The Town-Guard called out—Echoes of Colenso—Heliograms from Buller—The Boers and Dingaan's Day—Disappointing news—Special correspondents summoned—Victims of the bombardment—Shaving under shell fire—Tea with Lord Ava—Boer humour: "Where is Buller?"—Sir George White's narrow escape—A disastrous shot—Fiftieth day of the siege—Grave and gay—"What does England think of us?"—Stoical artillerymen—The moral courage of caution—How Doctor Stark was killed—Serious thoughts—Gordons at play—Boers watch the match—A story by the way—"My name is Viljoen"—How Major King won his liberty—A tribute to Boer hospitality—"We rely on your Generals"—General White and Schalk-Burger—A coward chastised—"Sticking it out"
The week that followed the sortie to Surprise Hill must have been one of intense anxiety to Sir George White and his Staff. The attack on the enemy's gun positions coincided with General Sir Redvers Buller's preparations to force the passage of the Tugela at Colenso, and to march to the relief of Ladysmith. This, however, was not generally known in the town, which was engaged by what was taking place nearer at hand. On 12th December Mr. Pearse wrote:—
The big gun on Middle Hill, which the great "Twin Brethren" had put out of action some days before, was taken to Telegraph Hill and mounted in a strong position, whence its shells reached Cove Ridge, King's Point, and other defensive works with unpleasant persistency. Captain Christie's howitzers were therefore removed to a bend of Klip River, with the object of subduing this gun's fire again, if possible. It was apparently expected that the Boers would attempt reprisals for our night attacks. The Town Guard and local Rifle Association, having been duly embodied, were called out to line the river bank facing Bulwaan, and to assist in the defence of their town, but the Commandant still remained at Intombi Camp with sick, wounded, and non-combatants.
On December 15, the day of the disastrous attempt at Colenso, General Buller's guns could be plainly heard. Mr. Pearse has the following entries in his note-book:—
December 16.—Except for a bombardment heavier than ordinary, the past three days have been uneventful. Sounds of battle reached us in a dull roar from the distant southward. They grew more continuous yesterday, but rolled no nearer, and therefore told us nothing except that Sir Redvers Buller was making a vigorous effort to join hands with beleaguered Ladysmith, and that the Boers were with equal stubbornness trying to beat him back along the banks of the Tugela. From far-off Umkolumbu Mountain heliograph signals were flashed to us occasionally, but in cipher, the meaning of which is known only at headquarters. At dawn this morning the Boers celebrated Dingaan's Day by a royal salute from the big Creusot on Bulwaan and fourteen other guns. All fired shells, which fell thick about the camps, killing one Artilleryman, one Gordon Highlander, and a civilian; several other men were slightly wounded by splinters, but none seriously.
December 17.—Depressing news is now made public from Sir Redvers Buller, who made his effort on Friday for the relief of Ladysmith and failed. He bids us wait in patience for another month until siege artillery can reach him. The special correspondents were summoned in haste this morning to hear an abridged version of the heliograph message read. They were asked to break this news gently to the town before unauthorised editions could get abroad, but somehow the ill tidings had travelled fast and with more fulness of detail than the Intelligence Department thought fit to divulge. There has been gloom over Ladysmith to-day, which blazing sunshine cannot dispel, and Colonials in their anger use strong language, for which a temperature of 107° in the shade may be in some measure accountable.
Mr. Pearse's notes for the next few days are mainly devoted to the bombardment, which now became hotter and more persistent than ever, their success at the Tugela having inspired the enemy with new hopes of reducing the town. On Monday the 18th
the shelling began at daybreak, and lasted with little intermission until nearly dark from Boer guns all round our positions. Bulwaan began by throwing a shrapnel, which burst low over the camp of Natal Carabineers when the men were at morning stables. Four of them were killed, seven wounded, and a private of the Royal Engineers so badly hit that he lingered only a few hours. The same shell killed eleven horses in the Carabineer lines. In the town many people had narrow escapes when Bulwaan's 6-inch Creusot swept round, bringing its fire to bear with destructive effect on several prominent houses. One man lying in bed had a shell pass over him from head to foot within a few inches of his body. It burst on striking the floor, and well-nigh stifled him with dust and sulphurous fumes. When Bulwaan ceased Telegraph Hill began throwing shells even to the Manchester sangars on Cæsar's Camp, wounding three or four men, and one private of that regiment was killed by a Pom-Pom shot from the ridge beyond Bester's Farm.
On the following day, an hour after dawn, the shelling became hot about headquarters, then, however, changed its direction nearer to Captain Vallentin's house, in which Colonel Rhodes was generally found about breakfast, lunch, and dinner-time as a member of the 7th Brigade mess. Later the Police Station, or some building near it, seemed to have a curious fascination for the gunners of Bulwaan. They dropped shells now in front, then in rear, of the Court-house, but always in the same line, so that, for half an hour or so, Colonel Dartnell and his men had a warm time. One of their tents was hit, but luckily nobody happened to be in it at that moment. On Wednesday the 20th, too, one of the first shells from Bulwaan burst close to the Police Camp after passing through a row of slender trees and along the fence, inside which Colonel Dartnell's orderly was just preparing to shave. He had his looking-glass on a rail of the fence, when between it and himself, a distance of not more than two feet, the shell ripped with a deafening shriek, to bury itself and burst by the root of a tree not three yards off. How this man escaped death is a wonder. The wall behind him was scarred by splinters, the iron fence in front torn and twisted into strange shapes, the rails crushed to matchwood by the force of concussion. Yet there he stood unscathed in the midst of it all. He had not heard the shell coming until its burst stunned, and for nearly a minute afterwards he remained motionless, too dazed to know what had happened.
In the afternoon (writes Mr. Pearse) Lord Ava and I rode out to have afternoon tea with the officers of Major Goulburn's battery on Waggon Hill. Some Boers apparently had a larger and more festive gathering in the dismantled fort on Middle Hill. They were well within range of our 12-pounder, and the middy in charge was very anxious to have a shot, but Major Goulburn decided not to waste ammunition in breaking up that tea party or 'dop raad.' I confess this seemed to me a mistake, for Boers were sniping across Bester's Valley with such persistency that we had to keep a sharp watch on our knee-haltered ponies lest they should stray towards the dangerous zone, where one man of the Manchesters was killed directly he showed himself. There would have been some satisfaction in a reprisal, but orders are very strict against wasting ammunition, of which by the way we have none to spare that might not be wanted if the enemy should venture on a general attack.
On the same evening the Boers on Bulwaan signalled to the Gordons at Fly Kraal Post—"Where is Buller now? He has presented us with ten guns in place of three you took."
What seemed like the answer came on the following day, the 21st, when we have the following entry:—
Sir Redvers Buller's heavy batteries opened fire early this morning from some position south-west of Colenso. We feel, though we have no means of knowing for certain, that large reinforcements must have been sent that way recently from round about Ladysmith, leaving the lines of investment comparatively weak. Our enemy, however, makes a great show of being strong here by keeping up a more vicious bombardment when the situation threatens to become warm for him along the Tugela. His object, of course, is to discourage any diversion on our part, and it succeeds, because we have no motive for action yet. It is hard to have been cooped up for fifty days under fire, but we must make the best of it.
After trying in vain to reach the ordnance stores this morning Bulwaan got the range of headquarters. One shell burst a few yards short, the next crashed into Sir Henry Rawlinson's room, smashing all the furniture to atoms. Sir George White was lying in another room ill of a low fever, and there was naturally much anxiety on his account. For a long time he refused to be moved, but at length, under pressure of the whole staff, gave way, and consented to change his quarters to a camp less exposed. Immunity from shell fire is hardly possible within our lines now, for the Boers have mounted another howitzer on Surprise Hill to-day, and this, with the big Creusot still on Telegraph Hill, will probably search many places that have hitherto been comparatively safe, for our howitzers cannot keep down the fire of both.
December 22.—This was a day of heavy calamity for one regiment, and marked by more serious casualties than any other since the siege began. At six o'clock this morning a shell from Bulwaan struck the camp of the ill-fated Gloucesters on Junction Hill just as the men were at breakfast. It killed six and wounded nine, of whom three are very seriously hurt. A little later the big gun on Telegraph Hill threw a shell into the cavalry lines. It burst among the 5th Lancers, who were at morning inspection, and wounded Colonel Fawcett, Major King, a captain, the adjutant, a senior lieutenant, the regimental sergeant-major, a troop sergeant-major, and a sergeant. The last had an eye knocked out, but the others were only slightly wounded, and when their injuries had been looked to, they all formed in a group to be photographed.
December 23.—After early morning on Saturday came a strange lull in the bombardment, and people who count the shells as they fall, for lack of other employment, found their favourite occupation gone. Even the pigeons that are kept in training here for future military use seemed reluctant to fly in the still air, missing probably the excitement of sounds that urge them to revel in multitudinous cross-currents when shells are about; and long-tailed Namaqua doves flitted mute about the pine branches, as if unable to coo an amorous note without the usual accompaniment. Quiet did not reign all day, however. Towards evening the enemy's gun on Rifleman's Ridge, or Lancer's Nek, opened straight over the general's new quarters, to which Sir George White had only changed half an hour earlier. This may be merely a coincidence, but it is strange that no shells have fallen near his house at the foot of Port Road since he quitted it. Artillery could be heard southward at intervals pounding away with dull thuds like the beats of time on a big drum muffled. But we have almost ceased to speculate on the meaning of such sounds—while they come no nearer this way there is no message of relief to us in them, and we are getting reconciled to the idea of waiting, irksome though it may be and heavy with many unpleasant possibilities.
Ladysmith had now been for fifty days under the fire of the enemy's guns. The situation after Sir Redvers Buller's first failure to relieve the town, as has been seen, grew more serious, and although it was very far indeed from what could be regarded as critical, there is to be remarked in telegrams and letters of this period a growing appreciation of its irksomeness. But dark as the sky looked it was flecked by many a brighter patch. There was a gay as well as a grave side to life in the besieged town, and to both Mr. Pearse does justice in a letter written on 21st December under the heading, "Amenities of a Siege." It is as follows:—
We have done our best to endure shells, privations, and the approach of a sickly season with fortitude if not absolute cheerfulness, and our hope is that though the position here may not seem a very glorious one, it will be recognised henceforth as an example of the way in which British soldiers and colonists of British descent can bear themselves in circumstances that try the best qualities of men and women.
"I wonder what they think of us in England now? Do they regard us as heroes or damned fools for stopping here?" asked an officer of the King's Royal Rifles with comic seriousness. This question was transmitted in a slightly varied form by heliograph signal to our comrades south of the Tugela one day, and the answering flashes came back, "You are heroes; not——" Here the message was interrupted by clouds, and lost in a series of confused dashes which the receiving signaller could not read. We flatter ourselves, however, that the missing words were full of generous appreciation.
There is little enough reaching us from the outer world calculated to "buck up" troops who feel the ignominy of having a passively defensive role thrust upon them for "strategic reasons," cribbed, cabined, and confined within a ring of hills by forces believed to be inferior to their own, and exposed daily to shell fire, which, if not so destructive as our enemies intend it to be, brings a possible tragedy with every fragment of the thousands that fall about us. Counting eight hundred bullets and jagged bits of iron within the bursting area of one shrapnel shell from Bulwaan, a civilian expressed wonder that anybody should be left alive in Ladysmith after forty days of bombardment. Since then the shelling has been even hotter and more destructive; but, fortunately, Boer guns do not fire many shrapnel, nor do the shells burst always in places where they can do most damage. Many portions of the camp unprotected by works in any shape cannot be seen from the enemy's batteries, and though often searched for by shells thrown at haphazard, our Cavalry, Artillery, and Army Service lines have frequently escaped being hit by a good fortune that seems almost miraculous. One day three successive shells fell and burst between the guns of a battery, but the artillerymen, standing by their harnessed horses, did not move or seem to take any notice of the vicious visitors. Such is the etiquette of a service which, while firmly believing in the efficacy of its own fire, is trained to ignore that of an enemy's guns. Nevertheless gunners, like less stoical mortals, appreciate the value of bomb-proof shelters when shells are flying about; and experience, during this siege of Ladysmith, should have taught us all the dangers of carelessness when by timely discretion many calamities might have been averted.
But many people have not the moral courage to show caution when warned that shots are coming, so they stand still and take their chance instead of seeking shelter; or possibly it might be more just to say that fatalism in some form arms them with a fortitude which cannot be shaken by shells. Soldiers on duty stick, as a matter of course, to their posts, or go straight on with work that has to be done whatever the dangers may be; but just now I am not thinking so much of them as of civilians and troops in their leisure moments, for whom exposure is not a necessity. The townsfolk can, if they choose, find almost absolute safety by spending their days in cool caverns beside the river, or bomb-proof shelters cleverly constructed near their own houses; and care has been taken by the military authorities to provide every defensive position round the open camp and town with shelter trenches and covered ways, where soldiers off duty may rest secure from the heaviest shell fire. Yet after all there is much to be said in favour of the fatalists who put their trust in a Power greater than human agencies or foresight can control. They, at any rate, do not meet troubles half-way or suffer the terrible depression that leaves its traces on those who pass their days in dark damp caves, and only venture forth at night when danger seems to have passed, though that is by no means certain.
In one of my early telegrams to the Daily News, sent by Kaffir runner, I told briefly how Dr. Stark met his death at a time of apparent security. Descended, I believe, from one of the most famous of West-Country Nonconformists, he held views strongly in sympathy with what he regarded as the legitimate aspirations of an eminently religious community, and he came here as a visitor from England with the avowed object of giving medical care to any wounded enemies who might fall into our hands. When Boer shells began to burst about our ears Dr. Stark was the most practical advocate of caution. He would leave the Royal Hotel at daybreak every morning or even earlier, carrying with him a pet kitten in a basket, and sufficient supplies for a whole day up to dinner-time. When the light began to fade so that gunners could hardly see to shoot straight, and therefore ceased firing, he would emerge from his riverside retreat and return to the hotel. Foresight could not suggest more complete precautions against accident than he took on common-sense principles. But, unhappily, one evening the Boer artillery carried on practice later than usual, aiming with fixed sights steadily at the Royal Hotel, in the evident hope of hitting some staff officers who were supposed to hold their mess there. It was nearly dark when two shells came in rapid succession from the big gun near Lombard's Kop, and the second, passing clean through Dr. Stark's empty bedroom into the hall below, went out by an open door and hit the doctor, who was coming in at that moment. A special correspondent, Mr. McHugh, who happened to be standing near, rendered first-aid by the application of a tourniquet; and trained nurses came quickly to his assistance, but too late to save the kindly gentleman, who had been shot through both legs, and whose life-blood was ebbing fast, though he remained alive and conscious of everything that passed for an hour afterwards. The hand of fate seemed there, but whether it was more merciful to him or to those who, having escaped shot and shell, are now stricken by disease in an unhealthy camp, who shall say?
Incidents of this kind turn our thoughts to a serious complexion at times, and if a stranger could come suddenly into our midst in the moments of depression we should not perhaps strike him as a particularly cheerful community. Yet war even under these conditions has its amenities, and our mirthful moods, though chastened by events that thrust themselves upon us with unpleasant insistence, are not infrequent. For many welcome breaks in the monotony of daily life we are indebted to the officers and men of regiments that will not allow themselves or their neighbours to get into the doldrums for lack of such sports and entertainments as ingenuity can improvise. In this respect the Natal Carbineers, Imperial Light Horse, and Gordon Highlanders have shown a praiseworthy zeal, being encamped near each other, and having so far an advantage over regiments like the Devon, Liverpool, Gloucester, Leicester, Rifle Brigade, Royal Irish Fusiliers, King's Royal Rifles, and Manchester, which since the first day of investment have been detached for the defence of important positions, where they can hardly venture to expose themselves in groups without a certainty of drawing the enemy's artillery fire upon them, and where the necessity for ceaseless watchfulness at night puts a severe strain on all ranks. Not that the Gordons and Irregular Horse lead a leisurely life, or have any especial immunity from shells. On the contrary, they take a full share of duties in many forms, and they have been rather singled out as marks for the enemy's guns to aim at; but they have not to rough it as a whole battalion on hillsides without tents day after day, as their outpost lines or patrols can be relieved from standing camps in the hollows, and in those camps the main bodies, at any rate, get a fair allowance of undisturbed sleep, for it is only by day that they are bombarded. When the fire is not too hot, Gordons, and Light Horse especially, have merry times at regimental sports or friendly contests.
In a despatch sent out by a Kaffir runner, who has never come back to claim the reward for success, I gave a description of sports in the Gordon camp, when they and the Imperial Light Horse had a football match in the presence of many spectators, Sir George White and several members of his staff being of the number. Such a gathering in full sight of Bulwaan was too tempting for the enemy's gunners to resist. People were so absorbed in the game that they did not at first notice a cloud of smoke from "Puffing Billy," and when they did understand what the Kaffir warning "Boss up" meant, there was only time for the spectators to scatter hurriedly among tents before a shell fell plump between the goals and burst there,—the spectators flying in all directions,—but fortunately without harm to anybody. The men coolly filled up the pit where the missile, that had so nearly "queered their pitch," fell, and then played their game out; but care was taken to prevent onlookers from getting into a dense crowd again, and mule races were substituted for football, as presenting a less favourable mark for the aim of Boer gunners. These, however, seemed to be quite satisfied for a time with having made one good shot. They ceased firing, and stood or sat on the battery parapets, where, with the aid of glasses, they could be clearly seen watching the sports through telescopes and binoculars with sympathetic interest. But that did not prevent them from turning their gun with malicious intent on the town after these camp sports ended. It was nearly dark when two shots fell near the Royal Hotel, and the third went through it to find a victim in poor Dr. Stark.
The Gordons, for some reason or other, seem to have a curious fascination for our foes, who single this battalion out for special attentions, some of which could be dispensed with. In the form of frequent shells they are distinctly embarrassing, as it is impossible at present for the Highlanders to acknowledge such courtesies by an appropriate reply. If they are intended as invitations to closer acquaintance I am quite sure our kilted comrades will be happy to oblige any night by kind permission of the General commanding. The Boers, however, indulge at times in pleasantries that show no bitterness of feeling, but rather a desire to be playfully satirical in a way which is suggestive of the intellectual nimbleness of a humorous elephant. Their inquiries after Sir Redvers Buller have already been mentioned. As to the ostentatious friendliness of our enemies for British soldiers, with whom a temporary truce brings them in contact, some amusing stories are told. One day a field officer of Hussars was in command of cavalry on outpost, when a Boer travelling-cart, flying the white flag, came rapidly up to the examining picket, and its only occupant made a cool request that he should be allowed to enter our camp, in virtue of the Red Cross badge on his arm, as he wanted an ambulance sent out for some of our wounded, who had fallen into the enemy's hands. The Boer emissary was detained at the outposts until his message could be sent to headquarters and an answer brought back. "As I must wait here an hour," said he blandly, "won't you dismount and take a seat beside me under the shade of the awning?" Military regulations having made no provision for a refusal in such cases, the Englishman accepted, and the two were presently carrying on an animated conversation about many subjects not connected with the siege of Ladysmith. Now, the major has a remarkably youthful appearance, and when he chooses to assume the devil-may-care manner of a light-hearted subaltern, it fits him easily. Moreover, his shoulder-chains bore no distinctive badge of rank. There was nothing, in fact, to show that he was anything more than a cavalry lieutenant, whom no sense of responsibility oppressed. So the Boer felt his way quickly to subjects in which one who serves under the Geneva Convention has no right to be interested. Answers were given glibly enough, and at the end of that hour, with profuse assurances of amicable consideration, he departed, probably laying the flattering unction to his soul that much valuable information had been unconsciously imparted to him. He did not know that the free-and-easy young cavalry soldier who talked with such apparent frankness had learned a staff officer's duties as aide-decamp to one of our most astutely cautious Generals. This is the story as it was told to me at second hand, and if only well invented it is too good to be lost.
Still better is Major King's own narrative, of the adventures that befell him when, as the bearer of a flag of truce without credentials, he found himself practically a prisoner among the Boers. He had gone out to the Boer outposts to make inquiries about another staff affair—the bearer of a flag of truce whose prolonged absence was causing some uneasiness, as the message taken by him to General Schalk-Burger did not demand any answer. Major King had no intention of going inside the Boer lines, and therefore took with him no letter or written authority for his mission, but simply rode towards the enemy's piquets unarmed and carrying a white flag, to show that for once he was not playing the part of a combatant, though wearing a staff officer's undress uniform. When his purpose was explained to the Boers on duty, they suggested that he should accompany some of their number to the commandant's camp, and, without taking the precaution to blindfold him, they led the way thither, chatting pleasantly all the way about every topic except fighting. On reaching a group of tents, the exact position of which he for honourable reasons will not mention even to his own chief, Major King was confronted by a Boer leader, who was at first very wroth with the escort for bringing an English officer through the lines in that unceremonious way. When matters had been explained, however, the commandant, as he turned out to be, introduced himself, saying:
"My name is Viljoen. You have probably heard a great deal about me, if not much that is good. Some of your countrymen in the Transvaal thought me a very bad lot, and as they are now with the Imperial Light Horse in Ladysmith, I daresay there are many queer stories told about me; but I am not quite so bad as they make out. Your presence here without papers, however, is very awkward, and I have no alternative but to make you a prisoner."
"Oh, that's d——d nonsense," said Major King. "I had no wish to come here, but your men insisted on bringing me. My only object was to find out what had become of a brother-officer who should have got back to camp long before this. I give you the word of a soldier that I did not want to find out anything about your position, and whatever I may have seen, which is precious little, will be told to no one."
The commandant was in a difficulty, but agreed to send for one who is his senior in rank and submit the case to him. During the messenger's absence Major King was hospitably entertained, and his hosts, or captors, talked about sport, suggesting that some day might be set apart for an armistice, so that Boers and English might have a friendly race-meeting. The commandant, by way of showing that he does not bear resentment for the things that have been said about him, described his experiences after the battle of Elandslaagte, from which he was a fugitive, and said:
"I walked that night until I could go no farther, thinking that the Colonial volunteers were in pursuit. If I had known they were English cavalry I should have given myself up, for I was nearly done."
As pronounced by him, "Fiyune," his name does not sound familiar to English ears, and it was therefore not until some time afterwards that Major King knew he had been entertained by the notorious Ben Viljoen, who was first reported among the killed at Elandslaagte, then as wounded and a prisoner, but who in fact got away from the fight almost unscathed, and now holds a command in the Boer force outside Ladysmith. Interviews with a senior commandant, who was by no means complaisant, and finally with Schalk-Burger, followed. The latter, after raising many difficulties and dangling prospects of imprisonment in Pretoria before Major King, finally consented to release that officer on condition that he would not take any military advantage of what he had seen or heard in the Boer lines. That condition has been honourably kept, but the Major does not feel himself bound to make any secret of the fact that while the Boers kept him under detention they treated him "devilish well." This way of putting it may seem a little ambiguous, but those who know General Hunter's light-hearted A.D.C. will understand the sincerity of his tribute to the hospitality of Commandants Schalk-Burger and Ben Viljoen.
Another Boer, who may be credited with a desire to say pleasant things, was talking under a flag of truce with an English officer about the prospects on each side. "We admit," he said, "that the British soldiers are the best in the world, and your regimental officers the bravest, but—we rely on your generals."
Even on the battlefield, when men are apt to be carried away by the lust of fighting, many incidents have happened that touch the chords of sympathy. The Boers have curious notions about white flags and Geneva Crosses, but so far as our experience goes nobody can accuse them of inhumanity to a fallen or helpless foe, except in the matter of firing on hospitals when they think there are military reasons to justify them. They shelled the Town Hall of Ladysmith persistently while sick and wounded were lying there and the Red Cross flag waved above its clock-tower. In reply to a protest from Sir George White, Commandant Schalk-Burger defended his gunners on the plea that we had no right to a hospital in Ladysmith while there was a neutral camp at Intombi Spruit for their reception. The contention was, of course, preposterous, and based moreover on the insulting assumption that our General had been guilty of sheltering effective combatants behind an emblem which all civilised nations have agreed to respect. Possibly the enemy may seek to show that we are not above suspicion in such things, by reference to a skirmish in which one of our batteries did open from a position directly in front of ambulance waggons. These were outspanned near a field hospital when the affair began, and as it was thought necessary to get the wounded out of possible danger quickly, they had to be removed some little distance in dhoolies. Meanwhile the Boers were getting guns on to a kopje where they might have enfiladed one of our most important lines of defence. To stop them in time a battery had to be brought into action, and the only ground from which it could have shelled the kopje, to frustrate the enemy's purpose of mounting a gun there, was just in front of the ambulance waggons. Care, however, had been taken in that case to lower the Red Cross flag, so that our artillery cannot be accused of using it as a "stalking horse," though each waggon bears the same symbol painted conspicuously on its canvas awning. These are matters about which some ill-feeling has been aroused, but they do not lessen our appreciation of acts by which individual Boers have shown magnanimity while smarting under losses that must have been bitterly humiliating to them.
When our cavalry reconnaissance was pushed forward after the successful night attack on Gun Hill, the Hussars got into a very tight place, from which they extricated themselves by a dash that cost many lives, and some wounded were left on the field with their dead comrades. Ambulances were sent out for them under a flag of truce. As one Hussar was being carried on a stretcher, a young Boer jeered at him, using epithets that were so coarse and cowardly that they roused the ire of a bearded veteran who probably fought against our troops nineteen years ago. With one blow he felled the youngster, and thereby gave him an object-lesson in the treatment that is meet for those who abuse a helpless foe. To chivalry of a similar kind Captain Paley owed his life when wounded after the night attack on Surprise Hill, according to the story told by one who heard it while the wounded officer was being brought back to camp next day. In the confusion and darkness Captain Paley's men did not see him fall directly after he had given the order for them to charge. He was left there sorely wounded, and one of the many foreigners now fighting against us in the enemy's ranks levelled a rifle at him, but was stopped before he could pull the trigger by a blow from the butt-end of a rifle that sent him reeling. Again it was a grey-bearded veteran who had come so timely to the rescue of an Englishman. If many such stories are told we must either come to the conclusion that the older Boers do not entertain against us the hatred with which they are credited, or that there is one of their number who goes about the battlefield from fight to fight seeking opportunities to succour British soldiers in distress. At any rate, all this is simply history repeating itself. Mr. Carter, in his impartial narrative of the former Boer war, tells us:—
"Similar evidence was furnished after every encounter our troops had with the Dutch. It was the young men—some mere boys of fifteen—who displayed, with pardonable ignorance, bragging insolence. The men of maturer years, with very few exceptions, behaved like men, and in the hour of victory in many instances restrained the braggarts from committing cowardly acts. In this fight at the Nek, Private Venables of the 58th, who was one of the prisoners taken by the Boers, owed his life to Commandant De Klerck, who intervened at a moment when several Boers had their guns pointed at the wounded soldier."
It is not, however, very reassuring to find that but for such timely intervention wounded men might possibly be shot or ill-treated, and therefore our soldiers will not be restrained from risking their lives to rescue a fallen comrade merely by the announcement that "we are at war with a civilised foe, to whose care the wounded in battle may be confidently left." We may be thankful for the fact that saving life under fire is still regarded as an act worthy of the Victoria Cross "for valour."
In other respects, we do not owe much gratitude to the Boers. If we were dependent upon them for anything that could help to make life in a bombarded town tolerable, Ladysmith's plight to-day would be pitiful. They have tried their hardest—though not successfully—to make every house in the place untenable between sunrise and sunset, doing infinitely more damage to private property than to military defences; and they have thrown shells about some parts of the long open town with a persistence that would seem petty in its spitefulness if we could be sure that the shots strike near what they are aimed at. So long as the Boers do not violate any laws of civilised warfare nobody has a right to blame them for trying the methods that may seem most likely to bring about the fall of Ladysmith. They have, however, simply wrecked a few houses, disfigured pretty gardens, mutilated public buildings, destroyed private property, and disabled by death or wounds a small percentage of our troops, without producing the smallest effect on the material defences, or weakening the garrison's powers of endurance in any appreciable degree. Such a bombardment day after day for seven weeks would doubtless get on the nerves if we allowed ourselves to think about it too much; but happily the civilians—men and women—who resolved to "stick it out" here rather than accept from their country's enemies the questionable benefits of a comparatively peaceful existence under the white flag at Intombi Spruit have shown a fortitude and cheerfulness that win respect from every soldier. Shelters are provided for them and their children, but they do not always take advantage of these, even when a bugle or whistle from the look-out post warns them that a shell is coming. Ladies still go their daily round of shopping just as they did in the early days of bombardment, indeed more regularly, and with a cool disregard of danger that brave men might envy. Though more than 5000 shells have been thrown within our defensive lines, and a vast number of these into the town itself, only one woman has been wounded so far, and not a single child hit. For all this we have every reason to be thankful.
When the sun goes down people who have taken shelter elsewhere during the day return to their homes, and have pleasant social gatherings, from which thoughts of Boer artillery are banished by innocent mirth and music. Walking along the lampless streets, at an hour when camps are silent, one is often attracted by the notes of fresh, young voices, where soft lights glow through open casements, or the singers sit under the vine-traceried verandah of a "stoup," accompanying the melody with guitar or banjo. Occasionally stentorian lungs roar unmelodious music-hall choruses that jar by contrast with sweeter strains, but sentiment prevails, and who can wonder if there are sometimes tears in the voices that sing "Swanee River" and "Home, Sweet Home," or if a listener's heart is deeply moved as he hears the words, "Mother come back from the Echoless Shore," sung amid such surroundings in the still nights of days that are hoarse with the booming of guns. Few of us, however, despise comic songs here when time and scene fit. We have them at frequent smoking-concerts that help to enliven a routine of duty that would be dull without these entertainments. There are no regimental bands to cheer us, but the Natal Volunteers have improvised one in which tin whistles and tambourines make a fair substitute for fifes and drums. The pipes of the Gordon Highlanders we have always with us, too.