Frere Camp, Thursday, January 4th, 1900 May we dress up, sir?” It was the child-like sailors who asked he innocent question on Christmas Day. “What do you want to dress up as?” asked the naval officer. “Please, sir, as John Bull, and if you don’t mind, sir, as President Kroojer, sir, and might we ’ave a gun carriage, sir?” “What for?” “To take ’em round, sir.” The eloquent, smooth spokesman had said, and only the decision remained to be taken. “Well, if you won’t insult the old gentleman,” said the naval officer, meaning Mr. Kruger. “Very good, sir,” said the bland and chuckling sailors. The naval officer had said words which were his bare duty and had been indulgent at the same time, as was right and natural on Christmas Day; and forthwith the figure of Mr. Kruger was destined to the honest comments of Jack and Tommy. John Bull wore a red face and a Union Jack, which covered a form of appropriate rotundity, and President “Kroojer” was more elaborately and tenderly equipped with a beard of unravelled rope, a stove-pipe hat made out of a tin cylinder, a black coat, a white flag, and a tattered umbrella, labelled, “The Effects of Lyddite.” The spirit of fraternity with which the figures on the carriage treated each other after all secured the fulfilment of the officer’s conditions. All that day and the next the camp had the appearance and the spirit of a fair; men were throwing stones for prizes at bottles hung in rows; running foot-races in their stocking-feet; wrestling on horseback stripped to the waist; cock-fighting; teams of soldiers were pulling tugs-of-war with sailors, and being beaten by them; sailors were mounted precariously on horses and mules, and were so pleased at finding themselves on something four-footed that they rode their animals without relaxation all day, and in the races cheerfully and invariably came in last; officers scampered across a rock-strewn and break-neck country in point-to-points; there were trotting races in which everybody cantered and the judge tore his hair; the air was filled with the fierce and peremptory shouts of the officers who were managing the soldiers’ playtime—”B Company to pull now! B Company, here! B Company, will von come here at once! B COMPANY!” “Please, sir, we’ve pulled three times running.” “Well, you’ll have to pull again if you want to win,” and at this point B Company obediently lays hold of the rope. All the time the sun blazed on us, and the thick, floating atmosphere of dust sanded our clothes and hair, gritted our teeth, and choked our throats; and lastly, in the evenings there were concerts round bright fires, and a comic singer might have been heard banging out imitations of the “pom-pom” or Boer Vickers-Maxim gun on a piano brought from a looted farmhouse : “What’s that?” he demanded when he had made the imitation, and some of the men, to show that they recognised the wonderfully exact sound, slid down and ducked their heads behind their seats. Only a few days before Sir Redvers Buller had suffered a reverse—Sir Redvers Buller for whom we had not admitted to ourselves the possibility of failure. And we were now in full sight of the hills where we had been checked, indeed within range of some of the guns which had helped to send us back to our camp; yet we were not sad. After what I have said you will see that the camp was jovial;—can it really be true that reverses are an incentive to glorious retrievement? Of course all the camp was very sorry for the wounded men—the dead after all had appeared to be happy enough—but then this sorrow had lasted no longer or gone no deeper than sorrows commonly do in war-time. The fact is, the camp was in great spirits, triumphantly employing the new standard of emotions which war imposes. Whilst our fellow-countrymen in England were swallowed up at this time in the sublime emotions of pity and fear, we, with an unexpected reverse behind us, with the prospect (according to our belief) of the bloodiest battle of the campaign before us, were just as I have described. A perfect study, you may say, in frames of mind. After New Year’s day the camp eased off from the riotous amusements of the fair to the sober daily sports of Englishmen. Tommy, being in a foreign land, has lost the spirit of convention which is part of his native climate. The world and the seasons are upside down, and he may just as well disregard things managed in so unusual a manner. Let us call it winter—January ought to be winter anyhow—and play football! I cannot discover that Tommy makes any discrimination between the days which he considers suitable for football and those which he considers suitable for cricket, unless it be that he plays football on the hottest days and cricket on the coolest. But then a man can play ducks and drakes with himself in this climate. The beautiful cool nights restore one. What does it matter what you do in the day, when the night, cool from sunset till sunrise, and even cold in the strange grey early hours, picks you up again, and turns you out as fresh as a lark? Why, a man can do anything here! You may have the heat of a furnace in the day, but it is not the heat of the tropics in places where the land lies low—the heat that pursues you by night as well as by day, that brings mosquitoes as well as flies, and follows you remorselessly like a beast till you could cry out in the long pursuit for very weariness. Here, we are perched up near the skies, and if we are tempted to think that science is wrong, and that Icarus may have melted his wings after all by going too high, we can still thank Heaven for the nights. For the nights—and the rain! At last it has come, and unless it holds off again for so long a time we are not likely to have another great dust-storm. Day after day a storm, with the blackness of night in its eye, swept across the camp and blotted it out. You could see it coming like a high, forbidding wall, and when it arrived you could not see from one tent to another. It tore and scoured through the camp; cattle and horses turned their backs to it and drooped their heads, or else drifted abjectly before it; and we in our tents sat with choked ears and noses and watery eyes; our papers were covered with a layer of dust, and our food was peppered all over before we could put it in our mouths. But when the rain came it performed a miracle; it simply washed away the old, dry, withered, khaki-coloured face of the country, as though it had swept it out with a stroke of a clean wet brush. After the first few hours already through the shallow soil on the rock came the budding tint which was the earnest of green; first the yellow changed from a withered colour into the golden pregnant yellow of ripened corn, and then from that it sank gently down to meet the tenderness of a rising green. One woke up the next morning to discover that the sky had poured down not water after all, but a paint-box full of colours; to see no longer aridity shut in by stern, steel-grey mountains, but a waking land of multifarious colours merging its delicacies in the richer, fuller bloom of grey and blue mountains. And then at night there is the unceasing lightning, sometimes near, sometimes far away, but always somewhere. To know what lightning really is one must come here. It is not a mere vivid flash of magnesium wire running from sky to earth, which is all we know in England; it is a twisted and multiform figure, sometimes forking downwards, sometimes running upwards from the earth, sometimes flashing horizontally as though it were suspended in the air; and its colours are mauve and pink and purple, like the colours on those twisted electric wires which are contained in glass tubes. Sometimes it is worth while to be kept awake, and one occasion is when the rain is booming like a drum on your tight-stretched tent, and the image of your cart and your ponies standing outside keeps leaping out of the darkness and appearing in a perfect shadow-show on the screen made by the front of your tent. But it blows, too, with these storms; and I have spent an hour in the darkness holding on to the poles of my tent while several of the guy-ropes fretted and flicked their pegs out of the ground, and having got them at their command whirled and slashed round the tent like Kaffir bullock-whips. Then the lightning drew away, though it did not cease, and the wind snuffed out, as is its way, as suddenly as it had come; and the rest of the night was full of quiet breathing. Take it for all in all this is a great country for campaigning. It would be ideal if there were more trees and fewer flies. There are many poisonous and voracious flies in Africa, but justice has not been done to the dangerous qualities of the South African domestic fly. It certainly produces a kind of madness or frenzy. Its persistence is beyond belief. It calls you in the morning early, and it spends the day with you in close attendance upon your head; finally it goes to bed in your tent near your head, in order that it may be ready to call you again the next morning. It is sometimes a little late in getting up on a cold morning, but then it is always too early for you. Its faithfulness would only require to be less distressing to be admirable. I can ride, for instance, from here to the Chieveley camp, seven miles, and take the same fly with me all the way there and back. After a long journey he may go to bed a little earlier—I don’t know—but I am sure he does not get up an)' later the next morning. But, to return to the graver aspect of our situation, what does all this waiting mean? Of course we knew that a long wait was intended when the greater part of the troops moved back to Frere from Chieveley. It means that twenty thousand men were not enough to cross the Tugela. It means that Sir Red vers Buller has met what is perhaps the greatest irony of his life. I believe he said years ago, long before war was imminent, that Natal north of the Tugela was an impossible field of operations for our troops; and now it is his fate to try to make those cursed hills possible. The next fight will be a grave moment; and at least he will not make it graver by neglecting to add Sir Charles Warren’s division to the twenty thousand men with whom he fought the battle of Colenso. Probably not more than three people know what the next plan of attack will be. Shall we try to flatten out those desperate Colenso hills with howitzers and more guns, and make another frontal attack, or shall we send a column to the west, or a column to the east, or columns both ways simultaneously, while a containing force remains at Chieveley? Frankly I am not one of the three, and I do not know. But it need not be thought that our delay here is entirely unprofitable. It need not equal the policy of the great Delayer to have still a good deal of profit in it. And the profit of it is that we are pinning down across the Tugela and round Ladysmith a force of some 25,000 Boers, many of whom would otherwise be employed elsewhere. The French in Metz were not quite useless while they demanded the attention of a couple of hundred thousand Germans. In a wide sense, too, if you can look at it so, we are besieging the Boers in those northern hills of Natal, and we might soon be doing so in a more precise sense were it not that there is a siege within a siege. That Ladysmith should have been held at all is the trouble, and it had to be held because it had been made a great depot, and that is the greatest trouble of all. Meanwhile our naval guns daily shell the Boer trenches for an hour or so. None can say what the result is. Are there Boers in the trenches when we shell them? Sometimes we know there are, for we see them scattering. This at least we know, that when lyddite strikes it does not wound, and the resolution with which the Boers stay in their trenches must be the measure of their losses. The Boers continue their conspiracy of invisibility. Perhaps we have not prosecuted very sedulously the policy of worry. Our reconnoitrers fail to discover their positions. We have no one here who can make them answer to his will with the hand and eye of the circus-master. We have no one who can make them fire all night by simply hanging up a red lamp in a field. On one of the nights when we feigned an attack the Boers simply scrutinised us with a searchlight. Our searchlight, when it signals to Ladysmith, is met by theirs, and the two fence with one another ludicrously in the sky. The latest diversion in our preparations here is the arrival of the traction engines and a balloon. The traction engines go faster than any I ever saw. The balloon has not yet risen. The fact is there has been a miscalculation. The balloon is designed to ascend 4,000 feet, which is excellent at Aldershot; but here we are up 3,500 feet already, so that the balloon has a margin in hand of only 500 feet. I hope the aeronauts will manage to get it up by relieving it of the cradle and sending up some light, acrobatic observer in the ropes. Otherwise I fear that when we get to a still higher place in the hills the balloon will try to go through the ground. Mr. Winston Churchill has returned to us, haggard after his escape from Pretoria. After chafing in confinement he was hunted for nine days—and what is more wearing than to be pursued? Yet I do not know which—the chafing or the being pursued—would make a man of his character the paler. I think the chafing. He has told me the story of his escape, but I must not tell it for him. Over ninety shells, he said, were fired at the armoured train. “Yes, you were right,” he went on, “shell fire is a firework—but a terrifyifig firework.” We had discussed it on board the Dunottar Castle, and I had said that shell fire was a firework compared with bullets. Then he explained how the party in the armoured train came to surrender. “Now mind —no surrender!” Haldane had said as the party left the train to fall back on some cottages. How often I had heard Haldane and Churchill crying out upon the number of prisoners taken in this campaign! But two Tommies waved handkerchiefs without authority, and in a moment the Boers were sweeping round them—it was out of the question to fire when the signal had been accepted—”rounding us up,” as Churchill said, “like cattle! The greatest indignity of my life!” Churchill had been merely grazed on the hand. The officer commanding the Boer guns came down from his kopje and raised his hat to his prisoners. “I regret very much,” said he, “the necessity of firing on you, but the fortunes of war, you know— my turn to-day, perhaps your turn to-morrow!” —a sentiment quite in the manner of the past times that people praise. Then came the long march to the Boer camp, with scrupulously polite conversation. “What garrison have you at Estcourt?” a Boer officer asked Churchill. “Forgive me,” was the answer, given in the tone of all the conversation, “but is that, do you think a fair question to ask me, even though I am a prisoner?” “I beg your pardon,” said the Boer; “I should not have asked it.” And it was not asked again. At last the Boer camp was reached, and at night —the last thing—came a volume of sound that swept on to Churchill’s ears as he lay on the ground, and startled him almost inhumanly. It was a volume of human voices singing the fervid closing psalm of the day. “Ah, but it was worse than shells to hear,” he told me. “It struck the fear of God into me. What sort of men are these we are fighting? They have the better cause—and the cause is everything—at least, I mean to them it is the better cause.” “In Pretoria,” he continued, “all the Boers I met asked me what we were fighting for. To them—and the argument was repeated by all like a lesson learned by rote—it appeared that the war had come about because the wicked capitalists wished to take their country. They were fighting for their homes. ‘ But,’ they used to say, ‘ none of your officers can tell us what the war is about. They say they fight because they are told to fight. Is not that very wrong?’” When Churchill escaped he left a letter for a Boer official who had often visited him, regretting that circumstances did not permit him to take a more formal farewell. Then came the nine days flight with his footsteps dogged. How he wandered in a wood and hid in a goods train is not my story to tell; it must be read as he writes it. Here, I know, he sits in my tent with a new and lively conviction of the Boer military genius.