A chapter in which we also tell of a modest Prince and a gallant Adventurer.
"THE FRIEND" contained notices of Kruger sovereigns and Transvaal pennies for sale, of Boer rifles and saddles, but none of the postage stamps of the former Free State or the newly surcharged ones in use by the Army. Though Transvaal pennies fetched twenty-five shillings and were in great demand, the real enthusiasm of collectors was for postage stamps, and officers and others were busy as bees buying stamps and having them erased to make them the more valuable.
South Africa is as bare and barren a place for collectors, and even for the modest traveller who wishes for merely one trifling souvenir, as can be imagined. The war provided some trophies in the way of shells and Mauser rifles, but outside these there was nothing except, perhaps, the empty ostrich eggs to be found in every Boer house--and also to be found everywhere else in the civilised world.
The most coveted war trophies were: first, the Transvaal and Free State flags; second, the extraordinary waistcoats worn by a few Boers, and covered all over with cartridge slits or pockets made especially to hold the Mauser "clips" of five cartridges each; third, old Dutch Bibles illustrated by quaint woodcuts, and fourth, Boer rifles. However, even the war trophies were few and hard to get, and the singular energy of collectors expended itself in the gathering of new and old postage stamps, at which generals, colonels, and Tommies busied themselves, and a well-known London man of my acquaintance cleared a profit of £300, still reserving for himself a handsome collection.
The name of Prince Francis of Teck no longer appeared in THE FRIEND beneath the demand he had been making for horses. I remember that the circus-ground he had pre-empted for the safe-keeping of his stock was now full of animals one day, half-empty the next day, and full again on the third, as he bought and distributed his live stock. I want, before I forget it, to tell how some of us editors entertained him without having the vaguest idea who he was.
He was invited to dinner at the Free State Hotel by Mr. Landon, who saw him seated and then introduced him to the rest of us, but in so indistinct a manner that we did not catch his name. We simply saw in our company a handsome and stalwart young officer of imposing stature, and evidently profound good-nature. We all conversed upon the current topics of the day and place, and one of us, I remember, had occasion to differ with our guest, diametrically, upon some point--doing so as bluntly, though not at all rudely, as men were apt to do in such a place and at such a time--when the extra and more elaborate formalities are apt to be laid aside for future use at the Mount Nelson Hotel, and later in the routine of life at home.
After dinner our guest suggested that he should enjoy a chat and smoke in our company elsewhere than in the noisy dining-room, so we invited him to Mr. Kipling's bedroom, which was larger than Mr. Landon's or Mr. Gwynne's or mine. We spent a very pleasant hour in freest converse, one of us being prone upon one bed and rolling around on it pipe in mouth, while our guest lolled upon a cot beside the chest of drawers, and the others held down two chairs and looked after the distribution of the cigarettes and the less dry refreshments at our command.
We were not able, by any means, to agree with some of the propositions of our guest, but he accepted our views in a spirit of good-humour, or of a desire to learn what we had seen and studied. He talked a great deal about horses, and about the fertile ingenuity of the native horse trader, as well as of his own ability to defeat him at his wiles--but we took no hint from this. When he had gone we asked Mr. Landon, "Who was that? We did not catch his name."
The largest advertisement in the paper was that of Murray Guthrie, Esq., M.P., whose address just then was "the Railway Station." He was most generously giving up his time to the receipt and distribution of those parcels for the troops which were now beginning to come from England in great and little packing-cases, and large and small bundles numbering enough to be reckoned by the car-load.
[Illustration: The Capitulation of Bloemfontein.
From a painting by Lester Ralph.]
We had received the news of the killing of Colonel de Villebois-Mareuil in an engagement with Lord Methuen's force, and Mr. Gwynne wrote a spirited leader in honour of the Frenchman's memory.
We heard some interesting details about the capture of Villebois, which I think have never been published. His commando threatened Boshof, and when our force began to attack the kopje where he was lodged our second shell killed him. He was not the only nobleman in his commando, for among the prisoners we captured one was a Russian prince and another was the Comte Breda, a Frenchman, like his leader. Another prisoner was a stalwart Englishman named Simpson, whose long beard was braided to keep it out of the way when he was shooting. Physically, he was the most splendid specimen of manhood our soldiers had seen in the Boer ranks. Lord Methuen ordered a military burial, and commanded Colonel Higgins of the Third Welsh Borderers to obtain a fitting tombstone. The English general attended the funeral, which took place in Boshof cemetery. "General" Villebois was buried in a blanket, but this was covered by the Union Jack when the body was solemnly borne to the grave between the lines of the men of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. No chaplain officiated, but none of the formalities of a complete military service were omitted. The Comte Breda made a little speech at the close, thanking the British for their courtesy and kindness. After that our own dead were buried in the same little cemetery.
The affair provoked great and deep discussion, and so many British officers were displeased by what Lord Methuen had seen fit to do that THE FRIEND was at pains to try and clear the air of the false impression that one brave general had not a right to honour another in this soldierly way. We also pictured Villebois as he appeared to us, a knight of ancient pattern, a restless, gallant warrior, who had political reasons for wishing to keep himself in the mind of his people while waiting for the ripening of his plans. The line on his gravestone, "died on the field of Honour," was originally written "on the field of battle," and was ordered to be changed at the last moment. This phrase also angered many British, who, presumably, thought that a grand monument had been set up over the unfortunate Frenchman. In fact, the stone only cost ten pounds when dressed and inscribed, and in a country where such things fetch twice their value here.
(Edited by the War Correspondents with Lord Roberts' Force.)
No. 19.] BLOEMFONTEIN, SATURDAY, APRIL 7, 1900. [Price One Penny.
COL. DE VILLEBOIS-MAREUIL.
BY MR. H. A. GWYNNE.
(The following message has been received by F.M. Lord Roberts from Lord Methuen: "Arrangements have been made for the burial of Colonel de Villebois-Mareuil this evening with military honours.")
A short, well-built, admirably proportioned man, with quick, expressive eyes, and an open, frank countenance was the late Colonel de Villebois-Mareuil. He was a soldier, and a gallant soldier, from the top of his close-cropped head to the soles of his daintily-shod feet. Wherever there was war, or the possibilities of war, de Villebois-Mareuil was on the spot ready to fight for whichever side, in his eyes, appeared to have the greater claims on justice. Impulsive to a degree, he was often drawn to conclusions for which he could never give logical grounds. The picturesqueness of the Boer side of the war, the presence of old Huguenot names among those of the Boer leaders, the imagined wrongs of the two Republics, were quite sufficient to attract the generous and emotional Frenchman into the struggle. And once in the struggle, he gave the whole of his energy to it. Not content with drawing the sword for the two Republics, he wielded a charming pen on their behalf. Some of his letters to the Paris Liberté prove that if the world has lost a gallant soldier, it has also lost a brilliant war correspondent.
To us English, imbued as we are with a full appreciation of everything which appears manly or sporting, the figure of Colonel de Villebois-Mareuil is particularly sympathetic. We overlook his somewhat illogical defence of what appears to us the gross injustice of the Transvaal's dealings with Englishmen, and we only see a gallant Frenchman fighting and laying down his life for a cause which he espoused with the warmth of a generous nature. There is something touching in a sentence of his which appears in one of his letters from South Africa. "When I came here I believed I was going to the sacrifice." Gallant, generous, chivalrous soldier: May God rest his soul!
Over his grave we forget that he fought against us, and we think only of the gallant soldier. A British bullet laid him low, but a British General lays him to rest with full military honours.
A BALLADE OF TEN-A-PENNY.
BY J. H. M. A.
Kopjes are steep, and the veldt is brown--
(Utterly true, if you pause to think)
Biscuits are done and your luck is down;
"Modder" is not an inspiriting drink
(Dead Boers' taint, and defunct mules stink).
Better the sound of the screaming bomb,
Excitement and hurry of Hell's own brink--
Alas! for a tune on the gay Pom-pom.
"Action front!"--And the guns are round,
Teams go back with the chains a-clink.
We're reaping the storm that the scouts have sown
(The sun gets red and the clouds are pink).
"Show for the lyddite, that's all"--you think
(Frenchmen would shrug, with a sacré nom),
When out in the dusk, in the half of a jink,
Suddenly singeth the brisk Pom-pom.
"Pom-pom-pom"--and the shells have flown;
"Bang-bang-bang"--without rise or sink--
Accurate sameness to half a tone--
Whizzing one-pounders--don't stop to think--
Open the ranks like a "spieler's" wink.
This is a speedy and frolicsome bomb,
Do not despise it, but do not shrink,
This is a nerve-test, this swift Pom-pom.
Oom, when you sit in the dark and think,
After the war, and your nights are long,
Bitterness sweeten of cups you drink
With a memory sad of your sweet Pom-pom.
HOW THE CALF WAS AVENGED.
BY LEONARDITE, 82ND BTY., R.F.A.
It happened about the time of the Paardeberg affair, or, to be exact, at 12.10 a.m. on the 22nd of February, 1900, our battery (the 82nd R.F.A.) had throughout the day catered diligently and well for the tastes of Cronje and his followers. They had breakfast betimes in the shape of shrapnel (unboiled), liberally and impartially distributed to all and sundry within the laager; luncheon, tea, and supper followed in due succession, each consisting principally of the same palatable diet, flavoured at intervals with the celebrated Lyddite sauce. This same is noted for its piquancy and marvellous power of imparting elasticity to the lower extremities (gouty and dropsical people please copy).
We returned to camp that night pretty well tired out, and hungry enough to eat "beef" (troop horse, isn't it?), and wondering what our good Poulter, the battery chef, had prepared in the shape of grub--we had fought all day on a couple of "Spratt's gum-hardeners." As we neared the camp a most appetising odour smote our olfactory nerves. "Beef stew," says our No. 1, who has a wonderful nose for odours. "Garn," retorts Driver Jones, who loves a joke; "more likely an old goat that's 'scorfed' the inside of one of 'Redfern's trenches' (this is a battery joke); too strong for beef." Well, by this time we had arrived, and some one who knew said it was veal, and that Mason, our Mason, Mason the mighty hunter and what-not, had commandeered it.
Presently arrived the cooks and camp kettles, and we settled down to a good "buster." When nothing was left but empty pots and vain longings, we lit our pipes, and the aromatic fumes of our Boer's Head cabbagio were wafted heavenwards, our veracious raconteur related how he had captured the calf. How our pulses throbbed and our blood rose to fever heat as he told how he tore away his game from under the very horns of its enraged mother; and how, with the calf on his back, he had been chased five miles and over a big kopje strewn with boulders as big as an A.S.C. waggon, and finally, seeing no other mode of escape, had hurled the animal (the calf, not its maternal relative) from the top of the kopje, and in sheer desperation had leaped down after it, breaking his fall by alighting on its body.
Bidding us good-night, he left us to imagine what he would have broken had he alighted off its body.
Feeling the spirit of contentment hovering o'er us, we prepared to turn in. The guns had previously been unlimbered and were ready for action, with their muzzles pointing to the enemy. Formed up in rear were the six gun limbers and six ammunition waggons, each with its team of six horses still hooked in in case of any emergency. In addition were the horses of the single riders, tied by their headropes to different parts of the carriages, making a total of somewhere about a hundred horses.
Well, we had comfortably settled down and were enjoying our first sleep when the sentries were startled by a most unearthly noise from the vicinity of the camp. It sounded like a dyspeptic groan from a more than ordinarily cavernous stomach. The horses pricked up their ears and the sentries clutched their carbines tighter as they peered into the darkness. Suddenly came the sound again--a mournful, melancholy, hair-raising sound. Like a flash the whole battery of horses, as though acting on a signal, stampeded into the night, taking the waggons with them; over sleeping men they went, stopping for no obstacles, overturning guns in their mad career, and heading straight for the enemy's trenches. The outposts, thinking the Boers were trying to break through the lines, opened fire at nothing. The Boers, thinking they were attacked, did ditto. It was a perfect pandemonium for a few minutes. The spiteful spit-puff of the Mauser and sharp crack of the Lee-Metford, the whole blending with the cries of the injured and the shouts of the men who were trying to stop the runaways, made an impression that few who witnessed the scene will ever forget.
We had several more or less severely injured, lost about thirty horses and one waggon, besides several that were overturned and smashed.
All this damage was caused by the lowing of an old cow who had wandered through the camp seeking her lost offspring.
MORAL.--Hanker ye after the fleshpots, commandeer ye not, but buy! buy! buy!
NOTE.--Wanted to know--vide the Press report of Paardeberg action--Since when has the 82nd Battery, R.F.A., become a mule battery?
'ORSE OR FUT?
BY MARK THYME.
(A Song of the Household Brigade.)
It ain't a fatigue to see him,
'E's a taller than usual man,
As 'e struts down the road 'e's as smart as be blowed,
And 'is swagger would stop Big Ben,
'E's a fair take-in for the ladies,
For of course it's a maxim trite
When a cove's in the Guards, why it's just on the cards
'E's a bit of the best All-Right.
Whether 'e wears a 'elmet, Or 'airy 'at on 'is nut,
When all's done and said, 'E is 'Ousehold Brigade, Whether 'e's 'Orse or Fut. (Shouted ad lib.): THAT'S RIGHT Whether 'e's 'Orse or Fut.
O' course 'e's fond of 'is lady,
'Is lady she doats on 'im,
And it's princip'ly that what's the cause of 'er 'at,
With its feathers and twisted brim.
When 'e takes 'er out of a Sunday
She says, "What a lovely sight!
"Oh! there isn't a doubt, But I'm walking about
"With a bit of the best All-Right."
And when 'e looks in promisc'ous
'Taint often the door is shut,
For she's fond of a mash, with a curly moustache,
Whether 'e's 'Orse or Fut.
(As before): That's Right
Whether 'e's 'Orse or Fut.
And then, when the war-clouds gather,
On Service 'e goes away;
And it's "Goodbye, Sal, God bless you, my gal!"
And the woman is left to pray.
Then whether it's toil and 'ardship,
Or whether it's march and fight,
'E's a joker, we know, As is certain to show
'E's a bit of the best All-Right.
Whether it's sword or bayonet,
Whether it's lance or butt,
'E's bound to go large When they're sounding the Charge,
Whether 'e's 'Orse or Fut.
(As before--only more so): That's Right!
Whether 'e's 'Orse or Fut.
HAS THE WAR JUST BEGUN?
The Cradock Dutch newspaper, the Middellandsche Afrikaander, says: "Our English contemporaries are greatly mistaken in thinking that the war has now virtually ended. The Republicans are now going to act on the defensive, and now one can expect a deathly struggle. The war has now lasted nearly six months, and, however much we desire it, there is no prospect of peace as yet."