THE CAREER OF AN UNTRUTH.
Clements is not dead, and Delarey and his friends are not captured.
I am telling you the latest rumours and anti-rumours, as this letter progresses.
And yet the man I had the first version from had had it from an R.A.M.C. Sergeant, who had it on the most reliable authority of the commandant's orderly, who had heard the commandant tell it to the P.M.O. He had also been corroborated by a man who had seen the man who took it down from the heliograph. Also one of the hospital runners had heard Dr. ---- tell Dr. ----, and a friend of his had a friend who knew a man on the officers' mess, who had seen it up in orders, distinctly.
A Tommy came in just now and said "Hullo, Corporal!" I shook his flipper weakly and tried the dodge of pretending to recognise him. But I had to give it up, and admit I could not for the moment recognise him, and thought he had made a mistake. To which he replied he had not, and didn't I remember the soap. I did.
About two months or more ago, having halted at mid-day at some fontein or other en route for Rustenburg, Whiteing and I went down to the nearest stream to have the usual wash. There we found heaps of fellows washing; but, alas! there was a great dearth of soap. A Northumberland man asked me if I could sell him some, and I gave him a small chunk. The demand was great, and there was practically no supply. When we got back to our lines, Whiteing, ever forgetful, discovered he had left his precious brown Windsor behind. It was too late to go back to try and find it, so he gave up all hopes of ever seeing it again. The next day, as we were riding through the infantry advance guard of the Border Regiment, one of the fellows shouted to me, asking if I had lost any soap the day before. I replied "No," and then recollected Whiteing's loss added that a friend of mine had. My infantry friend thereupon promised to bring it round in the evening, which he did. In this manner we became acquainted with him. I mention this incident just to show what a really good sportsman the true Thomas is. Here was soap in great request: we were strangers to him, having merely chatted with him and the others as we washed in the mud and water, and yet, without our even making enquiries for the precious lump, he went out of his way to return it.
I asked him why he had come into the hospital, and he told me he and several others had been sent in as unfit for the veldt, and so were to act as hospital orderlies. When I inquired how he liked the idea, he said it was all right, as he was clear of the horrible "hundred-and-fifty," and he laid his hands significantly where the pouches are wont to decorate the waist of the poor infantryman.
[Note.--I suppose you know the infantryman's cross is the hated 150 rounds in the two pouches, which after many miles marching become most irksome, especially for the muscles of the stomach.]
I, of course, inquired after Nobby, but he could not tell me anything about him, as Nobby is in "H" Company and his was "B."
To-day (the 16th) a large number of fellows are leaving here for the base and, the rumour is--home.
[Illustration: Got his ticket.
"See that fellow?" "Yes." "He's 'marked for home.'" "Lucky Beggar!"]
The P.M.O. asked a Yeomanry friend yesterday if he would like to go home or join his squadron, and the Yeoman's reply was he would like to rejoin his squadron--at home. In explanation, he smilingly stated that all of his squadron's officers, bar one, had gone home, and nearly all the squadron, having been invalided or discharged. Well, I think this is long enough for a letter written by a man who can hardly claim to be "on active service" just at present.
THE SISTERS' ALBUMS.
Sunday, January 26th, 1901.
Still at the above address, but going strong, and almost losing the Spartan habits engendered by my recent life on the veldt!
News is very scarce with us, and to dare to write you a long letter would be the height of impudence, so I will let you off with a moderately short one this week.
Last week an original burlesque (perhaps I ought to politely designate it a musical comedy) was produced in a large marquee here, which is called "the theatre." I don't know what the name of the piece was but it dealt with a Hospital Commission, and the dramatis personæ consisted of a Boer spy, posing as the Commissioner, the real Commissioner, as a new nurse, nurses, orderlies, Kaffirs and doctors, amongst the latter being a Scotch Doctor, who drank a deal of "whuskey" and whose diagnoses were most entertaining. It was quite pathetic to watch the keen interest with which the audience followed the diversions of "Dr. Sandy" with the bottle.
I have been concerned in "doing something" in our day nurse's album lately (I think I have already alluded to the presence of the album evil out here). I have willingly volunteered to contribute to these volumes, hoping to see their contents, but, alas, in most cases I have had to start the tome; however, in the present case the album has been well started by various patients. Most of the efforts are strikingly original and all in verse, so I determined to do something for the honour of the county of my birth, and, securing a pen and ink, perpetrated some Michael Angelic-like sketches of "the-ministering-angel-thou," order. Then, hearing that a poem (scratch a Tommy and you'll find a poet) was expected, valiantly started off with something like this:
"She wore a cape of scarlet, The eve when first we met; A gown of grey was on her form (I wore some flannelette!): She was a sister to us all, And yet no relation; She stuck upon my dexter leg, A hot fomentation."
But appearing suggestive of something else, I crossed it out and finally produced the following ambitious ode:--
THE GREAT PANACEA.
Poets from time of yore have sung In every clime and every tongue, Of beauty and the pow'r of love, Of things on earth and things above.
Sonnets to ladyes' eyes indited, And for such stuff been killed or knighted. They've raved on this and raved on that, The dog or the domestic cat.
On blessëd peace and glorious war, On deeds of daring dashed with gore, And scores of other wondrous deeds, Which History or Tradition heeds.
But I would humbly sing to praise Something unhonoured in those lays-- The cure for broken legs and arms, For suff'rers of rheumatic qualms.
For wounds by bullet or the knife, Obtained in peace or deadly strife; For broken heads or sprainëd toes, And myriad other sorts of woes, For that incurable disease "Fed up" or "tired of C.I.V.'s."
For pom-pom fever, Mauseritis, The toothache or the loafertitis. For broken heart or broken nose, For every sickness science knows.
All these and ev'ry other ill, Are cured by that well-known Pill; 'Tis made on earth with pow'rs divine, I sing in praise of Number Nine.
To expatiate further upon the famous "No. 9 Pill" would be absurd, as it is as great an institution of the British Army out here as the 4.7 or pom-pom.
[Illustration: Thoughtless Sister (persuasively): "Now I want you to do something very nice in my Album."]
We are still suffering (worse than ever) from a paucity of news and a superabundance of rumours; indeed the supply of the latter far exceeds the demand, and budding fictionists eclipse themselves daily. Had the Psalmist lived in these days, I feel sure he would hardly have contented himself with the gentle statement that "all men are liars," but have indulged in language far more emphatic. Still as far as we are concerned, the Boers can beat the most brilliant efforts of our own fellows any day.
We have a lot of Regulars in this hospital, and it is amusing at times, and at others rather irritating, to hear some of their criticisms of the Yeomanry. I recently heard some of them (good fellows) chaffing merrily over certain Yeomanry (a very small number), who were concerned in an unfortunate affair some time ago, totally ignoring the fact that a large number of Regular Infantry and Mounted Infantry were also equally involved. Again the Cavalry may make a mistake, and they have made a few, but we don't hear much about their incapacity, but let the Yeomanry commit a similar error, and we hear about it, I can tell you. I venture these few remarks in common fairness to the Yeomanry, my temperature being quite normal, as I fancy they have often been used as a butt where others would have done as well.
The explanation, it appears, is this. A corps of new Yeomanry is being formed, who are to receive five shillings a day; we also, of the original Yeomanry, are to receive the same at the expiration of a year's service, having up till then been paid the regular cavalry pay, for which we enlisted. Naturally, Thomas A. feels exceedingly wroth at "blooming ammychewers" receiving such remuneration, and to use his own metaphor, "chews the fat" accordingly. His position and feelings remind me very strongly of the poor soldier in "The Tin Gee-Gee!"
Then that little tin soldier he sobbed and sighed, So I patted his little tin head, "What vexes your little tin soul?" said I, And this is what he said: "I've been on this stall a very long time, And I'm marked '1/3' as you see, While just above my head he's marked '5 bob,' Is a bloke in the Yeoman-ree. Now he hasn't any service and he hasn't got no drill, And I'm better far than he, Then why mark us at fifteen pence, And five bob the Yeoman-ree?" etc. etc. etc.
I am very sorry for poor friend Thomas.
On Wednesday (the 23rd) we heard the sad news that our Queen was dead. It came as quite a blow to us, and even now seems hardly credible; we had only heard the previous day of her serious condition. All through the Hospital everyone seems to be experiencing a personal bereavement. I overheard a Tommy remark, in a subdued tone full of respect, when he was told the news, "Well she done her jewty." And I am sure it summed up his and our feelings very accurately. A man has also told me of the death of Captain McLean, at Krugersdorp, which is very sad; he always looked so fit. Mr. Cory is now captain of our squadron and the only Sussex Yeomanry officer in South Africa.
"LONG LIVE THE KING!"
January 30th, 1901.
You will soon begin to think that I am a permanent boarder at this place; indeed, I almost feel so myself now; though as a matter of fact I am expecting to be marked out any hour--the sooner the better, for the enforced inactivity is by no means free from monotony, not to mention headaches, toothaches, and sleepless nights, from which one seldom suffers on the veldt. I have found out a dodge for obtaining a better night's sleep than is one's usual lot, and that is a good pitched pillow fight before turning in. Of course, it is advisable not to be caught by the night sister.
Last night we had a terrific storm, and had to stand by the poles and tent walls for a long time. The wind, hail and rain were tremendous, and in spite of our tents all being on sloping ground, with trenches a foot deep around them, we got a bit of moisture in as it was.
On Monday, His Majesty King Edward VII., was proclaimed in Pretoria, a salute of guns fired from the Artillery barracks, and all flags temporarily mast-headed, and back to you good folks at home we sent echoing our loyal sentiment, "God save the King."
On Saturday, Whiteing waltzed gaily up and paid me a visit, having got leave into Pretoria from Rietfontein, where he had been left with other men, all minus noble quadrupeds, and on Sunday another old comrade, the Great Boleno, darkened the door of our tent and brightened me with the light of his presence. He had been one of Clements' orderlies for the last two months, and had accompanied the general into Pretoria, and succeeded in securing a good civil berth in the town.
[Illustration: "God save the King!" January 1901.]
From these I learnt the fortunes of the battalion up to date. Briefly, after I left them they were some time at Rietfontein; then at Buffalspoort, where they did delightful guards, pickets, and early morning standing to horses; after which those possessed of horses went on to Rustenburg, I believe, where they now are, the horseless ones going back into Rietfontein.
So now the Seventh Battalion of Imperial Yeomanry, like many others, is spread well over the face of the land. Some of the fellows are home; some on their way thither; some in this hospital, some in others; some are in the police; some in civil employment; some with sick horses at Rietfontein; some in a detail camp at Elandsfontein (near Johannesburg); some with the battalion, at Rustenburg; and some, alas, are not.
[Footnote 8: The subsequent adventures of the battalion under General Cunningham and later Dixon and Benson I am, of course, unable to record.]
Whiteing gave me a vivid description of his journey into Pretoria on one of the steam-sappers running between that town and Rietfontein; they are known as the Pretoria-Rietfontein expresses. As he put it, they stop for nothing, over rocks, through spruits and dongas, squelch over one of French's milestones here and there, the ponderous iron horse snorted on its wild career till its destination was reached.
THE IRISH FUSILIER'S AMBITION.
Though I am well off for literature of all sorts (my locker is a scandal), I don't seem to be able to settle down to anything like a quiet, enjoyable read at all. Tommy Atkins never seems to realise that one cannot carry on a conversation and read a book simultaneously, or write a letter.
"Oh for a booke and a shadie nooke, Eyther indoore or out; With the grene leaves whysperynge overheade, Or the streete cryes all about. Where I maie reade all at mine ease, Both of the newe and olde; For a jollie goode booke whereon to looke, Is better to me than golde."
Thus the olde songe. And the kopjes are gazing stonily at me through the tent door; a man two beds off is squirming and ejaculating under the massage treatment of a powerful khaki masseur; doctors, sisters, orderlies, and runners come and go; a triangular duel between three patients on the usual subject--the superior merits of their respective regiments--is in full swing; and the realisation of the foregoing rhyme seems afar off.
I, however, am not the only man with yearnings for a different state of affairs. Private Patrick McLaughlan, of the Inniskilling Fusiliers, occupying the bed on my right, has his. He often tells us his ideal of happiness, a "pub" corner with half-a-dozen pint pots containing ambrosial "four 'arf" before him, and a well-seasoned old clay three inches long filled with black Irish twist.
The other day I ventured to Omarise his ideal of the earthly paradise thus:
A pipe of blackish hue for smoking fit, Some good ould Irish twist to put in it; Six pints of beer in a hostel snug, And there, a king in Paradise, I'd sit.
His only comment was a vast expectoration.
By-the-way, my friend, Patrick, relates a good loot tale which befell his regiment in the Free State. They camped one day within easy distance of a store, kept by the usual gentleman of Hebrew extraction. Pat and his comrades made a rush for the place and collared all of the condensed milk, for which the merchant charged (or attempted to) a shilling per tin. About five men, early arrivals, paid; then in the scramble which ensued the rest omitted to do likewise. On returning to camp and opening the tins the milk appeared peculiar, and the regimental Æsculapius hearing of it, inspected the tins, pronounced them bad, and told the men to take them back to the store and get their money refunded, which they did. Of course, the gentle Hebrew protested vehemently, but Tommy, with the medical officer's word behind him, soon persuaded him to do what he was told. Patrick was six shillings to the good over this transaction. And I daresay the wily Israelite regretted having had such a large stock of milk, though presumably he had hoped to rob the Philistines, not, as the case proved, to be doubly done by them.
"WAR WITHOUT END."
He came up to me and handed me a photograph. I took it, and beheld a being clad in a new khaki uniform and obviously conscious of the fact. An empty bandolier crossed his extended chest diagonally. His slouch hat was well tilted to the right, with the chin strap arranged just under the lower lip. The putties were immaculately entwined around his legs--in short the tout ensemble was decidedly smart and soldier-like. His right hand rested lightly on a Sheraton table; in the immediate background was a portion of a low ornamental garden wall, in the distance was a ruin principally composed of Ionic columns in various positions--presumably the devastating work of the warrior in the foreground, "Look on that," he said bitterly, and as I returned it, "and on this, the backbone of the British Army," smiting his manly breast. I looked, and in the bronzed, unshaven face and raggedly-apparelled figure before me, recognised a certain semblance to him of the photograph. I smiled sympathetically. "As it was," quoth he, "now and ever shall be, war without end." I turned to go, but was not fated to escape so easily. He held me with his bloodshot eyes, and perforce I stayed. With upraised voice he declaimed thus:
THE PSALM OF STRIFE.
(Being what the Yeoman said to the Psalmist.)
Tell me not in ceaseless rumours That we soon are going home, Just to cure our bitter humours, While upon the veldt we roam.
War is real, and war is earnest, And Pretoria warn't the goal, Out thou cam'st, but when returnest Is not known to any soul.
Forward, fighting, smoking, chewing, With a heart for any fate, Still achieving, still pursuing, And arriving--just too late.
INVITATIONS--AND A CONCERT.
Wednesday, February 6th, 1901.
Another week has rolled away; a week's march nearer home anyway, and like the great MacMahon, I am here and here I sticks. The most thrilling event of the past seven days has been the sudden and unexpected reception of mails, after having abandoned all hope, and a parcel which arrived in Pretoria for me during the first week in September.
I was interested to read in an enclosed note that my aunt hoped I should be home to spend Christmas with her. By-the-bye, people have been awfully good in sending me invitations to weddings, funerals, and christenings. In August last I was the recipient of a dainty invitation to the wedding of a friend. The sad event was to take place in June. I didn't go. The latest was a cream-laid affair, from another quarter, on which I was requested in letters of gold to honour certain near and dear relatives with my presence at the christening of their firstborn. As the affair was to take place in December, and I received the pressing invitation at the end of January--I was again unable to be present at another interesting ceremony. I have also received several invitations to Terpsichorean revels. My R.S.V.P. has been curtly to the effect that "Mr. P.T.R. is not dancing this season."
As regards deaths and funerals, I have seen and attended more than enough of them out here. At this present moment a friend, a New Zealander, is in parlous plight. He was shot in the right shoulder, the wound soon healed, but the arm was almost useless, so the massage fiend here used to come and give him terrible gip. Then doctor No. 3 came along, said he had been treated wrongly, that the artery was severed, etc., and operated on him. The operation itself was successful, but as regards other matters, it is touch and go with him, his arm is black up to a little above the elbow, in places it is ebony, and, I understand, amputation, if the worse comes to the worst, is almost out of the question. So, with others, I go in to keep him cheered up, and chaff him over the champagne and other luxuries he is on, suggesting what a lovely black eye his ebony right mawler might give a fellow, and feeling all the time a strong inclination to do a sob. He is such a rattling fine fellow, indeed, all the Colonials I have met are.
[Footnote 9: Since my return I have heard from "Scotty," as we used to call him. He wrote from his home in New Zealand, his right arm had been successfully amputated, and he was getting accustomed to its loss.]
Last night we had an open-air concert; the best part of it, as is often the case at such affairs, appeared to be the refreshments which were provided for the officers and artists. The talent was really not of a high order, being supplied from Pretoria.
The chairman, who introduced the performers and announced the items, affording us most entertainment, usually, unconsciously, he being a long-winded individual, and invariably commencing his remarks with "Er-hem! Ladies and gentleman, a great Greek philosopher once said"--or "There is an old proverb." He essayed to give us "The dear Homeland," but being interrupted in one of his most ambitious vocal flights by a giddy young officer (and a gentleman) throwing a bundle of music and a bunch of vegetables at him, hastily finished his song, and in a dignified voice requested us to conclude the proceedings by singing "God Save the Quing." This was the first time I had sung the National Anthem, since the death of our Queen, and I felt, as no doubt everybody has experienced, a most peculiar feeling on singing the words, "God Save the King."
Then to bed, but not to sleep, for that is a difficult matter here--so I laid and chatted with a trooper of Roberts' Horse, the latest occupant of the next bed to me. He is, or rather was, a schoolmaster, wears spectacles and is grey-headed; what induced him to join in this little game heaven, and he, only know. In the midst of a discussion on the Afrikander Bond and the South African League, the night sister came in and imperiously bade us be silent and go to sleep. So the grey-headed schoolmaster and my humble self, like guilty children, became silent, and serenaded by the ubiquitous mosquito wooed sweet Morpheus.
Thursday, February 7th. Last night it rained steadily nearly all night; and it has just recommenced. It is quite an agreeable change to see a leaden sky and hear the rain softly pattering on the tent roof, after many days of sweltering, dazzling heat, when one is in a comfortable tent. But it makes me think of and wish for a comfortable room at home, a good book, pipe, and an easy chair, the prospect outside beautifully dreary and rainy, a fire in front of me and my slippered feet on the library mantelpiece.
A rather amusing incident occurred just now. One of the Devon Yeomanry who went up to the tent which is our post-office, on the off-chance of getting a letter, to his great astonishment got one. He came back eyeing the address suspiciously, and remarking, "It's tracts, I'm thinkin." His conjecture turned out correct. It appears that a certain thoughtful and religious society at home looks down the lists of the wounded and, now and again, sends some of the worst cases tracts. The title of one of the pamphlets was, "I've got my ticket," which amused us immensely, for to get one's ticket means to be booked for home. Another title was "The finger of God"--this to a man who has had an explosive bullet through his forearm seems rather rough.
I fear my letters are becoming dreadfully reminiscent and anecdotal, but adventures and wanderings are not for the man who loafs in hospital.
Wednesday, February 13th. I am all kiff (military for "right"). This morning we had a mild joke with a new night orderly. As you may be aware, it is this gentleman's duty to wash all the bad bed patients. When he came in soon after reveillé and asked if there were any bed patients to be washed, we all feebly replied, "Yes, all of us," and he had ablutionised three before he discovered the deception, when he anathematised us all.
News is more rigorously suppressed than ever, and undoubtedly it is the right thing to do. Everybody is of this opinion, for the friendly Dutch in Pretoria and elsewhere used to know far too much.
OUR ORDERLY'S BLIGHTED HEART.
Friday. Yesterday was unfortunately the day of Valentine the Saint. I say "unfortunately" for this reason: I was just about to continue this letter, when our day orderly came in, and taking advantage of my sympathetic and credulous nature, after boldly reminding me that it was St. Valentine's Day, told me that he had only loved once and never would again.
In this respect he differs considerably from the majority of orderlies. He then comfortably arranged himself on a vacant bed, and unsolicited, with a smiling face, told me the romantic story of his blighted affection. As it may interest you, I will give you a condensed version of the same. Would to Heaven he had so dealt with me. But I was born to suffer, and was I not in hospital? As a coster lad he went with a young woman who loved him. He also loved her. Her name was Olivia. She went upon the "styge," and loved him still. Then an old nobleman (Sir ----) fell in love with her, followed her persistently, and wooed her through her parents. He was rich but honest, and it was a case of December and April, for she was all showers--of tears. At last, against her heart's dictates, she married him and became an old man's pet--nuisance, I should imagine, and my orderly friend became a soldier. Alas for the trio, she could not forget her old, I mean young, love, and eventually blew her brains out in Paris. They spattered the ceiling and ruined the carpet--I forgot the rest, (there was a lovely account of it in the People), for over-taxed nature could stand no more, and I fell asleep dreaming of reporters wading ankle-deep in blood in a Louis Quatorze drawing-room, taking notes of a terrible tragedy in high life, and was horrified to hear a loud report, followed by a gurgling sound, and, opening my eyes, beheld--Mr. Orderly holding one of my bottles of stout upside down to his lips, and in his other hand my corkscrew with a cork on the end of it.
Private McLaughlan, of the Inniskillings, having heard of this, informed me that he "jined th' Army" because his father would not let him keep five racehorses; and Private Hewitt, of the 12th M.I., gave his reason as being his refusal to marry a heiress. After this our orderly ceased from troubling--for a time.
Amongst the many sad cases I have come across, here is one which strikes me as being particularly pitiable. A poor fellow of the 2nd Lincolns is the patient I am thinking about. He is deaf, deaf as a stone wall, is sickening for enteric, cannot read, and is at times delirious. The tent the poor fellow is in is not a very good one, and he seems quite friendless. There he lies in his bed, never uttering a word or hearing one, and as helpless as a child. Some mornings back I saw him eating his porridge with his fingers, the man who had handed it to him having forgotten to give him a spoon. His utter loneliness seems too awful. I wonder what his poor mind thinks about. When told that he would probably be sent home, he said he did not want to go. Surely somewhere in God's sweet world there is somebody who cares for and thinks about him. I cannot half express to you the sadness of his solitude.
NO. 2 HOSPITAL TRAIN, Monday, February 18th.
On Friday I had my sheet marked with those magic words "For base," paraded on Saturday morning before the P.M.O., and a few hours later was told to go to the pack store, draw my kit, and be ready to entrain at five. So I had to rush about.
It was soon time to parade for the station, and I had to rush through as many leave-takings as possible. Good-bye to Sister Douglas, Sister Mavius, Sister O'Connor; to an Australian Bushman friend with injured toes, who hobbles about on his heels; to poor old Scotty, the New Zealander, as game as they make them, who is to have his right arm off on Monday (to-day); to a big, good-natured gunner of No. 10 Mountain Battery, whose acquaintance I had only just made; to a Piccadilly Yeoman; to our day orderly, and dozens of other good fellows, and I had said farewell, or perhaps only au revoir, to the I.Y. Hospital Arcadia, with the doctor of our ward, Dr. Douglas, one of the cleverest and best, the Sisters with their albums, and all its tragedies and comedies. Perjuring my soul beyond redemption by cordial promises to write to all and sundry, so I left them.
* * * * *
Once aboard the lugger, I should say train, our berths were allotted to us, and we soon settled down. The whole thing is very much like being on shipboard, save that there the authorities are all for turning you out of your hammocks ("turn out o' them 'ammicks!"), and here they are all for keeping you in your bunk, the space being so limited. On each man's bed was a well-filled white canvas bag, being a present from the Good Hope and British Red Cross Societies. These were opened with no little curiosity. Strange to say one of the first things an old toothless Yorkshireman drew out was--a toothbrush. This caused general amusement. There was nothing shoddy about the contents of these bags; they contained a suit of pyjamas, shoes, a shirt, socks, towel, sponge bag with sponge, soap, and toothbrush in it, a hairbrush, and handkerchief. So could you but see me now, as I write, you would behold a being clad in a swagger suit of Cambridge blue pyjamas.
Before daybreak a terrific bang aroused us to the fact that the engine which was to bear us southward had come into action, and soon we were under way. At Elandsfontein we beheld the mail train with our mails going up. Farewell to mails! Kroonstad was reached at half-past two, and we were shunted into a siding till this morning, when we resumed our journey, passing through Bloemfontein, to our joy, and arriving at Springfontein soon after dark.
What a gigantic affair this war has been, and is. To travel through these countries, the Transvaal, Orange River Colony, and the Cape Colony (Tuesday morning, we are now in the latter) by rail alone is to feel all criticism silenced.
Already we have passed hundreds of miles of flat veldt, with now and again big kopjes in the background. At every station, bridge, and small culvert are bodies of regulars, militia, and volunteers, or colonial and other mounted troops. And when one considers that the bigger towns are being strongly held, also various posts all over these countries, and columns are operating in various districts, the whole affair fills one with wonder and admiration. We expect to reach Deelfontein this evening. An R.A.M.C. man has just been discussing that ghastly failure, inoculation, with another man. Said he: "Inoculation is bally tommy-rot!" Quoth the other, "That be hanged for a yarn. Tommy rot, indeed, it nearly killed me!" It's a fact, the unnecessary suffering which was endured by the poor beggars who allowed this experiment to be performed upon them, with the hope of spoofing the fever fiend, has been great. And strange to say, in many cases they (the inoculated) have been the first victims.
Once again we are amongst our old enemies, the kopjes, which, south of the Orange River Colony, begin to assert themselves again. There has been any amount of rain down this way, and muddy water is flowing like the milk and honey of the promised land. From wet tents and saturated blanket kennels bronzed ragamuffins appear at every halting spot, and simultaneously they and we ask each other the old, old question, "Any news?"
Sometimes they break the monotony of the negative by telling us that "De Wet is mortally wounded," or "has got away again," and we tell them that "Botha is surrounded." Some of the sanguine spirits aboard this train are buoying themselves up with the idea of getting home. Alas! there's many a slip 'twixt the land and the ship, as I fear they will find to their bitter disappointment.
It is now Tuesday evening. We have just reached Naauwpoort, where we are spending the night. The Cape mail train has been detained here all day, the line ahead having been blown up, or some such thing, a train derailed and fired on, a Yeoman and several niggers killed, and other fellows injured. Brother Boer seems more in evidence down here than in any other place we have passed between Pretoria and this place.