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With Buller in Natal by G. A. Henty

Part 6 out of 6

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The storming party consisted of the Inniskillings, with companies of the
Dublins, the Connaught Bangers, and the Imperial Light Infantry. From a
building called Platelayer's House at the mouth of the spruit, to the
foot of the hill, the ground was perfectly open to the point where the
left face of Railway Hill rose steeply up, and across this open ground,
a distance of half a mile, the assailants had to march.

"Here they come!"

As, in open order, with their rifles at the trail, the Inniskillings
appeared in view, a terrible fire broke out from every ledge of Railway
Hill, while the cannon joined in the roar. The guns on Hlangwane, and
those on the slopes nearer the river, with Maxims and quick-firing guns,
replied on our side.

"It is awful," Chris said, speaking to himself rather than to the
captain who was standing beside him. "I don't think that even at
Badajos, British soldiers were ever sent on a more desperate enterprise.
It looks as if nothing could live under that fire even now; what will it
be when they get closer?"

Not a shot was fired by the advancing infantry in reply to the storm of
bullets from the Boer marksmen. Every round of ammunition might be
wanted yet, and it would only be wasted on an invisible foe. They took
advantage of what little shelter could be obtained, sometimes close to
the river bank, sometimes following some slight depression which
afforded at least a partial protection. At last they reached a deep
donga running into the river; this was crossed by a small bridge, and in
passing over it they had to run the gauntlet of the Boer fire. Many fell
here, but the stream of men passed on, and then at a double rushed to a
sheltered spot close to the foot of the ascent, where they had been
ordered to gather. Here they had a breathing space. Their real work was
yet to begin, but already their casualties had been numerous. The
Inniskillings alone had lost thirty-eight killed and wounded. Not a word
had been spoken among the little group on the hill, for the last ten
minutes; they stood with tightly-pressed lips, breath coming hard, and
pale faces looking at the scene. Occasionally a short gasp broke from
one or other as a shell burst in the thick of the men crossing the
little bridge, a cry as if they themselves had been struck. When the
troops gained their shelter there was a sigh of relief.

"They will never do it," Captain Brookfield said decidedly. "It would
need ten times as many men to give them a chance."

This was the opinion of them all, and they hoped even now that this was
but the advance party, and that ere long they would see a far larger
body of men coming up. But there were no signs of reinforcements, and at
five o'clock the troops were re-formed and the advance began. They
dashed forward up the hill under a heavy fire, to which the supporting
line replied. The boulders afforded a certain amount of shelter, and of
this the Inniskillings took every advantage, until they reached the last
ledge with comparatively little loss. But the work was still before
them. Leaping over, they rushed down on to the railway line. Here a
wire-fence arrested their course for a moment, and many fell while
getting through or over it. Then they ran across the line, passed
through a fence on the other side, and dashed up the steep angle of the
hill to the first trench. Hitherto the fire of the Boers had been far
less destructive than might have been expected, their attention being
confused and their aim flurried by the constant explosion of lyddite
shell from the British batteries. They had but one eye for their
assailants, the other for the guns, and as each of the heavy pieces was
fired, they ducked down for shelter, only to get up again to take a
hasty shot before having to hide again.

Thus, then, they were in no condition to reckon the comparatively small
numbers of their assailants, and as they saw the Irishmen dashing
forward, cheering loudly, with pointed bayonets, they hesitated, and
then bolted up the hill to the next trench. Instead of waiting until the
supports had come up for another rush, the Irishmen with a cheer dashed
across the trench in hot pursuit. But the next line was far more
strongly manned, and a storm of bullets swept among them. Still, for a
time they kept on, but wasting so rapidly that even the most desperate
saw that it could not be done; and, turning, the survivors retreated to
the trench that they had already won, while the supports fell back to
the railway, both suffering heavily in the retreat. No fewer than two
hundred of the Inniskillings had fallen in that desperate charge, their
colonel and ten officers being either killed or wounded, while the
Dublins also lost their colonel.

All through the night the trench was held sternly, in spite of repeated
and desperate efforts of the Boers to dislodge its defenders. Nothing
could be done for those who lay wounded on the hill above. Morning
broke, and the fight still continued. At nine o'clock another desperate
charge was made; but the Boers were unable to face the steady fire that
was maintained by the defenders of the trench, and they again turned and
ran for their shelters. Just as this attack was repulsed, Lyttleton's
brigade arrived on the scene, exchanging a hearty cheer with the men who
had so long borne the brunt of this terrible conflict. The Durham Light
Infantry at once relieved those in the trenches, and these descended the
hill for the rest that was so much needed. All that day the fighting
continued, and while Lyttleton's men held to the position on Railway
Hill, there was fierce fighting away to the left, where the Welsh
Fusiliers and other regiments were hotly engaged. The roar of artillery
and musketry never ceased all day, but towards evening white flags were
hoisted on both sides, and a truce was agreed upon for twelve hours to
bury the dead.

The scene of the conflict presented a terrible sight. The hillside
between the two trenches was strewn with dead and wounded. The
sufferings of the latter had been terrible. For six-and-thirty hours
they had lain where they fell, their only relief being a little water,
that in the short intervals during the fighting some kindly Boers had
crept down to give them. The truce began at four o'clock in the morning
of Sunday the 25th, and the foes of the previous day mingled with each
other in the sad work, conversing freely with each other. The Boers
expressed their astonishment that such an attempt should ever have been
made, and their stupefaction at the manner in which the Irish had
pressed on through a fire in which it had seemed that no human being
could have existed for a minute. When informed of the relief of
Kimberley, and the fact that Cronje was hopelessly surrounded, they
scoffed at the news as a fable, and were so honestly amused that it was
evident they had been kept absolutely in the dark by their leaders.
Captain Brookfield and his party had remained at the lookout until
darkness set in. After the first exclamation of pain and grief as they
saw the attack fail, and the fearfully thinned ranks run back to
shelter, there had been little said. "It was impossible from the first,"
Captain Brookfield sighed as they turned. "If the relief of Ladysmith
depends on our carrying that hill, Ladysmith is doomed to fall."

They returned to the spot where they had left their horses in charge of
two of the blacks, and rode back to Chieveley. It was a sorrowful
evening. The men's hopes had risen daily as position after position had
been carried, and now it seemed that once again the enterprise had
hopelessly failed. On Monday there was a continuation of the lull of
firing. Many of the officers in camp who were off duty rode up to
examine the scene of the fight, and they were not surprised when they
saw the infantry recrossing the pontoon bridge. All wore a dejected
aspect, but especially the men who had fought so heroically and, as it
now seemed, in vain. They sat watching until the last soldier had
crossed, and then rode to the top of Hlangwane. All Chris's party had
come out, and those who had not before seen the view waited there for a
couple of hours, ate some refreshment they had brought with them,
discussed the difficulties that lay in the way of farther advance, and
the probable point against which General Buller would next direct his

"Hullo!" Chris exclaimed suddenly, "that pontoon train is not coming
back to camp. Do you see, after moving to the point where it passed
through this range, it has turned to the north again and not to the
south. Hurrah! Buller is not going to throw up the sponge this time. The
Boers have not done with us yet." This indeed was the case. The general,
seeing that Railway Hill was too strong to be carried by assault, unless
with an enormous loss of life, had caused the river to be reconnoitred
some distance farther up, and this had resulted in the discovery of a
spot where, with some little labour, the troops could get down to the
river and a pontoon bridge be again thrown. Such a spot was found by
Colonel Sandbach of the Royal Engineers, and a strong working party was
at once set to work to make a practicable approach. The point lay some
three or four miles below Railway Hill, and the most formidable of the
obstacles would therefore be turned. That night the troops crossed, and
the Boers--who were in ignorance of what had been going on, the point
chosen for the passage being at the bend of the river and hidden by an
intervening eminence from their positions--were astonished at finding a
strong force again across the river.

As soon as the news reached the camp that the army was again crossing,
satisfaction took the place of the deep depression that had reigned
during the past two days, and the situation was eagerly discussed. Those
who at all knew the country were eagerly questioned as to the ground
farther on near the line of railway. All these agreed that the hill
called Pieter's was a formidable position, almost, though not perhaps
quite, as strong as Railway Hill, but that beyond it the line ran
through a comparatively open country, and that if this hill could be
captured the relief of Ladysmith would be ensured. The Scouts had not
escaped altogether scatheless. At the reconnaissance towards Grobler's
Hill, Brown, Harris, and Willesden had all been wounded, but none very
seriously, although at first it was thought that Willesden's was a
mortal injury, for he had been hit in the stomach. The doctors, however,
assured his anxious comrades that there was every ground for hope, for
very many of those who had been so injured had made a speedy recovery.

"Poor old Willesden!" Field had said as they talked it over; "it is hard
that he should have been hit in the stomach, for he was a capital hand
at taking care of it."

"And of ours too, Field. He has been a first-rate caterer. I do hope he
will pull through it." The lad himself had not seemed to suffer much
pain, and three days later the surgeon had been able to assure his
friends that as no fever had set in they had little fear of serious
consequences ensuing. The boys had not been allowed to see him. Captain
Brookfield, however, reported that he was going on capitally, but was in
a very bad temper because he was allowed to eat nothing but a piece of
bread and a sip of milk, while he declared himself desperately hungry,
and capable of devouring a good-sized leg of mutton.

"I don't think you need worry about him," he said to Chris; "the doctor
told me that in a fortnight he would be very likely to be about again,
and none the worse for the wound, the bullet having evidently missed any
vital point, in which case its passage would heal as quickly as the
little wounds where the bullet enters and passes out usually do."

Harris had his arm broken just above the elbow, and Brown a flesh wound
below the hip. He was the stoutest of the party, and jokingly said, as
he was carried back, that the bullet had passed through the largest
amount of flesh in the company. Chris once or twice went into the
hospitals with a doctor whose acquaintance he had made. They offered a
strong contrast to the scene that had taken place after the battle of
Elandslaagte, as in the hospitals at Chieveley and Frere everything was
as admirably arranged as they would have been in one of a large town. In
the daytime the sides of the marquees were lifted to allow of a free
passage of air. The nurses in their neat dresses moved quietly among the
patients with medicines, soups, jellies, and other refreshments ordered
for them. There were books for those sufficiently convalescent to be
able to read them, and those who wished to send a letter home always
found one of the nurses ready to write at their dictation. By some of
the bedsides stood bouquets of flowers sent by the ladies of Maritzburg,
and all had an abundance of delicious fruit from the same source.



"Did you hear of that plucky action of Captain Philips, of the Royal
Engineers, last night?" an officer who had just ridden in from the front
asked Chris that evening.

"No; I heard that the Boers set up a tremendous musketry fire in the
evening after the truce was over, but no one that I have spoken to knew
what it was about."

"Well, we ourselves didn't know till next morning. The general idea was
that it was a Boer scare. They thought that we were crawling up to make
a night attack, and so blazed away for all they were worth. We found out
afterwards that Philips had conceived the idea that it was possible to
destroy that search-light of the Boers. He had learned from prisoners
that it was the last they had with them, and although we have not made
any night attacks yet, it was possible we might do so in the future, and
so he made up his mind to have a try to smash it up. He took with him
eight blue-jackets, crawled along in the dark beyond our lines, and got
in among the Boers. He had taken particular notice of points he should
have to pass, boulders and so on, and he found his way there without
making a blunder. There were plenty of Boers round, but no one just at
the search-light. The blue-jackets all understood the working of their
own search-lights; but the Boers have no electric lights, you know, and
work their signals with acetylene, and so they stood on guard while
Philips opened the lamp, took out the working parts, whatever they are,
and shut the lamp again. Just as they had done so they heard four Boers
who had been sitting talking together get up. He and his party dropped
among the bushes and lay there quiet while the Boers came up to the

"'We are to keep it going to-night,' one of them said, 'for they may
take it into their heads to make an attack, thinking that after having
had a truce all day we shall not be expecting trouble, and they may
catch us unprepared. I expect our German officer in a few minutes; he
said he would be here about ten o'clock, for the rooineks are not likely
to move until they think we are asleep.'

"They moved away again, and Philips and his men stole quietly off, but
before they rejoined our fellows they heard a sudden shot, and in a
minute a tremendous rifle fire broke out. Evidently the German had
arrived and found the search-light would not act, and they concluded at
once that we were marching against them, and for twenty minutes every
man in the trenches blazed away at random as fast as he could load. I
should say that they must have wasted a hundred thousand cartridges. As
there was no reply they began to think that they had been fooled. Our
fellows were just as much puzzled at the row, and fell in, thinking that
the Boers might possibly be going to attack them. However, matters
quieted down, and it was not until the next morning that anyone knew
what it had all been about."

"That was a plucky thing indeed," Chris said; "though, as I should
hardly think we should attack at night, it may not be of much service,
for the Boers have long since given up trying with their feeble flash-
lights to interrupt our night signalling with Ladysmith, especially as,
now the weather is finer, we can talk all day if we like with our

Chris was just turning in when Captain Brookfield came to the entrance
of his tent. "I have just heard, Chris, that the pontoon bridge has been
successfully thrown across just below the cataract, and that the troops
are all crossing. I just mention it to you. I cannot get away myself,
but if I find you and your boys are--not here in the morning, I shall
say nothing about it. We certainly shall not be wanted. The orders are
out, and there is no mention of our corps nor any of the mounted

"Thank you, sir! I am very much obliged." Chris went round to the tents
and told the others that they must be up an hour before daybreak and be
ready to start at once, as there would probably be another very big
fight. Then he told the natives, who were, as usual, still talking
together in their tent, that they were all going off very early, and
that chocolate must be ready at daybreak, and the water-skins filled, as
the horses would probably be out all day.

"Will you want anything cooked, baas?" Jack asked.

"No; we will take some tins with us. There is going to be another big
fight to-morrow; as we are all going, you can go too if you like. We
shall want you for the horses. Three of you can stop with them at a
time, and the others can go and see what is doing, and then change
about, you know, so that you can all see something. The spare horses
must have plenty of food left them, and must have a good drink before we

They were all astir in good time. The natives had made some hot cakes,
and these they ate with their chocolate. Then they saw that the horses
had a good feed, and a stock of biscuit and tinned meat for themselves
was put into the saddle-bags, and when daylight broke they were across
the plain and arrived at the dip in the hills through which the pontoon
train had gone. Knowing where the cataract was, they were able to
calculate pretty accurately where they had best dismount. This they did
in a small clump of trees. Then each took a tin of meat and a couple of
pounds of biscuit in his pocket. "Now," Chris said to the natives, "you
had better all stay here quietly till you hear firing begin; then, Jack,
you can go with the two Zulus. You can stay and look on till the middle
of the day. When the sun is at its highest you must come back and let
Japhet and the Swazis go. At sunset you must all be here again, and wait
till we come. Perhaps we may be back sooner, and if so we shall ride
away at once; and those of you who are away when we start must go back
to camp at once if you find that the horses have gone when you get here.
Now let's be off."

They made their way up the hills, well pleased that there were enough
trees and bushes to shield them from observation. The roar of artillery
and the rattle of musketry had been going on for some time, but not with
the fury that marked the commencement of an attack. A fortnight before
it would have seemed to them that a great battle was in progress, but by
this time they were accustomed to the almost incessant fire, and knew
that although the cannonade was heavier than usual, no actual fighting
was going on. They met no officers as they went along, nor did they
expect to do so, for none of these would be able to leave their
regiments, as even were these not included in the force told off to
assault, they might be called upon later in the day. At last they
reached the top of a hill whose face sloped steeply down to the river,
and from here they could obtain a view of the Boer position, and of the
line of railway up and down.

To the right was Pieter's station, with a steep hill of the same name
rising close to it. To the left of this was another strongly-posted
hill, while beyond it was the scene of the fighting on Friday and
Saturday, Railway Hill, which had been rechristened Hart's Hill, in
honour of the commander of the brigade that had fought so valiantly. It
was evident that at these three points the whole of the fighting force
of the Boers had gathered. A heavy rifle fire was being kept up against
the British infantry, whose passage of the river had now been
discovered, and who were lying crouched behind boulders and other

They now saw that the guns had all been brought forward during the
night, had taken up commanding positions, and were pouring a terrible
fire into the enemy's encampment at a distance of little over a mile.
The enemy's guns were replying, but at this short range the naval guns
were able to fire point-blank, and their shells ripped the defences
erected to shelter the Boer camp into fragments, and carried destruction

On a kopje about a quarter of a mile behind and above them General
Buller and his staff had taken up their position, and the lads kept
themselves well within the trees to avoid observation.

"See, Chris, there are some of our fellows creeping along by the side of
the river. They must be hidden from the sight of the Boers. I expect
they will be the first to begin."

All their glasses were turned upon the column of men. They were two
battalions of the eth Brigade and the Dublin Fusiliers, and these, under
General Barton's command, made their way down the river bank for a mile
and a half. Then the lads saw that they were leaving the river and
crossing the line of railway.

"They have evidently gone down there," Sankey said, "because that spur
just this side must hide them from the Boers on Pieter's Hill."

The column were lost sight of for upwards of an hour, and then they
appeared on the opposite crest, five hundred feet above the line; then
they were lost sight of again as they passed beyond the crest.

"That is a splendid move!" Chris exclaimed. "By working round there they
will gain the top of Pieter's Hill, and come down like a thunderbolt
upon the Boers."

The roar of artillery continued unabated. Clouds of yellowish-brown
smoke floated over the Boer entrenchments, lit up occasionally by a
vivid flash of a bursting lyddite shell. So terrible was the bombardment
that the rifle fire of the Boers against the troops crouching behind
their shelters was feeble and intermittent, as they dared not merge from
their shelter-places to lift a head above their line of trenches. It was
a long time before Barton's troops were again seen. Doubtless they had
orders to wait for a time when they had gained their desired position,
in order to allow the bombardment to do its work, and prepare the way
for the assault of the other positions by the fourth and eleventh
brigades. It was not, indeed, until the afternoon that the lads saw
Barton's brigade sweeping along to the attack of Pieter's Hill.

The Boers saw them now, and could be seen leaping out of their
entrenchments, regardless of the redoubled fire of the artillery now
concentrated upon them, and climbing up the hill to oppose this
unexpected attack. But before they could gather in sufficient numbers
the British were upon them, keeping up a terrible fire as they advanced.
The Boers, however, fought sturdily. Many, indeed, had already begun to
make their way along the southern face of the hill, either to join their
comrades on the hill between Pieter's and Hart's, or to escape up the
valleys between them, and so make their way to Bulwana, where a large
force was still encamped.

"We may as well help," Chris said; "the general can but blow us up."

Delighted to be able to do even a little towards the success of the day,
the party at once picked up their rifles lying beside them.

"It is about a thousand yards, I should say, to the middle of the hill.
Take steady aim and try and pick them off as they leave their trenches."

The firing began at once slowly and steadily, and occasionally there was
an exclamation of satisfaction when a bullet found its mark. Five
minutes later a dismounted staff-officer came down to the trees behind

"What men are these?" he asked; "the general wishes to know."

"We are the Johannesburg Scouts," Chris said.

"Are you in command, sir?"


"Then, will you please to accompany me at once to the general."

On arriving at the spot where the general was standing a little in
advance of his staff, the latter at once recognized Chris. "Oh, it is
you, Mr. King!" he said. "I was afraid some of the men had left their
stations. And what are you doing here?"

"We are trying to lend a hand to the troops over there, and as we are
all good shots, I think we are being of some assistance."

"You had no right to leave the camp, sir. I suppose you call this
independent service?"

"I do, general. I hope that we are affording some help here, and we
should not be doing any good in camp; and as we have been nearly out of
it through all this fighting, and there were no orders for the corps to
do anything to-day, we thought we might be of use."

"You did wrong, sir," the general said, his face relaxing into a smile
at the lad's defence of himself. "Well, as you are there, you may as
well stop."

"Thank you, sir!" Chris said, saluting, and then hurried off to rejoin
his comrades.

"He is a plucky boy," the general said to his staff. "I heard the other
day--though not officially, so I was not obliged to take notice of it--
that he, with the twenty lads with him, rode out to a place seventy
miles away, and rescued some farmers who were besieged by Boers,
defeated their assailants, killed and wounded more than their own
number, made the rest of them, still double their own strength, lay down
their arms, and recaptured nearly two thousand head of cattle they had
driven off. The news came to me from the mayor of Maritzburg, who had
heard of it from a friend who had ridden in from Grey town. He wrote to
me expressing his admiration at the exploit. I sent privately to their
captain and questioned him about it, intending to reprimand him severely
for letting them go; but he said that they had all resigned, as they had
a right to do, for they are all sons of gentlemen, and draw no pay or
provisions, and that he had therefore no control whatever over their
actions after they left camp. I told him not to say anything about his
having seen me, for that, as they had returned, I should be obliged to
take notice of the matter if it came to be talked about. That young
fellow who came here is the one who, with three of the others, tried to
blow up the bridge at Komati-poort. He could not do that, but he played
havoc with a large store of rifles, ammunition, and six or eight guns.
After that I could not very well scold him." And he again turned his
glass on the opposite hill.

Here the fighting was almost over, and in a very short time all
resistance had ceased. Some of the Boer guns on the next hill had now
been turned round, and opened upon the captured position, which took
their own in flank. An aide-de-camp was sent off to order some of the
guns to be taken, if possible, up to the top of Pieter's Hill, and after
immense exertions two batteries were placed there. As soon as this was
accomplished, orders were sent for the rest of the infantry to advance.
General Warren was in command, and the fourth brigade, under Colonel
Norcott, and the eleventh, under Colonel Kitchener, now moved forward,
taking advantage of what shelter could be obtained as they advanced. At
the same time a strong force of colonial infantry moved to the right to
attack the Boer trenches farther up the line of railway, and were soon
hotly engaged. The defenders of Hart's Hill, and the position between
that and Pieter's, opened a heavy fire as soon as the British infantry
showed themselves; but their morale was so shaken by the terrific
bombardment to which they had been subjected, by the loss of Pieter's
Hill, and by the rifle fire now opened by its captors, that their fire
was singularly ineffective. Many men dropped, but the loss was
comparatively much smaller than that suffered by the Irish division when
moving across the open on the 23rd.

Taking advantage of every shelter, the troops moved steadily forward,
maintaining a heavy fire whenever they did so, and winning their way
steadily. Colonel Kitchener's Brigade pressed on towards Hart's Hill,
which on the side by which they now attacked was far less formidable
than that against which the Irish had dashed themselves. It had never
entered the Boer's minds that they would be attacked from this side, and
their most formidable entrenchments had all been placed to resist an
assault from Colenso. Arrived at its foot, the troops were in
comparative shelter among the boulders that covered the slopes. Foot by
foot they made their way upwards, until at last they gathered for a
final assault, and then with a loud cheer scrambled up the last slope
and with fixed bayonets drove the Boers in headlong flight. A similar
success attended the eleventh brigade, who just at sunset carried the
centre position, and a mighty cheer broke out all along the line at the
capture of what all felt to be the last serious obstacle to their
advance to Ladysmith. On the right, the Colonial troops had driven the
Boers in front of them for nearly three miles, capturing entrenchment
after entrenchment, until they arrived at Nelthorpe station. The three
camps of the Boers contained an even larger amount of spoil than had
been discovered in those of Monte Cristo and Hlangwane. It seemed that
they had been perfectly confident that the positions were impregnable,
and had accumulated stores sufficient for a prolonged residence. It was
evident, too, that the wealthier men with them had preferred this
situation to the more exposed camps on the summit of the hills. The
amount of provisions and stores of all kinds was large, Great quantities
of rifle ammunition were found in every trench. Clothes of a superior
kind proved that their owners had been residents of Johannesburg or
Pretoria, and of a different class altogether from the farm-labourers
and herdsmen who formed the majority of the Boer army. The haste with
which they had fled, when to their astonishment they discovered that the
British attack could not be repulsed, was shown by the fact that a good
many watches were found on bed-places and rough tables where they had
been left when the Boers rushed to arms, and in the hurry of flight had
been forgotten.

The number of rifles that had been thrown away was very large. Among the
dead bodies found were those of two women, one quite young and the other
over sixty. It was notorious that women had more than once been seen in
the firing ranks of the Boers, and there were reports that Amazon corps
were in course of formation in the Transvaal, the Boers, perhaps,
remembering how sturdily the women of Haarlem had fought against the
Spaniards in defence of their city.

So complete had been the panic evinced by the headlong fight of the
enemy that the general opinion was that it would be some time before
they would again attempt a stand against our men, and that unless any
entrenchments higher up the valley were held by men who had not
witnessed what had taken place, and were commanded by leaders of the
most determined character, Ladysmith would almost certainly be relieved
within a couple of days, and the rescuing army would be thus rewarded
for its toils and sacrifices.

In a state of the wildest delight the lads returned to the spot where
they had left their horses, where they found that Japhet and the two
Swazis had arrived just before them. They and the Zulus were exhibiting
their intense satisfaction at the defeat of the Boers by a wild war-
dance. The party rode fast back to camp, for their spirits did not admit
of a leisurely pace, and they left the natives to follow them more
deliberately. The news had already been received in camp by the return
of officers who witnessed the scene from a point near to that which the
lads had attained, and its occupants were in a frenzy of delight. The
Colonial corps were especially jubilant. This was the anniversary of
Majuba Hill, the blackest in the history of the Colony, and one that the
Boers in the Transvaal and Orange State always celebrated with great
rejoicings, to the humiliation of the British Colonists. Now that
disgrace was wiped out. A position even stronger than that of Majuba,
fortified with enormous pains, defended by artillery and by thousands of
Boers, had been captured by a British force, and although it was as yet
unknown in camp, the old reverse had been doubly avenged by the
surrender on that day of Cronje and his army.

Late that evening an order was issued that Lord Dundonald with a
squadron of Lancers and some Colonial corps, in which the Maritzburg
Scouts were included, were to reconnoitre along the line of railway. All
felt sure that no serious opposition was likely to be met with; the
defeat of the Boers had been so crushing and complete that assuredly few
of the fugitives would be found willing to again encounter the terrible
artillery fire, followed by the irresistible onslaught of the infantry.
That evening, in spite of the scarcity of wood, bonfires were lighted,
and the Scouts gathered round them. Every bottle of spirits and wine
that remained in the camp was broached, and a most joyous evening was

"I shall be able to breathe freely;" one of the colonists, a man from
Johannesburg, said, "on Majuba Day in future. I have made a point for
years, whenever I wanted to do any business in Natal, to put it off till
that date, so that I could get out of the Transvaal. When I could not
manage it, I shut myself up and stopped in bed all day, though even
there I used to grind my teeth when I heard the brutes shouting and
singing in the streets. Still, to me it was not half such a humiliation
as surrender day. The one was a piece of carelessness, a military
blunder, no doubt; the other was a national disgrace. And though I saw
Majuba myself, it did not affect me half as much as did the abject
backing down of the British Government after they had collected an army
at Newcastle in readiness to avenge Majuba. We could not believe the
news when it came. The fury of the troops was unbounded, and I would not
have given a farthing for the lives of any of the men who were the
authors of the surrender, had they been in the camp that day."

"What were you doing there?" Chris asked.

"I had a farm near Newcastle at that time, and two of my waggons had
been taken up by the military for transport purposes. I was not on the
hill, as you may suppose, or I might not be here to tell the story. I
went forward with Colley. It was just the same then as it was at the
beginning here. There were plenty of colonists ready to take up arms,
but the military authorities would have none of them; they could manage
the thing themselves without any aid from civilians. They knew that the
natives had over and over again beaten the Boers, and what natives could
do would be, merely child's play to British soldiers. Sir George Colley
was a brave officer, and I believe had proved himself a skilful one, but
he knew nothing whatever of the Boer style of fighting, while we
colonists understood it perfectly, and could match them at their own
game. As it turned out, the British soldiers on that occasion did not,
and it made all the difference. If Sir George Colley had accepted a few
hundreds of us, who knew the Boers well, as scouts and skirmishers, the
affair would have turned out very differently; for, as you know, they
did not succeed through the whole affair in taking one of the places
held by our colonists.

"Well, we started from Newcastle, and the blundering began from the
first. It was but twenty-five miles to Laing's Nek. At the time we
started there was not a Boer there, for they were doubtful which line we
should advance by. That twenty-five miles could have been done in a day,
and there we should have been with our difficulties at an end; the
baggage and stores could have come up in two or three days, and then
another advance could have been made. Instead of that, six days were
wasted in going over that miserable bit of ground. The Boers, of course,
took advantage of the time we had given them to prepare and entrench
Laing's Nek. I don't think that troubled the military authorities at
all; an entrenchment thrown up by farmers and peasants could be but a
worthless affair, and would not for a moment check the advance of
British infantry. The consequence of all this was that we got the
licking we deserved. Their entrenchment at the crest of the ridge was
held by something like three thousand men. Colley had but three hundred
and seventy infantry, a force in itself utterly inadequate for the work
in hand. But, seeing some parties of Boer horsemen riding about, he
thought it necessary to leave a strong body for the defence of his
baggage, and accordingly sent only about two hundred and fifty men
forward to attack the place.

"Well, we among the waggons hadn't a doubt how it was going to turn out.
The one battery with us opened fire upon the entrenchment, but you who
know what their entrenchments are will guess that there was little
damage done; and when the soldiers went up the hill the Boers held their
fire until they were close, and then literally swept them away, and,
leaping over the entrenchments, took many of them prisoners. None would
have got away at all if a few mounted infantry, who had managed to get
up the Nek at another point, hadn't charged down and so enabled the
survivors to escape. One hundred and eighty out of the two hundred and
fifty were killed or taken prisoners. Colley at once fell back four
miles. The Boers on their part, making sure that they had got him safe,
sent a strong force round, and this planted itself on the road between
him and Newcastle, but before they did so some small reinforcements
joined us. Three or four days passed, and then we Colonials quite made
up our mind that there was nothing for it but surrender. Colley
determined at last to try and open the road back, and with about two
hundred and fifty men, with four cannon--two of them mountain guns--
moved out. Some sixty soldiers were left on a commanding spot to cover
the passage of the Ingogo. As soon as the force under Colley had got to
the opposite crest of the ravine through which the river runs, they were
attacked in great force. They took shelter among the boulders, and
fought as bravely as it was possible for men to fight. The guns,
however, were useless, for in half an hour every officer, man and horse,
was killed or wounded. However, the Boers could not pluck up courage to
make a rush, and the little force held on till it was dark, by which
time more than two-thirds of them were killed or wounded. A lot of rain
had fallen, the Boers thought that the Ingogo could not be forded, and
so, believing they would have no trouble in finishing the little force
in the morning, they were careless. Colley, however, sent down and found
that the water had not risen so high as to make it impossible to pass,
and in the darkness, covered by the blinding rain that was falling, he
and the survivors moved quietly off, crossed the river, picked up the
party left on the eminence commanding it, and returned to camp.

"It was certain now that unless succoured our fate was sealed, but
fortunately Evelyn Wood came up to Newcastle with a column that had been
pressing forward from the sea. Colley, of course, ought to have waited
for him to arrive before he moved at all, and if he had done so, things
might have turned out very differently. But he made the mistake of
despising the Boers, and thinking that it was nothing but a walk over.
When they heard that the column had reached Newcastle the Boers cleared
off the line of communication, and Colley rode into Newcastle and saw
Wood. We felt that we were well out of a bad business; and were sure
that the Boers, who are no good in attack, however well they fight
behind shelter, would not venture to attack us, and that even if they
did so we could keep them off till help came. But Colley could not let
well alone. Instead of waiting till Wood came up and joined him, lie
thought he might make a good stroke on his own account, and so retrieve
the two defeats he had suffered; so when the 92nd Regiment came up he
determined to seize Majuba Hill.

"It was well worth seizing, for it completely commanded the Boer's
position on Laing's Nek, and had the whole force come up the Boers must
have fallen back directly it was captured. However, Colley decided not
to wait, and with about five hundred and fifty men and officers he
started at night. The hill was only four miles off as the crow flies,
but the ground was frightfully cut up, and it was not until after six
hours of tremendous work that they reached the summit. Two hundred men
were left at the bottom of the hill to keep open communications with the

"From a hill close to the camp we could make out what was going on. Soon
after daybreak we saw a party of mounted men ride towards the hill,
where they usually stationed vedettes. They were fired at as they
approached, and directly a turmoil could be seen on Laing's Nek. Waggons
were inspanned, and we thought at first that they were all going to move
off, but this was not so. They were only getting ready to go if they
failed to recapture the hill, and in a short time we could see all their
force moving towards it. Well, from where we were it seemed that the
force on Majuba could have kept a hundred thousand Boers at bay, and so
they ought to have done.

"For a time the Boers did not make much progress. With glasses, puffs of
smoke could be made out all along the crest, and among the rocks below.
The firing began in earnest at seven, and between twelve and one the
Boer fire had ceased and ours died away. We thought it was all over, and
went back to our waggons again. Soon after one o'clock there was a
sudden outburst, and the men with the glasses observed that the Boers
were close up to the top of the hill. A few minutes later it was on the
plateau itself that the firing was going on.

"Colley had not known the Boers. No doubt his men were completely done
up with their six hours' toil among the hills and six hours' fighting,
and I don't think a tenth of them were ever engaged, for Colley thought
it was impossible that the position could be stormed; so he only kept a
handful of men at the edge of the plateau and allowed the rest to lie
down and sleep. Certainly that was the case when the Boers, who had been
crawling up among the rocks and bushes, made their rush.

"Well, you all know what happened. The few men on the edge were cut down
at once. The Boers dashed forward, keeping up a heavy fire. Our fellows
jumped up, but numbers were shot down as they did-so, and in spite of
the efforts of their officers, a panic seized them. They had far better
rifles than the Boers, and had they been steady might still have driven
them back; but only a few of them ever fired a shot, and but one Boer
was killed and five wounded; while on our side eight officers, among
them Colley himself, were killed, and seven taken prisoners. Eighty-six
men were killed, one hundred and twenty-five wounded, fifty-one taken
prisoners, and two missing. A few managed to make their way down the
hill, and joined the party that had been left there at the bottom.

"These were also attacked, but beat off the Boers, and, maintaining
perfect order, fought their way back to camp. You can imagine the
consternation there was when the hideous business became known. We fell
back at once to Newcastle, and mightily lucky we thought ourselves to
get there safely. Fresh troops came up, and we were on the point of
advancing again, confident that, after the lesson the Boers had given
us, things could be managed better. Suddenly, like a thunderclap, the
news came that the British Government had surrendered to the Boers,
given up everything, abandoned the colonists, who had so bravely
defended their towns, to their fate; and, with the exception of making a
proviso that the natives should be well treated--but which, as nothing
was ever done to enforce it, meant allowing the Boers to enslave and
ill-treat them as they had done before--and another proviso, maintaining
the purely nominal supremacy of the Queen, the treaty was simply an
entire and abject surrender.

"There is not a colonist who, since that time, has not known what must
come of it, and that sooner or later the question whether the Dutch or
the British were to be masters of the Cape would have to be fought out.
But none of us dreamt that the British Government would allow the Boers
to import hundreds of thousands of rifles, two or three hundred cannon,
and enormous stores of ammunition in readiness for the encounter. Well,
they have done it, and we have seen the consequences. Natal has been
overrun, and a considerable portion of Cape Colony. We have lost here
some ten thousand men, and half as many on the other side, and we may
lose as many more before the business is finished. And all this because
a handful of miserable curs at home twenty years ago were ready to
betray the honour of England, in order that they might make matters
smooth for themselves at home." Just as the story came to an end the
assembly blew in the camp of the Scouts, and on running in the men found
that Captain Brookfield had received an order to mount at once and ride
to join the cavalry under Lord Dundonald at the front, as a
reconnaissance was to be made in the morning. Five minutes later all
were in the saddle and trotting across the plain towards Colenso, as
they were to follow the line of railway up.



It was exciting work as the mounted horse under Lord Dundonald rode
along. As far as could be seen from the various points in our possession
the passage was clear, but experience had taught how the Boers would lie
quiet, even when in large numbers, while scouts were passing close to
them. At Colenso Colonel Long had sent two mounted men on ahead of his
battery. They had been permitted to pass within a hundred yards of
thousands of Boers among the bushes on the river bank, and had even
crossed the bridge and returned without a rifle shot being fired or a
Boer showing his head. And it was on their report that there were
apparently no Boers in the neighbourhood that the batteries were pushed
forward into the fatal trap prepared for them. So Chris and his
companions, at the rear of the colonial cavalry, trotted along ready at
a moment's notice to swing round their rifles for instant action. They
watched every stone and clump of bushes on the slopes of the valley for
any foe that might be lurking there, and who at any moment might pour
out a rain of bullets into the column. Very few words were spoken on the
way, the tension was too great. They knew that Ladysmith had telegraphed
that the Boers appeared to be everywhere falling back. But a few
thousands of their best fighting men might have remained to strike one
terrible blow at the troops who in open fight had shown themselves their
superiors, and had driven them from position after position that they
believed impregnable. However, as one after another of the spots where
an ambuscade would be likely to be laid passed, and there were still no
signs of the enemy, the keenness of the watch began to abate, and the
set expression of the faces to relax. Then as the hills receded and the
valley opened before them a pleasurable excitement succeeded the grim
expectation of battle. The task that had proved so hard was indeed
fulfilled; the Boers were gone, and the siege of Ladysmith was at an
end. As they emerged from the valley into the plain in which Ladysmith
is situated, there was an insensible increase of speed; men talked
joyously together, scarcely waiting for replies; the horses seemed to
catch the infection of their riders' spirits, and the pennons of the
Lancers in front to flutter more gaily. Onward they swept, cantering now
until they approached the town.

Then men could be seen running towards the road; from every house they
poured out, men and women, some waving hats and handkerchiefs, some too
much overpowered by their feelings for outward demonstrations. As the
columns reached this point they broke into a walk, and answered with
ringing cheers the fainter but no less hearty hurrahs of those they came
to rescue; and yet the troopers themselves were scarcely less affected
than the crowd that pressed round to shake them by the hand. They had
known that provisions were nearly exhausted in the city, and that for
some time past all had been on short rations; but they had not dreamt of
anything like this. It seemed to them that they were surrounded by a
population of skeletons, haggard and worn, almost too weak to drag
themselves along, almost too feeble to shout, their clothes in rags,
their eyes unnaturally large, their hands nerveless, their utterances
broken by sobs. They realized for the first time how terrible had been
the privations, how great the sufferings of the garrison and people of
Ladysmith. For the soldiers were there as well as the civilians. There
was little military in their appearance; there was no uniformity in
their dress, save that all were alike ragged, stained and destitute of

Could their rescuers have seen them, themselves unseen, a few days
earlier, they would have been even more shocked. Then the listlessness
brought about by hope deferred, and of late almost the extinction of
hope, weakness caused by disease and famine, had been supreme; and had
the Boers had any idea of the state to which they were reduced, a
renewal of the attack of the eth of January could hardly have failed of
success. The last few days, however, had revived their hopes. They had
learned by the ever-nearing roar of the cannon that progress was being
made, and for the past four days had from elevated points near the town
been able to make out the movements of our troops on the positions they
had captured. They had seen the Boers breaking up their camps, carrying
off their stores either by waggon across the western passes or by the
trains from Modder Spruit. They had seen the cannon being withdrawn from
their positions on the hills, and felt that their deliverance was at

Through an ever-increasing crowd the column moved on.


From barrack and hospital, from dwelling-house and the dug-out shelter-
caves on the railway bank people flocked up. Sir George White and his
staff, the mayor, and the town guards, every officer and soldier, joined
in the greeting. But no stay was made. After a few minutes' talk with
Sir George White, Lord Dundonald gave the order, and the cavalry moved
forward, and as soon as they were free from the crowd trotted on at a
rapid pace in hopes of overtaking the retiring Boers, and glad that the
scene to which they had looked forward with such pleasant expectations
was at an end. There had not been a dry eye among them. None could have
witnessed the sobbing women, the men down whose cheeks the tears
streamed uncontrolledly, and have remained himself unmoved.

"It is terrible," Chris said to Sankey, who was riding next to him. "I
could not have imagined anything so dreadful as their appearance. I did
not realize what it was like when, two or three months before I left
Johannesburg, I read in Motley's book about the war in the Netherlands
of the state of things in Leyden when the Prince of Orange burst his way
through to their rescue, and of the terrible appearance of the starved
inhabitants, but now I can quite understand how awfully bad it was. It
must have been even worse then. Here there were some rations
distributed--little enough, but some. There the people had nothing but
the weeds they gathered, and boiled down with the scraps they could pick
up. There they died in hundreds of actual starvation; it cannot have
been quite so bad here. But as we see, though there has been just enough
food to keep life together, that has been all, and it has been from
disease brought on by famine, and not by famine itself, that they have
died. Then, too, shells were always falling among them, and at any
moment they might be attacked. I expect that anxiety and fever have had
as much to do with it as hunger."

"Yes, Chris. You know, when we were grumbling sometimes at not being
employed in the fighting, we have wished we had stopped in Ladysmith,
and gone through the siege there; now, one can thank God that one did
not do so. We have pictured to ourselves everyone actively employed, the
vigilance at all the outposts, the skirmishing with the Boers who crept
up too closely, the excitement of repelling their attack, and all that
sort of thing. It is all very good to read about, but now we know what
it really meant one sees that we were a pack of fools to have wished to
be there."

"Yes; I suppose one never knows what is g'ood for one, Sankey. Now as I
look back I think that we have been extraordinarily fortunate. We have
had some fights, just in the way we had expected, and, thanks
principally to our being so well mounted, we have done very well. We
have lived well; I don't say we have not had a certain amount of
discomfort, but of course we expected that. What I am most pleased at is
that not one of us has been killed, and only a few of us wounded, the
only serious one being Willesden, and he is fairly on the way to
recovery. For boys we have done a very good share, and I expect that now
we have driven the Boers back here, and Kimberley has been relieved, and
there is a tremendous force gathering on that side, it will soon be

"Yes, I think with you, Chris. And I fancy that the others are all
beginning to long for the end of it. I should say that those whose
people have gone to England may stop on for a bit, but the rest of us
will go to our friends at Durban or the Cape, at any rate for a time,
till we see how things go. We know that Lord Roberts has got Cronje
surrounded and shut up. I expect that is one of the reasons that the
Boers have been moving from here. The Free Staters will certainly wish
to get back to defend Bloemfontein, and the Transvaal people must feel
that it is no use stopping here when their own country will be shortly

"Yes; I expect that is the reason for their shutting up as suddenly as
they have done after fighting so hard for the first five or six days of
our advance."

On arriving at Modder Spruit it was found that the last train had left
an hour before; they pushed on, however, until a smart fire from a hill
in front of them, which was evidently held in force, broke out suddenly,
and two cannon from another eminence joined in. Having thus discovered
that the Boers were not entirely evacuating the country, but intending
to defend the Biggarsberg, at any rate until a strong force came up,
Lord Dundonald returned to Ladysmith. In the afternoon General Buller
rode over attended by only one or two of the staff. He stayed but a very
short time, to learn from General White the state of affairs, and then

"Do you think that we shall pursue at once, sir?" Chris asked Captain

"Not at once, Chris. Practically, as you see, there is not a soldier
here fit to carry arms, nor a horse fit for work, and I should say that
it will be a month before General Buller can reckon upon any assistance
from the garrison. As to his own army, I expect he will keep the main
portion round Chieveley. No doubt he will bring the greater part if not
all the garrison of Ladysmith back to Frere and Estcourt, both to get
them out of the pestilential air here and for convenience of feeding
them. The civilian population will leave, of course, as soon as they
possibly can. I should think that Buller will leave in garrison here an
infantry brigade, part of the cavalry, and two or three batteries, and
this with the sick who cannot be moved, will be about as much as our
transport will be able to manage until the railway bridge is repaired
and the line put in running order. Till that is done there is no
possibility of a general advance; and indeed there will have to be a
great accumulation of stores here, as this will then become our base
instead of Chieveley.

"No doubt a great deal will depend on how things are going on the other
side. Now that Roberts has as good as captured Cronje and his force he
will of course advance to Bloemfontein and occupy it. He will then be no
more able to advance farther than Buller can--in fact, less able. Our
line of railway is secured, and we can be fed by it; but at present we
have not crossed the Orange River from the south, and the railway
between that and Bloemfontein is in the hands of the Boers, and we know
that they have blown up the bridges across the river. Until these are
restored, and the line secure in our hands, Roberts's army will have to
live on the stores that they have brought with them. Then the work of
forming a base depot from the coast will begin, and it needs something
enormous in the way of provisions and carriage to supply an army of
sixty or seventy thousand men, all of whom must as they advance be fed
from Bloemfontein.

"As long as he is stationary there it is likely enough that the bulk of
Joubert's army will cling to Natal, knowing well enough that before we
shall be in a condition to move forward they can entrench their
positions on the Biggarsberg and the Drakenberg until they are quite as
formidable as those we have been knocking our heads against. I should
not be at all surprised if it is a couple of months before Roberts is in
a position to advance. Of course at present we have no idea what the
plans are, but likely enough at least half the force here may be sent
down to Durban, and then by water to East London, and from there to
Bloemfontein by rail. It would be ridiculous for us to renew the sort of
fighting we have been doing when the enemy are sure to clear out when
Roberts crosses the Vaal, and Natal be thus freed without any further
loss of life. Possibly the troops may not be sent round by sea, but will
remain here until Roberts gets as far as Kroonstadt. Then, no doubt, a
division will be sent down through Bethlehem to Harrismith, and so open
Van Reenen's Pass, in which case the troops from here can go up by train
to Bethlehem. At any rate, I am afraid that most of us will remain here
for at least two months.

"You see, most of the colonial irregulars were enlisted for only three
months, and that is up already, and no doubt a great many of them will
not extend their time, and I don't suppose the military authorities will
want them to do so. There is no doubt that while mounted men were
invaluable in the fighting in Cape Colony, and will be so in the Orange
Free State, they are of very little use in this mountainous country in
the north of Natal--they are so many more mouths to be fed, man and
beast, without any corresponding advantage. They have done splendidly
where they have had a chance, and the Imperial Light Horse have suffered
heavily, but as a whole I think that we should have been more useful as
infantry than as mounted men. Infinitely more useful if, instead of
being kept at the head-quarters of the army as we have been, for no
possible reason that anyone can see, we had all been scattered over the
country to the east, in which case we should have kept the marauding
Boers from wandering about, should have saved hundreds and hundreds of
loyal farmers from being ruined, and the loss of many thousands of
cattle and horses, which will have to be paid for after the war is over.
I do not think that there is a single colonist who is not of opinion
that the way in which we have been kept inactive from the beginning of
the war, instead of being employed as irregular cavalry should have
been, in protecting the country, preventing the Boers from drawing
supplies, and forcing them to keep in a body as our own troops have
done, has been a stupendous mistake."

Chris repeated this conversation to his comrades. "I think," he said,
"that if there is no chance of doing anything for another two or three
months, we might as well break up. I have no doubt a good many of the
Colonials will re-enlist. Numbers of them are working men, either from
Johannesburg or belonging to Natal; they would find it very difficult to
get work here, and the five shillings a day pay is therefore of the
greatest importance to them. But it is different with us. We don't draw
pay, we simply agreed to band ourselves together to have an opportunity
of paying out the Boers for their treatment of us. At the time we agreed
to that, we had no idea that they would invade Natal. Of course that was
an additional inducement to us to fight. As loyalists, and capable of
bearing arms, it would have been our duty, even if we had no personal
feeling in the matter, to enlist to help to clear the country of the
enemy who invaded it. Now that Ladysmith is rescued and there are
certainly enough troops in South Africa to finish the business up, I do
not see that it is our duty to continue our service. Anyhow, I have
pretty well made up my mind to resign and go round to Cape Town. There I
am almost sure to find my mother, and perhaps my father, for we know
that they have expelled almost all the English remaining about the
mines, and he may have been among them."

"I agree with you heartily," Sankey said. "At any rate, I should vote
for our breaking up for the present. It will be beastly for us to have
to stop here doing nothing for another month or two, and then perhaps,
when Buller moves forward to join Roberts, to be told that the colonial
force will no longer be required."

Twelve of the others expressed similar opinions. The friends of the
eight who did not do so had returned to England. Carmichael was one of
these. "Well," he said after a pause, "I do not say that you are not
quite right, but I have no one to go to here. My people went home as
soon as they reached Durban. If I were to join them I might hear when I
landed that the war was just over, and that they had either started to
come back again, or were on the point of doing so. I was born out here,
and have never seen any of my relations in Scotland. Though I should
like very much to spend a few months in the old country, it would not be
worth while going home for so short a time; for I am sure my father will
hurry back to his work at the mines as soon as Johannesburg is taken by
us. I fancy all those who have not spoken are in about the same
situation that I am."

There was a murmur of assent. "I don't say," he went on, "that I should
care, any more than you do, to stop here for the next two months. The
smell of dead horses and things is enough to make one ill. The water of
the river is poisonous, for we know the Boers used to throw their dead
animals in it on purpose. So I shall go down to Maritzburg and wire to
my people where I am, and ask for orders. There remains, Willesden said
the other day, still about L80 apiece at the bank, and I expect we shall
get as much for the horses as we gave for them, so that we who have no
friends here could live very comfortably for two or three months, or
have enough to pay our passage home in case they send for us. I shall
tell them to telegraph, so in a week after sending off my wire I shall
get an answer."

The others who had no friends in South Africa expressed their intention
of doing the same.

"I don't think we need bother about the horses," Chris said; "being such
good animals, I have no doubt that there are plenty of officers in the
cavalry regiments here who will be glad to buy them as remounts for the
money we gave for them. That would save us all the trouble of getting
them down by train to Maritzburg and selling them there. Well, then, as
there are no dissentients, I will tell Captain Brookfield what we have

"I quite agree with you," the officer said when Chris had told him of
their intentions. "In the first place, it would be a serious waste of
time for you to remain here. Still, that is of comparatively little
consequence, but I do think that it would be a grievous pity for you to
risk your lives further. You have done wonderfully good service. You
have had an experience that you will look back upon with satisfaction
all your lives. You have done your duty, and more than your duty. You
have before you useful lives, and have amply shown that in whatever
position you may be placed you will be a credit to yourselves and your
friends. Therefore, Chris, I think in every respect your decision is
right. It will be some relief to me, for to tell you frankly, when you
started on that expedition to Komati, and the other day, when you all
rode off to the farm, I felt that it would probably be my duty to write
to some of your parents to tell them of your deaths. Therefore, by all
means give me your resignations. I dare say that a good many of the men
in my own and other corps will be leaving also; and in that case those
who remain will, I should think, be formed into one strong regiment,
which will be of a good deal more use than half a dozen small corps."

It was agreed among the party that as they had decided to go they might
as well go at once.

"I hear," Chris said, "that General Buller is going to make a formal
entry here on Saturday, and that the garrison will line the road. I
don't know whether Dundonald's brigade will have anything to do with it;
but if he does, Brookfield will certainly like to make a good show. So
until that is over I won't do anything about the horses."

On the day appointed the garrison turned out to receive the general and
the troops who had struggled so long and gallantly to effect their
rescue, and the Devons, Gloucesters, Rifles, Leicesters, Manchesters,
Liverpools, sappers, artillerymen, and the Naval Brigade marched out
from their camps and lined the road as far as the railway-station, where
the remnant of the cavalry brigade were drawn up. At eleven o'clock Sir
George White, Sir Archibald Hunter, and Colonel Duff and his staff rode
up and took their place in the front of the shattered tower of the town-
hall. Here, too, Captain Lambton and many other officers took their
place. Not far from these were a score of civilians who had not shared
in the general exodus that had been going on from the day on which the
town was relieved, but had delayed their departure in order to witness
the historical scene. At last the head of the column was seen
approaching. Lord Dundonald's men had ridden down on the previous day,
and the mounted Colonial Volunteers had now the honour of forming the
general's escort. They led the way, and after them came General Buller
with his escort. The Dublin Fusiliers were placed at the head of the
column in acknowledgment of the gallantry displayed by them in every
fight; then came the men of Warren's, Lyttleton's, and Barton's
brigades, with their artillery. Great indeed was the contrast between
the sturdy, bronzed, and well-fed soldiers who cheered as they marched,
many of them carrying their helmets on their bayonets, and the lines of
emaciated men through whom they passed. These cheered too, but their
voices sounded strange and thin, and many, indeed, were too much
overcome by weakness and emotion to be able to add their voices to the
shouts. The enthusiasm of the troops rose to the highest when they
passed a group of women and children, who, with streaming eyes, greeted
them as they passed.

The pipes of the Highlanders and the beating of drums added to the roar
of sound. The contrast between the dress of rescuers and rescued was as
great as their personal appearance. Sir George White's men had of late
had but little work, and had prepared for the occasion to the best of
their power, as if for a review at Aldershot. They had done what they
could. Their khaki suits had been washed and scrubbed until, though
discoloured, they were scrupulously clean. The belts, accoutrements, and
rifles had all been rubbed up and scoured. On the other hand, the
uniforms of regiments that marched in were travel-stained, begrimed with
the dust of battle and the mud of bivouac, until their original hue had
entirely disappeared. They looked as if they had at first been dragged
through thorn bushes and then been given a mud-bath.

Captain Lambton rode forward to meet the sailors of the Terrible with
the guns that had done such service, followed by the howitzers which had
almost equally contributed to the final success of the operations. He
was loudly cheered by the sailors, and the heartiest greetings were
exchanged between him and their officers. Both in attack and defence the
Naval Brigade had performed inestimable services.

Behind the column came a large body of men in civilian dress. Their
appearance was as unkempt as that of the troops, but among these there
was no approach to military order, and yet their heroism had been in no
way inferior to that of the troops. These were the stretcher-bearers,
who had in every fight carried on their work of mercy under the heaviest
fire, and that without the excitement that nerves soldiers to face
danger. Many of them had fallen while so engaged, but this had in no way
unnerved their companions, who had not only carried on the work during
daylight, but had often laboured all night until the last wounded man
had been found and carried down to the hospital. When the names of the
heroes of the force that relieved Ladysmith are recounted those of the
stretcher-bearers are worthy of a place among them.

After the troops had been dismissed and matters had settled down a
little, Chris went over to the camp of the cavalry brigade, and spoke to
the first officer he met. "I have come across, sir," he said, "to ask if
any of you wish to buy remounts. The party to which I belong have
twenty-five horses; they are exceptionally good animals, and cost us
sixty pounds apiece last October. We furnished our own equipment. As we
are all sons of gentlemen at Johannesburg, we did not much mind what we
paid. Anyhow, we are ready to sell them at the price we gave for them."

"We all want remounts badly enough," the officer said. "Will you come in
with me to the colonel?"

Entering the mess tent, where the colonel and several officers were
standing talking, Chris's guide introduced him to them, and repeated the
offer he had made. "Well, at any rate, Leslie," the colonel said, "you
and Mainwaring may as well go down and look at the horses; it would
certainly be a comfort to get remounts, for more than half of our
chargers are gone, and the rest are skeletons. I can't ask you, Mr.
King, if you would like to take anything to drink. I suppose it will be
another ten days before we are in a position to be able to offer even
the smallest approach to hospitality."

"I quite understand that, sir," Chris said. "In that respect we have
been nearly as badly off at Chieveley. We have had plenty to eat and
drink, but a cup of tea or chocolate has been the only refreshment we
have been in a position to offer to a visitor, for the line has been so
fully occupied with government transport that it has been next to
impossible to get up any private stores. I am afraid that very little in
that way can be brought up here until the bridge is repaired and the
line in working order, for it is as much as the transport will be able
to do to bring food enough from Chieveley for the troops and people

The two officers were more than satisfied with the appearance of the
horses. On their report all their comrades went down, and eleven of the
animals were at once taken; a visit to the camps of two other regiments
resulted in the sale of the remainder. None of the officers was able to
pay in gold, as the paymaster's department had not a coin left, though
small payments were made to the men until nearly the end of the siege.
Chris, however, readily accepted their drafts and cheques, as these
could be paid into the bank at Maritzburg.

"That is all done," he said to his friends. "Now we will get rid of our
remaining stores which the men brought up yesterday. I propose that
instead of selling them we divide them into three and send them down to
the three cavalry messes. I am sorry we have not a few bottles of
spirits left, but the tea, and chocolate, and sugar, and so on, will be
very welcome to them."

The six natives carried the things down, and brought back with them
notes of warm thankfulness from the colonels.

"How about our saddles, Chris?"

"We can take them with us to Maritzburg. We can hand over the kettles
and so on, and the waterproof sheets, to Brookfield's men who remain
here, and the blankets can be given to the natives when we get there."

The next day, after a hearty farewell from Captain Brookfield and their
comrades, who sent them off with a ringing cheer, the party started,
marching by the side of one of the waggons that had brought up stores;
in this they placed their saddles and blankets. When they arrived at
Chieveley they had no difficulty in getting a place in a covered truck.
In this they travelled to Maritzburg. Here they stayed for three or four
days; then, after making a handsome present in addition to what they had
promised to the natives, and further gladdening their hearts by giving
them their blankets, Chris and those who were going down said good-bye
to Carmichael and his party, with hopes that they would all meet again
at Johannesburg before long. Three or four whose friends had remained at
Durban stayed there, the rest took passage together for Cape Town.

At Maritzburg Chris had found a letter awaiting him from his mother,
saying that his father had a fortnight before joined her there, as the
Boers had commandeered the mines and had ordered him to leave, as he
would not work them for their benefit and so provide funds for the
support of the Boer army. She said that they intended to leave at once
for England, and that he was to follow them when he gave up his work
with the army. He therefore, with Field, Brown, and Capper, continued
the voyage straight on to England, and joined his parents in London,
where he enjoyed a well-earned rest, his pleasure being only marred by
the necessity for telling the story of his adventures again and again to
the relations and friends of his parents.


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