I am trying to din the fact into my head that I am a civilian again and not a soldier any more. It is difficult. I find myself looking questioningly at my suit of grey flannel. It feels like a disguise. No soldiers' hands as I pass them rise in salute now, though my own involuntarily half rises in answer They look at me and take no notice. A recruiting sergeant tried to induce me this morning to join an irregular corps. He told me I should get five shillings a day, and that it was a fine life and a beautiful country.
And yet I know that, in a few days even, the civilian life that seems so unreal now will be the real, and the old soldier life the unreal. I shall not in my walks find my eyes wandering "with a vague surmise" over the nearest hilltops in search of Boers, nor measuring unconsciously the range from the top of Table Mountain, which I find myself doing even as I write this, looking up at it through the window. The trekking, the fighting, the croak of the invisible rifle, the glare of the sun, the row of swarthy determined faces, the roar of horse hoofs, all this, and the lounging days by river banks (shooting guinea-fowl and springbuck), will drop back and be shut off from one's life to rise now and then, I suppose, with the creeping of an old excitement in one's memory.
There was a heavy gloom on the last days of my soldiering. It was at Naauwpoort that I first joined the Guides. We stopped there coming down. There was the waiting-room, the very table I had slept on; the sun-baked flat where first I met the Major; the slopes where our tents were pitched—Lord! how the sight of the place brings it all back, and how different everything has turned out from what we expected; it was there that I joined, and it was there, travelling down with our time-expired men, that we first heard the news of the Queen's death. You at home will feel this deeply—of course every one must—but I can't help thinking that out here, far away from home and fighting, one feels it even more. I am almost surprised at minding so much. There is an irksome sense at the back of one's mind, even when one is thinking of other things—of loss, of something wanting. England seems less England to me than it did and I less of an Englishman. It gives a faint satisfaction to have been one of her soldiers at the end.
I will spare you my raptures on reaching Cape Town and seeing the woods and clear streams and sea again. The change from a comparatively barren country to the richly-wooded slopes under Table Mountain, and the burst of sparkling sea beyond is quite sudden. At one step, in the twinkling of an eye, you pass from monotony and desolation and the old life of the veldt into everything that is most lovely and suggestive of freedom and variety. Huge Table Mountain rises high over the town, its steep slopes wooded with forests of pine and oak. Gorge-like narrow passages wind into the upright precipices of rock and separate them into great pinnacles of grey stone. I clambered up there a few days ago, through hot-smelling pine woods, heaths of all sorts, evergreens and flowers, clear water like Scotch burns coming down among the rocks with its toss of white froth and amber pools, and such a view, when one got to the top, down over the whispering woods and out over the flat sea!
The sea was the thing that beat all—"the great sea perfect as a flower,"—the sight of it was a stab. There are great four-masted barques and full-rigged ships lying at the wharfs and outside—double t'gallant yarders, my boy; I yelled at them by way of greeting down across the tree-tops.Nearer in lies a long black steamer, a transport. She is an ugly looking old tub, but in my eyes perfect. Handsome is as handsome does. She takes us home to-morrow, my pony and me.