parting—my friend and I—at Southampton docks—goodbye—the c.i.v.—about some passengers—Madeira.
Jan. 13.—The special train left Waterloo at eleven. It always does on Saturdays, and still more, it always leaves a lot of little things behind it. I don't mean handbags or rugs ; no! they are too assiduously watched by the well-tipped porter and stout policeman; but it leaves some one—often more than one— waving a little bit of white handkerchief, which occasionally ceases nagging its valedictory signal to be applied to the brave smiling face over which hot tears of anguish are coursing. You may be a good man or you may be a bad, but there is always somebody foolish enough to be fond of you; and the knowledge of the impending clanger you are going to confront in that far-away country forces from you, for at least one moment in your life, a feeling of gratitude that you can love and are loved in return. But the joy of going to join our soldiers at the front, and the expectation and thrill which fresh scenes must ever bring to a man who is travelling for the first time, soon make him forgetful, and by the time the special dashes" headlong through Winchester station he has thrown off the cloak of silent thought, and is beginning to sort his parcels and preparing to go on board.
At least so it was with me when my friend Murray Gourlay and I started on our way to South Africa on January 13. I was going out as a servant of the ' Daily Mail' and ' Sphere,' armed with pencil and camera, instead of going, as I had originally hoped and intended, with the Imperial Yeomanry. Gourlay comes as my right-hand man, for he knows South Africa; and whether useful with the camera or not, he will at any rate be what he has always been —a friend and cautious adviser. The reason why I forsook the sword for the pen may be attributed, in the first instance, to the action of my late colonel, Sir John Gilmour; and secondly, to my feeling that it would be a long time before the Yeomanry ever reached the front, of such magnitude was the chaos which prevailed between Pall Mall and Suffolk Street, and between Suffolk Street and Edinburgh. So, thirsting as I was to see " war," I accepted Mr Harms worth's offer to go where I could. I certainly am starting with much diffidence and doubt as to whether I shall ever reach the front, owing to the limited number of licences the War Office have issued, and my late arrival upon the scene. I have, however, a pleasant little duty to perform at Cape Town in the organisation of the Absent-minded Beggar Relief Fund for the benefit of our home-coming; wounded soldiers. That will keep me busy for at least a week if I carry out faithfully the instructions I have received.
The train drew up alongside the quay where the Union Liner Briton was moored, disclosing a scene of unusual activity and excitement. "We were to travel with the City Imperial Volunteers. There they were, sure enough, still embarking on the great ship which was to introduce them to the first hardships of real warfare for which they had so gallantly tendered their services in the cause of Queen and country. Mixing with them as they went on board was a crowd of friends and relations ; and the Lord Mayor of London himself had done them the honour of a last official visit.
A telegraph clerk handed me a bundle of telegrams, and I elbowed my way to my cabin through the surging crowd to see who they were who had remembered me at the last moment, and to wire a few " good - byes" to those I had had no opportunity of expressing them to personally. I came up again, and immediately the scene I had left behind at Waterloo forced itself once more into my view. What I had suffered then, hundreds were suffering now ! The bell to clear the decks of visitors rang once, rang twice, rang even a third time before it could dismiss its sobbing and reluctant guests. Poor souls! I felt for them : mothers, sisters, cousins, aunts — ay, even sweethearts. 1 lingered by the ship's gangway and watched the last farewells— the band struck up the well-known tunes—cheer after cheer was raised—the last mail-bag was on board—the hawsers were east loose — a girl seemed to totter in the crowd, then fell—" God save the Queen " burst from a thousand throats, — and the last I can remember, through tears which would not be repressed, was a sea of white handkerchiefs waving God-speed to the City heroes as the mighty liner turned her stern to the now darkening shore.
Jan. 17.—We have reached Madeira after a fast passage, but not without the usual discomfort the Bay of Biscay has a knack of supplying. Certainly it was not rough, and still more certainly it was not smooth. The poor C.I.V. felt the discomfort more than we did. Treated, as they would naturally wish to be, like the regular " Thomas Atkins," their quarters were in that part of the ship astern usually allotted to steerage passengers ; and what with the racing of the screw beneath them, the knocking of the helm's gear above them, and the closeness of their cramped quarters, it was no surprise to find them, when they were not stretched about on the decks in the fresh air, suffering from seasickness down below. But they have quite got over it, and seem to enjoy the novelty of peeling potatoes, fetching the dinners, and acting sentry on various parts of the ship. A splendid lot of fellows they are, nearly all men of position and earning good incomes, most of them crack rifle-shots, and each imbued with the one desire to distinguish himself on the field of battle. We have only got the Mounted Infantry portion on board. Colonel Cholmondeley commands them, and has with him Captains Bell (adjutant), Reid, Waterlow, and Lieutenants C. Wilson, Manisty, Moller, Berry, and Ridler (quartermaster). It is a pleasure to see the courtesy of the officers to their men, and the smart discipline of the latter towards their superiors. They are sure to do well. If they don't, it won't be for lack of exercise ; for they "double" round the boat-deck for hours every day, do plenty of physical drill, and are learning to mount and dismount on a vaulting - horse which is on board for the purpose. Among them I found a friend in R. P. Lewis, the old Oxford wicket-keeper.
To turn to ourselves, we are a curious gathering, and beyond the officers of the C.I.V., who, with Mrs Bell, the adjutant's wife, mess at one table, I have so far only made the acquaintance of those at my own, which includes Algy Lennox, anxious for some appointment, Murray Gourlay, Cecil Leigh, also in search of a job, and two ladies—one of whom has appeared for a minute, only to rush away again to her cabin, while the other bids fair to be a source of interest on the voyage. She is not pretty— she is as yet not very talkative. She says she is a nurse—and has been to Klondike. Other people say she is a Boer spy ! Captain Griffin, R.N., at whose table we sit, is an old Navy Reserve man, and gives us j:>lenty of information on how he took the troops to Suakim (presumably by sea), and how he won the Egyptian medal in consequence! He and his officers are assiduous in their attentions, especially the "chief," whose first voyage it is on the Briton. Meanwhile a shouting, chattering crowd is at the ship's side, and I must go and have a look at Madeira before I close this letter. It is six in the morning, and we sail at ten.
I am finishing this at the Santa Clara Hotel, sitting on a verandah which overlooks this quaint little Portuguese settlement. Beneath me the Briton lies coaling in the bay, and round about me are masses of bright bougainvillea creepers and scarlet geranium. A heavy mist hangs over the hills at the back of the town, obscuring what must, on a fine day, be a heavenly bit of scenery. The town itself is curiously devoid of interest, at any rate to the casual wait-an-hour visitor, but the usual foreign beggar is in evidence at every street corner. Streets! What a term for these miserably narrow, slippery, cobbled, steep alleys ! I wonder at such a dirty little place being considered a health resort; but for quaintness it certainly is worth a peep, and reminds me somewhat of Ajaccio, which I visited some years ago. The funny little castle, used as a fort, is made all the funnier by its tiny guards, whose very rifles seem to dwarf their pigmy stature. Little, covered, box-shaped, wheelless carts, drawn by tiny bullocks, provide the general means of conveyance. But as it is time I was off, I will not weary you with a well-worn subject, but only leave behind me a sigh of regret at having to tear myself from the lovely flowers which alone give an air of contentment to this relaxing little town of Funchal. Adios!