Part 5 out of 6
line, and although this was broken several times, it was always
reformed, and not many lives were lost.
As soon as some of the troops had passed, they lined the bank until the
two battalions were over, and then advanced over some low hills,
clearing out a few Boers who occupied some advanced trenches. By six
o'clock the ferry-boat began to carry the main body across, taking over
half a company at a time; but it was not until half-past three in the
morning that the horses, waggons, the guns of the brigade, and a
howitzer battery were on the northern bank, and the whole brigade
established on a ridge a mile beyond the river.
The Maritzburg Scouts were delighted at receiving orders on the morning
after their arrival at Springfield that they were to move forward at
once and encamp close to Spearman's Farm, and to furnish orderlies for
carrying messages for the general. They started at once, and after an
hour's fast riding arrived at the point assigned to them.
Twenty men and an officer were at once sent to the farmhouse. They took
with them three tents which they had brought in the regimental waggon,
and erected these some fifty yards from the house; the rest of the troop
established their camp at a point indicated by a staff officer a quarter
of a mile away. It had been two o'clock in the morning before the convoy
had reached Springfield, and horses and men were alike tired out; and as
soon as breakfast had been prepared and eaten most of the troopers
turned in to sleep. Chris and half a dozen of his party, however,
obtained leave from Captain Brookfield to ascend Mount Alice and see
what was going on. From half-past five a tremendous fire had been kept
up on the Boer positions. The naval guns were distributing their heavy
lyddite shells among the entrenchments distant from three to six miles,
and occasionally throwing up a missile on to the summit of the lofty
hill known as Spion Kop away to the left front. Not less steadily or
effectively the howitzer battery was pounding the Boer position.
At eight o'clock the lads reached the top of Mount Alice, and watched
with intense interest the picturesque and exciting scene. Here they were
far better able than they had been when at Chieveley to see the general
aspect of the country. On the right from Grobler's Kloof hill after
hill, separated apparently by shallow depressions, rose, and from the
higher points occasional flashes of fire burst out as the guns tried
their range against those on Mount Alice, whose heights, however, they
failed to reach. Spion Kop stood out steep and threatening, its summit
being some hundred feet higher than that of Mount Alice. They could now
see that it was not, as it had appeared from the distance, an isolated
and almost conical hill, but was, in fact, connected with hills farther
to the left by a ridge of which it was the termination.
Immediately behind it was a deep valley, and the ascent from this side
was to some extent commanded by the guns on Mount Alice and Swartz Kop.
Between Spion Kop and the river there was a flat belt of country, and it
was along this that Lord Dundonald had ridden with his brigade of
cavalry to Acton Homes, where he was still stationed. The point of
greatest interest, however, was at Trichardt's Drift, lying six miles
west of Mount Alice. From their look-out they could make out the
division under the command of Sir Charles Warren advancing to the ford.
As far as they could see, no serious opposition was being offered; they
could, however, in the intervals of silence of the guns, hear a dropping
musketry fire in that direction, and a few rounds of shot from Warren's
field-guns, but it was evident that only a small party of the enemy
could be disputing the passage.
Peters, who was intently watching what was going on through his glasses,
said: "They are at work at two points on the river. I think they are
The naval guns dropped a few shells among the farm buildings and
orchards facing the spot where the troops were gathered, as a hint to
the Boers that it was well within their range, and that they had best
abstain from interfering with what was going on. In an hour from the
time the troops reached the bank two bridges had been thrown across the
river, and the passage began. By ten o'clock the whole were across, the
firing soon after ceased, and Warren's troops bivouacked quietly. It was
all over for the day, and the lads returned to their camp. The next day
passed quietly, except that in the afternoon the Boer entrenchments near
Spion Kop and Brakfontein, a hill facing the position occupied by
Lyttleton's brigade, were pounded by the naval guns and howitzers. A
message was heliographed from Ladysmith that two thousand Boers were
seen moving towards Acton Homes, and as the occupation of that village
was of no value until the infantry arrived there, the cavalry were
recalled to a position where they could protect Warren's left flank from
On the 19th, Warren pushed forward a portion of his force with a view to
driving back the Boers' right and gaining the main road leading through
Dewdrop to Ladysmith, while Woodgate's brigade watched Spion Kop.
Fighting went on all day, the British forcing the enemy back step by
step. On the 20th it began early and continued the whole day. Every inch
of the ground was contested stubbornly by the Boers, but the Irish
Brigade, who were in the hottest position, pressed them back fiercely
with sudden rushes, and, had the rest of the division kept up with their
advance, might have cleared the way through the enemy's centre. But the
cannonade to which the advancing troops were exposed was terrible.
Maxims and Nordenfeldts, the heavy cannon, and the field-pieces captured
from us a month before, hurled shot and shell incessantly among them,
while the rattle of the Boer rifles was continuous. Still, fair progress
was made, and with less loss than might have been expected in such
strife. Two officers only were killed, Captain Hensley of the Dublin
Fusiliers, and Major Childe, who was a most popular officer. He had a
presentiment that he would fall, and actually asked a friend the evening
before to have a tablet placed over his grave with the inscription, "Is
it well with the child? It is well."
At three o'clock the fighting slackened, and a heavy thunderstorm seemed
to be the signal for firing to cease. Later Sir Charles Warren summoned
all the officers commanding corps, and pointed out that there was not
sufficient food remaining to allow of the wide circuit by Acton Homes to
be carried out, and gave his opinion that now they had won so much
ground, it was better to continue to advance by the shorter line on
which they were pushing, but that in order to do this it was necessary
that Spion Kop, whose fire would take them in the rear, should be
captured. This was unanimously agreed to, and General Warren then saw
the commander-in-chief, and obtained his consent to the change of plans.
It was not, however, considered necessary to take Spion Kop until the
troops had farther advanced. All Sunday, fighting was continued as
before, but the progress made was slower, as the Boers were largely
reinforced and fresh guns brought up.
The 22nd was comparatively quiet. The situation was not improving. Five
miles of rough ground had been won in as many days' fighting, but the
force was becoming lengthened out and the line weaker. Lyttleton's force
had to guard the line from Potgieter's Drift to Warren's right against
any attempt of the Boers to cut the lines of communication. Woodgate was
similarly employed in keeping the line from Trichardt's Drift to
Warren's left, and it became increasingly evident that not much further
progress could be made until the left of the advance was protected by
the establishment of guns on the great hill. It was then, on the 23rd,
decided that Woodgate's brigade should assault Spion Hop that night. It
was known that it was not strongly held.
Starting at six o'clock, the column made its way slowly and with vast
difficulty up the ascent. This was everywhere rugged and rocky, and in
many places so precipitous that men had to be pushed or pulled up by
Colonel Thorneycroft led the way with a few men, finding out the spots
at which an ascent was practicable, and scouting on either side to
discover if Boers were hidden; behind him followed Woodgate leading his
men. He was in bad health and quite unfit for such a climb, but in spite
of remonstrances he had insisted upon going, although he was obliged to
be assisted at the more difficult places. The distance was not more than
six miles, but it was not until nearly ten hours after starting that the
summit was gained. The hilltop was enveloped in mist, and they were
unseen until the Lancashire Fusiliers, who were leading, were within
fifty yards of the top. Then a Boer challenged them, and directly fired
his rifle. Almost instantly a dozen of his comrades joined him, and
bringing their magazines into play opened a fierce fusillade. But the
aim was hurried, they could scarce see their foes, and the Lancashire
men, cheering loudly, rushed up to the crest without loss.
The Boers did not await their arrival; only one of them was bayoneted
before he turned to fly, and but two or three were overtaken by the
eager soldiers. As soon as the Boers had gone, the troops set to work to
construct breastworks to hold the spot they had gained against any
attempts of the Boers to recapture. The ground was too rocky for
digging, and the stones that were scattered thickly about were used for
the purpose; but long before the breastwork could be completed a
dropping fire was opened by the enemy. The morning was gray and misty,
and the clouds hung heavily on the hilltop. As these cleared off slowly,
it could be seen that the position was less favourable than it had
seemed, for the flat crest extended some distance beyond the point they
had entrenched, and from the rocks and low ridges a hot fire broke out.
Before the mist cleared off, the Boers had crept up in considerable
force, and were, it was evident, preparing to retake the position that
had been wrested from them.
By six o'clock the scattered fire had grown into a continuous roar, the
Boers occupying not only the nek itself, but the flanks of the hill.
Several times our men made rushes to endeavour to clear off the foe, but
these proved too costly, and they were now lying or kneeling behind the
unfinished barricade. In a very short time the clouds had lifted
sufficiently for the Boer artillery to discover the exact position, and
from the hills on three sides a terrible fire of shot and shell, from
cannon great and small and machine-guns, rained upon them. Again and
again parties of men started to their feet and dashed forward to drive
the hidden Boers facing them from their hiding-places. Sometimes they
succeeded for a time, but their numbers thinned so fast that the
survivors were forced to fall back again. To add to the horror of the
situation, the shot from our own guns also fell among the defenders, the
officers commanding the batteries not having been informed of the
intention to occupy the hill, and knowing nothing of the situation.
Scores of men were killed or wounded, but the position was held
At ten o'clock General Woodgate was mortally wounded by the fragment of
a shell that struck him in the eye, and Colonel Crofton took the
command. He at once flashed a message to General Warren, stating that
Woodgate was killed, and that reinforcements must be sent at once;
General Coke was therefore ordered to take the Middlesex and Dorset
regiments, and assume the command. Immediately afterwards Warren
received an order from General Buller to appoint Lieutenant-colonel
Thorneycroft, who was colonel of a colonial force, to take the command.
It was now hoped that all was well there. Unfortunately, neither Buller
nor Warren was able to give his undivided attention to the struggle on
the mountain, for Lyttleton's brigade had advanced before daybreak
against the eastern slopes of the hills running north from Spion Kop.
They advanced briskly, their Maxims clearing out the Boers, from whose
fire they suffered but little; but they sustained some loss from the
shell fire from Mount Alice, the sailors having been as uninformed of
the advance the brigade were to make as they were of the capture of
Spion Kop. The Scottish Rifles and the 3rd King's Royal Rifles pushed on
rapidly and gained the spur farthest north. Had there been guns on Spion
Kop the object of the movement would have been attained, and the advance
by direct road on Ladysmith have become a possibility; but no guns had
reached the summit, and the troops there were so far from being able to
render assistance that they were with difficulty maintaining their
desperate resistance. As the two rifle regiments were therefore exposed
to a concentrated fire from the Boer batteries, and were without
support, they were directed to withdraw, but the order had to be
repeated three times before it was obeyed. The fire slackened at this
point to some extent in the afternoon, no farther advance being
attempted, but it raged as hotly as ever on the summit of Spion Kop.
As neither General Buller nor Warren had come up to see the state of
things on the all-important position of Spion Kop, General Coke went
down in the evening to explain the situation. He stated that unless the
artillery could silence the enemy's guns the troops could not support
another day's shelling. In the evening two naval twelve-pounders, the R.
A. mountain battery, and one thousand two hundred men as reliefs,
started to ascend the hill and to strengthen the entrenchments. On the
way up they met Colonel Thorneycroft and the rest of the force coming
down, that officer, who had displayed splendid gallantry throughout the
day, having decided on his own responsibility that the position could
not be longer held. Strangely enough, the news of the retirement was not
communicated to General Buller, who, after reporting in his despatches
written next morning that Spion Kop was firmly held, was riding to the
front when he for the first time learned the news. Altogether it was a
day of strange blunders, redeemed only by the splendid bravery of the
troops engaged. The news came as a heavy blow to the army, but it was
supposed that a fresh attempt would be made to capture the position by
ascending the northern spurs that had been carried and held for a time
by the two rifle battalions. But while soldiers think only of the
chances of battle, and burn to engage the enemy, a feeling only
accentuated by previous failures, generals in command have to take other
matters into consideration. They may feel that they may conquer in the
next fight, but what is to follow? In this case the chances of success
would be smaller than before, the loss more serious, for the Boers from
all parts had united to oppose us. Many of the cannon had been brought
over from the positions from which Ladysmith was bombarded. The
advantage of surprise gained by the long march from Chieveley had been
lost; more serious still was it that a large proportion of the
provisions, brought at the cost of so much labour and exhaustion of the
transport animals, was consumed, and what remained would be insufficient
had fresh battles to be fought to capture the positions, one behind
another, held by the Boers.
General Buller was the last man to retire as long as there was a hope of
success. He knew that not only at home, but all over the civilized
world, men were anxiously awaiting the news of his second attempt to
relieve Ladysmith, and it must have been hard indeed for him to have to
acknowledge a second reverse; but in spite of this he sternly determined
to fall back. The movement was admirably executed; every horse, waggon,
gun, and soldier was taken safely across the Tugela without hindrance by
the Boers, a fact that showed how deeply they had been impressed with
the valour of our soldiers. Sullenly and angrily the troops marched
away. Had they had their will they would have hurled themselves against
the Boer entrenchments until the last man had fallen. To them the
necessities of the situation were as nothing; to retreat seemed an
acknowledgment that they had been beaten, a feeling that is seldom
entertained by British soldiers. Their losses had been heavy, but there
were still enough of them, they thought, for the work they had to do,
and it was with a deep feeling of unmerited humiliation that they
received the order to retire.
The feeling, however, was not of long endurance, for two days later,
when they had settled down in camp near the Tugela and round Spearman's
Farm, the general rode through the lines, congratulating the troops on
the valour they had displayed, and promising them that ere long they
would be in Ladysmith.
"I shall be heartily glad when we are there," Chris said when he heard
what the general had promised, "not only for the sake of the town, but
for our own. We are really doing no good here. It is hateful to look on
when other fellows are fighting so desperately. If it were not that the
orders were strict against the mounted Colonial corps going out over the
country, to clear the scattered Boers out, we might be doing useful
service; and as soon as Ladysmith is relieved--that is to say, if we can
hold out till we get there--I should certainly vote that we come back
here instead of staying with the army, and go on again on our own
"I quite agree with you," Carmichael said. "Still, it is something to
have seen two big fights."
"Yes," Brown grumbled, "but if we tell anybody that we were there,
naturally the first question will be, 'What part did you take in it',
and we shall have to own that we took no part at all, and only looked on
at a distance at the other fellows fighting. I call it sickening."
"Well, never mind, Brown," Chris said; "after all, during this business,
we have killed twice our own number of Boers at the least, and if
everyone had done as much the Boers would be pretty well extinct."
"Yes, there is certainly something in that," Brown admitted, "but if we
had been allowed to scout on our own account it would be hard if we had
not killed twice as many more by this time."
"We certainly might have done so, but you must remember, also, that a
great many of us might have been killed too. One cannot always expect to
have the luck we had in those two fights; and, I am sure, we should
bitterly regret gaps being made in our number."
"That we should," Harris said warmly. "We were all good friends before,
but nothing to what we are now after living so long together, roughing
it and sharing each others' dangers. For my part I would rather go
without any more fighting than that any of us should go down."
"I agree with you thoroughly, Harris," Chris said. "As most of us are
likely to remain out here for life, we shall often meet, and I do hope
that when we talk of these times we shan't have our pleasure marred by
having to say how we miss so and so, and so and so. I should be sorry
even to lose one of our blacks. They have stuck to their work well, and
are always cheerful and willing in the worst of weather and under the
most miserable conditions. I should really be very sorry if any of them
It needed but a day or two for the troops to recover their cheerfulness.
It was certain that they would soon be launched against the enemy again,
and it was known that General Buller would himself command. The ground
was now more known than it was before, the plans could he better laid,
and all looked forward confidently to the next engagement.
No thanks were due to the weather for the renewed spirits of the men. It
rained almost unceasingly. The flat ground on which the troops were
encamped was a sea of mud. There was one good effect in this: there was
water in all the spruits, and the men were able to indulge in a wash-up
of their clothes and an occasional bath; and although they had to put
their clothes on wet, they were scarcely more damp than when they took
them off. There was other work to be done. Two naval guns, a mountain
battery, and some large cannon were with great labour got up on the top
of Swartz Kop.
The lads had given up the two tents allotted to them to let the rest of
the men have more room, and they now felt the full benefit of their
little shelter tents. The allowance throughout the rest of the camp was
sixteen men to a tent. On coming in and out, as the men were muddy up to
the knees, it was impossible to keep these even tolerably clean, and the
discomfort of so many men crowded together and obliged to live, eat, and
sleep in such confined quarters was very great indeed.
The lads on the other hand, suffered from none of these inconveniences,
and except that they could not stand up, and could only sit upright in
the middle of the tent, they were perfectly comfortable. The tents were
about seven feet wide on the ground, and as much long. Their natives had
cut and brought in bundles of grass, which made them soft beds, one on
each side of the tent. A blanket was stretched on each bed, another
doubled lay over it. It was a strict rule that everyone should take off
his boots on entering his tent, and leave them just inside the entrance.
They had purchased at the sale of the effects of some of the officers
killed in action some more blankets and rugs, and these were thrown over
the entrance to the front of the tents at night, and made them perfectly
warm and comfortable. A trench some eighteen inches deep was dug round
each tent, and this kept the floor fairly dry.
Some blankets had been given to the Kaffirs, who constructed a little
shelter, in which they squatted by day and slept at night, and in which
cooking operations were carried on. The lads had no occasion to feel
dull, for they now knew many officers in the line regiments, and among
the Colonial troops, as well as the naval brigade; and "Brookfield's
boys", as they were generally called, were always welcome, and it was
seldom that more than half of them dined in their own camp. Chris could
always have been an absentee, for the sailors had told to each other the
story of his attempt to blow up the bridge at Komati-poort, and he
received any number of invitations. But he by no means liked to have to
retell the story, and generally made some excuse or other for remaining
Another battery of artillery arrived on the 31st of January, and on the
3rd of February there were sports in the camp of the South African Light
Horse, and a camp-fire sing-song afterwards. The men were all now in
high spirits, for it was certain that in a day or two another attack
would be made. On Sunday, February 4th, it was known that the move would
commence the next day.
General Buller's plan was to make a strong feint against Brakfontein,
the highest hill of the ridge connected with the Spion Kop range, while
the real attack was to be delivered against an isolated hill named Vaal
Krantz, which, as viewed from Swartz Kop and Mount Alice, seemed to be
the key to the whole position, and it was thought that its possession
would open the way for a direct advance to Ladysmith. All was now in
readiness for the attack, and the sailors had with steel hawsers, and
the aid of the troops, got four more naval guns on to Swartz Kop.
Before daybreak the troops were ready to advance. The regular cavalry
were near the base of Swartz Kop, while all the Colonial Horse, under
Lord Dundonald, were near Potgieter's Drift. At six o'clock the cavalry
went forward, but not far, for the morning was so misty that the
artillery could not make out the Boer positions until an hour later,
when a tremendous fire was opened from Mount Alice, Swartz Kop, and guns
placed on a lower spur of Spion Kop. While this was going on, a bridge
was thrown by the Engineers across another drift. Major-general Wynne
led the Lancashire brigade in the direction of Brakfontein. They went
forward in skirmishing order, supported by five field batteries and the
howitzer battery, all of which kept up an incessant fire of lyddite,
shell, and shot against the Boer position, their fire being guided by an
engineer officer in a balloon, who was able from a lofty altitude to
signal where the Boers were clustering most thickly.
When another bridge had been completed General Lyttleton advanced with
his brigade across it, and as the feint against Brakfontein had
succeeded in gathering the greater portion of the Boers at the spot they
supposed to be most in danger, the Lancashire brigade was withdrawn,
retiring in excellent order, the movement being covered by an incessant
firing of the guns with them, which completely dominated those of the
Boers. Lyttleton's brigade now pressed forward under a storm of musketry
and shell from machine and other guns, which were answered even more
thunderously by the British artillery. The din was tremendous--greater
even than any that had been previously heard. It seemed impossible that
men could live for a moment in such a storm of missiles. But they
pressed on unfalteringly, and the batteries with them as steadily
maintained their fire, though shells fell continually round and among
them. The batteries that had gone out with the Lancashire Brigade now
directed their fire against Vaal Krantz, having moved across from
Brakfontein under a tremendous fire. One of the waggons lost all its
horses; but the five artillerymen with it manned the wheels and brought
it safely out of fire.
At three o'clock Lyttleton's brigade advanced in earnest, and dashed
forward at the double against Vaal Krantz, heedless of the rifle fire
from the hills on both flanks and from the front. The defenders soon
lost courage, as they saw the Durhams and 3rd King's Royal Rifles
dashing up the hill with bayonets fixed, and scarce two hundred of them
remained till the British gained the crest. These were speedily
scattered or bayoneted.
The position when won was found to be unsatisfactory, for it was
dominated by a hill beyond, which could not be seen from the British
look-out stations, and the cannon of Spion Kop were able to sweep the
plateau. At one time the Boers gathered and made an effort to retake the
hill, but two more battalions were sent up to reinforce the defenders,
and the enemy were driven back and the fire gradually languished. The
troops remained on the ground they had won during the night. From
prisoners they learned that four thousand Boers occupied Doornkloof, the
hill on their flank, and that the whole of the Transvaalers under
Joubert were gathering in their front.
The baggage waggons were all collected by the river in readiness to
advance; but the way was not yet sufficiently cleared for them, and the
Boer guns on Brakfontein and Spion Kop commanded the road which they
would have to traverse. It was evident to all that no advance was
possible until the guns on these heights had been silenced or captured.
For the same reason the two brigades of cavalry had remained inactive.
During the night the Boers set fire to the grass on Vaal Krantz, and by
the assistance of the light kept up a shell and Maxim fire upon the
troops holding it. By morning they had brought up one of their big
hundred-pound Creusot guns on to Doornkloof, and it added its roar to
the chaos of other sounds. Under the shelter of its fire and that of the
other guns the Boers made several attempts to recapture the hill, but
were smartly repulsed each time they advanced.
All day Tuesday and Wednesday the uproar of battle never ceased. We
could advance no farther. The Boers could not drive us back, although
they made a very determined night attack on Hildyard's brigade. That
afternoon General Buller held a council of war, at which all the
generals were present. Their opinions were unanimous that the Boer
position could not be forced without terrible loss, and that when they
arrived at Ladysmith they would but add to the number shut up in that
town, as it might be found as difficult to force their way out as to
arrive there. General Hart pleaded to be allowed to make an attempt on
Doornkloof with his brigade; but, strongly held as that position was, it
was deemed impossible that it could be captured by a single brigade. The
original intention was that guns should be taken up on to Vaal Krantz,
and that with their assistance a strong force would wheel round and take
Doornkloof in the rear; but owing to the discovery that the former hill
was dominated from several points, it was found impracticable to carry
the plan into execution. Orders were therefore given for the supply
column, which had advanced some distance, to retire.
As the movement was being carried out, the Boers kept up a heavy fire
upon the waggons and on the hospital, which, relying upon the protection
of the Red Cross flag, had advanced within range, but here, as upon
almost every occasion, the enemy paid no respect whatever to the Geneva
emblem, although when, as once or twice happened, one of our shells fell
near an ambulance of theirs, they had sent in indignant protests against
our conduct. All that night and the next day the movement to the rear
continued, and not only were the infantry moved across the Tugela, but
the guns on Swartz Kop and Mount Alice were removed, and orders were
given for a general retirement to Springfield, a proof that the next
attack would be made in an entirely different direction.
A COLONIST'S ADVENTURE
In the morning after the battle orders were issued for the greater part
of the troops to return to Chieveley, and among the first to leave were
the Maritzburg Scouts. They were heartily glad to be off. During the
three preceding days the position of the cavalry had been a galling one.
They had seen nothing of the fighting, being kept down at Potgieter's
Drift in readiness to advance the moment that orders came. They had
nothing to do but to stand or sit down near their horses, watching the
fire from the enemy's batteries on the hills, and the bursting of our
lyddite shells among them, the outburst of brownish-yellow smoke
rendering them easily distinguishable from the sudden puffs of white
vapour caused by the explosion of the shrapnel shells of the artillery.
How the battle was going was only known from the wounded men brought
down from the front. The reports at first were encouraging, but it
became evident on the following days that no progress was being made.
Each evening when the sun set both the colonial and regular cavalry
returned to their camp, for it was certain that they could not act at
night. When it became known on Wednesday evening that a retreat was
ordered, the news came almost as a relief, for the suspense had been
After dinner Chris went into the tent where the officers of the troop
were gathered. As usual, the talk was of the battle, but in a short time
Captain Brookfield said:
"Let us try and get away from the subject. We have talked of nothing
else for the past three days, and I defy anyone to say anything new
about it; it is not a pleasant subject either. Richards, you were in the
last war, I know, and took part in the defence of Standerton. Suppose
you tell us about that; it is one of the few pleasant memories of that
"I don't know that there is much to tell you about it, but I will let
you know how I came to take share in it. That was an exciting time for
me, for I was never so near rubbed out in all my life. Just before the
last business broke out I happened to be returning from Pretoria,
intending to sell for anything that I could get a large farm that I
owned in the Leydenburg district. Of late the Boers had been getting so
offensive in their manner that I thought something would come of it, and
made up my mind to sell out at any price and return to Natal. When I
rode into Leydenburg I found that two hundred and fifty men of the 94th
Regiment were starting next day with a large train of waggons for
Pretoria. As I was frequently in the town, and had made the acquaintance
of several of the officers, I thought it would be pleasant to ride down
with them, as it made no difference whether I got into Pretoria a day or
two earlier or later. The general idea was that war would come of it,
but no one thought it would begin without the usual notice and warning.
"I told the officers that I would not trust the Boers further than I
could see them, for that a more treacherous set of fellows are not to be
found on the surface of the earth. Still, I must own that I had no more
idea that an attack would be made upon us than they had. Well, you all
know what came of it. We were going along a hollow with rising ground on
either side when, without the slightest warning, a tremendous fire was
opened from both flanks. It can hardly be said that there was any
resistance. The troops were strung out along the line of waggons;
numbers were shot down before a single musket was fired in defence. The
main body, such as it was, fought stoutly, but as they could only catch
an occasional glimpse of the heads of the enemy, while they were
themselves altogether exposed, there could be but one end to it. A
hundred and twenty men were killed or wounded in a few minutes, and to
save the rest from a similar massacre the officer who commanded
"I fired a few shots at first, but as soon as I saw how it would end I
rode for it. I was with the rear-guard when the firing began, and so
took the back track. As soon as the firing ceased I saw half a dozen
Boers galloping after me. My blood was up, as you may imagine, and on
getting to a dip I jumped off my horse, left it in shelter, and threw
myself down on the crest of the hollow, and as they came within range I
picked off the one who was nearest to me. That brought the others up
with a round turn. They retired a little way, then dismounted and
separated, and proceeded to stalk me. We exchanged shots for an hour or
two. I killed another, and got, as you see by this scar on my cheek, a
graze. However, I think they would have tired of the game first. But
suddenly I saw a dozen Boers galloping across the country in our
direction. They were doubtless a party who had arrived too late to take
part in the fight, if you can call such a treacherous massacre a fight,
and hearing the sound of shots were riding to see what was going on.
"I saw that things were getting too hot, and ran down to my horse again
and rode along in the hollow, which fortunately hid me from the sight of
either the men I had been fighting or those riding up. I had therefore
about a quarter of a mile start when I heard a shout, and knew that they
were after me. After what had happened I did not dare ride for
Middleburg, as there was no saying whether that place might not have
already risen; so there was nothing to depend upon but the speed and
bottom of my horse. It was a fairly good animal, but nothing particular.
It had had an easy time of it while on the march, for we had only done
some fourteen or fifteen miles a day. I might have had hopes that I
should outride the men in pursuit of me, but they would be joined by
more men on fresh horses from any Boer farmhouse or village we came
near. Besides, the news of this intended attack on the convoy must have
been known far and wide. Occasionally a shot was fired, but as I was
riding at a gallop, and the Boers were doing the same, I had no great
fear of being hit. I gained a little at first, but after two hours'
riding they were about the same distance behind as when they had first
started on the chase.
"I felt that my horse was beginning to fag a bit, but the sun was
setting, for the attack had taken place in the afternoon. I kept on till
it was too dark for me to make out my pursuers, some of whom were not
more than three hundred yards behind me; then, while my horse was going
at full gallop I leapt of? without checking him, a trick that most
hunters can do. I chose the spot because I could make out that there was
some low scrub close to the road. Stooping among this I ran forward. I
was glad to hear that my horse was still galloping at the top of his
speed, and, deprived of my weight, would probably get a good bit farther
before he was taken, if he did but keep on. This I hoped he would do,
for he had evidently entered into the spirit of the chase, and had laid
back his ears whenever the Boers raised their voices in a yell or a
rifle was fired. They were yelling pretty hard when they passed me,
urging their horses on in the belief that the chase was almost at an
end. I heard no more of the Boers that time, for as soon as they had
gone on I ran at the top of my speed for some distance, and then broke
into a trot, and by the morning must have been thirty miles away.
"I decided to make for Standerton, for there I felt sure I should be
safe, for at that place was a considerable English population, and they
would certainly hold out. I had a Colt's rifle with me and a brace of
revolvers, for even when I went down to Leydenburg I heard that several
Englishmen had been maltreated, and one or two shot by Boers they met. I
tramped for four days, and as the attack on our troops had been made on
the 20th of December, it was now Christmas-eve. I had not ventured to go
near a Boer farm, for fortunately I had shot a springbok, and was
therefore under no trouble as to food; but on the previous day I had not
come across water, and the heat was terrible, so I felt that whatever
came of it I must go and ask for a drink. I saw a farmhouse about nine
in the morning and made for it. As I approached, a woman came out of the
door and, seeing me, re-entered, and two Boers with their guns in their
hands ran out.
"Who are you?" they shouted. Of course I speak Dutch as well as English,
and shouted back that I only wanted some water.
"'Are you an Englishman?' they shouted again.
"'Yes, I am,' I said; 'but what difference does that make?' I saw their
guns go up to their shoulders, and flung myself down, and their shots
went over my head. It was my turn now, and I fired twice, and the two
Boers rolled over. I walked forward now ready to fire on an instant, as
there might be more of them. Some women ran out but no man, and I went
straight up. They were screaming over the bodies of the men, and heaped
curses on me as I came up. I slung my rifle behind me, and taking out my
pistols I said, 'Your men brought it on themselves. I only asked for
water, and they fired at me. I don't want to hurt any of you, but if you
attack me I must protect myself.' Several times I thought they would
have done so, but the sight of my pistols cowed them, I walked straight
into the house, dipped a pannikin into a pail of water, took a long
drink, then I filled my water-bottle, and went out. Though they cursed
me again, they did not attempt to stop me, as I rather feared they
would; but I understood it when, before I had gone fifty yards, I heard
a horse's hoofs, and looking round saw a girl riding at full speed
across the veldt. She had no doubt gone to fetch the men who were away
or to the next farm to summon assistance. The draught of water had done
me a world of good, and I soon broke into a run, though I did not
conceal from myself that I was in a bad fix. Once out of sight of the
farm I changed my course, and did so several times in the course of the
next two hours; then, on getting to the crest of high ground, I saw a
river half a mile away. This, I felt sure, was Broot Spruit. Before
starting to walk down I looked round, and a little over a mile away
could see a party of some fifteen Boers. I ran at full speed down the
slope, and could see no other place where I could make a fight of it;
but many of the rivers have, like those here, steep banks, and I could
at least sell my life dearly. It could only be for a time, for some of
the Boers would cross the spruit and take me in rear. Still, there was
nothing else to be done.
"When I reached the bank I gave a shout of satisfaction. The river was
in flood; there must have been rain up in the hills, and you know how
quickly the streams rise. Unless the Boers knew of some very shallow
place, there would be no crossing it; for it was running like a mill-
stream, and except at some waggon drift the banks were almost
perpendicular. At any rate I could not hope to swim half across before
the Boers came up, and so I must fight it out where I was. I had
scarcely found a point where I could get a comfortable foothold on the
bank, with my head just above the level, when the Boers appeared on the
top of the hill. They stopped for a minute and then broke up, and
scattering rode forward. They felt sure that I must have made for the
river, as there was no other place where I could be concealed. When they
came within a couple of hundred yards of it they dismounted, and three
or four came forward on foot. When the nearest was within a hundred
yards of me I fired.
"At so short a distance, and with so good a rest, I could not miss, and
before the smoke cleared away I winged another, and the rest ran back
hastily. I sent a shot or two among them as they were consulting, with
the result that they rode off three or four hundred yards farther back.
They did not attempt to return my fire, for, except when I raised my
head for a moment, they could see nothing of me. They doubtless learned
from the women that I had a Colt's rifle and a brace of revolvers, and
that if they were to make a rush across the open not many of them were
likely to reach me. After a talk two or three of them mounted their
horses and rode so as to strike the river both above and below me,
intending no doubt to cross if they found a place where there was a
chance of doing so. I felt pretty sure that they would do nothing till
it was dark, then they would crawl up and make a rush; I was certain,
anyhow, that they would not give it up, as there were two of their
number lying on the veldt besides the two at the farmhouse. There was,
however, more pluck in them than I had given them credit for, for about
mid-day they began to advance, crawling along the ground as if stalking
a quarry. The men who had gone out on horseback had all returned, but
just as the others started crawling up three of them galloped away down
stream. I determined at once to shift my position a bit, so as to put
off the evil hour. I pulled a stone as big as my head out of the clay of
the bank and put it on the edge where my head had been, and then got
down into the water. It was waist-deep at a couple of feet from the
bank, which above was too steep to walk along. I had gone a hundred
yards when I saw, seven or eight inches above the water-level, a hole,
and pushing my arm in I found it was a place where a good bit of the
bank had caved in. Laying my gun and pistols down on a ledge I felt
about farther. At the top it went in nearly three feet, and was higher
at the back than it was at the water's edge. At any rate it afforded a
good chance of safety. Holding the revolvers, the chamber of the rifle,
and my ammunition above water, I stooped until I could get into the
hole, which was but just wide enough for the purpose; then I pushed
myself back to the end. I found there was just height enough for me to
sit with my mouth above water. The back sloped so that I had to dig my
heels into the clay to prevent myself from slipping forward.
"It was not a comfortable position, but that was a secondary
consideration. I had noticed as I came along that the river was already
falling, so that I had no fear of being drowned as long as I kept my
position. With some trouble I fastened my pistols and ammunition on the
brim of my hat; the rifle I was holding between my knees. There I sat
hour after hour. Fortunately, being pretty near midsummer day, the water
was not cold. I had at least the consolation of knowing what a state of
fury the Boers must be in. They would have seen by my footsteps where I
had entered the river, just below where I had been standing. No doubt
they would have gone along the top of the bank to see if I had come out
of the water again, and when they reached their friends on horseback and
heard that I had not swum down the river, they would have concluded that
I must have been drowned. Had I managed to cross, they would have seen
me climb the opposite bank.
"In an hour the water had fallen to my shoulders, and when it became
dark it was but waist-deep where I was sitting. To make a long story
short, by midnight the water was below my feet and still falling
rapidly. I waited a couple of hours and then started to cross. It was
about fifty yards wide, and I was fully half-way over before it reached
my chin. The stream had lost much of its force, and I had no difficulty
in swimming across the rest of the way, though the water was deep until
I was within a couple of yards of the bank. Then I climbed the bank and
made off. I saw nothing more of my pursuers, and three days later I
arrived at Standerton, and remained there til the end of the war, for
the gallant little town repulsed all attempts of the Boers to capture
"That was a narrow escape indeed, Richards," Captain Brookfield said.
"If you hadn't had your wits about you the Boers would certainly have
got you. It was a first-rate hiding-place, but I don't think many of us
would have thought of adopting it. Now, will someone else give us a
Two or three more stories were told, and then the party broke up,
feeling all the better for having for an hour avoided the standing
topic. Two days later all were settled at Chieveley again, and it was
generally believed that the next attack would take place very shortly,
and that it would probably be directed against Colenso. That evening a
farmer came into camp. His horse had dropped dead a mile away. He
stopped, as he passed through the tents of the scouts, and asked where
he could find the general. Captain Brookfield, who heard the question,
stepped out from his tent with Chris, to whom he had been talking.
"Why, Searle, is it you? I thought the voice was familiar to me. What is
"I have ridden in to get help. The other day a raiding party of Boers
came down through Inadi, and riding in between Dingley Dell and Botha's
Castle--you know the hill--swept off a quantity of cattle. They have not
penetrated so far before, and no one about thought that there was any
danger while you were attacking them up here. One of the farmers rode to
Greytown for help. Most of the young men there had joined one or other
of the colonial troops, but fifteen of us said that we could go out. It
seemed that there were not more than some fifteen or twenty Boers. Well,
I can't tell you all about it, for, as it is a matter of life and death,
I have not a moment to lose. However, we came up to them north of
Botha's Castle. We had a sharp fight. Two of our men were killed and
five of the Boers; the rest rode off. We set to work to bunch all the
cattle, and as we were at it we were attacked suddenly by a party sixty
or seventy strong. The fellows that we had driven off had evidently come
across them and brought them down upon us. We made a running fight, but
our horses were not so fresh as theirs; and seeing that they had the
speed of us we made for an empty farmhouse, and as they rode up we
brought down several of them.
"There was a wall round the yard, and the Boers drew off for a bit to
consider. Then they dismounted and planted themselves round the house in
such shelter as they could find within two or three hundred yards, and
the affair began in earnest. The first day they kept up a heavy fire, to
which we could make but little reply, for it was certain death to lift a
head above the wall or to show one's self at a window even for a moment.
We lost three men that way. During the night they tried to carry the
place, but we were all at the wall; and had the best of it, as we had
only to show our heads, while they were altogether exposed. There was
not much firing next day, and it was evident that they meant to starve
us out. There was not a scrap of food to be found in the place; but
fortunately there was a small thatched kraal inside the yard which gave
some forage for the horses. The next day we killed one of them for food.
"That night we agreed that when the Boers saw that we did not surrender
in a day or two they would be sure that we must be eating the horses, as
any food we brought with us must be exhausted, and they would then make
a determined attack; for we knew we had killed eight or ten of them, and
that they would not go away. So we decided that the only hope was for
one of us to ride here; we tossed up who should try to get through the
Boers, and the lot fell upon me. I took the best of the horses. We had
agreed from the first that this would have to be done, and had given
what scraps of bread we could spare to it; besides which, they were all
in fair condition, as the yard was strewn with rubbish, and some party
of Boers had ripped up all the beds and straw mattresses and scattered
the contents about.
"Some of them were sure to be on watch, and I rode at a walk. I made for
the north, as that side was less likely to be watched. I had gone about
two hundred yards when a man jumped up just in front of me. My rifle was
ready, and before he could lift his I shot him, and then clapped spurs
to nay horse. There was a tremendous hubbub; shots were fired at random
in all directions, but I doubt whether they could have seen me after I
had gone fifty yards. I rode for a quarter of a mile due north, and then
turned west. I had no fear of being overtaken, for although the Boers
would all have their horses close, in readiness to mount if we should
try to break out, I must have got a good quarter of a mile start, and
they were not likely to keep up the chase long, as they could not tell
which way I might have doubled, and if they pursued far, it would be in
the direction of Greytown. It was about a seventy-mile ride, and as I
started about twelve, I have done it in nine hours. I foundered the
horse, but fortunately he did not drop till I was within half a mile of
the camp. Now, where can I find the general?"
"You will find him at Frere, but I am afraid it will be of no use. We
have tried him again and again--at least, one or other of us have done
so--to let us go out scouting, but he will not hear of it, though the
whole of us Colonials are terribly sore at leaving the whole country at
the mercy of the Boer marauders; and now that we shall probably be at
work here again directly, he is less likely than ever to let anyone go."
"You can't go without orders, I suppose?"
Captain Brookfield shook his head. "We are just as much under orders as
the regular troops are, and it would be a serious matter indeed to fly
in the face of his repeated orders on this subject." The farmer made a
gesture of despair.
"Captain Brookfield," Chris said, speaking for the first time, "I think
that by the terms of our enlistment in your corps we were to be allowed
to take our discharge whenever we asked for it?"
"That was so, Chris, but--"
"Then I beg now, sir, to tender our resignation from the present
"But Chris, you have but twenty men, and by what Searle says, there are
sixty or seventy of them."
"Of whom ten or so have been killed. Well, sir, we have fought against
nearly a hundred before now, and got the best of it; besides, we shall
have the help of the little party shut up. However, now that we have
resigned, that is our affair. I suppose that if we rejoin you, you will
have no objection to re-enlist us?"
Captain Brookfield smiled. "I should have no objection certainly, Chris,
but General Buller might have."
"I don't suppose he will know of our having been away, sir; he has
plenty more serious things to think of than the numerical strength of
your troop, and as the news of a skirmish some thirty miles north of
Greytown is not likely to be reported in the papers, or at any rate to
attract his attention, I don't think you need trouble yourself on that
score. Besides, if it was reported, it could only be said that one of
the besieged party escaping, returned with a small body of volunteers he
had collected; and the name of the Maritzburg Scouts would not be
mentioned. I am sure that Mr. Searle would impress the necessity for
silence about that point, on his friends."
"Well, I accept your resignation, Chris; a headstrong man will have his
way; and indeed I have great faith in your accomplishing, somehow, the
relief of this party."
The farmer had listened with surprise to this discussion between the lad
and Captain Brookfield. The latter now turned to him and said:
"This young gentleman is the commander of twenty lads of about his own
age. They have been in two serious fights, and in both cases against a
Boer force much superior to themselves in numbers, and I have as much
confidence in them as in any men in my troop. They are all good shots,
and admirably mounted, and you can be perfectly sure of them, and can
take my assurance that if any twenty men can relieve your friends, they
will do so."
"Will you be able to ride back again with us, sir? I can mount you."
"Certainly I can, if my friend Captain Brookfield can furnish me with a
meal before I start."
"That I will with much pleasure. How long will it be before you are
"Half an hour, sir. I left them all rubbing down their horses when I
came in here a quarter of an hour ago, and it will take but a very short
time to pack up and start."
"Very well; I dare say that Mr. Searle will be ready by that time.
Breakfast shall be ready for you in ten minutes, Searle, and while you
are eating it I will tell you enough of these gentlemen's doings to
reassure you, for I see that you do not feel very confident that they
will be able to tackle the Boers."
"After what you have said, Captain Brookfield, I can have no doubt that
they will do all they can, but it seems to me that twenty men--or twenty
boys--are no match for fifty or sixty Boers. While they were speaking,
Chris had returned to his camp. The lads were all engaged in rubbing up
"You can knock off at once," Chris said; "I have need for you. You no
longer belong to the Maritzburg Scouts."
There was a general exclamation of astonishment.
"What do you mean, Chris?"
"I mean that I have resigned in my own name and yours, and Captain
Brookfield has accepted the resignation."
"Are you really in earnest, Chris?"
"Very much so; but I will not keep you in suspense. A small party of
Greytown men are besieged near Botha's Castle; one of them has just
ridden in for help. But you know well enough that Buller will not hear
of detached parties going out all over the country; and Captain
Brookfield told the farmer that it was of no use his going to the
general, and that none of the Colonial troops could leave the camp
without orders. As it was evident that there was nothing more to be
done, and we could not leave the man's friends to be massacred, the only
thing to do was to give in our resignation at once; and of course, now
that it is done and accepted, we are at liberty to mount and ride off
where we please. When we have done our work we will come back and
reenlist, and no one will be any the wiser. We shall start in half an
hour. We need not take the tent poles, or anything but a blanket and a
There was lively satisfaction at the news that they were again going to
be employed in what they considered their proper work.
"What shall we do about the men and stores?" Willesden asked; "you know
that those two big boxes of the things we ordered at Maritzburg arrived
yesterday." "I think, Willesden, we will take Jack and the two Zulus,
and leave Japhet and the Swazis here in charge of the stores, and
blankets, and other things we leave behind us. Captain Brookfield will
keep an eye on them for us. The farmer is going to ride back with us on
one of the spare horses, and the three natives can ride the others.
There is a hundredweight of biscuits in the sack that came with the
boxes; each of us can take five pounds in his saddle-bag, a tin of cocoa
and milk, and a pound or two of bacon. Jack can take a kettle and
frying-pan, and the natives their blankets and twenty pounds of mealie
flour for themselves and five times as much mealies for the horses. We
can get them at the stores that were opened a few days ago."
Some of the men from the other tents walked over on seeing the tents
pulled down and the waterproof sheets and blankets rolled up, and asked:
"Where are you fellows off to?"
"We have resigned; we are sick of doing nothing."
As it was known that they drew neither pay nor rations, the news did not
create much surprise.
"You are lucky fellows," one said. "We get no share of the fighting and
a full share of the hardships; still, I wonder you do not stop till we
are in Ladysmith."
"When is that going to be?" Field asked innocently. "We have been told
that we shall be in Ladysmith in a week many times since we first came
up here in the middle of December, and we are no nearer now than when we
arrived here. Do you think that you could guarantee that we should be
there in another week? because, if so, we might put off going."
The trooper shook his head with a laugh. "That is a question no man in
camp can answer," he said. "Perhaps in a week, perhaps in a fortnight,
perhaps," he added more gravely, "never. We know by the messages they
flash out that they are nearly at the end of their food, and if we don't
get there in a fortnight or thereabout, our motive for going on may be
at an end. In that case I suppose we shall wait here till Roberts has
relieved Kimberley and marches on Bloemfontein. That will send all the
Free Staters scurrying back in a hurry, and even the Transvaalers will
begin to think that it is time to go. Then I suppose we shall advance
and clear Natal out."
"Well, perhaps we may be back again to help you by that time," Field
answered; "but we are heartily tired of this place, and of watching the
Boers making their positions stronger and stronger every day."
"It is about the same with us all," the trooper grumbled, "and I for one
wish that I could go down with you to Maritzburg and have a week off. It
would be such a comfort to sleep in a dry bed and to dress in dry
clothes, that I doubt whether I should ever have the strength of mind to
come back again. I wish that the general would issue an order
dismounting us all and filling up the gaps in the line regiments with
us. Then at least we should have a chance of fighting, which does not
seem likely ever to come to us here. You are not going to leave those
big boxes behind you, are you?"
"Yes, we are going to leave them in the care of the captain, with a note
saying that if we do not turn up again before Ladysmith is relieved,
they are to be handed over to the poor beggars there."
"There is one thing I cannot say, and that is that we have been short of
food, for the Army Service Corps has done splendidly, and no one has
ever been hungry for an hour, except when on a long march or engaged in
a battle. If everything had been worked as well, we should certainly
have no reason whatever to complain. If I were my own master, and could
afford it, I would go down to Durban and take a passage for myself and
my horse for Port Elizabeth, and then go up and enlist in one of the
yeomanry corps with Roberts. When he once starts there will be plenty of
movement on that side; while here, even if we get to Ladysmith, we may
be fixed there for no one can say how long. You see what it is here, and
if the Boers don't lose heart, and defend the Biggarsberg and the
Drakensberg, we shall find at least as much difficulty there as we shall
here. It is quite certain that the Ladysmith men will take a long time
to recover from what they have gone through; and as for the cavalry, I
fancy their horses have been eaten. If they had been out here with us,
instead of being cooped up in there, we should have been able to make it
hot for the Boers when they retire, and to keep them on the run, but
with so small a force as we have we should hardly be able to do so.
Besides, they have so many lines of retreat. The Free Staters can go
over to the left to Van Reenen and the other passes; another commando
can go east; there are plenty of fords on the Buffalo; and they would
retire on Vryheid, while the main body could make a stand at the
Biggarsberg; and as they always seem able to carry their cannon off with
them, our cavalry would do nothing without artillery and infantry."
There had been no pause in the work of preparation while they were
talking, and the horses were now saddled, the food divided, the saddle-
bags packed, and the blankets and waterproofs strapped on. Chris went
across to Captain Brookfield's tent. "We are all ready for a start,
The officer looked at his watch. "It is three minutes under the half-
hour, Chris. How much ammunition are you taking with you?"
"A hundred and fifty rounds each, sir, of which I don't suppose we shall
use above ten at the outside. Still, there is never any saying; and if
we should get besieged we shall want it all. Your horse is ready for
you, Mr. Searle."
"And I am ready too," the farmer said, getting up from the table and
stretching himself. "I ought not to have sat down. I could ride as far
as most at twenty, but I have not done so much for the last fifteen
years, and I feel stiff in every limb. However, I shall be all right
when I have gone a few miles, and that wash I had before breakfast has
done me a world of good. Now, sir, I am ready, and whether we shall
succeed or not, I thank you with all my heart for coming with me."
"Good-bye, Chris!" Captain Brookfield said. "I expect you will all turn
up again, like bad pennies, before many days have gone."
"I hope so, sir," Chris said. "I should be sorry to miss the end here
after having seen it so far."
When Chris went out with Captain Brookfield and the farmer, the lads had
shaken hands with all their friends, and were standing by the side of
their horses ready to mount. Jack and the two Zulus were standing a few
yards behind them. Japhet had brought up the other spare horse.
"It is a nice piece of horse-flesh," the farmer said as he looked at it
"Yes, it was bred by Duncan. We purchased pretty well the pick of those
he brought down the country."
"That accounts for it. They are in good condition, too."
"Yes; our horses all get two feeds of mealies a day, or, when it is wet,
one feed of mealies and a hot mash made of mealie flour, besides what
they can pick up, for we don't draw horse rations. Now, sir, we will be
off;" and he gave the word "Mount!"
The lads all in a second swung into their saddles.
"Good-bye, lads, and good luck!" Captain Brookfield said; and the men
standing by broke into a hearty cheer.
There was a strong suspicion that the party were not going down to
Maritzburg. It was felt that they were not the sort to throw it up
before Ladysmith was relieved. And their suspicions were heightened when
they saw the farmer mount and ride by the side of Chris.
"It is all gammon about their resigning, is it not, Brookfield?" one of
the officers said, as they stood looking after them. "Why should they
have left two of their men here with some of their traps and stores if
they had not been coming back? They would naturally give them all away.
Besides, I noticed that farmer come in on foot half an hour ago; there
was no talk of their leaving before he arrived, and he has gone off with
them on one of their horses."
Captain Brookfield smiled.
"All I know about it officially is that this morning Mr. King resigned
in the name of himself and his party; and as you know, I told you when
they first joined us, they did so on the explicit understanding that
they should be allowed to resign when they chose, and that provision was
inserted when they were sworn in."
"That is all you know officially?"
"Yes. If they are missed, and the question is asked me what has become
of them, that is the answer I shall give. What else I know I must for
the present keep to myself."
"I suppose we shall see them back soon?"
"Well, I consider that that is within the limits of possibility."
"I suppose that you have formed no plan yet, Mr. King?" the farmer said,
when they had left the camp.
"No; my present idea is to follow the line half-way down to Frere. If we
were to strike off towards the country at once, we should, of course, be
noticed; so I would rather get three miles on. You say it is about
"Well, allowing for a halt, we can do it in twelve hours; that would be
just as it is getting dark. Of course we shall not show ourselves till
they begin to attack the house. I hope we shall find your friends still
"I hope so indeed. You see, the Boers were quiet when I started, and I
should hardly think that they would make an attack again after I left.
They seemed to have settled down to starve us out; but it is quite
possible that now I have got away they will grow nervous lest I should
bring help up, and are very likely to make another attempt this evening.
They would be pretty sure to succeed this time, for there are only seven
of us left there; and though they could make a good fight in daylight,
they would have no real chance if the Boers went at them in earnest,
which they are sure to do next time. We agreed before I started that it
would not do to try to defend the yard. After I left they were going to
pile everything movable against the doors and windows and fight hard to
keep the Boers out, and would then go upstairs and sell their lives
"How far are the Boer horses out?"
"About five hundred yards away, in a dip. We know they always keep three
or four men on guard there, for we have seen them come out of the hollow
"And the cattle, have they driven them off yet?"
"Yes; four of the Boers and twenty or thirty natives went straight on
with them as soon as they had driven us into the farmhouse. I am afraid
there is no use thinking of getting them back."
"It depends upon how far they have gone," Chris said. "The rains have
brought the grass up, and as likely as not they may halt when they get
to some good pastures and wait till the others join them. It is not
likely that all that gang came from one place."
"I expect that they have been gathered up from lonely farmhouses where
they have escaped the commandos, and they will want to divide their
plunder between them; they don't trust each other a bit, and each would
cheat his fellows of his share if he could. So I should think that what
you suggest is likely enough, and that it has been arranged to wait when
they come to a good place till the others arrive. But you are not
thinking of rescuing them, are you?"
"If we thrash the Boers at the farm I shall certainly have a try. We did
carry off two or three thousand head about two months ago from the hands
of at least as large a party as this, and I don't see why we should not
do it again. It was near Mount Umhlumba."
"Was it your party that did that?" the farmer exclaimed. "Why, it was
the talk of the whole district, and some of the cattle belonged to a
friend of mine. He told me how he had been saved from ruin. Well, sir,
after that I shall feel more confident than I acknowledge I have been up
to now. Captain Brookfield told me about your going into the Boer camp
in disguise, and to Komati-poort, and how you surprised a party of Boers
looting a farm near Dundee; but he did not mention that. In fact, he had
only just finished telling me the other affairs when you came in saying
that you were ready to start. Well, well, it is wonderful that a party
of young gentlemen like yours should have done such things!"
They did not hurry their horses, but for the most part went at the
steady canter to which the animals were most accustomed; occasionally
they would walk for a bit.
At Weenan, where they crossed the Bushman river, they halted for half an
hour, and for double that time after crossing the Mooi at Intembeni;
then as the sun began to lose its power they went fast, until, when they
reached one of the farthest spurs of Botha's Castle, the farmer said:
"When we get over the next rise we shall see the house."
Chris gave the order to dismount, and, going forward on foot, they threw
themselves down when close to the crest, and crawled forward until they
obtained a fair view. Sankey and Chris were again provided with glasses,
having bought them on the day before starting at the sale of the effects
of several officers who had fallen in a fight at Vaal Krantz, and all
gazed intently for some time at the house. "Thank God they are all right
so far!" Chris said to the farmer. "I can see the Boers lying all round
the house, and that dark clump is their horses; so our ride has not been
in vain. I suppose it is about a mile and a half from here. I don't see
the gate into the yard. Which side is it?"
"That corner of the house hides it. It is on the eastern side."
"It will be quite dark in an hour; when it is so, we will move down a
bit farther, then we will halt till we hear them attacking. We must not
go nearer, for the moon will be up by that time. If I had known that we
should have got here before dark, we need not have troubled to bring the
Zulus. I intended to send them forward to see how matters stood, then
they could have guided us right up to the gate. However, as they have
all got guns, and can shoot, it will add to the panic our attack will
create, and they will all be pleased at the chance of at last getting a
shot at the Boers. They were complaining to me the other day that they
were very happy in all other respects, but they were very much
disappointed at not having had a fight."
The natives were indeed delighted when, on Chris rejoining them, he told
them that they should take their share in the attack on the Boers. Chris
and his friends all threw themselves on the ground, after sending up
Jack to the crest to keep watch. But the farmer said, "I dare not lie
down; if I did, I should never get up again."
He had, indeed, to be lifted off his horse when they dismounted.
"I can quite understand that," Chris said. "I feel stiff and tired
myself, and you must be almost made of iron to have ridden one hundred
and forty miles almost without halting."
"If anyone had told me that I could do it, I should not have believed
him. Of course one is on horseback a good many hours a day. Often, after
going round the farm, I start at two or three o'clock and ride into
Greytown and back; but that is only a matter of some fifteen miles each
way. Still, when one has got seven men's lives depending upon one, one
makes a big effort."
"I tell you what, Mr. Searle. The best thing you can do is to strip and
lie down. I will set the two Zulus to knead you. You will find yourself
quite a new man after it."
"That is a good idea, King, and I will adopt it."
For half an hour the two men rubbed and kneaded the farmer's muscles
from head to foot, exerting themselves until the perspiration streamed
from them. Then one of them brought up one of the water-skins and poured
the contents over him.
"That has certainly done me a world of good," the farmer said when he
had dressed himself. "I don't say the stiffness has all gone, but I
certainly don't feel any worse than I did when I got to your camp. I
should never have thought of it myself."
"It is what is done after a Turkish bath," Chris said. "I have had them
often at Johannesburg. The natives do something of the same sort. They
make a little hut of boughs, and fill a hole in the middle with hot
stones and pour water over them, and steam themselves, and I believe get
As soon as they considered it dark enough to be perfectly safe, they led
their horses down until they judged that they were within half a mile of
the house, then dismounted and waited. Chris had already made all
arrangements. Carmichael, who was the leader for the time being of one
of the sections of five, was with his party to ride straight for the
Boers' horses directly the attack began. The firing at the house would
act as a guide to the spot where they were placed, and he was, if
possible, to attack them from behind. He was to shoot down the guards,
but not to pursue them if the horses bolted on hearing the attack on the
"What you have to do is to stampede them," Chris said. "As soon as you
have got them on the run, keep them going, and if they scatter, do you
scatter too. The Boers without their horses will be at our mercy. Don't
stop till you have driven them five miles away. Then you can halt till
morning. As you come back, you are likely enough to hear firing, and can
then ride towards it and join us. But don't get within rifle-shot of the
Boers. I don't want any lives thrown away. If you hear three shots at
regular intervals during the night ride towards the sound. I may want
It was just ten o'clock when there was a violent outburst of fire at the
farmhouse, and all sprung into their saddles.
"Now, Carmichael, do you gallop on. Get as close as you can to the
horses without being observed. Go at a walk the last hundred yards or
so; the horse guards are not likely to hear you, they are sure to be up
on the edge of the dip watching the farm. Stay quiet till you hear our
yell, and then go straight in to them. In that case you may manage
without their getting a shot at you, for as likely as not they will have
strolled up without their rifles."
As soon as Carmichael's little party had started, Chris moved on with
the rest at a walk.
"There is no occasion to hurry," he said. "It will take the Boers some
time to force their way in, and the hotter they are at work the less
likely they will be to hear us." In two or three minutes he ordered them
to canter. "It is of no use charging; I expect that they are all inside
the yard." It was, however, at a fast pace that they rode up towards the
wall. Chris blew his whistle, and the cheer of the whites and the warcry
of the two Zulus burst out at the top of their voices.
"Give it to them hot, lads!" Chris shouted, for the benefit of the
Boers. "Kill every man-jack of the scoundrels!" And at once nineteen
rifles opened upon the dark figures clustered round the house. "Use your
magazines," Chris shouted again. "Don't let a man of them get off."
Appalled by the sudden attack, ignorant of the number of their
assailants, and mown down by the terrible fire, the Boers on the two
sides of the house exposed to it did not think of resistance, but all
who could do so made a rush round to the other sides, and, joining their
companions there, clambered over the wall and made for their horses; but
these had already gone. As Chris had anticipated, the four guards were
watching the farmhouse, and did not hear the approach of Carmichael's
party. As Chris's whistle sounded these galloped forward, and at their
volley three of the Boers fell, the other fled. At once with loud shouts
they charged in among the ponies, who were already kicking and plunging
at the sudden sound of firearms. A minute later they were all in full
flight, followed by the five lads shouting and yelling. The firing had
been unnoticed by the Boers round the house, and these, when on arriving
at the hollow they found their horses gone, gave vent to their alarm and
rage in many strange oaths, and then scattered in flight all over the
"It is of no use trying to pursue," Chris said, as soon as it was found
that all the Boers, save those lying dying or dead, had escaped from the
yard. "We should only ruin the horses, and they have done a big day's
The besieged could be heard hastily removing the barricades against the
door, and in two or three minutes ran out, almost bewildered at the
suddenness of their relief, when they thought that nothing remained to
be done but to sell their lives dearly. A few hurried words explained
the position to them, and their gratitude to Chris and his party was
unbounded. Their first step was to attend to the fallen Boers. Of these
there were eighteen wounded and eleven killed, and as soon as all in
their power had been done for the former, and they had been carried into
the house, a blazing fire was lit in one of the rooms and the party all
"Now, Mr. King," Searle said, "you are the baas of this party; what do
you think had best be done?"
"I think the first thing," Chris said, "is to post half a dozen men,
three or four hundred yards away, round the house. We must not run the
risk of the tables being turned on us by the Boers crawling up and
surprising us; they may still be hanging about in numbers. Peters, you
take Harris, Bryan, and Capper, and the two Zulus, and post them round
the house. The natives' ears are much sharper than yours are, and if
either of them thinks he hears anything let them crawl out in that
direction and reconnoitre. When I whistle, do you come in to me, leaving
the others on guard, then I will tell you what we have decided upon."
The four named at once went outside, and, calling the natives, left the
yard. Jack had already filled the kettles the colonists had brought with
them, and placed them over the fire.
"While the tea is getting ready," Chris said, "we had better give a good
feed of mealies to all the horses. How many of yours are there left?" he
asked one of the colonists.
"All the twelve we had at first were unwounded this evening, but I can't
say whether any of them have been hit since. The wall was too high for
bullets to touch them as long as the Boers were outside, but most likely
as we were firing through the window we may have hit some of them."
"I don't suppose you did so, because I fancy that directly the Boers
began fighting here the horses bunched in one corner of the yard. Well,
will you feed them also, and see how many are uninjured. That is a
matter of importance, for our horses will scarcely be fit for work in
the morning. Do you think yours may be?"
"Yes, I think so; we have only been shut up three days, and they have
had a good deal of pickings, what with the beds and what was lying about
in the yard before; and a good feed now will certainly set them up. What
do you propose to do?"
"Well, I want in the first place to get enough of the Boer ponies in to
mount us all, and in the second to overtake and cut the Boers off if
possible, and lastly to rescue the cattle. Five of our party are away
after the horses, but their object was to scatter them. They were to
halt about five miles away, and if they heard three rifle shots at
regular intervals they were to ride towards them."
"Do you want them in here? if so, I will go out and give the signal. We
have taken it by turns to sleep, so we are all fairly fresh."
"Yes, I want them in, but I specially want them to collect and drive in
a score of the Boer ponies." "At daybreak we will all go," another of
the farmers said, "and lend a hand."
"With this moon we ought to be able to find some of the men without
waiting for daylight," Chris said. "It would be an immense thing if we
could be after them before they have got too long a start."
"It would indeed. Well, we will feed our horses at once, and by the time
we have had a cup of tea they will be ready to start. If we have luck,
we ought not to be away more than a couple of hours."
"It would make our success pretty well a certainty if we could get the
ponies by that time," Chris said.
In less than half an hour the seven farmers started. Only one of the
horses had been killed, and they rode away at a rate that showed that
the others were none the worse for their three days on somewhat short
"Now," Chris said, after seeing them off, "we will get a couple of
hours' sleep. I wish Peters and his party could do the same, but it
would not do to trust to the Boers not coming back again."
All were asleep in a few minutes, but an hour later they heard a shot
fired, followed by several others. They leapt to their feet, seized
their rifles, and ran out into the yard. There was, however, no
repetition of the firing, and a few minutes later Peters came in and
reported that the Zulus had discovered a number of Boers making their
way cautiously forward. Both had fired, and some shots had been
returned, but the Boers had at once drawn off.
"I don't suppose we shall hear any more of them. They hoped they might
catch us asleep. Now they find that we are on watch. I expect they will
give up the idea and make off. It is a nuisance having been disturbed,
but I am not sorry for it, for the Boers will have lost a couple of
hours, and even if the horses do not come in we shall still have a
chance of overtaking them. Now, Peters, you had better get forty winks;
I will go out with Brown, Field, and Sankey, and relieve the three out
there. I don't suppose they will come in, but they can take a nap where
they are. You need not send out when the farmers come back; we shall see
Chris had been nearly two hours on watch when he made out in the bright
moonlight a number of horses and mounted figures going towards the
house. He at once woke the sleepers and called the others in, and by the
time they reached the farm some thirty unmounted ponies, followed by
Carmichael's party and the farmers, came up.
"We have been longer than we expected," one of the latter said as he
dismounted, "but we were lucky at last in finding this lot together in a
kloof. Have you seen anything of the Boers? We thought we heard a few
"Yes, they came here and tried to turn the tables on us; but we had the
Zulus and some of the scouts out. When they found that we were watchful
they decamped. Now, Carmichael, go in with your party and get a cup of
"What! are we going to start again?" Carmichael asked rather dismally;
"we were only just getting off to sleep when Willesden, who was on
watch, heard three shots."
"Some of us have only had an hour's sleep, Carmichael. But there is
another day's work before us, and after that you may sleep for twenty-
four hours if you like."
"Oh! I suppose I can do it if the others can; still, after seventy-five
miles here, five miles out, and something like five miles chasing the
horses, and five miles back again, I think we have done a pretty good
day's work." "No doubt you have," Chris said, "a thundering good day's
work; but a fellow is not worth calling a fellow if he can't manage to
do two days' work at a stretch for once in a way. At any rate, the
horses will be fresh, which is of much more importance than our being
so; they have had three days' perfect rest. Now, while you are having
your tea we will see about the other arrangements. Of course Mr. Searle
will stop here; he has done double the work that we have. His friends
can do as they like. Naturally we shall be glad to have them with us,
but that is as they choose."
"Of course we will go with you," one of the colonists said.
"Thank you! At any rate two of you had better stop with Mr. Searle.
There are the wounded Boers to look after. I see there is a waggon in
the yard; I should think they had better be put in that and carried to
Greytown. If we recover the cattle, we will drive them down there."
None of the farmers was willing to stay, and at last they had to decide
the question by lot.
"Now," Chris said, "you gentlemen know the country a great deal better
than we do, and can tell us which way they are most likely to take their
"They are sure to go north, there is no other way for them to go. If the
whole party were together and mounted, they might go up through
Zululand; as it is, they would not venture to do that. They will cross
the Tugela, I should say, between the point where the Mooi runs into it
and its junction with the Buffalo, and go up through Colsie, and then
either through Helpmakaar or Lazarath."
"Well, I hope we shall catch them long before they get to the Tugela."
"I expect the cattle will be somewhere near Inadi; there is some good
grazing along there, and as all the loyalists have cleared off long ago
they will have no fear of being disturbed."
The saddles were transferred from their own horses to the Boer ponies,
and it was finally arranged that the waggon with the wounded should not
start until their return. Jack and the two Zulus were left with them,
and even should another party of Boers come along the six men would be
able to defend themselves till the others returned. Half an hour after
the arrival of Carmichael's party they started in pursuit, and directed
their course for Inadi, as it would have been useless to search for the
Boers, and it was certain that these would make for the point where it
had been arranged that the cattle should cross. It was some fifteen
miles away, and they were confident that they would arrive there before
the Boers, who, bad walkers at the best of times, and disheartened by
their failure, at the loss of many of their companions and of all their
horses, would not have got more than half-way by the time they started.
It was half-past two when they left, and when they approached Inadi day
was breaking. They had put on their Boer hats, and knew that the men in
charge of the herd would take them to be some of their own party until
they were quite close. To their satisfaction they saw the herd grazing
half a mile south of the village, and it was not until they were within
a hundred yards of the spot where the smoke of a fire showed that the
guard were posted, that they saw any movement. Then a man rose to his
feet, and, looking at them earnestly, gave a shout of alarm. The others
leapt up at once and ran towards their ponies; these were fifty yards
away, and before they could reach them Chris and his party dashed up,
rifle in hand. "Surrender," he shouted in Dutch, "or we fire! Down with
Seeing that resistance was useless the Boers threw down their weapons,
and in a minute were tied hand and foot with the ropes from their
saddles. They were then lashed to bushes at some little distance from
each other, so as to prevent their rolling together and loosening each
other's cords. The natives with them had at the first alarm fled at full
speed, and were already out of sight. Then the whole party rode to a
ridge a quarter of a mile back, dismounted at its foot, and crawled up
to the crest. A mile away some fifty men could be seen wearily making
their way on foot towards them.
"We have done quite enough in the way of fighting," Chris said, "and I
should think that they have had more than enough; we will get them to
surrender if we can. We will wait till they are within forty or fifty
yards and then fire a few shots over their heads, and see what comes of
it. We have good cover here, and they are in the open. They will know
very well that there is not a chance of their getting away, for, as we
have horses and they have none, we could defend any eminence we chose to
occupy, and ride off to another if they were likely to take it. Besides,
they would never be able to cross the river under our fire."
When the Boers were within eighty yards half a dozen rifles were
discharged. They at once threw themselves on the ground.
"I will give them a chance of talking it over," Chris said, "then I will
A pause ensued, and the Boers could be heard talking excitedly together.
When he thought that he had given them time enough to appreciate their
condition, Chris shouted in Dutch:
"Hullo, Boers! We don't want to have to kill you all, which we could
certainly do. You must see that you are at our mercy. If you choose to
surrender you may go home; if you don't, we shall let you lie there as
long as you like, and shoot you down when you get on your feet. I will
give you five minutes to make up your minds."
At the end of that time one of the Boers held up his rifle with a white
flag tied to it.
[Illustration: "ONE OF THE BOERS HELD UP HIS RIFLE WITH A WHITE FLAG
TIED TO IT."]
"That is not good enough for us," Chris shouted. "That trick has been
tried too often. If you surrender, you will take off your bandoliers and
belts and leave them and your rifles behind you, and come forward
There was a shout of fury among the Boers as they found that their
treacherous design had failed in success.
"I will give you another five minutes," Chris shouted; "and if you don't
do as I tell you we shall open fire on you."
Before that time was up the Boers were seen to be taking off their
bandoliers, and one by one they rose and came forward in a body without
their rifles. Chris allowed them to come half-way, so that they could
not, when they found themselves in superior force, run back to their
arms again. He gave the word, and his party rose to their feet.
"Now," he said, as the Boers came up, "you will turn all your pockets
inside out. I have not the least doubt that you are all taking off
mementos of your visit here."
Indeed, the pockets of the prisoners were all bulging out. Sullenly the
Boers obeyed the order. The collection was a miscellaneous one. They had
between them the spoil of a dozen farms. Women's finery formed a large
proportion of their loot, and was evidently intended for their wives at
home. Besides this were spoons, forks, and cutlery, chimney ornaments,
children's clothes, several purses, and packets of spare cartridges.
"That will do very nicely," Chris said, when it had been ascertained
that all the plunder had been disgorged. "Now, gentlemen, you are at
liberty to go, and I wish you a pleasant walk home. It is only about a
hundred miles. Your friends with the cattle shall join you at once. I
have no doubt that you will be able to obtain food from your countrymen
as you go along. You are sure to find friends at all the villages, and
some of you may get ponies at Helpmakaar."
Then, paying no attention to the curses and threats of the Boers, the
party rode forward and collected the Boer guns, emptied the bandoliers
and belts, and then rode back to the cattle and released the four Boers
with them, and, pointing to their comrades, told them to rejoin them.
Then they collected the cattle, and, driving them before them, rode off.
When they had gone five miles away they halted, and the farmers
undertaking to keep watch by turns, the lads, throwing themselves down,
were in a few minutes fast asleep.
In four hours they were roused, and continued their course till they
reached the farm. Here they rested till the next morning, then at
daybreak the wounded Boers were placed in a waggon; the ammunition was
divided among the farmers; and the rifles taken from the Boers, and
those that belonged to the killed and wounded, amounting in all to
eighty-one, were, after the charges had been carefully drawn, also
placed in the waggon, Chris saying, "They would be useless to us, and
they may be useful to you, for they will arm all the people in Greytown;
and with eighty magazine rifles you ought to be able to beat off any
parties you may meet. As the cattle are all branded you will have no
difficulty in returning them to their owners; as to the Boer ponies and
saddles, no doubt there are many who have lost their horses who will be
glad of them."
Then, after renewed expressions of gratitude from the farmers, the party
separated, the colonists going south to Greytown, while the scouts rode
west by the line they had come, and late that evening arrived at
Chieveley. They had intended to halt after crossing the Bushman's river
at Weenan, but they heard the sound of artillery and knew that Buller
was again moving forward.
Their return created quite an excitement in the camp of the Maritzburg
Scouts, and innumerable questions were asked.
"We have been on a little business of our own," Chris said. "Beyond the
fact that it has been successful we have nothing to say. You know how
strict the orders are against scouting, and therefore I can only say
that we wanted to give our horses a change of food, and have taken them
three days off."
"Your horses don't look any better for the change, anyhow," one of the
troopers said. "They look as if they had been worked off their legs."
"Yes, they look a little drawn, but in a couple of days they will feel
the benefit of it; they were getting too fat before. Some day we may be
able to tell you more about it, but just at present we feel that it is
as well to keep the matter to ourselves. What has been doing here? We
heard the firing; that brought us in, or we should not have been back
"Nothing particular, except that we have been battering them all along
the line. No move has been made yet, but the general idea is that we
shall this time make a try at Hlangwane to-morrow." "I hope we shall
take it," Chris said. "We shall have a good deal more trouble about it
than we should have had at the attack in December, when it was virtually
in our hands, whereas now it looks stronger than any point along the
Chris, however, was much more communicative to Captain Brookfield, who
said as he entered his tent, "Well, Chris, did you get there in time?"
"Yes, sir; we caught them as they were attacking the house at ten
o'clock that night. They were too busy to notice us, and we killed
eleven and wounded eighteen, and stampeded their ponies. They bolted on
foot, but came back in hopes of surprising us two hours later, which I
need hardly say they failed to do. Then they made off for the place
where the herds they had captured were waiting for them. We drove their
ponies in, as our own were too much done up to go on, and intercepted
the Boers close to Inadi, and made them surrender. We took their guns,
ammunition, and loot from them, and let them go. There were forty-nine
of them altogether, and we did not see what we were to do with them. We
could not have brought them here without the whole thing being made
public, and we were certainly not disposed to escort them down to
Maritzburg. They will have at least a hundred miles to tramp home. We
recovered all the cattle, about two thousand head. We gave them to the
farmers to find their proper owners, and thirty of the Boer horses that
we captured. I dare say they will pick up some more of them; for as we
were in a hurry, we only drove in as many as we wanted. We have no
casualties. It could hardly be called a fight, it was a sudden surprise,
and they did not stop to count us."
"Bravo! bravo, Chris! And now I suppose you are going to enlist again?"
"Yes, sir, if you will take us."
"Certainly I will. Fortunately Buller was at Frere until they moved on
again yesterday, and nobody has missed your little camp as far as I
know, so I don't think that there is any chance of questions being
asked. I will swear you all in again if you will bring the others
There was little talking that evening. As soon as the tents had been
erected, a cup of cocoa and a biscuit taken, all turned in, and even the
constant booming of the artillery and the occasional sharp crack of
musketry had no effect whatever on their slumbers. Just before Chris lay
down, however, an orderly told him that Captain Brookfield wished to see
"I have just received orders, Chris, that our brigade of cavalry is to
turn out tomorrow morning to support the infantry. Hildyard, Lyttleton,
and Barton are going. Their object is to carry Cingola, which is the
small peak at the end of the nek extending from it to the high peak of
Monte Cristo. The duty of the mounted infantry will be to clear the
eastern side of the southern end of the range, and to hold the nek
separating it from the highest peak, and so prevent the Boers from their
main position reinforcing the defenders of the lower peak. I think that
your party had better remain in camp, for after doing over seventy miles
today they won't be fit for work tomorrow." "We should not like to be
left behind here, sir, and the hill is not very far away, so that it
would not be hard work for the horses. No doubt we should be dismounted
a considerable part of the day."
"Then you would rather go, Chris?"
"Much rather, sir. We should all be terribly disappointed if we could
not go out the first day that there has been a chance of our doing
"It is always as well to be on the right side, but I hardly think so
many troops will really be required; and I think it is a symptom that a
serious attack will be made in a day or two on Monte Cristo and
Hlangwane. You see, the possession of Cingola and Monte Cristo will take
us pretty well round its flank, and I do not expect the Boers will be so
much prepared there as they are in front."
An hour before daylight all were out engaged in grooming their horses,
which, having received a hot mash of mealie flour directly they came in
on the previous evening, looked better than could have been expected
after their hard work on two days out of three. By the time they had
finished, the natives had breakfast ready, and they had scarcely eaten
this when a trumpet sounded to horse. Five minutes later the mounted
infantry belonging to the regular regiments and the Colonial Horse
formed up, and, led by Lord Dundonald, marched north-east, followed by
the three infantry brigades and some batteries of artillery. When within
a couple of miles of the nek, the mounted infantry galloped forward, and
selecting a spot where the ascent was gradual, pushed rapidly up the
hill until they reached its brow. Here the horses were placed in a
depression, and the men scattered themselves across the crest. They were
but just in time, for a considerable force of Boers from Monte Cristo
were hurrying along to assist the defenders of Cingola, it having now
become evident to them that this was the point to which the infantry
moving across the plain were making.
A brisk fire was opened as they approached, and the Boers at once
stopped in surprise, for as they came along they had been unable to see
that the cavalry had quitted the rest of the column, and had therefore
no idea whatever that their way to Cingola was barred. As the rapid fire
showed them that the nek was held in force, they did not think it
prudent to advance farther, but after an exchange of fire fell back to
Monte Cristo. The task of the infantry was now comparatively easy.
Cingola was not held in any great force; and seeing that their retreat
along the nek was cut off, and that they could not hope to resist the
strong force that was approaching, the enemy contented themselves with
keeping up a brisk fire for a time, and then retreated hastily down the
northern face of the hill, and scattered among numerous kopjes between
it and the river. Lyttleton and Hildyard's brigades occupied the peak,
and Barton, with the Fusilier battalions, remained to the left of its
As the mounted infantry had, before opening fire, taken shelter behind
bushes and rocks, there were only two or three casualties, and they were
much disappointed that the affair had been so trifling. It was afternoon
now, and for the rest of the day comparative quietude reigned, although
Monte Cristo threw an occasional shell on to the crest of Cingola. The
mounted infantry remained all night in their position, acting as an
advanced guard to the infantry; but they had orders to descend the hill
before daybreak and return to Chieveley, there being no water obtainable
for their horses, and their services not being required for the
succeeding operations. The next morning (Sunday) a battery of field-
artillery, which had been taken half-way up Cingola, began to shell
Monte Cristo, and as if this had been the signal, the whole of the
artillery on the plain opened a terrific fire on the entrenchments of
Monte Cristo, Hlangwane, and Green Hill, which was close to Monte
On the morning of the 18th, Lyttleton and Hildyard's brigades moved
forward to storm the precipitous peak, and Barton's brigade marched
against the tangled and difficult ground that surrounded Green Hill. The
Queen's on the right and the Scotch Fusiliers on the left led the attack
against the peak. The hillside was partly wooded, but although the
smokeless powder gave little indication as to the progress the troops
were making, occasional glimpses of the Boers flitting among the trees
showed that these were falling back. The roar of musketry was
continuous, as Hildyard's brigade and Lyttleton's were both engaged. For
a short time there was a pause, and then Lyttleton's men, having
gathered at the edge of a wood some couple of hundred yards from the
summit, advanced with a rush up the terribly steep rocks. The Boers
fired hurriedly, but the bullets flew for the most part far over the
heads of the Queen's, and then, fearful of being caught by Hildyard's
men, who were also rapidly coming up, they fled hastily.
The opposition had finally been trifling. The vast majority of the Boers
had cleared off, and the rest, after emptying their magazines, had
followed their example before the troops gained the summit, upon which a
heavy cannonade was at once opened from Grobler's Hill, Fort Wylie, and
other Boer positions. This, however, gradually slackened under the storm
of lyddite shells with which they were pelted by the naval guns, and the
important position of Hlangwane was at last secured, and no time was
lost in getting up guns and preparing for a farther advance. Barton's
brigade had been equally successful in their attack, and half an hour
after the capture of Monte Cristo the Fusiliers crowned the summit of
the wood-covered Green Hill.
The Boers' defences were now examined, and proved to be of a most
formidable nature. On the south face of the hill the trenches were in
tiers, line behind line. Most of them were fully six feet deep, and in
many cases provided with shelter from the weather by sheets of
corrugated iron, taken from the roofs of the houses in Colenso. In some
cases these were supported by props, and covered with six feet of earth.
These had evidently been used for sleeping and living places. The ground
was strewn with straw, empty tins, fragments of food, bones, cartridge-
cases, old bandoliers, and large quantities of unopened tinned food and
sacks of mealie flour. Here and there were patches of dried blood,
showing where the wounded by our shell had been brought in, and laid
down until they could be removed to the hospital under cover of night.
On the plateau the scene was similar. Here every irregularity of ground
had been utilized, and long lines of trenches intersected it, showing
that the Boers had intended to make a desperate resistance even after we
had won our way up the hill. These were in a similar state of litter and
Although they had saved their guns, they had left behind them large
quantities of ammunition and provisions in the hurried flight,
necessitated by our attack being delivered in a direction from which no
danger had been apprehended, Four waggons full of ammunition had been
left by them in a kloof near the river. These had been observed by the
Engineers in the balloon, and their position had been signalled to the
naval brigade, who, turning their guns upon them, before long succeeded
in blowing them up.
When the infantry prepared for their final rush the Boers appeared,
indeed, to be entirely disconcerted at an attack from an altogether
unexpected direction. While for weeks they had been working incessantly
to render the hill impregnable, they had prepared it only on the face
against which they made sure the British infantry would dash itself.
Nevertheless, in this, as in every action, the Boers, as soon as they
saw that there was a risk of the position being taken, began early to
make preparations for retreat. While keeping up a very heavy musketry
fire on the woods through which the British infantry were advancing,
they began to withdraw their guns.
The speed and skill with which on every occasion throughout the war they
shifted heavy pieces of artillery from one point to another, or withdrew
them altogether, was a new feature in warfare. Except when the garrison
of Ladysmith, on two occasions of night sorties, surprised and destroyed
three of their guns, they scarcely lost a piece either in the numerous
actions during our advance to Ladysmith, or in their final retreat from
that town. And similarly on the other side, of the very large number of
guns employed at the fight on the Modder, at Magersfontein, and in the
siege of Kimberley the whole were, with the exception of a few pieces
captured when Cronje was surrounded, withdrawn in spite of the hurried
evacuation of their position, a feat almost unparalleled even in an army
accompanied only by field-artillery, and extraordinary indeed in the
case of works mounting heavy siege-guns.
No farther advance was made till the afternoon, when General Buller
arrived on the summit of Green Hill, and seeing that Hlangwane was not
entrenched on its northern side, which was completely turned by our
advance, sent Barton's brigade against it. But the loss of Monte Cristo
had for the time quite taken the fight out of the Boers, and after
maintaining a brisk fire for a short period, they evacuated the position
as soon as the infantry neared the summit, and, hurrying down the
western slope, crossed the Tugela. Three camps full of provisions,
blankets, and the necessaries of Boer life fell into the hands of the
captors, together with a large amount of rifle and Maxim ammunition. The
place had been turned into a fortress. Trenches and some breastworks
covered all the approaches by which the Boers might look for an attack,
and as the whole mountain was covered with huge boulders, they were able
to withstand even the storm of lyddite shell that was poured upon them.
On the following day Hart's brigade received orders to advance towards
Colenso. This was still held in force by the Boers, but was now
commanded by guns that had been got up the slopes of Hlangwane, and on
Tuesday morning General Hart captured the position without serious loss,
the Boers suffering severely from our shrapnel fire as they retreated,
some by the iron bridge and others by a ford. Thorneycroft's Mounted
Infantry, which was called up in the evening, took advantage of the
discovery that a drift existed there, and a squadron forded the river in
spite of a scattered fire from the Boers on the opposite bank. Another
portion of the colonial force occupied Fort Wylie, a redoubt that had
been thrown up by our troops when they occupied Colenso, but had been
abandoned when the advance of the Boers to cut the line between Colenso
and Frere forced them to retire.
The next morning Thorneycroft's regiment crossed, and, moving to the
left, seized the kopjes facing Grobler's Kloof; the Boers, still
suffering from the effect of their unexpected reverses, offered no
resistance, but, abandoning all their camps, trenches, and redoubts,
retired at once to the hill. The Scouts had followed Thorneycroft's
Horse in support, and now, placing their horses under shelter in the
abandoned entrenchments, prepared to act as infantry should the Boers
take the offensive. This, however, they showed no intention of doing,
and in the afternoon the troops who had crossed were able to examine the
deserted camps. They presented very much the same appearance as those on
Monte Cristo and Hlangwane. Many of them appeared to have been occupied
by men of a better position, as many articles of luxury, choicer food,
wearing apparel, newspapers, Bibles, fruit, and other signs of comfort
littered the places; but even here dirt had reigned supreme. Although
they must have been inhabited for a long time, it could be seen that no
attempts had been made to clear away the refuse, or to make them in any
degree tidy. As was natural, the effect of the heat of the sun on scraps
of food, vegetables, and refuse of all kinds caused a sickening stench,
and the soldiers spent as short a time as possible over their
investigations. One article which would have been found in a British
camp was altogether absent from those of the enemy, and it was a joke
among our troops that the only piece of soap ever captured was found in
the pocket of a dead Boer, and that its wrapper was still unopened.
The strength of the position was, however, even more surprising than the
state of filth; every trench was enfiladed by another, great boulders
were connected by walls of massive construction, this being specially
the case where guns had been placed in position. Colenso itself had been
in a similar manner rendered almost impregnable to a frontal attack, and
could hardly have been captured by an assaulting force until Hlangwane
had been taken.
The hills beyond the railway still covered the road bridge by their
fire, and had the troops marched across it they would have suffered
severely. Accordingly a pontoon train was sent through an opening in the
Hlangwane range, and a bridge thrown over the Tugela north of Fort
Wylie. The Dorsets, Middlesex, and Somersets crossed at once, and,
ascending the kopjes, extended their line south until they were in
communication with Thorneycroft's men, holding therefore the railway
line along the river bank nearly half the distance between Colenso and
Pieters station. Other regiments and artillery followed.
It was now six days since the advance had commenced, and for the past
four fighting had been almost continuous. On Wednesday the three
regiments advanced towards Grobler's Hill in order to ascertain what
force was occupying it. They met with no opposition until they reached
the lower slopes, nor could any Boers be seen moving. Then suddenly a
heavy fire broke out from the boulders which covered the whole face of
the hill, and afforded such perfect shelter that it had not been
considered necessary to form entrenchments. As only a reconnaissance,
and not an attack, had been ordered, the force retired, the Somersets,
who were the leading regiment, having nearly a hundred casualties. The
other regiments had as many more between them. The next day a continuous
fire from all the points held by the Boers showed that large
reinforcements had reached them. The Lancashire Brigade, under Colonel
Wynne, started at two o'clock that afternoon to carry the kopjes up the
Brook Spruit, which ran in the rear of Grobler's Kloof. The Royal
Lancasters led the way, but as soon as they left the shelter of the
ridges by the side of the railway they were exposed to a terrible fire,
both in front and from Grobler's Kloof. The artillery on Hlangwane, and
those still on the plain, endeavoured to silence the enemy's guns, but
though they poured numbers of lyddite and shrapnel shells among them
they were unable to do so. The Lancasters advanced with the greatest
coolness up the spruit, followed by the South Lancasters. As they
pressed forward they were met by a heavy rifle fire both from the kopjes
in front and on the left. The Boers stuck to the hill until the
Lancasters were within a hundred yards, then most of them slunk off. Not
knowing this, the Lancasters lay under shelter for a few minutes until
their ammunition pouches had been replenished, then, being joined by the
South Lancasters and King's Royal Rifles, they rushed to the crest.
For the past two days the Dublin Fusiliers had been lying near Colenso.
They had suffered very heavily in the first attack at Potgieter's Drift,
but they now volunteered to take Grobler's Hill; and this, aided with
the fire of the artillery and Colonel Wynne's brigade, they did in
gallant style, the Boers being evidently nervous that they might find
their retreat cut off should the Lancasters advance farther up the
On Friday afternoon the Irish Brigade advanced along the line, and then
turned off towards Railway Hill, a steep jagged eminence almost
triangular in shape, with one angle pointing towards the river. The
sides were broken with sharp ledges covered with boulders. The railway
passed through this, separating the last jagged ledge from the higher
portion of the hill, which rises almost precipitously. Running back
several hundred yards at the base of this line was a dip full of thorn
trees. This deep winds round the rear of the hill, and here there was a
large Boer Camp.
A little farther to the rear was another steep hill, on which the
enemy's Creusot guns were now mounted. Several trenches were cut
alongside the hillsides, and on the crest were some strong redoubts. It
was a most formidable position, but as it seemed to bar all progress
farther up the line, it was necessary to carry it at all costs. The
mounted infantry had, after the skirmish towards Grobler's Kloof,
returned to the camp, as the country was so terribly broken as to be
altogether impracticable for mounted men.
On Thursday, Captain Brookfield had obtained a pass for himself and
three other officers to go to Hlangwane to view the operations, but one
of these being unwell, Captain Brook-field invited Chris to take his
place. After inspecting the plateau, they made their way down to the
left. Hearing that an attack was about to be made on Railway Hill, they
clambered down until they reached a point where, seated in an open spot
among the trees, they could command a view of what was passing.
"It is an awful place," Chris said, "and it seems to me almost
impossible to be carried."
"It is an awful place," Captain Brookfield agreed. "This is one of the
times, Chris, when one feels the advantage of belonging to a mounted
corps, for without being less brave than other men, I should regard it
as an order to meet certain death were I told to attack that rugged
hill. Ah, there are the Irish Brigade!"