FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH
AN UNFINISHED RECORD OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR
AUTHOR OF 'WITH KITCHENER TO KHARTUM,' 'IN INDIA,' ETC., ETC.
EDITED BY VERNON BLACKBURN
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH AND LONDON
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
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WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH AND LONDON.
I. FIRST GLIMPSES OF THE STRUGGLE.
First impressions—Denver with a dash of Delhi—Government House— The Legislative Assembly—A wrangling debate—A demonstration of the unemployed—The menace of coming war 1
II. THE ARMY CORPS—HAS NOT LEFT ENGLAND!
A little patch of white tents—A dream of distance—The desert of the Karroo—War at last—A campaign without headquarters—Waiting for the Army Corps 10
III. A PASTOR'S POINT OF VIEW.
An ideal of Arcady—Rebel Burghersdorp—Its monuments—Dopper theology—An interview with one of its professors 19
IV. WILL IT BE CIVIL WAR?
On the border of the Free State—An appeal to the Colonial Boers— The beginning of warlike rumours—A commercial and social boycott— The Boer secret service—The Basutos and their mother, the Queen— Boer brutality to Kaffirs 28
V. LOYAL ALIWAL: A TRAGI-COMEDY.
The Cape Police—A garrison of six men—Merry-go-rounds and naphtha flares—A clamant want of fifty men—Where are the troops?—"It'll be just the same as it was in '81" 35
VI. THE BATTLE OF ELANDSLAAGTE.
French's reconnaissance—An artillery duel—Beginning of the attack— Ridge after ridge—A crowded half-hour 43
VII. THE BIVOUAC.
A victorious and helpless mob—A break-neck hillside—Bringing down the wounded—A hard-worked doctor—Boer prisoners—Indian bearers— An Irish Highlander in trouble 56
VIII. THE HOME-COMING FROM DUNDEE.
Superfluous assistance—A smiling valley—The Border Mounted Rifles— A rain-storm—A thirty-two miles' march—How the troops came into Ladysmith 66
IX. THE STORY OF NICHOLSON'S NEK.
An attenuated mess—A regiment 220 strong—A miserable story—The white flag—Boer kindness—Ashamed for England 74
X. THE GUNS AT RIETFONTEIN.
A column on the move—The nimble guns—Garrison gunners at work— The veldt on fire—Effective shrapnel—The value of the engagement 81
XI. THE BOMBARDMENT.
Long Tom—A family of harmless monsters—Our inferiority in guns— The sensations of a bombardment—A little custom blunts sensibility 92
XII. THE DEVIL'S TIN-TACKS.
The excitement of a rifle fusilade—A six-hours' fight—The picking off of officers—A display of infernal fireworks—"God bless the Prince of Wales" 106
XIII. A DIARY OF DULNESS.
The mythopoeic faculty—A miserable day—The voice of the pompom— Learning the Boer game—The end of Fiddling Jimmy—Melinite at close quarters—A lake of mud 114
XIV. NEARING THE END.
Dulness interminable—Ladysmith in 2099 A.D.—Sieges obsolete hardships—Dead to the world—The appalling features of a bombardment 124
XV. IN A CONNING-TOWER.
The self-respecting bluejacket—A German atheist—The sailors' telephone—What the naval guns meant to Ladysmith—The salt of the earth 134
THE LAST CHAPTER. By VERNON BLACKBURN 144
MAP OF THE COUNTRY ROUND LADYSMITH 95
MAP ILLUSTRATING THE SEAT OF WAR IN SOUTH AFRICA At end
FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH
FIRST GLIMPSES OF THE STRUGGLE.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS—DENVER WITH A DASH OF DELHI—GOVERNMENT HOUSE—THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY—A WRANGLING DEBATE—A DEMONSTRATION OF THE UNEMPLOYED—THE MENACE OF COMING WAR.
CAPETOWN, Oct. 10.
This morning I awoke, and behold the Norman was lying alongside a wharf at Capetown. I had expected it, and yet it was a shock. In this breathless age ten days out of sight of land is enough to make you a merman: I looked with pleased curiosity at the grass and the horses.
After the surprise of being ashore again, the first thing to notice was the air. It was as clear—but there is nothing else in existence clear enough with which to compare it. You felt that all your life hitherto you had been breathing mud and looking out on the world through fog. This, at last, was air, was ether.
Right in front rose three purple-brown mountains—the two supporters peaked, and Table Mountain flat in the centre. More like a coffin than a table, sheer steep and dead flat, he was exactly as he is in pictures; and as I gazed, I saw his tablecloth of white cloud gather and hang on his brow.
It was enough: the white line of houses nestling hardly visible between his foot and the sea must indeed be Capetown.
Presently I came into it, and began to wonder what it looked like. It seemed half Western American with a faint smell of India—Denver with a dash of Delhi. The broad streets fronted with new-looking, ornate buildings of irregular heights and fronts were Western America; the battle of warming sun with the stabbing morning cold was Northern India. The handsome, blood-like electric cars, with their impatient gongs and racing trolleys, were pure America (the motor-men were actually imported from that hustling clime to run them). For Capetown itself—you saw it in a moment—does not hustle. The machinery is the West's, the spirit is the East's or the South's. In other cities with trolley-cars they rush; here they saunter. In other new countries they have no time to be polite; here they are suave and kindly and even anxious to gossip. I am speaking, understand, on a twelve hours' acquaintance—mainly with that large section of Capetown's inhabitants that handled my baggage between dock and rail way-station. The niggers are very good-humoured, like the darkies of America. The Dutch tongue sounds like German spoken by people who will not take the trouble to finish pronouncing it.
All in all, Capetown gives you the idea of being neither very rich nor very poor, neither over-industrious nor over-lazy, decently successful, reasonably happy, whole-heartedly easy-going.
The public buildings—what I saw of them—confirm the idea of a placid half-prosperity. The place is not a baby, but it has hardly taken the trouble to grow up. It has a post-office of truly German stability and magnitude. It has a well-organised railway station, and it has the merit of being in Adderley Street, the main thoroughfare of the city: imagine it even possible to bring Euston into the Strand, and you will get an idea of the absence of push and crush in Capetown.
When you go on to look at Government House the place keeps its character: Government House is half a country house and half a country inn. One sentry tramps outside the door, and you pay your respects to the Governor in shepherd's plaid.
Over everything brooded peace, except over one flamboyant many-winged building of red brick and white stone with a garden about it, an avenue—a Capetown avenue, shady trees and cool but not large: attractive and not imposing—at one side of it, with a statue of the Queen before and broad-flagged stairs behind. It was the Parliament House. The Legislative Assembly—their House of Commons—was characteristically small, yet characteristically roomy and characteristically comfortable. The members sit on flat green-leather cushions, two or three on a bench, and each man's name is above his seat: no jostling for Capetown. The slip of Press gallery is above the Speaker's head; the sloping uncrowded public gallery is at the other end, private boxes on one side, big windows on the other. Altogether it looks like a copy of the Westminster original, improved by leaving nine-tenths of the members and press and public out.
Yet here—alas, for placid Capetown!—they were wrangling. They were wrangling about the commandeering of gold and the sjamboking—shamboking, you pronounce it—of Johannesburg refugees. There was Sir Gordon Sprigg, thrice Premier, grey-bearded, dignified, and responsible in bearing and speech, conversationally reasonable in tone. There was Mr Schreiner, the Premier, almost boyish with plump, smooth cheeks and a dark moustache. He looks capable, and looks as if he knows it: he, too, is conversational, almost jerky, in speech, but with a flavour of bitterness added to his reason.
Everything sounded quiet and calm enough for Capetown—yet plainly feeling was strained tight to snapping. A member rose to put a question, and prefaced it with a brief invective against all Boers and their friends. He would go on for about ten minutes, when suddenly angry cries of "Order!" in English and Dutch would rise. The questioner commented with acidity on the manners of his opponents. They appealed to the chair: the Speaker blandly pronounced that the hon. gentleman had been out of order from the first word he uttered. The hon. gentleman thereon indignantly refused to put his question at all; but, being prevailed to do so, gave an opening to a Minister, who devoted ten minutes to a brief invective against all Uitlanders and their friends. Then up got one of the other side—and so on for an hour. Most delicious of all was a white-haired German, once colonel in the Hanoverian Legion which was settled in the Eastern Province, and which to this day remains the loyallest of her Majesty's subjects. When the Speaker ruled against his side he counselled defiance in a resounding whisper; when an opponent was speaking he snorted thunderous derision; when an opponent retorted he smiled blandly and admonished him: "Ton't lose yer demper."
In the Assembly, if nowhere else, rumbled the menace of coming war.
One other feature there was that was not Capetown. Along Adderley Street, before the steamship companies' offices, loafed a thick string of sun-reddened, unshaven, flannel-shirted, corduroy-trousered British working-men. Inside the offices they thronged the counters six deep. Down to the docks they filed steadily with bundles to be penned in the black hulls of homeward liners. Their words were few and sullen. These were the miners of the Rand—who floated no companies, held no shares, made no fortunes, who only wanted to make a hundred pounds to furnish a cottage and marry a girl.
They had been turned out of work, packed in cattle-trucks, and had come down in sun by day and icy wind by night, empty-bellied, to pack off home again. Faster than the ship-loads could steam out the trainloads steamed in. They choked the lodging-houses, the bars, the streets. Capetown was one huge demonstration of the unemployed. In the hotels and streets wandered the pale, distracted employers. They hurried hither and thither and arrived nowhither; they let their cigars go out, left their glasses half full, broke off their talk in the middle of a word. They spoke now of intolerable grievance and hoarded revenge, now of silent mines, rusting machinery, stolen gold. They held their houses in Johannesburg as gone beyond the reach of insurance. They hated Capetown, they could not tear themselves away to England, they dared not return to the Rand.
This little quiet corner of Capetown held the throbbing hopes and fears of all Johannesburg and more than half the two Republics and the mass of all South Africa.
None doubted—though many tried to doubt—that at last it was—war! They paused an instant before they said the word, and spoke it softly. It had come at last—the moment they had worked and waited for—and they knew not whether to exult or to despair.
THE ARMY CORPS—HAS NOT LEFT ENGLAND!
A LITTLE PATCH OF WHITE TENTS—A DREAM OF DISTANCE—THE DESERT OF THE KARROO—WAR AT LAST—A CAMPAIGN WITHOUT HEADQUARTERS—WAITING FOR THE ARMY CORPS.
The wind screams down from the naked hills on to the little junction station. A platform with dining-room and telegraph office, a few corrugated iron sheds, the station-master's corrugated iron bungalow—and there is nothing else of Stormberg but veldt and, kopje, wind and sky. Only these last day's there has sprung up a little patch of white tents a quarter of a mile from the station, and about them move men in putties and khaki. Signal flags blink from the rises, pickets with fixed bayonets dot the ridges, mounted men in couples patrol the plain and the dip and the slope. Four companies of the Berkshire Regiment and the mounted infantry section—in all they may count 400 men. Fifty miles north is the Orange river, and beyond it, maybe by now this side of it, thousands of armed and mounted burghers—and war.
I wonder if it is all real? By the clock I have been travelling something over forty hours in South Africa, but it might just as well be a minute or a lifetime. It is a minute of experience prolonged to a lifetime. South Africa is a dream—one of those dreams in which you live years in the instant of waking—a dream of distance.
Departing from Capetown by night, I awoke in the Karroo. Between nine and six in the morning we had made less than a hundred and eighty miles. Now we were climbing the vast desert of the Karroo, the dusty stairway that leads on to the highlands of South Africa. Once you have seen one desert, all the others are like it; and yet once you have loved the desert, each is lovable in a new way. In the Karroo you seem to be going up a winding ascent, like the ramps that lead to an Indian fortress. You are ever pulling up an incline between hills, making for a corner round one of the ranges. You feel that when you get round that corner you will at last see something: you arrive and only see another incline, two more ranges, and another corner—surely this time with something to arrive at beyond. You arrive and arrive, and once more you arrive—and once more you see the same vast nothing you are coming from. Believe it or not, that is the very charm of a desert—the unfenced emptiness, the space, the freedom, the unbroken arch of the sky. It is for ever fooling you, and yet you for ever pursue it. And then it is only to the eye that cannot do without green that the Karroo is unbeautiful. Every other colour meets others in harmony—tawny sand, silver-grey scrub, crimson-tufted flowers like heather, black ribs of rock, puce shoots of screes, violet mountains in the middle distance, blue fairy battlements guarding the horizon. And above all broods the intense purity of the South African azure—not a coloured thing, like the plants and the hills, but sheer colour existing by and for itself.
It is sheer witching desert for five hundred miles, and for aught I know five hundred miles after that. At the rare stations you see perhaps one corrugated-iron store, perhaps a score of little stone houses with a couple of churches. The land carries little enough stock—here a dozen goats browsing on the withered sticks goats love, there a dozen ostriches, high-stepping, supercilious heads in air, wheeling like a troop of cavalry and trotting out of the stink of that beastly train. Of men, nothing—only here at the bridge a couple of tents, there at the culvert a black man, grotesque in sombrero and patched trousers, loafing, hands in pockets, lazy pipe in mouth. The last man in the world, you would have said, to suggest glorious war—yet war he meant and nothing else. On the line from Capetown—that single track through five hundred miles of desert—hang Kimberley and Mafeking and Rhodesia: it runs through Dutch country, and the black man was there to watch it.
War—and war sure enough it was. A telegram at a tea-bar, a whisper, a gathering rush, an electric vibration—and all the station and all the train and the very niggers on the dunghill outside knew it. War—war at last! Everybody had predicted it—and now everybody gasped with amazement. One man broke off in a joke about killing Dutchmen, and could only say, "My God—my God—my God!"
I too was lost, and lost I remain. Where was I to go? What was I to do? My small experience has been confined to wars you could put your fingers on: for this war I have been looking long enough, and have not found it. I have been accustomed to wars with headquarters, at any rate to wars with a main body and a concerted plan: but this war in Cape Colony has neither.
It could not have either. If you look at the map you will see that the Transvaal and Orange Free State are all but lapped in the red of British territory. That would be to our advantage were our fighting force superior or equal or even not much inferior to that of the enemy. In a general way it is an advantage to have your frontier in the form of a re-entrant angle; for then you can strike on your enemy's flank and threaten his communications. That advantage the Boers possess against Natal, and that is why Sir George White has abandoned Laing's Nek and Newcastle, and holds the line of the Biggarsberg: even so the Boers might conceivably get between him and his base. The same advantage we should possess on this western side of the theatre of war, except that we are so heavily outnumbered, and have adopted no heroic plan of abandoning the indefensible. We have an irregular force of mounted infantry at Mafeking, the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment at Kimberley, the Munster Fusiliers at De Aar, half the Yorkshire Light Infantry at De Aar, half the Berkshire Regiment at Naauwpoort—do not try to pronounce it—and the other half here at Stormberg. The Northumberlands—the famous Fighting Fifth—came crawling up behind our train, and may now be at Naauwpoort or De Aar. Total: say, 4100 infantry, of whom some 600 mounted; no cavalry, no field-guns. The Boer force available against these isolated positions might be very reasonably put at 12,000 mounted infantry, with perhaps a score of guns.
Mafeking and Kimberley are fairly well garrisoned, with auxiliary volunteers, and may hold their own: at any rate, I have not been there and can say nothing about them. But along the southern border of the Free State—the three railway junctions of De Aar, Naauwpoort, and Stormberg—our position is very dangerous indeed. I say it freely, for by the time the admission reaches England it may be needed to explain failure, or pleasant to add lustre to success. If the Army Corps were in Africa, which is still in England, this position would be a splendid one for it—three lines of supply from Capetown, Port Elizabeth, and East London, and three converging lines of advance by Norval's Pont, Bethulie, and Aliwal North. But with tiny forces of half a battalion in front and no support behind—nothing but long lines of railway with ungarrisoned ports hundreds of miles at the far end of them—it is very dangerous. There are at this moment no supports nearer than England. Let the Free Staters bring down two thousand good shots and resolute men to-morrow morning—it is only fifty miles, with two lines of railway—and what will happen to that little patch of white tents by the station? The loss of any one means the loss of land connection between Western and Eastern Provinces, a line open into the heart of the Cape Colony, and nothing to resist an invader short of the sea.
It is dangerous—and yet nobody cares. There is nothing to do but wait—for the Army Corps that has not yet left England. Even to-day—a day's ride from the frontier—the war seems hardly real. All will be done that man can do. In the mean time the good lady of the refreshment-room says: "Dinner? There's been twenty-one to-day and dinner got ready for fifteen; but you're welcome to it, such as it is. We must take things as they come in war-time." Her children play with their cats in the passage. The railway man busies himself about the new triangles and sidings that are to be laid down against the beginning of December for the Army Corps that has not yet left England.
A PASTOR'S POINT OF VIEW.
AN IDEAL OF ARCADY—REBEL BURGHERSDORP—ITS MONUMENTS—DOPPER THEOLOGY—AN INTERVIEW WITH ONE OF ITS PROFESSORS.
BURGHERSDORP, Oct. 14.
The village lies compact and clean-cut, a dot in the wilderness. No fields or orchards break the transition from man to nature; step out of the street and you are at once on rock-ribbed kopje or raw veldt. As you stand on one of the bare lines of hill that squeeze it into a narrow valley, Burghersdorp is a chequer-board of white house, green tree, and grey iron roof; beyond its edges everything is the changeless yellow brown of South African landscape.
Go down into the streets, and Burghersdorp is an ideal of Arcady. The broad, dusty, unmetalled roads are steeped in sunshine. The houses are all one-storeyed, some brick, some mud, some the eternal corrugated iron, most faced with whitewash, many fronted with shady verandahs. As blinds against the sun they have lattices of trees down every street—white-blossoming laburnum, poplars, sycamores.
Despite verandahs and trees, the sunshine soaks down into every corner—genially, languorously warm. All Burghersdorp basks. You see half-a-dozen yoke of bullocks with a waggon, standing placidly in the street, too lazy even to swish their tails against the flies; pass by an hour later, and they are still there, and the black man lounging by the leaders has hardly shifted one leg; pass by at evening, and they have moved on three hundred yards, and are resting again. In the daytime hens peck and cackle in every street; at nightfall the bordering veldt hums with crickets and bullfrogs. At morn come a flight of locusts—first, yellow-white scouts whirring down every street, then a pelting snowstorm of them high up over the houses, spangling the blue heaven. But Burghersdorp cared nothing. "There is nothing for them," said a farmer, with cosy satisfaction; "the frost killed everything last week."
British and Dutch salute and exchange the news with lazy mutual tolerance. The British are storekeepers and men of business; the Boers ride in from their farms. They are big, bearded men, loose of limb, shabbily dressed in broad-brimmed hats, corduroy trousers, and brown shoes; they sit their ponies at a rocking-chair canter erect and easy; unkempt, rough, half-savage, their tanned faces and blue eyes express lazy good-nature, sluggish stubbornness, dormant fierceness. They ask the news in soft, lisping Dutch that might be a woman's; but the lazy imperiousness of their bearing stamps them as free men. A people hard to rouse, you say—and as hard, when roused, to subdue.
A loitering Arcady—and then you hear with astonishment that Burghersdorp is famous throughout South Africa as a stronghold of bitter Dutch partisanship. "Rebel Burghersdorp" they call it in the British centres, and Capetown turns anxious ears towards it for the first muttering of insurrection. What history its stagnant annals record is purely anti-British. Its two principal monuments, after the Jubilee fountain, are the tombstone of the founder of the Dopper Church—the Ironsides of South Africa—and a statue with inscribed pedestal complete put up to commemorate the introduction of the Dutch tongue into the Cape Parliament. Malicious comments add that Afrikander patriotism swindled the stone-mason out of L30, and it is certain that one of the gentlemen whose names appear thereon most prominently, now languishes in jail for fraud. Leaving that point for thought, I find that the rest of Burghersdorp's history consists in the fact that the Afrikander Bond was founded here in 1881. And at this moment Burghersdorp is out-Bonding the Bond: the reverend gentleman who edits its Dutch paper and dictates its Dutch policy sluices out weekly vials of wrath upon Hofmeyr and Schreiner for machinating to keep patriot Afrikanders off the oppressing Briton's throat.
I went to see this reverend pastor, who is professor of a school of Dopper theology. He was short, but thick-set, with a short but shaggy grey beard; in deference to his calling, he wore a collar over his grey flannel shirt, but no tie. Nevertheless, he turned out a very charming, courteous old gentleman, well informed, and his political bias was mellowed with an irresistible sense of humour. He took his own side strongly, and allowed that it was most proper for a Briton to be equally strong on his own. And this is more or less what he said:—
"Information? No, I shall not give you any; you are the enemy, you see. Ha, ha! They call me rebel. But I ask you, my friend, is it natural that I—I, Hollander born, Dutch Afrikander since '60—should be as loyal to the British Government as a Britisher should be? No, I say; one can be loyal only to one's own country. I am law-abiding subject of the Queen, and that is all that they can ask of me.
"How will the war go? That it is impossible, quite impossible, to say. The Boer might run away at the first shot and he might fight to the death. All troops are liable to panic; even regular troop; much more than irregular. But I have been on commando many times with Boer, and I cannot think him other than brave man. Fighting is not his business; he wishes always to be back on his farm with his people; but he is brave man.
"I look on this war as the sequel of 1881. I have told them all these years, it is not finish; war must come. Mr Gladstone, whom I look on as greatest British statesman, did wrong in 1881. If he had kept promises and given back country before the war, we would have been grateful; but he only give it after war, and we were not grateful. And English did not feel that they were generous, only giving independence after war, though they had a large army in Natal; they have always wished to recommence.
"The trouble is because the Boer have never had confidence in the English Government, just as you have never had confidence in us. The Boer have no feeling about Cape Colony, but they have about Natal; they were driven out of it, and they think it still their own country. Then you took the diamond-fields from the Free State. You gave the Free State independence only because you did not want trouble of Basuto war; then we beat the Basutos—I myself was there, and it was very hard, and it lasted three years—and then you would not let us take Basutoland. Then came annexation of the Transvaal; up to that I was strong advocate of federation, but after that I was one of founders of the Bond. After that the Afrikander trusted Rhodes—not I, though; I always write I distrust Rhodes—and so came the Jameson raid. Now how could we have confidence after all this in British Government?
"I do not think Transvaal Government have been wise; I have many times told them so. They made great mistake when they let people come in to the mines. I told them, 'This gold will be your ruin; to remain independent you must remain poor.' But when that was done, what could they do? If they gave the franchise, then the Republic is governed by three four men from Johannesburg, and they will govern it for their own pocket. The Transvaal Boer would rather be British colony than Johannesburg Republic.
"Well, well; it is the law of South Africa that the Boer drive the native north and the English drive the Boer north. But now the Boer can go north no more; two things stop him: the tsetse fly and the fever. So if he must perish, it is his duty—yes, I, minister, say it is his duty—to perish fighting.
"But here in the Colony we have no race hatred. Not between man and man; but when many men get together there is race hatred. If we fight here on this border it is civil war—the same Dutch and English are across the Orange as here in Albert. My son is on commando in Free State; the other day he ride thirteen hours and have no food for two days. I say to him, 'You are Free State burgher; you have the benefit of the country; your wife is Boer girl; it is your duty to fight for it.' I am law-abiding British subject, but I hope my son will not be hurt. You, sir, I wish you good luck—good luck for yourself and your corresponding. Not for your side: that I cannot wish you."
WILL IT BE CIVIL WAR?
ON THE BORDER OF THE FREE STATE—AN APPEAL TO THE COLONIAL BOERS—THE BEGINNING OF WARLIKE RUMOURS—A COMMERCIAL AND SOCIAL BOYCOTT—THE BOER SECRET SERVICE—THE BASUTOS AND THEIR MOTHER, THE QUEEN—BOER BRUTALITY TO KAFFIRS.
Oct. 14 (9.55 p.m.)
The most conspicuous feature of the war on this frontier has hitherto been its absence.
The Free State forces about Bethulie, which is just over the Free State border, and Aliwal North, which is on our side of the frontier, make no sign of an advance. The reason for this is, doubtless, that hostilities here would amount to civil war. There is the same mixed English and Dutch population on each side of the Orange river, united by ties of kinship and friendship. Many law-abiding Dutch burghers here have sons and brothers who are citizens of the Free State, and therefore out with the forces.
In the mean time the English doctor attends patients on the other side of the border, and Boer riflemen ride across to buy goods at the British stores.
The proclamation published yesterday morning forbidding trade with the Republics is thus difficult and impolitic to enforce hereabouts.
Railway and postal communication is now stopped, but the last mail brought a copy of the Bloemfontein 'Express,' with an appeal to the Colonial Boers concluding with the words:—
"We shall continue the war to the bloody end. You will assist us. Our God, who has so often helped us, will not forsake us."
What effect this may have is yet doubtful, but it is certain that any rising of the Colonial Dutch would send the Colonial British into the field in full strength.
Burghersdorp, through which I passed yesterday, is a village of 2000 inhabitants, and, as I have already put on record, the centre of the most disaffected district in the colony. If there be any Dutch rising in sympathy with the Free State it will begin here.
And so there's warlike news at last.
A Boer force, reported to be 350 strong, shifted camp to-day to within three miles of the bridge across the Orange river. Well-informed Dutch inhabitants assert that these are to be reinforced, and will march through Aliwal North to-night on their way to attack Stormberg Junction, sixty miles south.
The bridge is defended by two Cape policemen with four others in reserve.
The loyal inhabitants are boiling with indignation, declaring themselves sacrificed, as usual, by the dilatoriness of the Government.
Besides the Boer force near here, there is another, reported to be 450 strong, at Greatheads Drift, forty miles up the river.
The Boers at Bethulie, in the Free State, are believed to be pulling up the railway on their side of the frontier, and to be marching to Norvals Pont, which is the ferry over the Orange river on the way to Colesberg, with the intention of attacking Naauwpoort Junction, on the Capetown-Kimberley line; but as there are no trains now running to Bethulie it is difficult to verify these reports, and, indeed, all reports must be received with caution.
The feeling here between the English and Dutch extends to a commercial and social boycott, and is therefore far more bitter than elsewhere. Several burghers here have sent their sons over the border, and promise that the loyal inhabitants will be "sjambokked" (you remember how to pronounce it?) when the Boer force passes through.
So far things are quiet. The broad, sunny, dusty streets, fringed with small trees and lined with single-storeyed houses, are dotted with strolling inhabitants, both Dutch and natives, engrossed in their ordinary pursuits. The whole thing looks more like Arcady than revolution.
The only sign of movement is that eight young Boers, theological students of the Dopper or strict Lutheran college here, left last night for the Free State for active service.
The Boers across the Orange river so far make no sign of raiding. Many have sent their wives and families here into Aliwal North, on our side of the border, in imitation, perhaps, of President Steyn, whose wife at this moment is staying with her sister at King William's Town, in the Cape Colony.
Many British farmers, of whom there are a couple of hundred in this district, refuse to believe that the Free State will take the offensive on this border, considering that such aggression would be impious, and that the Free State will restrict itself to defending its own frontier, or the Transvaal, if invaded, in fulfilment of the terms of the offensive and defensive alliance.
Nevertheless there is, of course, very acute tension between the Dutch and English here. No Boers are to be seen talking to Englishmen. The Boers are very close as to their feelings and intentions, which those who know them interpret as a bad sign, because, as a rule, they are inclined to irresponsible garrulity. A point in which Dutch feeling here tells is that every Dutch man, woman, or child is more or less of a Boer secret service agent, revealing our movements and concealing those of the Boers.
If there be any rising it may be expected by November 9, when the Boers hold their "wappenschouwing," or rifle contest—the local Bisley, in fact—which every man for miles around attends armed. Also the Afrikander Bond Congress is to be held next month; but probably the leaders will do their best to keep the people together.
The Transvaal agents are naturally doing their utmost to provoke rebellion. A lieutenant of their police is known to be hiding hereabouts, and a warrant is out for his arrest. All depends, say the experts, on the results of the first few weeks of fighting.
The attitude of the natives causes some uneasiness. Every Basuto employed on the line here has returned to his tribe, one saying: "Be sure we shall not harm our mother the Queen."
Many Transkei Kaffirs also have passed through here, owing to the closing of the mines. Sixty-six crammed truckloads of them came by one train. They had been treated with great brutality by the Boers, having been flogged to the station and robbed of their wages.
[Footnote 1: This chapter has been deliberately included in this volume notwithstanding its obviously fragmentary nature. The swift picture which it gives of flying events is the excuse for this decision.]
LOYAL ALIWAL: A TRAGI-COMEDY.
THE CAPE POLICE—A GARRISON OF SIX MEN—MERRY-GO-ROUNDS AND NAPHTHA FLARES—A CLAMANT WANT OF FIFTY MEN—WHERE ARE THE TROOPS?—"IT'LL BE JUST THE SAME AS IT WAS IN '81."
ALIWAL NORTH, Oct. 15.
"Halt! Who goes there?" The trim figure, black in the moonlight, in breeches and putties, with a broad-brimmed hat looped up at the side, brought up his carbine and barred the entrance to the bridge. Twenty yards beyond a second trim black figure with a carbine stamped to and fro over the planking. They were of the Cape Police, and there were four more of them somewhere in reserve; across the bridge was the Orange Free State; behind us was the little frontier town of Aliwal North, and these were its sole garrison.
The river shone silver under its high banks. Beyond it, in the enemy's country, the veldt too was silvered over with moonlight and was blotted inkily with shadow from the kopjes. Three miles to the right, over a rise and down in a dip, they said there lay the Rouxville commando of 350 men. That night they were to receive 700 or 800 more from Smithfield, and thereon would ride through Aliwal on their way to eat up the British half-battalion at Stormberg. On our side of the bridge slouched a score of Boers—waiting, they said, to join and conduct their kinsmen. In the very middle of these twirled a battered merry-go-round—an island of garish naphtha light in the silver, a jarr of wheeze and squeak in the swishing of trees and river. Up the hill, through the town, in the bar of the ultra-English hotel, proceeded this dialogue.
A fat man (thunderously, nursing a Lee-Metford sporting rifle). Well, you've yourselves to blame. I've done my best. With fifty men I'd have held this place against a thousand Boers, and not ten men'd join.
A thin-faced man (piping). We haven't got the rifles. Every Dutchman's armed, and how many rifles will you find among the English?
Fat man (shooting home bolt of Lee-Metford). And who's fault's that? I've left my property in the Free State, and odds are I shall lose every penny I've got—what part? all over—and come here on to British soil, and what do I find? With fifty men I'd hold this place—
Thin-faced man. They'll be here to-night, old De Wet says, and they're to come here and sjambok the Englishmen who've been talking too much. That's what comes of being loyal!
Fat man. Loyal! With fifty men—
Brown-faced, grey-haired man (smoking deep-bowled pipe in corner). No, you wouldn't.
Fat man (playing with sights of Lee-Metford). What! Not keep the bridge with fifty men—
Brown-faced, grey-haired man. And they'd cross by the old drift, and be on every side of you in ten minutes.
Fat man (grounding Lee-Metford). Ah! Well—h'm!
Thick-set man. But we're safe enough. Has not the Government sent us a garrison? Six policemen! Six policemen, gentlemen, and the Boers are at Pieter's farrm, and they'll be here to-night and sjambok—
Thin-faced man. Where are the troops? Where are the volunteers? Where are the—
Brown-faced, grey-haired man. There are no troops, and the better for you. The strength of Aliwal is in its weakness. (To fat man.) Put that gun away.
Thin-faced man, thick-set man, and general chorus. Yes, put it away.
Thin-faced man. But I want to know why the Boers are armed and we aren't? Why does our Government—
Brown-faced man. Are you accustomed to shoot?
Thin-faced man (faintly). No.
Fat man (returning from putting away Lee-Metford). But where do you come from?
Brown-faced man. Free State, same as you do. Lived there five-and-twenty years.
Thin-faced man. Any trouble in getting away?
Brown-faced man. No. Field-cornet was a good old fellow and an old friend of mine, and he gave me the hint—
Thin-faced man. Not much like ours! Why, there's a lady staying here that's friendly with his daughters, and she went out to see them the other day, and the old man said they'd stop here and sjam—
Fat man. Gentlemen, drinks all round! Here's success to the British arms!
All. Success to the British arms!
Thick-set man. And may the British Government not desert us again!
Fat man. I'll take a shade of odds about it. They will. I've no trust in Chamberlain. It'll be just the same as it was in '81. A few reverses and you'll find they'll begin to talk about terms. I know them. Every loyal man in South Africa knows them. (General murmur of assent.)
Hotel-keeper. Gentlemen, drinks all round! Here's success to the British arms!
All. Success to the British arms!
Thick-set man. And where are the British arms? Where's the Army Corps? Has a man of that Army Corps left England? Shilly-shally, as usual. South Africa's no place for an Englishman to live in. Armoured train blown up, Mafeking cut off, Kimberley in danger, and General Butler—what? Oh yes—General Buller leaves England to-day. Why didna they send the Army Corps out three months ago?
Brown-faced man. It's six thousand miles—
Thick-set man. Why didna they send them just after the Bloemfontein conference, before the Boers were ready? British Gov—
Brown-faced man. They've had three rifles a man with ammunition since 1896.
I (timidly). Well, then, if the Army Corps had left three months ago, wouldn't the Boers have declared war three months ago too?
All except brown-faced man (loudly). No!
Brown-faced man (quietly). Yes. Gentlemen, bedtime! As Brand used to say, "Al zal rijt komen!"
All (fervently). Al zal rijt komen! Success to the British arms! Good night!
(All go to bed. In the night somebody on the Boer side—or elsewhere—goes out shooting, or looses off his rifle on general grounds; two loyalists and a refugee spring up and grasp their revolvers. In the morning everybody wakes up unsjamboked. The hotel-keeper takes me out to numerous points whence Pieter's farm can be reconnoitred: there is not a single tent to be seen, and no sign of a single Boer.)
It is a shame to smile at them. They are really very, very loyal, and they are excellent fellows and most desirable colonists. Aliwal is a nest of green on the yellow veldt, speckless, well-furnished, with Marechal Niel roses growing over trellises, and a scheme to dam the Orange river for water-supply, and electric light. They were quite unprotected, and their position was certainly humiliating.
THE BATTLE OF ELANDSLAAGTE.
FRENCH'S RECONNAISSANCE—AN ARTILLERY DUEL—BEGINNING OF THE ATTACK—RIDGE AFTER RIDGE—A CROWDED HALF-HOUR.
LADYSMITH, Oct. 22.
From a billow of the rolling veldt we looked back, and black columns were coming up behind us.
Along the road from Ladysmith moved cavalry and guns. Along the railway line to right of it crept trains—one, two, three of them—packed with khaki, bristling with the rifles of infantry. We knew then that we should fight before nightfall.
Major-General French, who commanded, had been out from before daybreak with the Imperial Light Horse and the battery of the Natal Volunteer Artillery reconnoitring towards Elandslaagte. The armoured train—slate-colour plated engine, a slate-colour plated loopholed cattle-truck before and behind, an open truck with a Maxim at the tail of all—puffed along on his right. Elandslaagte is a little village and railway station seventeen miles north-east of Ladysmith, where two days before the Boers had blown up a culvert and captured a train. That cut our direct communication with the force at Dundee. Moreover, it was known that the Free State commandoes were massing to the north-west of Ladysmith and the Transvaalers to attack Dundee again. On all grounds it was desirable to smash the Elandslaagte lot while they were still weak and alone.
The reconnaissance stole forward until it came in sight of the little blue-roofed village and the little red tree-girt station. It was occupied. The Natal battery unlimbered and opened fire. A round or two—and then suddenly came a flash from a kopje two thousand yards beyond the station on the right. The Boer guns! And the next thing was the hissing shriek of a shell—and plump it dropped, just under one of the Natal limbers. By luck it did not burst; but if the Boer ammunition contractor was suspect, it was plain that the Boer artillerist could lay a gun. Plump: plump: they came right into the battery; down went a horse; over went an ammunition-waggon. At that range the Volunteers' little old 7-pounders were pea-shooters; you might as well have spat at the enemy. The guns limbered up and were off. Next came the vicious phutt! of a bursting shell not fifty yards from the armoured train—and the armoured train was puffing back for its life. Everybody went back half-a-dozen miles on the Ladysmith road to Modder Spruit Station.
The men on reconnaissance duty retired, as is their business. They had discovered that the enemy had guns and meant fighting. Lest he should follow, they sent out from Ladysmith, about nine in the morning, half a battalion apiece of the Devonshire and Manchester Regiments by train, and the 42nd Field Battery, with a squadron of the 5th Dragoon Guards, by road. They arrived, and there fell on us the common lot of reconnaissances. We dismounted, loosened girths, ate tinned meat, and wondered what we should do next. We were on a billow of veldt that heaved across the valley: up it ran, road and rail; on the left rose tiers of hills, in front a huge green hill blocked our view, with a tangle of other hills crowding behind to peep over its shoulders. On the right, across the line, were meadows; up from them rose a wall of red-brown kopje; up over that a wall of grass-green veldt; over that was the enemy. We ate and sat and wondered what we should do next. Presently we saw the troopers mounting and the trains getting up steam; we mounted; and scouts, advance-guard, flanking patrols—everybody crept slowly, slowly, cautiously forward. Then, about half-past two, we turned and beheld the columns coming up behind us. The 21st Field Battery, the 5th Lancers, the Natal Mounted Volunteers on the road; the other half of the Devons and half the Gordon Highlanders on the trains—total, with what we had, say something short of 3000 men and eighteen guns. It was battle!
The trains drew up and vomited khaki into the meadow. The mass separated and ordered itself. A line of little dots began to draw across it; a thicker line of dots followed; a continuous line followed them, then other lines, then a mass of khaki topping a dark foundation—the kilts of the Highlanders. From our billow we could not see them move; but the green on the side of the line grew broader, and the green between them and the kopje grew narrower. Now the first dots were at the base—now hardly discernible on the brown hill flanks. Presently the second line of dots was at the base. Then the third line and the second were lost on the brown, and the third—where? There, bold on the sky-line. Away on their right, round the hill, stole the black column of the Imperial Light Horse. The hill was crowned, was turned—but where were the Bo—
A hop, a splutter, a rattle, and then a snarling roll of musketry broke on the question,—not from the hill, but far on our left front, where the Dragoon Guards were scouting. On that the thunder of galloping orderlies and hoarse yells of command—advance!—in line!—waggon supply!—and with rattle and thunder the batteries tore past, wheeled, unlimbered as if they broke in halves. Then rattled and thundered the waggons, men gathered round the guns like the groups round a patient in an operation. And the first gun barked death. And then after all it was a false alarm. At the first shell you could see through glasses mounted men scurrying up the slopes of the big opposite hill; by the third they were gone. And then, as our guns still thudded—thud came the answer. Only where? Away, away on the right, from the green kopje over the brown one where still struggled the reserves of our infantry.
Limbers! From halves the guns were whole again, and wheeled away over ploughland to the railway. Down went a length of wire-fencing, and gun after gun leaped ringing over the metals, scoring the soft pasture beyond. We passed round the leftward edge of the brown hill and joined our infantry in a broad green valley. The head of it was the second skyline we had seen; beyond was a dip, a swell of kopje, a deep valley, and beyond that a small sugar-loaf kopje to the left and a long hog-backed one on the right—a saw of small ridges above, a harsh face below, freckled with innumerable boulders. Below the small kopje were tents and waggons; from the leftward shoulder of the big one flashed once more the Boer guns.
This time the shell came. Faint whirr waxed presently to furious scream, and the white cloud flung itself on to the very line of our batteries unlimbering on the brow. Whirr and scream—another dashed itself into the field between the guns and limbers. Another and another, only now they fell harmlessly behind the guns, seeking vainly for the waggons and teams which were drawn snugly away under a hillside on the right. Another and another—bursting now on the clear space in rear of the guns between our right and left infantry columns. All the infantry were lying down, so well folded in the ground that I could only see the Devons on the left. The Manchesters and Gordons on the right seemed to be swallowed by the veldt.
Then between the bangs of their artillery struck the hoarser bay of our own. Ball after ball of white smoke alighted on the kopje—the first at the base, the second over, the third jump on the Boer gun. By the fourth the Boer gun flashed no more. Then our guns sent forth little white balloons of shrapnel, to right, to left, higher, lower, peppering the whole face. Now came rifle-fire—a few reports, and then a roll like the ungreased wheels of a farm cart. The Imperial Light Horse was at work on the extreme right. And now as the guns pealed faster and faster we saw mounted men riding up the nearer swell of kopje and diving over the edge. Shrapnel followed; some dived and came up no more.
The guns limbered up and moved across to a nearer position towards the right. As they moved the Boer gun opened again—Lord, but the German gunners knew their business!—punctuating the intervals and distances of the pieces with scattering destruction. The third or fourth shell pitched clean into a labouring waggon with its double team of eight horses. It was full of shells. We held our breath for an explosion. But, when the smoke cleared, only the near wheeler was on his side, and the waggon had a wheel in the air. The batteries unlimbered and bayed again, and again the Boer guns were silent. Now for the attack.
The attack was to be made on their front and their left flank—along the hog-back of the big kopje. The Devons on our left formed for the front attack; the Manchesters went on the right, the Gordons edged out to the extreme rightward base, with the long, long boulder-freckled face above them. The guns flung shrapnel across the valley; the watchful cavalry were in leash, straining towards the enemy's flanks. It was about a quarter to five, and it seemed curiously dark for the time of day.
No wonder—for as the men moved forward before the enemy the heavens were opened. From the eastern sky swept a sheer sheet of rain. With the first stabbing drops horses turned their heads away, trembling, and no whip or spur could bring them up to it. It drove through mackintoshes as if they were blotting-paper. The air was filled with hissing; underfoot you could see solid earth melting into mud, and mud flowing away in water. It blotted out hill and dale and enemy in one grey curtain of swooping water. You would have said that the heavens had opened to drown the wrath of man. And through it the guns still thundered and the khaki columns pushed doggedly on.
The infantry came among the boulders and began to open out. The supports and reserves followed up. And then, in a twinkling, on the stone-pitted hill-face burst loose that other storm—the storm of lead, of blood, of death. In a twinkling the first line was down behind rocks firing fast, and the bullets came flicking round them. Men stopped and started, staggered and dropped limply as if the string were cut that held them upright. The line pushed on; the supports and reserves followed up. A colonel fell, shot in the arm; the regiment pushed on.
They came to a rocky ridge about twenty feet high. They clung to cover, firing, then rose, and were among the shrill bullets again. A major was left at the bottom of that ridge, with his pipe in his mouth and a Mauser bullet through his leg; his company pushed on. Down again, fire again, up again, and on! Another ridge won and passed—and only a more hellish hail of bullets beyond it. More men down, more men pushed into the firing line—more death-piping bullets than ever. The air was a sieve of them; they beat on the boulders like a million hammers; they tore the turf like a harrow.
Another ridge crowned, another welcoming, whistling gust of perdition, more men down, more pushed into the firing line. Half the officers were down; the men puffed and stumbled on. Another ridge—God! Would this cursed hill never end? It was sown with bleeding and dead behind; it was edged with stinging fire before. God! Would it never end? On, and get to the end of it! And now it was surely the end. The merry bugles rang out like cock-crow on a fine morning. The pipes shrieked of blood and the lust of glorious death. Fix bayonets! Staff officers rushed shouting from the rear, imploring, cajoling, cursing, slamming every man who could move into the line. Line—but it was a line no longer. It was a surging wave of men—Devons and Gordons, Manchester and Light Horse all mixed, inextricably; subalterns commanding regiments, soldiers yelling advice, officers firing carbines, stumbling, leaping, killing, falling, all drunk with battle, shoving through hell to the throat of the enemy. And there beneath our feet was the Boer camp and the last Boers galloping out of it. There also—thank Heaven, thank Heaven!—were squadrons of Lancers and Dragoon Guards storming in among them, shouting, spearing, stamping them into the ground. Cease fire!
It was over—twelve hours of march, of reconnaissance, of waiting, of preparation, and half an hour of attack. But half an hour crammed with the life of half a lifetime.
A VICTORIOUS AND HELPLESS MOB—A BREAK-NECK HILLSIDE—BRINGING DOWN THE WOUNDED—A HARD-WORKED DOCTOR—BOER PRISONERS—INDIAN BEARERS—AN IRISH HIGHLANDER IN TROUBLE.
LADYSMITH, Oct. 23.
Pursuing cavalry and pursued enemy faded out of our sight; abruptly we realised that it was night. A mob of unassorted soldiers stood on the rock-sown, man-sown hillside, victorious and helpless.
Out of every quarter of the blackness leaped rough voices. "G Company!" "Devons here!" "Imperial Light Horse?" "Over here!" "Over where?" Then a trip and a heavy stumble and an oath. "Doctor wanted 'ere! 'Elp for a wounded orficer! Damn you there! who are you fallin' up against? This is the Gordon 'Ighlanders—what's left of 'em."
Here and there an inkier blackness moving showed a unit that had begun to find itself again.
But for half an hour the hillside was still a maze—a maze of bodies of men wandering they knew not whither, crossing and recrossing, circling, stopping and returning on their stumbles, slipping on smooth rock-faces, breaking shins on rough boulders, treading with hobnailed boots on wounded fingers.
At length underfoot twinkled lights, and a strong, clear voice sailed into the confusion, "All wounded men are to be brought down to the Boer camp between the two hills." Towards the lights and the Boer camp we turned down the face of jumbled stumbling-block. A wary kick forward, a feel below—firm rock. Stop—and the firm rock spun and the leg shot into an ankle-wrenching hole. Scramble out and feel again; here is a flat face—forward! And then a tug that jerks you on to your back again: you forgot you had a horse to lead, and he does not like the look of this bit. Climb back again and take him by the head; still he will not budge. Try again to the right. Bang! goes your knee into a boulder. Circle cannily round the horse to the left; here at last is something like a slope. Forward horse—so, gently! Hurrah! Two minutes gone—a yard descended.
By the time we stumbled down that precipice there had already passed a week of nights—and it was not yet eight o'clock. At the bottom were half-a-dozen tents, a couple of lanterns, and a dozen waggons—huge, heavy veldt-ships lumbered up with cargo. It was at least possible to tie a horse up and turn round in the sliding mud to see what next.
What next? Little enough question of that! Off the break-neck hillside still dropped hoarse importunate cries. "Wounded man here! Doctor wanted! Three of 'em here! A stretcher, for God's sake!" "A stretcher there! Is there no stretcher?" There was not one stretcher within voice-shot.
Already the men were bringing down the first of their wounded. Slung in a blanket came a captain, his wet hair matted over his forehead, brow and teeth set, lips twitching as they put him down, gripping his whole soul to keep it from crying out. He turned with the beginning of a smile that would not finish: "Would you mind straightening out my arm?" The arm was bandaged above the elbow, and the forearm was hooked under him. A man bent over—and suddenly it was dark. "Here, bring back that lantern!" But the lantern was staggering up-hill again to fetch the next. "Oh, do straighten out my arm," wailed the voice from the ground. "And cover me up. I'm perishing with cold." "Here's matches!" "And 'ere; I've got a bit of candle." "Where?" "Oh, do straighten out my arm!" "'Ere, 'old out your 'and." "Got it," and the light flickered up again round the broken figure, and the arm was laid straight. As the touch came on to the clammy fingers it met something wet and red, and the prone body quivered all over. "What," said the weak voice—the smile struggled to come out again, but dropped back even sooner than before—"have they got my finger too?" Then they covered up the body with a blanket, wringing wet, and left it to soak and shiver. And that was one out of more than two hundred.
For hours—and by now it was a month of nights—every man with hands and legs toiled up and down, up and down, that ladder of pain. By Heaven's grace the Boers had filled their waggons with the loot of many stores; there were blankets to carry men in and mattresses whereon to lay them. They came down with sprawling bearers, with jolts and groans, with "Oh, put me down; I can't stand it! I'm done anyhow; let me die quiet." And always would come back the cheery voice from doctor or officer or pal,—"Done, colour-sergeant! Nonsense, man! Why, you'll be back to duty in a fortnight." And the answer was another choked groan.
Hour by hour—would day never break? Not yet; it was just twenty minutes to ten—man by man they brought them down. The tent was carpeted now with limp bodies. With breaking backs they heaved some shoulder-high into waggons; others they laid on mattresses on the ground. In the rain-blurred light of the lantern—could it not cease, that piercing drizzle to-night of all nights at least? The doctor, the one doctor, toiled buoyantly on. Cutting up their clothes with scissors, feeling with light firm fingers over torn chest or thigh, cunningly slipping round the bandage, tenderly covering up the crimson ruin of strong men—hour by hour, man by man, he toiled on.
And mark—and remember for the rest of your lives—that Tommy Atkins made no distinction between the wounded enemy and his dearest friend. To the men who in the afternoon were lying down behind rocks with rifles pointed to kill him, who had shot, may be, the comrade of his heart, he gave the last drop of his water, the last drop of his melting strength, the last drop of comfort he could wring out of his seared, gallant soul. In war, they say,—and it is true,—men grow callous: an afternoon of shooting and the loss of your brother hurts you less than a week before did a thorn in your dog's foot. But it is only compassion for the dead that dries up; and as it dries, the spring wells up among good men of sympathy with all the living. A few men had made a fire in the gnawing damp and cold, and round it they sat, even the unwounded Boer prisoners. For themselves they took the outer ring, and not a word did any man say that could mortify the wound of defeat. In the afternoon Tommy was a hero, in the evening he was a gentleman.
Do not forget, either, the doctors of the enemy. We found their wounded with our own, and it was pardonable to be glad that whereas our men set their teeth in silence, some of theirs wept and groaned. Not all, though: we found Mr Kok, father of the Boer general and member of the Transvaal Executive, lying high up on the hill—a massive, white-bearded patriarch, in a black frock-coat and trousers. With simple dignity, with the right of a dying man to command, he said in his strong voice, "Take me down the hill and lay me in a tent; I am wounded by three bullets." It was a bad day for the Kok family: four were on the field, and all were hit. They found Commandant Schiel, too, the German free-lance, lying with a bullet through his thigh, near the two guns which he had served so well, and which no German or Dutchman would ever serve again. Then there were three field-cornets out of four, members of Volksraad, two public prosecutors—Heaven only knows whom! But their own doctors were among them almost as soon as were ours.
Under the Red Cross—under the black sky, too, and the drizzle, and the creeping cold—we stood and kicked numbed feet in the mud, and talked together of the fight. A prisoner or two, allowed out to look for wounded, came and joined in. We were all most friendly, and naturally congratulated each other on having done so well. These Boers were neither sullen nor complaisant. They had fought their best, and lost; they were neither ashamed nor angry. They were manly and courteous, and through their untrimmed beards and rough corduroys a voice said very plainly, "Ruling race." These Boers might be brutal, might be treacherous; but they held their heads like gentlemen. Tommy and the veldt peasant—a comedy of good manners in wet and cold and mud and blood!
And so the long, long night wore on. At midnight came outlandish Indians staggering under the green-curtained palanquins they call doolies: these were filled up and taken away to the Elandslaagte Station. At one o'clock we had the rare sight of a general under a waggon trying to sleep, and two privates on top of it rummaging for loot. One found himself a stock of gent's underwear, and contrived comforters and gloves therewith; one got his fingers into a case and ate cooking raisins. Once, when a few were as near sleep as any were that night, there was a rattle and there was a clash that brought a hundred men springing up and reaching for their rifles. On the ground lay a bucket, a cooking-pot, a couple of tin plates, and knives and forks—all emptied out of a sack. On top of them descended from the waggon on high a flame-coloured shock of hair surmounting a freckled face, a covert coat, a kummerbund, and cloth gaiters. Were we mad? Was it an apparition, or was that under the kummerbund a bit of kilt and an end of sporran? Then said a voice, "Ould Oireland in throuble again! Oi'm an Oirish Highlander; I beg your pardon, sorr—and in throuble again. They tould me there was a box of cigars here; do ye know, sorr, if the bhoys have shmoked them all?"
THE HOME-COMING FROM DUNDEE.
SUPERFLUOUS ASSISTANCE—A SMILING VALLEY—THE BORDER MOUNTED RIFLES—A RAIN-STORM—A THIRTY-TWO MILES' MARCH—HOW THE TROOPS CAME INTO LADYSMITH.
LADYSMITH, Oct. 27.
"Come to meet us!" cried the staff officer with amazement in his voice; "what on earth for?"
It was on October 25, about five miles out on the Helpmakaar road, which runs east from Ladysmith. By the stream below the hill he had just trotted down, and choking the pass beyond, wriggled the familiar tail of waggons and water-carts, ambulances, and doolies, and spare teams of old mules in new harness. A couple of squadrons of Lancers had off-saddled by the roadside, a phalanx of horses topped with furled red and white pennons. Behind them stood a battery of artillery. Half a battalion of green-kilted Gordons sunned their bare knees a little lower down; a company or two of Manchesters back-boned the flabby convoy. The staff officer could not make out what in the world it meant.
He had pushed on from the Dundee column, but it was a childish superstition to imagine that the Dundee column could possibly need assistance. They had only marched thirty odd miles on Monday and Tuesday; starting at four in the morning, they would by two o'clock or so have covered the seventeen miles that would bring them into camp, fifteen miles outside Ladysmith. They were coming to help Ladysmith, if you like; but the idea of Ladysmith helping them!
At his urgency they sent the convoy back. I rode on miles through the openest country I had yet seen hereabouts—a basin of wave-like veldt, just growing thinly green under the spring rains, spangled with budding mimosa-thorn. Scarred here and there with the dry water-courses they call sluits, patched with heaves of wire-fenced down, livened with a verandah, blue cactus-hedged farmhouse or two, losing itself finally in a mazy fairyland of azure mountains—this valley was the nearest approach to what you would call a smiling country I had seen in Africa.
Eight miles or so along the road I came upon the Border Mounted Rifles, saddles off, and lolling on the grass. All farmers and transport riders from the northern frontier, lean, bearded, sun-dried, framed of steel and whipcord, sitting their horses like the riders of the Elgin marbles, swift and cunning as Boers, and far braver, they are the heaven-sent type of irregular troopers. It was they who had ridden out and made connection with the returning column an hour before.
Two miles on I dipped over a ridge—and here was the camp. Bugles sang cheerily; mules, linked in fives, were being zigzagged frowardly down to water. The Royal Irish Fusiliers had loosened their belts, but not their sturdy bearing. Under their horses' bellies lay the diminished 18th Hussars. Presently came up a subaltern of the regiment, who had been on leave and returned just too late to rejoin before the line was cut. They had put him in command of the advanced troop of the Lancers, and how he cursed the infantry and the convoy, and how he shoved the troop along when the drag was taken off! Now he was laughing and talking and listening all at once, like a long wanderer at his home-coming.
No use waiting for sensational stories among these men, going about their daily camp duties as if battles and sieges and forced marches with the enemy on your flank were the most ordinary business of life. No use waiting for fighting either; in open country the force could have knocked thousands of Boers to pieces, and there was not the least chance of the Boers coming to be knocked. So I rode back through the rolling veldt basin. As I passed the stream and the nek beyond the battery of artillery, the Gordons and Manchesters were lighting their bivouac fires. This pass, crevicing under the solid feet of two great stony kopjes, was the only place the Boers would be likely to try their luck at. It was covered; already the Dundee column was all right.
Presently I met the rest of the Gordons, swinging along the road to crown the heights on either side the nek. Coming through I noticed—and the kilted Highlanders noticed, too, they were staying out all night—that the sky over Ladysmith was very black. The great inky stain of cloud spread and ran up the heavens, then down to the whole circumference. In five minutes it was night and rain-storm. It stung like a whip-lash; to meet it was like riding into a wall. Ladysmith streets were ankle deep in half an hour; the camps were morass and pond. And listening to the ever-fresh bursts hammering all the evening on to deepening pools, we learned that the Dundee men had not camped after all, had marched at six, and were coming on all night into Ladysmith. Thirty-two miles without rest, through stinging cataract and spongy loam and glassy slime!
Before next morning was grey in came the 1st Rifles. They plashed uphill to their blue-roofed huts on the south-west side of the town. By the time the sun was up they were fed by their sister battalion, the 2nd, and had begun to unwind their putties. But what a sight! Their putties were not soaked and not caked; say, rather, that there may have been a core of puttie inside, but that the men's legs were embedded in a serpentine cast of clay. As for their boots, you could only infer them from the huge balls of stratified mud men bore round their feet. Red mud, yellow mud, black mud, brown mud—they lifted their feet toilsomely; they were land plummets that had sucked up specimens of all the heavy, sticky soils for fifteen miles. Officers and men alike bristled stiff with a week's beard. Rents in their khaki showed white skin; from their grimed hands and heads you might have judged them half red men, half soot-black. Eyelids hung fat and heavy over hollow cheeks and pointed cheek-bones. Only the eye remained—the sky-blue, steel-keen, hard, clear, unconquerable English eye—to tell that thirty-two miles without rest, four days without a square meal, six nights—for many—without a stretch of sleep, still found them soldiers at the end.
That was the beginning of them; but they were not all in till the middle of the afternoon—which made thirty-six hours on their legs. The Irish Fusiliers tramped in at lunch-time, going a bit short some of them, nearly all a trifle stiff on the feet, but solid, square, and sturdy from the knees upward. They straightened up to the cheers that met them, and stepped out on scorching feet as if they were ready to go into action again on the instant. After them came the guns—not the sleek creatures of Laffan's Plain, rough with earth and spinning mud from their wheels, but war-worn and fresh from slaughter; you might imagine their damp muzzles were dripping blood. You could count the horses' ribs; they looked as if you could break them in half before the quarters. But they, too, knew they were being cheered; they threw their ears up and flung all the weight left them into the traces.
Through fire, water, and earth, the Dundee column had come home again.
THE STORY OF NICHOLSON'S NEK.
AN ATTENUATED MESS—A REGIMENT 220 STRONG—A MISERABLE STORY—THE WHITE FLAG—BOER KINDNESS—ASHAMED FOR ENGLAND.
LADYSMITH, Nov. 1.
The sodden tents hung dankly, black-grey in the gusty, rainy morning. At the entrance to the camp stood a sentry; half-a-dozen privates moved to and fro. Perhaps half-a-dozen were to be seen in all—the same hard, thick-set bodies that Ladysmith had cheered six days before as they marched in, square-shouldered through the mud, from Dundee. The same bodies—but the elastic was out of them and the brightness was not in their eyes. But for these few, though it was an hour after reveille, the camp was cold and empty. It was the camp of the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
An officer appeared from the mess-tent—pale and pinched. I saw him when he came in from Dundee with four sleepless nights behind him; this morning he was far more haggard. Inside were one other officer, the doctor, and the quarter-master. That was all the mess, except a second lieutenant, a boy just green from Sandhurst. He had just arrived from England, aflame for his first regiment and his first campaign. And this was the regiment he found.
They had been busy half the night packing up the lost officers' kits to send down to Durban. Now they were packing their own; a regiment 220 strong could do with a smaller camp. The mess stores laid in at Ladysmith stood in open cases round the tent. All the small luxuries the careful mess-president had provided against the hard campaign had been lost at Dundee. Now it was the regiment was lost, and there was nobody to eat the tinned meats and pickles. The common words "Natal Field Force" on the boxes cut like a knife. In the middle of the tent, on a table of cases, so low that to reach it you must sit on the ground, were the japanned tin plates and mugs for five men's breakfast—five out of five-and-twenty. Tied up in a waterproof sheet were the officers' letters—the letters of their wives and mothers that had arrived that morning seven thousand miles from home. The men they wrote to were on their way to the prisoners' camp on Pretoria racecourse.
A miserable tale is best told badly. On the night of Sunday, October 29, No. 10 Mountain Battery, four and a half companies of the Gloucestershire Regiment, and six of the Royal Irish Fusiliers—some 1000 men in all—were sent out to seize a nek some seven miles north-west of Ladysmith. At daybreak they were to operate on the enemy's right flank—the parallel with Majuba is grimly obvious—in conjunction with an attack from Ladysmith on his centre and right. They started. At half-past ten they passed through a kind of defile, the Boers a thousand feet above them following every movement by ear, if not by eye. By some means—either by rocks rolled down on them or other hostile agency, or by sheer bad luck—the small-arm ammunition mules were stampeded. They dashed back on to the battery mules; there was alarm, confusion, shots flying—and the battery mules stampeded also.
On that the officer in command appears to have resolved to occupy the nearest hill. He did so, and the men spent the hours before dawn in protecting themselves by schanzes or breastworks of stones. At dawn, about half-past four, they were attacked, at first lightly. There were two companies of the Gloucesters in an advanced position; the rest, in close order, occupied a high point on the kopje; to line the whole summit, they say, would have needed 10,000 men. Behind the schanzes the men, shooting sparely because of the loss of the reserve ammunition, at first held their own with little loss.
But then, as our ill-luck or Boer good management would have it, there appeared over a hill a new Boer commando, which a cool eye-witness put at over 2000 strong. They divided and came into action, half in front, half from the kopjes in rear, shooting at 1000 yards into the open rear of the schanzes. Men began to fall. The two advanced companies were ordered to fall back; up to now they had lost hardly a man, but once in the open they suffered. The Boers in rear picked up the range with great accuracy.
And then—and then again, that cursed white flag!
It is some sneaking consolation that for a long time the soldiers refused to heed it. Careless now of life, they were sitting up well behind their breastworks, altering their sights, aiming coolly by the half-minute together. At the nadir of their humiliation they could still sting—as that new-come Boer found who, desiring one Englishman to his bag before the end, thrust up his incautious head to see where they were, and got a bullet through it. Some of them said they lost their whole firing-line; others no more than nine killed and sixteen wounded.
But what matters it whether they lost one or one million? The cursed white flag was up again over a British force in South Africa. The best part of a thousand British soldiers, with all their arms and equipment and four mountain guns, were captured by the enemy. The Boers had their revenge for Dundee and Elandslaagte in war; now they took it, full measure, in kindness. As Atkins had tended their wounded and succoured their prisoners there, so they tended and succoured him here. One commandant wished to send the wounded to Pretoria; the others, more prudent as well as more humane, decided to send them back into Ladysmith. They gave the whole men the water out of their own bottles; they gave the wounded the blankets off their own saddles and slept themselves on the naked veldt. They were short of transport, and they were mostly armed with Martinis; yet they gave captured mules for the hospital panniers and captured Lee-Metfords for splints. A man was rubbing a hot sore on his head with a half-crown; nobody offered to take it from him. Some of them asked soldiers for their embroidered waist-belts as mementoes of the day. "It's got my money in it," replied Tommy—a little surly, small wonder—and the captor said no more.
Then they set to singing doleful hymns of praise under trees. Apparently they were not especially elated. They believed that Sir George White was a prisoner, and that we were flying in rout from Ladysmith. They said that they had Rhodes shut up in Kimberley, and would hang him when they caught him. That on their side—and on ours? We fought them all that morning in a fight that for the moment may wait. At the end, when the tardy truth could be withheld no more—what shame! What bitter shame for all the camp! All ashamed for England! Not of her—never that!—but for her. Once more she was a laughter to her enemies.
THE GUNS AT RIETFONTEIN.
A COLUMN ON THE MOVE—THE NIMBLE GUNS—GARRISON GUNNERS AT WORK—THE VELDT ON FIRE—EFFECTIVE SHRAPNEL—THE VALUE OF THE ENGAGEMENT.
LADYSMITH, Oct. 26.
The business of the last few days has been to secure the retreat of the column from Dundee. On Monday, the 23rd, the whisper began to fly round Ladysmith that Colonel Yule's force had left town and camp, and was endeavouring to join us. On Tuesday it became certainty.
At four in the dim morning guns began to roll and rattle through the mud-greased streets of Ladysmith. By six the whole northern road was jammed tight with bearer company, field hospital, ammunition column, supply column—all the stiff, unwieldy, crawling tail of an army. Indians tottered and staggered under green-curtained doolies; Kaffir boys guided spans of four and five and six mules drawing ambulances, like bakers' vans; others walked beside waggons curling whips that would dwarf the biggest salmon-rod round the flanks of small-bodied, huge-horned oxen. This tail of the army alone covered three miles of road. At length emerging in front of them you found two clanking field-batteries, and sections of mountain guns jingling on mules. Ahead of these again long khaki lines of infantry sat beside the road or pounded it under their even tramp. Then the General himself and his Staff; then best part of a regiment of infantry; then a company, the reserve of the advanced-guard; then a half-company, the support; then a broken group of men, the advanced party; then, in the very front, the point, a sergeant and half-a-dozen privates trudging sturdily along the road, the scenting nose of the column. Away out of sight were the horsemen.
Altogether, two regiments of cavalry—5th Lancers and 19th Hussars—the 42nd and 53rd Field Batteries and 10th Mountain Battery, four infantry battalions—Devons, Liverpools, Gloucesters, and 2nd King's Royal Rifles—the Imperial Light Horse, and the Natal Volunteers. Once more, it was fighting. The head of the column had come within three miles or so of Modderspruit station. The valley there is broad and open. On the left runs the wire-fenced railway; beyond it the land rises to a high green mountain called Tinta Inyoni. On the left front is a yet higher green mountain, double-peaked, called Matawana's Hoek. Some call the place Jonono's, others Rietfontein; the last is perhaps the least outlandish.
The force moved steadily on towards Modderspruit, one battalion in front of the guns. "Tell Hamilton to watch his left flank," said one in authority. "The enemy are on both those hills." Sure enough, there on the crest, there dotted on the sides, were the moving black mannikins that we have already come to know afar as Boers. Presently the dotted head and open files of a battalion emerged from behind the guns, changing direction half-left to cover their flank. The batteries pushed on with the one battalion ahead of them. It was half-past eight, and brilliant sunshine; the air was dead still; through the clefts of the nearer hills the blue peaks of the Drakensberg looked as if you could shout across to them.
Boom! The sound we knew well enough; the place it came from was the left shoulder of Matawana's Hoek; the place it would arrive at we waited, half anxious, half idly curious, to see. Whirr—whizz—e-e-e-e—phutt! Heavens, on to the very top of a gun! For a second the gun was a whirl of blue-white smoke, with grey-black figures struggling and plunging inside it. Then the figures grew blacker and the smoke cleared—and in the name of wonder the gun was still there. Only a subaltern had his horse's blood on his boot, and his haversack ripped to rags.
But there was no time to look on that or anything else but the amazing nimbleness of the guns. At the shell—even before it—they flew apart like ants from a watering-can. From, crawling reptiles they leaped into scurrying insects—the legs of the eight horses pattering as if they belonged all to one creature, the deadly sting in the tail leaping and twitching with every movement. One battery had wheeled about, and was drawn back at wide intervals facing the Boer hill. Another was pattering swiftly under cover of a ridge leftward; the leading gun had crossed the railway; the last had followed; the battery had utterly disappeared. Boom! Whirr—whizz—e-e-e-e—phutt! The second Boer shell fell stupidly, and burst in the empty veldt. Then bang!—from across the railway—e-e-e-e—whizz—whirr—silence—and then the little white balloon just over the place the Boer shell came from. It was twenty-five minutes to nine.
In a double chorus of bangs and booms the infantry began to deploy. Gloucesters and Devons wheeled half left off the road, split into firing line and supports in open order, trampled through the wire fences over the railway. In front of the Boer position, slightly commanded on the left flank by Tinta Inyoni, was a low, stony ridge; this the Gloucesters lined on the left. The Devons, who led the column, fell naturally on to the right of the line; Liverpools and Rifles backed up right and left. But almost before they were there arrived the irrepressible, ubiquitous guns. They had silenced the enemy's guns; they had circled round the left till they came under cover of the ridge; now they strolled up, unlimbered, and thrust their grim noses over the brow. And then—whew! Their appearance was the signal for a cataract of bullets that for the moment in places almost equalled the high-lead mark of Elandslaagte. The air whistled and hummed with them—and then the guns began.
The mountain guns came up on their mules—a drove of stupid, uncontrolled creatures, you would have said, lumbered up with the odds and ends of an ironworks and a waggon-factory. But the moment they were in position the gunners swarmed upon them, and till you have seen the garrison gunners working you do not know what work means. In a minute the scrap-heaps had flow together into little guns, hugging the stones with their low bellies, jumping at the enemy as the men lay on to the ropes. The detachments all cuddled down to their guns; a man knelt by the ammunition twenty paces in rear; the mules by now were snug under cover. "Two thousand," sang out the major. The No. 1 of each gun held up something like a cross, as if he were going through a religious rite, altered the elevation delicately, then flung up his hand and head stiffly, like a dog pointing. "Number 4"—and Number 4 gun hurled out fire and filmy smoke, then leaped back, half frightened at its own fury, half anxious to get a better view of what it had done. It was a little over. "Nineteen hundred," cried the major. Same ritual, only a little short. "Nineteen fifty"—and it was just right. Therewith field and mountain guns, yard by yard, up and down, right and left, carefully, methodically, though roughly, sowed the whole of Matawana's Hoek with bullets.
It was almost magical the way the Boer fire dropped. The guns came into action about a quarter-past nine, and for an hour you would hardly have known they were there. Whenever a group put their heads over the sky-line 1950 yards away there came a round of shrapnel to drive them to earth again. Presently the hillside turned pale blue—blue with the smoke of burning veldt. Then in the middle of the blue came a patch of black, and spread and spread till the huge expanse was all black, pocked with the khaki-coloured boulders and bordered with the blue of the ever-extending fire. God help any wounded enemy who lay there!
Crushed into the face of the earth by the guns, the enemy tried to work round our left from Tinta Inyoni. They tried first at about a quarter-past ten, but the Natal Volunteers and some of the Imperial Light Horse met them. We heard the rattle of their rifles; we heard the rap-rap-rap-rap-rap of their Maxim knocking at the door, and the Boer fire stilled again. The Boer gun had had another try at the Volunteers before, but a round or two of shrapnel sent it to kennel again. So far we had seemed to be losing nothing, and it was natural to suppose that the Boers were losing a good deal. But at a quarter-past eleven the Gloucesters pushed a little too far between the two hills, and learned that the Boers, if their bark was silent for the moment, could still bite. Suddenly there shot into them a cross-fire at a few hundred yards. Down went the colonel dead; down went fifty men.
For a second a few of the rawer hands in the regiment wavered; it might have been serious. But the rest clung doggedly to their position under cover; the officers brought the flurried men up to the bit again. The mountain guns turned vengeful towards the spot whence the fire came, and in a few minutes there was another spreading, blackening patch of veldt—and silence.
From then the action nickered on till half-past one. Time on time the enemy tried to be at us, but the imperious guns rebuked him, and he was still. At length the regiments withdrew. The hot guns limbered up and left Rietfontein to burn itself out. The sweating gunners covered the last retiring detachment, then lit their pipes. The Boers made a half-hearted attempt to get in both on left and right; but the Volunteers on the left, the cavalry on the right, a shell or two from the centre, checked them as by machinery. We went back to camp unhampered.
And at the end of it all we found that in those five hours of straggling bursts of fighting we had lost, killed and wounded, 116 men. And what was the good? asked doubting Thomas. Much. To begin with, the Boers must have lost heavily; they confessed that aloud by the fact that, for all their pluck in standing up to the guns, they made no attempt to follow us home. Second, and more important, this commando was driven westward, and others were drawn westward to aid it—and the Dundee force was marching in from the east. Dragging sore feet along the miry roads they heard the guns at Rietfontein and were glad. The seeming objectless cannonade secured the unharassed home-coming of the 4000 way-weary marchers from Dundee.
LONG TOM—A FAMILY OF HARMLESS MONSTERS—OUR INFERIORITY IN GUNS—THE SENSATIONS OF A BOMBARDMENT—A LITTLE CUSTOM BLUNTS SENSIBILITY.
LADYSMITH, Nov. 10.
"Good morning," banged four-point-seven; "have you used Long Tom?"
"Crack-k—whiz-z-z," came the riving answer, "we have."
"Whish-h—patter, patter," chimed in a cloud-high shrapnel from Bulwan. It was half-past seven in the morning of November 7; the real bombardment, the terrific symphony, had begun.
During the first movement the leading performer was Long Tom. He is a friendly old gun, and for my part I have none but the kindest feelings towards him. It was his duty to shell us, and he did; but he did it in an open, manly way.
Behind the half-country of light red soil they had piled up round him you could see his ugly phiz thrust up and look hungrily around. A jet of flame and a spreading toad-stool of thick white smoke told us he had fired. On the flash four-point-seven banged his punctilious reply. You waited until you saw the black smoke jump behind the red mound, and then Tom was due in a second or two. A red flash—a jump of red-brown dust and smoke—a rending-crash: he had arrived. Then sang slowly through the air his fragments, like wounded birds. You could hear them coming, and they came with dignified slowness: there was plenty of time to get out of the way.
Until we capture Long Tom—when he will be treated with the utmost consideration—I am not able to tell you exactly what brand of gun he may be. It is evident from his conservative use of black powder, and the old-gentlemanly staidness of his movements, that he is an elderly gun. His calibre appears to be six inches. From the plunging nature of his fire, some have conjectured him a sort of howitzer, but it is next to certain he is one of the sixteen 15-cm. Creusot guns bought for the forts of Pretoria and Johannesburg. Anyhow, he conducted his enforced task with all possible humanity.
On this same 7th a brother Long Tom, by the name of Fiddling Jimmy, opened on the Manchesters and Caesar's Camp from a flat-topped kopje three or four miles south of them. This gun had been there certainly since the 3rd, when it shelled our returning reconnaissance; but he, too, was a gentle creature, and did little harm to anybody. Next day a third brother, Puffing Billy, made a somewhat bashful first appearance on Bulwan. Four rounds from the four-point-seven silenced him for the day. Later came other brothers, of whom you will hear in due course.
In general you may say of the Long Tom family that their favourite habitat is among loose soil on the tops of open hills; they are slow and unwieldy, and very open in all their actions. They are good shooting guns; Tom on the 7th made a day's lovely practice all round our battery. They are impossible to disable behind their huge epaulements unless you actually hit the gun, and they are so harmless as hardly to be worth disabling.
The four 12-pounder field-guns on Bulwana—I say four, because one day there were four; but the Boers continually shifted their lighter guns from hill to hill—were very different. These creatures are stealthy in their habits, lurking among woods, firing smokeless powder with very little flash; consequently they are very difficult guns to locate. Their favourite diet appeared to be balloons; or, failing them, the Devons in the Helpmakaar Road or the Manchesters in Caesar's Camp. Both of these they enfiladed; also they peppered the roads whenever troops were visible moving in or out.
Altogether they were very judiciously handled, though erring perhaps in not firing persistently enough at any one target. But, despite their great altitude, the range—at least 6000 yards—and the great height at which they burst their time shrapnel made them also comparatively harmless.
There were also one or two of their field-guns opposite the Manchesters on the flat-topped hill, one, I fancy, with Long Tom on Pepworth's Hill, and a few others on the northern part of Lombard's Kop and on Surprise Hill to the north-westward.
Westward, on Telegraph Hill, was a gun which appeared to prey exclusively on cattle. I am afraid it was one of our own mountain guns turned cannibal. The cattle, during the siege, had of course to pasture on any waste land inside the lines they could find, and gathered in dense, distractingly noisy herds; but though this gun was never tired of firing on the mobs, I do not think he ever got more than one calf.
There was a gun on Lombard's Kop called Silent Susan—so called because the shell arrived before the report—a disgusting habit in a gun. The menagerie was completed by the pompons, of which there were at least three. This noisome beast always lurks in thick bush, whence it barks chains of shell at the unsuspecting stranger. Fortunately its shell is small, and it is as timid as it is poisonous.
Altogether, with three Long Toms, a 5-inch howitzer, Silent Susan, about a dozen 12-pounders, four of our screw guns, and three Maxim automatics, they had about two dozen guns on us. Against that we had two 47-inch—named respectively Lady Ann and Bloody Mary—four naval 12-pounders, thirty-six field-guns, the two remaining mountain guns, an old 64-pounder, and a 3-inch quickfirer—these two on Caesar's Camp in charge of the Durban Naval Volunteers—two old howitzers, and two Maxim-Nordenfeldts taken at Krugersdorp in the Jameson raid, and retaken at Elandslaagte,—fifty pieces in all.
On paper, therefore, we had a great advantage. But we had to economise ammunition, not knowing when we should get more, and also to keep a reserve of field-guns to assist any threatened point. Also their guns, being newer, better pieces, mounted on higher ground, outranged ours. We had more guns, but they were as useless as catapults: only the six naval guns could touch Pepworth's Hill or Bulwan.
For these reasons we only fired, I suppose, one shell to their twenty, or thereabouts; so that though we actually had far more guns, we yet enjoyed all the sensations of a true bombardment.
What were they? That bombardments were a hollow terror I had always understood; but how hollow, not till I experienced the bombardment of Ladysmith. Hollow things make the most noise, to be sure, and this bombardment could at times be a monstrous symphony indeed.
The first heavy day was November 3: while the troops were moving in and out on the Van Keenen's road the shells traced an aerial cobweb all over us. After that was a lull till the 7th, which was another clattering day. November 8 brought a tumultuous morning and a still afternoon. The 9th brought a very tumultuous morning indeed; the 10th was calm; the 11th patchy; the 12th, Sunday.
It must be said that the Boers made war like gentlemen of leisure; they restricted their hours of work with trade-unionist punctuality. Sunday was always a holiday; so was the day after any particularly busy shooting. They seldom began before breakfast; knocked off regularly for meals—the luncheon interval was 11.30 to 12 for riflemen, and 12 to 12.30 for gunners—hardly ever fired after tea-time, and never when it rained. I believe that an enterprising enemy of the Boer strength—it may have been anything from 10,000 to 20,000; and remember that their mobility made one man of them equal to at least two of our reduced 11,000—could, if not have taken Ladysmith, at least have put us to great loss and discomfort. But the Boers have the great defect of all amateur soldiers: they love their ease, and do not mean to be killed. Now, without toil and hazard they could not take Ladysmith.
To do them justice, they did not at first try to do wanton damage in town. They fired almost exclusively on the batteries, the camps, the balloon, and moving bodies of troops. In a day or two the troops were far too snugly protected behind schanzes and reverse slopes, and grown far too cunning to expose themselves to much loss.
The inhabitants were mostly underground, so that there was nothing really to suffer except casual passengers, beasts, and empty buildings. Few shells fell in town, and of the few many were half-charged with coal-dust, and many never burst at all. The casualties in Ladysmith during a fortnight were one white civilian, two natives, a horse, two mules, a waggon, and about half-a-dozen houses. And of the last only one was actually wrecked; one—of course the most desirable habitation in Ladysmith—received no less than three shells, and remained habitable and inhabited to the end.
And now what does it feel like to be bombarded?
At first, and especially as early as can be in the morning, it is quite an uncomfortable sensation.
You know that gunners are looking for you through telescopes; that every spot is commanded by one big gun and most by a dozen. You hear the squeal of the things all above, the crash and pop all about, and wonder when your turn will come. Perhaps one falls quite near you, swooping irresistibly, as if the devil had kicked it. You come to watch for shells—to listen to the deafening rattle of the big guns, the shrilling whistle of the small, to guess at their pace and their direction. You see now a house smashed in, a heap of chips and rubble; now you see a splinter kicking up a fountain of clinking stone-shivers; presently you meet a wounded man on a stretcher. This is your dangerous time. If you have nothing else to do, and especially if you listen and calculate, you are done: you get shells on the brain, think and talk of nothing else, and finish by going into a hole in the ground before daylight, and hiring better men than yourself to bring you down your meals. Whenever you put your head out of the hole you have a nose-breadth escape. If a hundredth part of the providential deliverances told in Ladysmith were true, it was a miracle that anybody in the place was alive after the first quarter of an hour. A day of this and you are a nerveless semi-corpse, twitching at a fly-buzz, a misery to yourself and a scorn to your neighbours.