A Flesh-and-blood Miss Bloemfontein resents my Love-letter.
"THE FRIEND" of March 20th contained five advertisements for stolen horses, one of which described the favourite horse of one of the editors: picturesque justice, some will say, for our light and trifling attitude toward the growing evil of horse-lifting. The editorial of the day, "Greater Britain," was one that I wrote, and the note of it was this: "It has been said that each of the preceding centuries during a long period of European history has ended in a great war. This one which closed the nineteenth century is not, and will not become, great, as wars are measured. But it will be recorded as phenomenally important in having given birth to Greater Britain."
We had been offering five shillings each for copies of the "curio" numbers of March 16th. We now raised the offer to ten shillings a copy. A paragraph in the paper stated that a native (negro) police force had been established in town, with badges bearing the letters "B.N.P." "These police," we said, "have nothing whatever to do with white people."
A few words upon the subject of the natives will not be amiss. It will be remembered that even as the British troops were entering Bloemfontein the negroes were engaged in looting a semi-public Boer building. Lord Roberts felt obliged to stop the triumphal advance and order his staff to drive the ruffians away. Two or more lords carried out the order. After we had established ourselves in the town the negroes were included with the white people in an order requiring them to have passes when they entered or left the town, and in order to be out of doors after nightfall. They deeply resented this, after making themselves as obnoxious as they were ridiculous, by their complaints. They said that they had always been friendly to the English, and had hated the Boers for the way they had maltreated the blacks, but that it seemed the English were little better than the Boers.
The truth is that from Capetown to Bloemfontein they had traded upon a hatred of their Dutch masters, and, whether this was genuine or assumed, they had endeavoured to turn it to their account in every way. Everywhere that I found them they were too much impressed by the importance which they assumed, and which we too often encouraged. We paid them many times what was paid to "Tommy Atkins," and employed them in preference to the poor whites. In return they were often lazy, often impudent, sometimes treacherous. I know that they were too freely welcomed when they ran from the Boer lines to ours, and I also know that they sometimes ran back to the Boers with what they had learned. The Afrikanders in our ranks and in our employ often knocked them down for impudence, and the English were horrified; but I fancy the Afrikander knew what he was about in dealing with this especial sort of negro that followed the army.
Mr. Gwynne, in this day's issue, wrote a series of parodies of the despatches of the correspondents of all the leading London and local newspapers. It was the purest fun. It caricatured and exaggerated the methods of each of us so cleverly as to make the series altogether laughable and yet so as to suggest something recognisable in each man's style.
Mr. F. Wilkinson, of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, wrote about the Australians an article that is here reprinted. A correspondent of whose name I am not certain continued from the previous day an account of the expedition to the British forces southward of us. The article was so interesting and full of local and military colour that I wish I could give the author the credit he deserves.
The chief event of the day was the receipt of an angry answer to my love letter to Miss Bloemfontein. Even as we read the copy we supposed that some wag in the army had tried to perpetrate a joke upon us, but Mr. Buxton came in and, finding us reading the letter, said that he had received it from a leading man of Bloemfontein, whose talented daughter had written it. She was an earnest adherent of the Boer cause, and expressed her sincere sentiments in this letter, in which she waived aside my protestations of our friendship with something painfully like scorn. Her name was given to us in confidence, and we published her letter with my reply, all agreeing that as she was certain to write another answer, we would give her the last word, and then close the episode.
We were able on this day to announce the establishment of a regular daily train service to all points south. The country below had been cleared of Boers, but the bridge at Norval's Pont was still a wreck, and the trains ran over a temporary structure. Sir Henry Rawlinson arrived in Bloemfontein and took up his quarters at the Residency with Lord Roberts, who on this day announced that he would review the Naval Brigade on the following morning.
We published these three informing paragraphs:--
Note: the price of whiskey is 11s. a bottle, on a rising market.
A French Canadian member of the R.C.R. was doing sentry-go one night at Enslin (Graspan). The countersign for the night was "Halifax." Presently there came a strolling soldier whom our gallant Canadian promptly challenged.
"Who go dare?"
"Advance, fren, and pace on--and say 'Haversack'--all is vale."
There were many such sentry stories in circulation in the army. Another one was to the effect that a Yorkshireman having to halt, and demand the countersign of a man he knew very well, acquitted himself of his task in these words: "Halt! who goes there. Say 'Majuba,' and toddle along--isn't it all blooming nonsense?"
Finally, there was this one other paragraph especially full of the local colour of our surroundings--
A captured Free Stater tried to impress a sense of his importance upon his captor by declaring that he was a Field Cornet. "I don't care if you're a field big drum. You're my prisoner, and you'd better be very civil and come on."
THE AUSTRALIAN CORRESPONDENT.
BY F. WILKINSON.
For one very obvious reason war corresponding has not had very much of a vogue in past years with Australian journalists; in fact, the fighting business altogether has been very much neglected. As a group of colonies or a nation--which we hope to be almost immediately--we are not old enough to invite anyone else to put up his hands, and we are too far away to take more than a languid interest in other peoples' scraps. We did send a contingent and a few correspondents to the London Show, in '86 I think it was, but we only got there in time to return and make ourselves look rather ridiculous. Since then the "professional correspondent" might have starved and pined comfortably to death for all the work he would be likely to get. He couldn't have kept up the lecturing dodge with such long intervals between scraps. We didn't even think it worth while to send to the Philippine show, although it occurred almost at our very door.
You see, in some of our Australian legislatures we groan under the inflictions of what are known as "labour parties," and labour parties all the world over have a rooted abhorrence of anything which tends to the maintenance of law and order. Labour parties, moreover, are generally made up of men who have before their accession to Parliament led some big anti-capitalistic agitation and they know what the sensation is to find themselves confronted with rifles, and even bayonets. Consequently they dislike the military element with a mortal dislike. They make a dead set at raw military estimates every year, and laugh to scorn the military spirit. From all of which it may be inferred that war corresponding with us has not hitherto been one of the most lucrative of professions. Rich squatters don't choose it as a career for their sons, and poor people have still the Banks and the Church and Parliament to fall back upon. Those of us, therefore, who for our sins have been sent out of this show, come as mere "rooineks," or "new chums," to use the Australian equivalent. Strange to say, the only one amongst us who was also in the Soudan received a mortal wound the other day near Rensburg.
There is this to be said, however, in extenuation of our greenness to the business, that our early training is of the sort which ought to make for efficiency. The Australian pressman, like his cousin over here, is a child of the bush. His "beat" covers some thousands of square, solid, British miles. One day he is out in the wild West among wilder shearers, beside whom the average Tommy is a mere circumstance. There is trouble in station sheds, and wild, uncivilised war between unionists and blacklegs. Blue metal in chunks buzzes past one's ears as thick as Mauser bullets at Magersfontein; railway carriages are quickly reduced to ruins, huts and grass fired for miles round; mobs of unionists carry havoc on the luckless blackleg and let slip the dogs of war--always blue metal. This is the stuff on which the Australian pressman is fed up.
Next day he may be sent up to the flooded north: a river has burst its banks and submerged some twenty miles of settled country; occupants of single story houses find themselves high and dry on their roof-tops, others have sought shelter in trees; their household goods float gaily downstream alongside dead cattle and horses. Rescue parties in flood boats pull frantically from house to house carrying provisions and clothing for shivering women and children. These floods occur quite frequently, and your pressman soon learns to live for weeks almost up to his waist in water. He manages to boil his "billy" in the bottom of his boat without springing a leak. He will make excellent "damper" with arrowroot and Epsom salts if he can't get flour and baking powder. He will ride anything which will go on four legs, and after he has been lost on the trackless bush a time or two, he won't always travel in a circle.
He has a standing engagement in an annual encampment where 5,000 or 6,000 troops are concentrated for nine days' continuous training, and when general orders are issued beforehand notifying the exact time and spot where an engagement will take place, between so-and-so representing the enemy, whose position will be indicated by red flags, and such and such regiments representing the attacking force, who may be distinguished by blue flags. We manage those things better at Easter manoeuvres than we do on service. Here, they don't send round cards of invitation to correspondents when a fight is going to take place. One has to chase round the country after it, fighting staff officers on the lines of communication all the way. But that is another story. Since our present illustrious Commander-in-Chief has taken over the conduct of the campaign we haven't been able to raise much of a grumble, and what happened prior to this is forgotten--at least for the time.
F. WILKINSON, Sydney Daily Telegraph.
MISS BLOEMFONTEIN'S ANSWER.
TO MR. ENGLISHMAN--A LOVELESS LETTER.
Come, tall Mr. Englishman, and sit down beside me, but for the love of heaven, do not look into my eyes, lest they scorch you with a fiery "hate of hate." The blue of mine eyes may be perilously near that blue which men have named electric, and such an electric shock of scorn would they shoot that you would wish yourself amidst the turmoil of war again, some of whose bolts and bombs have taken the lives of our fathers, brothers, friends! You will not wonder then that I do not like your whole army or any part thereof, although it may have done me the great and unwished-for honour of liking me--or you, the conqueror of the land, which is mine by the same right as your little island is yours--the right of old tradition which is so great a factor in the history of nations, and in which our land abounds; the right of residence which has been ours since our peacefully ruled and hitherto prosperous little Free State was created--the right of love for the land of our birth--the right of pride in our despised beaux, with their homespun suits and lavish beards and whiskers, who have gone out to fight with such bravery for their cause and country.
Surely, Mr. Englishman, you of all men should be able to appreciate this factor in them, you who pride yourself on being the bravest man of the bravest of living nations. Were this factor missing in them, would you not have been here five long months ago? Surely you, I say, should be able to overlook such small matters as the bad cut of their coats and the length of their beards. You should know that greatness does not lie in outward seeming.
Please do not say "Miss Bloemfontein tripped out to meet us so enticingly;" say, rather, "little Miss Uitlander," who has, as you rightly think, by no means hitherto scorned our homespun youths, and to whom we extended a loving hand when she came, and who now, in return for this, unnecessarily flaunts your colours in our faces, and welcomes you too kindly. Much bitter sorrow was there, oh sir, when you entered this loved home of ours; I and my sisters, who felt as would your English dames, were another William Conqueror to take their island home from them, lay in dumb anguish and writhed when the word went forth, "we have fallen into bondage," "our enemy hath us in his grasp"--and our cup of bitterness was more than full.
We do cling to our old love, who left us with much misgiving to your tender mercies. Mr. Englishman, fain would he have stayed to protect us, but that he had his command to go;--and this is another thing which you, who think so much of discipline, should be able to appreciate. Though for fear of your displeasure we must hide our feelings, you are hateful to us, oh slayer of our brothers and taker of our home!
We will not forget, Mr. Englishman, and are truly grateful to you, that you behaved to us with common courtesy, and stood aside to let us pass; but surely you, the politest of polite men, would not take credit for that, which should be the birthright of all gentlemen. We dwell not in times of Sabine sisterhoods, good sir!
And if little Miss Uitlander bathe you in smiles, and lisp pretty nothings into your much-astonished ear, call but to mind that she comes from your own "far countree," and has here learned this way of welcoming the conqueror.
I am no Boadicea, say you. Oh, sir, you mistake grievously. I would smite you with mine own hands, were I able. Did you perhaps not catch a glimpse of me in General Cronje's laager, whither I went to share the danger with my brother, and cheer him in his arduous task?
True it is that homely comfort abounds in our cottages, and should it not be so? Perhaps there was a time too when your stately sister did not scorn to keep house, instead of attending theatres, soirées, musicales, at-homes. Evidently, Miss Uitlander forgot the divine music of Queen's Hall and Covent Garden, when she crowded to do justice to the awful and untuneful melodies, to which your English bandsmen treated her on the Market Square. But you see "It is so long since she left 'home,' and it is sweet to hear those sounds which come straight from dear old England." I, sir, stopped my ears with cotton wool (for, whatever Miss Bloemfontein is, she is musical, and even had I been pleased to see you, I could never have allowed myself to be tortured with those fragments of the divine art). Poor Pan! he stood afar on the topmost steeple of the Dutch Church, and played his pipes and wept, and had you not been so absorbed in "tripping to your gay tunes," you might have heard faintly stealing over our ancient towers "Heeft burghers t'lied der Vrijheid aan," while the organ within our "piously Presbyterian" edifice echoed the anthem, which was caught up by the instrument in your exclusively English cathedral, and Miss Bloemfontein heard the echo and was comforted.
And now, Mr. Englishman, do you fully realise that I am not pleased to see you, that I hate to have you here; I, a real daughter of the soil? And if to-morrow I could turn you out, I would do so joyously, while little Miss Uitlander would stand by, her lovely eyes moist with grateful tears, and whisper, "That is right," or perhaps push you with her tiny left hand, while she once more extended her right to my badly dressed brothers, as they came over the top of the Bloemfontein Hill!
The gulf between the angry past and the still more angry present will never be bridged, Mr. Englishman. You have made Afrikanderdom by fighting us, and have awakened in our breasts the knowledge that we are of another sort than yourselves. Only now, with the "Schwanenlied" sounding in our ears, do we feel what it is to have a country--to be a nation!
OUR REPLY TO THE LADY.
DEAR MISS BLOEMFONTEIN,--If there is doubt about which young lady it is who has made us welcome here, there is none at all about the genuineness of your letter and yourself. Its sheets exhale the subtle perfume of the mimosa flower, its strong, free writing reveals the confidence, health, and high spirits of the graceful rider of the veldt! Thank God (and thank you also, my dear) there is no line or phrase of resistance to our suit in all your letter but has a tender phrasing or carries a compliment--so that we know you do not dislike us a tenth so much as you hate the thought of seeming light-of-love, of feeling that we have dared to pity you, of fancying we think you are to be won for the mere asking.
Sweetheart, that was a clumsy letter of ours if it ruffled your maidenly sensitiveness with such misapprehensions. Henry V. was not the only one, or the last, of us Englishmen who could war with men better than he could woo women. And as Katharine looked through young Hal's rough armour into his warm and loyal heart, so we ask you to do with us.
Well, well! so it was your cousin, Miss Uitlander, whose azure eyes and twining fingers sent me into my rhapsody of love, while you, the true Katharine, the real princess, have held back, hid in some leafy bower of your pretty capital. Ah, well, it was not her hand that took our heart captive. It was not her eyes that slew us. What we loved was the essence of your soul and spirit which breathed upon us from your park-like seat, from your trees and gardens, from the pretty, happy houses of your subjects. It was you we loved, dear neighbour, you whom we have admired through all your youth and never quarrelled with and never known to be at fault.
As I wrote on Saturday, we still stand aside and look upon your charms of peaceful domesticity, all garlanded for your bridegroom. Still, too, we see your selfish, scheming guardian of the past fleeing from the wreck and ruin into which he has plunged your people. And we see your sworn champions in similar flight, leaving you forlorn, deserted. It is eminently womanly of you to defend these faithless gallants rather than solicit pity for yourself. It is the true maidenhood in you which makes you retire to your bower until you have forced us to acknowledge your value and earn your love. If we misjudged you and fancied you had tripped out to put your hand in ours, it was only because we were so eager and so smitten. We like you better as you are, shy and modest, proud and pure.
That deft touch of your pen upon the quality of our music--it was--I mean to say we find no fault in you for--but, no, we may not be disloyal, even to our pipes. It was the best we had to offer, and when better comes from home we fancy that even you will cease to barricade your pearly ears against it. We shall enjoy hearing Pan set your sighs to melody. We promise not to drive him away; he shall ever play your songs just as he trills the lays of ever so many fair maidens who throng around our Queen, and who remember the chains she has stricken from their limbs without for an instant forgetting the traditions which still knit each to her past and her kindred in so many far lands.
You speak of the "great honour" of our liking you. You extol our bravery. You admit our "tender mercies" and our love of order. You say you will not forget our courtesy to your people or our modesty. You call us "the politest of polite men"--ah, dear little Afrikander, we treasure each word in each of those sentences. We cannot help taking heart of hope. If you can speak of us so fair to-day, when the whispers of your old lover still sound in your ears, what may we not expect in time to come? We will not try to hurry your heart, but we warn you we shall melt it. For we love you, and there is no selfish prompting, no hope of mercenary gain in our affection. We love you because you are irresistible, even with your dimpled little hand clenched, and, perhaps, partly because of the lightning that flashes in your pretty eyes.
JOINING HANDS WITH GATACRE AND CLEMENTS.
On Thursday morning last a small force was despatched by train from Bloemfontein to the South, in order to open up the country, to find out the dispositions of the enemy between here and the Orange River, and, if possible, to join hands with the British forces now operating in the direction of Stormberg and Colesberg.
The force consisted of 4 guns and 66 men of the 84th Battery, R.F.A., 21 mounted men of Roberts' Horse Bodyguard, 6 Grahamstown M.I., a section of the M.R.E., and 2 battalions of Guards (3rd Grenadiers and 1st Scots), totalling about 2,100 men and 120 horses, besides vehicles and mules sufficient to make the force mobile if required.
We moved off in 5 trains, the first being a short "breakdown" pilot train in charge of Lieutenant Mozley, R.E., carrying an advanced party of 51 Grenadiers under Capt. Clive. Ten minutes after, a full train of Grenadiers, carrying in addition Major-General Pole-Carew, C.B., commanding the expedition, and his Staff; and the other three trains carried the remainder of the force.
We were in hopes that there would be some parties of the enemy between us and the Orange, especially as Edenburg was reported occupied; and the country between that and the river ought to have been swarming with Boers opposing the advance of Generals Gatacre and Clements. But, as it turned out, we had no chance of loosing off even one round, and our progress was peaceful and unwarlike in the extreme.
At Kaalspruit we met Lieut. Russell Brown, R.E., who had just returned off an adventurous trip per train to Edenburg, which he had reconnoitred in the dark when it was full of Boers. After that we steamed slowly along, and reconnoitred Kaffir and Riet River Bridges, with a view to their occupation if necessary.
As it was quite possible that stray Boers might walk into the telegraph offices behind us and read off any messages going through, we transferred the instruments to the safer keeping of the detachments of Scots Guards we left at the bridges. The disconnecting of wires at one of the stations was carried out by a highly distinguished and zealous party of Grenadier officers, headed by the C.O. himself, but the result was somewhat unfortunate, as messages refused to pass through for some considerable time afterwards. Edenburg was approached at dusk, but, thanks to a friend who told us that the enemy had evacuated it, we had no need to use caution in so doing. On the contrary, we were warmly welcomed on coming to a standstill, and found a deputation of three ready to hand over the keys of the town and to ask for protection.
The General received the deputation, consisting of the Landdrost, Mr. Fourie, Mr. Groenwoud and the Clerk of the Council, graciously, but demanded, as a guarantee of good faith, that all arms and ammunition in the town and district should be given up. This was agreed to, and messengers were despatched to the Commandant and two Field-cornets, who lived some way off, to come in next morning at 6 and arrange the matter with the General. A messenger was also sent to warn the Fauresmith commando of 400 to 500 men, which was approaching the town, that they had better disperse, as the British were in possession and might fire on them if they came too near. The commando, had, however, kindly anticipated the purport of this message, and had already melted away on its own initiative.
Edenburg is a pretty little town, well supplied with water and provisions of all sorts. But its chief possession must be acknowledged to be a veritable Don Juan, to judge from the number of affectionate letters addressed to him that were found among the budget seized at the Post Office. This young man, who shall be nameless, must have broken the hearts of numberless charming ladies. Letters from every part of the Free State and a large portion of the Transvaal, some couched in most amorous language, others upbraiding him for faithlessness, all signed by names of the fair sex (mostly without the addition of a surname) brought a hot blush to the brow of the unfortunate officer whose duty it was to scan their contents. It was past 1 a.m. before he had finished his work, but the fair writers may rest assured that their missives will all reach their destination in time, and their secrets remain locked in the breast of that particular Staff Officer.
(Continued in the number of March 21st.)
Early next morning the town was awakened by a series of violent explosions, which caused several timid people to imagine that a serious battle was raging. It was, however, caused by the burning of 67,000 rounds of ammunition which had been taken from the gaol and court house and which were being destroyed by order. Five hundred rifles were also taken, all of them Martinis, except twenty-one.
After arranging with Commander Cloete and the Field-cornets van der Merwe and Roule the details of handing over the rifles, &c., to their districts, the General proceeded on his way, and soon arrived at Jagersfontein Road. Here we were met by a Union Jack and patriotic inhabitants, but rapidly steamed on to Springfontein, on hearing that General Gatacre had crossed the Orange River at Bethulie, and was expected that morning at Springfontein Junction.
We arrived at this place at ten o'clock and, to our secret joy, found no signs yet of a British occupation. We heard, however, that an engine had brought two English officers thither from Bethulie on a short visit the night before.
Shortly after arriving mounted scouts of Montmorency's Horse made their appearance, and were followed by General Gatacre, who rode up, somewhat surprised to find us already in possession. Cordial greetings were exchanged between the Generals, and after a short stay we pushed on in the direction of Norval's Pont, which we were assured had been evacuated by the enemy 24 hours before.
On the strength of this information we left the three rear trains behind, and pushed on through rapidly steepening country to Prior's Siding. Here we were enthusiastically welcomed by the only inhabitants, two Russian Jews, who so far allowed their feelings to overpower their pockets as to present the General with a box of excellent cigars in honour of the new flag.
Another half hour through a horrid defile brought us to Donkerpoort, and at this uninviting station we found the vanguard of General Clement's force. These had crossed the Orange River by means of a pontoon bridge, flung across the river 2-1/2 miles below the great bridge, and consisted of a squadron of Inniskillings, the 4th Field Battery, 250 Australians, and some Infantry.
As we steamed slowly ahead, the extended lines of horsemen advancing over the plain raised cheer after cheer, and we were moreover honoured by a patriotic officer dismounting and taking a historical snapshot with the ever-present kodak at the advancing engine. This latter, one should add, was adorned by 4 officers sitting just over the cow-catcher, who obtained an excellent view of the surrounding country. Their admiration was, however, somewhat tempered by the knowledge of a widely spread report that at certain places there lurked under the line masses of deadly dynamite. Considerable caution was at first observed at the culverts; but when the engine-driver assured us that dynamite was hidden at one place only, and that place known to him, we bade him proceed until within 50 yards of the spot, and then halt. When within half a mile of the bridge, we asked whether the fatal place was near at hand. Judge of our mingled horror and relief when we heard that the miscreant driver had not recognised the spot until within 5 yards of it, and had driven unwittingly over it at full speed!
Except for a short glimpse a mile back, one cannot, from a train, see the bridge broadways on. It was, therefore, difficult to estimate the exact damage that had been done as we approached it, even when we had walked out as far as we could go, and actually stood over the gap. The wreck is terrific; 3 spans and one pier had been blown up and lay in the water 100 feet below, connected with the standing part by a steep and tangled wreckage of beams, girders, and iron. Three months at least must elapse before the bridge can be thoroughly in working order again; but a little bird has whispered in the ear of the writer that by an ingenious series of connections from bank to bank a very large amount of stores will shortly be passing across. Those Burghers who refused twice, when ordered, to blow up the bridge, were wise men in their generation, for its destruction will mean a much more serious loss to the Free State than to the British troops.