rejoicing at Maritzburg—the Onderspruit Road—results of battle—a comfortable camp—a look at Ladysmith —irregular forces—my servant reappears.
March 8.—I am glad to be back in my tent again, as Maritzburg is a dead-alive kind of place; but my short visit, to see Gourlay and arrange for the future, gave me at least an insight into the loyalty of the town, if I can judge it by the consumption of champagne and the display of flags and banners. Truly the ecstasies of London and other interested towns can be shared in by Maritzburg, and though I was not there (as you know) the day the news arrived, the relief of Ladysmith was of sufficient importance to demand speeches from the governor and prime minister, processions to the various leading magnates' residences, thanksgiving services, and the relaxation of the laws which order " that in the event of a man being found drunk and incapable he shall," &e. But that latter ebullition of sound government was a matter-of-course, as no one could possibly know if his neighbour was suffering from alcoholic poisoning or the release of his pent-up feelings at the good news.
I did not succeed in getting a step further in my negotiations with the War Office, and am even now waiting their permission to write for the papers; so I am back again with my regiment, hoping to stay, but absolutely uncertain as to what the morrow will bring forth. The fact is, I think Lord Roberts's request is sufficient safeguard to any breach of General Buller's orders, but as we are not likely to advance for some time, it is possible Lord Roberts may solve the difficulty, and let me come to him, as Colonel Thorneyeroft quite understood my position as regarded my contract with the ' Daily Mail,' and has not yet gazetted my commission in case I leave him.
I met Colonel Rhodes in Maritzburg, and General Ian Hamilton, just down from Ladysmith : I am afraid the latter is feeling the effects of his enforced incarceration, but I believe he goes round to Lord Roberts, which will probably do him good.
I came back here on Tuesday night, and rode from Colenso by the Onderspruit road, about eighteen miles—one of the most interesting rides I have ever done, as it was on this road the Boers attacked us, on this road they intrenched themselves, and by this road they made their main retirement. The road runs round the back of Grobler's Kloof, and enters Lady-smith after a wide detour from the north-west. Their trenches and sangars were perfectly marvellous, and the Kaffirs or Zulus, who probably had to carry out the work under the lash, had made a splendid job of it. In some cases, in order to deceive our range-finders, the excavated earth had been carried 50 to 100 yards forward or back from the actual trenches, so that the shells bursting on these earthworks did no actual damage to the men in the trenches. The trenches themselves, too, were in many instances works of art, the top of them so narrow that a big man would have to squeeze his way in, while at the base they were wide and roomy, forming by this means a very adequate bombproof shelter.
I passed on my way a demolished cottage— the work of our guns ; and it was evidently here that the Boers had placed a battery, judging from the many empty gun - cartridges lying about, some of which I carried off as trophies— mementos of my first battle. I found the place where the dreaded pom-pom had been hidden from our view, but no cartridges were there, only the straw in which each shell is wrapped. Here and there the vultures, soaring high in the still blue heavens, were anticipating a morning meal from one of the numerous dead carcasses, and the road itself wTas a mass of holes and rocks dislodged by our lyddite shells.
I reached camp about midday, and found it in the most divine spot. Moreover, in anticipation of at least ten days' idleness, the mess-tent is pitched, as well as all the officers' and men's, and soldiering in this way can in no sense be called a hardship. Here as I sit writing in my tent, with two boxes for my writing-table and one of the chairs from the mess-tent to sit upon, I can see gleaming in the morning sun the white crag which overhangs Van Reenen's Pass, and on the other sides the now famous Bulwana, Caesar's, and Waggon Hills. Ladysmith itself is just hidden from my view by a small kopje, but far down over a big broad valley I can hear the oxen lowing and the mules neighing as they chew the fresh green grass and feel the joy and contentment of a well-earned rest. Close by me the cook is cleaning up the breakfast things, the servants tidying up their masters' tents, and the farriers busy with their forge. The horses of one of the companies are going down to water, and some mules are being inspanned to the Scotch cart, while the quiet laziness of a noon-day sun is pervading the rest of the camp,—truly a make-believe that the whole world is at peace !
We are quite a big mess just now, though several officers are still invalids or on leave; and yesterday the colonel had the officers of his old regiment, the Scots Fusiliers, to lunch with us. It was they who, with the South Lancashires, did so well at Pieters Hill; but they have had to pay for it, poor chaps—over 100 killed and wounded men and ten officers. Writing of them reminds me of a very interesting story. They have at this moment in their camp, which is close by us, the old union-jack which in 1881 was flying over Pretoria when the disgraceful peace of Majuba was made. Here it is again, and General Buller knows it. It should not be his fault nor that of the Scots Fusiliers if they do not hoist it again, this time for ever, over the Transvaal capital.
I rode into Ladysmith yesterday afternoon and had a cup of tea with the Leicesters : they were in a rather bad way, but most cheery. Then I went down to see General Brocklehurst, whom I found at the cavalry headquarters with Johnny Willoughby. One of the first questions I was asked was why the T. M. I. had not taken part in the procession of Buller's troops through Ladysmith last Saturday. I was not there myself that day, but it appears that the whole of Lord Dundonald's brigade, composed as it is almost entirely of Colonials and Uitlanders, were omitted from the programme. There is considerable comment on this, and no little ill-feeling has been aroused, as this is not the first time this splendid body of irregulars has been overlooked. After Spion Kop General Buller went round to every camp and said something nice, but the heroes of the battle (this regiment) and the rest of Dundonald's brigade were absolutely ignored. Let us hope it has been an oversight (though few believe it to be anything but an intentional slight), as we can ill afford in these days to treat our Colonial forces who have come so grandly to the Empire's aid with such scant courtesy. I wish you could have seen Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry, the South African Light Horse, or the Natal Carabineers. They don't go in for dress, but they look like business, and good work have they done already. I hear that the Imperial Light Horse have gained a tremendous reputation for their gallant conduct while in Ladysmith. But enough!
Our brigade post - corporal is erratic in visiting the post-office, and newspapers and mails come at very uncertain times. When they do come, what a rush there is for them ! It is said that Sir Charles Warren leaves with two brigades for Stormberg, and we and the old Ladysmith garrison are to stay and recruit and refit—I hope not for too long. By the way, my servant has turned up again. He seems to have lost himself, and was almost the first into Ladysmith.