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one man with whom, through all taking down the words as they unthe long three months to come, wound themselves on the endless roll I could sit down to a tête-à-tête of paper coming from it. The wire certain that I should learn some- had been cut daily, and it was all thing from his conversation. but hopeless to try to send a mes
In the centre of the little town, sage, and I was lucky to find the which consisted of some fifty tin- line open. Later on in the day I roofed
tin altogether - went in again and received the houses, was
substantial stone answer to mine of the morning, building, the court-house, Land- the last I was destined to get, and drost's office, and jail. The win- one I was just too late to reply to, dows had been pulled out, the doors the line failing at that instant. unhung, and in their place bags Next day I sent down it, and found piled up full of earth, small holes it cut in twenty places, the wire being left for the rifles. Bustling chopped into short lengths a yard in and about this were numbers long, the poles thrown down by of soldiers in shirt-sleeves carrying threes and fours. in more bags, planks, barrels for The message with its news, the last water-supply, provisions, ammuni- we heard for ninety-two days, was : tion, and other things necessary “Your action approved by General ; in a siege. A little further off artillery will push on to Newcastle, was a second house, also in the but not a man is to proceed beyond same state, with more soldiers hurry- that station without special orders ing about; and away again on the from Headquarters.” So we knew road towards Heidelberg was the that a concentration of troops at hotel, now doing a limited busi- the frontier town was in progress.
its own account, while The next message I received three more soldiers were doing the same months after the first, by hand from work by it as had been done to the Newcastle, where it had lain ever other houses. Taking the Land- since its arrival shortly after the drost aside, I found that he had despatch of the other, its cheering heard some indefinite rumours of words unheard by us till the hand the disaster to the 94th; and these that wrote it lay with the rest under coming from another source than the turf of the Drakensberg. The that from which my information message saidhad come, I got him to show me " Dec. 24th.-General highly apinto the telegraph office to tell the proves of your prompt action, and tale below.
hopes you will give a good account of The telegraph office was in Boers if attacked. Send messenger room in the court-house, and I had to Boer camp to ask after wounded first to squeeze myself between two and offer services of a surgeon, and piles of mealie-bags that closed the try to get them sent in to our lines.” main entrance, then in through a Cheering words to room full of soldiers hammering, leaguered ones they would have and so into the small office, its been, and breathing the well-loved windows also blocked up, dimly spirit of him who sent them in lighted in consequence, its floor every line. Murray, who had scattered with débris, telegraph driven me, was starting back. He forms lying about under foot, the was safe enough, well known on only sign of civilisation left being the road, and without a hated redthe tiny instrument on the table, coat as a passenger, was sure to get clicking its news, and the clerk through. So I got into a small
back room in the hotel and scrib- such terrible orders against the bled off a few hasty lines to the whole canine race, that one day, dear ones at home—the last they on a sneaking cur getting past him, too would get throughout weary he was seen, capless and breathless, months of waiting:
pursuing the brute through the fort, It was a thought that came up with whirling stick, and yells almost often enough during that time, that Red Indian in their ferocity, till if we shut-up ones had the danger both he and the cur fell into the and the bullets for our share, those ditch outside, and had to be picked at home had far worse—the anxiety out carefully. of dead silence about those they The fort inspected, we did a bit loved, the dread of what tidings of the old Zulu game, and “manned the news might bring when it the laager," to show the men their came; and, as usual in the world, places—a game in which our previthe stronger had the less to bear. ous experience, when marching on
The letter written, I drove up to Ulundi, stood in good stead. Every the fort—a mile away, on rising man got round the walls as if by ground to the south of the town nature born to a loophole, and the --and found things quieter there. array of glittering points sticking The fort—or laager, as it was then out gave our laager a most formidcalled—was a low earthwork with a able look when seen from an attackditch round it, at one part deep, ing point of view. One thing had for the rest only a mere scratch. struck me on arrival—that the town Through the centre ran a thick was practically open to any one who wall, with a tin roof sloping on one liked to come in and inspect our side—the place forming an open defences,—one avowed rebel havshed, once a stable. Everywhere the ing already been shown round the earthen parapets had fallen down, court-house, and a second driving leaving great breaches wbich bad up as near as he dared to the laager been partially filled in with mealie- to look at a place which he was bags of mould; piles of stones fal- the first to fire at a few days later. len from the walls lay about. In- To put an end to this inquisitiveside all was dirt and muddle. It ness, I established a strong party had been used since construction to stop every person arriving or as a commissariat store, and was going out, with orders to examine littered with boxes, bags, tents, and them, and, if necessary, to confine all kinds of stores, in admirable them, till I was communicated confusion. Tents, pitched anyhow, with; and I found the plan work tripped you up with their ropes; admirably. One small man, some a troop of curs loafed about on the five feet in staturc, a lawyer's agent, look-out for garbage; and a pony held in great esteem by the Boers was picketed to a tent-peg, and as one of their best advocates, was munched away contentedly in a among the first to be arrested when circle of filth, which showed that attempting to leave, being then and the spot had been his stable for there put under a sentry. This some time past.
same prisoner afterwards became These were matters which, as the one of my leading volunteers, and siege went on, mended themselves. towards the end acted as the storeHorses could not pass the entrance keeper when I seized all the proif they had wished it-it was too visions in the town and put the narrow. Dogs were rigidly exclud- inhabitants on a reduced scale of ed: a somewhat dilapidated old rations. soldier, standing at the gate, with Now he was inclined to bluster; you !"
and after several attempts to get at the centre of the town, blocked up me, he succeeded, and asked me what the windows with mealie-bags, and I meant by arresting him. I assured put all women and children into him that I did not want to bother it of nights under care of the him more than I was obliged; but parson—an arrangement the fair just now all who were not for me creatures stuck to for a limited were against me; and I ended by time, eventually leaving it for their advising him to keep quiet and not houses, preferring to risk a stray bother me; “for," I added, “I bullet to encountering the horrors seem a very quiet man, but I of its mixed population, amongst can be very nasty if I like; and if which might be counted as not the I find you bother me I might shoot least numerous those insects from
My manner was horribly which it came to be known as “ The cool; but he saw that I meant it, Flea Laager." and went off under escort to see By this time it was growing his wife. A little later be returned dark, and we sat down to a wretchand asked me if he took the oath of ed dinner of bad beef and dry allegiance and joined the volunteers bread, washed down by a should he be free again. He was of champagne given us by a conwalked off to the Landdrost, who siderate storekeeper for the occaadministered the oath on the spot, sion. The mess-room was a little was drafted into the volunteers, and stone cottage, very rough, much too shouldered his rifle throughout the small for our party, and extremely siege as well as any other man. He dirty. Two barrack-tables held the was, moreover, a fisherman, and cracked plates and dishes we fed often sent me some excellent fish- from; boxes for seats were more a treat indeed in a beleaguered plentiful than chairs; our food town : so there are worse ways of came through a hole in the wall ; getting round a man than by offer- our wine-cellar was a second room ing to shoot him.
opening from our first, its prinAfter this I held a meeting of the cipal occupants a litter of nine inhabitants, when the Landdrost puppies who sucked and snored read the last telegram from Sir G. most vigorously; our servants, Colley, saying that relief would soldiers somewhat exhilarated, for come on 20th January, up to it was Christmas Eve; our converwhich date he expected us to be sation, the expected attack and our able to hold out; and I made means of meeting it. some mild speeches to the effect We had got half-way through that they must help to defend them- the tough beef when a selves, calling on them to come for- in to say the Dutch were on us, ward as volunteers, foot or horse, and the men in the laager to resist letting them choose their own offi- them; so we had to run up too, cers, arming and drilling them my- finding the tents struck and the self. And so was formed the nu- men standing to their loopholes. cleus of our volunteer corps, which But no sign of the Dutch came numbered seventy-five men, and out. One rather credulous youth did excellent service, as will be declared he heard 'revolvers going seen hereafter,
off in town, but they turned out A committee to provide for the to have been crackers let off by safety of the women and children boys in honour of the day—it was was formed, of which I was presi- Christmas Eve—and magnified by dent; and after some deliberation a slightly heated imagination into we picked out a large wool-store in firearms. So we sloped back to
man ran " A. BOK,
our dinner, the beef still standing shoulders, as we will know what we will in a pool of stagnant fat, once
have to do.-We are, sir, your obedient
servants, gravy, and were glad to wash down
“P. KRUGER. our first scare with the champagne,
H. PRETORIUS. getting off to our tents soon after.
P. J. JOUBERT. And that was how we spent our Christmas Eve.
Secretary to the South African Our garrison consisted of 350 men-three companies 94th and Neither of these orders one 58th Regiments. These, with obeyed, the troops, of course, hurthe exception of a single company of rying on, and arriving safely at the 94th, had but just arrived under Standerton by a forced march. I circumstances of considerable dif- had thus about 300 effective men, ficulty, always in danger of an at- eleven of them officers, and a poptack, when the disaster of Bronker's ulation of 450 civilians, a large Spruit might have been repeated. proportion blacks, besides women The 94th were met at the border and children. by a brother of Joubert's, an under- Supplies were my first thought : sized man with dirty nails, who cattle, fortunately, were plentiful, delivered a letter to the officer in biscuit ample for present wants, command, in which he was ordered and a good supply of lime-juice to halt under peril of an attack. made me independent of vegetables. The 58th received a similar letter, The town, too, appeared fairly amusing enough to copy here. It stocked, although the Dutch had ran as follows:
lately made a practice of taking away flour to a large extent. Gunpowder
had entirely gone the same way, HEIDELBERG, December 20, 1880,
one storekeeper having sold six " To the Commander-in-chief of her Majesty's troops on the
barrels within a few months, while
another gave 1000 rounds of West“Sir, -We have the honour to in- ley-Richards cartridges to a Boer, form you that the Government of the the leader of one of the attacks on South African Republic have taken up Standerton, and avowedly disaftheir
residence at Heidelberg. fected, that being the quantity he “That a diplomatic commissioner
was allowed to purchase each year, has been sent by them with despatches to his Excellency Sir W.
the Landdrost giving him the “perOwen Lanyon.
mit” within a few days of the
pro“ That until the arrival of his Ex- clamation of the Republic—so well cellency's answer we do not know
were matters managed by the Govwhether we are in a state of war or not. ernment at Pretoria. “ That consequently we cannot al
In the morning I called the men low any movement of troops in our together and told them the tale of country from your side, and wish you to stop where you are.
the massacre of their regiment, in“We not being in war with her terrupted by low remarks, muttered Majesty the Queen, nor with the peo- comments, and at the mention of ple of England, who we are sure to be the officers who had fallen, by still on our side if they were acquainted louder ones. When I came to the with the position, but only recovering colonel's reported death, the whole the independence of our country, we
broke out into a strange chorus of do not wish to take to arms, and therefore inform you that any movement ejaculations, almost sobs from many,
followed by a cry
absoby us as a declaration of war, the re- lutely savage in its intensity. At sponsibility whereof we put on your the tale of the white flag, and the
for of troops from your side will be taken
“SOUTH AFRICAN REPUBLIC,
road to Pretoria.
treachery that came close on its preparation going on within, pecudisplay, with my warning against liarly awful. First increasing darkits repetition, a whisper went round ness till the tents were scarcely like wildfire; the words I told them visible, and the men had to strike seemed like an order, and white off work; then a flash, and a roll flags just then would have fared of thunder coming nearer; a second badly at the hands of those stern- flash more blinding than before, faced men round me clutching their followed at shorter interval rifles. Later on came an instance by a louder roll, the air still as of the disrepute into which these death; we remained in great exflags had fallen. A party of scouts pectancy, — no breath, no sound, rode into camp with a herd of except the crashes, culminating in cattle and goats which they had one that shook one's very frame, captured. They were in charge and made us turn round involunof a Dutchman and two natives, tarily to see which of us were hit. said the sergeant who brought Close by two horses lay stone-dead, them in; “and when he saw us he without a mark upon them; a man waved his flag, a white one, and near the tent we sat in, stretched we let drive at him; and didn't he out, fortunately only stunned; and go off quickly! though we didn't a corporal inside the tent beside hit him, more's the pity." The him grinning, half in terror and a Dutchman turned out to be a loy. little bit in sheer amusement, with al native who affected European a big hole burnt in his coat-sleeve, clothes, and was the court inter- still smoking. We were lucky to preter, and who came on under his escape so easily. The strange thing white flag, nothing doubting, when in these storms is that they always he was greeted with a volley, and wind up with one big crash. After cleared out faster than he came. that the thunder rolls and rumbles And towards the close of the siege, quietly away as if in a hurry to be when the white flag with news of off after doing the worst it can do. the first armistice came down the As we sat round our poor table opposite hill, the marksman that evening, getting through a reduty came to report it as usual, petition of yesterday's dinner, we saluting and asking in the most talked of home a bit and of the matter-of-fact way, “Shall .I take merry evenings that our friends him now, sir, or wait till he comes were passing that Christmas night; nearer ?” It never
entered his yet, as we came to know afterwards, head that anything but a volley they were not so merry in many was the proper reception for the homes, the telegram telling our sad flag; and as I went down the line news having arrived that same of men behind the shelters towards Christmas-day. Then we did not the drift to which the flag was know that, and we munched our coming, I found every man with tough beef, and wasbed it down his sight up and his rifle pointed in with the champagne left from yesreadiness to fire; and they seemed terday's present, and thought of to think me a queer fellow to tell them at home, and wished that we them what these flags had done to were with them. us, and then to stop them giving it That night, at ten o'clock, I was back again. That day came on one roused by a mysterious man, who of the thunderstorms of the coun- confided in a whisper that some of try, bad enough in peace time; the townspeople had subscribed to now, with the Boer scouts riding buy some dynamite; that it could about outside, and all the buzz of be got at a store forty miles off; and