I was feeling miserable as I sat in the hospital garden, and I rather fancy I looked pretty much as I felt, for a cheery-faced Boer nurse, with her black hair, blacker eyes, and rose-blossom lips, came up to where I sat, bringing with her two or three slightly wounded Boers. "I have brought some Boers who know something of your countrymen, Mr. Australian," she said. "I thought you would be glad to hear all about them." "By Jove! yes, nurse. If I were not a married man, I should try to thank you gracefully." "Oh, yees; oh, yees," she answered, tossing back her head; "that is all right. You say those pretty things; then, when you go away from here, you tell your wife, and you write in your papers we Boer girls are fat old things, who never use soap and water. All the Rooibaatjes do that." And off she went, laughing merrily, whilst my friends the enemy grinned and enjoyed the little comedy. So we fell to talking, and-half a dozen wounded "Tommies" gathered round and chipped into the conversation, which by degrees worked round to a deed which the West Australians did; and as I listened to the tale so simply told by those rough farmer men, I felt my face flush with pride, and my shoulders fell back square and solid once more, whilst every drop of blood in my veins seemed to run warm and strong, like the red wine they grow on the hillside in my own sunny land; for the story concerned men whom I knew well, men who were bred with the scent of the wattle in the first breath they drew, men who grew from childhood to manhood where the silver sentinel stars form the cross in the rich blue midnight sky. My countrymen--Australians--men with whom I had hunted for silver in the desolate backblocks of New South Wales; men with whom I had scoured the interior of West Australia seeking for gold; men who had been with me on the tin fields and opal fields. I had never doubted that they would keep their country's name unsullied when they met the foe on the field of war, yet when I heard the tale the enemy told I felt my eyes fill as they have seldom filled since childhood, for I was proud of the western diggers, proud of my blood; and at that moment, with British "Tommies" sprawling on the grass at my feet, and the Boer farmers grouped amongst them, I would sooner have called myself an Australian commoner than the son of any peer in any other land under high heaven.
I will take the story from the Boer's mouth and tell it to you, as I hope to tell it round a hundred camp fires when the war is over, and I go back to the Australian bush once more. "It happened round Colesberg way," he said; "we thought we had the British beaten, and our commandant gave us the word to press on and cut them to pieces. Our big guns had been grandly handled, and our rifle fire had told its tale. We saw the British falling back from the kopjes they had held, and we thought that there was nothing between us and victory; but there was, and we found it out before we were many minutes older. There was one big kopje that was the very key of the position. Our spies had told us that this was held by an Australian force. We looked at it very anxiously, for it was a hard position to take, but even as we watched we saw that nearly all the Australians were leaving it. They, too, were falling back with the British troops. If we once got that kopje there was nothing on earth could stop us. We could pass on and sweep around the retiring foe, and wipe them off the earth, as a child wipes dirt from its hands, and we laughed when we saw that only about twenty Australians had been left to guard the kopje.
"There were about four hundred of us, all picked men, and when the commandant called to us to go and take the kopje, we sprang up eagerly, and dashed down over some hills, meaning to cross the gully and charge up the kopje where those twenty men were waiting for us. But we did not know the Australians--then. We know them now. Scarcely had we risen to our feet when they loosed their rifles on us, and not a shot was wasted. They did not fire, as regular soldiers nearly always do, volley after volley, straight in front of them, but every one picked his man, and shot to kill. They fired like lightning, too, never dwelling on the trigger, yet never wildly wasting lead, and all around us our best and boldest dropped, until we dared not face them. We dropped to cover, and tried to pick them off, but they were cool and watchful, throwing no chance away. We tried to crawl from rock to rock to hem them in, but they, holding their fire until our burghers moved, plugged us with lead, until we dared not stir a step ahead; and all the time the British troops, with all their convoy, were slowly, but safely, falling back through the kopjes, where we had hoped to hem them in. We gnawed our beards and cursed those fellows who played our game as we had thought no living men could play it Then, once again, we tried to rush the hill, and once again they drove us back, though our guns were playing on the heights they held. We could not face their fire. To move upright to cross a dozen yards meant certain death, and many a Boer wife was widowed and many a child left fatherless by those silent men who held the heights above us. They did not cheer as we came onward. They did not play wild music, they only clung close as climbing weeds to the rocks, and shot as we never saw men shoot before, and never hope to see men shoot again.
"Then we got ready to sweep the hill with guns, but our commandant, admiring those brave few who would not budge before us in spite of our numbers, sent an officer to them to ask them to surrender, promising them all the honours of war. But they sent us word to come and take them if we could. And then our officer asked them three times if they would hold up their hands, and at the third time a grim sergeant rose and answered him: 'Aye, we will hold up our hands, but when we do, by God, you'll find a bayonet in 'em. Go back and tell your commandant that Australia's here to stay.' And there they stayed, and fought us hour by hour, holding us back, when but for them victory would have been with us. We shelled them all along their scattered line, and tried to rush them under cover of the artillery fire; but they only held their posts with stouter hearts, and shot the straighter when the fire was hottest, and we could do nothing but lie there and swear at them, though we admired them for their stubborn pluck. They held the hill till all their men were safe, and then, dashing down the other side, they jumped into their saddles and made off, carrying their wounded with them. They were but twenty men, and we four hundred"
A "Tommy" sitting at the speaker's feet looked up and said: "What are yer makin' sich a song abart it far? Lumme, them Horstraliars are as Hinglish has hi ham!"