“Baas, I thought perhaps that the Missie and the Prinsloos and the Meyers had gone to that fine farm which you pegged out, and that I would go and see if they were there. Because if so, I was sure that they would be glad to know that you were really dead, and give me some food in payment for my news. But I was afraid to walk across the open veld for fear lest the Zulus should see me and kill me. Therefore I came round through the thick bush along the river, where one can only travel slowly, especially if hollow,” and he patted his wasted stomach.
“But, Hans,” I asked, “are we near my farm where I set the men to build the houses on the hill above the river?”
“Of course, baas. Has your brain gone soft that you cannot find your way about the veld? Four, or at most five, hours on horseback, riding slow, and you are there.”
“Come on, Hans,” I said, “and be quick, for I think that the Zulus are not far behind.”
So we started, Hans hanging to my stirrup and guiding me, for I knew well enough that although he had never travelled this road, his instinct for locality would not betray a coloured man, who can find his way across the pathless veld as surely as a buck or a bird of the air.
On we went over the rolling plain, and as we travelled I told him my story, briefly enough, for my mind was too torn with fears to allow me to talk much. He, too, told me more of his escape and adventures. Now I understood what was that news which had so excited Kambula and his soldiers. It was evident that the Zulu impis had destroyed a great number of the Boers whom they found unprepared for attack, and then had been driven off by reinforcements that arrived from other camps.
That was why I had been kept prisoner for all those days. Dingaan feared lest I should reach Natal in time to warn his victims!
One hour, two hours, three hours, and then suddenly from the top of a rise the sight of the beautiful Mooi River winding through the plain like a vast snake of silver, and there, in a loop of it, the flat-crested koppie on which I had hoped to make my home. Had hoped!—why should I not still hope? For aught I knew everything might yet be well. Marie might have escaped the slaughter as I had done, and if so, after all our troubles perchance many years of life and happiness awaited us. Only it seemed too good to be true.
I flogged my horse, but the poor beast was tired out and could only break into short canters, that soon lapsed to a walk again. But whether it cantered or whether it walked, its hoofs seemed to beat out the words—“Too good to be true!” Sometimes they beat them fast, and sometimes they beat them slow, but always their message seemed the same.
Hans, too, was outworn and weak from starvation. Also he had a cut upon his foot which hampered him so much that at last he said I had better go on alone; he would follow more slowly. Then I dismounted and set him on the horse, walking by it myself.