Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: From Capetown to Ladysmith - An Unfinished Record of the South African War
Author: Steevens, G. W.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "From Capetown to Ladysmith - An Unfinished Record of the South African War" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH

AN UNFINISHED RECORD OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR

BY

G.W. STEEVENS


AUTHOR OF 'WITH KITCHENER TO KHARTUM,' 'IN INDIA,' ETC., ETC.


EDITED BY VERNON BLACKBURN

_THIRD IMPRESSION_

WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH AND LONDON

MDCCCC


_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

WITH KITCHENER TO KHARTUM. With 8 Maps and Plans. Twenty-first Edition.
Crown 8vo, 6s.

"This book is a masterpiece. Mr Steevens writes an English which is
always alive and alert.... The description of the battle of Omdurman
reaches, we do not hesitate to say, the high-water mark of
literature."--_Spectator._

IN INDIA. With a Map. Third Edition. Crown 8vo, 6s.

"To read this book is a liberal education in one of the most interesting
and least known portions of our Empire."--_St James's Gazette._

THE LAND OF THE DOLLAR. Fourth Edition. Crown 8vo, 6s.

"One of the smartest books of travel which has appeared for a long time
past.... Brings the general appearance of Transatlantic urban and rural
life so clearly before the mind's eye of the reader, that a perusal of
his work almost answers the purpose of a personal inspection. New York
has probably never been more lightly and cleverly sketched."--_Daily
Telegraph._

WITH THE CONQUERING TURK. With 4 Maps. Cheaper Edition. Demy 8vo, 6s.

"This is a remarkably bright and vivid book. There is a delicious
portrait of the jovial aide-de-camp, plenty of humorous touches of
wayside scenes, servants' tricks, dragoman's English, and vagaries of
cuisine."--_St James's Gazette._

EGYPT IN 1898. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 6s.

"Set forth in a style that provides plenty of entertainment.... Bright
and readable."--_Times._

WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH AND LONDON.



CONTENTS.

                                                                  PAGE

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



MAPS.


                                                                  PAGE

MAP OF THE COUNTRY ROUND LADYSMITH                                  95

MAP ILLUSTRATING THE SEAT OF WAR IN SOUTH AFRICA              _At end_



FROM CAPETOWN TO LADYSMITH



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.


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.



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.


STORMBERG JUNCTION.

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.



III.

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 £30, 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."



IV.

WILL IT BE CIVIL WAR?[1]

     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.


_Later._

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.]



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."


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
Maréchal 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.



VI.

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.



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.


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?"



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.


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.



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.


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 _reveillé_,
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.



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.


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.



XI.

THE BOMBARDMENT.

     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 Cæsar'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.

[Illustration: THE COUNTRY ROUND LADYSMITH.]

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 Cæsar'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 Cæsar'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.

If, on the other hand, you go about your ordinary business, confidence
revives immediately. You see what a prodigious weight of metal can be
thrown into a small place and yet leave plenty of room for everybody
else. You realise that a shell which makes a great noise may yet be
hundreds of yards away. You learn to distinguish between a gun's report
and an overturned water-tank's. You perceive that the most awful noise
of all is the throat-ripping cough of your own guns firing over your
head at an enemy four miles away. So you leave the matter to Allah, and
by the middle of the morning do not even turn your head to see where the
bang came from.



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."


When all is said, there is nothing to stir the blood like rifle-fire.
Rifle-fire wins or loses decisive actions; rifle-fire sends the heart
galloping. At five in the morning of the 9th I turned on my mattress and
heard guns; I got up.

Then I heard the bubble of distant musketry, and I hurried out. It came
from the north, and it was languidly echoed from Cæsar's Camp. Tack-tap,
tack-tap--each shot echoed a little muffled from the hills. Tack-tap,
tack-tap, tack, tack, tack, tack, tap--as if the devil was hammering
nails into the hills. Then a hurricane of tacking, running round all
Ladysmith, running together into a scrunching roar. From the hill above
Mulberry Grove you can see every shell drop; but of this there was no
sign--only noise and furious heart-beats.

I went out to the strongest firing, and toiled up a ladder of boulders.
I came up on to the sky-line, and bent and stole forward. To the right
was Cave Redoubt with the 4·7; to the left two field-guns, unlimbered
and left alone, and some of the Rifle Brigade snug behind their stone
and earth schanzes. In front was the low, woody, stony crest of
Observation Hill; behind was the tall table-top of Surprise Hill--the
first ours, the second the enemy's. Under the slope of Observation Hill
were long, dark lines of horses; up to the sky-line, prolonging the
front leftward, stole half-a-dozen of the 5th Lancers. From just beyond
them came the tack, tack, tack, tap.

Tack, tap; tack, tap--it went on minute by minute, hour by hour.

The sun warmed the air to an oven; painted butterflies, azure and
crimson, came flitting over the stones; still the devil went on
hammering nails into the hills. Down leftward a black-powder gun was
popping on the film-cut ridge of Bluebank. A Boer shell came fizzing
from the right, and dived into a whirl of red dust, where nothing was.
Another--another--another, each pitched with mathematical accuracy into
the same nothing. Our gunners ran out to their guns, and flung four
rounds on to the shoulder of Surprise Hill. Billy puffed from
Bulwan--came 10,000 yards jarring and clattering loud overhead--then
flung a red earthquake just beyond the Lancers' horses. Again and
again,--it looked as if he could not miss them; but the horses only
twitched their tails, as if he were a new kind of fly. The 4·7 crashed
hoarsely back, and a black nimbus flung up far above the trees on the
mountain. And still the steady tack and tap--from the right among the
Devons and Liverpools, from the right centre, where the Leicesters were,
from the left centre, among the 60th, and the extreme left, from
Cæsar's Camp.

The fight tacked on six mortal hours and then guttered out. From the
early hour they began and from the number of shells and cartridges they
burned I suppose the Boers meant to do something. But at not one point
did they gain an inch. We were playing with them--playing with them at
their own game. One of our men would fire and lie down behind a rock;
the Boers answered furiously for three minutes. When they began to die
down, another man fired, and for another three minutes the Boers
hammered the blind rocks. On six hours' fighting along a front of ten or
twelve miles we lost three killed and seventeen wounded. And, do you
know, I really believe that this tack-tapping among the rocks was the
attack after all. They had said--or it was among the million things they
were said to have said--that they would be in Ladysmith on November 9,
and I believe they half believed themselves. At any rate I make no
doubt that all this morning they were feeling--feeling our thin lines
all round for a weak spot to break in by.

They did not find it, and they gave over; but they would have come had
they thought they could come safely. They began before it was fully
light with the Manchesters. The Manchesters on Cæsar's Camp were, in a
way, isolated: they were connected by telephone with headquarters, but
it took half an hour to ride up to their eyrie. They were shelled
religiously for a part of every day by Puffing Billy from Bulwan and
Fiddling Jimmy from Middle Hill.

Every officer who showed got a round of shrapnel at him. Their riflemen
would follow an officer about all day with shots at 2200 yards; the day
before they had hit Major Grant, of the Intelligence, as he was
sketching the country. Tommy, on the other hand, could swagger along the
sky-line unmolested. No doubt the Boers thought that exposed Cæsar's
Camp lay within their hands.

But they were very wrong. Snug behind their _schanzes_, the Manchesters
cared as much for shells as for butterflies. Most of them were posted on
the inner edge of the flat top with a quarter of a mile of naked veldt
to fire across. They had been reinforced the day before by a field
battery and a squadron and a half of the Light Horse. And they had one
_schanze_ on the outer edge of the hill as an advanced post.

In the dim of dawn, the officer in charge of this post saw the Boers
creeping down behind a stone wall to the left, gathering in the bottom,
advancing in, for them, close order. He welted them with rifle-fire:
they scattered and scurried back.

The guns got to work, silenced the field-guns on Flat Top Hill, and
added scatter and scurry to the assailing riflemen. Certainly some
number were killed; half-a-dozen bodies, they said, lay in the open all
day; lanterns moved to and fro among the rocks and bushes all night; a
new field hospital and graveyard were opened next day at Bester's
Station. On the other horn of our position the Devons had a brisk
morning. They had in most places at least a mile of clear ground in
front of them. But beyond that, and approaching within a few hundred
yards of the extreme horn of the position, is scrub, which ought to have
been cut down.

Out of this scrub the enemy began to snipe. We had there, tucked into
folds of the hills, a couple of tubby old black-powdered howitzers, and
they let fly three rounds which should have been very effective. But the
black powder gave away their position in a moment, and from every
side--Pepworth's, Lombard's Nek, Bulwan--came spouting inquirers to see
who made that noise. The Lord Mayor's show was a fool to that display of
infernal fireworks. The pompon added his bark, but he has never yet
bitten anybody: him the Devons despise, and have christened with a
coarse name. They weathered the storm without a man touched.

Not a point had the Boers gained. And then came twelve o'clock, and, if
the Boers had fixed the date of the 9th of November, so had we. We had
it in mind whose birthday it was. A trumpet-major went forth, and
presently, golden-tongued, rang out, "God bless the Prince of Wales."
The general up at Cove Redoubt led the cheers. The sailors' champagne,
like their shells, is being saved for Christmas, but there was no stint
of it to drink the Prince's health withal. And then the Royal
salute--bang on bang on bang--twenty-one shotted guns, as quick as the
quickfirer can fire, plump into the enemy.

That finished it. What with the guns and the cheering, each Boer
commando must have thought the next was pounded to mincemeat. The
rifle-fire dropped.

The devil had driven home all his tin-tacks, and for the rest of the day
we had calm.



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.


_Nov. 11._--Ugh! What a day! Dull, cold, dank, and misty--the spit of an
11th of November at home. Not even a shell from Long Tom to liven it.
The High Street looks doubly dead; only a sodden orderly plashes up its
spreading emptiness on a sodden horse. The roads are like rice-pudding
already, and the paths like treacle. Ugh! Outside the hotel drip the
usual loafers with the usual fables. Yesterday, I hear, the Leicesters
enticed the enemy to parade across their front at 410 yards; each man
emptied his magazine, and the smarter got in a round or two of
independent firing besides. Then they went out and counted the
corpses--230. It is certainly true: the narrator had it from a man who
was drinking a whisky, while a private of the regiment, who was not
there himself, but had it from a friend, told the barman.

The Helpmakaar road is as safe as Regent Street to-day: a curtain of
weeping cloud veils it from the haunting gunners on Bulwan. Up in the
schanzes the men huddle under waterproof sheets to escape the pitiless
drizzle. Only one sentry stands up in long black overcoat and grey
woollen nightcap pulled down over his ears, and peers out towards
Lombard's Kop. This position is safe enough with the bare green field of
fire before it, and the sturdy, shell-hardened soldiers behind.

But Lord, O poor Tommy! His waterproof sheet is spread out, mud-slimed,
over the top of the wall of stone and earth and sandbag, and pegged down
inside the schanz. He crouches at the base of the wall, in a miry hole.
Nothing can keep out this film of water. He sops and sneezes, runs at
the eyes and nose, half manful, half miserable. He is earning the
shilling a-day.

At lunch-time they began to shell us a bit, and it was almost a relief.
At anyrate it was something to see and listen to. They were dead-off
Mulberry Grove to-day, but they dotted a line of shells elegantly down
the High Street. The bag was unusually good--a couple of mules and a
cart, a tennis-lawn, and a water-tank. Towards evening the voice of the
pompom was heard in the land; but he bagged nothing--never does.

_Nov. 12._--Sunday, and the few rifle-shots, but in the main the usual
calm. The sky is neither obscured by clouds nor streaked with shells. I
note that the Sunday population of Ladysmith, unlike that of the City of
London, is double and treble that of week-days.

Long Tom chipped a corner off the church yesterday; to-day the
archdeacon preached a sermon pointing out that we are the
heaven-appointed instrument to scourge the Boers. Very sound, but
perhaps a thought premature.

_Nov. 13._--Laid three sovs. to one with the 'Graphic' yesterday against
to-day being the most eventful of the siege. He dragged me out of bed in
aching cold at four, to see the events.

At daybreak Observation Hill and King's Post were being shelled and
shelling back. Half battalions of the 1st, 60th, and Rifle Brigade take
day and day about on Observation Hill and King's Post, which is the
continuation of Cove Redoubts. To-day the 60th were on Leicester Post.
When shells came over them they merely laughed. One ring shell burst,
fizzing inside a schanz, with a steamy curly tail, and splinters that
wailed a quarter of a mile on to the road below us; the men only raced
to pick up the pieces.

When this siege is over this force ought to be the best fighting men in
the world. We are learning lessons every day from the Boer. We are
getting to know his game, and learning to play it ourselves.

Our infantry are already nearly as patient and cunning as he; nothing
but being shot at will ever teach men the art of using cover, but they
get plenty of that nowadays.

Another lesson is the use of very, very thin firing-lines of good shots,
with the supports snugly concealed: the other day fourteen men of the
Manchesters repulsed 200 Boers. The gunners have momentarily thrown over
their first commandment and cheerfully split up batteries. They also lie
beneath the schanzes and let the enemy bombard the dumb guns if he
will--till the moment comes to fire; that moment you need never be
afraid that the R.A. will be anywhere but with the guns.

The enemy's shell and long-range rifle-fire dropped at half-past six.
The guns had breached a new epaulement on Thornhill's Kop--to the left
of Surprise Hill and a few hundred yards nearer--and perhaps knocked
over a Boer or two,--perhaps not. None of our people hurt, and a good
appetite for breakfast.

In the afternoon one of our guns on Cæsar's Camp smashed a pompom.
Fiddling Jimmy has been waved away, it seems. The Manchesters are cosy
behind the best built schanzes in the environs of Ladysmith. Above the
wall they have a double course of sandbags--the lower placed endwise
across the stone, the upper lengthwise, which forms a series of
loopholes at the height of a man's shoulder.

The subaltern in command sits on the highest rock inside; the men sit
and lie about him, sleeping, smoking, reading, sewing, knitting. It
might almost be a Dorcas meeting.

I won the bet.

_Nov. 14._--The liveliest day's bombardment yet.

A party of officers who live in the main street were waiting for
breakfast. The new president, in the next room, was just swearing at the
servants for being late, when a shell came in at the foot of the outside
wall and burst under the breakfast-room. The whole place was dust and
thunder and the half-acrid, half-fat, all-sickly smell of melinite. Half
the floor was chips; one plank was hurled up and stuck in the ceiling.
All the crockery was smashed, and the clock thrown down; the pictures on
the wall continued to survey the scene through unbroken glasses.

Much the same thing happened later in the day to the smoking-room of the
Royal Hotel. It also was inhabited the minute before, would have been
inhabited the minute after, but just then was quite empty. We had a
cheerful lunch, as there were guns returning from a reconnaissance, and
they have adopted a thoughtless habit of coming home past our house.
Briefly, from six till two you would have said that the earth was being
shivered to matchwood and fine powder. But, alas! man accustoms himself
so quickly to all things, that a bombardment to us, unless stones
actually tinkle on the roof, is now as an egg without salt.

The said reconnaissance I did not attend, knowing exactly what it would
be. I mounted a hill, to get warm and to make sure, and it was exactly
what I knew it would be. Our guns fired at the Boer guns till they were
silent; and then the Boer dismounted men fired at our dismounted men;
then we came home. We had one wounded, but they say they discovered the
Boer strength on Bluebank, outside Range Post, to be 500 or 600. I doubt
if it is as much; but, in any case, I think two men and a boy could have
found out all that three batteries and three regiments did. With a
little dash, they could have taken the Boer guns on Bluebank; but of
dash there was not even a little.

_Nov. 15._--I wake at 12.25 this morning, apparently dreaming of
shell-fire.

"Fool," says I to myself, and turn over, when--swish-h! pop-p!--by the
piper, it is shell-fire! Thud--thud--thud--ten or a dozen, I should say,
counting the ones that woke me. What in the name of gunpowder is it all
about? But there is no rifle-fire that I can hear, and there are no more
shells now: I sleep again.

In the morning they asked the Director of Military Intelligence what the
shelling was; he replied, "What shelling?" Nobody knew what it was, and
nobody knows yet. They had a pretty fable that the Boers, in a false
alarm, fired on each other: if they did, it was very lucky for them
that the shells all hit Ladysmith. My own notion is that they only did
it to annoy--in which they failed. They were reported in the morning,
as usual, searching for bodies with white flags; but I think that
is their way of reconnoitring. Exhausted with this effort, the
Boers--heigho!--did nothing all day. Level downpour all the afternoon,
and Ladysmith a lake of mud.

_Nov. 16._--Five civilians and two natives hit by a shrapnel at the
railway station; a railway guard and a native died. Languid shelling
during morning.

_Nov. 17._--During morning, languid shelling. Afternoon,
raining--Ladysmith wallowing deeper than ever.

And that--heigh-h-ho!--makes a week of it. Relieve us, in Heaven's name,
good countrymen, or we die of dulness!



XIV.

NEARING THE END.

     DULNESS INTERMINABLE--LADYSMITH IN 2099 A.D.--SIEGES OBSOLETE
     HARDSHIPS--DEAD TO THE WORLD--THE APPALLING FEATURES OF A
     BOMBARDMENT.


_November 26, 1899._

I was going to give you another dose of the dull diary. But I haven't
the heart. It would weary you, and I cannot say how horribly it would
weary me.

I am sick of it. Everybody is sick of it. They said the force which
would open the line and set us going against the enemy would begin to
land at Durban on the 11th, and get into touch with us by the 16th. Now
it is the 26th; the force, they tell us, has landed, and is somewhere on
the line between Maritzburg and Estcourt; but of advance not a sign.

Buller, they tell us one day, is at Bloemfontein; next day he is coming
round to Durban; the next he is a prisoner in Pretoria.

The only thing certain is that, whatever is happening, we are out of it.
We know nothing of the outside; and of the inside there is nothing to
know.

Weary, stale, flat, unprofitable, the whole thing. At first, to be
besieged and bombarded was a thrill; then it was a joke; now it is
nothing but a weary, weary, weary bore. We do nothing but eat and drink
and sleep--just exist dismally. We have forgotten when the siege began;
and now we are beginning not to care when it ends.

For my part, I feel it will never end.

It will go on just as now, languid fighting, languid cessation, for ever
and ever. We shall drop off one by one, and listlessly die of old age.

And in the year 2099 the New Zealander antiquarian, digging among the
buried cities of Natal, will come upon the forgotten town of Ladysmith.
And he will find a handful of Rip Van Winkle Boers with white beards
down to their knees, behind quaint, antique guns shelling a cactus-grown
ruin. Inside, sheltering in holes, he will find a few decrepit
creatures, very, very old, the children born during the bombardment. He
will take these links with the past home to New Zealand. But they will
be afraid at the silence and security of peace. Having never known
anything but bombardment, they will die of terror without it.

So be it. I shall not be there to see. But I shall wrap these lines up
in a Red Cross flag and bury them among the ruins of Mulberry Grove,
that, after the excavations, the unnumbered readers of the 'Daily Mail'
may in the enlightened year 2100 know what a siege and a bombardment
were like.

Sometimes I think the siege would be just as bad without the
bombardment.

In some ways it would be even worse; for the bombardment is something to
notice and talk of, albeit languidly. But the siege is an unredeemed
curse. Sieges are out of date. In the days of Troy, to be besieged or
besieger was the natural lot of man; to give ten years at a stretch to
it was all in a life's work; there was nothing else to do. In the days
when a great victory was gained one year, and a fast frigate arrived
with the news the next, a man still had leisure in his life for a year's
siege now and again.

But to the man of 1899--or, by'r Lady, inclining to 1900--with five
editions of the evening papers every day, a siege is a thousand-fold a
hardship. We make it a grievance nowadays if we are a day behind the
news--news that concerns us nothing.

And here are we with the enemy all round us, splashing melinite among us
in most hours of the day, and for the best part of a month we have not
even had any definite news about the men for whom we must wait to get
out of it. We wait and wonder, first expectant, presently apathetic, and
feel ourselves grow old.

Furthermore, we are in prison. We know now what Dartmoor feels like. The
practised vagabond tires in a fortnight of a European capital; of
Ladysmith he sickens in three hours.

Even when we could ride out ten or a dozen miles into the country, there
was little that was new, nothing that was interesting. Now we lie in the
bottom of the saucer, and stare up at the pitiless ring of hills that
bark death. Always the same stiff, naked ridges, flat-capped with our
intrenchments--always, always the same. As morning hardens to the brutal
clearness of South African mid-day, they march in on you till Bulwan
seems to tower over your very heads. There it is close over you, shady,
and of wide prospect; and if you try to go up you are a dead man.

Beyond is the world--war and love. Clery marching on Colenso, and all
that a man holds dear in a little island under the north star. But you
sit here to be idly shot at. You are of it, but not in it--clean out of
the world. To your world and to yourself you are every bit as good as
dead--except that dead men have no time to fill in.

I know now how a monk without a vocation feels. I know how a fly in a
beer-bottle feels.

I know how it tastes, too.

And with it all there is the melinite and the shrapnel. To be sure they
give us the only pin-prick of interest to be had in Ladysmith. It is
something novel to live in this town turned inside out.

Where people should be, the long, long day from dawn to daylight shows
only a dead blank.

Where business should be, the sleepy shop-blinds droop. But where no
business should be--along the crumbling ruts that lead no
whither--clatters waggon after waggon, with curling whip-lashes and
piles of bread and hay.

Where no people should be--in the clefts at the river-bank, in bald
patches of veldt ringed with rocks, in overgrown ditches--all these you
find alive with men and beasts.

The place that a month ago was only fit to pitch empty meat-tins into is
now priceless stable-room; two squadrons of troop-horses pack flank to
flank inside its shelter. A scrub-entangled hole, which perhaps nobody
save runaway Kaffirs ever set foot in before, is now the envied
habitation of the balloon. The most worthless rock-heap below a
perpendicular slope is now the choicest of town lots.

The whole centre of gravity of Ladysmith is changed. Its belly lies no
longer in the multifarious emporia along the High Street, but in the
earth-reddened, half-in visible tents that bashfully mark the
commissariat stores. Its brain is not the Town Hall, the best target in
Ladysmith, but Headquarters under the stone-pocked hill. The riddled
Royal Hotel is its social centre no longer; it is to the trench-seamed
Sailors' Camp or the wind-swept shoulders of Cæsar's Camp that men go to
hear and tell the news.

Poor Ladysmith! Deserted in its markets, repeopled in its wastes; here
ripped with iron splinters, there rising again into rail-roofed,
rock-walled caves; trampled down in its gardens, manured where nothing
can ever grow; skirts hemmed with sandbags and bowels bored with
tunnels--the Boers may not have hurt us, but they have left their mark
for years on her.

They have not hurt us much--and yet the casualties mount up. Three
to-day, two yesterday, four dead or dying and seven wounded with one
shell--they are nothing at all, but they mount up. I suppose we stand at
about fifty now, and there will be more before we are done with it.

And then there are moments when even this dribbling bombardment can be
appalling.

I happened into the centre of the town one day when the two big guns
were concentrating a cross-fire upon it.

First from one side the shell came tearing madly in, with a shrill, a
blast. A mountain of earth, and a hailstorm of stones on iron roofs.
Houses winced at the buffet. Men ran madly away from it. A dog rushed
out yelping--and on the yelp, from the other quarter, came the next
shell. Along the broad straight street not a vehicle, not a white man
was to be seen. Only a herd of niggers cowering under flimsy fences at a
corner.

Another crash and quaking, and this time in a cloud of dust an
outbuilding jumped and tumbled asunder. A horse streaked down the street
with trailing halter. Round the corner scurried the niggers: the next
was due from Pepworth's.

Then the tearing scream: horror! it was coming from Bulwan.

Again the annihilating blast, and not ten yards away. A roof gaped and a
house leaped to pieces. A black reeled over, then terror plucked him up
again, and sent him running.

Head down, hands over ears, they tore down the street, and from the
other side swooped down the implacable, irresistible next.

You come out of the dust and the stench of melinite, not knowing where
you were, hardly knowing whether you were hit--only knowing that the
next was rushing on its way. No eyes to see it, no limbs to escape, no
bulwark to protect, no army to avenge. You squirm between iron fingers.

Nothing to do but endure.



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.


LADYSMITH, _Dec. 6._

"There goes that stinker on Gun Hill," said the captain. "No, don't get
up; have some draught beer."

I did have some draught beer.

"Wait and see if he fires again. If he does we'll go up into the
conning-tower, and have both guns in action toge--"

Boom! The captain picked up his stick.

"Come on," he said.

We got up out of the rocking-chairs, and went out past the swinging
meat-safe, under the big canvas of the ward-room, with its table piled
with stuff to read. Trust the sailor to make himself at home. As we
passed through the camp the bluejackets rose to a man and lined up
trimly on either side. Trust the sailor to keep his self-respect, even
in five weeks' beleaguered Ladysmith.

Up a knee-loosening ladder of rock, and we came out on to the green
hill-top, where they first had their camp. Among the orderly trenches,
the sites of the deported tents, were rougher irregular blotches of
hole--footprints of shell.

"That gunner," said the captain, waving his stick at Surprise Hill, "is
a German. Nobody but a German atheist would have fired on us at
breakfast, lunch, and dinner the same Sunday. It got too hot when he put
one ten yards from the cook. Anybody else we could have spared; then we
had to go."

We come to what looks like a sandbag redoubt, but in the eyes of heaven
is a conning-tower. On either side, from behind a sandbag epaulement, a
12-pounder and a Maxim thrust forth vigilant eyes. The sandbag plating
of the conning-tower was six feet thick and shoulder-high; the rivets
were red earth, loose but binding; on the parapets sprouted tufts of
grass, unabashed and rejoicing in the summer weather. Against the
parapet leaned a couple of men with the clean-cut, clean-shaven jaw and
chin of the naval officer, and half-a-dozen bearded bluejackets. They
stared hard out of sun-puckered eyes over the billows of kopje and
veldt.

Forward we looked down on the one 4·7; aft we looked up to the other. On
bow and beam and quarter we looked out to the enemy's fleet. Deserted
Pepworth's was on the port-bow, Gun Hill, under Lombard's Kop, on the
starboard, Bulwan abeam, Middle Hill astern, Surprise Hill on the
port-quarter.

Every outline was cut in adamant.

The Helpmakaar Ridge, with its little black ants a-crawl on their hill,
was crushed flat beneath us.

A couple of vedettes racing over the pale green plain northward looked
as if we could jump on to their heads. We could have tossed a biscuit
over to Lombard's Kop. The great yellow emplacement of their fourth big
piece on Gun Hill stood up like a Spit-head Fort. Through the big
telescope that swings on its pivot in the centre of the tower you could
see that the Boers were loafing round it dressed in dirty
mustard-colour.

"Left-hand Gun Hill fired, sir," said a bluejacket, with his eyes glued
to binoculars. "At the balloon"--and presently we heard the weary
pinions of the shell, and saw the little puff of white below.

"Ring up Mr Halsey," said the captain.

Then I was aware of a sort of tarpaulin cupboard under the breastwork,
of creeping trails of wire on the ground, and of a couple of sappers.

The corporal turned down his page of 'Harmsworth's Magazine,' laid it on
the parapet, and dived under the tarpaulin.

Ting-a-ling-a-ling! buzzed the telephone bell.

The gaunt up-towering mountains, the long, smooth, deadly guns--and the
telephone bell!

The mountains and the guns went out, and there floated in that roaring
office of the 'Daily Mail' instead, and the warm, rustling vestibule of
the playhouse on a December night. This is the way we make war now; only
for the instant it was half joke and half home-sickness. Where were we?
What were we doing?

"Right-hand Gun Hill fired, sir," came the even voice of the bluejacket.
"At the balloon."

"Captain wants to speak to you, sir," came the voice of the sapper from
under the tarpaulin.

Whistle and rattle and pop went the shell in the valley below.

"Give him a round both guns together," said the captain to the
telephone.

"Left-hand Gun Hill fired, sir," said the bluejacket to the captain.

Nobody cared about left-hand Gun Hill; he was only a 47 howitzer; every
glass was clamped on the big yellow emplacement.

"Right-hand Gun Hill is up, sir."

Bang coughs the forward gun below us; bang-g-g coughs the after-gun
overhead. Every glass clamped on the emplacement.

"What a time they take!" sighs a lieutenant--then a leaping cloud a
little in front and to the right.

"Damn!" sighs a peach-cheeked midshipman, who--

"Oh, good shot!" For the second has landed just over and behind the
epaulement. "Has it hit the gun?"

"No such luck," says the captain: he was down again five seconds after
we fired.

And the men had all gone to earth, of course.

Ting-a-ling-a-ling!

Down dives the sapper, and presently his face reappears, with
"Headquarters to speak to you, sir." What the captain said to
Headquarters is not to be repeated by the profane: the captain knows
his mind, and speaks it. As soon as that was over, ting-a-ling again.

"Mr Halsey wants to know if he may fire again, sir."

"He may have one more"--for shell is still being saved for Christmas.

It was all quite unimportant and probably quite ineffective. At first it
staggers you to think that mountain-shaking bang can have no result; but
after a little experience and thought you see it would be a miracle if
it had. The emplacement is a small mountain in itself; the men have run
out into holes. Once in a thousand shots you might hit the actual gun
and destroy it--but shell is being saved for Christmas.

If the natives and deserters are not lying, and the sailors really hit
Pepworth's Long Tom, then that gunner may live on his exploit for the
rest of his life.

"We trust we've killed a few men," says the captain cheerily; "but we
can't hope for much more."

And yet, if they never hit a man, this handful of sailors have been the
saving of Ladysmith. You don't know, till you have tried it, what a worm
you feel when the enemy is plugging shell into you and you can't
possibly plug back. Even though they spared their shell, it made all the
world of difference to know that the sailors could reach the big guns if
they ever became unbearable. It makes all the difference to the Boers,
too, I suspect; for as sure as Lady Anne or Bloody Mary gets on to them
they shut up in a round or two. To have the very men among you makes the
difference between rain-water and brine.

The other day they sent a 12-pounder up to Cæsar's Camp under a boy who,
if he were not commanding big men round a big gun in a big war, might
with luck be in the fifth form.

"There's a 94-pounder up there," said a high officer, who might just
have been his grandfather.

"All right, sir," said the child serenely; "we'll knock him out."

He hasn't knocked him out yet, but he is going to next shot, which in a
siege is the next best thing.

In the meantime he has had his gun's name, "Lady Ellen," neatly carved
on a stone and put up on his emplacement. Another gun-pit bears the
golden legend "Princess Victoria Battery," on a board elegant beyond the
dreams of suburban preparatory schools. A regiment would have had no
paint or gold-leaf; the sailors always have everything. They carry their
home with them, self-subsisting, self-relying. Even as the constant
bluejacket says, "Right Gun Hill up, sir," there floats from below
ting-ting, ting-ting, ting.

Five bells!

The rock-rending double bang floats over you unheard; the hot iron hills
swim away.

Five bells--and you are on deck, swishing through cool blue water among
white-clad ladies in long chairs, going home.

O Lord, how long?

But the sailors have not seen home for two years, which is two less
than their usual spell. This is their holiday.

"Of course, we enjoy it," they say, almost apologising for saving us;
"we so seldom get a chance."

The Royal Navy is the salt of the sea and the salt of the earth also.



THE LAST CHAPTER

BY

VERNON BLACKBURN.


I will give no number to the last chapter of George Steevens's story of
the war. There is no reckoning between the work from his and the work
from this pen. It is the chapter which covers a grave; it does not make
a completion. A while back, you have read that surrendering wail from
the beleaguered city--a wail in what contrast to the humour, the
vitality, the quickness, the impulse, the eagerness of expectation with
which his toil in South Africa began!--wherein he wrote: "Beyond is the
world--war and love. Clery marching on Colenso, and all that a man holds
dear in a little island under the north star.... To your world and to
yourself you are every bit as good as dead--except that dead men have no
time to fill in." And now he is dead. And I have undertaken the most
difficult task, at the command--for in such a case the timorous
suggestion, hooped round by poignant apologies, is no less than a
command--of that human creature whom, in the little island under the
north star, he held most dear of all--his wife, to set a copingstone, a
mere nothing in the air, upon the last work that came from his pen. I
will prefer to begin with my own summary, my own intimate view of George
Steevens, as he wandered in and out, visible and invisible, of the paths
of my life.

"Weep for the dead, for his light hath failed; weep but a little for the
dead, for he is at rest." Ecclesiasticus came to my mind when the news
of his death came to my knowledge. Who would not weep over the
extinction of a career set in a promise so golden, in an accomplishment
so rare and splendid? Sad enough thought it is that he is at rest;
still--he rests. "Under the wide and starry sky," words which, as I have
heard him say, in his casual, unambitious manner of speech, he was wont
to repeat to himself in the open deserts of the Soudan--"Under the wide
and starry sky" the grave has been dug, and "let me lie."

    "Glad did I live, and gladly die,
    And I laid me down with a will."

The personality of George Steevens was one which might have been complex
and obscure to the ordinary acquaintance, were it not for one shining,
one golden key which fitted every ward of his temperament, his conduct,
his policy, his work. He was the soul of honour. I use the words in no
vague sense, in no mere spirit of phrase-making. How could that be
possible at this hour? They are words which explain him, which are the
commentary of his life, which summarise and enlighten every act of every
day, his momentary impulses and his acquired habits. "In Spain," a great
and noble writer has said, "was the point put upon honour." The point
of honour was with George Steevens his helmet, his shield, his armour,
his flag. That it was which made his lightest word a law, his vaguest
promise a necessity in act, his most facile acceptance an engagement as
fixed as the laws of motion. In old, old days I well remember how it
came to be a complacent certainty with everybody associated with
Steevens that if he promised an article, an occasional note, a
review--whatever it might be--at two, three, four, five in the morning,
at that hour the work would be ready. He never flinched; he never made
excuses, for the obvious reason that there was never any necessity for
excuse. Truthful, clean-minded, nobly unselfish as he was, all these
things played but the parts of planets revolving around the sun of his
life--the sun of honour. To that point I always return: but a man can be
conceived who shall be splendidly honourable, yet not lovable--a man who
might repel friendship. Steevens was not of that race. Not a friend of
his but loved him with a great and serious affection for those
qualities which are too often separable from the austerity of a fine
character, the honour of an upright man. His sweetness was exquisite,
and this partly because it was so unexpected. A somewhat shy and quiet
manner did not prepare men for the urbanity, the tolerance, the
magnanimity that lay at the back of his heart. Generosity in
thought--the rarest form of generosity that is reared among the flowers
of this sorrowful earth--was with him habitual. He could, and did,
resent at every point the qualities in men that ran counter to his
principles of honour, and he did not spare his keen irony when such
things crossed his path; but, on the other side, he loved his friends
with a whole and simple heart. I think that very few men who came under
his influence refused him their love, none their admiration.

Into all that he wrote--and I shall deal later with that point in
detail--his true and candid spirit was infused. Just as in his life, in
his daily actions, you were continually surprised by his tenderness
turning round the corner of his austere reserve, so in his work his
sentiment came with a curious appeal, with tender surprises, with an
emotion that was all the keener on account of the contrast that it made
with the courage, the hope, and the fine manliness of all his thought
and all his word. Children, helplessness of all kinds, touched always
that merciful heart. I can scarcely think of him as a man of the world,
although he had had in his few and glorious days experience enough to
harden the spirit of any man. He could never, as I think of him, have
grown into your swaggering, money-making, bargaining man of Universal
Trade. Keen and significant his policy, his ordering of his affairs must
ever have been; but the keenness and significance were the outcome, not
of any cool eye to the main chance, but of a gay sense of the pure need
of logic, not only in letters but also in living.

There, again, I touch another characteristic--his feeling for logic, for
dialectic, which made him one of the severest reasoners that it would
be possible to meet in argument. He used, in his admirably assumed air
of brag, an attitude which he could take with perfect humour and perfect
dignity--to protest that he was one of two or three Englishmen who had
ever mastered the philosophical systems of Germany, from Kant to Hegel,
from Hegel to Schopenhauer. Though he said it with an airy sense of fun,
and almost of disparagement, I am strongly inclined to believe that it
was true. He was never satisfied with his knowledge: invariably curious,
he was guided by his joy in pure reasoning to the philosophies of the
world, and in his silent, quiet, unobtrusive way he became a master of
many subjects which life was too brief in his case to permit him to show
to his friends, much less to the world.

This, it will be readily understood, is, as I have said, the merest
summary of a character, as one person has understood it. Others will
reach him from other points of view. Meanwhile Ladysmith has him--what
is that phrase of his?--"You squirm between iron fingers." Fortunate he,
so far that he is at rest, squirming no longer; and with the wail on his
lips, the catch in the throat, he went down in the embrace of a deadlier
enemy than the Bulwan horror, to which he made reference in one of the
last lines he was destined to write in this world. He fell ill in that
pestilent town, as all the world knows. His constitution was strong
enough; he had not lived a life of unpropitious preparation for a
serious illness; but his heart was a danger. Typhoid is fatal to any
heart-weakness, particularly in convalescence; and he was caught
suddenly as he was growing towards perfect health.

I have been privileged to see certain letters written to his wife by the
friend with whom he shared his Ladysmith house during the course of his
illness. "How he contracted enteric fever," says Mr Maud, "I cannot
tell. It is unfortunately very prevalent in the camp just now. He began
to be ill on the 13th of December, but on that day the doctor was not
quite sure about its being enteric, although he at once commenced with
the treatment for that disease. The following day there was no doubt
about it, and we moved him from our noisy and uncomfortable quarters in
the Imperial Light Horse Camp to our present abode, which is quite the
best house in Ladysmith. Major Henderson of the Intelligence Department
very kindly offered his own room, a fine, airy, and well-furnished
apartment, although he was barely recovered of his wound. At first I
could only procure the services of a trained orderly of the 5th Dragoon
Guards lent to us by the colonel, but a few days later we were lucky
enough to find a lady nurse, who has turned out most excellently, and
she takes charge at night.... I am happy to tell you that everything has
gone on splendidly".... After describing how the fever gradually
approached a crisis, Mr Maud continues: "When he was at his worst he was
often delirious, but never violent; the only trouble was to prevent him
getting out of bed. He was continually asking us to go and fetch you,
and always thought he was journeying homewards. It never does to halloa
before one gets out of the wood, but I do really think that he is well
on the road to recovery." Alas!

Not so much as a continued record of Steevens's illness, as in the
nature of a pathetic side-issue to the tragedy of his death, I subjoin
one or two passages from a letter sent subsequently from Ladysmith by
the same faithful friend before the end: "He has withstood the storm
wonderfully well, and he is not very much pulled down. The doctor thinks
that he should be about again in a fortnight"--the letter was written on
the 4th of January--"by which time I trust General Buller will have
arrived and reopened the railway. Directly it is possible to move, I
shall take him down to Nottingham Road.... There has been little or
nothing to do for the last month beyond listening to the bursting of the
Long Tom shells." That touch about General Buller's arrival is surely
one of the most strangely appealing incidents in the recent history of
human confidence and human expectation! Another friend, Mr George Lynch,
whose name occurred in one of his letters in a passage curiously
characteristic of Steevens's drily incisive humour, writes about the
days that must immediately have preceded his illness: "He was as fit and
well as possible when I left Ladysmith last month." (The letter is dated
from Durban, January 11.) "We were drawing rations like the soldiers,
but had some '74 port and a plum-pudding which we were keeping for
Christmas Day.... Shells fell in our vicinity more or less like angels'
visits, and I had a bet with him of a dinner. I backed our house to be
hit against another which he selected; and he won. I am to pay the
dinner at the Savoy when we return."

There is little more to record of the actual facts at this moment. The
following cable, which has till now remained unpublished, tells its own
tale too sadly:--

     "Steevens, a few days before death, had recovered so far as to be
     able to attend to some of his journalistic duties, though still
     confined to bed. Relapse followed; he died at five in the
     afternoon. Funeral same night, leaving Carter's house (where
     Steevens was lying during illness) at 11.30. Interred in Ladysmith
     Cemetery at midnight. Night dismal, rain falling, while the moon
     attempted to pierce the black clouds. Boer searchlight from Umbala
     flashed over the funeral party, showing the way in the darkness.
     Large attendance of mourners, several officers, garrison, most
     correspondents. Chaplain M'Varish officiated."

When I read that short and simple cablegram, the thought came to my mind
that if only the greater number of modern rioters in language were
compelled to hoard their words out of sheer necessity for the cable, we
should have better results from the attempts at word-painting that now
cumber the ground. And this brings me directly to a consideration of
Steevens's work. In many respects, of course, it was never, even in
separate papers, completed. Journalist and scholar he was, both. But the
world was allowed to see too much of the journalist, too little of the
scholar, in what he accomplished. 'The Monologues of the Dead' was a
brilliant beginning. It proved the splendid work of the past, it
presaged more splendid work for the future. And then, if you please, he
became a man of action; and a man of action, if he is to write, must
perforce be a journalist. The preparations had made it impossible that
he should ever be anything else but an extraordinary journalist; and
accordingly it fell out that the combination of a wonderful equipment of
scholarship with a vigorous sense of vitality brought about a unique
thing in modern journalism. Unique, I say: the thing may be done again,
it is true; but he was the pioneer, he was the inventor, of the
particular method which he practised.

I began this discussion with a reference to the spare, austere, but
quite lucid message of the cablegram announcing the death of Steevens;
and I was carried on at once to a deliberate consideration of his
literary work, because that work had, despite its vigour, its vividness,
its brilliance, just the outline, the spareness, the slimness, the
austerity which are so painfully inconspicuous in the customary painter
of word-pictures. Some have said that Steevens was destined to be the
Kinglake of the Transvaal. That is patently indemonstrable. His war
correspondence was not the work of a stately historian. He could, out of
sheer imaginativeness, create for himself the style of the stately
historian. His "New Gibbon"--a paper which appeared in 'Blackwood's
Magazine'--is there to prove so much; but that was not the manner in
which he usually wrote about war. He was essentially a man who had
visions of things. Without the time to separate his visions into the
language of pure classicism--a feat which Tennyson superlatively
contrived to accomplish--he yet took out the right details, and by
skilful combination built you, in the briefest possible space, a
strongly vivid picture. If you look straight out at any scene, you will
see what all men see when they look straight out; but when you inquire
curiously into all the quarters of the compass, you will see what no man
ever saw when he simply looked out of his two eyes without regarding the
here, there, and everywhere. When Tennyson wrote of

          "flush'd Ganymede, his rosy thigh
      Half-buried in the Eagle's down,
    Sole as a flying star shot thro' the sky
        Above the pillar'd town"--

you felt the wonder of the picture. Applied in a vastly different way,
put to vastly different uses, the visual gift of Steevens belonged to
the same order of things. Consider this passage from his Soudan book:--

     "Black spindle-legs curled up to meet red-gimleted black faces,
     donkeys headless and legless, or sieves of shrapnel; camels with
     necks writhed back on to their humps, rotting already in pools of
     blood and bile-yellow water, heads without faces, and faces without
     anything below, cobwebbed arms and legs, and black skins grilled
     to crackling on smouldering palm-leaf--don't look at it."

The writer, swinging on at the obvious pace with which this writing
swings, of course has no chance to make as flawless a picture as the
great man of leisure; but the pictorial quality of each is precisely the
same. Both understood the fine art of selection.

I have sometimes wondered if I grudged to journalism what Steevens stole
from letters. I have not yet quite come to a decision; for, had he never
left the groves of the academic for the crowded career of the man of the
world, we should never have known his amazing versatility, or even a
fraction of his noble character as it was published to the world.
Certainly the book to which this chapter forms a mere pendant must, in
parts, stand as a new revelation no less of the nobility of that
character than of his extraordinary foresight, his wonderful instinct
for the objectiveness of life. I believe that in his earliest childhood
his feeling for the prose of geography was like Wordsworth's
cataract--it "haunted him like a passion." And all the while the
subjective side of life called for the intrusion of his prying eyes. So
that you may say it was more or less pure chance that led him to give
what has proved to be the bulk of his active years to the objective side
of things, the purely actual. Take, in this very book, that which
amounts practically to a prophecy of the difficulty of capturing a point
like Spion Kop, in the passage where he describes how impossible it is
to judge of the value of a hill-top until you get there. (Pope, by the
way--and I state the point not from any desire to be pedantic, but
because Steevens had a classical way with him which would out, disguise
it how he might--Pope, I say, in his "Essay on Criticism," had before
made the same remark.) Then again you have in his chapter on Aliwal the
curiously intimate sketch of the Boer character--"A people hard to
arouse, but, you would say, very hard to subdue." Well, it is by the
objective side of life that we have to judge him. The futility of death
makes that an absolute necessity; but I like to think of a possible
George Steevens who, when the dust and sand of campaigns and daily
journalism had been wiped away from his shoon, would have combined in a
great and single-hearted career all the various powers of his fine mind.

His death, as none needs to be told, came as a great shock and with
almost staggering surprise to the world; and it is for his memory's sake
that I put on record a few of the words that were written of him by
responsible people. An Oxford contemporary has written of him:--

     "I first met him at a meeting of the Russell Club at Oxford. He was
     a great light there, being hon. sec. It was in 1890, and Steevens
     had been head-boy of the City of London School, and then Senior
     Scholar at Balliol. Even at the Russell Club, then, he was regarded
     as a great man. The membership was, I think, limited to twenty--all
     Radical stalwarts. I well remember his witty comments on a paper
     advocating Women's Rights. He was at his best when opening the
     debate after some such paper. Little did that band of ardent souls
     imagine their leader would, in a few short years, be winning fame
     for a Tory halfpenny paper.

     "He sat next me at dinner, just before he graduated, and he was in
     one of those pensive moods which sometimes came over him. I believe
     he hardly spoke. In '92 he entered himself as a candidate for a
     Fellowship at Pembroke. I recollect his dropping into the
     examination-room half an hour late, while all the rest had been
     eagerly waiting outside the doors to start their papers at once.
     But what odds? He was miles ahead of them all--an easy first. It
     was rumoured in Pembroke that the new Fellow had been seen smoking
     (a pipe, too) in the quad--that the Dean had said it was really
     shocking, such a bad example to the undergraduates, and against all
     college rules. How could we expect undergraduates to be moral if Mr
     Steevens did such things? How, indeed? Then came Mr Oscar Browning
     from Cambridge, and carried off" Steevens to the 'second university
     in the kingdom,' so that we saw but little of him. Some worshipped,
     others denounced him. The Cambridge papers took sides. One spoke of
     'The Shadow' or 'The Fetish,' _au contraire_: another would praise
     the great Oxford genius. Whereas at Balliol Steevens was boldly
     criticised, at Cambridge he was hated or adored.

     "A few initiated friends knew that Steevens was writing for the
     'Pall Mall' and the 'Cambridge Observer,' and it soon became
     evident that journalism was to be his life-work. Last February I
     met him in the Strand, and he was much changed: no more crush hat,
     and long hair, and Bohemian manners. He was back from the East, and
     a great man now--married and settled as well--very spruce, and
     inclined to be enthusiastic about the Empire. But still I remarked
     his old indifference to criticism. Success had improved him in
     every way: this seems a common thing with Britishers. In September
     last I knocked up against him at Rennes during the Dreyfus trial.
     As I expected, Steevens kept cool: he could always see the other
     side of a question. We discussed the impending war, and he was
     eagerly looking forward to going with the troops. I dare not tell
     his views on the political question of the war. They would surprise
     most of his friends and admirers. On taking leave I bade him be
     sure to take care of himself. He said he would."

What strikes me as being peculiarly significant of a certain aspect of
his character appeared in 'The Nursing and Hospital World.' It ran in
this wise--I give merely an extract:--

     "Although George Steevens never used his imperial pen for personal
     purposes, yet it seems almost as if it were a premonition of death
     by enteric fever which aroused his intense sympathy for our brave
     soldiers who died like flies in the Soudan from this terrible
     scourge, owing to lack of trained nursing skill, during the late
     war. This sympathy he expressed to those in power, and we believe
     that it was owing to his representations that one of the most
     splendid offers of help for our soldiers ever suggested was made by
     his chief, the editor of the 'Daily Mail,' when he proposed to
     equip, regardless of expense, an ambulance to the Soudan, organised
     on lines which would secure, for our sick and wounded, _skilled
     nursing on modern lines_, such nursing as the system in vogue at
     the War Office denies to them.

     "The fact that the War Office refused this enlightened and generous
     offer, and that dozens of valuable lives were sacrificed in
     consequence, is only part of the monstrous incompetence of its
     management. Who can tell! If Mr Alfred Harmsworth's offer had been
     accepted in the last war, might not army nursing reform have, to a
     certain extent, been effected ere we came to blows with the
     Transvaal, and many of the brave men who have died for us long
     lingering deaths from enteric and dysentery have been spared to
     those of whom they are beloved?"

Another writer in the 'Outlook':--

     "As we turn over the astonishing record of George Warrington
     Steevens's thirty years, we are divided between the balance of loss
     and gain. The loss to his own intimates must be intolerable. From
     that, indeed, we somewhat hastily avert our eyes. Remains the loss
     to the great reading public, which we believe that Steevens must
     have done a vast deal to educate, not to literature so much as to a
     pride in our country's imperial destiny. Where the elect chiefly
     admired a scarcely exampled grasp and power of literary
     impressionism, the man in the street was learning the scope and
     aspect of his and our imperial heritage, and gaining a new view of
     his duties as a British citizen.

     "A potent influence is thus withdrawn. The pen that had taught us
     to see and comprehend India and Egypt and the reconquest of the
     Soudan would have burned in on the most heedless the line which
     duty marks out for us in South Africa. Men who know South Africa
     are pretty well united. Now Steevens would have taken all England
     to South Africa. Nay, more, we are no longer able to blink the
     truth that all is not for the best in the best of all possible
     armies, and the one satisfaction in our reverses is that, when the
     war is over, no Government will dare to resist a vigorous programme
     of reform. Steevens would not have been too technical for his
     readers; he would have given his huge public just as many prominent
     facts and headings as had been good for them, and his return from
     South Africa with the materials of a book must have strengthened
     the hands of the intelligent reformer. That journalism which, in a
     word, really is a living influence in the State is infinitely the
     poorer. And so we believe is literature. There is much literature
     in his journalism, but it is in his 'Monologues of the Dead' that
     you get the rare achievement and rarer promise which made one
     positive that, his wanderings once over, he would settle down to
     write something of great and permanent value. Only one impediment
     could we have foreseen to such a consummation: he might have been
     drawn into public life. For he spoke far better than the majority
     of even distinguished contemporary politicians, and to a man of his
     knowledge of affairs, influence over others, and clearness of
     conviction, anything might have been open.

     "Well! he is dead at Ladysmith of enteric fever. Turning over the
     pages of his famous war-book we find it written of the Soudan: 'Of
     the men who escaped with their lives, hundreds more will bear the
     mark of its fangs till they die; hardly one of them but will die
     the sooner for the Soudan.' And so he is dead 'the sooner for the
     Soudan.' It seems bitter, unjust, a quite superfluous dispensation;
     and then one's eye falls on the next sentence--'What have we to
     show in return?' In the answer is set forth the balance of gain,
     for we love 'to show in return' a wellnigh ideal career. Fame,
     happiness, friendship, and that which transcends friendship, all
     came to George Steevens before he was thirty. He did everything,
     and everything well. He bridged a gulf which was deemed impassable,
     for from being a head-boy at school and the youngest Balliol
     scholar and a Fellow of his College and the very type of rising
     pedagogue, with a career secure to him in these dusty meadows, he
     chose to step forth into a world where these things were accounted
     lightly, to glorify the hitherto contemned office of the reporter.
     Thus within a few years he hurried through America, bringing back,
     the greatest of living American journalists tells us, the best and
     most accurate of all pictures of America. Thus he saw the face of
     war with the conquering Turk in Thessaly, and showed us modern
     Germany and Egypt and British India, and in two Soudanese campaigns
     rode for days in the saddle in 'that God-accursed wilderness,' as
     though his training had been in a stable, not in the quad of
     Balliol. These thirty years were packed with the happiness and
     success which Matthew Arnold desired for them that must die young.
     He not only succeeded, but he took success modestly, and leaves a
     name for unselfishness and unbumptiousness. Also he 'did the State
     some service.'

     "'One paces up and down the shore yet awhile,' says Thackeray, 'and
     looks towards the unknown ocean and thinks of the traveller whose
     boat sailed yesterday.' And so, thinking of Steevens, we must not
     altogether repine when, 'trailing clouds of glory,' an 'ample,
     full-blooded spirit shoots into the night.'"

I take this passage from 'Literature,' in connection with Steevens, on
account of the grave moral which it draws from his life-work:--

     "His career was an object-lesson in the usefulness of those
     educational endowments which link the humblest with the highest
     seats of learning in the country. If he had not been able to win
     scholarships he would have had to begin life as a clerk in a bank
     or a house of business. But he won them, and a good education with
     them, wherever they were to be won--at the City of London School,
     and at Balliol College, Oxford. He was a first-class man (both in
     'Mods' and 'Greats'), _proxime accessit_ for the Hertford, and a
     Fellow of Pembroke. He learnt German, and specialised in
     metaphysics. A review which he wrote of Mr Balfour's 'Foundations
     of Religious Belief' showed how much more deeply than the average
     journalist he had studied the subjects about which philosophers
     doubt; and his first book--'Monologues of the Dead'--established
     his claim to scholarship. Some critics called them vulgar, and they
     certainly were frivolous. But they proved two things--that Mr
     Steevens had a lively sense of humour, and that he had read the
     classics to some purpose. The monologue of Xanthippe--in which she
     gave her candid opinion of Socrates--was, in its way, and within
     its limits, a masterpiece.

     "But it was not by this sort of work that Mr Steevens was to win
     his wide popularity. Few writers, when one comes to think of it, do
     win wide popularity by means of classical _jeux d'esprit_. At the
     time when he was throwing them off, he was also throwing off 'Occ.
     Notes' for the 'Pall Mall Gazette.' He was reckoned the humorist
     _par excellence_ of that journal in the years when, under the
     editorship of Mr Cust, it was almost entirely written by humorists.
     He was one of the seceders on the occasion of Mr Cust's retirement,
     and occupied the leisure that then presented itself in writing his
     book on 'Naval Policy.' His real chance in life came when he was
     sent to America for the 'Daily Mail.' It was a better chance than
     it might have been, because that newspaper did not publish his
     letters at irregular intervals, as usually happens, but in an
     unbroken daily sequence. Other excursions followed--to Egypt, to
     India, to Turkey, to Germany, to Rennes, to the Soudan--and the
     letters, in almost every case, quickly reappeared as a book.

     "A rare combination of gifts contributed to Mr Steevens's success.
     To begin with, he had a wonderful power of finding his way quickly
     through a tangle of complicated detail: this he owed, no doubt, in
     large measure to his Oxford training. He also was one of the few
     writers who have brought to journalism the talents, and sympathies,
     and touch hitherto regarded as belonging more properly to the
     writer of fiction. It was the dream of Mr T.P. O'Connor, when he
     started the 'Sun,' to have the happenings of the passing day
     described in the style of the short-story writer. The experiment
     failed, because it was tried on an evening paper with printers
     clamouring for copy, and the beginning of the story generally had
     to be written before the end of the story was in sight or the place
     of the incidents could be determined. Mr Steevens tried the same
     experiment under more favourable conditions, and succeeded. There
     never were newspaper articles that read more like short stories
     than his, and at the same time there never were newspaper articles
     that gave a more convincing impression that the thing happened as
     the writer described it."

A more personal note was struck perhaps by a writer in the 'Morning
Post':--

     "Few of the reading public can fail to be acquainted with the
     merits of his purely journalistic work. He had carefully developed
     a great natural gift of observation until it seemed wellnigh an
     impossibility that he should miss any important detail, however
     small, in a scene which he was watching. Moreover, he had a
     marvellous power of vivid expression, and used it with such a skill
     that even the dullest of readers could hardly fail to see what he
     wished them to see. It is given to some journalists to wield great
     influence, and few have done more to spread the imperial idea than
     has been done by Mr Steevens during the last four or five years of
     his brief life. Still it must be remembered that, in order to
     follow journalism successfully, he had to make sacrifices which he
     undoubtedly felt to be heavy. His little book, 'Monologues of the
     Dead,' can never become popular, since it needs for its
     appreciation an amount of scholarship which comparatively few
     possess. Yet it proves none the less conclusively that, had he
     lived and had leisure, he would have accomplished great things in
     literature. Those who had the privilege of knowing him, however,
     and above all those who at one period or another in his career
     worked side by side with him, will think but little now of his
     success as journalist and author. The people who may have tried, as
     they read his almost aggressively brilliant articles, to divine
     something of the personality behind them, can scarcely have
     contrived to picture him accurately. They will not imagine the
     silent, undemonstrative person, invariably kind and ready unasked
     to do a colleague's work in addition to his own, who dwells in the
     memory of the friends of Mr Steevens. They will not understand how
     entirely natural it seemed to these friends that when the long
     day's work was ended in Ladysmith he should have gone habitually,
     until this illness struck him down, to labour among the sick and
     wounded for their amusement, and in order to give them the courage
     which is as necessary to the soldier facing disease as it is to
     his colleague who has to storm a difficult position. Those who
     loved him will presently find some consolation in considering the
     greatness of his achievement, but nothing that can now be said will
     mitigate their grief at his untimely loss."

Another writer says:--

     "What Mr Kipling has done for fiction Mr Steevens did for fact. He
     was a priest of the Imperialist idea, and the glory of the Empire
     was ever uppermost in his writings. That alone would not have
     brought him the position he held, for it was part of the age he
     lived in. But he was endowed with a curious faculty, an
     extraordinary gift for recording his impressions. In a scientific
     age his style may be described as cinematographic. He was able to
     put vividly before his readers, in a series of smooth-running
     little pictures, events exactly as he saw them with his own intense
     eyes. It has been said that on occasion his work contained passages
     a purist would not have passed. But Mr Steevens wrote for the
     people, and he knew it. Deliberately and by consummate skill he
     wrote in the words of his average reader; and had he desired to
     offer his work for the consideration of a more select class, there
     is little doubt that he would have displayed the same felicity. His
     mission was not of that order. He set himself the more difficult
     task of entertaining the many; and the same thoroughness which made
     him captain of the school, Balliol scholar, and the best
     note-writer on the 'Pall Mall Gazette' in its brightest days,
     taught him, aided by natural gifts, to write 'With Kitchener to
     Khartum' and his marvellous impressions of travel."

       *       *       *       *       *

This record must close. Innumerable have been the tributes to this brave
youth's power for capturing the human heart and the human mind. The
statesman and the working man--one of these has written very curtly and
simply, "He served us best of all"--each has felt something of the
intimate spirit of his work.

Lord Roberts cabled from Capetown in the following words:--

     "Deeply regret death of your talented correspondent, Steevens.
     ROBERTS."

And a correspondent writes:--

     "To-day I called on Lord Kitchener, in compliance with his request,
     having yesterday received through his aide-de-camp, Major Watson,
     the following letter:--

          "'I am anxious to have an opportunity of expressing to you
          personally my great regret at the loss we have all sustained
          in the death of Mr Steevens.'

     "Lord Kitchener said to me:--

     "'I was anxious to tell you how very sorry I was to hear of the
     death of Mr Steevens. He was with me in the Sudan, and, of course,
     I saw a great deal of him and knew him well. He was such a clever
     and able man. He did his work as correspondent so brilliantly, and
     he never gave the slightest trouble--I wish all correspondents were
     like him. I suppose they will try to follow in his footsteps. I am
     sure I hope they will.

     "'He was a model correspondent, the best I have ever known, and I
     should like you to say how greatly grieved I am at his death.'"

Some "In Memoriam" verses, very beautifully written, for the 'Morning
Post,' may however claim a passing attention:--

    "The pages of the Book quickly he turned.
    He saw the languid Isis in a dream
    Flow through the flowery meadows, where the ghosts
    Of them whose glorious names are Greece and Rome
    Walked with him. Then the dream must have an end,
    For London called, and he must go to her,
    To learn her secrets--why men love her so,
    Loathing her also. Yet again he learned
    How God, who cursed us with the need of toil,
    Relenting, made the very curse a boon.
    There came a call to wander through the world
    And watch the ways of men. He saw them die
    In fiercest fight, the thought of victory
    Making them drunk like wine; he saw them die
    Wounded and sick, and struggling still to live,
    To fight again for England, and again
    Greet those who loved them. Well indeed he knew
    How good it is to live, how good to love,
    How good to watch the wondrous ways of men--
    How good to die, if ever there be need.
    And everywhere our England in his sight
    Poured out her blood and gold, to share with all
    Her heritage of freedom won of old.
    Thus quickly did he turn the pages o'er,
    And learn the goodness of the gift of life;
    And when the Book was ended, glad at heart--
    The lesson learned, and every labour done--
    Find at the end life's ultimate gift of rest."

There I leave him. Great-hearted, strong-souled, brave without a
hesitation, tender as a child, intolerant of wrong because he was
incapable of it, tolerant of every human weakness, slashing
controversialist in speech, statesman-like in foresight, finely versed
in the wisdom of many literatures, a man of genius scarce aware of his
innumerable gifts, but playing them all with splendid skill, with full
enjoyment of the crowded hours of life,--here was George Steevens. In
the face of what might have been--think of it--a boy scarce thirty! And
yet he did much, if his days were so few. "Being made perfect in a
little while, he fulfilled long years."


PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS.

[Illustration: MAP OF THE SEAT OF WAR IN SOUTH AFRICA]





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "From Capetown to Ladysmith - An Unfinished Record of the South African War" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home