short stabbing one, and invariably closed at once with their foes with irresistible impetuosity.
On being questioned about prisoners, and reference being made to white men's children, he said that he had heard of a white boy who was brought to a village a day's march or more from where they then were, but added that the Fetcani hordes had gone off to destroy that village just after destroying his own, and that he had no doubt it was by that time reduced to ashes and all its inhabitants slain.
On hearing this, and learning the direction of the village in question, the hunters went off at full gallop, leaving the waggons to follow their spoor.
It was nearly sunset when they came to an eminence beyond which lay the Kafir town of which they were in search. The first glance showed that something unusual was going on in it—at the same time it relieved their fears to observe that it was not yet destroyed. The mud hovels, like huge beehives, in which the Kafirs dwelt, were not yet burnt, and the only smoke visible was that which rose from cooking fires. But it was quite plain that the people, who in the distance seemed to swarm in and about the place like black ants, were in wild excitement.
"No doubt they've heard that the Fetcani are coming," said Groot Willem, riding to the highest point of the ridge on which they stood. "The place seems pretty strong. I think we might do worse than go lend the niggers a helping hand till we've made inquiries about the lad."
Lucas Van Dyk echoed this sentiment, and so did Stephen Orpin, but there were others who thought it best to let the niggers fight their own battles.
"Well, friends," said Kenneth McTavish, "you may hold what opinion you like on that point, but my business just now is to go into that town and see if I can find Junkie Brook. The sooner I do so the better, so let those who choose follow me."
He rode off at a brisk trot, and was followed by the whole party. On reaching the town they halted, and the principal chief, Eno, came out to meet them. One of the Hottentots being called to interpret, the hunters were informed that the Fetcani had threatened to attack the town, and that the inhabitants were busy putting themselves in a state of defence. They were glad, said the chief, to see the white men, and hoped they would stay to assist him.
To this Stephen Orpin replied through the interpreter. Stephen somehow fell naturally into the position of spokesman and chief of the party in positions where tact and eloquence or diplomacy were wanted, though in the hunting-field he held a very subordinate place.
He told Eno that the white men had come to seek for a white boy who had been stolen from one of the frontier settlements, and that he had heard the boy was in his, Eno's, town. That he was glad to hear it, though of course he did not suppose Eno had stolen the boy, seeing that none of his people had been yet near the colony. That he and his friends now came to claim the boy, and would be glad to aid them in defending the town, if attacked while they were in it.
In reply the chief said he knew nothing about a white boy being in his town, but would make inquires.
While this conference was going on, a man was seen to approach, running at full speed. He fell from exhaustion on arriving, and for some moments could not speak. Recovering, he told that he had just escaped from a band of two hundred Fetcani warriors, who were even then on their way to attack the town.
Instantly all was uproar and confusion. The warriors, seizing their shields and spears, sallied forth under their chief to meet the enemy—a few of the youngest being left behind to guard the women and children. A party of the Hottentots under Kenneth McTavish also remained to guard the town, while the rest set off to aid the Kafirs. They were compelled, however, to ride back a short distance to meet the waggons, and obtain a supply of ammunition. Thus a little time was lost, and before they could reach the scene of action the Kafirs had met with the Fetcani warriors, been thoroughly beaten, and put to flight.
On the appearance, however, of the horsemen the pursuers halted.
"Now, lads," cried Groot Willem, "a steady volley and a charge home will send them to the right about."
"Better fire over their heads," said Orpin earnestly. "We are not at war with these men. Let us not kill if we can help it."
"I agree with that heartily," cried Charlie Considine.
"So do I," said Hans. "Depend on't the sound will suffice for men who perhaps never saw fire-arms before."
"Quite right, Maister Marais," said Sandy Black, with grave approval, "an' if oor charge is only heeded by Groot Willem an' Jerry Goldboy, tak' my word for't thae Fit-canny craters'll flee like chaff before the wund."
"Very good," said Groot Willem, with a grin.—"Come along, Jerry."
The dauntless little man answered the summons with delight, and the whole party approached the wondering Fetcani at a trot. Halting when within about eighty yards, they fired a volley from horseback over the heads of the enemy. Then, through the smoke, they charged at full speed like thunderbolts, Groot Willem roaring like a mad buffalo-bull, Jerry Goldboy shrieking like a wounded elephant, and energising fearfully with legs, arms, reins, and blunderbuss, while the others shouted or laughed in wild excitement.
The Fetcani, as Sandy Black had prophesied, could not stand it. Turning their backs to the foe, they fled as only panic-stricken and naked niggers can fly, and were soon scattered and lost in the jungle.
While this was going on far out on the plain, Kenneth McTavish had much ado to keep the people quiet in the town—so great was their dread of falling into the hands of the ferocious Fetcani. But when the wounded warriors began to come in, breathless, gashed, and bleeding, with the report of their disaster, he found it impossible to restrain the people. The young warriors ignominiously left the place and fled, while the women followed, carrying their children and such of their worldly goods as they were loath to leave behind. For some time McTavish managed to restrain the latter, but when at last the hunters came thundering back after their bloodless victory, the poor women, fancying they were the enemy, flung down goods, and even babies, and ran.
The horsemen called out to assure them they were friends, but their terror was too great to permit of their comprehending, and they continued to fly.
"Come, Charlie, we must head these poor creatures, and drive them back," said Hans, as he rode over ground which was strewn with utensils, mantles, and victuals, among which many little black and naked children were seen running, stumbling, tottering, or creeping, according to age and courage.
Followed by the other horsemen, they rode ahead of the flying multitude, and, cracking their whips menacingly in front, with an occasional charge, they succeeded in staying the flight and turning the poor women back. No sooner did these comprehend how matters stood than they turned, and caught up their little ones with as much affection and thankfulness as if they had just shown a readiness to die for, rather than forsake, them.
Among these children was one who, although as black as the ace of spades in body and face, had light curly flaxen hair. He ran about in a wild unaccountable manner, darting hither and thither, from side to side.
McTavish and the others, who had by that time dismounted, and were standing at their horses' heads amused spectators of the scene, looked at this urchin in surprise, until they observed that he was endeavouring to escape from a stout young woman who did her best to catch him. She had nearly succeeded, when he suddenly doubled like a hare and bore straight down on the horsemen. Seeing this, the woman gave in, and, turning, fled to the town, while the little fellow ran and clasped the Highlander by the knees.
"Oh! Miss'r Tavish!" he cried, and looked up.
"Ah! why—it's Junkie!" cried the Highlander, catching the child up in his arms and hugging him, by which means he left a dark imprint of him on his own breast and face.
It was indeed Junkie—naked as on the day of his birth, greased from head to foot, and charcoaled as black as the King of Ashantee!
Although an object of the deepest interest to the white men, poor Junkie was not at that moment personally attractive. He was, however, unspeakably happy at seeing white and familiar faces once more. He was also very much subdued, and had obviously profited by the rude teaching he had undergone in Kafirland, for his obedience to orders was prompt and unquestioning.
The first important matter was to clean Junkie. This was only partially effected, and with difficulty. The next was to clothe him. This was done, on the spur of the moment, with pocket-handkerchiefs, each hunter contributing one till the costume was complete. A large red cotton one formed a sort of plaid; a blue one with a hole in the middle, through which his head was thrust, served as a pretty good poncho or tippet; a green one with white spots, tied round the loins, did duty as a tunic or kilt; and one of crimson silk round the head formed a gorgeous turban.
Returning to the village, the hunters found Eno the chief, and, after expressing much satisfaction at having arrived in time to lend him effectual aid at so critical a period, they presented him with gifts of brass wire and cotton cloth, from the stores in Skyd and Dobson's waggons.
The chief expressed his gratitude in glowing terms, and begged the hunters to stay with him for some time. But this they would not do, as it was important to return to the colony, and report what they had seen without delay. Notwithstanding their professions of gratitude, however, these rascals stole as many small articles front the waggons as they could lay hands on, and would doubtless have taken all that the hunters possessed, if they had not been impressed by their valour, and by the dreadful firearms which they carried.
This accidental skirmish was the first meeting of the colonists with the Fetcani. It was not till two years later that the Government felt constrained to take active measures against these savages.
The Fetcani, or Mantatee hordes, having been driven from their own country by the bloodthirsty Zulu chief Chaka, had been preying upon other tribes for many years, and at last, in 1827, they precipitated themselves on the Tambookies, and afterwards on the Galekas, threatening to extirpate these Kafirs altogether, or to drive them into the colony as suppliants and beggars. In this extremity the Kafir chief Hintza urgently craved assistance.
It was granted. A body of the colonists sent out by Government, under Major Dundas of the Royal Artillery, defeated the warlike Fetcani, who were afterwards utterly routed and scattered, and their dreaded power finally annihilated, near the sources of the Umtata river, by a body of troops under Colonel Somerset. Hintza's warriors were present at that affair, to the number of about twenty thousand, and they hovered about during the engagement admiringly, though without rendering assistance. But when the enemy were routed and in confused retreat, they fell upon them, and, despite the remonstrances of the white men, committed the most appalling atrocities, mutilating the dead, and cutting off the arms and legs of the living, in order the more easily to obtain their brass rings and ornaments.
This warlike episode did not, however, affect the general condition of the frontier. The settlers, having overcome the misfortunes of the first years, began to prosper and multiply, troubled a good deal, no doubt, by the thievish propensities of their ungrateful black neighbours, but on the whole enjoying the fruit of their labours in comparative peace for several years.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
TELLS OF DARK AND THREATENING CLOUDS, AND WAR.
The exigencies of our somewhat acrobatic tale require, at this point, that we should make a considerable bound. We shall beg the obliging reader to leap with us into the year 1834.
Hans Marais, moustached, bearded, bronzed, and in the prime of life, sits at the door of a cottage recently built close to that of his father. Beside him sits his wife—formerly Miss Gertrude Brook, and now as sweet and pretty a young woman as you would find in a month's ride through a country where sweet pretty women were, and still are, very numerous in proportion to the population.
Whether it was that Hans was timid, or Gertie shy, we cannot tell, but somehow it is only three months since they began their united career, and Hans considers himself to have married rather "late in life." Gertie, being now twenty-six, begins to think herself quite an old woman. It is evident, however, that this ancient couple wear well, and are sufficiently happy—if we may presume to judge from appearances.
"Gertie," said Hans, patting the fingers which handed him his big Dutch pipe, "I fear that my father is determined to go."
"Do you think so?" said Gertie, while a sad expression chased the sunshine from her face.
"Yes, he says he cannot stand the treatment we Cape-Dutchmen receive from the British Government, and that he means to give up his farm, take his waggons and goods, and treck away to the north, with the friends who are already preparing to go, in search of free lands in the wilderness where the Union Jack does not fly."
"I must be very stupid, Hans," returned his wife, with a deprecating smile, "for although I've heard your father discussing these matters a good deal of late, I cannot quite understand them. Of course I see well enough that those men who approve of slavery must feel very much aggrieved by the abolition, but your father, like yourself and many others, is not one of these—what then does he complain of?"
"Of a great deal, Gertie," replied Hans, with an amused glance at her perplexed face, "and not only in connection with slavery, but other things. It would take hours of talk to tell you all."
"But can't you give me some sort of idea of these things in a few words?"
"Yes; at least I'll try," said Hans. "I need scarcely tell you that there has been a sort of ill-will in the Cape-Dutch mind against the British Government—more's the pity—ever since the colony passed into the possession of England, owing partly to their not understanding each other, partly to incompetent and tyrannical Governors pursuing unwise policy, partly to unprincipled or stupid men misrepresenting the truth in England, and partly to the people of England being too ready to swallow whatever they are told."
"What! is all the fault on the side of the English?" interrupted Gertie, with a laugh.
"Hear me out, wife," returned Hans—"partly owing to foolish Dutchmen rebelling against authority, and taking the law into their own hands, and partly to rascally Dutchmen doing deeds worthy of execration. Evil deeds are saddled on wrong shoulders, motives are misunderstood, actions are exaggerated, judges both here and in England are sometimes incompetent, prejudice and ignorance prevent veils from being removed, and six thousand miles of ocean, to say nothing of six hundred miles of land, intervene to complicate the confusion surrounding right or wrong."
"Dear me! what an incomprehensible state of things!" said Gertie, opening her blue eyes very wide.
"Rather," returned Hans, with a smile; "and yet there are sensible Englishmen and sensible Cape-Dutchmen who are pretty well agreed as to the true merits of the questions that trouble us. There is the abolition of slavery, for instance: many on both sides are convinced as to the propriety of that, but nearly all are agreed in condemning the way in which it is being gone about, believing that the consequences to many of the slaveholders will be ruinous. But it is useless to go into such matters now, Gertie. Right or wrong, many of the Dutch farmers are talking seriously of going out of the colony, and my father, I grieve to say, is among the number."
"And you, Hans?"
"I will remain on the old homestead—at least for a time. If things improve we may induce father to return; if not, I will follow him into the wilderness."
"And what of Considine?" asked Gertie.
"He remains to help me to manage the farm. There is no chance for him in the present exasperated state of my father's mind. He unhappily extends his indignation against England to Englishmen, and vows that my sister Bertha shall never wed Charlie Considine."
"Is he likely to continue in that mind?"
"I think so."
"Then there is indeed no chance for poor Charlie," was the rejoinder, "for Bertha Marais will never marry in direct opposition to her father's wishes. Heigho! 'Tis the old story about the course of true love."
"He may change—he will change his mind, I think," said Hans, "but in the meantime he will go off into the wilderness, carrying Bertha along with him. I would have gone with him myself without hesitation, had it not been that I cannot bear to think of tearing you away just yet from the old people, and I may perhaps do some good here in the way of saving the old home."
Hans looked round with a somewhat mournful gaze at the home of his childhood, which bore evidences of the preparations that were being made by Conrad Marais to leave it.
That evening a large party of disaffected boers arrived at the homestead of Conrad Marais, with waggons, wives, children, goods, and arms, on their way to the far north. Some of these men were sterling fellows, good husbands and fathers and masters, but with fiery independent spirits, which could not brook the restraints laid on them by a Government that had too frequently aroused their contempt or indignation. Others were cruel, selfish savages who scorned the idea that a man might not "wallop his own nigger," and were more than half pleased that the abolition of slavery and its consequences gave them a sort of reason for throwing off allegiance to the British Crown, and forsaking their homes in disgust; and some there were who would have been willing to remain and suffer, but could not bear the idea of being left behind by their kindred.
Next morning Conrad completed the loading of his waggons, placed his wife and children—there was still a baby!—in them, mounted his horse with the sons who yet remained with him, and bade farewell to the old home on the karroo. He was followed by a long train of his compatriots' waggons. They all crossed the frontier into Kafirland and thenceforth deemed themselves free!
This was the first droppings of a shower—the first leak of a torrent— the first outbreak of that great exodus of the Dutch-African boers which was destined in the future to work a mighty change in the South African colony.
Hans and Gertie accompanied the party for several hours on their journey, and then, bidding them God-speed, returned to their deserted home.
But now a cloud was lowering over the land which had been imperceptibly, though surely, gathering on the horizon for years past.
We have said that hitherto the colony, despite many provocations, thefts, and occasional murders, had lived in a state of peace with the Kafirs—the only time that they took up arms for a brief space being in their defence, at Hintza's request, against the Fetcani.
Latterly, we have also observed, the British settlers had toiled hard and prospered. The comforts of life they had in abundance. Trade began to be developed, and missions were established in Kafirland. Among other things, the freedom of the press had been granted them after a hard struggle! The first Cape newspaper, the South African Commercial Advertiser, edited by Pringle the poet and Fairbairn, was published in 1824, and the Grahamstown Journal, the first Eastern Province newspaper, was issued by Mr Godlonton in 1831. Schools were also established. Wool-growing began to assume an importance which was a premonition of the future staple of the Eastern Provinces. Savings-banks were established, and, in short, everything gave promise of the colony—both east and west—becoming a vigorous, as it was obviously a healthy, chip of the old block.
But amongst all this wheat there had been springing up tares. With the growing prosperity there were growing evils. A generous and well-meant effort on the part of Christians and philanthropists to give full freedom and rights to the Hottentots resulted to a large extent in vagabondism, with its concomitant robbery. The Kafirs, emboldened by the weak, and exasperated by the incomprehensible, policy of the Colonial Government at that time, not only crossed the border to aid the Hottentot thieves in their work, and carry off sheep and cattle by the hundred, but secretly prepared for war. Behind the scenes were the paramount chief Hintza, the chief Macomo, and others. The first, forgetting the deliverance wrought for him by the settlers and British troops in 1828, secretly stirred up the Kafirs, whilst the second, brooding over supposed wrongs, fanned the flame of discontent raised among the Hottentots by the proposal of a Vagrancy Act.
When all is ready for war it takes but a spark to kindle the torch. The Kafirs were ready; the British, however, were not. The settlers had been peacefully following their vocations, many of the troops, which ought to have been there to guard them, had been unwisely withdrawn, and only a few hundred men remained in scattered groups along the frontier. The armed Hottentots of the Kat River—sent there as a defence—became a point of weakness, and required the presence of a small force to overawe them and prevent their joining the Kafirs. At last the electric spark went forth. A farmer (Nell) was robbed of seven horses, which were traced to the kraal of a chief on the neutral territory. Restoration was refused. A military patrol was sent to enforce restitution. Opposition was offered, and the officer in command wounded with an assagai. Hintza began to retreat and plunder British traders who were residing in his territory under his pledged protection, and at length a trader named Purcell was murdered near the chief's kraal and his store robbed. Then Macomo began hostilities by robbing and murdering some farmers on the lower part of the Kat River, and two days afterwards the Kafir hordes, variously estimated at from eight to fifteen thousand men, burst across the whole frontier, wrapped the eastern colony in the smoke and flames of burning homesteads, scattered the unprepared settlers, demolished the works of fourteen years' labour, penetrated to within twenty miles of Algoa Bay, and drove thousands of sheep and cattle back in triumph to Kafirland.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
It was at this juncture—the Christmas-tide of 1834, and the summer-time in South Africa—that a merry party was assembled under the shade of umbrageous trees that crowned a little knoll from which could be seen the blue smoke curling from a prosperous-looking homestead in the vale below. It was a party of settlers enjoying their Christmas festivities in the open air. Hans Marais and Charlie Considine were among them, but, feeling less inclined than was their wont to join in the hilarity of the young folks, they had sauntered into the shrubbery and conversed sadly about the departure of Conrad Marais and his family, and of the unsettled state of the frontier at that time.
While they talked, an armed band of savages had crept past them unperceived, and advanced stealthily towards the party of revellers on the knoll. Coming suddenly across the tracks of these savages, Hans cast an anxious look at his companion, and said quickly—
"Look here, Charlie—the spoor of Kafirs! Let's go—"
The sentence was cut short by a wild war-cry, which was immediately followed by shouts of men and screams of women.
Turning without another word, the two friends ran back to the knoll at full speed, drawing their hunting-knives, which were the only weapons they happened to carry at the time.
On reaching the knoll a fearful scene presented itself. The Kafirs had already killed every man of the party—having come on them unawares and thrown their assagais with fatal precision from the bushes. They were completing the work of death with shouts and yells of fierce delight. Not a woman was to be seen. They had either been dragged into the bushes and slain, or had sought refuge in flight.
With a mighty shout of rage Hans and Considine dashed into the midst of the murderers, and two instantly fell, stabbed to the heart. Seizing the assagais of these, they rushed through the midst of their foes, and, as if animated by one mind, made for the homestead below. To reach the stables and get possession of their horses and rifles was their object.
The savages, of whom there were about thirty, were so taken aback by the suddenness and success of this onset that for a few seconds they did not pursue. Then, probably guessing the object of the fugitives, they uttered a furious yell and followed them down the hill. But Hans and Considine were active as well as strong. They kept well ahead, gained the principal house, and secured their rifles. Then, instead of barricading the doors and defending themselves, they ran out again and shot the two Kafirs who first came up.
Well did the savages know the deadly nature of the white man's rifle, although at that time they had not themselves become possessed of it. When their comrades fell, and the two white men were seen to kneel and take deliberate aim at those who followed, the whole party scattered right and left and took refuge in the bush.
But the friends did not fire. These were not the days of breech-loaders. Prudently reserving their fire, they made a rush towards the stables, "saddled up" in a few seconds, and, mounting, rode forth at a gallop straight back to the blood-stained hillock. To rescue, if possible, some of the females was their object. Regardless of several assagais that whizzed close to them, they galloped hither and thither among the bushes, but without success.
"Let's try yonder hollow," cried Considine, pointing as he spoke.
The words had scarce left his lips when a host of some hundreds of Kafirs, with the shields, assagais and feathers of savage warriors, burst out of the hollow referred to. They had probably been attracted by the two shots, and instantly rushed towards the white men.
Hans Marais dismounted, kneeled to take steadier aim, fired, and shot the foremost warrior. Then, springing on his steed at a bound, he galloped away, loading as he went, and closely followed by his friend. Having reloaded, Hans pulled up and again leapt to the ground. This time Considine, appreciating his plan, followed his example, and both were about to kneel and fire when they perceived by a burst of smoke and flame that the farm-buildings had been set on fire.
In a straight line beyond, two other columns of dense smoke indicated the position of two neighbouring farms, and a third column, away to the right, and further removed from the line of the frontier, suddenly conveyed to the mind of Hans the fact that a general rising of the Kafirs had taken place. Instead of firing, he rose and remounted, exclaiming—
At the moment a shout was heard in another direction. Turning round, they observed a body of a dozen or so of mounted Kafirs making straight towards them. To have killed two or four of these would have been easy enough to first-rate shots armed with double-barrels, but they knew that those unhurt would continue the chase. They therefore turned and fled in the direction of their own home. Their steeds were good and fresh, but their pursuers were evidently well mounted, for they did not seem to lose ground.
In the kitchen of Conrad Marais's homestead Gertie stood that day, busily employed in the construction of a plum-pudding, with which she meant to regale Hans and Charlie on their return. And very pretty and happy did Gertie look, with her white apron and her dark hair looped up in careless braids, and her face flushed with exertion, and her pretty round arms bared to the dimpled elbows and scarcely capable of being rendered whiter by the flour with which they were covered.
A young Hottentot Venus of indescribable ugliness assisted in retarding her.
"The master will be here soon," said Gertie, wiping the flour and pieces of dough off her hands; "we must be quick. Is the pot ready?"
Venus responded with a "Ja," and a grin which displayed a splendid casket of pearls.
Just then the clatter of hoofs was heard.
"Why, here they come already, and in such a hurry too!" said Gertie in surprise, untying her apron hastily.
Before the apron was untied, however, Hans had pulled up at the door and shouted "Gertie!" in a voice so tremendous that his wife turned pale and came quickly to the door.
"Oh, Hans! what—"
"Come, darling, quick!"
There was no time for more. Hans held out his hand. Gertie took it mechanically.
"Your foot on my toe. Quick!"
Gertie did as she was bid, and felt herself swung to the saddle in front of her husband, who held her in his strong right arm, while in the grasp of his huge left hand he held the reins and an assagai.
Poor Gertie had time, in that brief moment, to note that Charlie Considine sat motionless on his panting horse, gazing sternly towards the karroo, and that a cloud of dust was sweeping over the plain towards them. She guessed too surely what it was, but said not a word, while her husband leaped his horse through a gap in the garden wall in order to reach the road by a short cut. Double-weighted thus, the horse did not run so well as before. Considine was frequently obliged to check his pace and look back.
The stern frown on the Dutchman's brow had now mingled with it a slightly troubled look.
"Go on. I'll follow immediately," said Considine as he reined in.
"Don't be foolhardy," cried Hans, with an anxious look as he shot past.
Without replying, Considine dismounted, knelt on a slight eminence on the plain, and deliberately prepared to fire.
The pursuing savages observed the act, and when within about six or seven hundred yards began to draw rein.
Charlie Considine knew his rifle well; although not sighted for such a range, it was capable of carrying the distance when sufficiently elevated, and practice had accustomed him to long-range shots. He aimed a little above the head of the foremost rider, fired, and killed his horse. With the second barrel he wounded one of the Kafirs. At the same moment he observed that his late home was wrapped in flames, and that the cattle and sheep of Conrad Marais, which had been left in charge of Hans, were being driven off by the savages towards the mountains.
This was enough. Remounting, Charlie followed his friend, and was rejoiced to find on looking back that the Kafirs had ceased their pursuit.
"Strange," he said on overtaking Hans, "that they should have given in so easily."
"It is not fear that influences them," returned his friend, with deeply knitted brows; "the reptiles know there is a pass before us, and they will surely try to cut us off. They know all the short cuts better than I do. Push on!"
Urging their horses to their utmost speed, the fugitives soon approached a more broken country, and skirted the mountain range, through which the pass referred to by Hans led into level ground beyond. It was a narrow track through jungle, which was dense in some places, open in others. They were soon in it, riding furiously. At one of the open spaces they caught a glimpse of a mounted Kafir making towards a part of the pass in advance of them. Hans pulled up at once, and looked eagerly, anxiously round, while he pressed the light form of Gertie tighter to his breast.
"We must fight here, Charlie," he said, as he made for a little mound which was crowned with a few bushes. "If you and I were alone we might risk forcing a passage, but—come; they observe our intention."
A few bounds placed them on the top of the mound, where they took shelter among the bushes. These were scarcely thick enough to cover the horses, but among them was found a hole or crevice into which Hans told his wife to creep. She had barely found refuge in this place, when several assagais whizzed over their heads. Sheltering themselves behind stones, Hans and Considine looked eagerly in the direction whence the assagais had been thrown, and the former observed the ears of a horse just appearing over a bush. He fired at the spot where he conjectured the rider must be, and a yell told that he had not missed his mark. At the same moment his companion observed part of a Kafir's form opposite to him, and, firing, brought him to the ground.
Seeing this the other savages made a rush at the mound, supposing probably that both guns were empty. They had either forgotten about or were ignorant of double-barrelled weapons. Two more shots killed the two leading Kafirs, and the rest turned to fly, but a gigantic fellow shouted to them fiercely to come on, and at the same moment leaped on Charlie Considine with such force that, although the latter struck him heavily with the butt of his rifle, he was borne to the ground. The triumph however was momentary. Next instant Hans Marais seized him, stabbed him in the throat, and hurled him back among his comrades, a lifeless corpse. Charlie, recovering himself, pointed his unloaded gun at the savages, who recoiled, turned, and fled back to the cover of the opposite bush.
"Now is our time," said Hans, dragging his wife from the place of shelter. "Mount and make a dash before they recover."
While speaking Hans was acting. In another moment Gertie was in her old place, Considine in the saddle, and the two men made a bold push for life.
It turned out as the Dutchman had conjectured. The Kafirs had left all parts of the surrounding jungle to join in the assault on the mound, and when the fugitives made a dash through them, only a few had presence of mind to throw their assagais, and these missed their mark. A few bounds carried Hans and Charlie once more in advance of their enemies, but the clatter of hoofs immediately afterwards told that they were hotly pursued.
There is no saying how the chase might have ended, if they had not met with a piece of good fortune immediately afterwards. On emerging from the other end of the pass, they almost ran into a small patrol of Cape Mounted Rifles, who, attracted by the shots and cries in the pass, were galloping to the rescue.
They did not halt to ask questions, but, with a hearty cheer and a friendly wave of the hand from the officer in command, dashed into the pass and met the pursuing savages in the very teeth.
Of course the latter turned and fled, leaving, however, several of their comrades dead on the ground.
During this early period of the war the whole defending force of the frontier consisted of only between seven and eight hundred men, composed of Cape Mounted Rifles and the 75th regiment, with a few of the Artillery and Engineers, and these had to be broken up into numerous small companies, who were sent here and there where succour was most needed.
With this little patrol, Hans, Gertie, and Considine bivouacked that night, and, travelling with them, soon afterwards reached Grahamstown.
The sight of the country as they approached was a sad one. From all quarters, men, women, children, vehicles, horses, cattle, and sheep, were crowding into the town as a place of refuge. At first the settlers nearest the eastern frontier, taken by surprise, fled to temporary rallying-points. These, however, had to be abandoned for stronger places of refuge. On entering the town they found that the greatest confusion and excitement prevailed. The church had been set apart as an asylum for the women and children, who had to put up, however, with the undesirable accompaniments of fire-arms and gunpowder. Public meetings were being held; picquets of armed citizens were being despatched to watch the main roads. All the houses were thronged to suffocation with refugees—white, brown, and black. The streets, squares, yards, gardens, and other vacant places were crowded by night, and the surrounding hills by day, with the flocks and herds that had been saved from the invaders, while the lowing and bleating of these were mingled with the sobs and wails of the widow and fatherless.
"What misery!" exclaimed Gertie, as she rode slowly through the crowds by the side of her husband, mounted on a horse lent her by one of the patrol, "Oh, how I dread to hear the news from home!"
Gertie referred to her father's home, about the condition of which she knew nothing at the time.
"Where shall we go to seek for news?" she asked anxiously.
"To the barracks," replied Hans.
"You need not be anxious, I think," said Considine; "if anything very serious had happened, it is likely the patrol who rescued us would have heard some account of it before leaving Grahamstown.
"Don't you think?" he added, turning to Hans, "that we had better inquire first at Dobson's place?"
At that moment they were passing a large store, over the door of which was a blue board with the words "Dobson, Skyd, and Company" emblazoned in large white letters thereon.
The store itself presented in its windows and interior an assortment of dry goods, so extensive and miscellaneous as to suggest the idea of one being able to procure anything in it—from a silk dress to a grindstone. It was an extremely full, prosperous-looking store, and in the midst of it were to be seen, sitting on the counters, James and Robert Skyd, both looking bluffer and stronger than when we last met them, though scarcely a day older. James and Robert were the managing partners of this prosperous firm; Dobson and John Skyd were what the latter styled the hunting partners. Robert Skyd had recently married a pretty Grahamstown girl, and her little boy—then about one year old—was, so said his father, the sleeping partner of the firm, who had been vaguely hinted at by the "Company" long before he was born. Indeed, the "Company" had been prudently inserted with special reference to what might "turn up" in after years. At the time the firm was formed, it had been suggested that it should be styled Dobson, Skyd, and Sons, but as it was possible nothing but daughters might fall to the lot of any of them, "Company" was substituted as being conveniently indefinite. Dobson took precedence in the title in virtue of his having brought most capital into the firm. He had invested his all in it—amounting to three pounds four and nine-pence halfpenny. John Skyd had contributed half-a-crown, which happened to be a bad one. James brought nothing at all, and Robert entered it a little in debt for tobacco.
The great waggon of the hunting partners, loaded with hides, horns, and ivory, stood at the door of the store, as Gertie and her protectors passed, having just arrived from a successful trip into Kafirland, and fortunately escaped the outbreak of the war.
Fastening their bridles to one of its wheels, Hans, Gertie, and Considine entered. The first face they saw was that of Edwin Brook, into whose arms Gertie ran with a wild cry of joy.
"Why, Hans Marais!" cried James Skyd, jumping off the counter and grasping his big friend by the hand, while Robert seized that of Considine, "where have you dropped from?—But I need scarcely ask, for all the world seems to be crowding into the town. Not hurt, I hope?" he added, observing the blood which stained his friend's dress.
"Not in person," answered Hans, with a smile, returning his cordial grasp.
"And what of property!" asked Edwin Brook, looking round.
"All gone," returned Hans sadly. "I rose this morning a reasonably wealthy man—now, I am a beggar. But tell me, what of your family, Mr Brook?"
"All saved, thank God," was the reply. "Junkie, dear boy, who is the most active young fellow in the land, managed to—Ah! here he comes, and will speak for himself."
As he spoke a tall strapping youth of about fifteen entered, opened wide his laughing blue eyes on seeing Hans, and, after a hearty greeting, told with some hesitation that he had chanced to be out hunting on foot in the jungles of the Great Fish River when the Kafirs crossed the frontier, and had managed, being a pretty good runner, to give his father warning, so that the family had time to escape. He did not tell, however, that he had, in a narrow pass, kept above sixty Kafirs in check with his own hand and gun until George Dally could run to the house for his weapons and ammunition, and that then the two held a hundred of them in play long enough to permit of the whole family escaping under the care of Scholtz.
"But," said Edwin Brook, who related all this with evident satisfaction, "I am like yourself, Hans, in regard to property. Mount Hope is a blackened ruin, the farm is laid waste, and the cattle are over the borders."
"And where is Mrs Brook?" asked Considine.
"In this house. Up-stairs. Come, Gertie is getting impatient. Let us go to see her."
"Now, friends," said Considine to the brothers Skyd, who had by that time been joined by the hunting partners, "there is a matter on which we must consult and act without delay."
Here he told of Conrad Marais's departure with the boers across the frontier, and added that if the party was to be saved at all it must be gone about instantly.
"You can't go about it to-day, Charlie," said John Skyd, "so don't give way to impatience. For such a long trip into the enemy's country we must go well armed and supplied."
"I will brook no delay," said Considine, with flushing countenance. "If it had not been for the necessity of bringing Gertie here in safety, Hans and I would have set out at once and alone on their spoor. Is it not so?"
Hans nodded assent.
"No, friends," he said, turning to the brothers with decision, "we must be off at once."
"What! without your suppers?" exclaimed Bob Skyd; "but to be serious, it won't be possible to get things ready before to-morrow. Surely that will do, if we start at daybreak. Besides, the party with your father, Hans, is a strong one, well able to hold out against a vastly superior force of savages. Moreover, if you wait we shall get up a small body of volunteers."
Hans and Charlie were thus constrained unwillingly to delay. At grey dawn, however, they rode out of Grahamstown at the head of a small party, consisting of the entire firm of Dobson and Skyd, inclusive of Junkie, whose father granted him permission to go. His mother silently acquiesced. Mrs Scholtz violently protested; and when she found that her protests were useless, she changed them into pathetic entreaties that Junkie would on no account whatever go to sleep in camp with wet feet.
As soon as the invasion took place, an express had been sent to Capetown, and the able Governor, Sir Benjamin D'Urban, took instant and energetic measures to undo, as far as possible, the mischief done by his predecessors. Colonel (afterwards Sir Harry) Smith was despatched to the frontier, and rode the distance—six hundred miles—in six days.
Arriving in Grahamstown, he took command with a firm hand, organised the whole male population into a warlike garrison, built barricades across the streets, planted cannon in commanding positions, cleared the town of flocks and herds, which were breeding a nuisance, sent them to the open country with a cattle guard, and prepared not only to defend the capital, but to carry war into the enemy's country. In short, he breathed into the people much of his own energy, and soon brought order out of confusion.
The state of affairs in the colony had indeed reached a terrible pass. From all sides news came in of murder and pillage. The unfortunate traders in Kafirland fared ill at that time. One of these, Rodgers, was murdered in the presence of his three children. A man named Cramer was savagely butchered while driving a few cattle along the road. Another, named Mahony, with his wife and son-in-law, were intercepted while trying to escape to the military post of Kafir Drift, and Mahony was stretched a corpse at his wife's feet, then the son-in-law was murdered, but Mrs Mahony escaped into the bush with two of her children and a Hottentot female servant, and, after many hardships, reached Grahamstown. A mounted patrol scouring the country fell in with a farm-house where three Dutchmen, in a thick clump of bushes, were defending themselves against three hundred Kafirs. Of course the latter were put to flight, and the three heroes—two of them badly wounded— were rescued. Nearly everywhere the settlers, outnumbered, had to fly, and many were slain while defending their homes, but at the little village of Salem they held their ground gallantly. The Wesleyan chapel, mission-house, and schoolhouse, were filled with refugees, and although the Kafirs swooped down on it at night in large numbers and carried off the cattle, they failed to overcome the stout defenders. Theopolis also held out successfully against them—and so did the Scottish party at Baviaans River, although attacked and harassed continually.
During an attack near the latter place a Scottish gentleman of the Pringle race had a narrow escape. Sandy Black was with him at the time. Three or four Kafirs suddenly attacked them. Mr Pringle shot one, Sandy wounded another. A third ran forward while Pringle was loading and threw an assagai at him. It struck him with great force on the leathern bullet-pouch which hung at his belt. Sandy Black took aim at the savage with a pistol.
"Aim low, Sandy," said Pringle, continuing to load.
Sandy obeyed and shot the Kafir dead, then, turning round, said anxiously—
"Are 'ee stickit, sir?"
"I'm not sure, Sandy," replied Pringle, putting his hand in at the waist of his trousers, "there's blood, I see."
On examination it was found that the assagai had been arrested by the strong pouch and belt, and had only given him a trifling scratch, so that the gallant and amiable Mr Dods Pringle lived to fight in future Kafir wars. [See Note 1.]
In another place, near the Kat River, thirty men were attacked by a hundred and fifty Kafirs. The latter came on with fury, but five of the farmers brought down seven of the enemy at the first discharge, and thereafter poured into them so rapid and destructive a fire that they were seized with panic, and fled, leaving seventy-five of their number dead.
Instances of individual heroism might be endlessly multiplied, but we think this is enough to show the desperate nature of the struggle which had begun.
In the course of one fortnight the labours of fourteen years were annihilated. Forty-four persons were murdered, 369 dwellings consumed, 261 pillaged, and 172,000 head of live-stock carried off into Kafirland and irretrievably lost; and what aggravated the wickedness of the invasion was the fact that during a great part of the year the Governor had been engaged in special negotiations for a new—and to the Kafirs most advantageous—system of relations, with which all the chiefs except one had expressed themselves satisfied.
Writing on the condition of the country Colonel Smith said: "Already are seven thousand persons dependent on Government for the necessaries of life. The land is filled with the lamentations of the widow and the fatherless. The indelible impressions already made upon myself by the horrors of an irruption of savages upon a scattered population, almost exclusively engaged in the peaceful occupations of husbandry, are such as to make me look on those I have witnessed in a service of thirty years, ten of which in the most eventful period of war, as trifles to what I have now witnessed, and compel me to bring under consideration, as forcibly as I am able, the heartrending position in which a very large portion of the inhabitants of this frontier are at present placed, as well as their intense anxiety respecting their future condition."
Sir Benjamin D'Urban, arriving soon afterwards, constituted a Board of Relief to meet the necessities of the distressed; and relief committees were established in Capetown, Stellenbosch, Graaff-Reinet, and other principal towns, while subscriptions were collected in Mauritius, Saint Helena, and India.
Soon after the arrival of Colonel Smith, burgher forces were collected; troops arrived with the Governor on the scene of action, and the work of expelling the invader was begun in earnest. Skirmishes by small bodies of farmers and detachments of troops took place all over the land, in which the Dutch-African colonists and English settlers with their descendants vied with each other, and with the regulars, in heroic daring. Justice requires it to be added that they had a bold enemy to deal with, for the Kafirs were physically splendid men; full of courage and daring, although armed only with light spears.
Note 1. The author had the pleasure of spending a night last year (1876) under the hospitable roof of Mr Pringle, shortly before his death, and saw the identical assagai, which was bent by the force with which it had been hurled against him on that occasion.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.
SHOWS WHAT BEFELL A TRADER AND AN EMIGRANT BAND.
Stephen Orpin, with the goods of earth in his waggon and the treasures of heaven in his hand, chanced to be passing over a branch of the Amatola Mountains when the torch of war was kindled and sent its horrid glare along the frontier. Vague news of the outbreak had reached him, and he was hastening back to the village of Salem, in which was his bachelor home.
Stephen, we may remark in passing, was not a bachelor from choice. Twice had he essayed to win the affections of Jessie McTavish, and twice had he failed. Not being a man of extreme selfishness, he refused to die of a broken heart. He mourned indeed, deeply and silently, but he bowed his head, and continued, as far as in him lay, to fulfil the end for which he seemed to have been created. He travelled with goods far and wide throughout the eastern districts of the colony, became a walking newspaper to the farmers of the frontier, and a guide to the Better Land to whoever would grant him a hearing.
But Stephen's mercantile course, like that of his affections, did not run smooth. At the present time it became even more rugged than the mountain road which almost dislocated his waggon and nearly maddened his Hottentot drivers, for, when involved in the intricacies of a pass, he was suddenly attacked by a band of "wild" Bushman marauders. The spot chanced to be so far advantageous that a high precipice at his back rendered it impossible to attack him except in front, where the ground was pretty open.
Orpin was by no means a milksop, and, although a Christian man, did not understand Christianity to teach the absolute giving up of all one's possessions to the first scoundrel who shall demand them. The moment, therefore, that the robbers showed themselves, he stopped the waggon at the foot of the precipice, drew his ever-ready double-barrelled large-bore gun from under the tilt, and ran out in front, calling on his men to support him. Kneeling down, he prepared to take a steady aim at the Bushman in advance, a wild-looking savage in a sheepskin kaross and armed with an assagai. The robbers were evidently aware of the nature of a gun, for they halted on seeing the decided action of the trader.
"Come on!" shouted Orpin to his men, looking back over his shoulder; but his men were nowhere to be seen: they had deserted him at the first sight of the robbers, and scrambled away into the jungle like monkeys.
To resist some dozens of savages single-handed Stephen knew would be useless, and to shed blood unnecessarily was against his principles. He therefore made up his mind at once how to act. Rising and turning round, he discharged his gun at the precipice, to prevent the Bushmen from accidentally doing mischief with it; then, sitting down on a piece of fallen rock, he quietly took out his pipe and began to light it.
This was not meant as a piece of bravado, but Stephen was eccentric, and it occurred to him that there was a "touch of nature" in a pipe which might possibly induce the Bushmen to be less rude to him personally than if he were to stand by and look aggrieved while his waggons were being pillaged.
In this conjecture he was right. The robbers rushed towards the waggon without doing him any harm. One of them, however, picked up the gun in passing. Then the leader seized the long whip and drove the waggon away, leaving its late owner to his meditations.
Stephen would have been more than human if he could have stood the loss of all his earthly goods with perfect equanimity. He groaned when the oxen began to move, and then, feeling a desperate desire to relieve his feelings, and a strong tendency to fight, he suddenly shut his eyes, and began to pray that the robbers might be forgiven, and himself enabled to bear his trials in a becoming manner. Opening his eyes again, he beheld a sturdy Bushman gazing at him in open-mouthed surprise, with an uplifted assagai in his hand. Stephen judged that this was the chief of the band, who had remained behind to kill him. At all events, when he ceased to pray, and opened his eyes, the Bushman shut his mouth, and poised his assagai in a threatening manner.
Unarmed as he was, Stephen knew that he was at the man's mercy. In this dilemma, and knowing nothing of the Bushman language, he put powerful constraint on himself, and looked placidly at his wallet, in which he searched earnestly for something, quite regardless, to all appearances, of the deadly spear, whose point was within ten feet of his breast.
The Bushman's curiosity was awakened. He waited until Stephen had drawn a lump of tobacco from his pouch—which latter he took care to turn inside out to show there was nothing else in it. Rising quietly, the trader advanced with a peaceful air, holding the tobacco out to the Bushman, who looked suspicious—and distrustfully shook his assagai; but Stephen took no heed. Stopping within a couple of yards of him, he held out the tobacco at the full length of his arm. The Bushman hesitated, but finally lowered his assegai and accepted the gift. Stephen immediately resumed his pipe, and smiled pleasantly at his foe.
The Bushman appeared to be unable to resist this. He grinned hideously; then, turning about, made off in the direction of his comrades as fast as his naked legs could carry him.
It was Booby, the follower of Ruyter the Hottentot, who had thus robbed the unfortunate trader, and, not two hours afterwards, Ruyter himself fell in with Stephen, wending his way slowly and sadly down the glen.
Desiring his men to proceed in advance, the robber chief asked Orpin to sit down on a fallen tree beside him, and relate what had happened. When he had done so, Ruyter shook his head and said in his broken English—
"You's bin my friend, Orpin, but I cannot help you dis time. Booby not under me now, an' we's bof b'long to Dragoener's band. I's sorry, but not can help you."
"Never mind, Ruyter, I daresay you'd help me if you could," said Stephen, with a sigh; then, with an earnest look in the Hottentot's face, he continued, "I'm not, however, much distressed about the goods. The Lord who gave them has taken them away, and can give them back again if He has a mind to; but tell me, Ruyter, why will you not think of the things we once spoke of—that time when you were so roughly handled by Jan Smit—about your soul and the Saviour?"
"How you knows I not tink?" demanded the Hottentot sharply.
"Because any man can know a tree by its fruit," returned Orpin. "If you had become a Christian, I should not now have found you the leader of a band of thieves."
"No, I not a Christian, but I do tink," returned Ruyter, "only I no' can onderstan'. De black heathen—so you calls him—live in de land. White Christian—so you calls him—come and take de land; make slabe ob black man, and kick 'im about like pair ob ole boots—I not onderstan' nohow."
"Come, I will try to make you understand," returned Orpin, pulling out the New Testament which he always carried in his pocket. "Some white men who call themselves Christians are heathens, and some black men are Christians. We are all,—black and white,—born bad, and God has sent us a Saviour, and a message, so that all who will, black or white, may become good." Orpin here commenced to expound the Word, and to tell the story of the Cross, while the Hottentot listened with rapt attention, or asked questions which showed that he had indeed been thinking of these things since his last meeting with the trader, many years before. He was not very communicative, however, and when the two parted he declined to make any more satisfactory promise than that he would continue to "tink."
Stephen Orpin spent the night alone in a tree, up which he had climbed to be more secure from wild beasts. Sitting there, he meditated much, and came to the conclusion that he ought in future to devote himself entirely to missionary labours. In pursuance of that idea, he made his way to one of the Wesleyan mission stations in Kafirland.
On the road thither he came to a Kafir kraal, where the men seemed to be engaged in the performance of a war-dance.
On being questioned by these Kafirs as to who he was, and where he came from, Orpin replied, in his best Kafir, that he was a trader and a missionary.
The chief looked surprised, but, on hearing the whole of Orpin's story, a cunning look twinkled in his eyes, and he professed great friendship for the missionaries, stating at the same time that he was going to one of the Wesleyan stations, and would be glad to escort Orpin thither. Thereafter he gave orders that the white man should be taken to one of his huts and supplied with a "basket" of milk.
The white man gratefully acknowledged the kind offer, and, asking the name of the friendly chief, was informed that it was Hintza. Just then a court fool or jester stepped forward, and cried aloud his announcements of the events of the day, mixed with highly complimentary praises of his master. Stephen did not understand all he said, but he gathered thus much,—that the warriors had been out to battle and had returned victorious; that Hintza was the greatest man and most courageous warrior who had ever appeared among the Kafirs, to gladden their hearts and enrich their bands; and that there was great work yet for the warriors to do in the way of driving certain barbarians into the sea—to which desirable deed the heroic, the valiant, the wise, the unapproachable Hintza would lead them.
Orpin feared that he understood the meaning of the last words too well, but, being aware that Hintza was regarded by the colonists as one of the friendliest of the Kafir chiefs, he hoped that he might be mistaken.
Hintza was as good as his word, and set out next day with a band of warriors, giving the white man a good horse that he might ride beside him. On the way they came on a sight which filled Orpin with sadness and anxiety. It was the ruins of a village, which from the appearance of the remains had evidently been occupied in part by white men. He observed that a gleam of satisfaction lit up Hintza's swarthy visage for a moment as he passed the place.
Dismounting, the party proceeded to examine the ruins, but found nothing. The Kafirs were very taciturn, but the chief said, on being pressed, that he believed it had been a mission station which wicked men of other tribes had burned.
On the outbreak of this war some of the missionaries remained by their people, others were compelled to leave them.
The station just passed had been deserted. At the one to which Hintza was now leading Orpin the missionaries had remained at their post. There he found them still holding out, but in deep dejection, for nearly all their people had forsaken them, and gone to the war. Even while he was talking with them, crowds of the bloodstained savages were returning from the colony, laden with the spoils of the white man, and driving thousands of his sheep and cattle before them. In these circumstances, Stephen resolved to make the best of his way back to Salem. On telling this to Hintza, that chief from some cause that he could not understand, again offered to escort him. He would not accompany him personally, he said, but he would send with him a band of his warriors, and he trusted that on his arrival in the colony he would tell to the great white chief (the Governor) that he, Hintza, did not aid the other Kafir tribes in this war.
Stephen's eyes were opened by the last speech, and from that moment he suspected Hintza of treachery.
He had no choice, however, but to accept the escort. On the very day after they had started, they came to a spot where a terrible fight had obviously taken place. The ground was strewn with the mangled corpses of a party of white men, while the remains of waggons and other signs showed that they had formed one of the bands of Dutch emigrants which had already begun to quit the colony. The savages made ineffectual attempts to conceal their delight at what they saw, and Orpin now felt that he was in the power of enemies who merely spared his life in the hope that he might afterwards be useful to them.
The band which escorted him consisted of several hundred warriors, a few of whom were mounted on splendid horses stolen from the settlers. He himself was also mounted on a good steed, but felt that it would be madness to attempt to fly from them. On the second day they were joined—whether by arrangement or not Orpin had no means of judging—by a band of over a thousand warriors belonging to a different tribe from his escort. As the trader rode along in a dejected state of mind, one of the advance-guard or scouts came back with excited looks, saying that a large band of Dutch farmers was encamped down in a hollow just beyond the rise in front of them. The chief of the Kafirs ordered the scout sternly to be silent, at the same time glancing at Orpin. Then he whispered to two men, who quietly took their assagais and stationed themselves one on either side of their white prisoner—for such he really was.
Orpin now felt certain that the group of principal men who drew together a little apart were concerting the best mode of attacking the emigrant farmers, and his heart burned within him as he thought of them resting there in fancied security, while these black scoundrels were plotting their destruction. But what could he do—alone and totally unarmed? He thought of making a dash and giving the alarm, but the watchful savages at his side seemed to divine his intentions, for they grasped their assagais with significant action.
"A desperate disease," thought Orpin, "requires a desperate remedy. I will try it, and may succeed—God helping me." A thought occurred just then. Disengaging his right foot from the stirrup, he made as if he were shortening it a little, but instead, he detached it from the saddle, and taking one turn of the leather round his hand, leaped his horse at the savage nearest him and struck him full on the forehead with the stirrup-iron. Dashing on at full speed, he bent low, and, as he had hoped, the spear of the other savage whizzed close over his back. The act was so sudden that he had almost gained the ridge before the other mounted Kafirs could pursue. He heard a loud voice, however, command them to stop, and, looking back, saw that only one Kafir—the leader— gave chase, but that leader was a powerful man, armed, and on a fleeter horse than his own. A glance showed him the camp of the emigrant farmers in a hollow about a mile or so distant. He made straight for it. The action of the next few seconds was short, sharp, and decisive.
The Dutchmen, having had a previous alarm from a small Kafir band, were prepared. They had drawn their waggons into a compact circle, closing the apertures between and beneath them with thorn-bushes, which they lashed firmly with leather thongs to the wheels and dissel-booms or waggon-poles. Within this circle was a smaller one for the protection of the women and children.
Great was the surprise of the farmers when they heard a loud shout, and beheld a white man flying for his life from a solitary savage. With the promptitude of men born and bred in the midst of alarms, they seized their guns and issued from their fortified enclosure to the rescue, but the Kafir was already close to Orpin, and in the act of raising his assagai to stab him.
Seeing the urgency of the case, Conrad Marais, who was considered a pretty good shot among his fellows, took steady aim, and, at the risk of hitting the white man, fired. The right arm of the savage dropped by his side and the assagai fell to the ground, but, plucking another from his bundle with his left hand, he made a furious thrust. Stephen Orpin, swaying aside, was only grazed by it. At the same time he whirled the stirrup once round his head, and, bringing the iron down with tremendous force on the skull of his pursuer, hurled him to the ground.
"Stephen Orpin!" exclaimed Conrad Marais in amazement, as the trader galloped up.
"You've got more pluck than I gave you credit for," growled Jan Smit.
"You'll need all your own pluck presently," retorted Orpin, who thereupon told them that hundreds of Kafirs were on the other side of the ridge, and would be down on them in a few minutes. Indeed, he had not finished speaking when the ridge in question was crossed by the black host, who came yelling on to the attack,—the few mounted men leading.
"Come, boys, let's meet them as far as possible from the waggons," cried Conrad.
The whole band of farmers, each mounted and carrying his gun, dashed forward. When quite close to the foe they halted, and, every man dismounting, knelt and fired. Nearly all the horsemen among the enemy fell to the ground at the discharge, and the riderless steeds galloped over the plain, while numbers of the footmen were also killed and wounded. But most of those savages belonged to a fierce and warlike tribe. Though checked for a moment, they soon returned to the attack more furiously than before. The Dutch farmers, remounting, galloped back a short distance, loading as they went; halting again, they dismounted and fired as before, with deadly effect.
There is no question that the white men, if sufficiently supplied with ammunition, could have thus easily overcome any number of the savages, but the waggons stopped them. On reaching these, they were obliged to stand at bay, and, being greatly outnumbered, took shelter inside of their enclosure. Of course their flocks and herds, being most of them outside, were at once driven away by a small party of the assailants, while the larger proportion, with savage yells and war-cries, made a furious attack on their position.
Closing round the circle, they endeavoured again and again to break through the line or to clamber over the waggon-tilts, and never did savage warriors earn a better title to the name of braves than on that occasion. Even the bristling four and six-inch thorns of the mimosa-bushes would not have been able to turn back their impetuous onset if behind these the stout Dutchmen, fighting for wives and children, had not stood manfully loading and firing volleys of slugs and buckshot at arm's-length from them. The crowded ranks of the Kafirs were ploughed as if by cannon, while hundreds of assagais were hurled into the enclosure, but happily with little effect, though a few of the defenders—exposing themselves recklessly—were wounded.
While Conrad Marais was standing close to the hind-wheels of one of the waggons, watching for a good shot at a Kafir outside, who was dodging about for the double purpose of baulking Conrad's intention and thrusting an assagai into him, another active Kafir had clambered unobserved on the tilt of the waggon and was in the very act of leaning over to thrust his spear into the back of the Dutchman's neck when he was observed by Stephen Orpin, who chanced to be reloading his gun at the moment.
With a loud roar, very unlike his usual gentle tones, Orpin sprang forward, seized a thick piece of wood like a four-foot rolling-pin, and therewith felled the savage, who tumbled headlong into the enclosure.
"Oh, father!" exclaimed a terrified voice at that moment, while a light touch was laid on Conrad's shoulder.
"What brings you here, Bertha?" said Conrad, with an impatient gesture. "Don't you know—"
"Come, quick, to mother!" cried the girl, interrupting.
No more was needed. In a moment Conrad was in the central enclosure, where, crowded under a rude erection of planks and boxes, were the women and children. An assagai had penetrated an unguarded crevice, and, passing under the arm of poor Mrs Marais, had pinned her to the family trunk, against which she leaned.
"Bertha could not pull it out," said Mrs Marais, with a faint smile on her pale face, "but I don't think I'm much hurt."
In a moment her husband had pulled out the spear, found that it had penetrated her clothing, and only grazed her breast, took time merely to make sure of this, and then, leaving her in Bertha's hands, returned to the scene of combat.
He was not an instant too soon. A yell was uttered by the savages as they rushed at a weak point, where the thorn-bush defences had been broken down. The point appeared to be undefended. They were about to leap through in a dense mass when ten Dutchmen, who had reserved their fire, discharged a volley simultaneously into the midst of them. It was a ruse of the defenders to draw the savages to that point. Whilst the Kafirs tumbled back over heaps of dead and dying, several other farmers thrust masses of impenetrable mimosa bush into the gap and refilled it. This discomfiture checked the assailants for a little; they drew off and retired behind the ridge to concert plans for a renewed and more systematic attack.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
TREATS OF VARIOUS STRANGE INCIDENTS, SOME INTERESTING MATTERS, AND A RESCUE.
While the emigrant farmers were thus gallantly defending themselves, the party under Hans Marais and Charlie Considine was hastening on their spoor to the rescue.
Their numbers had been increased by several volunteers, among whom were George Dally and Scholtz, also David, Jacob, and Hendrik, the sons of Jan Smit, who had made up their minds not to follow the fortunes of their savage-tempered sire, but who were at once ready to fly to his rescue on learning that he was in danger. While passing through the country they were further reinforced by a band of stout burghers, and by four brothers named Bowker. There were originally seven brothers of this family, who afterwards played a prominent part in the affairs of the colony. One of these Bowkers was noted for wearing a very tall white hat, in which, being of a literary turn of mind, he delighted to carry old letters and newspapers. From this circumstance his hat became known as "the post-office."
Although small, this was about as heroic a band of warriors as ever took the field—nearly every man being strong, active, a dead shot well trained to fight with wild beasts, and acquainted with the tactics of wilder men.
Proceeding by forced marches, they soon drew near to that part of the country where the beleaguered farmers lay.
One evening, having encamped a little earlier than usual, owing to the circumstance of their having reached a fountain of clear good water, some of the more energetic among them went off to search for game. Among these were the brothers Bowker.
"There's very likely a buffalo or something in that bush over there," said Septimus Bowker, who was the owner of the "post-office" hat. "Come, Mr Considine, you wanted to—Where's Considine?"
Every one looked round, but Considine and Hans were not there. One of the Skyds, however, remembered that they had fallen behind half an hour before, with the intention of procuring something fresh for supper.
"Well, we must go without him. He wanted to shoot a buffalo. Will no one else go?"
No one else felt inclined to go except Junkie Brook, so he and the four Bowkers went off, Septimus pressing the "post-office" tightly on his brows as they galloped away.
They had not far to go, game of all kinds being abundant in that region, but instead of finding a buffalo or gnu, they discovered a lioness in a bed of rushes. The party had several dogs with them, and these went yelping into the rushes, while the brothers stationed themselves on a mound, standing in a row, one behind another.
The brother with the tall white hat stood in front. Being the eldest, he claimed the post of honour. They were all fearless men and crack shots. Junkie was ordered to stand back, and complied with a bad grace, being an ardent sportsman.
"Look out!" exclaimed the brother in front to the brothers in rear.
"Ready!" was the quiet response.
Next moment out came the lioness with a savage growl, and went straight at Septimus, who cocked his gun as coolly as if he were about to slay a sparrow.
While the enraged animal was in the act of bounding, Septimus fired straight down its throat and suddenly stooped. By so doing he saved his head. Perhaps we should say the tall white hat saved it, for the crushing slap which the lioness meant to give him on the side of the head took effect on the post-office, and scattered its contents far and wide. Spurning Septimus on the shoulders with her hind-legs as she flew past, the lioness made at the brothers. Firm as the Horatii stood the other three. Deliberate and cool was their action as they took aim. Junkie followed suit, and the whole fired a volley, which laid the lioness dead at their feet.
Gathering himself up, Septimus looked with some concern at the white hat before putting it on. Remarking that it was tough, he proceeded to pick up its literary contents, while his brothers skinned the lioness. Shortly afterwards they all returned to camp.
Passing that way an hour or so later, Hans Marais and Charlie Considine came upon the spoor of the lioness.
"I say, Charlie," called out Hans, "there must be a lion in the vley there. I've got the spoor. Come here."
"It's not in the vley now," replied Charlie; "come here yourself; I've found blood, and, hallo! here's a newspaper! Why, it must be a literary lion! Look, Hans, can you make out the name?—Howker, Dowker, or something o' that sort. Do lions ever go by that name?"
"Bowker," exclaimed Hans, with a laugh. "Ah! my boy, there's no lion in the vley if the Bowkers have been here; and see, it's all plain as a pikestaff. They shot it here and skinned it there, and have dragged the carcass towards that bush; yes, here it is—a lioness. They're back to camp by this time. Come, let's follow them."
As they rode along, Hans, who had been glancing at the newspaper, turned suddenly to his companion.
"I say, Charlie, here's a strange coincidence. It's not every day that a man finds a Times newspaper in the wilds of Southern Africa with a message in it to himself."
"What do you mean, Hans?"
"Tell me, Charlie, about that uncle of whom you once spoke to me—long ago—in rather disrespectful tones, if not terms. Was he rich?"
"I believe so, but was never quite certain as to that."
"Did he like you?"
"I rather think not."
"Had you a male cousin or relative of the same name with yourself whom he did like?"
"Then allow me to congratulate you on your good fortune, and read that," said Hans, giving him the newspaper.
"If this should meet the eye of Charles Considine, formerly of Golden Square, Hotchester, he is requested to return without delay to England, or to communicate with Aggard, Ale, and Ixley, Solicitors, 23a Fitzbustaway Square, London."
"Most amazing!" exclaimed Considine, after a pause, "and there can be no doubt it refers to me, for these were my uncle's solicitors—most agreeable men—who gave me the needful to fit me out, and it was their chief clerk—a Roman-nosed jovial sort of fellow, named Rundle something or other—who accompanied me to the ship when I left, and wished me a pleasant voyage, with a tear, or a drop of rain, I'm not sure which, rolling down his Roman nose. Well, but, as I said before, isn't it an astonishing coincidence?"
"It wasn't you who said that before, it was I," returned Hans, "but we must make allowance for your state of mind. And now, as we're nearing the camp, what is it to be—silence?"
"Silence, of course," said Charlie. "There's no fear of Bowker reading the advertisements through, he has far too much literary taste for that, and even if he did, he's not likely to stumble on this one. So let's be silent."
There was anything but silence in the camp, however, when the friends reached it and reported their want of luck; for the warriors were then in the first fervour of appealing their powerful appetites.
Next morning they started at sunrise.
Early in the day they came on the mangled remains of the emigrant farmers before referred to. At first it was supposed this must be the remnant of the band they were in search of, but a very brief examination convinced them, experienced as they were in men and signs, that it was another band. Soon after, they came in sight of the party for which they were searching, just as the Kafirs were making a renewed attack. Already a few volleys had been fired by the Dutchmen, the smoke of which hung like a white shroud over the camp, and swarms of savages were yelling round it.
"The cattle and flocks have been swept away," growled Frank Dobson.
"But the women and children must be safe as yet," said Considine, with a sigh of relief.
"Now, boys," cried Hans, who had been elected captain, "we must act together. When I give the word, halt and fire like one man, and then charge where I lead you. Don't scatter. Don't give way to impetuous feelings. Be under command, if you would save our friends."
He spoke with quick, abrupt vigour, and waited for no reply or remark, but, putting himself where he fancied a leader should be, in front of the centre of his little line, set off in the direction of the emigrants' camp at a smart gallop. As the horsemen drew near they increased their pace, and then a yell from the savages, and a cheer from their friends, told that they had been observed by the combatants on both sides. The Kafirs were seen running back to the ridge on the other side of the camp, and assembling themselves hurriedly in a dense mass.
On swept the line of stalwart burghers, over the plain and down into the hollow in dead silence. The force of their leader's character seemed to have infused military discipline into them. Most of them kept boot to boot like dragoons. Even Dally and Scholtz kept well in line, and none lagged or shot ahead. As they passed close to the camp without drawing rein, the Dutchmen gave them an enthusiastic cheer, but no reply was made, save by Junkie, who could not repress a cry of fierce delight. Down deeper into the hollow they went, and up the opposite slope,—the thunder of their tread alone breaking the stillness.
"Halt!" cried the leader in a deep loud voice.
They drew up together almost as well as they had run. Next moment every man was on the ground and down on one knee; then followed the roar of their pieces, and a yell of wild fury told that none had missed his mark. Before the smoke had risen a yard they were again in the saddle. No further order was given. Hans charged; the rest followed like a wall at racing speed, with guns and bridles grasped in their left hands and sabres drawn in their right.
The savages did not await the onset. They turned, scattered, and fled. Many were overtaken and cut down. The Dutchmen sallied from the camp and joined in the pursuit. The Kafirs were routed completely, and all the cattle and flocks were recovered.
That same day there was a hot discussion over the camp-fires as to whether the emigrant farmers should return at once to the colony or wait until they should gather together some of the other parties of emigrants which were known to have crossed the frontier. At last it was resolved to adopt the latter course, but the wives and families were to be sent back to Fort Wilshire under the escort of their deliverers, there to remain till better times should dawn.
"Charlie," said Conrad Marais, as he walked up and down with his friend, "I must stick by my party, but I can trust you and Hans. You'll be careful of the women and little ones."
"You may depend on us," replied Considine, with emphasis.
"And you needn't be afraid to speak to Bertha by the way," said Conrad, with a peculiar side glance.
Charlie looked up quickly with a flush.
"Do you mean, sir, that—that—"
"Of course I do," cried the stout farmer, grasping his friend by the hand; "I forgive your being an Englishman, Charlie, and as I can't make you a Dutchman, the next best I can do for you is to give you a Dutch wife, who is in my opinion better and prettier than any English girl that ever lived."
"Hold!" cried Considine, returning the grasp, "I will not join you in making invidious comparisons between Dutch and English; but I'll go farther than you, and say that Bertha is in my opinion the best and prettiest girl in the whole world."
"That'll do, lad, that'll do. So, now, we'll go see what the Totties have managed to toss us up for breakfast."
Before the sun set that night the emigrant farmers, united with another large band, were entrenched in a temporary stronghold, and the women and children, with the rescue party—strengthened by a company of hunters and traders who had been in the interior when the war broke out, were far on their way back to Fort Wilshire.
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.
RELATES INCIDENTS OF THE WAR AND A GREAT DELIVERANCE.
On reaching the frontier fort it was found to be in a state of excitement bustle, and preparation.
News had just been received that the treacherous chief Hintza, although professedly at peace with the colony, was secretly in league with the invading chiefs, and the Governor was convinced of the necessity of taking vigorous measures against him. The savages, flushed with success, and retiring for a time to their own land with the cattle they had carried off, found in Hintza one ready to aid them in every way. It transpired that he had not only allowed the stolen cattle to be secreted in his territory, but many of his own people were "out" with the confederate chiefs fighting against the colonists, while traders under his protection had by his orders been seized and plundered. A message had therefore been sent to Hintza requiring him at once and decidedly to declare his intentions. To this, instead of a reply, the savage chief sent one of his braves, whose speech and conduct showed that his wily master only wished to gain time by trifling diplomacy. The brave was therefore sent back with another message, to the effect that if he, Hintza, should afford any of the other chiefs shelter or protection, and did not restore the booty concealed in his territory, he would be treated as an enemy. It was also proposed that himself should come and have an interview with the Governor, but this invitation he declined. Sir Benjamin D'Urban, therefore, resolved to menace the truculent chief in his own dominions, and when Hans Marais with his band entered the square of the little fort, he found the troops on the point of setting out.
The force consisted of a body of regulars and a burgher band collected from all parts of the colony. Among them were hardy Englishmen from the Zuurveld, tough with the training of fourteen years in the wilderness, and massive Dutchmen from the karroo, splendid horsemen and deadly shots.
While the bustle was at its height a party of horsemen galloped up to the gate, headed by a giant. It turned out to be a contingent from Glen Lynden, under Groot Willem of Baviaans River, with Andrew Rivers, Jerry Goldboy, and several of the Dutch farmers of the Tarka in his train.
"Ho! here you are," cried Groot Willem in his hearty bass roar, as he leaped to the ground and seized Hans Marais by the hand. "All well at Eden—eh?"
"Burnt out," said Hans quietly.
The giant looked aghast for a moment. Then his friend ran hurriedly over the main points of his story. But there was no time for talk. While salutations were being exchanged by the members of the various parties thus assembled, Sir Benjamin appeared, mounted his horse, gave orders to several of his officers, and spoke a few words to Groot Willem and Hans. In a few minutes the troops were marched out of the fort, and next day reached the right bank of the Kei River.
This was the western boundary of Hintza's particular territory. On arriving, the Governor issued general orders to the effect that Hintza was not "to be treated as an enemy." No kraals were to be burnt, no gardens or fields pillaged, and no natives meddled with, unless hostilities were first begun by them, and that no act of violence should be committed until due notice of the commencement of hostilities had been given. "You see," said Sir Benjamin in a private conversation with one of his staff, "I am resolved to take every possible precaution to avoid giving cause of complaint to the great chief, and to endeavour by mild forbearance to maintain peace. At the same time, it is essential that I should act with vigour because undue forbearance is always misinterpreted by savages to mean cowardice, and only precipitates the evils we seek to avoid."
On arriving at a spot where a trader named Purcell had been plundered and murdered, the troops were met by several "councillors" from Hintza and from the chief Booko, who were still a day's journey distant. To these the Governor said:—
"Go, tell the Great Chief that I request an interview with himself, because I desire that peace should be between us, and that justice should be done. I will not cease to advance until such interview is obtained, and it will depend on his own conduct whether Hintza is treated by the British Government as a friend or a foe."
But the Great Chief was doggedly bent on meeting his fate. He returned no answer to the message, and the troops moved on. Arriving at the mission station of Butterworth, they found it destroyed, and here they were met by a large body of Fingoes—native slaves—who eagerly offered their services to fight against their cruel masters the Kafirs. These Fingoes—destined in after years to make a deep impression on the colony—were the remains of eight powerful nations, who, broken up and scattered by the ferocious Chaka and his Zulu hordes, had taken refuge with Hintza, by whom they were enslaved and treated in the most brutal manner. He gave them generally the name of Fingo, which means dog. Their eager offer to serve under the British Chief was therefore most natural, but Sir Benjamin declined their services at the time, as war had not yet been declared.
Soon after, a detachment of thirty men was sent back to the colony with despatches, in charge of an ensign named Armstrong, who was waylaid and murdered by some of Hintza's Kafirs. The Governor, finding that his overtures were treated with studied neglect, and that hostilities were thus begun, called to him a Kafir councillor and warrior, and said—