Part 3 out of 6
"The fellows may be some distance away already," he said, "as they may
have slipped off directly they discharged their rifles. In any case
there is no time to be lost in getting hold of their ponies, or at any
rate in driving them off."
As two or three minutes again passed without a shot being fired by the
Boers, Chris was in the act of calling off half the troop to watch the
donga and fire at the Boers if they saw them running past the exposed
points, when at this moment he heard the horses returning, and directly
afterwards one of the lads he had sent off ran up to him.
"There are a whole lot of them coming round the other side," he said,
"sixty or seventy of them at least. Some distance behind I can see a lot
of cattle and waggons. I suppose they were making for home when they
heard the firing." Just at this moment two or three shots rang out,
telling that the surviving Boers were seen running down the donga.
"Never mind them," Chris shouted; "we are going to be attacked by a big
party. Put down your rifles all of you, and pile the stones on the
crest, so as to make a shelter, as quickly as you can. We shall have a
few minutes. Those who are coming up can't know yet what the firing
means." He ran up to the top. "They are not more than six or seven
hundred yards away," he said, "and it would be better to fight it out
here than to take to our horses. Some of us would certainly not get off
without a bullet. You need not mind showing yourselves when they come
up. They won't be able to make out what we are."
The Boers, indeed, reined in their ponies when they saw Chris appear on
the brow of the eminence, and as a preliminary some of them rode off in
both directions and endeavoured to ascertain the position. Those on the
right soon caught sight of the clump of horses.
"They will soon know all about it," Chris said, as two of them galloped
off. "We may as well teach them to keep their distance. Take your places
behind rocks, and then open a sharp fire with your magazines. They
cannot know how many of us there are here. Now, are you all ready? Yes?
Well, then, set to work!"
In a moment an almost incessant rattle of musketry broke out upon the
astounded Boers, who, turning their horses, scattered at full gallop to
escape the hail of bullets; but more than a dozen had fallen before they
were beyond the range of the Mausers and were fully two thousand yards
"I don't think we need stop," Chris said. "Fill up your magazines again,
and then make for the horses." Directly the first party of Boers had
been seen, Jack and Japhet had set to work taking down and rolling up
the tents and loading the spare horses.
"Jump up," Chris said to them, "we are off. Mind you keep well with us.
Now," he went on, as they rode off in a body, "we will do a little
cattle raiding on our own account. Make for them, lads!"
With a shout they rode off at full gallop towards the great herd of
cattle. As they approached, the Kaffirs who were driving them fled.
Separating as they rode, waving their hats and shouting at the top of
their voices, the lads dashed at the herd, who at once turned and went
off at a rate that would have astonished animals accustomed only to
small pastures and other enclosures.
"Don't press them too much," Chris had ordered before the band
separated, "or they will break down. Listen for my whistle; when you
hear it, Field, Willesden, Harris, and Bryan will follow up the herd
with the Kaffirs and keep them moving, the rest will dismount, make
their horses lie down, and open fire. That narrow valley we passed
through yesterday afternoon will do to make a stand. It is about five
miles away, head the cattle for it. The Boers won't be far behind us
when we get there."
The enemy indeed had not noticed them leave the little kopje, as they
were hidden by a slight fall in the ground where they descended, and it
was not until they observed a commotion among the cattle that they
perceived what had happened. Then, furious not only at the loss they had
suffered, but at seeing their booty driven away, they mounted and
pursued in hot haste. But the party had obtained a start of fully a
mile, and the valley was reached by the fugitives while the Boers were
still half that distance in their rear. Chris rode along until he came
to a narrow and defensible point; the horses were taken a hundred yards
on and made to lie down, and he and his sixteen companions then ran back
and took up their positions among the rocks on each side of the track
and the slopes above it.
A DESPERATE PROJECT
Scarcely had the band taken cover in the gorge than the Boers appeared
some five hundred yards away.
"Open fire at once!" Chris shouted, "the farther they have to come under
fire the less they will like it."
The rifles at once spoke out. The lads had all used the boulders behind
which they crouched as rests for their rifles, and confident of their
shooting and their position, their aim was deadly. Five or six of the
leading Boers fell and several horses, the rest came to an abrupt pause,
galloped back some little distance and then dismounted, and leaving
their horses in shelter, disappeared from sight. In a short time a
dropping fire was opened from both sides of the valley.
"Don't fire unless you see a man," Chris ordered, "there are gaps on the
hillside that they can't pass without giving you a chance. Fire in
rotation, it is no use wasting a dozen bullets on one man; if the first
misses, let the next shoot instantly, and so on. When they learn that it
is death to leave shelter, they will soon get sick of it. Keep
yourselves well under cover."
The rifle duel continued for an hour. As Chris had said would be the
case, after seven or eight had fallen, as they were trying to make
rushes across pieces of ground where boulders afforded no cover, the
rest became very cautious, and at last only an occasional shot was
"We will fall back now," Chris said, "for aught we know a party of them
may be working round somewhere to take us in rear. We know that they
have not got their horses with them, for we can see the spot where they
hid them. Still, we do not want to be caught between two fires. Let four
on each flank crawl back; keep well among the rocks, and don't let them
catch sight of you. We will fire occasionally to let them know that we
are still here. When you have got the horses up and everything is ready,
whistle, and we will come back to you. It will be a long time before
they venture to crawl up and discover that we have gone, an hour most
likely, and by that time the cattle will be a dozen miles on their way
to Estcourt, and the Boers are not likely to follow them."
Ten minutes later all were in their saddles. They had left the horses at
a spot where there was a sharp elbow in the gorge, and their retreat
could not be seen from the valley below. They cantered along in high
glee; not one had received a scratch, while some twelve of the first
party of Boers had fallen, and fully fifteen of the second, and it was
certain that at least as many more must have been wounded.
"I expect they really gave up all idea of carrying our position long
ago," Chris said, "and have only been keeping up their fire to prevent
our turning the tables upon them. They must have seen that we are better
mounted than they are, and have been afraid that we should in turn take
the offensive. I should not be surprised if they stay where they are all
day, and don't venture to mount and ride off till it gets dark" "You are
something like a leader," Peters said enthusiastically. "We knew that
you were a good fellow, and would make the best leader among us, but no
one could think that our choice would turn out so well as it has done.
This is the second fight we have had with the Boers, and we have
thrashed them well each time, although the first time they were twice as
strong, and in the second something like four times, and we have not
lost one of our number. I am sure if we had been caught where we were
without you with us, at least half of us would have been killed, and we
should have been lucky to get away with only that."
Riding without pressing their horses, it was two hours before they
overtook the party with the cattle. These had now broken into a walk.
"We kept them at it till half an hour ago," Willesden said
apologetically, when they came up, "but the Kaffirs said that unless we
gave them a rest half of them would drop, so we let them go easy till
you came up."
"Quite right," Chris said. "We have given the Boers such a thrashing
that there is no fear of their continuing the pursuit. Unless we meet
some more of these thieves, we can go on as quietly as we like. I have
some sort of respect for men like those we met at Dundee and
Elandslaagte, who fight manfully and stoutly, but for these raiding
scoundrels who only come out to rob and plunder, and do wanton damage to
quiet people, one feels only disgust, and shoots them without the least
There was a general chorus of agreement.
"Did they get near you, Chris?"
"Not within about four hundred yards. They got it so hot at first that
they dismounted and took to the rocks; they pushed on for a bit, and if
the whole hillside had been covered with boulders we might have had some
sharp fighting, but there were some open spaces to be crossed, and after
getting over two or three of them they found it safer to lie as close as
rabbits. For aught we know they are there still."
They travelled quietly till sunset, and then halted in an open valley
where there was water and good grass. Half the company kept watch by
turns, being posted with their horses some half a mile out in the
country, taking the animals with them not only because they could fall
back more quickly, but because they knew the horses would hear any
approaching sound long before their masters were able to do so, and
would evince their uneasiness unmistakably. There was, however, no
alarm, and two days later, travelling by easy stages, they arrived at
Estcourt, where their arrival with so large a number of cattle created
quite a sensation. They at once put up a notice at the post-office, that
all persons who had been raided by the Boers could come and inspect the
herd and take all animals bearing their brand. It soon appeared that the
cattle were the property of four farmers living within a short distance
of each other. They had arrived in Estcourt with their families two days
previously, weary and broken down with fatigue, hunger, and the loss and
ruin of their property. Their gratitude was deep indeed at this wholly
unexpected recovery of a large portion of their herds, and they started
the next morning, mounted on some ponies they had picked up for a
trifle, to drive them down the country.
Chris saw the officer in command as soon as they arrived in the town,
and gave him an outline of their adventure, upon which he was warmly
congratulated. "Shall I send in a written report to you, sir?" Chris
"No, you are not under my orders; and I should say that you had better
write and post it to the officer commanding the force at Maritzburg. I
do not know who it may be."
"Is the road closed to Ladysmith?" Chris asked.
"Yes, two days since. General French, who is ordered to Port Elizabeth
to take command of the cavalry brigade that is forming to drive back the
Boers who have crossed the Orange River, came down in the last train
that got out. It was hotly fired upon by the Boers, but luckily they had
not taken up the rails, and the train got through safely. We have had no
news since, for even the wire to Colenso has been cut, and for anything
we know the place may be in possession of the Boers. We have a little
fort here, and have been throwing up entrenchments, but if they come in
any force there is not much hope of our getting off. We have an armored
train, which yesterday ran to within a mile or so of Colenso without
being interfered with, though several parties of the enemy could be seen
in the distance. I have great hopes that we shall get half a battalion
up from Maritzburg to-morrow; if so, by loopholing the houses and
throwing up some breastworks, we ought to be able to keep the Boers out
of the place, unless they come in force. At any rate, I should advise
you to scout next time beyond the Mooi River and to make Maritzburg your
head-quarters. So far as we know the Boers have not yet gone beyond that
river, and any news of their doing so would certainly be of value. You
have done marvellously well in getting away from that party you met, but
you might not be so lucky next time, for as they push on they are sure
in a short time to be strong all over the country between the Tugela and
This, after some consultation, was agreed to by the troop. There was no
reason for haste, and they rode by easy stages down to Maritzburg,
stopping at Weston and Hawick. Many of their friends had gone down to
Durban, but some still remained, and from these they received a hearty
welcome. All found letters awaiting them, for it had been arranged that
as it would be impossible to give any address, these should be sent to
Maritzburg. Their friends were scarcely ready to credit their stories,
but, on being shown General Yule's letter, saw that at least the
accounts of their early doings were strictly correct.
Troops were coming up fast from Durban, and there was already a strong
brigade there. Chris called upon the brigadier and presented General
Yule's letter, and his own report of the fight with the Boers
"This shows what can be done by young fellows who are good shots and
good riders, and who, I may say, Mr. King, have been admirably
commanded. What are your wishes now? There are two or three troops of
volunteer horse here; would you wish to be attached to one of them? Of
course, if you do so there will be no difficulty about it; but really, I
think that you would be more useful in carrying on your work in your own
It had been known for a long time past that a large proportion of the
cannon, rifles, and ammunition of the Boers had been landed at the
Portuguese port of Lorenzo Marques, and taken up by rail from there to
Komati-poort--a station on the frontier, where there was a bridge across
the Komati river--and thence by rail to Pretoria. Chris heard that it
was generally known that the Portuguese officials, who had long been
influenced by Boer money extracted from the Uitlanders, were still
winking at the practice, although it was a breach of neutrality. So much
indignation was expressed on the subject at Maritzburg that Chris, one
day when the party assembled at the spot where their horses were
"I want to have a serious talk with you all. You have all heard that
immense quantities of arms and dynamite are passing through Lorenzo
Marques. Now, at present we don't see much for us to do here. My idea
is, that if we could manage to blow up the bridge across the river that
divides Portuguese territory from the Transvaal, we should do an
infinitely greater service than by killing any number of plundering
His troop looked at each other in surprise.
"You are not really in earnest, Chris?" Peters said; "it would be a
"It would be a big business, no doubt, but I was never more earnest in
my life than in proposing it. Now that we know how strong the Boers are
round Ladysmith, and what terribly hard work it will be for an army to
fight its way through all those hills, we can see that the first
calculations as to the time when it can be relieved are a good deal
short of the mark. There must be at least twenty thousand men collected
here to do it, and I think it is more likely to be the end of January
than the end of December before the Boers are driven off. We have in the
one case seven weeks and in the other twelve before the place is
relieved, and we begin to turn the tables on the Boers; and according to
the way we carry my idea out it depends whether we are back here by the
end of the year or by the end of January--that is, I acknowledge, if we
get back at all.
"I have been thinking it over. There are two ways of doing it. We can go
on board a ship touching at Durban and going on to Lorenzo Marques. I
don't say that we could not all do it, but it would be better to choose
only four; a larger number would excite more observation. Those who go
will of course take dynamite with them. We can buy that at Durban. At
Lorenzo Marques we should assume the character of four young Irish
fellows. We know there are lots of them already up there, and Germans
too, fighting in the Boer ranks and I am glad to know that they got
peppered at Elandslaagte, although that is not to the point. We should
go as four Irish lads who have come across from America to fight for the
Boers. We have heard plenty of Irish in the mines and at Johannesburg,
so shall be able to put enough brogue in our talk to pass. I know from
what I have heard that a trip to the Portuguese officials would be quite
sufficient for them to pass anything without examination; but even if
they did open our cases and find dynamite in them, we could account for
it by saying that we had been told before starting that it would be the
handiest thing to take with us, and would be of more assistance to the
Boers than anything we could bring them.
"No doubt some of the passengers would know that we got on board at
Durban, but if any questions were asked we could account for that by
saying that the ship we came over in, was going on to Australia, and
therefore we had been obliged to land and take another on to Lorenzo
Marques. Once landed, we should of course take a train for Komati-poort,
and slip off it after dark at some station a few miles from there. Then,
you know, we could first reconnoitre the bridge, and when we had settled
on the best place for the dynamite, we could put it there the next
night. I know a good deal about the use of dynamite. It is not like
gunpowder, that you have to put in a hole and fasten up tightly, you
only have to lay it upon an iron girder or arch, and light your fuse and
leave it to do its work."
The boys listened with increasing surprise to his proposal.
"And what is your other plan?" Peters asked after a long pause.
"The other plan is that we should all take a passage in some small
craft, which we could hire, to St. Lucia Bay, and then go up through
Zululand and Swaziland, which extends to within a short distance of
Komati-poort. Both tribes are friendly enough with us, and hate the
Boers like poison. Of course in that case we shall take the dynamite
with us, and then must be guided by circumstances as to our course and
what we should do when we got to the bridge."
There was again a long silence, then Brown said: "If anyone but you had
proposed it, Chris, I should have scoffed at it as impossible, but for
myself I have come to have such confidence in you that I believe you
would manage it. There can be no doubt that it would be a grand thing if
we could do it. I have heard my father say that the river is a terribly
bad one, and that sometimes it is altogether impassable for weeks at a
time. Except by the bridge, even in the best times, I should think, from
what he said, it would be quite impossible for them to take heavy things
like cannon across. Anyhow, I am ready to go with you."
"Thank you, Brown," Chris said. "I should certainly not ask anyone to
go. Those who are willing to do so must volunteer. Of course we only
combined for the purpose of acting as scouts, and no one ever
contemplated doing more. So far, we have, as all allow, carried out that
object well; and I have no doubt that those who do not care to join in
what is a sort of forlorn hope, will continue to do well after we have
started on it, and of course I shall, if I get back, rejoin them. My
scheme would, no doubt, be considered a very wild one, but I can see no
reason why, with good luck, it should not succeed. Indeed, I believe
that it will succeed, if, when we arrive there, we do not find that the
Boers are guarding the bridge. Of course, if they do so there is but
little hope of carrying the matter out. They will know the importance of
the bridge to them, and how greatly its destruction would be desired by
the British Government, and may think it possible that such an attempt
as I propose would be made, and take precautions to prevent its success.
"I do not mean to throw away my life. If, when I get there, I find that
it is next to impossible to carry the matter out, I shall give it up;
but even then the information I should get about matters up there, both
as to the Boers and the Swazis, would be of use. We know that Boer
agents have been doing their utmost to get the Basutos to join them, and
it is likely that they may be trying to induce the Zulus and Swazis to
do the same; and even if we fail in the principal object, I should say
that the time would not be wasted. When I am up there, I can, of course,
get news as to how the war is going on, and if I find that our forces
are pushing up into the Transvaal, I shall make straight across the
country and join them. I have been thinking over the matter a good deal
since we came here, and made up my mind that anyhow I shall try to carry
it out, so I now resign the leadership, and also for the present my
membership. Now, I don't want to influence you in any way. It has all
come suddenly upon you. You had better talk it over together. All I ask
you is that you will not say a word about it to anyone, not even to your
"Not only because, as I know would be the case, they would be afraid of
having anything to do with what they would consider an absolutely mad
scheme, but because a chance word might prove fatal to success. As
everyone knows, there are a great number of Dutch in the colony, who,
although they may not be openly hostile, are in favour of the Boers, and
will no doubt keep them acquainted with every movement of troops here,
and can have no difficulty in communicating with them by native runners.
Were one of our friends even to mention it casually that we had gone
north, suspicions might be aroused. Therefore I beg that no one will
breathe a word about the matter, but that you will decide for yourselves
without consulting anyone. I shall leave you now, and we will meet here
at the same time to-morrow. You will have had time to think it over
then. I wish to say before I go that I don't consider that the success
of my plan depends upon my having the whole twenty of you with me. I
repeat, that four would be quite sufficient.
"There are advantages as well as disadvantages in having only that
number. We should travel without exciting so much notice; we should have
less difficulty about food; we could conceal ourselves more easily in
case we were pursued. On the other hand, with a stronger party we could
repulse an attack if chased by the Boers. So you see I really do not
want more than three of you to join. I think four is the best number,
and should be glad if only two besides Brown wished to go with me; but
at the same time if more desire it, of course, as we are all comrades,
they would have a right to go."
So saying he turned away, leaving the others to talk the matter over.
They went through their usual drill that afternoon without any allusion
being made to the subject. When they met the next day Chris said
cheerfully, "Well, what have you decided? First, Brown, do you stick to
what you said yesterday, or do you think better of it?"
"Certainly I stick to it," Brown said. "When I say a thing I mean it."
"And how about the others?"
"I have made up my mind to go with you, Chris," Peters said, "and so has
Willesden. Field and Capper and Sankey would all go with you if you
wanted to take more than four, and all would go if you wanted the troop;
but if you would rather only have three of us, it is settled that Brown,
Willesden and I go."
"Very well," Chris said, "that just suits me. I am glad that you would
all go if you were wanted; but really I think that four would be the
best number, so we will consider that as settled. And now there is one
other thing I want to ask you about. You see, we have no right to take
any money out of the common fund, but we shall have some heavy expenses.
In the first place we shall want, I should say, a couple of hundred
pounds of dynamite; then we shall have to take some natives with us, a
couple of Zulus and two or three Swazis. There will be no difficulty in
getting them, as so many have been thrown out of employment owing to the
farmers losing their herds. We may find it useful to make presents to
chiefs as we go along, and, of course, we shall have to take a certain
amount of provisions for the party. Have you any objection to our each
taking half our share out of the bank? Nothing has been drawn at
present, and with a couple of hundred pounds between us we shall have
enough and to spare for however long we may be away."
There was a chorus of agreement.
"We are all awfully sorry that you are going, Chris," Field said. "It
won't be the same without you at all. We have agreed to ask you to
nominate a leader during your absence."
"I would much rather not do that," Chris said. "Everyone has done
equally well, and it is a question that you should settle among
"We are all against that," Field said positively. "We have talked it
over and agree that we shall never be able to fix on one. Suppose our
votes were divided between four and five I don't think we should feel
more comfortable afterwards. We would rather put all the names in a hat
and draw one out, just leaving it to chance."
"I almost think that it would be better," Chris said, "to do as you
propose. Agree first that, as we have done up till now, all important
matters shall be discussed and decided by vote, then draw all the names
from a hat and let each be leader for a week in the order in which they
come out, with the proviso that if as time goes on you find that you can
have more confidence in one than another, you can by a majority of three
to one elect him as permanent leader."
"That would be a very good plan," Carmichael said, "but, you see, the
difficulty is that, supposing we were going to attack the Boers or the
Boers attack us, the plan the leader fixed on might not seem to us at
all the best. In the two fights we have had there was not that
difficulty, for everyone felt that the plan you adopted was the best,
and indeed much better than any of us would have been likely to think
of. I don't say that that would occur, but it might. It is not everyone
who could fix upon the best thing to be done all at once as you did."
Chris thought for a minute. "I would suggest," he said, "that in such a
case as you mention the leader should tell the next two on the list what
he proposed. If one of the two agreed with him it would be a majority,
and there would be nothing more to be said on the matter. If both
disagreed with him there must be a general vote. I should hope such a
thing would never occur, because the loss of five minutes would
sometimes be disastrous, though in some cases it might not make any
difference. Still, that is the best plan I can think of. There is no
occasion for you to decide that straight off. At any rate, if you should
find that any arrangement you make does not act perfectly well, I should
advise you to join Captain Brookfield's troop and act with him."
The general opinion was strongly in favour of Chris's suggestion. It was
agreed that at any rate the first leader should be chosen by chance.
Carmichael's name came first out of the hat.
"I shall not have much responsibility," he said, "as we have settled to
remain here until the advance begins. Now, Chris, about the spare
"I should like to take one of them. We may have to gallop for it, and it
is of no use our being well mounted if we are hampered with a pony that
cannot keep up with us. We have only to lighten its load by getting rid
of most of its burden, and then we should be free to go our own pace.
"I should like to take one of our Kaffirs. They have both turned out
very well, and have a good idea of cooking, and are accustomed to our
ways. I don't care which I have, but I should certainly like to have one
of them. He would stick to the spare horse, while the other natives
would be all right if they scattered and shifted for themselves."
"Would you not like two spare horses, Chris?"
"No, thank you, one would be enough. He would carry our stores, and I
should get two native ponies to take the dynamite along. We shall not be
travelling at any extraordinary rate of speed, and if they broke down we
could always replace them. Certainly there would be no danger if we go
through Zululand, and, I should think, not until we get north of the
Swazis' country; for though I know there are Boers settled among them, a
good many would of course have joined their army, and it would be easy
to avoid the others. The danger will only lie in the last part of the
"Then you have settled to go by land?"
"Yes, I have decided to go all the way on horseback. We might find
difficulties with the Portuguese at Lorenzo Marques, and if we manage to
blow up the bridge, should have no horses, and should have a very bad
time indeed in getting back. If I can get dynamite here I shall go all
the way by land, and it would be safer. No doubt the Boers have spies at
Durban, and we might have difficulty in hiring a craft to take us to St.
Lucia, and our starting with horses and five or six natives would be
safe to attract the attention of someone looking out for news to send to
the Boers. I think the best plan will be to keep a little to the east of
the road to Greytown, where no doubt there are some Dutch, and strike
the road that runs from there to Eshowe. A little west of Krantzkop
there must be either a drift or a bridge or a ferry where it crosses the
Tugela. I shall of course avoid Eshowe, and then keep along inside the
Zulu frontier as far as the Maputa, which is its northern boundary, then
we shall cross the Lebombo range into Swaziland. I don't know how far it
would be by the way we should have to go, but as the crow flies it is
about three hundred miles from here. I suppose, what with the detours
and passes and so on, it will be four hundred. Ordinarily that distance
could be done in twenty days, but we must allow a good bit longer than
that; fifteen miles a day is the utmost we can calculate upon. However,
in about a month after we start we ought to be there or thereabouts.
Coming back we should do it more quickly, as we should have got rid of
our weight and need not be bothered with pack ponies."
"You talk as coolly about it," Field laughed, "as if you were going out
for a few days' picnic."
"It is the same sort of thing," Chris said, "except that it will be
longer, a bit rougher, and a good deal more interesting."
"When will you start?"
"As soon as possible; all I have to see about are the dynamite and
stores for the journey. We know pretty well by this time what we shall
want. We are sure to be able to buy mealies and a bullock when we want
one from the natives. Some tea and coffee, a dozen tins of preserved
milk, and half a hundredweight of biscuits, in case of finding ourselves
at a lonely camp with no native kraals near, and we shall be all right.
Of course we will take a gallon or two of paraffin, a frying-pan, a
small kettle, and so on, and a lantern that will burn paraffin. We will
fill up our pouches with a hundred rounds of rifle cartridges and fifty
for our revolvers, and then I think we shall be ready. Now mind, the
success of our enterprise depends entirely upon your all keeping the
secret absolutely. Neither Willesden, Brown, nor Peters have friends
here to bother themselves about their absence. We are not likely to be
missed, but if any questions are asked, you can say casually that we are
off on a scouting expedition. I shall write four or five letters, with
dates a week or ten days apart, and direct them from here, and leave
them for you to post one by one to my mother. Be sure you send them in
the right order. As she will suppose that we are stopping here quietly,
and out of all harm, she won't be uneasy about me. Peters' and
Willesden's friends have gone to England, so they are all right, and
Brown's are at the Cape. You had better write two or three letters too,
Brown, to be posted a fortnight or three weeks apart."
When these matters were arranged, Chris saw Jack, and the Kaffir agreed
without hesitation to go with him. He had been so well treated since he
joined them that he had become quite attached to Chris, who generally
gave him his orders. He was only told they were going up on an
expedition to Zululand and Swaziland.
"I want you to find two good Zulu and two Swazis. Do you think that you
could do that?"
"There are plenty of them here, baas. I look about and get good men.
What shall I tell them that they will have to do?"
"To act as guides, to tell the chiefs who we are, and on the march to
look after two or three ponies. We shall only take one of the spare
horses, you will look after him."
"Will they have guns, baas? All men like to have guns."
"Yes, they may as well carry guns, and you too, Jack."
"Much better for men to have guns, baas. They would be thought nothing
of without them." "All right Jack, there shall be no difficulty about
that; the stores are full of them."
This was the case. Men entering the volunteer corps, or who intended to
do any fighting, sold the rifles they had previously used and obtained
those of Government pattern and carrying the regulation cartridge, so
that for ten pounds Chris got hold of five really good weapons,
carefully selecting those that carried the same-sized cartridge.
"You can take whichever you like," he said to Jack, who had gone with
him to buy them; "and I shall tell the men I engage that if at the end
of the journey I am well satisfied with their behaviour, I shall give
them the guns in addition to their pay."
A few hours afterwards Jack brought up four natives for his inspection.
They were all strong and well-built men, and looked capable of hard
work. Having been thrown out of their employment by the events of the
past fortnight, they were glad of a fresh job, and were highly satisfied
when they were offered wages considerably higher than those they had
before received. All preparations were completed by the following
evening, and the next morning at daybreak, after bidding their comrades
a hearty farewell, the little party started.
The four lads were no longer dressed in the guise of farmers. These
suits were carried in the packs to be resumed when they neared the
Transvaal. They now dressed in the tweeds they had worn at Johannesburg,
and either felt hats or straw. They still wore jack-boots. The heat of
the day was now great, much more so, indeed, than they had been
accustomed to, for while Maritzburg lies two thousand two hundred feet
above the sea, Johannesburg is five thousand seven hundred. Behind them
Jack led the spare horse, and the four new men stepped lightly along
with their muskets slung behind them by the side of two strong Basuto
ponies, each carrying a couple of boxes containing half a hundredweight
of dynamite. These were concealed from view by sacks and blankets, the
cooking utensils, and other light articles. The spare horse carried the
flour, paraffin, fuses, and other stores, which brought up the weight to
a hundred and twenty pounds. This was somewhat lighter than that carried
by the ponies, but they were anxious to keep it in good condition in
case one of their own gave out.
The baggage had all been very carefully packed, so that even when going
fast it might not be displaced. They had found no difficulty in
obtaining the dynamite, as several of the stores kept it for the use of
the mines. They made no difficulty in selling it, and would not have
been sorry to part with their whole stock. In view of the possibility of
a siege, it was not an article that any sane man would care to keep on
the premises. Chris had gone round to these stores and had obtained an
offer from each, and as he said that he intended to accept the lowest
tender, it was offered to him at a price very much below what he would
ordinarily have had to give for it. The cases were sewn up in canvas, on
which was painted respectively, Tea, Sugar, Biscuits, and Rice.
Travelling five hours and halting at ten o'clock at a farmhouse that was
still tenanted, and again travelling from half-past three until eight,
they made about twenty-five miles the first day. Then they encamped at a
spot where there was a small spring and consequently good feed for the
horses, and knee-haltering them and taking off their saddles they turned
The natives had collected fuel as they went along, and a fire was soon
made. When the kettle approached boiling, some slices of bacon, of which
they had brought thirty pounds with them, were fried. There was no
occasion to make bread, as they had enough for a two days' supply. The
natives parched some mealies (Indian corn) in the frying-pan when the
bacon was done, the fat serving as a condiment that they highly
appreciated, and they quenched their thirst from the spring.
Four days' travelling took them to the drift across the Tugela. So far
their journey had been wholly uneventful. Before crossing the next day
they had a long talk with the two Zulus. Their language differed
somewhat from that of Jack, but Chris understood them without
difficulty; for a considerable portion of the labourers in the mines at
Johannesburg were Zulus, and mixing with these, as Chris had done, he
understood them even better than he did Jack.
The different routes were discussed, and the position of kraals, at
which mealies for the five natives and the horses could be purchased,
and meat possibly obtained. This, unless they bought a sheep, would be
in the form of biltong, that is, strips of meat dried by being hung up
in the sun and wind, and similar to the jerked meat of the prairies and
pampas of America. The points at which water could be obtained were
discussed. Some were at considerable distances apart; but the Zulus were
of opinion that the late heavy rains had extended to the hills of
Zululand, and that there would be abundance of water in little dongas
and water-courses that would be dry after a spell of fine weather. While
passing through Zululand there would be no occasion whatever for
vigilance by day or a watch at night, for there perfect order reigned.
Here and there resident magistrates were stationed, and at these points
a few white traders had settled. All disputes between the natives were
ordinarily decided by their own chiefs, but in serious cases an appeal
could be made to the nearest magistrate, who at once interfered in cases
of violence or gross injustice.
At the first kraal they came to they learned that the natives were
everywhere much excited. They were most anxious to be allowed to join in
the war against their old enemies, and were greatly disappointed on
learning from the magistrates that this was only a white man's war, and
that no others must take part in it. If, however, the Boers invaded
their territory they would of course be allowed to defend themselves.
Some of the Zulus urged with reason, that though the English might wish
to make it a white man's war, the Boers did not desire it to be so, for
they knew that they had been urging the Swazis and the Basutos to join
them against the English, and that offers of many rifles and much
plunder had been made also to some of their own chiefs. To this the
magistrates could only reply, that they knew of old that the Boers'
words could not be trusted, and that they were always ready to break any
arrangement that they had made. "They would like you to join them," they
said, "because they would take your help and afterwards turn against you
and steal your land. You know well enough that we have always stood
between you and them; but they would know that if you had joined them
against us we should be angry, and after our war with them was over
would no longer protect you." The Zulus, from their knowledge of the
Boers, felt that this would be so. But in any case no offers made to
them would have induced them to side with the Boers; and it was the
general hope that something might occur which would induce the English
to allow them to attack their enemies.
Chris and his friends had laid aside their bandoliers, retaining only
the cartridges carried in their belts, in order to assume the appearance
of Englishmen merely travelling for sport, and as they went on they
generally managed to shoot deer enough for the needs of the whole party.
Occasionally they slept in the kraals of chiefs, but greatly preferred
their own little tents as the smoke in them was often blinding, and more
than once the attacks of vermin kept them awake. Still, it would have
been a slight to refuse such invitations, and they had to go to the
kraals as it was necessary to frequently buy supplies of mealies. At
times the travelling was very rough, and with the utmost exertions they
could not make more than twelve or fourteen miles a day, and at other
times they could make five-and-twenty. Without the supply of Indian
corn, the ponies could not have continued this rate of going without
breaking down. The native horses are accustomed occasionally to make
very long journeys, and can perform from sixty to eighty miles in a day,
but after such an exertion they will need a week's rest before making
another effort. With their Basuto masters they are not called upon to do
so. When one of these makes a long journey he will leave his pony with
the person he visits and return on a fresh mount, or if he returns to
his own home after his first day's journey he will take a fresh horse
from his own stock, which may vary from five to fifty ponies. As they
rode they seldom talked of the work that was to be done. Until they saw
the country, the positions, and approach, no plans could possibly be
formed, and they therefore treated the matter as if it were a mere
sporting expedition in a new country, and enjoyed themselves thoroughly.
They had heavy work in crossing the Lebombo range, and, travelling a
day's journey farther west, turned to the north again. They were now in
Swaziland, a wild and mountainous country. Here also they were
hospitably received where they stopped, although the Swazis were deeply
aggrieved by the shameful manner in which England had refused, after the
valuable aid they had rendered in the last war, to give them any support
against the Boers. A word would have been sufficient to have kept the
latter out of Swaziland, as it had kept them from raiding in Zululand;
but that word was not given, and the unfortunate people had been raided
and plundered, their best land taken from them, and they themselves
reduced to a state of semi-subjection. However, they were glad to see
four English sportsmen among them again, and to learn something of the
war that had broken out between their oppressors and the British.
"If you beat them we shall be free again," they said. "Last time you
were beaten, and gave over the whole country to the Boers, and left all
our people, who had fought for you, at their mercy. This time you must
not do that. If you beat them, shoot them all like dogs, or make slaves
of them as they make slaves of the natives who dwell in their land. Only
so will there be peace."
"I don't know that the English will do that," Chris said; "but you may
be sure that, when the war is over, the Boers will be no longer masters,
and there will be just law made by us, and all white men and all natives
will be protected, and no evil deeds will be allowed."
"We are no longer united among ourselves," one of the chiefs said. "Some
have been taken by the promises and gifts of the Boers, and our queen is
also, it is said, in their favour. She is afraid of them, but most of us
would take advantage of their fighting you to drive all of them out of
our land, and to win back all the territory they have taken from us. We
are very poor, our best land is gone, we can scarce grow enough food;
and we long for the time when once again we can have rich mealie
patches, and good grazing land for our oxen and our horses, and are
again a strong people, and they afraid of us. Had not the English
interfered and taken over the Boer country, we should have wasted it
from end to end; and they knew it well, and begged your Shepstone to
hoist your flag and protect them. Ah, he should have stayed there then!
The natives, our friends in the plain, still talk of that happy time
when you were masters, and the Boers dared no longer shoot them down as
if they were wild beasts and treat them as slaves, and the towns grew
up, and your people paid for work with money and not with the lash of a
whip or a bullet. All of us have mourned over the time when the English
bent their knee to the Boers, and gave them all they wanted,--the
mastery of the land, and the right to kill and enslave us at their
"That was not quite so," Chris said. "They promised to give good
treatment to the natives; that was one of the conditions of the treaty."
"And you believed them!" the chief said scornfully. "Did you not know
that a Boer's oath is only good so long as a gun is pointed at him?
Perhaps it will be like this again, and when you have conquered them you
will again trust them, and march away. But they tell us, it is not you
who will conquer them, but they who will conquer you. They tell our
people that they will be masters over all the land, and that your people
will have to sail away in your ships. Runners have brought us news that
they have gathered round the place where our people go to work digging
bright stones from the ground, and that very soon they will take all the
English prisoners, and that they have also beset Mafeking, and that they
have beaten the English soldiers in Natal, and there will soon be none
left there; and more than that, that the people of the other Boer state
have joined them, and have entered the English territory, and are being
joined by all the Boers there. Therefore we, who would like to fight
against them, are afraid. We thought the English a great people; they
had beaten the Zulus, and dethroned the great King Cetewayo. But now it
seems that the Boers are much greater, and our hearts are sore."
"You need not fear, chief," Chris said. "Our country is very many miles
away, many days' journey in ships; it will take weeks before our army
gets strong. The Boers have always said they wanted peace, and we
believed them and kept but a few soldiers here, and until the army comes
from England they will get the best of it; but we can send, if
necessary, an army many times stronger than that of the Boers, and are
sure to crush them in the end."
"But how could you believe they wanted peace?" the chief asked.
"Everyone knew that they were building great forts, and had got guns
bigger than were ever before seen, and stores full of rifles. How could
you believe their words when your eyes saw that it was not peace but war
that they meant?" "Because we were fools, I suppose," Chris said
bitterly. "It was not from want of warnings, for people living out here
had written again and again telling what vast preparations they were
making, but the people who govern the country paid no attention. It was
much easier to believe what was pleasant than what was unpleasant; but
their folly will cost the country very dear. If they had sent over
twenty thousand men a year ago there would have been no war; now they
will have to send over a hundred thousand men, perhaps even more; and
great sums of money will be spent, and great numbers of lives lost,
simply because our government refused to believe what everyone out here
knew to be the fact. We did nothing, and allowed the Boers to complete
all their preparations, and to choose their own time for war. But though
we have made a horrible mistake, do not think, chief, that there is any
doubt about our conquering at last; the men who now govern our country
are men and not cowards, and will not, as that other government did, go
on their knees to the Boers, and even if they would do so, the people
would not sanction it."
"If what the chief has heard is correct," Chris said as they rode along
the next morning, "we must get back again as soon as we can. The Boers
may be lying, and, of course, they would make the best of things to the
Swazis. It certainly sounds as if not only at Ladysmith, but at all
other places, things are going badly at present. However, in another
couple of days we shall not be far from the bridge. The chief said that
the frontier was only a few miles away, and our own men tell us that it
is a very hilly country on the other side, just as it is here. We have
certainly come faster that we had expected. Thanks to their good
feeding, the horses have all turned out well. If it is really only two
days farther, we shall get there in just three weeks from starting."
They had not brought the same ponies all the way; as soon as one showed
signs of fatigue, it was changed for another with the arrangement that,
should they return that way, they would take it back and give the chief
a present for having seen that it was taken care of. The four natives,
although well contented with the way in which they were fed and cared
for, were much puzzled at the eagerness of their employers to push on,
and the disregard they paid to all the information obtained for them of
opportunities for sport. Several times they had said to Jack: "How is it
the baas does not stop to shoot? There are plenty of deer, and in some
places lions. There are zebras, too, though these are not easy to get
at, and very difficult to stalk. Why do you push on so fast that the
ponies have to be left behind, and others taken on? We cannot understand
it. We have been with white men who came into our country to shoot, or
to see what the land was like, but they did not travel like this.
Besides, we shall soon be in the land of the Boers, and as the English
are at war with them, they will shoot them if they find them."
Jack had only been told that his masters were going to strike a blow at
the Boers, and had not troubled himself as to its nature. He had seen
how they had defeated much larger parties than their own, and had
unbounded confidence in them. He therefore only said:
"The baas has not told me. I know that all the gentlemen are very brave,
and have no fear of the Boers. I do not think that we need fear that any
harm will happen. They shoot enough for us to eat heartily, they buy
drink for us at every kraal they stop at, and if they have seen no game
they buy a sheep. What can we want more? They have got you guns, but you
have never needed to use them; perhaps you may before you get back. If
the Boers meddle with them you will be able to fight."
The prospect of a chance of being allowed to fight against the Boers
would alone have inspired the four natives to bear any amount of fatigue
without a murmur, and each day's march farther north had heightened
their hopes that they might use their guns against their old enemies. It
was on the twenty-first day after starting that, from a hill commanding
a broad extent of country, they caught sight of a train of waggons, and
knew that their journey was just at an end. They had debated which side
of the Komati river would be the best to follow, and had agreed to take
the eastern bank.
The Boer territory extended a few miles beyond this. Komati-poort was
close to the frontier. As they knew nothing as to the construction of
the bridge beyond the fact that it was iron, and were not even sure
whether it was entirely on Boer ground, or if the eastern bank of the
river here belonged to the Portuguese, they decided that at any rate it
was better to travel as near the frontier as possible, as, were they
pursued they could ride at once across the line. Not that they believed
that the Boers would respect this, but they would not know the country
so well as that on their own side, and would not find countrymen to join
them in the pursuit.
Keeping down on the eastern side of the hills, they continued until they
could see the white line of steam that showed the direction in which a
train from the south-east was coming, and were therefore able to
calculate within half a mile where the bridge must be situated. They
camped in a dry donga, and next morning at daybreak left their horses
behind them in charge of the men and walked forward. A mile farther they
obtained a view of the bridge. It stood at the point where the river,
after running for some little distance north-west, made a sharp curve to
the south. The bridge stood at this loop. If the object had been to
render it defensible, it had been admirably chosen by these Boers who
laid out the line to the Portuguese frontier, for from the other side of
the bank the approach could be swept by cannon and even musketry on both
Lying down, they took in all the details of the construction through
their glasses, and then, choosing their ground so that they could not be
seen by any on the bridge, they kept on until they were able to obtain a
view from a distance of a quarter of a mile. The examination that was
now made was by no means of a satisfactory nature. Near the bridge there
were sidings on which several lines of loaded trucks stood. An engine
was at work shunting. At least a score of natives were at work under the
direction of Portuguese, while several men, who were by their dress
evidently Boers, were pointing out to the officials the trucks they
desired to be first forwarded. Three or four of these carried huge
cases, two of them being each long enough to occupy two trucks.
"There is no doubt those are guns," Chris said. "If we can do nothing
else, we can work a lot of damage here, which will be some sort of
satisfaction after our long ride. As to our main object, things don't
Half a dozen armed Boers could be made out stationed at the Portuguese
side of the bridge, and as many more at the opposite end. Two lately-
erected wooden huts, each of which could give shelter to some fifty men,
stood a short distance beyond the bridge, and it was evident by the
figures moving about, and a number of horses grazing near, that a strong
party was stationed there to furnish guards for the bridge.
"I am afraid we cannot do it," Peters said, after their glasses had all
been fixed on the bridge for several minutes; "at least, I don't see any
chance. What do you say, Chris?"
"No, I am afraid there is none. If we were to crawl up to them to-night
and shoot down all at this end of the bridge, we should be no nearer.
You see, there are a line of huts on this side, and two or three better-
class houses. No doubt the railway officials and natives all live there;
they would all turn out when they heard the firing, and the Boers would
come rushing over from the other side. It would be out of the question
for us to carry forward those four boxes to the middle of the bridge,
plant them over the centre of the girders, and light the fuses. A
quarter of an hour would be wanted for the business at the very least,
and we should not have a minute, if there is as good a guard by night as
there is by day. It is likely to be at least as large, perhaps much more
than that. The thing is impossible in that way. However, of course we
can crawl up close after dark and satisfy ourselves about the guard.
"If it is not to be managed in that way, we must go down to the river
bank and see whether there is anything to be done with one of the piers.
If that is not possible, we must content ourselves with smashing things
up generally on this side. Several of the trucks look to me to be full
of ammunition, and there are eight with long cases which are no doubt
rifles. We all remember that terrific smash at Johannesburg, and though
I don't say we could do such awful damage as there was there--for there
were I don't know how many tons of dynamite exploded then, I think about
fifty--still, it would be a heavy blow. Any amount of stores would be
destroyed, some thousand of rifles, and, for aught I know, all those
waggons with tarpaulins over them are full of cartridges. However, the
bridge is the principal thing. We will stop here for an hour or two and
examine every foot of the ground, so as to be able to find our way in
the dark. We need not mind about the trucks now, we can examine their
position to-morrow if we have to give up the idea of the bridge."
On returning to their horses they had a long talk. Chris was deeply
disappointed, but the others, who had never quite believed that his
scheme could be carried out, were greatly delighted at the knowledge
that at any rate they might be able to do an immense deal of damage to
the enemy. As soon as it became quite dark, they set out again; they did
not take their rifles with them, but each had his brace of revolvers.
They had no intention of fighting, except to secure a retreat. Before
starting, each had wound strips of flannel round his boots, so that they
could run noiselessly. Brown had in the first place suggested that they
should take their boots off, but Chris pointed out that if they had to
run in the dark, one or other of them was sure to lame himself by
striking against a stone or other obstacle. There were several large
fires in the shunting yard, and at each end of the bridge, and at the
Boer barracks. Crawling along on their hands and knees they were
completely in the shade, and managed to get within some twenty or thirty
yards of the Boers, who were sitting smoking and talking. They were all
evidently greatly satisfied with news that they had heard during the
day. Listening to their talk, they gathered something of what had
happened since they left Estcourt. Colenso had been evacuated by us, an
armoured train coming up from Estcourt had been drawn off the line, and
most of the soldiers with it had been killed or captured. The last news
was that the British had sallied out from Estcourt, which was now
surrounded, and had attacked the Boers posted in a very strong position
near a place called Willow Grange, but had been repulsed, principally by
the artillery, with, it was said, immense loss. This was not pleasant
hearing for the listeners. The Boers then had a grumble at being kept so
far away from the fighting. It was not that they were so anxious to be
engaged, as to get a share of the loot, as it had been reported that
something like twenty thousand cattle and horses had been driven off
Then their conversation turned upon a point still more interesting to
the listeners. A commando had started from Barberton, a border town some
thirty or forty miles to the west, into Swaziland. A native had
mentioned to one of the Boers there that four Englishmen had passed
north. They had stopped at his chief's kraal. They were all quite young,
and had five natives with them, and three pack-horses. They had come to
shoot and see the country, they said; but they had spoken with one of
the men with them, who said that so far they had not done much hunting,
only enough for food; he supposed that they were going to begin further
on. The Boer had an hour later ridden down to Barberton with the news,
and it had been at once resolved to send off a commando of a hundred men
to search the hills, for there was a suspicion that the hunters were
British officers who had come up to act as spies.
"Our cornet had a telegram this afternoon," one of them said, "that we
were to be specially vigilant here, and we must keep a sharp lookout at
night. I don't suppose they are on this side of the river. They may be
going to pull up the railway, or blow up a culvert somewhere between
this and Barberton. Four men with their Kaffirs might do that, but they
certainly could not damage this bridge."
At ten o'clock most of the party retired into a small shed a few yards
away, but two remained sitting by the fire, and were evidently left on
guard, for they kept their rifles close at hand. The lads now crawled
away some distance, and then made their way down a steep bank to the
river. It was a stream of some size, running with great rapidity, and it
did not take them long to decide that it would be impossible to swim out
with the cases and place these in such a situation that the explosion
would damage the structure. They then moved quietly up to the spot where
the end of the last span touched the level ground; it rested upon a
solid wall built into the rock, and ran some forty feet above their
heads. They were now just under where the Boers were sitting, could hear
their voices, and see the glow of their fire. They were unable to make
out the exact position of the girders, but they had, when watching it,
obtained a general view of the construction.
It consisted of two lines of strong girders on each side, connected by
lattice bars, with strong communications between the sides at each pier.
The depth of the girders was some twenty feet. After cautiously feeling
the wall and finding that there were no openings in which their
explosives could be placed, they crawled away noiselessly, ascended to
the bank again a couple of hundred yards from the bridge, and returned
to their camping ground. They observed as they went that there were
still fires burning in the station yard, that some Kaffirs were seated
near these, and as, in the silence of the night, a faint sound could be
heard like that of a distant train, they had no doubt that they were
waiting up for one to arrive. Indeed, before they had reached the
camping place they saw a train pass by. It had no lights save the head-
lights and that of the engine fire, and they therefore had no doubt that
it was another train with stores.
When they reached their tents they had a long consultation. No fire had
been lighted. The horses had been taken some way up a little ravine down
which a stream of water trickled; here the four natives had taken up
their post. These had only come down in the middle of the day to fetch
their food, which Jack cooked over the spirit stove. This was alight
when the lads returned, but was carefully screened round by blankets so
that not the slightest glow could be seen from a distance.
"What do you think of it, Chris?" Brown said.
"I don't know what to think about it. I have no idea what effect
dynamite would have when exploded at a distance of thirty or forty feet
below a bridge. Certainly it would blow the roadway up, but I have very
great doubts whether it would so twist or smash the main girders as to
render the bridge impassable. The distance to the first pier is not
great, and unless one entirely destroyed the bridge, I should say that
it could be repaired very soon--I mean, in a week or two--by a strong
gang. If the girders kept their places, two or three days' work might
patch it up temporarily. If it were destroyed altogether as far as the
first pier, it would stop the cannon getting over till a temporary
bridge is constructed; but by rigging up some strong cables, they could
pass cases of musket ammunition across the gap in the same way, you
know, as I have seen pictures of shipwrecked people being swung along
under a cable in a sort of cradle. What do you think, Peters?"
"Two hundred pounds of dynamite would do a lot of damage, Chris. I
should think that it would certainly bring the wall down."
"I have no doubt that it would do that, Peters, but the ironwork goes
some ten yards farther, and no doubts rests on the solid rock. I expect
the wall is put there more to finish the thing off than to carry much of
the weight. Again, you see it is only a single line, and not above ten
feet wide, which is against us, for the wider the line the better chance
it has of being smashed by an explosion some forty feet below it. Well,
we will have another look at the bridge and the waggons to-morrow. Of
course the bridge is the great thing if it can be managed, though I
don't say that blowing up the yard would not be a good thing if we can't
make sure of the other. Anyhow, we need not feel down-hearted about it.
We came up here on the chance, and even though we may not be able to do
exactly what we want, we ought to manage to do them a lot of damage."
After eating their supper they turned in to their two little tents. The
spirit-lamp had been extinguished, and as they had not the least fear of
discovery, they did not consider it necessary to place a sentinel. In
the morning they were out again early and at their former post of
"What are they up to now?" Brown said an hour later when he saw a party
of Boers come down the opposite side close to the bridge, carrying posts
Chris made no answer, he was watching them intently. They stopped near
the bank of the river close to the bridge. Then some of them set to work
to level a space of ground, while others made holes at the corners.
"I am afraid that it is all up with our plans as far as the bridge is
concerned. They are going to put up a hut there, and I have not the
least doubt it means they are going to station a guard under the bridge.
If they do it that side, they are probably doing the same on this, only
we can't see them. The Boers are stupid enough in some things, but they
are sharp enough in others, and it is possible that the commando from
Barberton has come upon one of the kraals where we slept, and asking a
lot of questions about us, they have found out that we had four heavy
boxes with us, and the idea may have struck them that these contained
explosives. If that did occur to them, it is almost certain that a man
has been sent off at once to Barberton with orders to telegraph here and
to other bridges, to take every precaution against their being blown up.
Anyhow, there is a hut building there, and I don't see that it can be
for any other purpose."
After three hours' work the hut was completed, and a party of eight men
brought down blankets and other kit. Two of these at once ascended the
bank with their rifles and sat down at the foot of the wall.
"That ends the business," Chris said. "However, I will creep round to a
point where I can get a view of this side of the bridge. Possibly they
have only taken precautions on their own side, for we were travelling
for some time in the Swazis' country to the west of the Komati, and that
is where they will have heard of us." He crawled away among the rocks,
and rejoined his companions an hour later.
"It is just the same this side. They have settled the question for us.
Now we will give our attention to the waggons."
Having given up all hopes of blowing up the bridge, Chris and his
comrades turned their whole attention to the lines of waggons. The train
that had come in on the previous evening had added to the number,
although it had taken some of them away with it up country. They now
made out that there were eight waggons piled with cases, that almost
certainly contained rifles; six with tarpaulins closely packed over
them, and these they guessed contained ammunition boxes; four, each with
two large cases that might contain field guns; while the two with what
they were sure were big guns still remained on the siding.
"I should say that about four or five pounds of dynamite would be an
abundance for each of those ammunition waggons; less than that would do,
as we could, by slitting the tarpaulins, put a pound among the cases,
and if one case were exploded it would set all the others off. There is
no trouble about them. I will just take a note. They are on the second
siding; there are eight other waggons in front of them and six behind,
so we cannot make any mistake about that. There must be a good heavy
charge under the rifle trucks, for we shall have to blow them all well
into the air to bend and damage them enough to be altogether
unserviceable. As for the guns, and especially the heavy ones, it is a
difficult question. Of course, if we could open the cases and get at the
breech-pieces, and put dynamite among them, we could damage all the
mechanism so much that the guns would be useless until new breech-pieces
were made, which I fancy must be altogether beyond the Boers; but as
there is no possibility of opening them, we must trust to blowing the
guns so high in the air that they will be too much damaged for use by
the explosion and fall. We have got altogether two hundredweight; now
two pounds to each ammunition waggon will take twelve pounds. What shall
we say for the rifles?"
"Ten pounds," Brown suggested.
"That would take eighty more pounds," Willesden objected, "which would
make a big hole in our stores."
"We must have a good charge," Chris said. "Suppose we say nine pounds to
each, that will save eight pounds; fifteen pounds apiece ought to give
the eight cases which we suppose hold field-guns a good hoist; that will
leave us with over a hundred pounds, fifty for each of the big guns. Now
that we have seen all that is necessary, we may as well be off and begin
to get ready."
The covers were taken off the boxes of dynamite, and these were
unscrewed, and the explosive was with great care divided into the
portions as agreed upon. Two of the cases furnished just sufficient for
the ammunition waggons and the two big guns, the other two for the
smaller cannon and the trucks with the rifles. The charges were sewn up
in pieces of the canvas, the smaller charges for the ammunition boxes
being enclosed in thinner stuff that had been sewn under the canvas used
in packing; the fuses and detonators were then cut and inserted. Chris
was perfectly up in this work, having performed the operation scores of
times in the mines. The length it should burn was only decided after a
There would be in all nineteen charges to explode, and these were in
three groups at some little distance from each other, all the cannon
being on the same siding. It would be necessary, perhaps, to wait for
some time till all these were free from observation by natives or others
who might be moving about the yard, then a signal must be given that
they could all see. It would not take long to light the fuses, for each
of them would be provided with a slow match, which burns with but a
spark, and could be held under a hat or an inverted tin cup till the
time came for using it. The question was how far must they be away to
ensure their own safety, and Chris maintained that at least four or five
hundred yards would be necessary to place them in even comparative
safety from the rain of fragments that would fall over a wide area.
Finally it was agreed to cut the fuses to a length to burn four minutes;
this would allow a minute for any hitch that might occur in lighting
them, and three minutes to burn. It was of course important that they
should be no longer than was absolutely necessary, as there existed a
certain risk that one of the little sparks might be seen by a passing
Kaffir, or, as was still more probable, the smell of burning powder
should attract attention. It was agreed that Chris should light the
fuses at the cannon, which were farthest from the others, that Peters
should see to the six rifle trucks, and Willesden and Brown attend the
eight trucks with the ammunition, one to begin at each end of the line.
When each had finished his work, he was to run straight away in the
direction of the encampment, and all were to throw themselves down when
they felt sure that the time for the explosions had arrived. As soon as
all was over they were to meet at their place of encampment. Tents and
all stores were to be removed before the work began to the ravine where
the horses were, the men with them being charged to stand at the
animals' heads, as there would be a great explosion, and the horses
might break loose and stampede. The matter that puzzled them the most
was how, when they reached their respective stations--separated from
each other by lines of waggons, and in some cases by distances of a
couple of hundred yards--they were to know when the work of lighting the
fuses was to begin. It could not be done by sound, for this would reach
the ears of any awake in the yard or the sentries at the bridge. Chris
at last suggested a plan.
"When we start, Jack shall be stationed at a point on the hillside high
enough for us to see him from all points of the yard. We will show him
the exact spot while it is light. When we start he shall go down with us
to the edge of the yard, and as we separate will turn and go up to the
point we had shown him. He will be ordered to walk up quietly, and not
to hurry; that will give us ample time to get to our stations before he
reaches his. We must all keep our eyes fixed on that point. He will take
the dark lantern with him; when he gets there he must turn the shade
off, so as to show the light for a quarter of a minute. That will be our
signal to begin. It is most unlikely that anyone else will see it, but
even if they did they would simply stare in that direction and wonder
what it was. Of course, only a flash would be safer; but some of us
might not see it, and would remain waiting for it until the other
explosions took place."
All agreed that this would be a very good plan. Chris crawled up with
Jack until he reached a spot where he commanded a perfect view of the
yard, and explained to him exactly what he was to do. He had already
been told what was going to take place. Knowing that the Kaffirs have
very little idea of time, he said: "You will hold it open while you say
slowly like this, 'I am showing the light, baas, and I hope that you can
all see it.' You will say that over twice and then turn off the light,
and lie down under that big rock till you hear the explosion. Wait a
little, for stones and fragments will come tumbling down. When they have
stopped doing so make your way straight to where the horses are; you
will find us there before you. Now, repeat over to me the words you are
to say slowly twice."
Jack did so, and finding on questioning him that he perfectly understood
what he was to do, Chris went back with him to the encampment, where
they remained quietly until the sun set and darkness came on. Then,
according to arrangement, the four natives came in and carried all the
things back to the ravine, and laid them down ready to pack the horses
as soon as their masters returned.
The day passed slowly to the lads. All were in a state of suppressed
excitement, an excitement vastly greater than they had felt during their
two fights with the Boers.
"How they will wonder who did it when they hear the news down in Natal!"
"I don't expect they will hear much about it," Chris said. "You may be
sure the Boers will not say much; they make a big brag over every
success, but they won't care to publish such a thing as this. Probably
their papers will only say: 'An explosion of a trifling nature occurred
on the Portuguese side of Komati-poort. Some barrels of powder exploded;
it is unknown whether it was the result of accident or the work of
spies. Due precaution will be taken to prevent the recurrence of the
accident. Beyond a few natives employed at the station, no one was
The others laughed. "I suppose that will be about it, Chris. However, I
have no doubt that that commando from Barberton will keep a very sharp
look-out for us as we go back."
"Yes, but they won't catch us. We won't venture into Swaziland again,
but will make our way down on the Portuguese side, following the railway
till we are fairly beyond the mountain range. We can ride fast now that
we have got rid of the dynamite. It will be some time before they get
the news about what has happened here, for the telegraph wires are sure
to be broken and the instruments smashed. I really think that our best
way will be to ride straight down to Lorenzo Marques. When we get there
we can very well state that we had been ordered to leave Johannesburg,
and that, as the trains are so slow and so crowded with fugitives, we
had ridden down. I don't suppose that we shall attract the least notice,
for we know that a great many of those who had intended to stay have
been ordered off. That way we shall get back to Natal in a few days and
avoid all danger." The others agreed that this would be a capital plan;
and the distance by the road, which they had crossed a few miles to the
south, and which runs from Lorenzo Marques up to Ladysdorp and the
Murchison and Klein Lemba gold-fields, would not be above seventy miles.
They would wait till daybreak showed them the amount of damage that had
been done, and then start, and would be down at Lorenzo Marques in the
evening, when, even if the news of the explosion reached the town, the
Boers' suspicions that some Englishmen were in the hills, and that it
was probably their work, would not be known. Not until ten o'clock was a
move made. Then they took up the packages of dynamite, and, accompanied
by Jack, made their way noiselessly down to the railway yard.
Here they separated. Chris, aided by Jack, carried the big packets for
the large guns and for the eight smaller ones. They met no one about,
and depositing their packages in the right position under them--the
fuses had been already inserted--they returned to the spot they had
left. In a minute or two they were joined by the others. Peters had
placed his parcels under the eight trucks with rifles; Willesden and
Brown had cut holes in the tarpaulins of the ammunition trucks, and
thrust down their charges well among the boxes. All was ready. While the
others stood closely round him Jack opened the lantern just widely
enough for them to light their slow matches.
"Now, you are not to hurry back to the place, Jack; we shall all be on
the look-out for you by the time you get there. You know your
instructions; you are to turn round, open the slide of the lantern, say
the words I told you over twice slowly, then shut the lantern and get
under that great boulder lying against the rock. You will be perfectly
safe in there."
"I understand, baas," he said, and at once turned and went off. The
others hurried to their respective posts, and then turned round and
gazed at the spot where the light would be shown. In their anxiety and
excitement the time seemed interminable, and each began to think that
the native had somehow blundered; at last the light appeared, and they
turned at once to their work. Half a minute sufficed to light the fuses,
and then they hurried away cautiously until past all the waggons, and
then at full speed along the hillside, their thickly-padded shoes making
no noise upon the rocks. Knowing that they were sure to be confused as
to the time, they had calculated before the sun had set how far they
could run in three minutes, which should be, if all went well, the time
they would have after leaving the yard. They thought that even on the
rough ground, and in the dark, they could make a hundred and fifty yards
a minute, and at about four hundred and fifty from the waggons there was
a low ridge of rock behind which they would obtain protection from all
fragments blown directly outwards.
Chris was the first to arrive, for the trucks with the cannon were those
farthest away from the bridge, and he was able to run for some distance
along the line before making for the elope, and therefore travelled
faster than his companions, who had farther to run on broken ground. In
half a minute they rushed up almost together.
"Throw yourselves down," Chris shouted; "we shall have it directly."
Twenty seconds later there was a tremendous roar and a blinding crash,
and they felt the ground shake. Almost simultaneously came eight others,
then in quick succession followed six other reports, and mingled with
these a confused roar of innumerable shots blended together. There was a
momentary pause, and then a deafening clatter as rifles, fragments of
iron and wood came falling down over a wide area. Several fell close to
where the lads were crouched against the rock, but none touched them.
For a full half-minute the fragments continued to fall, then the boys
stood up and looked round. It was too dark to see more than that the
yard was a chaos; the long lines of waggons, the huts and buildings, had
all disappeared; loud shouts could be heard from the other side of the
bridge, but nearer to them everything was silent. There was no doubt
that the success of the attempt was complete, and the lads walked back
quietly until they were at the spot where the horses had been placed,
Jack overtaking them just as they reached it.
"It was terrible, baas," he said in an awed voice. "Jack thought his
life was gone. Things fell on the rock but could not break it."
"Nothing short of one of those big cannon would have done that, Jack.
Well, we shall see in the morning what damage is done."
The four natives, although they had been warned, were still terribly
frightened. The horses had at the first crash broken away and run up the
ravine, but they had just brought them down again, still trembling and
lathering with fear. For some minutes the boys patted and soothed them,
and accustomed to their voices and caresses they gradually quieted down,
but were very restless until day began to break. The boys had no thought
of sleep. The lamp was lit and tea made, and each of the Kaffirs was
given a glass of spirits and water, for they had brought up a bottle
with them in case of illness or any special need; and it was evident
from their chattering teeth and broken speech that the natives needed a
stimulant badly. Before it became light the horses were saddled, and the
five natives told to take them along the hill a mile farther. When they
had seen them off the lads returned to their former post above the
station. They had several times, when they looked out during the night,
seen a great light in that direction, and had no doubt that some of the
fallen huts had caught fire.
[Illustration: "THERE WAS A TREMENDOUS ROAR AND A BLINDING CRASH."]
Prepared as they were for a scene of destruction, the reality far
exceeded their expectations. All the waggons within a considerable
distance of the explosions were smashed into fragments, their wheels
broken and the axles twisted. The ammunition trucks had disappeared, and
many close to them had been completely shattered. Those in which the
muskets had been were a mere heap of fragments; the rest of the trucks
lay, some with their sides blown in, others comparatively uninjured.
Some were piled on the top of others three or four deep; their contents
were scattered over the whole yard. Boxes and cases were burst open, and
their contents--including large quantities of tea, sugar, tinned
provisions in vast quantities, and other stores--ruined.
Some still smoking brands showed where the huts had stood, and the dead
bodies of some twenty natives and several Portuguese officials, were
scattered here and there. The bodies of eight Boers were laid out
together by the bridge, and forty or fifty men were wandering aimlessly
amid the ruins. A huge cannon stood upright nearly in the centre of the
yard. It had fallen on its muzzle, which had penetrated some feet into
the earth. They could not see where its fellow had fallen. Five others,
which looked like fifteen-pounders, were lying in different directions,
the other three had disappeared. Rifles twisted, bent, and ruined were
lying about everywhere.
"It is not as good as the bridge," Chris said after they had used their
glasses for some time in silence, "but it is a heavy blow for them, and
I should think it will be a week before the line can be cleared ready
for traffic. Even when they begin they will feel the loss of so much
rolling-stock. There were five engines in the yard. Every one of these
has been upset, and will want a lot of repairs before it is fit for
anything again. I wish I had a kodak with me to take a dozen snap-shots,
it would be something worth showing when we get back. Well, we may as
well be moving. The Boers look as if they were stupefied at present, but
they will be waking up presently, and the sooner we start for Lorenzo
Marques the better."
Half an hour later they had mounted and were on their way, travelling
slowly till they came upon the road, and then at a fast pace. Jack rode
the spare horse, the other natives rode the ponies in turn, those on
foot keeping up without difficulty by laying a hand on the saddles.
Sometimes they trotted for two or three miles, and then went at a walk
for half an hour, and stopped altogether for four hours in the heat of
the day, for they were now getting on to low land, being only some three
hundred feet above the sea. They reached Lorenzo Marques at about nine
o'clock in the evening, and failing to find beds, for the town was full
of emigrants from the Transvaal, they camped in the open. In the morning
they sold the two ponies, and were fortunate in finding a steamer lying
there that would start the next day. Being very unwilling to part with
their horses they arranged for deck passages for them, taking their own
risk of injury to them in case of rough weather setting in. Every berth
was already engaged, but this mattered little to them, as they could
sleep upon the planks as well as on the ground.
They found that there was some excitement in the town, as there was a
report that there had been an explosion and much damage done near
Komati-poort. No particulars were, however, known, as the railway
officials maintained a strict silence as to the affair. It was known,
however, that the telegraphic communication with the Transvaal was
broken, and that three trains filled with Kaffir labourers, and
accompanied by a number of officials and a company of soldiers, had gone
up early that morning. Among the fugitives strong hopes were expressed
that the damage had been serious enough to interrupt the traffic for
some little time, and to cause serious inconvenience to the Boers, and
some even hazarded the hope that the bridge had suffered. This, however,
seemed unlikely in the extreme.
Fortunately the weather was fine on the run down to Durban, and the
passage of three hundred miles was effected in twenty-four hours. It was
now just a month since they had left Maritzburg, and as soon as they
landed with their horses and followers they learned that much had taken
place during that time.
They had started on the 10th of November. The Boers were then steadily
advancing, and so great did the danger appear, that Durban had been
strongly fortified by the blue jackets, aided by Kaffir labour. On the
25th Sir Redvers Buller had arrived, and by this time a considerable
force was gathered at Estcourt. The British advance began from that town
on the following day. The place had been entirely cut off, Boers
occupying the whole country as far as the Mooi river. General Hildyard,
who commanded at Estcourt, had been obliged to inarch out several times
to keep them at a distance from the town, and one or two sharp artillery
engagements had taken place, the Boers being commanded by General
Joubert in person. They had always retired a short distance, but their
movements were so rapid that it was useless to follow; and the troops
had each time fallen back to Estcourt. On the 28th the Boers had blown
up the bridge across the Tugela, and our army was moving forward, and a
great battle was expected shortly. On landing Chris rode at once to the
address given by his mother, and found that she had sailed for Cape Town
a week before. Riding then to the railway, he found that the line was
closed altogether to passenger traffic, but that a train with some
troops and a strong detachment of sailors was going up that evening.
Learning that a naval officer was in command, as the military consisted
only of small parties of men who had been left behind, when their
regiments left, to look after and forward their stores, he went to him.
He had, before landing, donned his civilian suit.
"What can I do for you, sir?" the officer, who was watching a party
loading trucks with sheep, asked.
"My name is King, sir. I have just returned from an expedition to
Komati, I and three friends with me, and we have succeeded in blowing up
a large number of waggons containing a battery of field artillery, two
very heavy long guns, which, by the marks on the case, came from
Creusot, some eight or ten thousand rifles, and six truck-loads of
"The deuce you have!" the officer said, looking with great surprise at
the lad who told him this astonishing tale. Then sharply he added: "Are
you speaking the truth, sir? You will find it the worse for you if you
"What I say is perfectly true," Chris said quietly. "We only arrived an
hour since from Lorenzo Marques. This open letter from General Yule will
show you that the party of boys of whom I was the leader, have done some
good service before now."
The officer opened and read the letter. "I must beg your pardon for
having doubted your word," he said, as he handed it back. "After
adventuring into a Boer camp, and giving so heavy a lesson to a superior
force of the enemy, I can quite imagine you capable of carrying out the
adventure you have just spoken of. Now, sir, what can I do for you?"
"I have come to ask if you will allow myself and my three friends to
"That I will most certainly. And indeed, as you have a report to make of
this matter to General Buller, you have a right to go on by the first
military train. Is there anything else?"
"Yes, sir; I should be greatly obliged if you will authorize the
station-master to attach a carriage to the train to take our five
"I will go with you to him," the officer said. "I can't say whether that
can be managed or not."
The station-master at first said that it was impossible, for his orders
were for a certain number of carriages and trucks, and with those orders
from the commanding officer he could not add to the number.
"But you might slip it on behind, Mr. Station-master," the officer said.
"There are four gentlemen going up with a very important report to Sir
"I would do it willingly enough," the station-master said, "but the
commanding officer is bound to be down here with his staff, and he would
notice the horses directly."
"They might be put in a closed van, sir," Chris urged. "And as there are
so many full of stores, it would naturally be supposed that this was
also loaded with them."
The official smiled. "Well, young gentleman, I will do what I can for
you. As the officer in command of the train has consented, I can fall
back upon his authority if there should be any fuss about it. The train
will start at eight this evening; you had better have your horses here
two hours before that. Entrain them on the other side of the yard, and I
will have the waggon attached to the train quietly as soon as you have
got them in. The general is not likely to be down here till half an hour
before the train starts, and it is certainly not probable that he will
count the number of carriages."
It was now half-past five, and Chris joined his friends, who were
waiting with the horses and Kaffirs near the station. They had hardly
expected him so soon, as they did not know that his mother had left.
"Good news," he said. "There is a through train going up this evening,
and I have got permission for us and the horses to go; but they must be
put in a truck by half-past six, and we may as well get them in at once.
We still have our water-skins; the Kaffirs had better get them filled at
once, and a good supply of mealies for the horses on the way; there is
no saying how long we may be. Willesden, do you run into a store and get
a supply of bread and a cold ham for ourselves; a good stock of bread
for the Kaffirs, and a jar of water, and a hamper, with a lock,
containing two dozen bottles of beer, the mildest you can get, for them.
We are sure to get out for a few minutes at one of the stations, and can
then unlock the hamper and give them a bottle each. It would never do to
leave it to their mercy; they would drink it up in the first half-hour,
and then likely enough quarrel and fight. For ourselves, we will have a
small skin of water and, say, three bottles of whisky. The carriage is
sure to be full, and it will be acceptable in the heat of the day
tomorrow. The remainder of our supply of tea and so on, and the lamp and
other things, had better all go in with the horses, and everything we do
not absolutely want in the train with us; there will be little room
enough. Get an extra kettle, then we can not only make ourselves a cup
of tea or cocoa on the road, but give some to any friend we may make;
besides, it is sure to come in useful when we get to the front."
"I will see to all that."
"If you will, take Jack with you to carry the things you buy."
"I had better take two of them; it will be a good weight."
"Very well, take one of the Zulus; the other can lead the spare horse,
and likely enough we shall have some trouble in getting them into the
That work, however, turned out more easy than he had expected. The
station-master pointed out the waggon that he was to take, which was
standing alone on one of the lines of rails. They all set to work, and
were not long in running it alongside an empty platform, from which the
horses were led into it without trouble, being by this time accustomed
to so many changes that they obeyed their masters' orders without
hesitation. They had, too, already made one railway journey, and had
found that it was not unpleasant. The station-master happened to catch
sight of them, and sent two of the porters to take the waggon across the
various points to the rear of the train, where it was coupled. The
water-skins had been filled and the horses given a good drink before
entering the station, and the stores, waterproofs, and other spare
articles stowed with the horses. The shutter was closed, and the Kaffirs
told that on no account were they to open it or show their faces until
the train had left the station.
In a few minutes Willesden came up with the two natives heavily laden.
As soon as the stores and natives were all safely packed away and the
door of the van locked by one of the porters, the lads went out and had
a hearty meal at an hotel near the station. When they returned a large
number of soldiers and sailors were gathered on the platform. Their
baggage had already been stowed, and they were drawn up in fours, facing
the train, in readiness to enter when the word was given, the officers
standing and chatting in groups. The station was well lighted, as, in
addition to the ordinary gas-lamps, several powerful oil-lamps had been
hung up at short intervals. The naval men were in the front part of the
train, and on Chris walking up there the officer in command beckoned to
"I will take you in the carriage with me, Mr. King. We want very much to
hear your story, and there is plenty of room for you. Your three
companions will go in the next two compartments, which will contain
junior officers and midshipmen, and I am sure that they too will be very
welcome. Before we board the train I will get you all to go and sit at
the windows at the other side. If you will bring your friends up I will
introduce them to their messmates on the trip. As soon as we have all
entered, we shall be at the window saying good-by to our friends, and no
one will catch sight of you. It is just as well, for although I feel
perfectly justified in taking you on to make your report to the
commander-in-chief, my senior might fuss over it; and although he might
let you go on, there would be a lot of explanations and bother. Have you
got your horses in?"
"Yes, sir; we were able to manage that capitally."
"Then you had better bring your comrades up at once, Mr. King, and I
will introduce them to those they will travel with." Chris brought up
his three friends and introduced them to the officer, who then took them
to the group of youngsters.
"Gentlemen," he said, "these three gentlemen will travel in your
compartment. They have seen a great deal of the war, and belong to one
of the mounted volunteer corps. They have a wonderful story to tell you,
and I am sure you will be delighted with their companionship. They will
take their seats just before the men entrain. They must occupy the seats
near the farther window, and as you will no doubt all be looking out on
this side, they will probably not be noticed, which would be all the
better, as it is a little irregular my taking them up."
By this time a considerable number of people were crowded in the
station, friends of the officers and comrades of the sailors, who looked
enviously at those going forward, while they themselves might possibly
not get a chance of doing so. A quarter of an hour later the officer
"I am going to give the order to entrain. This is my compartment. You
and your friends had better slip into your places at once."
As soon as they had got in the order was given, and with the regularity
of a machine the three hundred men entered the train. As soon as they
had done so the officers took their places. The crowd moved up on to the
platform, and there was much shaking of hands, cheering, and
exhortations to do for the Boers. Suddenly there was a backward movement
on the part of the spectators, and the commanding naval officer on the
station, with several others and a group of military men, came on to the
platform. They were received by the officers in command of the sailors
and soldiers, and walked with them along the platform talking. This was
evidently a matter of ceremony only. The usual questions were put as to
the stores, and after standing and chatting for eight or ten minutes the
officers took their places in the train, the engine whistled, and the
train moved on, amid loud cheering both from those on the platform and
the men at the windows. As soon as they were fairly off, Chris's friend
"I have already introduced you to these officers, Mr. King, but I have
not told them any of your doings. I can only say, gentlemen, that this
young officer is in command of a section of Volunteer Horse, and has
done work that any of us might be proud indeed to accomplish. The best
introduction I can give him, before he begins to tell his story, is by
reading a letter with which General Yule has furnished him."
BACK WITH THE ARMY
While the letter was being passed round from hand to hand, a good deal
to Chris's discomfort, he had time to look more closely than he had done
before at his travelling companions. Three of them were young
lieutenants, the fourth an older man, shrewd but kindly faced. In
introducing him, his friend said: "This is our medico, Dr. Dawlish. I
hope that you will have no occasion to make his professional
acquaintance." When they had all read the letter, the senior lieutenant
said: "Now, Mr. King, we won't ask much of you to-night; we shall have
all to-morrow to listen to your story. We have all had a pretty hard
day's work, and shall before long turn in. Perhaps you will tell us to
begin with what your corps is, and how you became the officer." "There
are twenty-one of us, sir, and we are all about the same age. We were
great friends together at Johannesburg, where our fathers were for the
most part connected with mining. As things went on badly, we decided to
form ourselves into a corps if the war broke out. They chose me as their
leader--for no particular reason that I know of--and with the
understanding that if I did not quite give satisfaction, I should resign
in favour of one of the others. We all came down with our families from
Johannesburg when war was declared, and were grossly insulted and ill-
treated by the Boers, several of the ladies, among them my mother, being
struck on the face with their whips; which, you can imagine, quite
confirmed our determination to fight against them. We had all obtained
our parents' consent, and when we got to Pietermaritzburg, proceeded to
get our horses and equipments. That is all."
"A great deal too short, Mr. King," the lieutenant said. "We want to
know what steps you took, and how you managed it. Did you come down all
the way by train?"
Chris related the events of the journey with more detail, and how, all
being well furnished with money, they had lost no time in getting all
they required, and going back by train to Newcastle.
"That is a good point to leave off," the officer said. "Tomorrow morning
we will take your story in instalments, and I do hope you will give us
the details as minutely as you can. They will greatly interest us, as we
are going in for that sort of thing, and it will show us what can be
done by a small number of young fellows accustomed to the country, well-
mounted, and, I am sure, from what General Yule says, remarkably well
led." All were provided with flasks, and after sampling the contents of
these, they wrapped themselves in their rugs and were soon fast asleep.
The other three lads did not get off so easily, the younger officers
were all so delighted at the prospect of soon being engaged that they
were in no way inclined to sleep, and it was not until the seniors had
long been soundly off that they too agreed to postpone the rest of the
boys' narrative until the next morning. The train travelled very slowly,
and Pietermaritzburg--a distance of seventy miles--was not reached until
day was breaking. Here there was a long pause, and all alighted to
stretch their limbs. The lads ran to the end of the train; Jack was
"I thought that we should stop here, baas," he said; "and I have got the
kettles boiling and ready."
"Good man!" Chris said. "How have the horses passed the night?"
"They have been very quiet, baas."
"That is good to know. Take the kettles off and put three good handfuls
of tea in each."
"When they are emptied, fill them with fresh water and put them again on
the stove. When they boil, bring them to our carriages, having of course
put some tea in before you take them off the lamp. Now, give me one of
those large loaves and the ham, and all the mugs and knives. We will
start breakfast first in my compartment, Willesden; we will pass you in
the ham when we have done with it. Anyhow, the kettles will hold enough
for a mug for everyone in our three compartments, and by the time we
have drunk that the second lot will be boiling. Open a couple of tins of
milk, Jack, and then you can bring them along when you have taken the
kettles. There is no extraordinary hurry, for I heard them say that we
should wait here at least an hour."
There was some amusement among the soldiers and sailors as Jack,
carrying the kettles, and Chris, Willesden, Brown, and Peters with ham,
bread and butter, tin mugs, plates, and three open tins of preserved
milk, came along down the platform.
"What have you got here?" the doctor asked in surprise, as they arrived
at the carriage.
"Breakfast," Chris said. "It is in the rough, but you will get it
rougher than this before you get to Ladysmith."
"Why, you must be a conjurer. Where did you get the water from? We were
just discussing whether we should go out and try to fight our way to
those barrels of beer where the Tommies are clustered, or content
ourselves with spirit and water, a drink I cannot recommend in the
There were exclamations of pleasure from all in the carriage as Jack was
handing in the things.
"We shall not want the ham, Mr. King," the senior lieutenant said. "We
provided ourselves with a great basket of eatables and a few bottles of
wine, but the idea of making tea in the train did not, I think, occur to
any of us."
Chris was not allowed to cut his ham, for the basket contained pies,
chicken, and other luxuries; but the tea was immensely appreciated. By
the time that the first mugs were empty Jack arrived with the fresh
supply, and long before the train started breakfast was over, pipes had
been lighted, and all felt thoroughly awake and cheery. "Do you always
travel so well provided, Mr. King?" the doctor asked.
"We always carry tea, preserved milk, and preserved cocoa, and two or
three gallons of paraffin for cooking with. In case we can't find wood
for a fire, it makes all the difference in the world in our comfort."
"Now, Mr. King, we must waste no more time; so please begin at once, or
there will be no time to hear all your story. Tell us something about
your expedition to Komati-poort. The other we shall hope to hear on
another occasion in our camp, where we shall all be glad to see you at
Chris then related the idea he had formed at Maritzburg, of blowing up
the bridge, and how he had carried out the adventure. He passed very
briefly over the journey, but described fully how they had been obliged
to relinquish their original project, owing to the bridge being so
strongly guarded at both ends; and how, failing in that respect, they
had determined to do as much damage as possible to the great assemblage
of waggons filled with arms and military stores; and fully detailed the
manner in which this had been accomplished, and the aspect of the yard
on the following morning.
"Splendidly planned and carried out!" the commander of the party
exclaimed, and the others all echoed his words. It was astonishing
indeed to think that such a plan should have been conceived and carried
out by a lad no older than some of their junior midshipmen, and assisted
by only three others of the same age.
"The day before we started," the doctor said, "I saw in one of the
Durban papers a telegram from Lorenzo Marques saying that there had been
an explosion at Komati-poort, where a few waggons had been injured and
two natives killed, but that the Boers had suffered in any way, and that
the damage would be repaired and the line opened for traffic in a few
"There is only one word of truth in that, sir," Chris said smiling, "and
that is that no Boers suffered. I am convinced that is strictly true,
for the eight Boers at the bridge were certainly instantaneously killed;
and of the natives, whom I am sorry for, there were certainly eighteen
killed, together with some eight or ten Portuguese employes. If I could
by any possibility have got the natives out of the way I would have done
so. As to the Portuguese I do not feel any great regret, for I believe
all the officials in the custom-house on the railway are bribed by the
Boers to break the official orders they receive as to observing strict
neutrality, and aid in every way in passing the materials of war into
There was no time for further conversation, for they were now within a
short distance of the Tugela, and the train was winding its way between
steep hills which could have been held successfully by a handful of men.
"The only wonder to me is," another officer said, "that the Boers did
not take up and drag away the rails all the way from here to Estcourt.
If they had lifted them out of their sleepers, they had only to harness
a rail behind each horse and trot off with it. I know that there is a
considerable amount of railway material at Durban, but I doubt if there
is anything like sufficient to make twenty miles of road. And the
business would have been still more difficult if the Boers had collected
the sleepers in great piles and burned them. Of course they have
destroyed a good many culverts and the bridge at Estcourt. It is
wonderful that the railway people should have managed to get up a
temporary trestle bridge so soon, and to make a deviation of the line to
carry the trains over. It does their engineers immense credit. This pass
is widening," he added after putting his head out of the window. "I
fancy we shall be at Chieveley in a few minutes."
The train came to a stand-still at a siding a short distance outside the
station, which was crowded by a long line of waggons with stores of all
kinds. A number of sailors were unloading shells for their guns, and a
crowd of Kaffirs, under the orders of military officers, were getting
out the stores. As they alighted, after hearty thanks to the officer
whose kindness had been the means of their getting forward so promptly,
and who now went to report his arrival to Captain Jones, who was
superintending the operations of the sailors, Chris and his party
hurried to the rear waggon. It was a work of considerable difficulty to
get the horses out, and could not have been accomplished had there not
been a stack of sleepers near the spot. A number of these were carried
and piled so as to make a sloping gangway, by which the horses were
brought down. The sleepers being returned to their places, Chris and his
friends mounted and rode to the camp, which was placed behind a long,
low ridge which screened it from the sight of the enemy on the opposite
hills, although within easy range of their heavy guns.
Here before daybreak on the 12th, Major-general Barton's Fusilier
brigade, with a thousand Colonial Cavalry, three field batteries, and
the naval guns, had marched north, and were the following night joined
by another brigade with some cavalry. The next day the big naval guns
had opened fire; but although their shell had reached the lower
entrenchments of the Boers, their batteries on the hill had proved to be
beyond their range even with the greatest elevation that could be given
to them, while the Boer guns carried far beyond the camp.
Chris had learned at Estcourt, where the train stopped a few minutes,
that Captain Brookfield's troop formed part of the Colonial Horse that
had advanced with General Barton's brigade, and they soon discovered
their position. Leaving the horses with the natives, they went to his
"I am delighted to see you back," he exclaimed as they entered. "I heard
in confidence from one of your party, when they joined me a week back,
that you had gone on a mad-brained adventure to try and blow up the
Komati-poort bridge. I was horrified! I had, of course, given you leave
to act on your own responsibility, but I never dreamt of your
undertaking an expedition of that sort. Of course you found it
impossible to get there. A lad told me that you had reckoned on being
away six or seven weeks, and it is less than a month since the date on
which he told me you left. Anyhow, I heartily congratulate you on all
"We got there, sir, but nothing could be done with the bridge, it was so
safely guarded. However, we did blow up two big cannon and a battery of
small ones, some ten thousand rifles, and an enormous quantity of
ammunition." "You don't say so, Chris? Then you had better luck than you
deserved. One of the correspondents told me this morning that there was
news in the town by a telegram from Lorenzo Marques that there had been
an accidental explosion at Komati-poort, but it did not seem to be
anything serious. Tell me all about it."
"I congratulate you most heartily," he said, when Chris had finished the
story. "Of course you have written a report of it?" "Here it is, sir. I
have made it very brief, merely saying that I had the honour to report
that, with Messrs. Peters, Brown, and Willesden, I succeeded in blowing
up, with two hundredweight of dynamite, the things I have mentioned to
you, destroying a large quantity of rolling stock, badly damaging five
locomotives, and destroying roads and sidings to such an extent that
traffic can hardly be resumed for a fortnight. Is the general here,
"No, but he will be here this afternoon. Now, I will not detain you from
your friends. No doubt they saw you ride in, and will be most anxious to
hear of your doings. You will hardly know them again. When they came up
to join us they adopted the uniform of the corps, feeling that it would
be uncomfortable going about in a large camp in civilian dress. They
brought with them uniforms for you all, for they seemed very certain
that you would return alive."
"I am very glad of that, sir, for the soldiers all stared at us as we
came up here. I suppose they took us for sight-seers who had come up to
witness the battle."
As they left the tent they found the rest of their party, gathered in a
group twenty yards away, and the heartiest greeting was exchanged. The
delight of the party knew no bounds when they found that their four
friends had not had their journey in vain. They had two tents between
them, and gathering in one of them they listened to Peters, who told the
story, as Chris said he had told it twice, and should probably have to
tell it again. The four lads at once exchanged their civilian clothes
for the uniforms that had been brought up. They were, like those of the
other Colonial corps, very simple, consisting of a loose jacket reaching
down to the hip, with turned-down collar and pockets, breeches of the
same light colour and material, loose to the knee and tighter below it;
knee boots, and felt hats looped up on one side.
The first step when they were dressed was to mount an eminence some
distance in rear of the camp, whence they had a view of the whole
country. In front of them was a wide valley with a broad river running
through it. Beyond it rose steep hills, range behind range. It was
crossed by two bridges, that of the railway, which had been blown up and
destroyed, and the road bridge, which was still intact; though, as
Sankey, who had accompanied them, told them, it was known to be mined.
To the left of the line of railway was a hill known as Grobler's Kloof,
on the summit of which a line of heavy guns could be seen. There were
other batteries on slopes at its foot commanding the bridge, to the
right of which on another hill was Fort Wylie, and in a bend of the
river by the railway could be seen the white roof of the church tower of
Colenso. There was another battery behind this, and others still farther
to the right on Mount Hlangwane. Heavy guns could be seen on other hills
to the left of Grobler's Kloof; while far away behind Colenso was the
crest of Mount Bulwana, from which a cannonade was being directed upon
Ladysmith and an occasional white burst of smoke showed that the
garrison were replying successfully. On all the lower slopes of the
hills were lines, sometimes broken, sometimes connected, rising one
above another. These were the Boer entrenchments, and Cairns said that
he heard that they extended for nearly twenty miles both to the right
"It is believed that we don't see anything like all of them," he went
on, "but we really don't know much about them, for the Boers only answer
occasionally from their great guns on the hilltops, and although
yesterday the sailors fired lyddite shells at these lower trenches,
there was no reply."
"It is an awful place to take," Chris said, after examining the hills
for a quarter of an hour with his glasses. "We have seen that the Boers
are no good in the open, but I have no doubt they will hold their
entrenchments stubbornly, and it is certain that a great many of them
are good shots. I have gone over the ground at Laing's Nek, and that was
nothing at all in comparison to this position. Do you know how many
there are supposed to be of them, Cairns?"