Near Potgieter’s Drift, Sunday, January 14th, 1900. Such a banging had never been heard at Ladysmith. The voice of guns that floated over the hills to us who lay in Frere Camp was almost incessant, and reminded us of the first hours in the battle of Colenso. It was early—still dark—on Saturday, January 6th, and the sound had awakened some of us. Boom—boom—boom —boom! What a cannonade! Sometimes one could swear the sound was coming nearer as it burst down the breeze. Was Sir George White making out of Ladysmith southward? At other times it receded on the varying wind till it fell, the merest crepitation, on the ear. Anyhow, something extraordinary was happening; perhaps the garrison of Ladysmith was crowning with some act of skill and gallantry a skilful and gallant siege; perhaps the siege was now coming to its loud termination, and having come would still remain memorable for resource and daring, and memorable as the siege by which Sir George White won back his reputation. In the afternoon the heliographs winked out the explanation : the Boers had assaulted Ladysmith, had pressed the attack home with unquestionable courage, but had been beaten splendidly back on all sides; Lord Ava was badly wounded; the battle was continuing; the list of casualties would follow. With that little we must remain content till the sun flickered through a black sky for only a few minutes the next day, and then we learned that the battle had see-sawed all day; that three times the Boers had taken trenches on Caesar’s Camp, and three times had been driven out; that only one captured position had remained in their hands all day, and that at dusk the Devons, in a charge, had taken that back too, with the bayonet. In short, we had routed the Boers, and the Boers had routed the last of our fallacies—the fallacy that they were incapable of assaulting a fortified place. Possibly they liked the job little enough; they had taken long to make up their minds to it; but still they had done it, and done it with courage. The casualties on our side, fourteen officers killed, thirty-one wounded; 143 men killed, 228 wounded (an unusual proportion of killed to wounded) showed that the fighting had been at very close quarters. And the Boer loss? So far as I can ascertain it was roughly 150 killed and 600 wounded. Mr. Kruger is said to have ordered the assault. Whoever ordered it was indisputably right; on all tactical grounds it was advisable to take Ladysmith then if it ever could be taken, and disengage the investing force for the defence of the Tugela. The assault failed, and is only one more proof of a belief that approaches universal acceptance—namely, that a soundly fortified place defended by modern weapons cannot be taken by a frontal attack unless those weapons be in the hands of incompetents. The Boers, with all the advantages of numbers, fail to take Kimberley, Mafeking, Ladysmith; we fail to take the fortified hills wherever they stand in the way of our advance. According to the merely mechanical computations, then, to which all military reckonings are reduced to-day, it is necessary to outnumber one’s enemy by three or four to one, to have a fair chance of working round his flanks and driving him from hills and trenches. The Boers unhappily have the positions—they took them before we arrived—and it is not true to say that we shall be able to defeat them only by outnumbering them in a cowardly manner. They would need to do the same thing if they were in our place; the need is imposed not so much by disparities in skill or courage as by the calculable restrictions of modern warfare. I rode over early to Chieveley on the morning of the assault on Ladysmith; the sound of the firing might awake a response there, as it had already aroused an echo. I saw many Boers scurrying over the hills at the back of Colenso towards Ladysmith. Was not this the time, if not to test again the strength of the enemy, at least to relieve the pressure on Ladysmith? Slowly the idea became an order in the camp, and the order became a body of men marching out on to the plain—Hildyard’s and Barton’s brigades, the Mounted Infantry, and a couple of batteries. This was not till two o’clock. The infantry advanced very slowly in dotted lines and the batteries began to search the Boer positions, working from cast to west till they had studded the whole line with shells. While the guns barked, a great darkness and a veiling mist drifted down on the hills so that they were hidden from our naval gunners at Chieveley Camp; the naval gunners ceased firing, and the flashes of the field artillery on the plain were like matches being struck in the dark. Then came lightning in the inkiness, vivid and ghastly, striking down vertically on to the Colenso hills, but not a syllabic of an answer did the Boers offer to the bombardment of either heaven or earth. If this is a “demonstration” (which it was), let it be, they thought; if not, let us wait till it comes nearer. But the temptation to spend ammunition on our retirement must have been almost unconquerable. What is this wonderful intelligence in the individual that links itself into a chain through all the commandoes, and plays the part of a cultivated discipline? On Tuesday, January 9th, I happened to be riding back from Estcourt to Frere. Sir Charles Warren’s division was marching on the same road. It was raining. The sky might have been—indeed, it was—a shower-bath. The rain came through the still air in a steady, teeming, straight downpour that threshed in one’s ears. I wore an oilskin coat, but it was useless; the rain found assailable chinks or else beat its way through, I know not which. I know only that in five minutes I was wet to the skin. The hills seemed to melt down like tallow under heat; the rain beat the earth into liquid and the thick, earthy liquid ran down in terraced cascades. Wherever one turned one’s pony, on the road or aside into the veldt, he splashed ankle-deep. From Estcourt to Frere the division waded, sliding, sucking, pumping, gurgling through the mud; the horses floundered or toboganned with all four feet together; the waggons lurched axle-deep into heavy sloughs and had to be dragged out with trebled teams of oxen. And it was cold too, for the rain of even a tropical country can make you cold when you have been wet to the skin for hours. Men who had halted by the wayside for the frequent undesired rests shivered with grey, wet faces, played at hot-hands, chewed pipes which had long since gone out, and which there was no hope of relighting, or cheered to show that they were neither wet nor miserable. I happened to fall in with a staff officer and at last we came to a place where the troops thickened on the road and flowed out on both sides on to the veldt. It was a block. And the explanation sounded audibly in our ears—at the foot of the hill a tearing stream, boiling and foaming over the rocks. “A river!” said the staff officer. “I thought you knew this road?” “I’ve been over it a few times,” said I. “Surely, you knew then that there was a river?” “There never was before.” And now we began to see that this rollicking stream was the growth of only two or three hours. There, on the other side, was a whole battalion which had passed through it only an hour before and was now cut off from us. Staff officers trotted up and down the banks and asked if the pontoons were not yet in sight; a sapper was casting a plummet into the water and drawing it up every time with a very grave face. Still the pontoons did not come. But after we had waited an hour the water began to fall as quickly as it must have risen. Probably less water was coming from the hills, though where we stood it was raining as hard as ever. The water must have sunk two or three feet while I watched it, but still no one seemed to have a thought of crossing without the pontoons. It was at this point that a colonial trotted down to the stream, looking neither to right nor left at the block; perhaps he thought we had halted for a rest or for fun. He drove his horse in, kicked him in the sides, drew up his legs, and—by Jove!—he was across. This fussing stream was not so bad as it looked. My pony stood as high as the colonial’s, and the lead was good enough. Jab in your spurs, draw your knees up on the saddle, keep your horse’s head up-stream, and never look at the water; there is a plunge in the middle when the horse is nearly or quite off his legs for a second and a rushing in your ears, the water is piled up at his chest, and then it begins to fall away on his dripping flanks, and suddenly you are trotting up the opposite bank. This was the beginning of the flood which turned out to be at once the anxiety and the advantage of the whole army. Thus Sir Charles Warren’s division came to Frere. Sir Redvers Buller has now some 30,000 men. These are: the 2nd Division (Sir F. Clery), including 2nd Brigade (Hildyard), 5th Brigade (Hart), and 6th Brigade (Barton). The divisional troops are one squadron 13th Hussars, the 7th, 64th, and 73rd batteries R.F.A. (Parsons). Ammunition column, the 17th Field Company R.E. The 5th Division (Sir Charles Warren) includes 4th Brigade (Lyttelton), and nth Brigade (Coke), which consists of 2nd Royal Lancaster Regiment, 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers, 1st South Lancashire Regiment, and 1st York and Lancaster Regiments; and the divisional troops are one squadron 13th Hussars, the 19th, 28th, and 63rd batteries R.F.A. (Montgomery), and the ammunition column is the 37th Field Company R.E. The 10th Brigade, including the 2nd Dorsets, 2nd Middlesex, and 2nd Somerset Light Infantry, is being employed as an odd brigade to be drawn upon when necessary. The corps troops are one squadron of the 13th Hussars attached to headquarters, the 78th Battery R.F.A., the 61st Howitzer Battery, No. 4 Mountain Battery (2.5 inch), &c.—the Mounted Infantry being nearly 3,000 men. In this list I have given the constitution only of the brigades which I have not described in earlier chapters. Warren’s troops shook out their tents for one night at Frere. First, up with the poles to get the distances right, and acres of ground suddenly become a hop-garden in early spring; then down with the poles and hook on the canvas, and next you have a reeling set of houses swinging askew; that stage lasts till the anvil-clatter of the mallets and pegs has ceased and the ropes are drawn tight; and then the tents stiffen up and hold themselves erect like soldiers; and, behold, there is a neat town of conical houses as tight as drums. The men gratefully draw themselves inside, buzzing with conversation. Here at last a man can light a pipe! All Wednesday and Thursday, January 10th and nth, the great column—30,000 men, taking their tents and all their transport—the whole of Buller’s army, was moving westward to Spring-field. When the American military attach^ had been shown the Colenso hills after the reverse of December 15th, and he had gazed at them for a few minutes, he said to the officer with him, “Say, colonel, is there no way round?'’ Now we were trying a way round. None of us had ever seen such a sight. You looked down from any hill and the army was like a rope being drawn slowly across the country as far as you could see; here and there it dropped into a spruit, but it rose again on the other side; here and there it disappeared behind a kopje, but you could pick it up again beyond. It seemed endless, this rope made of all the strands that hold an army together—infantry, guns, gunners, ammunition, horsemen, waggons with forage, rations and tents; waggons hung all over like a gipsy van with clattering utensils, Kaffirs plying whips like fishing-rods, bakers, cooks, farriers, telegraphists, type-writers, paymasters, and paymasters’ clerks, post-office clerks, telegraph wires and poles, sappers, chaplains, doctors, ambulance waggons, bearers, “body-snatchers,” signallers with flags and heliographs, sailors, naval guns, headquarters staffs, cobblers, balloons, and aeronauts, limelight flashlights, traction engines with heavy lists to port or starboard, pontoons, &c., &c., &c. Frere was left once again a hollow place. Barton’s brigade remained at Chieveley as a containing force, endowed with that precious possession, the ' Russian poodle—the name given to the armoured engine which the sailors had draped all over with ropes hanging down to the ground in tassels. Hildyard’s brigade marched over the hills from Chieveley and cut into the main column on the Springfield road. The rain had ceased, but the floods were out, and the passages through spruits were nightmares—carts overturned in the water, wheels off, mules mixed up, fighting and knotted in their harness and half drowning, oxen with their heads borne down under water and heaving with all their mighty strength to the opposite bank, a gun or a heavy waggon stuck, and the river of traffic looping round it as water flows round an island; spare teams of oxen moving about to help the unfortunate out of difficulties, a traction engine, with one wheel almost buried in soft mud and two other engines pulling at it; Kaffir drivers with fearful mouthings yapping like terriers, having nearly lost their voices, or making no noise at all; Kaffirs flogging animals indiscriminately and the animals bearing the weals on their bodies; mules consenting to be flogged so long as they snatched passing mouthfuls of water; fatigue parties of soldiers throwing down rushes on the squishy mud to make it unappreciably firmer. And imagine all this scene, directed (if you care to add to the nightmare), directed by a man who is one of the worst types of the colonial, a man constantly laying his whip across the heads of Kaffirs—a performance for which he wins the applause, without inquiry, of some one on the bank who deserves to rank as his equal—a man who mistakes rudeness for independence and surliness for firmness. At least it was pleasant to see that we could beat some people at their own trades—for nothing went better through the traps of mud and water than the limber teams of our own gunners. A dash, a clatter, a frothing, and before you could wink your eye they were on the other bank! The colonials stared, open-eyed. But this new land we marched into was, on the whole, green and pleasant. Sometimes it was like a riding of Yorkshire for clean and airy emptiness; sometimes, for the dark trees, the drifting mist on the hills, and the discoloured broken streams, it reminded one of Scotland. Here were marching Yorkshire troops who had left England exactly four weeks before, and they might now have been in their own country. The column emulated the army in Flanders and swore terribly. And the reason of the swearing was that the floods were out and it was supposed that we were too late to cross the Tugela. But it so happened that the flood was to our advantage. The Boers, too, who were on this side of the Tugela feared that they would not be able to recross it, and they left the great hill barring the way to Potgieter’s Drift, meaning no doubt to reoccupy it later. Lord Dundonald, who had gone ahead of the column with some mounted infantry, had no orders to go beyond Springfield, but when he found that Observation Hill, as we have named our new position, was unoccupied, he marched on to it and held it. Six hundred men and two guns to keep it! An anxious night was passed; it was a strange thing this unoccupied hill, there might be some snare. But daylight showed the truth, in the shape of a noble panorama. We had gained much by winning the race for the hill— for the first time we looked down on the Boers— but we had not gained everything. Near Potgieter’s Drift the river makes a tongue of land where troops would have to enter in tight formation, and this tongue is commanded by hills on the right, the left, and in front. No doubt the Boers were satisfied with what they had retained. Observation Hill falls deeply and precipitously towards the river; and the Tugela (a Meander of a river) doubles and redoubles upon itself, a glistening band at our feet. To the north-east we look across open country and can see, not Ladysmith itself, but one of our camps just outside it. What a view of a battle there would be from Observation Hill; it would be spread like a war-game on a table for one’s inspection! “We ought to ’ave the Queen ’ere to see it,” said a gunner. “Ah, then we should smash ’em!” said his loyal comrade. On the hills opposite us the Boers work continually; at least this time we can see some of their guns. “Good navvies, ain’t they?” said my friend the gunner; and his comrade rejoined, “Like moles —the way they turn the earth over!” Then he continued, “What are we showin’ ourselves and our guns ’ere for?” Upon that the first gunner replied ironically, “Don’t yer know? That’s to give ’em plenty of time to get ready.” Plenty of time to get ready! Having arrived here with a dash we have sat down and done nothing for two days, while a great part of the army has remained strung out on the road behind us. But does not this mean that the Boers are welcome to fix their guns, that we intend no second frontal attack, that there is even yet another way round?