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ELIZABETH RUSSEL CAMERON: CHAPTER EIGHT

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Lindy

Lindy Report 10 May 2004 00:07

Duiwelskantoor. ....................................................................................................... A few years later Mr. Cameron put a man in charge of the mill and set off to seek his fortune at the Gold Diggings which had been proclaimed at Duiwelskantoor in the Barberton district. Mrs. Cameron with the four children, for Bessie and Lionel had been born at Potchefstroom, went to her parents in Pretoria. After some months had elapsed, Mr. Ziervogel, the Commissioner for the Gold Fields, sent her a telegram summoning her to the diggings as her husband was dangerously ill. On receiving the bad news, she made hurried preparations for the long journey and taking her baby, Lionel, with her, set out as soon as possible by coach. In this way she travelled as far as Middelburg where she heard that two wagons had left for Duiwelskantoor the previous day. With the object of overtaking these she managed to hire a cart and horses and started off in pursuit at dawn next morning. She retains a very vivid picture in her mind of the native driver of the cart as he closely resembled an ourang-outan in appearance. Great was her relief when they overtook the wagons at eight o'clock in the evening, as in her anxiety to catch up with them the journey from Middelburg had seemed tedious beyond description. The wagons, owned by Dreyer and Groenewald who were accompanied by an English youth named Frank, did not follow the usual route but proceeded along a little-used farm road consisting of mere rough tracks which further on pursued a winding course through the picturesque Godwan Valley. The men gave up the vehicle that had the katel in it to Mrs. Cameron and her babe. That evening they met two small wagons owned by some Boers who were returning from Duiwelskantoor. She asked them whence they came and they replied: "Uit die hel en more gaan julle die hel in." ("Out of hell and to-morrow you will enter hell.") Next morning she appreciated this description for she and her companions reached a place that seemed utterly impassable. It was so dreadful that it beggars description. Carrying her baby, she set off on foot, accompanied by Frank. After their departure,the front wagon, the one in which she had been travelling, was completely unloaded and all the oxen but the two hindmost, which had to guide the vehicle, were outspanned. The brake was put on and the back wheels were tied with chains to the buck. Riems were fastened to the one side of the buck and all the men-folk, including the native drivers and touleiers, hung on to these to prevent the vehicle from capsizing, if possible, ad it passed over the dreadful place which slanted steeply to one side. The two oxen were started off and the men strained at the riems with might and main, a sudden rush, and the wagon seemed to balance itself on two wheels, a breathless second of anxiety, then the vehicle righted itself and was safely out of the danger zone. Roundabout lay many evidences of accidents. Here a broken wheel, there a piece of rotting tent-sail bore witness to the numerous conveyances that had come to grief there. When the first wagon reached the place where Mrs. Cameron and Frank were waiting, the former put the baby on the katel, and with the aid of the youth set about making a fire so as to have hot, refreshing coffee ready for the men when they should return with the second vehicle. On looking up after having stooped to see if the water was boiling, she felt as though her blood was freezing for she saw a native in full war-paint, with assegaais, knopkierie and skin shield complete, coming through the trees towards her. Back to her mind in a flash rushed the reports they had heard of the Swazis being on the war-path against the followers of Sekukuni. In her mind's eye she saw Dreyer and Groenewald carefully cleaning their guns the previous evening so as to be prepared in case of their meeting a Swazi impi (a band of natives on the war-path). Surely she was face to face with one of these savage hordes. Terrified, she shouted to Frank but got no response and could see him nowhere. Hastily she threw a covering over the baby, advanced to the front of the wagon, and with her heart beating great, hammering, suffocating thumps waited the approach of the kaffir. No impi followed him so with an air of bravado she shouted out, "Sakubona!" ("Good day"). The native responded in a friendly tone and she breathed more freely. He came up to the wagon and asked her if she had seen some oxen which had strayed. He gave her a minute description of them in his own tongue and stated that he had been searching for them for several days. By the time he had finished speaking her heart began to beat in normal fashion. On being informed that she had not seen the lost animals, he strolled leisurely away. When he had departed she set about looking for Frank and after a short search found him hiding in a hollow among some tamboekie grass which was quite ten feet high. By this time the water was boiling merrily and the second wagon had arrived in safety. When the travellers had partaken of the fragrant coffee they rested awhile, after which the wagons were reloaded and the journey resumed. The mountains with the Godwan River winding among them made a wonderful picture. The stream flowed with so many curves that the travellers had to cross it six times in all. At one such crossing a crowd returning from the diggings was on one side of the river while Mrs. Cameron and her companions were on the other side. Both parties spent the whole day rolling rocks away to make the road through the stream passable. When the crossing was considered safe, Mrs. Cameron in the tented wagon passed over first and all went well. Then the second vehicle entered the water but stuck fast in mid-stream, and the men had to wade in and carry off the greater part of the load. An extra span of oxen was hitched on, and, amidst shouts of encouragement and the loud clapping of the long whip, the willing animals, straining every muscle in a mighty effort, jerked the wagon forward, but alas, one of the big hind oxen was killed in the struggle. Mrs. Cameron, greatly interested in the Gold Fields, asked the returning diggers innumerable questions but the replies were all most discouraging. A little further on she was met by a Mr. Zeederberg with cart and horses. The Commissioner, knowing the circumstances, had kindly sent this quicker means of transport to make the last part of the journey less tedious for her. The cart went up hill and down dale. The road was dreadful, in fact in many places it seemed utterly impossible for them to get through in safety, but the journey was completed without mishap. The scenery was grand. They reached a place called Rebels' Camp, and, as there was no trace of a road from this spot, it was impossible to continue by cart so they proceeded on foot, a couple of natives carrying the baggage. A short distance ahead there was a natural gateway through a huge rock which had trees on either side of it. Just beyond this the picturesque mountain crags looked like a wonderful, old castle, the gateway forming an artistic, rocky entrance to its grounds. The travellers passed through this portal and arrived at a hut, the inmates of which not only gave them welcome refreshment but also provided them with a native boy to carry Lionel. Mrs. Cameron was very grateful as her arms were aching with the weight of the babe after the arduous walk. From here it was only a short distance to her destination where she was warmly welcomed by Mr. and Mrs. Ziervogel with whom she stayed during her sojourn at the diggings. Their home was a big, unlined tent. They were extremely hospitable and after she had had some supper, her host accompanied her to her husband's bed-side. She stayed with Mr. Cameron, who had already passed the crisis and was on the mend, a short while and then