Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 140
Publication Date: 1892
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“Well, old man, what do we do next?” The speaker, a fine young fellow of some five-and-twenty summers, reclining on the rough grass, with clouds of tobacco-smoke filtering through his lips, looked the picture of comfort, his appearance belying in every way the discontent expressed in his tones as he smoked his pipe in the welcome shade of a giant rock, which protected him and his two companions from the mid-day glare of a South African sun.
Alfred Leigh, second son of Lord Drelincourt, was certainly a handsome man: powerfully and somewhat heavily built, his physique looked perfect, and, as he gradually and lazily raised his huge frame from the rough grass, he appeared—what he was, in truth—a splendid specimen of nineteenth-century humanity, upwards of six feet high, and in the perfection of health and spirits; a fine, clear-cut face, with blue eyes and a fair, close-cropped beard, completed a tout ensemble which was English to a degree.
The person addressed was evidently related to the speaker, for, though darker than his companion, and by no means so striking in face or figure, he still had fair hair, which curled crisply on a well-shaped head, and keen blue eyes which seemed incessantly on the watch and were well matched by a resolute mouth and chin, and a broad-shouldered frame which promised strength from its perfect lines. Dick Grenville, aetat. thirty, and his cousin, Alf Leigh, were a pair which any three ordinary mortals might well wish to be excused from taking on.
The third person—singular he certainly looked—was a magnificent creature, a pure-blooded Zulu chief, descended from a race of warriors, every line of his countenance grave and stern, with eyes that glistened like fiery stars under a lowering cloud, the man having withal a general “straightness” of appearance more easily detected than described. A “Keshla,” or ringed man, some six feet three inches high, of enormously powerful physique, armed with a murderous-looking club and a brace of broad-bladed spears, and you have a faithful picture of Myzukulwa, the Zulu friend of the two cousins.
The scene is magnificently striking, but grand with a loneliness awful beyond description, for, so far as the eye can reach, the fervid sun beats upon nothing but towering mountain-peaks, whose grey and rugged summits pierce the fleecy heat-clouds, and seem to lose themselves in a hopeless attempt to fathom the unspeakable majesty beyond.
“Do next, old fellow?” The words came in cool, quiet tones. “Well, if I were you, Alf, I should convey my carcass out of the line of fire from yonder rifle, which has been pointed at each of our persons in succession during the last two minutes;” and Grenville, with the stem of his pipe, indicated a spot some three hundred yards away, where his keen eye had detected the browned barrel of a rifle projected through a fissure in the rock; then, in quick, incisive tones, suiting the action to the word, “Lie down, man!” and not a moment too soon, as an angry rifle-bullet sang over his head and flattened against the rock. In another instant all three were ensconced behind a rocky projection, and endeavouring to ascertain their unknown assailants’ force.
Truly, an unpleasant place was this to be beleaguered in—little food, still less water, and positively no cover to protect them in the event of a night attack upon the position they occupied. Grenville quietly picked up the flattened bullet, eyed it curiously, and then handed it to Myzukulwa with an interrogative look; the other scarcely glanced at the missile and replied quietly, yet in singularly correct English, “Inkoos (chief), that lead came from a very old gun, but it is a true one—the Inkoos, my master, was too near it.”
“Yes,” responded Grenville, who had now quite taken command of matters, “but we must find out how many of these rascals are lurking behind yonder rocks with murder in their hearts.” So saying he coolly stepped out into the open again, ostensibly to pick up his pipe, which lay on the ground, but kept his eye warily fixed upon the expected point of offence, and instantly dropped on his hands and knees as another bullet whizzed over him. Then he quietly rose to his feet, but with a beating heart, for, if the rifle were a double-barrelled one, or if more than the one marksman were lying hid, he was in deadly peril. No shot followed, however, and he calmly picked up his pipe and again sought shelter with his companions.
“Now, chief,” said Grenville, after a brief interval, “wait till I have drawn the scoundrel’s fire again, and then rush him,” and, executing a rapid movement round the rocky boulder which served the party as a shelter, he once more provoked the fire of the hidden foe, delivered with greater accuracy than before, the bullet grazing the skin of one hand as he swung himself into cover, crying, “Now, Myzukulwa!” but the fleet-footed Zulu was already half-way across the open space, going like a sprint-runner, having started simultaneously with the flash of the rifle. In a moment more the cousins were after him, only to find, upon reaching the rock, that there was no trace of the would-be assassin, and that the Zulu was hopelessly at fault. A little powder spilled upon a stone showed where the man had been placed, and that was all.
Just then Grenville’s quick eye “spotted” the barrel of a rifle slowly rising a hundred yards away, out of a hollow in the ground, imperceptible from where they stood; he instinctively pitched forward his Winchester, and the two reports blended into one. Leigh’s hat flew off his head, carried away by a bullet, and at the same instant Myzukulwa again “rushed” the hidden marksman, only to find the work done; and a gruesome sight it was. There lay a fine-looking man, stone-dead, with the blood welling out of a ghastly hole in his head, the heavy shell-bullet doing frightful execution at such short range, having fairly smashed his skull to pieces.