Time passed, the screw laboured round, and on January 12 we arrived at Diego Suarez.
'Passengers for Lourenco Marques change steamers!'
For the Natal is bound for Mauritius, along the east coast of Madagascar. We shall therefore spend the night on shore.
Wandering about the town, we meet Colonel Gourko, whom we invite to dinner, as we are in a French colony. I can't pride myself much on this meal, in the name of French culinary art.
The next day I lighted on a quartermaster of the Marine Artillery, whom I had known in the Soudan when he was only a gunner. He went off to find the other Soudanese campaigners of the settlement, and in a quarter of an hour I was surrounded by half a dozen old comrades. They were all in high spirits, for it had been a day of promotions, and several of them were toasting their new stripes.
I spend a full hour with them, recalling the old days spent in the colony that all who have once known regret.
The hour of parting draws near; several subalterns return to their duties, while my old friend and a newly-promoted officer come to see me off.
The Gironde, also of the Messageries Maritimes, plies from Diego Suarez to Durban and vice versa. Several artillery and marine officers, having heard of my presence, have come to wish me godspeed on board. I am much touched at this token of sympathy from unknown friends, for, setting my humble personality aside, it is a homage to the noble cause I am on my way to uphold.
But the bell rings, the anchor is weighed, and we are off. If the Natal was an old 'fine steamer,' the Gironde is a very old one. She was formerly one of the swift and elegant Indian liners, but now, obsolete and worn-out, is reserved for this little auxiliary service till such time as some sudden squall shall send her to the bottom.
Nevertheless, we arrived safely at Mozambique, where some few days before a terrible cyclone had destroyed part of the native village. Huts were overthrown and lying in fragments, trees torn up by the roots, telegraph-wires broken; an air of mournful desolation hung over the district.
Meanwhile, the buxom negresses of the quarter went about their daily work, apparently unmoved at the ruin of their dwellings.
We pay a visit to the fort, a very curious sight, with its mediaeval battlements bristling with cannon two hundred years old, and its soldiers armed with flintlock muskets. All these excellent Portuguese warriors seem to be impressed by a sense of their lofty mission. They even demurred a little before admitting us into their 'citadel.'
We take up the Archbishop of Mozambique, I believe; he is brought on board by a military launch, with all the honours due to his rank, and saluted by the guns of the fort.
We leave Mozambique the same evening.
Every day there were superb sunsets, glories of deep purple, blue, blazing red, green, yellow and pink, vivid pieces of impressionism that beggar description.
Thus, still avoiding shipwreck, we come to Beira, where we land our prelate, who is received by a numerous staff of officers; troops line the quays, and salutes are fired!
Portugal has certainly a remarkable colonial army. Among the others there is a huge captain, bursting out of his tunic. Each of his long commands, incomprehensible to me, seems to produce consternation in his troop, followed by a series of perfectly diverse manoeuvres.
We turn away that we may avoid laughing aloud, for the moment is a serious one... Two or three trombones attack the Portuguese national air. A good many of the worthy soldiers have shouldered arms, and the majority have presented them.... His lordship passes. He gets into a little 'lorry' pushed by natives, and goes off quickly, while the troops disperse. They are worthy of those I have several times seen at Lisbon.
I think if I were the Portuguese I would prefer none at all to such as these.... And, then, the suppression of the military budget would perhaps enable them to pay their dividends. In the afternoon we embark a band of Englishmen coming from Rhodesia to enlist as volunteers at Durban and Cape Town. They invade the saloon with their friends, and sing 'God save the Queen.' Some of the Frenchmen present retort with the Marseillaise; the situation becomes strained, fists are clenched, and finally a certain number of blows are exchanged. We have on board a grandson of President Kruger's, whose home is in Holland. After having been arrested once, conducted to Durban and sent back to Europe, he is making a second attempt to enter his country. Thanks to a strict incognito, only laid aside for two of us, he succeeds in his design.
At night we arrive off Lourenco Marques, where, without let or hindrance, we disembark on January 21.
We order a bottle of Moet in the saloon to drink the health of Captain B----, whom we are leaving, and against whom we are going to fight presently.
'Your good health,' he says, 'and I trust we shan't meet later on!'
We part with a hearty shake of the hand. At the Custom-house we easily get our artistically-concealed revolvers through, but the Customs officers fall upon the uniforms, arms and harness belonging to Colonel Gourko. They decline to pass anything, in spite of all explanations. The Colonel is obliged to go and fetch the Russian Consul and the Governor. We take up our quarters at the Hotel Continental, which, we are told, is the best. Five of us are packed into one small room on improvised beds, where we are devoured by mosquitoes ... and this costs fourteen shillings a day!
Colonel Gourko, having recovered his baggage, joins us there, and, in his turn, invites us to dinner. He does things in a princely fashion, and the bill must have been one that Paillard himself would have hesitated to present.
All sorts of obstacles are invented to prevent our departure. Firstly, of course, our passports have to be vise, but before this can be done we have to get stamps, which are only to be had at the opposite end of the town; we have, further, to produce a certificate of good conduct (having only arrived the night before!). Then more stamps, then a note from the French Consul, then more stamps; and the office where you get the signature or the paper is never the same as the one that sells the stamps.
At last all formalities have been carried out. Our pockets are bulging with some dozen papers covered with innumerable signatures and a shower of stamps. Cost: over 50 francs--10,850 reis!
We go to the station at seven o'clock the following morning. There are a great many police officers on duty. By the Governor's orders no one is to be allowed to start for the Transvaal with the exception of the Russian ambulance. We all exclaim shrilly, and hurry off to the Consul.
Upon our formal declaration that this order will injure us in our business, he proceeds to the Governor and remonstrates, with the result that we are authorized to start next morning, there being only one train a day.
We spend the day wandering about the town, which is of little interest. The great square planted with trees is pleasant, however.
We see the funeral procession of an officer of the English man-of-war stationed here. The coffin, covered with the Union Jack, is placed on a little gun-carriage drawn by sailors; others line the way. Officers in full uniform follow, and a company of red-coats bring up the rear.
This is our last encounter with the 'soldiers of the Queen' before we open fire upon them. They are already numerous in South Africa, and every day brings reinforcements.
At the beginning of hostilities there were about 25,000 men distributed over Natal and Cape Colony. From November 9 to January 1 seventy-eight transports have brought 70,000 men, completing the fifth division; 15,000 volunteers have been raised on the spot, making in all 110,000 men.
The sixth and seventh divisions, a contribution from the colonies, will bring them up to 22,000; 3,000 yeomanry and 7,000 militiamen will complete the total of 152,000 promised for the month of February. The seventh division started from January 4 to January 11, bringing nearly 10,000 men and eighteen cannon.
Engagements at the rate of 3,600 francs (L124) are being made on every side--1,600 (L64) on enlistment, 2,000 francs (L80) at the end of the war. Enlistments in our Foreign Legion are affected and fall off considerably.
The City of London, by means of a public subscription of L100,000, raises a corps of volunteers. This desperate system of enlistment is severely criticised, even in England.
'What a humiliation,' says Mr. Frederick Greenwood in the Westminster Gazette of January 2, 'to have to cry Help! help! at every crossway to pick up a man or a horse.'
Seventeen new battalions are to be raised after January 15. The choice of men rests with the colonel or the lieutenant-colonel commanding the regimental district. They are required to be aged from twenty to thirty-five, to have gone through a course of instruction in 1898 or 1899, and to hold a certificate of proficiency in shooting. But, as a fact, many of these certificates are given by favour, and a third of the volunteers are from eighteen to twenty years old. The effort made by the country has been considerable.
On January 19 the eighth division was mobilized. It comprised the sixteenth and seventeenth brigades under the command of Major-Generals B. Campbell and J. E. Boyes; Batteries 89, 90, and 91, and the 5th company of Engineers, making a strength of 10,540 men, 1,548 horses, eighteen cannon, and eight machine guns.
The eighth division is under the command of General H. M. L. Rundle, aged forty-four, who has already served in the Zulu campaign, at the siege of Potchefstroom in the Transvaal in 1881, and in the Egyptian and Soudanese campaigns from 1884 to 1898.