A WET NIGHT.
COMMANDO NEK, Sunday, October 7th, 1900.
As you can see by the above, we are still here, but expect to move to-morrow.
Yesterday was hot and windy, but, beyond one incident, uneventful. Late in the day indigo, watery-looking clouds in the west caused some of us to erect blanket shelters for the coming night, and when the evening having come, a flash of lightning and a distant peal of thunder, followed by a few spatters of rain, heralded what was to come, we wise virgins (pardon the simile) huddled in our booby hutches (unfortunately without lamps) and congratulated ourselves on our astuteness. Soon it came, the lightning flashing, the thunder crashing, the rain pouring, and lastly the wind blowing a perfect tornado. The various jerry-built domiciles stood it well for some time, then the hutch behind us was blown down, and we in ours roared with glee; then another went, and finally the wind, not being able to get at us by a frontal attack, took us on the flank, and up blew one blanket, and the rifles at the ends wavered. Then, with cries of "Close the water-tight compartments," "Man the pumps," "Launch the lifeboat," "Where's the rocket apparatus?" and such-like remarks, as used by those in peril on the sea, we came out and joined in the fun. The horses, seeing us all about, thought it must be reveillé, and started neighing and pawing the ground, expecting their grub. We were soon inside again under jury-rigging, and went off to sleep to the shouts of "Stable guard, here's a horse loose!" "Stable guard, here are three horses walking over us!" and the reply, "All right, I'm coming round in the captain's dinghy," or some such rejoinder. I could not help smiling when one of our fellows, in response to a cry of "Buck up, boys of the bull-dog breed!" remarked, "Hang it, they don't even give us kennels." In the small hours of the morning our hutch collapsed again, and with the blanket on my side supported mainly on my nose, I heedlessly slumbered on. At reveillé the greeting we gave one another was "Oh, what a night!" The Roughs were in a particularly happy frame of mind, though they had slept in the open, for their officers' tent had come down, also their sergeants', and the remarks of the former, "Aw, Frisby, have you got that wope?" "Where's that beastly peg?" "Heah, give me the hammah," "Isn't it awful?" had been most soothing to them. Although I did my best to protect my few remaining envelopes, I have just discovered three of them to be well gummed down. One thing must be said to the credit of the rain, it has laid the dust, and that is no small matter.
Monday, October 8th. Having had no mails, we sallied forth with Mr. Clements in the direction of Krugersdorp, with four days' rations. My last charger being done, I've got another 'oss, and he seems rather a good one, though not up to my weight. Last night it came to my ears that the Border Regiment had got their dry canteen up from Pretoria, and it would be open for an hour or so, and that chocolate, jam, cocoa paste, tobacco and other coveted commodities would be on sale. So I was soon mingling with the crowd of would-be purchasers; several of our fellows also joined the crowd, but when it came to their turn to buy were turned away because they belonged not to the Border Regiment. I, however, had not my hat or tunic on, and as there was nothing about my shirt or general appearance to distinguish me from Mr. Thomas Atkins of the Border Regiment, I succeeded in buying four packets of chocolate and several tins of potted meats and jams; then, handing my purchases over to a friend, I again took up my position at the end of the queue and bought some more stuff. The prices were what is commonly known as popular prices, being extraordinarily low for this benighted land. As our four days' rations simply consist of four of the least popular brand of biscuits imaginable per diem and horrible stewed trek ox, these little purchases are coming in very handy. We camped early in the afternoon on the high veldt. The night was bitterly cold.
THE GREAT EGG TRICK.
Wednesday, October 10th.
"When scouting and you must not tarry, Of things you can borrow or beg, The best, but the worst you can carry, Is the excellent, succulent egg." Extract from contemplated "Loot Lyrics."
To-day we have returned to Commando Nek, at least within a mile or so of it. (A cart has just come in from Rietfontein, and they say there are four bags of mails for the Composites, so we poor Sussex de'ils ought to have a look in.) We were advance party to-day, and a friend and I had the good luck to get a fine lot of eggs, of which I have not had any for a long time. As you may imagine, eggs are not very easily carried by the uninitiated, especially when he happens to be a horseman. The first time I managed to get some I got a couple from a farm down the next valley, and was debating how I should carry them, when the officer of our troop, who was just ahead, turned round and sternly told me to mount and get forward, and as he stopped for me to do so, I was rather awkwardly situated, my rifle being in one hand and the two eggs in the other. However, I seized the reins somehow or other, and did the great egg trick successfully. Missing other feats in which I have never once broken or cracked even one, to-day I eclipsed all previous accomplishments, inasmuch as I carried in the only two tunic pockets I have without holes, THREE DOZEN EGGS loose, and despite having to dismount and mount twice, brought them into camp without breaking or cracking one. Once or twice, when we had to do a trot, our sergeant-major asked why I was riding so curiously, and I told him I was feeling rather queer, but thought it would wear off when I reached camp--it did. A friend and I got these eggs in rather an amusing manner. We spotted a Kaffir village and riding to it, enquired at every kraal for eggs, "Eggs for the general--for Lord Roberts!" but, alas, they had none, "I'kona," signifying the negative. One enterprising youth, however, called to me as I was riding off and brought me four, for which I paid him sixpence. Then once again as we were going away, he called to us--evidently the pay, pay, pay of the absent-minded foreign devil has touched his savage heart--for lo and behold his neighbours had some for sale, and came forward with a dozen in a tin, then their neighbours came to the front with about a score, and yet another lot appeared with more--in all, we got fifty eggs, of which I pocketed three dozen, and carried the remainder in a handkerchief and surrendered them to our major, saying I had got them for him (he was in want of some), and thus appeased him. Had I carried them all in my mouchoir I might have lost the lot, but we simple Yeomen "know a thing or three," as the ancient ballad goes.
We have just drawn rations for fourteen days and been joined by some more M.I., so it looks as if
"Troops may come and troops may go, But we go on for ever."
"Go hon!" seems to be our call and counter cry.
COMMANDO NEK, Friday, October 12th, 1900. Excerpt from proposed Christmas Panto. Place--The Transvaal. Period--Victorian.
First Officer: "I heah the men are gwousing about their gwub."
Second Officer: "Er--I think they get their wations wegularly."
Third Officer: "Oh, dem! They're alwight. Anyhow, what do they want with gwub? A little more turkey and peas, and--er pass the whisky, Fwed."
Quartermaster-Sergeant (to kindred spirit): "Look 'ere; twelve tins of bacon, sixteen of jam, biscuits, and a jar of rum. Lemme see; there's twelve of us, and twenty of them. 'Umph, that's eight tins of bacon and eleven of jam for us, and four of bacon and five of jam for them. Let 'em 'ave four biscuits a man; save the best for us--don't forget--"
Kindred Spirit: "And the rum?"
Quartermaster-Sergeant: "Confound it; I nearly forgot that. Oh--er--er--take 'em a cupful, and--er--say we're on half rations."
Chorus from minor waggonites from round cook-house fire.
"We don't want to fight,
And, by Jingo, if—we—do,
We've got the rum, we've got the tea,
And we've got the sugar, too."
The Yeomen's Lines. Men just in from patrol.
Man with bullet hole in hat: "Is tea up?"
Enter orderly corporal with rations: "I say, you fellows, it's 'damall' again to day."
Of course it is evident to you that the above extracts are from a burlesque written by a man in the ranks. Alas! there is a perpetual feud existent between "the brave, silent men at the back," and ditto those at the front, consequently any joke at the expense of the "waggon crowd" is always appreciated beyond its value. Sergeant-Major Hunt, who had been acting as quartermaster-sergeant for several weeks, did us remarkably well; but, alas, he has been invalided into Pretoria, and another has reigned in his stead, who has done evil in (or rather out of) our sight; being either incompetent or too clever. By the foregoing, you can see that I have not got much news to record. We expect some of the time-expired Police to join us on Sunday or Monday, and so, I fancy, we shall not move till they come up.
OUR FRIEND "NOBBY."
We often get some of the Border men in our lines, and, like all of the Regulars, they are most entertaining, though their statements usually require a few grains of salt before swallowing. One of these bold Border men, known to us as "Nobby," is awfully disgusted at my bad habit of letter writing. As a rule I am scribbling when he strolls up, and get greeted with the jeering remark, "At it again." Some days back, after reflectively expectorating, he delivered himself thus on letter writing: "I don't often write. When I do, I sez 'I'm all right; 'ow's yerself?' A soldier's got too much to do to write blooming letters." Then he retailed terrible stories of Spion Kop, Pieter's Hill, and other affairs. Amongst his loot stories I know the following to be a fact; its hero has since been court-martialled. One of the men in Clements' Force, being en route, visited a house, and, producing his emergency rations (these are contained in a curious little tin case), threatened to blow the house and its occupants to kingdom-come unless they complied with his request for eggs, bread, coffee, etc. They complied, but, unfortunately for the man in question, a nigger belonging to the place followed him into camp, and reported the case. Mr. Thomas Atkins of the Line has curious notions about the distances he marches. Of course, he is a grand marcher, and has done remarkable distances and times in this campaign; still, occasionally he makes one smile, when it is a known fact that the Force has just covered ten miles, by emphatically swearing that his battalion has done twenty. For cheeriness, the fellows I have met would take a lot of beating, and their pride in their own particular regiments is a very pleasing trait, though frequently it leads them to be rough on other by no means unworthy corps.
From the dry canteen of the Border Regiment I was fortunate enough yesterday to procure two dozen boxes of matches, a packet of six candles, a quarter-of-a-pound of Navy Cut, notepaper and envelopes. The latter I got none too soon, as my last gumless envelope I stuck down with jam. Candles are a luxury I have been without for many months, and matches have been worth sixpence a box. I bought them at a penny, and the candles at 1/6 the packet. We have the Yorkshire Light Infantry with us now in place of the Worcesters.
Saturday, October 13th.
The law which sways our generals' ways, Is mystery to me; Though we of course, both foot and horse Fulfil each strange decree.
This morning we had reveillé at five and moved off up the valley at about seven, the Infantry going on the Magaliesberg. This being the case, of course our progress was slow, and the distance covered at the most six miles. We are going to be joined in a few days' time by detachments of our Police, who are coming out from the flesh pots of Pretoria. Two Sussex officers are coming with them and we expect about fifty men. To-day I had to go into a barn and pry about for arms and ammunition on the off chance. I did not find anything in that line, but got covered with fleas, a hundred or so--so I have been well occupied since I have been in camp. We rode through some grand crops of oats, wheat and barley; in one field the wheat was so high as to reach to our horses' ears. Where I got my fleas, or rather they got me, there was a grand garden with orange trees (no fruit), peaches coming on, figs also, and pomegranates in blossom. In a corner of this deserted garden I came across a real, old-fashioned English rose, of the kind usually and irreverently called "cabbage." The occasion seemed to call for an effort, so here it is:
An old-fashioned English rose In the far-off Transvaal land; Smelt by an English nose, And plucked by an English hand.
This evening we had tents served out to us. Last night we had a deal of thunder and lightning, but no rain. It was very close, and most of us slept, or tried to sleep, in our shirt-sleeves. About four days before, on the high veldt, we had frost on our blankets in the morning.
Monday, October 15th. Yesterday we only marched a few miles, and to-day we have done even less. The Infantry marching along the Magaliesberg searching the kloofs, farms at the base, and such-like, rendering progress, of necessity, slow. Behind us, every day now, we leave burning houses and waggons. Colonel Legge, who has taken over Ridley's command, is doing the same a little ahead of us on our left front, and Broadwood likewise on the other side of the Magaliesberg. Since leaving Commando Nek our column has found and destroyed nearly three dozen good waggons and numerous deserted farms. It seems rather rough, but leniency has proved the stumbling block of the campaign, and now we are doing what any other than a British Army would have done months ago. Our camp is near a deserted farm. The house is, of course, now gutted out, but around it are fields of bearded barley, golden wheat and oats, a lovely grove of limes, and rows of ripening figs, peaches and red blossoming pomegranates. This morning I had a fine bathe in a pool near by, and was washing my one and only shirt, when I heard that honey was being got near the lime grove, so jumped into my breeks and boots, and tying my wet shirt round my neck, rushed up to have a look in. A lot of silly, laughing niggers were the principal personæ in the little comedy. There were two or three hives, and after a little smoking I went and helped myself; at the next hive I did pretty well, but at the next, after I had inserted my hand into it and taken several pieces of comb, the bees went for us in style. I had put on my shirt by that time, fortunately for me; as it was, I had them buzzing all round my head, and got fairly well stung; two got into one of my boots and jobbed their tails, which were hot, into my bare ankle, several stung my hands, arms and forehead, and one got me exactly on the tip of my nose. However, I have felt no inconvenience from any of the stings, in spite of being without the blue-bag. Our reinforcements of ex-Police have not turned up yet; we are looking forward to seeing them, because they are sure to bring our mails. My horse has developed a bad off hock, now. Like the poet:
"I never had a decent horse, Which was a treat to ride, But came the usual thing, of course, It sickened or it died."
Tuesday, October 16th. The animal referred to above went a lovely purler with me this morning, turning a somersault and finishing by laying across my right leg. It was some time before I could get help, and then only a man came and sat on the brute's head to keep him down. I was grasping his two hind hoofs, which were within a few inches of my face, and preventing them from "pushing it in." At length, the doctor and his orderly galloped up, and the latter, dismounting, grasped the horse's tail, and pulled him off far enough for me to free my leg. Apart from rather a bad back, I am all serene.
Our friend, "Nobby of the Borders," visited us last night. I don't think that is his real name, and am not anxious to know. To us he is, and always will be, "Nobby." He was tired, having been on the kopjes for the best part of the day, but interesting as ever.
"Art thou weary, art thou langwidge?"
he quoted after a reflective expectoration, which just missed my right foot. "That's a hymn, ain't it?" he queried with the air of a man of knowledge. We replied in the affirmative, and then, curious to hear his religious convictions, asked him about them. "Yes, I believe in religion," said Nobby, "I was confirmed and converted or whatever it is, some time ago. And I tell you, since I've been out 'ere in this war I've felt certain about Gawd. Spion Kop and Pieter's 'Ill made yer think, I can tell yer." And then waxing wrath about certain of his comrades, he inveighed thus: "And yet there's some ---- ---- fellers in the reg'ment 'oo will ---- ---- say there ain't a Gawd. But those ---- ---- ---- beggars are always ---- ---- arguing about every ---- thing." If Mr. Burdett-Coutts wants any corroboration in respect to his exposure of the inner working of certain military hospitals, let him apply to Private "Nobby" of the Borderers. He was an enteric patient at No. 1 Field Hospital, Modderspruit, and the tales he tells of his own uncared-for sufferings, and the even worse ones of comrades, show, alas, that the hospital can, and does often contain, as well as kind, self-sacrificing, skilful doctors, doctors and medical orderlies who are brutal, selfish, and absolutely callous. He speaks well of the nurses, I am glad to say.
"THE ROUGHS" LEAVE US FOR PRETORIA.
NOOITGEDACHT, (A little beyond Hekpoort).
Wednesday, October 17th, 1900. Late last night our friends the Roughs (72nd I.Y.) received the order to return to Pretoria at once. So they left us this morning. And here are we, the Silly Sussex, still sticking to it, like flies on treacled paper. As Nobby says, "Grouse all day and you're happy. That's the way in the Army." He is quite right, and I am sure most of us Yeomen, myself unexcepted, have the true military spirit. For we really ought to be very good and contented in this charming valley, where, "if it were not for the kopjes and the snipers in between," we might lead a perfect Arcadian life. I shall miss our Roughs. Some of them are rare good fellows, and always cheery. To see a Rough come into camp after a good day's scouting on the farmhouse side of the valley, was a sight never to be forgotten. Across his saddle, à la open scissors, would be two large pieces of wood, usually fence posts; oranges dropping from his nosebag; on one side of his saddle a fowl and a duck on the other; a small porker from his haversack; the ends of onions or such like vegetables would be protruding, and his broad-brimmed hat or bashed-in helmet would be garlanded with peach blossoms, resembling a joyous Bacchanalian, and the unshaven, dirty face underneath wreathed in smiles. We have destroyed a lot more waggons and houses, and lifted several hundred of cattle, besides getting some prisoners. How the women must hate us! Their faces are invariably concealed by the large sunbonnets which they wear, year in and year out. These articles of headgear have huge flapping sides, which their wearers apparently always use for wiping their eyes or noses with. This custom or fashion saves them a deal of time and trouble in fumbling for the usual inaccessible pocket. I daresay you have often read that the veldt is burnt by the Boers, to make our khaki visible on the black ground. More often than not a veldt fire is caused by accident, not design, a carelessly-dropped match doing the trick. As regards showing up our khaki, it is bad for dismounted fellows, but for the mounted men preferable to the sun-dried grass, for as nearly all our horses are bays, roans, chestnuts or blacks, they show up terribly on unburnt stuff and are almost invisible on the burnt.
Thursday, October 18th. We are very up-to-date out here, as the following will show you:
'Twas uttered in vast London city By lion comiques without pity, Provincial towns were not belated, But showed they, too, were educated; In many a rustic, quiet retreat, Bucolics, too, would not be beat; At last It crossed the mighty main, Did Britain's latest great inane, And we out here in deep despair, Have been informed that There is 'air.
I am pleased to record that the beauty of this epoch-making remark and the evident subtle charm underlying it, has not yet dawned upon any of the troops with which I have come in contact, and so, apart from being aware of its existence, it has molested me in no degree. Even the Transvaal has its compensations. Look at the moral and intellectual damages one escapes--occasionally. Whiteing managed to get some rather good books at an untenanted house a few days ago. Byron's Complete Works, two Art Journal Christmas numbers (Burne-Jones and Holman Hunt), "Henry Esmond," and others. He gave me Henry George on "Progress and Poverty," and two or three works of a devotional nature. The latter I gave Nobby last night in the dark. Our conversations in the ranks are very diversified. A few days back we were arguing as to which is the better--a treacle pudding or a plain suet pudding with treacle. We were interrupted in the middle by a few snipers potting at us. This morning we stopped in the midst of a most interesting discussion on Aubrey Beardsley as a decorative artist and the influence of Burne-Jones and Japanese art on his earlier work, to kill fowls and loot eggs. Our bag was eight cacklers and six eggs--which have just proved to be, as I feared, addled. Lately we have had a really lazy time of it, the poor Infantry scouring the hills and we leisurely riding a few miles along the plain as advance or rearguard, and then camping by about mid-day.
THE BREAKING UP OF THE COMPOSITE SQUADRON.
Friday, October 19th. Yesterday evening the Devons and Dorsets were rejoined by their ex-policemen, over a hundred in number. They looked very fit, and appeared pleased to get on the column again. The Devons have their popular officer, Captain Bolitho, with them again. The Sussex did not turn up. However, they and the Somersets are expected to-morrow. As regards mails, we were not wholly disappointed. I got one batch of letters, bearing the home postmark of September 14th, also some newspapers. In one of the latter was a very florid four-column account by a famous "War Special," of the doings of Rundle's Starving Eighth. It included a picturesque description of one of those common occurrences, a veldt fire. "And now the flames roll onward with their beautifully-rounded curves sweeping gracefully into the unknown, like the rich, ripe lips of a wanton woman in the pride of her shameless beauty," and so on, at much length. I read Nobby portions of this article, but, alas! the hardy Parnassian mountaineer was too much for him. "Wot's it all about?" he queried, "I can't rumble to the bloke." I explained to a certain extent, for Nobby had been with the force in question. "Well, 'e can sling the bat," observed my Border friend, and we discussed and criticised various officers and the Army in general. The freshly-joined men brought with them nice new iron picketing pegs, which we who had long since lost or broken ours, eyed with covetous optics, and determined to possess later, if possible. Their lines were laid in a mealie field, and pulled-up pegs might well be expected. At midnight a clanking noise near my recumbent form, strongly reminiscent of our ancestral ghost, the dark Sir Jasper, dragging his clanking chain after him at that hour, as is his wont, aroused me. Of course, it was a horse which had pulled up his picketing peg and was searching for fresh fields or fodder new. I quickly grasped the situation and the peg, and now have no trouble when the pleasant words "'Smount. Pile arms. Off saddle. Picket and feed!" greet my ear.
Saturday, October 20th. Yesterday we returned towards Hekpoort, and the order for the day was "The Force will halt." Now this is one of the finest of life's little ironies which the Imperial Yeomen experience out here. "The Force will halt"--every time this cheerful intelligence is conveyed to us, we know we are in for something extra in the way of "moving on." To-day's "halt" has been a ten-mile halt, we having been ordered to proceed down the valley and guard a small bridle path across the Magaliesberg Range; Steyn, De Wet, or Delarey, being expected to try and get through at this particular point. The last time the Force halted, our halt was a 20 or 30 mile one to Bethanie. The time before a big patrol; and another halt consisted of a ride out several miles to open sundry graves which were suspected of being Mauser-leums, but were not.
LIFE ON A KOPJE.
BLOK KLOOF, (About half-way between Hekpoort and Commando Nek). Sunday, October 21st, 1900.
Can it be the Sabbath? Last night I was in charge of one of the pickets on top of the already referred to kopje. The ascent of that kopje, oh dear! This morning I was sent on to another kopje directly in front of the one we had occupied during the night, to find out if an infantry picket was holding it. The going was too awful. As usual, the distance was greater than it looked, and only having had half-a-messtinful of coffee and a biscuit for breakfast on the preceding day, and a mouthful of half-boiled trek ox, which had to be gulped down before ascending the iniquitous hill in the evening, minus tea and water, I did not half appreciate the lovely sunrise and view which were to be seen gratis from the various summits. It was a long time before I got back to our little encampment (I slipped down on the rocks several times from sheer exhaustion), and found to my delight that coffee had been kept for me. I wolfed it all, the grounds not excepted, and, bar stiffness and, paradoxical to remark, a general feeling of slackness, was soon myself again. Our Sussex ex-Police, about fifty in number, are at another nek about a mile off, under Messrs. McLean and Wynne. Of course, they have not brought our mails; they managed to call for them when the office was closed. I was sorry to hear that a friend in the Devons (Trooper Middleton), who went into hospital the last time we were at Pretoria, has since died of enteric.
Monday, October 22nd. It really seems absurd giving days names out here! To-day, we Sussex men, who number about half-a-dozen, are being exempted from duty, as we expect to join our fellows who are at the other little pass. Once the various companies are re-formed, we shall be under a sort of new old régime. We are wondering anxiously what our fresh cooks will be like. The ones we have at present are not bad fellows; indeed, I call them Sid and 'Arry, which means an extra half-pannikin of tea or coffee. Yesterday afternoon we had a gorgeous thunderstorm, the lightning being incessant. I laid under some trees with a blanket and overcoat covering me, smoking, and with one hand slightly protruding, holding a Tit-Bits paper, which I read till it became too pulpy. A couple of our Sussex fellows have just ridden in; their lot strike camp and return as far as Rietfontein this evening, and so this letter goes with them.
Tuesday, October 23rd. Still at the same place. Yesterday, at about the identical hour as on the preceding day, a big thunderstorm came on us, but the comparison was as that of a curtain-raiser to a five-act drama, for yesterday's storm lasted well into the night, and drenched most of us thoroughly. When a few days ago we were ordered here, we were told to take only one blanket, and I, like most other fellows, stupidly obeyed and took a thin one, through which the rain comes as through a sieve. We were under the impression that our kit waggon would be sent after us, but oh dear no, that is eight miles back in Mr. Clements' camp. For kopje work Thomas A. gets extra rations and a daily rum allowance; we have been drawing less rations, and as for rum, ne'er a sniff o't. My overcoat is simply invaluable, and keeps me drier than some of the fellows. When you get wet out here, there is no one to come and worry you to be sure and change all your clothes, especially your socks. It would not do if there were, because, like the London cabbies, we never have any change!
* * * * *
Now the sun is shining, and our blankets and various raiment are drying, but it's 10 to 1 that about four we shall have a repetition of yesterday. Our present home is a veritable insect kingdom. Over, under and around us and our meagre belongings, crawl ants small, medium and big; bugs and beetles of all sects and denominations; all sorts and conditions of flies from the small pest to the tsezee view us with interest; as do also caterpillars and other centipedian and millipedian crawlers; wood lice and the domestic shirt ones, which, like the poor, we have always with us; spiders of all sizes, including tarantulas; and, in addition, lizards and rats, while on the kopje, baboons walk about chattering all sorts of unintelligible witticisms about us.
Wednesday, October 24th. As predicted, we got our thunderstorm all right yesterday evening. For about half-an-hour the lightning never seemed to cease flickering about and jagging through the clouds, but the rain was not so bad. This morning the Fifes are sending into Rietfontein for mails. I hope we shall get some. I am handing this in for the post. As we only came here for twenty-four hours, we are not well off for literature or writing paper, though I brought some of the latter in my haversack: hence these lines. We shall soon have been here a week. The last time we went out for three days we remained out six weeks. I am a wonderful scavenger now. You should see me pitch like a hawk upon a dirty and torn ancient paper or book. As a result of a morning's work in that line, I am luxuriously reclining on my overcoat and reading a Spectator, after which I shall regale myself on the lighter and less solid contents of Tit-Bits; later, I shall go round and swap them for other papers or magazines. A lot of us are dreadfully afraid of doing strange things when we get back to civilised life, such as asking for the "---- ---- salt" at dinner, diving our hands or knives into the dishes immediately on their appearance and securing the best pieces after the manner of the Israelite priests with the hooks in the flesh-pots, commandeering fruit, fowls, eggs, or vegetables from our neighbours' gardens, wiping our knives and hands on our breeches or putties after a course, or a hundred other habits which have become so natural to us now. My greatest fear is that in a moment of absent-mindedness I shall, if tired, throw myself down on some cab rank where the horses are standing still and with my head pillowed on my arm and a foot twisted in a rein take a forty winks, so accustomed have I become to the close proximity of 'osses, waking and sleeping.
Thursday, October 25th. This time two months hence it will be Christmas, and it looks as if, after all, I shall be spending it out here "far from home," cheerfully grumbling like a true British soldier, while the waggon crowd and sergeants' mess are enjoying most of our share of the Christmas tucker and other luxuries which are sure to be sent out. And you away in dear old Merrie England in be-hollyed and be-mistletoe'd homes enjoying your turkeys, puddings, and all that goes to make Christmas the festive season of goodwill, when families and friends re-unite for a short while, and eat, drink, and gossip generally, will, I am sure, amidst the festival, pause now and again to think of the wanderers on the veldt, and more than likely toast them in champagne, port, sherry, elder, or orange wine. That is if we are not home. If we are, we shall show ourselves thoroughly capable of doing the above ourselves; and as for gossip, heaven help ye, gentles! I suppose the Christmas numbers are out already, with the usual richly-coloured supplements of the cheerful order, such as a blood-stained khaki wreck saying good-bye to his pard, or the troop Christmas pudding (I s'pose I ought to say duff) dropped on the ground. But a truce to all such thoughts, perhaps we shall get home after all, and again p'r'aps not.
Eleven thirty a.m. Have just had an awful shock to my nervous system. A sergeant has been up and served us out with the first Yeomanry comforts we have ever seen, much less had. Each of us has received a 1/4-lb. tin of Sextant Navy Cut tobacco. For the present, I cannot write more, I am too overcome.
I feel more composed now. We have just been told that two cases of "comforts" were sent out to us, but have been rifled of their best contents; so farewell to condensed milk, sardines, jam, etc.
Last night I was on the kopje again. Paget or somebody else being reported as driving the Boers towards this range of hills (Magaliesberg) we were told to be specially vigilant. The night was as dark as Erebus, and my turn to post the relief came on at eleven, the post being about forty yards away from where we were sleeping, and the intervening ground a perfect rockery, the task of getting there was no particular fun. As I relieved the post every hour-and-a-half, I had four or five stumbling, ankle-twisting, shin-barking journeys. At about two we had the usual storm, and the accompanying lightning was most useful in illuminating me on my weary way. The descent of the kopje this morning was, I think, more fagging than the previous evening's ascent, though quicker as you can imagine. Then came the cause of my wrath. The Fifes, who went after mails, had returned, and there were none for us--of course. However,
"Hope springs eternal in the Yeoman's breast."
Some more fellows have gone into Rietfontein to-day, and there is just the chance.
An hour ago I had a most necessary shave and wash. All the pieces of looking-glass in the possession of the squadron having long since been lost or reduced to the smallest of atoms, this operation has to be performed without a mirror, though now and again Narcissus-like, I catch a glimpse of my features in the soapy, dirty water.
Friday, October 26th. It rained all last night, and has hardly left off yet. I have not a dry rag to my name. Even my martial cloak is sopping, though the lining is what, considering all things, I might call dry. So sitting on my upturned saddle beneath a weeping (not willow) tree, on the branches of which my wet blanket is spread above my head, I am going to amuse myself by writing letters. We have a few tents here, but as it is fifteen to a tent, and asphyxiation is not a death we devoted band of five Sussex men have an inclination for, we are continuing our out-door life. Consequently, we are now sitting on our saturated haunches awaiting sunshine above, smoking our pipes, and wondering when the war will come to a genuine end. What a number of officers have gone home sick--of it! Our friends the Fifes are awfully good fellows, and the best managed Yeomanry Squadron I have seen out here. Yesterday evening we were guests at a little sing-song round their fire, and partakers of their hospitality in the way of hot cocoa. Alas, the rain speedily brought what promised to be an enjoyable evening to an end, and it was every man to his own tent, booby hutch, or cloak and blanket. I was actually the recipient of two letters and a parcel yesterday evening, thanks undoubtedly to a mistake somewhere or other. The making of a correct declaration of the contents of a parcel and their approximate value, as required by the postal authorities, and the sticking of the same on the parcel which is to gladden the heart of the man in khaki far away, is, I fear, a dangerous thing to do. Take, for example, a package, the contents of which are veraciously announced on the affixed slip as "Tobacco, cigarettes, chocolate, pipe, and shirt; value £1 10s."--your friend's chances of getting it are about 50 to 1 against; but the same parcel with the brief announcement "Shirt and socks; value 5s." would probably reach him some day. A Fife friend tells me he now and again gets a large medicine bottle of--well, what would it be for a Scotchman? well-corked and marked "Developing Solution."
Saturday, October 27th. Still at the above address. Nothing of note to record. Flies an awful nuisance on us and everything. Fellows would not believe that the jam ration has been so reduced in bulk by flies. Some people won't believe anything--fortunately I had my share first, and perhaps I did take a leetle too much. No news of possibility of getting home by Christmas or the New Year. I feel vicious, and somebody must suffer, so here goes.
N.B.--I hold the late Alfred Lord Tennyson partly responsible.