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Out on the veldt, far from the wife and home he loves so well, he stands, our country's bold, unyielding foe. And even as he stands he knows that the finger of Fate has written his own and his country's doom in letters large and deep on the walls of time. Yet, with unblenching brow, he waits the falling of the thunderbolt, a calm, grand figure, fit to live in history's pages when every memory of meaner men has passed into oblivion, M.T. Steyn, President of the shattered Free State of South Africa. Around this man the human jackals howl to try with lying lips to foul his memory. Yet, as a rock, age after age, throws back with contemptuous strength the waves that break against its base, so every action of his manly life gives the lie to tales which cowards tell.

He is our foe, no stabber in the dark, moving with stealthy steps amidst professions of pretended peace, but in the open, where the gaze of God and man can rest upon him, he stands, defiant, though undone. He staked his country's freedom, his earthly happiness, and his high position in the great game of war; staked all that mortal man holds dear; staked it for what? For love of gain! May he who spawned that lie to stir our people's hearts to boundless wrath against this falling man live to repent in sackcloth and in tears the evil deed so done. . . . Staked it for what? To feed his own ambition! I tell you no; the undercurrent which brought forth the deed sprang from a nobler and a higher source. His country stood pledged in time of peace to help in time of war a sister State, and when the bond fell due he honoured it, though none knew better than this noble man that when he loosed the dogs of war he crossed a lion's path.

Now he is tottering to his fall, amidst the ruins of a crumbling State, forsaken by the Powers that egged him on with covert promises of armed support, abandoned to the tender mercies of his foes by those on whose behalf he drew the sword. Yet, even now, the dauntless spirit of the man rises above the wreckage of disaster. A little band of heroes ring him round. Though every man in all that fearless few is England's foe, yet we, who boast the Vikings' blood in every vein, can we not honour them? So did our forefathers stand round Harold when Norman William trod with armed heel on English soil. So stood our fathers when Blucher's laggard step hung back from Waterloo. Are we not great enough to look with pride upon a gallant foe? Or has our nation fallen from its high estate, has chivalry departed from our blood, and left us nothing but the dregs which go to make a nation of hucksters? If so, then let us leave the battlefields to better men, and train our children solely for the market-place. But these are idle words, born of the spleen which such a thought engenders. Full well I know the temper of our people, terrible in their wrath, but swift to see the nobleness in those who face them boldly.

And these be noble men, my masters. They rally round their chief, as you and yours would rally round a British leader if foreign hordes swept with resistless might over England's historic soil. All that they loved they've lost, and nothing now remains to them but honour and a patriot's grave; and in the grim game of war it is our stern task to give them what they seek--a soldier's death beneath the doomed flag which, in their stubborn pride, they will never forsake. But even whilst we hem them round with bristling bayonets, ready for the last dread act in this red drama, let us pay them the tribute due to all brave men; for he who gives his life to guard a cause he holds most dear is worthy of our admiration, though he be ten thousand times our foe. What should we think of men who, left to guard the Kentish fields, threw down their arms and sued for peace to any leader of an invading host because our cause seemed lost? Should we not curse them as a craven crowd, and teach our lisping babes to mock their memory? Would any fair-faced girl in all the British Isles wed any man who would not fight until the sinews slackened with slaying in defence of the homeland? If so, they are not fashioned of the metal of which their granddames were made.

And what we honour as the prince of virtues in a Briton shall we condemn as vice in this little band of Free State Boers and their leader, loyal to a lost cause? No, England, no! It is not you that shriek anathemas to the weeping skies because the foe dies hard. The gutter gamin and the brutal lout who never owned a soul fit to rise above the level of the kettle singing on the hearth may brand the name of Steyn and his stout burghers with infamy; but the clean-souled people of the Motherland, the people from whose ranks our greatest fighters and thinkers spring, will not endorse that cry. No, not though every slanderous throat shall shriek until they cannot wail an octave higher.

It is not from such great men as Roberts that we hear these pitiful tales concerning those who give us battle. He who has been a man of war from childhood to old age would never stoop to soil his manly lips to woo the fleeting favours of a mob, and he has proved himself as wise in council as upon the death-strewn fields of war. So wise, so brave, so loyal to his word, that even those whom he, at his country's call, has had to crush, lift their hats reverently at the mention of his name, because he wears upon his hero soul the white flower of a blameless life. Would Kitchener, whose dread name strikes terror to the heart of every burgher, would he befoul his foeman's fame? I tell you no, though whilst a foe remains in arms he strikes with all a giant's force and spares not; but when the blow has fallen, he of all men would preserve his enemies' fair fame intact. So it should be whilst those who stand in arms against our country and our country's flag refuse the terms we offer. We should make war so terrible that every enemy should dread the sound of British bugles as they would dread the trump of doom. When once the country's voice has called for war, then war should sweep with resistless might over land and sea, until sweet peace should seem a boon to be desired above all earthly things by those who stand in arms against us. If Steyn and those who with heroic hearts hedge him round refuse to bow to destiny and the God of Battles, then he and they must fall before the bayonets of our soldiery as growing corn falls before the sickle of the reaper. But even in their fall they can claim as their heaven-born heritage our nation's deepest admiration for their dauntless devotion to their love of country, home, and kindred. And we will but add laurels to the renown our soldiers have won if we, with unsparing hand, mete out to them the praises due to manly foes. Ours be the task to slay them where they stand; not ours the task to rob them of the glory they have won.

 

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Category: Hales: Campaign Pictures of the War
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