H. Rider Haggard
Part 2 out of 6
more lest the lad should grow vain."
"Bah!" replied Retief, "fellows of his stamp are not vain; it is your
big talkers who are vain," and he glanced out of the corner of his
shrewd eye at Pereira, "your turkey cocks with all their tails spread.
I think this little chap must be such another as that great sailor of
yours--what do you call him, Nelson?--who beat the French into frothed
eggs and died to live for ever. He was small, too, they say, and weak
in the stomach."
I must confess I do not think that praise ever sounded sweeter in my
ears than did these words of the Commandant Retief, uttered as they were
just when I felt crushed to the dirt. Moreover, as I saw by Marie's
and, I may add, by my father's face, there were other ears to which they
were not ungrateful. The Boers also, brave and honest men enough,
evidently appreciated them, for they said:
"Ja! ja! das ist recht" (That is right).
Only Pereira turned his broad back and busied himself with relighting
his pipe, which had gone out.
Then Retief began again.
"What is it you were calling us to listen to, Mynheer Pereira? That
this Heer Allan Quatermain had offered to shoot you a match? Well, why
not? If he can hit Kaffirs running at him with spears, as he has done,
he may be able to hit other things also. You say that you won't rob him
of his money--no, it was his beautiful horse--because you have taken so
many prizes shooting at targets. But did _you_ ever hit a Kaffir
running at _you_ with an assegai, mynheer, you who live down there where
everything is safe? If so, I never heard of it."
Pereira answered that he did not understand me to propose a shooting
match at Kaffirs charging with assegais, but at something else--he knew
"Quite so," said Retief. "Well, Mynheer Allan, what is it that you do
"That we should stand in the great kloof between the two _vleis_
yonder--the Heer Marais knows the place--when the wild geese flight over
an hour before sunset, and that he who brings down six of them in the
fewest shots shall win the match."
"If our guns are loaded with loopers that will not be difficult," said
"With loopers you would seldom kill a bird, mynheer," I replied, "for
they come over from seventy to a hundred yards up. No, I mean with
"Allemachte!" broke in a Boer; "you will want plenty of ammunition to
hit a goose at that height with a bullet."
"That is my offer," I said, "to which I add this, that when twenty shots
have been fired by each man, he who has killed the most birds wins, even
if he has not brought down the full six. Does the Heer Pereira accept?
If so, I will venture to match myself against him, although he has won
so many prizes."
The Heer Pereira seemed extremely doubtful; so doubtful, indeed, that
the Boers began to laugh at him. In the end he grew rather angry, and
said that he was willing to shoot me at bucks or swallows, or fireflies,
or anything else I liked.
"Then let it be at geese," I answered, "since it is likely to be
sometime before I am strong enough to ride after buck or other wild
So the terms of the match were formally written down by Marie, as my
father, although he took a keen sporting interest in the result, would
have nothing to do with what he called a "wager for money," and, except
myself, there was no one else present with sufficient scholarship to pen
a long document. Then we both signed them, Hernan Pereira not very
willingly, I thought; and if my recovery was sufficiently rapid, the
date was fixed for that day week. In case of any disagreement, the Heer
Retief, who was staying at Maraisfontein, or in its neighbourhood, for a
while, was appointed referee and stakeholder. It was also arranged that
neither of us should visit the appointed place, or shoot at the geese
before the match. Still we were at liberty to practise as much as we
liked at anything else in the interval and to make use of any kind of
rifle that suited us best.
By the time that these arrangements were finished, feeling quite tired
with all the emotions of the morning, I was carried back to my room.
Here my midday meal, cooked by Marie, was brought to me. As I finished
eating it, for the fresh air had given me an appetite, my father came
in, accompanied by the Heer Marais, and began to talk to me. Presently
the latter asked me kindly enough if I thought I should be sufficiently
strong to trek back to the station that afternoon in an ox-cart with
springs to it and lying at full length upon a hide-strung "cartel" or
I answered, "Certainly," as I should have done had I been at the point
of death, for I saw that he wished to be rid of me.
"The fact is, Allan," he said awkwardly, "I am not inhospitable as you
may think, especially towards one to whom I owe so much. But you and my
nephew, Hernan, do not seem to get on very well together, and, as you
may guess, having just been almost beggared, I desire no unpleasantness
with the only rich member of my family."
I replied I was sure I did not wish to be the cause of any. It seemed
to me, however, that the Heer Pereira wished to make a mock of me and to
bring it home to me what a poor creature I was compared to himself--I a
mere sick boy who was worth nothing.
"I know," said Marais uneasily, "my nephew has been too fortunate in
life, and is somewhat overbearing in his manner. He does not remember
that the battle is not always to the strong or the race to the swift, he
who is young and rich and handsome, a spoiled child from the first. I
am sorry, but what I cannot help I must put up with. If I cannot have
my mealies cooked, I must eat them green. Also, Allan, have you never
heard that jealousy sometimes makes people rude and unjust?" and he
looked at me meaningly.
I made no answer, for when one does not quite know what to say it is
often best to remain silent, and he went on:
"I am vexed to hear of this foolish shooting match which has been
entered into without my knowledge or consent. if he wins he will only
laugh at you the more, and if you win he will be angry."
"It was not my fault, mynheer," I answered. "He wanted to force me to
sell the mare, which he had been riding without my leave, and kept
bragging about his marksmanship. So at last I grew cross and challenged
"No wonder, Allan; I do not blame you. Still, you are silly, for it
will not matter to him if he loses his money; but that beautiful mare is
your ewe-lamb, and I should be sorry to see you parted from a beast
which has done us so good a turn. Well, there it is; perhaps
circumstances may yet put an end to this trial; I hope so."
"I hope they won't," I answered stubbornly.
"I dare say you do, being sore as a galled horse just now. But listen,
Allan, and you, too, Predicant Quatermain; there are other and more
important reasons than this petty squabble why I should be glad if you
could go away for a while. I must take counsel with my countrymen about
certain secret matters which have to do with our welfare and future,
and, of course they would not like it if all the while there were two
Englishmen on the place, whom they might think were spies."
"Say no more, Heer Marais," broke in my father hotly; "still less should
we like to be where we are not wanted or are looked upon with suspicion
for the crime of being English. By God's blessing, my son has been able
to do some service to you and yours, but now that is all finished and
forgotten. Let the cart you are so kind as to lend us be inspanned. We
will go at once."
Then Henri Marais, who was a gentleman at bottom, although, even in
those early days, violent and foolish when excited or under the
influence of his race prejudices, began to apologise quite humbly,
assuring my father that he forgot nothing and meant no offence. So they
patched the matter up, and an hour later we started.
All the Boers came to see us off, giving me many kind words and saying
how much they looked forward to meeting me again on the following
Thursday. Pereira, who was among them, was also very genial, begging me
to be sure and get well, since he did not wish to beat one who was still
crippled, even at a game of goose shooting. I answered that I would do
my best; as for my part, I did not like being beaten it any game which I
had set my heart on winning, whether it were little or big. Then I
turned my head, for I was lying on my back all this time, to bid
good-bye to Marie, who had slipped out of the house into the yard where
the cart was.
"Good-bye, Allan," she said, giving me her hand and a look from her eyes
that I trusted was not seen. Then, under pretence of arranging the
kaross which was over me, she bent down and whispered swiftly:
"Win that match if you love me. I shall pray God that you may every
night, for it will be an omen."
I think the whisper was heard, though not the words, for I saw Pereira
bite his lip and make a movement as though to interrupt her. But Pieter
Retief thrust his big form in front of him rather rudely, and said with
one of his hearty laughs:
"Allemachte! friend, let the missje wish a good journey to the young
fellow who saved her life."
Next moment Hans, the Hottentot, screamed at the oxen in the usual
fashion, and we rolled away through the gate.
But oh! if I had liked the Heer Retief before, now I loved him.
THE SHOOTING MATCH
My journey back to the Mission Station was a strange contrast to that
which I had made thence a few days before. Then, the darkness, the
swift mare beneath me rushing through it like a bird, the awful terror
in my heart lest I should be too late, as with wild eyes I watched the
paling stars and the first gathering grey of dawn. Now, the creaking of
the ox-cart, the familiar veld, the bright glow of the peaceful
sunlight, and in my heart a great thankfulness, and yet a new terror
lest the pure and holy love which I had won should be stolen away from
me by force or fraud.
Well, as the one matter had been in the hand of God, so was the other,
and with that knowledge I must be content. The first trial had ended in
death and victory. How would the second end? I wondered, and those
words seemed to jumble themselves up in my mind and shape a sentence
that it did not conceive. It was: "In the victory that is death,"
which, when I came to think of it, of course, meant nothing. How
victory could be death I did not understand--at any rate, at that time,
I who was but a lad of small experience.
As we trekked along comfortably enough, for the road was good and the
cart, being on springs, gave my leg no pain, I asked my father what he
thought that the Heer Marais had meant when he told us that the Boers
had business at Maraisfontein, during which our presence as Englishmen
would not be agreeable to them.
"Meant, Allan? He meant that these traitorous Dutchmen are plotting
against their sovereign, and are afraid lest we should report their
treason. Either they intend to rebel because of that most righteous
act, the freeing of the slaves, and because we will not kill out all the
Kaffirs with whom they chance to quarrel, or to trek from the Colony.
For my part I think it will be the latter, for, as you have heard, some
parties have already gone; and, unless I am mistaken, many more mean to
follow, Marais and Retief and that plotter, Pereira, among them. Let
them go; I say, the sooner the better, for I have no doubt that the
English flag will follow them in due course."
"I hope that they won't," I answered with a nervous laugh; "at any rate,
until I have won back my mare." (I had left her in Retief's care as
stakeholder, until the match should be shot off.)
For the rest of that two and a half hours' trek my father, looking very
dignified and patriotic, declaimed to me loudly about the bad behaviour
of the Boers, who hated and traduced missionaries, loathed and
abominated British rule and permanent officials, loved slavery and
killed Kaffirs whenever they got the chance. I listened to him
politely, for it was not wise to cross my parent when he was in that
humour. Also, having mixed a great deal with the Dutch, I knew that
there was another side to the question, namely, that the missionaries
sometimes traduced them (as, in fact, they did), and that British rule,
or rather, party government, played strange tricks with the interests of
distant dependencies. That permanent officials and im-permanent ones
too--such as governors full of a little brief authority--often
misrepresented and oppressed them. That Kaffirs, encouraged by the
variegated policy of these party governments and their servants,
frequently stole their stock; and if they found a chance, murdered them
with their women and children, as they had tried to do at Maraisfontein;
though there, it is true, they had some provocation. That British
virtue had liberated the slaves without paying their owners a fair price
for them, and so forth.
But, to tell the truth, it was not of these matters of high policy,
which were far enough away from a humble youth like myself, that I was
thinking. What appealed to me and made my heart sick was the reflection
that if Henri Marais and his friends trekked, Marie Marais must perforce
trek with them; and that whereas I, an Englishman, could not be of that
adventurous company, Hernando Pereira both could and would.
On the day following our arrival home, what between the fresh air,
plenty of good food, for which I found I had an appetite, and liberal
doses of Pontac--a generous Cape wine that is a kind of cross between
port and Burgundy--I found myself so much better that I was able to hop
about the place upon a pair of crutches which Hans improvised for me out
of Kaffir sticks. Next morning, my improvement continuing at a rapid
rate, I turned my attention seriously to the shooting match, for which I
had but five days to prepare.
Now it chanced that some months before a young Englishman of good
family--he was named the Honourable Vavasseur Smyth--who had accompanied
an official relative to the Cape Colony, came our way in search of
sport, of which I was able to show him a good deal of a humble kind. He
had brought with him, amongst other weapons, what in those days was
considered a very beautiful hair-triggered small-bore rifle fitted with
a nipple for percussion caps, then quite a new invention. It was by a
maker of the name of J. Purdey, of London, and had cost quite a large
sum because of the perfection of its workmanship. When the Honourable
V. Smyth--of whom I have never heard since--took his leave of us on his
departure for England, being a generous-hearted young fellow, as a
souvenir of himself, he kindly presented me with this rifle,* which I
[*--This single-barrelled percussion-cap rifle described by Allan
Quatermain, which figures so prominently in the history of this epoch of
his life, has been sent to me by Mr. Curtis, and is before me as I
write. It was made in the year 1835 by J. Purdey, of 314 1/2, Oxford
Street, London, and is a beautiful piece of workmanship of its kind.
Without the ramrod, which is now missing, it weighs only 5 lbs. 3 3/4
oz. The barrel is octagonal, and the rifled bore, designed to take a
spherical bullet, is 1/2 in. in diameter. The hammer can be set to
safety on the half-cock by means of a catch behind it.
Another peculiarity of the weapon, one that I have never seen before, is
that by pressing on the back of the trigger the ordinary light pull of
the piece is so reduced that the merest touch suffices to fire it, thus
rendering it hair-triggered in the fullest sense of the word.
It has two flap-sights marked for 150 and 200 yards, in addition to the
fixed sight designed for firing at 100 yards.
On the lock are engraved a stag and a doe, the first lying down and the
Of its sort and period, it is an extraordinarily well-made and handy
gun, finished with horn at the end of what is now called the tongue, and
with the stock cut away so as to leave a raised cushion against which
the cheek of the shooter rests.
What charge it took I do not know, but I should imagine from 2 1/2 to 3
drachms of powder. It is easy to understand that in the hands of Allan
Quatermain this weapon, obsolete as it is to-day, was capable of great
things within the limits of its range, and that the faith he put in it
at the trial of skill at the Groote Kloof, and afterwards in the fearful
ordeal of the shooting of the vultures on the wing, upon the Mount of
Slaughter, when the lives of many hung upon his marksmanship, was well
justified. This, indeed, is shown by the results in both cases.
In writing of this rifle, Messrs. Purdey informed me that copper
percussion caps were experimented with by Colonel Forsyth in 1820, and
that their firm sold them in 1824, at a cost of #1 15s. per 1,000,
although their use did not become general until some years later.--THE
That was about six months earlier than the time of which I write, and
during those months I had often used this rifle for the shooting of
game, such as blesbuck and also of bustards. I found it to be a weapon
of the most extraordinary accuracy up to a range of about two hundred
yards, though when I rode off in that desperate hurry for Maraisfontein
I did not take it with me because it was a single barrel and too small
in the bore to load with loopers at a pinch. Still, in challenging
Pereira, it was this gun and no other that I determined to use; indeed,
had I not owned it I do not think that I should have ventured on the
As it happened, Mr. Smyth had left me with the rifle a large supply of
specially cast bullets and of the new percussion caps, to say nothing of
some very fine imported powder. Therefore, having ammunition in plenty,
I set to work to practise. Seating myself upon a chair in a deep kloof
near the station, across which rock pigeons and turtle doves were wont
to fly in numbers at a considerable height, I began to fire at them as
they flashed over me.
Now, in my age, I may say without fear of being set down a boaster, that
I have one gift, that of marksmanship, which, I suppose, I owe to some
curious combination of judgment, quickness of eye, and steadiness of
hand. I can declare honestly that in my best days I never knew a man
who could beat me in shooting at a living object; I say nothing of
target work, of which I have little experience. Oddly enough, also, I
believe that at this art, although then I lacked the practice which
since has come to me in such plenty, I was as good as a youth as I have
ever been in later days, and, of course, far better than I am now. This
I soon proved upon the present occasion, for seated there in that kloof,
after a few trials, I found that I could bring down quite a number of
even the swift, straight-flying rock pigeons as they sped over me, and
this, be it remembered, not with shot, but with a single bullet, a feat
that many would hold to be incredible.
So the days passed, and I practised, every evening finding me a little
better at this terribly difficult sport. For always I learned more as
to the exact capacities of my rifle and the allowance that must be made
according to the speed of the bird, its distance, and the complications
of the wind and of the light. During those days, also, I recovered so
rapidly that at the end of them I was almost in my normal condition, and
could walk well with the aid of a single stick.
At length the eventful Thursday came, and about midday--for I lay in bed
late that morning and did not shoot--I drove, or, rather, was driven, in
a Cape cart with two horses to the place known as Groote Kloof or Great
Gully. Over this gorge the wild geese flighted from their "pans" or
feeding grounds on the high lands above, to other pans that lay some
miles below, and thence, I suppose, straight out to the sea coast,
whence they returned at dawn.
On arriving at the mouth of Groote Kloof about four o'clock in the
afternoon, my father and I were astonished to see a great number of
Boers assembled there, and among them a certain sprinkling of their
younger womankind, who had come on horseback or in carts.
"Good gracious!" I said to my father; "if I had known there was to be
such a fuss as this about a shooting match, I don't think I could have
"Hum," he answered; "I think there is more in the wind than your match.
Unless I am much mistaken, it has been made the excuse of a public
meeting in a secluded spot, so as to throw the Authorities off the
As a matter of fact, my father was quite right. Before we arrived there
that day the majority of those Boers, after full and long discussion,
had arranged to shake the dust of the Colony off their feet, and find a
home in new lands to the north.
Presently we were among them, and I noticed that, one and all, their
faces were anxious and preoccupied. Pieter Retief caught sight of me
being helped out of the cart by my father and Hans, whom I had brought
to load, and for a moment looked puzzled. Evidently his thoughts were
far away. Then he remembered and exclaimed in his jolly voice:
"Why! here is our little Englishman come to shoot off his match like a
man of his word. Friend Marais, stop talking about your losses"--this
in a warning voice--"and give him good day."
So Marais came, and with him Marie, who blushed and smiled, but to my
mind looked more of a grown woman than ever before; one who had left
girlhood behind her and found herself face to face with real life and
all its troubles. Following her close, very close, as I was quick to
notice, was Hernan Pereira. He was even more finely dressed than usual
and carried in his hand a beautiful new, single-barrelled rifle, also
fitted to take percussion caps, but, as I thought, of a very large bore
for the purpose of goose shooting.
"So you have got well again," he said in a genial voice that yet did not
ring true. Indeed, it suggested to me that he wished I had done nothing
of the sort. "Well, Mynheer Allan, here you find me quite ready to
shoot your head off." (He didn't mean that, though I dare say he was.)
"I tell you that the mare is as good as mine, for I have been
practising, haven't I, Marie? as the 'aasvogels'" (that is, vultures)
"round the stead know to their cost."
"Yes, Cousin Hernan," said Marie, "you have been practising, but so,
perhaps, has Allan."
By this time all the company of Boers had collected round us, and began
to evince a great interest in the pending contest, as was natural among
people who rarely had a gun out of their hands, and thought that fine
shooting was the divinest of the arts. However, they were not allowed
to stay long, as the Kaffirs said that the geese would begin their
afternoon flight within about half an hour. So the spectators were all
requested to arrange themselves under the sheer cliff of the kloof,
where they could not be seen by the birds coming over them from behind,
and there to keep silence. Then Pereira and I--I attended by my loader,
but he alone, as he said a man at his elbow would bother him--and with
us Retief, the referee, took our stations about a hundred and fifty
yards from this face of cliff. Here we screened ourselves as well as we
could from the keen sight of the birds behind some tall bushes which
grew at this spot.
I seated myself on a camp-stool, which I had brought with me, for my leg
was still too weak to allow me to stand long, and waited. Presently
Pereira said through Retief that he had a favour to ask, namely, that I
would allow him to take the first six shots, as the strain of waiting
made him nervous. I answered, "Certainly," although I knew well that
the object of the request was that he believed that the outpost
geese--"spy-geese" we called them--which would be the first to arrive,
would probably come over low down and slow, whereas those that followed,
scenting danger, might fly high and fast. This, in fact, proved to be
the case, for there is no bird more clever than the misnamed goose.
When we had waited about a quarter of an hour Hans said:
"Hist! Goose comes."
As he spoke, though as yet I could not see the bird, I heard its cry of
"Honk, honk" and the swish of its strong wings.
Then it appeared, an old spur-winged gander, probably the king of the
flock, flying so low that it only cleared the cliff edge by about twenty
feet, and passed over not more than thirty yards up, an easy shot.
Pereira fired, and down it came rather slowly, falling a hundred yards
or so behind him, while Retief said:
"One for our side."
Pereira loaded again, and just as he had capped his rifle three more
geese, also flying low, came over, preceded by a number of ducks,
passing straight above us, as they must do owing to the shape of the gap
between the land waves of the veld above through which they flighted.
Pereira shot, and to my surprise, the second, not the first, bird fell,
also a good way behind him.
"Did you shoot at that goose, or the other, nephew?" asked Retief.
"At that one for sure," he answered with a laugh.
"He lies," muttered the Hottentot; "he shot at the first and killed the
"Be silent," I answered. "Who would lie about such a thing?"
Again Pereira loaded. By the time that he was ready more geese were
approaching, this time in a triangle of seven birds, their leader being
at the point of the triangle, which was flying higher than those that
had gone before. He fired, and down came not one bird, but two, namely,
the captain and the goose to the right of and a little behind it.
"Ah! uncle," exclaimed Pereira, "did you see those birds cross each
other as I pulled? That was a lucky one for me, but I won't count the
second if the Heer Allan objects."
"No, I did not, nephew," answered Retief, "but doubtless they must have
done so, or the same bullet could not have pierced both."
Both Hans and I only looked at each other and laughed. Still we said
From the spectators under the cliff there came a murmur of
congratulation not unmixed with astonishment. Again Pereira loaded,
aimed, and loosed at a rather high goose--it may have been about seventy
yards in the air. He struck it right enough, for the feathers flew from
its breast; but to my astonishment the bird, after swooping down as
though it were going to fall, recovered itself and flew away straight
out of sight.
"Tough birds, these geese!" exclaimed Pereira. "They can carry as much
lead as a sea-cow."
"Very tough indeed," answered Retief doubtfully. "Never before did I
see a bird fly away with an ounce ball through its middle."
"Oh! he will drop dead somewhere," replied Pereira as he rammed his
Within four minutes more Pereira had fired his two remaining shots,
selecting, as he was entitled to do, low and easy young geese that came
over him slowly. He killed them both, although the last of them, after
falling, waddled along the ground into a tuft of high grass.
Now murmurs of stifled applause broke from the audience, to which
Pereira bowed in acknowledgment.
"You will have to shoot very well, Mynheer Allan," said Retief to me,
"if you want to beat that. Even if I rule out one of the two birds that
fell to a single shot, as I think I shall, Hernan has killed five out of
six, which can scarcely be bettered."
"Yes," I answered; "but, mynheer, be so good as to have those geese
collected and put upon one side. I don't want them mixed up with mine,
if I am lucky enough to bring any down."
He nodded, and some Kaffirs were sent to bring in the geese. Several of
these, I noted, were still flapping and had to have their necks twisted,
but at the time I did not go to look at them. While this was being done
I called to Retief, and begged him to examine the powder and bullets I
was about to use.
"What's the good?" he asked, looking at me curiously. "Powder is
powder, and a bullet is a bullet."
"None, I dare say. Still, oblige me by looking at them, my uncle."
Then at my bidding Hans took six bullets and placed them in his hand,
begging him to return them to us as they were wanted.
"They must be a great deal smaller than Hernan's," said Retief, "who,
being stronger, uses a heavier gun."
"Yes," I answered briefly, as Hans put the charge of powder into the
rifle, and drove home the wad. Then, taking a bullet from Retief's
hand, he rammed that down on to the top of it, capped the gun, and
handed it to me.
By now the geese were coming thick, for the flight was at its full.
Only, either because some of those that had already passed had sighted
the Kaffirs collecting the fallen birds and risen--an example which the
others noted from afar and followed--or because in an unknown way
warning of their danger had been conveyed to them, they were flying
higher and faster than the first arrivals.
"You will have the worst of it, Allan," said Retief. "It should have
been shot and shot about."
"Perhaps," I answered, "but that can't be helped now."
Then I rose from my stool, the rifle in my hand. I had not long to
wait, for presently over came a wedge of geese nearly a hundred yards
up. I aimed at the first fellow, holding about eight yards ahead of him
to allow for his pace, and pressed. Next second I heard the clap of the
bullet, but alas! it had only struck the outstretched beak, of which a
small portion fell to the ground. The bird itself, after wavering a
second, resumed its place as leader of the squad and passed away
"Baas, baas," whispered Hans as he seized the rifle and began to
re-load, "you were too far in front. These big water-birds do not
travel as fast as the rock pigeons."
I nodded, wishing to save my breath. Then, quivering with excitement,
for if I missed the next shot the match appeared to be lost, presently I
took the rifle from his hand.
Scarcely had I done so when a single goose came over quite as high as
the others and travelling "as though the black devil had kicked it," as
Retief said. This time I allowed the same space to compensate for the
object's increased speed and pressed.
Down it came like a stone, falling but a little way behind me with its
head knocked off.
"Baas, baas," whispered Hans, "still too far in front. Why aim at the
eye when you have the whole body?"
Again I nodded, and at the same time heaved a sigh of relief. At least
the match was still alive. Soon a large flight came over, mixed up with
mallard and widgeon. I took the right-hand angle bird, so that it could
not be supposed I had "browned the lot," as here in England they say of
one who fires at a covey and not at a particular partridge. Down he
came, shot straight through the breast. Then I knew that I had got my
nerve, and felt no more fear.
To cut a long story short, although two of them were extremely difficult
and high, one being, I should say, quite a hundred and twenty yards
above me, and the other by no means easy, I killed the next three birds
one after the other, and I verily believe could have killed a dozen more
without a miss, for now I was shooting as I had never shot before.
"Say, nephew Allan," asked Retief curiously in the pause between the
fifth and sixth shots, "why do your geese fall so differently to
"Ask him! don't talk to me," I answered, and next instant brought down
number five, the finest shot of the lot.
A sound of wonder and applause came from all the audience, and I saw
Marie wave a white handkerchief.
"That's the end," said the referee.
"One minute before you stir," I answered. "I want to shoot at something
else that is not in the match, just to see if I can kill two birds with
one bullet like the Heer Pereira."
He granted my request with a nod, holding up his hand to prevent the
audience from moving, and bidding Pereira, who tried to interrupt, to be
Now, while the match was in progress I had noticed two falcons about the
size of the British peregrine wheeling round and round high over the
kloof, in which doubtless they bred, apparently quite undisturbed by the
shooting. Or, perhaps, they had their eyes upon some of the fallen
geese. I took the rifle and waited for a long while, till at last my
opportunity came. I saw that the larger hen falcon was about to cross
directly over the circle of its mate, there being perhaps a distance of
ten yards between them. I aimed; I judged--for a second my mind was a
kind of calculating machine--the different arcs and speeds of the birds
must be allowed for, and the lowest was ninety yards away. Then, with
something like a prayer upon my lips, I pressed while every eye stared
Down came the lower falcon; a pause of half a second, and down came the
higher one also, falling dead upon its dead mate!
Now, even from those Boers, who did not love to see an Englishman excel,
there broke a shout of acclamation. Never had they beheld such a shot
as this; nor in truth had I.
"Mynheer Retief," I said, "I gave you notice that I intended to try to
kill both of them, did I not?"
"You did. Allemachte! you did! But tell me, Allan Quatermain, are your
eye and hand quite human?"
"You must ask my father," I answered with a shrug as I sat myself down
upon my stool and mopped my brow.
The Boers came up with a rush, Marie flying ahead of them like a
swallow, and their stout womenfolk waddling behind, and formed a circle
round us, all talking at once. I did not listen to their conversation,
till I heard Pereira, who was engaged in some eye-play with Marie, say
in a loud voice:
"Yes, it was pretty, very pretty, but all the same, Uncle Retief, I
claim the match, as I shot six geese against five."
"Hans," I said, "bring my geese," and they were brought, each with a
neat hole through it, and laid down near those that Pereira had shot.
"Now," I said to Retief, "examine the wounds in these birds, and then
that on the second bird which the Heer Pereira killed when he brought
down two at once. I think it will be found that his bullet must have
Retief went and studied all the birds, taking them up one by one. Then
he threw down the last with a curse and cried in a great voice:
"Mynheer Pereira, why do you bring shame on us before these two
Englishmen? I say that you have been using loopers, or else bullets
that were sawn in quarters and glued or tied with thread. Look, look!"
and he pointed to the wounds, of which in one case there were as many as
three on a single bird.
"Why not?" answered Pereira coolly. "The bargain was that we were to
use bullets, but it was never said that they should not be cut.
Doubtless the Heer Allan's were treated in the same way."
"No," I answered, "when I said that I would shoot with a bullet I meant
a whole bullet, not one that had been sawn in pieces and fixed together
again, so that after it left the muzzle it might spread out like shot.
But I do not wish to talk about the matter. It is in the hands of the
Heer Pieter Retief, who will give judgment as it pleases him."
Now, much excited argument ensued among the Boers, in the midst of which
Marie managed to whisper to me unheard:
"Oh! I am glad, Allan, for whatever they may decide, you won, and the
omen is good."
"I don't see what geese have to do with omens, sweetheart," I
answered--"that is, since the time of the ancient Romans. Anyhow, I
should say that the omens are bad, for there is going to be a row
Just then Retief put up his hand, calling out:
"Silence! I have decided. The writing of the match did not say that the
bullets were not to be cut, and therefore Hernan Pereira's birds must
count. But that writing does say that any bird accidentally killed
should not count, and therefore one goose must be subtracted from
Pereira's total, which leaves the two shooters equal. So either the
match is dead or, since the geese have ceased to come, it must be shot
off another day."
"Oh! if there is any question," said Pereira, who felt that public
opinion was much against him, "let the Englishman take the money. I
dare say that he needs it, as the sons of missionaries are not rich."
"There is no question," I said, "since, rich or poor, not for a thousand
pounds would I shoot again against one who plays such tricks. Keep your
money, Mynheer Pereira, and I will keep my mare. The umpire has said
that the match is dead, so everything is finished."
"Not quite," interrupted Retief, "for I have a word to say. Friend
Allan, you have played fair, and I believe that there is no one who can
shoot like you in Africa."
"That is so," said the audience of Boers.
"Mynheer Pereira," went on Retief, "although you, too, are a fine shot,
as is well known, I believe that had you played fair also you would have
been beaten, but as it is you have saved your hundred pounds. Mynheer
Pereira," he added in a great voice, "you are a cheat, who have brought
disgrace upon us Boers, and for my part I never want to shake your hand
Now, at these outspoken words, for when his indignation was aroused
Retief was no measurer of language, Pereira's high-coloured face went
white as a sheet.
"Mein Gott, mynheer," he said, "I am minded to make you answer for such
talk," and his hand went to the knife at his girdle.
"What!" shouted Retief, "do you want another shooting match? Well, if
so I am ready with whole bullets or with split ones. None shall say
that Pieter Retief was afraid of any man, and, least of all, of one who
is not ashamed to try to steal a prize as a hyena steals a bone from a
lion. Come on, Hernan Pereira, come on!"
Now, I am sure I cannot say what would have happened, although I am
quite certain that Pereira had no stomach for a duel with the
redoubtable Retief, a man whose courage was as proverbial throughout the
land as was his perfect uprightness of character. At any rate, seeing
that things looked very black, Henri Marais, who had been listening to
this altercation with evident annoyance, stepped forward and said:
"Mynheer Retief and nephew Hernan, you are both my guests, and I will
not permit quarrelling over this foolishness, especially as I am sure
that Hernan never intended to cheat, but only to do what he thought was
allowed. Why should he, who is one of the finest shots in the Colony,
though it may be that young Allan Quatermain here is even better? Will
you not say so, too, friend Retief, especially just now when it is
necessary that we should all be as brothers?" he added pleadingly.
"No," thundered Retief, "I will not tell a lie to please you or anyone."
Then, seeing that the commandant was utterly uncompromising, Marais went
up to his nephew and whispered to him for a while. What he said I do
not know. The result of it was, however, that after favouring both
Retief and myself with an angry scowl, Pereira turned and walked to
where his horse stood, mounted it, and rode off, followed by two
That was the last I saw of Hernan Pereira for a long while to come, and
heartily do I wish that it had been the last I ever saw of him. But
this was not to be.
The Boers, who ostensibly had come to the kloof to see the shooting
match, although, in fact, for a very different purpose, now began to
disperse. Some of them rode straight away, while some went to wagons
which they had outspanned at a distance, and trekked off to their
separate homes. I am glad to say that before they left quite a number
of the best of them came up and congratulated me both on the defence of
Maraisfontein and on my shooting. Also not a few expressed their views
concerning Pereira in very straightforward language.
Now, the arrangement was that my father and I were to sleep that night
at Marais's stead, returning home on the following morning. But my
father, who had been a silent but not unobservant witness of all this
scene, coming to the conclusion that after what had happened we should
scarcely be welcome there, and that the company of Pereira was to be
avoided just now, went up to Marais and bade him farewell, saying that
we would send for my mare.
"Not so, not so," he answered, "you are my guests to-night. Also, fear
not, Hernan will be away. He has gone a journey upon some business."
As my father hesitated, Marais added: "Friend, I pray you to come, for I
have some important words to say to you, which cannot be said here."
Then my father gave way, to my delight and relief. For if he had not,
what chance would there have been of my getting some still more
important words with Marie? So having collected the geese and the two
falcons, which I proposed to skin for Marie, I was helped into the cart,
and we drove off, reaching Maraisfontein just as night set in.
That evening, after we had eaten, Heer Marais asked my father and myself
to speak with him in the sitting-room. By an afterthought also, or so
it seemed to me, he told his daughter, who had been clearing away the
dishes and with whom as yet I had found no opportunity to talk, to come
in with us and close the door behind her.
When all were seated and we men had lit our pipes, though apprehension
of what was to follow quite took away my taste for smoking, Marais spoke
in English, which he knew to a certain extent. This was for the benefit
of my father, who made it a point of honour not to understand Dutch,
although he would answer Marais in that language when _he_ pretended not
to understand English. To me he spoke in Dutch, and occasionally in
French to Marie. It was a most curious and polyglot conversation.
"Young Allan," he said, "and you, daughter Marie, I have heard stories
concerning you that, although I never gave you leave to 'opsit'" (that
is, to sit up alone at night with candles, according to the Boer fashion
between those who are courting), "you have been making love to each
"That is true, mynheer," I said. "I only waited an opportunity to tell
you that we plighted our troth during the attack of the Quabies on this
"Allemachte! Allan, a strange time to choose," answered Marais, pulling
at his beard;" the troth that is plighted in blood is apt to end in
"A vain superstition to which I cannot consent," interrupted my father.
"Perhaps so," I answered. "I know not; God alone knows. I only know
that we plighted our troth when we thought ourselves about to die, and
that we shall keep that troth till death ends it."
"Yes, my father," added Marie, leaning forward across the scored
yellow-wood table, her chin resting on her hand and her dark, buck-like
eyes looking him in the face. "Yes, my father, that is so, as I have
told you already."
"And I tell you, Marie, what I have told you already, and you too,
Allan, that this thing may not be," answered Marais, hitting the table
with his fist. "I have nothing to say against you, Allan; indeed, I
honour you, and you have done me a mighty service, but it may not be."
"Why not, mynheer?" I asked.
"For three reasons, Allan, each of which is final. You are English, and
I do not wish my daughter to marry an Englishman; that is the first.
You are poor, which is no discredit to you, and since I am now ruined my
daughter cannot marry a poor man; that is the second. You live here,
and my daughter and I are leaving this country, therefore you cannot
marry her; that is the third," and he paused.
"Is there not a fourth," I asked, "which is the real reason? Namely,
that you wish your daughter to marry someone else."
"Yes, Allan; since you force me to it, there is a fourth. I have
affianced my daughter to her cousin, Hernando Pereira, a man of
substance and full age; no lad, but one who knows his own mind and can
support a wife."
"I understand," I answered calmly, although within my heart a very hell
was raging. "But tell me, mynheer, has Marie affianced herself--or
perhaps she will answer with her own lips?"
"Yes, Allan," replied Marie in her quiet fashion, "I have affianced
myself--to you and no other man."
"You hear, mynheer," I said to Marais.
Then he broke out in his usual excitable manner. He stormed, he argued,
he rated us both. He said that he would never allow it; that first he
would see his daughter in her grave. That I had abused his confidence
and violated his hospitality; that he would shoot me if I came near his
girl. That she was a minor, and according to the law he could dispose
of her in marriage. That she must accompany him whither he was going;
that certainly I should not do so, and much more of the same sort.
When at last he had tired himself out and smashed his favourite pipe
upon the table, Marie spoke, saying:
"My father, you know that I love you dearly, for since my mother's death
we have been everything to each other, have we not?"
"Surely, Marie, you are my life, and more than my life."
"Very well, my father. That being so, I acknowledge your authority over
me, whatever the law may say. I acknowledge that you have the right to
forbid me to marry Allan, and if you do forbid me--while I am under age,
at any rate--I shall not marry him because of my duty to you.
But"--here she rose and looked him full in the eyes, and oh! how stately
she seemed at that moment in her simple strength and youthful
grace!--"there is one thing, my father, that I do not acknowledge--your
right to force me to marry any other man. As a woman with power over
herself, I deny that right; and much as it pains me, my father, to
refuse you anything, I say that first I will die. To Allan here I have
given myself for good or for evil, and if I may not marry Allan, I will
go to the grave unwed. If my words hurt you, I pray you to pardon me,
but at the same time to remember that they are my words, which cannot be
Marais looked at his daughter, and his daughter looked at Marais. At
first I thought that he was about to curse her; but if this were so,
something in her eyes seemed to change his mind, for all he said was:
"Intractable, like the rest of your race! Well, Fate may lead those who
cannot be driven, and this matter I leave in the hands of Fate. While
you are under age--that is, for two years or more--you may not marry
without my consent, and have just promised not to do so. Presently we
trek from this country into far-off lands. Who knows what may happen
"Yes," said my father in a solemn voice, speaking for the first time,
"who knows except God, Who governs all things, and will settle these
matters according to His will, Henri Marais? Listen," he went on after
a pause, for Marais made no answer, but sat himself down and stared
gloomily at the table. "You do not wish my son to marry your daughter
for various reasons, of which one is that you think him poor and a
richer suitor has offered himself after a reverse of fortune has made
_you_ poor. Another and a greater, the true reason, is his English
blood, which you hate so much that, although by God's mercy he saved her
life, you do not desire that he should share her life. Is it not true?"
"Yes, it is true, Mynheer Quatermain. You English are bullies and
cheats," he answered excitedly.
"And so you would give your daughter to one who has shown himself humble
and upright, to that good hater of the English and plotter against his
King, Hernando Pereira, whom you love because he alone is left of your
Remembering the incident of the afternoon, this sarcasm reduced Marais
"Well," went on my father, "although I am fond of Marie, and know her to
be a sweet and noble-hearted girl, neither do I wish that she should
marry my son. I would see him wed to some English woman, and not
dragged into the net of the Boers and their plottings. Still, it is
plain that these two love each other with heart and soul, as doubtless
it has been decreed that they should love. This being so, I tell you
that to separate them and force another marriage upon one of them is a
crime before God, of which, I am sure, He will take note and pay it back
to you. Strange things may happen in those lands whither you go, Henri
Marais. Will you not, then, be content to leave your child in safe
"Never!" shouted Marais. "She shall accompany me to a new home, which
is not under the shadow of your accursed British flag."
"Then I have no more to say. On your head be it here and hereafter,"
replied my father solemnly.
Now unable to control myself any longer I broke in:
"But I have, mynheer. To separate Marie and myself is a sin, and one
that will break her heart. As for my poverty, I have something, more
perhaps than you think, and in this rich country wealth can be earned by
those who work, as I would do for her sake. The man to whom you would
give her showed his true nature this day, for he who can play so low a
trick to win a wager, will play worse tricks to win greater things.
Moreover, the scheme must fail since Marie will not marry him."
"I say she shall," replied Marais; "and that whether she does or not,
she shall accompany me and not stay here to be the wife of an English
"Accompany you I will, father, and share your fortunes to the last. But
marry Hernando Pereira I will not," said Marie quietly.
"Perhaps, mynheer," I added, "days may come when once again you will be
glad of the help of an 'English boy.'"
The words were spoken at random, a kind of ejaculation from the heart,
caused by the sting of Marais's cruelty and insults, like the cry of a
beast beneath a blow. Little did I know how true they would prove, but
at times it is thus that truth is mysteriously drawn from some well of
secret knowledge hidden in our souls.
"When I want your help I will ask for it," raved Marais, who, knowing
himself to be in the wrong, strove to cover up that wrong with violence.
"Asked or unasked, if I live it shall be given in the future as in the
past, Mynheer Marais. God pardon you for the woe you are bringing on
Marie and on me."
Now Marie began to weep a little, and, unable to bear that sight, I
covered my eyes with my hand. Marais, who, when he was not under the
influence of his prejudices or passion, had a kind heart, was moved
also, but tried to hide his feelings in roughness. He swore at Marie,
and told her to go to bed, and she obeyed, still weeping. Then my
father rose and said:
"Henri Marais, we cannot leave here to-night because the horses are
kraaled, and it would be difficult to find them in this darkness, so we
must ask your hospitality till dawn."
"_I_ do not ask it," I exclaimed. "I go to sleep in the cart," and I
limped from the room and the house, leaving the two men together.
What passed afterwards between them I do not quite know. I gathered
that my father, who, when roused, also had a temper and was mentally and
intellectually the stronger man, told Marais his opinion of his
wickedness and folly in language that he was not likely to forget. I
believe he even drove him to confess that his acts seemed cruel,
excusing them, however, by announcing that he had sworn before God that
his daughter should never marry an Englishman. Also he said that he had
promised her solemnly to Pereira, his own nephew, whom he loved, and
could not break his word.
"No," answered my father, "because, being mad with the madness that runs
before destruction, you prefer to break Marie's heart and perhaps become
guilty of her blood."
Then he left him.
The darkness was intense. Through it I groped my way to the cart, which
stood where it had been outspanned on the veld at a little distance from
the house, wishing heartily, so miserable was I, that the Kaffirs might
choose that black night for another attack and make an end of me.
When I reached it and lit the lantern which we always carried, I was
astonished to find that, in a rough fashion, it had been made ready to
sleep in. The seats had been cleared out, the hind curtain fastened,
and so forth. Also the pole was propped up with an ox-yoke so as to
make the vehicle level to lie in. While I was wondering vaguely who
could have done this, Hans climbed on to the step, carrying two karosses
which he had borrowed or stolen, and asked if I was comfortable.
"Oh, yes!" I answered; "but why were you going to sleep in the cart?"
"Baas," he replied, "I was not; I prepared it for you. How did I know
that you were coming? Oh, very simply. I sat on the stoep and listened
to all the talk in the sitkammer. The window has never been mended,
baas, since the Quabies broke it. God in Heaven! what a talk that was.
I never knew that white people could have so much to say about a simple
matter. You want to marry the Baas Marais's daughter; the baas wants
her to marry another man who can pay more cattle. Well, among us it
would soon have been settled, for the father would have taken a stick
and beaten you out of the hut with the thick end. Then he would have
beaten the girl with the thin end until she promised to take the other
man, and all would have been settled nicely. But you Whites, you talk
and talk, and nothing is settled. You still mean to marry the daughter,
and the daughter still means not to marry the man of many cows.
Moreover, the father has really gained nothing except a sick heart and
much bad luck to come."
"Why much bad luck to come, Hans?" I asked idly, for his naive summing
up of the case interested me in a vague way.
"Oh! Baas Allan, for two reasons. First, your reverend father, who made
me true Christian, told him so, and a predicant so good as he, is one
down whom the curse of God runs from Heaven like lightning runs down a
tree. Well, the Heer Marais was sitting under that tree, and we all
know what happens to him who is under a tree when the lightning strikes
it. That my first Christian reason. My second black-man reason, about
which there can be no mistake, for it has always been true since there
was a black man, is that the girl is yours by blood. You saved her life
with your blood," and he pointed to my leg, "and therefore bought her
for ever, for blood is more than cattle. Therefore, too, he who would
divide her from you brings blood on her and on the other man who tries
to steal her, blood, blood! and on himself I know not what." And he
waved his yellow arms, staring up at me with his little black eyes in a
way that was most uncanny.
"Nonsense!" I said. "Why do you talk such bad words?"
"Because they are true words, Baas Allan. Oh, you laugh at the poor
Totty; but I had it from my father, and he from his father from
generation to generation, amen, and you will see. You will see, as I
have seen before now, and as the Heer Marais will see, who, if the great
God had not made him mad--for mad he is, baas, as we know, if you Whites
don't--might have lived in his home till he was old, and have had a good
son-in-law to bury him in his blanket."
Now I seemed to have had enough of this eerie conversation. Of course
it is easy to laugh at natives and their superstitions, but, after a
long life of experience, I am bound to admit that they are not always
devoid of truth. The native has some kind of sixth sense which the
civilised man has lost, or so it seems to me.
"Talking of blankets," I said in order to change the subject, "from whom
did you get these karosses?"
"From whom? Why, from the Missie, of course, baas. When I heard that
you were to sleep in the cart I went to her and borrowed them to cover
you. Also, I had forgotten, she gave me a writing for you," and he felt
about, first in his dirty shirt, then under his arm, and finally in his
fuzzy hair, from which last hiding place he produced a little bit of
paper folded into a pellet. I undid it and read these words, written
with a pencil and in French:--
"I shall be in the peach orchard half an hour before sunrise. Be there
if you would bid me farewell.--M."
"Is there any answer, baas?" asked Hans when I had thrust the note into
my pocket. "If so I can take it without being found out." Then an
inspiration seemed to strike him, and he added: "Why do you not take it
yourself? The Missie's window is easy to open, also I am sure she would
be pleased to see you."
"Be silent," I said. "I am going to sleep. Wake me an hour before the
cock-crow--and, stay--see that the horses have got out of the kraal so
that you cannot find them too easily in case the Reverend wishes to
start very early. But do not let them wander far, for here we are no
"Yes, baas. By the way, baas, the Heer Pereira, who tried to cheat you
over those geese, is sleeping in an empty house not more than two miles
away. He drinks coffee when he wakes up in the morning, and his
servant, who makes it, is my good friend. Now would you like me to put
a little something into it? Not to kill him, for that is against the
law in the Book, but just to make him quite mad, for the Book says
nothing about that. If so, I have a very good medicine, one that you
white people do not know, which improves the taste of the coffee, and it
might save much trouble. You see, if he came dancing about the place
without any clothes on, like a common Kaffir, the Heer Marais, although
_he_ is really mad also, might not wish for him as a son-in-law."
"Oh! go to the devil if you are not there already," I replied, and
turned over as though to sleep.
There was no need for me to have instructed that faithful creature, the
astute but immoral Hans, to call me early, as the lady did her mother in
the poem, for I do not think that I closed an eye that night. I spare
my reflections, for they can easily be imagined in the case of an
earnest-natured lad who was about to be bereft of his first love.
Long before the dawn I stood in the peach orchard, that orchard where we
had first met, and waited. At length Marie came stealing between the
tree trunks like a grey ghost, for she was wrapped in some
light-coloured garment. Oh! once more we were alone together. Alone in
the utter solitude and silence which precede the African dawn, when all
creatures that love the night have withdrawn to their lairs and hiding
places, and those that love the day still sleep their soundest.
She saw me and stood still, then opened her arms and clasped me to her
breast, uttering no word. A while later she spoke almost in a whisper,
"Allan, I must not stay long, for I think that if my father found us
together, he would shoot you in his madness."
Now as always it was of me she thought, not of herself.
"And you, my sweet?" I asked.
"Oh!" she answered, "that matters nothing. Except for the sin of it I
wish he would shoot me, for then I should have done with all this pain.
I told you, Allan, when the Kaffirs were on us yonder, that it might be
better to die; and see, my heart spoke truly."
"Is there no hope?" I gasped. "Will he really separate us and take you
away into the wilderness?"
"Certainly, nothing can turn him. Yet, Allan, there is this hope. In
two years, if I live, I shall be of full age, and can marry whom I will;
and this I swear, that I will marry none but you, no, not even if you
were to die to-morrow."
"I bless you for those words," I said.
"Why?" she asked simply. "What others could I speak? Would you have me
do outrage to my own heart and go through life faithless and ashamed?"
"And I, I swear also," I broke in.
"Nay, swear nothing. While I live I know that you will love me, and if
I should be taken, it is my wish that you should marry some other good
woman, since it is not well or right that man should live alone. With
us maids it is different. Listen, Allan, for the cocks are beginning to
crow, and soon there will be light. You must bide here with your
father. If possible, I will write to you from time to time, telling you
where we are and how we fare. But if I do not write, know that it is
because I cannot, or because I can find no messenger, or because the
letters have miscarried, for we go into wild countries, amongst
"Whither do you go?" I asked.
"I believe up towards the great harbour called Delagoa Bay, where the
Portuguese rule. My cousin Hernan, who accompanies us"--and she
shivered a little in my arms--"is half Portuguese. He tells the Boers
that he has relations there who have written him many fine promises,
saying they will give us good country to dwell in where we cannot be
followed by the English, whom he and my father hate so much."
"I have heard that is all fever veld, and that the country between is
full of fierce Kaffirs," I said with a groan.
"Perhaps. I do not know, and I do not care. At least, that is the
notion in my father's head, though, of course, circumstances may change
it. I will try to let you know, Allan, or if I do not, perhaps you will
be able to find out for yourself. Then, then, if we both live and you
still care for me, who will always care for you, when I am of age, you
will join us and, say and do what they may, I will marry no other man.
And if I die, as may well happen, oh! then my spirit shall watch over
you and wait for you till you join me beneath the wings of God. Look,
it grows light. I must go. Farewell, my love, my first and only love,
till in life or death we meet again, as meet we shall."
Once more we clung together and kissed, muttering broken words, and then
she tore herself from my embrace and was gone. But oh! as I heard her
feet steal through the dew-laden grass, I felt as though my heart were
being rent from my breast. I have suffered much in life, but I do not
think that ever I underwent a bitterer anguish than in this hour of my
parting from Marie. For when all is said and done, what joy is there
like the joy of pure, first love, and what bitterness like the
bitterness of its loss?
Half an hour later the flowering trees of Maraisfontein were behind us,
while in front rolled the fire-swept veld, black as life had become for
A fortnight later Marais, Pereira and their companions, a little band in
all of about twenty men, thirty women and children, and say fifty
half-breeds and Hottentot after-riders, trekked from their homes into
the wilderness. I rode to the crest of a table-topped hill and watched
the long line of wagons, one of them containing Marie, crawl away
northward across the veld a mile or more beneath.
Sorely was I tempted to gallop after them and seek a last interview with
her and her father. But my pride forbade me. Henri Marais had given
out that if I came near his daughter he would have me beaten back with
"sjambocks" or hide whips. Perhaps he had gained some inkling of our
last farewell in the peach orchard. I do not know. But I do know that
if anyone had lifted a sjambock on me I should have answered with a
bullet. Then there would have been blood between us, which is worse to
cross than whole rivers of wrath and jealousy. So I just watched the
wagons until they vanished, and galloped home down the rock-strewn
slope, wishing that the horse would stumble and break my neck.
When I reached the station, however, I was glad that it had not done so,
as I found my father sitting on the stoep reading a letter that had been
brought by a mounted Hottentot.
It was from Henri Marais, and ran thus:--
"'REVEREND HEER AND FRIEND QUATERMAIN,--I send this to bid you farewell,
for although you are English and we have quarrelled at times, I honour
you in my heart. Friend, now that we are starting, your warning words
lie on me like lead, I know not why. But what is done cannot be undone,
and I trust that all will come right. If not, it is because the Good
Lord wills it otherwise.'"
Here my father looked up and said: "When men suffer from their own
passion and folly, they always lay the blame on the back of Providence."
Then he went on, spelling out the letter:
"'I fear your boy Allan, who is a brave lad, as I have reason to know,
and honest, must think that I have treated him harshly and without
gratitude. But I have only done what I must do. True, Marie, who, like
her mother, is very strong and stubborn in mind, swears that she will
marry no one else; but soon Nature will make her forget all that,
especially as such a fine husband waits for her hand. So bid Allan
forget all about her also, and when he is old enough choose some English
girl. I have sworn a great oath before my God that he shall never marry
my daughter with my consent.
"'Friend, I write to ask you something because I trust you more than
these slim agents. Half the price, a very poor one, that I have for my
farm is still unpaid to me by Jacobus van der Merve, who remains behind
and buys up all our lands. It is #100 English, due this day year, and I
enclose you power of attorney to receive and give receipt for the same.
Also there is due to me from your British Government #253 on account of
slaves liberated which were worth quite #1,000. This also the paper
gives you authority to receive. As regards my claims against the said
cursed Government because of the loss brought on me by the Quabie
Kaffirs, it will not acknowledge them, saying that the attack was caused
by the Frenchman Leblanc, one of my household.'"
"And with good reason," commented my father.
"'When you have received these monies, if ever, I pray you take some
safe opportunity of sending them to me, wherever I may be, which
doubtless you will hear in due course, although by that time I hope to
be rich again and not to need money. Farewell and God be with you, as I
hope He will be with me and Marie and the rest of us trek-Boers. The
bearer will overtake us with your answer at our first outspan.
"Well," said my father with a sigh, "I suppose I must accept his trust,
though why he should choose an 'accursed Englishman' with whom he has
quarrelled violently to collect his debts instead of one of his own
beloved Boers, I am sure I do not know. I will go and write to him.
Allan, see that the messenger and his horse get something to eat."
I nodded and went to the man, who was one of those that had defended
Maraisfontein with me, a good fellow unless he got near liquor.
"Heer Allan," he said, looking round to see that we were not overheard,
"I have a little writing for you also," and be produced from his pouch a
note that was unaddressed.
I tore it open eagerly. Within was written in French, which no Boer
would understand if the letter fell into his hands:
"Be brave and faithful, and remember, as I shall. Oh! love of my heart,
This message was unsigned; but what need was there of signature?
I wrote an answer of a sort that may be imagined, though what the exact
words were I cannot remember after the lapse of nearly half a century.
Oddly enough, it is the things I said which I recall at such a distance
of time rather than the things which I wrote, perhaps because, when once
written, my mind being delivered, troubled itself with them no more. So
in due course the Hottentot departed with my father's letter and my own,
and that was the last direct communication which we had with Henri or
Marie Marais for more than a year.
I think that those long months were on the whole the most wretched I
have ever spent. The time of life which I was passing through is always
trying; that period of emergence from youth into full and responsible
manhood which in Africa generally takes place earlier than it does here
in England, where young men often seem to me to remain boys up to
five-and-twenty. The circumstances which I have detailed made it
particularly so in my own case, for here was I, who should have been but
a cheerful lad, oppressed with the sorrows and anxieties, and fettered
by the affections of maturity.
I could not get Marie out of my mind; her image was with me by day and
by night, especially by night, which caused me to sleep badly. I became
morose, supersensitive, and excitable. I developed a cough, and
thought, as did others, that I was going into a decline. I remember
that Hans even asked me once if I would not come and peg out the exact
place where I should like to be buried, so that I might be sure that
there would be no mistake made when I could no longer speak for myself.
On that occasion I kicked Hans, one of the few upon which I have ever
touched a native. The truth was that I had not the slightest intention
of being buried. I wanted to live and marry Marie, not to die and be
put in a hole by Hans. Only I saw no prospect of marrying Marie, or
even of seeing her again, and that was why I felt low-spirited.
Of course, from time to time news of the trek-Boers reached us, but it
was extremely confused. There were so many parties of them; their
adventures were so difficult to follow, and, I may add, often so
terrible; so few of them could write; trustworthy messengers were so
scanty; distances were so great. At any rate, we heard nothing of
Marais's band except a rumour that they had trekked to a district in
what is now the Transvaal, which is called Rustenberg, and thence on
towards Delagoa Bay into an unknown veld where they had vanished. From
Marie herself no letter came, which showed me clearly enough that she
had not found an opportunity of sending one.
Observing my depressed condition, my father suggested as a remedy that I
should go to the theological college at Cape Town and prepare myself for
ordination. But the Church as a career did not appeal to me, perhaps
because I felt that I could never be sufficiently good; perhaps because
I knew that as a clergyman I should find no opportunity of travelling
north when my call came. For I always believed that this call would
My father, who wished that I should hear another kind of call, was vexed
with me over this matter. He desired earnestly that I should follow the
profession which he adorned, and indeed saw no other open for me any
more than I did myself. Of course he was right in a way, seeing that in
the end I found none, unless big game hunting and Kaffir trading can be
called a profession. I don't know, I am sure. Still, poor business as
it may be, I say now when I am getting towards the end of life that I am
glad I did not follow any other. It has suited me; that was the
insignificant hole in the world's affairs which I was destined to fit,
whose only gifts were a remarkable art of straight shooting and the more
common one of observation mixed with a little untrained philosophy.
So hot did our arguments become about this subject of the Church, for,
as may be imagined, in the course of them I revealed some unorthodoxy,
especially as regards the matter of our methods of Christianising
Kaffirs, that I was extremely thankful when a diversion occurred which
took me away from home. The story of my defence of Maraisfontein had
spread far, and that of my feats of shooting, especially in the Goose
Kloof, still farther. So the end of it was that those in authority
commandeered me to serve in one of the continual Kaffir frontier wars
which was in progress, and instantly gave me a commission as a kind of
lieutenant in a border corps.
Now the events of that particular war have nothing to do with the
history that I am telling, so I do not propose even to touch on them. I
served in it for a year, meeting with many adventures, one or two
successes, and several failures. Once I was wounded slightly, twice I
but just escaped with my life. Once I was reprimanded for taking a
foolish risk and losing some men. Twice I was commended for what were
called gallant actions, such as bringing a wounded comrade out of danger
under a warm fire, mostly of assegais, and penetrating by night, almost
alone, into the stronghold of a chieftain, and shooting him.
At length that war was patched up with an inconclusive peace and my
corps was disbanded. I returned home, no longer a lad, but a man with
experience of various kinds and a rather unique knowledge of Kaffirs,
their languages, history, and modes of thought and action. Also I had
associated a good deal with British officers, and from them acquired
much that I had found no opportunity of studying before, especially, I
hope, the ideas and standards of English gentlemen.
I had not been back at the Mission Station more than three weeks, quite
long enough for me to begin to be bored with idleness and inactivity,
when that call for which I had been waiting came at last.
One day a "smous", that is a low kind of white man, often a Jew, who
travels about trading with unsophisticated Boers and Kaffirs, and
cheating them if he can, called at the station with his cartful of
goods. I was about to send him away, having no liking for such gentry,
when he asked me if I were named Allan Quatermain. I said "Yes,"
whereon he replied that he had a letter for me, and produced a packet
wrapped up in sail-cloth. I asked him whence he had it, and he answered
from a man whom he had met at Port Elizabeth, an east coast trader, who,
hearing that he was coming into the Cradock district, entrusted him with
the letter. The man told him that it was very important, and that I
should reward the bearer well if it were delivered safely.
While the Jew talked (I think he was a Jew) I was opening the
sail-cloth. Within was a piece of linen which had been oiled to keep
out water, addressed in some red pigment to myself or my father. This,
too, I opened, not without difficulty, for it was carefully sewn up, and
found within it a letter-packet, also addressed to myself or my father,
in the handwriting of Marie.
Great Heaven! How my heart jumped at that sight! Calling to Hans to
make the smous comfortable and give him food, I went into my own room,
and there read the letter, which ran thus:
"MY DEAR ALLAN,--I do not know whether the other letters I have written
to you have ever come to your hands, or indeed if this one will. Still,
I send it on chance by a wandering Portuguese half-breed who is going to
Delagoa Bay, about fifty miles, I believe, from the place where I now
write, near the Crocodile River. My father has named it Maraisfontein,
after our old home. If those letters reached you, you will have learned
of the terrible things we went through on our journey; the attacks by
the Kaffirs in the Zoutpansberg region, who destroyed one of our parties
altogether, and so forth. If not, all that story must wait, for it is
too long to tell now, and, indeed, I have but little paper, and not much
pencil. It will be enough to say, therefore, that to the number of
thirty-five white people, men, women and children, we trekked at the
beginning of the summer season, when the grass was commencing to grow,
from the Lydenburg district--an awful journey over mountains and through
flooded rivers. After many delays, some of them months long, we reached
this place, about eight weeks ago, for I write to you at the beginning
of June, if we have kept correct account of the time, of which I am not
"It is a beautiful place to look at, a flat country of rich veld, with
big trees growing on it, and about two miles from the great river that
is called the Crocodile. Here, finding good water, my father and Hernan
Pereira, who now rules him in all things, determined to settle, although
some of the others wished to push on nearer to Delagoa Bay. There was a
great quarrel about it, but in the end my father, or rather Hernan, had
his will, as the oxen were worn out and many had already died from the
bites of a poisonous fly which is called the tsetse. So we lotted out
the land, of which there is enough for hundreds, and began to build rude
"Then trouble came upon us. The Kaffirs stole most of our horses,
although they have not dared to attack us, and except two belonging to
Hernan, the rest died of the sickness, the last of them but yesterday.
The oxen, too, have all died of the tsetse bites or other illnesses.
But the worst is that although this country looks so healthy, it is
poisoned with fever, which comes up, I think, in the mists from the
river. Already out of the thirty-five of us, ten are dead, two men,
three women, and five children, while more are sick. As yet my father
and I and my cousin Pereira have, by God's mercy, kept quite well; but
although we are all very strong, how long this will continue I cannot
tell. Fortunately we have plenty of ammunition and the place is thick
with game, so that those of the men who remain strong can kill all the
food we want, even shooting on foot, and we women have made a great
quantity of biltong by salting flesh and drying it in the sun. So we
shall not actually starve for a long while, even if the game goes away.
"But, dear Allan, unless help comes to us I think that we shall die
every one, for God alone knows the miseries that we suffer and the
horrible sights of sickness and death that are around us. At this
moment there lies by me a little girl who is dying of fever.
"Oh, Allan, if you can help us, do so! Because of our sick it is
impossible for us to get to Delagoa Bay, and if we did we have no money
to buy anything there, for all that we had with us was lost in a wagon
in a flooded river. It was a great sum, for it included Hernan's rich
fortune which he brought from the Cape with him in gold. Nor can we
move anywhere else, for we have no cattle or horses. We have sent to
Delagoa Bay, where we hear these are to be had, to try to buy them on
credit; but my cousin Hernan's relations, of whom he used to talk so
much, are dead or gone away, and no one will trust us. With the
neighbouring Kaffirs, too, who have plenty of cattle, we have quarrelled
since, unfortunately, my cousin and some of the other Boers tried to
take certain beasts of theirs without payment. So we are quite
helpless, and can only wait for death.
"Allan, my father says that he asked your father to collect some monies
that were owing to him. If it were possible for you or other friends to
come to Delagoa in a ship with that money, I think that it might serve
to buy some oxen, enough for a few wagons. Then perhaps we might trek
back and fall in with a party of Boers who, we believe, have crossed the
Quathlamba Mountains into Natal. Or perhaps we might get to the Bay and
find a ship to take us anywhere from this horrible place. If you could
come, the natives would guide you to where we are.
"But it is too much to hope that you will come, or that if you do come
you will find us still alive.
"Allan, my dearest, I have one more thing to say, though I must say it
shortly, for the paper is nearly finished. I do not know, supposing
that you are alive and well, whether you still care for me, who left you
so long ago--it seems years and years--but _my_ heart is where it was,
and where I promised it should remain, in your keeping. Of course,
Hernan has pressed me to marry him, and my father has wished it. But I
have always said no, and now, in our wretchedness, there is no more talk
of marriage at present, which is the one good thing that has happened to
me. And, Allan, before so very long I shall be of age, if I live.
Still I dare say you no longer think of marriage with me, who, perhaps,
are already married to someone else, especially as now I and all of us
are no better than wandering beggars. Yet I have thought it right to
tell you these things, which you may like to know.
"Oh, why did God ever put it into my father's heart to leave the Cape
Colony just because he hated the British Government and Hernan Pereira
and others persuaded him? I know not, but, poor man, he is sorry enough
now. It is pitiful to see him; at times I think that he is going mad.
"The paper is done, and the messenger is going; also the sick child is
dying and I must attend to her. Will this letter ever come to your
hands, I wonder? I am sending with it the little money I have to pay
for its delivery--about four pounds English. If not, there is an end.
If it does, and you cannot come or send others, at least pray for us. I
dream of you by night and think of you by day, for how much I love you I
"In life or death I am
Such was this awful letter. I still have it; it lies before me, those
ragged sheets of paper covered with faint pencil-writing that is blotted
here and there with tear marks, some of them the tears of Marie who
wrote, some of them the tears of me who read. I wonder if there exists
a more piteous memorial of the terrible sufferings of the trek-Boers,
and especially of such of them as forced their way into the poisonous
veld around Delagoa, as did this Marais expedition and those under the
command of Triechard. Better, like many of their people, to have
perished at once by the spears of Umzilikazi and other savages than to
endure these lingering tortures of fever and starvation.
As I finished reading this letter my father, who had been out visiting
some of his Mission Kaffirs, entered the house, and I went into the
sitting-room to meet him.
"Why, Allan, what is the matter with you?" he asked, noting my
I gave him the letter, for I could not speak, and with difficulty he
"Merciful God, what dreadful news!" he said when he had finished.
"Those poor people! those poor, misguided people! What can be done for
"I know one thing that can be done, father, or at any rate can be
attempted. I can try to reach them."
"Are you mad?" he asked. "How is it possible for you, one man, to get
to Delagoa Bay, buy cattle, and rescue these folk, who probably are now
"The first two things are possible enough, father. Some ship will take
me to the Bay. You have Marais's money, and I have that five hundred
pounds which my old aunt in England left me last year. Thank Heaven!
owing to my absence on commando, it still lies untouched in the bank at
Port Elizabeth. That is about eight hundred pounds in all, which would
buy a great many cattle and other things. As for the third, it is not
in our hands, is it? It may be that they cannot be rescued, it may be
that they are dead. I can only go to see."
"But, Allan, Allan, you are my only son, and if you go it is probable
that I shall never see you more."
"I have been through more dangers lately, father, and am still alive and
well. Moreover, if Marie is dead"--I paused, then went on
passionately--"Do not try to stop me, for I tell you, father, I will not
be stopped. Think of the words in that letter and what a shameless
hound I should be if I sat here quiet while Marie is dying yonder.
Would you have done so if Marie had been my mother?"
"No," answered the old gentleman, "I should not. Go, and God be with
you, Allan, and me also, for I never expect to see you again." And he
turned his head aside for a while.
Then we went into matters. The smous was summoned and asked about the
ship which brought the letter from Delagoa. It seemed that she was an
English-owned brig known as the Seven Stars, and that her captain, one
Richardson, proposed to sail back to the Bay on the morrow, that was the
third of July, or in other words, within twenty-four hours.
Twenty-four hours! And Port Elizabeth was one hundred and eighteen
miles away, and the Seven Stars might leave earlier if she had completed
her cargo and wind and weather served. Moreover, if she did leave, it
might be weeks or months before any other ship sailed for Delagoa Bay,
for in those days, of course, there were no mail boats.
I looked at my watch. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, and from a
calendar we had, which gave the tides at Port Elizabeth and other South
African harbours, it did not seem probable that the Seven Stars would
sail, if she kept to her date, before about eight on the morrow. One
hundred and twenty miles to be covered in, say, fourteen hours over
rough country with some hills! Well, on the other hand, the roads were
fairly good and dry, with no flooded rivers to cross, although there
might be one to swim, and there was a full moon. It could be
done--barely, and now I was glad indeed that Hernan Pereira had not won
my swift mare in that shooting match.
I called to Hans, who was loafing about outside, and said quietly:
"I ride to Port Elizabeth, and must be there by eight o'clock to-morrow
"Allemachte!" exclaimed Hans, who had been that road several times.
"You will go with me, and from Port Elizabeth on to Delagoa Bay. Saddle
the mare and the roan horse, and put a headstall on the chestnut to lead
with you as a spare. Give them all a feed, but no water. We start in
half an hour." Then I added certain directions as to the guns we would
take, saddle-bags, clothes, blankets and other details, and bade him
start about the business.
Hans never hesitated. He had been with me through my recent campaign,
and was accustomed to sudden orders. Moreover, I think that if I had
told him I was riding to the moon, beyond his customary exclamation of
"Allemachte!" he would have made no objection to accompanying me
The next half-hour was a busy time for me. Henri Marais's money had to
be got out of the strong box and arranged in a belt of buck's hide that
I had strapped about me. A letter had to be written by my father to the
manager of the Port Elizabeth bank, identifying me as the owner of the
sum lodged there in my name. A meal must be eaten and some food
prepared for us to carry. The horses' shoes had to be seen to, and a
few clothes packed in the saddle-bags. Also there were other things
which I have forgotten. Yet within five-and-thirty minutes the long,
lean mare stood before the door. Behind her, with a tall crane's
feather in his hat, was Hans, mounted on the roan stallion, and leading
the chestnut, a four-year-old which I had bought as a foal on the mare
as part of the bargain. Having been corn fed from a colt it was a very
sound and well-grown horse, though not the equal of its mother in speed.
In the passage my poor old father, who was quite bewildered by the
rapidity and urgent nature of this business, embraced me.
"God bless you, my dear boy," he said. "I have had little time to
think, but I pray that this may be all for the best, and that we may
meet again in the world. But if not, remember what I have taught you,
and if I survive you, for my part I shall remember that you died trying
to do your duty. Oh, what trouble has the blind madness of Henri Marais
brought upon us all! Well, I warned him that it would be so. Good-bye,
my dear boy, good-bye: my prayers will follow you, and for the rest--
Well, I am old, and what does it matter if my grey hairs come with
sorrow to the grave?"
I kissed him back, and with an aching heart sprang to the saddle. In
five more minutes the station was out of sight.
Thirteen and a half hours later I pulled rein upon the quay of Port
Elizabeth just, only just, in time to catch Captain Richardson as he was
entering his boat to row out to the Seven Stars, on which the canvas was
already being hoisted. As well as I could in my exhausted state, I
explained matters and persuaded him to wait till the next tide. Then,
thanking God for the mare's speed--the roan had been left foundered
thirty miles away, and Hans was following on the chestnut, but not yet
up--I dragged the poor beast to an inn at hand. There she lay down and
died. Well, she had done her work, and there was no other horse in the
country that could have caught that boat.
An hour or so later Hans came in flogging the chestnut, and here I may
add that both it and the roan recovered. Indeed I rode them for many
years, until they were quite old. When I had eaten, or tried to eat
something and rested awhile, I went to the bank, succeeded in explaining
the state of the case to the manager, and after some difficulty, for
gold was not very plentiful in Port Elizabeth, procured three hundred
pounds in sovereigns. For the other two he gave me a bill upon some
agent in Delagoa Bay, together with a letter of recommendation to him
and the Portuguese governor, who, it appeared, was in debt to their
establishment. By an afterthought, however, although I kept the
letters, I returned him the bill and spent the #200 in purchasing a
great variety of goods which I will not enumerate, that I knew would be
useful for trading purposes among the east coast Kaffirs. Indeed, I
practically cleared out the Port Elizabeth stores, and barely had time,
with the help of Hans and the storekeepers, to pack and ship the goods
before the Seven Stars put out to sea.
Within twenty-four hours from the time I had left the Mission Station,
Hans and I saw behind us Port Elizabeth fading into the distance, and in
front a waste of stormy waters.
THE CAMP OF DEATH
Everything went well upon that voyage, except with me personally. Not
having been on the ocean since I was a child, I, who am naturally no
good sailor, was extremely ill as day by day we ploughed through seas
that grew ever more rough. Also, strong as I was, that fearful ride had
overdone me. Added to these physical discomforts was my agonising
anxiety of mind, which I leave anyone with imagination to picture for
himself. Really there were times when I wished that the Seven Stars
would plunge headlong to the bottom of the deep and put an end to me and
These, however, so far as the bodily side of them was concerned, were, I
think, surpassed by those of my henchman Hans, who, as a matter of fact,
had never before set foot in any kind of boat. Perhaps this was
fortunate, since had he known the horrors of the ocean, much as he loved
me, he would, I am sure, by one means or another, have left me to voyage
in the Seven Stars alone. There he lay upon the floor of my little
cabin, rolling to and fro with the violent motion of the brig, overcome
with terror. He was convinced that we were going to be drowned, and in
the intervals of furious sea-sickness uttered piteous lamentations in
Dutch, English, and various native tongues, mingled with curses and
prayers of the most primitive and realistic order.
After the first twenty-four hours or so he informed me with many moans
that the last bit of his inside had just come out of him, and that he
was now quite hollow "like a gourd." Also he declared that all these
evils had fallen upon him because he had been fool enough to forsake the
religion of his people (what was that, I wonder), and allow himself to
be "washed white," that is, be baptised, by my father.
I answered that as he had become white instead of staying yellow, I
advised him to remain so, since it was evident that the Hottentot gods
would have nothing more to do with one who had deserted them. Thereon
he made a dreadful face, which even in the midst of my own woes caused
me to laugh at him, uttered a prolonged groan, and became so silent that
I thought he must be dead. However, the sailor who brought me my
food--such food!--assured me that this was not so, and lashed him tight
to the legs of the bunk by his arm and ankle so as to prevent him from
being rolled to bits.
Next morning Hans was dosed with brandy, which, in his empty condition,
made him extremely drunk, and from that time forward began to take a
more cheerful view of things. Especially was this so when the hours for
the "brandy medicine" came round. Hans, like most other Hottentots,
loved spirits, and would put up with much to get them, even with my
father's fiery indignation.
I think it was on the fourth day that at length we pitched and rolled
ourselves over the shallow bar of Port Natal and found ourselves at
peace for a while under shelter of the Point in the beautiful bay upon
the shores of which the town of Durban now stands. Then it was but a
miserable place, consisting of a few shanties which were afterwards
burnt by the Zulus, and a number of Kaffir huts. For such white men as
dwelt there had for the most part native followings, and, I may add,
We spent two days at this settlement of Durban, where Captain Richardson
had some cargo to land for the English settlers, one or two of whom had
started a trade with the natives and with parties of the emigrant Boers
who were beginning to enter the territory by the overland route. Those
days I passed on shore, though I would not allow Hans to accompany me
lest he should desert, employing my time in picking up all the
information I could about the state of affairs, especially with
reference to the Zulus, a people with whom I was destined ere long to
make an intimate acquaintance. Needless to say, I inquired both from
natives and from white men whether anything was known of the fate of
Marais's party, but no one seemed even to have heard of them. One thing
I did learn, however, that my old friend, Pieter Retief, with a large
following, had crossed the Quathlamba Mountains, which we now know as
the Drakensberg, and entered the territory of Natal. Here they proposed
to settle if they could get the leave of the Zulu king, Dingaan, a
savage potentate of whom and of whose armies everyone seemed to live in
On the third morning, to my great relief, for I was terrified lest we
should be delayed, the Seven Stars sailed with a favouring wind. Three
days later we entered the harbour of Delagoa, a sheet of water many
miles long and broad. Notwithstanding its shallow entrance, it is the
best natural port in Southeastern Africa, but now, alas! lost to the
Six hours later we anchored opposite a sandbank on which stood a
dilapidated fort and a dirty settlement known as Lorenzo Marquez, where
the Portuguese kept a few soldiers, most of them coloured. I pass over
my troubles with the Customs, if such they could be called. Suffice it
to say that ultimately I succeeded in landing my goods, on which the
duty chargeable was apparently enormous. This I did by distributing
twenty-five English sovereigns among various officials, beginning with
the acting-governor and ending with a drunken black sweep who sat in a
kind of sentry box on the quay.
Early next morning the Seven Stars sailed again, because of some quarrel
with the officials, who threatened to seize her--I forget why. Her
destination was the East African ports and, I think, Madagascar, where a
profitable trade was to be done in carrying cattle and slaves. Captain
Richardson said he might be back at Lorenzo Marquez in two or three
months' time, or he might not. As a matter of fact the latter
supposition proved correct, for the Seven Stars was lost on a sandbank
somewhere up the coast, her crew only escaping to Mombasa after enduring
Well, she had served my turn, for I heard afterwards that no other ship
put into the Bay for a whole year from the date she left it. So if I
had not caught her at Port Elizabeth I could not have come at all,
except, of course, overland. This at best must have taken many months,
and was moreover a journey that no man could enter on alone.
Now I get back to my story again.
There was no inn at Lorenzo Marquez. Through the kindness of one of his
native or half-breed wives, who could talk a little Dutch, I managed,
however, to get a lodging in a tumble-down house belonging to a
dissolute person who called himself Don Jose Ximenes, but who was really
himself a half-breed. Here good fortune befriended me. Don Jose, when
sober, was a trader with the natives, and a year before had acquired
from them two good buck wagons. Probably they were stolen from some
wandering Boers or found derelict after their murder or death by fever.
These wagons he was only too glad to sell for a song. I think I gave
him twenty pounds English for the two, and thirty more for twelve oxen
that he had bought at the same time as the wagons. They were fine
beasts of the Afrikander breed, that after a long rest had grown quite
fat and strong.
Of course twelve oxen were not enough to draw two wagons, or even one.
Therefore, hearing that there were natives on the mainland who possessed
plenty of cattle, I at once gave out that I was ready to buy, and pay
well in blankets, cloth, beads and so forth. The result was that within
two days I had forty or fifty to choose from, small animals of the Zulu
character and, I should add, unbroken. Still they were sturdy and used
to that veld and its diseases. Here it was that my twelve trained
beasts came in. By putting six of them to each wagon, two as fore- and
two as after-oxen, and two in the middle, Hans and I were able to get
the other ten necessary to make up a team of sixteen under some sort of
Heavens! how we worked during the week or so which went by before it was
possible for me to leave Lorenzo Marquez. What with mending up and
loading the wagons, buying and breaking in the wild oxen, purchasing
provisions, hiring native servants--of whom I was lucky enough to secure
eight who belonged to one of the Zulu tribes and desired to get back to
their own country, whence they had wandered with some Boers, I do not
think that we slept more than two or three hours out of the twenty-four.
But, it may be asked, what was my aim, whither went I, what inquiries
had I made? To answer the last question first, I had made every
possible inquiry, but with little or no result. Marie's letter had said
that they were encamped on the bank of the Crocodile River, about fifty
miles from Delagoa Bay. I asked everyone I met among the
Portuguese--who, after all, were not many--if they had heard of such an
encampment of emigrant Boers. But these Portuguese appeared to have
heard nothing, except my host, Don Jose, who had a vague recollection of
something--he could not remember what.
The fact was at this time the few people who lived at Lorenzo Marquez
were too sodden with liquor and other vices to take any interest in
outside news that did not immediately concern them. Moreover, the
natives whom they flogged and oppressed if they were their servants, or
fought with if they were not, told them little, and almost nothing that
was true, for between the two races there was an hereditary hate
stretching back for generations. So from the Portuguese I gained no
Then I turned to the Kaffirs, especially to those from whom I had bought
the cattle. _They_ had heard that some Boers reached the banks of the
Crocodile moons ago--how many they could not tell. But that country,
they said, was under the rule of a chief who was hostile to them, and
killed any of their people who ventured thither. Therefore they knew
nothing for certain. Still, one of them stated that a woman whom he had
bought as a slave, and who had passed through the district in question a
few weeks before, told him that someone had told her that these Boers
were all dead of sickness. She added that she had seen their wagon caps
from a distance, so, if they were dead, "their wagons were still alive."
I asked to see this woman, but the native refused to produce her. After
a great deal of talk, however, he offered to sell her to me, saying that
he was tired of her. So I bargained with the man and finally agreed for
her purchase for three pounds of copper wire and eight yards of blue
cloth. Next morning she was produced, an extremely ugly person with a
large, flat nose, who came from somewhere in the interior of Africa,
having, I gathered, been taken captive by Arabs and sold from hand to
hand. Her name, as near as I can pronounce it, was Jeel.
I had great difficulty in establishing communication with her, but
ultimately found that one of my newly hired Kaffirs could understand
something of her language. Even then it was hard to make her talk, for
she had never seen a white man, and thought I had bought her for some
dreadful purpose or other. However, when she found that she was kindly
treated, she opened her lips and told me the same story that her late
master had repeated, neither more nor less. Finally I asked her whether
she could guide me to the place where she had seen the "live wagons."
She answered: "Oh, yes," as she had travelled many roads and never
forgot any of them.
This, of course, was all I wanted from the woman, who, I may add,
ultimately gave me a good deal of trouble. The poor creature seemed
never to have experienced kindness, and her gratitude for the little I
showed her was so intense that it became a nuisance. She followed me
about everywhere, trying to do me service in her savage way, and even
attempted to seize my food and chew it before I put it into my own
mouth--to save me the trouble, I suppose. Ultimately I married her,
somewhat against her will, I fear, to one of the hired Kaffirs, who made
her a very good husband, although when he was dismissed from my service
she wanted to leave him and follow me.
At length, under the guidance of this woman, Jeel, we made a start.
There were but fifty miles to go, a distance that on a fair road any
good horse would cover in eight hours, or less. But we had no horses,
and there was no road--nothing but swamps and bush and rocky hills.
With our untrained cattle it took us three days to travel the first
twelve miles, though after that things went somewhat better.
It may be asked, why did I not send on? But whom could I send when no
one knew the way, except the woman, Jeel, whom I feared to part with
lest I should see her no more? Moreover, what was the use of sending,
since the messengers could take no help? If everyone at the camp was
dead, as rumour told us--well, they were dead. And if they lived, the
hope was that they might live a little longer. Meanwhile, I dared not
part with my guide, nor dared I leave the relief wagons to go on with
her alone. If I did so, I knew that I should never see them again,
since only the prestige of their being owned by a white man who was not
a Portuguese prevented the natives from looting them.
It was a truly awful journey. My first idea had been to follow the
banks of the Crocodile River, which is what I should have attempted had
I not chanced on the woman, Jeel. Lucky was it that I did not do so,
since I found afterwards that this river wound about a great deal and
was joined by impassable tributaries. Also it was bordered by forests.
Jeel's track, on the contrary, followed an old slave road that, bad as
it was, avoided the swampy places of the surrounding country, and those
native tribes which the experience of generations of the traders in this
iniquitous traffic showed to be most dangerous.
Nine days of fearful struggle had gone by. We had camped one night
below the crest of a long slope strewn with great rocks, many of which
we were obliged to roll out of the path by main force in order to make a
way for the wagons. The oxen had to lie in their yokes all night, since
we dared not let them loose fearing lest they should stray; also lions
were roaring in the distance, although, game being plentiful, these did
not come near to us. As soon as there was any light we let out the
teams to fill themselves on the tussocky grass that grew about, and
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