Infomotions, Inc.With Buller in Natal, Or, a Born Leader / Henty, G. A. (George Alfred), 1832-1902



Author: Henty, G. A. (George Alfred), 1832-1902
Title: With Buller in Natal, Or, a Born Leader
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): boers; chris; boer; captain brookfield; guns; maritzburg scouts; troops
Contributor(s): Nichols, Beverley, 1899-1983 [Editor]
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Title: With Buller in Natal
       A Born Leader

Author: G. A. Henty

Release Date: January, 2005 [EBook #7334]
[Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule]
[This file was first posted on April 15, 2003]

Edition: 10

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK WITH BULLER IN NATAL ***




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WITH BULLER IN NATAL


[Illustration: "CHRIS SPRANG AT HIM."]


WITH BULLER IN NATAL

OR, A BORN LEADER

BY

G. A. HENTY



PREFACE

It will be a long time before the story of the late war can be written
fully and impartially. Even among the narratives of those who witnessed
the engagements there are many differences and discrepancies, as is
necessarily the case when the men who write are in different parts of
the field. Until, then, the very meagre military despatches are
supplemented by much fuller details, anything like an accurate history
of the war would be impossible. I have, however, endeavoured to
reconcile the various narratives of the fighting in Natal, and to make
the account of the military occurrences as clear as possible.
Fortunately this is not a history, but a story, to which the war forms
the background, and, as is necessary in such a case, it is the heroes of
my tale, the little band of lads from Johannesburg, rather than the
leaders of the British troops, who are the most conspicuous characters
in the narrative. As these, although possessed of many admirable
qualities, had not the faculty of being at two places at once, I was
obliged to confine the action of the story to Natal. With the doings of
the main army I hope to deal next year.

G. A. HENTY



CONTENTS

I. THE BURSTING OF THE STORM

II. A TERRIBLE JOURNEY

III. AT THE FRONT

IV. DUNDEE

V. THE FIRST BATTLE

VI. ELANDSLAAGTE

VII. LADYSMITH BESIEGED

VIII. A DESPERATE PROJECT

IX. KOMATI-POORT

X. AN EXPLOSION

XI. BACK WITH THE ARMY

XII. THE BATTLE OF COLENSO

XIII. PRISONERS

XIV. SPION KOP

XV. SPION KOP

XVI. A COLONIST'S ADVENTURE

XVII. A RESCUE

XVIII. RAILWAY HILL

XIX. MAJUBA DAY

XX. LADYSMITH



ILLUSTRATIONS

"CHRIS SPRANG AT HIM"

CHRIS OFFERS HIS SERVICES TO SIR PENN SYMONS

CHRIS AND HIS COMPANIONS SCOUTING

"BOTH RIFLES CRACKED AT ONCE"

"THERE WAS A TREMENDOUS ROAR AND A BLINDING CRASH"

"WITH A SHOUT OF TRIUMPH THE TWO BOERS RAN DOWN"

"PRESENTLY FROM BEHIND THE FOOT OF THE HILL SIX HORSEMEN DASHED OUT"

THE NAVAL GUNS ON MOUNT ALICE

"ONE OF THE BOERS HELD UP HIS RIFLE WITH A WHITE FLAG TIED TO IT"

THE RELIEF OF LADYSMITH




[Illustration: SOUTH EASTERN AFRICA]

WITH BULLER IN NATAL




CHAPTER I

THE BURSTING OF THE STORM


A group of excited men were gathered in front of the Stock Exchange at
Johannesburg. It was evident that something altogether unusual had
happened. All wore anxious and angry expressions, but a few shook hands
with each other, as if the news that so much agitated them, although
painful, was yet welcome; and indeed this was so.

For months a war-cloud had hung over the town, but it had been thought
that it might pass over without bursting. None imagined that the blow
would come so suddenly, and when it fell it had all the force of a
complete surprise, although it had been so threatening for many weeks
that a considerable portion of the population had already fled. It was
true that great numbers of men, well armed, and with large numbers of
cannon, had been moving south, but negotiations were still going on and
might continue for some time yet; and now by the folly and arrogance of
one man the cloud had burst, and in thirty hours war would begin.

Similar though smaller groups were gathered here and there in the
streets. Parties of Boers from the country round rode up and down with
an air of insolent triumph, some of them shouting "We shall soon be rid
of you; in another month there will not be a rooinek left in South
Africa."

Those addressed paid no heed to the words. They had heard the same thing
over and over again for the past two months. There was a tightening of
the lips and a closing of the fingers as if on a sword or rifle, but no
one replied to the insolent taunts. For years it had been the hope of
the Uitlanders that this would come, and that there would be an end to a
position that was well-nigh intolerable. Never before had a large body
of intelligent men been kept in a state of abject subjection by an
inferior race, a race almost without even the elements of civilization,
ignorant and brutal beyond any existing white community, and superior
only in the fact that they were organized and armed, whereas those they
trampled upon were deficient in both these respects. Having no votes,
these were powerless to better their condition by the means common to
civilized communities throughout the world. They were ground down by an
enormous taxation, towards which the Boers themselves contributed
practically nothing, and the revenue drawn from them was spent in the
purchase of munitions of war, artillery, and fortifications, so
enormously beyond the needs of the country, that it was no secret that
they were intended not only for the defence of the republic against
invasion, but for a general rising of the Boer population and the
establishment of Dutch supremacy throughout the whole of South Africa.

The Boer government was corrupt from the highest to the lowest. The
president and the members of his family piled up wealth to an enormous
amount, and nothing could be done without wholesale bribery. The price
of everything connected with the mining industry was doubled by the
supply being in the hands of monopolists, who shared their gains with
high state officials. Money was lavished like water on what was called
secret service, in subsidizing newspapers to influence public opinion
throughout Europe, and, as it was strongly suspected, in carrying on a
propaganda among the Dutch in Cape Colony, and in securing the return of
members and a ministry secretly pledged to further in every way the aims
of the Presidents of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The
British and other aliens were not only deprived of all rights of
citizenship, but even freedom of speech and the right of public meeting
was denied them; they were not allowed to carry arms except by a special
license, their children were taught in Dutch in the schools, they had no
right of trial by jury; judges who had the courage to refuse to carry
out the illegal behests of the president were deprived of their offices,
and the few editors of newspapers representing the Uitlanders--as all
men not born in the state were called-were imprisoned and their journals
suppressed.

Intolerable as was such a state of things to a civilized community, it
might have been borne with some patience had it not been that the
insolence of their masters was unbounded. Every Boer seemed to take a
pleasure in neglecting no opportunity of showing his contempt for the
men whose enterprise and labour had enormously enriched the country, and
whose superior intelligence he was too grossly ignorant to appreciate. A
Boar farmer would refuse a cup of water to a passing traveller, and
would enforce his refusal by producing his rifle immediately if the
stranger ventured to urge his request. Of late the insolence of the
Boers had greatly increased; the manner in which England had, instead of
demanding justice with the sternness and determination that the
circumstances called for, permitted her remonstrances to be simply
ignored, was put down as a consciousness of weakness. And having now
collected arms sufficient not only for themselves but for the whole
Dutch population of South Africa, the Boers were convinced that their
hour of triumph had come, and that in a very short time their flag would
float over every public building throughout the country and the Union
Jack disappear for ever.

The long discussions that had been going on with regard to a five or
seven years' franchise were regarded with absolute indifference by the
Uitlanders--even the shorter time would have afforded them no advantage
whatever. The members from the mining districts would be in a hopeless
minority in the assembly; and indeed, very few of those entitled to a
vote would have cared to claim it, inasmuch as they would thereby render
themselves citizens of the republic, and be liable to be commandeered
and called upon to serve in arms, not only against the natives, upon
whom the Boers were always making aggressions, but against England, when
the war, which all foresaw could not long be delayed, broke out.

For months the negotiations went on between President Kruger and Mr.
Chamberlain, the British colonial minister, and the certainty that the
Boers were bent upon fighting became more and more evident. Vast
quantities of rifles, ammunition, and cannon poured into the Transvaal,
their passage being more than winked at by the Dutch ministry of Cape
Colony.

It was that day known that President Kruger had thrown off the mask of a
pretended desire for peace, and that an ultimatum had been telegraphed
to England couched in terms of such studied insolence that it was
certain war must ensue. The greatest civilized power on earth would have
shown less arrogance towards the most feeble. Not only was England
called upon to send no more troops to South Africa, but to withdraw most
of her forces already in the country, and this by a state that owed its
very existence to her, and whose total population was not more than that
of a small English county.

The terms of that ultimatum had just become known in Johannesburg, and
it was not surprising that it had created an intense excitement. All had
long felt that war must come, and that at an early date, but the step
that had now been taken came as a surprise. From all appearances it had
seemed that the negotiations might be continued for months yet before
the crisis arrived, and that it should thus have been forced on by the
wording of the ultimatum showed that the Boers were satisfied that their
preparations were complete, and that they were in a position to overrun
Natal and Cape Colony before any British force capable of withstanding
them could arrive. England, indeed, had been placed in a most difficult
position. The ministry were not unaware of the enormous preparations
that the Boers were making, and had for some time past been quietly
sending out a large number of officers and a few non-commissioned
officers and men to the Cape. But so long as there was a hope that the
Boers would finally grant some redress to the Uitlanders, they could not
despatch any considerable number of troops, for had they done so they
would have been accused not only on the Continent, but by a section of
Englishmen, of forcing on a war with a weak state, whereas in point of
fact the war was being forced on by a country that most erroneously
believed itself to be stronger than England. The Boers of the Transvaal
knew already that the Orange Free State would join them at once, and
believed firmly that every Dutchman in Natal and Cape Colony would at
the signal take up arms.

Presently a gentleman detached himself from the crowd in front of the
Exchange, and joined a lad of some sixteen years old who was standing on
the other side of the street.

"Well, father, is it all true what they say?" the latter asked--"that
Kruger has sent such an ultimatum to England that war is certain?"

"It is quite true, Chris; war is absolutely certain. Kruger has given
the British Government only two days to reply to the most insolent
demand ever addressed to a great power, and worded in the most offensive
manner. I imagine that no reply will be given; and as the ultimatum was
sent off yesterday, we shall to-morrow morning be in a state of war."

"Well, father, there is no doubt what the result will be."

"No doubt whatever as to the final result, but I am afraid things will
go very badly for a time. I am glad, very glad, that Kruger should have
sent such an ultimatum. It cannot but be accepted as a defiance by all
England; and I should say that even the opposition, which has of late
continually attacked Mr. Chamberlain, will now be silenced, and that
Government will be supported by all parties."

After a quarter of an hour's walk they arrived at home. It was a
handsome house, for Mr. King was one of the leading men in Johannesburg.
He had come out with a wife and son ten years before, being sent by some
London capitalists to report to them fully upon the prospects of the
gold-fields. Under his advice they had purchased several properties,
which had been brought out as companies, and proved extremely valuable.
He was himself a large holder in each of these, and acted as manager and
director of the group. "What is the news, Robert?" his wife asked, as he
and her son came in. "I have had three or four visitors in here, and
they all say that there is quite an excitement in the town."

"It has come at last," he said gravely; "war is inevitable, and will
begin in twenty-four hours. Kruger has sent one of the most
extraordinary demands ever drawn up. He calls upon England to cease
sending out troops, and to speedily recall most of those now in South
Africa, and has given two days for a reply, of which one has already
expired. As it is absolutely certain that England will not grant this
modest request, we may say that the war has begun. I wish now that I had
sent you and Chris down to Durban a fortnight ago, for there will be a
fearful rush, and judging by the attitude of the Boers, I fear they will
make the journey a very unpleasant one. As we have agreed, it is
absolutely necessary that I should remain here. There is no saying what
steps the Boers will take with reference to the mines; but it is certain
that we must, if possible, keep them going--not for the sake of the
profit, which you may be sure Kruger will not allow to go out of the
country, but because if they were to be stopped it would cost an immense
deal of money to put them in working condition again, especially if, as
is likely enough, the Boers damage the machinery. I shall do as little
work as I can; and the Boers will not, I fancy, interfere with us as
long as they can benefit by the working. For myself, I would risk any
loss or damage rather than aid in supplying them with gold, but for the
sake of our shareholders in Europe I must do my best to save the mines
from destruction. Indeed, if I don't work them, probably they will do so
until the end is at hand, and will then do as much damage as possible.
You know we have agreed on this point." "Yes, I suppose it is best,
Robert; but it seems terrible leaving you alone here, and I shall be in
a perpetual state of anxiety about you."

"I don't think there is any occasion for that; as long as I am working
the mines and they are taking the gold, which no doubt they will have to
repay when our army are masters here, they will not interfere with me.
They treat us badly enough, as we know; but they love the gold even more
than they hate us, so I have no fear whatever as to my personal safety.
I am afraid, dear, that for a time things will go very badly with us.
Already we know that commandos have gone forward in great strength to
the frontier, and I should not be surprised if the whole of South Africa
rises; at any rate, the Boers are confident that it will be so.
Gladstone's miserable surrender after our disasters at Laing's Nek and
Majuba have puffed them up with such an idea of their own fighting
powers and our weakness, that I believe they think they are going to
have almost a walk over. Still, though it was certain that we should
have a hard time whenever war came, we have been hoping for years that
England would at last interfere to obtain redress for us, and we must
not grumble now that what we have been so long expecting has at last
come to pass. I believe there will be some stern fighting. The Boers are
no cowards; courage is, indeed, as far as I know, the only virtue they
possess. In the long run they must certainly be beaten, but it will only
be after very hard fighting."

"What do you think they will do, father?"

"I can't say what they will do, but I am sure that what they ought to do
is to merely hold the passes from Natal with enough men for the purpose,
and to march their whole force, broken up into half a dozen columns,
into Cape Colony. There is no force there that could resist them, they
would be undoubtedly joined by every Dutchman there, and I am convinced
that the Africander ministry would at once declare for them, in which
case England would have to undertake the tremendous work of conquering
the whole of South Africa afresh, for certainly she could not allow it
to slip from her hands, even if it should prove as stern a business as
the conquering of half India after the Sepoy Mutiny. Now to business.
Fortunately we sent down your clothes and everything we had of value to
our friends the Wilsons, at Durban, six weeks ago. What you have
remaining you must leave behind to take its chance. You will be able to
take no luggage whatever with you. We know how terribly the trains have
been packed for the past fortnight, and a week ago almost all the
carriages were commandeered for the use of the troops going south.

"You must take with you a basket of provisions, sufficient, if
necessary, for two or three days for you both. There is no saying how
long you may be on your way to the frontier; once beyond that you will,
of course, be able to obtain anything you want. But you need expect no
civility or courtesy from the Boers, who, indeed, would feel a malicious
pleasure in shunting you off into a siding, and letting you wait there
for any number of hours. You must mind, Chris, above all things, to keep
your temper, whatever may happen. You know how our people have been
insulted, and actually maltreated in scores of cases, and in their
present state of excitement the Boers would be only too glad to find an
excuse for acts of violence. I was speaking to you about it three days
ago, and I cannot impress it too strongly upon you. I have already given
you permission to join one or other of the corps that are being raised
in Natal, and if anything unpleasant occurs on the road, you must bottle
up your feelings and wait till you get a rifle in your hand and stand on
equal terms with them."

"I promise that, father. I think, after what we have had to put up with
here, during the past two or three months especially, I can bear
anything for these last few days."

"Yes, Chris; but it will be more trying now that you have your mother
under your charge. It is for her sake as well as your own that I impress
this so strongly upon you. Now, will you go down at once to the railway-
station and enquire about the trains? I shall go myself to the manager
and see whether I can get him to make any special arrangement in your
mother's favour, though I have no great hopes of that; for though I know
him well, he is, like all these Dutchmen in office, an uncivilized brute
puffed up with his own importance."

Chris started at once, and returned an hour later with a very
discouraging report. The station was crowded with people. No regular
trains were running, but while he was there a large number of cattle-
trucks had been run up to the platform, and in these as many of the
fugitives as could be packed in were stowed away. As soon as this was
done the train had started, but not half the number collected on the
platform had found room in it. His father had left a few minutes after
him, and presently returned.

"From what I can hear," he said, "there is no chance whatever of your
being able to get any accommodation, but must take your chance with the
others. Viljoen told me that except the waggons there was not a carriage
of any sort or class left here, and that there was no saying at all when
any would return; but that even if they did, they would be taken for the
use of the troops going south. All he could say was that if, when I came
down to the station with you, he is there, he will see that you go by
the first waggons that leave."

"That is something at least," Mrs. King said quietly. "I certainly do
not wish to ask for any favour from these people, and do not want to be
better off than others. I have no doubt that it will be an unpleasant
time, but after all it will be nothing to what great numbers of people
will have to suffer during the war."

"That is so, Amy. And now I think that the sooner the start is made the
better. The rush to get away will increase every hour, and we shall have
the miners coming in in hundreds. Many of the mines will be shut down at
once, though some of them will, like ours, continue operations as long
as they are allowed to."

"Make your basket, or bag, or whatever you take your provisions in, as
small as possible, mother. I saw lots of baggage left behind on the
platform. You see, there are no seats to stow things under. I should say
that a flat box which you can sit on would be the best thing. And you
will want your warmest cloak and a thick rug for night."

"I have a box that will do very well, Chris. Fortunately we have plenty
of cold meat and bread in the house. I shall not be more than half an
hour, Robert."

In less than that time the party were ready. Chris's preparations had
been of the simplest. He carried over his arm a long, thick greatcoat,
in the pocket of which he had thrust a fur cap and two woollen
comforters. He had also a light but warm rug, for he thought it probable
that he might not be able to be next to his mother. He had on his usual
light tweed suit, but had in addition put on a cardigan waistcoat, which
he intended to take off when once in the train. In his pockets he had a
couple of packets of tobacco, for although he seldom smoked, he thought
that some of it might be very acceptable to his fellow-passengers before
the journey was over. He wore a light gray, broad-brimmed wide-awake,
with a white silk puggaree twisted round it, for the heat of the sun in
the middle of the day was already very great, and would be greater still
when they got down to Natal. The box, which a Kaffir servant put on his
shoulder, was about eight inches deep and a foot wide, and eighteen
inches long.

"What have you in it, mother?"

"Two tin bottles of cold tea, each holding a gallon."

"I should hardly have thought that we wanted as much as that."

"No; but there may be many women who have made no provision at all,
thinking that we shall at least be able to get water at any of the
stations we stop at. I have a small tin mug, and that joint of meat; the
rest of the box is filled up with bread-and-butter. I have cut it up and
spread it, so that it packs a good deal closer than it would do if we
put the loaves in whole."

Mr. King had his wife's thick-wadded winter cloak and a rug over his
arm, and a small hand-bag with a few necessaries for the journey. Mrs.
King was in her usual attire, and carried only a white umbrella.

"We look as if we were starting for a picnic rather than a journey that
will last three or four days," she said with an attempt at gaiety.
"There is one comfort, we shall have nothing to look after when we get
to the end."

Chris walked on ahead to let his father and mother talk together, for
although all arrangements had been discussed and settled during the past
two or three days, there was much they had to say to each other now that
the parting had come. The lad was a fine specimen of the young
Uitlander. A life passed largely in the open air, hard work and
exercise, had broadened his shoulders and made him look at least a year
older than he really was. He was a splendid rider and an excellent shot
with his rifle, for his father had obtained a permit from the
authorities for him to carry one, and he could bring down an antelope
when running at full speed as neatly as any of the young Boers. Four
days a week he had spent in the mines, for his father intended him to
follow in his footsteps, and he had worked by turns with the miners
below and the engineers on the surface, so that he might in the course
of a few years be thoroughly acquainted with all the details of his
profession.

The last two days in each week he had to himself, and with three or four
lads of his own age went for long rides in search of sport. A couple of
hours every evening were spent in study under his father's direction. He
was quiet in manner, and talked but little. He deeply resented the
position in which the British population in the Transvaal were placed,
the insolence of the Boers towards them, and their brutal cruelty
towards the natives. The restraint which he so often found it necessary
to exercise had had no slight influence on his character, and had given
a certain grim expression to the naturally bright face. Many had been
the discussions between him and his friends as to the prospect of
England's taking up their cause. Their disappointment had been intense
at the miserable failure of the Jameson raid, which, however, they felt,
and rightly, must some day have a good result, inasmuch as it had
brought out the wretched position of the Uitlanders, who, though forming
the majority of the population, and the source of all the wealth of the
country, and paying all the taxes, were yet treated as an outcast race,
and deprived of every right possessed by people of all civilized
nations.

They had wondered and fretted at the apathy with which the enormous
warlike preparations of the Boers were regarded at home, and the fact
that they were permitted to become a formidable power, capable of
offering a desperate resistance even by the armies of England; whereas,
before they had been enriched by the industry and enterprise of the
immigrants, they had been in danger of being altogether wiped out by the
Zulus and Swazis, and had only been saved by the interference on their
behalf of the British power. Thus, then, while the war-cloud had been
slowly but surely gathering, the lads had watched the approaching crisis
with delight, unmingled with the anxiety and foreboding of the
capitalists, who, without doubting what the end must be, were sure that
enormous losses and sacrifices must result before their deliverance from
Boer oppression could be obtained.

The scene at the station was an extraordinary one. Men, women, and
children of all ranks were crowded on the platform; the greater
capitalists, the men whose fortunes could be counted by hundreds of
thousands, had for the most part left, but many who in England would be
considered as rich men had remained in the town till the last moment, to
make their final arrangements and wind up their affairs. With these were
well-to-do storekeepers, with their wives and families, together with
mining officials, miners, and mechanics of all kinds. Piles of baggage
rendered movement difficult, for many had supposed that the regular
trains were still running, and that they would be able to carry away
with them the greater portion of their belongings. The scenes at the
departure of the previous trains roughly awakened them to the fact that
all this must be abandoned, and women were crying and men cursing below
their breath at this last evidence of Boer indifference to the
sufferings of those by whose work they had so greatly benefited. Mr.
King soon found that the manager was still there, but on speaking to him
he shrugged his shoulders, and said:

"I do not see what I can do. Look at the crowd there. When the waggons
come up there will be a rush, and I have no men here to keep such a
number in order."

"I see that, Mr. Viljoen, but if you would send a man with us to where
the waggons are standing in readiness to come up, my wife could take her
place then."

"Yes, I will do that at once. You had better go with her outside the
station, and the porter shall take you on from there. If you were to get
off the platform here and walk up the lines, others would notice it, and
there would be an immediate rush."

He called to one of the porters on the platform, and gave him
instructions, and in a few minutes Mrs. King was seated on her box in
the corner of a truck, which, with a few others, had a covered roof,
although it was entirely open at the sides. In the next half-hour eight
or ten others, who had been similarly favoured by the manager, joined
them. All these were known to the Kings, and it was a great relief to
them to find that they would travel together, instead of being mixed up
with the general crowd. They had packed themselves together as closely
as possible, so that when the train became crowded there should be no
room for anyone to push in among them. Among the party was John Cairns,
a great chum of Chris's. He and his father and mother had been waiting
for two hours at the station, and he told him that there were seven or
eight of their companions there.

"We will take our seats on that side," Chris said, "and as we move in
shout to them to join us. It will be a great thing to get as many people
we know in here as possible."

Presently the train began to move. Fortunately, at the spot where it
drew up, a group of their acquaintances were clustered together, and
these all managed to get into the truck, which was speedily filled up
until there was scarce standing-room. Three minutes later the train
moved on. A great number were left behind, although everyone made as
much room as possible, women especially being helped in after the trucks
seemed absolutely choke-full. As soon as the train was fairly in motion
many of the men climbed up on to the roofs of the covered waggons,
thereby relieving the pressure below, and enabling all the women to sit
down. Others ranged themselves along the sides, sitting on the rail, and
so minimizing the space they occupied. But even with all this, the women
were packed inconveniently together. All, however, were so much pleased
at their good fortune in having got away that there was no complaining
or grumbling. That the journey would be a long one, all knew; but at
least they had started, and would soon be a free people in a free
country. Chris and his friends had been among the first to climb up on
to the roof, and they sat down in a group at one end of it.

"It is going to be pretty cold here to-night, and desperately hot to-
morrow," Chris said; "but we can put up with that. I would stand it for
a month rather than stop any longer among these brutes." There was a
general murmur of agreement.

"Thank heavens," one of them said, "the next time we meet them will be
with arms in our hands. We have a long score to pay off, and we shall, I
expect, have plenty of chances. The Boers are boasting that they will
soon drive the last Englishman out of South Africa, and seem to regard
it as a sort of general picnic. They will find out their mistake before
they have done."

"Still, we must not think that it is going to be a picnic our way,"
Chris said. "They have quite made up their minds that every Boer in Cape
Colony and Natal will join them at once. If they do, it will be a very
long business to put them down, though I have no doubt it will all come
right in the end. Do you know anything about the others?"

"I know that Peters and Carmichael and Brown went off with their people
last night, but I don't know about the others."

"Capper and Willesden and Horrocks went yesterday," another lad said.
"Sankey and Holdsworth were on the platform, and no doubt got into
another truck.

"There are seven of us here," Chris said, "and as six have gone on, that
makes thirteen certain, and there are eight more to come. Most of us
will stop at Pietermaritzburg, but I suppose some, whose friends are
going straight home, will go down with them to Durban."

"There will not be many who have to do so," another said. "Sankey's
people and Carmichael's are going to Cape Town, but, so far as I know,
all the others will stay and see it out either at Maritzburg or Durban.
Do you think that we should take any others with us, Chris?"

"I don't think so. You see we all know each other, and it would be a
nuisance having fellows with us of whom we know nothing. They might not
pull with us, while we have been so much together that there is no fear
of our having any disagreement. I think we have all pretty well settled
that it will be much better to act by ourselves, instead of joining any
of the corps that are sure to be formed down there. Still, if we knew
one of the men getting up a corps--and some of our people are pretty
sure to do so--I do think it would be a good plan to join, if they would
accept us as a sort of independent troop, ready to act with them when
there is any big fighting, and to go about on our own account at other
times. You see, none of us will want any pay. We shall all furnish our
own horses and arms, and shall therefore be on a different footing from
men who have to draw pay and be equipped at the public expense; and I
don't see why any officer commanding a troop in one of these corps
should object to our joining him on those terms. But anyhow, I feel sure
that we should be able to do a great deal more good by being free to
move where we liked, and to undertake expeditions on our own account,
than if we were to act in a more regular manner."

There was a general chorus of agreement.

"Now, how long do you think it will be before we cross Laing's Nek? Of
course we ought to be there by to-morrow morning. It is only a hundred
and fifty miles, and at fifteen miles an hour, which is about their
usual rate of travelling, we should cross the frontier at two o'clock,
for it was about four when we started. But there is no saying. My father
thought we ought to take four days' provisions with us; I think we could
hold out for that time."

"You don't mean to say, Chris, he thought it possible we might be as
long as that?" "He did think so, Peters. He considered that we might be
shunted off very often to let trains with men and stores for the troops
go on ahead of us."

"Well," the other replied, "I don't care so much for myself, though I
don't say that it would be lively to be stuck up here for four days and
nights, but it would be awful for the women; and I should say that very
few of them have got more than enough provisions for a day. Still, of
course, if we are shunted at a station we shall be able to buy things."

"I am not so sure of that," Chris said. "You know what the Boers are at
their best; and now that they believe the time has arrived when they are
going to be the absolute lords of all South Africa, they are so puffed
up that there is no saying what they may do to show their hatred and
contempt for us. And whatever happens, you fellows, you must keep your
temper. My father spoke to me very strongly about it. You must remember
that they will not mind what they do, and would shoot any of us down on
the smallest excuse, knowing well enough that we are helpless, and that
it is unlikely any enquiry would ever be made, or anyone punished even
if they shot a dozen of us. We must remember that we intend to pay off
old scores later on, and that we mean to do it with interest."




CHAPTER II

A TERRIBLE JOURNEY


Twenty-four hours had gone, and not half the distance had yet been
covered. The night had passed painfully to all those in the waggons, for
though most of the women had provided themselves with wraps of one sort
or another, the cold was severe. This, however, was less felt than the
cramped position in which all had to sit on the floor, unable to move or
to stretch their legs, the only change obtainable being by standing up.
The pressure was most felt in the open waggons, where the men as well as
the women were packed together so closely that even sitting down was
impossible. Some slight relief had been afforded by the men on the
covered waggons taking as many from the uncovered trucks as could lie
down there with them; but as the latter were by far the more numerous, a
comparatively small number of men could be so entertained.

For a time the rising of the sun afforded some relief, but as it gained
in power the position of the fugitives became almost unbearable. The
stoppages were frequent, and at all the stations the Boers from the
neighbourhood had assembled, some from curiosity, but the majority to
wait for the trains that were to take them to the front. Although
sometimes detained for three or four hours, the passengers were not
allowed to alight. The men, indeed, at times, by common impulse, sprang
out, but were soon forced to take their places again, some of the Boers
using their heavy whips over their heads and shoulders, while others
with pointed guns prevented any attempt at retaliation. Men, and even
women, crowded the platform, jeering and cursing those in the waggons,
menacing them with their whips and snatching at such trinkets, and even
cloaks as took their fancy. The men were all several times searched for
weapons, and made to turn their pockets inside out, the contents being
unceremoniously transferred to those of the Boers. Chris and his
companions would have taken their places below with their friends, but
these implored them not to do so, being afraid that they would be
enraged beyond endurance, and might in their anger say or do something
that would give an excuse to the Boers to use their rifles, which they
so often pointed threateningly at women as well as men. It was only when
the train was in motion that food and drink were passed up from below,
as these too would assuredly, had they been seen, have been confiscated
by the brutal tormentors.

When they steamed into Standerton in the afternoon, the distress of the
women and children for water was so great that men determined at all
costs to endeavour to get some for them. As if by one impulse, when the
train came to a standstill outside the station, they jumped out and made
for the little village. But here all refused to give or sell them water
or food, and in a few minutes a large party of Boers rode in, and
falling upon them with their whips, drove them back to the train. Had
they been armed the men would assuredly have resisted till the last,
although certain to be killed, so mad were they with passion. As it was,
it would have been throwing away their lives, without a chance of even
avenging themselves on their assailants. As they reached the waggons and
climbed into their places again, several had broad blue weals across
their faces, while many more were smarting from the cuts they had
received on the body. Chris and his companions had got out when the
others did so, but had not followed them. Their supply of water and cold
tea was not yet exhausted, as most of the ladies had made preparations
for a journey of two or three days, and Mrs. King and the mothers of the
other lads begged them not to go.

"The Boers are only waiting for an excuse to use their firearms," Mrs.
King said, "and whatever happens you had better stay here. You can do no
good by going." So, reluctantly, they had again taken their places on
the roofs of the carriages, and sat there with their pulses beating and
their fists clenched as they heard the shouts and the cracking of the
heavy whips in the village, and presently saw the men running back,
pursued by their cowardly assailants. Two or three of the lads were so
enraged at the sight that they would have jumped down had not Chris laid
a restraining hand on them.

"Wait your time," he said in a hard voice. "We can't repay them now, but
we will remember this when our turn comes."

The Boers, as they rode up, leapt from their horses, and with shouts of
exultation walked along the waggons, striking at the men, hurling every
epithet of contempt and hatred at them, and even spitting at them. Many
of the women were also struck as well as being grossly insulted.

"And these scoundrels call themselves Christian men, and their friends
speak of them as simple pious farmers! I call them, both from their
appearance and their actions, as unmitigated a set of ruffians as are to
be found on the face of the globe," Cairns exclaimed passionately.

They were indeed as unsavoury in appearance as they were brutal in
manner. Water is scarce in the Transvaal, and is used most sparingly for
all purposes of cleanliness. The Boer sleeps in his clothes, gives
himself a shake when he gets up, and his toilet is completed, unless on
very exceptional occasions when he goes outside the door to the water-
cask, fills his hands with water, and rubs them over his face.

Four times in the year, however, the Boers indulge in a general wash
before starting with their wives and families for four or five days'
stay at the nearest town to attend the services of the church and to do
their quarter's marketing. In dress the Boer is almost universally
slovenly, his clothes hang about him stained and discoloured by long
usage. In the majority of cases he is altogether without education, and
very many Boers are scarcely able to sign their names. Most of them wear
beards and long unkempt hair. But in point of physique they are fine
men, tall and powerfully, though loosely, built, but capable of standing
great fatigue if necessary, although averse to all exercise save on
horseback. All are taught to shoot from boyhood, and even the women in
the country districts are trained in the use of firearms, for it is not
so long since they lived in dread of incursions by the Zulus and Swazis.

There was no attempt whatever at uniformity of dress. Most of the men
wore high riding boots. Some of the young men from the towns were in
tweed suits, the vast majority wore either shooting jackets or long
loose coats; some were in straw hats, but the elder men all wore large
felt hats with wide brims. They were all, however, similarly armed with
rifles of the best and most modern construction. Their general
appearance was that of a large band of farmers of the roughest type and
wholly without regard for their personal appearance.

It was fully an hour before the train moved again. Then it was shunted
on to a siding while the Boers entrained with their horses on a long
line of waggons which had just come up, and which started on its way
south as soon as they were on board. Then the emigrant tram crawled on
again. There was another night of wretchedness, and in the morning they
arrived at Volksrust, the frontier town. Here they were again closely
searched for arms, and what provisions remained among them were
commandeered, or as the emigrants called it, stolen. However, they knew
that their troubles were now nearly over, and did not grumble when they
were informed that the train would go no farther, and that they must
make their way on foot to Newcastle.

They were told tauntingly that they might find some of their friends
there if they had not already run away, and that if they stopped at
Pietermaritzburg for a week they would have another journey down to
Durban as prisoners. All were too glad to get out of the clutches of the
Boers to utter complaints which they knew would be useless, and they
went off at once. The prospect was not, however, a pleasant one.
Newcastle was nearly thirty miles away, but they hoped that at least
they might obtain shelter and rest and food for the women at some of the
scattered farms. At first their progress was slow, for after being for
more than two days and a half packed up like cattle, they had almost
lost the use of their limbs; but gradually the pace was accelerated. Men
took the little children on their shoulders, others helped the women
along. Charlestown, on the British side of the frontier, was already
occupied by the Boers, who hooted and abused them as they passed
through. At Laing's Nek there was a Dutch commando with some guns.

Two miles on the women could go no further, and they halted at a large
farmhouse which had been deserted by its owners. All the men, however,
who were alone, determined to push on at once to Newcastle, and promised
they would send vehicles of some sort to take them on if they could
possibly be obtained. Mrs. King and the other ladies authorized them to
pay any sums demanded.

Thankful indeed were the tired women when they reached the farmhouse.
They found the doors unfastened, as the farmer knew that were he to lock
them the Boers would certainly batter them in when they arrived, and
would probably do greater damage to the furniture left behind than if
they had obtained an entry without trouble. The men soon found the wood-
shed, and in a short time great fires blazed in every room. The bedding
had been carried away, but utterly worn out as they were, the women were
only too glad to lie down on rugs and cover themselves with their
cloaks. The men gathered in the lower room and talked for some time
before thinking of going to sleep. There was scarce one who was not
determined to join one of the volunteer corps being raised at Durban and
Maritzburg, and to avenge the insults and ill-treatment to which they
had been subjected. The long-smouldering animosity towards the Boers had
been fanned during the past three days into a fierce fire, and even
those who had not before thought of taking part in the struggle were now
as eager as the others to do so.

In the morning all were astir early. Had they been supplied with food
they would have waited until waggons came out from Newcastle, but these
could hardly arrive until evening, and at any moment the Boer advance
might commence. They therefore determined to move on early, for if they
met the waggons half-way these could return with them at once to the
town. It was desirable to start as soon as possible so as to get well on
the way before the heat of the day was at its fullest. Accordingly by
six all were in movement. The long night's rest had done them good,
still more so the thought that by the end of the day they would be among
friends, and they were disposed to laugh and joke over their present
situation. All the men had cut themselves heavy cudgels from the stock
of firewood, and the fact that they were not as before wholly
defenceless was no slight gratification to them. Even the ladies spoke
confidently of being able to walk the twenty miles to Newcastle should
they not meet vehicles coming to fetch them. They could go ten miles now
and then halt till the sun was setting, and after such a long rest could
certainly go on to Newcastle.

"I am afraid, mother," Chris said as they started, "that what seems so
easy now will be too much for many of the women. We started without
breakfast, and unless we can get something by the way I doubt if many
will reach the town to-night. Of course for the men it is nothing. Very
often when I have been out on the veldt and have started early, I have
had nothing till I got back late in the evening. What are you wearing
that veil for, mother? I saw that you pulled it down over your face
yesterday afternoon. I suppose you did it to keep the dust out of your
eyes, but there is none now."

"I had a reason for doing it, but I can put it up now."

She lifted the white veil to its usual place round her hat; as she did
so, Chris uttered a sharp exclamation as his eye fell on a bluish-red
mark across her face.

"You don't mean to say, mother," he said in a tone of horror, "that one
of those scoundrels struck you?"

"They struck a good many of us, Chris, and there was no reason why I
should escape more than another."

The lad's face grew white.

"Why did you not call out? I would have--"

"I know you would," she interrupted gently, "and so of course I did not
cry out. You had all had enough to try you to the utmost, and I was not
going to risk your life by letting you know what had happened. It
flashed across me at once that if you had seen it happen you would have
been down from the roof in an instant and struck the man. Had you done
so, your fate would have been sealed, you would have had half a dozen
bullets in your body; therefore, I simply dropped my veil, and I can
assure you that the smart of the Boer's sjambok gave me less pain when I
felt that you knew nothing of it."

Chris walked along silently for a minute or two; then he said quietly:
"Thank you, mother. I am sure it would have been as you said. I could
not have helped it. No one could see his mother struck without
interfering."

"I can understand that, dear; but it would have been a poor consolation
for me had you been killed in endeavouring to right a wrong that I could
very well put up with, and shall forget in a week."

"I suppose so, mother. I should not so much mind if I only knew the
fellow's name, or even knew him by sight, so that I might possibly have
the chance some day of settling accounts with him."

They walked on until eight o'clock, and then rested under the shade of
some rocks. Fortunately there had been some rain two days before, and
they had been able to quench their thirst at a little stream that came
down from the hills. There were in all some thirty women and eighteen
men.

"Look here, Harris," Chris said, "there is a farmhouse over there, and
as I see cattle and horses, it evidently is not deserted. Let us go and
see if we can get some bread and some milk for the women."

"All right!"

The other lads were quite ready to go also, and they walked across to
the house, which stood some half a mile away. As they approached it a
Boer came out. On seeing them he re-entered it, and appeared again with
a rifle.

"I am afraid we shall get nothing here," Harris said. "The Dutchmen in
Natal are only waiting for the Boers to advance to join them."

"Well, we will try anyhow," Chris said doggedly. "I dare say that you
are right; but Boer or no Boer, if there is any food in that house I
mean to get it."

They went quietly on. When they were within fifty yards the Boer shouted
to them to go back.

"We have some women and children with us," Chris replied, continuing to
advance. "They are exhausted from want of food and fatigue, and we have
come to ask for some bread, and if you have it in the house, some milk."

"If the house was full of both you should not have a crumb of bread or a
drop of milk. Halt! I say, or I will put a bullet into you."

Chris did not heed the command.

"We have plenty of money to pay you, and are willing to give ten times
its fair price."

He was now within ten yards of the farmer. The latter burst into a
torrent of abuse, and was in the act of raising his rifle when Chris
sprang at him. The Boer, who had no idea that this lad would venture to
attack him, discharged his rifle almost at random, and the ball passed
through the brim of Chris's hat. An instant later his heavy stick fell
on the Boer's head, and levelled him to the ground.

"Now, Harris," he shouted, "do you and the others go into the house, and
first of all bring me out one of these fellows' whips. Cairns, pick up
his rifle, and reload it. Sankey, do you and the others keep guard at
the door, and don't let those viragoes out"--for three women had just
appeared, and were cursing with a fluency that Billingsgate would have
envied.

Harris had already come out with a heavy whip by the time Cairns had
reloaded. Chris took it and said to the Boer, who, in view of the
formidable sticks the lads carried, had thought it best to lie quiet;

"Now you can get up, you hulking ruffian. I am going to give you a
lesson in civility. Oh, you won't get up? Well, it will make no
difference to me," and he proceeded to give the howling Boer a
tremendous thrashing. "There," he said, when his arm was tired, "you may
get up and go, and I hope that the lesson will do you good. Now, Cairns,
we will search the house. It is likely enough he has a lot of rifles
hidden somewhere, and perhaps when we have gone he may go and fetch some
more of his class. We may as well possess ourselves of them."

The seven lads went into the house, paying no further attention to the
Boer. In spite of the fury of the women, they searched the house
thoroughly, and in a large case in a disused room they found twelve
Mauser rifles, with a thousand cartridges. They then took a basket and
filled it with bread, and emptied the milk from two large pans into a
pail.

"We are not thieves and robbers, like your people," Chris said to the
women, as he threw five shillings on the table. "Your man has been good
enough to tell us that he will be in Maritzburg with the Boers in a
week's time. Therefore, as war has been declared, the muskets are lawful
spoil taken from a rebel. Now, boys, let's be off."

The cartridges were divided among them; then, with the thirteen guns,
the basket, and pail, they started to rejoin their friends. "Well, that
is a fair capture to begin with," Chris said. "As far as we are
concerned, the war has begun. The Boer has made off, I see. I should not
be surprised if we hear of him and some of his friends again. However,
now we are well armed they can come as soon as they like."

Great was the joy among the women and children when they returned with
the much-needed refreshment.

"I was getting very anxious about you, Chris," his mother said. "We
heard the man fire. But where have you got all these rifles from?"

"The owner of the farm is a Boer, mother, and as he told us, a rebel. As
he began the affair by putting a bullet through my hat, and abusing us
and our nation heartily, we took the liberty of searching his house,
with good success. I need not say that he did not give us this bread and
the pail of milk of his own free-will, but I left the money for them."

His mother had turned pale when he said that a bullet had gone through
his hat, but she said nothing.

"What became of the man?" she asked. "You did not kill him, I hope?"

"No, mother; I contented myself with thrashing him with one of his own
whips until my arm ached."

There was enough bread for all to have a slice. The women and children
had as much milk as they could drink, the rest was divided among the
men. The extra rifles were given to those who could best use them. In
half an hour the women said that they were ready to go on again, and
that they would rather do that than wait, for they greatly feared that
the Boer might gather some of his friends and attack them. Feeling
greatly strengthened and refreshed, they started at a good pace. They
had gone about a mile when Sankey said to Chris:

"Look, there is a party of mounted men across the valley."

"Then we had better plant ourselves among the rocks, and let the unarmed
men go on with the women and children, and take shelter a bit farther
on. I don't suppose they will venture to attack us when they find, to
their disgust, that we are armed with as good rifles as their own. They
have a great respect for their lives."

Accordingly the seven lads and the six men with rifles at once took up a
position among the rocks. The rest of the party went forward two hundred
yards and then took shelter also. The Boers, feeling certain that the
party was unarmed, did not trouble themselves to open fire at a
distance, but rode forward in a clump at full gallop.

"They are about a thousand yards away now," one of the men said. "We may
as well give them a volley."

The thirteen rifles flashed out almost simultaneously. There were, as
they had counted, sixteen Boers. Five horses fell, three others galloped
off riderless, and the party broke up and rode off at full speed in
various directions.

"I don't think we need trouble any more about them," said Sankey's
father, who, was one of the party, as he rose to his feet. "You may be
sure that several of those who got away carried bullets somewhere about
them."

As they turned to rejoin their friends there was a general exclamation
of satisfaction, for two large waggons were seen coming along the road.
In ten minutes the women and children, with all the older men, were
comfortably seated and on their way to Newcastle. Chris and his party
accompanied them on foot so as to form a rear-guard. "We have won our
first battle," Chris laughed.

"But for you there would not have been any battle at all," Field said.
"I don't think any of us would have gone forward after that fellow
warned us back had you not done so."

"I was determined to get some milk for the children," Chris said, "and
would have gone forward even if I had been alone. I don't think I ever
felt such a satisfaction as I did in thrashing that Boer. One of them
struck my mother across the face, you know, in the train, and though it
was not the same man, I feel better now that I have taken it out of
someone."

At Newcastle they found a small British force, and learned that there
were four or five thousand troops at Dundee. Trains were still running,
and after only an hour's delay at Newcastle to obtain a meal, the whole
party went on. Late that evening they arrived at Colenso. Mrs. King and
the ladies and gentlemen of the party had decided to sleep there, but
hearing on the road that the little town was crowded with fugitives from
the Transvaal and the farms near the frontier, they determined to
continue the journey to the capital, which they reached the next
morning. The lads had quite decided upon their course before starting,
and had arranged with their parents to remain at Maritzburg. The general
opinion was that the British force at the front could not possibly
maintain itself, but that as soon as the invasion began in force they
must fall back, as the Transvaal Boers would be able to attack them in
front and on the right flank, while the Free Staters would pour down
through Van Reenen and De Beers Passes and make straight for Ladysmith,
and so threaten their line of retreat.

There were a few indeed who still believed that the Boers would stand
entirely upon the defensive so far as Natal went. They would occupy the
formidable passes through the Drakensberg and await attack there, while
they would invade Cape Colony at many points and raise the Boer
population. However, the general opinion was that they would advance
into Natal in great force, and in that case it was doubtful, indeed,
whether Sir George White could oppose them successfully north of
Maritzburg. He might even, it was thought, be obliged to fall back to
Durban until reinforcements arrived from England. Already there was a
rush to the offices that had been opened for the volunteer corps. Many
of the fugitives from the Transvaal had joined, as had most of the young
farmers who had been obliged by the hostility of their Dutch neighbours
to abandon their homes in the north of Natal, while numbers of all ranks
in Maritzburg, Durban, and other towns were giving in their names. All
the lads who had come down with Chris had some time before obtained
their parents' consent to join a volunteer corps, or form one among
themselves, and as it was evident that the crisis was at hand no
objections were raised to their doing so at once. Mrs. King would go
down to Durban with her friends, so that there was no need for her son
to accompany her.

It had been agreed by the other lads that they would all meet at ten
o'clock at the hotel where Chris put up, and the party mustered in
greater strength than had been expected, for they found that the boys
who had preceded them had all waited in the town, and were stopping at
the various hotels. They too had been as badly treated by the Boers as
the last arrivals, and were all eager to begin work.

"There is no getting a private room here," Chris said, "so we had better
go outside the town and talk things over." As they went they chatted
over their adventures on the road, and great satisfaction was felt among
those who had not been present on hearing how Chris had thrashed the
Boer, and had gone tip to him in spite of his threat to shoot. At their
last meeting at Johannesburg they had elected him their captain, but he
had at the time refused to accept the post, saying that it would be
wiser to decide that afterwards, as one of the others might show himself
better fitted for the position. However, their first step when they sat
down by the bank of the little river outside the town was to again elect
him by acclamation.

"Very well," he said, "as you all wish it I will accept the post. I
suppose we are well provided with funds. Our fathers all said they would
find our outfit, and money enough for all expenses." There was a general
assent. "Well, we start better than we had expected, for we have
thirteen rifles: twelve of them are Mausers, the other we will sell; so
we shall have to buy nine others. That had better be done this morning,
for we may be sure that there will be a rush to the gunsmiths' shops. In
the next place we must each buy a saddle and saddlery. We have agreed
that we will not have any approach to uniform; because, as we all speak
Dutch, we shall be able to pass unobserved, if necessary, among them.
But I have been thinking it over, and it seems to me that if we have
nothing of the sort we shall run the risk of being shot by our own men."

"What are we to do, then, Chris?"

"I think that we had better get flat caps, like the fatigue caps our
soldiers wear. They can be carried in our pockets inside our shirts when
we are in the neighbourhood of the Boers, and when we are riding
anywhere near our own troops we can put them on instead of our felt
hats. It would alter our appearance altogether when riding in groups,
and even at a distance we could hardly be taken for Boers."

All agreed that it would be an excellent plan.

"We shall, of course, have bandoliers for our cartridges, and haversacks
for our provisions and spare packets of ammunition. Not an hour must be
lost in getting these things. I hear that Captain Brookfield, who came
up to Johannesburg last year and stayed a fortnight with us, has raised
a corps, which he has named the Maritzburg Scouts. I will call upon him
this afternoon and tell him that there are one-and-twenty of us, all
somewhere about my age, and that we mean fighting; and that as we all
speak Dutch we think we can do more good by scouting about on our own
account than by joining any regular corps; but that at the same time we
should like, if there was anything like regular fighting, to place
ourselves under the orders of an officer like himself. It is rather
difficult to explain, you know, but I think he will understand what we
mean. We should be, in fact, a section of his troop, acting generally on
independent service, either scouting, or going in among the Boers and
getting intelligence, trying to blow up bridges, and engaging looting
parties--for we may be sure that the Boers will be scattering all over
the country plundering.

"Of course I shall say, if he won't accept us on those terms, we shall
do as we best can on our own account; but that as we don't require pay,
and will provide ourselves with all necessaries, we do not see that we
should be any burden when we join him. I propose that we meet here again
this afternoon, and I hope that by that time we shall all have got our
mounts and saddlery. I hear that many of the loyal farmers north have
driven their animals down here, and are only too glad to sell the horses
at the usual prices. Mind, the clothes we have now won't do; we must get
them of farmer fashion. Don't go together to any shop, but let each
choose for himself; we don't want anything like uniformity of pattern.
The stuff must be strong. We shall each want a couple of blankets; one
of these, with a slit cut in the middle to slip over the head, will
serve as a greatcoat. Now, let us be off! To save trouble, I should say
that we had each better put a certain sum, say twenty pounds, to go into
a fund for general expenditure--food and ammunition, and that sort of
thing--into one of the banks, and we can draw upon that as we require
it."

"I should say, Chris," Sankey said, "that we had better put all our
money into the fund. Our people are all going to pay for our outfit, and
you know they have agreed to give us a hundred pounds each to last us
through the war. It is of no use carrying money about with us. I think
we should agree to pay it all into the common fund, and that at the end
of the business what remains is to be divided among those of us who go
through it."

"I think that is a good plan, Sankey. Certainly we cannot all expect to
come out alive, and that arrangement will save all trouble about money."

On going back into the town they learned that a large farmer had
encamped two miles away, with a big drove of cattle and a couple of
hundred horses, many of which were fine animals, and it was agreed at
once that Sankey, Carmichael, and Peters should hire a buggy and drive
over there and choose twenty-one good horses. Harris and Field undertook
the purchase of the rifles, and Chris went to the office which Captain
Brookfield, who had been an officer in the English army had taken. He
had sent in his name, and was at once shown in.

"Well, Chris," he said cordially as he entered, "I am glad to see you.
You have grown and widened out a good deal since last year. I suppose
your father and mother have both come down with you?"

"My mother has come down, sir, but my father thought that he ought to
remain behind to look after the mines."

"Have you come here to enlist?"

"Not exactly, sir, and yet I have to a certain extent;" and he told the
officer of the little corps that had been formed among his companions at
Johannesburg.

"A very good idea. Speaking Dutch, as you say they all do, they ought to
do good service as scouts. But why have you come to me?"

This Chris explained.

The captain laughed. "I suppose the fact is, Chris, you think that you
will be able to see and do more if you are altogether independent of
other people's orders."

"Perhaps that is it, sir; but if there is any cavalry fighting we should
much rather be under orders. Such a small corps would look ridiculous
marching out by itself."

"Well, I don't see any reason why you should not carry out your plan. It
would certainly be better that you should have some--what I may call--
official sanction. All the men in our corps are paid five shillings a
day, and as your troop would serve under different conditions, you can
to a certain extent dictate your own terms. I will, if you like, accept
you as an independent corps, attached to my command when with me, but at
other times free to scout and to act as you choose; but mind, I cannot
be responsible for any scrape that you get into. You might call
yourselves the Johannesburg section of the Maritzburg Scouts,
maintaining yourselves at your own expense, and drawing neither pay nor
rations."

"Thank you very much, sir; that is just what we want."

"Then, if you will bring your companions here this evening, I will swear
you in. I shall administer a different oath to you from that which the
others take, and merely pledge you, when under my orders, to obey them,
with permission to withdraw from the corps when you choose. And indeed,
receiving no pay or assistance from government, you would naturally be
free to do so."

Leaving Captain Brookfield, Chris went and bought his clothes, bandolier
and belt, and saddlery, and then returned to the hotel and told his
mother how he had got on, and that a horse and rifle would, he hoped, be
obtained that afternoon.

"It seems to me a terribly dangerous business, Chris; but as your father
agreed to it, of course I need say no more. I have a cheque for five
hundred pounds for my expenses and yours."

"Father gave me a hundred before I started, mother; that will more than
pay for my outfit. I don't know what we shall do for the horses, but
there will certainly not be much over."

"Yes, I know, Chris; and he told me to hand you over another hundred
when I went to the bank, which I shall do this afternoon."




CHAPTER III

AT THE FRONT


At five o'clock the lads from Johannesburg again met and reported the
result of the afternoon's work. The nine Mauser rifles had been bought,
and six thousand rounds of ammunition had been purchased. This appeared
an excessive amount, but as there might be a difficulty in obtaining
this ammunition, they bought up all that could be found in the town.
Peters and his party had chosen the horses for the troop. The farmer was
a well-known breeder of good stock, and was glad to dispose of some of
them at a fair price in order to lessen their number. He had already had
several enquiries from corps that were being raised, but the prices were
higher than could be paid for ordinary troopers, though several had been
bought by officers. The lot the lads had picked out had been put aside,
and they had given the farmer fifty pounds earnest-money, to hold them
till the next morning.

"They are as good a looking lot of horses as I ever saw," Peters said,
"in fact, by a long way the best. I always heard that he was one of the
largest breeders of good horses in South Africa. He had eight or ten
extraordinarily good ones, but, of course, he wanted extra prices for
these; but from the rest--and he has some three hundred of them--he let
us choose any we liked at one price, and I think I can say that we shall
be as well mounted a corps as any out here. Of course we avoided the
showy-looking horses, and chose those specially suited to the country
and likely to be fast. Mr. Duncan had several thoroughbreds from home,
and there is no doubt that his stock has benefited by it; they are all
of the country type, sturdy and compact, and yet somewhat finer in the
limb than any I ever saw in the Transvaal. We were delighted with them."

All the lads were accustomed from childhood to horses, but those Chris
had selected as the committee of inspection were admitted by their
friends to be the best judges of horseflesh in the party, their fathers
being wealthy men who always bought the finest horses money could
obtain.

"We will go over in a body to-morrow," Chris said, "and pay for them and
bring them back. We are lucky indeed to have got hold of such a good
lot. Are they pretty even animals, Peters?"

"Yes, I really don't think there is anything to choose between them."

"Well then, the fair way will be, to make one-and-twenty tickets with as
many numbers and fasten one to the mane of each horse, then we will put
another twenty-one numbers into a hat and draw them; in that way
everyone will be satisfied. Those of you who have not got their money
from their people had better ask them for it this evening, so that we
can settle up to-morrow for the horses and rifles and ammunition. The
hundred pounds we have each been promised will well cover all our
expenses up to the moment we start, and I should think leave us with
something like twenty pounds apiece in pocket, but all we have and the
other hundred for future expenses we had better put into the bank here
to-morrow. We must arrange for four of us to sign cheques, each cheque
to be signed by two, but we had better give them all our signatures so
that in case what we can call the finance committee of four are all
killed or taken prisoners there will be no bother about having fresh
signatures to arrange about." "Well," Sankey said, "we might as well
settle that at once. I propose that Field, Carmichael, Capper, and, of
course, you form the committee." As no amendment was offered, this was
at once agreed to.

"What time did you say that we would come over to fetch the horses?"

"About ten o'clock."

"Well, will you all be at my hotel to-morrow at half-past eight with
your money? Then we will all sign our names on paper the committee
first; afterwards they shall go with me to the bank and pay all the
money in, give them the list of signatures, and tell them that until
further notice two of the four first names will sign the cheques, but
that should circumstances prevent any two of them being able to do so,
others will sign instead. The account had better stand as the
Johannesburg Scouts. When we have arranged that we will hire a couple of
light waggons and start. Have you all got your saddlery?"

"Yes."

"Well, we will take it with us, and then we can ride the horses back. I
will get the tickets made out."

As soon as the bank opened in the morning, Chris and his three
companions presented themselves, and had an interview with the manager,
who was somewhat surprised when twenty-one cheques and cash to the
amount of three thousand five hundred pounds were handed in, each member
having deducted the amount paid for saddlery and clothes. "We wish the
account to stand in the name of the Johannesburg Scouts, and cheques
will be signed by two of the four names standing first on this list; but
as casualties may occur, you will please accept any of these signatures.
Our little corps will form part of the Maritzburg Scouts, but in money
matters we keep to ourselves, being all volunteers serving without pay."

The manager ran his eye over the cheques. All the names were well known
to him as those of prominent men at Johannesburg, and the great majority
had already accounts at his bank, as all had some time previously made
arrangements for drawing money in case of necessity.

"I suppose, Mr. King," he said, "that as you and your friends represent
the corps, you are all young men?"

"We are all boys," Chris answered with a smile, "but we are old enough
to do men's work, and in the Transvaal the Boers are commandeering all
boys two or three years younger than we are."

"Well, I congratulate you all both on your patriotism and your pluck,
Mr. King, and I have no doubt that you will do good service."

Receiving a cheque-book, they drew two hundred pounds for current
expenses, and then going back to the hotel found the two Cape-carts and
their companions ready, and the saddlery already stowed away. On
arriving at the farm all were highly pleased with the horses their
comrades had selected. They had on the way agreed that it would be a
good plan to buy four others to act as pack-horses, and to furnish them
with remounts in case any of their own were shot. These were to be sent
into the town by two Kaffirs, whom they arranged to take into their
service, for the farmer said at once, when they asked him that he could
very well spare them, as he would be parting with a considerable number
of his horses and cattle, and would not require so many hands as he had
at present. The two men he chose for them were both active young
natives; they made no objection to the exchange of masters, and, indeed,
seemed pleased at the thought of going with them to fight the Boers, who
were universally hated by the natives.

A cheque was given to the farmer for their purchase, then the horses
were chosen by lot as agreed, and were at once saddled and mounted. They
had all been partially broken in, and as the boys were good riders, they
were after a little preliminary struggle soon at their ease, and, taking
a couple of hours' sharp ride through the country, returned on good
terms with their mounts. Two or three hours were spent in teaching the
horses to stand steady as soon as the reins were thrown over their
heads, this being a training to which all horses in the Cape are
subjected. Then they rode back to the town and arranged with a farmer
near it to picket their horses in one of his meadows, and for their feed
while they remained there. The rest of the day was spent in laying in
their supplies. The rifles and ammunition were paid for, pack saddles
bought for the four spare horses, a brace of revolvers purchased for
each member, haversacks ordered for the whole party, and bags to carry a
supply of grain for each horse. In the evening they went out to the
farm, and after discharging their rifles a few times fed their horses.

This they repeated in the morning, so as to familiarize them with the
sound of firearms; then they saddled and mounted them, and after riding
for half an hour drew up in line, as Captain Brookfield, who had sworn
them in on the previous afternoon, was to inspect them at eight o'clock.
They had all put on their working clothes, bandoliers and belts, and
high boots, and the captain on his arrival, after closely inspecting
them, expressed his strongest approval of their appearance.

"I really congratulate you, Mr. King," he said, "on having command of
twenty such serviceable-looking young fellows. As they all can ride,
and, as you tell me, can all shoot, they ought to do really good
service, and I should be well pleased if all my troop were composed of
such good material. From the fact that you can all speak Dutch, and most
of you Kaffir, you will have great opportunities of obtaining
information, and can, in case of need, pass as young Boers. In fact, I
may say that there is some danger of your being mistaken for them by our
men. I should take you for them myself, except that you all look
brighter and more wide-awake than Boers generally do; but an
artilleryman could hardly be blamed if he plumped a shell among you at a
distance of two or three thousand yards."

"We thought of that, sir;" Chris turned to his band, "Change caps!" All
pulled field-service caps from their pockets, took off the soft felts,
rolled them up and forced them into their valises, and put on the caps.

"That is excellent!" Captain Brookfield exclaimed. "That certainly
alters your appearance altogether, and as far as your figures could be
made out through a glass, it could be seen that you are an irregular
body of some sort. And this can be still more plainly seen if, as I
should advise you, you always ride in fours when you are approaching our
lines; there will then be little chance of a mistake being made. Where
did you pick up all those horses?"

"We bought them yesterday from a farmer named Duncan, who has brought
them down from his place near Dundee."

"Ah! that accounts for it; he is one of the best-known horse-breeders in
the colony. I had not heard that he had come down."

"He only arrived two days ago, sir. We were fortunate to hear of it, and
some of us rode over early yesterday and were lucky enough to secure
them."

"You were lucky. There are several mounted corps being formed here and
at Durban, and horses will go up in price rapidly. Where is he
staying'?"

"About a mile and a half farther out, sir. If you want horses I should
think that you had better go on at once, for he told me that he had sold
sixty yesterday, but that very few of them were anything like as good
horses as these."

"No. People are subscribing handsomely, but we cannot afford to mount
our troopers on such horses as these. A good many gentlemen have found
their own horses, and of course will be well mounted; but a good, sound,
country horse is all we can afford for the others; they are excellent
for ordinary work, though, of course, not so fast as yours, nor quite so
big. Your horses have all a strain of English thoroughbred blood, and if
you should at any time have to ride for it there would be little chance
of the Boers overtaking you, though some of them are very well mounted,
for the two things a Boer will spend money on, are his horse and his
rifle. And when do you start?"

"We are going to-morrow morning. I went to the station-master yesterday
evening and arranged for trucks for the horses to be attached to an
early train to Dundee. We want to get up in time to see the first of it,
and we should lose three days if we were to travel by road."

"That is the right spirit, and I wish I could go with you; but my troop
will wear a sort of uniform, Norfolk jackets and riding-breeches, and
the outfitters are so overwhelmed with orders that it will be another
couple of days at least before they are ready. Then the men must have
two or three days' drill before they start; I am still short of horses,
so I will ride on and see Duncan. I want thirty-five more, and as yet,
although subscriptions are coming in well, we are still a good deal
short of our requirements. However, I dare say I shall be able to make
some arrangement with Duncan, as I shall probably have enough to pay him
in full by the end of the week. Altogether, I don't suppose I shall be
ready to start for another ten days, and unless the Boers delay their
advance I am afraid that I shall not get to Dundee."

"Do you not believe that we shall be able to hold the town?"

"I hardly think that there is a chance of it, and I am sure we made a
mistake in sending a portion of the force there. I know the premier was
most anxious that our troops should be posted as far north as possible,
in order to save the loyal farmers from plunder. If the position were
stronger and impossible to be turned, the case would be different; but
it is not strong, and can be turned on each flank. If the Boers march to
attack General Symons, who is in command there, he may possibly beat
them off; but as they can advance towards Ladysmith either from the Free
State on one side or the Transvaal on the other, he and his troops would
be cut off, and the loyal farmers would be plundered just as much as if
Symons had remained at Ladysmith. I fancy all the military men think
that a grave mistake has been made, and that General White should not
have exposed half his force to disaster. Besides, the position of
Ladysmith is no more defensible than that of Dundee. The Tugela would be
the natural line of defence, but even that could be turned by troops
from the Transvaal going through Zululand, and the line of the river
would be very difficult to defend by a force of less than twenty
thousand men. However, we shall see how the thing works out--how
enterprising the Boers are, and how warmly the Free Staters throw
themselves into the work."

"You think that we shall have a hard time, Captain Brookfield?"

"Yes, I think that is certain, even if Cape Colony keeps quiet, which I
am very much afraid it will not do. If it rises, it will take all the
strength of England to put it down. Well, I wish you all luck. I can
assure you I feel proud of my Johannesburg section, and I shall be glad
when you join me."

He shook hands with the whole of the lads and then rode off.

"The train starts at eight o'clock," Chris said. "We had better get our
good-byes over to-night, get some breakfast if we are able to do so at
half-past five, and meet here at six. We ought to be at the station at
least an hour before the train starts. We shall not only have to get the
horses into the trucks, which is certain to be a troublesome business,
as they are altogether new to it, but we shall have to see to our other
stores and belongings. I have arranged that we shall travel with the
horses, so that we can each stand at the heads of our own animals, and
if they are very wild, we can blindfold them until they become
accustomed to the situation. I have bought a couple of trusses of hay
from Thomas, and he will send down two of his native boys to the
station. I should advise you all to put some food into your haversacks,
there is no saying how long we may be on the road."

"What sort of trucks are they, Chris?" "They have high sides, but no
roofs. Of course I would rather have had roofs, but the station-master
could not provide any waggons with them. But he showed me these, and as
the sides are quite high enough to prevent the horses getting out, they
will do very well."

The saddles were taken off and piled together. There was no chance of
rain, so they were left uncovered. The lads then walked back into the
town. There was, of course, a sad parting that evening between Chris and
his mother, but she bore up well. She knew that hundreds of other women
were parting with husbands or sons, and she felt that, as the main cause
of the war was to rescue the Uitlanders in the Transvaal from the
oppression of the Boers, it behooved all the fugitives from that country
to do their utmost.

In the morning the lads all arrived punctually at the rendezvous. The
horses were fed to the accompaniment, as usual, of pistol shots. Then
they were saddled up, the valises the lads had brought down with them
were strapped on, and with their rifles slung behind them they rode to
the station.

It was, as they had expected, a long and troublesome business to get the
horses into the trucks, but at last this was managed. Nose-bags were put
on, with a few double-handfuls of grain, then one trooper was left to
each two horses, while the rest saw to their bundles of blankets, their
stores of tea, sugar, and flour, preserved milk, cocoa, bacon, and
tinned food. A couple of frying-pans, and a canteen of tin cups and
plates, a knife, fork, and spoon each, and two kettles, completed their
outfit. They had put their soft felt hats in their valises, and were all
in their flat fatigue caps.

The train was a long one, but the carriages with it were empty, for
while the trains from the north were closely packed, there were few
persons indeed proceeding up country. The trucks, however, were well
filled, as great quantities of stores were being taken up, some to
Ladysmith, and others for the force at Dundee. The horses soon became
accustomed to the motion, and their masters took the opportunity of
familiarizing themselves with them, by talking to them, patting them,
and giving them pieces of bread and an occasional lump of sugar. The two
Kaffirs had brought on the pack-horses four water-skins and a couple of
buckets, and in the heat of the day the horses were allowed a good
drink, while their masters, whose haversacks had been filled by their
friends, enjoyed a hearty meal, washed down by tin mugs full of
champagne.

They were in the highest spirits, although the meal was taken under
difficult circumstances, for all were seated on the upper rails of the
trucks, there being no room for them to sit down among the horses. The
plates were all packed up, and fingers and teeth served for knives and
forks, which was the less important since chickens were the staple of
the meal; and these had been cut up before starting. Many were the jokes
that passed along the line. All felt that it was the last experience
they were likely to have of civilized food, and that it would be a long
while before champagne or any other wine would fall to their lot. The
Kaffirs, who had each charge of two spare horses, enjoyed themselves no
less, for they had a fair share of the provisions of their masters, and
were in a high state of contentment with their prospects.

There was a halt of an hour at Ladysmith. Many of the officers and
soldiers gathered at the station, their work for the day finished, and
the arrival of the train being always an event of some importance in the
little town. They were amused and interested at the party of young
fellows who alighted to stretch their legs and get a change of position.

"Which is your leader?" a major asked Field.

"The one talking to an officer. His name is Chris King."

"Is he chosen because he is the oldest of you?"

"No, that has nothing to do with it. We are all within a year of the
same age. We have all been chums and friends, and have hunted and shot
together, and he is the one we elected as our leader, just as you would
choose the captain of a cricket club. We all come from Johannesburg,
find our own horses, arms, and outfits, and ask nothing whatever from
the government; and as we speak Dutch, and all know more or less Kaffir,
we fancy we can make a good deal better scouts than your cavalry, who
can't ask a question of a Boer or get information from a native."

The major laughed. He saw that the lad a little resented the joking tone
in which he had asked the question.

"I have no doubt that you are right," he said, "and I am quite sure I
should like half a dozen of you as subalterns. When did you come from
Johannesburg?"

"We left there about a week ago, and as we were only at Maritzburg three
days, we have not lost any time."

"Indeed, I think that is a record performance. Of course you are all
looking forward to your first skirmish; I can assure you we are."

"We had our first on the way down here, when we were between Newcastle
and the frontier. Four or five of us went to a farmhouse to try and get
some food and milk for the women and children. It was a Boer's place,
and the fellow came out with a rifle and warned us off. We went forward,
and he took a shot at King when he was quite close to him, but
fortunately the bullet only went through his hat. Chris knocked him down
and gave him a tremendous thrashing with his own whip. Then we took some
provisions and paid for them, and searching the house, found twelve
Mauser rifles and a lot of ammunition. We took these off without paying
for them. The Boer had made off while we were searching the house, and
he and some twenty others pursued us, not dreaming that we were now
armed. However, we gave them a volley, and emptied three saddles and
killed three or four horses, and they moved off without trying to make
our further acquaintance."

"Well done, lads!" the officer said warmly, "that was an excellent
beginning, and I have no doubt that you will follow it up well."

Similar conversations were going on all along the platform, and when at
last the lads again took their places in the trucks, a hearty cheer was
given them. The sun was setting when they arrived at Dundee. It was a
larger place than Ladysmith, as there were some coal-mines in the
neighbourhood, and a considerable number of men were employed in them.
Like Ladysmith it is situated on a plain dominated by hills. The camp
was some little distance out of the town. An officer was at the station
with a party of men to receive the stores brought up by the train. Chris
at once went up to him and saluted.

"We have just arrived, sir; we are a section of the Maritzburg Scouts,
acting independently. As we are all from Johannesburg, and find our own
horses, equipment, and food, provide our own rations, and, of course,
serve without pay, we propose to scout on our own account, and as we all
speak Dutch well, I think that we may be useful in obtaining
information. We shall, of course, search the country in whatever
direction may be considered most useful."

"I have no doubt that you will be of good service, sir," the officer
said.

"I suppose we can camp anywhere we like."

"I should think so. As you do not draw rations, it can matter little
where you post yourselves; but I don't think that you will be able to
get tents to-night."

"We shall not want them, sir; we have each a large waterproof sheet, and
intend to use them as tentes d'abri. I suppose I had better report
myself at the headquarters of the general?"

"Yes, that would be the proper thing. The camp is a mile and a half
away; if you follow the Glencoe railway, you cannot miss it."

As soon as the horses were detrained and the baggage packed, the little
party mounted and left the station, and choosing a piece of unoccupied
ground a few hundred yards away, proceeded to unsaddle and picket the
horses, while Chris rode away to the camp accompanied by one of the
natives to hold his horse there. He had no difficulty in finding it, and
dismounting, walked to the group of head-quarter tents. His appearance
excited a good deal of amusement and some chaff from the soldiers he
passed. He looked, indeed, like a young Dutch farmer in his rough
clothes, and his rifle, and a bandolier of cartridges. Seeing a young
officer close to a tent, he asked him which was that of the adjutant-
general.

"He is there talking to the general at the door of his tent. Do you wish
to speak to him?"

"I should be glad to do so," Chris replied. The officer walked across
and informed the colonel that Chris wanted to speak to him.

"Bring him across, Mr. Williams," the general himself said. "He is
evidently a young farmer, and possibly brings in some news of the
enemy's movements."

The lieutenant returned to Chris and led him up to the general.

"You have some news that you wish to give us, sir?" Sir Penn Symons
said.

"No, general; but I hope to be able to do so to-morrow."

He then stated his position and the nature of his command.

"We are all very well mounted, sir," he went on, "and as we all speak
Dutch, hope to be useful. At any rate, we shall be no trouble to you, as
we draw neither rations nor pay. We think we can pass anywhere as Boers;
that is why we have not adopted any uniform."

"I have no doubt you will be of service," the general said, though I
hardly think that you will pass as Boers with those caps."

"We have all wide-brimmed hats to use while we are scouting, general;
but we carry these too, so that on our return towards your lines we can
be recognized even at a distance as not being Boers, and so avoid being
fired at."

"Yes, that is a very necessary precaution. I will have officers
commanding cavalry and artillery detachments warned, that a section of
Maritzburg volunteers are dressed as farmers, but may be known in the
distance by having caps similar to the ordinary infantry field-service
caps.

"Well, sir, I shall be glad if you will to-morrow ride to the south,
following the river, and endeavour to find out whether the Boers have
any considerable force in that direction, either on this side of the
river or the other, I may tell you that five of the Natal police were
captured on the evening of the 13th at De Jagers Drift. The Boers have
been in possession of Newcastle for the past three days, and they are
certainly crossing the passes from the Free State. You must be very
careful, for they have scouting parties across the river almost as far
as the Tugela. However, we hardly expect any serious struggle for
another week or ten days; for all the accounts are to the effect that
the Boers are still very deficient in transport, and that for the past
week those at Laing's Nek, and the other passes, have been very much
straitened for provisions. It would be as well for you, while you are at
Dundee, to come over once a day to report your doings, and to receive
orders as to the point where we most need information. Have you gone
into lodgings in the town?"

"No, sir. We have waterproof sheets that form tentes d'abri, and we
prefer being with our horses, which were only bought a few days ago; so,
as we shall not have much opportunity of sleeping otherwise than in the
open for some time, we thought it as well to begin at once, especially
as the weather looks threatening, and the horses, being unaccustomed to
be picketed, might pull up the pegs and get loose were there a heavy
rain."

"You seem to be well fitted for the work, and to set about it in the
right spirit."

"We have all been accustomed to hunting expeditions, sir, when we have
often been out for some days, so that we understand how to shift for
ourselves, though we are new to campaigning."

"What rifles have you? that does not look like a Lee-Metford." "No,
general, it is a Mauser. We captured twelve of them, at a Boer's
farmhouse three or four miles this side of Newcastle six days ago. He
fired at us, and though his bullet only went through my hat, we thought
ourselves justified in searching his house."


[Illustration: CHRIS OFFERS HIS SERVICES TO SIR PENN SYMONS.]


"Certainly you were. We heard that there had been a skirmish on the
road, and learned the particulars from one of those who took part in it,
and who stayed here for two or three days before going down the country.
He said that four or five young gentlemen, who were coming down with a
party of women and children from Volksrust, had gone to a farmhouse to
try and get food, milk, and bread for the females. The Boer farmer
insulted them, and shot at one of them when but two or three yards away;
he had been tremendously thrashed by the young fellow, and they returned
laden with a good supply of milk and bread, and twelve rifles and a lot
of ammunition that they had found at the farm. And with these they and
some of the men had beaten off an attack of a score of Boers without any
loss to themselves."

"Yes, general, that was our party; we had sent forward for some waggons,
and got into Dundee two hours after the skirmish; and as there was a
train just going we went on at once, and reached Maritzburg the next
morning, where we were joined by some of our party who had come down the
day before. As we had made all our plans before leaving Johannesburg, we
were able to start this morning, which was the third after our arrival
there."

"You were prompt indeed," the general said with a smile, "and must have
needed money as well as brains."

"We had all obtained leave of our families, general, and were well
provided with funds to carry us through the campaign if it lasts for a
year. We wanted to be in time for the first fight."

"I think yours was the first fight, except that a few shots were
exchanged between our scouts and the Boers on the morning after the
ultimatum expired. Now, sir, if you should at any time be in want of
necessaries I shall be glad to supply you; but I cannot furnish you with
ammunition, as the Mausers carry a smaller bullet than our rifles."

"Thank you, general, but we have enough to last us for a considerable
time, having brought up six thousand rounds."

"A good provision indeed," the general laughed; "enough to last you
through half a dozen pitched battles. I shall be in the town at six
o'clock to-morrow morning, and shall be pleased to inspect your little
corps before you start."

"I thank you, general; we shall all be very proud to be inspected by
you."

Then saluting he returned to his horse and rode back to Dundee. He was
pleased to see that the eleven little tents had been erected strictly in
line, that the horses were all standing quietly at the picket-rope, and
that two of the troop were placed as sentries. A large fire was blazing
in front of the tents, the two natives were squatting by it, the kettles
were swung over it, and a joint of meat was roasting there. Two or three
of the lads were standing talking together; the rest had gone into the
town. Cairns came up to him as he dismounted.

"Have you heard the news, Chris?"

"No, I have not heard any particular news."

"I was at the station a quarter of an hour ago, and a telegram had just
been received that the Boers were, when it was sent off, entering
Elandslaagte station, and were in the act of capturing the passenger
train that was standing there. The message stopped abruptly, as no doubt
the Boers entered the room where the clerk was at work at the needles."

"By Jove we are in luck!" Chris said. "Of course that was the train that
had to leave three hours after us. If we had stopped for that, the
horses, rifles, and kit would all have gone, and we should now be
prisoners. It is serious news, though, for it is evident that not only
are they marching against us in front, and on both flanks, but have cut
our communications with Ladysmith. There can be no doubt that, as
everyone said there, it was a mistake to send General Symons forward
here, as it was almost certain that with four regiments, three batteries
of artillery, a regiment of cavalry, and a few hundred of the Natal
police and volunteers, he could never maintain himself here. Why, we
heard at Ladysmith that a column had gone out the day before towards
Besters station, as the news had come in that they were even then in the
neighbourhood. It was a false alarm, but it was enough to show that the
Boers were likely to be coming down and cutting the railway in our rear.
General Symons told me that he did not expect any general advance of the
enemy just yet, because he heard that their transport was incomplete,
and that they were very short of provisions. But I don't think the want
of transport would prevent their advancing. We know well enough that the
Boers think nothing of going out for three or four days without any
prospect of getting any more provisions than they carry about them,
unless they have the luck to bring down an antelope. And as Utrecht and
Vryheid and Newcastle are all within a few miles of us, and the Free
Staters have already come down through some of the passes of the
Drakensberg, they must be within an easy ride of us; and if they are in
force enough to drive us out of this place, they must know they would
find themselves in clover, for we heard at Ladysmith that there were
provisions and stores for two months collected here."




CHAPTER IV

DUNDEE


After picketing his horse, Chris went into the town. He found the
streets full of excited people, for the news that the railway had been
cut was serious indeed, and the scene reminded Chris of that which he
had witnessed in the streets of Johannesburg but eight days before. Only
eight days! and yet it seemed to him as if weeks had passed since then.
So much had been done, so great had been the changes. As at
Johannesburg, a considerable portion of the population had left, seeing
that, although the troops might for a time defend the town, the Boers
were certain to cut the line of railway. Work at the coal-mines had been
pushed on feverishly of late, for strangely enough there was no store of
coals either in Dundee itself or at any of the stations down to Durban,
and the authorities had only woke up a few days before to the fact that
coal would be required in large quantities for the transports on the
arrival of the troops. But now all this was to come to a stop. The hands
would be thrown out of employment, and the town would become stagnant
until it was captured by the Boers, or until an army arrived of
sufficient strength to clear Natal of its invaders. That evening many
who possessed vehicles started by road for Ladysmith, feeling that in
another twenty-four hours it might be too late.

At seven o'clock, as had been arranged when they arrived, all the
members of the band met at the bivouac for supper. There was a general
feeling of excitement among them. They had known that hostilities must
soon begin, but to find that the line had already been cut, and that the
enemy were closing in in all directions, came almost as a surprise.
This, however, in no way prevented them from enjoying their meal. After
it was over they held, at Chris's suggestion, a sort of council. He had
already told them what the general had said to him, and that they were
to be inspected in the morning. As their saddlery was all new, there was
nothing to be done in the way of burnishing buckles and rubbing up
leather. As Chris remarked, all that would be necessary was an hour's
work in the morning grooming their horses.

"Now," he said, "that the work is going to begin, we must draw up a few
rules, for, volunteers though we are, we must have some regulations. In
the first place, I find that the troops all parade in order of battle
before daybreak, so as to be able to repel a sudden attack or move in
any direction that may be required. If it is necessary for them, it is
still more necessary for us, and I think that it should be a standing
rule that we are all ready to mount at daybreak. Sentries must be posted
at night, however safe we may feel. I think there should be two,
relieved every two hours. There will he no hardship in that, as each
would only go on duty every other night. In the next place, I think
there should be what they call an officer of the day, who would
generally be in charge of the arrangements, see that the Kaffirs
attended to their horses properly, and so on. You see, we shall not be
always acting together, but might sometimes be broken into four troops,
in which case one in each five should command. I think the same lot
should always keep together. What do you think? Would it be better that
in each group of five one should be in charge each day, or that each
group should choose one to act as non-commissioned officer?"

There was no reply.

"What do you think yourself, Chris?" Sankey asked after a pause.

"You are as well able to judge as I am," he replied. "I think that it
would perhaps be the best way to write down the twenty names and put
them in a hat, and draw them one by one. The first five should be number
one squad. I don't know whether that is the right word, but anyhow it
will do for them. The next five number two, and so on. Then each five
can vote whether they would prefer alternate commands, or to choose one
of their number as permanent non-commissioned officer. If they prefer
this, they must then ballot as to which among them shall be leader. If
you can think of any way that you would like better, by all means say
so."

All agreed that the plan that he proposed should be adopted. Four groups
were first chosen. Before they proceeded to the next step, Peters said:

"Of course I am quite game to carry it out as you suggest, Chris, but
don't you think it would be a good plan to let the final decision stand
for a week or two, each taking the leadership of his group in rotation?
At the end of that time we should be better able to make a choice than
we can be now."

"I think that is a very good idea, Peters. What do you all say? Will you
each take your turn alphabetically for the present, and at the end of
fifteen days, when each of you have led three times, you can decide
whether each squad shall choose a permanent leader or go on as you have
begun."

All at once agreed to the proposal. They felt, good friends as they
were, that it would be very difficult to decide now.

"Very well, then, it shall be so," Chris said. "To-morrow we shall
certainly do some scouting, but in a day or two you may be shut up here;
and until we get away there will be no scouting to be done. We must have
some signals. Suppose we are scattered over two or three miles, we may
want to assemble, and must be able to signal. I thought of it before we
started from home, and put down in my pocket-book the sort of thing that
I fancied would be wanted. I will read it out to you."

He stirred the fire into a blaze and then read:

"One shot followed by another and a third, with ten seconds between
them, will mean 'Enemy seen on the right'; with twenty seconds between,
'Enemy seen on the left'; then, after a pause, two shots in quick
succession will mean 'Enemy in strength'; three shots will be 'Small
party only'; one shot, followed at an interval of ten seconds by two in
succession, will mean 'Retire to the point agreed on before we
separated'; followed by three shots in quick succession, will be 'Close
in to the centre'. We can think of others afterwards, but I think that
will do to begin with. I know that you have all pocketbooks, so take
down these signals at once."

"We ought to know where you will be," Field said, "so that we could
rally round you ready for the next order."

"That might be so; therefore we had better fix on three shots in quick
succession, followed in ten seconds by a fourth. The sound will be
sufficient to let you know pretty well where I am, and you will on
hearing it, join me at once. Are there any other suggestions?"

There was silence and then the books were closed.

"I cannot too strongly impress upon you all," Chris said, after they had
chatted for some time, "the necessity for being extremely cautious. We
know how slim the Boers are, and how accustomed they are to stalk game;
and we shall have to be as watchful as deer, more so, in fact, since we
have not their power of smell. When we break up into four parties, each
party must scatter, keeping three or four hundred yards apart. On
arriving at any swell or the crest of a hill, a halt must be made, and
every foot of the country searched by your field glasses, no matter how
long it takes. You must assure yourself that there are no moving objects
in sight. When you get near such a point you must dismount, and, leaving
your horse, crawl forward until you reach a point from where you have a
good view, and on no account stand up. While you are making your
observations any Boers who might be lying in sight would be certain to
notice a figure against the skyline, and we know that many of them are
provided with glasses as good as our own. We must be as careful as if we
were out after game instead of men. You all know these things as well as
I do, but I want to impress them upon you. You see, they have captured
five of the Natal police, who are a very sharp set of fellows. However,
a few days' scouting will show us far better what is required than any
amount of thinking beforehand. There is one thing that I want to say to
you. You elected me for your leader, but it is quite probable that when
we have worked together for a bit some of you may prove much better
qualified for the post than I am. What I want to say now is, if this is
the case, I shall feel in no way aggrieved, and shall serve just as
cheerfully under his orders as I hope you will under mine so long as I
command you."

There was a general chorus of "No fear of that, Chris. We all know you
well enough to be sure that we have made a good choice. We knew it
before we left Johannesburg, but your pluck in walking up to that Boer
with his loaded rifle clenched the matter."

"Well, we shall see," Chris said. "I shall do my best, but, as I said,
the moment you want a change I shall be ready to resign; and now I think
that we may as well turn in. It is nine o'clock, and we must be up at
daybreak. Squads number one and two will each furnish a man for the
first watch, taking the first on the list alphabetically. At eleven they
will be relieved by two from squads three and four; then one and two
furnish the next pair, and so on. Four watches will take us on till
daybreak. The two of each squad who will be on duty to-night turn in to
the same tent together, then the others will not be disturbed."

The blankets were spread in the little shelter tents, and all except the
two men on duty were soon asleep. Chris had a tent to himself, there
being an odd number, and an extra waterproof sheet had been carried for
this purpose. Before leaving Maritzburg twenty-two poles, a little
longer than cricket stumps, had been made under Chris's direction. They
were shod with iron, so that they could be driven into hard ground. At
the top was a sort of crutch, with a notch cut in it deep enough to hold
another of the same size. Twenty-two other sticks of the same length
were to form the ridgepoles. Half these were provided with a long brass
socket, into which its fellow fitted. The whole, when they were
accompanied by the spare horses, would be packed with their stores and
spare blankets. At other times each rider would carry two of the poles
strapped to his valise behind him.

Chris was the first to stir in the morning. There was but the slightest
gleam of daylight in the sky, but he at once blew a whistle that he had
bought that evening in the town, and heads appeared almost immediately
at the entrances of the other tents, and in half a minute all were out,
some alert and ready for business, others yawning and stretching
themselves, according to their dispositions.

"First of all, let's put on the nose-bags, and let the horses have a
meal," Chris said; "then set to work to groom them. Remember, there must
not be a speck of yesterday's dust left anywhere."

All were soon hard at work. The Kaffirs stirred up the embers of the
fire, which they had replenished two or three times during the night,
hung the kettles again over it, and cut up slices of ham ready to fry.
By half-past five Chris, after inspecting all the horses closely,
declared that nothing more could be done to them. Then they were
saddled, the valises, with a day's provisions and a spare blanket, being
strapped on. Then all had a wash, and made themselves, as far as
possible, tidy. By this time breakfast was ready, and they had just
finished their meal when a party of horsemen were seen in the distance.
Rifles were slung over their shoulders, and bandoliers and belts full of
cartridges strapped on, and they donned their forage-caps after coiling
up the picket-ropes and halters and fastening them with their valises to
the saddles. Then they mounted and formed up in line just as the
general, with two of his staff, rode up. After saying a few words to
Chris, the general examined the horses and their riders closely.

"Very good and serviceable," he said, "and a really splendid set of
horses. Of course, gentlemen, you would look better if you were in
uniform, but for your purpose the clothes you have on are far more
useful. Let me see you in your hats; I can then better judge how you
would pass as Boers."

The lads all slipped their forage-caps in their pockets, and put on
their felt hats, which were of different shapes and colours. As they had
agreed beforehand they at once dropped the upright position in which
they had been sitting, and assumed the careless, slouching attitude of
the Boers.

"Very good indeed," the general said with a laugh. "As far as
appearances go, you would pass anywhere. The only criticism I can make
is that your boots look too new, but that is a fault that will soon be
mended. A few days' knocking about, especially as I fancy we are going
to have bad weather, will take the shine out of them, and, once off,
take good care not to put it on again. A Boer with clean boots would be
an anomaly indeed. Now, I will detain you no longer."

The only manoeuvre the boys had to learn was the simple one of forming
fours. This they had practised on foot, and performed the manoeuvre with
fair accuracy. Then Chris gave the word, and, after saluting the
general, led the way off at a trot.

"They are a fine set of young fellows," the general said to the two
officers with him. "They are all sons of rich men, and have equipped
themselves entirely at their own expense. They are admirably mounted,
and provided they are not caught in an ambush, are not likely to see the
inside of a Boer prison. It says a good deal for their zeal that they
are ready to disguise themselves as Boer farmers instead of going in for
smart uniforms. However, they are right; for, speaking Dutch, as I hear
they all do, they should be able singly to mingle with the Boers and
gather valuable information."

As soon as they were fairly south of the town, Chris said:

"Now our work begins. Number one squad will make its way towards the
river, and follow its course, keeping always at a distance from it, so
that while they themselves would escape notice, they can ascertain
whether any bodies of the enemy are this side of it, or within sight
beyond the other bank. Number four will take the right flank, and keep a
sharp look-out in that direction. Squads two and three will, under my
command, scout between the flanking parties, and examine the farmhouses
and the country generally. The whole will, as I said last night,
maintain a distance of about three hundred yards apart, and each man
will as far as possible keep those next to him on either hand in sight."

The two flanking companies starting off, those under Chris separating as
they rode off until they were as far apart as he had ordered, and then
moved forward. When on level ground they went fast, but broke into a
walk whenever they came to the foot of rising ground, and when near the
top halted, dismounted, and crawled forward. Each man carried a Union
Jack about the size of a handkerchief, elastic rings being sewn to two
of the corners. When necessary these flags could be slipped over the
rifles, and a signal could be passed from one to another along the whole
line--to halt by waving the flag, to advance by holding the rifles
steadily erect. Other signals were to be invented in the future. Chris
took his place in the centre of the line, in readiness to ride to either
flank from which a signal might be given.

For five or six miles no signs of the enemy could be perceived. Most of
the fields were entirely deserted, but round a few of the scattered
farmhouses animals could be seen grazing, and these Chris set down as
belonging to Dutch farmers who had no fear of interference by the Boers,
and were prepared to join them as soon as they advanced. Many of these,
indeed, during the past fortnight had trekked north, and were already in
the ranks of the enemy. Presently Chris, who was constantly using his
glasses, saw the flutter of a flag on a hill away to the left, and a
minute later the signal to halt passed along the line. It had been
agreed that signalling by shot should not be attempted unless the enemy
seen were so far distant that they would not be likely to hear.

"What do you see, Brown?" Chris said as he reached the lad who had first
signalled.

"There are a good many men and animals round a farmhouse about two miles
away. The house lies under the shoulder of a hill to the left, I suppose
that that is why the others did not see it."

Dismounting, Chris crawled forward with the other until he could obtain
a view across the country. As Brown had said, the farmhouse stood at the
foot of the line of hills they were crossing, and was fully a mile
nearer to those on the right flank than to the point from which he was
looking at it, but hidden from their view. Bringing his glass to bear
upon it, he could distinctly make out that some forty or fifty men were
moving about, and that a large quantity of cattle were collected near
the house.

"It is certainly a raiding party," he said to his companion. "They are
too strong for us to attack openly, at least if they are all Boers. It
would not do to lose half our number in our first fight. Still, we may
be able to frighten them off, and save the farmer, who is certainly a
loyalist, and cattle. You gallop along the line as far as it extends and
order all to come over to the right. I shall go on at once and get a
view of the ground close by. By the time they have all assembled we can
see what had best be done."

Going back to their horses they started in opposite directions. In a few
minutes Chris reached a point which he believed to be nearly behind the
farmhouse, picking up some of the scouts by the way.

"I expect I shall be back in about a quarter of a hour," he said as he
dismounted. "You, Peters and Field, may as well come with me, I may want
to send back orders."

They walked forward fast until so far down the hill that they could
obtain a view of the farmhouse. The moment they did so they lay down,
and made their way across some broken ground until they were within a
quarter of a mile of it; then seated among some rocks they had a look
through their glasses, and could see everything that was passing as
clearly as if they had been standing in the farmyard. It was evident the
Boers had only arrived there a short time before Brown noticed them.
Parties of two or three were still driving in cattle, others were going
in and out of the house, some returning with such articles as they
fancied and putting them down by their horses in readiness to carry them
off. Two men and some women and children were standing together in a
group; these were beyond doubt the owners of the farmhouse.

"How many Boers do you make out? I have counted thirty-eight." Peters
had made out forty, and Field forty-three, the difference being
accounted for by those going in and out of the house and sheds.

"Well, we will say forty-five, and then we shan't be far wrong. We
certainly can't attack that number openly, but we may drive them off
empty-handed if we take them by surprise." He examined the ground for
another minute or two, and then said: "I think we might make our way
down among these rocks to within three hundred yards of the house. I
will send six more down to you. With the others I will go down farther
to the left, and work along in that little donga running into the flat a
hundred yards to the east of the house. You keep a sharp look-out in
that direction, and you will be able to see us, while we shall be hidden
from the Boers. We shall halt about three hundred yards beyond the
house. As soon as we are ready I will wave a flag, then you and your
party will open fire. Be sure you hide yourselves well, so that they may
not know how many of you there are; they are certain, at the first
alarm, to run to their horses and ride off. Directly they do so we will
open fire on them, and finding themselves taken in the flank they are
likely to bolt without hesitation. Don't throw away a shot if you can
help it, but empty your magazines as fast as you can be sure of your
aim. Between us we ought to account for a good many of them."

"I understand, Chris; we will wait here till the others join us, and
then, as you say, we will work down as far as we can find cover."

Chris at once returned to the main party, who had by this time all
assembled. "We can bring our horses down a good bit farther without
being seen," he said. "There is a dip farther on with some rough
brushwood. We had better fasten them there; they have learned to stand
pretty fairly, but they might not do so if they heard heavy firing."

Leading their own horses and those of Field and Peters they walked down
to the spot Chris had chosen, and there threw the reins over the horses'
heads as usual, unfastened the head ropes, and tied them to the bushes.
Chris had already explained the situation to the troop, and had told off
six of them to go down to join Peters. He now advanced cautiously with
these till he could point out to them exactly the spot where the two
scouts were lying. Then he returned to the others, and they walked along
fast until they came upon the break in the hill, which lower down
developed into a depression, and was during the rains a water-course.
Down this they made their way. On reaching the bottom they found it was
some twelve feet below the level of the surrounding ground.

A couple of hundred yards further they could tell by the sound of
shouting, the bellowing of cattle, and other noises, that they were
abreast of the farmhouse, and going another three hundred yards they
halted. Chris went up the bank until he could obtain a view, and saw
that he was just at the spot he had fixed on. Making signs to the
others, they took their places as he had directed, some ten yards apart.
Then he raised his rifle after slipping the little flag upon it. A
moment later came the crack of a rifle, followed by other shots in quick
succession. Chris, with his eyes just above the level of the ground,
could see all that was passing round the farmhouse. With shouts of alarm
the Boers at once rushed towards their horses, several dropping before
they reached them. As they rode out from the yard the magazine rifles
kept up a constant rattle, sounding as if a strong company of troops
were at work. Chris waited until they were nearly abreast of his party,
and then fired.

His companions followed his example, and in a moment a fire as rapid and
effective as that still kept up from the hill was maintained. This
completed the stampede of the enemy. They were soon half a mile away,
but even at that distance the Mauser bullets continued to whistle over
and among them, and they continued their flight until lost in the
distance. Chris's whistle gave the signal for ceasing fire, and the two
parties sprang to their feet, gave three hearty cheers, and then ran
towards the farmhouse. In the yard lay five Boers and seven or eight
horses; the riders had jumped up behind companions, for as they passed,
Chris had seen that several of the animals were carrying double. The
little group, so lately prisoners, advanced as they came up, almost
bewildered at the sudden transformation that had taken place, their
surprise being increased on seeing that they had apparently been rescued
by another party of Boers, and still more when on their reaching them
they found that these were all mere lads.

"We are a party of Maritzburg Scouts," Chris said, with a smile at their
astonished faces; "though, as you see, we are got up as Boers so as to
be able to get close to them without exciting suspicion. We were
fortunate in just arriving in time."

"We thank you indeed, sir," the settler said, "for you have saved us the
loss of all our property, and, for aught I know, from being carried off
as prisoners. We were intending to trek down to Ladysmith today, and had
just driven in our herds when the Boers arrived. If they had been
content with stealing them, they would have been away before you
arrived; but they stopped to plunder everything they could carry off,
and, as I should say, from noises that we heard in the house, to smash
up all the furniture they could not carry off. We are indeed grateful to
you."

"We are very glad to have had the chance of giving the plunderers a
lesson," Chris said. "It will make them a little cautious in future. But
I think that you are wise to go at once, for there are certainly parties
between this and Elandslaagte, where they have cut the line; so I should
advise you to travel west for a bit before you strike down to Ladysmith.
We have not heard of any of them being beyond the line of railway yet.
Now we have work to do. Number one and two squads will at once go up and
fetch down the horses, number three and four will examine the Boers who
have fallen here and out on the plain and will bring in any who may be
only wounded."

He went out with this party; they found that eight more had fallen.
Three of these lay at a short distance from the farmhouse, and had
evidently fallen under the fire of the party on the hill; the others had
been hit by those in the ambuscade. Altogether ten horses had been
killed. Five of the Boers were still alive.

"Have you a spare cart?" Chris asked the farmer.

"Yes, I can spare one. Fortunately I have a small one besides two large
waggons. May I ask what you want it for?"

"I want it to carry these wounded men to within reach of their friends.
Which is the nearest drift?"

"Vant's Drift, and it is there, no doubt, that the party crossed. It is
a little more than two miles away."

"Then we will place the wounded in the cart, and you might send one of
your Kaffirs with it to the drift and stick up a pole with a sheet on
it; they are sure to have halted on the other side, and will guess that
there are wounded in it. As soon as the Kaffir comes within two or three
hundred yards of the river he can take the horses out and return. I dare
say he will be back again before you are off."

The cart was driven along the line that the Boers had taken, the wounded
being carefully lifted and placed in it as it reached them. Two more
were found dead and three wounded some distance beyond the spot where
the searchers had turned, having fallen nearly a mile from the farm; the
lads who accompanied the cart then returned. Long before they reached
the house the horses had been brought down. The settler and his Kaffirs
were hard at work loading the stores into two ox-waggons. The lads all
lent their assistance, and in less than an hour the settlers started for
Ladysmith, the women and children in the wagon, and the men on horseback
driving their herds with the aid of the Kaffirs. After a hearty adieu,
Chris and his party rode on together for some little distance before
again scattering widely to recommence their work of scouting. Hitherto
they had been too busy for conversation, but now they were able to give
words to the satisfaction they all felt at their success.

"It has been splendid!" Sankey said enthusiastically. "We have defeated
a force twice as strong as ourselves, have killed or badly wounded
eighteen of them, and you may be sure that of those that got away
several must have been hit. Not one of us has a scratch."

"Splendid!" another exclaimed. "It could not have been better managed. I
think we ought to give three cheers for Chris." Three rousing cheers
were given. "After this, Chris," Carmichael said, "I don't think you
need talk any more about resigning the command. General Symons himself
could not have done better."

"I think, at any rate, we have begun to wipe off old scores," Chris
said. "We have paid for a few of the insults the ladies had to submit to
as we came along, and I am heartily glad that we were in time to do it.
We have baulked them of the haul they expected to make, and saved
something like a thousand head of cattle for the colony, to say nothing
of preventing these people from being absolutely ruined. It is only a
pity that we had not our horses with us. If we had, not many of the
Boers would have recrossed the river. But we could not have taken them
with us without being detected before we got into position, and in that
case we might have had a hard fight, and matters would probably have
turned out altogether differently."

There was a general expression of assent, for all felt that in an equal
fight the Boers, being twice their own numbers, would have been more
than a match for them. It was evening when they returned to Dundee,
having come across no more Boers during the day's work. Directly they
arrived at the little camp where they had left the tents standing in
charge of their two Kaffirs, Chris wrote a short report of their doings,
stating briefly that they had come upon a party of forty-five Boers in
the act of driving off the cattle and sacking the house of Mr. Fraser, a
loyal settler. Having dismounted and divided into two parties, they had
attacked the Boers and driven them off, with the loss of ten killed and
eight seriously wounded left on the field. Many of their horses had been
killed. The wounded Boers had been sent in a cart to Vant's Drift, and
the farmer and his herds had been escorted as far as the line of
railway, which they had crossed and were making for Ladysmith. There had
been no casualties among his party.

Field rode over with this report and delivered it at headquarters,
remaining to ask whether there were any orders for the next day. When he
returned he brought a line from the general. It contained only the
words, "I congratulate you most heartily. The affair must have been
managed excellently, and does you all the greatest credit. Continue
scouting on the same line to-morrow."

The lads were all highly delighted when Chris read this aloud, and then
sat down to a well-earned meal, which was the more enjoyed as it had
been voted that Field, as one of the finance committee, should go into
the town and buy half a dozen of champagne in honour of their first
victory. In the course of the evening one of the general's staff rode
into camp on his way to town, having been requested by him to obtain
full particulars of the fight at Eraser's farm. He took his seat by the
fire with them, and Chris gave him a full account of their proceedings.

"Upon my word, Mr. King," he said, "you managed the matter admirably; no
cavalry leader could have done it better."

"There is no particular credit about the management," Chris said; "we
acted just as we should have done had we been stalking a herd of deer
instead of a party of Boers. One always manages, if possible, to put a
party on the line by which they are likely to take flight, before
crawling up within shot. If we could have taken our horses down with us
before we opened fire we should have done so, and being so well mounted,
I think few of them would have got away; but we could not manage it
without risking being seen, and in that case the Boers, on making out
what our strength was, would certainly have shown fight; and even if we
had beaten them, which I don't suppose we should have done, we should
have suffered heavily."

"You were quite right not to risk it," the officer said; "we know by old
experience that the Boers are formidable antagonists when behind
shelter, and, accustomed as they are to shooting on horseback, I dare
say they will do well when not opposed by regular cavalry, who, I am
convinced, would ride through and through them. I am quite sure that in
the open they will not be able to make any stand whatever against
infantry, which is the more important, as in so hilly a country as Natal
our cavalry would seldom be able to act with advantage."

In the course of conversation he told them that there was no news of any
large body of the Boers being near. Joubert's force had not moved out of
Newcastle, and nothing had been heard of the Free Staters or of the
Utrecht force under Lucas Meyer. "We have sentries on all the lower
hills round here and Glencoe, and there is no fear of our being
surprised. The sooner they come the better, for we are all longing to
get at them; and I can tell you we felt quite jealous when we heard of
your spirited affair to-day. I can assure you that we shall have a
greater respect for the volunteers than we had before, and if all do as
well as you have done to-day they will be a most valuable addition to
our force."

After their visitor had left, they sat chatting round a fire till ten
o'clock, and then turned in.




CHAPTER V

THE FIRST BATTLE


All in the little camp, save the two sentries, slept soundly until, at
two in the morning, they awoke with a sudden start. A deep boom and a
strange rushing sound was in their ears. With exclamations of surprise
they all scrambled out of their tents.

"What is that?" Chris asked the sentry.

"It is a big gun on the top of that high hill they call Talana. We saw
the flash of light, and directly after heard the report, and a rushing
sound. I suppose it was a shot overhead; if it had been a shell we
should have heard it burst and seen the flash. It must have been fired
at the camp."

The horses, startled by the report, were plunging and kicking, and the
lads at once ran to their heads and patted and soothed them. Not until
they were quiet did they gather again.

"What time is it?" Chris asked.

"The clock on the church struck two a few minutes ago," Brown, who was
on sentry, said. As he spoke another gun boomed from Talana, or as it
was generally called in the town, Smith's Hill, from a farm owned by a
settler of that name at its foot. It was about a mile and a half east of
the town, and therefore some three miles from the camp.

"It must be a very heavy gun by its sound--as big as the largest of
those we have heard fired from that fort above Johannesburg. Joubert
must have started from Newcastle early to have managed to get it up
there by this time, or it may be the force from Utrecht; anyhow, they
must be strong to venture to attack us in this way. We may as well
saddle up, though it is hardly likely the cavalry will be engaged. I
shall not send to camp for orders; the general will have enough to think
about, and it will make no matter where twenty men place themselves.
However, I shall ride over to camp and see what is going on there; it is
likely enough that there will be an attack by the Free Staters on the
other side. Carmichael and Horrocks, do you run into the town and see
what is going on there. I will not start till you get back; if any of
the staff see me they may ask some questions about it."

In a quarter of an hour the two lads returned. The people there were
completely scared at the unexpected attack, and the streets were full of
half-dressed men; however, they seemed to be getting over their first
terror, now that they found it was the camp and not the town that was
being fired at, and the volunteer corps was already gathering in
readiness for orders.

"We may be pretty sure that nothing will be done till daylight," Chris
said. "Our men know the ground now, and none of the Transvaal Boers can
do so, and I don't think they will venture to move till they can see
their way about. I am glad, indeed, that most of the women and children
were sent off two days ago, and that the scare on the evening that we
arrived, when the news came of the railway being cut at Elandslaagte,
sent the greater part of the men who had remained behind, and who did
not mean fighting, off by road. If they bombard the town they may do
damage to property, but there will be no great loss of life. You had
better give the horses a feed--that is, if they are disposed to eat at
this hour--while I am away."

On reaching the camp, Chris found all the troops under arms. They had
been roused before the Boer fire began, as a picket to the east of
Dundee had been attacked and driven in. It was not, however, supposed
that the Boers were in force until their guns opened fire. All lights
were out in the camp, and the enemy's shot had gone wide. It was by no
means clear why the Boers should have betrayed their presence on the top
of the hill until it was light enough for them to use their guns with
effect. Chris had, before starting, put on his flat cap.

As he approached the camp he was challenged by a sentry: "Who comes
there?" and on his replying, "An officer of the Maritzburg Scouts," the
sentry called out: "Advance, officer of the Maritz Scouts, and give the
countersign."

Fortunately, as it happened, the officer had given it to Chris on his
visit to their camp, and he therefore answered at once, "Ladysmith," and
was relieved when the sentry called out, "Ladysmith pass, and all is
well."

When he entered the camp he found the men were standing in lines, but at
ease, with their rifles piled in front of them, and there was a hum of
conversation in the ranks. At the head-quarter tents everybody was
astir. Presently an officer came up.

"Who are you?" he asked as he advanced.

"I am in command of the party of Maritzburg Scouts."

"Mr. King, is it not?" the officer asked.

"Yes, sir. I have ridden in to ask if there are any orders."

"No, and there will be none issued until it is daylight, and we can make
out how matters stand and what is the force of the Boers. It is not
likely that you will have any special orders, but can act with the
cavalry and mounted infantry."

"Thank you, sir. Then I will ride back at once." On returning to camp,
he said: "There is nothing to be done till morning. So far they have no
idea of the force of the Boers. This is just the work we were formed
for. Peters, you and Field and Horrocks certainly speak Dutch better
than any of the others. It is half-past two now, and we have at least
two and a half hours of darkness, therefore I propose we try to find out
what force the Boers have got up there. It is no use for more than four
of us to go, so the others can turn in, except the two sentries; but all
will, of course, be ready to mount in case any party of Boers should
come down upon the town before it is light. The next time I want three
men on special duty I will give others a chance."

"Shall we ride, Chris?"

"I think so. Of course it will be more difficult getting up there in the
dark; but I shall make a detour of three or four miles, and come up on
the other side, and we should be much more likely to be questioned if we
were on foot than on horseback. Should we come upon any party of armed
Boers, remember we have just arrived from Standerton, and finding when
we got to Newcastle that the force had moved on, and were to take up
their station at Talana Hill, we rode on to overtake them. When we get
fairly there among them, we will dismount; Field and Peters will stand
by the four horses, Horrocks and I will go on. If you hear a row, you
will mount and wait a minute or two, and then if we do not come, you
will ride off with our horses as well as your own. We shall try and make
our way to the edge of the hill, and ought to be able to slip away in
the darkness if we can get there before we are shot down or overtaken.
However, I don't think there is much chance of our being recognized.
Indeed, I expect most of them will be lying down for a sleep before the
time comes for action. If there is one thing a Boer hates it is being
kept awake at night. I will take one of the Kaffir boys with us. They
can see in the dark a great deal better than we can; and as the Boers
are sure to have some natives with them, he is quite as likely to pick
up news as we are--more so, perhaps, for the natives will sit and talk
all night while their masters are snoring. I think the one we call Jack
is the sharpest."

Jack was called up, and on being told what was required, at once agreed
to accompany them.

No time was lost. Chris and his three companions mounted, and with the
Kaffir running alongside they set off at a trot. Keeping to the north of
east, they rode on for some two miles, Jack leading the way with as much
ease as if it had been daylight. When they had, as they calculated, come
upon the ground the Boers must have passed over, they turned south, and
kept on until they saw the dark mass of Talana on their right, and made
towards it. On this side the hill sloped gradually, while on that facing
Dundee it was extremely steep and strewn with boulders. They were now
going at a walk, and they soon came upon an immense gathering of
waggons, carts, oxen and ponies, crowded without any order, just as they
had arrived two hours before. "There is no fear of our being detected,"
Chris said in a whisper, "and we can't do better than stop here. There
is no getting the horses through this crowd, and if we did manage to do
so there would be no getting them back, certainly not in a hurry. You
had better lie down beside them, it is not likely that any Boers will be
coming up or down. If the whole camp is like this there is not the
slightest fear of our getting caught." Jack had already been instructed
that when he got into the camp he was to leave them and join any party
of Kaffirs he found awake, and talk to them as if he were one of the
bullock drivers. As Chris and his companions returned, the former would
blow his whistle softly, and he was then to make his way down to the
horses at once.

Passing on unquestioned they neared the top of the hill, having left the
mass of the vehicles behind them. There were, however, large numbers of
ponies assembled here in readiness should their masters require them.
Hitherto they had heard no voices since entering the camp, but as they
went farther they heard talking. Here the fighting men were assembled.
For the most part they were lying down; some were asleep; others,
however, were moving about, and joining or leaving groups gathered
together discussing the events of the next day. Horrocks and Chris now
separated and joined different parties, some twenty yards from each
other. They attracted no attention whatever. Their appearance in their
broad hats and rough clothing, their bandoliers and rifles, was
precisely similar to that of the men standing about.

No doubt whatever that the morning would bring them a brilliant victory,
appeared to be entertained by the enemy. The artillery would first crush
that of the British, then they would charge down and finish the affair.
"They say that they have less than four thousand altogether," one said.
"We are as many, and, as everyone knows, one Boer is a match for any
three rooineks. It will not be a fight, it will be slaughter. We shall
stop a day to gather the plunder and send it off in the waggons, then we
shall go south and destroy the force at Ladysmith. Three days later we
shall be in Maritzburg, and within three or four days afterwards shall
drive the British on board their ships at Durban. We shall get grand
plunder there and at Maritzburg. But I think it is time now to take a
hand at building up that wall along the front. Ebers' commando have been
at it for three hours, and it is our turn now."

[Illustration: CHRIS AND HIS COMPANIONS SCOUTING.]

There was a general movement, which was accelerated by a sharp order,
and a minute later Horrocks and Chris again came together and moved on
with the others. Three hundred yards farther they came upon six guns,
beyond which a number of men were at work carrying and placing great
stones to form a rough wall. These left off their work as soon as the
party arrived. Having now seen all that was necessary, the two lads
joined them and returned with them down the hill. The others threw
themselves down near their horses, but Chris and his companion went on.
Through the huge gathering of waggons they made their way with great
difficulty, Chris giving a low whistle occasionally. At last they were
through the camp. Jack was standing by the horses, and Peters and Field
at once rose to their feet. Without a word they mounted, and rode
without speaking till they were some little distance from the waggons.

"You are back earlier than I expected," Field said. "You have been gone
scarcely an hour."

"No; the only difficulty we had was making our way through the mass of
waggons and animals all mixed up higgledy-piggledy, and there has been
no more excitement than if we had been walking through Dundee. We have
got all we wanted to know. Their strength is about four thousand. They
have six guns. They are building a stone wall along the brow of the
hill, and they are cock-sure that they are going to thrash us without
difficulty." Field and Peters laughed.

"They are fools to count their chickens before they are hatched," the
latter said. "If they think it is going to be another Laing's Nek
business they will find themselves mightily mistaken, though it will be
a very difficult business to scale that hill from the other side under
such a rifle fire as they will keep up."

Jack had now taken his place ahead of them again, and kept there with
ease, although, they broke into a canter as soon as they reached the
level ground. In half an hour they reached their camp.

"Now, Jack," Chris said when he had dismounted, "we have not heard what
news you have picked up."

"Not much news, baas. Talk with some Kaffirs; all hope that we beat them
to-day, but think we cannot do so. Too many Boers and big guns. They say
Boers very angry because the other commandos not here, and Free State
Boers not arrived. They sure going to beat the rooineks, but are afraid
that some may get away. If Joubert and Free Staters here, catch them in
a trap and kill them all."

Such was the substance of Jack's answer in his own language. By this
time the rest of the party had turned out to hear the news. They had had
but little sleep, for all were intensely anxious as to the fate of their
four comrades, and although delighted that they had returned safely,
were a little disappointed on finding that the affair had been so tame
and unexciting. While they were talking the two Kaffirs had stirred up
the fire, put some wood and some coal on, and hung up the kettle.

"That is right, Jack," Chris said; "day will begin to break in half an
hour, and we may have to be moving." All was quiet until half-past five,
and the lads had just finished their meal when the Boer guns opened
fire, and two or three minutes later those of the British replied.

"It is an uncomfortable feeling sitting here with that terrific roaring
noise overhead," Chris said. "One knows that there is not the slightest
risk of being hit, but, to say the least of it, it is very unpleasant.
There, a shell has just burst over the camp. So it is shell that they
are firing."

Indeed, the Boers had been using these missiles only, but owing to some
fault in the loading, or the badness of the fuses, they fell for the
most part without bursting. It was soon evident to the lads that the
range of the British guns was shorter than that of the heavier pieces
from Talana. The distance was five thousand yards, and the elevated
position of the Boer guns added to the advantage given by their superior
weight.

"I will ride in now," Chris said as he got up from breakfast, "and tell
the staff what we have gathered as to the Boers' strength." He had on
his way down the hill exchanged his hat for his forage-cap, and taking
Horrocks with him he galloped to the camp. Sir Penn Symons was standing
on a small elevation watching the fire. Chris rode up and saluted.

"I have no orders for you, Mr. King, except that when the fighting is
over you will join the cavalry in pursuit."

"Thank you, sir; I have not come for orders, but to report to you that
with Mr. Horrocks and two others, and one of our Kaffir servants, I
entered the Boer camp last night in order to ascertain their strength."

"You did!" the general exclaimed in surprise. "You hear that,
gentlemen?" he said, turning round to three or four of his staff
standing but a short distance behind him. "Mr. King and three of his
party absolutely entered the Boer camp last night to discover their
force. Well, sir, what was the result?"

"There are about four thousand of them, sir, over rather than under, and
they have six guns, all of heavy calibre. When I was there they were at
work building a thick wall some five feet high of rough stones along the
edge of the hill. It will scarcely shelter the guns, but it will provide
cover for the riflemen at the edge of the hill. There is an immense
gathering of waggons and carts--there are certainly not less than a
thousand of them--in a confused mass behind the hill. Arriving in the
dark, each seems to have gone on until it could get no farther. The
fighting men are all on the top of the hill, and between them and the
waggons are their ponies. They certainly could not ride away till the
waggons have been passed through, but possibly a passage may have been
left on each side of these for them to get through, in order, as is
their intention, to charge your army when their guns have silenced your
artillery. I gathered that expected commandos had not come up. They were
disappointed at hearing nothing of the Free Staters, who they expected
would have attacked Glencoe from the other side. They are absolutely
confident of success, and expect to overwhelm General White at Ladysmith
in three days from now, and to be in Pietermaritzburg in a week, and are
talking of driving the last rooinek on board the ships at Durban shortly
after."

The general smiled. "I am much obliged to you for your information, Mr.
King, and am much pleased at the courage with which you and your
companions entered the Boer camp to obtain it. It is satisfactory to
learn that their force is not much greater than our own. It is also
useful to know that their ponies are gathered so close to them, for
shells that go over the hill may burst among them; and I believe that
one of the Boers' most vulnerable points is their horses, for without
them they would feel absolutely lost. I am sure, Mr. King, that you
would wish to be in the thick of the fighting, but I would rather that
you curbed your impetuosity, for after the manner in which you obtained
this news for me, I can see that your party will do far greater service
in scouting and in gaining intelligence than they could afford in
action. I should advise you to shift your camp, as the troops are about
to advance into the town, and the enemy's shot will soon be falling
there."

A few minutes later two field batteries moved forward and took up their
position south of Dundee, escorted by the mounted infantry and the
rifles. The third battalion of the Lancashire regiment remained to
protect the camp should it be attacked by the Free Staters, while the
Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Fusiliers were to march through the
town to a donga or river-bed half a mile to the east. Beyond this the
long ascent to Talana begins. The King's Royal Rifles were to take up a
position under cover to the east of the town.

Chris had ridden back fast to Dundee. The work of taking down the tents
and packing their materials and all the stores on to the spare horses
took but a few minutes, and two of the lads went with the two natives
and saw the horses safely placed in a sharp depression half a mile away,
in which they would be safe from Boer shells. Chris had told his
companions what the general had said. They all looked disappointed.

"We shall have plenty of opportunities afterwards, and it is a
compliment that he considers we had better reserve ourselves for
scouting, which, after all, is the work we always intended to carry out.
Still, though, after what he has said, we cannot absolutely join the
cavalry, we will manage somehow to see some of the fighting without
getting into the thick of it. Besides, I should say that in any case the
whole brunt of the affair must fall upon the infantry and artillery. If
they silence the Boer guns and capture the hill, the battle is won, and
the cavalry will have to wait for their chance till they can get the
Boers to fight on ground where they can act."

Drizzling rain had now set in, but this and the fact that they had
started without breakfast in no way abated the spirits of the troops who
soon came along, marching with light step and eager faces which showed
that they were delighted at the prospect of action. The batteries to the
right had already come into play, and a vigorous cannonade was being
directed at the crest of the hill, from which the Boer guns kept up a
slower though steady fire in return.

"While nothing else is doing we may just as well ride over and see how
things are getting on there," Chris said. And as soon as the two Irish
regiments had passed, the little troop trotted across to the rising
ground and dismounted a few hundred yards from the guns. They soon saw
with satisfaction that the fire of the Boers was far from effective,
their aim was not good, and a very small proportion of the shells burst;
while on the other hand the shrapnel from the British batteries burst
with splendid accuracy over the crest of the hill. For two hours the
artillery duel continued, then the Boer guns gradually ceased their
fire. The mist that had partly shrouded the summit of Talana, eight
hundred feet above the plain, and the smoke that still hung thickly
there, rendered it impossible to say whether they had all been put out
of action or simply withdrawn, but when it cleared off they could no
longer be seen. It was now the turn of the infantry. Beyond the donga in
which they were lying the rise of the ground was gradual, up to a
plantation which surrounded Smith's farm. Beyond this the ground was
rocky. The men advanced at the double in open order, and the moment they
were seen by the Boers a continuous fire of musketry was opened. The
distance was about a mile, but the Mauser rifles had a much greater
range than this and the bullets pattered thickly on the ground. Only
four men, however, fell. The two regiments halted in the plantation and
farm buildings, and the advanced line at the edge of the trees opened
fire in answer to that to which they were exposed. The general at first
had taken up his position with the guns, but as soon as the men advanced
from the donga he joined them and accompanied them as far as the
plantation. Then he returned to the battery, which continued its fire
with greater activity to prepare the way for the further advance of the
infantry.

The Rifles had joined the two Irish regiments, and at half-past nine
General Symons galloped up to the farm and gave the order for the
advance. This was received with a cheer by the men, who had been
impatiently awaiting it. Scarcely had the cheer died away when the
general was mortally wounded by a bullet that struck him in the stomach.
Unconscious that the wound was so severe he retained his seat a minute
or two, and was then carried by the Indian bearer company into the town.
The troops, ignorant of the misfortune that had befallen them, were now
working their way up the hill, taking advantage of every stone and
boulder, and although exposed to a terrific fire, gradually pushing on
until they reached a stone wall which ran round the face of the hill.
Beyond this the ground was much rougher and very much steeper--so steep,
indeed, that it was almost impossible to climb it. The fire of the enemy
was now terrific. The troops were some three hundred yards from the
crest, and it was certain death to show a head above the wall. An
officer placed his helmet on the end of his sword, and the moment he
raised it, it was riddled by five balls.

For a time it was impossible to advance farther, but when the Boer fire
moderated a little the order ran along the line for the men to storm the
position. A signal was made to the artillery to cease fire, and as it
did so the men leapt over the wall and rushed forward. There was now no
thought of taking shelter or returning the Boers' fire, every effort was
needed for surmounting the difficulties in their way. In some places the
rock was so steep that the men had to climb on their hands and knees,
sometimes those below pushed their comrades up and were in turn assisted
by them to climb. The roar of musketry was unceasing. It seemed to be an
impossibility for any man to reach the top unscathed, and yet there was
no hesitation or wavering. Numbers fell, but panting and determined the
rest pressed on. The Rifles suffered most heavily, and out of the
seventeen officers who advanced with them five were killed and seven
wounded. At last the steepest part of the ascent was surmounted. Those
who first reached this point waited until joined by others, and then
fixing bayonets they rushed up the slope to the edge of the plateau
cheering loudly.

The Boers did not await the onset; the great body had already fled. They
had believed it impossible for mortal men to scale the hill under their
continuous fire, and our steady advance through the hail of bullets had
astounded them and shaken their courage. The artillery, after ceasing
fire, had galloped off at full speed and taken up their position on the
ridge known as Smith's Nek, overlooking the plain behind the hill. For a
distance of three miles this was covered with waggons and galloping men.
The guns were about to open fire upon them when a white flag was
hoisted, and, believing that the Boers had surrendered, the gunners
abstained from firing. It was, however, but the first of numerous
similar acts of treachery, and the Boers were thus enabled to make their
escape.

The appearance of the plateau gained by the troops was appalling. Some
five hundred of the Boers lay dead or wounded, and many had doubtless
been carried off. Three of the guns lay dismounted, the others had been
removed; for as they could not be sufficiently depressed to bear upon
the stormers, they had been taken off as soon as the advance began in
earnest. Beyond the plateau smashed waggons and dead animals lay
thickly. Great numbers of the Boer ponies had been killed; many were
still standing quietly waiting for their masters, lying dead above.

Pursuit was out of the question. The men were exhausted by their
efforts; they were wet to the skin by the rain that had for nine hours
come down unceasingly; they had had no food since the previous day, and
the tremendous climb had taxed their powers to the utmost. For a time
they cheered vociferously, the first joy of victory overcoming the
thought of their dead and wounded comrades, who had to be collected and
carried down. The loss had been severe, ten officers and thirty men had
been killed, twenty officers and a hundred and sixty-five men wounded;
and nine officers and two hundred and eleven men did not answer to the
roll-call. This loss was unaccountable.

Chris, as soon as the infantry advance began, had, after talking with
the others, agreed to set out in the direction in which the three
squadrons of cavalry had started in the morning with instructions to
work round, and be prepared to cut off the enemy's retreat. They had
with them some of the mounted infantry and a machine-gun.

As the whole Boer force would be concentrated on the hill, Chris thought
that there would be no danger in riding round, especially as, even had
the Boers posted a force to protect their line of retreat, he was
confident that the speed of his horses would prevent any chance of
capture. From some natives he learned the direction that the cavalry had
taken, and presently on rising ground, saw two parties halted in hollows
some two miles apart. The farthest out on the plain appeared to be the
largest, and to this he rode. The officer in command had seen him in
camp, and as he saluted on riding up, said:

"So you have come to lend us a hand, sir? Can you tell me how matters
are going on at Dundee?"

"At the time we rode off, sir, the advance of the infantry had just
begun, the Boer guns had been silenced, and our men were advancing from
Smith's farm under a very heavy fire of the enemy, which continued
without intermission as long as we were within hearing distance."

"Did you see the other squadron as you came along?"

"They are in a hollow two miles away."

"Ah! that is where we left them."

The troopers were all dismounted, and the scouts followed the example.
The boom of the British guns was continuing unabated. "They can be
getting on but slowly," the officer said. "I am afraid we shall find it
a very tough job. I suppose there is a strong force up there?"

"Over four thousand."

"How do you know?"

"I was up there last night," Chris said, "with three of the others. We
did not go up in these caps, as you may suppose, but in wide-brimmed
hats. We were able to get about without exciting any suspicion whatever.
We found they had six guns and over four thousand men. As we all speak
Dutch fluently there was really no chance of our being detected."

The other officers of the squadron had all gathered round.

"Danger or no danger, it was a very plucky action," their leader said.
"I suppose that was the news you brought in just before the troops
marched off. Well, I wish that we had got our breakfast and the horses a
feed before we started. It is more important for the horses than it is
for us, though I should not be sorry for breakfast myself."

"We have some food in our haversacks, sir. We breakfasted before we
started, and we filled our haversacks with biscuits, thinking that
perhaps they would be welcome, for we knew that none of the troops had
anything to eat before leaving."

"You are very good to offer it," the colonel said. "But we could not eat
while the men have nothing."

"It will go round, sir, though it will be but a small portion for each.
We each put about ten pounds of biscuits in our haversacks, and shall
not be sorry to get rid of the weight. It will make something like
three-quarters of a pound per man all round."

"More than that," the officer said. "I am indeed greatly obliged to
you."

The haversacks were emptied and divided into four heaps of equal size,
with a proportionate heap for the ten officers. Four men were called up
from each troop, and in a short time the soldiers were all munching
biscuits, every man dividing his rations with his horse. The sight of
the rough-looking troop had at first excited some amusement and a little
derision among the soldiers, but this feeling was now exchanged for
gratitude, and it was unanimously agreed that these young farmers were a
capital set of fellows. The hours passed slowly until the officers,
through their glasses, saw a great movement in the encampment on the
hill. The waggons standing lowest separated from the others, and
gradually a general movement set in.

"Our men must be gaining ground," the colonel said, "and the Boers are
beginning to funk."

The bits were put into the horses' mouths again, the saddles buckled up
tightly, and an expression of satisfaction succeeded that of disgust at
the long hours standing in the pouring rain. Presently, when the leading
waggons were abreast of them, at a distance of about a mile, the order
was given to mount, and the two squadrons dashed across the plain and
were soon among the fugitives. There were many mounted men among them,
these being the first to steal away from the fight. They opened fire as
the cavalry approached, but were soon overthrown or driven away in
headlong flight. Many of the waggons were seized, but each moment their
defenders became stronger. The Boers were now flocking down in great
numbers, and seeing their teams and property in danger they dismounted,
formed some of the waggons up in a square, and from them opened a heavy
fire upon the troopers. Chris dismounted his party, and returned the
fire, but the officer in command, seeing that with so small a force of
infantry he could do nothing, and that the numbers of their enemies were
increasing, drew off. He would have continued the fight, but he supposed
that the artillery would soon be at work, and knew they could not open
fire as long as he was engaging the Boers, he therefore retired with the
long train of captured waggons, and late in the afternoon reached camp.

Nothing was seen of the other squadron and mounted infantry, nor was any
news received of them until the following day, when a medical officer
with some wounded men came in. Like the larger force, they too had
ridden in among the waggons, but had taken a more northerly line, and
had come on a point where the Boers were thickest. They had charged and
taken several prisoners, and inflicted severe loss on the enemy. These,
however, had swarmed round them, keeping up an incessant fire and
barring their retreat. They took up a defensive position in a farm, and
for three hours repelled all the attacks of the Boers, until their
horses were all killed or had broken away and the ammunition exhausted,
while the Boers had just brought up the three guns they had withdrawn
from the hill. Further resistance would have ended in the extermination
of the whole party, and Lieutenant-Colonel Moller was therefore obliged
to surrender.




CHAPTER VI

ELANDSLAAGTE


The scouts erected their tents again on their former ground. The
remaining inhabitants of Dundee were jubilant over the victory that had
been won, and did their best, by hanging out flags from the windows, to
decorate the town. Jack and his companion had returned to the camp with
the spare horses as soon as the hill was carried, and had the fires
lighted by the time the party came in. In spite of having worn their
blankets as cloaks, all were wet through, but after changing their
clothes, they went into the town to gather the news of how the hill had
been won, and by the time they returned their meal was ready.

"What do you think of affairs, Chris?"

"I think that the officer at Ladysmith was right, and that it was a
frightful mistake to divide the force and send four thousand men up
here. They have thrashed the Boers today, but they may be back again on
the top of that hill tomorrow. Besides, we know that Joubert's force was
not engaged to-day, and they and the Free Staters will be gathering
round. We might win another victory, but we are certain to be obliged to
fall back soon, and my opinion is that we shall be very lucky if we get
through safely."

"Why not start to-morrow morning, Chris?" Peters said. "We shall be of
no use scouting here, and not much use if there is hard fighting. I hear
that some natives have brought in the news that there was some firing
to-day at Elandslaagte. If that is the case, we must have troops there,
and the chances are that they will be there to-morrow." "Yes, that is
very likely," Chris agreed. "General White will be sure to hold the line
there if he can, for he must feel sure that the force here will have to
retreat now that it is attacked in earnest. When we were talking to-day
to the cavalry, one of the officers mentioned that we had still
telegraphic communication with Ladysmith, for although the wires by the
railway are cut, it is possible to communicate through Helpmakaar. The
Boers seem to have forgotten that, for it is quite out of the direct
line, and nearly double as far round. Well, as we had no orders to come
here, I suppose there is no occasion to get orders to go back. I think
Peters's proposal is a very good one, but on a point like this everyone
ought to give an opinion. My view is that we might be a great deal more
useful there than here, and that if we stop we shall run a great chance
of being captured. I think that it would be a fair thing to put it to
the vote."

He took two or three leaves out of his pocket-book, and tore them up
into narrow slips of paper.

"Now," he said, "write 'Yes' if you are in favour of going back, 'No' if
you are for stopping here. Drop them into my cap and the majority shall
decide."

When the strips of paper were examined, it was found that only two out
of the twenty-one were in favour of remaining.

"That settles it," Chris said. "It is thirty miles down to Elandslaagte
by road, and as from here to Glencoe is five miles, and we are no nearer
there than we are here, by cutting across to Waschbrank we shall have
only five-and-twenty miles to ride. It is well that we should get there
as early as possible, so we will settle to start at five o'clock, which
will take us there by eight, in time to see anything that is going on.
No doubt we shall be able to hear from natives as we go along whether
the troops are still there; at any rate if they are, we are sure to hear
firing before we get there, unless, of course, the Boers have retired."

The horses had already had an extra feed, and the Kaffirs were warned of
the hour at which they were going to start. The pack-horses were able to
keep up with the rest, for their loads were by no means heavy--in fact,
they carried less weight than the others. The two hundred pounds of
biscuits given to the hussars made no difference in their baggage, for
this had been bought at Dundee, as the lads decided to keep their stores
as far as possible intact for a time when they might for some days be
away scouting in a district where no provisions could be obtained.

At four o'clock the sentries roused the others, and having taken a cup
of coffee and some cold meat and bread, and led the horses down to the
stream while the Kaffirs were loading up the packets and bundles, they
mounted at five o'clock and set off at a trot, Jack and Japhet, a name
suggested by Field, who was the wag of the party, were allowed to ride
on two of the horses that carried the lightest burdens. All the lads
were provided with compasses, but these were not necessary, as both the
natives were well acquainted with the country, which was wild and
mountainous.

When they reached Wessels station, nine miles from Elandslaagte, they
heard the sound of guns. At this proof that there was still a force
there, they turned off from the road, and riding west, struck the point
where the main road to Meran crossed the Sundays River, and then, still
keeping a mile west of the line of railway, found themselves abreast of
the station. Just as they did so, a body of mounted volunteers galloped
up towards them. As soon as they were seen, they exchanged their hats
for forage-caps, and some of them, by Chris's orders, hoisted their
union-jacks on their rifles.

"It is well that you raised those flags," the officer in command said.
"We made sure by your appearance that you were Boers, and rather took
your change of caps as one of their slim devices, and had our rifles
ready to give you a warm reception. I suppose you come from Dundee? We
heard news yesterday evening of the battle, and were sorry to hear how
heavy the losses were, and particularly of General Symons' wound. I
suppose you have no later news?"

"No, beyond that we heard he was very dangerously hit indeed. He is
either at the church or town-hall. Both have been turned into
hospitals."

"There is a good deal of anxiety at Ladysmith," the officer said. "The
general opinion is that, with the Boers closing in all round it, the
position is a very serious one."

"I am afraid so, sir. There is nothing to prevent the Boers from
returning to their position on Talana Hill to-day; and soon after we
left the town this morning we heard the sound of guns away on the right,
and supposed that the Free Staters had approached Glencoe. As mounted
men are of very little use there, and our party is too small to be able
to do any good, we thought it would be best to come back here,
especially as there was a native report that there was firing in this
direction."

"Yes; a party of our cavalry under French came up with a battery of
field artillery. There was a little skirmishing, but in the evening the
Boers were strongly reinforced, and our cavalry returned to Ladysmith.
It was only a reconnaissance to ascertain the general situation. To-day
we are stronger. Squadrons of the 5th Dragoon Guards, 5th Lancers, the
Natal mounted, battery, and several detachments of mounted volunteers,
including the Imperial Light Horse, and half the Manchester Regiment,
are coming up in an armoured train. I suppose you are not attached to
any other corps?"

"Yes; we form a section of Captain Brookfield's corps of Maritzburg
Scouts. As you see, we are not in uniform; it being thought that, as we
are all from Johannesburg, and speak Dutch and Kaffir, we should be of
more use for scouting if able to appear as Boers."

"A very good idea," the officer said, "but somewhat dangerous; for if
they caught you they would assuredly shoot you as spies."

"We don't mean to be caught if we can help it, as you see we are very
well mounted."

"Uncommonly well. Brookfield's subscriptions must have come in
handsomely for him to be able to buy such horses as those."

"We provide our own mounts and equipments," Chris said, "and consider
ourselves very lucky in getting hold of this batch of horses from Mr.
Duncan on the day he arrived at Maritzburg. I really think they were
very cheap at sixty pounds each."

"They were not dear, certainly; and the fact that they came from him is
in itself a sufficient recommendation. We have got some thirty from him,
but they are a different stamp of animal and did not cost half that
figure. And now we must be riding to join the rest of our fellows. We
made you out when you were a couple of miles away, and were sent off to
ascertain what you were. By the way, you will find Brookfield there. He
arrived with his men by rail last evening." Riding on, they soon came
upon the mounted corps, and were warmly received by Captain Brookfield.

"You are back just in time," he said. "I suppose that you saw something
of the fight yesterday, but, as I see your number still complete, you
can scarcely have been in the thick of it?"

"We were with two squadrons of Hussars, and captured a good many waggons
and did a little fighting, but nothing very serious. There were only a
few casualties. We heard, however, from Colonel Yule, who has succeeded
poor Symons, that up to ten o'clock last night, another of the squadrons
of the Hussars and a company of mounted infantry with them had not
returned, and nothing was known of their whereabouts."

"Had they not got into camp when you started?"

"I did not hear, sir. In fact, we set off by daylight. But last night it
was hoped that the squadron, which was acting independently, had lost
their way, and would come in this morning. Where is the Boer force now?"

"Our batteries have shelled them out of the station. They were wholly
unprepared for it, and bolted at once to those hills a mile and half
east of the line. Their camp lies at the bottom of that conical hill.
You can make them out from here with your glass. There, French is moving
forward."

The order had indeed been given to advance, the artillery accompanying
the cavalry, and halting every two or three minutes to deliver their
fire. The ground was flat, but cut up by gullies. As soon as they came
within range, the colonials dismounted and added their fire to that of
the guns. An immense confusion was seen to reign in the Boer camp, and
thirty-seven British subjects, including the officials and staff at the
railway-station, and some of the coal-miners, took advantage of this and
ran forward to join their friends. They were at once sent back into
Ladysmith, after having given the information that General Koch was in
command of the Boers, and that Commandant Miellof and the German Colonel
Shiel, with many of the Johannesburg commando, were there. Chris and his
comrades felt great satisfaction at the news.

"We have a chance of paying off old scores on the right persons now,"
Chris said. "I do hope that the fellows who insulted us when we were
coming down are here, and that we shall manage to get among them."

For the time, however, this wish was not gratified. The Boers now seeing
that they had such a small force opposed to them, steadied themselves
and opened fire with some guns, Maxims, and rifles from the crest of the
hill, while a swarm of horsemen and dismounted men poured out to
threaten the flanks of the British. The odds were too great; the
comparatively heavy guns of the enemy were well aimed and served, and
quite overpowered the fire of the light cannon of the field and mountain
batteries. The order was given to fall back, which was done in good
order, though the troops were harassed by a hot fire from the enemy
concealed in the gullies. On reaching the high ground near Modder
Spruit, the country was more in favour of the British, who were now
extended on each flank. The Boers were unable or unwilling to move their
heavy guns from their position on the hill, and being now beyond their
range, and exposed to the fire of four batteries as well as the
infantry, those pressing forward fell back. General French had brought
out a signalling apparatus with him, and the telegraph wires were
tapped, and a message sent to General White asking him for
reinforcements in order to carry the Boer position.

The fight now ceased for a time. A party of the Boers occasionally crept
forward and opened fire, but the Colonial Horse dashed forward and sent
them flying back to the hills. From nine o'clock till a quarter to two
the troops remained idle, but the reinforcements then arrived, a battery
of field artillery, several squadrons of Dragoons, Lancers, and
Colonials, and the Devonshire regiment and Gordon Highlanders, the
infantry being brought up by train. These were under the command of
Colonel Ian Hamilton, who had a thorough knowledge of Boer tactics, and
knew how to handle his troops. It was well that it was so, for, led by a
less experienced commander, they would have suffered terribly in their
advance. While the infantry detrained, the Colonials, followed by the
5th Lancers, rode towards some low hills, whence some parties of Boers
had maintained a distant fire. These were at once scattered. The
infantry marched along some ridges parallel with the railway, but a mile
away, while the Devonshire regiment kept along the low ground by the
line. The 5th Dragoon Guards, with some troops of Colonials and one of
the field batteries, moved forward on the left.

The Manchesters were on the right of the infantry, the Gordons in the
centre, and the Devons on the left, as they set their faces towards the
Boer position. At three o'clock the action began, the Boer riflemen
opening a heavy fire. It was still too distant, however, to do any
serious execution, and the British moved forward as regularly and
unconcernedly as if it had been a field day. The Boer fire grew in
intensity, and one of our batteries opened with shrapnel to drive them
from the lower ridges. At half-past three the Boer artillery joined
their deeper roar to the rattle of musketry and the sharp cracks of the
British guns. Although it was still early the light was indistinct, for
a heavy thunder-storm had been for some time brewing, and this burst
before the heat of the action really began. The darkness was all in
favour of the advancing infantry, who in their khaki uniforms were
almost invisible to the Boers.

The troops were now in extended open order, and advanced towards the
foot of the hill by rushes, taking advantage of the ant-hills that
studded the plain and afforded an excellent cover, being high enough to
cover them while lying down, and thick and compact enough to resist the
passage of a Mauser bullet. The Highlanders were suffering the most
heavily, their dark kilts showing up strongly against the light sandy
soil, and while the Devons and Manchesters sustained but few casualties,
they were dropping fast. They and the Manchesters were somewhat in
advance of the Devons, who were guarding their flank, which was
threatened by a large number of Boers gathered on the ridges on that
side.

The storm was now at its height, the thunder for a time deadening the
roar of the battle, but through the driving rain the infantry pressed on
until they reached the foot of the Boers' hill. Large numbers of the
enemy were on the slope, hidden from sight by the boulders, but these
could not long maintain their position, for the British marksmen shot as
straight as the Boer. Our batteries, which had almost silenced those of
the enemy, scattered their shrapnel among those higher up the hill, and
as the Boers rose to fly before the bayonets of our cheering troops,
they were swept away by volleys of the Lee-Metfords. So, with short
pauses when shelter was obtainable, our troops bore upwards, cheering
and even joking, until they reached the last shoulder of the hill. The
Boers made a short but plucky struggle, numbers pushing up from behind
to help their comrades, but nothing could check the impetuosity of our
troops. The magazines of the rifles were now for the first time set in
action, and the Boer force withered away under the terrible storm of
shot.

The men of the Imperial Light Horse, who had dismounted and joined in
the advance, were fighting side by side with the Highlanders and
Manchesters. The pace was now increased to a run, and shouting and
cheering the men went forward with levelled bayonets. Many of the Boers,
lying behind rocks, maintained their fire until the troops were within
two yards of them, and then rising, called for quarter. The men, furious
at seeing their comrades shot down when all hope of resistance was over,
would have spared none, had not the officers with the greatest
difficulty restrained them from bayoneting the Boers, and many of these
were in fact killed. As the troops, now joined by the Devons, were
rushing down upon the camp, the Boers raised a white flag, and the bugle
sounded "Cease firing". The men halted for a moment and then were
advancing quietly when a tremendous fire broke out from the Boers, who
were scattered over the ridges of the hillside and a slope leading to
its summit.

Hitherto the British loss had been wonderfully small considering the
storm of bullets through which they had passed, but numbers now dropped,
and taken wholly by surprise, the troops ran up the hill again. But not
for long. Halting when they reached the crest, and furious at the
treachery that had been practised with such success upon them, they
turned again, and rushed down the hill, scattering the Boers, who still
clung to their shelters, with their fire. It was just six o'clock when
the Devons carried the last defence of the Boers and then with the
Manchesters swept down into the camp. It was now the turn of the
cavalry. These had in the darkness moved forward unnoticed, and the
Lancers and Dragoons, with a few of the Colonials, among whom were the
Maritzburg Scouts, fell upon the flying Boers and cut them up with great
slaughter, and, although it was now quite dark, followed them for
upwards of two miles, and then returned to camp.

The losses were heavy. The Gordons had lost four officers killed and
seven wounded, and a total of a hundred and fifteen casualties among the
four hundred and twenty-five men led into action. The Imperial Light
Horse lost their colonel and had seven officers wounded, and eight men
killed and forty wounded. Two hundred of the Boers lay dead upon the
field. Their wounded were vastly more numerous, and most of the
principal officers were killed or captured. General Koch, two of his
brothers, a son, and a nephew were all wounded; Shiel, Viljoen, and many
others killed or captured. Everything had been left behind. Three guns,
all their baggage, their waggons, a great quantity of arms and
ammunition, and many horses fell into the hands of the victors. Several
battle flags were also captured, and two hundred prisoners were brought
in by the cavalry. The night was a dreadful one, the rain still
continued to come down, the cold was bitter, and it was next to
impossible to find, still less to bring down, the wounded. Nevertheless
the soldiers carried on the work during the greater part of the night.
Boer waggons were turned for a time into hospital tents, and here by the
light of their lanterns the surgeons laboured unweariedly in giving what
aid was possible to those brought in, whether Boers or Britons. Chris
and his band worked as hard as the rest, and carried down a great number
of wounded; but in spite of all the exertions of the troops many
remained on the hillside all night, the sufferings from the wounds being
as nothing to that caused by the wet and cold. The lads' flasks were of
great use now, and enabled many a man, too badly wounded to be carried
down the rough hillside, to hold on till morning. General White had
arrived from Ladysmith while the battle was going on, but he left the
command in the hands of General French. On the following morning orders
came for General French to retire, as strong parties of the enemy had
been seen further south, and it was hourly becoming more and more
evident that it would be impossible to hold the country beyond
Ladysmith, and many were of opinion that even this position was too far
advanced.

The splendid valour shown by our soldiers at Dundee and Elandslaagte,
and the heavy losses they suffered, had been practically thrown away.
The coal-fields of Northern Natal had been lost, the loyal settlers had
been plundered and ruined. Colonel Yule's force was in imminent peril,
and all that had been obtained was the temporary possession of the two
heights, both of which had to be relinquished on the following morning.
Beyond showing the Boers how enormously they had underrated the fighting
powers of the British troops, no advantage whatever had been gained by
the advance beyond Ladysmith.

Three of the Johannesburg Scouts had been wounded in the charge among
the Boers. None of the injuries were severe, being merely flesh wounds,
of which they were hardly conscious during the fighting, and which would
not be likely to keep them long from the saddle. None of them applied
for medical assistance, as the surgeons were so fully occupied with
serious cases. Their comrades bound up the wounds and placed them in the
most sheltered position they could find, five of their comrades
remaining in charge of them and the horses, there being no possibility
of finding the two Kaffirs and the spare animals in the confusion and
darkness.

"We have had one lesson," Chris said, as at seven in the morning the
party assembled, worn out by the long night's work, "and that is, that
blankets are well enough against a passing shower, but that when there
is any probability of wet we must carry our waterproof sheets with us.
Of course they would have been no good last night, but on occasions when
there is no need for us to be using our hands they will be an immense
comfort."

"But we should have been wet through before we lay down, Chris."

"Yes, they would not have kept us dry, but they would have gone a long
way towards keeping us warm. It would be like putting oilskin over wet
lint; we should have felt as if we were in a hot poultice in a short
time. And even while riding it would have been very comfortable, if we
had worn them as we did the blankets, with a hole in the middle to put
our heads through."

"But that would spoil them for tents," Carmichael said.

"Well, we could have flaps sewn so as to cover the hole."

"Our blankets were very useful last night," Horrocks remarked. "I don't
know how we could have got many of those poor fellows down the hill if
we had not carried them in the blankets. It was infinitely easier for
them and a great deal easier for us. I saw lots of soldiers using theirs
in the same way." "Are you sure you will be able to sit your horses down
to Ladysmith?" Chris asked Brown, Capper, and Harris, the three wounded.

All laughed. "One would think that we were babies, Chris," Harris said.
"We could ride to Maritzburg if necessary, though I feel my arm rather
stiff, and no doubt it will be stiffer still to-morrow. I felt a bit
miserable at sunrise after lying there shivering, and envied you fellows
who could keep yourselves warm by working; but I am beginning to thaw
out now, and the sight of the Kaffirs coming towards us with the horses
half an hour ago, and the thought of hot coffee, did even more than the
sun to warm me."

"It will be ready soon," Willesden, who was specially in charge of the
stores, said. "It was a capital idea bringing that large spirit stove
and the paraffin with us; even a native could not find any dry sticks
this morning."

"Except as the soldiers have done," Chris said, pointing to where, a
quarter of a mile from the spot where they had gathered, a dozen fires
were blazing, the soldiers having utilized some of the Boer waggons that
had been smashed by the shell for the purpose of firewood.

"Yes, but if we were by ourselves, Chris, there would be no broken
waggons; besides, after all I should not care to go down and scramble
with the soldiers for a place to put a kettle on. At any rate, the stove
will be invaluable out on the veldt."

"We all agree with you, Willesden," Peters said, "and it was because you
were the one who suggested it that we promoted you to the office of
superintendent of the kitchen. It is a comfort, too, that we have some
clear water instead of having to get it from one of these muddy streams.
The storm has done good anyhow, for if it had not been for that there
would have been no breakfast for the troops until they had moved to the
river."

In another twenty minutes they were drinking hot coffee and munching
biscuits. At ten o'clock the bugle sounded the assembly, and the troops
formed up, the wounded were placed in ambulance waggons or carried on
stretchers, and all returned to Elandslaagte station. Here the wounded
were sent on by train, while the infantry and cavalry returned by road.
Talking to some of the officers of the Imperial Horse, several of whom
were friends of his father, and had only left Johannesburg a short time
before the declaration of war, Chris learned that the principal object
in fighting the battle was to drive the Boers off the line by which the
Dundee force would retreat; for Colonel Yule in his telegraphic despatch
had stated, that although a victory had been won he felt that the
position was untenable, and that he might at any moment be forced to
evacuate it. He also learned that the safety of the line beyond
Ladysmith was already threatened, but whether Sir George White would
decide upon falling back towards Pietermaritzburg or would hold
Ladysmith no one knew. Certainly nothing could be determined upon until
General Yule rejoined with the division from Dundee.

The position there was indeed growing worse every hour. While the battle
of Elandslaagte was being fought the Boers had opened fire from the
hills above Glencoe on the British camp, and had compelled it to shift
its position. The next day they were again obliged to move by artillery
on the Impati mountain, and it was then that General Yule decided to
retire at once on Ladysmith. A cavalry reconnaissance which was sent out
found that the Boers were in great strength in the pass of Glencoe, and
it was therefore determined to move by the roundabout way through
Helpmakaar. Some stores of ammunition that had been left under a guard
in the other camp were fetched, and with full pouches the little army
started on its long and perilous march at nine o'clock on the evening of
the 22nd. The camp was abandoned as it stood. The wounded remained with
some surgeons under the protection of the Red Cross flag. All the
available transport accompanied the column, but the men's kits and all
other encumbrances were left behind. They were obliged to pass through
Dundee to get upon the southern road, but so quietly was the movement
effected that but few of the townsmen knew what was happening.

The column was led by Colonel Dartnel, chief of the Natal Police, whose
knowledge of the district was invaluable to the troops. The roads were
heavy, and the rain continued to pour down in torrents. Each man carried
three days' provisions; they tramped along silently through the night;
stoppages by swollen streams were frequent, and by daybreak the next
morning they had only accomplished nine miles of their journey. Early in
the morning the townspeople had woke up to the fact that the army had
gone, and there was a general exodus of all who could obtain
conveyances. The Boers remained for some time in ignorance that the
force whose capture or destruction they had regarded as certain had
slipped away. They saw the tents, but the fact that neither men nor
horses were visible puzzled them, and it was eleven o'clock before some
of the more venturesome galloping down found that the English force had
escaped.

Then from all sides they poured into the town. Had they at once pursued
they might still have overtaken the retreating force before nightfall;
but they immediately set to work to loot the great stores of provisions
left behind, and to gather their pickings from the deserted houses of
Dundee, and so let slip their opportunity, and no pursuit whatever was
attempted. For four days the column continued its march, resting for a
few hours each day and usually marching all night. The road was terribly
bad, leading through narrow mountain passes, and had but a small force
of the enemy held the Waschbrank gorge, where the sides were for three
miles nearly perpendicular, a terrible calamity might have taken place.
Happily, however, the Boers were in absolute ignorance of the road which
the British troops were following, and concluded that they must have
somewhere crossed the railway and were making their way down by the
roads to its west. That they had gone through Helpmakaar does not appear
to have occurred to them, for after marching some thirty miles to that
town the column was as far off Ladysmith as when it started.

The anxiety at the latter town was intense. The line being still uncut,
the arrival of the column at Helpmakaar was known, but beyond that no
communication could be received. On Tuesday the 24th Colonel Dartnel
arrived in Ladysmith with the news that the column was now twenty miles
away, all well, and he at once returned to them with supplies and a
small relief force. On Wednesday many of the men came in, and on
Thursday the remainder arrived and were heartily greeted. On the 24th--
in order to divert the attention of Joubert and the Free State Boers,
both of whom were converging upon General Yule's column, still making
its way through the passes--a force composed of three regiments of
cavalry, four of Colonial Mounted Infantry, three batteries, and four
infantry regiments went out. The enemy were found near Reitfontein. No
actual engagement took place, but for some hours an artillery and rifle
duel was maintained and the Boers fell back. The number of casualties
was not large, and these were principally among the Gloucester regiment,
who, on entering a valley supposed to be untenanted, were received by a
heavy fire from a strong party of the enemy hidden there. The fight,
however, fulfilled the object for which the advance was undertaken, that
of occupying the Boers' attention and enabling the column from Dundee to
make its way into Ladysmith unmolested. The Boers were now closing in on
the latter town from all directions, and preparations for defence at
once began. The town-hall and the schools were fitted up as hospitals
and everything arranged for the reception of wounded. As the Boers had
already been seen near Colenso, sixteen miles to the south, it was
certain that the communications would ere long be cut.

No more unsuitable place for a military camp could well have been
selected than Ladysmith, which had indeed been chosen, years before the
war was thought of, on account of its position on the railway, and the
vicinity of the Klip river. The fact that the country immediately round
was fertile and forage was obtainable no doubt influenced the military
authorities in their selection. Lying in the heart of a mountainous
country, it was commanded by steep and rocky hills at a distance of from
two to four miles. Just as many castles built in the days before
firearms were in use were rendered untenable against even the clumsy
cannon of early days placed on eminences near, so the improvement in
artillery and the possession of powerful modern guns by the Boers had
gravely imperilled the position of Ladysmith. The military authorities
could never have anticipated that the town would be besieged by foes
armed with artillery that could carry over five miles. But such was the
case now, and all there felt, as soon as it was decided to defend the
place till the last, that the position was a precarious one.

Fortunately, a considerable store of provisions had been collected, and
so long as the line was open additions were being sent up by every
train. The line was a single one, winding along through passes among the
hills, and therefore open to attack by small bodies of the enemy. In
point of size Ladysmith was the third largest town in Natal. Durban
boasted a population of thirty thousand, Pietermaritzburg of twenty
thousand, and Ladysmith of four thousand five hundred, being four
hundred larger than that of Dundee. It was the point at which the line
of railway forked, one branch running north through Glencoe to the
Transvaal, the other northwest through Van Reenen's Pass to
Bloemfontein. It was a pretty straggling town with its barracks,
government buildings and large stores. Almost all the houses were
detached and standing in their own gardens, and as these were largely
wooded its appearance was very picturesque, with the Klip river, a
branch of the Tugela, running through it. The houses were, for the most
part, one-storied, and the roofs were all painted white for the sake of
coolness. No perfectly open town had ever before undergone a siege by an
army of some thirty thousand men provided with excellent guns, and yet
the garrison awaited the result with perfect confidence.




CHAPTER VII

LADYSMITH BESIEGED


On the 30th, the Boers being now in force on many of the hills around
the town, and having inflicted the first annoyance upon Ladysmith by
cutting the conduit that brought down the water-supply to the town from
a reservoir among the hills, and so forced it for the future to depend
upon a few wells and the muddy water of the river, it was determined to
make an effort to drive them back and to gain possession of some of the
hills from which it was now evident the town would stand a risk of being
bombarded. Hitherto there had been considerable apathy in taking
measures for keeping the enemy as far as possible out of range. A few
redoubts thrown up during the last week and strongly held would have
been invaluable, but it seemed to be considered by the military
authorities that the siege could be but a short one, and that the Boers
would speedily be driven off by the troops now pouring into Durban.

An effort was now to be made to repair the consequences of this
remissness and to drive the Boers off the positions they occupied, and
it was hoped that if a heavy blow were dealt them they would draw off
altogether. The forces of Joubert, Meyer, and the Free Staters were now
all within a distance of a few miles, and were all to be beaten up.
Their central position was on a hill afterwards known as Signal Hill,
and on this they had already planted a forty-pounder gun. A force
composed of six companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, four and a half
of the Gloucesters, a mountain battery and a troop of Hussars started at
midnight towards a hill known as Nicholson's Nek, occupied by the Free
Staters. Major General Hunter with a brigade of infantry, three
batteries, and a small cavalry force were to attack Meyer's commando to
the east, while General White, with two infantry brigades, French's
cavalry, and six batteries of field artillery moved against Joubert's
force on Modder Spruit. It was hoped that the Boers, if defeated, would
find their retreat barred by the force that had stated early for
Nicholson's Nek. All were well away from the town before daylight broke.

At five o'clock in the morning the guns spoke out, and were at once
answered by the Boer artillery, and the roar of fire soon became
general. General White's central column was screened by a ridge near the
railway, and the big gun on Signal Hill directed its fire partly against
the town and partly against the cavalry which could be seen by them in
rear of the column. As only a few of the Volunteer Horse had been
ordered to accompany the attacking force, Chris and his companions took
up their position on an eminence that afforded a general view of the
battle, and here a large number of the townspeople also gathered. The
general plan of operations was that the two movable columns should form
a rough arc of a circle and, driving in both flanks of the Boers, sweep
the whole force before them.

"They have a great many guns," Peters said, as the rattle of the
machine-guns and the thud of quick-firing one-pounders joined the
continuous fire of several Boer batteries and the deeper roar of their
big gun, "and they seem to be in greater force than was supposed, for I
can make out large reinforcements coming up to them from behind."

Our artillery were first placed about four thousand yards from the Boer
position, but as this was on higher ground than that occupied by our
guns our fire did not appear to be effective. They were therefore moved
forward some distance, supported by two battalions of the Rifles and the
Dublin Fusiliers. The infantry force with them pushed forward rapidly
and gained a crest from which they threatened to take the Boer position
on Signal Hill in rear; but the Boers, very strongly reinforced, moved
to meet them, and heavy fighting took place, until the enemy's force
became so strong that they not only checked the further advance of the
brigade, but threatened it on both flanks. Two batteries went to their
assistance, but even with this aid they could not continue their
advance, pressed as they were by greatly superior numbers and harassed
by the fire of the Boer field batteries on the hill.

At other points our advance was opposed as hotly. Nowhere were our
infantry gaining ground. The enemy had not wasted their time, but had
thrown up intrenchments on the steep hills they occupied, and from these
shelters maintained a terrible fire, while their numerous machine-guns
swept the ground with a hail of bullets and shells. On such ground the
cavalry were useless, and the range of the Boer guns was much greater
than that of our own.

"It seems to me," Chris said, "that instead of gaining ground we are
losing it. We can't see at all what is going on, but certainly the
firing seems nearer than it was."

All had thought the same though none had cared to suggest such a thing.

"Hurrah! there is a train coming in," Field said. "I heard they were
expecting a party of sailors with naval guns. They would be useful just
at the present moment. Let us go down and see, we can make out nothing
from here."

Glad to be doing something they went down the hill. As they reached the
station they saw a large detachment of sailors at work detraining some
twelve-pounders and two large quick-firing guns. Teams of oxen were
brought up, the sailors harnessed themselves to ropes, and with
tremendous exertions one of the guns was taken up to an eminence, and at
eleven it opened fire. It was but just in time. In steady order the
columns were retiring with their faces towards the Boers, answering shot
for shot, carrying off their wounded as they dropped, in spite of the
terrible rifle fire and the roar of the Boers' batteries; but as soon as
the first naval gun opened fire, amid the cheers of the townspeople, the
situation was changed. The first two shells burst close to the Boer big
gun, the third in the midst of the artillerymen, and it was some time
before its fire was resumed. In the meantime the sailors had turned
their attention to other Boer batteries which the field artillery had
scarcely been able to reach, and one by one these were withdrawn over
the crest.

At one o'clock Colonel Hamilton's brigade, which had hitherto been lying
behind the crest they first occupied, in readiness to repel any counter-
attack the Boers might make, now moved out and took up their position to
cover the retirement of Hunter's column and Howard's brigade, and
although the Boers pressed hotly upon them they held their ground
steadily until their comrades had all reached their camp, and then
marched in unhindered by the enemy, whose big cannon had now been
finally silenced by the naval gun and their batteries for the most part
obliged to retire.

After seeing the naval gun open fire Chris had gone down to speak to
Captain Brookfield, when he met two soldiers of a mountain battery
carrying an injured comrade. They took him into the hospital and then
came out. Their shoulder-straps showed them to belong to the mountain
battery that had gone out with the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the
Gloucesters, of whom nothing had been heard, though occasionally, in
momentary intervals of fire, the sound of distant musketry could be made
out in the direction of Nicholson's Nek.

"How are your party getting on?" he asked.

"We don't know anything about them, sir," one of the men said, "except
that they have been heavily engaged since daylight. I am afraid that
they are in a tight place."

"How is it you know nothing about them?"

"It has been a bad job altogether," the man said. "We were marching up a
steep valley with only room for us to lead two mules abreast; we were in
the rear of the column. Suddenly a boulder came rolling down the hill
and some shots were fired. In a moment the mules stampeded. One or two
began it, kicking and plunging and squealing like wild beasts, then the
others all set to. There was no holding them? it was almost pitch-dark,
and before one could say 'knife' they were tearing down the road we had
come up. There was no time to stop, and those who were lucky jumped out
of their way, those who were not were knocked down and trampled on. As
soon as they had gone those of us who were not hurt set off after them
and looked for them everywhere, but only two or three were caught. Where
the rest went I don't know, but I hope that they got into the enemy's
line of fire and were all shot. At last we gave it up as a bad job and
went back to bring in the fellows who were hurt. I think most of them
are in now. We have been a long time, for Thompson's leg was broken and
one of his arms, and, I expect, most of his ribs, and it hurt him so to
be moved that we have had to stop every two yards." "It is a bad
business indeed," Chris said; "and of course all your guns are lost?"

"Every one of them, and what is worse, all the reserve small-arm
ammunition is lost too. The mules carrying them were with ours, and as
the fighting up there has been going on ever since, I am afraid the
infantry must have pretty well used up their last cartridges."

It was not until the next day that the extent of the calamity was known,
when a Boer came down with a white flag asking that doctors might be
sent up. The little column instead of, as had been hoped, surprising the
Boers had itself been ambushed, being suddenly attacked by two strong
parties of the enemy. They at once seized a little eminence, threw up a
breastwork of stone, and defended themselves successfully until the
ammunition was entirely exhausted, and a hundred and fifty had been
killed or wounded. The Boers had, by taking advantage of every bit of
cover, crept up close to them, and a murderous fire was poured in. The
two regiments asked Colonel Carleton, who commanded them, to allow them
to charge with their bayonets and cut their way through. He consented to
allow the desperate attempt to be made, and the men were in the act of
fixing bayonets when someone raised a white flag, and the Boers standing
up advanced to receive the surrender.

After this the laws of war permitted no further defence, and the men,
half mad with fury at the situation in which they were placed, threw
down their rifles and were made prisoners. This was at two o'clock in
the afternoon, after the rest of the force had returned to Ladysmith;
and thus some nine hundred men fell into the hands of the Boers. Apart
from this the loss was comparatively small considering the heat of the
engagement. The day's work had been altogether unsatisfactory; no
advantage whatever had been gained beyond the discovery of the Boers'
position, and their unexpected strength and fighting powers, and it was
evident that the force at Ladysmith was unable to drive off the enemy
unaided, and must undergo a siege until the arrival of a relieving army.
There were provisions calculated to last for two months, and no one
doubted that long before that time General Buller would arrive to their
rescue. So confident had the military authorities been, that not only
had no defensive works been thrown up, but they had omitted to send the
women and children, and the men unfitted to give active assistance, to
the rear.

On the following morning the scouts held a council of war.

"Now," Chris said, "we have to decide the all-important question. It is
quite certain that the town is going to be besieged, and I should say
that the siege will last for some time, as nothing can be done to
relieve them until a lot of troops arrive from home. We have shown at
Dundee and Elandslaagte that our fellows can drive the Boers from their
kopjes, but a force arriving to relieve Ladysmith would have to fight
its way through a tremendously mountainous district, and to capture at
least eight or ten such positions. At Dundee and Elandslaagte the Boers
had only a few guns, and the big one from Pretoria had not arrived, nor
had they time to fortify themselves. It is certain, therefore, that it
will require a very big force to fight its way in here, especially as
the Tugela has to be crossed, and the Boers will of course destroy the
bridges.

"It may be a couple of months before the place is relieved. Of course
the question is, Shall we stay here or go? I don't think we should be of
much use here; indeed, I don't see that cavalry would be any good at
all, whereas if a portion of the Boers push south we may be very useful
in our own line of scouting. Still, this is a question for you to
decide. You chose to make me your commander when at work, but we should
all have an equal voice in a matter of this sort."

There was little discussion; all were of their leader's opinion that it
was best for them to leave. The prospect of a long siege in which they
could take but little active part was not a pleasant one, and it was
decided at once that they should leave.

"Very well," Chris said. "Then I will go in to Captain Brookfield and
ask his permission to go. Now that we are in camp with him he must be
consulted."

They had since Elandslaagte taken their places as a part of the
Maritzburg Scouts, and had been drilled for some hours each day. They
were already favourites among the corps, who were proud of the work they
had done, and being a pleasant set of lads their uncouth appearance,
which had at first been viewed with much disfavour by many of their
comrades, had been forgiven. Chris went to the commander's tent and laid
the matter and their decision before him.

"I think that it is just as well that you should go, Chris," the officer
said; "and indeed I was on the point of telling you that we are all
leaving. For myself I cannot understand why the cavalry should be kept
here, and indeed I know that it is their opinion also, and that they
have asked the general to let them leave. However, he has decided to
keep them. I am sure it is a mistake. Before the siege is over forage is
sure to run short, and half the cavalry will be dismounted before the
end comes. However, I have seen him and pointed out that as scouts we
should be useless here. He has given me leave to go, but has requested
me to join the first troops that come up the line. When we are once away
I shall give you leave to act altogether independently of us, which will
I am sure suit you better than being kept for weeks perhaps at Colenso
or Estcourt. Another thing I will do. General Yule was speaking to me
only yesterday of the manner in which your party defeated and cut up
more than double your number, and how you and three of your party went
into the Boer camp at Talana and ascertained their strength for General
Symons. I expect that General Buller will come on here, as it is
certainly the most serious point at present. I will ask Yule to give you
a letter of introduction to him, it will be useful; and I have no doubt
that he will give you a free hand, as I have done. I should not call
upon General Buller in that rig-out, if I were you. I have heard he is
somewhat of a martinet at the War Office, and we know that they have a
very poor opinion of volunteers there."

Chris smiled. "Volunteers have done good service at the Cape before now,
sir, and have shown over and over again that a man can fight just as
well in plain clothes as if he were buttoned up to the chin in uniform;
and as the Boers are themselves nothing but volunteers, I should think
that before this war is over the War Office will see its mistake."

"I should think so indeed, Chris, but at present they have certainly not
woke up to the fact. I see by the telegrams that the London Scottish and
the London Irish have both volunteered almost to a man for service here,
and that they have not even had a civil reply to their application. I
tell you, lad, this war is going to be a big thing, and before it is
over we may have both militia and volunteers out here, and perhaps
troops from the colonies. I heard that some of the Australian colonies
have already offered to send bodies of mounted men, and that our
government are ordering out a larger number of men than was at first
intended. I hear this morning that at Kimberley and Mafeking fighting
has begun. On the 24th Kimberley made a successful sortie, and on the
25th a general attack on Mafeking was repulsed. The fact that both these
places are beleaguered, and that we have again been obliged to fall back
here, and are likely to be cut off altogether, has evidently stirred
them up, and they begin to understand that it is going to be a much
bigger affair than they expected.

"I wrote to your mother yesterday at Durban, and told her that I
intended to leave while it is still possible. Of course you have
written; but I told her of the flattering way in which General Yule had
spoken of the doings of you and your party, and said that I hoped she
would not be anxious, for it was quite evident that you were able to
take good care of yourselves. My letter was in answer to one she wrote
to me from Durban, begging me to keep you from undertaking what she
called 'mad-brained business', and expressing some regret that you and
the others had been allowed to form a separate corps, instead of being
under the command of an experienced officer like myself. I told her that
I thought that you would have less chance of coming to harm in scouting
work than if you had to work in a regular way as the general ordered. If
this sort of fighting--I mean, of attacking in front every position the
Boers choose to take--goes on, our numbers will very speedily dwindle
away.

"The fact is, as far as we colonials can see, the regulars do not as yet
understand fighting the Boers. Nothing could be more splendid than the
behaviour of the troops, both at Dundee and Elandslaagte, but in our
humble opinion neither fight was necessary; and if Talana was to be
attacked, it should have been done by marching the troops round the hill
and taking it in the rear. In that case the Boers would have bolted
without firing a shot. That it could have been done is shown by the fact
that the cavalry did it, and encountered no difficulty on the way.
Again, at Elandslaagte the object of keeping the road open would have
been equally well attained if, after driving them out of the station, we
had taken up a strong position there and waited for them to attack us.
Therefore, Chris, I think that fighting in our way--that is to say, in
Boer fashion--and trusting to skill as much as to shooting, you will be
running a good deal less risk than you would in fighting under British
generals in British fashion. We shall go off quietly this evening. We
must keep a bright look-out on the way, for the trains have been fired
upon, and at any moment the Boers may pull up the rails and block the
roads altogether."

Two hours later all was ready for a start, and just before sunset the
corps rode out of Ladysmith. They kept a sharp look-out as they went,
but saw no signs of the enemy, and crossing the Tugela by the bridge
near Colenso, halted there for the night. Here Captain Brookfield
reported his arrival to the officer in command of the troops, and on the
following day Chris and his friends rode on to Estcourt. They had seen
some parties of mounted men in the far distance, but none had come near
them, and as the military authorities were well aware of the Boers being
in the vicinity, there was nothing to be gained by scouting. But it was
now decided that they were in advance of the point that any large number
of the enemy were likely to reach, and might therefore strike across the
country and resume what they considered their regular work. They added
to their stores several articles whose want they had felt, had slits
made in the waterproof sheets, and covers sewn on to close the holes
when they were used for tents, and had some triangular pieces of the
same material made to buckle on so as to close the rear of the tents,
which had before been open to the wind and rain. They had employed much
of their spare time in training their horses and in teaching them to lie
down when ordered, and thus share the shelter taken up by their masters,
behind rocks or a wall.

The officer commanding the small force at Estcourt had at first viewed
them with some suspicion, but Colonel Yule had purposely left open the
letter with which he had furnished Chris, so that it could be shown to
any officers commanding posts or detached forces, and its production now
caused his cold reception to be converted into a warm welcome. Riding
across country they met more than one farmer trekking with his cattle
and belongings towards the ferry across the Mooi river. These reported
that the Boers had overrun the whole of the country north of the Tugela,
and that some parties had already crossed at the ferry on the road
between Helpmakaar and Greytown. Fugitives had come in from the villages
on the other side, and complained that the Boers were looting
everywhere, and had driven off thousands of cattle and numbers of
horses, and had everywhere wantonly destroyed the furniture and
everything they could not carry off, in the farmhouses they visited.

A vigilant look-out was kept as the scouts advanced. On the second day
after starting they encamped on a slight elevation near Mount Umhlumba,
and early next morning they saw a party of some twenty Boers riding in a
direction that would bring them within rifle-shot of their camp. All
were at once on the alert.

"We will not go out and attack them," Chris said to the lads who were
running towards their horses. "That would mean that though we might kill
all of them, half of us would probably be shot. We will ambush them. Get
the picket ropes loose and the bridles on ready for mounting, and then
leave the horses in charge of the natives where we camped. They will be
out of sight there. When you have done that take your places quietly
among the rocks. Do you, Capper and Carmichael, put yourselves twenty or
thirty yards apart; you are our best shots. When the Boers get within a
thousand yards, which is as near as they will do if they keep the line
they are going, open fire upon them and keep it up steadily, but not too
fast. When they see that only two men are firing they will think that
you are a couple of farmers whose place they have plundered, and who are
determined to have their revenge. You are safe to hit some of them, and
the others will decide upon wiping you out, and will probably leave
their horses and crawl up in their usual style. When they get close it
will be our turn. I don't think many of them are likely to get away."

His orders were carried out, and five minutes later the two rifles
flashed out one after another. The Boers were riding in a clump. One was
seen to fall, and the horse of another gave a violent plunge.

"Very good," exclaimed Chris, who, like the rest, was lying down behind
a rock. "Don't fire too fast. Wait half a minute, and then each take
another turn, one a little time after the other." The man who had fallen
was instantly picked up by one of his comrades, and all rode off at full
gallop, but before they could get beyond the range of the Mausers each
of the lads had fired two more shots. No more of the Boers dropped, but
the watchers, who had their glasses directed upon them, thought by their
movements that two had been hit. The Boers, when the firing ceased,
stopped, and for some little time remained clustered together. Then they
took a long sweep round to a point where the ground was broken, and a
shallow donga ran up in a direction that would bring them within a
hundred yards of the position occupied by their hidden assailants. There
they were seen to dismount, and, after some talk, leaving all the horses
in the charge of one man, probably one of the wounded, they entered the
donga. Its course was irregular, and once or twice the two lads were
able to get a shot at them. The Boers did not return the fire but
hurried past the exposed points. As they approached a head was
occasionally raised above the bank to view the position, and then
disappeared again. The ground between the camp and the nearest point of
the donga was thickly strewn with boulders, with bushes growing between
them. The lads had all shifted their position to this side.

"Don't open fire till I give the order," Chris said quietly. "We have
got them now."

Except for a slight movement of the bushes, it would not have been known
that the Boers had left the donga. Once or twice Capper and Carmichael
caught a momentary glimpse of one of them, but held their fire, as Chris
had said,

"Let them come within twenty yards, then both fire at once, whether you
catch a glimpse of them or not. Thinking that your rifles are
discharged, they will all jump up and make a rush. Then it will be our
turn."

[Illustration: "BOTH RIFLES CRACKED AT ONCE."]

Presently a man's head was seen peering round a rock at about the right
distance. Both the rifles cracked at once, and a Boer fell prone on the
ground beyond his shelter. At the same moment there was a shout, and his
comrades all sprang to their feet and rushed forward. A volley from the
whole of the scouts flashed out. Twelve of the Boers fell, the others
leapt back behind their shelters, and in turn opened fire.

"Keep in shelter!" Chris shouted. "They know now that we are two to
their one, and will soon be making off."

The combatants were so close to each other that neither dared expose
shoulder or head to take aim, and after the first shots fired at the
Boers all remained quiet. Chris waited for three or four minutes, and
then told four of the lads who were in the best shelter to crawl back,
mount their horses, and ride out down the other side of the slope, and,
after making a slight circuit, to gallop straight at the Boers' horses.

"The fellows may be some distance away already," he said, "as they may
have slipped off directly they discharged their rifles. In any case
there is no time to be lost in getting hold of their ponies, or at any
rate in driving them off."

As two or three minutes again passed without a shot being fired by the
Boers, Chris was in the act of calling off half the troop to watch the
donga and fire at the Boers if they saw them running past the exposed
points, when at this moment he heard the horses returning, and directly
afterwards one of the lads he had sent off ran up to him.

"There are a whole lot of them coming round the other side," he said,
"sixty or seventy of them at least. Some distance behind I can see a lot
of cattle and waggons. I suppose they were making for home when they
heard the firing." Just at this moment two or three shots rang out,
telling that the surviving Boers were seen running down the donga.

"Never mind them," Chris shouted; "we are going to be attacked by a big
party. Put down your rifles all of you, and pile the stones on the
crest, so as to make a shelter, as quickly as you can. We shall have a
few minutes. Those who are coming up can't know yet what the firing
means." He ran up to the top. "They are not more than six or seven
hundred yards away," he said, "and it would be better to fight it out
here than to take to our horses. Some of us would certainly not get off
without a bullet. You need not mind showing yourselves when they come
up. They won't be able to make out what we are."

The Boers, indeed, reined in their ponies when they saw Chris appear on
the brow of the eminence, and as a preliminary some of them rode off in
both directions and endeavoured to ascertain the position. Those on the
right soon caught sight of the clump of horses.

"They will soon know all about it," Chris said, as two of them galloped
off. "We may as well teach them to keep their distance. Take your places
behind rocks, and then open a sharp fire with your magazines. They
cannot know how many of us there are here. Now, are you all ready? Yes?
Well, then, set to work!"

In a moment an almost incessant rattle of musketry broke out upon the
astounded Boers, who, turning their horses, scattered at full gallop to
escape the hail of bullets; but more than a dozen had fallen before they
were beyond the range of the Mausers and were fully two thousand yards
away.

"I don't think we need stop," Chris said. "Fill up your magazines again,
and then make for the horses." Directly the first party of Boers had
been seen, Jack and Japhet had set to work taking down and rolling up
the tents and loading the spare horses.

"Jump up," Chris said to them, "we are off. Mind you keep well with us.
Now," he went on, as they rode off in a body, "we will do a little
cattle raiding on our own account. Make for them, lads!"

With a shout they rode off at full gallop towards the great herd of
cattle. As they approached, the Kaffirs who were driving them fled.
Separating as they rode, waving their hats and shouting at the top of
their voices, the lads dashed at the herd, who at once turned and went
off at a rate that would have astonished animals accustomed only to
small pastures and other enclosures.

"Don't press them too much," Chris had ordered before the band
separated, "or they will break down. Listen for my whistle; when you
hear it, Field, Willesden, Harris, and Bryan will follow up the herd
with the Kaffirs and keep them moving, the rest will dismount, make
their horses lie down, and open fire. That narrow valley we passed
through yesterday afternoon will do to make a stand. It is about five
miles away, head the cattle for it. The Boers won't be far behind us
when we get there."

The enemy indeed had not noticed them leave the little kopje, as they
were hidden by a slight fall in the ground where they descended, and it
was not until they observed a commotion among the cattle that they
perceived what had happened. Then, furious not only at the loss they had
suffered, but at seeing their booty driven away, they mounted and
pursued in hot haste. But the party had obtained a start of fully a
mile, and the valley was reached by the fugitives while the Boers were
still half that distance in their rear. Chris rode along until he came
to a narrow and defensible point; the horses were taken a hundred yards
on and made to lie down, and he and his sixteen companions then ran back
and took up their positions among the rocks on each side of the track
and the slopes above it.




CHAPTER VIII

A DESPERATE PROJECT


Scarcely had the band taken cover in the gorge than the Boers appeared
some five hundred yards away.

"Open fire at once!" Chris shouted, "the farther they have to come under
fire the less they will like it."

The rifles at once spoke out. The lads had all used the boulders behind
which they crouched as rests for their rifles, and confident of their
shooting and their position, their aim was deadly. Five or six of the
leading Boers fell and several horses, the rest came to an abrupt pause,
galloped back some little distance and then dismounted, and leaving
their horses in shelter, disappeared from sight. In a short time a
dropping fire was opened from both sides of the valley.

"Don't fire unless you see a man," Chris ordered, "there are gaps on the
hillside that they can't pass without giving you a chance. Fire in
rotation, it is no use wasting a dozen bullets on one man; if the first
misses, let the next shoot instantly, and so on. When they learn that it
is death to leave shelter, they will soon get sick of it. Keep
yourselves well under cover."

The rifle duel continued for an hour. As Chris had said would be the
case, after seven or eight had fallen, as they were trying to make
rushes across pieces of ground where boulders afforded no cover, the
rest became very cautious, and at last only an occasional shot was
heard.

"We will fall back now," Chris said, "for aught we know a party of them
may be working round somewhere to take us in rear. We know that they
have not got their horses with them, for we can see the spot where they
hid them. Still, we do not want to be caught between two fires. Let four
on each flank crawl back; keep well among the rocks, and don't let them
catch sight of you. We will fire occasionally to let them know that we
are still here. When you have got the horses up and everything is ready,
whistle, and we will come back to you. It will be a long time before
they venture to crawl up and discover that we have gone, an hour most
likely, and by that time the cattle will be a dozen miles on their way
to Estcourt, and the Boers are not likely to follow them."

Ten minutes later all were in their saddles. They had left the horses at
a spot where there was a sharp elbow in the gorge, and their retreat
could not be seen from the valley below. They cantered along in high
glee; not one had received a scratch, while some twelve of the first
party of Boers had fallen, and fully fifteen of the second, and it was
certain that at least as many more must have been wounded.

"I expect they really gave up all idea of carrying our position long
ago," Chris said, "and have only been keeping up their fire to prevent
our turning the tables upon them. They must have seen that we are better
mounted than they are, and have been afraid that we should in turn take
the offensive. I should not be surprised if they stay where they are all
day, and don't venture to mount and ride off till it gets dark" "You are
something like a leader," Peters said enthusiastically. "We knew that
you were a good fellow, and would make the best leader among us, but no
one could think that our choice would turn out so well as it has done.
This is the second fight we have had with the Boers, and we have
thrashed them well each time, although the first time they were twice as
strong, and in the second something like four times, and we have not
lost one of our number. I am sure if we had been caught where we were
without you with us, at least half of us would have been killed, and we
should have been lucky to get away with only that."

Riding without pressing their horses, it was two hours before they
overtook the party with the cattle. These had now broken into a walk.

"We kept them at it till half an hour ago," Willesden said
apologetically, when they came up, "but the Kaffirs said that unless we
gave them a rest half of them would drop, so we let them go easy till
you came up."

"Quite right," Chris said. "We have given the Boers such a thrashing
that there is no fear of their continuing the pursuit. Unless we meet
some more of these thieves, we can go on as quietly as we like. I have
some sort of respect for men like those we met at Dundee and
Elandslaagte, who fight manfully and stoutly, but for these raiding
scoundrels who only come out to rob and plunder, and do wanton damage to
quiet people, one feels only disgust, and shoots them without the least
compunction."

There was a general chorus of agreement.

"Did they get near you, Chris?"

"Not within about four hundred yards. They got it so hot at first that
they dismounted and took to the rocks; they pushed on for a bit, and if
the whole hillside had been covered with boulders we might have had some
sharp fighting, but there were some open spaces to be crossed, and after
getting over two or three of them they found it safer to lie as close as
rabbits. For aught we know they are there still."

They travelled quietly till sunset, and then halted in an open valley
where there was water and good grass. Half the company kept watch by
turns, being posted with their horses some half a mile out in the
country, taking the animals with them not only because they could fall
back more quickly, but because they knew the horses would hear any
approaching sound long before their masters were able to do so, and
would evince their uneasiness unmistakably. There was, however, no
alarm, and two days later, travelling by easy stages, they arrived at
Estcourt, where their arrival with so large a number of cattle created
quite a sensation. They at once put up a notice at the post-office, that
all persons who had been raided by the Boers could come and inspect the
herd and take all animals bearing their brand. It soon appeared that the
cattle were the property of four farmers living within a short distance
of each other. They had arrived in Estcourt with their families two days
previously, weary and broken down with fatigue, hunger, and the loss and
ruin of their property. Their gratitude was deep indeed at this wholly
unexpected recovery of a large portion of their herds, and they started
the next morning, mounted on some ponies they had picked up for a
trifle, to drive them down the country.

Chris saw the officer in command as soon as they arrived in the town,
and gave him an outline of their adventure, upon which he was warmly
congratulated. "Shall I send in a written report to you, sir?" Chris
asked.

"No, you are not under my orders; and I should say that you had better
write and post it to the officer commanding the force at Maritzburg. I
do not know who it may be."

"Is the road closed to Ladysmith?" Chris asked.

"Yes, two days since. General French, who is ordered to Port Elizabeth
to take command of the cavalry brigade that is forming to drive back the
Boers who have crossed the Orange River, came down in the last train
that got out. It was hotly fired upon by the Boers, but luckily they had
not taken up the rails, and the train got through safely. We have had no
news since, for even the wire to Colenso has been cut, and for anything
we know the place may be in possession of the Boers. We have a little
fort here, and have been throwing up entrenchments, but if they come in
any force there is not much hope of our getting off. We have an armored
train, which yesterday ran to within a mile or so of Colenso without
being interfered with, though several parties of the enemy could be seen
in the distance. I have great hopes that we shall get half a battalion
up from Maritzburg to-morrow; if so, by loopholing the houses and
throwing up some breastworks, we ought to be able to keep the Boers out
of the place, unless they come in force. At any rate, I should advise
you to scout next time beyond the Mooi River and to make Maritzburg your
head-quarters. So far as we know the Boers have not yet gone beyond that
river, and any news of their doing so would certainly be of value. You
have done marvellously well in getting away from that party you met, but
you might not be so lucky next time, for as they push on they are sure
in a short time to be strong all over the country between the Tugela and
the Mooi."

This, after some consultation, was agreed to by the troop. There was no
reason for haste, and they rode by easy stages down to Maritzburg,
stopping at Weston and Hawick. Many of their friends had gone down to
Durban, but some still remained, and from these they received a hearty
welcome. All found letters awaiting them, for it had been arranged that
as it would be impossible to give any address, these should be sent to
Maritzburg. Their friends were scarcely ready to credit their stories,
but, on being shown General Yule's letter, saw that at least the
accounts of their early doings were strictly correct.

Troops were coming up fast from Durban, and there was already a strong
brigade there. Chris called upon the brigadier and presented General
Yule's letter, and his own report of the fight with the Boers
subsequently.

"This shows what can be done by young fellows who are good shots and
good riders, and who, I may say, Mr. King, have been admirably
commanded. What are your wishes now? There are two or three troops of
volunteer horse here; would you wish to be attached to one of them? Of
course, if you do so there will be no difficulty about it; but really, I
think that you would be more useful in carrying on your work in your own
way."

It had been known for a long time past that a large proportion of the
cannon, rifles, and ammunition of the Boers had been landed at the
Portuguese port of Lorenzo Marques, and taken up by rail from there to
Komati-poort--a station on the frontier, where there was a bridge across
the Komati river--and thence by rail to Pretoria. Chris heard that it
was generally known that the Portuguese officials, who had long been
influenced by Boer money extracted from the Uitlanders, were still
winking at the practice, although it was a breach of neutrality. So much
indignation was expressed on the subject at Maritzburg that Chris, one
day when the party assembled at the spot where their horses were
tethered, said:

"I want to have a serious talk with you all. You have all heard that
immense quantities of arms and dynamite are passing through Lorenzo
Marques. Now, at present we don't see much for us to do here. My idea
is, that if we could manage to blow up the bridge across the river that
divides Portuguese territory from the Transvaal, we should do an
infinitely greater service than by killing any number of plundering
Boers."

His troop looked at each other in surprise.

"You are not really in earnest, Chris?" Peters said; "it would be a
tremendous business."

"It would be a big business, no doubt, but I was never more earnest in
my life than in proposing it. Now that we know how strong the Boers are
round Ladysmith, and what terribly hard work it will be for an army to
fight its way through all those hills, we can see that the first
calculations as to the time when it can be relieved are a good deal
short of the mark. There must be at least twenty thousand men collected
here to do it, and I think it is more likely to be the end of January
than the end of December before the Boers are driven off. We have in the
one case seven weeks and in the other twelve before the place is
relieved, and we begin to turn the tables on the Boers; and according to
the way we carry my idea out it depends whether we are back here by the
end of the year or by the end of January--that is, I acknowledge, if we
get back at all.

"I have been thinking it over. There are two ways of doing it. We can go
on board a ship touching at Durban and going on to Lorenzo Marques. I
don't say that we could not all do it, but it would be better to choose
only four; a larger number would excite more observation. Those who go
will of course take dynamite with them. We can buy that at Durban. At
Lorenzo Marques we should assume the character of four young Irish
fellows. We know there are lots of them already up there, and Germans
too, fighting in the Boer ranks and I am glad to know that they got
peppered at Elandslaagte, although that is not to the point. We should
go as four Irish lads who have come across from America to fight for the
Boers. We have heard plenty of Irish in the mines and at Johannesburg,
so shall be able to put enough brogue in our talk to pass. I know from
what I have heard that a trip to the Portuguese officials would be quite
sufficient for them to pass anything without examination; but even if
they did open our cases and find dynamite in them, we could account for
it by saying that we had been told before starting that it would be the
handiest thing to take with us, and would be of more assistance to the
Boers than anything we could bring them.

"No doubt some of the passengers would know that we got on board at
Durban, but if any questions were asked we could account for that by
saying that the ship we came over in, was going on to Australia, and
therefore we had been obliged to land and take another on to Lorenzo
Marques. Once landed, we should of course take a train for Komati-poort,
and slip off it after dark at some station a few miles from there. Then,
you know, we could first reconnoitre the bridge, and when we had settled
on the best place for the dynamite, we could put it there the next
night. I know a good deal about the use of dynamite. It is not like
gunpowder, that you have to put in a hole and fasten up tightly, you
only have to lay it upon an iron girder or arch, and light your fuse and
leave it to do its work."

The boys listened with increasing surprise to his proposal.

"And what is your other plan?" Peters asked after a long pause.

"The other plan is that we should all take a passage in some small
craft, which we could hire, to St. Lucia Bay, and then go up through
Zululand and Swaziland, which extends to within a short distance of
Komati-poort. Both tribes are friendly enough with us, and hate the
Boers like poison. Of course in that case we shall take the dynamite
with us, and then must be guided by circumstances as to our course and
what we should do when we got to the bridge."

There was again a long silence, then Brown said: "If anyone but you had
proposed it, Chris, I should have scoffed at it as impossible, but for
myself I have come to have such confidence in you that I believe you
would manage it. There can be no doubt that it would be a grand thing if
we could do it. I have heard my father say that the river is a terribly
bad one, and that sometimes it is altogether impassable for weeks at a
time. Except by the bridge, even in the best times, I should think, from
what he said, it would be quite impossible for them to take heavy things
like cannon across. Anyhow, I am ready to go with you."

"Thank you, Brown," Chris said. "I should certainly not ask anyone to
go. Those who are willing to do so must volunteer. Of course we only
combined for the purpose of acting as scouts, and no one ever
contemplated doing more. So far, we have, as all allow, carried out that
object well; and I have no doubt that those who do not care to join in
what is a sort of forlorn hope, will continue to do well after we have
started on it, and of course I shall, if I get back, rejoin them. My
scheme would, no doubt, be considered a very wild one, but I can see no
reason why, with good luck, it should not succeed. Indeed, I believe
that it will succeed, if, when we arrive there, we do not find that the
Boers are guarding the bridge. Of course, if they do so there is but
little hope of carrying the matter out. They will know the importance of
the bridge to them, and how greatly its destruction would be desired by
the British Government, and may think it possible that such an attempt
as I propose would be made, and take precautions to prevent its success.

"I do not mean to throw away my life. If, when I get there, I find that
it is next to impossible to carry the matter out, I shall give it up;
but even then the information I should get about matters up there, both
as to the Boers and the Swazis, would be of use. We know that Boer
agents have been doing their utmost to get the Basutos to join them, and
it is likely that they may be trying to induce the Zulus and Swazis to
do the same; and even if we fail in the principal object, I should say
that the time would not be wasted. When I am up there, I can, of course,
get news as to how the war is going on, and if I find that our forces
are pushing up into the Transvaal, I shall make straight across the
country and join them. I have been thinking over the matter a good deal
since we came here, and made up my mind that anyhow I shall try to carry
it out, so I now resign the leadership, and also for the present my
membership. Now, I don't want to influence you in any way. It has all
come suddenly upon you. You had better talk it over together. All I ask
you is that you will not say a word about it to anyone, not even to your
relations.

"Not only because, as I know would be the case, they would be afraid of
having anything to do with what they would consider an absolutely mad
scheme, but because a chance word might prove fatal to success. As
everyone knows, there are a great number of Dutch in the colony, who,
although they may not be openly hostile, are in favour of the Boers, and
will no doubt keep them acquainted with every movement of troops here,
and can have no difficulty in communicating with them by native runners.
Were one of our friends even to mention it casually that we had gone
north, suspicions might be aroused. Therefore I beg that no one will
breathe a word about the matter, but that you will decide for yourselves
without consulting anyone. I shall leave you now, and we will meet here
at the same time to-morrow. You will have had time to think it over
then. I wish to say before I go that I don't consider that the success
of my plan depends upon my having the whole twenty of you with me. I
repeat, that four would be quite sufficient.

"There are advantages as well as disadvantages in having only that
number. We should travel without exciting so much notice; we should have
less difficulty about food; we could conceal ourselves more easily in
case we were pursued. On the other hand, with a stronger party we could
repulse an attack if chased by the Boers. So you see I really do not
want more than three of you to join. I think four is the best number,
and should be glad if only two besides Brown wished to go with me; but
at the same time if more desire it, of course, as we are all comrades,
they would have a right to go."

So saying he turned away, leaving the others to talk the matter over.
They went through their usual drill that afternoon without any allusion
being made to the subject. When they met the next day Chris said
cheerfully, "Well, what have you decided? First, Brown, do you stick to
what you said yesterday, or do you think better of it?"

"Certainly I stick to it," Brown said. "When I say a thing I mean it."

"And how about the others?"

"I have made up my mind to go with you, Chris," Peters said, "and so has
Willesden. Field and Capper and Sankey would all go with you if you
wanted to take more than four, and all would go if you wanted the troop;
but if you would rather only have three of us, it is settled that Brown,
Willesden and I go."

"Very well," Chris said, "that just suits me. I am glad that you would
all go if you were wanted; but really I think that four would be the
best number, so we will consider that as settled. And now there is one
other thing I want to ask you about. You see, we have no right to take
any money out of the common fund, but we shall have some heavy expenses.
In the first place we shall want, I should say, a couple of hundred
pounds of dynamite; then we shall have to take some natives with us, a
couple of Zulus and two or three Swazis. There will be no difficulty in
getting them, as so many have been thrown out of employment owing to the
farmers losing their herds. We may find it useful to make presents to
chiefs as we go along, and, of course, we shall have to take a certain
amount of provisions for the party. Have you any objection to our each
taking half our share out of the bank? Nothing has been drawn at
present, and with a couple of hundred pounds between us we shall have
enough and to spare for however long we may be away."

There was a chorus of agreement.

"We are all awfully sorry that you are going, Chris," Field said. "It
won't be the same without you at all. We have agreed to ask you to
nominate a leader during your absence."

"I would much rather not do that," Chris said. "Everyone has done
equally well, and it is a question that you should settle among
yourselves."

"We are all against that," Field said positively. "We have talked it
over and agree that we shall never be able to fix on one. Suppose our
votes were divided between four and five I don't think we should feel
more comfortable afterwards. We would rather put all the names in a hat
and draw one out, just leaving it to chance."

"I almost think that it would be better," Chris said, "to do as you
propose. Agree first that, as we have done up till now, all important
matters shall be discussed and decided by vote, then draw all the names
from a hat and let each be leader for a week in the order in which they
come out, with the proviso that if as time goes on you find that you can
have more confidence in one than another, you can by a majority of three
to one elect him as permanent leader."

"That would be a very good plan," Carmichael said, "but, you see, the
difficulty is that, supposing we were going to attack the Boers or the
Boers attack us, the plan the leader fixed on might not seem to us at
all the best. In the two fights we have had there was not that
difficulty, for everyone felt that the plan you adopted was the best,
and indeed much better than any of us would have been likely to think
of. I don't say that that would occur, but it might. It is not everyone
who could fix upon the best thing to be done all at once as you did."

Chris thought for a minute. "I would suggest," he said, "that in such a
case as you mention the leader should tell the next two on the list what
he proposed. If one of the two agreed with him it would be a majority,
and there would be nothing more to be said on the matter. If both
disagreed with him there must be a general vote. I should hope such a
thing would never occur, because the loss of five minutes would
sometimes be disastrous, though in some cases it might not make any
difference. Still, that is the best plan I can think of. There is no
occasion for you to decide that straight off. At any rate, if you should
find that any arrangement you make does not act perfectly well, I should
advise you to join Captain Brookfield's troop and act with him."

The general opinion was strongly in favour of Chris's suggestion. It was
agreed that at any rate the first leader should be chosen by chance.
Carmichael's name came first out of the hat.

"I shall not have much responsibility," he said, "as we have settled to
remain here until the advance begins. Now, Chris, about the spare
horses."

"I should like to take one of them. We may have to gallop for it, and it
is of no use our being well mounted if we are hampered with a pony that
cannot keep up with us. We have only to lighten its load by getting rid
of most of its burden, and then we should be free to go our own pace.

"I should like to take one of our Kaffirs. They have both turned out
very well, and have a good idea of cooking, and are accustomed to our
ways. I don't care which I have, but I should certainly like to have one
of them. He would stick to the spare horse, while the other natives
would be all right if they scattered and shifted for themselves."

"Would you not like two spare horses, Chris?"

"No, thank you, one would be enough. He would carry our stores, and I
should get two native ponies to take the dynamite along. We shall not be
travelling at any extraordinary rate of speed, and if they broke down we
could always replace them. Certainly there would be no danger if we go
through Zululand, and, I should think, not until we get north of the
Swazis' country; for though I know there are Boers settled among them, a
good many would of course have joined their army, and it would be easy
to avoid the others. The danger will only lie in the last part of the
journey."

"Then you have settled to go by land?"

"Yes, I have decided to go all the way on horseback. We might find
difficulties with the Portuguese at Lorenzo Marques, and if we manage to
blow up the bridge, should have no horses, and should have a very bad
time indeed in getting back. If I can get dynamite here I shall go all
the way by land, and it would be safer. No doubt the Boers have spies at
Durban, and we might have difficulty in hiring a craft to take us to St.
Lucia, and our starting with horses and five or six natives would be
safe to attract the attention of someone looking out for news to send to
the Boers. I think the best plan will be to keep a little to the east of
the road to Greytown, where no doubt there are some Dutch, and strike
the road that runs from there to Eshowe. A little west of Krantzkop
there must be either a drift or a bridge or a ferry where it crosses the
Tugela. I shall of course avoid Eshowe, and then keep along inside the
Zulu frontier as far as the Maputa, which is its northern boundary, then
we shall cross the Lebombo range into Swaziland. I don't know how far it
would be by the way we should have to go, but as the crow flies it is
about three hundred miles from here. I suppose, what with the detours
and passes and so on, it will be four hundred. Ordinarily that distance
could be done in twenty days, but we must allow a good bit longer than
that; fifteen miles a day is the utmost we can calculate upon. However,
in about a month after we start we ought to be there or thereabouts.
Coming back we should do it more quickly, as we should have got rid of
our weight and need not be bothered with pack ponies."

"You talk as coolly about it," Field laughed, "as if you were going out
for a few days' picnic."

"It is the same sort of thing," Chris said, "except that it will be
longer, a bit rougher, and a good deal more interesting."

"When will you start?"

"As soon as possible; all I have to see about are the dynamite and
stores for the journey. We know pretty well by this time what we shall
want. We are sure to be able to buy mealies and a bullock when we want
one from the natives. Some tea and coffee, a dozen tins of preserved
milk, and half a hundredweight of biscuits, in case of finding ourselves
at a lonely camp with no native kraals near, and we shall be all right.
Of course we will take a gallon or two of paraffin, a frying-pan, a
small kettle, and so on, and a lantern that will burn paraffin. We will
fill up our pouches with a hundred rounds of rifle cartridges and fifty
for our revolvers, and then I think we shall be ready. Now mind, the
success of our enterprise depends entirely upon your all keeping the
secret absolutely. Neither Willesden, Brown, nor Peters have friends
here to bother themselves about their absence. We are not likely to be
missed, but if any questions are asked, you can say casually that we are
off on a scouting expedition. I shall write four or five letters, with
dates a week or ten days apart, and direct them from here, and leave
them for you to post one by one to my mother. Be sure you send them in
the right order. As she will suppose that we are stopping here quietly,
and out of all harm, she won't be uneasy about me. Peters' and
Willesden's friends have gone to England, so they are all right, and
Brown's are at the Cape. You had better write two or three letters too,
Brown, to be posted a fortnight or three weeks apart."

When these matters were arranged, Chris saw Jack, and the Kaffir agreed
without hesitation to go with him. He had been so well treated since he
joined them that he had become quite attached to Chris, who generally
gave him his orders. He was only told they were going up on an
expedition to Zululand and Swaziland.

"I want you to find two good Zulu and two Swazis. Do you think that you
could do that?"

"There are plenty of them here, baas. I look about and get good men.
What shall I tell them that they will have to do?"

"To act as guides, to tell the chiefs who we are, and on the march to
look after two or three ponies. We shall only take one of the spare
horses, you will look after him."

"Will they have guns, baas? All men like to have guns."

"Yes, they may as well carry guns, and you too, Jack."

"Much better for men to have guns, baas. They would be thought nothing
of without them." "All right Jack, there shall be no difficulty about
that; the stores are full of them."

This was the case. Men entering the volunteer corps, or who intended to
do any fighting, sold the rifles they had previously used and obtained
those of Government pattern and carrying the regulation cartridge, so
that for ten pounds Chris got hold of five really good weapons,
carefully selecting those that carried the same-sized cartridge.

"You can take whichever you like," he said to Jack, who had gone with
him to buy them; "and I shall tell the men I engage that if at the end
of the journey I am well satisfied with their behaviour, I shall give
them the guns in addition to their pay."

A few hours afterwards Jack brought up four natives for his inspection.
They were all strong and well-built men, and looked capable of hard
work. Having been thrown out of their employment by the events of the
past fortnight, they were glad of a fresh job, and were highly satisfied
when they were offered wages considerably higher than those they had
before received. All preparations were completed by the following
evening, and the next morning at daybreak, after bidding their comrades
a hearty farewell, the little party started.




CHAPTER IX

KOMATI-POORT


The four lads were no longer dressed in the guise of farmers. These
suits were carried in the packs to be resumed when they neared the
Transvaal. They now dressed in the tweeds they had worn at Johannesburg,
and either felt hats or straw. They still wore jack-boots. The heat of
the day was now great, much more so, indeed, than they had been
accustomed to, for while Maritzburg lies two thousand two hundred feet
above the sea, Johannesburg is five thousand seven hundred. Behind them
Jack led the spare horse, and the four new men stepped lightly along
with their muskets slung behind them by the side of two strong Basuto
ponies, each carrying a couple of boxes containing half a hundredweight
of dynamite. These were concealed from view by sacks and blankets, the
cooking utensils, and other light articles. The spare horse carried the
flour, paraffin, fuses, and other stores, which brought up the weight to
a hundred and twenty pounds. This was somewhat lighter than that carried
by the ponies, but they were anxious to keep it in good condition in
case one of their own gave out.

The baggage had all been very carefully packed, so that even when going
fast it might not be displaced. They had found no difficulty in
obtaining the dynamite, as several of the stores kept it for the use of
the mines. They made no difficulty in selling it, and would not have
been sorry to part with their whole stock. In view of the possibility of
a siege, it was not an article that any sane man would care to keep on
the premises. Chris had gone round to these stores and had obtained an
offer from each, and as he said that he intended to accept the lowest
tender, it was offered to him at a price very much below what he would
ordinarily have had to give for it. The cases were sewn up in canvas, on
which was painted respectively, Tea, Sugar, Biscuits, and Rice.
Travelling five hours and halting at ten o'clock at a farmhouse that was
still tenanted, and again travelling from half-past three until eight,
they made about twenty-five miles the first day. Then they encamped at a
spot where there was a small spring and consequently good feed for the
horses, and knee-haltering them and taking off their saddles they turned
them loose.

The natives had collected fuel as they went along, and a fire was soon
made. When the kettle approached boiling, some slices of bacon, of which
they had brought thirty pounds with them, were fried. There was no
occasion to make bread, as they had enough for a two days' supply. The
natives parched some mealies (Indian corn) in the frying-pan when the
bacon was done, the fat serving as a condiment that they highly
appreciated, and they quenched their thirst from the spring.

Four days' travelling took them to the drift across the Tugela. So far
their journey had been wholly uneventful. Before crossing the next day
they had a long talk with the two Zulus. Their language differed
somewhat from that of Jack, but Chris understood them without
difficulty; for a considerable portion of the labourers in the mines at
Johannesburg were Zulus, and mixing with these, as Chris had done, he
understood them even better than he did Jack.

The different routes were discussed, and the position of kraals, at
which mealies for the five natives and the horses could be purchased,
and meat possibly obtained. This, unless they bought a sheep, would be
in the form of biltong, that is, strips of meat dried by being hung up
in the sun and wind, and similar to the jerked meat of the prairies and
pampas of America. The points at which water could be obtained were
discussed. Some were at considerable distances apart; but the Zulus were
of opinion that the late heavy rains had extended to the hills of
Zululand, and that there would be abundance of water in little dongas
and water-courses that would be dry after a spell of fine weather. While
passing through Zululand there would be no occasion whatever for
vigilance by day or a watch at night, for there perfect order reigned.
Here and there resident magistrates were stationed, and at these points
a few white traders had settled. All disputes between the natives were
ordinarily decided by their own chiefs, but in serious cases an appeal
could be made to the nearest magistrate, who at once interfered in cases
of violence or gross injustice.

At the first kraal they came to they learned that the natives were
everywhere much excited. They were most anxious to be allowed to join in
the war against their old enemies, and were greatly disappointed on
learning from the magistrates that this was only a white man's war, and
that no others must take part in it. If, however, the Boers invaded
their territory they would of course be allowed to defend themselves.

Some of the Zulus urged with reason, that though the English might wish
to make it a white man's war, the Boers did not desire it to be so, for
they knew that they had been urging the Swazis and the Basutos to join
them against the English, and that offers of many rifles and much
plunder had been made also to some of their own chiefs. To this the
magistrates could only reply, that they knew of old that the Boers'
words could not be trusted, and that they were always ready to break any
arrangement that they had made. "They would like you to join them," they
said, "because they would take your help and afterwards turn against you
and steal your land. You know well enough that we have always stood
between you and them; but they would know that if you had joined them
against us we should be angry, and after our war with them was over
would no longer protect you." The Zulus, from their knowledge of the
Boers, felt that this would be so. But in any case no offers made to
them would have induced them to side with the Boers; and it was the
general hope that something might occur which would induce the English
to allow them to attack their enemies.

Chris and his friends had laid aside their bandoliers, retaining only
the cartridges carried in their belts, in order to assume the appearance
of Englishmen merely travelling for sport, and as they went on they
generally managed to shoot deer enough for the needs of the whole party.
Occasionally they slept in the kraals of chiefs, but greatly preferred
their own little tents as the smoke in them was often blinding, and more
than once the attacks of vermin kept them awake. Still, it would have
been a slight to refuse such invitations, and they had to go to the
kraals as it was necessary to frequently buy supplies of mealies. At
times the travelling was very rough, and with the utmost exertions they
could not make more than twelve or fourteen miles a day, and at other
times they could make five-and-twenty. Without the supply of Indian
corn, the ponies could not have continued this rate of going without
breaking down. The native horses are accustomed occasionally to make
very long journeys, and can perform from sixty to eighty miles in a day,
but after such an exertion they will need a week's rest before making
another effort. With their Basuto masters they are not called upon to do
so. When one of these makes a long journey he will leave his pony with
the person he visits and return on a fresh mount, or if he returns to
his own home after his first day's journey he will take a fresh horse
from his own stock, which may vary from five to fifty ponies. As they
rode they seldom talked of the work that was to be done. Until they saw
the country, the positions, and approach, no plans could possibly be
formed, and they therefore treated the matter as if it were a mere
sporting expedition in a new country, and enjoyed themselves thoroughly.
They had heavy work in crossing the Lebombo range, and, travelling a
day's journey farther west, turned to the north again. They were now in
Swaziland, a wild and mountainous country. Here also they were
hospitably received where they stopped, although the Swazis were deeply
aggrieved by the shameful manner in which England had refused, after the
valuable aid they had rendered in the last war, to give them any support
against the Boers. A word would have been sufficient to have kept the
latter out of Swaziland, as it had kept them from raiding in Zululand;
but that word was not given, and the unfortunate people had been raided
and plundered, their best land taken from them, and they themselves
reduced to a state of semi-subjection. However, they were glad to see
four English sportsmen among them again, and to learn something of the
war that had broken out between their oppressors and the British.

"If you beat them we shall be free again," they said. "Last time you
were beaten, and gave over the whole country to the Boers, and left all
our people, who had fought for you, at their mercy. This time you must
not do that. If you beat them, shoot them all like dogs, or make slaves
of them as they make slaves of the natives who dwell in their land. Only
so will there be peace."

"I don't know that the English will do that," Chris said; "but you may
be sure that, when the war is over, the Boers will be no longer masters,
and there will be just law made by us, and all white men and all natives
will be protected, and no evil deeds will be allowed."

"We are no longer united among ourselves," one of the chiefs said. "Some
have been taken by the promises and gifts of the Boers, and our queen is
also, it is said, in their favour. She is afraid of them, but most of us
would take advantage of their fighting you to drive all of them out of
our land, and to win back all the territory they have taken from us. We
are very poor, our best land is gone, we can scarce grow enough food;
and we long for the time when once again we can have rich mealie
patches, and good grazing land for our oxen and our horses, and are
again a strong people, and they afraid of us. Had not the English
interfered and taken over the Boer country, we should have wasted it
from end to end; and they knew it well, and begged your Shepstone to
hoist your flag and protect them. Ah, he should have stayed there then!
The natives, our friends in the plain, still talk of that happy time
when you were masters, and the Boers dared no longer shoot them down as
if they were wild beasts and treat them as slaves, and the towns grew
up, and your people paid for work with money and not with the lash of a
whip or a bullet. All of us have mourned over the time when the English
bent their knee to the Boers, and gave them all they wanted,--the
mastery of the land, and the right to kill and enslave us at their
will."

"That was not quite so," Chris said. "They promised to give good
treatment to the natives; that was one of the conditions of the treaty."

"And you believed them!" the chief said scornfully. "Did you not know
that a Boer's oath is only good so long as a gun is pointed at him?
Perhaps it will be like this again, and when you have conquered them you
will again trust them, and march away. But they tell us, it is not you
who will conquer them, but they who will conquer you. They tell our
people that they will be masters over all the land, and that your people
will have to sail away in your ships. Runners have brought us news that
they have gathered round the place where our people go to work digging
bright stones from the ground, and that very soon they will take all the
English prisoners, and that they have also beset Mafeking, and that they
have beaten the English soldiers in Natal, and there will soon be none
left there; and more than that, that the people of the other Boer state
have joined them, and have entered the English territory, and are being
joined by all the Boers there. Therefore we, who would like to fight
against them, are afraid. We thought the English a great people; they
had beaten the Zulus, and dethroned the great King Cetewayo. But now it
seems that the Boers are much greater, and our hearts are sore."

"You need not fear, chief," Chris said. "Our country is very many miles
away, many days' journey in ships; it will take weeks before our army
gets strong. The Boers have always said they wanted peace, and we
believed them and kept but a few soldiers here, and until the army comes
from England they will get the best of it; but we can send, if
necessary, an army many times stronger than that of the Boers, and are
sure to crush them in the end."

"But how could you believe they wanted peace?" the chief asked.
"Everyone knew that they were building great forts, and had got guns
bigger than were ever before seen, and stores full of rifles. How could
you believe their words when your eyes saw that it was not peace but war
that they meant?" "Because we were fools, I suppose," Chris said
bitterly. "It was not from want of warnings, for people living out here
had written again and again telling what vast preparations they were
making, but the people who govern the country paid no attention. It was
much easier to believe what was pleasant than what was unpleasant; but
their folly will cost the country very dear. If they had sent over
twenty thousand men a year ago there would have been no war; now they
will have to send over a hundred thousand men, perhaps even more; and
great sums of money will be spent, and great numbers of lives lost,
simply because our government refused to believe what everyone out here
knew to be the fact. We did nothing, and allowed the Boers to complete
all their preparations, and to choose their own time for war. But though
we have made a horrible mistake, do not think, chief, that there is any
doubt about our conquering at last; the men who now govern our country
are men and not cowards, and will not, as that other government did, go
on their knees to the Boers, and even if they would do so, the people
would not sanction it."

"If what the chief has heard is correct," Chris said as they rode along
the next morning, "we must get back again as soon as we can. The Boers
may be lying, and, of course, they would make the best of things to the
Swazis. It certainly sounds as if not only at Ladysmith, but at all
other places, things are going badly at present. However, in another
couple of days we shall not be far from the bridge. The chief said that
the frontier was only a few miles away, and our own men tell us that it
is a very hilly country on the other side, just as it is here. We have
certainly come faster that we had expected. Thanks to their good
feeding, the horses have all turned out well. If it is really only two
days farther, we shall get there in just three weeks from starting."

They had not brought the same ponies all the way; as soon as one showed
signs of fatigue, it was changed for another with the arrangement that,
should they return that way, they would take it back and give the chief
a present for having seen that it was taken care of. The four natives,
although well contented with the way in which they were fed and cared
for, were much puzzled at the eagerness of their employers to push on,
and the disregard they paid to all the information obtained for them of
opportunities for sport. Several times they had said to Jack: "How is it
the baas does not stop to shoot? There are plenty of deer, and in some
places lions. There are zebras, too, though these are not easy to get
at, and very difficult to stalk. Why do you push on so fast that the
ponies have to be left behind, and others taken on? We cannot understand
it. We have been with white men who came into our country to shoot, or
to see what the land was like, but they did not travel like this.
Besides, we shall soon be in the land of the Boers, and as the English
are at war with them, they will shoot them if they find them."

Jack had only been told that his masters were going to strike a blow at
the Boers, and had not troubled himself as to its nature. He had seen
how they had defeated much larger parties than their own, and had
unbounded confidence in them. He therefore only said:

"The baas has not told me. I know that all the gentlemen are very brave,
and have no fear of the Boers. I do not think that we need fear that any
harm will happen. They shoot enough for us to eat heartily, they buy
drink for us at every kraal they stop at, and if they have seen no game
they buy a sheep. What can we want more? They have got you guns, but you
have never needed to use them; perhaps you may before you get back. If
the Boers meddle with them you will be able to fight."

The prospect of a chance of being allowed to fight against the Boers
would alone have inspired the four natives to bear any amount of fatigue
without a murmur, and each day's march farther north had heightened
their hopes that they might use their guns against their old enemies. It
was on the twenty-first day after starting that, from a hill commanding
a broad extent of country, they caught sight of a train of waggons, and
knew that their journey was just at an end. They had debated which side
of the Komati river would be the best to follow, and had agreed to take
the eastern bank.

The Boer territory extended a few miles beyond this. Komati-poort was
close to the frontier. As they knew nothing as to the construction of
the bridge beyond the fact that it was iron, and were not even sure
whether it was entirely on Boer ground, or if the eastern bank of the
river here belonged to the Portuguese, they decided that at any rate it
was better to travel as near the frontier as possible, as, were they
pursued they could ride at once across the line. Not that they believed
that the Boers would respect this, but they would not know the country
so well as that on their own side, and would not find countrymen to join
them in the pursuit.

Keeping down on the eastern side of the hills, they continued until they
could see the white line of steam that showed the direction in which a
train from the south-east was coming, and were therefore able to
calculate within half a mile where the bridge must be situated. They
camped in a dry donga, and next morning at daybreak left their horses
behind them in charge of the men and walked forward. A mile farther they
obtained a view of the bridge. It stood at the point where the river,
after running for some little distance north-west, made a sharp curve to
the south. The bridge stood at this loop. If the object had been to
render it defensible, it had been admirably chosen by these Boers who
laid out the line to the Portuguese frontier, for from the other side of
the bank the approach could be swept by cannon and even musketry on both
flanks.

Lying down, they took in all the details of the construction through
their glasses, and then, choosing their ground so that they could not be
seen by any on the bridge, they kept on until they were able to obtain a
view from a distance of a quarter of a mile. The examination that was
now made was by no means of a satisfactory nature. Near the bridge there
were sidings on which several lines of loaded trucks stood. An engine
was at work shunting. At least a score of natives were at work under the
direction of Portuguese, while several men, who were by their dress
evidently Boers, were pointing out to the officials the trucks they
desired to be first forwarded. Three or four of these carried huge
cases, two of them being each long enough to occupy two trucks.

"There is no doubt those are guns," Chris said. "If we can do nothing
else, we can work a lot of damage here, which will be some sort of
satisfaction after our long ride. As to our main object, things don't
look well."

Half a dozen armed Boers could be made out stationed at the Portuguese
side of the bridge, and as many more at the opposite end. Two lately-
erected wooden huts, each of which could give shelter to some fifty men,
stood a short distance beyond the bridge, and it was evident by the
figures moving about, and a number of horses grazing near, that a strong
party was stationed there to furnish guards for the bridge.

"I am afraid we cannot do it," Peters said, after their glasses had all
been fixed on the bridge for several minutes; "at least, I don't see any
chance. What do you say, Chris?"

"No, I am afraid there is none. If we were to crawl up to them to-night
and shoot down all at this end of the bridge, we should be no nearer.
You see, there are a line of huts on this side, and two or three better-
class houses. No doubt the railway officials and natives all live there;
they would all turn out when they heard the firing, and the Boers would
come rushing over from the other side. It would be out of the question
for us to carry forward those four boxes to the middle of the bridge,
plant them over the centre of the girders, and light the fuses. A
quarter of an hour would be wanted for the business at the very least,
and we should not have a minute, if there is as good a guard by night as
there is by day. It is likely to be at least as large, perhaps much more
than that. The thing is impossible in that way. However, of course we
can crawl up close after dark and satisfy ourselves about the guard.

"If it is not to be managed in that way, we must go down to the river
bank and see whether there is anything to be done with one of the piers.
If that is not possible, we must content ourselves with smashing things
up generally on this side. Several of the trucks look to me to be full
of ammunition, and there are eight with long cases which are no doubt
rifles. We all remember that terrific smash at Johannesburg, and though
I don't say we could do such awful damage as there was there--for there
were I don't know how many tons of dynamite exploded then, I think about
fifty--still, it would be a heavy blow. Any amount of stores would be
destroyed, some thousand of rifles, and, for aught I know, all those
waggons with tarpaulins over them are full of cartridges. However, the
bridge is the principal thing. We will stop here for an hour or two and
examine every foot of the ground, so as to be able to find our way in
the dark. We need not mind about the trucks now, we can examine their
position to-morrow if we have to give up the idea of the bridge."

On returning to their horses they had a long talk. Chris was deeply
disappointed, but the others, who had never quite believed that his
scheme could be carried out, were greatly delighted at the knowledge
that at any rate they might be able to do an immense deal of damage to
the enemy. As soon as it became quite dark, they set out again; they did
not take their rifles with them, but each had his brace of revolvers.
They had no intention of fighting, except to secure a retreat. Before
starting, each had wound strips of flannel round his boots, so that they
could run noiselessly. Brown had in the first place suggested that they
should take their boots off, but Chris pointed out that if they had to
run in the dark, one or other of them was sure to lame himself by
striking against a stone or other obstacle. There were several large
fires in the shunting yard, and at each end of the bridge, and at the
Boer barracks. Crawling along on their hands and knees they were
completely in the shade, and managed to get within some twenty or thirty
yards of the Boers, who were sitting smoking and talking. They were all
evidently greatly satisfied with news that they had heard during the
day. Listening to their talk, they gathered something of what had
happened since they left Estcourt. Colenso had been evacuated by us, an
armoured train coming up from Estcourt had been drawn off the line, and
most of the soldiers with it had been killed or captured. The last news
was that the British had sallied out from Estcourt, which was now
surrounded, and had attacked the Boers posted in a very strong position
near a place called Willow Grange, but had been repulsed, principally by
the artillery, with, it was said, immense loss. This was not pleasant
hearing for the listeners. The Boers then had a grumble at being kept so
far away from the fighting. It was not that they were so anxious to be
engaged, as to get a share of the loot, as it had been reported that
something like twenty thousand cattle and horses had been driven off
from Natal.

Then their conversation turned upon a point still more interesting to
the listeners. A commando had started from Barberton, a border town some
thirty or forty miles to the west, into Swaziland. A native had
mentioned to one of the Boers there that four Englishmen had passed
north. They had stopped at his chief's kraal. They were all quite young,
and had five natives with them, and three pack-horses. They had come to
shoot and see the country, they said; but they had spoken with one of
the men with them, who said that so far they had not done much hunting,
only enough for food; he supposed that they were going to begin further
on. The Boer had an hour later ridden down to Barberton with the news,
and it had been at once resolved to send off a commando of a hundred men
to search the hills, for there was a suspicion that the hunters were
British officers who had come up to act as spies.

"Our cornet had a telegram this afternoon," one of them said, "that we
were to be specially vigilant here, and we must keep a sharp lookout at
night. I don't suppose they are on this side of the river. They may be
going to pull up the railway, or blow up a culvert somewhere between
this and Barberton. Four men with their Kaffirs might do that, but they
certainly could not damage this bridge."

At ten o'clock most of the party retired into a small shed a few yards
away, but two remained sitting by the fire, and were evidently left on
guard, for they kept their rifles close at hand. The lads now crawled
away some distance, and then made their way down a steep bank to the
river. It was a stream of some size, running with great rapidity, and it
did not take them long to decide that it would be impossible to swim out
with the cases and place these in such a situation that the explosion
would damage the structure. They then moved quietly up to the spot where
the end of the last span touched the level ground; it rested upon a
solid wall built into the rock, and ran some forty feet above their
heads. They were now just under where the Boers were sitting, could hear
their voices, and see the glow of their fire. They were unable to make
out the exact position of the girders, but they had, when watching it,
obtained a general view of the construction.

It consisted of two lines of strong girders on each side, connected by
lattice bars, with strong communications between the sides at each pier.
The depth of the girders was some twenty feet. After cautiously feeling
the wall and finding that there were no openings in which their
explosives could be placed, they crawled away noiselessly, ascended to
the bank again a couple of hundred yards from the bridge, and returned
to their camping ground. They observed as they went that there were
still fires burning in the station yard, that some Kaffirs were seated
near these, and as, in the silence of the night, a faint sound could be
heard like that of a distant train, they had no doubt that they were
waiting up for one to arrive. Indeed, before they had reached the
camping place they saw a train pass by. It had no lights save the head-
lights and that of the engine fire, and they therefore had no doubt that
it was another train with stores.

When they reached their tents they had a long consultation. No fire had
been lighted. The horses had been taken some way up a little ravine down
which a stream of water trickled; here the four natives had taken up
their post. These had only come down in the middle of the day to fetch
their food, which Jack cooked over the spirit stove. This was alight
when the lads returned, but was carefully screened round by blankets so
that not the slightest glow could be seen from a distance.

"What do you think of it, Chris?" Brown said.

"I don't know what to think about it. I have no idea what effect
dynamite would have when exploded at a distance of thirty or forty feet
below a bridge. Certainly it would blow the roadway up, but I have very
great doubts whether it would so twist or smash the main girders as to
render the bridge impassable. The distance to the first pier is not
great, and unless one entirely destroyed the bridge, I should say that
it could be repaired very soon--I mean, in a week or two--by a strong
gang. If the girders kept their places, two or three days' work might
patch it up temporarily. If it were destroyed altogether as far as the
first pier, it would stop the cannon getting over till a temporary
bridge is constructed; but by rigging up some strong cables, they could
pass cases of musket ammunition across the gap in the same way, you
know, as I have seen pictures of shipwrecked people being swung along
under a cable in a sort of cradle. What do you think, Peters?"

"Two hundred pounds of dynamite would do a lot of damage, Chris. I
should think that it would certainly bring the wall down."

"I have no doubt that it would do that, Peters, but the ironwork goes
some ten yards farther, and no doubts rests on the solid rock. I expect
the wall is put there more to finish the thing off than to carry much of
the weight. Again, you see it is only a single line, and not above ten
feet wide, which is against us, for the wider the line the better chance
it has of being smashed by an explosion some forty feet below it. Well,
we will have another look at the bridge and the waggons to-morrow. Of
course the bridge is the great thing if it can be managed, though I
don't say that blowing up the yard would not be a good thing if we can't
make sure of the other. Anyhow, we need not feel down-hearted about it.
We came up here on the chance, and even though we may not be able to do
exactly what we want, we ought to manage to do them a lot of damage."

After eating their supper they turned in to their two little tents. The
spirit-lamp had been extinguished, and as they had not the least fear of
discovery, they did not consider it necessary to place a sentinel. In
the morning they were out again early and at their former post of
observation.

"What are they up to now?" Brown said an hour later when he saw a party
of Boers come down the opposite side close to the bridge, carrying posts
and planks.

Chris made no answer, he was watching them intently. They stopped near
the bank of the river close to the bridge. Then some of them set to work
to level a space of ground, while others made holes at the corners.

"I am afraid that it is all up with our plans as far as the bridge is
concerned. They are going to put up a hut there, and I have not the
least doubt it means they are going to station a guard under the bridge.
If they do it that side, they are probably doing the same on this, only
we can't see them. The Boers are stupid enough in some things, but they
are sharp enough in others, and it is possible that the commando from
Barberton has come upon one of the kraals where we slept, and asking a
lot of questions about us, they have found out that we had four heavy
boxes with us, and the idea may have struck them that these contained
explosives. If that did occur to them, it is almost certain that a man
has been sent off at once to Barberton with orders to telegraph here and
to other bridges, to take every precaution against their being blown up.
Anyhow, there is a hut building there, and I don't see that it can be
for any other purpose."

After three hours' work the hut was completed, and a party of eight men
brought down blankets and other kit. Two of these at once ascended the
bank with their rifles and sat down at the foot of the wall.

"That ends the business," Chris said. "However, I will creep round to a
point where I can get a view of this side of the bridge. Possibly they
have only taken precautions on their own side, for we were travelling
for some time in the Swazis' country to the west of the Komati, and that
is where they will have heard of us." He crawled away among the rocks,
and rejoined his companions an hour later.

"It is just the same this side. They have settled the question for us.
Now we will give our attention to the waggons."




CHAPTER X

AN EXPLOSION


Having given up all hopes of blowing up the bridge, Chris and his
comrades turned their whole attention to the lines of waggons. The train
that had come in on the previous evening had added to the number,
although it had taken some of them away with it up country. They now
made out that there were eight waggons piled with cases, that almost
certainly contained rifles; six with tarpaulins closely packed over
them, and these they guessed contained ammunition boxes; four, each with
two large cases that might contain field guns; while the two with what
they were sure were big guns still remained on the siding.

"I should say that about four or five pounds of dynamite would be an
abundance for each of those ammunition waggons; less than that would do,
as we could, by slitting the tarpaulins, put a pound among the cases,
and if one case were exploded it would set all the others off. There is
no trouble about them. I will just take a note. They are on the second
siding; there are eight other waggons in front of them and six behind,
so we cannot make any mistake about that. There must be a good heavy
charge under the rifle trucks, for we shall have to blow them all well
into the air to bend and damage them enough to be altogether
unserviceable. As for the guns, and especially the heavy ones, it is a
difficult question. Of course, if we could open the cases and get at the
breech-pieces, and put dynamite among them, we could damage all the
mechanism so much that the guns would be useless until new breech-pieces
were made, which I fancy must be altogether beyond the Boers; but as
there is no possibility of opening them, we must trust to blowing the
guns so high in the air that they will be too much damaged for use by
the explosion and fall. We have got altogether two hundredweight; now
two pounds to each ammunition waggon will take twelve pounds. What shall
we say for the rifles?"

"Ten pounds," Brown suggested.

"That would take eighty more pounds," Willesden objected, "which would
make a big hole in our stores."

"We must have a good charge," Chris said. "Suppose we say nine pounds to
each, that will save eight pounds; fifteen pounds apiece ought to give
the eight cases which we suppose hold field-guns a good hoist; that will
leave us with over a hundred pounds, fifty for each of the big guns. Now
that we have seen all that is necessary, we may as well be off and begin
to get ready."

The covers were taken off the boxes of dynamite, and these were
unscrewed, and the explosive was with great care divided into the
portions as agreed upon. Two of the cases furnished just sufficient for
the ammunition waggons and the two big guns, the other two for the
smaller cannon and the trucks with the rifles. The charges were sewn up
in pieces of the canvas, the smaller charges for the ammunition boxes
being enclosed in thinner stuff that had been sewn under the canvas used
in packing; the fuses and detonators were then cut and inserted. Chris
was perfectly up in this work, having performed the operation scores of
times in the mines. The length it should burn was only decided after a
discussion.

There would be in all nineteen charges to explode, and these were in
three groups at some little distance from each other, all the cannon
being on the same siding. It would be necessary, perhaps, to wait for
some time till all these were free from observation by natives or others
who might be moving about the yard, then a signal must be given that
they could all see. It would not take long to light the fuses, for each
of them would be provided with a slow match, which burns with but a
spark, and could be held under a hat or an inverted tin cup till the
time came for using it. The question was how far must they be away to
ensure their own safety, and Chris maintained that at least four or five
hundred yards would be necessary to place them in even comparative
safety from the rain of fragments that would fall over a wide area.
Finally it was agreed to cut the fuses to a length to burn four minutes;
this would allow a minute for any hitch that might occur in lighting
them, and three minutes to burn. It was of course important that they
should be no longer than was absolutely necessary, as there existed a
certain risk that one of the little sparks might be seen by a passing
Kaffir, or, as was still more probable, the smell of burning powder
should attract attention. It was agreed that Chris should light the
fuses at the cannon, which were farthest from the others, that Peters
should see to the six rifle trucks, and Willesden and Brown attend the
eight trucks with the ammunition, one to begin at each end of the line.

When each had finished his work, he was to run straight away in the
direction of the encampment, and all were to throw themselves down when
they felt sure that the time for the explosions had arrived. As soon as
all was over they were to meet at their place of encampment. Tents and
all stores were to be removed before the work began to the ravine where
the horses were, the men with them being charged to stand at the
animals' heads, as there would be a great explosion, and the horses
might break loose and stampede. The matter that puzzled them the most
was how, when they reached their respective stations--separated from
each other by lines of waggons, and in some cases by distances of a
couple of hundred yards--they were to know when the work of lighting the
fuses was to begin. It could not be done by sound, for this would reach
the ears of any awake in the yard or the sentries at the bridge. Chris
at last suggested a plan.

"When we start, Jack shall be stationed at a point on the hillside high
enough for us to see him from all points of the yard. We will show him
the exact spot while it is light. When we start he shall go down with us
to the edge of the yard, and as we separate will turn and go up to the
point we had shown him. He will be ordered to walk up quietly, and not
to hurry; that will give us ample time to get to our stations before he
reaches his. We must all keep our eyes fixed on that point. He will take
the dark lantern with him; when he gets there he must turn the shade
off, so as to show the light for a quarter of a minute. That will be our
signal to begin. It is most unlikely that anyone else will see it, but
even if they did they would simply stare in that direction and wonder
what it was. Of course, only a flash would be safer; but some of us
might not see it, and would remain waiting for it until the other
explosions took place."

All agreed that this would be a very good plan. Chris crawled up with
Jack until he reached a spot where he commanded a perfect view of the
yard, and explained to him exactly what he was to do. He had already
been told what was going to take place. Knowing that the Kaffirs have
very little idea of time, he said: "You will hold it open while you say
slowly like this, 'I am showing the light, baas, and I hope that you can
all see it.' You will say that over twice and then turn off the light,
and lie down under that big rock till you hear the explosion. Wait a
little, for stones and fragments will come tumbling down. When they have
stopped doing so make your way straight to where the horses are; you
will find us there before you. Now, repeat over to me the words you are
to say slowly twice."

Jack did so, and finding on questioning him that he perfectly understood
what he was to do, Chris went back with him to the encampment, where
they remained quietly until the sun set and darkness came on. Then,
according to arrangement, the four natives came in and carried all the
things back to the ravine, and laid them down ready to pack the horses
as soon as their masters returned.

The day passed slowly to the lads. All were in a state of suppressed
excitement, an excitement vastly greater than they had felt during their
two fights with the Boers.

"How they will wonder who did it when they hear the news down in Natal!"
Peters said.

"I don't expect they will hear much about it," Chris said. "You may be
sure the Boers will not say much; they make a big brag over every
success, but they won't care to publish such a thing as this. Probably
their papers will only say: 'An explosion of a trifling nature occurred
on the Portuguese side of Komati-poort. Some barrels of powder exploded;
it is unknown whether it was the result of accident or the work of
spies. Due precaution will be taken to prevent the recurrence of the
accident. Beyond a few natives employed at the station, no one was
hurt.'"

The others laughed. "I suppose that will be about it, Chris. However, I
have no doubt that that commando from Barberton will keep a very sharp
look-out for us as we go back."

"Yes, but they won't catch us. We won't venture into Swaziland again,
but will make our way down on the Portuguese side, following the railway
till we are fairly beyond the mountain range. We can ride fast now that
we have got rid of the dynamite. It will be some time before they get
the news about what has happened here, for the telegraph wires are sure
to be broken and the instruments smashed. I really think that our best
way will be to ride straight down to Lorenzo Marques. When we get there
we can very well state that we had been ordered to leave Johannesburg,
and that, as the trains are so slow and so crowded with fugitives, we
had ridden down. I don't suppose that we shall attract the least notice,
for we know that a great many of those who had intended to stay have
been ordered off. That way we shall get back to Natal in a few days and
avoid all danger." The others agreed that this would be a capital plan;
and the distance by the road, which they had crossed a few miles to the
south, and which runs from Lorenzo Marques up to Ladysdorp and the
Murchison and Klein Lemba gold-fields, would not be above seventy miles.
They would wait till daybreak showed them the amount of damage that had
been done, and then start, and would be down at Lorenzo Marques in the
evening, when, even if the news of the explosion reached the town, the
Boers' suspicions that some Englishmen were in the hills, and that it
was probably their work, would not be known. Not until ten o'clock was a
move made. Then they took up the packages of dynamite, and, accompanied
by Jack, made their way noiselessly down to the railway yard.

Here they separated. Chris, aided by Jack, carried the big packets for
the large guns and for the eight smaller ones. They met no one about,
and depositing their packages in the right position under them--the
fuses had been already inserted--they returned to the spot they had
left. In a minute or two they were joined by the others. Peters had
placed his parcels under the eight trucks with rifles; Willesden and
Brown had cut holes in the tarpaulins of the ammunition trucks, and
thrust down their charges well among the boxes. All was ready. While the
others stood closely round him Jack opened the lantern just widely
enough for them to light their slow matches.

"Now, you are not to hurry back to the place, Jack; we shall all be on
the look-out for you by the time you get there. You know your
instructions; you are to turn round, open the slide of the lantern, say
the words I told you over twice slowly, then shut the lantern and get
under that great boulder lying against the rock. You will be perfectly
safe in there."

"I understand, baas," he said, and at once turned and went off. The
others hurried to their respective posts, and then turned round and
gazed at the spot where the light would be shown. In their anxiety and
excitement the time seemed interminable, and each began to think that
the native had somehow blundered; at last the light appeared, and they
turned at once to their work. Half a minute sufficed to light the fuses,
and then they hurried away cautiously until past all the waggons, and
then at full speed along the hillside, their thickly-padded shoes making
no noise upon the rocks. Knowing that they were sure to be confused as
to the time, they had calculated before the sun had set how far they
could run in three minutes, which should be, if all went well, the time
they would have after leaving the yard. They thought that even on the
rough ground, and in the dark, they could make a hundred and fifty yards
a minute, and at about four hundred and fifty from the waggons there was
a low ridge of rock behind which they would obtain protection from all
fragments blown directly outwards.

Chris was the first to arrive, for the trucks with the cannon were those
farthest away from the bridge, and he was able to run for some distance
along the line before making for the elope, and therefore travelled
faster than his companions, who had farther to run on broken ground. In
half a minute they rushed up almost together.

"Throw yourselves down," Chris shouted; "we shall have it directly."

Twenty seconds later there was a tremendous roar and a blinding crash,
and they felt the ground shake. Almost simultaneously came eight others,
then in quick succession followed six other reports, and mingled with
these a confused roar of innumerable shots blended together. There was a
momentary pause, and then a deafening clatter as rifles, fragments of
iron and wood came falling down over a wide area. Several fell close to
where the lads were crouched against the rock, but none touched them.
For a full half-minute the fragments continued to fall, then the boys
stood up and looked round. It was too dark to see more than that the
yard was a chaos; the long lines of waggons, the huts and buildings, had
all disappeared; loud shouts could be heard from the other side of the
bridge, but nearer to them everything was silent. There was no doubt
that the success of the attempt was complete, and the lads walked back
quietly until they were at the spot where the horses had been placed,
Jack overtaking them just as they reached it.

"It was terrible, baas," he said in an awed voice. "Jack thought his
life was gone. Things fell on the rock but could not break it."

"Nothing short of one of those big cannon would have done that, Jack.
Well, we shall see in the morning what damage is done."

The four natives, although they had been warned, were still terribly
frightened. The horses had at the first crash broken away and run up the
ravine, but they had just brought them down again, still trembling and
lathering with fear. For some minutes the boys patted and soothed them,
and accustomed to their voices and caresses they gradually quieted down,
but were very restless until day began to break. The boys had no thought
of sleep. The lamp was lit and tea made, and each of the Kaffirs was
given a glass of spirits and water, for they had brought up a bottle
with them in case of illness or any special need; and it was evident
from their chattering teeth and broken speech that the natives needed a
stimulant badly. Before it became light the horses were saddled, and the
five natives told to take them along the hill a mile farther. When they
had seen them off the lads returned to their former post above the
station. They had several times, when they looked out during the night,
seen a great light in that direction, and had no doubt that some of the
fallen huts had caught fire.

[Illustration: "THERE WAS A TREMENDOUS ROAR AND A BLINDING CRASH."]

Prepared as they were for a scene of destruction, the reality far
exceeded their expectations. All the waggons within a considerable
distance of the explosions were smashed into fragments, their wheels
broken and the axles twisted. The ammunition trucks had disappeared, and
many close to them had been completely shattered. Those in which the
muskets had been were a mere heap of fragments; the rest of the trucks
lay, some with their sides blown in, others comparatively uninjured.
Some were piled on the top of others three or four deep; their contents
were scattered over the whole yard. Boxes and cases were burst open, and
their contents--including large quantities of tea, sugar, tinned
provisions in vast quantities, and other stores--ruined.

Some still smoking brands showed where the huts had stood, and the dead
bodies of some twenty natives and several Portuguese officials, were
scattered here and there. The bodies of eight Boers were laid out
together by the bridge, and forty or fifty men were wandering aimlessly
amid the ruins. A huge cannon stood upright nearly in the centre of the
yard. It had fallen on its muzzle, which had penetrated some feet into
the earth. They could not see where its fellow had fallen. Five others,
which looked like fifteen-pounders, were lying in different directions,
the other three had disappeared. Rifles twisted, bent, and ruined were
lying about everywhere.

"It is not as good as the bridge," Chris said after they had used their
glasses for some time in silence, "but it is a heavy blow for them, and
I should think it will be a week before the line can be cleared ready
for traffic. Even when they begin they will feel the loss of so much
rolling-stock. There were five engines in the yard. Every one of these
has been upset, and will want a lot of repairs before it is fit for
anything again. I wish I had a kodak with me to take a dozen snap-shots,
it would be something worth showing when we get back. Well, we may as
well be moving. The Boers look as if they were stupefied at present, but
they will be waking up presently, and the sooner we start for Lorenzo
Marques the better."

Half an hour later they had mounted and were on their way, travelling
slowly till they came upon the road, and then at a fast pace. Jack rode
the spare horse, the other natives rode the ponies in turn, those on
foot keeping up without difficulty by laying a hand on the saddles.
Sometimes they trotted for two or three miles, and then went at a walk
for half an hour, and stopped altogether for four hours in the heat of
the day, for they were now getting on to low land, being only some three
hundred feet above the sea. They reached Lorenzo Marques at about nine
o'clock in the evening, and failing to find beds, for the town was full
of emigrants from the Transvaal, they camped in the open. In the morning
they sold the two ponies, and were fortunate in finding a steamer lying
there that would start the next day. Being very unwilling to part with
their horses they arranged for deck passages for them, taking their own
risk of injury to them in case of rough weather setting in. Every berth
was already engaged, but this mattered little to them, as they could
sleep upon the planks as well as on the ground.

They found that there was some excitement in the town, as there was a
report that there had been an explosion and much damage done near
Komati-poort. No particulars were, however, known, as the railway
officials maintained a strict silence as to the affair. It was known,
however, that the telegraphic communication with the Transvaal was
broken, and that three trains filled with Kaffir labourers, and
accompanied by a number of officials and a company of soldiers, had gone
up early that morning. Among the fugitives strong hopes were expressed
that the damage had been serious enough to interrupt the traffic for
some little time, and to cause serious inconvenience to the Boers, and
some even hazarded the hope that the bridge had suffered. This, however,
seemed unlikely in the extreme.

Fortunately the weather was fine on the run down to Durban, and the
passage of three hundred miles was effected in twenty-four hours. It was
now just a month since they had left Maritzburg, and as soon as they
landed with their horses and followers they learned that much had taken
place during that time.

They had started on the 10th of November. The Boers were then steadily
advancing, and so great did the danger appear, that Durban had been
strongly fortified by the blue jackets, aided by Kaffir labour. On the
25th Sir Redvers Buller had arrived, and by this time a considerable
force was gathered at Estcourt. The British advance began from that town
on the following day. The place had been entirely cut off, Boers
occupying the whole country as far as the Mooi river. General Hildyard,
who commanded at Estcourt, had been obliged to inarch out several times
to keep them at a distance from the town, and one or two sharp artillery
engagements had taken place, the Boers being commanded by General
Joubert in person. They had always retired a short distance, but their
movements were so rapid that it was useless to follow; and the troops
had each time fallen back to Estcourt. On the 28th the Boers had blown
up the bridge across the Tugela, and our army was moving forward, and a
great battle was expected shortly. On landing Chris rode at once to the
address given by his mother, and found that she had sailed for Cape Town
a week before. Riding then to the railway, he found that the line was
closed altogether to passenger traffic, but that a train with some
troops and a strong detachment of sailors was going up that evening.
Learning that a naval officer was in command, as the military consisted
only of small parties of men who had been left behind, when their
regiments left, to look after and forward their stores, he went to him.
He had, before landing, donned his civilian suit.

"What can I do for you, sir?" the officer, who was watching a party
loading trucks with sheep, asked.

"My name is King, sir. I have just returned from an expedition to
Komati, I and three friends with me, and we have succeeded in blowing up
a large number of waggons containing a battery of field artillery, two
very heavy long guns, which, by the marks on the case, came from
Creusot, some eight or ten thousand rifles, and six truck-loads of
ammunition."

"The deuce you have!" the officer said, looking with great surprise at
the lad who told him this astonishing tale. Then sharply he added: "Are
you speaking the truth, sir? You will find it the worse for you if you
are not."

"What I say is perfectly true," Chris said quietly. "We only arrived an
hour since from Lorenzo Marques. This open letter from General Yule will
show you that the party of boys of whom I was the leader, have done some
good service before now."

The officer opened and read the letter. "I must beg your pardon for
having doubted your word," he said, as he handed it back. "After
adventuring into a Boer camp, and giving so heavy a lesson to a superior
force of the enemy, I can quite imagine you capable of carrying out the
adventure you have just spoken of. Now, sir, what can I do for you?"

"I have come to ask if you will allow myself and my three friends to
accompany you."

"That I will most certainly. And indeed, as you have a report to make of
this matter to General Buller, you have a right to go on by the first
military train. Is there anything else?"

"Yes, sir; I should be greatly obliged if you will authorize the
station-master to attach a carriage to the train to take our five
horses."

"I will go with you to him," the officer said. "I can't say whether that
can be managed or not."

The station-master at first said that it was impossible, for his orders
were for a certain number of carriages and trucks, and with those orders
from the commanding officer he could not add to the number.

"But you might slip it on behind, Mr. Station-master," the officer said.
"There are four gentlemen going up with a very important report to Sir
Redvers Buller."

"I would do it willingly enough," the station-master said, "but the
commanding officer is bound to be down here with his staff, and he would
notice the horses directly."

"They might be put in a closed van, sir," Chris urged. "And as there are
so many full of stores, it would naturally be supposed that this was
also loaded with them."

The official smiled. "Well, young gentleman, I will do what I can for
you. As the officer in command of the train has consented, I can fall
back upon his authority if there should be any fuss about it. The train
will start at eight this evening; you had better have your horses here
two hours before that. Entrain them on the other side of the yard, and I
will have the waggon attached to the train quietly as soon as you have
got them in. The general is not likely to be down here till half an hour
before the train starts, and it is certainly not probable that he will
count the number of carriages."

It was now half-past five, and Chris joined his friends, who were
waiting with the horses and Kaffirs near the station. They had hardly
expected him so soon, as they did not know that his mother had left.

"Good news," he said. "There is a through train going up this evening,
and I have got permission for us and the horses to go; but they must be
put in a truck by half-past six, and we may as well get them in at once.
We still have our water-skins; the Kaffirs had better get them filled at
once, and a good supply of mealies for the horses on the way; there is
no saying how long we may be. Willesden, do you run into a store and get
a supply of bread and a cold ham for ourselves; a good stock of bread
for the Kaffirs, and a jar of water, and a hamper, with a lock,
containing two dozen bottles of beer, the mildest you can get, for them.
We are sure to get out for a few minutes at one of the stations, and can
then unlock the hamper and give them a bottle each. It would never do to
leave it to their mercy; they would drink it up in the first half-hour,
and then likely enough quarrel and fight. For ourselves, we will have a
small skin of water and, say, three bottles of whisky. The carriage is
sure to be full, and it will be acceptable in the heat of the day
tomorrow. The remainder of our supply of tea and so on, and the lamp and
other things, had better all go in with the horses, and everything we do
not absolutely want in the train with us; there will be little room
enough. Get an extra kettle, then we can not only make ourselves a cup
of tea or cocoa on the road, but give some to any friend we may make;
besides, it is sure to come in useful when we get to the front."

"I will see to all that."

"If you will, take Jack with you to carry the things you buy."

"I had better take two of them; it will be a good weight."

"Very well, take one of the Zulus; the other can lead the spare horse,
and likely enough we shall have some trouble in getting them into the
waggon."

That work, however, turned out more easy than he had expected. The
station-master pointed out the waggon that he was to take, which was
standing alone on one of the lines of rails. They all set to work, and
were not long in running it alongside an empty platform, from which the
horses were led into it without trouble, being by this time accustomed
to so many changes that they obeyed their masters' orders without
hesitation. They had, too, already made one railway journey, and had
found that it was not unpleasant. The station-master happened to catch
sight of them, and sent two of the porters to take the waggon across the
various points to the rear of the train, where it was coupled. The
water-skins had been filled and the horses given a good drink before
entering the station, and the stores, waterproofs, and other spare
articles stowed with the horses. The shutter was closed, and the Kaffirs
told that on no account were they to open it or show their faces until
the train had left the station.

In a few minutes Willesden came up with the two natives heavily laden.
As soon as the stores and natives were all safely packed away and the
door of the van locked by one of the porters, the lads went out and had
a hearty meal at an hotel near the station. When they returned a large
number of soldiers and sailors were gathered on the platform. Their
baggage had already been stowed, and they were drawn up in fours, facing
the train, in readiness to enter when the word was given, the officers
standing and chatting in groups. The station was well lighted, as, in
addition to the ordinary gas-lamps, several powerful oil-lamps had been
hung up at short intervals. The naval men were in the front part of the
train, and on Chris walking up there the officer in command beckoned to
him.

"I will take you in the carriage with me, Mr. King. We want very much to
hear your story, and there is plenty of room for you. Your three
companions will go in the next two compartments, which will contain
junior officers and midshipmen, and I am sure that they too will be very
welcome. Before we board the train I will get you all to go and sit at
the windows at the other side. If you will bring your friends up I will
introduce them to their messmates on the trip. As soon as we have all
entered, we shall be at the window saying good-by to our friends, and no
one will catch sight of you. It is just as well, for although I feel
perfectly justified in taking you on to make your report to the
commander-in-chief, my senior might fuss over it; and although he might
let you go on, there would be a lot of explanations and bother. Have you
got your horses in?"

"Yes, sir; we were able to manage that capitally."

"Then you had better bring your comrades up at once, Mr. King, and I
will introduce them to those they will travel with." Chris brought up
his three friends and introduced them to the officer, who then took them
to the group of youngsters.

"Gentlemen," he said, "these three gentlemen will travel in your
compartment. They have seen a great deal of the war, and belong to one
of the mounted volunteer corps. They have a wonderful story to tell you,
and I am sure you will be delighted with their companionship. They will
take their seats just before the men entrain. They must occupy the seats
near the farther window, and as you will no doubt all be looking out on
this side, they will probably not be noticed, which would be all the
better, as it is a little irregular my taking them up."

By this time a considerable number of people were crowded in the
station, friends of the officers and comrades of the sailors, who looked
enviously at those going forward, while they themselves might possibly
not get a chance of doing so. A quarter of an hour later the officer
said:

"I am going to give the order to entrain. This is my compartment. You
and your friends had better slip into your places at once."

As soon as they had got in the order was given, and with the regularity
of a machine the three hundred men entered the train. As soon as they
had done so the officers took their places. The crowd moved up on to the
platform, and there was much shaking of hands, cheering, and
exhortations to do for the Boers. Suddenly there was a backward movement
on the part of the spectators, and the commanding naval officer on the
station, with several others and a group of military men, came on to the
platform. They were received by the officers in command of the sailors
and soldiers, and walked with them along the platform talking. This was
evidently a matter of ceremony only. The usual questions were put as to
the stores, and after standing and chatting for eight or ten minutes the
officers took their places in the train, the engine whistled, and the
train moved on, amid loud cheering both from those on the platform and
the men at the windows. As soon as they were fairly off, Chris's friend
said:

"I have already introduced you to these officers, Mr. King, but I have
not told them any of your doings. I can only say, gentlemen, that this
young officer is in command of a section of Volunteer Horse, and has
done work that any of us might be proud indeed to accomplish. The best
introduction I can give him, before he begins to tell his story, is by
reading a letter with which General Yule has furnished him."




CHAPTER XI

BACK WITH THE ARMY


While the letter was being passed round from hand to hand, a good deal
to Chris's discomfort, he had time to look more closely than he had done
before at his travelling companions. Three of them were young
lieutenants, the fourth an older man, shrewd but kindly faced. In
introducing him, his friend said: "This is our medico, Dr. Dawlish. I
hope that you will have no occasion to make his professional
acquaintance." When they had all read the letter, the senior lieutenant
said: "Now, Mr. King, we won't ask much of you to-night; we shall have
all to-morrow to listen to your story. We have all had a pretty hard
day's work, and shall before long turn in. Perhaps you will tell us to
begin with what your corps is, and how you became the officer." "There
are twenty-one of us, sir, and we are all about the same age. We were
great friends together at Johannesburg, where our fathers were for the
most part connected with mining. As things went on badly, we decided to
form ourselves into a corps if the war broke out. They chose me as their
leader--for no particular reason that I know of--and with the
understanding that if I did not quite give satisfaction, I should resign
in favour of one of the others. We all came down with our families from
Johannesburg when war was declared, and were grossly insulted and ill-
treated by the Boers, several of the ladies, among them my mother, being
struck on the face with their whips; which, you can imagine, quite
confirmed our determination to fight against them. We had all obtained
our parents' consent, and when we got to Pietermaritzburg, proceeded to
get our horses and equipments. That is all."

"A great deal too short, Mr. King," the lieutenant said. "We want to
know what steps you took, and how you managed it. Did you come down all
the way by train?"

Chris related the events of the journey with more detail, and how, all
being well furnished with money, they had lost no time in getting all
they required, and going back by train to Newcastle.

"That is a good point to leave off," the officer said. "Tomorrow morning
we will take your story in instalments, and I do hope you will give us
the details as minutely as you can. They will greatly interest us, as we
are going in for that sort of thing, and it will show us what can be
done by a small number of young fellows accustomed to the country, well-
mounted, and, I am sure, from what General Yule says, remarkably well
led." All were provided with flasks, and after sampling the contents of
these, they wrapped themselves in their rugs and were soon fast asleep.
The other three lads did not get off so easily, the younger officers
were all so delighted at the prospect of soon being engaged that they
were in no way inclined to sleep, and it was not until the seniors had
long been soundly off that they too agreed to postpone the rest of the
boys' narrative until the next morning. The train travelled very slowly,
and Pietermaritzburg--a distance of seventy miles--was not reached until
day was breaking. Here there was a long pause, and all alighted to
stretch their limbs. The lads ran to the end of the train; Jack was
looking out.

"I thought that we should stop here, baas," he said; "and I have got the
kettles boiling and ready."

"Good man!" Chris said. "How have the horses passed the night?"

"They have been very quiet, baas."

"That is good to know. Take the kettles off and put three good handfuls
of tea in each."

"Yes, baas."

"When they are emptied, fill them with fresh water and put them again on
the stove. When they boil, bring them to our carriages, having of course
put some tea in before you take them off the lamp. Now, give me one of
those large loaves and the ham, and all the mugs and knives. We will
start breakfast first in my compartment, Willesden; we will pass you in
the ham when we have done with it. Anyhow, the kettles will hold enough
for a mug for everyone in our three compartments, and by the time we
have drunk that the second lot will be boiling. Open a couple of tins of
milk, Jack, and then you can bring them along when you have taken the
kettles. There is no extraordinary hurry, for I heard them say that we
should wait here at least an hour."

There was some amusement among the soldiers and sailors as Jack,
carrying the kettles, and Chris, Willesden, Brown, and Peters with ham,
bread and butter, tin mugs, plates, and three open tins of preserved
milk, came along down the platform.

"What have you got here?" the doctor asked in surprise, as they arrived
at the carriage.

"Breakfast," Chris said. "It is in the rough, but you will get it
rougher than this before you get to Ladysmith."

"Why, you must be a conjurer. Where did you get the water from? We were
just discussing whether we should go out and try to fight our way to
those barrels of beer where the Tommies are clustered, or content
ourselves with spirit and water, a drink I cannot recommend in the
morning."

There were exclamations of pleasure from all in the carriage as Jack was
handing in the things.

"We shall not want the ham, Mr. King," the senior lieutenant said. "We
provided ourselves with a great basket of eatables and a few bottles of
wine, but the idea of making tea in the train did not, I think, occur to
any of us."

Chris was not allowed to cut his ham, for the basket contained pies,
chicken, and other luxuries; but the tea was immensely appreciated. By
the time that the first mugs were empty Jack arrived with the fresh
supply, and long before the train started breakfast was over, pipes had
been lighted, and all felt thoroughly awake and cheery. "Do you always
travel so well provided, Mr. King?" the doctor asked.

"We always carry tea, preserved milk, and preserved cocoa, and two or
three gallons of paraffin for cooking with. In case we can't find wood
for a fire, it makes all the difference in the world in our comfort."

"Now, Mr. King, we must waste no more time; so please begin at once, or
there will be no time to hear all your story. Tell us something about
your expedition to Komati-poort. The other we shall hope to hear on
another occasion in our camp, where we shall all be glad to see you at
any time."

Chris then related the idea he had formed at Maritzburg, of blowing up
the bridge, and how he had carried out the adventure. He passed very
briefly over the journey, but described fully how they had been obliged
to relinquish their original project, owing to the bridge being so
strongly guarded at both ends; and how, failing in that respect, they
had determined to do as much damage as possible to the great assemblage
of waggons filled with arms and military stores; and fully detailed the
manner in which this had been accomplished, and the aspect of the yard
on the following morning.

"Splendidly planned and carried out!" the commander of the party
exclaimed, and the others all echoed his words. It was astonishing
indeed to think that such a plan should have been conceived and carried
out by a lad no older than some of their junior midshipmen, and assisted
by only three others of the same age.

"The day before we started," the doctor said, "I saw in one of the
Durban papers a telegram from Lorenzo Marques saying that there had been
an explosion at Komati-poort, where a few waggons had been injured and
two natives killed, but that the Boers had suffered in any way, and that
the damage would be repaired and the line opened for traffic in a few
hours."

"There is only one word of truth in that, sir," Chris said smiling, "and
that is that no Boers suffered. I am convinced that is strictly true,
for the eight Boers at the bridge were certainly instantaneously killed;
and of the natives, whom I am sorry for, there were certainly eighteen
killed, together with some eight or ten Portuguese employes. If I could
by any possibility have got the natives out of the way I would have done
so. As to the Portuguese I do not feel any great regret, for I believe
all the officials in the custom-house on the railway are bribed by the
Boers to break the official orders they receive as to observing strict
neutrality, and aid in every way in passing the materials of war into
the Transvaal."

There was no time for further conversation, for they were now within a
short distance of the Tugela, and the train was winding its way between
steep hills which could have been held successfully by a handful of men.

"The only wonder to me is," another officer said, "that the Boers did
not take up and drag away the rails all the way from here to Estcourt.
If they had lifted them out of their sleepers, they had only to harness
a rail behind each horse and trot off with it. I know that there is a
considerable amount of railway material at Durban, but I doubt if there
is anything like sufficient to make twenty miles of road. And the
business would have been still more difficult if the Boers had collected
the sleepers in great piles and burned them. Of course they have
destroyed a good many culverts and the bridge at Estcourt. It is
wonderful that the railway people should have managed to get up a
temporary trestle bridge so soon, and to make a deviation of the line to
carry the trains over. It does their engineers immense credit. This pass
is widening," he added after putting his head out of the window. "I
fancy we shall be at Chieveley in a few minutes."

The train came to a stand-still at a siding a short distance outside the
station, which was crowded by a long line of waggons with stores of all
kinds. A number of sailors were unloading shells for their guns, and a
crowd of Kaffirs, under the orders of military officers, were getting
out the stores. As they alighted, after hearty thanks to the officer
whose kindness had been the means of their getting forward so promptly,
and who now went to report his arrival to Captain Jones, who was
superintending the operations of the sailors, Chris and his party
hurried to the rear waggon. It was a work of considerable difficulty to
get the horses out, and could not have been accomplished had there not
been a stack of sleepers near the spot. A number of these were carried
and piled so as to make a sloping gangway, by which the horses were
brought down. The sleepers being returned to their places, Chris and his
friends mounted and rode to the camp, which was placed behind a long,
low ridge which screened it from the sight of the enemy on the opposite
hills, although within easy range of their heavy guns.

Here before daybreak on the 12th, Major-general Barton's Fusilier
brigade, with a thousand Colonial Cavalry, three field batteries, and
the naval guns, had marched north, and were the following night joined
by another brigade with some cavalry. The next day the big naval guns
had opened fire; but although their shell had reached the lower
entrenchments of the Boers, their batteries on the hill had proved to be
beyond their range even with the greatest elevation that could be given
to them, while the Boer guns carried far beyond the camp.

Chris had learned at Estcourt, where the train stopped a few minutes,
that Captain Brookfield's troop formed part of the Colonial Horse that
had advanced with General Barton's brigade, and they soon discovered
their position. Leaving the horses with the natives, they went to his
tent.

"I am delighted to see you back," he exclaimed as they entered. "I heard
in confidence from one of your party, when they joined me a week back,
that you had gone on a mad-brained adventure to try and blow up the
Komati-poort bridge. I was horrified! I had, of course, given you leave
to act on your own responsibility, but I never dreamt of your
undertaking an expedition of that sort. Of course you found it
impossible to get there. A lad told me that you had reckoned on being
away six or seven weeks, and it is less than a month since the date on
which he told me you left. Anyhow, I heartily congratulate you on all
getting back."

"We got there, sir, but nothing could be done with the bridge, it was so
safely guarded. However, we did blow up two big cannon and a battery of
small ones, some ten thousand rifles, and an enormous quantity of
ammunition." "You don't say so, Chris? Then you had better luck than you
deserved. One of the correspondents told me this morning that there was
news in the town by a telegram from Lorenzo Marques that there had been
an accidental explosion at Komati-poort, but it did not seem to be
anything serious. Tell me all about it."

"I congratulate you most heartily," he said, when Chris had finished the
story. "Of course you have written a report of it?" "Here it is, sir. I
have made it very brief, merely saying that I had the honour to report
that, with Messrs. Peters, Brown, and Willesden, I succeeded in blowing
up, with two hundredweight of dynamite, the things I have mentioned to
you, destroying a large quantity of rolling stock, badly damaging five
locomotives, and destroying roads and sidings to such an extent that
traffic can hardly be resumed for a fortnight. Is the general here,
sir?"

"No, but he will be here this afternoon. Now, I will not detain you from
your friends. No doubt they saw you ride in, and will be most anxious to
hear of your doings. You will hardly know them again. When they came up
to join us they adopted the uniform of the corps, feeling that it would
be uncomfortable going about in a large camp in civilian dress. They
brought with them uniforms for you all, for they seemed very certain
that you would return alive."

"I am very glad of that, sir, for the soldiers all stared at us as we
came up here. I suppose they took us for sight-seers who had come up to
witness the battle."

As they left the tent they found the rest of their party, gathered in a
group twenty yards away, and the heartiest greeting was exchanged. The
delight of the party knew no bounds when they found that their four
friends had not had their journey in vain. They had two tents between
them, and gathering in one of them they listened to Peters, who told the
story, as Chris said he had told it twice, and should probably have to
tell it again. The four lads at once exchanged their civilian clothes
for the uniforms that had been brought up. They were, like those of the
other Colonial corps, very simple, consisting of a loose jacket reaching
down to the hip, with turned-down collar and pockets, breeches of the
same light colour and material, loose to the knee and tighter below it;
knee boots, and felt hats looped up on one side.

The first step when they were dressed was to mount an eminence some
distance in rear of the camp, whence they had a view of the whole
country. In front of them was a wide valley with a broad river running
through it. Beyond it rose steep hills, range behind range. It was
crossed by two bridges, that of the railway, which had been blown up and
destroyed, and the road bridge, which was still intact; though, as
Sankey, who had accompanied them, told them, it was known to be mined.
To the left of the line of railway was a hill known as Grobler's Kloof,
on the summit of which a line of heavy guns could be seen. There were
other batteries on slopes at its foot commanding the bridge, to the
right of which on another hill was Fort Wylie, and in a bend of the
river by the railway could be seen the white roof of the church tower of
Colenso. There was another battery behind this, and others still farther
to the right on Mount Hlangwane. Heavy guns could be seen on other hills
to the left of Grobler's Kloof; while far away behind Colenso was the
crest of Mount Bulwana, from which a cannonade was being directed upon
Ladysmith and an occasional white burst of smoke showed that the
garrison were replying successfully. On all the lower slopes of the
hills were lines, sometimes broken, sometimes connected, rising one
above another. These were the Boer entrenchments, and Cairns said that
he heard that they extended for nearly twenty miles both to the right
and left.

"It is believed that we don't see anything like all of them," he went
on, "but we really don't know much about them, for the Boers only answer
occasionally from their great guns on the hilltops, and although
yesterday the sailors fired lyddite shells at these lower trenches,
there was no reply."

"It is an awful place to take," Chris said, after examining the hills
for a quarter of an hour with his glasses. "We have seen that the Boers
are no good in the open, but I have no doubt they will hold their
entrenchments stubbornly, and it is certain that a great many of them
are good shots. I have gone over the ground at Laing's Nek, and that was
nothing at all in comparison to this position. Do you know how many
there are supposed to be of them, Cairns?"

"They say that there are about twenty-five thousand of them, but no one
knows exactly. Natives get through pretty often from Ladysmith, but they
know no more there than we do here. They are all jolly and cheerful
there, in the thought that they will soon be relieved."

"I hope that they are not counting their chickens before they are
hatched," Chris said. "I doubt very greatly whether we shall carry those
hills in front of us, and if we do the ranges behind are no doubt
fortified. How about crossing the river?"

"There are several drifts. There is one about four miles to the left of
the bridge, called Bridle Drift. Waggon Drift is about as much farther
on. There is a drift just this side of where the Little Tugela runs into
it, and one just farther on; there is Skeete Drift and Molen Drift, with
a pontoon ferry; there is an important one called Potgieter's Drift,
where the road from Springfield to Ladysmith crosses; and another,
Trichardt's, where a road goes to Acton Homes. I know there are some to
the right, but I don't know their names."

"Well, that is comforting, because even if we take Colenso there would
be no crossing if the bridge is mined. And as the town will be commanded
by a dozen batteries, we should not gain much by its capture. Well, I
tell you fairly that I am well satisfied that we belong to a mounted
corps and shall be only lookers-on, for even if we win we shall
certainly lose a tremendous lot of men. Is there no way of marching
round one way or the other?"

"I believe not. The only way at all open seems to be round by Acton
Homes; that is a place about fifteen miles west of Ladysmith, and on the
principal road from Van Reenen's Pass. From there down to Ladysmith the
country is comparatively open, but it is a tremendously long way round.
I don't know how far, but I should say forty or fifty miles; and
certainly the road will in many places be commanded by Boer guns; and
they will most likely have fortified strong positions at various points.
But, of course, the great difficulty will be transport; I am sure we
have nothing like enough to take stores for the army all that distance.
Besides, Chris, I don't see that we should gain any advantage from going
to Ladysmith that way, we should be as far as ever from thrashing the
Boers, and certainly could not remain in Ladysmith; we should eat up all
the provisions there in no time."

"I don't like the outlook at all," Peters said.

"Ah, there is a general officer with a staff riding into the camp. Most
likely it is Buller. We had better go down, for if Brookfield gives in
my report he may want to speak to me."

The party went down the hill. When they reached their camp they were at
once sent for to Captain Brookfield's tent.

"I am glad that you are back," he said. "Sir Redvers Buller has just
ridden up on to the ridge, I will speak to him as he comes down. You had
better come with me and stand a short distance off. Bring your rifles
with you, and stand in military order; you three in line, and Chris two
paces in front of you."

Having got their rifles they followed Captain Brookfield till he stopped
at the foot of the slope below the point where the general and his staff
were standing. Their leader advanced some fifty yards ahead of them. In
a quarter of an hour the party were seen descending the hill. Captain
Brookfield stepped forward and saluted the general as he came along a
horse's length in front of his staff. Sir Redvers checked his horse a
little impatiently.

"What is it sir?" he said sharply. "I cannot attend to camp details
now."

"I command the Maritzburg Scouts," Captain Brookfield said. "Three of my
men, with Mr. King, who commands the section to which they belong, have
just returned. I wish to hand you Mr. King's report; it contains news
which is, I think, of importance."

"Give it to Lord Gerard," the general said briefly, motioning to one of
the officers behind him. "Please see what it is about, Gerard." And he
then moved forward again, briefly acknowledging Captain Brookfield's
salute. He had gone, however, but twenty yards when Lord Gerard rode up
to him and handed to him the open dispatch.

"It is of importance, sir."

Supposing that it was merely the report of four scouts who had gone out
reconnoitring, and with his mind absorbed with weightier matters, the
general had hardly given the matter a thought. Without checking his
horse he glanced at the paper, and then abruptly reined in his charger
and read it through attentively. Then he turned to where Captain
Brookfield was still standing and called him up.

"I do not quite understand this report, sir," he said. "Is it possible
that your men have been up to Komati-poort? I gathered from your words
that they had merely returned from reconnoitring."

"No, sir; they only came in this morning by the train from Durban with
the naval detachment with details."

"But how in the world did they get to Komati-poort?"

"They started from Maritzburg, sir, and rode up through Zululand and
Swaziland. Their object was to blow up the bridge, and to stop supplies
of munitions of war continuing to pass up through Lorenzo Marques. I may
say that they acted on their own initiative. The section to which they
belong is composed entirely of gentlemen's sons from Johannesburg; they
provide their horses and equipment, and draw no pay or rations, and when
they joined my corps made it a condition that so long as not required
for regular work they should be allowed to scout on their own account."

Before calling up Captain Brookfield the general had handed back the
despatch to Lord Gerard, with the words, "Pass it round."

"Are those your men?" the general said, pointing to the little squad.

"Yes, sir."

Sir Redvers rode up to them, and on returning their salute, said: "You
have done well indeed, gentlemen; it was a most gallant action. Have you
your own horse with you?" he asked Chris.

"Yes, sir." "Then mount at once and join me as I leave camp. Then you
can tell me about this matter on my way back."

Chris was soon on horseback. He waited at a short distance while the
general talked with General Barton, and as soon as he saw him turn to
ride off cantered up and joined the staff. The general looked round as
he did so. He beckoned to him to come up to his side.

"Now, sir, let me hear more about this. The captain of the troop that
you belong to, tells me that you and twenty other young fellows, all
from Johannesburg, formed yourselves into a party of scouts, and are
making war at your own expense, and that although in a certain way you
joined his troop you really act independently when it so pleases you."

"Yes, sir. We and our families have received great indignities from the
Boers; and although we are conscious that we should be of little use as
troops, we thought that we could do service as scouts on our own
account, and have been lucky in inflicting some blows on them. I was
fortunate enough to attract Colonel Yule's attention at Dundee, and he
furnished me with an open letter addressed to you, and to officers
commanding stations, saying that we had done so."

"Have you it about you?"

"Yes, sir."

Sir Redvers held out his hand, and Chris handed him the letter. "So you
went into the Boer camp! Do you speak Dutch well?"

"Yes, sir; we all speak Dutch fairly, and most of us Kaffir also, that
was why we thought that we should be more useful scouting; until now we
have all been dressed as young Boers, and could, I think, pass without
suspicion anywhere."

"Now as to this other affair," Sir Redvers said, returning Colonel
Yule's letter. "You had better take this, it will be useful to you
another time. Now tell me all about it. Was it entirely your own idea?"

"I first thought of it, sir, and my three friends agreed to go with me.
I did not want a large number. We started from Maritzburg with our own
Kaffir servant, and two Zulus and two Swazis to act as guides, two
ponies, each of which carried a hundredweight of dynamite; we had also a
spare riding horse."

He then related their proceedings from the time of their start to their
arrival at Komati-poort; their failure at the bridge in consequence of
the strong guard that the Boers had set over it; and how, finding that
the main object of their journey could not be carried out, they
proceeded to wreck the station yard and its contents.

"Thank you, Mr. King," the general said, when Chris concluded by
mentioning briefly how they had ridden down to Lorenzo Marques, and
taken a ship to Durban, and come up by train. "I saw the telegram of the
accident at Komati-poort. I imagined that it was probably more severe
than was stated, but certainly had no idea that such wholesale damage
had been effected, or that it was the work of any of our people. I think
that it would be unwise for me to take any public notice of it at
present; possibly there may be another attempt made to destroy that
bridge. If nothing more is said about it, the Boers may in time cease to
be careful, and a few determined men landed at Lorenzo Marques may
manage to succeed where you were unable to do so. It would be worth any
money to us to put a stop to the constant flow of arms and ammunition
that is going on via Lorenzo Marques. I consider your expedition to have
been in the highest degree praiseworthy, and to have been conducted with
great skill." "My father is a mining engineer, and managing-director of
several mines round Johannesburg, general. I have been working there
under him and learning the business, and therefore know a good deal
about dynamite, and what a certain quantity would effect."

"Have you thought of going into the army? because if so, I will appoint
you and your three friends to regiments at once, and you will be
gazetted as soon as my report goes home."

"I am very much obliged to you, general, but I have no thought of
entering the army. I will, of course, mention it to my friends. I have
never heard them say anything on the subject. We are fighting because we
hate the Boers. No one can say, unless he has been resident there, what
we have all had to put up with, for the past year especially. On the way
down the Boers not only threatened to strike us, but struck many of the
ladies, my mother among them, besides robbing everyone of watches and
all other valuables. If it had not been for that, some of us might have
changed our minds before we got down here. That settled the matter. And
besides, sir, I hope that we shall be able to do more good in our own
way than if we became regular officers, as we know nothing about drill
and should be of very little good, whereas we do understand our own way
of fighting. I can say so without boasting, for we have twice thrashed
the Boers; once when they were twice our number, and the other time when
they were nearly four times as strong as we were."

"Go on doing so, Mr. King; go on doing so, you cannot do better.
However, if any of your three friends, or all of them, choose to accept
my offer, it is open to them."

They were by this time close to Frere, and the general went on: "I am
sorry that I cannot ask you to dine with me this evening, as we shall
all be too busy for anything like a regular meal, for in a few hours
there will be a general advance. Good-evening. When I am less busy I
shall be glad to hear about those two fights that you speak of. You
colonists have taught us a few lessons already."

Chris saluted, wheeled his horse round, and cantered back to Chieveley.
There was much satisfaction among the whole of the party when Chris
related what General Buller had said. None of his three companions had
any desire to accept a commission. Willesden's father was a doctor with
a large practice in Johannesburg, and the lad himself was going home
after the war was over to study for the profession and to take his
medical degree; while Brown and Peters were both sons of very wealthy
capitalists.

"If I could not have done any fighting any other way I should have liked
a commission very much. Of course I could have thrown it up at the end
of the war. But I would a great deal rather be on horseback than on
foot, and I own I have no inclination to fight my way across those
hills. Talana was a pretty serious business, but it was child's play to
what this will be."

"Very well," Chris said; "I did not think that any of you would care for
it, although I could not answer for you. There is no need for hurry in
sending in a reply; there will be time to do that when we get into
Ladysmith. Then I will get Captain Brookfield to draw up the kind of
letter that ought to be sent, for I have not the least idea how I should
address a commander-in-chief. Of course, a thing of this sort ought to
be done in a formal sort of way; I could not very well say, 'My dear
general, my three friends don't care to accept your kind offer. Yours
very truly.'" There was a general laugh, and then they talked over the
coming fight, for it was now generally known that the attack was to be
made in a couple of days at latest. The next morning General Buller's
column started before daybreak, and were by nine o'clock encamped on the
open veldt three miles north of Chieveley; Barton's brigade having
already marched out to the site of a new camp, some five thousand yards
south of Colenso. Although well within reach of their guns, the Boers
made no effort to hinder the operation, or to shell the camp after it
was formed. It was evidently their policy to conceal their guns until
the last moment, and although a very heavy bombardment of their
positions was maintained all day by the naval guns, no reply whatever
was elicited, though through the glasses it could be seen that much
damage was being done to the entrenchments.

"I don't like this silence," Chris said, as he and some of the others
were standing watching the hills in front of them. "It does not seem
natural when you are being pelted like that not to shy something back. I
am afraid it will be a terribly hot business when they do open fire
tomorrow."

There had been a discussion that morning whether the four natives Chris
had engaged for his expedition should be taken on permanently, and they
unanimously agreed that they should be. It was quite possible that all
the colonial corps would at some time be called upon to act as infantry,
and it would be a good thing to have six men to look after the twenty-
five horses while they were away. Then, too, it would be very handy to
have a stretcher party of their own. On the question being put to them,
the four men had willingly agreed to follow the party whenever they went
into a fight, to take two stretchers with which they could at once carry
any who might be wounded back to camp. They were all strong fellows
belonging to fighting peoples, and would, the boys had no doubt, show as
much courage as the Indian bearers had displayed at Dundee and
Elandslaagte. In the evening Captain Brookfield sent for Chris.

"The orders for to-morrow are out," he said, "as far as we are
concerned. A thousand mounted infantry and one battery are to move in
the direction of Hlangwane--that is the hill, you know, this side of the
river to the right of Colenso. We shall cover the right flank of the
general movement and endeavour to take up a position on the hill, where
the battery will pepper the Boers on the kopjes north of the bridge. Two
mounted troops of three and five hundred men will cover the right and
left flanks respectively and protect the baggage. Half my troop are to
accompany Dundonald, the other half will form a part of the force
guarding the left wing. Your party will be with this force. You have had
your share of fighting, and none of the others have yet had a chance."

"Very well, sir, I shall not be sorry to be on this duty; for naturally
we shall have a good view of the whole fight, while if we were engaged
we should see nothing except what was going on close to us."

"Yes, it will be something to see, Chris, and something to hear, for I
doubt whether there has been so heavy a fire as that which will be kept
up to-morrow, ever since war began. We have some twenty-three thousand
men, and the Boers more than as many, and what with magazine-guns,
machine-guns, and fast-firing cannon of all sizes, it will be an
inferno."




CHAPTER XII

THE BATTLE OF COLENSO


By daybreak next morning the whole force was under arms. General
Hildyard in the centre was to attack the iron bridge at Colenso. General
Hart's Irish brigade was to march towards Bridle Drift, and after
crossing to move along the left bank of the river towards the kopjes
north of the iron bridge. General Barton was to move forward east of the
railway towards Hlangwane Hill, and to support General Hildyard, or the
Colonial troops moving against that hill as might appear necessary,
while General Lyttleton's brigade, half-way between those of Hildyard
and Hart, were to be prepared to render assistance to either as might be
required. One division of the artillery was to follow Lyttleton's
brigade. The six naval guns were to advance on his right. The sixth
brigade were to aid General Hart, and three batteries of Royal Artillery
to move east of the railway, under cover of the sixth brigade, to a
point from which they could prepare the way for Hildyard's brigade to
cross the bridge.

The action began before six o'clock, the naval guns opening with lyddite
on the trenches on Grobler's Hill, and those between it and Fort Wylie.
No reply whatever was made by the Boers, and the troopers standing by
their horses' heads in readiness to mount should any party of Boers make
a raid on the camp, began to wonder whether the enemy had not retreated.
Hildyard's men advanced in open order close to the railway; the Queen's
own, with the West York in support, on the right of the railway; and the
Devons, with East Surrey behind them, on the left. They marched as
steadily and in as perfect alignment as if on parade, eight paces apart.
Hart's Irish brigade, far away to the left, were in close order. The
cavalry could be seen proceeding at a trot towards Hlangwane, General
Barton's brigade still bearing to the east; and Colonel Long and Colonel
Hunt with their batteries, without waiting for their protection,
galloped straight forward, and, taking up a position almost facing Fort
Wylie, a few hundred yards beyond the river, opened a heavy fire; the
six naval guns, which were drawn by bullocks, being still a considerable
distance behind them.

Still the Boer guns remained silent. But at half past six their musketry
opened suddenly upon the Queen's Own, the Devons, and the guns, in one
continuous roar. It came not only from the entrenchments on the face of
the hill, but from trenches close down by the river, and from the houses
of Colenso, from some railway huts, and from the bushes that fringed the
south bank of the river, which had been believed to be wholly
unoccupied. Five minutes later their cannon joined in the roar, with
machine-guns, one-pounder Maxims, and the great Creusots and Krupps. And
yet through this storm of lead and iron our soldiers went on quietly and
steadily. The very ground round them was torn up by bullet and ball.
Many fell, but there was no flinching; while on their right, Long's
batteries, though swept by a hail of missiles from unseen foes,
maintained a continuous fire at Fort Wylie.

"It is awful!" Peters exclaimed as he lowered his glasses. "I thought it
would be dreadful, but I never dreamt of anything like this. Look at the
bodies dotting the ground our men are passing over, and yet the others
go on as if it was a shower of rain through which they were passing. I
can't look at it any longer." "It is as bad for the artillery," Chris
said, with his glasses still riveted upon them. "I saw a lot of the
horses go down before they were unlimbered, and I can see the men are
falling fast. Surely they can never have been meant to go within five or
six hundred yards of magazine rifles. I thought everyone had agreed that
artillery could not live within range of breech-loaders. Why doesn't
Barton's brigade move down towards them, and try and keep down the fire?
How is Hart getting on?"

But it was not easy to see this even with glasses. They had not become
engaged until a little later than the others, but as they approached the
river an equally terrible fire opened upon them. Being in comparatively
close order, they suffered more heavily than Hildyard had done.
Presently they came upon a spruit which they took to be the main river,
and under a tremendous fire from the Mausers and guns, dashed across it,
and swinging round their left made for the drift, sweeping before them a
number of Boers who had been hidden in the long grass. Trenches were
there line after line, but over these the four regiments--the Connaught
Rangers, the Border regiment, the Inniskilling and Dublin Fusiliers--
dashed forward with such fury that the Boers did not stop to meet their
bayonets. By a quarter-past seven the enemy had been driven across the
Tugela. Without hesitation the Irish dashed into the river. Many fell
headlong, for along the bottom barbed wires had been stretched. Worse
still, it was found that instead of being two feet deep, as was
expected, it was eight feet; for the Boers had erected a dyke across the
river a little lower down, and had dammed the water back.

Some swam across with their rifles and ammunition, but it was a feat
beyond all except the strongest swimmers, and after maintaining
themselves for some time they were forced to retire. The naval guns did
their best to assist them, and silenced some of the Boer cannon that
were pounding them, but they failed to draw the Boer fire upon
themselves. It was only in the centre that even partial success was
gained. Hildyard's men had reached but not captured Colenso bridge. In
spite of the tremendous fire, some of the soldiers tried to make their
way along it, but were recalled; for they were deprived of the support
of the artillery that should have covered their passage, had no hope of
Hart bringing his brigade round to clear the enemy out from the kloofs
on the opposite side, and but little of aid from Lyttleton, who had been
obliged to move farther to the left to lend assistance to Hart. Some of
the Scottish Fusiliers had joined them from Barton's brigade, but the
brigade itself was far away.

Terrible as the fighting was at all points, it was the batteries down by
the river that most engaged the attention of the anxious spectators.
Desperate attempts were being made to get the guns back. Almost all the
horses had been killed, but the drivers of the teams of the ammunition
waggons, the few survivors of the officers, and several of the general's
staff dashed recklessly forward under a hail of fire. Horse and man went
over, but two of the guns were carried off. Fortunately, the naval
battery and the third field battery had not been taken so far forward,
and were withdrawn with comparatively little loss; and the ten guns
stood alone and deserted by the last of the party as it seemed. Then, to
the surprise of the watchers, one of them spoke out, for four of the men
who worked it had stood to their charge to the last. Again and again it
sent its shrapnel among the Boer trenches. One fell and then another,
but two remained. They continued to fire until the last round of reserve
ammunition was finished. Then those who were near enough to make out
their figures saw them take their stand, one on each side of the gun, at
attention, until both fell dead by the side of the piece they had served
so well. Even on the right, where success might really have been hoped
for, everything had gone badly. The dismounted Colonials had fought
their way gallantly up the slopes of the Hlangwane, and nearly reached
the crest. But they were not seconded by Lord Dundonald's cavalry;
Barton's brigade, which was charged with aiding them, were kept at a
distance, and the Colonials were at last forced to fall back.

Great as was the loss at other points, the failure to capture this hill
was really the greatest misfortune of the day. From its position on the
south of the river, and in a loop, batteries erected on its summit would
have taken all the Boer defences on the lower slopes of the hills in
flank, and it would have covered the crossing of the river at Colenso.
Cut off by the river from the rest of the Boer position it could hardly
have been retaken, and its fire would have searched the valley up which
the roadway ran almost as far as Mount Bulwana.

Renewed attempts were made for some time to carry off the guns, but
early in the afternoon the general saw that it was but a waste of life
to persevere further, and orders were despatched for the troops to
retire. It had been a day of misfortunes, and yet a day of glory, for
never had the fighting power of British troops been more splendidly
exhibited, never were greater deeds of individual daring performed;
never had troops supported with heroic indifference so terrible a fire.
Undoubtedly the English general had greatly underrated the fighting
powers of the Boers and the amount of artillery to which he was exposed.
Had he not done so, he would scarcely have distributed his force over so
wide a face, or attacked at three points nearly four miles apart, but
would have prepared for the grand assault by seizing Hlangwane and
firmly establishing some of his batteries there, even at the cost of two
or three days' labour, and only attempted to cross the river when the
movement would have been covered by their fire.

The Boers were quick in discovering the importance of the hill, and
speedily covered its face with such entrenchments, that not until after
long weeks of effort and failure was an attack again attempted against
it; and the success of that attack opened the way to Ladysmith. But had
the general's orders been carried out at all points it would probably
have been captured. Hart's brigade was to have begun the attack, but
owing to the map with which he was furnished being defective, his troops
losing their way in the spruit, and their being led in far too close a
formation under the enemy's fire, its attempt failed; this being,
however, largely due to the astuteness of the Boers in damming back the
river and rendering the ford impracticable. The impetuosity of the
officers commanding two of the batteries of artillery, in pushing their
guns forward unattended by infantry as ordered, not only caused the loss
of ten guns and of nearly all the men who worked them, but deprived
Hildyard's column of the protection they would have had in crossing the
bridge, and rendered the undertaking impossible; while the failure of
Barton's brigade to give assistance either to Hildyard or to the
assailants of Hlangwane, contributed to the one failure, and entirely
brought about the other.

General Buller and General Clery had been wherever the shots were flying
the thickest. Three of the former's staff, Captains Schofield and
Congreve, and Lieutenant Roberts, son of Lord Roberts, had ridden
forward as volunteers to try and get the guns off. Roberts was fatally
wounded, Congreve was wounded and taken prisoner, and Schofield alone
escaped unharmed with the two guns that were saved.

The day had been almost more terrible for the troops who remained
unoccupied near the baggage than for those actually engaged in the
terrible light. The latter, animated by excitement and anger at their
inability to get at the foe, had scarce time to think of their danger,
and even laughed and joked in the midst of the hail of bullets, but the
watchers had nothing to distract them during the long hours. With their
glasses they could plainly see that no advance had been made at any
point. To them it seemed incredible that any could come back from that
storm of fire. From time to time they learned from wounded men brought
up by the bearers, who fearlessly went down into the thick of the fire
to do their duty, news of how matters were going on in the front.

Gladly, had they received orders to do so, would they have dashed down
to try and carry off the guns. Many shed tears of rage as they heard how
the Irish strove in vain to cross the deep river, and how many were
drowned in their attempts to swim it. They expected, when in the
afternoon the troops came in, that they would see an utterly dispirited
body of men, and were surprised when the Irish, who were the first to
return to camp, marched along smoking their pipes and joking as if they
had returned from a day of triumph rather than of failure. They were
animated by a knowledge that they had done all that men could do, had
proved they were worthy successors of their countrymen who had won glory
in so many hard-fought fields, and that no shadow of reproach could fall
upon them for their share in the day's work. Although they had suffered
far more heavily than the other brigade, they returned more cheerfully.
And yet there was no depression anywhere evinced, although there was
anger, fierce anger, that they had not been able to get at the enemy,
and a grim determination that next time they met, things should go
differently.

A good many prisoners had been lost. Parties had spread along among the
bushes that lined the river, and maintained a steady fire against the
Boer entrenchments facing them. Some of these had not heard the bugle
sounding the retire. When they were aware what was being done some had
left their shelter and rushed across the open ground to join the
columns, the majority being shot down as they did so. Others had waited
among the bushes, intending to try after nightfall; but as soon as we
fell back the Boers had again crossed the river and spread along its
banks, and had thus made prisoners those who were in hiding there or in
the little dongas. Among those so captured were fourteen of the Devons
and as many gunners, with Colonel Hunt, Colonel Bullock, Major
MacWalter, and Captains Goodwin, Vigors, and Congreve; the total loss in
killed, wounded, and prisoners amounted to about one thousand five
hundred, of whom nearly half belonged to the Irish brigade. That evening
the searchlight, which had been placed on a lofty hill visible from one
end of the high kopjes held by the garrison of Ladysmith, flashed the
news that the attack had failed, and that the garrison must be prepared
to hold out for some time yet.

The news of the reverse created a tremendous sensation throughout Natal,
where it had been confidently anticipated that the army would brush
aside without difficulty the opposition of the Boers, relieve Ladysmith
and, advancing sweep the invaders out of the colony. In England, too,
the sensation was scarcely less pronounced, and for the first time the
gravity of the war in which we were engaged was recognized. Hitherto it
had been thought that fifty thousand men would suffice to bring it to a
successful conclusion; now it was perceived that at least double that
number would be required. The offers of the colonies to aid the mother
country with troops had hitherto been coldly received, but these were
now accepted thankfully, and although our military authorities would not
as yet recognize that the volunteers could be relied upon as a real
fighting force, there was a talk that some of the militia regiments
might be embodied, and a large number of reservists were at once
summoned back to the ranks.

At the front matters went on as before. It was now known how it was that
the guns had advanced so far. Colonel Long had sent forward some of his
mounted men with two officers. The Boers allowed them to approach the
river bank without firing a shot. One of the scouts actually rode across
the bridge to the other side, and returning to the battery they reported
that there were no Boers about, and it was only after receiving this
message that Colonel Long took the guns forward to within six hundred
yards of the river, and twelve hundred of Fort Wylie.

The wounded were all taken to Frere or Estcourt, where hospitals had
been prepared. Hart and Lyttleton's brigades were sent back to Frere,
and the camp at Chieveley was moved nearer to the station, both for
convenience of supply, and because the position now taken up was a more
defensible one, and was less exposed to the fire of the big Boer guns;
large numbers of transport animals and waggons were brought up country.
It was known that a newly-landed division under General Sir Charles
Warren was now coming up, one regiment, the Somersets, arrived in camp
two or three days after the battle, and the loss of the cannon was to
some extent retrieved by the arrival of a 50-lbs. howitzer battery.

It was but dull work in camp. The more impetuous spirits were longing to
be employed in annoying the Boers by frequent surprises at night; but as
these could have achieved no permanent advantage, and must have been
attended with considerable loss of life, Sir Redvers Buller set his face
against any such attacks, and went steadily on with his preparations. As
troops came up anticipations of a certain success when the next forward
movement was made were generally entertained. Chris and his companions
passed the time pleasantly enough. Being old friends they had plenty to
talk about, and occasional scouting expeditions to the east gave them a
certain amount of employment. Not having been engaged in the attack on
Hlangwane, they did not participate in the soreness felt by the rest of
the colonials at their failure to capture the hill, owing to the want of
support from Lord Dundonald's cavalry or Barton's brigade.

The chagrin felt at the mistake that had been made in not making this
the prime object of attack was general, for the Boers could be seen
working unceasingly at their entrenchments. They had not only made a
ford by throwing great quantities of rock and stones into the channel,
but had also built a bridge, so that the force on the hill could be
speedily reinforced to any extent, and what could have been effected on
the day of the attack by half a battalion of infantry would now be a
very serious undertaking even by a whole division.

The lads were chatting one day over the chances of the next fight, most
of them taking a very sanguine view.

"What do you say, Chris?" one of them said after the discussion had gone
on for some time. "You have not given us your opinion."

"My opinion does not agree with yours," Chris replied. "After what I saw
the other day, I think the difficulties of fighting our way over those
mountains are so enormous that I doubt whether we shall ever do it."

There was a chorus of dissent.

"Well, we shall see," he said. "I hope that we shall do it just as much
as you do, but it is tremendous business. I have no doubt Sir Redvers
will go on trying, but I should not be surprised if at heart he has
doubts that it can be done. The Boers have more guns that we have, and
any number of those Maxims and Hotchkiss that keep up a stream of balls.
The Boers' trenches enable them to fire at us without showing anything
but a head, except when they stand up or have to move across the open.
If we drive them out of one position they have others to fall back upon.
It is not one natural fortress that we have to take, but a dozen of
them. They know every foot of the country they occupy, while we know
nothing but just what we can see at a distance."

"Well, if Sir Redvers thought as you do, why should he go on hammering
at it?"

"For several reasons, Peters. In the first place, if Ladysmith saw that
there was no chance of rescue it would at last give in; and in the
second place, if there was an end of all attempts to relieve the place
England would go wild with indignation; and in the third place, and by
far the most important, Sir Redvers knows that he is keeping from
twenty-five thousand to thirty thousand of the Boers inactive here, and
so relieving the pressure on our troops on the other side. We know
regiments are arriving from England at the Cape every day. When they get
strong enough to invade the Orange Free State and take Bloemfontein, and
march north, the Boers here will be hurrying away to defend their homes.
Of course the Free Staters will go first, but the Transvaalers will have
to follow. We hear that Methuen has been beaten at Magersfontein, and
that he has been brought to a stand-still within the sound of the guns
round Kimberley, just as we are here, and that the Boers have a very
strong position there also. So at present the advance is as much checked
there as it is here. Gatacre has had a misfortune too, so that we are
all in the same boat. I saw a Pietermaritzburg paper in the naval camp
just now; there are about twenty thousand men on the sea at the present
moment, besides those in the colony, and two more divisions are being
formed. So it is safe to come right in the long run. But at present, if
those twenty-five thousand Boers opposite to us were not there now, they
would be riding all over Cape Colony, and if Buller were not to keep on
hammering away here a good many of them would be off at once. They say
Ladysmith can hold out for another three months. By that time there
ought to be such a big force in the Orange State that the Boers won't
dare to stop here any longer, and no end of loss of life will be
avoided.

"I never thought that you were a croaker before," Field said, "except
just before the last fight; but certainly things have gone very badly
lately. Three disasters in seven or eight days are a facer; but I cannot
think that we shall not succeed next time. When Warren's division is up
Buller will have over thirty thousand men with him, in spite of our
losses the other day, and we ought to be able to do it with that."

"Well, we shall see, Field. I hope you are right."

The news of Methuen's repulse and the terrible losses in the Highland
brigade, and of Gatacre's disaster, cast a greater gloom over Buller's
army than their own failure had done. The one topic of conversation
among the officers was, what would be the feeling in England, and
whether there would be any inclination to patch up another dishonourable
peace like that after Majuba. But the feeling wore off as day after day
the news came that the misfortunes had but raised the spirit and
determination of the people of Great Britain to carry the war through to
the bitter end; that recruiting was going on with extraordinary
rapidity; that fresh regiments had been ordered out; that Lord Roberts
had been appointed to the supreme command in South Africa, and that Lord
Kitchener was coming out as chief of his staff. The fact, too, that the
volunteers had been asked to send companies to the regiments to which
they were attached, that the City had undertaken to raise a strong
battalion at its own expense, that the Yeomanry were to furnish ten
thousand men, and that public, spirit had risen to fever heat, soon
showed that these apprehensions were without foundation, and that
Britain was still true to herself, and was showing the same indomitable
spirit that had carried her through many periods of national depression,
and brought her out triumphant at the end.

Christmas passed cheerily; no gun was fired on either side, although the
Boers worked diligently at their trenches; and our men feasted as they
had not done since they landed at Durban. Bacon, milk, fresh bread,
beef, and a quart of beer were served out for each man, and on these men
and officers made a memorable meal; the latter producing the last
bottles of wine and spirits that had been specially sent up to them from
Maritzburg. And on that and the following day there were sports--lemon-
cutting, tent pegging, races for the cavalry; athletic sports, tugs-of-
war, mule and donkey races for the infantry. The drums and fifes played
national airs, and the sailors bore their full share in the fun. As time
went on the preparations for the next move advanced. None were more
pleased at the prospect of active work again than the Colonial
Volunteers, who had several times entreated to be allowed to get out and
drive back the bands of plundering Boers, who were still wasting the
farms and destroying the farmhouses and furniture of the loyalists.

On the 27th a small party of Captain Brookfield's scouts had been sent
out to reconnoitre the windings and turnings of the Tugela to the east,
to ascertain as far as possible what the Boer positions were on that
side, and whether they had placed bodies of skirmishers on the south
side of the river as they did opposite Fort Wylie. Included in the
party, which was a hundred strong, was the Johannesburg section. When
well away from the camp they were broken up into small parties, the
better to escape the observation of the Boers on the Hlangwane and other
heights. The instructions given by their commander were that they should
take every advantage of ground to conceal their movements from the
enemy, but where the ground near the river was level and fit for
galloping they should dash across it, and, if not fired at, should skirt
along the banks, mark if there were any tracks by which horses or cattle
had at some time come down to the water, and observe if similar tracks
were to be seen on the opposite bank, as this would show that, though
possibly only in dry weather, the river was fordable there. Where the
ground was too broken and rock-covered to permit of horses passing
rapidly across it, they were to dismount and crawl down the river to
make their observations.

Only a small portion of the troop had been engaged on this work, the
main body were to keep along on the hills, maintaining a vigilant watch
over the country to the south and east as well as that around them, as
many parties of marauding Boers were known to be still across the river.
Knowing the sharpness of the lads, Captain Brookfield had told off their
section to explore the river bank, a choice which excited no jealousy
among the rest, as these were hoping for a brush with some wandering
party of Boers, and the satisfaction of rescuing cattle and goods they
might be carrying off. His instructions to Chris were that he was to
detach two of his party at each mile, choosing points where they could
best make their way to the river unobserved. As he himself with the main
body would go up considerably farther, each pair, when they had searched
their section, were to ride a mile or so back from the river and fall in
with the main body on its return.

Riding rapidly along, Chris carried out his instructions, until, when
some twelve miles from the camp, he remained with only Sankey with him.
The country they had passed was rolling, and from time to time he had
caught sight of small parties of Captain Brookfield's scouts. Arriving
at a spot where there was a slight depression running down towards the
river, he said, "We may as well follow it, Sankey. It will deepen into a
donga presently, no doubt, and we can leave our horses there and go on
on foot. It looks to me as if this had been used as a path. Of course it
may only have been made by cattle going down to the water, but it may
lead to a drift. If it is, we must be all the more careful, for it is
just at these points that the Boers are very likely to be on the look-
out."

They rode for some distance and then dismounted, knee-haltered their
horses and moved forward cautiously. Chris still believed they were on a
track, but the heavy rains of the week before had sent the water rushing
down it in a torrent, which would have destroyed any marks there might
have been. When they could see the opening to the river in front of them
they climbed the side of the donga. All seemed quiet, and stopping and
taking advantage of the bushes, they crept forward to the edge of the
water. There was no sign of a break in the opposite bank.

"There is no drift here," Chris said. "If there had been there would be
a pass cut or worn down on the other side. Now let us push on, but don't
show yourself more than you can help, any Boer lurking on the other side
could hardly miss us. A hundred and fifty yards, I should say, is about
the width."

After walking some little distance along they suddenly came upon another
break in the bank.

"There is a break opposite, Sankey. Ten to one this is a drift. The
question is, how deep is it? You can see the river is not as high as it
was by four feet, and I dare say that it will be lower yet if we get
another week of fine weather. It's very important to find out. I will
try to ford it; it's hardly likely there are any Boers so far down, but
have your rifle ready, and keep a sharp look-out on the opposite side."

A minute later they went down the slope. "Keep back under the shelter of
these bushes as soon as I go in, Sankey." Then he stepped into the water
and waded out. In a few yards it was up to his waist; then it deepened
slowly. He was a third of the distance across when two rifles cracked
out from some bushes on the opposite bank. Chris felt a sudden smart
pain in his ear. He instantly threw himself down in the water, and
diving, made for the shore, allowing the stream to take him down.
Swimming as hard and as long as he could, he came for a moment to the
surface, turning on his back before he did so, and only raising his
mouth and nose above water. He took a long breath and then sank again,
swimming this time towards the shore. His breath lasted until he was in
water too shallow to swim farther, and, leaping to his feet, he dashed
up the bank and threw himself down. He heard two bullets hum close to
him, but the Boers had not been looking in his direction, and only
caught sight of him in time to take a snap shot. He crawled along
through the high, coarse grass, feeling very anxious as to what had
become of Sankey. He had heard the report of the Boer rifles, but there
came no reply from his friend, who would assuredly have been lying in
shelter in readiness to shoot as soon as he saw a flash on the opposite
bank. Could he have forgotten to take cover the instant he himself
entered the water, could he possibly have remained standing there
watching him? Two shots had been fired: one had certainly hit his ear;
had the other been aimed at Sankey? He crawled along until he came to
the point where he could see down on to the road. To his horror Sankey
was lying there on his back.




CHAPTER XIII

PRISONERS


The exclamation that burst from Chris's lips as he saw Sankey on the
ground was answered by another from his friend.

"Thank God that you are there, Chris. I have been in an awful state
about you. I saw you go down into the water just as I was bowled over. I
made sure that you were killed, and I was in a state, as you may
imagine, till I heard two more shots. That gave me a little hope; for as
you had not been killed in the first, you might have escaped the
others."

"But what is the matter with you, Sankey. Where are you hit?"

"I am hit in the arm. I can't tell much about it. I only know that I
went slap down; and there is certainly something the matter with my
shoulder. Like an idiot I did not take shelter as you told me, but I was
watching you so anxiously I never thought about it. If I had not been a
fool I should have jumped up and got under cover at once; but I fancy I
must have knocked my head as I fell. At any rate, I did not think about
moving till I heard those two shots."

"It is just as well that you didn't," Chris said. "They could have put
half a dozen bullets in you with their Mausers before you had moved a
foot. The question is, what is to be done?"

"Have you got your rifle, Chris?"

"Yes, I stuck to that, and I expect it is all right; these cartridges
are quite water-tight. The question is how to get you out of their line
of sight." "The best plan will be for me to roll over and over," Sankey
said. "I expect it will hurt a bit, but that is no odds."

"No, no; don't do that yet. Let us think if we can't contrive some plan
of attracting their attention."

"Don't do anything foolish, Chris," Sankey said earnestly. "I would
rather jump up and make a run for it than that anything should happen to
you."

"I will be careful, Sankey. The first thing to do is to find out whether
there are only two of these fellows or half a dozen. Where I am lying
now the ground is a foot lower than it is just at the edge of the bank.
I will put my cap on my rifle and raise it so as just to show."

The instant he did so three or four rifles cracked and two bullets
passed through the cap. As it dropped a shout of triumph rose from the
Boers. He at once crawled forward, and as he did so five of them ran
down the bank and as many more stood up, believing that both the scouts
had been killed.

Throwing the magazine into play Chris fired three shots in close
succession, and then rolled over two or three yards, half a dozen
bullets cutting the grass at the spot he had just left. Peering
cautiously out again he saw that the Boers had all disappeared except
two, one of whom lay apparently dead just at the edge of the water; the
other was sitting down, but was waving a white handkerchief.

"I am not going to shoot you," Chris muttered, "though I know the
fellows with you would put a bullet at once into Sankey if they thought
that he was alive. Hullo, there!" he shouted in Dutch; "I will let you
carry off your wounded man and the dead one if you will let me carry off
my dead comrade." The answer was three bullets, but he had drawn back a
yard or two before he spoke and was in shelter. The thought of firing
again at the wounded man did not enter Chris's mind, and he crawled back
to the spot where he had before spoken to Sankey. The latter was looking
anxiously up.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Well, I wish you would not do it," Sankey said angrily. "If you do I
will get up, and they can either pot me or take me prisoner."

"Don't be an ass, Sankey. I am going on all right. I have shot two of
them; there are about a dozen of them over there, I should say. Now let
us talk reasonably. Of course, if I was sure they would not cross, I
would make off to where the horses are, ride out, and meet Brookfield
and the others as they come back. The orders were that we were to join
them in about an hour and a half, which would give them time to go seven
or eight miles farther, and for us to do our work thoroughly. But I am
afraid that if I went away the Boers would presently guess I had done
so, and would come across and carry you off. But though it would be no
joke for you to be taken prisoner to Pretoria, it would be a good deal
better than for you to have two or three more rifle bullets in your
body, which I am sure you would have were you to move. So we must risk
it. Anyhow, I will stop for another hour. There will be plenty of time
then for me to make off and meet the others."

Chris crept forward again and watched the opportunity. Half an hour
later he saw what he thought was a head appear, and at once fired,
rolling over as before the instant he had pulled the trigger. Three or
four shots answered his own almost instantly and there was a laugh that
told him that they had practised the same trick that he had done, and
had only raised a hat to draw his shot. Again there was silence for some
time. Then he went back and told Sankey that he was about to start.

"All right, Chris; I shall be very glad when you have gone. You will get
hit sooner or later if you go on firing, and I shall be a great deal
more comfortable when you are once off. I don't believe they will
venture across the drift; they know how straight you shoot."

Chris crawled back for some distance, and then got down into the road.
He had scarcely done so when a shot rung out fifty yards away. His right
leg gave way and he fell, and with a shout of triumph two Boers ran up
to him. Chris did not attempt to move. The rifle had flown from his hand
as he fell, and lay some five or six yards away.

"I surrender," he said when they ran up to him.

"Well, rooinek," they exclaimed, "you are a brave young fellow to make a
fight alone against a dozen of us. It would have been wiser if you had
gone away when you were lucky enough to get up the bank without being
hit. What was the use of staying by your dead comrade?"

"He is not dead," Chris said. "He is hit in the arm or shoulder, but he
knew if he moved he would be hit again to a certainty."

"But where are you hurt?"

"In the calf of my leg."

"It is lucky for you," the Boer said, "that I stumbled just as I fired.
Now, get up and I will carry you across the drift."

They helped him up, and the other assisted him on to his shoulders. The
man's clothes were wet.

[Illustration: "WITH A SHOUT OF TRIUMPH THE TWO BOERS RAN DOWN."]

"Did you swim the river?" Chris asked.

"No, there is a drift a mile lower down. It is a bad one, but we managed
to get across. We knew that you were alone, and as you seemed determined
to remain here, we made sure of getting you."

As they came near to Sankey, Chris called out, "You can get up, Sankey;
they have beaten us."

"I am very glad to hear your voice," Sankey replied as he raised himself
into a sitting position. "When I heard that shot behind me I made sure
it was all up with you. Where are you hit?"

"Only in my calf. Luckily this gentleman who is carrying me stumbled
just as he fired, and I got the ball there instead of through my head.
It serves me right for not having thought before that some of them might
cross somewhere else and take us in rear. Well, it can't be helped; it
might have been a good deal worse."

The other Boer had picked up the two rifles. They now entered the river.
The stream in the middle was breast-high, and the Boer with the rifles
told Sankey to hold on to him, which he was glad to do, for the force of
the stream almost took him off his feet. The other Boers had now left
their hiding-places, and received them when they reached the opposite
bank. The one who seemed to be their leader said not unkindly, "You have
given us a great deal of trouble, young fellows, and killed one of our
comrades and badly wounded another."

"If you had left us alone we should have been very glad to have let you
alone," Chris said.

The Boers laughed at the light-heartedness of their prisoner, and then
examined their wounds. Chris had, as he said, been hit in the calf. The
ball had entered behind, and had come out close to the bone. Chris
believed that he could walk, but thought it best to affect not to be
able to do so. The wound had bled very little, and the two holes were no
larger than would be made by an ordinary slate-pencil. Sankey had been
hit just below the shoulder. The ball had in his case also gone right
through, and from the position of the two holes it was evident that it
must have passed through the bone. The Boers bandaged the wounds, and
told them to lie down under the shade of a bush, and then took their
places near the bank to watch the drift again.

"I suppose we have a journey to Pretoria before us," Sankey said. "I
don't care so much about myself, because that is only the fortune of
war, but I am awfully sorry that you are taken, Chris, and all through
my beastly folly in not taking shelter as you told me."

"Oh, we may just as well be together, Sankey. Besides, I don't mean to
go to Pretoria, I can assure you. I believe I could walk now if I tried;
but you may be sure I don't mean to try. I should advise you to avoid
making any movement with your arm; make them put it in a sling. When
they start with us, we had better be sent up with wounded prisoners
rather than with the others. They won't look so sharply after the
wounded, and it will be very hard if we cannot manage to slip away
somehow. I hope the others will find the horses all right, or that if
they don't the horses will find their own way back."

"Oh, they are safe to find them," Sankey said confidently. "There will
be a hunt for us when it is found that we have not joined the others.
Anyhow, they will search to-morrow. I am quite sure that some of our
fellows will be out the first thing in the morning, and I dare say they
will take a couple of the natives with them. If they start at the point
where we turned off they will track the horses down that donga without
any difficulty, and even if they have strayed away they will soon have
them."

"Yes, I suppose they will be all right," Chris agreed. "Of course we
have got the spare horses, but we should miss our own, and I think they
are as fond of us as we are of them."

As the sun got low two of the Boers brought up four ponies which were
grazing some little distance from the river. They lifted Chris on to
one, and helped Sankey to mount another, and then taking their seats on
the other horses, rode off at a walk, and arrived an hour and a half
later at a camp in a hollow behind Fort Wylie. Here they were put into a
large tent, where some thirty wounded prisoners were lying. A German
surgeon at once examined and again bandaged their wounds.

"You are neither of you hurt badly," he said in English. "A fortnight
and you will have little to complain of. These Mauser bullets make very
slight wounds, except when they hit a vital spot. You are a good deal
better off than most of your comrades here."

As it was now dark they lay down at once, after taking a basin of
excellent soup. The German ambulance was scrupulously clean. The more
serious cases were put in beds, those less severely wounded lay on the
ground between them; for the number of wounded to be dealt with was very
large, and in the tents in which the Boers were treated were many
terribly mangled by fragments of shrapnel and lyddite shells. The boys
were some time before they went off to sleep, for their wounds smarted a
good deal. However, they presently fell off, and it was broad daylight
when they woke. Chris lay where he was, while Sankey got up and went
round the tent. The men all belonged to either the Devon or the Queen's
Own regiment. Most of them were awake, and all asked anxiously for news
from Chieveley, and looked disappointed when they heard that it was
likely to be some time before a fresh attempt was made to relieve
Ladysmith.

"They are all right there. Of course they were disappointed that we did
not get in, but they have provisions enough to last for some time yet."

"The Boers don't seem to think so," one of the men said. "As they were
carrying us in here I heard one of them say that they had certainly got
Ladysmith now, for the provisions there were pretty nearly exhausted,
and in a few days they would have to surrender. If they did not, they
meant to carry it by assault."

"I don't think they will do that," Sankey said confidently.

"Not they," the soldier replied scornfully. "They will find that it is a
very different thing meeting our chaps in the open to what it is
squatting in a trench, and blazing away without giving us as much as a
sight of them. It is a beastly cowardly way of fighting, I calls it. I
was not hit till just the end of the day, and I had been blazing away
from six in the morning, and I never caught sight of one of them. I
should not have minded being hit if I could have bowled two or three of
them over first."

After breakfast the surgeon said to the two lads: "You will be sent off
in half an hour; all the slight cases are to go on. There may be another
battle any day, and room must be made for a fresh batch of wounded."

"Very well, sir," Chris replied, "as we have to go, it makes no
difference to us whether it is to-day or next week."

"You are colonists, I suppose, as you have not the name of any regiment
on your shoulder-straps?"

"Yes, sir; we belong to Johannesburg. I know your face. You are Dr.
Muller, are you not?"

"Yes; I do not recognize you."

"I am the son of Mr. King, sir; and my comrade is the son of Dr.
Sankey."

"I know them both," the doctor said. "I am not one of those who think
that the Uitlanders have no grievances, and I am not here by my own
choice. But I was commandeered, and had no option in the matter. Well, I
am sorry for you lads. For though I believe that in the long run your
people will certainly win, I think it will be a good many months before
they are in Pretoria. They fight splendidly. I watched the battle until
the wounded began to come in, and the way those regiments by the railway
advanced under a fire that seemed as if nothing could live for a minute,
was marvellous. But brave as they are, they will never force their way
through these hills. They will never get to Ladysmith. Well, perhaps we
shall meet some day in Johannesburg again."

"Yes, doctor. I suppose we shall be taken up in waggons?"

"You will, for a time, certainly. But I don't know about your friend."

"Oh, do order him to be sent up with me, doctor, that is, if it will not
hurt him too much. You see, his wound is really more serious than mine,
as the ball has gone through the bone."

"Yes. I have a good many cases of that sort, but all seem to be healing
rapidly. However, I will strain a point and give instructions that he is
to be among those who must go in the waggons."

"Thank you, sir," both boys said; and Sankey added: "We are great
friends, sir. Though I don't care for myself, it would be a great
comfort to us to be together, and my wound really hurts me a good deal."

"I have no doubt it does," the surgeon said. "You can't expect a ball to
pass through muscle and bone without causing pain."

Half an hour later some natives came into the tent, and under the
directions of the surgeon carried out Chris and three others whose
wounds were all comparatively slight, and placed them in a waggon which
already contained eight other wounded prisoners. Sankey, with his arm in
a sling, walked out and was lifted into the waggon, into which he could
indeed scarcely have climbed without assistance. Seven more were
collected at other tents, and the waggons then moved off and joined a
long line that were waiting on the road. Some more presently came up,
and when the number was complete, the native drivers cracked their whips
with reports like pistols, and the oxen got into motion. Some twenty
mounted Boers kept by the side of the waggons. They followed the road
until within four or five miles of Ladysmith, then turned off, crossed
the Klip river, and came to a spot where a hospital camp had been
erected; here they halted for the night.

The wounded were provided with soup and bread, and such as were able to
walk were allowed to get out and stroll about. The surgeon who
accompanied the train and the doctor in charge of the hospital attended
to all the serious cases, and these were carried into the tent for the
night thus making room for the others to lie at length in the waggons.
Only three of these contained British wounded, the others were all
occupied by Boers. Chris and Sankey excited the admiration of the
wounded soldiers by conversing with the Boers and the natives in their
own languages. Most of the Boers, indeed, could speak English perfectly,
but did not now condescend to use it. Some even refused to speak in
Dutch to the lads, as their dislike to the colonists who had taken up
arms against them was even more bitter than that which they felt for the
soldiers.

For six days they travelled on, at the end of that time Chris felt sure
that he could walk without difficulty. He had, at very considerable pain
to himself, each night undone his bandage, and had with his finger
scratched at the two tiny wounds until they were red and inflamed, so
that on the two occasions on which they were examined by the doctor,
they appeared to be making but little progress towards healing. The
inflammation was, however, only on the surface, and after several
furtive trials, Chris declared that he was ready for a start. A move was
generally made before daylight, in order that a considerable portion of
the day's journey should be got over before the heat became very great.

"Are you quite sure, Chris?"

"I am as sure as anybody can be who has not actually tried it. I may be
a little stiff at the start, but I believe that once off, I shall be
right for eight or ten miles; and after the first day, ought to be able
to do double that."

They had been travelling at the rate of about twelve miles a day, and
halted that night near Newcastle. Chris heard from the guards that they
would only go as far as Volksrust, and there be put in a train. The
reason why this had not been done before was that the railway was fully
occupied in taking down ammunition and stores, and that no carriages or
trucks were available. The watch at night was always of the slightest
kind. The Boers had no thought whatever that any of the wounded would
try to escape. Two were posted at the leading waggon, which contained
stores and medical comforts that might, if unguarded, be looted by the
native drivers. The rest either slept wrapped up in their blankets, or
in any empty houses that might be near.

At nine o'clock the boys told the others in the waggon that they were
going to escape. They had before informed them of their intention to do
so, somewhere along the road, and had taken down the names and regiments
of all of them, with a note as to their condition, and the addresses of
their friends. These they had promised to give to the commanding
officers if they got safely back. They had filled their pockets with
bread, all those in the waggon having contributed a portion of their
ration that evening. After a hearty shake of the hand all round, and
many low-muttered good wishes, they stepped out at the rear of the
waggon, with their boots in their hands. It was a light night, and the
figures of the two men on sentry over the store waggon could just be
made out. There was no thought of any regular sentry duty, no marching
up and down among the Boers; the two men had simply sat down together to
smoke their pipes and chat until their turn came to lie down. The lads
therefore struck off on the opposite side of the waggon, and making
their way with great caution to avoid running against any of the Boers,
they were soon far enough away to be able to put on their boots and walk
erect.

"How does your leg feel, Chris?" "It feels stiffer than I expected,
certainly, but I have no doubt it will soon wear off. We must take it
quietly till it warms up a bit."

Gradually the feeling of stiffness passed off, and going at a steady but
quiet pace they made their way along the road, to which they had
returned after they had gone far enough to be sure that they were beyond
the hearing of the Boers and Kaffirs. From time to time they stopped to
listen for the tread of horses, which could have been heard a long way
in the still night air, but they were neither met nor overtaken. After
walking for five hours they came upon a stream that, as they knew,
crossed the line at Ingagone station and ran into the Buffalo. They had
gone but ten miles, and decided to leave the road here, follow the
stream up half a mile, and then lie up. Chris admitted that he could not
go much farther, and as they would not cross another stream for some
distance they could not, even putting his wound aside, do better than
stop here. Sankey was equally contented to rest, for his arm, which he
still carried in a sling, was aching badly.

"It does not feel sore," he said, "or inflamed, or anything of that
sort; it just aches as if I had got rheumatism in it. I dare say I shall
have that for some time; I have heard my father say that injuries to the
bones were often felt that way for years after they were apparently
well, the pain coming on with changes of weather. However, it is no
great odds."

Neither wanted anything to eat, but had taken long draughts when they
first struck the stream, and as soon as they found a snug spot among
some bushes a short distance from the water they lay down and were soon
asleep. They remained quiet all the day, only going out once after a
careful look round to get a drink of water. Starting again as soon as
darkness closed in they walked on, with occasional rests, until within a
few miles of Glencoe, having followed the line of the railway, where
they had no chance whatever of meeting anyone. Here they again halted at
a stream. They had agreed that they would on the following night cross
the line between Glencoe and Dundee, and take the southern road by which
the British force retired after the battle there. By that route they
would be altogether out of the line of Boers coming from Utrecht or
Vryheid towards the Boer camps round Ladysmith. Their stock of food was,
however, now running very short, and they ate their last crust before
starting that evening. This they did earlier than usual, as they were
determined if possible to get some bread at Dundee. They knew that a few
of the residents had remained there, and probably there would not be
many Boers about, for as Dundee lay off the direct line from Ladysmith
to the north there would be no reason for their stopping there. Sankey
had insisted on undertaking this business alone.

"It is of no use your talking, Chris," he said positively; "I can run
and you can't. I may not be able to run quite as fast as I could; but I
don't suppose this arm will make much difference, and anyhow, I could
swing it for a bit, and I would match myself against any Boer on foot.
We will cross the line, as we agreed, about a mile from Dundee. When we
strike the southern road you can sit down close to it, and I will go
in."

"I don't like it," Chris said, "but I see that it would be the best
thing. I wish we had our farmer's suits with us, then I should not fear
at all."

"I don't think that makes much odds, Chris, lots of the Boers have taken
to clothes of very much the same colour; really, the only noticeable
thing about us is our caps. If I come upon a loyalist I will see if I
can get a couple of hats for us, either of straw or felt would be all
right. Well, don't worry yourself; it will be a rum thing if I can't
bring you out something for breakfast and dinner to-morrow."

"Don't forget a little bit extra for supper to-night, Sankey," Chris
laughed; "that crust went a very short distance, and I feel game for at
least a good-sized loaf."

Although he said good-bye to his friend cheerfully, Chris felt more
down-hearted than he had done since he had said farewell to his mother
more than two months before, as Sankey disappeared in the darkness,
leaving him sitting among some bushes close to the road. His last words
had been, "It is somewhere about nine o'clock now; if I am not back by
twelve don't wait any longer. But don't worry about me; if I am caught,
I have no doubt sooner or later I shall give them the slip again, but I
don't think there is any real occasion for you to bother. Unless by some
unlucky fluke, I am safe to get through all right." Then with a wave of
his hand he started confidently along the road.

He met no one until he was close to the town. The first thing he had
determined upon was to get hold of a hat somehow. The houses were
scattered irregularly about in the outskirts of the town; but very few
lights were to be seen in the windows.

"Of course they have all been plundered," he said to himself; "but if I
only had a light I have no doubt I should be able to find an old hat
somewhere among the rubbish, but in the dark there is no chance
whatever." Presently he saw a light in a window in a detached house of
some size. He made his way noiselessly up and looked in. A party of five
or six Boers were sitting smoking round a table. "The place has not been
sacked," he said to himself; "therefore there is no doubt the owner is a
traitor. It is a beastly custom these Boers have of wearing their hats
indoors as well as out, still there are almost sure to be some spare
ones in the hall. A Boer out on the veldt would not be likely to possess
more than the hat he wears, but a fellow living in such a house as this
would be safe to have a variety for different sorts of weather. At any
rate I must try."

He took off his boots, and then stole up to the front door and turned
the handle noiselessly. As he expected, no light was burning there, but
the door of the room in which the men were sitting was not quite closed,
and after he had stood still for a minute, his eyes, accustomed to the
greater darkness outside, took in his surroundings. To his great delight
he saw that four or five hats of different shapes and materials were
hanging there, and a heap of long warm coats were thrown together on a
bench. Looking round still more closely he saw five or six rifles in the
corner by the door, and to these were hanging as many bandoliers. He
first took down two felt hats of different sizes, and picked out two of
the coats; then, with great care to avoid any noise, he took two rifles
with their bandoliers from the corner and crept out through the door,
which he closed behind him carefully; for if they found it open the
Boers might look round and discover that some of their goods were
missing, whereas any one of them coming casually out, even with a light,
would not be likely to notice it. He put on one of the bandoliers, then
a coat, and then slung one of the rifles behind him; then, after putting
on his boots he went out with the other articles and hid them inside the
gate of an evidently deserted house a hundred yards from the other. He
felt sure that even when the loss was discovered there would be no great
search made for the thief. It would be supposed that some passing Kaffir
had come in and stolen the things, and they would consider that, until
the following morning, it would be useless to look for him. Feeling now
perfectly confident that he could pass unsuspected, he entered the
principal street. Here there were a good many Boers about, but none paid
the slightest attention to him. Presently he came to a store that was
still open. The owner was of course Dutch. He had been a pronounced
loyalist when Sankey was last in Dundee, but had evidently thought it
prudent to change sides when the British left. Sankey had been in the
shop twice with Willesden, and had found the man very civil, and, as he
thought, an honest fellow, but with so much at stake he dared not trust
him now. Food he must have, that was certain, but if he had to obtain it
by threats, he must do it at one of the outlying houses. It would be
dangerous anyhow, for, though he could frighten a man into giving him
what he required, he could not prevent him from giving the alarm
afterwards. While he was looking on a mounted Boer stopped at the shop
door. He dismounted at once, and lifted a large bundle from his saddle.

"Look here!" he said to the shopkeeper. "I have just come into the town,
having ridden up from near Greytown. I picked up some loot at a house
that had been deserted. Here are twenty bottles of wine and a lot of
tea--I don't know how much. There was a chest half-full, and I emptied
it into a cloth. What will you give me for them? I am riding home to
Volksrust. I want three loaves and a couple of bottles of dop [Footnote:
The common country spirit.], and the rest in money." The bargaining
lasted for some minutes, the storekeeper saying that the wine was of no
use to him, for no Boer ever spent money on wine; the tea of course was
worth money, but he had now a large stock on hand, and could give but
little for it. However, the bargain was at last struck. The Boer brought
out the bread and two bottles of spirits and placed them in his saddle-
bag, then he went back into the shop to get the money. The moment he
entered Sankey moved quietly up to the other side of his horse,
transferred the bottles of spirits to his own pocket, and then,
thrusting the loaves under his coat, crossed the street, and turned down
a lane some twenty yards farther on. He had gone but a few steps when he
heard a loud exclamation followed by a torrent of Dutch oaths. He stood
up for a moment in a doorway, and heard the sound of heavy feet running
along the street he had left, with loud shouts to stop a thief who had
robbed him. The instant that he had passed Sankey walked on again, and
in five minutes was in the outskirts of the town. He made his way to the
place where he had hidden the other things, and taking them up, walked
briskly on until he came to the bushes where his friend was anxiously
expecting him. As he uttered his name Chris sprang out.

"I had not even begun to expect you back, Sankey. How have you done? I
see that you have got on another hat and a coat."

"That is only a part of it. I have got three loaves and two bottles of
dop, and a coat and a hat for you, and a rifle and ammunition, as well
as clothes for myself and the gun that you see over my shoulder."

"But how on earth did you do it, Sankey?"

"Honestly, my dear Chris, perfectly honestly. The rifles and clothes
were fairly spoils of war, the loaves and spirits were stolen from a
thief, which I consider to be a good action; but let us go on, I will
tell you about it as we walk. Here is your bandolier, slip that on
first; there is your coat and hat. Now I will put the sling of the rifle
over your shoulder. There you are, complete, a Boer of the first water!
I will carry the bottles and the bread. Now, let's be going on."

Then he told Chris how he had obtained his spoil, and they both had a
hearty laugh over the thought of the enraged Dutchman rushing down the
street shouting for the eatables of which he had been bereaved.

"It was splendidly managed, Sankey. I shall have to appoint you as
caterer instead of Willesden. He pays honestly for all he wants for the
mess, but I see that if we entrust the charge to you, we shall not have
to draw for a farthing upon our treasure chest. And how is your arm
feeling?"

"I have almost forgotten that I have an arm," Sankey said. "I suppose
the excitement of the thing drove out the rheumatics."

"We might have some supper," Chris suggested.

"No, no, we must wait till we can get water. I can't take dop neat."

"But how are you going to mix it when you do get water?" "I had not
thought of that, Chris," Sankey said in a tone of disgust. "Well, I
suppose we shall be reduced to taking a mouthful of this poison, and
then a long drink of water to dilute it. We shall not have very far to
go, because, if you remember, we crossed a little stream three or four
miles after we rode out from Dundee. I am as hungry as a hunter, but it
would destroy all the pleasure of the banquet if we had to munch dry
bread with nothing to wash it down." After walking two miles farther
they came upon the stream and going fifty yards up it, so as to run no
risk of being disturbed, they sat down and enjoyed a hearty meal.




CHAPTER XIV

SPION KOP


"It is almost a pity that you did not commandeer two ponies and saddles
while you were about it," Chris laughed, as they set off again feeling
all the better for their meal. "We only want that to complete our
outfit."

"You should have mentioned it before I started, Chris. There is no
saying what I might not have done; and really, without joking, a pony is
one of the easiest things going to steal when there are Boers about.
They always leave them standing just where they dismount, and will be in
a store or a drinking-place for an hour at a time without attending to
them."

"It is not the difficulty, but the risk; for even if a thief gets off
with a pony, he is almost sure to be hunted down. It is regarded as a
sort of offence against the community, and a man, whether a native or a
mean white, would get a very short shrift if he were caught on a stolen
horse."

"Yes, I know. Still, for all that, if I could come upon a saddled pony,
and there was a chance of getting off with it, I should take it without
hesitation as a fair spoil of war."

"Yes, so should I, for the betting would be very strongly against our
running across its owner; and in the next place, it would greatly
increase our chance of getting safely through. It is the fact of our
being on foot that will attract attention. We could walk about a camp
full of Boers without anyone noticing it, but to walk into the camp
would seem so extraordinary, that we should be questioned at once. A
Boer travelling across the country on foot would be a sight hitherto
unknown."

"There I agree with you; and I do think that when we get to Helpmakaar,
which we can do to-morrow evening if we make a good long march to-night,
we had better see if we can't appropriate a couple of ponies. We can
walk boldly into the place, and no one would notice we were new-comers.
There are sure to be ponies standing about, and it will be hard if we
cannot bag a couple. Then we can ride by the road south from there to
Greytown, and after crossing the Tugela, strike off by the place where
we had the fight near Umbala mountain, which would be a good landmark
for us, and from there follow our old line back to Estcourt. It would be
rather shorter to go through Weenen, but there may be Boers about, and
the few miles we should save would not be worth the risk."

They made a long journey that night, slept within seven or eight miles
of Helpmakaar, and started late in the afternoon. When near the town
they left the main road, passed through some fields, and came into the
place that way, as had they entered by the road they were likely to be
questioned. Once in the little town, they walked about at their ease. It
did not seem that there were any great number of Boers there, but the
town was well within the district held by them, and such loyalists as
remained were sure to be keeping as much as possible without their
houses. In front of the principal inn were nearly a score of Boer
ponies, but the lads considered it would be altogether too risky to
attempt to take a couple of these, as their owners might issue out while
they were doing it; however, they stood watching. For some time there
was a sound of singing and merriment within, and for a quarter of an
hour no one came out.

"If we had taken a couple of ponies at first," Sankey said savagely, "we
might have been two miles away by this time."

"Yes; I don't know that it is too late now. Wait till they strike up
another song with a chorus, none of them are likely to leave the room
while that is going on, and it will drown the sound of hoofs."

There were few people about in the streets; and even had anyone passed
as they were mounting, he could not tell that they were not the
legitimate owners.

"If anyone should come out," Chris said, "don't try to ride away. We
should have the whole lot after us in a minute, and it is not likely we
should have got hold of the fastest ponies. Besides, they would shoot us
before we got far. So if anyone does come out and raises an alarm, jump
off at once and run round the nearest corner, and then into the first
garden we come to. We should be in one before they could come out, mount
their ponies, and give chase. Once among the gardens we should be safe.
If the man who comes out does not shout we would pay no attention to
him, but ride away quietly. If the ponies don't happen to belong to him
or some friend of his, he would not be likely to interfere, for he would
suppose that we were two of the party who had left the place without his
noticing them. But if he gives a shout, jump off at once, and rush round
the corner of the nearest house."

They waited for a minute or two, and then two Boers came out, mounted a
couple of the ponies, and rode quietly down the street. At that moment
another song was struck up. "That is lucky. If anyone comes out and sees
us mounting he will take us for the two men who have just ridden off."
Then they strolled leisurely across the street, took the reins of two of
the ponies, sprang into the saddles, and started at a walk, which,
twenty yards farther, was quickened into a trot. The two men had
fortunately gone in the other direction. Once fairly beyond the town,
they quickened their pace. "Now we are Boers all over," Chris said
exultantly; "but there is one thing, Sankey, we must be careful not to
go near any solitary farmhouse. There must still be some loyal men left
in these parts, and if we fell in with a small party of them the
temptation to pay off what they have suffered might be irresistible."

"Yes, Chris; but they certainly would not shoot unless certain of
bringing us both down, for if one escaped, he would return with a party
strong enough to wipe them out altogether. However, we need not trouble
about that for the present, though no doubt it will be well to be
careful when we are once across the Tugela."

"Well, we shall be there long before morning; it is not more than seven-
or eight-and-twenty miles."

They rode fast, for it was possible that when the loss of the ponies was
discovered someone who might have noticed them go down the street might
set the Boers on the track, and in that case they would certainly be
hotly pursued. The ponies, however, turned out to be good animals, and
as the lads were at least a couple of stones lighter than the average
Boer, they could not be overtaken unless some of the ponies happened to
be a good deal better than these.

After riding at full speed for eight or nine miles, they broke into a
walk, stopping every few minutes to listen. They knew that they would be
able to hear the sound of pursuit at least a mile away, and as their
ponies would start fresh again, they were able to take things quietly.
So sometimes cantering sometimes walking, they reached the river at
about one o'clock in the morning. On the opposite bank stood the little
village of Tugela Ferry. Here there was a drift, and there was no
occasion to use the ferry-boat except when the river was swollen by
rain. It now reached only just up to the ponies' bellies; they therefore
crossed without the least difficulty, and after passing through the
village, left the road, and struck off across the country to the south-
west. When four or five miles away they halted at a donga, and leading
the ponies down, turned them loose to feed, ate their supper, and were
soon asleep.

It was no longer necessary to travel by night, and at eight o'clock they
started again. They kept a sharp look-out from every eminence, and once
or twice saw parties of mounted men in the distance and made detours to
avoid them. So far as they were aware, however, they were not observed.
The distance to be ridden from their last halting-place was about
thirty-five miles, and at one o'clock they were within five miles of
Estcourt. On an eminence about a mile in front of them they saw a
solitary horseman.

"That is evidently one of our scouts," Chris said. "I dare say there is
a party of them somewhere behind him. If I am not mistaken I can see two
or three heads against the sky-line--they are either heads or stones. We
should know more about it if the Boers hadn't bagged our glasses when
they took us."

Two or three minutes later Sankey said, "Those little black spots have
gone, so they were heads. I dare say they are wondering who we are, and
put us down either as Boers or as loyal farmers, though there cannot be
many of them left in this district."

Presently from behind the foot of the hill six horsemen dashed out. The
lads had already taken the precaution of taking off their hats and
putting on forage-caps again.

"It is always better to avoid accidents," Chris said. "It would have
been awkward if they had begun to shoot before waiting to ask questions,
especially as we could not shoot back. They are Colonials; one can see
that by their looped-up hats, which are a good deal more becoming than
those hideous khaki helmets of our men."

The horsemen had unslung their guns, but seeing that the strangers had
their rifles still slung behind them with apparently no intention of
firing, they dropped into a canter until they met the lads.

"Who are you?" the leader asked. "Do you surrender?"

"We will surrender if you want us to," Chris said; "though why we should
do so I don't know. We belong to the Maritzburg Scouts, and were taken
prisoners, being both wounded, eight or nine days ago; and, as you see,
we have got away."

"I dare say it is all right," the officer said; "but at any rate we will
ride with you to Estcourt."

"We shall be glad of your company, though I don't suppose we shall be
identified until we get to Chieveley. Will you please tell us what has
taken place since we left?"

"That, I think had better be deferred," the officer said dryly. "We
don't tell our news to strangers."

"Quite right, sir."

"It is evident that you are not Dutch," the officer went on; but there
is more than one renegade Englishman fighting among the Boers, and
except for your caps you certainly look as if you belonged to the other
side rather than to ours."

"Yes, they are Boer coats, Boer ponies, and Boer guns," Chris said. "We
have taken the liberty of borrowing them as they borrowed our guns and
field-glasses. Whether they borrowed our horses we shall not know till
we get back. You see," he went on, opening his coat, "we still have our
uniforms underneath. Who is at Estcourt now? Ah, by the way, we are sure
to find some officers in the hospital who know us."

The officer by this time began to feel that the account Chris had given
him of himself was correct, and when they arrived at Estcourt it was
rather as a matter of form than anything else that he accompanied him to
the hospital. Upon enquiry Chris found that among the wounded there was
one of the naval officers he had travelled with from Durban. Upon the
surgeon in charge being told that he wished to see him, he was allowed
to enter with the officer. The wounded man at once recognized him.

"Ah, King," he said, "I am glad to see you again. Have you brought me
down a message from Captain Jones or any of our fellows?"

"No; I am very sorry to find you here, Devereux, but I am glad to see
you are getting better. I have really come in order that you might
satisfy this gentleman, who has taken me prisoner, that I am King of the
Maritzburg Scouts."

"There is no doubt about that. Why, where have you been to be taken
prisoner?"

"Oh, it was a fair capture. I was with one of my section caught while
out scouting, and have got away in Boer attire, and as we were riding in
we met this officer's party some five miles out, and not unnaturally
they took us for the real thing instead of masqueraders."

[Illustration: "PRESENTLY FROM BEHIND THE FOOT OF THE HILL SIX HORSEMEN
DASHED OUT."]

"I can assure you that King is all right," the sailor said. "He came up
in the train with three of his party from Durban."

"Thank you," the officer said with a smile. "I am perfectly satisfied,
and was nearly so before I came in here. Well, I wish you good-day, sir,
and hope we may meet again," and shaking hands with Chris he left the
tent.

Chris remained chatting for a few minutes more with the sailor.

"I suppose there is no great chance of getting a bed here?" he said, as
he rose to go. "We have had two pretty long days' ride, and I don't care
about going on to Chieveley."

"Not a chance in the world, I should think."

"Well, it does not matter much. We have been sleeping in the open for
the past five nights, and once more will make no difference. We are just
back in time, Sankey," he said when he joined his friend outside.
"Devereux tells me that there is a big movement going on, and that a
severe fight is expected in a day or two. He hears that the baggage
train has been moving to Springfield, so that it will be somewhere over
in that direction; and I suppose we are going to move round to Acton
Homes and force our way into Ladysmith through Dewdrop. You know, they
say that it is comparatively flat that way."

They got rid of their long coats and fastened them to their saddles;
then led their ponies to the station, and leaving them outside entered.
An enterprising store-keeper had opened a refreshment stall for the
benefit of the troops passing through, or officers coming down from the
front to look after stores or to visit friends in hospital. Chris had
explained their position to Devereux, and the latter had said: "Then I
suppose they have eased you of all your money?"

"Yes; they did not leave us a penny."

"There is my purse with my watch in that little pocket over my bed," he
said. "You must let me lend you a sovereign till I see you again." And
Chris had thankfully taken the money.

They now had what to them was a gorgeous feast; some soup, cold ham, and
a bottle of wine. They gave what little remains they had of bread to the
ponies, and then led them a quarter of a mile out of the town and camped
out with them there, the Boer coats coming in very useful. The next
morning they started at daybreak, and arrived at their camp at Chieveley
just as their friends were sitting down to breakfast. They were received
with a shout of welcome, and a torrent of questions was poured upon
them.

"I will leave Sankey to tell you all about it," Chris said. "I must go
and report myself to Brookfield and get our names struck off the list of
missing. I shall not be five minutes away."

The captain received Chris as heartily, though not so noisily, as his
comrades had done.

"We have been very anxious about you," he said, after the first
greeting. "When we came back to the point where you left us, and did not
find you there, we thought there might be some mistake, and that you had
ridden on. We picked up all the others, but were not uneasy until we got
into camp, and found that you did not return. Then two of your friends
took fresh horses and rode out again, taking two of your blacks with
them. The blacks found the place where you had left us, and following
your tracks down came on your horses. Then they went on till they saw
the river in front of them. The blacks traced your footsteps along near
the bank till they came to a spot where there was evidently a drift, as
a road was cut down to the water on both sides. They then crawled along
till they could look down into the road. They were some time away, and
returned with the news that they had seen below them on the road a patch
of blood and the mark of a body in the mud, another step they said had
gone down to the water, and had not come back. Crawling along by the
edge of the bank they found some empty cartridges. They said whoever had
been up there had crawled once or twice to the edge above the sunken
road where the other was lying, and that he had then gone back from the
river and afterwards down into the road. A little farther there seemed
to have been a fall, and then two men with big feet came to the spot,
and, they asserted, carried the one who had fallen there down to the
other; but they could not see what had happened then, for it was evident
that the Boers were in force on the other side of the river, and they
dared not go down farther to examine the tracks. Enough had been seen,
however, to show that you must both have been wounded. It was pretty
certain that you had not been killed, for if so the Boers would not have
troubled to carry your bodies across the drift. Now, Chris, let us hear
your story."

"If you don't mind, Captain Brookfield," Chris said with a smile, "I
will put off telling it for another half-hour. The fact is, breakfast is
ready, and I have only had one square meal since I went away, and that
was yesterday at Estcourt."

"Go, by all means," the captain laughed. "I breakfasted half an hour
before you came in, and forgot that it was possible that you had not
done so." It was a full half-hour before Chris returned, and when he did
so he left Sankey still telling the story of their adventures, which had
made very little progress, as he had declared that he could not enjoy
his breakfast if he was obliged to keep on talking all the time. When
Chris, on his part, had told the story to Captain Brookfield, the latter
said:

"I can't say that I am altogether surprised to see you back, though I
certainly did not expect you for a long time, for I felt sure that if
you and Sankey were not seriously wounded you would manage to give them
the slip before you got to Pretoria; and I thought we should hear the
first news of you at Durban, for it would be shorter and easier for you
to make your way down again to Lorenzo Marques than to follow this
line."

"We should certainly have gone that way if we had not escaped until we
were near Pretoria, but it was a great deal easier to slip away from the
waggons than it would have been if we had been once put into the train.
I hope, sir, we have not been returned as missing, for it will have
frightened our mothers terribly if we have been."

"No; I thought that there was no occasion to give your names until you
had been away for a month. If you were not heard of by that time, I
should consider it certain that you were dead or at Pretoria. I knew
that, as you say, it would be a terrible shock to your mothers if they
were to see your names among the missing; while it could do no harm to
anyone if I kept it back for a month, and put you down as missing the
first time after the corps were engaged. Well, you are just back in time
for a big fight, though we are not likely to take any part in it. It is
supposed to be a secret as to the precise position, but orders have been
privately circulated this morning. Dundonald with the regular cavalry,
the Natal Horse, and the South African Light Horse went on four days
ago, with one or two other colonial corps, and occupied Springfield, and
the baggage train followed them; and after occupying the place, instead
of waiting for infantry to come up, he moved on to a river. Some of his
men, with extraordinary pluck, swam across and managed to bring the
ferry-boat over under a very heavy fire. Then a number of them crossed,
scattered the Boers like chaff, and took possession of a rough hill
called Swartz Kop, and held it till support came up. It was a capitally
managed affair, and one cannot but regret that the same care was not
shown at Hlangwane. We are to go on this afternoon, but as we are not in
Dundonald's brigade I expect that our duty will be, as it was in the
last fight, to guard the baggage."

"But what will Dundonald's brigade do?"

"The general opinion is, that they will push round to Acton Homes. I am
not sure that the whole force is not going that way. It would be a grand
thing if it could be done; but I doubt whether the train could carry
enough stores, for it would be a long way round, and we should probably
have to fight two or three times at least, and it might take us five or
six days."

"Then most of the infantry have gone on already?"

"Yes, Hart's and Hildyard's brigades have marched straight from Frere.
By the way, did you hear of the Boer attack on Ladysmith on the night of
the 6th?"

"No; that was the night we were at Glencoe. On our way up we did hear
some very heavy firing. At least, we were not certain that it was
firing, and rather thought it was a distant thunder-storm."

"The firing began at two o'clock in the morning," Captain Brookfield
said, "and was so heavy that everyone turned out. It lasted four hours,
and there was no doubt that the Boers were making a determined attack.
Everyone wondered that we did not at once make a diversion. When the day
broke it could be seen that numbers of mounted Boers were hurrying off
from their camps among the hills towards Ladysmith, but it was not until
two in the afternoon that five battalions of infantry marched down
towards Colenso, and the naval guns opened in earnest on their lines. It
had the effect of bringing the Boers scurrying down again to their
trenches. Our fellows marched in open order and worked their way nearly
down to Colenso, which was more strongly garrisoned than it had been at
the time of our last attack. No doubt they had seen us preparing to
advance, and strongly reinforced the garrison. Our guns were taken a
long way down, and at six o'clock their trenches were bombarded; then it
came on to rain, and the Boers ceased to fire, and at seven o'clock our
men turned into camp. The firing in Ladysmith had ceased some time
before that."

"And what had taken place there?" Chris asked anxiously, "for I know the
place has not fallen or we should have heard of it."

"No, they beat the Boers off splendidly. However, they had hard work to
do it, for the heliograph flashed a signal at about nine o'clock in the
morning to say that they had so far beaten off the enemy, but were much
pressed. We heard the next day that this had indeed been the case.
Caesar's Camp had been taken and retaken several times--by our men at
the point of the bayonet, by the Boers, by rushing up in overwhelming
numbers. It is said that we have twelve hundred casualties, and the
Boers at least fifteen hundred, of whom a large number were bayoneted.
They say the loss fell chiefly upon the Free Staters, who were put in
the front by the Transvaal people. They fought pluckily, and several of
their commanders were among the killed. I should think that they would
hardly try it again. A native got through two days afterwards with a
despatch. We have not heard what it contained, but we fancy from what
has leaked out that our defences were very weak."

"We ought to take a lesson from the Boers," Chris said. "I saw something
of their trenches as we went up the railway valley, and they are
wonderful."

"Yes, we must do the Boers the justice to say that they are not afraid
of hard work. Ever since they first came here they have been at work
everywhere every day in the week, including Sundays. Of course, as we
are not standing on the defensive, there is no occasion for us to
construct works to the same extent; but I cannot myself understand why
we do not throw up batteries for our guns, pushing forward zigzags every
night, and advancing the batteries until we can plant all our naval and
field guns within a hundred yards of Colenso, when we should be able to
smash their entrenchments in no time, and effectually cover an advance
across the bridge or one of the drifts. When I was in the army it was
always said that the next war would be fought with the spade as much as
with the rifle, but so far we have seen nothing whatever of the spade,
except just by the guns. We were also taught that strong positions held
by steady troops armed with magazine guns and supported by good
artillery were absolutely impregnable against direct attack. I grant
that Dundee and Elandslaagte, and Belmont and Enslin on the other side,
seemed to contradict that idea, but our experience here is all the other
way; and if we keep on knocking our heads against those hills I suppose
the axiom is likely to be finally confirmed."

"Then you don't think that we are going to fight our way into Ladysmith,
Captain Brookfield?"

"Not direct into Ladysmith. Possibly we may work our way round; but
after what we saw of the fire from their position, trench above trench,
and miles upon miles in length, my own conviction is, that allowing to
the utmost for the gallantry and devotion of our men, we shall never win
our way across those hills."

"Then we move off at two o'clock, sir?"

"Yes, fresh batches of waggons are going on, and we are to escort them,
and if we reach Springfield by to-morrow night we may think ourselves
lucky, for some of the officers who went with the first lot have come
back, and say that the roads are simply awful--there are dongas to be
passed where the waggons sink up to their axles--and that at one point
ninety oxen were fastened to a single waggon and could not pull it out
from a hole in which it was sunk, and there it would be now if one of
the Woolwich traction engines hadn't got hold of it and drawn it out.
They are doing splendid work, and if the War Office authorities can but
take a lesson to heart, the next war we go into we shall have five
hundred of them and not a single transport animal. They would cost
money, no doubt, but they would eat nothing and drink nothing; they
would only require to be oiled and cleaned occasionally to keep them in
order, and when they were wanted they would do the work without our
having to hunt the world over for transport animals. They would save
their cost in one war; there would be a thousand drivers and stokers
instead of twenty thousand camp followers; it would not matter whether
the country was burnt up dry or deep in grass, they would drag their
fuel with them; and would save the artillery horses by dragging the guns
till they were in the neighbourhood of an enemy. It might not look so
pretty or picturesque as the present system, but it would be enormously
more useful, and in the long run vastly more economical. I should like
to see Kitchener put at the War Office with authority to sweep it out;
Hercules in the Augean stable would be nothing to it."

Chris laughed at the earnestness and vehemence with which the commander
spoke.

He went on. "I am an old army man, and have been as staunch a believer
in army traditions as any man, but I tell you fairly that I am disgusted
at the amount of routine work, delay, and, if I may use the word,
priggism, that I see going on. I am not surprised that the Colonials to
a man are convinced that they would manage matters infinitely better if
they were left to themselves. They would harass the Boers night and day,
sweep their plundering parties out of the land, make a circuit no matter
how far into Zululand, and come down behind and cut the line of railway,
and blow up the bridges, and worry them out of the colony. I don't say
they would succeed, but I am sure they would try, and I believe firmly
that five thousand mounted Colonials fighting in their own way would
relieve Ladysmith and clear Natal sooner than we with thirty thousand
shall do. I am not saying that they would succeed in a Continental war,
though they would certainly harass and bother any regular force four
times their own strength. To succeed they would require guns and a
greater degree of discipline than they have got, but such a force would
be absolutely invaluable as an assistant to a regular army. Don't repeat
what I say, Chris; there is a good deal of soreness of feeling on both
sides already, and I don't want any utterance of mine to add to it.
Still, I can assure you it has been a relief to me to let the steam
off."

At the appointed hour the Maritzburg Scouts and another Colonial corps
started with a train of two hundred waggons, and with immense exertion
made eight miles before it became dark. The men were more often on foot
than in their saddles, sometimes roping their horses to the sides of the
waggons to aid the oxen, sometimes putting their shoulders to the
wheels, or working with a score of others with railway sleepers that had
been brought for the purpose, to lever the axles out of deep holes into
which the wheels had sunk.

"I don't think I ever knew what it was to be really dirty before," Field
said, as they finally dismounted and prepared to camp. "I thought I did
know something about mud, but I can see that I did not. I feel that I am
a sort of animated pie, and could be cooked comfortably in an oven. If
we could but get a big fire and stand round it, our crust might peel
off; and I really don't see any other way. There is one advantage in it,
and that is that we shall be able to skirmish, if necessary, across
either a sandy or muddy country, without the possibility of our being
made out more than fifty yards away by the keenest-sighted Boer. What do
you propose, Captain Chris? If there were running water near, the course
would be clear. We would lie down by turns, and be rolled over and over,
and thumped with stones, and rubbed with anything that came handy till
we were in a state of comparative cleanliness."

"Why running water?" Chris asked. "Why not a pond?" "A pond!" Field
said, contemptuously. "Why, sir, before our section alone was washed,
the water of anything short of a lake would be solid."

There was a general burst of laughter.

"Well, Field, you do us almost as much good as a wash," Peters said.
"Anyhow, we are better off than the others. We have got our tents and
our spirit-lamp, and can have our tea with some degree of comfort, which
is more than the others will be able to do. Now, as we have not running
water, I think we might as well scrape as much of this mud off as we
can."

"I would almost rather remain as we are," Field said. "Hitherto I have
felt rather proud of our appearance. As we only got our uniforms when we
came up here, and have always had our tents to sleep in, we looked a
great deal cleaner than the average. Now we shall be conspicuous for our
dirtiness."

"In spite of what Field says, I will adopt your suggestion, Peters. We
had better help the Kaffirs to get up our tents first," Chris said,
"then we can do the scraping while they are getting our supper ready. It
is very lucky that we had the water-skins filled before starting. We
should hardly taste the tea if it had been made from water from any of
these spruits."

The tents were erected, and then jack-knives were taken out; and giving
mutual aid to each other, they succeeded in removing at least the main
portion of the mud. That done, they sat down to supper. Fortunately, the
rain that had come down steadily the greater portion of the day had now
ceased, and with a tin of cocoa and milk, and some fried ham and
biscuits, they made an excellent meal. Their less fortunate comrades
brought their kettles, which were boiled for them one after another,
until all who had waited up in hopes of their turn coming had been
served. As they carried tea and their ration bread, they were able to
make a fairly comfortable meal, instead of going supperless to bed,
which they would otherwise have done, as few would have cared after
their hard work to go out into the veldt to gather soaked sticks, which
they would hardly have been able to light had they found them. A small
ration of spirits and water was given to each of the five natives, and
then the lads crept into their tents feeling that after all, things
might have been much worse.




CHAPTER XV

SPION KOP


The country immediately round Springfield was level and well cultivated,
with pretty farmhouses and orchards scattered about. Some little
distance to the west rose two hills, Swartz Kop, which had been occupied
by the mounted infantry, and Spearman's Hill, named from a farm near its
base. Here General Buller had established his head-quarters. Spearman's
Hill, which was generally called Mount Alice, was a very important
position, and here the naval guns were placed, their fire commanding the
greater portion of the hills on the other side of the Tugela, and also
Potgieter's Drift, where it was intended the passage of the river should
be made. Swartz Kop was a less important position, though it also
dominated a wide extent of country; but as ridges on the other side
covered some important points from its fire, Mount Alice was selected as
the position for the naval battery, and also for the signallers, as from
here a direct communication could be kept up by heliograph and flash-
light with one of the hills held by the defenders of Ladysmith.

[Illustration: THE NAVAL GUNS ON MOUNT ALICE]

It was late on the 16th when the convoy which the Maritzburg Scouts were
escorting arrived at Springfield. All day they had heard the boom of
artillery and the rattle of machine-guns and musketry along the line of
hills on the other side of the Tugela and from the heights of Mount
Alice, and groaned in spirit as they laboured at their work of assisting
the waggons, that they were thus employed when hard fighting was going
on within eight miles of them.

At half-past two that day Lyttleton's brigade had moved forward along
the foot of Mount Alice to force the passage of the river at Potgieter's
drift. As soon as the Boers caught sight of them, they could be seen
galloping forward to take their places in the trenches.

A thunder-storm that burst and a torrent of rain screened the movements
of the advancing troops from view for some time, and enabled them to
near the river without having to pass through any shell fire from the
Boer batteries on the hilltops. Between Mount Alice and the river the
brigade passed across meadows and ploughed fields. They reached the
ferry, but the boat was stuck fast, and an hour was lost at this point
before a party of sailors and colonial troops accustomed to such work
came forward to the aid of the Engineers, and speedily got it into
working order. But in the meantime the Scottish Rifles and the Rifle
Brigade had moved along the banks to the drift. Although usually almost
dry, the water was now coming down it breast-deep. Two gallant fellows
went across, and when they found the line of shallow water they returned
and guided their comrades over. The rush of the water was so great that
many would have been swept away; but, joining hands, they crossed in a
line, and although this was broken several times, it was always
reformed, and not many lives were lost.

As soon as some of the troops had passed, they lined the bank until the
two battalions were over, and then advanced over some low hills,
clearing out a few Boers who occupied some advanced trenches. By six
o'clock the ferry-boat began to carry the main body across, taking over
half a company at a time; but it was not until half-past three in the
morning that the horses, waggons, the guns of the brigade, and a
howitzer battery were on the northern bank, and the whole brigade
established on a ridge a mile beyond the river.

The Maritzburg Scouts were delighted at receiving orders on the morning
after their arrival at Springfield that they were to move forward at
once and encamp close to Spearman's Farm, and to furnish orderlies for
carrying messages for the general. They started at once, and after an
hour's fast riding arrived at the point assigned to them.

Twenty men and an officer were at once sent to the farmhouse. They took
with them three tents which they had brought in the regimental waggon,
and erected these some fifty yards from the house; the rest of the troop
established their camp at a point indicated by a staff officer a quarter
of a mile away. It had been two o'clock in the morning before the convoy
had reached Springfield, and horses and men were alike tired out; and as
soon as breakfast had been prepared and eaten most of the troopers
turned in to sleep. Chris and half a dozen of his party, however,
obtained leave from Captain Brookfield to ascend Mount Alice and see
what was going on. From half-past five a tremendous fire had been kept
up on the Boer positions. The naval guns were distributing their heavy
lyddite shells among the entrenchments distant from three to six miles,
and occasionally throwing up a missile on to the summit of the lofty
hill known as Spion Kop away to the left front. Not less steadily or
effectively the howitzer battery was pounding the Boer position.

At eight o'clock the lads reached the top of Mount Alice, and watched
with intense interest the picturesque and exciting scene. Here they were
far better able than they had been when at Chieveley to see the general
aspect of the country. On the right from Grobler's Kloof hill after
hill, separated apparently by shallow depressions, rose, and from the
higher points occasional flashes of fire burst out as the guns tried
their range against those on Mount Alice, whose heights, however, they
failed to reach. Spion Kop stood out steep and threatening, its summit
being some hundred feet higher than that of Mount Alice. They could now
see that it was not, as it had appeared from the distance, an isolated
and almost conical hill, but was, in fact, connected with hills farther
to the left by a ridge of which it was the termination.

Immediately behind it was a deep valley, and the ascent from this side
was to some extent commanded by the guns on Mount Alice and Swartz Kop.
Between Spion Kop and the river there was a flat belt of country, and it
was along this that Lord Dundonald had ridden with his brigade of
cavalry to Acton Homes, where he was still stationed. The point of
greatest interest, however, was at Trichardt's Drift, lying six miles
west of Mount Alice. From their look-out they could make out the
division under the command of Sir Charles Warren advancing to the ford.
As far as they could see, no serious opposition was being offered; they
could, however, in the intervals of silence of the guns, hear a dropping
musketry fire in that direction, and a few rounds of shot from Warren's
field-guns, but it was evident that only a small party of the enemy
could be disputing the passage.

Peters, who was intently watching what was going on through his glasses,
said: "They are at work at two points on the river. I think they are
building bridges."

The naval guns dropped a few shells among the farm buildings and
orchards facing the spot where the troops were gathered, as a hint to
the Boers that it was well within their range, and that they had best
abstain from interfering with what was going on. In an hour from the
time the troops reached the bank two bridges had been thrown across the
river, and the passage began. By ten o'clock the whole were across, the
firing soon after ceased, and Warren's troops bivouacked quietly. It was
all over for the day, and the lads returned to their camp. The next day
passed quietly, except that in the afternoon the Boer entrenchments near
Spion Kop and Brakfontein, a hill facing the position occupied by
Lyttleton's brigade, were pounded by the naval guns and howitzers. A
message was heliographed from Ladysmith that two thousand Boers were
seen moving towards Acton Homes, and as the occupation of that village
was of no value until the infantry arrived there, the cavalry were
recalled to a position where they could protect Warren's left flank from
attack.

On the 19th, Warren pushed forward a portion of his force with a view to
driving back the Boers' right and gaining the main road leading through
Dewdrop to Ladysmith, while Woodgate's brigade watched Spion Kop.
Fighting went on all day, the British forcing the enemy back step by
step. On the 20th it began early and continued the whole day. Every inch
of the ground was contested stubbornly by the Boers, but the Irish
Brigade, who were in the hottest position, pressed them back fiercely
with sudden rushes, and, had the rest of the division kept up with their
advance, might have cleared the way through the enemy's centre. But the
cannonade to which the advancing troops were exposed was terrible.
Maxims and Nordenfeldts, the heavy cannon, and the field-pieces captured
from us a month before, hurled shot and shell incessantly among them,
while the rattle of the Boer rifles was continuous. Still, fair progress
was made, and with less loss than might have been expected in such
strife. Two officers only were killed, Captain Hensley of the Dublin
Fusiliers, and Major Childe, who was a most popular officer. He had a
presentiment that he would fall, and actually asked a friend the evening
before to have a tablet placed over his grave with the inscription, "Is
it well with the child? It is well."

At three o'clock the fighting slackened, and a heavy thunderstorm seemed
to be the signal for firing to cease. Later Sir Charles Warren summoned
all the officers commanding corps, and pointed out that there was not
sufficient food remaining to allow of the wide circuit by Acton Homes to
be carried out, and gave his opinion that now they had won so much
ground, it was better to continue to advance by the shorter line on
which they were pushing, but that in order to do this it was necessary
that Spion Kop, whose fire would take them in the rear, should be
captured. This was unanimously agreed to, and General Warren then saw
the commander-in-chief, and obtained his consent to the change of plans.
It was not, however, considered necessary to take Spion Kop until the
troops had farther advanced. All Sunday, fighting was continued as
before, but the progress made was slower, as the Boers were largely
reinforced and fresh guns brought up.

The 22nd was comparatively quiet. The situation was not improving. Five
miles of rough ground had been won in as many days' fighting, but the
force was becoming lengthened out and the line weaker. Lyttleton's force
had to guard the line from Potgieter's Drift to Warren's right against
any attempt of the Boers to cut the lines of communication. Woodgate was
similarly employed in keeping the line from Trichardt's Drift to
Warren's left, and it became increasingly evident that not much further
progress could be made until the left of the advance was protected by
the establishment of guns on the great hill. It was then, on the 23rd,
decided that Woodgate's brigade should assault Spion Hop that night. It
was known that it was not strongly held.

Starting at six o'clock, the column made its way slowly and with vast
difficulty up the ascent. This was everywhere rugged and rocky, and in
many places so precipitous that men had to be pushed or pulled up by
their comrades.

Colonel Thorneycroft led the way with a few men, finding out the spots
at which an ascent was practicable, and scouting on either side to
discover if Boers were hidden; behind him followed Woodgate leading his
men. He was in bad health and quite unfit for such a climb, but in spite
of remonstrances he had insisted upon going, although he was obliged to
be assisted at the more difficult places. The distance was not more than
six miles, but it was not until nearly ten hours after starting that the
summit was gained. The hilltop was enveloped in mist, and they were
unseen until the Lancashire Fusiliers, who were leading, were within
fifty yards of the top. Then a Boer challenged them, and directly fired
his rifle. Almost instantly a dozen of his comrades joined him, and
bringing their magazines into play opened a fierce fusillade. But the
aim was hurried, they could scarce see their foes, and the Lancashire
men, cheering loudly, rushed up to the crest without loss.

The Boers did not await their arrival; only one of them was bayoneted
before he turned to fly, and but two or three were overtaken by the
eager soldiers. As soon as the Boers had gone, the troops set to work to
construct breastworks to hold the spot they had gained against any
attempts of the Boers to recapture. The ground was too rocky for
digging, and the stones that were scattered thickly about were used for
the purpose; but long before the breastwork could be completed a
dropping fire was opened by the enemy. The morning was gray and misty,
and the clouds hung heavily on the hilltop. As these cleared off slowly,
it could be seen that the position was less favourable than it had
seemed, for the flat crest extended some distance beyond the point they
had entrenched, and from the rocks and low ridges a hot fire broke out.
Before the mist cleared off, the Boers had crept up in considerable
force, and were, it was evident, preparing to retake the position that
had been wrested from them.

By six o'clock the scattered fire had grown into a continuous roar, the
Boers occupying not only the nek itself, but the flanks of the hill.
Several times our men made rushes to endeavour to clear off the foe, but
these proved too costly, and they were now lying or kneeling behind the
unfinished barricade. In a very short time the clouds had lifted
sufficiently for the Boer artillery to discover the exact position, and
from the hills on three sides a terrible fire of shot and shell, from
cannon great and small and machine-guns, rained upon them. Again and
again parties of men started to their feet and dashed forward to drive
the hidden Boers facing them from their hiding-places. Sometimes they
succeeded for a time, but their numbers thinned so fast that the
survivors were forced to fall back again. To add to the horror of the
situation, the shot from our own guns also fell among the defenders, the
officers commanding the batteries not having been informed of the
intention to occupy the hill, and knowing nothing of the situation.
Scores of men were killed or wounded, but the position was held
unflinchingly.

At ten o'clock General Woodgate was mortally wounded by the fragment of
a shell that struck him in the eye, and Colonel Crofton took the
command. He at once flashed a message to General Warren, stating that
Woodgate was killed, and that reinforcements must be sent at once;
General Coke was therefore ordered to take the Middlesex and Dorset
regiments, and assume the command. Immediately afterwards Warren
received an order from General Buller to appoint Lieutenant-colonel
Thorneycroft, who was colonel of a colonial force, to take the command.
It was now hoped that all was well there. Unfortunately, neither Buller
nor Warren was able to give his undivided attention to the struggle on
the mountain, for Lyttleton's brigade had advanced before daybreak
against the eastern slopes of the hills running north from Spion Kop.
They advanced briskly, their Maxims clearing out the Boers, from whose
fire they suffered but little; but they sustained some loss from the
shell fire from Mount Alice, the sailors having been as uninformed of
the advance the brigade were to make as they were of the capture of
Spion Kop. The Scottish Rifles and the 3rd King's Royal Rifles pushed on
rapidly and gained the spur farthest north. Had there been guns on Spion
Kop the object of the movement would have been attained, and the advance
by direct road on Ladysmith have become a possibility; but no guns had
reached the summit, and the troops there were so far from being able to
render assistance that they were with difficulty maintaining their
desperate resistance. As the two rifle regiments were therefore exposed
to a concentrated fire from the Boer batteries, and were without
support, they were directed to withdraw, but the order had to be
repeated three times before it was obeyed. The fire slackened at this
point to some extent in the afternoon, no farther advance being
attempted, but it raged as hotly as ever on the summit of Spion Kop.

As neither General Buller nor Warren had come up to see the state of
things on the all-important position of Spion Kop, General Coke went
down in the evening to explain the situation. He stated that unless the
artillery could silence the enemy's guns the troops could not support
another day's shelling. In the evening two naval twelve-pounders, the R.
A. mountain battery, and one thousand two hundred men as reliefs,
started to ascend the hill and to strengthen the entrenchments. On the
way up they met Colonel Thorneycroft and the rest of the force coming
down, that officer, who had displayed splendid gallantry throughout the
day, having decided on his own responsibility that the position could
not be longer held. Strangely enough, the news of the retirement was not
communicated to General Buller, who, after reporting in his despatches
written next morning that Spion Kop was firmly held, was riding to the
front when he for the first time learned the news. Altogether it was a
day of strange blunders, redeemed only by the splendid bravery of the
troops engaged. The news came as a heavy blow to the army, but it was
supposed that a fresh attempt would be made to capture the position by
ascending the northern spurs that had been carried and held for a time
by the two rifle battalions. But while soldiers think only of the
chances of battle, and burn to engage the enemy, a feeling only
accentuated by previous failures, generals in command have to take other
matters into consideration. They may feel that they may conquer in the
next fight, but what is to follow? In this case the chances of success
would be smaller than before, the loss more serious, for the Boers from
all parts had united to oppose us. Many of the cannon had been brought
over from the positions from which Ladysmith was bombarded. The
advantage of surprise gained by the long march from Chieveley had been
lost; more serious still was it that a large proportion of the
provisions, brought at the cost of so much labour and exhaustion of the
transport animals, was consumed, and what remained would be insufficient
had fresh battles to be fought to capture the positions, one behind
another, held by the Boers.

General Buller was the last man to retire as long as there was a hope of
success. He knew that not only at home, but all over the civilized
world, men were anxiously awaiting the news of his second attempt to
relieve Ladysmith, and it must have been hard indeed for him to have to
acknowledge a second reverse; but in spite of this he sternly determined
to fall back. The movement was admirably executed; every horse, waggon,
gun, and soldier was taken safely across the Tugela without hindrance by
the Boers, a fact that showed how deeply they had been impressed with
the valour of our soldiers. Sullenly and angrily the troops marched
away. Had they had their will they would have hurled themselves against
the Boer entrenchments until the last man had fallen. To them the
necessities of the situation were as nothing; to retreat seemed an
acknowledgment that they had been beaten, a feeling that is seldom
entertained by British soldiers. Their losses had been heavy, but there
were still enough of them, they thought, for the work they had to do,
and it was with a deep feeling of unmerited humiliation that they
received the order to retire.

The feeling, however, was not of long endurance, for two days later,
when they had settled down in camp near the Tugela and round Spearman's
Farm, the general rode through the lines, congratulating the troops on
the valour they had displayed, and promising them that ere long they
would be in Ladysmith.

"I shall be heartily glad when we are there," Chris said when he heard
what the general had promised, "not only for the sake of the town, but
for our own. We are really doing no good here. It is hateful to look on
when other fellows are fighting so desperately. If it were not that the
orders were strict against the mounted Colonial corps going out over the
country, to clear the scattered Boers out, we might be doing useful
service; and as soon as Ladysmith is relieved--that is to say, if we can
hold out till we get there--I should certainly vote that we come back
here instead of staying with the army, and go on again on our own
account."

"I quite agree with you," Carmichael said. "Still, it is something to
have seen two big fights."

"Yes," Brown grumbled, "but if we tell anybody that we were there,
naturally the first question will be, 'What part did you take in it',
and we shall have to own that we took no part at all, and only looked on
at a distance at the other fellows fighting. I call it sickening."

"Well, never mind, Brown," Chris said; "after all, during this business,
we have killed twice our own number of Boers at the least, and if
everyone had done as much the Boers would be pretty well extinct."

"Yes, there is certainly something in that," Brown admitted, "but if we
had been allowed to scout on our own account it would be hard if we had
not killed twice as many more by this time."

"We certainly might have done so, but you must remember, also, that a
great many of us might have been killed too. One cannot always expect to
have the luck we had in those two fights; and, I am sure, we should
bitterly regret gaps being made in our number."

"That we should," Harris said warmly. "We were all good friends before,
but nothing to what we are now after living so long together, roughing
it and sharing each others' dangers. For my part I would rather go
without any more fighting than that any of us should go down."

"I agree with you thoroughly, Harris," Chris said. "As most of us are
likely to remain out here for life, we shall often meet, and I do hope
that when we talk of these times we shan't have our pleasure marred by
having to say how we miss so and so, and so and so. I should be sorry
even to lose one of our blacks. They have stuck to their work well, and
are always cheerful and willing in the worst of weather and under the
most miserable conditions. I should really be very sorry if any of them
were killed."

It needed but a day or two for the troops to recover their cheerfulness.
It was certain that they would soon be launched against the enemy again,
and it was known that General Buller would himself command. The ground
was now more known than it was before, the plans could he better laid,
and all looked forward confidently to the next engagement.

No thanks were due to the weather for the renewed spirits of the men. It
rained almost unceasingly. The flat ground on which the troops were
encamped was a sea of mud. There was one good effect in this: there was
water in all the spruits, and the men were able to indulge in a wash-up
of their clothes and an occasional bath; and although they had to put
their clothes on wet, they were scarcely more damp than when they took
them off. There was other work to be done. Two naval guns, a mountain
battery, and some large cannon were with great labour got up on the top
of Swartz Kop.

The lads had given up the two tents allotted to them to let the rest of
the men have more room, and they now felt the full benefit of their
little shelter tents. The allowance throughout the rest of the camp was
sixteen men to a tent. On coming in and out, as the men were muddy up to
the knees, it was impossible to keep these even tolerably clean, and the
discomfort of so many men crowded together and obliged to live, eat, and
sleep in such confined quarters was very great indeed.

The lads on the other hand, suffered from none of these inconveniences,
and except that they could not stand up, and could only sit upright in
the middle of the tent, they were perfectly comfortable. The tents were
about seven feet wide on the ground, and as much long. Their natives had
cut and brought in bundles of grass, which made them soft beds, one on
each side of the tent. A blanket was stretched on each bed, another
doubled lay over it. It was a strict rule that everyone should take off
his boots on entering his tent, and leave them just inside the entrance.
They had purchased at the sale of the effects of some of the officers
killed in action some more blankets and rugs, and these were thrown over
the entrance to the front of the tents at night, and made them perfectly
warm and comfortable. A trench some eighteen inches deep was dug round
each tent, and this kept the floor fairly dry.

Some blankets had been given to the Kaffirs, who constructed a little
shelter, in which they squatted by day and slept at night, and in which
cooking operations were carried on. The lads had no occasion to feel
dull, for they now knew many officers in the line regiments, and among
the Colonial troops, as well as the naval brigade; and "Brookfield's
boys", as they were generally called, were always welcome, and it was
seldom that more than half of them dined in their own camp. Chris could
always have been an absentee, for the sailors had told to each other the
story of his attempt to blow up the bridge at Komati-poort, and he
received any number of invitations. But he by no means liked to have to
retell the story, and generally made some excuse or other for remaining
in camp.

Another battery of artillery arrived on the 31st of January, and on the
3rd of February there were sports in the camp of the South African Light
Horse, and a camp-fire sing-song afterwards. The men were all now in
high spirits, for it was certain that in a day or two another attack
would be made. On Sunday, February 4th, it was known that the move would
commence the next day.

General Buller's plan was to make a strong feint against Brakfontein,
the highest hill of the ridge connected with the Spion Kop range, while
the real attack was to be delivered against an isolated hill named Vaal
Krantz, which, as viewed from Swartz Kop and Mount Alice, seemed to be
the key to the whole position, and it was thought that its possession
would open the way for a direct advance to Ladysmith. All was now in
readiness for the attack, and the sailors had with steel hawsers, and
the aid of the troops, got four more naval guns on to Swartz Kop.

Before daybreak the troops were ready to advance. The regular cavalry
were near the base of Swartz Kop, while all the Colonial Horse, under
Lord Dundonald, were near Potgieter's Drift. At six o'clock the cavalry
went forward, but not far, for the morning was so misty that the
artillery could not make out the Boer positions until an hour later,
when a tremendous fire was opened from Mount Alice, Swartz Kop, and guns
placed on a lower spur of Spion Kop. While this was going on, a bridge
was thrown by the Engineers across another drift. Major-general Wynne
led the Lancashire brigade in the direction of Brakfontein. They went
forward in skirmishing order, supported by five field batteries and the
howitzer battery, all of which kept up an incessant fire of lyddite,
shell, and shot against the Boer position, their fire being guided by an
engineer officer in a balloon, who was able from a lofty altitude to
signal where the Boers were clustering most thickly.

When another bridge had been completed General Lyttleton advanced with
his brigade across it, and as the feint against Brakfontein had
succeeded in gathering the greater portion of the Boers at the spot they
supposed to be most in danger, the Lancashire brigade was withdrawn,
retiring in excellent order, the movement being covered by an incessant
firing of the guns with them, which completely dominated those of the
Boers. Lyttleton's brigade now pressed forward under a storm of musketry
and shell from machine and other guns, which were answered even more
thunderously by the British artillery. The din was tremendous--greater
even than any that had been previously heard. It seemed impossible that
men could live for a moment in such a storm of missiles. But they
pressed on unfalteringly, and the batteries with them as steadily
maintained their fire, though shells fell continually round and among
them. The batteries that had gone out with the Lancashire Brigade now
directed their fire against Vaal Krantz, having moved across from
Brakfontein under a tremendous fire. One of the waggons lost all its
horses; but the five artillerymen with it manned the wheels and brought
it safely out of fire.

At three o'clock Lyttleton's brigade advanced in earnest, and dashed
forward at the double against Vaal Krantz, heedless of the rifle fire
from the hills on both flanks and from the front. The defenders soon
lost courage, as they saw the Durhams and 3rd King's Royal Rifles
dashing up the hill with bayonets fixed, and scarce two hundred of them
remained till the British gained the crest. These were speedily
scattered or bayoneted.

The position when won was found to be unsatisfactory, for it was
dominated by a hill beyond, which could not be seen from the British
look-out stations, and the cannon of Spion Kop were able to sweep the
plateau. At one time the Boers gathered and made an effort to retake the
hill, but two more battalions were sent up to reinforce the defenders,
and the enemy were driven back and the fire gradually languished. The
troops remained on the ground they had won during the night. From
prisoners they learned that four thousand Boers occupied Doornkloof, the
hill on their flank, and that the whole of the Transvaalers under
Joubert were gathering in their front.

The baggage waggons were all collected by the river in readiness to
advance; but the way was not yet sufficiently cleared for them, and the
Boer guns on Brakfontein and Spion Kop commanded the road which they
would have to traverse. It was evident to all that no advance was
possible until the guns on these heights had been silenced or captured.
For the same reason the two brigades of cavalry had remained inactive.
During the night the Boers set fire to the grass on Vaal Krantz, and by
the assistance of the light kept up a shell and Maxim fire upon the
troops holding it. By morning they had brought up one of their big
hundred-pound Creusot guns on to Doornkloof, and it added its roar to
the chaos of other sounds. Under the shelter of its fire and that of the
other guns the Boers made several attempts to recapture the hill, but
were smartly repulsed each time they advanced.

All day Tuesday and Wednesday the uproar of battle never ceased. We
could advance no farther. The Boers could not drive us back, although
they made a very determined night attack on Hildyard's brigade. That
afternoon General Buller held a council of war, at which all the
generals were present. Their opinions were unanimous that the Boer
position could not be forced without terrible loss, and that when they
arrived at Ladysmith they would but add to the number shut up in that
town, as it might be found as difficult to force their way out as to
arrive there. General Hart pleaded to be allowed to make an attempt on
Doornkloof with his brigade; but, strongly held as that position was, it
was deemed impossible that it could be captured by a single brigade. The
original intention was that guns should be taken up on to Vaal Krantz,
and that with their assistance a strong force would wheel round and take
Doornkloof in the rear; but owing to the discovery that the former hill
was dominated from several points, it was found impracticable to carry
the plan into execution. Orders were therefore given for the supply
column, which had advanced some distance, to retire.

As the movement was being carried out, the Boers kept up a heavy fire
upon the waggons and on the hospital, which, relying upon the protection
of the Red Cross flag, had advanced within range, but here, as upon
almost every occasion, the enemy paid no respect whatever to the Geneva
emblem, although when, as once or twice happened, one of our shells fell
near an ambulance of theirs, they had sent in indignant protests against
our conduct. All that night and the next day the movement to the rear
continued, and not only were the infantry moved across the Tugela, but
the guns on Swartz Kop and Mount Alice were removed, and orders were
given for a general retirement to Springfield, a proof that the next
attack would be made in an entirely different direction.




CHAPTER XVI

A COLONIST'S ADVENTURE


In the morning after the battle orders were issued for the greater part
of the troops to return to Chieveley, and among the first to leave were
the Maritzburg Scouts. They were heartily glad to be off. During the
three preceding days the position of the cavalry had been a galling one.
They had seen nothing of the fighting, being kept down at Potgieter's
Drift in readiness to advance the moment that orders came. They had
nothing to do but to stand or sit down near their horses, watching the
fire from the enemy's batteries on the hills, and the bursting of our
lyddite shells among them, the outburst of brownish-yellow smoke
rendering them easily distinguishable from the sudden puffs of white
vapour caused by the explosion of the shrapnel shells of the artillery.
How the battle was going was only known from the wounded men brought
down from the front. The reports at first were encouraging, but it
became evident on the following days that no progress was being made.

Each evening when the sun set both the colonial and regular cavalry
returned to their camp, for it was certain that they could not act at
night. When it became known on Wednesday evening that a retreat was
ordered, the news came almost as a relief, for the suspense had been
very trying.

After dinner Chris went into the tent where the officers of the troop
were gathered. As usual, the talk was of the battle, but in a short time
Captain Brookfield said:

"Let us try and get away from the subject. We have talked of nothing
else for the past three days, and I defy anyone to say anything new
about it; it is not a pleasant subject either. Richards, you were in the
last war, I know, and took part in the defence of Standerton. Suppose
you tell us about that; it is one of the few pleasant memories of that
time."

"I don't know that there is much to tell you about it, but I will let
you know how I came to take share in it. That was an exciting time for
me, for I was never so near rubbed out in all my life. Just before the
last business broke out I happened to be returning from Pretoria,
intending to sell for anything that I could get a large farm that I
owned in the Leydenburg district. Of late the Boers had been getting so
offensive in their manner that I thought something would come of it, and
made up my mind to sell out at any price and return to Natal. When I
rode into Leydenburg I found that two hundred and fifty men of the 94th
Regiment were starting next day with a large train of waggons for
Pretoria. As I was frequently in the town, and had made the acquaintance
of several of the officers, I thought it would be pleasant to ride down
with them, as it made no difference whether I got into Pretoria a day or
two earlier or later. The general idea was that war would come of it,
but no one thought it would begin without the usual notice and warning.

"I told the officers that I would not trust the Boers further than I
could see them, for that a more treacherous set of fellows are not to be
found on the surface of the earth. Still, I must own that I had no more
idea that an attack would be made upon us than they had. Well, you all
know what came of it. We were going along a hollow with rising ground on
either side when, without the slightest warning, a tremendous fire was
opened from both flanks. It can hardly be said that there was any
resistance. The troops were strung out along the line of waggons;
numbers were shot down before a single musket was fired in defence. The
main body, such as it was, fought stoutly, but as they could only catch
an occasional glimpse of the heads of the enemy, while they were
themselves altogether exposed, there could be but one end to it. A
hundred and twenty men were killed or wounded in a few minutes, and to
save the rest from a similar massacre the officer who commanded
surrendered.

"I fired a few shots at first, but as soon as I saw how it would end I
rode for it. I was with the rear-guard when the firing began, and so
took the back track. As soon as the firing ceased I saw half a dozen
Boers galloping after me. My blood was up, as you may imagine, and on
getting to a dip I jumped off my horse, left it in shelter, and threw
myself down on the crest of the hollow, and as they came within range I
picked off the one who was nearest to me. That brought the others up
with a round turn. They retired a little way, then dismounted and
separated, and proceeded to stalk me. We exchanged shots for an hour or
two. I killed another, and got, as you see by this scar on my cheek, a
graze. However, I think they would have tired of the game first. But
suddenly I saw a dozen Boers galloping across the country in our
direction. They were doubtless a party who had arrived too late to take
part in the fight, if you can call such a treacherous massacre a fight,
and hearing the sound of shots were riding to see what was going on.

"I saw that things were getting too hot, and ran down to my horse again
and rode along in the hollow, which fortunately hid me from the sight of
either the men I had been fighting or those riding up. I had therefore
about a quarter of a mile start when I heard a shout, and knew that they
were after me. After what had happened I did not dare ride for
Middleburg, as there was no saying whether that place might not have
already risen; so there was nothing to depend upon but the speed and
bottom of my horse. It was a fairly good animal, but nothing particular.
It had had an easy time of it while on the march, for we had only done
some fourteen or fifteen miles a day. I might have had hopes that I
should outride the men in pursuit of me, but they would be joined by
more men on fresh horses from any Boer farmhouse or village we came
near. Besides, the news of this intended attack on the convoy must have
been known far and wide. Occasionally a shot was fired, but as I was
riding at a gallop, and the Boers were doing the same, I had no great
fear of being hit. I gained a little at first, but after two hours'
riding they were about the same distance behind as when they had first
started on the chase.

"I felt that my horse was beginning to fag a bit, but the sun was
setting, for the attack had taken place in the afternoon. I kept on till
it was too dark for me to make out my pursuers, some of whom were not
more than three hundred yards behind me; then, while my horse was going
at full gallop I leapt of? without checking him, a trick that most
hunters can do. I chose the spot because I could make out that there was
some low scrub close to the road. Stooping among this I ran forward. I
was glad to hear that my horse was still galloping at the top of his
speed, and, deprived of my weight, would probably get a good bit farther
before he was taken, if he did but keep on. This I hoped he would do,
for he had evidently entered into the spirit of the chase, and had laid
back his ears whenever the Boers raised their voices in a yell or a
rifle was fired. They were yelling pretty hard when they passed me,
urging their horses on in the belief that the chase was almost at an
end. I heard no more of the Boers that time, for as soon as they had
gone on I ran at the top of my speed for some distance, and then broke
into a trot, and by the morning must have been thirty miles away.

"I decided to make for Standerton, for there I felt sure I should be
safe, for at that place was a considerable English population, and they
would certainly hold out. I had a Colt's rifle with me and a brace of
revolvers, for even when I went down to Leydenburg I heard that several
Englishmen had been maltreated, and one or two shot by Boers they met. I
tramped for four days, and as the attack on our troops had been made on
the 20th of December, it was now Christmas-eve. I had not ventured to go
near a Boer farm, for fortunately I had shot a springbok, and was
therefore under no trouble as to food; but on the previous day I had not
come across water, and the heat was terrible, so I felt that whatever
came of it I must go and ask for a drink. I saw a farmhouse about nine
in the morning and made for it. As I approached, a woman came out of the
door and, seeing me, re-entered, and two Boers with their guns in their
hands ran out.

"Who are you?" they shouted. Of course I speak Dutch as well as English,
and shouted back that I only wanted some water.

"'Are you an Englishman?' they shouted again.

"'Yes, I am,' I said; 'but what difference does that make?' I saw their
guns go up to their shoulders, and flung myself down, and their shots
went over my head. It was my turn now, and I fired twice, and the two
Boers rolled over. I walked forward now ready to fire on an instant, as
there might be more of them. Some women ran out but no man, and I went
straight up. They were screaming over the bodies of the men, and heaped
curses on me as I came up. I slung my rifle behind me, and taking out my
pistols I said, 'Your men brought it on themselves. I only asked for
water, and they fired at me. I don't want to hurt any of you, but if you
attack me I must protect myself.' Several times I thought they would
have done so, but the sight of my pistols cowed them, I walked straight
into the house, dipped a pannikin into a pail of water, took a long
drink, then I filled my water-bottle, and went out. Though they cursed
me again, they did not attempt to stop me, as I rather feared they
would; but I understood it when, before I had gone fifty yards, I heard
a horse's hoofs, and looking round saw a girl riding at full speed
across the veldt. She had no doubt gone to fetch the men who were away
or to the next farm to summon assistance. The draught of water had done
me a world of good, and I soon broke into a run, though I did not
conceal from myself that I was in a bad fix. Once out of sight of the
farm I changed my course, and did so several times in the course of the
next two hours; then, on getting to the crest of high ground, I saw a
river half a mile away. This, I felt sure, was Broot Spruit. Before
starting to walk down I looked round, and a little over a mile away
could see a party of some fifteen Boers. I ran at full speed down the
slope, and could see no other place where I could make a fight of it;
but many of the rivers have, like those here, steep banks, and I could
at least sell my life dearly. It could only be for a time, for some of
the Boers would cross the spruit and take me in rear. Still, there was
nothing else to be done.

"When I reached the bank I gave a shout of satisfaction. The river was
in flood; there must have been rain up in the hills, and you know how
quickly the streams rise. Unless the Boers knew of some very shallow
place, there would be no crossing it; for it was running like a mill-
stream, and except at some waggon drift the banks were almost
perpendicular. At any rate I could not hope to swim half across before
the Boers came up, and so I must fight it out where I was. I had
scarcely found a point where I could get a comfortable foothold on the
bank, with my head just above the level, when the Boers appeared on the
top of the hill. They stopped for a minute and then broke up, and
scattering rode forward. They felt sure that I must have made for the
river, as there was no other place where I could be concealed. When they
came within a couple of hundred yards of it they dismounted, and three
or four came forward on foot. When the nearest was within a hundred
yards of me I fired.

"At so short a distance, and with so good a rest, I could not miss, and
before the smoke cleared away I winged another, and the rest ran back
hastily. I sent a shot or two among them as they were consulting, with
the result that they rode off three or four hundred yards farther back.
They did not attempt to return my fire, for, except when I raised my
head for a moment, they could see nothing of me. They doubtless learned
from the women that I had a Colt's rifle and a brace of revolvers, and
that if they were to make a rush across the open not many of them were
likely to reach me. After a talk two or three of them mounted their
horses and rode so as to strike the river both above and below me,
intending no doubt to cross if they found a place where there was a
chance of doing so. I felt pretty sure that they would do nothing till
it was dark, then they would crawl up and make a rush; I was certain,
anyhow, that they would not give it up, as there were two of their
number lying on the veldt besides the two at the farmhouse. There was,
however, more pluck in them than I had given them credit for, for about
mid-day they began to advance, crawling along the ground as if stalking
a quarry. The men who had gone out on horseback had all returned, but
just as the others started crawling up three of them galloped away down
stream. I determined at once to shift my position a bit, so as to put
off the evil hour. I pulled a stone as big as my head out of the clay of
the bank and put it on the edge where my head had been, and then got
down into the water. It was waist-deep at a couple of feet from the
bank, which above was too steep to walk along. I had gone a hundred
yards when I saw, seven or eight inches above the water-level, a hole,
and pushing my arm in I found it was a place where a good bit of the
bank had caved in. Laying my gun and pistols down on a ledge I felt
about farther. At the top it went in nearly three feet, and was higher
at the back than it was at the water's edge. At any rate it afforded a
good chance of safety. Holding the revolvers, the chamber of the rifle,
and my ammunition above water, I stooped until I could get into the
hole, which was but just wide enough for the purpose; then I pushed
myself back to the end. I found there was just height enough for me to
sit with my mouth above water. The back sloped so that I had to dig my
heels into the clay to prevent myself from slipping forward.

"It was not a comfortable position, but that was a secondary
consideration. I had noticed as I came along that the river was already
falling, so that I had no fear of being drowned as long as I kept my
position. With some trouble I fastened my pistols and ammunition on the
brim of my hat; the rifle I was holding between my knees. There I sat
hour after hour. Fortunately, being pretty near midsummer day, the water
was not cold. I had at least the consolation of knowing what a state of
fury the Boers must be in. They would have seen by my footsteps where I
had entered the river, just below where I had been standing. No doubt
they would have gone along the top of the bank to see if I had come out
of the water again, and when they reached their friends on horseback and
heard that I had not swum down the river, they would have concluded that
I must have been drowned. Had I managed to cross, they would have seen
me climb the opposite bank.

"In an hour the water had fallen to my shoulders, and when it became
dark it was but waist-deep where I was sitting. To make a long story
short, by midnight the water was below my feet and still falling
rapidly. I waited a couple of hours and then started to cross. It was
about fifty yards wide, and I was fully half-way over before it reached
my chin. The stream had lost much of its force, and I had no difficulty
in swimming across the rest of the way, though the water was deep until
I was within a couple of yards of the bank. Then I climbed the bank and
made off. I saw nothing more of my pursuers, and three days later I
arrived at Standerton, and remained there til the end of the war, for
the gallant little town repulsed all attempts of the Boers to capture
it."

"That was a narrow escape indeed, Richards," Captain Brookfield said.
"If you hadn't had your wits about you the Boers would certainly have
got you. It was a first-rate hiding-place, but I don't think many of us
would have thought of adopting it. Now, will someone else give us a
yarn?"

Two or three more stories were told, and then the party broke up,
feeling all the better for having for an hour avoided the standing
topic. Two days later all were settled at Chieveley again, and it was
generally believed that the next attack would take place very shortly,
and that it would probably be directed against Colenso. That evening a
farmer came into camp. His horse had dropped dead a mile away. He
stopped, as he passed through the tents of the scouts, and asked where
he could find the general. Captain Brookfield, who heard the question,
stepped out from his tent with Chris, to whom he had been talking.

"Why, Searle, is it you? I thought the voice was familiar to me. What is
it?"

"I have ridden in to get help. The other day a raiding party of Boers
came down through Inadi, and riding in between Dingley Dell and Botha's
Castle--you know the hill--swept off a quantity of cattle. They have not
penetrated so far before, and no one about thought that there was any
danger while you were attacking them up here. One of the farmers rode to
Greytown for help. Most of the young men there had joined one or other
of the colonial troops, but fifteen of us said that we could go out. It
seemed that there were not more than some fifteen or twenty Boers. Well,
I can't tell you all about it, for, as it is a matter of life and death,
I have not a moment to lose. However, we came up to them north of
Botha's Castle. We had a sharp fight. Two of our men were killed and
five of the Boers; the rest rode off. We set to work to bunch all the
cattle, and as we were at it we were attacked suddenly by a party sixty
or seventy strong. The fellows that we had driven off had evidently come
across them and brought them down upon us. We made a running fight, but
our horses were not so fresh as theirs; and seeing that they had the
speed of us we made for an empty farmhouse, and as they rode up we
brought down several of them.

"There was a wall round the yard, and the Boers drew off for a bit to
consider. Then they dismounted and planted themselves round the house in
such shelter as they could find within two or three hundred yards, and
the affair began in earnest. The first day they kept up a heavy fire, to
which we could make but little reply, for it was certain death to lift a
head above the wall or to show one's self at a window even for a moment.
We lost three men that way. During the night they tried to carry the
place, but we were all at the wall; and had the best of it, as we had
only to show our heads, while they were altogether exposed. There was
not much firing next day, and it was evident that they meant to starve
us out. There was not a scrap of food to be found in the place; but
fortunately there was a small thatched kraal inside the yard which gave
some forage for the horses. The next day we killed one of them for food.

"That night we agreed that when the Boers saw that we did not surrender
in a day or two they would be sure that we must be eating the horses, as
any food we brought with us must be exhausted, and they would then make
a determined attack; for we knew we had killed eight or ten of them, and
that they would not go away. So we decided that the only hope was for
one of us to ride here; we tossed up who should try to get through the
Boers, and the lot fell upon me. I took the best of the horses. We had
agreed from the first that this would have to be done, and had given
what scraps of bread we could spare to it; besides which, they were all
in fair condition, as the yard was strewn with rubbish, and some party
of Boers had ripped up all the beds and straw mattresses and scattered
the contents about.

"Some of them were sure to be on watch, and I rode at a walk. I made for
the north, as that side was less likely to be watched. I had gone about
two hundred yards when a man jumped up just in front of me. My rifle was
ready, and before he could lift his I shot him, and then clapped spurs
to nay horse. There was a tremendous hubbub; shots were fired at random
in all directions, but I doubt whether they could have seen me after I
had gone fifty yards. I rode for a quarter of a mile due north, and then
turned west. I had no fear of being overtaken, for although the Boers
would all have their horses close, in readiness to mount if we should
try to break out, I must have got a good quarter of a mile start, and
they were not likely to keep up the chase long, as they could not tell
which way I might have doubled, and if they pursued far, it would be in
the direction of Greytown. It was about a seventy-mile ride, and as I
started about twelve, I have done it in nine hours. I foundered the
horse, but fortunately he did not drop till I was within half a mile of
the camp. Now, where can I find the general?"

"You will find him at Frere, but I am afraid it will be of no use. We
have tried him again and again--at least, one or other of us have done
so--to let us go out scouting, but he will not hear of it, though the
whole of us Colonials are terribly sore at leaving the whole country at
the mercy of the Boer marauders; and now that we shall probably be at
work here again directly, he is less likely than ever to let anyone go."

"You can't go without orders, I suppose?"

Captain Brookfield shook his head. "We are just as much under orders as
the regular troops are, and it would be a serious matter indeed to fly
in the face of his repeated orders on this subject." The farmer made a
gesture of despair.

"Captain Brookfield," Chris said, speaking for the first time, "I think
that by the terms of our enlistment in your corps we were to be allowed
to take our discharge whenever we asked for it?"

"That was so, Chris, but--"

"Then I beg now, sir, to tender our resignation from the present
moment."

"But Chris, you have but twenty men, and by what Searle says, there are
sixty or seventy of them."

"Of whom ten or so have been killed. Well, sir, we have fought against
nearly a hundred before now, and got the best of it; besides, we shall
have the help of the little party shut up. However, now that we have
resigned, that is our affair. I suppose that if we rejoin you, you will
have no objection to re-enlist us?"

Captain Brookfield smiled. "I should have no objection certainly, Chris,
but General Buller might have."

"I don't suppose he will know of our having been away, sir; he has
plenty more serious things to think of than the numerical strength of
your troop, and as the news of a skirmish some thirty miles north of
Greytown is not likely to be reported in the papers, or at any rate to
attract his attention, I don't think you need trouble yourself on that
score. Besides, if it was reported, it could only be said that one of
the besieged party escaping, returned with a small body of volunteers he
had collected; and the name of the Maritzburg Scouts would not be
mentioned. I am sure that Mr. Searle would impress the necessity for
silence about that point, on his friends."

"Well, I accept your resignation, Chris; a headstrong man will have his
way; and indeed I have great faith in your accomplishing, somehow, the
relief of this party."

The farmer had listened with surprise to this discussion between the lad
and Captain Brookfield. The latter now turned to him and said:

"This young gentleman is the commander of twenty lads of about his own
age. They have been in two serious fights, and in both cases against a
Boer force much superior to themselves in numbers, and I have as much
confidence in them as in any men in my troop. They are all good shots,
and admirably mounted, and you can be perfectly sure of them, and can
take my assurance that if any twenty men can relieve your friends, they
will do so."

"Will you be able to ride back again with us, sir? I can mount you."

"Certainly I can, if my friend Captain Brookfield can furnish me with a
meal before I start."

"That I will with much pleasure. How long will it be before you are
ready, Chris?"

"Half an hour, sir. I left them all rubbing down their horses when I
came in here a quarter of an hour ago, and it will take but a very short
time to pack up and start."

"Very well; I dare say that Mr. Searle will be ready by that time.
Breakfast shall be ready for you in ten minutes, Searle, and while you
are eating it I will tell you enough of these gentlemen's doings to
reassure you, for I see that you do not feel very confident that they
will be able to tackle the Boers."

"After what you have said, Captain Brookfield, I can have no doubt that
they will do all they can, but it seems to me that twenty men--or twenty
boys--are no match for fifty or sixty Boers. While they were speaking,
Chris had returned to his camp. The lads were all engaged in rubbing up
their saddlery.

"You can knock off at once," Chris said; "I have need for you. You no
longer belong to the Maritzburg Scouts."

There was a general exclamation of astonishment.

"What do you mean, Chris?"

"I mean that I have resigned in my own name and yours, and Captain
Brookfield has accepted the resignation."

"Are you really in earnest, Chris?"

"Very much so; but I will not keep you in suspense. A small party of
Greytown men are besieged near Botha's Castle; one of them has just
ridden in for help. But you know well enough that Buller will not hear
of detached parties going out all over the country; and Captain
Brookfield told the farmer that it was of no use his going to the
general, and that none of the Colonial troops could leave the camp
without orders. As it was evident that there was nothing more to be
done, and we could not leave the man's friends to be massacred, the only
thing to do was to give in our resignation at once; and of course, now
that it is done and accepted, we are at liberty to mount and ride off
where we please. When we have done our work we will come back and
reenlist, and no one will be any the wiser. We shall start in half an
hour. We need not take the tent poles, or anything but a blanket and a
waterproof sheet."

There was lively satisfaction at the news that they were again going to
be employed in what they considered their proper work.

"What shall we do about the men and stores?" Willesden asked; "you know
that those two big boxes of the things we ordered at Maritzburg arrived
yesterday." "I think, Willesden, we will take Jack and the two Zulus,
and leave Japhet and the Swazis here in charge of the stores, and
blankets, and other things we leave behind us. Captain Brookfield will
keep an eye on them for us. The farmer is going to ride back with us on
one of the spare horses, and the three natives can ride the others.
There is a hundredweight of biscuits in the sack that came with the
boxes; each of us can take five pounds in his saddle-bag, a tin of cocoa
and milk, and a pound or two of bacon. Jack can take a kettle and
frying-pan, and the natives their blankets and twenty pounds of mealie
flour for themselves and five times as much mealies for the horses. We
can get them at the stores that were opened a few days ago."

Some of the men from the other tents walked over on seeing the tents
pulled down and the waterproof sheets and blankets rolled up, and asked:
"Where are you fellows off to?"

"We have resigned; we are sick of doing nothing."

As it was known that they drew neither pay nor rations, the news did not
create much surprise.

"You are lucky fellows," one said. "We get no share of the fighting and
a full share of the hardships; still, I wonder you do not stop till we
are in Ladysmith."

"When is that going to be?" Field asked innocently. "We have been told
that we shall be in Ladysmith in a week many times since we first came
up here in the middle of December, and we are no nearer now than when we
arrived here. Do you think that you could guarantee that we should be
there in another week? because, if so, we might put off going."

The trooper shook his head with a laugh. "That is a question no man in
camp can answer," he said. "Perhaps in a week, perhaps in a fortnight,
perhaps," he added more gravely, "never. We know by the messages they
flash out that they are nearly at the end of their food, and if we don't
get there in a fortnight or thereabout, our motive for going on may be
at an end. In that case I suppose we shall wait here till Roberts has
relieved Kimberley and marches on Bloemfontein. That will send all the
Free Staters scurrying back in a hurry, and even the Transvaalers will
begin to think that it is time to go. Then I suppose we shall advance
and clear Natal out."

"Well, perhaps we may be back again to help you by that time," Field
answered; "but we are heartily tired of this place, and of watching the
Boers making their positions stronger and stronger every day."

"It is about the same with us all," the trooper grumbled, "and I for one
wish that I could go down with you to Maritzburg and have a week off. It
would be such a comfort to sleep in a dry bed and to dress in dry
clothes, that I doubt whether I should ever have the strength of mind to
come back again. I wish that the general would issue an order
dismounting us all and filling up the gaps in the line regiments with
us. Then at least we should have a chance of fighting, which does not
seem likely ever to come to us here. You are not going to leave those
big boxes behind you, are you?"

"Yes, we are going to leave them in the care of the captain, with a note
saying that if we do not turn up again before Ladysmith is relieved,
they are to be handed over to the poor beggars there."

"There is one thing I cannot say, and that is that we have been short of
food, for the Army Service Corps has done splendidly, and no one has
ever been hungry for an hour, except when on a long march or engaged in
a battle. If everything had been worked as well, we should certainly
have no reason whatever to complain. If I were my own master, and could
afford it, I would go down to Durban and take a passage for myself and
my horse for Port Elizabeth, and then go up and enlist in one of the
yeomanry corps with Roberts. When he once starts there will be plenty of
movement on that side; while here, even if we get to Ladysmith, we may
be fixed there for no one can say how long. You see what it is here, and
if the Boers don't lose heart, and defend the Biggarsberg and the
Drakensberg, we shall find at least as much difficulty there as we shall
here. It is quite certain that the Ladysmith men will take a long time
to recover from what they have gone through; and as for the cavalry, I
fancy their horses have been eaten. If they had been out here with us,
instead of being cooped up in there, we should have been able to make it
hot for the Boers when they retire, and to keep them on the run, but
with so small a force as we have we should hardly be able to do so.
Besides, they have so many lines of retreat. The Free Staters can go
over to the left to Van Reenen and the other passes; another commando
can go east; there are plenty of fords on the Buffalo; and they would
retire on Vryheid, while the main body could make a stand at the
Biggarsberg; and as they always seem able to carry their cannon off with
them, our cavalry would do nothing without artillery and infantry."

There had been no pause in the work of preparation while they were
talking, and the horses were now saddled, the food divided, the saddle-
bags packed, and the blankets and waterproofs strapped on. Chris went
across to Captain Brookfield's tent. "We are all ready for a start,
sir."

The officer looked at his watch. "It is three minutes under the half-
hour, Chris. How much ammunition are you taking with you?"

"A hundred and fifty rounds each, sir, of which I don't suppose we shall
use above ten at the outside. Still, there is never any saying; and if
we should get besieged we shall want it all. Your horse is ready for
you, Mr. Searle."

"And I am ready too," the farmer said, getting up from the table and
stretching himself. "I ought not to have sat down. I could ride as far
as most at twenty, but I have not done so much for the last fifteen
years, and I feel stiff in every limb. However, I shall be all right
when I have gone a few miles, and that wash I had before breakfast has
done me a world of good. Now, sir, I am ready, and whether we shall
succeed or not, I thank you with all my heart for coming with me."
"Good-bye, Chris!" Captain Brookfield said. "I expect you will all turn
up again, like bad pennies, before many days have gone."

"I hope so, sir," Chris said. "I should be sorry to miss the end here
after having seen it so far."




CHAPTER XVII

A RESCUE.


When Chris went out with Captain Brookfield and the farmer, the lads had
shaken hands with all their friends, and were standing by the side of
their horses ready to mount. Jack and the two Zulus were standing a few
yards behind them. Japhet had brought up the other spare horse.

"It is a nice piece of horse-flesh," the farmer said as he looked at it
critically.

"Yes, it was bred by Duncan. We purchased pretty well the pick of those
he brought down the country."

"That accounts for it. They are in good condition, too."

"Yes; our horses all get two feeds of mealies a day, or, when it is wet,
one feed of mealies and a hot mash made of mealie flour, besides what
they can pick up, for we don't draw horse rations. Now, sir, we will be
off;" and he gave the word "Mount!"

The lads all in a second swung into their saddles.

"Good-bye, lads, and good luck!" Captain Brookfield said; and the men
standing by broke into a hearty cheer.

There was a strong suspicion that the party were not going down to
Maritzburg. It was felt that they were not the sort to throw it up
before Ladysmith was relieved. And their suspicions were heightened when
they saw the farmer mount and ride by the side of Chris.

"It is all gammon about their resigning, is it not, Brookfield?" one of
the officers said, as they stood looking after them. "Why should they
have left two of their men here with some of their traps and stores if
they had not been coming back? They would naturally give them all away.
Besides, I noticed that farmer come in on foot half an hour ago; there
was no talk of their leaving before he arrived, and he has gone off with
them on one of their horses."

Captain Brookfield smiled.

"All I know about it officially is that this morning Mr. King resigned
in the name of himself and his party; and as you know, I told you when
they first joined us, they did so on the explicit understanding that
they should be allowed to resign when they chose, and that provision was
inserted when they were sworn in."

"That is all you know officially?"

"Yes. If they are missed, and the question is asked me what has become
of them, that is the answer I shall give. What else I know I must for
the present keep to myself."

"I suppose we shall see them back soon?"

"Well, I consider that that is within the limits of possibility."

"I suppose that you have formed no plan yet, Mr. King?" the farmer said,
when they had left the camp.

"No; my present idea is to follow the line half-way down to Frere. If we
were to strike off towards the country at once, we should, of course, be
noticed; so I would rather get three miles on. You say it is about
seventy miles?"

"About that."

"Well, allowing for a halt, we can do it in twelve hours; that would be
just as it is getting dark. Of course we shall not show ourselves till
they begin to attack the house. I hope we shall find your friends still
holding out."

"I hope so indeed. You see, the Boers were quiet when I started, and I
should hardly think that they would make an attack again after I left.
They seemed to have settled down to starve us out; but it is quite
possible that now I have got away they will grow nervous lest I should
bring help up, and are very likely to make another attempt this evening.
They would be pretty sure to succeed this time, for there are only seven
of us left there; and though they could make a good fight in daylight,
they would have no real chance if the Boers went at them in earnest,
which they are sure to do next time. We agreed before I started that it
would not do to try to defend the yard. After I left they were going to
pile everything movable against the doors and windows and fight hard to
keep the Boers out, and would then go upstairs and sell their lives
dearly."

"How far are the Boer horses out?"

"About five hundred yards away, in a dip. We know they always keep three
or four men on guard there, for we have seen them come out of the hollow
sometimes."

"And the cattle, have they driven them off yet?"

"Yes; four of the Boers and twenty or thirty natives went straight on
with them as soon as they had driven us into the farmhouse. I am afraid
there is no use thinking of getting them back."

"It depends upon how far they have gone," Chris said. "The rains have
brought the grass up, and as likely as not they may halt when they get
to some good pastures and wait till the others join them. It is not
likely that all that gang came from one place."

"I expect that they have been gathered up from lonely farmhouses where
they have escaped the commandos, and they will want to divide their
plunder between them; they don't trust each other a bit, and each would
cheat his fellows of his share if he could. So I should think that what
you suggest is likely enough, and that it has been arranged to wait when
they come to a good place till the others arrive. But you are not
thinking of rescuing them, are you?"

"If we thrash the Boers at the farm I shall certainly have a try. We did
carry off two or three thousand head about two months ago from the hands
of at least as large a party as this, and I don't see why we should not
do it again. It was near Mount Umhlumba."

"Was it your party that did that?" the farmer exclaimed. "Why, it was
the talk of the whole district, and some of the cattle belonged to a
friend of mine. He told me how he had been saved from ruin. Well, sir,
after that I shall feel more confident than I acknowledge I have been up
to now. Captain Brookfield told me about your going into the Boer camp
in disguise, and to Komati-poort, and how you surprised a party of Boers
looting a farm near Dundee; but he did not mention that. In fact, he had
only just finished telling me the other affairs when you came in saying
that you were ready to start. Well, well, it is wonderful that a party
of young gentlemen like yours should have done such things!"

They did not hurry their horses, but for the most part went at the
steady canter to which the animals were most accustomed; occasionally
they would walk for a bit.

At Weenan, where they crossed the Bushman river, they halted for half an
hour, and for double that time after crossing the Mooi at Intembeni;
then as the sun began to lose its power they went fast, until, when they
reached one of the farthest spurs of Botha's Castle, the farmer said:

"When we get over the next rise we shall see the house."

Chris gave the order to dismount, and, going forward on foot, they threw
themselves down when close to the crest, and crawled forward until they
obtained a fair view. Sankey and Chris were again provided with glasses,
having bought them on the day before starting at the sale of the effects
of several officers who had fallen in a fight at Vaal Krantz, and all
gazed intently for some time at the house. "Thank God they are all right
so far!" Chris said to the farmer. "I can see the Boers lying all round
the house, and that dark clump is their horses; so our ride has not been
in vain. I suppose it is about a mile and a half from here. I don't see
the gate into the yard. Which side is it?"

"That corner of the house hides it. It is on the eastern side."

"It will be quite dark in an hour; when it is so, we will move down a
bit farther, then we will halt till we hear them attacking. We must not
go nearer, for the moon will be up by that time. If I had known that we
should have got here before dark, we need not have troubled to bring the
Zulus. I intended to send them forward to see how matters stood, then
they could have guided us right up to the gate. However, as they have
all got guns, and can shoot, it will add to the panic our attack will
create, and they will all be pleased at the chance of at last getting a
shot at the Boers. They were complaining to me the other day that they
were very happy in all other respects, but they were very much
disappointed at not having had a fight."

The natives were indeed delighted when, on Chris rejoining them, he told
them that they should take their share in the attack on the Boers. Chris
and his friends all threw themselves on the ground, after sending up
Jack to the crest to keep watch. But the farmer said, "I dare not lie
down; if I did, I should never get up again."

He had, indeed, to be lifted off his horse when they dismounted.

"I can quite understand that," Chris said. "I feel stiff and tired
myself, and you must be almost made of iron to have ridden one hundred
and forty miles almost without halting."

"If anyone had told me that I could do it, I should not have believed
him. Of course one is on horseback a good many hours a day. Often, after
going round the farm, I start at two or three o'clock and ride into
Greytown and back; but that is only a matter of some fifteen miles each
way. Still, when one has got seven men's lives depending upon one, one
makes a big effort."

"I tell you what, Mr. Searle. The best thing you can do is to strip and
lie down. I will set the two Zulus to knead you. You will find yourself
quite a new man after it."

"That is a good idea, King, and I will adopt it."

For half an hour the two men rubbed and kneaded the farmer's muscles
from head to foot, exerting themselves until the perspiration streamed
from them. Then one of them brought up one of the water-skins and poured
the contents over him.

"That has certainly done me a world of good," the farmer said when he
had dressed himself. "I don't say the stiffness has all gone, but I
certainly don't feel any worse than I did when I got to your camp. I
should never have thought of it myself."

"It is what is done after a Turkish bath," Chris said. "I have had them
often at Johannesburg. The natives do something of the same sort. They
make a little hut of boughs, and fill a hole in the middle with hot
stones and pour water over them, and steam themselves, and I believe get
rubbed too."

As soon as they considered it dark enough to be perfectly safe, they led
their horses down until they judged that they were within half a mile of
the house, then dismounted and waited. Chris had already made all
arrangements. Carmichael, who was the leader for the time being of one
of the sections of five, was with his party to ride straight for the
Boers' horses directly the attack began. The firing at the house would
act as a guide to the spot where they were placed, and he was, if
possible, to attack them from behind. He was to shoot down the guards,
but not to pursue them if the horses bolted on hearing the attack on the
house.

"What you have to do is to stampede them," Chris said. "As soon as you
have got them on the run, keep them going, and if they scatter, do you
scatter too. The Boers without their horses will be at our mercy. Don't
stop till you have driven them five miles away. Then you can halt till
morning. As you come back, you are likely enough to hear firing, and can
then ride towards it and join us. But don't get within rifle-shot of the
Boers. I don't want any lives thrown away. If you hear three shots at
regular intervals during the night ride towards the sound. I may want
you here."

It was just ten o'clock when there was a violent outburst of fire at the
farmhouse, and all sprung into their saddles.

"Now, Carmichael, do you gallop on. Get as close as you can to the
horses without being observed. Go at a walk the last hundred yards or
so; the horse guards are not likely to hear you, they are sure to be up
on the edge of the dip watching the farm. Stay quiet till you hear our
yell, and then go straight in to them. In that case you may manage
without their getting a shot at you, for as likely as not they will have
strolled up without their rifles."

As soon as Carmichael's little party had started, Chris moved on with
the rest at a walk.

"There is no occasion to hurry," he said. "It will take the Boers some
time to force their way in, and the hotter they are at work the less
likely they will be to hear us." In two or three minutes he ordered them
to canter. "It is of no use charging; I expect that they are all inside
the yard." It was, however, at a fast pace that they rode up towards the
wall. Chris blew his whistle, and the cheer of the whites and the warcry
of the two Zulus burst out at the top of their voices.

"Give it to them hot, lads!" Chris shouted, for the benefit of the
Boers. "Kill every man-jack of the scoundrels!" And at once nineteen
rifles opened upon the dark figures clustered round the house. "Use your
magazines," Chris shouted again. "Don't let a man of them get off."

Appalled by the sudden attack, ignorant of the number of their
assailants, and mown down by the terrible fire, the Boers on the two
sides of the house exposed to it did not think of resistance, but all
who could do so made a rush round to the other sides, and, joining their
companions there, clambered over the wall and made for their horses; but
these had already gone. As Chris had anticipated, the four guards were
watching the farmhouse, and did not hear the approach of Carmichael's
party. As Chris's whistle sounded these galloped forward, and at their
volley three of the Boers fell, the other fled. At once with loud shouts
they charged in among the ponies, who were already kicking and plunging
at the sudden sound of firearms. A minute later they were all in full
flight, followed by the five lads shouting and yelling. The firing had
been unnoticed by the Boers round the house, and these, when on arriving
at the hollow they found their horses gone, gave vent to their alarm and
rage in many strange oaths, and then scattered in flight all over the
country.

"It is of no use trying to pursue," Chris said, as soon as it was found
that all the Boers, save those lying dying or dead, had escaped from the
yard. "We should only ruin the horses, and they have done a big day's
work already."

The besieged could be heard hastily removing the barricades against the
door, and in two or three minutes ran out, almost bewildered at the
suddenness of their relief, when they thought that nothing remained to
be done but to sell their lives dearly. A few hurried words explained
the position to them, and their gratitude to Chris and his party was
unbounded. Their first step was to attend to the fallen Boers. Of these
there were eighteen wounded and eleven killed, and as soon as all in
their power had been done for the former, and they had been carried into
the house, a blazing fire was lit in one of the rooms and the party all
gathered there.

"Now, Mr. King," Searle said, "you are the baas of this party; what do
you think had best be done?"

"I think the first thing," Chris said, "is to post half a dozen men,
three or four hundred yards away, round the house. We must not run the
risk of the tables being turned on us by the Boers crawling up and
surprising us; they may still be hanging about in numbers. Peters, you
take Harris, Bryan, and Capper, and the two Zulus, and post them round
the house. The natives' ears are much sharper than yours are, and if
either of them thinks he hears anything let them crawl out in that
direction and reconnoitre. When I whistle, do you come in to me, leaving
the others on guard, then I will tell you what we have decided upon."

The four named at once went outside, and, calling the natives, left the
yard. Jack had already filled the kettles the colonists had brought with
them, and placed them over the fire.

"While the tea is getting ready," Chris said, "we had better give a good
feed of mealies to all the horses. How many of yours are there left?" he
asked one of the colonists.

"All the twelve we had at first were unwounded this evening, but I can't
say whether any of them have been hit since. The wall was too high for
bullets to touch them as long as the Boers were outside, but most likely
as we were firing through the window we may have hit some of them."

"I don't suppose you did so, because I fancy that directly the Boers
began fighting here the horses bunched in one corner of the yard. Well,
will you feed them also, and see how many are uninjured. That is a
matter of importance, for our horses will scarcely be fit for work in
the morning. Do you think yours may be?"

"Yes, I think so; we have only been shut up three days, and they have
had a good deal of pickings, what with the beds and what was lying about
in the yard before; and a good feed now will certainly set them up. What
do you propose to do?"

"Well, I want in the first place to get enough of the Boer ponies in to
mount us all, and in the second to overtake and cut the Boers off if
possible, and lastly to rescue the cattle. Five of our party are away
after the horses, but their object was to scatter them. They were to
halt about five miles away, and if they heard three rifle shots at
regular intervals they were to ride towards them."

"Do you want them in here? if so, I will go out and give the signal. We
have taken it by turns to sleep, so we are all fairly fresh."

"Yes, I want them in, but I specially want them to collect and drive in
a score of the Boer ponies." "At daybreak we will all go," another of
the farmers said, "and lend a hand."

"With this moon we ought to be able to find some of the men without
waiting for daylight," Chris said. "It would be an immense thing if we
could be after them before they have got too long a start."

"It would indeed. Well, we will feed our horses at once, and by the time
we have had a cup of tea they will be ready to start. If we have luck,
we ought not to be away more than a couple of hours."

"It would make our success pretty well a certainty if we could get the
ponies by that time," Chris said.

In less than half an hour the seven farmers started. Only one of the
horses had been killed, and they rode away at a rate that showed that
the others were none the worse for their three days on somewhat short
rations.

"Now," Chris said, after seeing them off, "we will get a couple of
hours' sleep. I wish Peters and his party could do the same, but it
would not do to trust to the Boers not coming back again."

All were asleep in a few minutes, but an hour later they heard a shot
fired, followed by several others. They leapt to their feet, seized
their rifles, and ran out into the yard. There was, however, no
repetition of the firing, and a few minutes later Peters came in and
reported that the Zulus had discovered a number of Boers making their
way cautiously forward. Both had fired, and some shots had been
returned, but the Boers had at once drawn off.

"I don't suppose we shall hear any more of them. They hoped they might
catch us asleep. Now they find that we are on watch. I expect they will
give up the idea and make off. It is a nuisance having been disturbed,
but I am not sorry for it, for the Boers will have lost a couple of
hours, and even if the horses do not come in we shall still have a
chance of overtaking them. Now, Peters, you had better get forty winks;
I will go out with Brown, Field, and Sankey, and relieve the three out
there. I don't suppose they will come in, but they can take a nap where
they are. You need not send out when the farmers come back; we shall see
them."

Chris had been nearly two hours on watch when he made out in the bright
moonlight a number of horses and mounted figures going towards the
house. He at once woke the sleepers and called the others in, and by the
time they reached the farm some thirty unmounted ponies, followed by
Carmichael's party and the farmers, came up.

"We have been longer than we expected," one of the latter said as he
dismounted, "but we were lucky at last in finding this lot together in a
kloof. Have you seen anything of the Boers? We thought we heard a few
shots."

"Yes, they came here and tried to turn the tables on us; but we had the
Zulus and some of the scouts out. When they found that we were watchful
they decamped. Now, Carmichael, go in with your party and get a cup of
tea."

"What! are we going to start again?" Carmichael asked rather dismally;
"we were only just getting off to sleep when Willesden, who was on
watch, heard three shots."

"Some of us have only had an hour's sleep, Carmichael. But there is
another day's work before us, and after that you may sleep for twenty-
four hours if you like."

"Oh! I suppose I can do it if the others can; still, after seventy-five
miles here, five miles out, and something like five miles chasing the
horses, and five miles back again, I think we have done a pretty good
day's work." "No doubt you have," Chris said, "a thundering good day's
work; but a fellow is not worth calling a fellow if he can't manage to
do two days' work at a stretch for once in a way. At any rate, the
horses will be fresh, which is of much more importance than our being
so; they have had three days' perfect rest. Now, while you are having
your tea we will see about the other arrangements. Of course Mr. Searle
will stop here; he has done double the work that we have. His friends
can do as they like. Naturally we shall be glad to have them with us,
but that is as they choose."

"Of course we will go with you," one of the colonists said.

"Thank you! At any rate two of you had better stop with Mr. Searle.
There are the wounded Boers to look after. I see there is a waggon in
the yard; I should think they had better be put in that and carried to
Greytown. If we recover the cattle, we will drive them down there."

None of the farmers was willing to stay, and at last they had to decide
the question by lot.

"Now," Chris said, "you gentlemen know the country a great deal better
than we do, and can tell us which way they are most likely to take their
cattle."

"They are sure to go north, there is no other way for them to go. If the
whole party were together and mounted, they might go up through
Zululand; as it is, they would not venture to do that. They will cross
the Tugela, I should say, between the point where the Mooi runs into it
and its junction with the Buffalo, and go up through Colsie, and then
either through Helpmakaar or Lazarath."

"Well, I hope we shall catch them long before they get to the Tugela."

"I expect the cattle will be somewhere near Inadi; there is some good
grazing along there, and as all the loyalists have cleared off long ago
they will have no fear of being disturbed."

The saddles were transferred from their own horses to the Boer ponies,
and it was finally arranged that the waggon with the wounded should not
start until their return. Jack and the two Zulus were left with them,
and even should another party of Boers come along the six men would be
able to defend themselves till the others returned. Half an hour after
the arrival of Carmichael's party they started in pursuit, and directed
their course for Inadi, as it would have been useless to search for the
Boers, and it was certain that these would make for the point where it
had been arranged that the cattle should cross. It was some fifteen
miles away, and they were confident that they would arrive there before
the Boers, who, bad walkers at the best of times, and disheartened by
their failure, at the loss of many of their companions and of all their
horses, would not have got more than half-way by the time they started.

It was half-past two when they left, and when they approached Inadi day
was breaking. They had put on their Boer hats, and knew that the men in
charge of the herd would take them to be some of their own party until
they were quite close. To their satisfaction they saw the herd grazing
half a mile south of the village, and it was not until they were within
a hundred yards of the spot where the smoke of a fire showed that the
guard were posted, that they saw any movement. Then a man rose to his
feet, and, looking at them earnestly, gave a shout of alarm. The others
leapt up at once and ran towards their ponies; these were fifty yards
away, and before they could reach them Chris and his party dashed up,
rifle in hand. "Surrender," he shouted in Dutch, "or we fire! Down with
your rifles!"

Seeing that resistance was useless the Boers threw down their weapons,
and in a minute were tied hand and foot with the ropes from their
saddles. They were then lashed to bushes at some little distance from
each other, so as to prevent their rolling together and loosening each
other's cords. The natives with them had at the first alarm fled at full
speed, and were already out of sight. Then the whole party rode to a
ridge a quarter of a mile back, dismounted at its foot, and crawled up
to the crest. A mile away some fifty men could be seen wearily making
their way on foot towards them.

"We have done quite enough in the way of fighting," Chris said, "and I
should think that they have had more than enough; we will get them to
surrender if we can. We will wait till they are within forty or fifty
yards and then fire a few shots over their heads, and see what comes of
it. We have good cover here, and they are in the open. They will know
very well that there is not a chance of their getting away, for, as we
have horses and they have none, we could defend any eminence we chose to
occupy, and ride off to another if they were likely to take it. Besides,
they would never be able to cross the river under our fire."

When the Boers were within eighty yards half a dozen rifles were
discharged. They at once threw themselves on the ground.

"I will give them a chance of talking it over," Chris said, "then I will
hail them."

A pause ensued, and the Boers could be heard talking excitedly together.
When he thought that he had given them time enough to appreciate their
condition, Chris shouted in Dutch:

"Hullo, Boers! We don't want to have to kill you all, which we could
certainly do. You must see that you are at our mercy. If you choose to
surrender you may go home; if you don't, we shall let you lie there as
long as you like, and shoot you down when you get on your feet. I will
give you five minutes to make up your minds."

At the end of that time one of the Boers held up his rifle with a white
flag tied to it.

[Illustration: "ONE OF THE BOERS HELD UP HIS RIFLE WITH A WHITE FLAG
TIED TO IT."]

"That is not good enough for us," Chris shouted. "That trick has been
tried too often. If you surrender, you will take off your bandoliers and
belts and leave them and your rifles behind you, and come forward
unarmed."

There was a shout of fury among the Boers as they found that their
treacherous design had failed in success.

"I will give you another five minutes," Chris shouted; "and if you don't
do as I tell you we shall open fire on you."

Before that time was up the Boers were seen to be taking off their
bandoliers, and one by one they rose and came forward in a body without
their rifles. Chris allowed them to come half-way, so that they could
not, when they found themselves in superior force, run back to their
arms again. He gave the word, and his party rose to their feet.

"Now," he said, as the Boers came up, "you will turn all your pockets
inside out. I have not the least doubt that you are all taking off
mementos of your visit here."

Indeed, the pockets of the prisoners were all bulging out. Sullenly the
Boers obeyed the order. The collection was a miscellaneous one. They had
between them the spoil of a dozen farms. Women's finery formed a large
proportion of their loot, and was evidently intended for their wives at
home. Besides this were spoons, forks, and cutlery, chimney ornaments,
children's clothes, several purses, and packets of spare cartridges.

"That will do very nicely," Chris said, when it had been ascertained
that all the plunder had been disgorged. "Now, gentlemen, you are at
liberty to go, and I wish you a pleasant walk home. It is only about a
hundred miles. Your friends with the cattle shall join you at once. I
have no doubt that you will be able to obtain food from your countrymen
as you go along. You are sure to find friends at all the villages, and
some of you may get ponies at Helpmakaar."

Then, paying no attention to the curses and threats of the Boers, the
party rode forward and collected the Boer guns, emptied the bandoliers
and belts, and then rode back to the cattle and released the four Boers
with them, and, pointing to their comrades, told them to rejoin them.
Then they collected the cattle, and, driving them before them, rode off.
When they had gone five miles away they halted, and the farmers
undertaking to keep watch by turns, the lads, throwing themselves down,
were in a few minutes fast asleep.

In four hours they were roused, and continued their course till they
reached the farm. Here they rested till the next morning, then at
daybreak the wounded Boers were placed in a waggon; the ammunition was
divided among the farmers; and the rifles taken from the Boers, and
those that belonged to the killed and wounded, amounting in all to
eighty-one, were, after the charges had been carefully drawn, also
placed in the waggon, Chris saying, "They would be useless to us, and
they may be useful to you, for they will arm all the people in Greytown;
and with eighty magazine rifles you ought to be able to beat off any
parties you may meet. As the cattle are all branded you will have no
difficulty in returning them to their owners; as to the Boer ponies and
saddles, no doubt there are many who have lost their horses who will be
glad of them."

Then, after renewed expressions of gratitude from the farmers, the party
separated, the colonists going south to Greytown, while the scouts rode
west by the line they had come, and late that evening arrived at
Chieveley. They had intended to halt after crossing the Bushman's river
at Weenan, but they heard the sound of artillery and knew that Buller
was again moving forward.

Their return created quite an excitement in the camp of the Maritzburg
Scouts, and innumerable questions were asked.

"We have been on a little business of our own," Chris said. "Beyond the
fact that it has been successful we have nothing to say. You know how
strict the orders are against scouting, and therefore I can only say
that we wanted to give our horses a change of food, and have taken them
three days off."

"Your horses don't look any better for the change, anyhow," one of the
troopers said. "They look as if they had been worked off their legs."

"Yes, they look a little drawn, but in a couple of days they will feel
the benefit of it; they were getting too fat before. Some day we may be
able to tell you more about it, but just at present we feel that it is
as well to keep the matter to ourselves. What has been doing here? We
heard the firing; that brought us in, or we should not have been back
till to-morrow."

"Nothing particular, except that we have been battering them all along
the line. No move has been made yet, but the general idea is that we
shall this time make a try at Hlangwane to-morrow." "I hope we shall
take it," Chris said. "We shall have a good deal more trouble about it
than we should have had at the attack in December, when it was virtually
in our hands, whereas now it looks stronger than any point along the
line."

Chris, however, was much more communicative to Captain Brookfield, who
said as he entered his tent, "Well, Chris, did you get there in time?"

"Yes, sir; we caught them as they were attacking the house at ten
o'clock that night. They were too busy to notice us, and we killed
eleven and wounded eighteen, and stampeded their ponies. They bolted on
foot, but came back in hopes of surprising us two hours later, which I
need hardly say they failed to do. Then they made off for the place
where the herds they had captured were waiting for them. We drove their
ponies in, as our own were too much done up to go on, and intercepted
the Boers close to Inadi, and made them surrender. We took their guns,
ammunition, and loot from them, and let them go. There were forty-nine
of them altogether, and we did not see what we were to do with them. We
could not have brought them here without the whole thing being made
public, and we were certainly not disposed to escort them down to
Maritzburg. They will have at least a hundred miles to tramp home. We
recovered all the cattle, about two thousand head. We gave them to the
farmers to find their proper owners, and thirty of the Boer horses that
we captured. I dare say they will pick up some more of them; for as we
were in a hurry, we only drove in as many as we wanted. We have no
casualties. It could hardly be called a fight, it was a sudden surprise,
and they did not stop to count us."

"Bravo! bravo, Chris! And now I suppose you are going to enlist again?"
"Yes, sir, if you will take us."

"Certainly I will. Fortunately Buller was at Frere until they moved on
again yesterday, and nobody has missed your little camp as far as I
know, so I don't think that there is any chance of questions being
asked. I will swear you all in again if you will bring the others
round."




CHAPTER XVIII

RAILWAY HILL


There was little talking that evening. As soon as the tents had been
erected, a cup of cocoa and a biscuit taken, all turned in, and even the
constant booming of the artillery and the occasional sharp crack of
musketry had no effect whatever on their slumbers. Just before Chris lay
down, however, an orderly told him that Captain Brookfield wished to see
him.

"I have just received orders, Chris, that our brigade of cavalry is to
turn out tomorrow morning to support the infantry. Hildyard, Lyttleton,
and Barton are going. Their object is to carry Cingola, which is the
small peak at the end of the nek extending from it to the high peak of
Monte Cristo. The duty of the mounted infantry will be to clear the
eastern side of the southern end of the range, and to hold the nek
separating it from the highest peak, and so prevent the Boers from their
main position reinforcing the defenders of the lower peak. I think that
your party had better remain in camp, for after doing over seventy miles
today they won't be fit for work tomorrow." "We should not like to be
left behind here, sir, and the hill is not very far away, so that it
would not be hard work for the horses. No doubt we should be dismounted
a considerable part of the day."

"Then you would rather go, Chris?"

"Much rather, sir. We should all be terribly disappointed if we could
not go out the first day that there has been a chance of our doing
something."

"It is always as well to be on the right side, but I hardly think so
many troops will really be required; and I think it is a symptom that a
serious attack will be made in a day or two on Monte Cristo and
Hlangwane. You see, the possession of Cingola and Monte Cristo will take
us pretty well round its flank, and I do not expect the Boers will be so
much prepared there as they are in front."

An hour before daylight all were out engaged in grooming their horses,
which, having received a hot mash of mealie flour directly they came in
on the previous evening, looked better than could have been expected
after their hard work on two days out of three. By the time they had
finished, the natives had breakfast ready, and they had scarcely eaten
this when a trumpet sounded to horse. Five minutes later the mounted
infantry belonging to the regular regiments and the Colonial Horse
formed up, and, led by Lord Dundonald, marched north-east, followed by
the three infantry brigades and some batteries of artillery. When within
a couple of miles of the nek, the mounted infantry galloped forward, and
selecting a spot where the ascent was gradual, pushed rapidly up the
hill until they reached its brow. Here the horses were placed in a
depression, and the men scattered themselves across the crest. They were
but just in time, for a considerable force of Boers from Monte Cristo
were hurrying along to assist the defenders of Cingola, it having now
become evident to them that this was the point to which the infantry
moving across the plain were making.

A brisk fire was opened as they approached, and the Boers at once
stopped in surprise, for as they came along they had been unable to see
that the cavalry had quitted the rest of the column, and had therefore
no idea whatever that their way to Cingola was barred. As the rapid fire
showed them that the nek was held in force, they did not think it
prudent to advance farther, but after an exchange of fire fell back to
Monte Cristo. The task of the infantry was now comparatively easy.
Cingola was not held in any great force; and seeing that their retreat
along the nek was cut off, and that they could not hope to resist the
strong force that was approaching, the enemy contented themselves with
keeping up a brisk fire for a time, and then retreated hastily down the
northern face of the hill, and scattered among numerous kopjes between
it and the river. Lyttleton and Hildyard's brigades occupied the peak,
and Barton, with the Fusilier battalions, remained to the left of its
base.

As the mounted infantry had, before opening fire, taken shelter behind
bushes and rocks, there were only two or three casualties, and they were
much disappointed that the affair had been so trifling. It was afternoon
now, and for the rest of the day comparative quietude reigned, although
Monte Cristo threw an occasional shell on to the crest of Cingola. The
mounted infantry remained all night in their position, acting as an
advanced guard to the infantry; but they had orders to descend the hill
before daybreak and return to Chieveley, there being no water obtainable
for their horses, and their services not being required for the
succeeding operations. The next morning (Sunday) a battery of field-
artillery, which had been taken half-way up Cingola, began to shell
Monte Cristo, and as if this had been the signal, the whole of the
artillery on the plain opened a terrific fire on the entrenchments of
Monte Cristo, Hlangwane, and Green Hill, which was close to Monte
Cristo.

On the morning of the 18th, Lyttleton and Hildyard's brigades moved
forward to storm the precipitous peak, and Barton's brigade marched
against the tangled and difficult ground that surrounded Green Hill. The
Queen's on the right and the Scotch Fusiliers on the left led the attack
against the peak. The hillside was partly wooded, but although the
smokeless powder gave little indication as to the progress the troops
were making, occasional glimpses of the Boers flitting among the trees
showed that these were falling back. The roar of musketry was
continuous, as Hildyard's brigade and Lyttleton's were both engaged. For
a short time there was a pause, and then Lyttleton's men, having
gathered at the edge of a wood some couple of hundred yards from the
summit, advanced with a rush up the terribly steep rocks. The Boers
fired hurriedly, but the bullets flew for the most part far over the
heads of the Queen's, and then, fearful of being caught by Hildyard's
men, who were also rapidly coming up, they fled hastily.

The opposition had finally been trifling. The vast majority of the Boers
had cleared off, and the rest, after emptying their magazines, had
followed their example before the troops gained the summit, upon which a
heavy cannonade was at once opened from Grobler's Hill, Fort Wylie, and
other Boer positions. This, however, gradually slackened under the storm
of lyddite shells with which they were pelted by the naval guns, and the
important position of Hlangwane was at last secured, and no time was
lost in getting up guns and preparing for a farther advance. Barton's
brigade had been equally successful in their attack, and half an hour
after the capture of Monte Cristo the Fusiliers crowned the summit of
the wood-covered Green Hill.

The Boers' defences were now examined, and proved to be of a most
formidable nature. On the south face of the hill the trenches were in
tiers, line behind line. Most of them were fully six feet deep, and in
many cases provided with shelter from the weather by sheets of
corrugated iron, taken from the roofs of the houses in Colenso. In some
cases these were supported by props, and covered with six feet of earth.
These had evidently been used for sleeping and living places. The ground
was strewn with straw, empty tins, fragments of food, bones, cartridge-
cases, old bandoliers, and large quantities of unopened tinned food and
sacks of mealie flour. Here and there were patches of dried blood,
showing where the wounded by our shell had been brought in, and laid
down until they could be removed to the hospital under cover of night.
On the plateau the scene was similar. Here every irregularity of ground
had been utilized, and long lines of trenches intersected it, showing
that the Boers had intended to make a desperate resistance even after we
had won our way up the hill. These were in a similar state of litter and
disorder.

Although they had saved their guns, they had left behind them large
quantities of ammunition and provisions in the hurried flight,
necessitated by our attack being delivered in a direction from which no
danger had been apprehended, Four waggons full of ammunition had been
left by them in a kloof near the river. These had been observed by the
Engineers in the balloon, and their position had been signalled to the
naval brigade, who, turning their guns upon them, before long succeeded
in blowing them up.

When the infantry prepared for their final rush the Boers appeared,
indeed, to be entirely disconcerted at an attack from an altogether
unexpected direction. While for weeks they had been working incessantly
to render the hill impregnable, they had prepared it only on the face
against which they made sure the British infantry would dash itself.
Nevertheless, in this, as in every action, the Boers, as soon as they
saw that there was a risk of the position being taken, began early to
make preparations for retreat. While keeping up a very heavy musketry
fire on the woods through which the British infantry were advancing,
they began to withdraw their guns.

The speed and skill with which on every occasion throughout the war they
shifted heavy pieces of artillery from one point to another, or withdrew
them altogether, was a new feature in warfare. Except when the garrison
of Ladysmith, on two occasions of night sorties, surprised and destroyed
three of their guns, they scarcely lost a piece either in the numerous
actions during our advance to Ladysmith, or in their final retreat from
that town. And similarly on the other side, of the very large number of
guns employed at the fight on the Modder, at Magersfontein, and in the
siege of Kimberley the whole were, with the exception of a few pieces
captured when Cronje was surrounded, withdrawn in spite of the hurried
evacuation of their position, a feat almost unparalleled even in an army
accompanied only by field-artillery, and extraordinary indeed in the
case of works mounting heavy siege-guns.

No farther advance was made till the afternoon, when General Buller
arrived on the summit of Green Hill, and seeing that Hlangwane was not
entrenched on its northern side, which was completely turned by our
advance, sent Barton's brigade against it. But the loss of Monte Cristo
had for the time quite taken the fight out of the Boers, and after
maintaining a brisk fire for a short period, they evacuated the position
as soon as the infantry neared the summit, and, hurrying down the
western slope, crossed the Tugela. Three camps full of provisions,
blankets, and the necessaries of Boer life fell into the hands of the
captors, together with a large amount of rifle and Maxim ammunition. The
place had been turned into a fortress. Trenches and some breastworks
covered all the approaches by which the Boers might look for an attack,
and as the whole mountain was covered with huge boulders, they were able
to withstand even the storm of lyddite shell that was poured upon them.

On the following day Hart's brigade received orders to advance towards
Colenso. This was still held in force by the Boers, but was now
commanded by guns that had been got up the slopes of Hlangwane, and on
Tuesday morning General Hart captured the position without serious loss,
the Boers suffering severely from our shrapnel fire as they retreated,
some by the iron bridge and others by a ford. Thorneycroft's Mounted
Infantry, which was called up in the evening, took advantage of the
discovery that a drift existed there, and a squadron forded the river in
spite of a scattered fire from the Boers on the opposite bank. Another
portion of the colonial force occupied Fort Wylie, a redoubt that had
been thrown up by our troops when they occupied Colenso, but had been
abandoned when the advance of the Boers to cut the line between Colenso
and Frere forced them to retire.

The next morning Thorneycroft's regiment crossed, and, moving to the
left, seized the kopjes facing Grobler's Kloof; the Boers, still
suffering from the effect of their unexpected reverses, offered no
resistance, but, abandoning all their camps, trenches, and redoubts,
retired at once to the hill. The Scouts had followed Thorneycroft's
Horse in support, and now, placing their horses under shelter in the
abandoned entrenchments, prepared to act as infantry should the Boers
take the offensive. This, however, they showed no intention of doing,
and in the afternoon the troops who had crossed were able to examine the
deserted camps. They presented very much the same appearance as those on
Monte Cristo and Hlangwane. Many of them appeared to have been occupied
by men of a better position, as many articles of luxury, choicer food,
wearing apparel, newspapers, Bibles, fruit, and other signs of comfort
littered the places; but even here dirt had reigned supreme. Although
they must have been inhabited for a long time, it could be seen that no
attempts had been made to clear away the refuse, or to make them in any
degree tidy. As was natural, the effect of the heat of the sun on scraps
of food, vegetables, and refuse of all kinds caused a sickening stench,
and the soldiers spent as short a time as possible over their
investigations. One article which would have been found in a British
camp was altogether absent from those of the enemy, and it was a joke
among our troops that the only piece of soap ever captured was found in
the pocket of a dead Boer, and that its wrapper was still unopened.

The strength of the position was, however, even more surprising than the
state of filth; every trench was enfiladed by another, great boulders
were connected by walls of massive construction, this being specially
the case where guns had been placed in position. Colenso itself had been
in a similar manner rendered almost impregnable to a frontal attack, and
could hardly have been captured by an assaulting force until Hlangwane
had been taken.

The hills beyond the railway still covered the road bridge by their
fire, and had the troops marched across it they would have suffered
severely. Accordingly a pontoon train was sent through an opening in the
Hlangwane range, and a bridge thrown over the Tugela north of Fort
Wylie. The Dorsets, Middlesex, and Somersets crossed at once, and,
ascending the kopjes, extended their line south until they were in
communication with Thorneycroft's men, holding therefore the railway
line along the river bank nearly half the distance between Colenso and
Pieters station. Other regiments and artillery followed.

It was now six days since the advance had commenced, and for the past
four fighting had been almost continuous. On Wednesday the three
regiments advanced towards Grobler's Hill in order to ascertain what
force was occupying it. They met with no opposition until they reached
the lower slopes, nor could any Boers be seen moving. Then suddenly a
heavy fire broke out from the boulders which covered the whole face of
the hill, and afforded such perfect shelter that it had not been
considered necessary to form entrenchments. As only a reconnaissance,
and not an attack, had been ordered, the force retired, the Somersets,
who were the leading regiment, having nearly a hundred casualties. The
other regiments had as many more between them. The next day a continuous
fire from all the points held by the Boers showed that large
reinforcements had reached them. The Lancashire Brigade, under Colonel
Wynne, started at two o'clock that afternoon to carry the kopjes up the
Brook Spruit, which ran in the rear of Grobler's Kloof. The Royal
Lancasters led the way, but as soon as they left the shelter of the
ridges by the side of the railway they were exposed to a terrible fire,
both in front and from Grobler's Kloof. The artillery on Hlangwane, and
those still on the plain, endeavoured to silence the enemy's guns, but
though they poured numbers of lyddite and shrapnel shells among them
they were unable to do so. The Lancasters advanced with the greatest
coolness up the spruit, followed by the South Lancasters. As they
pressed forward they were met by a heavy rifle fire both from the kopjes
in front and on the left. The Boers stuck to the hill until the
Lancasters were within a hundred yards, then most of them slunk off. Not
knowing this, the Lancasters lay under shelter for a few minutes until
their ammunition pouches had been replenished, then, being joined by the
South Lancasters and King's Royal Rifles, they rushed to the crest.

For the past two days the Dublin Fusiliers had been lying near Colenso.
They had suffered very heavily in the first attack at Potgieter's Drift,
but they now volunteered to take Grobler's Hill; and this, aided with
the fire of the artillery and Colonel Wynne's brigade, they did in
gallant style, the Boers being evidently nervous that they might find
their retreat cut off should the Lancasters advance farther up the
spruit.

On Friday afternoon the Irish Brigade advanced along the line, and then
turned off towards Railway Hill, a steep jagged eminence almost
triangular in shape, with one angle pointing towards the river. The
sides were broken with sharp ledges covered with boulders. The railway
passed through this, separating the last jagged ledge from the higher
portion of the hill, which rises almost precipitously. Running back
several hundred yards at the base of this line was a dip full of thorn
trees. This deep winds round the rear of the hill, and here there was a
large Boer Camp.

A little farther to the rear was another steep hill, on which the
enemy's Creusot guns were now mounted. Several trenches were cut
alongside the hillsides, and on the crest were some strong redoubts. It
was a most formidable position, but as it seemed to bar all progress
farther up the line, it was necessary to carry it at all costs. The
mounted infantry had, after the skirmish towards Grobler's Kloof,
returned to the camp, as the country was so terribly broken as to be
altogether impracticable for mounted men.

On Thursday, Captain Brookfield had obtained a pass for himself and
three other officers to go to Hlangwane to view the operations, but one
of these being unwell, Captain Brook-field invited Chris to take his
place. After inspecting the plateau, they made their way down to the
left. Hearing that an attack was about to be made on Railway Hill, they
clambered down until they reached a point where, seated in an open spot
among the trees, they could command a view of what was passing.

"It is an awful place," Chris said, "and it seems to me almost
impossible to be carried."

"It is an awful place," Captain Brookfield agreed. "This is one of the
times, Chris, when one feels the advantage of belonging to a mounted
corps, for without being less brave than other men, I should regard it
as an order to meet certain death were I told to attack that rugged
hill. Ah, there are the Irish Brigade!"

The storming party consisted of the Inniskillings, with companies of the
Dublins, the Connaught Bangers, and the Imperial Light Infantry. From a
building called Platelayer's House at the mouth of the spruit, to the
foot of the hill, the ground was perfectly open to the point where the
left face of Railway Hill rose steeply up, and across this open ground,
a distance of half a mile, the assailants had to march.

"Here they come!"

As, in open order, with their rifles at the trail, the Inniskillings
appeared in view, a terrible fire broke out from every ledge of Railway
Hill, while the cannon joined in the roar. The guns on Hlangwane, and
those on the slopes nearer the river, with Maxims and quick-firing guns,
replied on our side.

"It is awful," Chris said, speaking to himself rather than to the
captain who was standing beside him. "I don't think that even at
Badajos, British soldiers were ever sent on a more desperate enterprise.
It looks as if nothing could live under that fire even now; what will it
be when they get closer?"

Not a shot was fired by the advancing infantry in reply to the storm of
bullets from the Boer marksmen. Every round of ammunition might be
wanted yet, and it would only be wasted on an invisible foe. They took
advantage of what little shelter could be obtained, sometimes close to
the river bank, sometimes following some slight depression which
afforded at least a partial protection. At last they reached a deep
donga running into the river; this was crossed by a small bridge, and in
passing over it they had to run the gauntlet of the Boer fire. Many fell
here, but the stream of men passed on, and then at a double rushed to a
sheltered spot close to the foot of the ascent, where they had been
ordered to gather. Here they had a breathing space. Their real work was
yet to begin, but already their casualties had been numerous. The
Inniskillings alone had lost thirty-eight killed and wounded. Not a word
had been spoken among the little group on the hill, for the last ten
minutes; they stood with tightly-pressed lips, breath coming hard, and
pale faces looking at the scene. Occasionally a short gasp broke from
one or other as a shell burst in the thick of the men crossing the
little bridge, a cry as if they themselves had been struck. When the
troops gained their shelter there was a sigh of relief.

"They will never do it," Captain Brookfield said decidedly. "It would
need ten times as many men to give them a chance."

This was the opinion of them all, and they hoped even now that this was
but the advance party, and that ere long they would see a far larger
body of men coming up. But there were no signs of reinforcements, and at
five o'clock the troops were re-formed and the advance began. They
dashed forward up the hill under a heavy fire, to which the supporting
line replied. The boulders afforded a certain amount of shelter, and of
this the Inniskillings took every advantage, until they reached the last
ledge with comparatively little loss. But the work was still before
them. Leaping over, they rushed down on to the railway line. Here a
wire-fence arrested their course for a moment, and many fell while
getting through or over it. Then they ran across the line, passed
through a fence on the other side, and dashed up the steep angle of the
hill to the first trench. Hitherto the fire of the Boers had been far
less destructive than might have been expected, their attention being
confused and their aim flurried by the constant explosion of lyddite
shell from the British batteries. They had but one eye for their
assailants, the other for the guns, and as each of the heavy pieces was
fired, they ducked down for shelter, only to get up again to take a
hasty shot before having to hide again.

Thus, then, they were in no condition to reckon the comparatively small
numbers of their assailants, and as they saw the Irishmen dashing
forward, cheering loudly, with pointed bayonets, they hesitated, and
then bolted up the hill to the next trench. Instead of waiting until the
supports had come up for another rush, the Irishmen with a cheer dashed
across the trench in hot pursuit. But the next line was far more
strongly manned, and a storm of bullets swept among them. Still, for a
time they kept on, but wasting so rapidly that even the most desperate
saw that it could not be done; and, turning, the survivors retreated to
the trench that they had already won, while the supports fell back to
the railway, both suffering heavily in the retreat. No fewer than two
hundred of the Inniskillings had fallen in that desperate charge, their
colonel and ten officers being either killed or wounded, while the
Dublins also lost their colonel.

All through the night the trench was held sternly, in spite of repeated
and desperate efforts of the Boers to dislodge its defenders. Nothing
could be done for those who lay wounded on the hill above. Morning
broke, and the fight still continued. At nine o'clock another desperate
charge was made; but the Boers were unable to face the steady fire that
was maintained by the defenders of the trench, and they again turned and
ran for their shelters. Just as this attack was repulsed, Lyttleton's
brigade arrived on the scene, exchanging a hearty cheer with the men who
had so long borne the brunt of this terrible conflict. The Durham Light
Infantry at once relieved those in the trenches, and these descended the
hill for the rest that was so much needed. All that day the fighting
continued, and while Lyttleton's men held to the position on Railway
Hill, there was fierce fighting away to the left, where the Welsh
Fusiliers and other regiments were hotly engaged. The roar of artillery
and musketry never ceased all day, but towards evening white flags were
hoisted on both sides, and a truce was agreed upon for twelve hours to
bury the dead.

The scene of the conflict presented a terrible sight. The hillside
between the two trenches was strewn with dead and wounded. The
sufferings of the latter had been terrible. For six-and-thirty hours
they had lain where they fell, their only relief being a little water,
that in the short intervals during the fighting some kindly Boers had
crept down to give them. The truce began at four o'clock in the morning
of Sunday the 25th, and the foes of the previous day mingled with each
other in the sad work, conversing freely with each other. The Boers
expressed their astonishment that such an attempt should ever have been
made, and their stupefaction at the manner in which the Irish had
pressed on through a fire in which it had seemed that no human being
could have existed for a minute. When informed of the relief of
Kimberley, and the fact that Cronje was hopelessly surrounded, they
scoffed at the news as a fable, and were so honestly amused that it was
evident they had been kept absolutely in the dark by their leaders.
Captain Brookfield and his party had remained at the lookout until
darkness set in. After the first exclamation of pain and grief as they
saw the attack fail, and the fearfully thinned ranks run back to
shelter, there had been little said. "It was impossible from the first,"
Captain Brookfield sighed as they turned. "If the relief of Ladysmith
depends on our carrying that hill, Ladysmith is doomed to fall."

They returned to the spot where they had left their horses in charge of
two of the blacks, and rode back to Chieveley. It was a sorrowful
evening. The men's hopes had risen daily as position after position had
been carried, and now it seemed that once again the enterprise had
hopelessly failed. On Monday there was a continuation of the lull of
firing. Many of the officers in camp who were off duty rode up to
examine the scene of the fight, and they were not surprised when they
saw the infantry recrossing the pontoon bridge. All wore a dejected
aspect, but especially the men who had fought so heroically and, as it
now seemed, in vain. They sat watching until the last soldier had
crossed, and then rode to the top of Hlangwane. All Chris's party had
come out, and those who had not before seen the view waited there for a
couple of hours, ate some refreshment they had brought with them,
discussed the difficulties that lay in the way of farther advance, and
the probable point against which General Buller would next direct his
attack.

"Hullo!" Chris exclaimed suddenly, "that pontoon train is not coming
back to camp. Do you see, after moving to the point where it passed
through this range, it has turned to the north again and not to the
south. Hurrah! Buller is not going to throw up the sponge this time. The
Boers have not done with us yet." This indeed was the case. The general,
seeing that Railway Hill was too strong to be carried by assault, unless
with an enormous loss of life, had caused the river to be reconnoitred
some distance farther up, and this had resulted in the discovery of a
spot where, with some little labour, the troops could get down to the
river and a pontoon bridge be again thrown. Such a spot was found by
Colonel Sandbach of the Royal Engineers, and a strong working party was
at once set to work to make a practicable approach. The point lay some
three or four miles below Railway Hill, and the most formidable of the
obstacles would therefore be turned. That night the troops crossed, and
the Boers--who were in ignorance of what had been going on, the point
chosen for the passage being at the bend of the river and hidden by an
intervening eminence from their positions--were astonished at finding a
strong force again across the river.

As soon as the news reached the camp that the army was again crossing,
satisfaction took the place of the deep depression that had reigned
during the past two days, and the situation was eagerly discussed. Those
who at all knew the country were eagerly questioned as to the ground
farther on near the line of railway. All these agreed that the hill
called Pieter's was a formidable position, almost, though not perhaps
quite, as strong as Railway Hill, but that beyond it the line ran
through a comparatively open country, and that if this hill could be
captured the relief of Ladysmith would be ensured. The Scouts had not
escaped altogether scatheless. At the reconnaissance towards Grobler's
Hill, Brown, Harris, and Willesden had all been wounded, but none very
seriously, although at first it was thought that Willesden's was a
mortal injury, for he had been hit in the stomach. The doctors, however,
assured his anxious comrades that there was every ground for hope, for
very many of those who had been so injured had made a speedy recovery.

"Poor old Willesden!" Field had said as they talked it over; "it is hard
that he should have been hit in the stomach, for he was a capital hand
at taking care of it."

"And of ours too, Field. He has been a first-rate caterer. I do hope he
will pull through it." The lad himself had not seemed to suffer much
pain, and three days later the surgeon had been able to assure his
friends that as no fever had set in they had little fear of serious
consequences ensuing. The boys had not been allowed to see him. Captain
Brookfield, however, reported that he was going on capitally, but was in
a very bad temper because he was allowed to eat nothing but a piece of
bread and a sip of milk, while he declared himself desperately hungry,
and capable of devouring a good-sized leg of mutton.

"I don't think you need worry about him," he said to Chris; "the doctor
told me that in a fortnight he would be very likely to be about again,
and none the worse for the wound, the bullet having evidently missed any
vital point, in which case its passage would heal as quickly as the
little wounds where the bullet enters and passes out usually do."

Harris had his arm broken just above the elbow, and Brown a flesh wound
below the hip. He was the stoutest of the party, and jokingly said, as
he was carried back, that the bullet had passed through the largest
amount of flesh in the company. Chris once or twice went into the
hospitals with a doctor whose acquaintance he had made. They offered a
strong contrast to the scene that had taken place after the battle of
Elandslaagte, as in the hospitals at Chieveley and Frere everything was
as admirably arranged as they would have been in one of a large town. In
the daytime the sides of the marquees were lifted to allow of a free
passage of air. The nurses in their neat dresses moved quietly among the
patients with medicines, soups, jellies, and other refreshments ordered
for them. There were books for those sufficiently convalescent to be
able to read them, and those who wished to send a letter home always
found one of the nurses ready to write at their dictation. By some of
the bedsides stood bouquets of flowers sent by the ladies of Maritzburg,
and all had an abundance of delicious fruit from the same source.




CHAPTER XIX

MAJUBA DAY


"Did you hear of that plucky action of Captain Philips, of the Royal
Engineers, last night?" an officer who had just ridden in from the front
asked Chris that evening.

"No; I heard that the Boers set up a tremendous musketry fire in the
evening after the truce was over, but no one that I have spoken to knew
what it was about."

"Well, we ourselves didn't know till next morning. The general idea was
that it was a Boer scare. They thought that we were crawling up to make
a night attack, and so blazed away for all they were worth. We found out
afterwards that Philips had conceived the idea that it was possible to
destroy that search-light of the Boers. He had learned from prisoners
that it was the last they had with them, and although we have not made
any night attacks yet, it was possible we might do so in the future, and
so he made up his mind to have a try to smash it up. He took with him
eight blue-jackets, crawled along in the dark beyond our lines, and got
in among the Boers. He had taken particular notice of points he should
have to pass, boulders and so on, and he found his way there without
making a blunder. There were plenty of Boers round, but no one just at
the search-light. The blue-jackets all understood the working of their
own search-lights; but the Boers have no electric lights, you know, and
work their signals with acetylene, and so they stood on guard while
Philips opened the lamp, took out the working parts, whatever they are,
and shut the lamp again. Just as they had done so they heard four Boers
who had been sitting talking together get up. He and his party dropped
among the bushes and lay there quiet while the Boers came up to the
lamp.

"'We are to keep it going to-night,' one of them said, 'for they may
take it into their heads to make an attack, thinking that after having
had a truce all day we shall not be expecting trouble, and they may
catch us unprepared. I expect our German officer in a few minutes; he
said he would be here about ten o'clock, for the rooineks are not likely
to move until they think we are asleep.'

"They moved away again, and Philips and his men stole quietly off, but
before they rejoined our fellows they heard a sudden shot, and in a
minute a tremendous rifle fire broke out. Evidently the German had
arrived and found the search-light would not act, and they concluded at
once that we were marching against them, and for twenty minutes every
man in the trenches blazed away at random as fast as he could load. I
should say that they must have wasted a hundred thousand cartridges. As
there was no reply they began to think that they had been fooled. Our
fellows were just as much puzzled at the row, and fell in, thinking that
the Boers might possibly be going to attack them. However, matters
quieted down, and it was not until the next morning that anyone knew
what it had all been about."

"That was a plucky thing indeed," Chris said; "though, as I should
hardly think we should attack at night, it may not be of much service,
for the Boers have long since given up trying with their feeble flash-
lights to interrupt our night signalling with Ladysmith, especially as,
now the weather is finer, we can talk all day if we like with our
heliograph."

Chris was just turning in when Captain Brookfield came to the entrance
of his tent. "I have just heard, Chris, that the pontoon bridge has been
successfully thrown across just below the cataract, and that the troops
are all crossing. I just mention it to you. I cannot get away myself,
but if I find you and your boys are--not here in the morning, I shall
say nothing about it. We certainly shall not be wanted. The orders are
out, and there is no mention of our corps nor any of the mounted
colonials."

"Thank you, sir! I am very much obliged." Chris went round to the tents
and told the others that they must be up an hour before daybreak and be
ready to start at once, as there would probably be another very big
fight. Then he told the natives, who were, as usual, still talking
together in their tent, that they were all going off very early, and
that chocolate must be ready at daybreak, and the water-skins filled, as
the horses would probably be out all day.

"Will you want anything cooked, baas?" Jack asked.

"No; we will take some tins with us. There is going to be another big
fight to-morrow; as we are all going, you can go too if you like. We
shall want you for the horses. Three of you can stop with them at a
time, and the others can go and see what is doing, and then change
about, you know, so that you can all see something. The spare horses
must have plenty of food left them, and must have a good drink before we
start."

They were all astir in good time. The natives had made some hot cakes,
and these they ate with their chocolate. Then they saw that the horses
had a good feed, and a stock of biscuit and tinned meat for themselves
was put into the saddle-bags, and when daylight broke they were across
the plain and arrived at the dip in the hills through which the pontoon
train had gone. Knowing where the cataract was, they were able to
calculate pretty accurately where they had best dismount. This they did
in a small clump of trees. Then each took a tin of meat and a couple of
pounds of biscuit in his pocket. "Now," Chris said to the natives, "you
had better all stay here quietly till you hear firing begin; then, Jack,
you can go with the two Zulus. You can stay and look on till the middle
of the day. When the sun is at its highest you must come back and let
Japhet and the Swazis go. At sunset you must all be here again, and wait
till we come. Perhaps we may be back sooner, and if so we shall ride
away at once; and those of you who are away when we start must go back
to camp at once if you find that the horses have gone when you get here.
Now let's be off."

They made their way up the hills, well pleased that there were enough
trees and bushes to shield them from observation. The roar of artillery
and the rattle of musketry had been going on for some time, but not with
the fury that marked the commencement of an attack. A fortnight before
it would have seemed to them that a great battle was in progress, but by
this time they were accustomed to the almost incessant fire, and knew
that although the cannonade was heavier than usual, no actual fighting
was going on. They met no officers as they went along, nor did they
expect to do so, for none of these would be able to leave their
regiments, as even were these not included in the force told off to
assault, they might be called upon later in the day. At last they
reached the top of a hill whose face sloped steeply down to the river,
and from here they could obtain a view of the Boer position, and of the
line of railway up and down.

To the right was Pieter's station, with a steep hill of the same name
rising close to it. To the left of this was another strongly-posted
hill, while beyond it was the scene of the fighting on Friday and
Saturday, Railway Hill, which had been rechristened Hart's Hill, in
honour of the commander of the brigade that had fought so valiantly. It
was evident that at these three points the whole of the fighting force
of the Boers had gathered. A heavy rifle fire was being kept up against
the British infantry, whose passage of the river had now been
discovered, and who were lying crouched behind boulders and other
shelter.

They now saw that the guns had all been brought forward during the
night, had taken up commanding positions, and were pouring a terrible
fire into the enemy's encampment at a distance of little over a mile.
The enemy's guns were replying, but at this short range the naval guns
were able to fire point-blank, and their shells ripped the defences
erected to shelter the Boer camp into fragments, and carried destruction
everywhere.

On a kopje about a quarter of a mile behind and above them General
Buller and his staff had taken up their position, and the lads kept
themselves well within the trees to avoid observation.

"See, Chris, there are some of our fellows creeping along by the side of
the river. They must be hidden from the sight of the Boers. I expect
they will be the first to begin."

All their glasses were turned upon the column of men. They were two
battalions of the eth Brigade and the Dublin Fusiliers, and these, under
General Barton's command, made their way down the river bank for a mile
and a half. Then the lads saw that they were leaving the river and
crossing the line of railway.

"They have evidently gone down there," Sankey said, "because that spur
just this side must hide them from the Boers on Pieter's Hill."

The column were lost sight of for upwards of an hour, and then they
appeared on the opposite crest, five hundred feet above the line; then
they were lost sight of again as they passed beyond the crest.

"That is a splendid move!" Chris exclaimed. "By working round there they
will gain the top of Pieter's Hill, and come down like a thunderbolt
upon the Boers."

The roar of artillery continued unabated. Clouds of yellowish-brown
smoke floated over the Boer entrenchments, lit up occasionally by a
vivid flash of a bursting lyddite shell. So terrible was the bombardment
that the rifle fire of the Boers against the troops crouching behind
their shelters was feeble and intermittent, as they dared not merge from
their shelter-places to lift a head above their line of trenches. It was
a long time before Barton's troops were again seen. Doubtless they had
orders to wait for a time when they had gained their desired position,
in order to allow the bombardment to do its work, and prepare the way
for the assault of the other positions by the fourth and eleventh
brigades. It was not, indeed, until the afternoon that the lads saw
Barton's brigade sweeping along to the attack of Pieter's Hill.

The Boers saw them now, and could be seen leaping out of their
entrenchments, regardless of the redoubled fire of the artillery now
concentrated upon them, and climbing up the hill to oppose this
unexpected attack. But before they could gather in sufficient numbers
the British were upon them, keeping up a terrible fire as they advanced.
The Boers, however, fought sturdily. Many, indeed, had already begun to
make their way along the southern face of the hill, either to join their
comrades on the hill between Pieter's and Hart's, or to escape up the
valleys between them, and so make their way to Bulwana, where a large
force was still encamped.

"We may as well help," Chris said; "the general can but blow us up."

Delighted to be able to do even a little towards the success of the day,
the party at once picked up their rifles lying beside them.

"It is about a thousand yards, I should say, to the middle of the hill.
Take steady aim and try and pick them off as they leave their trenches."

The firing began at once slowly and steadily, and occasionally there was
an exclamation of satisfaction when a bullet found its mark. Five
minutes later a dismounted staff-officer came down to the trees behind
them.

"What men are these?" he asked; "the general wishes to know."

"We are the Johannesburg Scouts," Chris said.

"Are you in command, sir?"

"Yes."

"Then, will you please to accompany me at once to the general."

On arriving at the spot where the general was standing a little in
advance of his staff, the latter at once recognized Chris. "Oh, it is
you, Mr. King!" he said. "I was afraid some of the men had left their
stations. And what are you doing here?"

"We are trying to lend a hand to the troops over there, and as we are
all good shots, I think we are being of some assistance."

"You had no right to leave the camp, sir. I suppose you call this
independent service?"

"I do, general. I hope that we are affording some help here, and we
should not be doing any good in camp; and as we have been nearly out of
it through all this fighting, and there were no orders for the corps to
do anything to-day, we thought we might be of use."

"You did wrong, sir," the general said, his face relaxing into a smile
at the lad's defence of himself. "Well, as you are there, you may as
well stop."

"Thank you, sir!" Chris said, saluting, and then hurried off to rejoin
his comrades.

"He is a plucky boy," the general said to his staff. "I heard the other
day--though not officially, so I was not obliged to take notice of it--
that he, with the twenty lads with him, rode out to a place seventy
miles away, and rescued some farmers who were besieged by Boers,
defeated their assailants, killed and wounded more than their own
number, made the rest of them, still double their own strength, lay down
their arms, and recaptured nearly two thousand head of cattle they had
driven off. The news came to me from the mayor of Maritzburg, who had
heard of it from a friend who had ridden in from Grey town. He wrote to
me expressing his admiration at the exploit. I sent privately to their
captain and questioned him about it, intending to reprimand him severely
for letting them go; but he said that they had all resigned, as they had
a right to do, for they are all sons of gentlemen, and draw no pay or
provisions, and that he had therefore no control whatever over their
actions after they left camp. I told him not to say anything about his
having seen me, for that, as they had returned, I should be obliged to
take notice of the matter if it came to be talked about. That young
fellow who came here is the one who, with three of the others, tried to
blow up the bridge at Komati-poort. He could not do that, but he played
havoc with a large store of rifles, ammunition, and six or eight guns.
After that I could not very well scold him." And he again turned his
glass on the opposite hill.

Here the fighting was almost over, and in a very short time all
resistance had ceased. Some of the Boer guns on the next hill had now
been turned round, and opened upon the captured position, which took
their own in flank. An aide-de-camp was sent off to order some of the
guns to be taken, if possible, up to the top of Pieter's Hill, and after
immense exertions two batteries were placed there. As soon as this was
accomplished, orders were sent for the rest of the infantry to advance.
General Warren was in command, and the fourth brigade, under Colonel
Norcott, and the eleventh, under Colonel Kitchener, now moved forward,
taking advantage of what shelter could be obtained as they advanced. At
the same time a strong force of colonial infantry moved to the right to
attack the Boer trenches farther up the line of railway, and were soon
hotly engaged. The defenders of Hart's Hill, and the position between
that and Pieter's, opened a heavy fire as soon as the British infantry
showed themselves; but their morale was so shaken by the terrific
bombardment to which they had been subjected, by the loss of Pieter's
Hill, and by the rifle fire now opened by its captors, that their fire
was singularly ineffective. Many men dropped, but the loss was
comparatively much smaller than that suffered by the Irish division when
moving across the open on the 23rd.

Taking advantage of every shelter, the troops moved steadily forward,
maintaining a heavy fire whenever they did so, and winning their way
steadily. Colonel Kitchener's Brigade pressed on towards Hart's Hill,
which on the side by which they now attacked was far less formidable
than that against which the Irish had dashed themselves. It had never
entered the Boer's minds that they would be attacked from this side, and
their most formidable entrenchments had all been placed to resist an
assault from Colenso. Arrived at its foot, the troops were in
comparative shelter among the boulders that covered the slopes. Foot by
foot they made their way upwards, until at last they gathered for a
final assault, and then with a loud cheer scrambled up the last slope
and with fixed bayonets drove the Boers in headlong flight. A similar
success attended the eleventh brigade, who just at sunset carried the
centre position, and a mighty cheer broke out all along the line at the
capture of what all felt to be the last serious obstacle to their
advance to Ladysmith. On the right, the Colonial troops had driven the
Boers in front of them for nearly three miles, capturing entrenchment
after entrenchment, until they arrived at Nelthorpe station. The three
camps of the Boers contained an even larger amount of spoil than had
been discovered in those of Monte Cristo and Hlangwane. It seemed that
they had been perfectly confident that the positions were impregnable,
and had accumulated stores sufficient for a prolonged residence. It was
evident, too, that the wealthier men with them had preferred this
situation to the more exposed camps on the summit of the hills. The
amount of provisions and stores of all kinds was large, Great quantities
of rifle ammunition were found in every trench. Clothes of a superior
kind proved that their owners had been residents of Johannesburg or
Pretoria, and of a different class altogether from the farm-labourers
and herdsmen who formed the majority of the Boer army. The haste with
which they had fled, when to their astonishment they discovered that the
British attack could not be repulsed, was shown by the fact that a good
many watches were found on bed-places and rough tables where they had
been left when the Boers rushed to arms, and in the hurry of flight had
been forgotten.

The number of rifles that had been thrown away was very large. Among the
dead bodies found were those of two women, one quite young and the other
over sixty. It was notorious that women had more than once been seen in
the firing ranks of the Boers, and there were reports that Amazon corps
were in course of formation in the Transvaal, the Boers, perhaps,
remembering how sturdily the women of Haarlem had fought against the
Spaniards in defence of their city.

So complete had been the panic evinced by the headlong fight of the
enemy that the general opinion was that it would be some time before
they would again attempt a stand against our men, and that unless any
entrenchments higher up the valley were held by men who had not
witnessed what had taken place, and were commanded by leaders of the
most determined character, Ladysmith would almost certainly be relieved
within a couple of days, and the rescuing army would be thus rewarded
for its toils and sacrifices.

In a state of the wildest delight the lads returned to the spot where
they had left their horses, where they found that Japhet and the two
Swazis had arrived just before them. They and the Zulus were exhibiting
their intense satisfaction at the defeat of the Boers by a wild war-
dance. The party rode fast back to camp, for their spirits did not admit
of a leisurely pace, and they left the natives to follow them more
deliberately. The news had already been received in camp by the return
of officers who witnessed the scene from a point near to that which the
lads had attained, and its occupants were in a frenzy of delight. The
Colonial corps were especially jubilant. This was the anniversary of
Majuba Hill, the blackest in the history of the Colony, and one that the
Boers in the Transvaal and Orange State always celebrated with great
rejoicings, to the humiliation of the British Colonists. Now that
disgrace was wiped out. A position even stronger than that of Majuba,
fortified with enormous pains, defended by artillery and by thousands of
Boers, had been captured by a British force, and although it was as yet
unknown in camp, the old reverse had been doubly avenged by the
surrender on that day of Cronje and his army.

Late that evening an order was issued that Lord Dundonald with a
squadron of Lancers and some Colonial corps, in which the Maritzburg
Scouts were included, were to reconnoitre along the line of railway. All
felt sure that no serious opposition was likely to be met with; the
defeat of the Boers had been so crushing and complete that assuredly few
of the fugitives would be found willing to again encounter the terrible
artillery fire, followed by the irresistible onslaught of the infantry.
That evening, in spite of the scarcity of wood, bonfires were lighted,
and the Scouts gathered round them. Every bottle of spirits and wine
that remained in the camp was broached, and a most joyous evening was
spent.

"I shall be able to breathe freely;" one of the colonists, a man from
Johannesburg, said, "on Majuba Day in future. I have made a point for
years, whenever I wanted to do any business in Natal, to put it off till
that date, so that I could get out of the Transvaal. When I could not
manage it, I shut myself up and stopped in bed all day, though even
there I used to grind my teeth when I heard the brutes shouting and
singing in the streets. Still, to me it was not half such a humiliation
as surrender day. The one was a piece of carelessness, a military
blunder, no doubt; the other was a national disgrace. And though I saw
Majuba myself, it did not affect me half as much as did the abject
backing down of the British Government after they had collected an army
at Newcastle in readiness to avenge Majuba. We could not believe the
news when it came. The fury of the troops was unbounded, and I would not
have given a farthing for the lives of any of the men who were the
authors of the surrender, had they been in the camp that day."

"What were you doing there?" Chris asked.

"I had a farm near Newcastle at that time, and two of my waggons had
been taken up by the military for transport purposes. I was not on the
hill, as you may suppose, or I might not be here to tell the story. I
went forward with Colley. It was just the same then as it was at the
beginning here. There were plenty of colonists ready to take up arms,
but the military authorities would have none of them; they could manage
the thing themselves without any aid from civilians. They knew that the
natives had over and over again beaten the Boers, and what natives could
do would be, merely child's play to British soldiers. Sir George Colley
was a brave officer, and I believe had proved himself a skilful one, but
he knew nothing whatever of the Boer style of fighting, while we
colonists understood it perfectly, and could match them at their own
game. As it turned out, the British soldiers on that occasion did not,
and it made all the difference. If Sir George Colley had accepted a few
hundreds of us, who knew the Boers well, as scouts and skirmishers, the
affair would have turned out very differently; for, as you know, they
did not succeed through the whole affair in taking one of the places
held by our colonists.

"Well, we started from Newcastle, and the blundering began from the
first. It was but twenty-five miles to Laing's Nek. At the time we
started there was not a Boer there, for they were doubtful which line we
should advance by. That twenty-five miles could have been done in a day,
and there we should have been with our difficulties at an end; the
baggage and stores could have come up in two or three days, and then
another advance could have been made. Instead of that, six days were
wasted in going over that miserable bit of ground. The Boers, of course,
took advantage of the time we had given them to prepare and entrench
Laing's Nek. I don't think that troubled the military authorities at
all; an entrenchment thrown up by farmers and peasants could be but a
worthless affair, and would not for a moment check the advance of
British infantry. The consequence of all this was that we got the
licking we deserved. Their entrenchment at the crest of the ridge was
held by something like three thousand men. Colley had but three hundred
and seventy infantry, a force in itself utterly inadequate for the work
in hand. But, seeing some parties of Boer horsemen riding about, he
thought it necessary to leave a strong body for the defence of his
baggage, and accordingly sent only about two hundred and fifty men
forward to attack the place.

"Well, we among the waggons hadn't a doubt how it was going to turn out.
The one battery with us opened fire upon the entrenchment, but you who
know what their entrenchments are will guess that there was little
damage done; and when the soldiers went up the hill the Boers held their
fire until they were close, and then literally swept them away, and,
leaping over the entrenchments, took many of them prisoners. None would
have got away at all if a few mounted infantry, who had managed to get
up the Nek at another point, hadn't charged down and so enabled the
survivors to escape. One hundred and eighty out of the two hundred and
fifty were killed or taken prisoners. Colley at once fell back four
miles. The Boers on their part, making sure that they had got him safe,
sent a strong force round, and this planted itself on the road between
him and Newcastle, but before they did so some small reinforcements
joined us. Three or four days passed, and then we Colonials quite made
up our mind that there was nothing for it but surrender. Colley
determined at last to try and open the road back, and with about two
hundred and fifty men, with four cannon--two of them mountain guns--
moved out. Some sixty soldiers were left on a commanding spot to cover
the passage of the Ingogo. As soon as the force under Colley had got to
the opposite crest of the ravine through which the river runs, they were
attacked in great force. They took shelter among the boulders, and
fought as bravely as it was possible for men to fight. The guns,
however, were useless, for in half an hour every officer, man and horse,
was killed or wounded. However, the Boers could not pluck up courage to
make a rush, and the little force held on till it was dark, by which
time more than two-thirds of them were killed or wounded. A lot of rain
had fallen, the Boers thought that the Ingogo could not be forded, and
so, believing they would have no trouble in finishing the little force
in the morning, they were careless. Colley, however, sent down and found
that the water had not risen so high as to make it impossible to pass,
and in the darkness, covered by the blinding rain that was falling, he
and the survivors moved quietly off, crossed the river, picked up the
party left on the eminence commanding it, and returned to camp.

"It was certain now that unless succoured our fate was sealed, but
fortunately Evelyn Wood came up to Newcastle with a column that had been
pressing forward from the sea. Colley, of course, ought to have waited
for him to arrive before he moved at all, and if he had done so, things
might have turned out very differently. But he made the mistake of
despising the Boers, and thinking that it was nothing but a walk over.
When they heard that the column had reached Newcastle the Boers cleared
off the line of communication, and Colley rode into Newcastle and saw
Wood. We felt that we were well out of a bad business; and were sure
that the Boers, who are no good in attack, however well they fight
behind shelter, would not venture to attack us, and that even if they
did so we could keep them off till help came. But Colley could not let
well alone. Instead of waiting till Wood came up and joined him, lie
thought he might make a good stroke on his own account, and so retrieve
the two defeats he had suffered; so when the 92nd Regiment came up he
determined to seize Majuba Hill.

"It was well worth seizing, for it completely commanded the Boer's
position on Laing's Nek, and had the whole force come up the Boers must
have fallen back directly it was captured. However, Colley decided not
to wait, and with about five hundred and fifty men and officers he
started at night. The hill was only four miles off as the crow flies,
but the ground was frightfully cut up, and it was not until after six
hours of tremendous work that they reached the summit. Two hundred men
were left at the bottom of the hill to keep open communications with the
camp.

"From a hill close to the camp we could make out what was going on. Soon
after daybreak we saw a party of mounted men ride towards the hill,
where they usually stationed vedettes. They were fired at as they
approached, and directly a turmoil could be seen on Laing's Nek. Waggons
were inspanned, and we thought at first that they were all going to move
off, but this was not so. They were only getting ready to go if they
failed to recapture the hill, and in a short time we could see all their
force moving towards it. Well, from where we were it seemed that the
force on Majuba could have kept a hundred thousand Boers at bay, and so
they ought to have done.

"For a time the Boers did not make much progress. With glasses, puffs of
smoke could be made out all along the crest, and among the rocks below.
The firing began in earnest at seven, and between twelve and one the
Boer fire had ceased and ours died away. We thought it was all over, and
went back to our waggons again. Soon after one o'clock there was a
sudden outburst, and the men with the glasses observed that the Boers
were close up to the top of the hill. A few minutes later it was on the
plateau itself that the firing was going on.

"Colley had not known the Boers. No doubt his men were completely done
up with their six hours' toil among the hills and six hours' fighting,
and I don't think a tenth of them were ever engaged, for Colley thought
it was impossible that the position could be stormed; so he only kept a
handful of men at the edge of the plateau and allowed the rest to lie
down and sleep. Certainly that was the case when the Boers, who had been
crawling up among the rocks and bushes, made their rush.

"Well, you all know what happened. The few men on the edge were cut down
at once. The Boers dashed forward, keeping up a heavy fire. Our fellows
jumped up, but numbers were shot down as they did-so, and in spite of
the efforts of their officers, a panic seized them. They had far better
rifles than the Boers, and had they been steady might still have driven
them back; but only a few of them ever fired a shot, and but one Boer
was killed and five wounded; while on our side eight officers, among
them Colley himself, were killed, and seven taken prisoners. Eighty-six
men were killed, one hundred and twenty-five wounded, fifty-one taken
prisoners, and two missing. A few managed to make their way down the
hill, and joined the party that had been left there at the bottom.

"These were also attacked, but beat off the Boers, and, maintaining
perfect order, fought their way back to camp. You can imagine the
consternation there was when the hideous business became known. We fell
back at once to Newcastle, and mightily lucky we thought ourselves to
get there safely. Fresh troops came up, and we were on the point of
advancing again, confident that, after the lesson the Boers had given
us, things could be managed better. Suddenly, like a thunderclap, the
news came that the British Government had surrendered to the Boers,
given up everything, abandoned the colonists, who had so bravely
defended their towns, to their fate; and, with the exception of making a
proviso that the natives should be well treated--but which, as nothing
was ever done to enforce it, meant allowing the Boers to enslave and
ill-treat them as they had done before--and another proviso, maintaining
the purely nominal supremacy of the Queen, the treaty was simply an
entire and abject surrender.

"There is not a colonist who, since that time, has not known what must
come of it, and that sooner or later the question whether the Dutch or
the British were to be masters of the Cape would have to be fought out.
But none of us dreamt that the British Government would allow the Boers
to import hundreds of thousands of rifles, two or three hundred cannon,
and enormous stores of ammunition in readiness for the encounter. Well,
they have done it, and we have seen the consequences. Natal has been
overrun, and a considerable portion of Cape Colony. We have lost here
some ten thousand men, and half as many on the other side, and we may
lose as many more before the business is finished. And all this because
a handful of miserable curs at home twenty years ago were ready to
betray the honour of England, in order that they might make matters
smooth for themselves at home." Just as the story came to an end the
assembly blew in the camp of the Scouts, and on running in the men found
that Captain Brookfield had received an order to mount at once and ride
to join the cavalry under Lord Dundonald at the front, as a
reconnaissance was to be made in the morning. Five minutes later all
were in the saddle and trotting across the plain towards Colenso, as
they were to follow the line of railway up.




CHAPTER XX

LADYSMITH


It was exciting work as the mounted horse under Lord Dundonald rode
along. As far as could be seen from the various points in our possession
the passage was clear, but experience had taught how the Boers would lie
quiet, even when in large numbers, while scouts were passing close to
them. At Colenso Colonel Long had sent two mounted men on ahead of his
battery. They had been permitted to pass within a hundred yards of
thousands of Boers among the bushes on the river bank, and had even
crossed the bridge and returned without a rifle shot being fired or a
Boer showing his head. And it was on their report that there were
apparently no Boers in the neighbourhood that the batteries were pushed
forward into the fatal trap prepared for them. So Chris and his
companions, at the rear of the colonial cavalry, trotted along ready at
a moment's notice to swing round their rifles for instant action. They
watched every stone and clump of bushes on the slopes of the valley for
any foe that might be lurking there, and who at any moment might pour
out a rain of bullets into the column. Very few words were spoken on the
way, the tension was too great. They knew that Ladysmith had telegraphed
that the Boers appeared to be everywhere falling back. But a few
thousands of their best fighting men might have remained to strike one
terrible blow at the troops who in open fight had shown themselves their
superiors, and had driven them from position after position that they
believed impregnable. However, as one after another of the spots where
an ambuscade would be likely to be laid passed, and there were still no
signs of the enemy, the keenness of the watch began to abate, and the
set expression of the faces to relax. Then as the hills receded and the
valley opened before them a pleasurable excitement succeeded the grim
expectation of battle. The task that had proved so hard was indeed
fulfilled; the Boers were gone, and the siege of Ladysmith was at an
end. As they emerged from the valley into the plain in which Ladysmith
is situated, there was an insensible increase of speed; men talked
joyously together, scarcely waiting for replies; the horses seemed to
catch the infection of their riders' spirits, and the pennons of the
Lancers in front to flutter more gaily. Onward they swept, cantering now
until they approached the town.

Then men could be seen running towards the road; from every house they
poured out, men and women, some waving hats and handkerchiefs, some too
much overpowered by their feelings for outward demonstrations. As the
columns reached this point they broke into a walk, and answered with
ringing cheers the fainter but no less hearty hurrahs of those they came
to rescue; and yet the troopers themselves were scarcely less affected
than the crowd that pressed round to shake them by the hand. They had
known that provisions were nearly exhausted in the city, and that for
some time past all had been on short rations; but they had not dreamt of
anything like this. It seemed to them that they were surrounded by a
population of skeletons, haggard and worn, almost too weak to drag
themselves along, almost too feeble to shout, their clothes in rags,
their eyes unnaturally large, their hands nerveless, their utterances
broken by sobs. They realized for the first time how terrible had been
the privations, how great the sufferings of the garrison and people of
Ladysmith. For the soldiers were there as well as the civilians. There
was little military in their appearance; there was no uniformity in
their dress, save that all were alike ragged, stained and destitute of
colour.

Could their rescuers have seen them, themselves unseen, a few days
earlier, they would have been even more shocked. Then the listlessness
brought about by hope deferred, and of late almost the extinction of
hope, weakness caused by disease and famine, had been supreme; and had
the Boers had any idea of the state to which they were reduced, a
renewal of the attack of the eth of January could hardly have failed of
success. The last few days, however, had revived their hopes. They had
learned by the ever-nearing roar of the cannon that progress was being
made, and for the past four days had from elevated points near the town
been able to make out the movements of our troops on the positions they
had captured. They had seen the Boers breaking up their camps, carrying
off their stores either by waggon across the western passes or by the
trains from Modder Spruit. They had seen the cannon being withdrawn from
their positions on the hills, and felt that their deliverance was at
hand.

Through an ever-increasing crowd the column moved on.

[Illustration: THE RELIEF OF LADYSMITH.]

From barrack and hospital, from dwelling-house and the dug-out shelter-
caves on the railway bank people flocked up. Sir George White and his
staff, the mayor, and the town guards, every officer and soldier, joined
in the greeting. But no stay was made. After a few minutes' talk with
Sir George White, Lord Dundonald gave the order, and the cavalry moved
forward, and as soon as they were free from the crowd trotted on at a
rapid pace in hopes of overtaking the retiring Boers, and glad that the
scene to which they had looked forward with such pleasant expectations
was at an end. There had not been a dry eye among them. None could have
witnessed the sobbing women, the men down whose cheeks the tears
streamed uncontrolledly, and have remained himself unmoved.

"It is terrible," Chris said to Sankey, who was riding next to him. "I
could not have imagined anything so dreadful as their appearance. I did
not realize what it was like when, two or three months before I left
Johannesburg, I read in Motley's book about the war in the Netherlands
of the state of things in Leyden when the Prince of Orange burst his way
through to their rescue, and of the terrible appearance of the starved
inhabitants, but now I can quite understand how awfully bad it was. It
must have been even worse then. Here there were some rations
distributed--little enough, but some. There the people had nothing but
the weeds they gathered, and boiled down with the scraps they could pick
up. There they died in hundreds of actual starvation; it cannot have
been quite so bad here. But as we see, though there has been just enough
food to keep life together, that has been all, and it has been from
disease brought on by famine, and not by famine itself, that they have
died. Then, too, shells were always falling among them, and at any
moment they might be attacked. I expect that anxiety and fever have had
as much to do with it as hunger."

"Yes, Chris. You know, when we were grumbling sometimes at not being
employed in the fighting, we have wished we had stopped in Ladysmith,
and gone through the siege there; now, one can thank God that one did
not do so. We have pictured to ourselves everyone actively employed, the
vigilance at all the outposts, the skirmishing with the Boers who crept
up too closely, the excitement of repelling their attack, and all that
sort of thing. It is all very good to read about, but now we know what
it really meant one sees that we were a pack of fools to have wished to
be there."

"Yes; I suppose one never knows what is g'ood for one, Sankey. Now as I
look back I think that we have been extraordinarily fortunate. We have
had some fights, just in the way we had expected, and, thanks
principally to our being so well mounted, we have done very well. We
have lived well; I don't say we have not had a certain amount of
discomfort, but of course we expected that. What I am most pleased at is
that not one of us has been killed, and only a few of us wounded, the
only serious one being Willesden, and he is fairly on the way to
recovery. For boys we have done a very good share, and I expect that now
we have driven the Boers back here, and Kimberley has been relieved, and
there is a tremendous force gathering on that side, it will soon be
over."

"Yes, I think with you, Chris. And I fancy that the others are all
beginning to long for the end of it. I should say that those whose
people have gone to England may stop on for a bit, but the rest of us
will go to our friends at Durban or the Cape, at any rate for a time,
till we see how things go. We know that Lord Roberts has got Cronje
surrounded and shut up. I expect that is one of the reasons that the
Boers have been moving from here. The Free Staters will certainly wish
to get back to defend Bloemfontein, and the Transvaal people must feel
that it is no use stopping here when their own country will be shortly
invaded."

"Yes; I expect that is the reason for their shutting up as suddenly as
they have done after fighting so hard for the first five or six days of
our advance."

On arriving at Modder Spruit it was found that the last train had left
an hour before; they pushed on, however, until a smart fire from a hill
in front of them, which was evidently held in force, broke out suddenly,
and two cannon from another eminence joined in. Having thus discovered
that the Boers were not entirely evacuating the country, but intending
to defend the Biggarsberg, at any rate until a strong force came up,
Lord Dundonald returned to Ladysmith. In the afternoon General Buller
rode over attended by only one or two of the staff. He stayed but a very
short time, to learn from General White the state of affairs, and then
returned.

"Do you think that we shall pursue at once, sir?" Chris asked Captain
Brookfield.

"Not at once, Chris. Practically, as you see, there is not a soldier
here fit to carry arms, nor a horse fit for work, and I should say that
it will be a month before General Buller can reckon upon any assistance
from the garrison. As to his own army, I expect he will keep the main
portion round Chieveley. No doubt he will bring the greater part if not
all the garrison of Ladysmith back to Frere and Estcourt, both to get
them out of the pestilential air here and for convenience of feeding
them. The civilian population will leave, of course, as soon as they
possibly can. I should think that Buller will leave in garrison here an
infantry brigade, part of the cavalry, and two or three batteries, and
this with the sick who cannot be moved, will be about as much as our
transport will be able to manage until the railway bridge is repaired
and the line put in running order. Till that is done there is no
possibility of a general advance; and indeed there will have to be a
great accumulation of stores here, as this will then become our base
instead of Chieveley.

"No doubt a great deal will depend on how things are going on the other
side. Now that Roberts has as good as captured Cronje and his force he
will of course advance to Bloemfontein and occupy it. He will then be no
more able to advance farther than Buller can--in fact, less able. Our
line of railway is secured, and we can be fed by it; but at present we
have not crossed the Orange River from the south, and the railway
between that and Bloemfontein is in the hands of the Boers, and we know
that they have blown up the bridges across the river. Until these are
restored, and the line secure in our hands, Roberts's army will have to
live on the stores that they have brought with them. Then the work of
forming a base depot from the coast will begin, and it needs something
enormous in the way of provisions and carriage to supply an army of
sixty or seventy thousand men, all of whom must as they advance be fed
from Bloemfontein.

"As long as he is stationary there it is likely enough that the bulk of
Joubert's army will cling to Natal, knowing well enough that before we
shall be in a condition to move forward they can entrench their
positions on the Biggarsberg and the Drakenberg until they are quite as
formidable as those we have been knocking our heads against. I should
not be at all surprised if it is a couple of months before Roberts is in
a position to advance. Of course at present we have no idea what the
plans are, but likely enough at least half the force here may be sent
down to Durban, and then by water to East London, and from there to
Bloemfontein by rail. It would be ridiculous for us to renew the sort of
fighting we have been doing when the enemy are sure to clear out when
Roberts crosses the Vaal, and Natal be thus freed without any further
loss of life. Possibly the troops may not be sent round by sea, but will
remain here until Roberts gets as far as Kroonstadt. Then, no doubt, a
division will be sent down through Bethlehem to Harrismith, and so open
Van Reenen's Pass, in which case the troops from here can go up by train
to Bethlehem. At any rate, I am afraid that most of us will remain here
for at least two months.

"You see, most of the colonial irregulars were enlisted for only three
months, and that is up already, and no doubt a great many of them will
not extend their time, and I don't suppose the military authorities will
want them to do so. There is no doubt that while mounted men were
invaluable in the fighting in Cape Colony, and will be so in the Orange
Free State, they are of very little use in this mountainous country in
the north of Natal--they are so many more mouths to be fed, man and
beast, without any corresponding advantage. They have done splendidly
where they have had a chance, and the Imperial Light Horse have suffered
heavily, but as a whole I think that we should have been more useful as
infantry than as mounted men. Infinitely more useful if, instead of
being kept at the head-quarters of the army as we have been, for no
possible reason that anyone can see, we had all been scattered over the
country to the east, in which case we should have kept the marauding
Boers from wandering about, should have saved hundreds and hundreds of
loyal farmers from being ruined, and the loss of many thousands of
cattle and horses, which will have to be paid for after the war is over.
I do not think that there is a single colonist who is not of opinion
that the way in which we have been kept inactive from the beginning of
the war, instead of being employed as irregular cavalry should have
been, in protecting the country, preventing the Boers from drawing
supplies, and forcing them to keep in a body as our own troops have
done, has been a stupendous mistake."

Chris repeated this conversation to his comrades. "I think," he said,
"that if there is no chance of doing anything for another two or three
months, we might as well break up. I have no doubt a good many of the
Colonials will re-enlist. Numbers of them are working men, either from
Johannesburg or belonging to Natal; they would find it very difficult to
get work here, and the five shillings a day pay is therefore of the
greatest importance to them. But it is different with us. We don't draw
pay, we simply agreed to band ourselves together to have an opportunity
of paying out the Boers for their treatment of us. At the time we agreed
to that, we had no idea that they would invade Natal. Of course that was
an additional inducement to us to fight. As loyalists, and capable of
bearing arms, it would have been our duty, even if we had no personal
feeling in the matter, to enlist to help to clear the country of the
enemy who invaded it. Now that Ladysmith is rescued and there are
certainly enough troops in South Africa to finish the business up, I do
not see that it is our duty to continue our service. Anyhow, I have
pretty well made up my mind to resign and go round to Cape Town. There I
am almost sure to find my mother, and perhaps my father, for we know
that they have expelled almost all the English remaining about the
mines, and he may have been among them."

"I agree with you heartily," Sankey said. "At any rate, I should vote
for our breaking up for the present. It will be beastly for us to have
to stop here doing nothing for another month or two, and then perhaps,
when Buller moves forward to join Roberts, to be told that the colonial
force will no longer be required."

Twelve of the others expressed similar opinions. The friends of the
eight who did not do so had returned to England. Carmichael was one of
these. "Well," he said after a pause, "I do not say that you are not
quite right, but I have no one to go to here. My people went home as
soon as they reached Durban. If I were to join them I might hear when I
landed that the war was just over, and that they had either started to
come back again, or were on the point of doing so. I was born out here,
and have never seen any of my relations in Scotland. Though I should
like very much to spend a few months in the old country, it would not be
worth while going home for so short a time; for I am sure my father will
hurry back to his work at the mines as soon as Johannesburg is taken by
us. I fancy all those who have not spoken are in about the same
situation that I am."

There was a murmur of assent. "I don't say," he went on, "that I should
care, any more than you do, to stop here for the next two months. The
smell of dead horses and things is enough to make one ill. The water of
the river is poisonous, for we know the Boers used to throw their dead
animals in it on purpose. So I shall go down to Maritzburg and wire to
my people where I am, and ask for orders. There remains, Willesden said
the other day, still about L80 apiece at the bank, and I expect we shall
get as much for the horses as we gave for them, so that we who have no
friends here could live very comfortably for two or three months, or
have enough to pay our passage home in case they send for us. I shall
tell them to telegraph, so in a week after sending off my wire I shall
get an answer."

The others who had no friends in South Africa expressed their intention
of doing the same.

"I don't think we need bother about the horses," Chris said; "being such
good animals, I have no doubt that there are plenty of officers in the
cavalry regiments here who will be glad to buy them as remounts for the
money we gave for them. That would save us all the trouble of getting
them down by train to Maritzburg and selling them there. Well, then, as
there are no dissentients, I will tell Captain Brookfield what we have
settled."

"I quite agree with you," the officer said when Chris had told him of
their intentions. "In the first place, it would be a serious waste of
time for you to remain here. Still, that is of comparatively little
consequence, but I do think that it would be a grievous pity for you to
risk your lives further. You have done wonderfully good service. You
have had an experience that you will look back upon with satisfaction
all your lives. You have done your duty, and more than your duty. You
have before you useful lives, and have amply shown that in whatever
position you may be placed you will be a credit to yourselves and your
friends. Therefore, Chris, I think in every respect your decision is
right. It will be some relief to me, for to tell you frankly, when you
started on that expedition to Komati, and the other day, when you all
rode off to the farm, I felt that it would probably be my duty to write
to some of your parents to tell them of your deaths. Therefore, by all
means give me your resignations. I dare say that a good many of the men
in my own and other corps will be leaving also; and in that case those
who remain will, I should think, be formed into one strong regiment,
which will be of a good deal more use than half a dozen small corps."

It was agreed among the party that as they had decided to go they might
as well go at once.

"I hear," Chris said, "that General Buller is going to make a formal
entry here on Saturday, and that the garrison will line the road. I
don't know whether Dundonald's brigade will have anything to do with it;
but if he does, Brookfield will certainly like to make a good show. So
until that is over I won't do anything about the horses."

On the day appointed the garrison turned out to receive the general and
the troops who had struggled so long and gallantly to effect their
rescue, and the Devons, Gloucesters, Rifles, Leicesters, Manchesters,
Liverpools, sappers, artillerymen, and the Naval Brigade marched out
from their camps and lined the road as far as the railway-station, where
the remnant of the cavalry brigade were drawn up. At eleven o'clock Sir
George White, Sir Archibald Hunter, and Colonel Duff and his staff rode
up and took their place in the front of the shattered tower of the town-
hall. Here, too, Captain Lambton and many other officers took their
place. Not far from these were a score of civilians who had not shared
in the general exodus that had been going on from the day on which the
town was relieved, but had delayed their departure in order to witness
the historical scene. At last the head of the column was seen
approaching. Lord Dundonald's men had ridden down on the previous day,
and the mounted Colonial Volunteers had now the honour of forming the
general's escort. They led the way, and after them came General Buller
with his escort. The Dublin Fusiliers were placed at the head of the
column in acknowledgment of the gallantry displayed by them in every
fight; then came the men of Warren's, Lyttleton's, and Barton's
brigades, with their artillery. Great indeed was the contrast between
the sturdy, bronzed, and well-fed soldiers who cheered as they marched,
many of them carrying their helmets on their bayonets, and the lines of
emaciated men through whom they passed. These cheered too, but their
voices sounded strange and thin, and many, indeed, were too much
overcome by weakness and emotion to be able to add their voices to the
shouts. The enthusiasm of the troops rose to the highest when they
passed a group of women and children, who, with streaming eyes, greeted
them as they passed.

The pipes of the Highlanders and the beating of drums added to the roar
of sound. The contrast between the dress of rescuers and rescued was as
great as their personal appearance. Sir George White's men had of late
had but little work, and had prepared for the occasion to the best of
their power, as if for a review at Aldershot. They had done what they
could. Their khaki suits had been washed and scrubbed until, though
discoloured, they were scrupulously clean. The belts, accoutrements, and
rifles had all been rubbed up and scoured. On the other hand, the
uniforms of regiments that marched in were travel-stained, begrimed with
the dust of battle and the mud of bivouac, until their original hue had
entirely disappeared. They looked as if they had at first been dragged
through thorn bushes and then been given a mud-bath.

Captain Lambton rode forward to meet the sailors of the Terrible with
the guns that had done such service, followed by the howitzers which had
almost equally contributed to the final success of the operations. He
was loudly cheered by the sailors, and the heartiest greetings were
exchanged between him and their officers. Both in attack and defence the
Naval Brigade had performed inestimable services.

Behind the column came a large body of men in civilian dress. Their
appearance was as unkempt as that of the troops, but among these there
was no approach to military order, and yet their heroism had been in no
way inferior to that of the troops. These were the stretcher-bearers,
who had in every fight carried on their work of mercy under the heaviest
fire, and that without the excitement that nerves soldiers to face
danger. Many of them had fallen while so engaged, but this had in no way
unnerved their companions, who had not only carried on the work during
daylight, but had often laboured all night until the last wounded man
had been found and carried down to the hospital. When the names of the
heroes of the force that relieved Ladysmith are recounted those of the
stretcher-bearers are worthy of a place among them.

After the troops had been dismissed and matters had settled down a
little, Chris went over to the camp of the cavalry brigade, and spoke to
the first officer he met. "I have come across, sir," he said, "to ask if
any of you wish to buy remounts. The party to which I belong have
twenty-five horses; they are exceptionally good animals, and cost us
sixty pounds apiece last October. We furnished our own equipment. As we
are all sons of gentlemen at Johannesburg, we did not much mind what we
paid. Anyhow, we are ready to sell them at the price we gave for them."

"We all want remounts badly enough," the officer said. "Will you come in
with me to the colonel?"

Entering the mess tent, where the colonel and several officers were
standing talking, Chris's guide introduced him to them, and repeated the
offer he had made. "Well, at any rate, Leslie," the colonel said, "you
and Mainwaring may as well go down and look at the horses; it would
certainly be a comfort to get remounts, for more than half of our
chargers are gone, and the rest are skeletons. I can't ask you, Mr.
King, if you would like to take anything to drink. I suppose it will be
another ten days before we are in a position to be able to offer even
the smallest approach to hospitality."

"I quite understand that, sir," Chris said. "In that respect we have
been nearly as badly off at Chieveley. We have had plenty to eat and
drink, but a cup of tea or chocolate has been the only refreshment we
have been in a position to offer to a visitor, for the line has been so
fully occupied with government transport that it has been next to
impossible to get up any private stores. I am afraid that very little in
that way can be brought up here until the bridge is repaired and the
line in working order, for it is as much as the transport will be able
to do to bring food enough from Chieveley for the troops and people
here."

The two officers were more than satisfied with the appearance of the
horses. On their report all their comrades went down, and eleven of the
animals were at once taken; a visit to the camps of two other regiments
resulted in the sale of the remainder. None of the officers was able to
pay in gold, as the paymaster's department had not a coin left, though
small payments were made to the men until nearly the end of the siege.
Chris, however, readily accepted their drafts and cheques, as these
could be paid into the bank at Maritzburg.

"That is all done," he said to his friends. "Now we will get rid of our
remaining stores which the men brought up yesterday. I propose that
instead of selling them we divide them into three and send them down to
the three cavalry messes. I am sorry we have not a few bottles of
spirits left, but the tea, and chocolate, and sugar, and so on, will be
very welcome to them."

The six natives carried the things down, and brought back with them
notes of warm thankfulness from the colonels.

"How about our saddles, Chris?"

"We can take them with us to Maritzburg. We can hand over the kettles
and so on, and the waterproof sheets, to Brookfield's men who remain
here, and the blankets can be given to the natives when we get there."

The next day, after a hearty farewell from Captain Brookfield and their
comrades, who sent them off with a ringing cheer, the party started,
marching by the side of one of the waggons that had brought up stores;
in this they placed their saddles and blankets. When they arrived at
Chieveley they had no difficulty in getting a place in a covered truck.
In this they travelled to Maritzburg. Here they stayed for three or four
days; then, after making a handsome present in addition to what they had
promised to the natives, and further gladdening their hearts by giving
them their blankets, Chris and those who were going down said good-bye
to Carmichael and his party, with hopes that they would all meet again
at Johannesburg before long. Three or four whose friends had remained at
Durban stayed there, the rest took passage together for Cape Town.

At Maritzburg Chris had found a letter awaiting him from his mother,
saying that his father had a fortnight before joined her there, as the
Boers had commandeered the mines and had ordered him to leave, as he
would not work them for their benefit and so provide funds for the
support of the Boer army. She said that they intended to leave at once
for England, and that he was to follow them when he gave up his work
with the army. He therefore, with Field, Brown, and Capper, continued
the voyage straight on to England, and joined his parents in London,
where he enjoyed a well-earned rest, his pleasure being only marred by
the necessity for telling the story of his adventures again and again to
the relations and friends of his parents.

THE END





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