Part 4 out of 6
"They say that there are about twenty-five thousand of them, but no one
knows exactly. Natives get through pretty often from Ladysmith, but they
know no more there than we do here. They are all jolly and cheerful
there, in the thought that they will soon be relieved."
"I hope that they are not counting their chickens before they are
hatched," Chris said. "I doubt very greatly whether we shall carry those
hills in front of us, and if we do the ranges behind are no doubt
fortified. How about crossing the river?"
"There are several drifts. There is one about four miles to the left of
the bridge, called Bridle Drift. Waggon Drift is about as much farther
on. There is a drift just this side of where the Little Tugela runs into
it, and one just farther on; there is Skeete Drift and Molen Drift, with
a pontoon ferry; there is an important one called Potgieter's Drift,
where the road from Springfield to Ladysmith crosses; and another,
Trichardt's, where a road goes to Acton Homes. I know there are some to
the right, but I don't know their names."
"Well, that is comforting, because even if we take Colenso there would
be no crossing if the bridge is mined. And as the town will be commanded
by a dozen batteries, we should not gain much by its capture. Well, I
tell you fairly that I am well satisfied that we belong to a mounted
corps and shall be only lookers-on, for even if we win we shall
certainly lose a tremendous lot of men. Is there no way of marching
round one way or the other?"
"I believe not. The only way at all open seems to be round by Acton
Homes; that is a place about fifteen miles west of Ladysmith, and on the
principal road from Van Reenen's Pass. From there down to Ladysmith the
country is comparatively open, but it is a tremendously long way round.
I don't know how far, but I should say forty or fifty miles; and
certainly the road will in many places be commanded by Boer guns; and
they will most likely have fortified strong positions at various points.
But, of course, the great difficulty will be transport; I am sure we
have nothing like enough to take stores for the army all that distance.
Besides, Chris, I don't see that we should gain any advantage from going
to Ladysmith that way, we should be as far as ever from thrashing the
Boers, and certainly could not remain in Ladysmith; we should eat up all
the provisions there in no time."
"I don't like the outlook at all," Peters said.
"Ah, there is a general officer with a staff riding into the camp. Most
likely it is Buller. We had better go down, for if Brookfield gives in
my report he may want to speak to me."
The party went down the hill. When they reached their camp they were at
once sent for to Captain Brookfield's tent.
"I am glad that you are back," he said. "Sir Redvers Buller has just
ridden up on to the ridge, I will speak to him as he comes down. You had
better come with me and stand a short distance off. Bring your rifles
with you, and stand in military order; you three in line, and Chris two
paces in front of you."
Having got their rifles they followed Captain Brookfield till he stopped
at the foot of the slope below the point where the general and his staff
were standing. Their leader advanced some fifty yards ahead of them. In
a quarter of an hour the party were seen descending the hill. Captain
Brookfield stepped forward and saluted the general as he came along a
horse's length in front of his staff. Sir Redvers checked his horse a
"What is it sir?" he said sharply. "I cannot attend to camp details
"I command the Maritzburg Scouts," Captain Brookfield said. "Three of my
men, with Mr. King, who commands the section to which they belong, have
just returned. I wish to hand you Mr. King's report; it contains news
which is, I think, of importance."
"Give it to Lord Gerard," the general said briefly, motioning to one of
the officers behind him. "Please see what it is about, Gerard." And he
then moved forward again, briefly acknowledging Captain Brookfield's
salute. He had gone, however, but twenty yards when Lord Gerard rode up
to him and handed to him the open dispatch.
"It is of importance, sir."
Supposing that it was merely the report of four scouts who had gone out
reconnoitring, and with his mind absorbed with weightier matters, the
general had hardly given the matter a thought. Without checking his
horse he glanced at the paper, and then abruptly reined in his charger
and read it through attentively. Then he turned to where Captain
Brookfield was still standing and called him up.
"I do not quite understand this report, sir," he said. "Is it possible
that your men have been up to Komati-poort? I gathered from your words
that they had merely returned from reconnoitring."
"No, sir; they only came in this morning by the train from Durban with
the naval detachment with details."
"But how in the world did they get to Komati-poort?"
"They started from Maritzburg, sir, and rode up through Zululand and
Swaziland. Their object was to blow up the bridge, and to stop supplies
of munitions of war continuing to pass up through Lorenzo Marques. I may
say that they acted on their own initiative. The section to which they
belong is composed entirely of gentlemen's sons from Johannesburg; they
provide their horses and equipment, and draw no pay or rations, and when
they joined my corps made it a condition that so long as not required
for regular work they should be allowed to scout on their own account."
Before calling up Captain Brookfield the general had handed back the
despatch to Lord Gerard, with the words, "Pass it round."
"Are those your men?" the general said, pointing to the little squad.
Sir Redvers rode up to them, and on returning their salute, said: "You
have done well indeed, gentlemen; it was a most gallant action. Have you
your own horse with you?" he asked Chris.
"Yes, sir." "Then mount at once and join me as I leave camp. Then you
can tell me about this matter on my way back."
Chris was soon on horseback. He waited at a short distance while the
general talked with General Barton, and as soon as he saw him turn to
ride off cantered up and joined the staff. The general looked round as
he did so. He beckoned to him to come up to his side.
"Now, sir, let me hear more about this. The captain of the troop that
you belong to, tells me that you and twenty other young fellows, all
from Johannesburg, formed yourselves into a party of scouts, and are
making war at your own expense, and that although in a certain way you
joined his troop you really act independently when it so pleases you."
"Yes, sir. We and our families have received great indignities from the
Boers; and although we are conscious that we should be of little use as
troops, we thought that we could do service as scouts on our own
account, and have been lucky in inflicting some blows on them. I was
fortunate enough to attract Colonel Yule's attention at Dundee, and he
furnished me with an open letter addressed to you, and to officers
commanding stations, saying that we had done so."
"Have you it about you?"
Sir Redvers held out his hand, and Chris handed him the letter. "So you
went into the Boer camp! Do you speak Dutch well?"
"Yes, sir; we all speak Dutch fairly, and most of us Kaffir also, that
was why we thought that we should be more useful scouting; until now we
have all been dressed as young Boers, and could, I think, pass without
"Now as to this other affair," Sir Redvers said, returning Colonel
Yule's letter. "You had better take this, it will be useful to you
another time. Now tell me all about it. Was it entirely your own idea?"
"I first thought of it, sir, and my three friends agreed to go with me.
I did not want a large number. We started from Maritzburg with our own
Kaffir servant, and two Zulus and two Swazis to act as guides, two
ponies, each of which carried a hundredweight of dynamite; we had also a
spare riding horse."
He then related their proceedings from the time of their start to their
arrival at Komati-poort; their failure at the bridge in consequence of
the strong guard that the Boers had set over it; and how, finding that
the main object of their journey could not be carried out, they
proceeded to wreck the station yard and its contents.
"Thank you, Mr. King," the general said, when Chris concluded by
mentioning briefly how they had ridden down to Lorenzo Marques, and
taken a ship to Durban, and come up by train. "I saw the telegram of the
accident at Komati-poort. I imagined that it was probably more severe
than was stated, but certainly had no idea that such wholesale damage
had been effected, or that it was the work of any of our people. I think
that it would be unwise for me to take any public notice of it at
present; possibly there may be another attempt made to destroy that
bridge. If nothing more is said about it, the Boers may in time cease to
be careful, and a few determined men landed at Lorenzo Marques may
manage to succeed where you were unable to do so. It would be worth any
money to us to put a stop to the constant flow of arms and ammunition
that is going on via Lorenzo Marques. I consider your expedition to have
been in the highest degree praiseworthy, and to have been conducted with
great skill." "My father is a mining engineer, and managing-director of
several mines round Johannesburg, general. I have been working there
under him and learning the business, and therefore know a good deal
about dynamite, and what a certain quantity would effect."
"Have you thought of going into the army? because if so, I will appoint
you and your three friends to regiments at once, and you will be
gazetted as soon as my report goes home."
"I am very much obliged to you, general, but I have no thought of
entering the army. I will, of course, mention it to my friends. I have
never heard them say anything on the subject. We are fighting because we
hate the Boers. No one can say, unless he has been resident there, what
we have all had to put up with, for the past year especially. On the way
down the Boers not only threatened to strike us, but struck many of the
ladies, my mother among them, besides robbing everyone of watches and
all other valuables. If it had not been for that, some of us might have
changed our minds before we got down here. That settled the matter. And
besides, sir, I hope that we shall be able to do more good in our own
way than if we became regular officers, as we know nothing about drill
and should be of very little good, whereas we do understand our own way
of fighting. I can say so without boasting, for we have twice thrashed
the Boers; once when they were twice our number, and the other time when
they were nearly four times as strong as we were."
"Go on doing so, Mr. King; go on doing so, you cannot do better.
However, if any of your three friends, or all of them, choose to accept
my offer, it is open to them."
They were by this time close to Frere, and the general went on: "I am
sorry that I cannot ask you to dine with me this evening, as we shall
all be too busy for anything like a regular meal, for in a few hours
there will be a general advance. Good-evening. When I am less busy I
shall be glad to hear about those two fights that you speak of. You
colonists have taught us a few lessons already."
Chris saluted, wheeled his horse round, and cantered back to Chieveley.
There was much satisfaction among the whole of the party when Chris
related what General Buller had said. None of his three companions had
any desire to accept a commission. Willesden's father was a doctor with
a large practice in Johannesburg, and the lad himself was going home
after the war was over to study for the profession and to take his
medical degree; while Brown and Peters were both sons of very wealthy
"If I could not have done any fighting any other way I should have liked
a commission very much. Of course I could have thrown it up at the end
of the war. But I would a great deal rather be on horseback than on
foot, and I own I have no inclination to fight my way across those
hills. Talana was a pretty serious business, but it was child's play to
what this will be."
"Very well," Chris said; "I did not think that any of you would care for
it, although I could not answer for you. There is no need for hurry in
sending in a reply; there will be time to do that when we get into
Ladysmith. Then I will get Captain Brookfield to draw up the kind of
letter that ought to be sent, for I have not the least idea how I should
address a commander-in-chief. Of course, a thing of this sort ought to
be done in a formal sort of way; I could not very well say, 'My dear
general, my three friends don't care to accept your kind offer. Yours
very truly.'" There was a general laugh, and then they talked over the
coming fight, for it was now generally known that the attack was to be
made in a couple of days at latest. The next morning General Buller's
column started before daybreak, and were by nine o'clock encamped on the
open veldt three miles north of Chieveley; Barton's brigade having
already marched out to the site of a new camp, some five thousand yards
south of Colenso. Although well within reach of their guns, the Boers
made no effort to hinder the operation, or to shell the camp after it
was formed. It was evidently their policy to conceal their guns until
the last moment, and although a very heavy bombardment of their
positions was maintained all day by the naval guns, no reply whatever
was elicited, though through the glasses it could be seen that much
damage was being done to the entrenchments.
"I don't like this silence," Chris said, as he and some of the others
were standing watching the hills in front of them. "It does not seem
natural when you are being pelted like that not to shy something back. I
am afraid it will be a terribly hot business when they do open fire
There had been a discussion that morning whether the four natives Chris
had engaged for his expedition should be taken on permanently, and they
unanimously agreed that they should be. It was quite possible that all
the colonial corps would at some time be called upon to act as infantry,
and it would be a good thing to have six men to look after the twenty-
five horses while they were away. Then, too, it would be very handy to
have a stretcher party of their own. On the question being put to them,
the four men had willingly agreed to follow the party whenever they went
into a fight, to take two stretchers with which they could at once carry
any who might be wounded back to camp. They were all strong fellows
belonging to fighting peoples, and would, the boys had no doubt, show as
much courage as the Indian bearers had displayed at Dundee and
Elandslaagte. In the evening Captain Brookfield sent for Chris.
"The orders for to-morrow are out," he said, "as far as we are
concerned. A thousand mounted infantry and one battery are to move in
the direction of Hlangwane--that is the hill, you know, this side of the
river to the right of Colenso. We shall cover the right flank of the
general movement and endeavour to take up a position on the hill, where
the battery will pepper the Boers on the kopjes north of the bridge. Two
mounted troops of three and five hundred men will cover the right and
left flanks respectively and protect the baggage. Half my troop are to
accompany Dundonald, the other half will form a part of the force
guarding the left wing. Your party will be with this force. You have had
your share of fighting, and none of the others have yet had a chance."
"Very well, sir, I shall not be sorry to be on this duty; for naturally
we shall have a good view of the whole fight, while if we were engaged
we should see nothing except what was going on close to us."
"Yes, it will be something to see, Chris, and something to hear, for I
doubt whether there has been so heavy a fire as that which will be kept
up to-morrow, ever since war began. We have some twenty-three thousand
men, and the Boers more than as many, and what with magazine-guns,
machine-guns, and fast-firing cannon of all sizes, it will be an
THE BATTLE OF COLENSO
By daybreak next morning the whole force was under arms. General
Hildyard in the centre was to attack the iron bridge at Colenso. General
Hart's Irish brigade was to march towards Bridle Drift, and after
crossing to move along the left bank of the river towards the kopjes
north of the iron bridge. General Barton was to move forward east of the
railway towards Hlangwane Hill, and to support General Hildyard, or the
Colonial troops moving against that hill as might appear necessary,
while General Lyttleton's brigade, half-way between those of Hildyard
and Hart, were to be prepared to render assistance to either as might be
required. One division of the artillery was to follow Lyttleton's
brigade. The six naval guns were to advance on his right. The sixth
brigade were to aid General Hart, and three batteries of Royal Artillery
to move east of the railway, under cover of the sixth brigade, to a
point from which they could prepare the way for Hildyard's brigade to
cross the bridge.
The action began before six o'clock, the naval guns opening with lyddite
on the trenches on Grobler's Hill, and those between it and Fort Wylie.
No reply whatever was made by the Boers, and the troopers standing by
their horses' heads in readiness to mount should any party of Boers make
a raid on the camp, began to wonder whether the enemy had not retreated.
Hildyard's men advanced in open order close to the railway; the Queen's
own, with the West York in support, on the right of the railway; and the
Devons, with East Surrey behind them, on the left. They marched as
steadily and in as perfect alignment as if on parade, eight paces apart.
Hart's Irish brigade, far away to the left, were in close order. The
cavalry could be seen proceeding at a trot towards Hlangwane, General
Barton's brigade still bearing to the east; and Colonel Long and Colonel
Hunt with their batteries, without waiting for their protection,
galloped straight forward, and, taking up a position almost facing Fort
Wylie, a few hundred yards beyond the river, opened a heavy fire; the
six naval guns, which were drawn by bullocks, being still a considerable
distance behind them.
Still the Boer guns remained silent. But at half past six their musketry
opened suddenly upon the Queen's Own, the Devons, and the guns, in one
continuous roar. It came not only from the entrenchments on the face of
the hill, but from trenches close down by the river, and from the houses
of Colenso, from some railway huts, and from the bushes that fringed the
south bank of the river, which had been believed to be wholly
unoccupied. Five minutes later their cannon joined in the roar, with
machine-guns, one-pounder Maxims, and the great Creusots and Krupps. And
yet through this storm of lead and iron our soldiers went on quietly and
steadily. The very ground round them was torn up by bullet and ball.
Many fell, but there was no flinching; while on their right, Long's
batteries, though swept by a hail of missiles from unseen foes,
maintained a continuous fire at Fort Wylie.
"It is awful!" Peters exclaimed as he lowered his glasses. "I thought it
would be dreadful, but I never dreamt of anything like this. Look at the
bodies dotting the ground our men are passing over, and yet the others
go on as if it was a shower of rain through which they were passing. I
can't look at it any longer." "It is as bad for the artillery," Chris
said, with his glasses still riveted upon them. "I saw a lot of the
horses go down before they were unlimbered, and I can see the men are
falling fast. Surely they can never have been meant to go within five or
six hundred yards of magazine rifles. I thought everyone had agreed that
artillery could not live within range of breech-loaders. Why doesn't
Barton's brigade move down towards them, and try and keep down the fire?
How is Hart getting on?"
But it was not easy to see this even with glasses. They had not become
engaged until a little later than the others, but as they approached the
river an equally terrible fire opened upon them. Being in comparatively
close order, they suffered more heavily than Hildyard had done.
Presently they came upon a spruit which they took to be the main river,
and under a tremendous fire from the Mausers and guns, dashed across it,
and swinging round their left made for the drift, sweeping before them a
number of Boers who had been hidden in the long grass. Trenches were
there line after line, but over these the four regiments--the Connaught
Rangers, the Border regiment, the Inniskilling and Dublin Fusiliers--
dashed forward with such fury that the Boers did not stop to meet their
bayonets. By a quarter-past seven the enemy had been driven across the
Tugela. Without hesitation the Irish dashed into the river. Many fell
headlong, for along the bottom barbed wires had been stretched. Worse
still, it was found that instead of being two feet deep, as was
expected, it was eight feet; for the Boers had erected a dyke across the
river a little lower down, and had dammed the water back.
Some swam across with their rifles and ammunition, but it was a feat
beyond all except the strongest swimmers, and after maintaining
themselves for some time they were forced to retire. The naval guns did
their best to assist them, and silenced some of the Boer cannon that
were pounding them, but they failed to draw the Boer fire upon
themselves. It was only in the centre that even partial success was
gained. Hildyard's men had reached but not captured Colenso bridge. In
spite of the tremendous fire, some of the soldiers tried to make their
way along it, but were recalled; for they were deprived of the support
of the artillery that should have covered their passage, had no hope of
Hart bringing his brigade round to clear the enemy out from the kloofs
on the opposite side, and but little of aid from Lyttleton, who had been
obliged to move farther to the left to lend assistance to Hart. Some of
the Scottish Fusiliers had joined them from Barton's brigade, but the
brigade itself was far away.
Terrible as the fighting was at all points, it was the batteries down by
the river that most engaged the attention of the anxious spectators.
Desperate attempts were being made to get the guns back. Almost all the
horses had been killed, but the drivers of the teams of the ammunition
waggons, the few survivors of the officers, and several of the general's
staff dashed recklessly forward under a hail of fire. Horse and man went
over, but two of the guns were carried off. Fortunately, the naval
battery and the third field battery had not been taken so far forward,
and were withdrawn with comparatively little loss; and the ten guns
stood alone and deserted by the last of the party as it seemed. Then, to
the surprise of the watchers, one of them spoke out, for four of the men
who worked it had stood to their charge to the last. Again and again it
sent its shrapnel among the Boer trenches. One fell and then another,
but two remained. They continued to fire until the last round of reserve
ammunition was finished. Then those who were near enough to make out
their figures saw them take their stand, one on each side of the gun, at
attention, until both fell dead by the side of the piece they had served
so well. Even on the right, where success might really have been hoped
for, everything had gone badly. The dismounted Colonials had fought
their way gallantly up the slopes of the Hlangwane, and nearly reached
the crest. But they were not seconded by Lord Dundonald's cavalry;
Barton's brigade, which was charged with aiding them, were kept at a
distance, and the Colonials were at last forced to fall back.
Great as was the loss at other points, the failure to capture this hill
was really the greatest misfortune of the day. From its position on the
south of the river, and in a loop, batteries erected on its summit would
have taken all the Boer defences on the lower slopes of the hills in
flank, and it would have covered the crossing of the river at Colenso.
Cut off by the river from the rest of the Boer position it could hardly
have been retaken, and its fire would have searched the valley up which
the roadway ran almost as far as Mount Bulwana.
Renewed attempts were made for some time to carry off the guns, but
early in the afternoon the general saw that it was but a waste of life
to persevere further, and orders were despatched for the troops to
retire. It had been a day of misfortunes, and yet a day of glory, for
never had the fighting power of British troops been more splendidly
exhibited, never were greater deeds of individual daring performed;
never had troops supported with heroic indifference so terrible a fire.
Undoubtedly the English general had greatly underrated the fighting
powers of the Boers and the amount of artillery to which he was exposed.
Had he not done so, he would scarcely have distributed his force over so
wide a face, or attacked at three points nearly four miles apart, but
would have prepared for the grand assault by seizing Hlangwane and
firmly establishing some of his batteries there, even at the cost of two
or three days' labour, and only attempted to cross the river when the
movement would have been covered by their fire.
The Boers were quick in discovering the importance of the hill, and
speedily covered its face with such entrenchments, that not until after
long weeks of effort and failure was an attack again attempted against
it; and the success of that attack opened the way to Ladysmith. But had
the general's orders been carried out at all points it would probably
have been captured. Hart's brigade was to have begun the attack, but
owing to the map with which he was furnished being defective, his troops
losing their way in the spruit, and their being led in far too close a
formation under the enemy's fire, its attempt failed; this being,
however, largely due to the astuteness of the Boers in damming back the
river and rendering the ford impracticable. The impetuosity of the
officers commanding two of the batteries of artillery, in pushing their
guns forward unattended by infantry as ordered, not only caused the loss
of ten guns and of nearly all the men who worked them, but deprived
Hildyard's column of the protection they would have had in crossing the
bridge, and rendered the undertaking impossible; while the failure of
Barton's brigade to give assistance either to Hildyard or to the
assailants of Hlangwane, contributed to the one failure, and entirely
brought about the other.
General Buller and General Clery had been wherever the shots were flying
the thickest. Three of the former's staff, Captains Schofield and
Congreve, and Lieutenant Roberts, son of Lord Roberts, had ridden
forward as volunteers to try and get the guns off. Roberts was fatally
wounded, Congreve was wounded and taken prisoner, and Schofield alone
escaped unharmed with the two guns that were saved.
The day had been almost more terrible for the troops who remained
unoccupied near the baggage than for those actually engaged in the
terrible light. The latter, animated by excitement and anger at their
inability to get at the foe, had scarce time to think of their danger,
and even laughed and joked in the midst of the hail of bullets, but the
watchers had nothing to distract them during the long hours. With their
glasses they could plainly see that no advance had been made at any
point. To them it seemed incredible that any could come back from that
storm of fire. From time to time they learned from wounded men brought
up by the bearers, who fearlessly went down into the thick of the fire
to do their duty, news of how matters were going on in the front.
Gladly, had they received orders to do so, would they have dashed down
to try and carry off the guns. Many shed tears of rage as they heard how
the Irish strove in vain to cross the deep river, and how many were
drowned in their attempts to swim it. They expected, when in the
afternoon the troops came in, that they would see an utterly dispirited
body of men, and were surprised when the Irish, who were the first to
return to camp, marched along smoking their pipes and joking as if they
had returned from a day of triumph rather than of failure. They were
animated by a knowledge that they had done all that men could do, had
proved they were worthy successors of their countrymen who had won glory
in so many hard-fought fields, and that no shadow of reproach could fall
upon them for their share in the day's work. Although they had suffered
far more heavily than the other brigade, they returned more cheerfully.
And yet there was no depression anywhere evinced, although there was
anger, fierce anger, that they had not been able to get at the enemy,
and a grim determination that next time they met, things should go
A good many prisoners had been lost. Parties had spread along among the
bushes that lined the river, and maintained a steady fire against the
Boer entrenchments facing them. Some of these had not heard the bugle
sounding the retire. When they were aware what was being done some had
left their shelter and rushed across the open ground to join the
columns, the majority being shot down as they did so. Others had waited
among the bushes, intending to try after nightfall; but as soon as we
fell back the Boers had again crossed the river and spread along its
banks, and had thus made prisoners those who were in hiding there or in
the little dongas. Among those so captured were fourteen of the Devons
and as many gunners, with Colonel Hunt, Colonel Bullock, Major
MacWalter, and Captains Goodwin, Vigors, and Congreve; the total loss in
killed, wounded, and prisoners amounted to about one thousand five
hundred, of whom nearly half belonged to the Irish brigade. That evening
the searchlight, which had been placed on a lofty hill visible from one
end of the high kopjes held by the garrison of Ladysmith, flashed the
news that the attack had failed, and that the garrison must be prepared
to hold out for some time yet.
The news of the reverse created a tremendous sensation throughout Natal,
where it had been confidently anticipated that the army would brush
aside without difficulty the opposition of the Boers, relieve Ladysmith
and, advancing sweep the invaders out of the colony. In England, too,
the sensation was scarcely less pronounced, and for the first time the
gravity of the war in which we were engaged was recognized. Hitherto it
had been thought that fifty thousand men would suffice to bring it to a
successful conclusion; now it was perceived that at least double that
number would be required. The offers of the colonies to aid the mother
country with troops had hitherto been coldly received, but these were
now accepted thankfully, and although our military authorities would not
as yet recognize that the volunteers could be relied upon as a real
fighting force, there was a talk that some of the militia regiments
might be embodied, and a large number of reservists were at once
summoned back to the ranks.
At the front matters went on as before. It was now known how it was that
the guns had advanced so far. Colonel Long had sent forward some of his
mounted men with two officers. The Boers allowed them to approach the
river bank without firing a shot. One of the scouts actually rode across
the bridge to the other side, and returning to the battery they reported
that there were no Boers about, and it was only after receiving this
message that Colonel Long took the guns forward to within six hundred
yards of the river, and twelve hundred of Fort Wylie.
The wounded were all taken to Frere or Estcourt, where hospitals had
been prepared. Hart and Lyttleton's brigades were sent back to Frere,
and the camp at Chieveley was moved nearer to the station, both for
convenience of supply, and because the position now taken up was a more
defensible one, and was less exposed to the fire of the big Boer guns;
large numbers of transport animals and waggons were brought up country.
It was known that a newly-landed division under General Sir Charles
Warren was now coming up, one regiment, the Somersets, arrived in camp
two or three days after the battle, and the loss of the cannon was to
some extent retrieved by the arrival of a 50-lbs. howitzer battery.
It was but dull work in camp. The more impetuous spirits were longing to
be employed in annoying the Boers by frequent surprises at night; but as
these could have achieved no permanent advantage, and must have been
attended with considerable loss of life, Sir Redvers Buller set his face
against any such attacks, and went steadily on with his preparations. As
troops came up anticipations of a certain success when the next forward
movement was made were generally entertained. Chris and his companions
passed the time pleasantly enough. Being old friends they had plenty to
talk about, and occasional scouting expeditions to the east gave them a
certain amount of employment. Not having been engaged in the attack on
Hlangwane, they did not participate in the soreness felt by the rest of
the colonials at their failure to capture the hill, owing to the want of
support from Lord Dundonald's cavalry or Barton's brigade.
The chagrin felt at the mistake that had been made in not making this
the prime object of attack was general, for the Boers could be seen
working unceasingly at their entrenchments. They had not only made a
ford by throwing great quantities of rock and stones into the channel,
but had also built a bridge, so that the force on the hill could be
speedily reinforced to any extent, and what could have been effected on
the day of the attack by half a battalion of infantry would now be a
very serious undertaking even by a whole division.
The lads were chatting one day over the chances of the next fight, most
of them taking a very sanguine view.
"What do you say, Chris?" one of them said after the discussion had gone
on for some time. "You have not given us your opinion."
"My opinion does not agree with yours," Chris replied. "After what I saw
the other day, I think the difficulties of fighting our way over those
mountains are so enormous that I doubt whether we shall ever do it."
There was a chorus of dissent.
"Well, we shall see," he said. "I hope that we shall do it just as much
as you do, but it is tremendous business. I have no doubt Sir Redvers
will go on trying, but I should not be surprised if at heart he has
doubts that it can be done. The Boers have more guns that we have, and
any number of those Maxims and Hotchkiss that keep up a stream of balls.
The Boers' trenches enable them to fire at us without showing anything
but a head, except when they stand up or have to move across the open.
If we drive them out of one position they have others to fall back upon.
It is not one natural fortress that we have to take, but a dozen of
them. They know every foot of the country they occupy, while we know
nothing but just what we can see at a distance."
"Well, if Sir Redvers thought as you do, why should he go on hammering
"For several reasons, Peters. In the first place, if Ladysmith saw that
there was no chance of rescue it would at last give in; and in the
second place, if there was an end of all attempts to relieve the place
England would go wild with indignation; and in the third place, and by
far the most important, Sir Redvers knows that he is keeping from
twenty-five thousand to thirty thousand of the Boers inactive here, and
so relieving the pressure on our troops on the other side. We know
regiments are arriving from England at the Cape every day. When they get
strong enough to invade the Orange Free State and take Bloemfontein, and
march north, the Boers here will be hurrying away to defend their homes.
Of course the Free Staters will go first, but the Transvaalers will have
to follow. We hear that Methuen has been beaten at Magersfontein, and
that he has been brought to a stand-still within the sound of the guns
round Kimberley, just as we are here, and that the Boers have a very
strong position there also. So at present the advance is as much checked
there as it is here. Gatacre has had a misfortune too, so that we are
all in the same boat. I saw a Pietermaritzburg paper in the naval camp
just now; there are about twenty thousand men on the sea at the present
moment, besides those in the colony, and two more divisions are being
formed. So it is safe to come right in the long run. But at present, if
those twenty-five thousand Boers opposite to us were not there now, they
would be riding all over Cape Colony, and if Buller were not to keep on
hammering away here a good many of them would be off at once. They say
Ladysmith can hold out for another three months. By that time there
ought to be such a big force in the Orange State that the Boers won't
dare to stop here any longer, and no end of loss of life will be
"I never thought that you were a croaker before," Field said, "except
just before the last fight; but certainly things have gone very badly
lately. Three disasters in seven or eight days are a facer; but I cannot
think that we shall not succeed next time. When Warren's division is up
Buller will have over thirty thousand men with him, in spite of our
losses the other day, and we ought to be able to do it with that."
"Well, we shall see, Field. I hope you are right."
The news of Methuen's repulse and the terrible losses in the Highland
brigade, and of Gatacre's disaster, cast a greater gloom over Buller's
army than their own failure had done. The one topic of conversation
among the officers was, what would be the feeling in England, and
whether there would be any inclination to patch up another dishonourable
peace like that after Majuba. But the feeling wore off as day after day
the news came that the misfortunes had but raised the spirit and
determination of the people of Great Britain to carry the war through to
the bitter end; that recruiting was going on with extraordinary
rapidity; that fresh regiments had been ordered out; that Lord Roberts
had been appointed to the supreme command in South Africa, and that Lord
Kitchener was coming out as chief of his staff. The fact, too, that the
volunteers had been asked to send companies to the regiments to which
they were attached, that the City had undertaken to raise a strong
battalion at its own expense, that the Yeomanry were to furnish ten
thousand men, and that public, spirit had risen to fever heat, soon
showed that these apprehensions were without foundation, and that
Britain was still true to herself, and was showing the same indomitable
spirit that had carried her through many periods of national depression,
and brought her out triumphant at the end.
Christmas passed cheerily; no gun was fired on either side, although the
Boers worked diligently at their trenches; and our men feasted as they
had not done since they landed at Durban. Bacon, milk, fresh bread,
beef, and a quart of beer were served out for each man, and on these men
and officers made a memorable meal; the latter producing the last
bottles of wine and spirits that had been specially sent up to them from
Maritzburg. And on that and the following day there were sports--lemon-
cutting, tent pegging, races for the cavalry; athletic sports, tugs-of-
war, mule and donkey races for the infantry. The drums and fifes played
national airs, and the sailors bore their full share in the fun. As time
went on the preparations for the next move advanced. None were more
pleased at the prospect of active work again than the Colonial
Volunteers, who had several times entreated to be allowed to get out and
drive back the bands of plundering Boers, who were still wasting the
farms and destroying the farmhouses and furniture of the loyalists.
On the 27th a small party of Captain Brookfield's scouts had been sent
out to reconnoitre the windings and turnings of the Tugela to the east,
to ascertain as far as possible what the Boer positions were on that
side, and whether they had placed bodies of skirmishers on the south
side of the river as they did opposite Fort Wylie. Included in the
party, which was a hundred strong, was the Johannesburg section. When
well away from the camp they were broken up into small parties, the
better to escape the observation of the Boers on the Hlangwane and other
heights. The instructions given by their commander were that they should
take every advantage of ground to conceal their movements from the
enemy, but where the ground near the river was level and fit for
galloping they should dash across it, and, if not fired at, should skirt
along the banks, mark if there were any tracks by which horses or cattle
had at some time come down to the water, and observe if similar tracks
were to be seen on the opposite bank, as this would show that, though
possibly only in dry weather, the river was fordable there. Where the
ground was too broken and rock-covered to permit of horses passing
rapidly across it, they were to dismount and crawl down the river to
make their observations.
Only a small portion of the troop had been engaged on this work, the
main body were to keep along on the hills, maintaining a vigilant watch
over the country to the south and east as well as that around them, as
many parties of marauding Boers were known to be still across the river.
Knowing the sharpness of the lads, Captain Brookfield had told off their
section to explore the river bank, a choice which excited no jealousy
among the rest, as these were hoping for a brush with some wandering
party of Boers, and the satisfaction of rescuing cattle and goods they
might be carrying off. His instructions to Chris were that he was to
detach two of his party at each mile, choosing points where they could
best make their way to the river unobserved. As he himself with the main
body would go up considerably farther, each pair, when they had searched
their section, were to ride a mile or so back from the river and fall in
with the main body on its return.
Riding rapidly along, Chris carried out his instructions, until, when
some twelve miles from the camp, he remained with only Sankey with him.
The country they had passed was rolling, and from time to time he had
caught sight of small parties of Captain Brookfield's scouts. Arriving
at a spot where there was a slight depression running down towards the
river, he said, "We may as well follow it, Sankey. It will deepen into a
donga presently, no doubt, and we can leave our horses there and go on
on foot. It looks to me as if this had been used as a path. Of course it
may only have been made by cattle going down to the water, but it may
lead to a drift. If it is, we must be all the more careful, for it is
just at these points that the Boers are very likely to be on the look-
They rode for some distance and then dismounted, knee-haltered their
horses and moved forward cautiously. Chris still believed they were on a
track, but the heavy rains of the week before had sent the water rushing
down it in a torrent, which would have destroyed any marks there might
have been. When they could see the opening to the river in front of them
they climbed the side of the donga. All seemed quiet, and stopping and
taking advantage of the bushes, they crept forward to the edge of the
water. There was no sign of a break in the opposite bank.
"There is no drift here," Chris said. "If there had been there would be
a pass cut or worn down on the other side. Now let us push on, but don't
show yourself more than you can help, any Boer lurking on the other side
could hardly miss us. A hundred and fifty yards, I should say, is about
After walking some little distance along they suddenly came upon another
break in the bank.
"There is a break opposite, Sankey. Ten to one this is a drift. The
question is, how deep is it? You can see the river is not as high as it
was by four feet, and I dare say that it will be lower yet if we get
another week of fine weather. It's very important to find out. I will
try to ford it; it's hardly likely there are any Boers so far down, but
have your rifle ready, and keep a sharp look-out on the opposite side."
A minute later they went down the slope. "Keep back under the shelter of
these bushes as soon as I go in, Sankey." Then he stepped into the water
and waded out. In a few yards it was up to his waist; then it deepened
slowly. He was a third of the distance across when two rifles cracked
out from some bushes on the opposite bank. Chris felt a sudden smart
pain in his ear. He instantly threw himself down in the water, and
diving, made for the shore, allowing the stream to take him down.
Swimming as hard and as long as he could, he came for a moment to the
surface, turning on his back before he did so, and only raising his
mouth and nose above water. He took a long breath and then sank again,
swimming this time towards the shore. His breath lasted until he was in
water too shallow to swim farther, and, leaping to his feet, he dashed
up the bank and threw himself down. He heard two bullets hum close to
him, but the Boers had not been looking in his direction, and only
caught sight of him in time to take a snap shot. He crawled along
through the high, coarse grass, feeling very anxious as to what had
become of Sankey. He had heard the report of the Boer rifles, but there
came no reply from his friend, who would assuredly have been lying in
shelter in readiness to shoot as soon as he saw a flash on the opposite
bank. Could he have forgotten to take cover the instant he himself
entered the water, could he possibly have remained standing there
watching him? Two shots had been fired: one had certainly hit his ear;
had the other been aimed at Sankey? He crawled along until he came to
the point where he could see down on to the road. To his horror Sankey
was lying there on his back.
The exclamation that burst from Chris's lips as he saw Sankey on the
ground was answered by another from his friend.
"Thank God that you are there, Chris. I have been in an awful state
about you. I saw you go down into the water just as I was bowled over. I
made sure that you were killed, and I was in a state, as you may
imagine, till I heard two more shots. That gave me a little hope; for as
you had not been killed in the first, you might have escaped the
"But what is the matter with you, Sankey. Where are you hit?"
"I am hit in the arm. I can't tell much about it. I only know that I
went slap down; and there is certainly something the matter with my
shoulder. Like an idiot I did not take shelter as you told me, but I was
watching you so anxiously I never thought about it. If I had not been a
fool I should have jumped up and got under cover at once; but I fancy I
must have knocked my head as I fell. At any rate, I did not think about
moving till I heard those two shots."
"It is just as well that you didn't," Chris said. "They could have put
half a dozen bullets in you with their Mausers before you had moved a
foot. The question is, what is to be done?"
"Have you got your rifle, Chris?"
"Yes, I stuck to that, and I expect it is all right; these cartridges
are quite water-tight. The question is how to get you out of their line
of sight." "The best plan will be for me to roll over and over," Sankey
said. "I expect it will hurt a bit, but that is no odds."
"No, no; don't do that yet. Let us think if we can't contrive some plan
of attracting their attention."
"Don't do anything foolish, Chris," Sankey said earnestly. "I would
rather jump up and make a run for it than that anything should happen to
"I will be careful, Sankey. The first thing to do is to find out whether
there are only two of these fellows or half a dozen. Where I am lying
now the ground is a foot lower than it is just at the edge of the bank.
I will put my cap on my rifle and raise it so as just to show."
The instant he did so three or four rifles cracked and two bullets
passed through the cap. As it dropped a shout of triumph rose from the
Boers. He at once crawled forward, and as he did so five of them ran
down the bank and as many more stood up, believing that both the scouts
had been killed.
Throwing the magazine into play Chris fired three shots in close
succession, and then rolled over two or three yards, half a dozen
bullets cutting the grass at the spot he had just left. Peering
cautiously out again he saw that the Boers had all disappeared except
two, one of whom lay apparently dead just at the edge of the water; the
other was sitting down, but was waving a white handkerchief.
"I am not going to shoot you," Chris muttered, "though I know the
fellows with you would put a bullet at once into Sankey if they thought
that he was alive. Hullo, there!" he shouted in Dutch; "I will let you
carry off your wounded man and the dead one if you will let me carry off
my dead comrade." The answer was three bullets, but he had drawn back a
yard or two before he spoke and was in shelter. The thought of firing
again at the wounded man did not enter Chris's mind, and he crawled back
to the spot where he had before spoken to Sankey. The latter was looking
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Well, I wish you would not do it," Sankey said angrily. "If you do I
will get up, and they can either pot me or take me prisoner."
"Don't be an ass, Sankey. I am going on all right. I have shot two of
them; there are about a dozen of them over there, I should say. Now let
us talk reasonably. Of course, if I was sure they would not cross, I
would make off to where the horses are, ride out, and meet Brookfield
and the others as they come back. The orders were that we were to join
them in about an hour and a half, which would give them time to go seven
or eight miles farther, and for us to do our work thoroughly. But I am
afraid that if I went away the Boers would presently guess I had done
so, and would come across and carry you off. But though it would be no
joke for you to be taken prisoner to Pretoria, it would be a good deal
better than for you to have two or three more rifle bullets in your
body, which I am sure you would have were you to move. So we must risk
it. Anyhow, I will stop for another hour. There will be plenty of time
then for me to make off and meet the others."
Chris crept forward again and watched the opportunity. Half an hour
later he saw what he thought was a head appear, and at once fired,
rolling over as before the instant he had pulled the trigger. Three or
four shots answered his own almost instantly and there was a laugh that
told him that they had practised the same trick that he had done, and
had only raised a hat to draw his shot. Again there was silence for some
time. Then he went back and told Sankey that he was about to start.
"All right, Chris; I shall be very glad when you have gone. You will get
hit sooner or later if you go on firing, and I shall be a great deal
more comfortable when you are once off. I don't believe they will
venture across the drift; they know how straight you shoot."
Chris crawled back for some distance, and then got down into the road.
He had scarcely done so when a shot rung out fifty yards away. His right
leg gave way and he fell, and with a shout of triumph two Boers ran up
to him. Chris did not attempt to move. The rifle had flown from his hand
as he fell, and lay some five or six yards away.
"I surrender," he said when they ran up to him.
"Well, rooinek," they exclaimed, "you are a brave young fellow to make a
fight alone against a dozen of us. It would have been wiser if you had
gone away when you were lucky enough to get up the bank without being
hit. What was the use of staying by your dead comrade?"
"He is not dead," Chris said. "He is hit in the arm or shoulder, but he
knew if he moved he would be hit again to a certainty."
"But where are you hurt?"
"In the calf of my leg."
"It is lucky for you," the Boer said, "that I stumbled just as I fired.
Now, get up and I will carry you across the drift."
They helped him up, and the other assisted him on to his shoulders. The
man's clothes were wet.
[Illustration: "WITH A SHOUT OF TRIUMPH THE TWO BOERS RAN DOWN."]
"Did you swim the river?" Chris asked.
"No, there is a drift a mile lower down. It is a bad one, but we managed
to get across. We knew that you were alone, and as you seemed determined
to remain here, we made sure of getting you."
As they came near to Sankey, Chris called out, "You can get up, Sankey;
they have beaten us."
"I am very glad to hear your voice," Sankey replied as he raised himself
into a sitting position. "When I heard that shot behind me I made sure
it was all up with you. Where are you hit?"
"Only in my calf. Luckily this gentleman who is carrying me stumbled
just as he fired, and I got the ball there instead of through my head.
It serves me right for not having thought before that some of them might
cross somewhere else and take us in rear. Well, it can't be helped; it
might have been a good deal worse."
The other Boer had picked up the two rifles. They now entered the river.
The stream in the middle was breast-high, and the Boer with the rifles
told Sankey to hold on to him, which he was glad to do, for the force of
the stream almost took him off his feet. The other Boers had now left
their hiding-places, and received them when they reached the opposite
bank. The one who seemed to be their leader said not unkindly, "You have
given us a great deal of trouble, young fellows, and killed one of our
comrades and badly wounded another."
"If you had left us alone we should have been very glad to have let you
alone," Chris said.
The Boers laughed at the light-heartedness of their prisoner, and then
examined their wounds. Chris had, as he said, been hit in the calf. The
ball had entered behind, and had come out close to the bone. Chris
believed that he could walk, but thought it best to affect not to be
able to do so. The wound had bled very little, and the two holes were no
larger than would be made by an ordinary slate-pencil. Sankey had been
hit just below the shoulder. The ball had in his case also gone right
through, and from the position of the two holes it was evident that it
must have passed through the bone. The Boers bandaged the wounds, and
told them to lie down under the shade of a bush, and then took their
places near the bank to watch the drift again.
"I suppose we have a journey to Pretoria before us," Sankey said. "I
don't care so much about myself, because that is only the fortune of
war, but I am awfully sorry that you are taken, Chris, and all through
my beastly folly in not taking shelter as you told me."
"Oh, we may just as well be together, Sankey. Besides, I don't mean to
go to Pretoria, I can assure you. I believe I could walk now if I tried;
but you may be sure I don't mean to try. I should advise you to avoid
making any movement with your arm; make them put it in a sling. When
they start with us, we had better be sent up with wounded prisoners
rather than with the others. They won't look so sharply after the
wounded, and it will be very hard if we cannot manage to slip away
somehow. I hope the others will find the horses all right, or that if
they don't the horses will find their own way back."
"Oh, they are safe to find them," Sankey said confidently. "There will
be a hunt for us when it is found that we have not joined the others.
Anyhow, they will search to-morrow. I am quite sure that some of our
fellows will be out the first thing in the morning, and I dare say they
will take a couple of the natives with them. If they start at the point
where we turned off they will track the horses down that donga without
any difficulty, and even if they have strayed away they will soon have
"Yes, I suppose they will be all right," Chris agreed. "Of course we
have got the spare horses, but we should miss our own, and I think they
are as fond of us as we are of them."
As the sun got low two of the Boers brought up four ponies which were
grazing some little distance from the river. They lifted Chris on to
one, and helped Sankey to mount another, and then taking their seats on
the other horses, rode off at a walk, and arrived an hour and a half
later at a camp in a hollow behind Fort Wylie. Here they were put into a
large tent, where some thirty wounded prisoners were lying. A German
surgeon at once examined and again bandaged their wounds.
"You are neither of you hurt badly," he said in English. "A fortnight
and you will have little to complain of. These Mauser bullets make very
slight wounds, except when they hit a vital spot. You are a good deal
better off than most of your comrades here."
As it was now dark they lay down at once, after taking a basin of
excellent soup. The German ambulance was scrupulously clean. The more
serious cases were put in beds, those less severely wounded lay on the
ground between them; for the number of wounded to be dealt with was very
large, and in the tents in which the Boers were treated were many
terribly mangled by fragments of shrapnel and lyddite shells. The boys
were some time before they went off to sleep, for their wounds smarted a
good deal. However, they presently fell off, and it was broad daylight
when they woke. Chris lay where he was, while Sankey got up and went
round the tent. The men all belonged to either the Devon or the Queen's
Own regiment. Most of them were awake, and all asked anxiously for news
from Chieveley, and looked disappointed when they heard that it was
likely to be some time before a fresh attempt was made to relieve
"They are all right there. Of course they were disappointed that we did
not get in, but they have provisions enough to last for some time yet."
"The Boers don't seem to think so," one of the men said. "As they were
carrying us in here I heard one of them say that they had certainly got
Ladysmith now, for the provisions there were pretty nearly exhausted,
and in a few days they would have to surrender. If they did not, they
meant to carry it by assault."
"I don't think they will do that," Sankey said confidently.
"Not they," the soldier replied scornfully. "They will find that it is a
very different thing meeting our chaps in the open to what it is
squatting in a trench, and blazing away without giving us as much as a
sight of them. It is a beastly cowardly way of fighting, I calls it. I
was not hit till just the end of the day, and I had been blazing away
from six in the morning, and I never caught sight of one of them. I
should not have minded being hit if I could have bowled two or three of
them over first."
After breakfast the surgeon said to the two lads: "You will be sent off
in half an hour; all the slight cases are to go on. There may be another
battle any day, and room must be made for a fresh batch of wounded."
"Very well, sir," Chris replied, "as we have to go, it makes no
difference to us whether it is to-day or next week."
"You are colonists, I suppose, as you have not the name of any regiment
on your shoulder-straps?"
"Yes, sir; we belong to Johannesburg. I know your face. You are Dr.
Muller, are you not?"
"Yes; I do not recognize you."
"I am the son of Mr. King, sir; and my comrade is the son of Dr.
"I know them both," the doctor said. "I am not one of those who think
that the Uitlanders have no grievances, and I am not here by my own
choice. But I was commandeered, and had no option in the matter. Well, I
am sorry for you lads. For though I believe that in the long run your
people will certainly win, I think it will be a good many months before
they are in Pretoria. They fight splendidly. I watched the battle until
the wounded began to come in, and the way those regiments by the railway
advanced under a fire that seemed as if nothing could live for a minute,
was marvellous. But brave as they are, they will never force their way
through these hills. They will never get to Ladysmith. Well, perhaps we
shall meet some day in Johannesburg again."
"Yes, doctor. I suppose we shall be taken up in waggons?"
"You will, for a time, certainly. But I don't know about your friend."
"Oh, do order him to be sent up with me, doctor, that is, if it will not
hurt him too much. You see, his wound is really more serious than mine,
as the ball has gone through the bone."
"Yes. I have a good many cases of that sort, but all seem to be healing
rapidly. However, I will strain a point and give instructions that he is
to be among those who must go in the waggons."
"Thank you, sir," both boys said; and Sankey added: "We are great
friends, sir. Though I don't care for myself, it would be a great
comfort to us to be together, and my wound really hurts me a good deal."
"I have no doubt it does," the surgeon said. "You can't expect a ball to
pass through muscle and bone without causing pain."
Half an hour later some natives came into the tent, and under the
directions of the surgeon carried out Chris and three others whose
wounds were all comparatively slight, and placed them in a waggon which
already contained eight other wounded prisoners. Sankey, with his arm in
a sling, walked out and was lifted into the waggon, into which he could
indeed scarcely have climbed without assistance. Seven more were
collected at other tents, and the waggons then moved off and joined a
long line that were waiting on the road. Some more presently came up,
and when the number was complete, the native drivers cracked their whips
with reports like pistols, and the oxen got into motion. Some twenty
mounted Boers kept by the side of the waggons. They followed the road
until within four or five miles of Ladysmith, then turned off, crossed
the Klip river, and came to a spot where a hospital camp had been
erected; here they halted for the night.
The wounded were provided with soup and bread, and such as were able to
walk were allowed to get out and stroll about. The surgeon who
accompanied the train and the doctor in charge of the hospital attended
to all the serious cases, and these were carried into the tent for the
night thus making room for the others to lie at length in the waggons.
Only three of these contained British wounded, the others were all
occupied by Boers. Chris and Sankey excited the admiration of the
wounded soldiers by conversing with the Boers and the natives in their
own languages. Most of the Boers, indeed, could speak English perfectly,
but did not now condescend to use it. Some even refused to speak in
Dutch to the lads, as their dislike to the colonists who had taken up
arms against them was even more bitter than that which they felt for the
For six days they travelled on, at the end of that time Chris felt sure
that he could walk without difficulty. He had, at very considerable pain
to himself, each night undone his bandage, and had with his finger
scratched at the two tiny wounds until they were red and inflamed, so
that on the two occasions on which they were examined by the doctor,
they appeared to be making but little progress towards healing. The
inflammation was, however, only on the surface, and after several
furtive trials, Chris declared that he was ready for a start. A move was
generally made before daylight, in order that a considerable portion of
the day's journey should be got over before the heat became very great.
"Are you quite sure, Chris?"
"I am as sure as anybody can be who has not actually tried it. I may be
a little stiff at the start, but I believe that once off, I shall be
right for eight or ten miles; and after the first day, ought to be able
to do double that."
They had been travelling at the rate of about twelve miles a day, and
halted that night near Newcastle. Chris heard from the guards that they
would only go as far as Volksrust, and there be put in a train. The
reason why this had not been done before was that the railway was fully
occupied in taking down ammunition and stores, and that no carriages or
trucks were available. The watch at night was always of the slightest
kind. The Boers had no thought whatever that any of the wounded would
try to escape. Two were posted at the leading waggon, which contained
stores and medical comforts that might, if unguarded, be looted by the
native drivers. The rest either slept wrapped up in their blankets, or
in any empty houses that might be near.
At nine o'clock the boys told the others in the waggon that they were
going to escape. They had before informed them of their intention to do
so, somewhere along the road, and had taken down the names and regiments
of all of them, with a note as to their condition, and the addresses of
their friends. These they had promised to give to the commanding
officers if they got safely back. They had filled their pockets with
bread, all those in the waggon having contributed a portion of their
ration that evening. After a hearty shake of the hand all round, and
many low-muttered good wishes, they stepped out at the rear of the
waggon, with their boots in their hands. It was a light night, and the
figures of the two men on sentry over the store waggon could just be
made out. There was no thought of any regular sentry duty, no marching
up and down among the Boers; the two men had simply sat down together to
smoke their pipes and chat until their turn came to lie down. The lads
therefore struck off on the opposite side of the waggon, and making
their way with great caution to avoid running against any of the Boers,
they were soon far enough away to be able to put on their boots and walk
"How does your leg feel, Chris?" "It feels stiffer than I expected,
certainly, but I have no doubt it will soon wear off. We must take it
quietly till it warms up a bit."
Gradually the feeling of stiffness passed off, and going at a steady but
quiet pace they made their way along the road, to which they had
returned after they had gone far enough to be sure that they were beyond
the hearing of the Boers and Kaffirs. From time to time they stopped to
listen for the tread of horses, which could have been heard a long way
in the still night air, but they were neither met nor overtaken. After
walking for five hours they came upon a stream that, as they knew,
crossed the line at Ingagone station and ran into the Buffalo. They had
gone but ten miles, and decided to leave the road here, follow the
stream up half a mile, and then lie up. Chris admitted that he could not
go much farther, and as they would not cross another stream for some
distance they could not, even putting his wound aside, do better than
stop here. Sankey was equally contented to rest, for his arm, which he
still carried in a sling, was aching badly.
"It does not feel sore," he said, "or inflamed, or anything of that
sort; it just aches as if I had got rheumatism in it. I dare say I shall
have that for some time; I have heard my father say that injuries to the
bones were often felt that way for years after they were apparently
well, the pain coming on with changes of weather. However, it is no
Neither wanted anything to eat, but had taken long draughts when they
first struck the stream, and as soon as they found a snug spot among
some bushes a short distance from the water they lay down and were soon
asleep. They remained quiet all the day, only going out once after a
careful look round to get a drink of water. Starting again as soon as
darkness closed in they walked on, with occasional rests, until within a
few miles of Glencoe, having followed the line of the railway, where
they had no chance whatever of meeting anyone. Here they again halted at
a stream. They had agreed that they would on the following night cross
the line between Glencoe and Dundee, and take the southern road by which
the British force retired after the battle there. By that route they
would be altogether out of the line of Boers coming from Utrecht or
Vryheid towards the Boer camps round Ladysmith. Their stock of food was,
however, now running very short, and they ate their last crust before
starting that evening. This they did earlier than usual, as they were
determined if possible to get some bread at Dundee. They knew that a few
of the residents had remained there, and probably there would not be
many Boers about, for as Dundee lay off the direct line from Ladysmith
to the north there would be no reason for their stopping there. Sankey
had insisted on undertaking this business alone.
"It is of no use your talking, Chris," he said positively; "I can run
and you can't. I may not be able to run quite as fast as I could; but I
don't suppose this arm will make much difference, and anyhow, I could
swing it for a bit, and I would match myself against any Boer on foot.
We will cross the line, as we agreed, about a mile from Dundee. When we
strike the southern road you can sit down close to it, and I will go
"I don't like it," Chris said, "but I see that it would be the best
thing. I wish we had our farmer's suits with us, then I should not fear
"I don't think that makes much odds, Chris, lots of the Boers have taken
to clothes of very much the same colour; really, the only noticeable
thing about us is our caps. If I come upon a loyalist I will see if I
can get a couple of hats for us, either of straw or felt would be all
right. Well, don't worry yourself; it will be a rum thing if I can't
bring you out something for breakfast and dinner to-morrow."
"Don't forget a little bit extra for supper to-night, Sankey," Chris
laughed; "that crust went a very short distance, and I feel game for at
least a good-sized loaf."
Although he said good-bye to his friend cheerfully, Chris felt more
down-hearted than he had done since he had said farewell to his mother
more than two months before, as Sankey disappeared in the darkness,
leaving him sitting among some bushes close to the road. His last words
had been, "It is somewhere about nine o'clock now; if I am not back by
twelve don't wait any longer. But don't worry about me; if I am caught,
I have no doubt sooner or later I shall give them the slip again, but I
don't think there is any real occasion for you to bother. Unless by some
unlucky fluke, I am safe to get through all right." Then with a wave of
his hand he started confidently along the road.
He met no one until he was close to the town. The first thing he had
determined upon was to get hold of a hat somehow. The houses were
scattered irregularly about in the outskirts of the town; but very few
lights were to be seen in the windows.
"Of course they have all been plundered," he said to himself; "but if I
only had a light I have no doubt I should be able to find an old hat
somewhere among the rubbish, but in the dark there is no chance
whatever." Presently he saw a light in a window in a detached house of
some size. He made his way noiselessly up and looked in. A party of five
or six Boers were sitting smoking round a table. "The place has not been
sacked," he said to himself; "therefore there is no doubt the owner is a
traitor. It is a beastly custom these Boers have of wearing their hats
indoors as well as out, still there are almost sure to be some spare
ones in the hall. A Boer out on the veldt would not be likely to possess
more than the hat he wears, but a fellow living in such a house as this
would be safe to have a variety for different sorts of weather. At any
rate I must try."
He took off his boots, and then stole up to the front door and turned
the handle noiselessly. As he expected, no light was burning there, but
the door of the room in which the men were sitting was not quite closed,
and after he had stood still for a minute, his eyes, accustomed to the
greater darkness outside, took in his surroundings. To his great delight
he saw that four or five hats of different shapes and materials were
hanging there, and a heap of long warm coats were thrown together on a
bench. Looking round still more closely he saw five or six rifles in the
corner by the door, and to these were hanging as many bandoliers. He
first took down two felt hats of different sizes, and picked out two of
the coats; then, with great care to avoid any noise, he took two rifles
with their bandoliers from the corner and crept out through the door,
which he closed behind him carefully; for if they found it open the
Boers might look round and discover that some of their goods were
missing, whereas any one of them coming casually out, even with a light,
would not be likely to notice it. He put on one of the bandoliers, then
a coat, and then slung one of the rifles behind him; then, after putting
on his boots he went out with the other articles and hid them inside the
gate of an evidently deserted house a hundred yards from the other. He
felt sure that even when the loss was discovered there would be no great
search made for the thief. It would be supposed that some passing Kaffir
had come in and stolen the things, and they would consider that, until
the following morning, it would be useless to look for him. Feeling now
perfectly confident that he could pass unsuspected, he entered the
principal street. Here there were a good many Boers about, but none paid
the slightest attention to him. Presently he came to a store that was
still open. The owner was of course Dutch. He had been a pronounced
loyalist when Sankey was last in Dundee, but had evidently thought it
prudent to change sides when the British left. Sankey had been in the
shop twice with Willesden, and had found the man very civil, and, as he
thought, an honest fellow, but with so much at stake he dared not trust
him now. Food he must have, that was certain, but if he had to obtain it
by threats, he must do it at one of the outlying houses. It would be
dangerous anyhow, for, though he could frighten a man into giving him
what he required, he could not prevent him from giving the alarm
afterwards. While he was looking on a mounted Boer stopped at the shop
door. He dismounted at once, and lifted a large bundle from his saddle.
"Look here!" he said to the shopkeeper. "I have just come into the town,
having ridden up from near Greytown. I picked up some loot at a house
that had been deserted. Here are twenty bottles of wine and a lot of
tea--I don't know how much. There was a chest half-full, and I emptied
it into a cloth. What will you give me for them? I am riding home to
Volksrust. I want three loaves and a couple of bottles of dop [Footnote:
The common country spirit.], and the rest in money." The bargaining
lasted for some minutes, the storekeeper saying that the wine was of no
use to him, for no Boer ever spent money on wine; the tea of course was
worth money, but he had now a large stock on hand, and could give but
little for it. However, the bargain was at last struck. The Boer brought
out the bread and two bottles of spirits and placed them in his saddle-
bag, then he went back into the shop to get the money. The moment he
entered Sankey moved quietly up to the other side of his horse,
transferred the bottles of spirits to his own pocket, and then,
thrusting the loaves under his coat, crossed the street, and turned down
a lane some twenty yards farther on. He had gone but a few steps when he
heard a loud exclamation followed by a torrent of Dutch oaths. He stood
up for a moment in a doorway, and heard the sound of heavy feet running
along the street he had left, with loud shouts to stop a thief who had
robbed him. The instant that he had passed Sankey walked on again, and
in five minutes was in the outskirts of the town. He made his way to the
place where he had hidden the other things, and taking them up, walked
briskly on until he came to the bushes where his friend was anxiously
expecting him. As he uttered his name Chris sprang out.
"I had not even begun to expect you back, Sankey. How have you done? I
see that you have got on another hat and a coat."
"That is only a part of it. I have got three loaves and two bottles of
dop, and a coat and a hat for you, and a rifle and ammunition, as well
as clothes for myself and the gun that you see over my shoulder."
"But how on earth did you do it, Sankey?"
"Honestly, my dear Chris, perfectly honestly. The rifles and clothes
were fairly spoils of war, the loaves and spirits were stolen from a
thief, which I consider to be a good action; but let us go on, I will
tell you about it as we walk. Here is your bandolier, slip that on
first; there is your coat and hat. Now I will put the sling of the rifle
over your shoulder. There you are, complete, a Boer of the first water!
I will carry the bottles and the bread. Now, let's be going on."
Then he told Chris how he had obtained his spoil, and they both had a
hearty laugh over the thought of the enraged Dutchman rushing down the
street shouting for the eatables of which he had been bereaved.
"It was splendidly managed, Sankey. I shall have to appoint you as
caterer instead of Willesden. He pays honestly for all he wants for the
mess, but I see that if we entrust the charge to you, we shall not have
to draw for a farthing upon our treasure chest. And how is your arm
"I have almost forgotten that I have an arm," Sankey said. "I suppose
the excitement of the thing drove out the rheumatics."
"We might have some supper," Chris suggested.
"No, no, we must wait till we can get water. I can't take dop neat."
"But how are you going to mix it when you do get water?" "I had not
thought of that, Chris," Sankey said in a tone of disgust. "Well, I
suppose we shall be reduced to taking a mouthful of this poison, and
then a long drink of water to dilute it. We shall not have very far to
go, because, if you remember, we crossed a little stream three or four
miles after we rode out from Dundee. I am as hungry as a hunter, but it
would destroy all the pleasure of the banquet if we had to munch dry
bread with nothing to wash it down." After walking two miles farther
they came upon the stream and going fifty yards up it, so as to run no
risk of being disturbed, they sat down and enjoyed a hearty meal.
"It is almost a pity that you did not commandeer two ponies and saddles
while you were about it," Chris laughed, as they set off again feeling
all the better for their meal. "We only want that to complete our
"You should have mentioned it before I started, Chris. There is no
saying what I might not have done; and really, without joking, a pony is
one of the easiest things going to steal when there are Boers about.
They always leave them standing just where they dismount, and will be in
a store or a drinking-place for an hour at a time without attending to
"It is not the difficulty, but the risk; for even if a thief gets off
with a pony, he is almost sure to be hunted down. It is regarded as a
sort of offence against the community, and a man, whether a native or a
mean white, would get a very short shrift if he were caught on a stolen
"Yes, I know. Still, for all that, if I could come upon a saddled pony,
and there was a chance of getting off with it, I should take it without
hesitation as a fair spoil of war."
"Yes, so should I, for the betting would be very strongly against our
running across its owner; and in the next place, it would greatly
increase our chance of getting safely through. It is the fact of our
being on foot that will attract attention. We could walk about a camp
full of Boers without anyone noticing it, but to walk into the camp
would seem so extraordinary, that we should be questioned at once. A
Boer travelling across the country on foot would be a sight hitherto
"There I agree with you; and I do think that when we get to Helpmakaar,
which we can do to-morrow evening if we make a good long march to-night,
we had better see if we can't appropriate a couple of ponies. We can
walk boldly into the place, and no one would notice we were new-comers.
There are sure to be ponies standing about, and it will be hard if we
cannot bag a couple. Then we can ride by the road south from there to
Greytown, and after crossing the Tugela, strike off by the place where
we had the fight near Umbala mountain, which would be a good landmark
for us, and from there follow our old line back to Estcourt. It would be
rather shorter to go through Weenen, but there may be Boers about, and
the few miles we should save would not be worth the risk."
They made a long journey that night, slept within seven or eight miles
of Helpmakaar, and started late in the afternoon. When near the town
they left the main road, passed through some fields, and came into the
place that way, as had they entered by the road they were likely to be
questioned. Once in the little town, they walked about at their ease. It
did not seem that there were any great number of Boers there, but the
town was well within the district held by them, and such loyalists as
remained were sure to be keeping as much as possible without their
houses. In front of the principal inn were nearly a score of Boer
ponies, but the lads considered it would be altogether too risky to
attempt to take a couple of these, as their owners might issue out while
they were doing it; however, they stood watching. For some time there
was a sound of singing and merriment within, and for a quarter of an
hour no one came out.
"If we had taken a couple of ponies at first," Sankey said savagely, "we
might have been two miles away by this time."
"Yes; I don't know that it is too late now. Wait till they strike up
another song with a chorus, none of them are likely to leave the room
while that is going on, and it will drown the sound of hoofs."
There were few people about in the streets; and even had anyone passed
as they were mounting, he could not tell that they were not the
"If anyone should come out," Chris said, "don't try to ride away. We
should have the whole lot after us in a minute, and it is not likely we
should have got hold of the fastest ponies. Besides, they would shoot us
before we got far. So if anyone does come out and raises an alarm, jump
off at once and run round the nearest corner, and then into the first
garden we come to. We should be in one before they could come out, mount
their ponies, and give chase. Once among the gardens we should be safe.
If the man who comes out does not shout we would pay no attention to
him, but ride away quietly. If the ponies don't happen to belong to him
or some friend of his, he would not be likely to interfere, for he would
suppose that we were two of the party who had left the place without his
noticing them. But if he gives a shout, jump off at once, and rush round
the corner of the nearest house."
They waited for a minute or two, and then two Boers came out, mounted a
couple of the ponies, and rode quietly down the street. At that moment
another song was struck up. "That is lucky. If anyone comes out and sees
us mounting he will take us for the two men who have just ridden off."
Then they strolled leisurely across the street, took the reins of two of
the ponies, sprang into the saddles, and started at a walk, which,
twenty yards farther, was quickened into a trot. The two men had
fortunately gone in the other direction. Once fairly beyond the town,
they quickened their pace. "Now we are Boers all over," Chris said
exultantly; "but there is one thing, Sankey, we must be careful not to
go near any solitary farmhouse. There must still be some loyal men left
in these parts, and if we fell in with a small party of them the
temptation to pay off what they have suffered might be irresistible."
"Yes, Chris; but they certainly would not shoot unless certain of
bringing us both down, for if one escaped, he would return with a party
strong enough to wipe them out altogether. However, we need not trouble
about that for the present, though no doubt it will be well to be
careful when we are once across the Tugela."
"Well, we shall be there long before morning; it is not more than seven-
or eight-and-twenty miles."
They rode fast, for it was possible that when the loss of the ponies was
discovered someone who might have noticed them go down the street might
set the Boers on the track, and in that case they would certainly be
hotly pursued. The ponies, however, turned out to be good animals, and
as the lads were at least a couple of stones lighter than the average
Boer, they could not be overtaken unless some of the ponies happened to
be a good deal better than these.
After riding at full speed for eight or nine miles, they broke into a
walk, stopping every few minutes to listen. They knew that they would be
able to hear the sound of pursuit at least a mile away, and as their
ponies would start fresh again, they were able to take things quietly.
So sometimes cantering sometimes walking, they reached the river at
about one o'clock in the morning. On the opposite bank stood the little
village of Tugela Ferry. Here there was a drift, and there was no
occasion to use the ferry-boat except when the river was swollen by
rain. It now reached only just up to the ponies' bellies; they therefore
crossed without the least difficulty, and after passing through the
village, left the road, and struck off across the country to the south-
west. When four or five miles away they halted at a donga, and leading
the ponies down, turned them loose to feed, ate their supper, and were
It was no longer necessary to travel by night, and at eight o'clock they
started again. They kept a sharp look-out from every eminence, and once
or twice saw parties of mounted men in the distance and made detours to
avoid them. So far as they were aware, however, they were not observed.
The distance to be ridden from their last halting-place was about
thirty-five miles, and at one o'clock they were within five miles of
Estcourt. On an eminence about a mile in front of them they saw a
"That is evidently one of our scouts," Chris said. "I dare say there is
a party of them somewhere behind him. If I am not mistaken I can see two
or three heads against the sky-line--they are either heads or stones. We
should know more about it if the Boers hadn't bagged our glasses when
they took us."
Two or three minutes later Sankey said, "Those little black spots have
gone, so they were heads. I dare say they are wondering who we are, and
put us down either as Boers or as loyal farmers, though there cannot be
many of them left in this district."
Presently from behind the foot of the hill six horsemen dashed out. The
lads had already taken the precaution of taking off their hats and
putting on forage-caps again.
"It is always better to avoid accidents," Chris said. "It would have
been awkward if they had begun to shoot before waiting to ask questions,
especially as we could not shoot back. They are Colonials; one can see
that by their looped-up hats, which are a good deal more becoming than
those hideous khaki helmets of our men."
The horsemen had unslung their guns, but seeing that the strangers had
their rifles still slung behind them with apparently no intention of
firing, they dropped into a canter until they met the lads.
"Who are you?" the leader asked. "Do you surrender?"
"We will surrender if you want us to," Chris said; "though why we should
do so I don't know. We belong to the Maritzburg Scouts, and were taken
prisoners, being both wounded, eight or nine days ago; and, as you see,
we have got away."
"I dare say it is all right," the officer said; "but at any rate we will
ride with you to Estcourt."
"We shall be glad of your company, though I don't suppose we shall be
identified until we get to Chieveley. Will you please tell us what has
taken place since we left?"
"That, I think had better be deferred," the officer said dryly. "We
don't tell our news to strangers."
"Quite right, sir."
"It is evident that you are not Dutch," the officer went on; but there
is more than one renegade Englishman fighting among the Boers, and
except for your caps you certainly look as if you belonged to the other
side rather than to ours."
"Yes, they are Boer coats, Boer ponies, and Boer guns," Chris said. "We
have taken the liberty of borrowing them as they borrowed our guns and
field-glasses. Whether they borrowed our horses we shall not know till
we get back. You see," he went on, opening his coat, "we still have our
uniforms underneath. Who is at Estcourt now? Ah, by the way, we are sure
to find some officers in the hospital who know us."
The officer by this time began to feel that the account Chris had given
him of himself was correct, and when they arrived at Estcourt it was
rather as a matter of form than anything else that he accompanied him to
the hospital. Upon enquiry Chris found that among the wounded there was
one of the naval officers he had travelled with from Durban. Upon the
surgeon in charge being told that he wished to see him, he was allowed
to enter with the officer. The wounded man at once recognized him.
"Ah, King," he said, "I am glad to see you again. Have you brought me
down a message from Captain Jones or any of our fellows?"
"No; I am very sorry to find you here, Devereux, but I am glad to see
you are getting better. I have really come in order that you might
satisfy this gentleman, who has taken me prisoner, that I am King of the
"There is no doubt about that. Why, where have you been to be taken
"Oh, it was a fair capture. I was with one of my section caught while
out scouting, and have got away in Boer attire, and as we were riding in
we met this officer's party some five miles out, and not unnaturally
they took us for the real thing instead of masqueraders."
[Illustration: "PRESENTLY FROM BEHIND THE FOOT OF THE HILL SIX HORSEMEN
"I can assure you that King is all right," the sailor said. "He came up
in the train with three of his party from Durban."
"Thank you," the officer said with a smile. "I am perfectly satisfied,
and was nearly so before I came in here. Well, I wish you good-day, sir,
and hope we may meet again," and shaking hands with Chris he left the
Chris remained chatting for a few minutes more with the sailor.
"I suppose there is no great chance of getting a bed here?" he said, as
he rose to go. "We have had two pretty long days' ride, and I don't care
about going on to Chieveley."
"Not a chance in the world, I should think."
"Well, it does not matter much. We have been sleeping in the open for
the past five nights, and once more will make no difference. We are just
back in time, Sankey," he said when he joined his friend outside.
"Devereux tells me that there is a big movement going on, and that a
severe fight is expected in a day or two. He hears that the baggage
train has been moving to Springfield, so that it will be somewhere over
in that direction; and I suppose we are going to move round to Acton
Homes and force our way into Ladysmith through Dewdrop. You know, they
say that it is comparatively flat that way."
They got rid of their long coats and fastened them to their saddles;
then led their ponies to the station, and leaving them outside entered.
An enterprising store-keeper had opened a refreshment stall for the
benefit of the troops passing through, or officers coming down from the
front to look after stores or to visit friends in hospital. Chris had
explained their position to Devereux, and the latter had said: "Then I
suppose they have eased you of all your money?"
"Yes; they did not leave us a penny."
"There is my purse with my watch in that little pocket over my bed," he
said. "You must let me lend you a sovereign till I see you again." And
Chris had thankfully taken the money.
They now had what to them was a gorgeous feast; some soup, cold ham, and
a bottle of wine. They gave what little remains they had of bread to the
ponies, and then led them a quarter of a mile out of the town and camped
out with them there, the Boer coats coming in very useful. The next
morning they started at daybreak, and arrived at their camp at Chieveley
just as their friends were sitting down to breakfast. They were received
with a shout of welcome, and a torrent of questions was poured upon
"I will leave Sankey to tell you all about it," Chris said. "I must go
and report myself to Brookfield and get our names struck off the list of
missing. I shall not be five minutes away."
The captain received Chris as heartily, though not so noisily, as his
comrades had done.
"We have been very anxious about you," he said, after the first
greeting. "When we came back to the point where you left us, and did not
find you there, we thought there might be some mistake, and that you had
ridden on. We picked up all the others, but were not uneasy until we got
into camp, and found that you did not return. Then two of your friends
took fresh horses and rode out again, taking two of your blacks with
them. The blacks found the place where you had left us, and following
your tracks down came on your horses. Then they went on till they saw
the river in front of them. The blacks traced your footsteps along near
the bank till they came to a spot where there was evidently a drift, as
a road was cut down to the water on both sides. They then crawled along
till they could look down into the road. They were some time away, and
returned with the news that they had seen below them on the road a patch
of blood and the mark of a body in the mud, another step they said had
gone down to the water, and had not come back. Crawling along by the
edge of the bank they found some empty cartridges. They said whoever had
been up there had crawled once or twice to the edge above the sunken
road where the other was lying, and that he had then gone back from the
river and afterwards down into the road. A little farther there seemed
to have been a fall, and then two men with big feet came to the spot,
and, they asserted, carried the one who had fallen there down to the
other; but they could not see what had happened then, for it was evident
that the Boers were in force on the other side of the river, and they
dared not go down farther to examine the tracks. Enough had been seen,
however, to show that you must both have been wounded. It was pretty
certain that you had not been killed, for if so the Boers would not have
troubled to carry your bodies across the drift. Now, Chris, let us hear
"If you don't mind, Captain Brookfield," Chris said with a smile, "I
will put off telling it for another half-hour. The fact is, breakfast is
ready, and I have only had one square meal since I went away, and that
was yesterday at Estcourt."
"Go, by all means," the captain laughed. "I breakfasted half an hour
before you came in, and forgot that it was possible that you had not
done so." It was a full half-hour before Chris returned, and when he did
so he left Sankey still telling the story of their adventures, which had
made very little progress, as he had declared that he could not enjoy
his breakfast if he was obliged to keep on talking all the time. When
Chris, on his part, had told the story to Captain Brookfield, the latter
"I can't say that I am altogether surprised to see you back, though I
certainly did not expect you for a long time, for I felt sure that if
you and Sankey were not seriously wounded you would manage to give them
the slip before you got to Pretoria; and I thought we should hear the
first news of you at Durban, for it would be shorter and easier for you
to make your way down again to Lorenzo Marques than to follow this
"We should certainly have gone that way if we had not escaped until we
were near Pretoria, but it was a great deal easier to slip away from the
waggons than it would have been if we had been once put into the train.
I hope, sir, we have not been returned as missing, for it will have
frightened our mothers terribly if we have been."
"No; I thought that there was no occasion to give your names until you
had been away for a month. If you were not heard of by that time, I
should consider it certain that you were dead or at Pretoria. I knew
that, as you say, it would be a terrible shock to your mothers if they
were to see your names among the missing; while it could do no harm to
anyone if I kept it back for a month, and put you down as missing the
first time after the corps were engaged. Well, you are just back in time
for a big fight, though we are not likely to take any part in it. It is
supposed to be a secret as to the precise position, but orders have been
privately circulated this morning. Dundonald with the regular cavalry,
the Natal Horse, and the South African Light Horse went on four days
ago, with one or two other colonial corps, and occupied Springfield, and
the baggage train followed them; and after occupying the place, instead
of waiting for infantry to come up, he moved on to a river. Some of his
men, with extraordinary pluck, swam across and managed to bring the
ferry-boat over under a very heavy fire. Then a number of them crossed,
scattered the Boers like chaff, and took possession of a rough hill
called Swartz Kop, and held it till support came up. It was a capitally
managed affair, and one cannot but regret that the same care was not
shown at Hlangwane. We are to go on this afternoon, but as we are not in
Dundonald's brigade I expect that our duty will be, as it was in the
last fight, to guard the baggage."
"But what will Dundonald's brigade do?"
"The general opinion is, that they will push round to Acton Homes. I am
not sure that the whole force is not going that way. It would be a grand
thing if it could be done; but I doubt whether the train could carry
enough stores, for it would be a long way round, and we should probably
have to fight two or three times at least, and it might take us five or
"Then most of the infantry have gone on already?"
"Yes, Hart's and Hildyard's brigades have marched straight from Frere.
By the way, did you hear of the Boer attack on Ladysmith on the night of
"No; that was the night we were at Glencoe. On our way up we did hear
some very heavy firing. At least, we were not certain that it was
firing, and rather thought it was a distant thunder-storm."
"The firing began at two o'clock in the morning," Captain Brookfield
said, "and was so heavy that everyone turned out. It lasted four hours,
and there was no doubt that the Boers were making a determined attack.
Everyone wondered that we did not at once make a diversion. When the day
broke it could be seen that numbers of mounted Boers were hurrying off
from their camps among the hills towards Ladysmith, but it was not until
two in the afternoon that five battalions of infantry marched down
towards Colenso, and the naval guns opened in earnest on their lines. It
had the effect of bringing the Boers scurrying down again to their
trenches. Our fellows marched in open order and worked their way nearly
down to Colenso, which was more strongly garrisoned than it had been at
the time of our last attack. No doubt they had seen us preparing to
advance, and strongly reinforced the garrison. Our guns were taken a
long way down, and at six o'clock their trenches were bombarded; then it
came on to rain, and the Boers ceased to fire, and at seven o'clock our
men turned into camp. The firing in Ladysmith had ceased some time
"And what had taken place there?" Chris asked anxiously, "for I know the
place has not fallen or we should have heard of it."
"No, they beat the Boers off splendidly. However, they had hard work to
do it, for the heliograph flashed a signal at about nine o'clock in the
morning to say that they had so far beaten off the enemy, but were much
pressed. We heard the next day that this had indeed been the case.
Caesar's Camp had been taken and retaken several times--by our men at
the point of the bayonet, by the Boers, by rushing up in overwhelming
numbers. It is said that we have twelve hundred casualties, and the
Boers at least fifteen hundred, of whom a large number were bayoneted.
They say the loss fell chiefly upon the Free Staters, who were put in
the front by the Transvaal people. They fought pluckily, and several of
their commanders were among the killed. I should think that they would
hardly try it again. A native got through two days afterwards with a
despatch. We have not heard what it contained, but we fancy from what
has leaked out that our defences were very weak."
"We ought to take a lesson from the Boers," Chris said. "I saw something
of their trenches as we went up the railway valley, and they are
"Yes, we must do the Boers the justice to say that they are not afraid
of hard work. Ever since they first came here they have been at work
everywhere every day in the week, including Sundays. Of course, as we
are not standing on the defensive, there is no occasion for us to
construct works to the same extent; but I cannot myself understand why
we do not throw up batteries for our guns, pushing forward zigzags every
night, and advancing the batteries until we can plant all our naval and
field guns within a hundred yards of Colenso, when we should be able to
smash their entrenchments in no time, and effectually cover an advance
across the bridge or one of the drifts. When I was in the army it was
always said that the next war would be fought with the spade as much as
with the rifle, but so far we have seen nothing whatever of the spade,
except just by the guns. We were also taught that strong positions held
by steady troops armed with magazine guns and supported by good
artillery were absolutely impregnable against direct attack. I grant
that Dundee and Elandslaagte, and Belmont and Enslin on the other side,
seemed to contradict that idea, but our experience here is all the other
way; and if we keep on knocking our heads against those hills I suppose
the axiom is likely to be finally confirmed."
"Then you don't think that we are going to fight our way into Ladysmith,
"Not direct into Ladysmith. Possibly we may work our way round; but
after what we saw of the fire from their position, trench above trench,
and miles upon miles in length, my own conviction is, that allowing to
the utmost for the gallantry and devotion of our men, we shall never win
our way across those hills."
"Then we move off at two o'clock, sir?"
"Yes, fresh batches of waggons are going on, and we are to escort them,
and if we reach Springfield by to-morrow night we may think ourselves
lucky, for some of the officers who went with the first lot have come
back, and say that the roads are simply awful--there are dongas to be
passed where the waggons sink up to their axles--and that at one point
ninety oxen were fastened to a single waggon and could not pull it out
from a hole in which it was sunk, and there it would be now if one of
the Woolwich traction engines hadn't got hold of it and drawn it out.
They are doing splendid work, and if the War Office authorities can but
take a lesson to heart, the next war we go into we shall have five
hundred of them and not a single transport animal. They would cost
money, no doubt, but they would eat nothing and drink nothing; they
would only require to be oiled and cleaned occasionally to keep them in
order, and when they were wanted they would do the work without our
having to hunt the world over for transport animals. They would save
their cost in one war; there would be a thousand drivers and stokers
instead of twenty thousand camp followers; it would not matter whether
the country was burnt up dry or deep in grass, they would drag their
fuel with them; and would save the artillery horses by dragging the guns
till they were in the neighbourhood of an enemy. It might not look so
pretty or picturesque as the present system, but it would be enormously
more useful, and in the long run vastly more economical. I should like
to see Kitchener put at the War Office with authority to sweep it out;
Hercules in the Augean stable would be nothing to it."
Chris laughed at the earnestness and vehemence with which the commander
He went on. "I am an old army man, and have been as staunch a believer
in army traditions as any man, but I tell you fairly that I am disgusted
at the amount of routine work, delay, and, if I may use the word,
priggism, that I see going on. I am not surprised that the Colonials to
a man are convinced that they would manage matters infinitely better if
they were left to themselves. They would harass the Boers night and day,
sweep their plundering parties out of the land, make a circuit no matter
how far into Zululand, and come down behind and cut the line of railway,
and blow up the bridges, and worry them out of the colony. I don't say
they would succeed, but I am sure they would try, and I believe firmly
that five thousand mounted Colonials fighting in their own way would
relieve Ladysmith and clear Natal sooner than we with thirty thousand
shall do. I am not saying that they would succeed in a Continental war,
though they would certainly harass and bother any regular force four
times their own strength. To succeed they would require guns and a
greater degree of discipline than they have got, but such a force would
be absolutely invaluable as an assistant to a regular army. Don't repeat
what I say, Chris; there is a good deal of soreness of feeling on both
sides already, and I don't want any utterance of mine to add to it.
Still, I can assure you it has been a relief to me to let the steam
At the appointed hour the Maritzburg Scouts and another Colonial corps
started with a train of two hundred waggons, and with immense exertion
made eight miles before it became dark. The men were more often on foot
than in their saddles, sometimes roping their horses to the sides of the
waggons to aid the oxen, sometimes putting their shoulders to the
wheels, or working with a score of others with railway sleepers that had
been brought for the purpose, to lever the axles out of deep holes into
which the wheels had sunk.
"I don't think I ever knew what it was to be really dirty before," Field
said, as they finally dismounted and prepared to camp. "I thought I did
know something about mud, but I can see that I did not. I feel that I am
a sort of animated pie, and could be cooked comfortably in an oven. If
we could but get a big fire and stand round it, our crust might peel
off; and I really don't see any other way. There is one advantage in it,
and that is that we shall be able to skirmish, if necessary, across
either a sandy or muddy country, without the possibility of our being
made out more than fifty yards away by the keenest-sighted Boer. What do
you propose, Captain Chris? If there were running water near, the course
would be clear. We would lie down by turns, and be rolled over and over,
and thumped with stones, and rubbed with anything that came handy till
we were in a state of comparative cleanliness."
"Why running water?" Chris asked. "Why not a pond?" "A pond!" Field
said, contemptuously. "Why, sir, before our section alone was washed,
the water of anything short of a lake would be solid."
There was a general burst of laughter.
"Well, Field, you do us almost as much good as a wash," Peters said.
"Anyhow, we are better off than the others. We have got our tents and
our spirit-lamp, and can have our tea with some degree of comfort, which
is more than the others will be able to do. Now, as we have not running
water, I think we might as well scrape as much of this mud off as we
"I would almost rather remain as we are," Field said. "Hitherto I have
felt rather proud of our appearance. As we only got our uniforms when we
came up here, and have always had our tents to sleep in, we looked a
great deal cleaner than the average. Now we shall be conspicuous for our
"In spite of what Field says, I will adopt your suggestion, Peters. We
had better help the Kaffirs to get up our tents first," Chris said,
"then we can do the scraping while they are getting our supper ready. It
is very lucky that we had the water-skins filled before starting. We
should hardly taste the tea if it had been made from water from any of
The tents were erected, and then jack-knives were taken out; and giving
mutual aid to each other, they succeeded in removing at least the main
portion of the mud. That done, they sat down to supper. Fortunately, the
rain that had come down steadily the greater portion of the day had now
ceased, and with a tin of cocoa and milk, and some fried ham and
biscuits, they made an excellent meal. Their less fortunate comrades
brought their kettles, which were boiled for them one after another,
until all who had waited up in hopes of their turn coming had been
served. As they carried tea and their ration bread, they were able to
make a fairly comfortable meal, instead of going supperless to bed,
which they would otherwise have done, as few would have cared after
their hard work to go out into the veldt to gather soaked sticks, which
they would hardly have been able to light had they found them. A small
ration of spirits and water was given to each of the five natives, and
then the lads crept into their tents feeling that after all, things
might have been much worse.
The country immediately round Springfield was level and well cultivated,
with pretty farmhouses and orchards scattered about. Some little
distance to the west rose two hills, Swartz Kop, which had been occupied
by the mounted infantry, and Spearman's Hill, named from a farm near its
base. Here General Buller had established his head-quarters. Spearman's
Hill, which was generally called Mount Alice, was a very important
position, and here the naval guns were placed, their fire commanding the
greater portion of the hills on the other side of the Tugela, and also
Potgieter's Drift, where it was intended the passage of the river should
be made. Swartz Kop was a less important position, though it also
dominated a wide extent of country; but as ridges on the other side
covered some important points from its fire, Mount Alice was selected as
the position for the naval battery, and also for the signallers, as from
here a direct communication could be kept up by heliograph and flash-
light with one of the hills held by the defenders of Ladysmith.
[Illustration: THE NAVAL GUNS ON MOUNT ALICE]
It was late on the 16th when the convoy which the Maritzburg Scouts were
escorting arrived at Springfield. All day they had heard the boom of
artillery and the rattle of machine-guns and musketry along the line of
hills on the other side of the Tugela and from the heights of Mount
Alice, and groaned in spirit as they laboured at their work of assisting
the waggons, that they were thus employed when hard fighting was going
on within eight miles of them.
At half-past two that day Lyttleton's brigade had moved forward along
the foot of Mount Alice to force the passage of the river at Potgieter's
drift. As soon as the Boers caught sight of them, they could be seen
galloping forward to take their places in the trenches.
A thunder-storm that burst and a torrent of rain screened the movements
of the advancing troops from view for some time, and enabled them to
near the river without having to pass through any shell fire from the
Boer batteries on the hilltops. Between Mount Alice and the river the
brigade passed across meadows and ploughed fields. They reached the
ferry, but the boat was stuck fast, and an hour was lost at this point
before a party of sailors and colonial troops accustomed to such work
came forward to the aid of the Engineers, and speedily got it into
working order. But in the meantime the Scottish Rifles and the Rifle
Brigade had moved along the banks to the drift. Although usually almost
dry, the water was now coming down it breast-deep. Two gallant fellows
went across, and when they found the line of shallow water they returned
and guided their comrades over. The rush of the water was so great that
many would have been swept away; but, joining hands, they crossed in a