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Author: Pienaar, Philip
Title: With Steyn and De Wet
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): heilbron; commando; british; spion kop; louis botha; wet; enemy; general joubert; rode
Contributor(s): Root, Robert Kilburn, 1877-1950 [Translator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 37,007 words (really short) Grade range: 8-11 (high school) Readability score: 63 (easy)
Identifier: etext15224
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Title: With Steyn and De Wet

Author: Philip Pienaar

Release Date: March 1, 2005 [EBook #15224]

Language: English

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK WITH STEYN AND DE WET ***




Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Garrett Alley, and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team.







WITH STEYN AND DE WET

BY

PHILIP PIENAAR

OF THE TRANSVAAL TELEGRAPH SERVICE


METHUEN & CO.
36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
LONDON
1902




CONTENTS

                                    PAGE

THOMAR                                1

THE ELEVENTH OF OCTOBER               3

FIRST IMPRESSIONS                     8

COLENSO                              17

PLATRAND                             25

SPION KOP                            32

GLORIOUS WAR                         42

PIETERS' HEIGHTS                     47

GLENCOE                              53

THE FREE STATE                       60

LINDLEY TO HEILBRON                  68

VELD INCIDENTS                       76

TAPPING THE WIRES                    87

I MEET DE WET                        93

ROODEWAL                            103

OFF TO THE TRANSVAAL                111

ARRESTED AS SPIES                   121

IN THE MOUNTAINS                    131

THROUGH THE CORDON                  139

SKIRMISHES                          148

WE ENTER POTCHEFSTROOM              156

DE WET ONCE MORE                    161

END OF THE REGULAR WAR              168




WITH STEYN AND DE WET




THOMAR


Here in the quiet old convent of Thomar, the Convento de Christo, the
strife of the past months seems like a dream. Wandering through the long
corridors, with their bare, empty apartments, gazing by the hour on
paintings faded and torn, the work of long dead and forgotten masters,
dwelling on marvels of ancient architecture, resting the eyes on
peaceful landscapes and hearing the sweet murmur of falling waters, the
scenes of war seem distant and remote.

The heart but so lately harrowed by the devouring emotions of anger,
hate, and the lust of blood, now soothed by the sympathy of the kindly
Portuguese, is lulled into harmony with the surrounding scenes of peace
and beauty. Only the thought of our ravaged country, struggling still
for dear life, though forced upon her knees, brings back the claims of
duty and the yearning to be up and doing, to enter once more the ranks
of the foemen and strike another blow for liberty.

Hopeless! Yet where is the Boer--prisoner, exile, or renegade--even
he!--who does not dream by nights he feels once more the free veld air
upon his brow, lives again the wild night rides beneath twinkling stars?
He feels once more his noble steed bound beneath him, grips again his
comrade's welcoming hand, and wakens with a bitter sigh.

Some consolation, then, to recall blows already struck, and duty fairly
done.




THE ELEVENTH OF OCTOBER


When war appeared inevitable the spirit of the Boers rose to support
them in their hour of trial, and only sentiments of patriotism and
defiance were felt and expressed. Joy at the opportunity of proving once
and for ever their ability to defend themselves and consequent right to
independence, regret for friendships about to be severed--these were the
chief emotions of the younger generation. The elder thought of past
wrongs, long cherished, and silently took down the rifle from behind the
door.

The women, ever strong in national spirit, lent the aid of their
encouragements and prayers. Sons wept that they were too young to
accompany their fathers on commando.

Yet there came a moment when for the space of a minute a mighty shadow
seemed to brood over the land, and the cold chill of coming evil struck
the nation as if from the clouds. A message had been despatched from
Pretoria to every corner of the country. One word only: War!

The blow had fallen. Nothing could avert a sanguinary struggle. Well the
burghers knew the overwhelming strength of the foe, but they went
blithely forth to meet their fate, strong in a sincere confidence in
Providence. If the worst came to the worst, well, "'twere better to have
fought and lost, than never to have fought at all!"

Of all the branches of the Transvaal Civil Service there was not one
that stood higher in the public estimation at that moment, nor one that
distinguished itself more during the war, than that to which I had the
honour to belong--the Department of Telegraphs. Equipped with the most
up-to-date instruments, composed almost equally of picked men from
England and Holland and of well-trained young Colonials and
Transvaalers, under an energetic chief, our department proved itself,
both before and during the war, second to none, and, the Afrikander
portion at least, worthy of the confidence of the Government.

I had just been transferred from Johannesburg to Pilgrimsrest, a quaint
little one-street village near the Portuguese frontier, one of the
oldest alluvial diggings of the early days, and now the centre of an
important mining district. Here we heard that our commandoes had
invaded the enemy's territory in every direction, and news of the
preliminary engagements was awaited with breathless interest. The male
inhabitants of the village often spent entire nights under the verandah
of the telegraph office, and the importance of the telegraphist suddenly
grew almost too great to bear with becoming modesty.

One Sunday morning, however, the office wore a deserted look. The Dutch
inhabitants were engaged in courteously escorting those of British birth
or sympathies over the border, and I was alone. After a long interval of
silence the instrument began ticking off a message--

"Elandslaagte--flight--lancers!"

Then came the list of the fallen. Name after name of well-known men fell
like lead upon the ear. Finally my colleague at the other end gently
signalled that of my uncle, followed by the sympathetic remark: "Sorry,
old man."

I could write no more. What, my uncle dead! General Kock, Major Hall,
Advocate Coster--all dead! It seemed impossible. We could not understand
it, this first initiation of ours into war's horrible reality.

Within a week reinforcements were despatched from our district. I
obtained a few weeks' leave of absence and accompanied them.

We were an interesting band. Two hundred strong, we counted among our
number farmers, clerks, schoolmasters, students, and a publican. My mess
consisted of a Colonial, an Irishman, a Hollander, a German, a Boer, and
a Jew. It must not be imagined, however, that we were a cosmopolitan
crowd, for the remaining hundred and ninety-four were nearly all true
Boers, mostly of the backwoods type, extremely conservative, and
inclined to be rather condescending in their attitude towards the
clean-shaven town-dwellers. The almost universal respect inspired by a
beard or a paunch is a poor tribute to human discernment.

Every mess possessed one or two ox-waggons, loaded with a tent,
portmanteaux, trunks, foodstuffs, and ammunition. We made about twenty
miles daily, passing through Lydenburg, Machadodorp, Carolina, and
Ermelo, and reached Volksrust on the fourteenth day. During the march we
learnt that heavy fighting had taken place in Natal, Dundee being taken
and Ladysmith invested, and a strong commando had actually made a
reconnaissance as far down as Estcourt.

General Joubert, who had bruised himself in the saddle during the latter
expedition, was now recruiting his health here in Volksrust. I went to
see him, and found him installed in a railway carriage, and looking very
old and worn. I showed him a telegram instructing me to apply to him
for a special passport enabling me to return when my leave expired.

He said, "Others want leave to go home; you ask for leave to come to the
front. But your time is so short, it is hardly worth while. Still, I am
glad to see such a spirit among you young people."

Turning to his secretary, he ordered the passport to be made out. This
was done in pencil on the back of my telegram. The general signed,
handed me the document, and shook my hand. I thanked him, and left,
highly gratified.

We entrained that afternoon, slept in the carriages at Newcastle,
reached Ladysmith, or rather our station nearest Ladysmith, the
following day, disentrained, rode into camp, reported ourselves for
duty, and went on outpost the same night.




FIRST IMPRESSIONS


Our chief concern was whether we, as novices, would bear ourselves well
in our first engagement. Speaking to an old campaigner on the subject,
he said--

"Tell me candidly, how do you feel?"

"Well, rather nervous."

"Ah! Now, I can tell you a man who feels nervous before a fight is all
right, because he has some idea of what he is going to meet. It is the
reckless recruit that often proves a coward. He fancies it a mere
bagatelle, and finds out his mistake too late."

This rather encouraged us, for, to tell the truth, we felt anything but
reckless.

One evening about twenty of us were sent off to keep watch in a Kafir
kraal near the town. In one of the huts we found a Kafir lying sick, and
too weak to rise. He told us the former outpost had always brought him
something to eat, but now they had not come for some days, and he had
begun to think himself doomed to die of starvation, or, worse still, of
thirst. We soon made up a collection of biscuits and cold tea, and I am
happy to say that henceforth the poor creature's wants were daily
supplied.

A rather peculiar adventure befell us here a few days later. The sun had
already set when we reached the spot where we were to stand guard during
the night. We dismounted, and two men went forward on foot to
reconnoitre. After a while they returned with the startling news that
the enemy was approaching in force. They were sent forward again to make
sure, and again returned, saying there could be no doubt about the
matter.

"We heard the rumble of an approaching train, the march of cavalry, and
saw the glint of arms between the trees!"

This was definite enough. A man was instantly despatched to alarm the
main laager, while the rest of us followed leisurely. We were about
half-way back when the messenger returned with an additional twenty-five
men and an order that we were instantly to return to our post; if in
possession of the enemy, to retake and hold it until relieved.

A very tall order, and more than one man uttered the belief that
discretion was the better part of valour, and that there was no humour
in attacking numberless Britons with fifty men. We braced up our
nerves, however, retraced our steps, and presently reached the vicinity
of the kraal. Two men crept up close and came back to say the place was
full of English. Leaving the horses in charge of a few men, we crept
forward and surrounded the kraal. Each sought a suitable shelter and
laid himself down to await the dawn. It was now about midnight. The next
four hours passed very slowly, lying there in the cold and with the
expectation of a desperate struggle in the morning. We thought how brave
we were, and how sorry our general would be when he heard how we had all
been shot down to a man, and how in after years this night attack of
ours would rank with the charge of the Light Brigade. We hoped
Chamberlain would die soon after us, so that we could meet his soul in
the great Beyond and drag it through a sieve.

What was our surprise to find when it grew light that there had never
been an Englishman near! The whole thing from beginning to end was only
another false alarm, and all our valour had been wasted.

This kind of alarm was rather frequent at the time. A burgher woke up
one night to find himself being roughly shaken and someone shouting in
his ear--

"What are you doing? Get up, quick! Don't you hear the alarm?"

"Yes, another false one, I daresay," turning over for another nap.
Happening to open his eyes, he became aware for the first time that he
was speaking to no one less than General Joubert himself!

The poor fellow did not argue the point any further, but forthwith fled
into the night, glad to get off at that price.

One morning two of us were returning from our usual swim when suddenly
we saw the whole camp a beehive of commotion, burghers running to and
fro, saddling their horses, shouting at each other, and generally
behaving with a great lack of decorum--like madmen, in fact, or members
of the Stock Exchange. Hastening on, we heard that the enemy were coming
out to attack us. We hastily seized our nags, and in five minutes were
on top of the nearest hill between ourselves and the enemy, who could be
seen approaching three thousand yards away. We formed ourselves into
groups, and each group packed itself a low wall of the loose stones
lying about.

One German, armed with a Martini-Henry, found himself shunned by all his
comrades on account of his cartridges not containing smokeless powder,
and was obliged to entrench himself on his own at some distance from
the rest. The poor fellow was the butt of all the primitive humourists
from the backwoods, and was assured with much solemnity that his rifle
would draw all the British fire in his direction, and that he was as
good as dead already. Thorny is the path of glory!

The British guns in Ladysmith opened fire as their cavalry advanced, the
shells falling a few hundred yards to our right, on a hill whence our
cannon had lately been removed.

When within two thousand yards the enemy suddenly wheeled to the left
and were quickly out of sight between the hills. They found the Pretoria
men there, and came back helter-skelter to the accompaniment of rapid
rifle firing. First one saddle and then another was emptied as they
raced across from right to left, making for a low scrub-covered kopje.

In this kopje a party of our men were concealed. With keen interest we
watched the scene, waiting to see the enemy caught in the trap. Then a
volley burst from the brush. Like a flash the horsemen wheeled and raced
back into Ladysmith. The volley had been fired too soon.

A few mornings later we heard that during the night something very
serious had taken place on Lombard's Kop. Being a sort of free lance, I
immediately saddled my pony and rode in that direction. Presently I met
two Boers on horseback.

"Morning, cousins." (Cousin is a title of courtesy used in addressing
one's equal in age. Elder men are called "uncle.")

"Morning, cousin. Of what people may cousin be?"

"Of the telegraph service. And cousins?"

"Of the artillery."

"Something happened up there last night?"

"Yes. The English came and blew up our Long Tom!"

"How was that possible?"

"We can think what we like. Why was the burgher guard absent? It is
shameful!"

We returned to camp together. The news had now been made public, and
formed the one theme of discussion. Much credit was given the enemy for
their audacity, but there was a strong suspicion that treachery had been
at work. The ensuing court-martial resulted in two officers being
suspended from duty only, although there were many trees about.

A few days later I went to see my brother, who was stationed on Pepworth
Hill, some six miles to our right. He belonged to the Artillery Cadets,
who at the beginning of the war had been distributed amongst the various
guns in order to give them practical experience. Of the four that were
attached to this gun two had already been wounded. It was glorious to
see these lads of fifteen and sixteen daily withstanding the onslaught
of the mighty naval guns. The rocks around their howitzer were torn by
lyddite, and the ground strewn with shrapnel bullets.

"The British say we are trained German gunners. Quite a compliment to
Germany!" said one youngster laughingly.

"And I," said another, inflating his chest, "am a French or Russian
expert! Dear me, how we must have surprised them!"

They showed me how they crushed their coffee by beating it on a flat
stone. Their staple food was bully beef and hard biscuits.

"If only we had some cigarettes," they said, "how gay we should be! Last
week we got some sugar, enough for two days; we are so sick of black,
bitter coffee!"

A severe thunderstorm now broke overhead, and as I had to go on duty
that night I took leave of my friends. They had no tents, and had to
find the best shelter they could under tarpaulins stretched between the
rocks.

Riding along, I soon found my raincoat soaked through. The water began
to rush along the path, and the loud, incessant pealing of the thunder
and the rapidly succeeding and fearfully vivid lightning flashes so
terrified my horse that it refused to move a step. Dismounting, I led
the animal through the blinding rain for upwards of an hour, when I
reached camp, to find the outpost already gone. I took off my streaming
garments, and turned into my warm bed. At midnight the flap of the tent
was opened, and I was ordered to turn out and stand guard. Our effects
were still at Volksrust. Drawing on a soaking wet pair of heavy corduroy
breeches in the middle of the night is one of the least delicious
experiences possible, as I found to my cost, to say nothing of sitting
in them on an antheap for a couple of hours with a chilly rain falling.

In the morning came the news that the enemy had again surprised and
blown up one of our guns--none other than the howitzer visited by me the
previous evening. Presently the young cadets themselves came riding into
camp, bringing with them pieces of guncotton, and showing by the state
of their ragged uniforms the hand-to-hand nature of the struggle that
had taken place.

One of them said in answer to my inquiries--

"We heard someone climbing the hill in the night, and challenged. It was
the British. They shouted 'Rule Britannia!' and rushed up to the top. We
fired into them. We were too few. By sheer weight of numbers they
forced us aside. One of the artillerymen was dragged by the leg from his
sleeping-place. He shook himself free, and bolted. The soldiers formed a
square round the gun, charged it with guncotton, shouted 'Stand back!'
and the next moment our gun was crashing through the sky. It all
happened in a moment. Then the enemy retired, followed by some burghers,
who had by this time arrived from the laager at the back of the hill.
The Pretoria commando was also waiting for them, and intercepting their
retreat, made them pay dearly enough for their exploit."




COLENSO


One day our scouts made a splendid haul, bringing into camp that
celebrated, devil-may-care animal, the war-correspondent. His story was
that he had wandered out of Ladysmith with a packet of
newspapers--"merely to exchange notes and to challenge you for a cricket
match!"

Squatted on the ground, crowds of bearded Boers gazing at him with
fierce interest, he looked anything but comfortable, and no wonder, for
the word _spion_ was often uttered. His colour was a pale green, while
his teeth chattered audibly. He was subsequently sent to Pretoria, and
thence exiled to civilisation, _via_ Delagoa Bay.

On the same day we captured three natives bearing British despatches. As
these runners were giving considerable trouble, it was decided to
execute one and send the other two to spread the news among their
friends--black and white.

The grave was already dug, when General Joubert, always against harsh
measures, decided to spare the Kafir's life. The contrast between the
bearing of this savage and that of the war-correspondent was most
striking.

Sometimes the merits of the different commandoes would be discussed. The
palm was generally awarded to the Irish Brigade and the Johannesburg
Police, two splendid corps, always ready for anything, and possessing
what we others painfully lacked--discipline.

The burghers used to relate with much relish a story of how one day the
British shells came so fast that even our artillerymen did not dare
leave their shelter to bring up ammunition for the gun; how two of those
devils of Irishmen sprang to the task, and showed how death should be
faced and danger conquered. Erin for ever!

Buller now began to press his advance on the Tugela, and his searchlight
could nightly be seen communicating with the besieged; long official
messages in cipher, and now and then a pathetic little message, "All
well, Edith sends love," would flash against the clouds, causing us to
think of other scenes than those before us.

On the tenth of December a heavy bombardment was heard from the Tugela.
On happening to pass the telegraph office at two o'clock, a colleague
called to me--

"Buller has tried to cross the river; he is being driven back. Ten of
his guns are in danger, and as soon as the sun sets our men are going
over to take them!"

This was news indeed.

"Which is the road to Colenso?"

"Round those hills, then straight on."

"Thanks, good-bye," and off I went, determined to see those guns taken.

About four hours' hard riding, then a tent by the wayside, the red cross
floating above. An ambulance waggon has just arrived, bringing a few
wounded. I must be close to the battlefield now, but I hear no firing.
What can have happened?

Half an hour further. I see the fires of a small camp twinkling in a
gully to my left, and make my way thither. It is pitch dark. As I
approach the camp I hear voices. It is Dutch they are speaking. Then
several dim shapes loom up before me in the darkness.

"Hello! What commando is this?"

"Hello, is that you? By Jove, so it is! I thought I knew the voice," and
dashing Chris Botha shakes my hand.

"It is you, commandant! Where are those ten guns?"

"Oh, that's what you're after. Sorry, but we took them early in the
afternoon. Never mind, come along into camp. You'll see enough in the
morning."

In the camp they had six Connaught Rangers--a captain, lieutenant, and
four men, about four of the lot wounded. They alone of all their
regiment had managed to reach the bank of the Tugela--Bridle Drift,
about two hundred yards from the trenches of the Swaziland commando.
Finding no shelter in the river bank, exhausted, wounded almost to a
man, they ceased firing, whereupon our men left them in peace until the
end of the fight, when they were brought over and complimented upon
their pluck.

"I'm tired out after to-day's work," Botha said, "but there's no help
for it. I must sleep in the trenches again to-night. Walk down with me,
your friends down there will be glad to see you."

After an hour's walk--it seemed more like a week--we reached the
trenches, where the young heroes of the Swaziland commando made me
welcome. I asked them about the day's fighting, but they said--

"Too tired to talk to-night, old man. Turn in; to-morrow will do."

We turned in, and slumbered undisturbed by any thought of the blood shed
that day.

Early the next morning we waded through the river, wearing only a hat
and shirt, and carrying our topboots over the shoulder. Dozens of Boers
were splashing about in the water, enjoying themselves like so many
schoolboys. Lying strewn about on the other side were scores of dead
bodies; by the side of each fallen soldier lay a little pile of empty
cartridge cases, showing how long he had battled before meeting his
doom. Some lay with faces serenely upturned to the smiling sky, others
doubled up in the agony of a mortal wound, with gnashing teeth fixed in
a horrid grin, foam-flecked lips, and widely staring eyes.

Horrible, in truth, but most awful of all was the soul-sickening stench
of human blood that infected the air. We soon turned back, unable to
bear it any longer.

"Did your commando lose many men?" I asked my companion.

"Only two, strange to say. Wonderful; can't explain it."

"How did you feel during the fight?"

"When we saw the vast number of soldiers steadily approaching, and
heard the thunderous explosion of hundreds of shells, we knew we were in
for a hot time. Our small commando could never have retreated over the
four miles of open country behind us. There was only one thing to be
done--fight. And we fought--fought till our gun-barrels burnt our hands
and our throats were parched with thirst--the excitement of it all!"

"Could you see when your bullet went home?"

"You noticed that soldier lying behind the antheap, a hole in his
forehead? That man worried us a good deal. _He_ could shoot, the beggar!
Well, two of us fixed our rifles on the spot and waited till he raised
his head; then we fired. You know the result."

Boys talking, mere boys, who should have been thinking of flowers,
music, and love, instead of thus taking a grim delight in the stern
lessons of war.

Saying au revoir to my friends, I now rode over to the telegraph office
a few miles lower down. The operators were transmitting piles of
messages to and from anxious relatives, and were not sorry to see
someone who could lend them a hand. The chief of the department happened
to be there at the time. He immediately placed me in harness. I wired
to my field-cornet at Ladysmith saying I was unavoidably detained, as
the phrase goes, and the next few weeks passed quietly by, long hours
and hard work, it is true, but on the other hand pleasant companions and
a splendid river, with boating and swimming galore.

One morning a score of Theron's scouts passed by, their famous captain
at their head. One of them--an old friend--reined in long enough to tell
me they were off to lie in wait for a small British patrol, which, a
native had told them, daily passed a certain spot suitable for an
ambuscade.

In the afternoon the same band returned, several on foot, and carrying
someone in a blanket. What was my surprise to find that this was no
other than poor Harry C----!

The native had misled them, and the surprise had been the other way
about. My friend had received a bullet through the stomach, a wound
which appeared necessarily fatal. He was laid down in a tent. Theron
bent over him, his eyes filling with compassionate tears. "How now,
Harry?"

"Awful pain, captain."

To break the news gently we wired home that he was only slightly
wounded. This turned out to have been wiser than we knew, for, to our
joy, Harry lingered on, rallied, and finally recovered, a triumph of
medical skill.




PLATRAND


In Natal itself the situation was satisfactory, but the course of events
elsewhere made the speedy capture of Ladysmith imperative. It was
accordingly decided to make an attack on Platrand, or Waggon Hill, as
the British call it. If we could gain this hill the town would be at our
mercy.

The plan of attack was simple in the extreme. The Free Staters would
climb one side, the Transvaalers the other, and Louis Botha himself ride
over from Colenso with a reserve of three hundred men.

Our chief determined to view this fight, and agreed to take me along. It
had been arranged that the attack should take place on the 6th of
January. In the afternoon of the 5th we took the road to Ladysmith,
travelling in a light mule-waggon, our horses tied alongside.

Near Nelthorpe a small commando passed us. Knowing very well what errand
they were bound upon, we yet thought fit to ask them where they were
off to. "Oh, nowhere particular," was the answer. "Out for exercise,
that's all." This discretion was most commendable, for in our mixed
forces spying must have been easy and frequent.

We pitched tent for the night, and at three the next morning saddled our
horses and followed the spoor of the commando. Presently, encountering a
Kafir holding half a dozen horses, we asked him where the owners were.
He pointed to a hill near by, where we found the gallant Villebois, the
kindly Oberst von Braun, and ill-fated von Brusewitz. Little did we
think at the time that the latter would meet his death a few weeks later
on Spion Kop and the former shortly fall at Boshof!

It was growing light, and we could see, lying on our right, the neutral
camp; further away, on Bulwana, our biggest gun, where we knew General
Joubert was standing, his wife by his side.

Straight before us lay the key to Ladysmith--Platrand, whence now and
again came the sharp rat-tat of the Metford, followed by the Mauser's
significant cough.

Through our glasses we espied six helmeted men slowly retreating up the
mountain, pausing at every dozen yards to fire a volley at some
invisible enemy. Three of them reached the top. The sentries were being
driven in.

General Botha now arrived with the reserve force. All dismounted.

"Put your horses out of sight," were his first words to his men, "they
will draw the enemy's fire."

Scarcely had he spoken when a shrapnel shell burst overhead, and three
horses were lying on their backs, snorting and kicking. Then came
another and another. Both went wide. The animals were quickly led behind
the hill, and the three wounded put out of their pain.

Taking the best shelter possible, we gazed upon the drama being unfolded
before us.

The attack was now in full swing. The grating British volleys, the
ceaseless mill of independent firing, the sharp flash of the British
guns, the fierce whirr of our French shells, the deep boom of Long Tom
resounding through the valleys. Who can describe it all?

Yet hardly a single combatant could be discerned. Attacked and attackers
alike were invisible. One soldier only stood in plain view on the crest
of the hill, signalling with a flag. Our men reached the crest, and the
soldier disappeared. Whether in response to his signals or not,
reinforcements presently reached the hill.

In long, thin lines of yellow they ran across the plateau to the crest,
hoping to drive the Boers back the way they had come. As it approached
the line grew thinner and thinner, until there was nothing of it left.
And so on, for hour after hour, the yellow lines of gallant men flung
themselves into the open, only to fall beneath the raging fire poured
upon them from the sternly held mountain crest.

Down the hill our wounded dribbled, thirsty men, pale men, men covered
with blood and weeping with rage. How grim must be the fire they have
just passed through! One man is brought down lying across a horse. His
face hangs in strips, shattered by a dum-dum bullet. Thank goodness,
some of ours are using buckshot to-day!

A Boer mounts on a waggon.

"Who will take in ammunition?"

No response.

I turn to my chief. "Do you advise me to try?"

"I cannot; you must decide for yourself."

Throwing a sack of cartridges over my horse's back, I set off. No sooner
in the open, than whizz, whizz, went the bullets past my ear. The pony
stopped, confused. I struck the spurs into his flanks, and on we flew,
the rapid motion, the novelty of the affair, and the continual whistle
of the bullets producing in me a peculiar feeling of exaltation.

Then the sack tumbled off. I sprang down, hooked the bridle to a tree,
rushed back for the bag, and started forward again. The firing now
became so severe that I raced for a clump of trees, hoping to find
temporary shelter there. Some of our men were here, lying behind the
slender tree-trunks and taking a shot at the enemy now and then.

"Absolutely impossible to live in the open," they said. "Better wait
awhile and see how things go."

I laid myself down under the trees and listened to the bullets as they
sang through the branches.

The very heavens vibrated as the roar of artillery grew ever fiercer,
and the loud echoes rolled along from hill to hill and died away in an
awful whisper that shook the grass-tops like an autumn wind.

What were those lines of Bret Harte's about the humming of the battle
bees?... I could not remember.

My eyelids grew heavy and presently I was fast asleep.

"Wake up! They're coming round to cut us off. We must clear!" And away
went my friend.

Knowing their horses would soon out-distance my heavily laden pony, and
trusting to get away unobserved, I took his bridle and led him away. For
about twenty yards all went well. Then suddenly there broke loose over
us the thickest storm of lead I ever wish to experience. Whether it was
a Maxim or not I could not say, but it seemed to me as if the whole
British army was bent on my destruction. Like raindrops on a dusty road
the bullets struck around me. The pony snorted, shivered, and sometimes
stood stock still. I jerked the bridle savagely and struggled on,
without the slightest hope of escaping, and thinking what a cruel shame
it was that I should be shot at like a deer. Finally the shelter of a
dry watercourse was reached. Following this for some distance, I
encountered another party of our men, to whom I handed my charge, too
shaken to repeat the experiment. The firing now slackened off, and I
returned to my chief, full of mortification over my failure.

It was evident the hill would not be taken that afternoon, so we
returned to our tent, intending to come back the next morning. Late that
evening, however, Colonel Villebois passed and told us our forces had
been withdrawn, General Botha being ordered to Colenso, where Buller had
made a feint attack to help Ladysmith.

Our struggle was therefore a failure, but it had not been made in vain,
since it proved once again that we also could storm a fortified hill,
and fight a losing fight--the hardest fight of all.




SPION KOP


Something peculiar began to be observed about the British camp at
Chieveley. The naval guns still flashed by day, the searchlight still
signalled to Ladysmith of nights, the tents still glistened in the sun,
but the soldiers, where were they?

Marching somewhere up the river. Buller meant to try his luck once more.
More than one of our present leaders had in former days fought by
Buller's side against the Zulus. They knew him tenacious, able; no mere
theorist. It was here in Natal, under their eyes, that he had gained his
Victoria Cross--the same priceless bit of bronze that young Roberts had
just died to win; and they felt that to ward off his second blow would
ask all our energy and cost many useful lives.

The commandoes on our side of the river were extended to keep pace with
the enemy's movements on the other. The distance between the different
laagers lengthened considerably, and a speedy and certain method of
communication soon became a necessity. To obtain this use was made of
the vibrator, an instrument so sensitive that the most faulty line will
carry sufficient electricity to work it. Having received orders to
accompany the construction party, I said good-bye to my comfortable
quarters, and found myself in the veld once again.

While the two waggons loaded with wire, etc., went on by road we struck
across country, myself on horseback, a vibrator strapped to the saddle,
the others on foot. Half a dozen Kafirs accompanied us, carrying rolls
of "cable," wire about the thickness of the lead in a pencil and covered
with gutta percha. A wooden "saddle" holding one roll of wire was
strapped on the back of one of the natives, one end of the wire joined
up to the instrument in the office; the native marched forward, the wire
unrolling as he went, and the other boys placing stones upon it here and
there in order to prevent its being dragged about by cattle. In this
manner we went forward, establishing an office at every laager on the
way, with the result that every commando was always fully informed as to
the situation of all the others, and the enemy's every movement
immediately known to the entire forces, enabling reinforcements to be
sent anywhere at any time.

This system was an easy one to learn, and it has been said that some of
our generals became so fond of it that the slightest movement of the
enemy was the signal for a request for reinforcements. This is, no
doubt, a frivolous exaggeration.

The first day of laying the cable we had gone about fifteen miles, when
communication with the office suddenly ceased. Telling the others to go
on, I turned back and carefully tested the line, eventually finding the
fault at sundown. Reporting my whereabouts to the office, I was ordered
to follow the working party as rapidly as possible, the chief adding
that it was especially desired to have communication the same night with
the Standerton laager, where the others would have arrived by this time.
I therefore pushed on, following the wire. It was pretty dark when I
reached the foot of a mountain. Right across the cable led me--rather a
difficult matter tracing it in the dark--but at last an open plain on
the other side was reached; a few miles further I found one of our men
stretched out in the grass by the side of the cable.

"Where's the Standerton laager?"

"This is where it was. Shifted yesterday; don't know where to. Others
gone to find out. Got a blanket?"

I had not. We had no idea where the waggons were. We lay down to
shiver, not to sleep, for the intense cold made the latter impossible
and the former obligatory. In the middle of the night we moved round to
the other side of the antheap, thinking it _must_ be warmer there. But
it wasn't.

At sunrise the others returned, saying that the Standerton laager had
moved much higher up, and that the Johannesburg laager was the next on
the list. They accordingly marched in that direction, laying the cable
as they went, past precipices and over mountain gorges. I followed on,
testing and repairing, very tedious work in the burning sun. Fortunately
I was able to buy a little fresh milk from a native, which refreshed me
immensely. The waggons were still missing, so we had very little food.

At midnight the cable led me up a high hill, so steep that the pony
almost fell over backwards as I led him up the face of it. Right on the
top lived an old native, who, hearing the barking of his dogs, rushed
out armed with an assegai, ready to defend his eyrie against all comers.
I persuaded him to take me straight to the Johannesburg laager, where a
good night's rest made all right again.

The next morning communication was established with headquarters, and I
had the pleasure of eating a decent breakfast with Ben Viljoen, then
commandant, now general, whose acquaintance I had made during the
Swaziland expedition.

A fiery politician and a reckless writer, his pet aversions were
Hollanders and Englishmen, and it was hard to say which he detested the
most. Brave and straightforward, he was most popular amongst his men,
but the official, non-fighting, salary-pocketing element bore him no
love. General in charge of these positions was kind-hearted, energetic
Tobias Smuts, of Ermelo.

During the night Louis Botha arrived here, accompanied only by his aide
and his secretary. He, Smuts, their staffs, all slept in one small tent
on the hard ground, and with hardly room enough to turn round in. Truly
our chiefs were anything but carpet knights!

For a couple of days my office was under a waggon, then my tent arrived,
and soon everything was in full swing. One afternoon I was honoured by a
visit from a Hollander Jew and Transvaal journalist, whose articles had
more power to sting the Uitlanders than almost anything one could
mention on the spur of the moment.

We drank tea together and discussed the probability of our camp being
bombarded, standing, as it did, in full view of the hill whereon the
British cannon had been dragged a few days before. He had just raised
the cup to his lips when a well-known sound was heard--the shriek of an
approaching shell. Nearer and louder it came, till finally--bang!--the
shell burst not a hundred yards away. A young lineman, who had been
listening with all his soul and ever wider stretching eyes, now gave an
unearthly yell and almost sprang through the top of the tent, knocking
over the unhappy journalist and sending the hot tea streaming down his
neck. The youth's exit was somewhat unceremonious.

The office was hastily removed to the high bank of the adjacent stream.
Whilst this operation was going on the instrument buzzed out a message
ordering me to leave immediately for the Spion Kop office. I at once
said au revoir, handing over to my assistant the charge of the office,
river bank and all, as well as the task of dodging the shells, which
continued to fall around.

Riding along the steep bank for about two hundred yards, I found a
footpath leading down one side and up the other. No sooner had I started
down this than I heard a loud explosion. It did not sound quite so near,
but on gaining the opposite bank I saw floating over the spot just
quitted by me a small cloud of smoke, showing that a shell had been
fired at me with marvellous accuracy. Then a couple burst near the
general's tent, and the laager was immediately shifted behind the hill.

I reached Spion Kop, took charge of the office, and was kept so busy
that for a week there was no time to have a decent wash.

The hill next ours was daily bombarded with the utmost enthusiasm,
shells falling there at the rate of fully sixty a minute, while we
escaped with only an occasional bomb. Looking down upon the plain before
us, we could see the British regiments drilling on the bank of the
river, about two thousand yards away, probably to draw our fire, but in
vain was the net spread.

The ground of operations was somewhat extensive. For some days the
enemy's infantry had been harassing our right wing, attacking every day,
and drawing a little nearer every night. Louis Botha was almost
continually present at this point, only coming into camp now and then
for a few hours' sleep.

One evening his secretary said to me, with genuine emotion, "It has all
been in vain! Our men are worn out. They can do no more!"

He was a Hollander, and also a gentleman; that is to say, he was not one
of those Hollanders who lived on the fat of the land, and then turned
against us in our adversity; rather was he of the rarer stamp of Coster,
who glorified his mother country by nobly dying for that of his
adoption.

"Cheer up!" I replied. "There are other hills."

"To-morrow will tell," he said, as he bade me good-night.

And the morrow did. In the grey dawn two hatless and bootless young men
came stumbling down into the laager.

"The British have taken the hill!"

Startled, we gazed at Spion Kop's top--only five hundred yards away, but
invisible, covered by the thick mist as with a veil. The enemy were
there, we knew it; they could not see us as yet, but the mist would soon
clear away, and then....

Our guns were rapidly trained on the spot, our men placed in position,
and we waited.

I ran into the tent to telegraph the news to Colenso. No reply to my
hasty call. The wire is cut!

"Go at once," said the chief, "and repair the line."

As I rode off the mist cleared, and a few minutes later the fight had
begun. The cable ran about a thousand yards behind our firing line, and
as I went along, my eyes fixed on the wire, the noise of the battle
sounded in my ears like the roar of a prairie fire. Jagged pieces of
shell came whizzing past, shrieking like vampires in their hunt for
human flesh.

Searching carefully for the fault, my progress was slow, and it was
afternoon when the Johannesburg laager was reached. Here I found a
despatch-rider, who said that reinforcements had arrived at Spion Kop
early in the morning, that our men had immediately climbed the hill, and
that, the issue being very, uncertain, we might have to retreat during
the night.

The line was still interrupted, although I had repaired several faults.
I accordingly rode back to Spion Kop early the next morning. When I
entered the laager it was to find that all the waggons had already
retreated, and the tents standing deserted. Not quite deserted, for in
one of them half a dozen bodies were lying. The enemy had unexpectedly
retired during the night, and the entire commando was now on the hill,
gazing at the plentiful harvest reaped by our Nordenfeldts. Thither I
also went.

British ambulance men were busy collecting corpses. It was a mournful
sight; it seemed to me as if war really meant nothing else than
butchering men like sheep, quietly, methodically, and without any pomp
or circumstance.

"A sad sight!" I remarked to the British chaplain.

"They only did their duty," was his unfeeling reply. Duty! Is it any
man's duty to kill and be killed without knowing why? For what did these
poor Lancashire lads know or care about the merits of the war?

"What do you think the confounded English have had the cheek to do?"
asked a friend. "You know they always keep our wounded as prisoners when
they get the chance. Well, this morning their ambulance came here and
coolly carted away all their wounded! Louis Botha says they might have
asked permission first. I should have turned a Maxim on them!"

We went down to the laager, found the line in order, and wired the news
of the victory to Pretoria. I had not been able to get into
communication the day before because the chief had taken a hand in the
fighting instead of attending to the instrument.

Believing that Warren would make another attempt, this time more to our
right, we shifted the office a few miles in that direction and pitched
our tent next to a farmhouse, which was being utilised as a hospital.




GLORIOUS WAR


Late that evening I heard someone outside the tent asking where the
hospital was. It was my father. We had no idea of meeting each other
here, as I had parted from him in Johannesburg before the war began,
when he had no intention of going to Natal. He himself had been under
the impression that I was still at Ladysmith.

He told me he had come to see my young cousin, Johannes, who had been
wounded on Spion Kop the day before. We walked over to the hospital. The
wounded lad, a frail boy of fifteen, looked terribly exhausted lying
there on the floor, his left arm completely shattered.

"We were two together," he said, "myself and another boy. We crept
closer and closer to one of the small sangars, firing into it as we
crept, until there was only one Englishman left alive in it. He called
out 'Water!' and I ran to give him my flask. When I got close to him he
pointed his gun at me and fired. I sprang aside, and the bullet
ploughed up my arm. My chum then shot him dead. Our doctor was too busy
with the English officers to attend to me, so I fear I shall lose my
arm."

Poor child! his fear was only too well founded. His arm was amputated,
after which he went to his uncle's farm to recuperate. When the British
arrived there he would not surrender, but took his gun and went on
commando. Three days later he was brought in, shot through the lungs.
That is the last I have been able to hear of him.

A few days after the battle of Spion Kop we moved forward and opened
another office on our right wing. The British soon after retired from
the vicinity, and this wing was withdrawn. The office remained, however,
being utilised by scouts and patrols for the transmission of urgent
reports.

One day Oberst von Braun called, accompanied by two Boers. I asked him
what had become of his lieutenant.

"Ah, poor von B----!" he said. "The fighting on Spion Kop was almost
over, and he had just risen and walked forward a few steps, when a
chance bullet crashed into his forehead, and he fell a corpse."

This was the same lieutenant who had caused a great sensation in Germany
a few years before by killing an unarmed civilian in a moment of
provocation. It may seem a just retribution that he should have met
with such a tragic fate, but those who knew him in Natal felt nothing
but regret for his loss. Oberst von Braun was taken prisoner a few days
after, and the British reported that his mind was unhinged. This did not
appear improbable to us, for we knew how much he had been affected by
the loss of his companion.

I stayed here for three weeks, without much occupation except wasting
ammunition on turtle doves and hoping that the next patrol would not be
a British instead of a Boer one.

The deserted houses in the neighbourhood had all been visited in turn by
both British and Boer patrols, and between the two enormous damage had
been wrought. It must be pointed out, however, that the mischief done by
our men was in no way authorised--was, in fact, against express orders,
whereas the British now burn our houses to the joyful fiddling of the
London _Times_, and with a righteous unction eminently national.

A small but remarkably severe engagement took place about this time, in
which a portion of Viljoen's men suffered heavily.

This detachment, about forty in number, was guarding a Nordenfeldt
stationed in an advanced position on an isolated hill. One afternoon a
large body of the enemy suddenly attacked the hill. Ben Viljoen, who,
as usual, was on the spot, is not what may be called an excessively
pious man, but he rose to the occasion and inspired his little band by
asking them if they did not fear God more than the British. Thus
encouraged to stand firm, they bravely held the hill till fully half
their number were killed. There was no hoisting of the white flag,
however, our men at that time generally preferring almost certain death
to surrender. This instance was no exception. Every man got out as best
he could, Commandant Viljoen himself racing out with the gun.

Our cannon now shelled the hill furiously. The British ambulance tried
to reach our wounded, but the fire was too hot. This bombardment kept on
for two days, when the enemy retired, whereupon we again took possession
of the hill. Two or three of our wounded were found to be still alive,
but with their wounds in a terrible state of putrefaction. Imagine their
sufferings during those two awful days of heat, thirst, and exposure, to
say nothing of the shells continually exploding around them. They were
brought into camp and ultimately recovered. For all I know, they may be
fighting still. This little affair is known to the British as the battle
of Vaalkrantz.

When they heard that their son had gone safely through the battle of
Spion Kop an old Free State farmer and his wife came down to pay him a
visit The son then accompanied his mother home, the old man taking his
place for a few days. One day some artillerists were engaged in their
favourite pastime of burning out unexploded lyddite shells, when one of
the shells burst, killing three men. As fate would have it, the old
father in question was one of the three.

Another peculiar accident happened on Spion Kop, whilst the rifles of
the killed and wounded soldiers were being collected. One of the rifles
lay under a corpse. Seizing the weapon by the muzzle, a young Boer
attempted to draw it toward him. The charge went off and lodged in his
stomach, inflicting a fatal wound. The soldier had been killed in the
act of taking aim, and his finger had stiffened round the trigger. The
young fellow thus killed by a dead man was the only son of his widowed
mother.




PIETERS' HEIGHTS


When the British retreated from Spion Kop it was to move down to Colenso
once more. Taking the Boschrand, after a feeble defence, they were
enabled to command our positions on the other side, and succeeded in
crossing the Tugela unhindered.

Why we surrendered the river so easily and then defended Pieters'
Heights so obstinately is explained by the fact that, owing to the
British advance on Kimberley, the idea had become general that we should
have to give up Ladysmith in any case, and therefore our men were drawn
back from the river preparatory to a general retirement. Pieters'
Heights were held till everything was ready, and then the retirement was
effected without even an attempt at pursuit by the enemy.

When the Pieters' Heights fighting began I was ordered thither. Going
through the Klip River, our heavily laden waggon stuck fast. We quickly
obtained the loan of another span of mules and hitched them on in
front, but the double team only succeeded in breaking the trek-chain.
There was nothing for it but to outspan and carry the heavy loads up the
steep bank. At this we toiled till midnight. Too tired to catch the
mules and haul the waggon out, we went to sleep, leaving that operation
for the morning.

Before we woke, however, another waggon came along. Finding the road
blocked by ours, the driver roared at us to clear the way immediately.
We were not going to rise so early just to please him, so we answered
him that if he was in a hurry he could pull the waggon out himself. This
he was obliged to do, in order to get past. We then thanked him, and
gently told him that if he had addressed us in a decent manner in the
beginning he would have spared himself all his trouble. We meekly added
the hope that this little lesson would not be lost upon his wayward
mind. His remarks cannot be reproduced here, but it was plain that he
felt very much as little States do sometimes when taken in hand by one
of the great Powers and subjected to a little kind cruelty.

After reloading the waggon we went on, and reached Pieters in due
course. The first thing that drew my attention was the sight of one of
my young colleagues standing under the verandah of the telegraph
office, his face a picture of grief. His father had been killed that
morning.

Going a few miles further, I took charge of the telegraph office in
Lukas Meyer's laager. Meyer, a grand-looking man, formerly possessed
much influence, being at one time President of the New Republic, a State
founded by himself in a tract of country granted him and his followers
by a Kafir chief for assistance rendered during an intertribal war. This
small republic, soon incorporated with the Transvaal, was thenceforth
represented in the First Volksraad by its former president, Louis Botha
becoming its member for the Second Chamber. At the battle of Dundee
Botha distinguished himself. Meyer did not. Then the former gained fresh
laurels at Colenso, and this finally gave him the precedence over Meyer,
General Joubert himself, on his death-bed, expressly asking that Botha
should be appointed his successor. Meyer, then, was in charge of this
laager, Botha had command of the whole line, and Commandant General
Joubert was at headquarters near Ladysmith.

Daily the British regiments stormed, and daily they melted away before
the fire of our men. The stench arising from the unburied corpses soon
made the whole hill reek. The British asked for an armistice to bury
their dead, and this was granted by the commandant to whom the request
was made. When Botha heard of this he at once informed the enemy that
the matter had been arranged without his knowledge, and that he could
grant no armistice. I think this is the only case on record where an
armistice has ever been refused by us, although armistices were asked
for many times by the British.

The combatants, who during the interval had been chatting together most
amicably, were quickly recalled to their respective positions, and the
slaughter recommenced, continuing until one fine afternoon the enemy
took the Krugersdorp commando's position, thus rendering our whole line
untenable. A council of war was immediately called, to take place that
evening, as it was impossible for our officers to leave the shelter of
their trenches during daylight.

Soon after sunset the various officers began to arrive. First came
riding into camp, alone and unnoticed in the darkness, that
incomprehensible man, Schalk Burger, now Acting President. He entered
the tent moodily, nodded to us, and squatted down in the corner,
absorbed in thought. My colleague and I were just making a meal of
coffee and biscuit. We expressed our regret that we had no chair to
offer him, asking him to accept a cup of coffee instead. This he did,
in silence. Silence was his strong point.

Masterful Lukas Meyer next entered, and after him came the pride of the
army, Louis Botha, soldier and gentleman, followed by several officers.
A general council of war was now held, General Joubert being consulted
by telegraph throughout the discussion. There was no sleep that night
for the telegraphists who had to transmit the queries and replies to and
from headquarters.

When the discussion was at its height, information was received that the
Johannesburg laager was surrounded by the enemy. This laager now
constituted our right wing. This intelligence was soon contradicted, but
not before it had exercised a considerable influence upon the decision
arrived at, which was to abandon Ladysmith. The minutes of this council
of war, could they be published, would probably make most interesting
reading, and be of great value to the impartial historian.

At two in the morning we inspanned; at sunrise we were over Klipriver
and trekking past Ladysmith.

The road was one long string of waggons, each straggling on at the
pleasure of its owner. Horses, thanks to the criminal neglect of those
responsible, were already becoming scarce, and groups of men, many of
them wounded, sadly stumbled along, carrying their unwieldy bundles of
blankets, their little kettles, their knapsack, rifle and bandolier.
Some trudged along with a saddle slung over the back, hoping to loot a
mount by the wayside.

We did not travel far that day, but the next the march became more
rapid, every vehicle putting its best wheel foremost. A heavy rain fell
as Elandslaagte was reached, adding to the general depression. Whilst
the majority kept to the road, those who had no other means of
conveyance entrained here for Glencoe. The commissariat stores were
being hastily cleared out, what could not be loaded being set alight.
The last train that left that evening carried the dynamiters, who
destroyed the bridges after passing over them.

After a weary ride in the open trucks, seated on sacks of bread, a
drizzling rain soaking down upon us, we reached Glencoe. The platform
and station buildings were crowded with the sleeping forms of the weary
burghers, who, as yet unused to retreating, were somewhat mixed in more
senses than one. Louis Botha was still near Ladysmith with the
rearguard, most of the other chiefs were coming by road, and there was
no one on the spot to back up General Joubert in his attempts to
reorganise the confused and ever-growing mass of undisciplined men. The
retreat, in fact, threatened to degenerate into a reckless flight.




GLENCOE


President Kruger had been informed A of the chaotic state of affairs,
and arrived at Glencoe early the next morning. The burghers were called
together, and the President, leaning out of the window of his railway
carriage, asked them to join him in singing a psalm. He then offered up
a fervent prayer for guidance, after which he addressed the burghers,
reproaching them for their want of confidence in an all-powerful
Providence, and exhorting them to take courage afresh and continue the
struggle for the sake of their posterity, which one day would judge
their acts.

"Whither would you flee?" he asked us. "The enemy will pursue you, and
tear you from the arms of your wives. The man who surrenders takes the
first step into exile. Brothers! Stand firm, and you will not be
forsaken!"

As the father of his people spoke, the doubts and fears that had filled
the breasts of the multitude disappeared. Forgotten were the days and
weeks of hunger, heat, and thirst; forgotten the ghastly shrapnel
showers, the soul-crushing crash of the awful lyddite shell, the
unnerving possibility of sudden death that for months had darkly loomed
across their lives, and every man felt the glorious fires of patriotism
rekindle in his bosom.

Then General Joubert spoke.

"If I be the stumbling-block in the way of our success, then I pray God
to remove me," was the humble prayer of the warrior grown grey in wars,
who now found himself too feeble to direct the forces with his wonted
vigour. He then reminded us of brave deeds done in the past, and
expressed his confidence in the future, provided we did not lose heart.

When the General had finished, he sent officers round to marshal the men
into some sort of order. It was wonderful to see the change in the
spirit of the burghers. Where but a moment before had been disheartened
mutterings and sulky looks were now smiling faces and cheerful
conversation. With alacrity the men came forward, gave their names, and
that of their respective commandoes, and took in the positions assigned
them. The danger was past. Even the news of Cronje's surrender, which
was soon after made public, did not have more than a transient effect.
The anxiety as to his fate had been so keen that even to know the worst
was a relief.

For two disquieting days, however, nothing was heard of the rearguard.
To our relief it turned up on the third day. Several weeks of quiet
followed, the British resting after their giant efforts, whilst we
prepared to stem their further advance when it should take place. During
this period of inaction on the part of the enemy I was sent down into
Zululand, and stationed at a small spot named Nqutu, near Isandhlwana,
Rorke's Drift, Blood River, and other scenes of stirring battles fought
in former days. At Rorke's Drift could be seen, in good repair, the
graves of the gallant men who fell in defending the passage through the
river against the Zulus after the British disaster at Isandhlwana.

While at Nqutu we received news of the fall of Bloemfontein and the
death of General Joubert, as well as of De Wet's victory at Sanna's
Post, the latter the only bright gleam that relieved the daily darkening
horizon of our future.

I now obtained a few days' leave of absence. My substitute left Glencoe
early in the morning, accompanied by a mule waggon. The trolley duly
arrived at sundown, but the substitute was absent. It appeared he had
taken a short cut, as he thought, and had not been seen since. Bethune's
mounted infantry was hanging about the neighbourhood, and we feared he
might have been raked in. At midnight, however, he made his appearance,
wet to the skin, after wandering to and fro in the chilly mist for
hours. I immediately handed the books and cash over to him, and went to
bed till four o'clock, when I saddled my horse and started for Glencoe,
on leave and on my way home. Carefully nursing my mount, I reached
Dundee at noon. After a short rest we went on, and reached Glencoe at
one o'clock, none the worse for the morning's ride of almost fifty
miles.

Here I learnt that a plan was afoot to attack the British camp at
Elandslaagte, which lay quite open and unprotected, as if it were part
of an Earl's Court exhibition. When I left by train next morning our
guns were already in action.

Not being pushed home, however, the attack did not amount to much,
except for its moral effect upon our men. It also gave the enemy the
idea of finding a decent position for his camp.

Travelling with me in the train were several men on their way to the
Free State, where our forces were being hard pressed. Before leaving I
had also sent in a request asking to be transferred thither, as Natal
was becoming really too dull.

At first sight Johannesburg did not seem much altered, but on driving
through the deserted streets, all the shops barricaded, and tramway
idle, the difference between the bustling city of old and this silent
shadow of its former self was only too evident.

Another difference that thrust itself upon the observation was the
alteration which had lately taken place in the sentiments of the
remaining Uitlander inhabitants. These, upon their lavish protestations
of friendship and fidelity, had been allowed to remain during the war.
In our triumphs their sympathy was ever with us, but when Cronje was
captured, Ladysmith relieved, and Bloemfontein abandoned, their
long-latent loyalty to the British Empire became too fervent to be
restrained within the bounds of decency. "Remnants" of red, white and
blue were ostentatiously sewn into a distant resemblance of the British
flag; the parlour piano once more did its often unsatisfactory best with
the British anthem; mamma's darling received strict injunctions not to
play with that horrid little Dutch boy next door; and papa, jingling the
sovereigns he had received in his latest deal with the Government,
prepared to pat Lord Roberts on the back when he should enter the town.

But what can one say of those "oprechte[A] Afrikaners" who followed the
same procedure? The Smits who became Smith, the Louw that suddenly
shrank into Lowe (could he sink lower?), the Jansen transformed into
Johnson, and the Volschenk merged into Foolskunk? What did John Bull
think of all these precious acquisitions to his family?

In striking contrast was the bearing of some of the numerous
British-born officials, British-born and with British sympathies, who
nevertheless faithfully performed their arduous duties until their
services were no longer needed, and then entered the new regime with
conscience clear and not without some degree of regret for the old.
Loyal to the old, they could be loyal to the new. That several of the
British-born officials had played the despicable part of spy is
undoubted, but their villainy served but as a foil to show more clearly
the merits of those who remained honest men.

Before my leave had expired I returned to Natal, weary of miserable
Johannesburg, and little thinking that I should not see my home again
for years. Upon reaching Glencoe I found a telegram had just arrived,
granting my request to be sent to the Free State. An hour later I was on
my way, and the following evening the train landed me at Winburg, where
a construction party was awaiting my arrival.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote A: _Oprechte_ = thorough.]




THE FREE STATE


Menschvretersberg (Cannibal Mountain), near Thabanchu, was at this time
the site of the Boer headquarters, and it was our duty to establish
telegraphic communication between this point and Winburg, a distance of
about forty miles.

After consideration, the inspector decided that it would take too long
to lay a cable.

Wire fences had already been utilised in America for short-distance
telephonic communication, and this system had already been tried at Van
Reenenspas by ingenious young Bland, of the Free State telegraphs,
employing, however, the vibrator instead of the telephone. We determined
to follow his example.

According to the law of the land, every Free State farm has to be
fenced. Blocks of sandstone, about four feet high and twelve inches
square, are generally used for fencing uprights. Here, then, were lines
ready made, and covering the country in every direction like network.

The only thing necessary to isolate the wire was to walk along the
fence, cut the cross-bindings connecting the upper wire with the lower
ones, lay a cable under the gates, and there you were. This did not take
long, and soon messages were gaily buzzing to and fro over the fence.
There was naturally a great loss of electricity, but not enough to
prevent the working of the sensitive little vibrator.

As with the cable in Natal, however, there were frequent interruptions.
A herd of cattle would knock a few poles over, a burgher hurrying across
country would simply cut a passage through the fence, or a farmer in
passing through a gate would notice the cable, dig it up, and take it
along, swearing it must be dynamite, and that the English were trying to
explode the Free State with it.

All this necessitated constant repairing, but on the whole the system
proved fairly satisfactory, allowing the Government in Kroonstad to keep
in constant touch with the fighting line.

In Natal everything was very quiet; here, on the contrary, the British
were pushing forward vigorously. General Louis Botha came down from
Glencoe to aid De Wet, leaving his brother Christian to oppose bulldog
Buller, or "Red Bull," as we called him.

In spite of Louis' presence the enemy continued to gain ground, and it
was not long before Brandfort had to be given up. The enemy next took
Thabanchu, and it became clear that our positions at Menschvretersberg
could not be held much longer. President Steyn himself visited the
positions, cheering and encouraging the men, but the strain of
attempting to stem the British advance could no longer be sustained.
Within a few days we received orders to retire to Lindley.

Retire! But how? We were three, our horses two, our luggage heavy. By a
stroke of luck we managed to hire a cart and two. Hitching our horses on
in front, we had a team of four, and the difficulty was solved.

When driving away from the spot where, in the midst of war's alarms, I
had yet spent some of the happiest hours of my life, I could not help
looking back long and earnestly at the beautiful homestead, and
wondering what fate held in store for it and its kind-hearted owner,
who, always against the war, and weary of sacrifices he deemed useless,
had determined to remain behind and surrender to the enemy. Like many of
our best and most progressive men, he had become disgusted with the want
of discipline in the ranks, and the painful lack of unanimity amongst
the leaders. Sincere in his convictions, I do not think he could be
blamed for acting up to them. Those who have rightly earned the
contempt and hatred of every true Afrikander are those Boers who, not
content with deserting, have gone yet further, and attempted to assist
the enemy that they were fighting against only the day before. Even
their new masters must surely despise such willing slaves!

Absorbed in these reflections, I yet had time to notice the approach,
from the opposite direction, of a Cape cart drawn by six bays.

As the two carts passed each other the team of bays was stopped by a
vigorous hand, and President Steyn addressed us, force and determination
stamping every word and gesture.

"Good morning! Why are you leaving already? I want communication with
Kroonstad!"

"Good morning, President. We had orders to leave at once, but there is
an operator in the office still; he will remain till the last moment."

"Very well; good-bye!" And off he went, the dust clinging to his long
brown beard.

We drove on, our four horses trotting merrily along. We were five in the
vehicle, however, including the driver and his little boy, and presently
the weight began to tell. After the first halt one of the leaders
failed.

"He won't make it much further," said the inspector. "Better turn him
loose and see what can be done with three."

"I have a better plan," said our other companion. Stopping the cart, he
unharnessed the animal, passed the rope through its mouth, vaulted on
its back, and rode to a farmhouse some distance away. Presently he
returned, bringing another horse, which he had obtained in exchange for
our exhausted animal.

Thus reinforced, we pushed on, arriving at Senekal at ten that night.
The only hotel was crowded; we were glad to sleep on the parlour floor.
After breakfast the next morning we continued our journey, passing group
after group of burghers on their way home.

It was truly painful to see these poor fellows struggling along, their
horses scarce able to walk and themselves in a condition not much
better. At noon we outspanned at some water-pools, where several of
these groups were also resting. We entered into conversation with them,
and they told us that they had retired earlier than the others on
account of the weakness of their animals; that one of their number had
been taken ill, and could ride no further, even if his horse could carry
him, which was doubtful.

We spoke to the sick man, who was lying in the shade of a tree. He was
quite a youth, and evidently of a better stamp than his companions.

"If only I could reach a certain farm about five miles further on," he
sighed, "I think I should manage."

"Take my seat," said I, "and I'll ride your nag."

"I must tell you," he objected, "that the poor beast is quite exhausted.
It would take hours to get him there."

"Never mind, I'll start now, and you can follow on with the cart when
our horses have had a feed."

Our business admitted of no retard, so I meant to get a good start in
order not to delay my companions.

I mounted the nag and shouted "Get up!"

He stumbled forward a few steps and stood stock still. I pricked him
with the spurs, he moved on a little further and halted again. By dint
of spurring, striking, and shouting, he at last broke into a slow trot,
wearily dragging his hoofs, but before long he stopped once more.

I dismounted and tried to lead him, but he would not budge. Then I tried
driving him on ahead, but as soon as I got behind him he turned out of
the road, first to the right, then to the left. Of all heart-breaking
experiences this was the worst. I could not leave the animal to die by
the wayside; the farm was only a few miles further on, where he would
find water, food, and rest. I mounted again, shouted, cracked my
sjambok--blows he could no longer feel--flourished my arms, jerked my
body up and down in the saddle, and finally got him into a walk--but
such a walk! slow, mechanical, every step an effort.

When we finally reached the farmhouse I sprang down and quickly threw
the saddle off. No sooner did the faithful animal feel itself released
from its service than it sank to the ground, utterly exhausted. I myself
was not much better off, after my exertions in the blazing sun. If you
are fond of horses, never try to repeat my experiment. Straining the
last ounce out of your mount is too much like mule-driving, and that is
the most soul-killing occupation on earth, as any Afrikander can
testify.

The cart was waiting for me here. We bade adieu to the sick man, and
drove on. Towards sunset we overtook a man struggling along on foot,
carrying a heavy saddle on his head. He signalled to us to stop, and
came panting up to the side of the cart.

"My horse died this morning," he said, "and I've been carrying this
saddle all day. Can't you load it up for me as far as Lindley?"

The man looked so thoroughly done up that I felt sorry for him.
Besides, I wanted to stretch my legs a bit, so I said that he could take
my seat, and I started off on foot while they were strapping fast the
saddle. The exercise was so agreeable in the fresh evening air that I
continued it, and kept ahead of the cart until we reached Lindley. We
went to the hotel, had a good dinner, and then to bed.




LINDLEY TO HEILBRON


Lindley and Heilbron were each in telegraphic communication with all the
other towns still in our possession, and consequently also with each
other; but no telegraph line ran between the two. A message from one to
the other had to travel _via_ Johannesburg and Kroonstad, involving a
delay of several hours. It was our task to make good this missing link.
Haste was required, for the British were already marching on Kroonstad,
whence the Government was preparing to retire, ostensibly to Lindley,
but in reality to Heilbron.

Unfortunately the material wherewith the new line was to be built had
not yet arrived from the Transvaal. The inspector decided not to wait,
but to build the line without it.

"Build a line without material? Impossible," you say. Not at all. You
forget the fences; we did not.

Our first care was to obtain a list of those farms along the road whose
fences joined. This did not take many hours. Being joined here by a
lineman, who had charge of half a dozen natives and a waggon, we loaded
our luggage on the latter, as well as a sack or two of meal--the only
foodstuff we could obtain, and began work, each armed with a spanner and
a couple of iron tent-pegs.

The fences were in bad repair, many of the stone poles having fallen
down and the wires being broken and tangled every few hundred yards.
Lifting the heavy stones and repairing and untangling the barbed wire
was unaccustomed work, and soon our hands were covered with cuts and
bruises. The distance by road between the two points is only about forty
miles, but owing to the fences running at all angles to each other we
had about seventy miles to cover. This it took us a week to do, rising
early, working all through the day, and continuing in the moonlight at
night. By buying a couple of sheep to supplement the bags of meal, and
drinking a gall-like imitation coffee brewed from barley, we managed to
fare well enough, and better than thousands of others are faring to-day.

Our communication with the starting-point continued fairly good until we
came within six miles of Heilbron, when it suddenly failed. I went back
along the line, and eventually found the fault. After having repaired it
and given my pony an hour's rest, I took a short cut for Heilbron, and
arrived there at ten that night, only to find that during the time
occupied by my return ride the wire had again stopped working. Having
been in the saddle since six in the morning, I could do no more that
night, although the Government, now installed here, was anxiously
awaiting the resumption of communication. Early the next morning I
started back. I considered it best to start testing from the middle of
the line, and therefore went by road instead of following the fence. A
few miles out of town I met De Wet's force, which was just retreating
from Ventersburg. The men and animals were weary and dusty, but there
was no depression noticeable; hope seemed to spring up afresh after
every defeat, and those who thought of the result at all were confident
that, as the song of the camp had it, "No Englishman shall ever cross
the Vaal."

And now I shall try and draw you a picture of what I saw next. It was a
scene painfully humiliating for a Boer; what it was for an Englishman I
leave you to judge.

Coming along in the dusty road was a little drove of cattle and horses,
about twenty in all, shaggy animals, and of all sizes, evidently the
entire stock of some small farmer. Mounted astride on ponies, driving
the sorry herd, their faces sunburnt, their hair all in a tangle, and
their air the most dejected possible, were two young girls of about
fifteen and seventeen years. Following them was a rickety old waggon.
Under the hood sat an aged man and his wife, the parents of the two
girls. Not a soul to help these poor creatures in their wild flight.
They did not even know whither they were fleeing--anywhere to keep out
of the hands of the enemy. Slowly the little caravan passed out of
sight. Who can tell what regrets for the past were felt by the aged
couple?--what hopes for the future by the helpless lasses?

When I reached the intermediate station I found that the fault lay on
the Lindley side. Towards Lindley I rode, testing the line frequently,
but the sun went down and I was still testing. It grew too dark to see
the wire distinctly, so I made for a farmhouse near by to seek shelter
for the night. I knocked at the door, whereupon the light within was
immediately extinguished. A minute or so after a native servant came
round from the back. I gave him my horse to take to the stable, and
waited for the door to be opened. Presently the Kafir returned and asked
me to follow him to a side door, which he opened for me. I stepped
inside, and found myself in the presence of about a dozen Boers, all
armed, and all gazing at me as if they had paid for the privilege.
There was something tense in the situation.

I broke the ice by asking them if they took me for a ghost. As soon as
they heard me speak in Dutch the fixed stare gave way to a general grin.
Then they explained, with a sigh of relief, that the zealous servant had
told them with bated breath that I was a bold, bad Englishman, whereupon
they had made the above preparations for receiving me. I did not fail to
curse the native's stupidity, after which we sat down to a plentiful
dinner. When this was over the mistress of the house made us a large bed
on the floor, and soon my strange bedfellows and myself were slumbering
like a lot of little cherubs.

Leaving early the next morning, I followed the line without any success
until within four miles of Lindley. Then I noticed a long column of
vehicles and cavalry trekking over the hill to my right and towards the
town. Presently an old Boer came driving by.

"Do you know what that is?" he asked, pointing to the column.

"No."

"English."

I observed the column attentively. Yes, he was right. The mystery was
explained. Naturally enough we could not get into communication with
the town when it was already occupied by the enemy. The British had
heard that the Government was in Lindley, and had therefore made this
sudden march, whilst we believed them to be still in Kroonstad. It was
most important that the President should know the news immediately. I at
once attached the vibrator to the line and called up Heilbron.

"Here Heilbron."

"Here P. The English are in Lindley."

"What!"

"The English are in Lindley."

"Impossible."

"Please tell the President what I say."

Silence. Presently the reply came--

"Here Postmaster-General. The President says impossible. Enemy still in
Kroonstad."

"Not much! Here they are, before my eyes. Please believe that there is
no mistake."

"Wait a bit." Then, "Where is Piet De Wet?"

"Probably cut off, and on the other side of the town."

"Can you remain there for a while?"

"Yes."

After a while, "You may return now."

"Had I not better remain and watch their movements?"

"Yes, do so."

I remained in the neighbourhood that night and the next morning, but the
enemy lay quiet in Lindley, so I returned to Heilbron.

When I reported myself to the Postmaster-General, he said--

"The President wants to see you."

I thought I was going to get into a scrape for not having been able to
report anything further. However, I followed the Chief to a small
building a few doors lower down the street.

Entering, we found ourselves in a fairly roomy office, where two or
three gentlemen were engaged in an earnest discussion. After being
introduced to them I was taken into an inner office. Seated at a table,
writing, was President Steyn.

Although attired in plain black, like any other lawyer, there was a
dignity in his bearing, and a force of character in his manner, that
could not fail to make an impression on my mind, young as I was.

"Well," he said, calling me by name, "where do you come from?"

My embarrassment was so great, in spite of the friendly smile that
accompanied these words, that I could only stammer--

"From Winburg, President," alluding to the last time I had seen him.

"No, no! I mean to-day."

"Oh, from Lindley. But I could not find out much more. Some think their
next move will be towards Bethlehem, others think they are coming on
here."

"Ah! Well, I know now that your information was correct, and I am
satisfied with your work. I hope you will continue to be so successful.
Now, go out there again, see what they are doing, and report to me."

"Thank you, President," was all I could say, as he shook my hand, and I
retired, highly gratified, as you may imagine.




VELD INCIDENTS


My first thought was that my pony would have to be shod before I could
expect him to carry me any further. I found Judge Hertzog, then Chief of
Commissariat, in the street, a young man still, of medium height, whose
clear brow and incisive speech marked him out from amongst the crowd of
farmers, policemen, and idlers that constantly surrounded him with
requests for this, that, or the other lacking article or animal.

He gave me an order to have my pony shod before all the others, a very
important stipulation, for the ambulance horses had been waiting to be
shod for a week. He added that he would supply us with other horses, but
there were none to be bought. I told him I knew of a farmer who had a
horse for sale at eighty pounds.

"Yes, he asks us eighty, and presently the enemy will come along and
take it for nothing," replied Hertzog.

I went to the blacksmith and handed him the order.

"Yes, everybody wants to be first," said that worthy; "but first come
first served, says I."

"But this is for special service."

"Can't help that."

"Do you mean to disobey the orders of the Government?"

"Oh, no, not I! But I have no nails; may have some in a day or two."

"Whose are those you are using now?"

"They belong to the despatch riders' corps."

I at once sought out the captain of the corps and persuaded him to count
me out thirty nails. I then returned to the smith and held a candle for
him whilst he shoed my horse. When I led the animal away I found that it
was lame.

"That's nothing," said the smith. "It will soon pass."

"Oh, no. Just pull that shoe off and put it on again."

This he did, and then the lameness disappeared. I took the animal to the
stable, filled the crib with fodder, overhauled the vibrator, packed my
saddle-bags, and went to bed.

Early the next morning I started, making straight for the intermediate
station.

After three hours' riding I met a mounted policeman riding at full
speed, or the best imitation of it that his mount could produce. "The
English are coming!" was all he uttered as he passed by. When I reached
the farmhouse I heard shots falling just beyond the hill. The womenfolk
on the farm were in a pitiful state of distress. They had ornamented the
roof of the house with a white flag, following the custom then
prevailing in those parts threatened by the enemy.

"They've been fighting all the morning," they said, wiping their eyes,
"and now our men are retreating. Whatever will become of us?"

I stabled my horse, walked to the fence, attached the vibrator, and
called up Heilbron. No reply. The line was down again!

This discovery put me into a pretty bad temper. Presently about a dozen
Boers came galloping along from the fighting line. On seeing me, the
leader reined in and shouted--

"What the devil is this? What are you doing here?" He took me for an
Englishman, and thought this a good opportunity to gain distinction.
Thoroughly roused by his bullying tone, I retorted--

"And who the devil are you? And where the devil are you running away to
in such a hurry?"

Taken aback, he faltered--

"Oh, I have orders from my commandant, which I must keep secret."

"Yes, I know your kind of orders. Get away, and don't interfere with
men who are doing their duty." The band thereupon cleared off. Then a
despatch rider came dashing up, his splendid black entire specked with
foam.

"I have an urgent despatch for the Government," he said, after we had
made ourselves known to each other, "but my mount is about done up after
all the riding about I have done away on our left."

"Give it me," I said; "I'll repair the line and send it through."

He handed me the message, and we walked over to the farmhouse. Whilst we
were drinking a cup of coffee crowds of burghers rode past in retreat.
Nearly every one stopped and asked for a glass of milk, a loaf of bread,
or a few eggs. Their wants were supplied as far as possible. In every
case money was offered, and in every case it was refused.

With the despatch in my pocket I could not delay, so I took my nag and
rode back along the fence. The very first test I made I found the line
in order again. I transmitted the despatch, adding that there was
nothing to stop the enemy from taking Heilbron that night. This news
caused some consternation, as may be imagined, and the Government left
Heilbron immediately.

When I had finished I saw coming towards me a young Free Stater, who had
been sent out from Heilbron to remove the fault, which he had succeeded
in doing.

"Let's go back to the farmhouse after sunset," I said, "and see if the
British are there already."

"Right!"

We waited till dark, and then carefully rode to the farm, making as
little noise as possible. When near the house we dismounted, cautiously
approached, and peered through a window. Everything was quiet. We
knocked. The housewife opened the door, pale and agitated.

"They have not been here yet?" I asked.

"No, but we expect them every minute."

We brought our horses into the yard, so as to be at hand, and entered
the house.

"Your husband is not back yet?"

"No, but they say he is safe."

The door opened noiselessly, and the man himself stood before us. He had
also taken a look through the window before entering. He placed his gun
in a corner, kissed his wife and children, and shook hands with us.

"We've had a hard day;" he said, "let's go in to supper."

After the meal, even more silent than is habitual amongst us, where
talking at table is almost as bad form as making a joke with a minister
would be in Sloper's Scotland, our host told us that the English had
camped on the spot where they had fought, and that he did not think they
would march till daylight. It was best for us to sleep there that night,
and leave with him before dawn.

We agreed.

"Father, can I go too?" asked his son, aged thirteen.

"No, my boy, you must stay and help mother to manage the farm. It will
be a long while ere father returns."

"Oh, father! I'm too old to stay in the house, like an old woman.
Besides, I'm afraid they will make me prisoner."

"Do you think they catch children like him?" his mother asked anxiously.

"No, I don't think they are so cruel," I replied; "but one can never
tell."

"Well, they won't get the chance," said the plucky little fellow. "As
soon as I see them coming, I shall take my mare and go and hide in the
hills."

The mother did not say anything. She bore up bravely, as our women ever
do, Heaven bless them! Was it not but some ten miles from this very spot
that years before a handful of our pioneers had gained the victory at
Vecht Kop, when the women loaded the guns and handed them to the men as
the latter unflinchingly beat back the tremendous horde of maddened
blacks that flung themselves against the hastily drawn circle of
waggons. Does not one old lady still bear the scars of the nineteen
stabs she received on that day? Our women are women indeed, and worthy
mothers of the race that yet shall people all Africa and rule itself.

Do not think I am flying too high. The average Boer family numbers ten
children. Boys are in the majority. If at present we have thirty
thousand warriors (I am not counting the wasters), it follows that in
two generations we shall have three hundred thousand. Taking the
proportion then, as now, of ten to one, Britain will have to employ
against us in 1940 no less than three million men! And when that time
comes, the children of to-day will have the recollection of the
concentration camps and of a few other little trifles to strengthen
their backbone.

The concentration camps! Fit subject for Dante, who in the _Divina
Comedia_ portrays as no other can the maddened heart of a father doomed
to see his children waste away before his very eyes. There are many
relentless Ugolins among the Boers to-day.

I firmly believe that a steady process of infanticide was never intended
to be the _raison d'etre_ of these camps; no civilised nation could
deliberately sanction a system cemented with the bones and blood of
innocent babes. And the British are a civilised nation.

No, the fault does not lie in the system itself, but in its application.
It is a humane idea carried out inhumanely, so inhumanely that when the
Black Hole of Calcutta is forgotten Englishmen will still hang their
heads for shame at the mention of concentration.

What the Levite concubine's outraged flesh was to Israel the infant
mortality is to the Afrikanders of the Cape and Natal, who, a hundred
thousand strong, may at any moment lose their self-control and throw in
their lot with their brethren. Then Britain will tear the bandage from
her eyes, but it will be too late.

Let me remind Canon Knox-Little, and those other divines who can
complacently view the children's Golgotha, of the words of their Master:
"_But whoso shall offend one of these little ones, it were better that a
millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were drowned in the depth
of the sea._"

But to return. After the usual reading of the Gospel, we retired for the
night. Our sleep, however, was none too secure. At about two o'clock the
dogs set up a terrible howling. My heart beat loudly. We were in for it
now! But no, it was only the farmer's son, who came to tell us to get
ready.

We rose at once. Our host said a long good-bye to his wife and children,
and we rode away in the misty night, a keen wind cutting through flesh
and bone.

After a very long hour we reached the house of our guide's brother.

We got in without awakening the inmates, and entered a small bedroom,
where two young men were lying asleep. They woke on hearing us move
about, and struck a match.

"Good morning," I said; "rather early, isn't it?"

"Yes," they replied, waiting for me to explain. I kept quiet, however,
and watched the expression on their faces gradually change from surprise
to uneasiness, and from uneasiness to alarm. Then I briefly explained
the situation to the young men, after which we went to sleep in our
chairs till daybreak, when the servant entered with the morning coffee.

Our guide took us into the parlour and introduced us to his
sister-in-law. He then left to rejoin his commando.

We stayed to breakfast, and then also left, making for Heilbron, but not
feeling quite sure as to whether we should reach it before the enemy.
After travelling a couple of hours we observed half a dozen horsemen
appear against the skyline on our left. From the way they were spread
out we judged them to be English. To make sure we rode a little nearer.
On coming round one of the numerous undulating _bulten_, we saw three
horsemen making for us at full speed. We at once wheeled round and took
up a position behind some rocks. When the horsemen came closer we found
that they were Boers. They told us, however, that the men first observed
by us were really British, which accounted for their haste, and that the
whole column was following just behind.

Now that we had located the enemy we felt more at ease. The scouts were
riding near the road along which the wire ran, about seven miles from
the town. Cutting across in plain sight of the enemy, we fixed the
vibrator to the fence, and called up Heilbron. We heard the instruments
working in the office, but got no reply to our hurried call. The scouts
were about fifteen hundred yards away. We continued calling; they
continued approaching, carefully inspecting every foot of ground before
them. It seemed strange to us that the scouts of a column on the march
should search for the enemy within five hundred yards only of the main
body. But perhaps that is what they teach at Sandhurst. Presently the
head of the column came in sight from behind the rise. The scouts were
now within eight hundred yards. We quietly mounted our horses and rode
away. They gave no sign of having observed our movements. When some
distance away, we looked back and saw that the whole column had halted,
about seven thousand men.

We reached Heilbron to find the place practically deserted. Wishing to
see the enemy enter the town, we delayed our departure. Some hours
passed, and nothing happened to denote the proximity of the British. We
feared that they might be surrounding the town before entering it, so we
left for Frankfort, following the road taken by the President the night
before.




TAPPING THE WIRES


We had gone about a mile, when suddenly a score of horsemen made their
appearance on top of the rise before us. Not knowing whether they were
friends or foes, we swerved away to the left, regaining the road by a
detour. After sunset we saw a small bonfire blaze forth about three
miles away in the direction we were going. We hardly knew what to make
of such an unusual sight. The night was a fairly dark one, but we pushed
on rapidly. In the middle of a hard canter my horse suddenly struck his
forefeet against some obstacle, and came crashing down upon his head. It
was an anxious moment for me. When we had disentangled ourselves I
hastened to feel the pony's knees, and found to my joy that they were
but little damaged. Whilst still laughing over this mishap, we heard
voices to our right. We listened for a moment. First came the question
_in English_--

"Where are they?"

Then the reply--

"Don't know where they are now."

This was enough for us, and we sped forth as silently and as fast as
possible.

On approaching the bonfire we heard more voices--Dutch this time. We
rode up to the group standing round the fire. Several friends came
forward to greet us, and we became aware that this was the President's
party--about thirty men in all.

"Where are your sentries?" I asked.

"Just going out now."

"Who is in charge?"

"The President's secretary."

Calling the latter aside, I said--

"I don't wish to cause an alarm, but on coming along about a mile from
here we heard men calling to each other in English. At one o'clock the
British were only fifteen miles from here; your bonfire may have drawn a
patrol hither."

"What is it? Who has arrived?" asked Steyn, coming out of his tent. We
gave him all the information we had gained. He immediately ordered all
lights to be extinguished, and sent the guard to find out what the
voices meant. All were relieved when it turned out to have been merely a
couple of the President's bodyguard searching for their horses.

Early the next morning a couple of deserters were brought in. They had
been caught trying to slip past in the night. One said he had a sick son
at home, and was only going to see him, perhaps for the last time. The
other was going home to fetch better horses, and so forth. They were so
unfortunate as to call upon the Deity to testify to the truth of their
assertions. This roused Steyn's ire.

"How dare you be guilty of such sacrilege?" he cried. "It is this cursed
habit of yours of using God's name upon every trivial occasion that
makes our enemies think us a nation of hypocrites! Back to your
commandoes at once!"

The men slunk away. We enjoyed their discomfiture in a measure, for,
with all reverence for true religion, it must be confessed that many of
these gentry thought psalm-singing all that was required of them, and
did not hesitate to leave their less "elect" brethren to bear the brunt
of the fighting.

After breakfast I walked down to the telegraph line connecting Heilbron
and Frankfort, which ran past this point. Taking about ten yards of
"cable" wire, I cleaned about a foot of it in the middle, tied one end
to my spanner, and threw the latter over the line. The swing carried it
over a second time, the two ends hanging just above the ground.
Attaching one end to the instrument, I heard the English telegraphist
in Heilbron calling up Kroonstadt, and the Boer telegraphist in
Frankfort working to Reitz.

I immediately climbed the pole and cut the Frankfort side of the line.
Then I took another piece of cable, and connected the earth terminal of
the vibrator with the telegraph pole. The British signals now came
through beautifully clear. The first message that passed was one from
General Hamilton to Lord Roberts, announcing his arrival at Heilbron,
the details of the two engagements fought during the march, the number
of killed and wounded, and the state of his force--"often hungry, but
cheerful." Then followed some others of lesser importance. The
President's party were just driving away. I left my assistant with the
vibrator, ran across to the road, and handed His Honour the messages. He
smiled as he read the report and appeared highly gratified. After a few
words of encouragement to me he drove on, and I returned to the line.
The signals were now so weak, however, that nothing could be
distinguished.

We saddled our horses and rode towards Heilbron, intending to try again
closer to the town. We had not gone far before the captain of the
despatch riders and one of his men overtook us. They had been ordered by
the President to place themselves at my disposition. Four men would
have attracted too much attention, however, and I persuaded them to
return. We two rode on until almost on top of the hill overlooking
Heilbron, when we dismounted. Drawing the horses behind a low stone
wall, we attached the instrument to the line. I listened. There were no
fewer than five different vibrators calling each other, some strong and
clear, others sounding weak and far, like "horns of Elfland faintly
blowing." Presently the disputing signals died away, and one musical
note alone took up the strain.

Never was lover more absorbed in the thrilling sound of his divinity's
voice than I in the notes of that vibrator, seemingly wailing up from
the bowels of the earth.

Nor was my attention unrewarded.

"From Chief of Staff, Honingspruit," came the words, "to General
Hamilton, Heilbron." Then followed orders. How Hamilton was to march
from Heilbron; how Broadwood was to move from Ventersburg, the entire
plan of campaign for the next few weeks! A mass of information to
gladden the heart of our steadfast chief. "Hurrah!" we whispered to each
other, as I carefully put the precious message in a safe place.

Then some harsh, grating sounds were heard in the microphone. The wires
were evidently being overhauled in Heilbron. Complete silence followed.
Hearing a couple of shots fired on our left, we removed all traces of
our work and rode back to our starting-point, well satisfied with the
valuable information we had so fortunately obtained. I at once sent my
assistant after the President with the despatch. Fearing that the enemy
might send a patrol here during the night, I left for Frankfort, and
arrived there at midnight. Before leaving, however, I had instructed my
assistant to join up the line where I had cut it, if upon his return the
next morning he should find the place still free from the enemy.




I MEET DE WET


The little village of Frankfort was wrapped in slumbering darkness when
I entered it. Cold and hungry after the five hours' journey, I did not
scruple to knock up the Postmaster. With an instinct of good-fellowship
that did him credit, he at once made me welcome; breaking up a couple of
empty boxes, we made a rattling fire, and soon big gulps of cocoa were
chasing the last few shivers from my wearied frame.

My last thought as I wrapped my blanket round me and stretched myself
out on the floor was of the despatch I had sent after the President.
Suppose my messenger lost the document or was captured! But I would soon
know, for if I found the line joined through at eight o'clock, according
to my orders, it would be a proof that he had returned and found the
coast clear.

The little office was crowded with busy clerks when I opened my eyes the
next morning. Casting a rapid glance at the clock, I saw it was almost
eight. There was no time to lose. I grasped the useful little vibrator
with one hand, flung the blanket into a corner with the other, and set
off, calling to the native servant to follow with a ladder. It was not
advisable to operate under the eyes of the townspeople, so I marched
across the bridge and into the veld, until a suitable spot was reached.
No sooner had I thrown my wire over the line than I again heard British
and Dutch signals intermingled. Good! My message was safe.

The Kafir shinned up the pole and cut the wire, permitting the British
signals only to come through. I listened intently to the various more or
less interesting messages being exchanged by the enemy. Presently a new
and stronger note broke in--

"Hello! Here, Sergeant-Major Devons. Who are you?"

Devons? Those are the fellows that we fought at Ladysmith. But what--how
comes he here? Listen----

"Here, Heilbron. We're just waiting to leave. Crowds of Boers on the
hills."

"Ah! I say, I've pushed on, quite by myself, for fully twelve miles,"
said the hoarse note of the non-com.'s vibrator. "When I reached
Roberts' Horse the chief said I was d----d lucky to get through!"

"Good on you!" replied his admiring hearer. "This is a bit different
from old Tyneside, ain't it?"

"Cheer up; we shall soon be in Pretoria."

"Confound you!" said I, dashing my fist on the key, "you're not there
yet!"

To prevent myself from interrupting them, advertently or otherwise, I
had taken the precaution to disconnect the battery, so my little
outbreak did no harm.

Then the sergeant-major sent a long message to his chief, Captain
Faustnett, duly informing the latter of the distance he had come, all by
himself, and of what the officer commanding Roberts' Horse had said,
after which the Heilbron man remarked--

"Good-bye, we're off." Silence followed.

The net result of the morning's work was the knowledge that Hamilton was
leaving Heilbron at that very moment, and leaving it ungarrisoned. This
information I hastened to communicate to my chief, with the result that
within a very short space of time we were again in telegraphic
communication with that town and in possession of several hundred sick
and wounded that the British had kindly left to our care. At Spion Kop
we wanted their wounded, but did not get them; here we did not want them
in the least, but we got them all the same.

My next task was the maintenance of the fence line between Frankfort and
Reitz. A testing station had been established half-way between the two
villages, consequently the communication was fairly good and there was
not much for me to do. One day a message arrived from my chief in
Pretoria, asking me to go thither, and accompany him northwards when the
capital should be abandoned. The Postmaster-General of the Free State,
however, insisted upon my remaining a few days longer.

A little while after De Wet's commando entered the village about a
thousand strong. The rumour went that De Wet was going to rest for a
week and then strike a heavy blow. No sooner had the column halted on
the bank of the river than De Wet himself rode over to our office,
accompanied by his secretary. They wrote out a few telegrams, and then
De Wet entered into conversation with the Postmaster-General. His tone
and manner lacked the slightest cordiality. He asked the
Postmaster-General whether he was sure, quite sure, that the British
side of our telegraph lines was always cut, so that the enemy could not
tap our messages. Yes, the chief was quite sure. But De Wet thought it
best that instructions to that effect should be re-issued, so as to
leave no excuse for any possible negligence. This suggestion was carried
out on the spot.

The chief then introduced me to De Wet. Compared with Louis Botha, or
almost any other of our generals, De Wet presented but a sorry sight.
His manners are uncouth, and his dress careless to a degree. His
tactlessness, abrupt speech, and his habit of thrusting his tongue
against his palate at every syllable, do not lessen his undeniable
unattractiveness. But De Wet, if he lacks culture, certainly has an
abundance of shrewdness, and is not without some dignity at times. And I
must confess that it is chiefly owing to De Wet and Steyn that the war
did not end with the fall of Pretoria. What is the secret of his
success? This, he has one idea, one only--the independence of his
country. Say to him--

"If the English win----" and he breaks in--

"If the heavens fall----"

Choosing his lieutenants by results only, he is assured of good service.
An incorrect report, and the unlucky scout is tried by court-martial.

Whilst giving this modern Cincinnatus due credit for his undoubted
smartness, it must be borne in mind that the movements of the Free State
forces were generally determined by the _Oorlogscommissie_, a body made
up of President Steyn, Judge Hertzog, Advocate De Villiers, and two or
three other prominent men, whose trained intellects concerted the plan
of campaign, De Wet being entrusted with its execution. He had power to
alter details according as circumstances might dictate, but that was
all.

And he had men to aid him like General Philip Botha (third of three
brothers, generals), Commandant Olivier (now captured), Captain Theron
(killed near Krugersdorp), besides others whose names have never been
heard of, but who, if De Wet were captured to-morrow, would be both
willing and able to take his place.

One peculiar feature of the Afrikander character is the complete absence
of anything approaching hero-worship. Perhaps this is due to the habit
of ascribing success to the favour of Providence. However this may be,
it is certain that General Joubert's death hardly excited even a
momentary thrill of regret, in spite of his years of service as
Commandant-General. As for erecting a monument to the memory of any of
our great men, why, we are all equal, they say, and anyone could have
done as much.

Notwithstanding this characteristic of the people, De Wet, secure in the
favour of the Government, knows how to make himself obeyed and
respected. I have seen burghers retreat who, upon being stopped and
threatened with death by their officer, have torn open their coats and
shouted, "Shoot! Shoot me, if you dare! I shall not turn back!"

I cannot imagine anyone venturing to take up this attitude towards De
Wet. He would certainly not hesitate to carry out a threat through any
fear of the consequences. And yet it was my fortune to incur his
displeasure. It came about in this way. The chief sent for me one day
and said--

"You have asked to be allowed to return to the Transvaal. But there is a
chance for you to do some very important work just now. Do you mind
remaining three or four days longer?"

"Not at all."

"Very well. De Wet leaves to-morrow. You will accompany him. He wants
you to tap the British lines near Kroonstad. You may attach yourself to
Scheepers' corps, but you will be in no way subordinate to him, and you
will use your own discretion in the execution of your duty. He will give
you every aid and assistance. Try and get a horse from him, as we are
short."

The chief then showed me a map whereon was marked out our line of route.
It was evidently going to be an exciting adventure, and I thanked him
warmly for having selected me to take part in the expedition. I then
went and hunted up Scheepers, whom I found in his tent. This is the same
Scheepers who later operated in Cape Colony, and whom Chamberlain has
taken such a dislike to. I can assure the Secretary for the Colonies
that Scheepers is an amiable and harmless young man, who would probably
now be teaching a Sunday-school class had Joseph not been such a
dreamer.

"Well, Scheepers," I said, "so I am to accompany you to-morrow. Can you
supply me with a horse?"

"That will be difficult," he replied, "but if money can buy one you
shall have it."

This seemed good enough. Early the next morning the commando was on the
march. Scheepers had kept his word and sent me a horse. It was not an
attractive animal outwardly, being of an indefinite shade between white
and grey, and with an unnecessary profusion of projections adorning its
attenuated frame. However, there was no time to lose, and I mounted the
steed, trusting it might possess moral qualities which would atone for
its physical defects.

The animal went very well as long as I did not interfere with the bent
of its wayward desire, which was to proceed in any direction but the
right one. Have you ever steered an extremely willing young thing
through her first waltz? If so you will know what my feelings were after
the first hour. And now just imagine that the waltz lasted for four
hours, and you will have some idea of my sufferings, for that is the
length of time I was compelled to spend on the back of my new
acquisition.

Scheepers had sent a couple of men on ahead a few days before in order
to see if the coast was clear. One of his heliographists and myself now
rode ahead of the column, planted a heliograph on a suitable spot, and
called up towards a high hill beyond Heilbron, where it had been
arranged that the two scouts should be about this hour. Scarcely had our
heliograph glittered for a moment in the sun when back from the hill
came a long flash of light.

"What news?" we asked.

"All quiet," came the reply.

We returned to the column, which was marching wonderfully slowly, and
informed Scheepers, who was pleased to find his men so punctual. As we
rode along he asked me a few particulars about the vibrator, wire
tapping, and so on. I told him how at Spion Kop the wire failed at the
very moment it was needed most.

"Yes," he remarked thoughtfully, "trifles often make all the difference.
I had an experience of that myself one night not so long ago. We had
laid a nice little trap near Kroonstad, put a charge of dynamite on the
rails, placed the men in position, and waited for a train to come along.
After a few hours of suspense the latter appeared, and just as it was
going over the charge I pressed the button. What do you think happened?"

"The unexpected, I suppose?"

"Precisely. To our disgust the dynamite did not do the rest, and the
train puffed tranquilly past. One of my battery wires had become
disconnected in the dark, and through that one little detail the whole
thing was spoilt."

"At least from your point of view," I said jestingly. "But think what a
narrow escape you had yourselves. The train might have stopped, a
searchlight might have thrown its piercing gleam over your waiting band,
and a volley from a battery of maxims might have strewn the shuddering
veld with your palpitating bodies!"

"Oh, no danger of that!" replied Scheepers lightly; "we knew there were
no _Graphic_ artists on board!"

Towards sunset the head of the column halted, nine miles from Heilbron,
having done only twenty miles during the whole day's march. I say the
head of the column, because the body of it was still straggling
somewhere along the road, to say nothing of the tail. We went to bed
hungry, the men with the waggon being too lazy to make a fire. I
consoled myself with the prospect of a good breakfast in Heilbron the
next morning, and slept as well as the cold would let me.




ROODEWAL


We were awakened the next morning while it was still dark. I roamed
about in the gloom searching for my errant Rosinante. After describing
half a dozen circles I returned to the waggon, to find the missing steed
no longer astray, but peacefully grazing away about six feet from the
aforesaid vehicle. It was a demon of a horse, no doubt about that. We
upsaddled and stood shivering in the cold, our ears and noses fast
becoming frostbitten, and waited for the body of the column to catch up
to us, for it now appeared that everyone had gone to sleep where he
pleased the night before. De Wet was in a furious rage.

"I told them we were to be in Heilbron at sunrise!" he shouted. "I wish
the British would catch and castrate every one of them, so that they may
be old women in reality."

His railing did not accelerate the approach of the loiterers, and it was
long after sunrise when we finally made a start for Heilbron--nine miles
distant. When we neared the town Scheepers, myself, and another went
forward to reconnoitre. What was our surprise to find that the whole
place was full of English! They had suddenly entered the town the night
before. I at once went back and informed De Wet, who ordered the column
to halt and outspan. Testing the telegraph line, I found that whereas
there were no British signals audible, our own signals from Frankfort
could be heard very plainly. The Frankfort telegraphist was busy calling
Heilbron, not knowing that the town had again changed masters. As his
was an ordinary Morse instrument I could not communicate with him, but I
did the next best thing by cutting the wire. The presence of the enemy
in Heilbron was a check for us. We did not expect Colville to come
forward so rapidly. It was necessary to modify our plan of campaign, and
De Wet and several of the commandants rode to a farm some six miles away
to consult with the President, who had pitched his tent at that spot.
Scheepers was still away scouting. His men made no effort to prepare any
food, and as I was beginning to suffer from hunger the situation was
anything but pleasant for me. It is hard to realise the amount of
selfishness which generally prevails in a laager or commando. It is a
case of everyone for himself. There is no regular distribution of
rations every day, as in other armies. The commando is divided into
messes of about ten men each. To this mess is given every now and then a
live ox and a bag of meal. The ox is killed and cut into biltong, and
the meal baked into stormjagers, a kind of dumpling fried in dripping.
Now Scheepers' little corps, which consisted of half a dozen men, was
probably not very well off itself in the matter of provisions--in any
case, they offered me none. The commissariat consisted of nothing but
oxen and meal, cold comfort for me. I rode back a couple of miles to a
spot where a field telegraph office had been opened. Standing in the
open veld under the telegraph line was a Cape cart, under the cart a
telegraph instrument. This was the office.

"Can you give me anything to eat?" I asked the telegraphist, one of our
most capable men.

"Very sorry," he answered; "I've been here for a week, and no one has
troubled to send me any food. I've managed to get a loaf of bread from
that farm yonder now and then, but their supply is exhausted, and I
don't know what to do next."

"Why don't you ask the President's party for food? We all know they fare
well enough."

"I've sent them message after message, but can get no satisfaction. All
they think about is the amount of work they can get out of me. Little
they care what my troubles are!"

This was really a shameful state of affairs, and I began to grow
disgusted with the whole business. Not satisfied with refusing to supply
him with food, a passing commando had stolen his cart-horses, so that he
had no means of leaving the spot.

It was a clear case of selfish and brutal neglect. I condoled with the
poor fellow, and rode back to the laager. De Wet was still absent. It
appeared that we were going to lie there for days, instead of the whole
expedition being over in a day or two. After thinking the matter over, I
decided to return to Frankfort and carry out my intention of going back
to the Transvaal. Upon reaching Frankfort I explained the matter to the
Postmaster-General, adding that the expedition would probably take a
couple of weeks, by which time the Free State would already be cut off
from the Transvaal, and my return rendered impossible. He urged upon me,
however, to postpone my departure. During the day a telegram arrived
from De Wet, saying he had now decided to move forward, and asking that
I should accompany him. So convinced was I that his attempt would end in
a fiasco, in spite of his knowledge of the enemy's movements, that I
persuaded the chief to send another in my place. De Wet was extremely
annoyed, but I was foolish enough to insist. Judge of my regret when, a
week or so later, we heard of the magnificent blow delivered at
Roodewal. After this sudden swoop De Wet returned to the vicinity of
Heilbron. The chief and I drove out to his camp. It was interesting to
see his entire band clad in complete khaki, with only the flapping,
loose-hanging felt hats to show their nationality. Wristlets, watches,
spy-glasses, chocolate, cigarettes, were now as common as in ordinary
times they were rare. Heliographic and telegraphic instruments by the
cartload. No doubt about it, Roodewal came at an opportune moment.
Roberts was pressing Botha hard in front, and this stunning blow at his
lines of communication compelled him to pause. Think of his forces
fighting through that rigorous winter, wearing only their summer
uniforms! No wonder their ardour grew cool!

Theron's corps now came through from the Transvaal and joined De Wet.
Theron, dissatisfied with his treatment by the Transvaal Government, was
here received with open arms. His hundred and fifty young fellows were
as keen as ever; it did one's eyes good to see one corps at least where
discipline was not despised. Theron was a slightly built young lawyer,
with an expression of the deepest sadness, due to the premature decease
of his _fiancee_. He took care of his men, fed and horsed them well, led
them into hot corners and saw them safely out again. Terrible indeed
must be the engagement when one of Theron's men is abandoned by his
comrades. "No cowards need apply" was the motto of the band, held
together by an _esprit de corps_ without equal; and no cowards did. When
the corps passed Frankfort Theron commandeered a horse from an alleged
British subject. The latter threatened to appeal to the Government, and
came into town for the purpose, vowing vengeance on Theron's devoted
head.

"I enjoy myself," said Theron to me, "when they threaten me. It is when
they come to me with soft words that I cannot resist."

As a matter of fact, the Government sustained Theron's action, and the
owner of the animal was obliged to ask Theron to take two others for it.
This he agreed to do, and thus ended the only instance of which I know
in which the Free State Government allowed anything to be commandeered
from a British subject.

The capture of the Yeomanry took place about this time. There have been
several attempts to explain this affair. It was said in our laagers at
the time that Colonel Sprague, immediately after his surrender, remarked
to our commandant that he would shoot the Lindley telegraphist if he
could get hold of him, because the latter had tampered with his message
asking for reinforcements. This was quite possible, for at this time
_most of the British telegrams passed through our hands before reaching
their destination_. If I might venture to express an opinion, formed at
the time, I should say that General Colville was absolutely free from
any blame in connection with the capture of the Yeomanry--an incident to
which we attached very little importance, being interested merely in the
military qualities of our opponents, and in their social rank not at
all.

When Rundle's force was at Senekal and Brabant's Horse at Harmonia every
one of their telegrams was read by a telegraphist attached to one of the
commandoes lying in the vicinity. Several of these messages were in
cipher, it is true, but many of them were not. It was largely owing to
information thus obtained that the British sustained a rather severe
check when they advanced against our positions near Senekal. One would
think the enemy would have taken strict precautions against their plans
leaking out in this manner, but I presume we were considered rather too
dense for that kind of thing.

The affair of Roodewal decided Roberts to send back a strong column to
keep us off his flanks. It was only infantry, and we got quite tired of
waiting for it to reach us. It reached Villiersdorp eventually, and we
fell back from Frankfort towards Bethlehem--the new headquarters. It was
with heavy hearts that we said good-bye to our kind friends in
Frankfort, for well we knew by this time what the passage of a British
column meant for the defenceless non-combatants--houses broken down and
burnt, children and greybeards torn from their families, and all the
other useless and unnecessary cruelties that have broken so many lives,
converted so many joyous homesteads into tombstones of black despair,
and imprinted into the very souls of many Afrikanders an ineradicable
loathing and hatred of everything British. As Boadicea felt towards the
Roman, so feels many a Boer matron to-day against the Briton, and when
Britons shall have followed Romans into the history of the past, the
Afrikander race shall write an epitaph upon their cenotaph. Ambition! By
that sin fell the angels, and by that sin fall the Angles. But oh, the
pity of it! For of all the nations that in turn have risen and waxed
great upon the surface of the globe, there are none for whose ideals the
Boers feel more sympathy than for those of the British. It is the
paralysing difference between the ideal and the real that is creating
the gulf which threatens our eternal separation.




OFF TO THE TRANSVAAL


When we reached Reitz, on our way to Bethlehem, another young
Transvaaler and myself obtained permission to try and reach the
Transvaal. The enemy's columns were traversing the intervening country
in all directions, but we determined that the attempt was worth making.
Bidding good-bye to our Free State colleagues, we left the little
village that was later to become famous as the scene of the capture of
the Free State Government, and retraced our way to Frankfort. The
send-off given us took the form of a little reunion in the parlour of
the modest hotel. Here there were gathered together some dozen young
Free Staters, and an impromptu smoking concert was held. Everyone
present was compelled to give a song or recite something. The first on
the programme was Byron's "When we two parted," which was sung with fine
effect by a blushing young burgher. Next came the old camp favourite,
"The Spanish Cavalier." The sentimental recollections induced by these
two songs were speedily dissipated by a rattling comic song in Dutch,
"_Op haar hot oog zit'n fratje_" A few recitations followed. One of the
reciters had just enunciated the lines--

    "Within the circle of your incantation
       No blight nor mildew falls,
     No fierce unrest, nor lust, nor lost ambition,
       Passes those airy walls"--

when a mocking voice came floating in at the window--

"Are you referring to Downing Street?" It was a captured British
officer, who, roaming about the village, had been attracted by our
revelry. He was evidently no follower of the expand-or-burst policy of
the British Cabinet.

This appropriate interpellation put an end to the proceedings. We set
off, unarmed, as we had sent our Mausers back to the Transvaal some time
before, and mounted on a pair of nags that were plainly unfit to make
the journey. Long before we reached Frankfort, in fact, my companion's
horse gave in. We rode to a farmer's house near the road to try and find
another mount. A boy of thirteen was the only male person on the farm.
Yes, he had a pony. Would he exchange it for ours, and take something to
boot? No fear, what he wanted was cash. How much? Thirteen pounds. But
thirteen is an unlucky number; better take twelve. In that case, he
would prefer to take fourteen. The pony was worth the price, the cash
changed hands, and we continued our journey. Some miles from Frankfort
we met two Boers, who told us that they had also meant to return to the
Transvaal, but had heard that the enemy were so close to Frankfort that
they had decided to turn back. We determined to continue, however, and
shortly after dark we cautiously entered the village. The enemy had not
yet arrived, but were expected early the next morning. We consulted one
of our friends in the village, who advised us to try and cross the
railway near Standerton. We decided to follow his advice, and left early
the next morning. A few miles out of town we observed several horsemen
to our left. Fearing these were British, we swerved to the right,
cutting across country. Keeping a good look-out, we continued our way
till evening, when we were overtaken by a farmer driving a cart. He was
lame and had never been on commando, but on the approach of the British
columns had left his home to their mercy. He conducted us to the modest
cottage of his brother-in-law, where we found a bed for ourselves and
stabling for our horses. Before sunrise the next morning we were again
on our way. Through the thick mist we saw several horsemen approach a
house standing solitary in the veld. They dismounted and entered the
dwelling. Anxious to know whether these were friends or foes, we rode
thither. Making as little noise as possible, we managed to gain the spot
unobserved, and found that they were Boers. They gave us each a cup of
steaming coffee, black and bitter, but none the less acceptable,
directed us on our way, and wished us good luck. Towards noon we reached
a hamlet named Cornelia, where we introduced ourselves to the leading
inhabitant, with whom we lunched. Here my horse refused to feed, showing
strong symptoms of _papies_. There was no help for it, however; he had
to carry me, sick or well. Some miles further we reached the house of an
English farmer. He had the consideration to conceal his satisfaction at
the approach of his countrymen and the kindness to doctor my horse for
me. The poor animal was in such a pitiable state that it could hardly
stand. After swallowing a dose of strychnine, however, it improved
wonderfully, and we were enabled to continue, but naturally at a very
slow pace. That evening we slept at a farmer's house near the Vaal
River. Here we heard that there was a Boer commando lying near
Greylingstad, and thither we directed our way. As we rode through the
Vaal the next morning we felt a genuine thrill of joy at setting our
feet once more upon our own soil. That afternoon Greylingstad came in
sight, but what a bitter disappointment! Instead of finding our own
commandoes here, we found the place occupied by a large British force.
We reined in on the veld, gazed at the British camp, and then at each
other. To our left lay Heidelberg, to our right Standerton, both held by
the enemy, and in front of us stood the tents of a British column at
least five thousand strong!

Whilst we were still discussing the situation a Bushman mounted on a
scraggy pony and seated on a sheepskin saddle came riding along. We
hailed him and asked him where he was off to. He told us he belonged to
a party of half a dozen Boers, who, hidden just over the hill, had sent
him to see what we were. We ordered him to lead us thither. When we
approached the spot it was to find the men all on their feet, rifles
loaded and cocked, ready to lay us low should we prove to be Englishmen.
We lost no time in dissipating their fears. They explained that they
belonged to the commando which had been lying here, and which only the
day before had retired on the approach of the enemy. They themselves,
having been on a visit to their farms near by, had got left behind. I
at once suspected that they meant to lay down their arms, but it would
never have done to say so, so I contented myself with demanding their
advice as to the best way of rejoining the aforesaid commando. They were
not very anxious to rejoin it themselves, and consequently represented
the matter as being extremely difficult. At length they showed us a farm
near the British camp, and recommended our going thither, as the people
there would be able to give us all possible help. We reached the farm
just after sunset to the accompaniment of barking dogs and hissing
geese. The door was opened by a feeble old man, who, with his equally
aged wife, were apparently the only occupants of the place. As soon as
it was evident that we were friends, however, two strapping sons made
their appearance from a kopje behind the house, where the clatter of our
horses' hoofs had caused them to take refuge. They informed us that they
had followed the enemy's movements throughout the day, and that the line
was so well guarded that our getting through was extremely unlikely. But
we could sleep there that night, and the next morning we could see what
was to be done.

During the evening the old father recounted, with much humour, his
experience of Theron's merry band. How they had come there in the
middle of the night, knocked him up, stabled their horses in his yard,
asked for bread, _brod_, _brood_; eggs, _eiers_, _ejers_, in all the
dialects under the sun, how they had actually plucked the oranges from
his trees, until he was forced to ask Theron to station a guard in the
orchard! But the next morning they had paid for everything, and ridden
away, singing and shouting.

Nothing in the old gentleman's manner to show that the enemy were camped
only four miles away, although he knew very well that they would visit
him the next day, and probably deprive him sooner or later of all he
possessed. Only down the face of his white-haired wife rolled silent
tears as she gazed at the bearded faces of her stalwart sons and thought
of the long farewell that they would bid her on the morrow!

When we rose the next morning we lost no time in making for the high,
boulder-strewn kopje behind the house. Here we found the farmer's sons,
armed, their horses at hand, gazing through a large telescope at the
British camp, which could be plainly distinguished with the naked eye.

Presently a small party of scouts left the camp and came in our
direction, riding slowly, and eyeing every little rise or depression in
the ground with the utmost distrust. They reached a farmhouse lying
between their camp and ourselves, and after a while we saw a cart leave
the farm and drive towards the camp. Another Boer laying down his arms,
beguiled by Buller's blarney! Then the scouts came nearer and nearer.
When within a thousand yards or so they encountered a troop of mares
grazing on the veld. Round and round these they rode, plainly intending
to annex any that might suit them. My friends were strongly tempted to
fire on these cattle thieves. Only the thought of their aged parents
restrained them, for they well knew the result would be the burning down
of their home.

It was plain that the scouts were making for this farm. We hurried down
to the house, saddled our horses--mine still suffering and hardly able
to go at a trot, and went to say good-bye to our hosts.

"Yes, my children," said the old lady, "it is better to go, for should
the British find you here they would only treat us the worse for it. And
we have sorrow enough, God knows. Come and see my son, my sick and
suffering son, who perhaps will never rise from his bed again!"

She conducted us into a bed-chamber, where, pallid and worn, his wife
seated by his side, lay the wreck of a once splendid specimen of
manhood, now, alas! in the last stage of some wasting disease--the
result of privations endured on commando. All that we could do was to
speak a few weak but well-meant words of comfort to the afflicted
family, and then leave them to their fate.

The sons promised to follow us later, as they wished to remain in the
neighbourhood to see what became of their home. My friend and myself
rode to another farm in the neighbourhood, undecided as yet whether to
make the attempt to get through the enemy's lines or to turn back;
crossing Roberts' lines of communication in the Free State was easy
enough, but here we had Buller to deal with. Upon reaching this farm we
found the occupants greatly excited. A Hottentot had just arrived from a
farm already visited by the enemy, bearing Buller's proclamation,
printed in Dutch and English, and promising protection, compensation,
and I know not what all, to those who came in and surrendered. The
entire household and several armed Boers from the vicinity gathered
round the farmer. No one dared to read the proclamation aloud. It was
handed from one to the other, shamefacedly, as if there were something
vile in the very touch of the document.

I anxiously watched the varying expression of their features, as
interest struggled with patriotism. Wearied of strife and fearful of
losing the result of years of hard work, the assembled men felt a strong
inclination to accept the enemy's offer. But no one dared give utterance
to his feelings. Eye met eye, and glanced away. It was easy to see what
the result would be. It was plainly my duty to protest, but what could I
do, a stranger, a mere youth? What could I say to these men, who had
already given proof of their devotion on many a bloody field, and who
only recoiled now when brought face to face with the supreme test--the
sacrifice of their hearths and homes? I ventured to point out, however,
that those who had already surrendered now bitterly regretted it, and
added that the very nature of the case made it impossible for the
British to carry out their promises. They listened in silence. My words
may have had some slight effect; in any case, the Hottentot was sent
back without a definite reply. It was useless to expect any aid from
these men. Leaving them to decide their own fate, we started back for
the Free State.




ARRESTED AS SPIES


A couple of hours' riding, then the farm of an old field-cornet, where
we off-saddled and bought a few bundles of forage for our horses. The
field-cornet entered into conversation with us whilst our animals were
feeding, but omitted to ask us into the house, and kept eyeing us in a
puzzled manner, as though we had dropped from Mars. I know not what my
companion thought of it, or if he thought at all, but I myself put the
old man's strange manner down to a sort of speechless admiration, and
accepted it as such. But I was mistaken.

When our friend shook hands with us he did so very limply, and as far as
we went he could be seen gazing after us.

"What ails him?" I asked my comrade.

"Oh, he doesn't see men like ourselves every day," was the careless
answer. How could I argue?

We kept on our way, and towards sundown reached a farm on the bank of
the Vaal, simultaneously with another young fellow coming from the
direction of the railway line.

It turned out that this farm belonged to his father. He himself had left
home that morning with the intention of crossing the railway, but had
found the line so well patrolled that he had given up the attempt. We
stabled our horses and entered the small but comfortably furnished
cottage, where we were presented to the other members of the family.
After supper came the usual evening service. This was hardly over when
we heard a loud knocking at the front door. The door was opened, and the
strange-mannered old field-cornet entered.

He greeted us solemnly and sat down. Next came a thundering rap at the
back door, and another Boer entered, a tall, powerful fellow, who was
foaming at the mouth with suppressed excitement, and bristling with
cartridge belts.

"My nephews," said the first-comer to us, "you must not take it amiss,
but it is my duty to arrest you!"

"What for, uncle?"

"For being suspected of spying. You must either accompany me back to my
farm, or let me take your horses there, so as to prevent your leaving
here during the night."

"All right, uncle, take the horses, but don't forget to feed them well.
But perhaps it would spare you trouble if you read our papers."

"It is easy to forge papers," said the old man. His companion now boiled
over and broke in--

"No, no! We've got you right enough! What else can you be but cursed
spies, riding about the country like this?"

"I don't wish to argue with you," I replied, angered by his brutal
manner. "I'm as true a burgher as you are, to say the least, and I warn
you that I shall hold you responsible for what you do or say."

"Oh! oh! Responsible? We are our own Government now. And where are your
arms? Spies!"

"I see you have a gun, but perhaps that is only because you've had no
chance to lay it down."

"What! Yes, I've got a gun, and I'll prove it to you!" he shouted,
pointing the weapon at me.

"Just like a cowardly bully to threaten an unarmed man! But," I added
gently, "you'll feel differently to-morrow."

"Will I? Why?" he asked, curiosity getting the better of his rage.

"You'll be sober then." This only incensed him the more, but he saw that
he had gone too far, and contented himself with uttering a few
half-intelligible threats. We then went out to the stable, gave them our
horses, and went to bed.

I woke just as dawn was breaking. Before the door stood the son of the
house, his gun in his hand.

"Hello, you are up early," I said. He looked rather confused.

"To tell the truth, I have been guarding you all night. But all the
same, I don't believe that you are spies. Come and have some coffee."

We had just finished our coffee when we heard horses' hoofs coming along
the road, and presently one of our friends from the farm near
Greylingstad entered the room.

"I've brought your horses," he said, smiling merrily. "I passed the old
field-cornet's this morning and told him I could certify that you are no
spies."

Whilst we were saddling up the field-cornet and his companion of the
night before arrived. The latter was now sober. They were profuse in
apologies.

"You were angry last night because we had no rifles; you had more reason
to be glad," I remarked to the field-cornet's assistant.

"Why?"

"Because if I had been armed I might have been imprudent enough to blow
your brains out when you pointed your gun at me. And how awful that
would have been!"

"Man," he said, "it's the cursed drink."

"Well," said I, "it's all over now. Good-bye!" Off we went--my comrade,
myself, and the man who had brought our horses, Delange. The latter had
an _achter ryder_ and two spare horses. Towards noon we reached the farm
of one of Delange's friends. My mount was now thoroughly done up, having
eaten almost nothing for three days. I asked the farmer if he had a
horse for sale.

"There are several in the stable," he replied, "but they belong to my
son, and he is on commando; so I am sorry, but I can't sell you one."

"I tell you what we'll do," said Delange. "I'll give you one of mine for
yours, which can then remain here till it gets well. Should you come
round here again one day we can then change back again."

"But suppose the animal dies?"

"Oh, I'll risk that. What is one horse more or less?"

I gratefully accepted this generous offer, and soon had my new
acquisition saddled. It was a lively little nag, and all my weariness
passed away as I felt it bound between my knees. Delange remained here,
and my comrade and I continued our journey alone, making for Vrede.

"There's a Jew a few miles from here," said the farmer as he bade us
good luck, "whom we suspect of treason. You should try and trap him and
take him with you to Vrede."

Towards dusk we reached the Jew's store. We rode up to the building and
he came to the door, an intelligent-looking man.

"Good evening," I said in English, "are there any Boers about?" We were
both dressed after the English style.

When the man's wife heard English spoken she also came to the door and
stood by her husband's side.

"Well, can't you answer?" The fellow's face was a study. He and his wife
looked at each other, evidently feeling that some danger was threatening
them.

"Sir," he said at last, speaking with an effort, "I have seen no Boers."

"Is this the road to Vrede?"

"Yes," he faltered.

"Thanks. Good-night," and we rode away. It might be easy to shoot a
traitor in cold blood, but to try and trap a man into uttering his own
condemnation seemed too cruel.

The next place we came to was a miserable-looking hovel standing by the
wayside. The door was opened by an old man.

"Good evening, uncle. Can you sell us a few bundles of forage?"

"Good evening. Yes, certainly. Come inside. It's a poor dwelling, but
you are welcome. Johnny, take the horses and put them in the stable.
Won't you join us at supper?"

Our appetites needed no stimulating, and we at once joined the family,
who had just been sitting down to table when we arrived. After the meal
our horses were saddled and brought to the door.

"What do we owe you for the forage?" we asked. It would be an insult
under any circumstance to offer to pay a Boer for a meal, "paying
guests" being still unknown to our benighted nation.

"No, my friends," he said. "I am poor, but I can't take your money. We
are all working for our country, and must help each other."

"That's true, but you must really allow us to pay."

"No, no! A few shillings will make me no richer or poorer." It was only
with the greatest difficulty that we managed to leave a few shillings on
the table. And this in spite of the fact that he was in the direst
poverty. But this is nothing unusual in South Africa, where hospitality
is considered a duty and a pleasure.

We pushed on until late that night, when we reached Vrede. Here we
learnt that the column which Lord Roberts had sent back from
Johannesburg had just entered Reitz. The next day we turned our horses'
heads towards Bethlehem, seeing a fair amount of game during the day's
ride. Darkness found us still travelling onward. A few miles to our
right a crimson glare lit up the heavens--a grass fire started by the
British column, and an unmistakable danger-signal for us.

We were now very close to the enemy, and might expect to meet a patrol
at any moment. Whilst riding along in the dense gloom we heard loud
voices a few hundred yards ahead of us. Turning out of the road, we rode
on the grass so as to make no noise, and carefully approached. Upon
getting nearer we found it was some natives driving cattle into a kraal.
Near by was a farmhouse, and thither we went. Only the womenfolk were at
home. We quickly reassured them--for every stranger was taken for an
Englishman--and were asked to stay for the night. Presently the farmer
himself arrived--he had been out watching the enemy.

"They will pass here to-morrow," he said, "then I shall go on that hill
yonder and knock over a few of them. I had a fine chance to shoot
to-day, but did not want to put them on their guard."

"But don't you think it would be better to join a commando and help in
making an organised resistance? You may kill a few of the enemy by
hanging about in twos and threes, but what difference will that make in
the end?"

"You mean us to act like the dervishes at Omdurman? I'm afraid you don't
understand the affair, my son. We do belong to a commando, as a matter
of fact, but we are scouts entrusted with the duty of keeping in
constant touch with the enemy. If in the execution of this duty we see
an opportunity to shoot a few of the enemy, are we to hold our hand
because we happen to be only two or three?"

"I should think not. But the enemy call it sniping, and I have heard
them say that snipers get no quarter. And if you fire on a column near
here they will come and burn this house down."

"It is not for me," he replied, "to consider my own interests. I have my
orders and must carry them out. What! Are we, who have lost sons,
brothers, friends--are we, I say, to think of our property now? No! Let
everything go, strip us to the bone, but leave us our liberty! It is not
for ourselves that we battle and suffer, but for posterity. It is for
the birthright of our children--freedom. We are no servile Hindoos to
meekly bow beneath the foreign yoke! They have put their hands to the
plough, but they will find it stubborn land, land that they will grow
weary of manuring with the bodies of their sons! And all for what? To
raise a crop of thistles and thorns, for that is all they'll ever get
out of us!"

"And it strikes me the end of the furrow is still out of sight."

"My boy," he said earnestly, "_this furrow has no end!_"




IN THE MOUNTAINS


"I wish you a pleasant journey," said our host the next morning, as we
prepared to mount. "Have you money enough? Yes? Well, in any case, take
this biltong along in your saddle-bags; it's my own make, you'll find it
good. Keep a good look-out. Good-bye!"

After thanking him warmly for his kindness, we rode off. Halting but
once to feed and water our horses, we reached a farm near Bethlehem
towards evening, where we spent the night. We were awakened by the sound
of a heavy bombardment in the direction of Bethlehem, which informed us
that the British were attacking the town. With an optimism that now
seems marvellous, we never for a moment doubted that the enemy would be
driven back, and that we would at last be able to take a little repose,
for twelve hours daily in the saddle was beginning to tell on us. Quite
cheerfully we rode down to the village, listening to the music of the
bursting shells and the lively rattle of the small-arms. Suddenly a
cloud of Boers issued from a kopje to our right, and slowly retreated
across our front. We rode up to them and learnt that they had just
received orders to retire, as the place could no longer be defended. It
appeared that the British general had informed De Wet that if he did not
surrender the town it would be bombarded. Most of the property belonged
to British subjects, so De Wet ordered all loyal inhabitants to leave
the town, and then told the general to bombard as much as he liked,
which the latter forthwith proceeded to do. De Wet had placed a couple
of guns on the mountain overlooking the town, and this, together with
Theron's hundred and fifty men--the only commando seriously engaged that
day--sufficed to keep the British back for three hours. De Wet's own men
were kept in reserve to meet the usual outflanking movement. The latter
did not take place, however, the enemy coming straight on. Finally
something went wrong with one of our two guns, and Theron being hard
pressed, with the reserve too far away to render immediate help, the
order was given to retire. The artillerists profited by the occasion to
tumble the damaged gun down a precipice, saying that they had had enough
of repairing it. Here it was found by the enemy the next day. A rush was
made for the mountain passes, as it was feared the enemy might occupy
them and cut off our retreat, but this was not even attempted, and we
were allowed to gain our rocky fastnesses in peace. The following day
was spent in climbing up and down the steep footpaths over the
mountains, and that afternoon we arrived at the end of our journey,
Fouriesburg, having spent something like a hundred hours on horseback
during the last ten days. Our first move was towards the river, for we
had not had a bath for several days. After repeated splashes in the
chilly torrent we bought a few clean things, put them on, and then
gravitated towards the telegraph office. Needless to say, our colleagues
were surprised to see us, being under the impression that we had long
since reached the Transvaal. Whilst still busy giving explanations we
heard someone on the instrument calling Winburg. Now Winburg was in
British hands; it could be no other than a British station calling.
Wishing to gain a little information, we responded.

"Here, Winburg."

"Here, Bethlehem. Are you Winburg?"

"Yes."

"Then give the name of the officer commanding."

There was no time for hesitation, and in our haste we gave the wrong
name.

"Go away," came the answer; "you're a way out. Trying to fool us, are
you?"

After a while we called him up again.

"Bethlehem! Bethlehem!"

"Here, Lieutenant Sherrard, R.E. What's up?"

"Here, Winburg. What's the news?"

"That you are a lot of fools for keeping on fighting and murdering your
men!" came the sharp reply.

"Oh, kindly allow us to know our own business best. You'll find some
method in our folly."

"Maybe. How did you like the little bits o' lyddite yesterday?"

"I believe it slightly killed one mule. How did you like the hell fire
from the Nordenfeldt?"

"Never saw it. But honestly, why don't you come in and surrender?"

"But honestly, what is your real opinion of those who desert their
country in her hour of need?" He preferred not to say, but disconnected
the wire, and we heard no more of our friend the Royal Engineer.

"Pity they were too sharp for us this time," I said to the Postmaster.

"Oh, it doesn't matter," he replied, "we caught up their report of the
engagement just after they entered the town. It seems they had a pretty
severe loss. Ours was slight, but one lyddite shell burst over a group
of horses and killed twenty."

"And what is the situation now?"

"Well, all our forces are here in the mountains now, and we can hold out
for years. There are only two passes; they are strongly held, and the
enemy will never get through them. We tried to get our prisoners to take
parole, but they refused, so we have driven them over the Drakensberg
into Natal. Last, but not least, the traitor Vilonel is here, waiting
for his appeal to be heard."

This Vilonel, a young man of prepossessing appearance, had been one of
the most promising officers, and had early been promoted to commandant.
Whether through overweening ambition on his part or not I cannot say,
but Vilonel, accused of insubordination, was thenceforth given the
distasteful and inglorious task of commandeering. He wearied of this,
and applied for active service, but in vain. Then, smarting under a
sense of injustice, he took the fatal step--deserted. Not content with
this, he wrote a letter out of the British camp to one of our
field-cornets, urging upon the latter to surrender. The letter fell into
the hands of one of our Intelligence officers, who forthwith replied in
the field-cornet's name, asking Vilonel to meet him at a certain
secluded spot. Vilonel kept the appointment, accompanied by a British
major, and both were made prisoners, the major protesting energetically
against what he was pleased to consider as a breach of the rules of
warfare, but his captors begged to differ, reminding him that all's fair
in love and war, especially in dealing with traitors and their
associates.

Vilonel was tried at Reitz, and sentenced to five years, the judge
remarking that he was lucky to get off with his life. The prisoner did
not think so, and applied for leave to appeal. This was granted, but
owing to the nature of the subsequent military operations the Court had
not found time to sit, hardly time to pause, in fact.

When the day finally arrived for the appeal to be heard the little
court-room was crowded with interested spectators. Judge Hertzog
presided, assisted by two young advocates, Messrs. Hugo and Cronje, and
Advocate De Villiers represented the State. The prisoner, who conducted
his own defence, asked for a postponement. This was refused. He then
made an able statement, asserting his innocence of any evil intentions,
pleading that he had acted as his conscience dictated, and eloquently
praying the Court to reconsider his sentence. It was a painful moment
when the presiding judge, after a whispered consultation with the
assessors, turned to the prisoner and confirmed the sentence, adding,
in his clear, incisive voice, that the name of Vilonel would remain an
eternal stigma upon the fame of the Afrikander race. One could not help
feeling a thrill of compassion at the tragic end of such a promising
career. To-day a noble patriot, to-morrow a black traitor, despised by
the lowest of his countrymen!

President Steyn's wife and family were installed in a house in this
village, but the President himself preferred to camp in the veld and
share the lot of his burghers.

With him were nearly all the members of the Government, if we except
those who had chosen to remain behind in Bethlehem, and who, from what
their delighted friends heard, had been compelled by the British to foot
it all the way to Reitz. We went out to the camp, and reported
ourselves. It was now bitterly cold, the snow-topped Drakensberg keeping
the temperature at an uncomfortable proximity to zero. But the men were
nearly all well provided with warm khaki uniforms reaped at Roodewal,
the mountains were full of cattle and corn, and we felt that we could
easily hold these almost inaccessible heights against the British cordon
formed outside.

But it was fated otherwise. A despatch rider arrived from the
Transvaal; the situation there urgently demanded the encouragement of
Steyn's presence. To leave this impregnable stronghold and venture
across the open plains below needed all the boldness of De Wet, all the
steadfast courage of Steyn. These leaders had never been known to
falter; they did not falter now. Everything was arranged in the utmost
secrecy. For a few days there was a hurrying to and fro of commandoes,
and then one morning De Wet's laager was seen to have disappeared.

Prinsloo was left behind over four thousand men, with orders to stand
his own.




THROUGH THE CORDON


IT was no easy matter to pass through the British forces that lay massed
around the mountain-chain. We were two thousand horsemen, and our
vehicles, carts, ox-and mule-waggons formed a procession fully six miles
long. When we trekked out of the nek strict orders were given that there
was to be no loud talking and no matches struck. This latter was
especially hard on such a crowd of inveterate smokers. I remember whilst
we were riding mutely along, listening to the creaking and jolting of
the waggons, and wondering whether we were going to get through, or what
the alternative would be if we did not, we suddenly saw someone
deliberately strike a match and light his pipe.

"Who struck that match?" came from the front. Then the delinquent
himself spoke up--

"It's this confounded Kafir of mine. Was it you, Jantje?"

"Yes, baas," responded the dutiful black, bobbing up and down on his
master's spare horse.

"Give him twenty with the sjambok."

"Right!" Jantje and his master turned out of the road, and soon the
unmistakable thwack! thwack! of the sjambok could be heard, mingled with
subdued ejaculations in Kafir and Dutch. But judging by the expression
on Jantje's features by the camp fire that night, as he blew long
fragrant clouds into the gaping nostrils of his envious friends, I have
my doubts about that thrashing.

We halted frequently to allow the straggling ox-waggons to close up.
Then we would dismount, stamp our chilly feet, draw our overcoats or
blankets closer, and discuss trivialities. During one of these halts a
horseman came dashing up from the rear--

"General, there's a doctor behind who has just come through the enemy's
lines. He asks you to wait for him."

"Tell him to hurry!"

We sat down and waited. In about half an hour's time another horseman
came hurrying along. Here at last! No. Only another messenger. Another
long wait, and finally the doctor arrived. He squatted down next to De
Wet, and in a low voice related how he had been unjustly captured by the
British some weeks ago, how they had sent him to Johannesburg and kept
him in prison until now, only liberating him after repeated requests
for a hearing. His tale was listened to in silence and with deep
attention. When it was told the order was given to mount, and on we
trekked again past the sleeping British camp. Presently the moon rose,
and by its light we passed a lonely farmhouse. Beware its slumbering
inmates when the British come along to-morrow, for are not they
responsible for the telegraph line which runs across the farm, and which
we have cut in half a dozen places! No doubt the house will be burnt,
and all the stock confiscated. But never mind, the owner has surrendered
and is living under British protection--protection whereof he is going
to get a taste now, so why should we pity him? On we go until long past
midnight, when we halt in a secluded little valley. Our horses greedily
swallow the icy water, and then eagerly crop the tasteless dry grass,
for our waggons are too far behind, we can give them no mealies
to-night.

The next morning a cloud of dust in our rear showed that we were being
pursued. Whilst we were hastily inspanning and upsaddling, Theron came
in from the right, bringing with him a captured Hussar. One old Boer,
who had his little boy with him, brought the youngster up to the soldier
and said--

"Now, sonny, you've never seen an Englishman. Here is one. Look at him
well; you must shoot lots of them yet."

"Go away," said one of the Boers, "what do you mean by staring at the
man like that? Don't you know any better than to insult a helpless
prisoner?"

"I'm sorry," said the old man, turning away, "I don't want to hurt his
feelings; I only wanted to show my son the game he must track one day."

The little boy cried when they led him away, saying--

"I 'ants my 'ickle khaki, I 'ants my tame Englishman!"

"Don't cry," said the old man, "father will catch you some to-morrow."

The little fellow's eyes brightened with anticipation, and his tears
gave way to smiles. Sure enough his father came into camp a few days
later driving before him two diminutive steeds bending beneath the
weight of two corpulent khakis. He called his son and said--

"Now, sonny, here are the soldiers I promised you."

The little fellow looked them over carefully. Then his lower lip began
to pout, and tears rolled down his cheeks.

"What's the matter, my son," asked the astonished father, "doesn't he
like his khakis?"

"No, daddy," replied the little chap, striving with his tears.

"Why not, my lad?"

Then the child's restraint gave way, and he burst out--

"Oh, daddy, they're not--_sob_--real--_sob_--soldiers at all!"

They were two of the C.I.V.

But to return. As soon as the waggons were ready they were sent on along
the winding valley, whilst the horsemen and artillery took up a position
on a neighbouring hill and awaited the British attack. This took the
form of continuous shelling until sundown. As soon as darkness fell the
horsemen took a short cut and rejoined the waggons, which in the
meantime had gained a considerable start. President Steyn and his
secretary accompanied De Wet during the day and had a taste of the
enemy's shell-fire. When we asked the secretary that evening how he had
liked the ordeal he said he could hardly describe his feelings whilst it
lasted, but when the shelling ceased it was the heavenliest sensation of
his life. So if you want a heavenly sensation you know now how to get
it.

We had an ambulance staff with us, but were sometimes obliged to leave
our wounded behind, because we knew very well the enemy would be only
too glad to get hold of our doctors and deprive us of all medical help.

On crossing the railway near Honingspruit we captured a train. From the
newspapers taken out of the mail-bags we learnt that we were being
closely pressed, and that hopes were entertained of our speedy capture.
We did not grudge the papers the pleasures of hope; what we objected to
was their crocodile tears over us poor misguided, ignorant burghers, who
were too stupid to see the beauty of becoming exultant British subjects,
like the Irish. We also learnt that Steyn was ill, that he was hiding on
a farm near Heilbron, that he was a prisoner in De Wet's camp, that his
mind had given way, that he wouldn't let De Wet surrender, that De Wet
wouldn't let the burghers surrender, that the burghers wouldn't let
Steyn surrender, _ad fin. ad nauseam_.

As we had a distinct object in view, _i.e._ to bring Steyn to Kruger, we
generally preferred to avoid unnecessary engagements. But we could show
our teeth when we liked. We were laagered near Vredefort one day when
the pursuers made a sudden dash forward, coming within a mile or so
before they were observed. On this occasion there was no hasty flight.
The cattle continued peacefully grazing around the waggons, whilst the
horsemen went to meet the enemy. There was a brief exchange of shells,
and then our men charged with such good effect that the British were
forced to retire. They followed us at a more respectful distance after
that.

De Wet kept his plans so secret that very few knew for certain whither
we were bound. The President called me into his tent one morning and
asked me a few questions about the roads near Balmoral, where the
Transvaal Government was at that time. I happened to have a map with me,
and so was able to supply the desired information. He then told me to
take a couple of heliographists and try to get into communication with
one of the Transvaal commandoes near Potchefstroom.

We climbed one of the numerous hills lying around and called up towards
Potchefstroom, but got no reply. As we sat chatting, keeping our eyes
fixed on the dark ridges in the distance, one of my companions
remarked--

"This reminds me of a fine trick I played on the English a few months
ago. We were trekking along quietly one day when I observed a heliograph
glitter on a hill about ten miles away. I at once fixed my instrument,
and soon learnt that it was a British helio post. I sent him a heliogram
saying that we were a small party of British in danger of capture, and
asking that an escort should be sent to bring us in. The next day the
escort walked into our arms! We took the rifles and let the prisoners
go--about a hundred men. The next day the British heliographist called
me up again and reproached me for telling him such a deliberate lie!"

"And what did you reply?"

"Oh, I said, 'g.t.l.'; you know what that means!"

Espying a pretty little cottage in the valley below, I rode thither to
try and buy a loaf of bread, leaving the others to continue calling. On
the way down I noticed a telegraph wire running in the direction of
Potchefstroom. In the farmhouse were only two young girls, the elder a
charming golden-haired fairy with tender eyes of cornflower blue. And
her smile!--it was enough to make one say all kinds of silly things just
for the pleasure of seeing her ripe lips part, revealing her wholesome,
even little teeth! No wonder I delayed my departure! I left at last,
however--not without the loaf of bread--and made for the camp. I had not
gone far before I met one of the burghers, who told me Steyn and De Wet
had gone up to the helio post a little while before. What would they say
when they found me absent from my post! I approached the camp in
anything but an enviable mood, and was just off-saddling when the two
leaders returned. Like a flash the thought came to me of the telegraph
line I had seen.

"President," I said eagerly, before he could speak, "there's a telegraph
line near here. Shan't I go and try to tap it?"

He looked at me very seriously for a moment, and then replied, a smile
breaking through the frown, "Yes, go on, you should have been there
already." Saved again! I went, but needless to say, if I heard any
secrets that evening it was not through the medium of a telegraph wire!




SKIRMISHES


A band of about thirty Transvaalers, mostly from Potchefstroom, who had
been attached to De Wet for some time, now decided to go on ahead and
join Liebenberg's commando, near their native town. As De Wet had no
intention of moving forward just yet, I joined my brother Transvaalers.
Bidding adieu to our Free State comrades, we crossed the Vaal. Just
beyond the river we were joined by two or three others, who had with
them as prisoner a British sergeant. This fellow had been in charge of a
band of native police, whose insolence had terrorised the women and
children for miles around, until a body of Boers came along and routed
them out of the district, capturing their leader. What became of the
blacks I do not know, but it must be remembered that the Transvaal
natives are Boer subjects, and liable to be shot if caught aiding the
British. The feeling against the sergeant was very bitter.

"Oh, you're the Kafir chief, are you?" said one of our men to him.

"Ho, yuss, h' I'm the Kefir ginnyril," responded the flattered cockney,
with an irritating grin.

"I'd like to Kafir general you through the head," said the disgusted
Boer promptly. The sickly grin faded, and the threat was not carried
out.

Towards afternoon a heavy rain began to fall. There was no shelter for
us, and we pushed along, wet and cold. Then night came, and the road,
now transformed into a rushing torrent, was only shown us by the lurid
lightning flashes that continually rent the heavens. And we had a sick
man on the trolley, for whom this exposure was a serious matter. But
finally we reached a farmhouse, occupied by an old woman. Her eyes
filled with tears when she saw us, and she thanked the Lord that He had
spared her to behold once more the defenders of her country. Near by was
an empty building. We outspanned and off-saddled, turning our animals
loose, as we knew they would not stray far in such a blinding storm. The
sick man was hastily carried in and laid upon some dry blankets.

Then we made half a dozen roaring fires with some mealie cobs that we
found lying in the house, stripped ourselves, and held our boots and
clothing over the fire till they were fairly dry. By this time the water
boiled; we drank some coffee, then made up beds on the floor and slept
till morning. It was a bit of a struggle to get into our damp things
when we awoke, but as we rode along our clothes dried and our spirits
rose. Then Potchefstroom came in sight, but, alas! it was held by the
enemy.

"What would my poor mother say," said one young fellow, "if she knew I
was so near!"

"Oh, my wife and children!" sighed another.

"Cheer up, boys!" interrupted the commandant. "Our country first, you
know."

That afternoon we joined a small commando lying near the railway between
Potchefstroom and Frederikstad. It numbered barely a hundred men, but
they had with them a bomb-Maxim and a Krupp. At midnight we got orders
to march for the hills near Frederikstad, where we arrived at dawn. Here
we were reinforced by a score of burghers, and we continued our way,
keeping in a parallel with the railway, but behind some intervening
hills. Presently a scout came in and reported the enemy in sight.

"Forward!" ordered the commandant, and forward we raced along through
the veld, keeping a look-out for holes. One youngster's horse went
down, the rider turning a beautiful somersault. Shouts of laughter
greeted his exploit, but he quickly remounted, and was one of the first
to reach the hill for which we were making, and which dominated the
railway. Keeping the Nordenfeldt in reserve, we opened fire with Krupp
and small-arms on the advance guard of the enemy.

We did not know at the time that we were tackling Lord Methuen and five
thousand men, but such was the case. Of course we made a very poor show;
what can you expect? But anyhow, we engaged them for about two hours.
Then their cavalry came on with a rush, and we were compelled to give
way. It was only with the greatest difficulty that we saved the guns,
and we only succeeded in doing so, I presume, because the enemy were not
aware of our real numbers. Our waggons fled to one side of the line
whilst we remained on the other, with absolutely nothing to eat. By
buying a few eggs and other small produce from the natives we managed to
subsist until the third day, when we crossed the railway, marched all
night, and rejoined our waggons at dawn. To slaughter sheep and cook
porridge did not take long; hearty is the only word to describe the meal
we made. Then we moved round and joined Liebenberg, who, with six
hundred men, had just retaken Klerksdorp without firing a shot. But
then, the place was garrisoned by only forty English, and resistance
would have been of no avail.

We hung about the neighbourhood of Potchefstroom for about two weeks,
anxiously waiting for the word to be given to attack the town, but
Liebenberg confined his tactics to making an appearance in sight of the
town and retreating as soon as the enemy came out to give battle. This
kept the enemy on the _qui vive_, it is true, but it also tired out our
horses, and we soon grew weary of it. We had several lively little
skirmishes, however. One day about forty of us were detached to go and
bombard a British gun which stood on the other side of the town, whilst
the rest of our commando approached the town on this side. We were
sitting down quite comfortably under a tree below our gun, eating bread
and dripping, listening to the duel and smiling at the high aim of the
British gunners, when the look-out shouted--"Here's the enemy behind
us!"

The gun was rapidly limbered up and we rode to the top of the hill.
Across the valley about a hundred horsemen were stealthily stealing up
Vaal Kop, evidently with the intention of taking us in the rear. We
halted and gave them a couple of shells, to which they very promptly
replied.

"Commandant," said one of my comrades, "let's charge them. They're not
too many for us."

"No," was the reply; "it's best to be prudent."

"Well, I'm going to have a smack at them, anyway! Coming along?" he
shouted to me, and without waiting for a reply, started down the valley.
I followed him, and we cut across over the loose stones at a breakneck
pace, not making straight for the enemy, but for a rocky ridge whence
our fire could reach them. As we climbed the ridge we were joined by two
others. When we got to the top we saw about forty horsemen in the valley
beyond.

"Fifteen hundred yards!" shouted Frank, and we let them have it. Round
and round they turned in a confused circle, like a flock of worried
sheep. Then they rode away to the right, straight into a morass, back
again, and finally retreated in amongst the bushes on the slope of the
hill, whence they favoured us with a few well-aimed shots in reply. The
whole thing had lasted barely five minutes, but we had each emptied
about fifty cartridges, so we felt quite happy. As we left the shelter
of the hill and rode back across the valley, their companions on top of
the hill turned a Maxim on us, but the bullets all went high, singing
overhead like a flight of canaries. Going up on the other side, I took a
piece of bread out of my pocket, and was just trying to persuade myself
to offer our two companions some, when crack! crack! came a couple of
Nordenfeldt shells right behind us. It didn't take us long to get over
the hill, the vicious little one-pounders crackling and fizzling round
us all the while.

On the other side a comical sight met our eyes. The whole veld was full
of scattered Boers retiring in all directions, with a shell bursting in
between them every now and then, luckily without any effect. A few
hundred yards away stood the cart of our clergyman, who was frantically
trying to unharness his mules and inspan horses in their place. He was
so nervous that his fingers refused to undo the straps, so we dismounted
and effected the exchange for him. As soon as the last strap was buckled
he lashed up and drove away, too excited even to say thank you.

We were so accustomed to retreating by this time that it seemed
extraordinary to see a man lose his head so easily. The British shells
pursued us till we were out of sight, but the only casualty was when a
shell passed so close to Van der Merwe, the mining commissioner of
Johannesburg, that the concussion knocked him off his horse.

That evening Jonas came into camp. Jonas is quite a character in his
way. When the British entered Potchefstroom he, with four followers,
took up a position on a kopje about six miles out of town, and a
thousand yards from the Johannesburg road. Whenever a convoy or a body
of British came along Jonas and his merry band would open a furious
fusillade, causing the unhappy enemy no end of inconvenience. It is a
fact that he carried on this game for months, unhindered.

After his day's work Jonas would lay aside rifle and bandolier, don his
overcoat, and stroll into town to see his family.

He was challenged by a sentry on one occasion, but Jonas reproved him so
severely and bluffed him so completely, that the poor fellow broke into
an abject apology, whereupon Jonas very condescendingly promised to say
no more about the matter.




WE ENTER POTCHEFSTROOM


"On Sunday we shall hold service in Potchefstroom," announced the
commandant. Ah! Something definite at last! The men's hearts grow light
as they polish their rifles, for are not they going to behold their dear
ones soon? No one thinks of doubting the commandant's word; he is our
leader, what he says must be true. How we shall get in none know, but
get in we shall, all are sure of that. One morning my two comrades are
sent to spy the town. My horse's unshod hoofs are tender as my lady's
hands; I have searched the plains for a dead horse wearing shoes. Of all
the carcasses I find the hoofs are gone, cut off by sharper comrades. I
must remain behind. At night the order is given, "March!" Cheerfully the
column trots out of camp; we who have no horses follow it with wistful
eyes. There are girls in the town too, ah! such girls! Complexions a
dream of purity, mystic, melting eyes, and hair a silken web to weave
sweet fancies through.

At midnight my two friends return. What, the others gone already? And
you still here! No, mount, saddle, hurry, sick or well, go we must, and
come must you! And perhaps, after all, if we ride steadily, who knows?
If my horse fails, why, we will loot another on the road.

We do not take the _spoor_, we slip across the veld; my mount treads
gingerly, but what odds? After to-day he shall rest for a week!

We near the town. Everything is deathly quiet. Where is our commando?
Cautiously we enter the streets, riding far apart, rifles ready. Halt!
here comes a horseman. Don't fire, he is unarmed. Why, 'tis but a boy!
Where's the enemy? Where's the foe, quick? What! Deserted the town? We
look around and see a long string of Boers come speeding along about a
mile behind. Hurrah, we are first in! We race into the market square,
crowds of people, and halt at the Government Buildings. Up with the
_Vierkleur!_ Ah, the proud exultation of seeing our own flag once more
float over the ancient capital! Women press around, young and old,
beautiful alike in pure emotion of patriotic joy, eager to greet their
war-worn men.

My sons, do they live? God be praised, they are here. The father fell at
Belmont, but He has spared the sons!

And mine, I say, and mine; three they are, boys yet--what, no more? All
I have--all I had gone for ever! Oh, Lord, uphold us! Welcome home, my
boy. Your brother, is he well? Speak! Ah me! I loved him best; it is my
punishment At last! my love, my husband! Happy day! Hush ... a hymn
peals forth and wafts our thoughts to One above, a harmony of mingled
joy and sadness. The last solemn notes die away, and we separate--joyous
couples to make mirth together, sad widows to weep alone.

How strange to sit at a table once more, to hear again the melody of
girlish voices! "Sweet are looks that ladies bend on whom their favours
fall." Let us bask in the warmth of your smiles to-night; to-morrow the
cheerless veld again!

Tales to boil the blood are told, barbarous brutality. Our commandant's
daughter dragged before the provost-marshal. The gun found buried in
your yard; your father's work? No, my own. You lie! Out you go--property
confiscated, furniture sold; go seek the commandoes and ask them for
shelter!

A widow, husband killed. Clear out, furniture confiscated! Why? Your
sons are fighting; you are a rebel! I'll teach you to remember Major
C------.

But in a skirmish Major C------ is killed; joy of the widowed and
fatherless. Homage to our noble women, patient under persecution,
steadfast in adversity, cheerfully sending forth their nearest and
dearest to battle to the end!

On the morrow a sharp alarm note is sounded. An officer gallops from
house to house. Quick! saddle and ride; meet at Frederikstad! Myself and
a comrade are quickly speeding thither, our brief Valhalla over. On the
road we overtake and pass parties of twos and threes, all on the same
errand. At last we approach the rendezvous. Up the hill rides a dense
body of cavalry; down near the station horsemen dash in and out, to and
fro, like busy ants. On the hill a few footmen leisurely stroll about,
rifle in hand. What means all this commotion? We pass a Kafir hut.

"Are those Boers or English, outa?"

"Boers, baas."

"Sure?"

"Yes, baas, it's our own people."

"Yes, look, that's the commandant ahead on his roan. Come along!" We
near the horsemen. The last man dismounts as we approach; his companions
are disappearing over the rise; he shifts his saddle forward, staring at
us intently. A tall, well-built fellow, red hair, chin scrubby,
dust-covered features. A bayonet at his side--by heavens! an Englishman!

"Frank, it's a khaki," I whisper, "keep straight on."

The soldier looks me in the face as we slowly pass him. I feel my
cheeks burn and turn my head away. His gun stands in the bucket; we can
shoot him, but then, the others? We wear top-boots and riding-breeches,
hats pinned up at the side; he is in doubt--perhaps we are scouts just
come in. He mounts his horse and rides after his comrades.

Now turn and away, over boulders and bushes for dear life! Suddenly a
dozen scouts file down the hill, two hundred yards off. I wave my hat
and beckon them to follow. They halt, perplexed. Then a few bullets
whistle by, and we see the scouts come dashing after us. But the bushes
are high and the boulders loose; we are down the hill now, over the
flats and away! Down to the river--the bridge is destroyed! Never mind,
through we go, and then turn round to smile at our pursuers.




DE WET ONCE MORE


The reason for all this hurry-scurry became plain when we learnt that De
Wet, tired of playing at hide-and-seek with the enemy on the other side
of the Vaal, had crossed over and passed by Potchefstroom the night
before. It was into the pursuing force that we had ridden.

Reaching the laager, we found the majority of our comrades there. Of the
fate of those who had delayed to leave the town we were ignorant. The
laager inspanned and followed De Wet, who had just passed here, and
after a few hours' rapid trekking caught up to him. A halt was called
for breakfast, but before the water boiled for coffee the enemy came in
sight behind us. The cattle were rapidly driven together, oxen yoked and
horses saddled, and in about three minutes' time we were on the move
once more. De Wet's force and our own combined comprised nearly three
thousand men, with six hundred waggons and carts, forming a train that
made a splendid target for the British gunners.

There was not much difficulty in keeping the enemy back, but still they
hung on persistently, worrying us day after day, until our horses, and
even the tougher mules, began to drop in the road, and our men to grow
weary of the saddle.

The oxen bore up best of all; we now made the discovery that they could
trot just as well as mules, and with less effort. But even they felt the
strain.

As far as we went the road we left behind us was littered with abandoned
animals. It was pitiful to see these dumb creatures try to drag
themselves after us, as if they too feared the pursuing foe. But still
the weary march went on, night and day, until a numbed indifference
settled over us.

Shells fell to the right and left unnoticed; was the apathy, not of
despair, for our faith would never let us feel that, but of sheer and
utter exhaustion.

Haggard men, sunk in slumber, beat a mechanical tattoo on their horses'
ribs as the gaunt animals dazedly staggered forward. And now came the
stunning news that Prinsloo, Prinsloo with 4,000 men, had surrendered!
Only one hope sustained us--the Magaliesberg. There we would find
shelter and rest.

But Clements was lying in wait for us there, waiting for us to walk
blindly into the trap he had set. Well was it for our straggling train
that Delarey came dashing down on Clements in the night, slaying and
capturing right and left, till the British general was glad to take
refuge in entrenched Pretoria! Else we were surely taken and the war
ended. When at last we struggled over Olifant's Nek, it was to find the
pass held by friends, not foes, many signs of the enemy's occupation,
from plundered farm-houses to hundreds of biscuit tins, strewing the
ground.

Our waggons were drawn up in a line behind the mountain, and we manned
the passes, confident in our ability to hold them. But we were too
wearied, and the enemy too persistent. On the third day they forced the
weaker of the passes, and we were forced to fly once more. Had the
British continued their stern chase our capture were almost certain;
strange to say, with success within their grasp, they held their hand,
halted, and followed us no further. In the retreat the Free State and
the Transvaal commandoes took different directions, myself remaining
with the latter. We marched all night, past frowning kopjes, and camped
in a thick mimosa forest at dawn.

Here the commando decided to remain for a while. I obtained a pass from
Liebenberg and set off alone to make my way through the dense bush to
Middelburg.

The first day I discovered De Wet's "meagre commando," about a thousand
men, who had been ordered to conceal themselves here and feed up their
animals, whilst De Wet himself, with the other half of his force,
scoured the country to within ten miles of Johannesburg.

In the evening I arrived at a mission station, where the only whites
were the missionary's young daughter and her youthful brother. Their
father had left for a visit shortly before the war broke out, and had
not been able to return. They themselves had done the mission work,
unaided, through all these anxious months. And remember that at this
time the bushveld Kafirs were waging war amongst themselves!

The next day I encountered a couple of waggons laden with ammunition for
Delarey. The escort told me they had left Middelburg eighteen days
before. Making circuits to avoid the enemy and taking wrong roads had
delayed them.

Then--it is wonderful how news travels amongst the Kafirs--I heard that
Steyn was also somewhere in the bush, on the way to join the Transvaal
Government. Fortunately for me, I rode right into his party that
evening, just as they were starting off again. I had only off-saddled
once since sunrise, but the chance was too good to be missed, and I
joined them. The party consisted of barely fifty men--not an extravagant
escort, but sufficient, under the circumstances.

We travelled till midnight, halted for an hour, and then forward again
till sunrise, when we crossed the Pienaar's River. Here we found a
fair-sized commando under a general whose name I forget, as that was the
only time I ever heard it. He was expecting an attack, the waggons were
already retreating. We halted long enough to prepare breakfast, during
which time the President shot a few bush doves. Hardly had we finished
the meal when the rat-tat, rat-tat of small-arms showed that the British
were approaching. Then a Maxim rattled forth amongst the rocks, and
warned us that the action had begun in earnest.

The commando kept the enemy back just long enough to give us a decent
start, and then retired. We afterwards learnt that this British
force--under Barnum-Powell, of Tarascon--had been sent out from Pretoria
expressly to intercept us. It was a close thing--had the enemy been a
little smarter they might have had us. As it was, we doubled away under
cover of the bush, and were soon out of reach.

Now followed a week of rapid trekking, varied with a little shooting now
and then at the partridges and bright-plumaged birds that abound in the
bushveld, and once relieved by the sight of a magnificent bush fire, a
sea of roaring flame. I must not forget our banjoist, who of nights
beguiled our careworn chief with cheery marches, quicksteps, and comic
songs. Finally we emerge upon the _hoogeveld_ of Middelburg, to find the
town in the enemy's hands. We make for Roossenekal. Again the British
are before us. We turn away towards Machadodorp. As we near the village
Schalk Burger comes out to meet us. He and Steyn speak earnestly
together. Burger is more silent, more taciturn than ever. We push on,
and reach Machadodorp, where a train is in waiting. The station is
crowded with Transvaalers, all eager to shake their gallant Free State
brethren by the hand. The President and party enter the carriage, the
engine whistles, and the train speeds down to Waterval Onder, where Paul
Kruger and his advisers are impatiently awaiting its arrival.




END OF THE REGULAR WAR


The battle of Machadodorp was expected to A take place at any moment,
and the general feeling was that this fight should decide the campaign,
the more so as the issue was confidently awaited by us. On the second
day after Steyn's arrival at Waterval Onder the British attacked. Never
before in the history of the war had such a furious bombardment been
known. Only those who have witnessed the fierce storms of the tropics
can form an idea of the awful unending roar of the lyddite guns as they
belched forth one continuous shrieking mass of projectiles into the
defenders' trenches. At Waterval Onder the two Governments listened in
silent suspense as the sonorous reverberations rolled through the
mountains, louder and fiercer yet, till the firm earth shook beneath the
shock.

At last came the appalling message that the British were victorious, and
our men in full retreat! High hopes had been built on this combat; no
wonder if for a while we felt disheartened. The end of regular warfare
had been reached; it was imperative that an entire change of tactics be
adopted. Steyn was for beginning the guerilla system immediately, in
which he was supported by Gravett, Pienaar, and Kemp; Kruger, however,
determined to defend the railway to the last. The British lost no time
in following up their success. It had been said that they would never
venture down these precipitous heights, but, like all other prophecies
about this surprising war--except Kruger's, that he would stagger
humanity--it turned out false, for down into the infernal mountain pits
the enemy thronged after us, with a courage that made us marvel.

The Governments retreated by train to Nelspruit, and thence to
Hectorspruit, the commandoes following by rail and road.

Here the forces were divided, those without horses being sent to
entrench Komatipoort, while the rest made ready to slip past the
approaching enemy's outstretched arms. It was decided that President
Kruger should leave for Holland, Schalk Burger acting in his place. Most
of the burghers still fighting are Progressives, and therefore
politically opposed to Paul Kruger, but there were few who did not feel
a sincere sympathy for the venerable President in this, well-nigh the
bitterest hour of his stormy life. I say nearly every man still
fighting is as fervent a Progressive as the world could wish, and as
much opposed to Paul Kruger's policy as the British themselves! Then
what are they fighting for? you ask. For independence! Let us gain that,
and in one year's time you will see the Transvaal merged into the model
Free State, the Switzerland of South Africa!

After Kruger's departure Steyn took leave of the Transvaal Government.
His last interview with Botha took place in the open air, in full sight
of the burghers. The two conversed in low, earnest tones. Botha looked
ill and haggard, he had aged since he had gained his spurs at Colenso;
the weight of his responsibility lay heavy upon him.

Louis Botha is idolised by his men--perhaps he has not an enemy in the
world--but it is to Steyn, and Steyn alone, that the honour belongs of
the resistance still being offered by the Boers. Let not this detract
from the merits of those other and equally gallant spirits, leaders or
men, who have nobly breasted the waves of adversity; who shall blame
them if at times they felt the current overwhelming?

Steyn utters a last cheering word, then shakes Botha's hand, mounts, and
rides away at the head of his little escort.

The scene around the station resembles nothing so much as a cattle
fair. Near the line stands a policeman, his gaze fixed upon a large box
lying at his feet. The box is filled with gold. Ben Viljoen, standing on
a waggon, addresses the men, explaining to them what guerilla warfare
means. On the other side hats, shirts, and what not are being dealt out
with a lavish hand. Some burghers wander off into the bush in search of
game, others lie lazily stretched out beneath the trees. Trains crammed
with men arrive from the rear, discharge their freights of assorted
humanity, and are immediately boarded by the dismounted men destined for
Komatipoort. The line is blocked with traffic, trains run anyhow, and it
will be some days before everything is ready for our trek to begin.

There being no longer any need for officials, my colleagues volunteered
to form themselves into a fighting corps, and did me the honour of
selecting me as their leader. The corps, however, lacked accoutrements.
I went down to Delagoa Bay. Upon returning, with two other officers, we
were arrested at the Portuguese station Moveni.

Although armed with passports signed by the District Governor, we were
informed that we would under no circumstances be allowed to recross the
frontier. Nor could we obtain permission to return to Lourengo Marques
by train. The young Portuguese commandant, a mirror of courtesy,
explained that we had either to await further orders there or walk back
to the Bay, a distance of fifty miles.

After waiting for several hours we quietly boarded a train coming from
Komatipoort, and managed to reach Lourengo Marques unobserved. We still
believed that we would contrive to get back somehow sooner or later, but
were soon cruelly undeceived. President Kruger, who was the guest of the
District Governor, wrote to General Coetser at Komatipoort, asking him
not to destroy the bridge and advising him to take refuge in Portuguese
territory. Coetser himself, with the few of his men who had fairly
decent horses, preferred to follow Botha, who by this time had begun his
trek from Hectorspruit, and left General Pienaar in charge of
Komatipoort.

Influenced by the arguments of the Portuguese--one of which was that,
should the British cross the Portuguese frontier and take the Boers in
the rear, Portugal would not be able to prevent it--and by the fact that
the positions first chosen for the entrenchments lay within a mile of
the frontier and therefore could not be occupied, a _Krygsraad_ resolved
to follow the President's advice. The bridge had already been mined, the
guns placed in position, and everything made ready to give Pole-Carew
and the Guards a worthy reception; but fate decided otherwise, and
General Pienaar, with some two thousand men, crossed the
frontier,--needless to say with what deep regret--thus reducing by
one-fifth our forces in the field, a loss which would have been avoided
had Steyn's advice been taken and guerilla warfare begun after
Machadodorp.

There was thenceforth nothing for us poor ship-wrecked wretches to do
than to gaze impotently on our heroic brethren still struggling against
the storm. The waves run high, but it is their duty to continue.

And they will continue. Not because they are sure of success, but
because it is their duty.







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