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WILLIAM CHARLES SCULLY
The darksome cave they enter, where they find
That cursed man, low sitting on the ground,
Musing full sadly in his sullen mind.
/The Faerie Queene./
When Corporal Francis Dollond and Trooper James Franks, of the Natal Mounted Police, overstayed their ten days' leave of absence from the camp on the Upper Tugela, in the early part of 1883, everybody was much surprised; they being two of the best conducted and most methodical men in the force. But the weeks and then the months went by without anything whatever being heard of them, so they were officially recorded as deserters. Nevertheless none of their comrades really believed that these men had deserted; each one felt there was something mysterious about the circumstances of their disappearance. They had applied for leave for the alleged purpose of visiting Pietermaritzburg. They started on foot, stating their intention of walking to Estcourt, hiring horses from natives there, and proceeding on horseback. They had evidently never reached Estcourt, as nothing could be heard of them at that village. They were both young men-- colonists by birth. Dollond had an especially youthful appearance. Franks was older. He had joined the force later in life. He and Dollond, who had only very recently before his disappearance been promoted, were chums.
Some months later in the same year, when Troopers George Langley and Hiram Whitson also applied for ten days' leave of absence,--likewise to proceed to Pietermaritzburg,--the leave was granted; but the officer in charge of the detachment laughingly remarked that he hoped they were not going to follow Dollond and Franks.
Now, neither Langley nor Whitson had the remotest idea of visiting Pietermaritzburg. It is necessary, of course, for the reader to know where they did intend going to, and how the intention arose; but before doing this we must deal with some antecedent circumstances.
Langley was most certainly the most boyish-looking man in the force. He had a perfectly smooth face, ruddy complexion, and fair hair. He was of middle height, and was rather inclined to stoutness. He was so fond of talking that his comrades nicknamed him "Magpie." A colonist by birth, he could speak the Kaffir language like a native.
Whitson was a sallow-faced, spare-built man of short stature, with dark-brown beard and hair, and piercing black eyes. His age was about forty. He had a wiry and terrier-like appearance. A "down-East" Yankee, he had spent some years in Mexico, and then drifted to South Africa during the war period, which, it will be remembered, lasted from 1877 to 1882. He had served in the Zulu war as a non-commissioned officer in one of the irregular cavalry corps, with some credit. The fact of his being a man of extremely few words was enough to account for the friendship which existed between him and the garrulous Langley. Whitson was known to be a dead shot with the revolver.