THE DEFENCE OF KWABULAZI.
All round the earthwork men were posted,
many for the air was keen and biting. The stars,
not yet faded, shone frostily, but there was no mist;
and for this they were thankful. Each man had
a gun of some sort, from an up-to-date Mauser or Lee-Metford,
down to a double-barrelled shot-gun.
The first dull red streaks had begun
to appear in the eastern sky, and at the sight a thrill
of excitement ran along the circle, for such is almost
invariably the time chosen by the wily savage for making
his murderous rush. These were all prepared
to give him a most unhealthy reception.
“Don’t light that silly
pipe, Jenkins,” growled Hyland to his next door
neighbour. “D’you hear? What
are you doing, man? D’you think we want
’em to know we’re anxiously waiting to
The man addressed snarled.
“Who the ’ell are you?”
he grunted. “I’m not taking orders
from anyone.” Still he hardly dared disobey.
Hyland Thornhill had a reputation for being a terror
with his fists, and he was as strong as an elephant.
“I’ll knock it out of
your silly jaws if you attempt to light it,”
was the uncompromising answer. “Hallo!”
as he became aware of another presence just behind
him. “What are you doing here, Edala?
Go in at once.”
“I’m going to take a hand
in this game,” she answered, showing her revolver her
brother had impounded her gun, having none of his own.
“Not if I know it. Clear
back in again at once, d’you hear.”
Then in a tender undertone, “Be sensible, little
girl. Go inside, and keep all those women from
yelling themselves to death with funk directly.
You can do it.”
She obeyed, with no further demur.
“`The Lord is King,’”
quoted with a sneer, the man just taken to task, to
his neighbour on the other side. “But it
seems to me that old Thornhill’s pup is king
“Oh, you’re so damn funny,
Bridson. You’ll bust yourself if you don’t
watch it,” rejoined the other resentfully.
Hyland, the while, was occupying himself
by drawing a cross-nick with a pocket-knife on the
apex of each of his Lee-Metford bullets. The
gun was a rifle and smooth bore, and with a heavy
charge of Treble A in the shot barrel, was calculated,
as he put it, to stop the devil himself at no distance;
anyhow many black devils would probably undergo the
experiment before the day was an hour older.
He had just finished on the last bullet when something
caused him to throw up his head, rigid and motionless,
listening intently. He had caught the faintest
possible suspicion of that unique sound the
quiver of assegai hafts.
“Pass the word round `Stand
by’,” he whispered to each of his neighbours.
One ignored it he recently rated, to wit.
Who the devil was young Thornhill, to come here skippering
the whole ship? he wanted to know to himself.
Hyland was sighting his piece.
In the fast lightening dawn his keen vision had detected
a tongue of dark figures flitting stealthily out of
the mimosa bushes some couple of hundred yards away and
striking out a line which should bring them round
to the back of the entrenchment. This was the
encircling manoeuvre, he decided. And then he
But the detonation, and the wild yell
of more than one stricken savage for he
had fired into them bunched up was drowned
by an appalling roar, as a dense mass sprang up among
the low bushes on that front, and, waving shield and
assegai, charged straight for the earthwork.
“Aim low aim low,”
was each man’s injunction to his neighbour as
the firearms crashed: in the semi-light making
a circle of jetting flame. With effect too, for
the front rows went down like mown corn.
Hooray!” were the varying forms of hoarse guffaw
that went up, and the joke was this. Those immediately
behind the fallen ones, pressed on over the bodies
of the latter, intending to rush the earthwork before
the defenders should have time to reload. But
they, too, went down in sheaves, and that before another
shot had been fired. They had got into an entanglement
of barbed wire, which had been stealthily and quickly
fixed round the defences the night before, but after
dark, lest the watchful eyes of scouts should perceive
it and so prepare their countrymen, for this surprise.
And now the surprise was complete.
“Give it ’em again!”
shouted Hyland, setting the example. This time
the fire was not directed upon those who had fallen
among the wire entanglement, but on those immediately
behind them. The effect was awful. The
whole roaring, struggling mass fell back upon itself then,
dropping to the ground, glided away like snakes among
the long grass, and many were picked off while doing
so. Then, those especially who had shot-guns,
played upon those who were trying to extricate themselves
from the wires. They could not take prisoners,
and they had their families to defend. The odds
were tremendous against them: it was necessary
to read the enemy a severe lesson, to inflict upon
him a stunning loss. Hyland Thornhill for one,
the probable fate of his father clouding his brain
as with lurid flame, raked the struggling bodies again
and again with charges of heavy buckshot. The
carnage was ghastly, sickening, but necessary.
The alternative was the massacre of themselves and
of their women and children.
The latter had been stowed within
the Court house for safety, and now with the lull
in the attack the frightened screeches of some of the
former, and the unanimous howling of most of the latter
were dismally audible. Edala had carried out
her brother’s injunction and was trying to reassure
and pacify them. Evelyn too was ably seconding
her, and soon with some effect. The sight of
these two, calm and unconcerned, carried immense weight.
“What’s that you’re
saying, Prior?” said Hyland Thornhill, turning
his head, for he had not moved from his post.
“Not come on again? Won’t they?
You’ll see. I’m only wondering what
devil’s move they’re up to this time.
They’re too many, and we’re too few for
them to give up in any such hurry. Pity that
infernal wire has been cut or we’d soon have
them between two stools.”
This was in allusion to the telegraph,
which early in the previous afternoon had been discovered
to be not working. The magistrate’s clerk,
and some of the older farmers had been holding a hurried
council of war.
“Let’s get in one of these
shamming cusses and question him,” went on Hyland.
“He’s sure to be, but it’ll help
pass time. Hey you!” he called
out in the vernacular. “You with the scratched
toes. Get up and come over here at once, or
I’ll blow twenty holes into your carcase with
a very heavy charge of shot. You know me.
The name was magical. The man
addressed, a sturdy muscular fellow who had been shamming
death, raised his head and asked to be reassured on
the word of Ugwala that his life should be spared.
This was done, and he clambered over the earthwork.
“Whose people are these?”
began Hyland, who had risen and joined the rest.
“Those of Ndabakosi?”
“All people, Nkose,”
was the reply. “Some of Babatyana, some
of Nteseni, some from over the river.”
“Do they expect to take this place?”
“Au Nkose! They
knew not that Ugwala had come into it,” answered
the man, with a somewhat whimsical smile, the inference
being intended that had they known of his presence
they would not have attempted such a forlorn hope.
“Are you from beyond the river?”
“Who are leading these?”
The man looked at him, and shook his
head. But he made no reply. Hyland repeated
“I cannot betray my chiefs,” was the answer.
“Oh then you’ll have your
brains blown out,” came the savage rejoinder.
But it was not uttered by Hyland. It came from
the man whom he had prevented from lighting a pipe.
He had drawn a revolver and was pointing it right
into the face of the Zulu. But in a moment Hyland’s
arm flew up, and the pistol, jerked from the other’s
grasp, spun away into the air.
“I have the promise of Ugwala,”
said the savage, calmly, showing no sign whatever
“That’s quite right,”
said Prior emphatically. “Damn it.
The fellow’s quite right not to give away his
chiefs. Hallo what’s up now?
Here, sergeant, shove him into the lock-up with leg-irons
on. We can’t have him escaping just now,
All possibility of any pursuance of
the quarrel on the part of the aggrieved Jenkins was
at an end for the present at any rate.
All hands saw that which told that their work was
by no means done. They would need all their
coolness and energy for the next half hour after
that, things wouldn’t much matter either way.
The horses were picketed inside, and outside the
defences a large enclosure had been hastily constructed
of thorn bushes, and into this the trek oxen were driven
at night, making quite a respectable herd. Three
sides of this kraal were well covered by the
fire of the defenders, but the fourth, of course,
was not. Losing no time after their first repulse
the assailants had, with incredible rapidity, breached
this fence and were driving out the whole herd.
But not as spoil no not yet. For
them they had another purpose, and grasping its import
the defenders realised what new peril threatened.
Away up the valley the oxen had been
driven by a number told off for the purpose, and now
they were returning. By this time the animals
were becoming uneasy and excited tossing
their heads and throwing up their tails, and bellowing
wildly as they ran.
“Here, Prior. Is there
any paraffin about, or kerosene?” asked Hyland
eagerly. “Because I have an idea.
Only sharp’s the word.”
“Yes. Come along.”
They went into the store and in a
second Hyland had got off the head of a paraffin tin.
There were some old sacks in the corner. Seizing
one of these he quickly deluged it with the liquid.
He rolled his eyes around impatiently.
“A pole Prior, damn
it! I must have a pole of some sort.”
“Here you are,” dragging
one out from under some rubbish. It was an old
pole which had been used for hoisting a flag on occasions
of national festivity. Hyland seized a chopper,
and having split the thinner end of the pole, inserted
the paraffin-soaked sacking in such wise that it should
be held gripped within the cleft. Then they went
“Now you fellows,” he
cried. “They’re going to drive the
oxen bang over us and rush us under cover of them,
and I’m going to split the herd.
Cover me well when I skip back, but don’t shoot
A hurried murmur of applause.
It was a feat whose daring was about equalled by
the quickness of resource which had devised the plan.
The oxen were coming on now at a canter,
about a hundred all told. The impi had thrown
out `horns’ so that the terrified animals, beset
by a leaping, yelling crowd on either side, had no
option other than to rush blindly ahead.
Hyland Thornhill leaped over the breastwork,
armed with his impromptu torch. Carefully avoiding
the wires, he advanced about fifty yards and lighted
it. The oxen were about twice that distance from
him rendered frantic by the yells and whistling
of the savages urging them on behind. The flame
roared up the soaked sacking, and as he waved this
about, on a level with the eyes of the animals, Hyland
fired off a series of appalling yells worthy of the
savages themselves. Would his plan succeed?
Those watching it seemed turned to stone. The
oxen were almost upon him they could not
stop. Then, as he charged them with the flaming
ball, they were suddenly seen to split off into two
sections, and in wild mad career to dash through those
who would have turned them back, galloping away into
distance. Almost before the enemy, coming on
behind, could take in this feat its daring perpetrator
was back within the defences again. A ringing
cheer broke forth. It was answered from the
The roar of the terrible black wave
as it rolled forward. It was full daylight now,
and the tossing shields, and broad blades gripped in
each right hand were clearly discernible. The
war-shout of the late King told that these were largely
made up of those from beyond the river. The defenders
had to meet the dreaded Zulu charge.
Would it never be turned? The
guns of the defenders grew hot, with the rapidity
of the fire. Assegais came whizzing over the
breastwork one, striking a man between
the shoulders as he lay at his post, literally pinned
him to the earth but no one had time to
notice this. That awful raking of the front
ranks, combined with a wholesome dread of the barbed
wire, whose disastrous effects they had witnessed,
had brought the savages to a halt. Assegais,
however were hurled in showers, killing another man
and wounding several. For a moment the fate of
the day hung by a hair, but the terrible incessant
fire, and that from guns that seemed to need no reloading,
was too much. The line wavered, then dropping
to the ground, the assailants crawled away among the
grass and bushes as before.
A sigh of relief that was almost a
murmur, escaped the defenders. Grim, haggard-eyed,
they looked furtively at each other, and each, in the
face of his fellow, saw the reflection of his own.
Each and all had been within the Valley of the Shadow.
It had seemed not within their power to turn that
last charge, but they had done it.
An odd shot or two was fired at long range after
the retreating army, and then men found speech, but
even then that speech was apt to be a little unsteady.
“I say, Prior!” cried
one devil-may-care fellow, who had borne a tiger’s
share in the fight. “How about `The Governor
of North Carolina’? We must drink Thornhill’s
health. He saved this blooming camp.”
“Ja-ja, he did,” was the response
on all sides.
“Oh damn all that for bosh!”
was the half savage, half weary, comment on the part
of him named.
There was a laugh a somewhat
nervous laugh the effect of the strain.
“All right,” said Prior.
“Elvesdon has some stuff, but we mustn’t
clean him out of it all, you know. Ugh!
These dead devils look rather disgusting,”
for he was not used to the sight of bloodshed.
“We must keep the women from seeing them.”
“Master,” said a timid
voice, on the outskirts of the crowd. “I
make good dinner now for all gentlemen?”
There was a roar of laughter and a
cheer. The voice had proceeded from Ramasam,
Thornhill’s Indian cook, who had spent the time
of the fight in the kitchen of Elvesdon’s house,
green with scare.
“Well done, Ramsammy. So you shall,”
“Zulu nigger all run away now,
masters?” queried the Indian. Whereat
the roar redoubled the point of the joke
being that the speaker was a very black specimen of
a Madrassi, some shades darker than the darkest of
those he had defined as “Zulu nigger.”