Chapter 17.

The Spies — Their Adventures.

Phil Jay, like many other young Boers, could not write; so that during his absence his friends heard from him only twice when travellers who had met the spies reached Thaba Ncho. These verbal messages, however, not proving satisfactory as to the safety of their sons, the Boers engaged two Natives to accompany to Mogaliesberg another young Boer, Van Zyl by name, to recall Phil Jay and Phil June or bring back authentic news concerning them.

Meanwhile a traveller, named Lepane, was journeying from the land of the Bapedi in the east accompanied by a young man, going to the land of the Bahurutshe in the west. They passed through Mogale's country and heard some whispers about Barolong spies and White men.

The travellers after leaving Tlou's village, where Phil and his friends were hiding, took a rest under a shady tree at the foot of a hill where they fell asleep. On awaking they beheld half a dozen Matebele emerging from a thicket in the depression below their hiding place. Naturally the sight struck terror into them. For a moment they knew not what to do. But the younger man, more resourceful than Lepane, suggested to the elder that they were less likely to be seen if they hid in separate places. So advising Lepane to press close up to the tree-trunk, he crawled through the grass and the bushes to find another hiding place.

This plan might have worked very well had not Lepane's nerves unfortunately given way at the near approach of the foe. Terror-stricked, Lepane, before being descried

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shrieked aloud. “O, spare me!” he cried. “I will tell you of some undesirable persons in King Mzilikazi's country. Just let me live, I tell you, I am not alone.”

“He's a liar!” shouted his astonished companion from the bush hard by: “Kill him, he's alone.”

The humour of the situation appealed strongly to the Matebele. They burst out in contemptuous laughter at the timidity of the two men who thus revealed their own presence. Proceeding to bring the two together the Matebele forced them to make a full confession.

The younger man, of course, had nothing to confess, since he was a harmless wayfarer to Sebogodi's land. Lepane, on the other hand, was eloquent. If the honourable the indunas would spare his life, he pleaded, he would guide them to a place where White men and Black men were spying the land, using the foreign spells and medicines, vowing to capture King Mzilikazi alive, overthrow his government, butcher his people and compass a lot of other mischief.

The Matebele at first did not know what to make of him. “Kill the vagabonds!” said one. “No, wait,” said another, “let them show us the witches who have the impudence to talk of catching the King.” The Matebele finally deciding to investigate the matter, proceeded to Tlou's village, with Lepane as their guide.

It was the dreariest march that Lepane had ever undertaken. He knew that his freedom depended on his finding the spies. He had not personally seen them but rumours of them were confirmed when he passed through Mogale's country and heard the two Boers were actually at Tlou's village.

“But, what if the spies have left?” he thought, “and if the villagers should deny that they were ever there!”

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Grim fears possessed his mind. “Supposing we find the White men, and Tlou, the village headman, hands them over, what about me? My people would surely kill me as a traitor. Why did I shriek and reveal my hiding place to these Matebele?” These and similar thoughts haunted Lepane all the way up to the end of the journey.

There was consternation among Mogale's people when the party arrived and enquired about the Boers. These had been hidden in a cave for safety while Ra-Thaga and Rantsau disguised as members of Tlou's tribe. No one would give the spies away. Threats and intimidations only elicited evasive answers from men and women. Finally the enraged Matebele demanded the spies from the village headman.

Tlou's explanation was that Lepane's story was but a hallucination caused by an exaggerated fear of death. And when the Matebele threatened to spear Lepane, the headman retorted that no harm would result if society were rid of such a coward. “He must die someday,” said Tlou, “so, why not take on the job of killing him now while you have a chance. Here's my village, search every hut, you will not find a White man here.”

His captors, having satisfied themselves that no White men were hiding in the village, asked Lepane if he had anything to say before they beheaded him. This turn of events of course did not diminish Lepane's ordeal. He had been standing with his small bundle behind his back, resting his chest over his hands on the nob of his walking cane; he quaked from head to foot and could scarcely keep his knees from knocking straight against each other; scarcely able to keep his limbs straight, he seemed in danger of tumbling over with fright when the question was put to him. “Stay your hand,” gasped the terrified

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man. “Let us to the spruit where the children are watering the stock and ask them. Perhaps they are not such accomplished liars as their elders have proved to be.”

“Give him that chance,” said Umbebe, the Matebele induna. “Take him to the fountain as he suggests. He must be thirsty after his long march, and he will die better with his belly full of water.”

A large party proceeded to the brook, where boys were watering their stock and women filling their cans. All were alarmed as the party approached, but as the Matebele descended on them, the would-be runners had to scamper back to the pools and await their fate. Some of the bigger boys were questioned. Lepane, the slender thread of while life hung on the answer, heard with great relief the answer of the first boy. “I'll take you to where the White man is,” said the young one readily. “We passed him down the valley as we came up this way with our cattle.”

“Lead us to the place,” cried Umbebe, and very soon the boys were running in front of the party which followed with Lepane as captive. They reached the tree under which lay the young Boer and his Barolong guides. The three were promptly arrested and taken to the Matebele capital.

There was weeping and wailing at Thaba Ncho when news came of the arrest of “all the spies.” Rantsau's family and Ra-Thag's friends, not to speak of Mhudi, — that mother of sorrows — were in deep grief. The Matebele who had murdered their nearest and dearest relatives at Kunana, had now slain her one succourer. He too, she thought, had met the same fate as his White friend, Phil Jay, the one humane Boer she had ever found at the Hoek. Friends came and offered her their condolence, for,

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as the rumours had it, the men were dragged before Mzilikazi, who ordered their massacre along with thirty witchdoctors.

“Why are the Gods so cruel?” Mhudi asked herself. “Now I have only my sons to live for, how can I support them without a husband and without any brothers.”

At the Hoek, grey-haired Boers stroked their flowing beards and thought long and seriously. Women wearing cappies looked up to the skies and asked why heaven was so merciless. “How long must it last, O God?” they demanded, as though expecting an answer by return post.

The mourning for the “butchered men” had been in progress for three weeks, when one day the sound of shrill voices of Barolong women, was wafted on the breeze from Thaba Ncho town and echoed round the surrounding hills. The Boers knew that such noises were only heard when Barolong warriors returned victoriously from a battle, or from a successful chase with pack-oxen laden with carcasses of royal game. Presently a mounted messenger rode into camp and delivered to Sarel Siljay a message from Chief Moroka. It was, “Rejoice with me, Sarel friend, for our boys have come back with good news. The youths Phil Jay and Phil June are also back and look much better for their long experience.”

When the once lamented young men reached the Boer camp at Moroka's Hoek, they were welcomed like men returning from the dead. Joyful Boers shook their hands, the women congratulated them and children welcomed them home. Scenes similarly cordial were taking place at Thaba Ncho with Rantsau and Ra-Thaga as their centre. “How agreeably unreliable was news from a far country,” was the comment of man.

The wanderers brought the first authentic news of the

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arrest of a White youth, and two Natives, one afternoon of tense anxiety during the trip of spionage, all through the timorous loquacity of one Lepane. They heard for the first time who the prisoners were; but of their subsequent fate they knew nothing.

All this did not diminish the bellicosity of the Thaba Ncho young men of both races. They became more impatient and eager to get at grips with Mzilikazi before his impis had time to import and acquire the use of firearms.

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Chapter 17.

The Spies — Their Adventures.

Phil Jay, like many other young Boers, could not write; so that during his absence his friends heard from him only twice when travellers who had met the spies reached Thaba Ncho. These verbal messages, however, not proving satisfactory as to the safety of their sons, the Boers engaged two Natives to accompany to Mogaliesberg another young Boer, Van Zyl by name, to recall Phil Jay and Phil June or bring back authentic news concerning them.

Meanwhile a traveller, named Lepane, was journeying from the land of the Bapedi in the east accompanied by a young man, going to the land of the Bahurutshe in the west. They passed through Mogale's country and heard some whispers about Barolong spies and White men.

The travellers after leaving Tlou's village, where Phil and his friends were hiding, took a rest under a shady tree at the foot of a hill where they fell asleep. On awaking they beheld half a dozen Matebele emerging from a thicket in the depression below their hiding place. Naturally the sight struck terror into them. For a moment they knew not what to do. But the younger man, more resourceful than Lepane, suggested to the elder that they were less likely to be seen if they hid in separate places. So advising Lepane to press close up to the tree-trunk, he crawled through the grass and the bushes to find another hiding place.

This plan might have worked very well had not Lepane's nerves unfortunately given way at the near approach of the foe. Terror-stricked, Lepane, before being descried shrieked aloud. “O, spare me!” he cried. “I will tell you of some undesirable persons in King Mzilikazi's country. Just let me live, I tell you, I am not alone.”

“He's a liar!” shouted his astonished companion from the bush hard by: “Kill him, he's alone.”

The humour of the situation appealed strongly to the Matebele. They burst out in contemptuous laughter at the timidity of the two men who thus revealed their own presence. Proceeding to bring the two together the Matebele forced them to make a full confession.

The younger man, of course, had nothing to confess, since he was a harmless wayfarer to Sebogodi's land. Lepane, on the other hand, was eloquent. If the honourable the indunas would spare his life, he pleaded, he would guide them to a place where White men and Black men were spying the land, using the foreign spells and medicines, vowing to capture King Mzilikazi alive, overthrow his government, butcher his people and compass a lot of other mischief.

The Matebele at first did not know what to make of him. “Kill the vagabonds!” said one. “No, wait,” said another, “let them show us the witches who have the impudence to talk of catching the King.” The Matebele finally deciding to investigate the matter, proceeded to Tlou's village, with Lepane as their guide.

It was the dreariest march that Lepane had ever undertaken. He knew that his freedom depended on his finding the spies. He had not personally seen them but rumours of them were confirmed when he passed through Mogale's country and heard the two Boers were actually at Tlou's village.

“But, what if the spies have left?” he thought, “and if the villagers should deny that they were ever there!” Grim fears possessed his mind. “Supposing we find the White men, and Tlou, the village headman, hands them over, what about me? My people would surely kill me as a traitor. Why did I shriek and reveal my hiding place to these Matebele?” These and similar thoughts haunted Lepane all the way up to the end of the journey.

There was consternation among Mogale's people when the party arrived and enquired about the Boers. These had been hidden in a cave for safety while Ra-Thaga and Rantsau disguised as members of Tlou's tribe. No one would give the spies away. Threats and intimidations only elicited evasive answers from men and women. Finally the enraged Matebele demanded the spies from the village headman.

Tlou's explanation was that Lepane's story was but a hallucination caused by an exaggerated fear of death. And when the Matebele threatened to spear Lepane, the headman retorted that no harm would result if society were rid of such a coward. “He must die someday,” said Tlou, “so, why not take on the job of killing him now while you have a chance. Here's my village, search every hut, you will not find a White man here.”

His captors, having satisfied themselves that no White men were hiding in the village, asked Lepane if he had anything to say before they beheaded him. This turn of events of course did not diminish Lepane's ordeal. He had been standing with his small bundle behind his back, resting his chest over his hands on the nob of his walking cane; he quaked from head to foot and could scarcely keep his knees from knocking straight against each other; scarcely able to keep his limbs straight, he seemed in danger of tumbling over with fright when the question was put to him. “Stay your hand,” gasped the terrified man. “Let us to the spruit where the children are watering the stock and ask them. Perhaps they are not such accomplished liars as their elders have proved to be.”

“Give him that chance,” said Umbebe, the Matebele induna. “Take him to the fountain as he suggests. He must be thirsty after his long march, and he will die better with his belly full of water.”

A large party proceeded to the brook, where boys were watering their stock and women filling their cans. All were alarmed as the party approached, but as the Matebele descended on them, the would-be runners had to scamper back to the pools and await their fate. Some of the bigger boys were questioned. Lepane, the slender thread of while life hung on the answer, heard with great relief the answer of the first boy. “I'll take you to where the White man is,” said the young one readily. “We passed him down the valley as we came up this way with our cattle.”

“Lead us to the place,” cried Umbebe, and very soon the boys were running in front of the party which followed with Lepane as captive. They reached the tree under which lay the young Boer and his Barolong guides. The three were promptly arrested and taken to the Matebele capital.

There was weeping and wailing at Thaba Ncho when news came of the arrest of “all the spies.” Rantsau's family and Ra-Thag's friends, not to speak of Mhudi, — that mother of sorrows — were in deep grief. The Matebele who had murdered their nearest and dearest relatives at Kunana, had now slain her one succourer. He too, she thought, had met the same fate as his White friend, Phil Jay, the one humane Boer she had ever found at the Hoek. Friends came and offered her their condolence, for, as the rumours had it, the men were dragged before Mzilikazi, who ordered their massacre along with thirty witchdoctors.

“Why are the Gods so cruel?” Mhudi asked herself. “Now I have only my sons to live for, how can I support them without a husband and without any brothers.”

At the Hoek, grey-haired Boers stroked their flowing beards and thought long and seriously. Women wearing cappies looked up to the skies and asked why heaven was so merciless. “How long must it last, O God?” they demanded, as though expecting an answer by return post.

The mourning for the “butchered men” had been in progress for three weeks, when one day the sound of shrill voices of Barolong women, was wafted on the breeze from Thaba Ncho town and echoed round the surrounding hills. The Boers knew that such noises were only heard when Barolong warriors returned victoriously from a battle, or from a successful chase with pack-oxen laden with carcasses of royal game. Presently a mounted messenger rode into camp and delivered to Sarel Siljay a message from Chief Moroka. It was, “Rejoice with me, Sarel friend, for our boys have come back with good news. The youths Phil Jay and Phil June are also back and look much better for their long experience.”

When the once lamented young men reached the Boer camp at Moroka's Hoek, they were welcomed like men returning from the dead. Joyful Boers shook their hands, the women congratulated them and children welcomed them home. Scenes similarly cordial were taking place at Thaba Ncho with Rantsau and Ra-Thaga as their centre. “How agreeably unreliable was news from a far country,” was the comment of man.

The wanderers brought the first authentic news of the arrest of a White youth, and two Natives, one afternoon of tense anxiety during the trip of spionage, all through the timorous loquacity of one Lepane. They heard for the first time who the prisoners were; but of their subsequent fate they knew nothing.

All this did not diminish the bellicosity of the Thaba Ncho young men of both races. They became more impatient and eager to get at grips with Mzilikazi before his impis had time to import and acquire the use of firearms.