South African Memories - Social, Warlike & Sporting From Diaries Written At The Time
by Lady Sarah Wilson
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To his opponents in the political world he was generous when discussing them in private, however bitter and stinging his remarks were in public. I remember one evening, on Mr. Merriman's name being mentioned, how Mr. Rhodes dilated for some time on his charms as a friend and as a colleague; he told me I should certainly take an opportunity of making his acquaintance. "I am so fond of Merriman," he added; "he is one of the most cultivated of men and the most charming of companions that I know. We shall come together again some day." And this of the man who was supposed then to hate Cecil John Rhodes with such a deadly hatred that he, an Englishman born, was said to have been persuaded to Dutch sympathies by his vindictive feelings against one great fellow-countryman. Before leaving the subject of Mr. Rhodes, I must note his intense kindness of heart and genuine hospitality. Groot Schuurr was a rendezvous for people of all classes, denominations, and politics; they were all welcome, and they certainly all came. From morn till eve they passed in and out, very often to proffer a request, or, again, simply to pay their respects and have the pleasure of a few minutes' chat. After his morning ride, Mr. Rhodes, if nothing called him to town, usually walked about his beautiful house, the doors and windows of which stood open to admit the brilliant sunshine and to enable him to enjoy glimpses of his beloved Table Mountain, or the brilliant colours of the salvia and plumbago planted in beds above the stoep. I often call to mind that tall figure, probably in the same costume in which he had ridden—white flannel trousers and tweed coat—his hair rather rough, from a habit he had of passing his hand through it when talking or thinking. He would wander through the rooms, enjoying the pleasure of looking at his many beautiful pieces of furniture and curiosities of all sorts, nearly all of which had a history. Occasionally shifting a piece of rare old glass or blue Delft china, he would the while talk to anyone who chanced to come in, greeting heartily his old friends, and remembering every detail of their circumstances, opinions, and conduct. Concerning the latter, he did not fail to remind them of any failings he had taken note of. Those who were frauds, incompetent, or lazy, he never spared, and often such conversations were a source of much amusement to me. On the other hand, those who had been true to him, and had not veered round with the tide of public opinion after 1896, were ever remembered and rewarded. It was remarkable to note the various Dutch members of the Assembly who dropped in, sometimes stealthily in the early morning hours, or, like Nicodemus, by night. One such gentleman came to breakfast one day, bringing as a gift two curious antique pipes and a pouch of Boer tobacco. The pipes were awarded a place in a glass cabinet, and the giver most heartily thanked; he finally departed, well pleased with himself. Now comes a curious trait in the man's character. Before leaving he whispered to a friend the request that the fact of his visit should not be mentioned in Cape Town circles. This request was naturally repeated at once to Mr. Rhodes, much to the latter's amusement. As ill-luck would have it, the cautious gentleman left his umbrella behind, with his name in full on the handle; this remained a prominent object on the hall table till, when evening fell, a trusted emissary came to recover it.

I often used to visit the House of Assembly or Lower House during that session, and it was instructive to note the faces of the Opposition when Rhodesia and its undoubted progress were subjects of discussion, and especially when Mr. Rhodes was on his feet, claiming the undivided attention of the House. It was not his eloquence that kept people so attentive, for no one could call him eloquent; it was the singularly expressive voice, the (at times) persuasive manner, and, above all, the interesting things his big ideas gave him to say, that preserved that complete silence. But, as I said before, the faces of his then antagonists—albeit quondam friends—hardly disguised their thoughts sufficiently. They were forced to consider the country of the man they feared—the country to which he had given his name—as a factor in their colony; they had to admit it to their financial calculations, and all the time they would fain have crushed the great pioneer under their feet. They had, indeed, hoped to see him humbled and abashed after his one fatal mistake, instead of which he had gone calmly on his way—a Colossus indeed—with the set purpose, as a guiding star ever before his eyes, to retrieve the error which they had fondly imagined would have delivered him into their hands. Truly an impressive and curious study was that House of Assembly in the session of 1899.

The number of people, more or less interesting, whom we met at Groot Schuurr, seemed to pass as actors on a stage, sometimes almost too rapidly to distinguish or individualize. But one or two stand out specially in my recollection. Among them, a type of a fine old gentleman, was Colonel Schermbrucker. A German by birth, and over seventy years of age, he had served originally in the Papal Guard, and had accompanied Pio Nono on the occasion of his famous flight from Rome. Somewhere in the fifties, at the time of the arrival of the German Legion, he had settled at the Cape, and had been a figure in politics ever since. His opinions were distinctly English and progressive, but it was more as an almost extinct type of the courtly old gentleman that he impressed me. His extreme activity for his years, his old-world manners, and his bright intelligence, were combinations one does not often meet, and would have made him an interesting figure in any assembly or country. Another day came Judge Coetzee, erstwhile Kruger's confidant and right hand, but then of a very different way of thinking to his old master. His remark on the warlike situation was as follows: "Kruger is only a white Kaffir chief, and as such respects force, and force only. Send sufficient soldiers, and there will be no fighting." This was also Mr. Rhodes's view, but, as it turned out, both were wrong. In the meantime the sands were running out, and the troops were almost on the water, and yet the old man remained obdurate.

Outside the hospitable haven of Groot Schuurr I one day met Mr. Merriman at lunch as the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Solomon.[14] Considerably above the average height, with a slight stoop and grey hair, Mr. Merriman was a man whose appearance from the first claimed interest. It was a few days after his Budget speech, which, from various innovations, had aroused a storm of criticism, as Budgets are wont to do. Whatever his private feelings were about the English, to me the Finance Minister was very pleasant and friendly. We talked of fruit-farming, in which he takes a great interest, of England, and even of his Budget, and never did he show any excitement or irritation till someone happened to mention the word "Imperialist." Then he burst out with, "That word and 'Empire' have been so done to death by every wretched little Jew stockbroker in this country that I am fairly sick of them." "But surely you are not a Little Englander, Mr. Merriman," I said, "or a follower of Mr. Labouchere?" To this he gave an evasive reply, and the topic dropped. I must relate another incident of our sojourn at Cape Town. Introduced by Mr. Rhodes's architect, Mr. Baker, we went one day to see a Mrs. Koopman, then a well-known personage in Cape Town Dutch society, but who, I believe, is now dead. Her collection of Delft china was supposed to be very remarkable. She lived in a quaint old house with diamond-paned windows, in one of the back streets, the whole edifice looking as if it had not been touched for a hundred years. Mrs. Koopman was an elderly lady, most suitably dressed in black, with a widow's cap, and she greeted us very kindly and showed us all her treasured possessions. I was disappointed in the contents of the rooms, which were certainly mixed, some very beautiful things rubbing shoulders with modern specimens of clumsy early Victorian furniture. A room at the back was given up to the Delft china, but even this was spoilt by ordinary yellow arabesque wall-paper, on which were hung the rare plates and dishes, and by some gaudy window curtains, evidently recently added. The collection itself, made by Mrs. Koopman at very moderate prices, before experts bought up all the Dutch relics, was then supposed to be of great value. Our hostess conversed in good English with a foreign accent, and was evidently a person of much intelligence and culture. She had been, and still was, a factor in Cape politics, formerly as a great admirer of Mr. Rhodes, but after 1896 as one of his bitterest opponents, who used all her considerable influence—her house being a meeting-place for the Bond party—against him and his schemes. We had, in fact, been told she held a sort of political salon, though hardly in the same way we think of it in England as connected with Lady Palmerston, her guests being entirely confined to one party—viz., the Dutch. This accounted for a blunder on my part. Having heard that Mrs. Koopman had been greatly perturbed by the young Queen of Holland's representations to President Kruger in favour of the Uitlanders, and seeing many photographs of this charming-looking girl in the room, I thought I should be right in alluding to her as "your little Queen." "She is not my Queen," was the indignant reply; "Queen Victoria is my Queen." And then, quickly turning to Mr. Baker, she continued: "What have you been telling Lady Sarah to make her think I am not loyal?" Of course I had to disclaim and apologize, but, in view of her well-known political opinions and sympathies, I could not help thinking her extreme indignation a little unnecessary.


[9] Lord Randolph Churchill died in January, 1895.

[10] The soldiers' graves in South Africa have since then been carefully tended by the Loyal Women's Guild.

[11] The President's favourite psalm was said to be the 144th, which he always believed was written to apply specially to the Boers.

[12] Short whip.

[13] Major Heaney is an American, and was one of the pioneers who accompanied Dr. Jameson to Mashonaland in 1891.

[14] Mr. Richard Solomon, then Attorney-General, now Sir Richard Solomon.



"War seldom enters, but where wealth allures." DRYDEN.

In August we left Cape Town, and I went to Bulawayo, where I spent two months. Gordon[15] had been appointed A.D.C. to Colonel Baden-Powell, and during this time was with his chief on the western borders. The latter was engaged in raising two regiments of irregular horse, which were later known as the Protectorate Regiments, and were recruited principally from the district between Mafeking and Bulawayo. At the latter town was also another English lady, Mrs. Godley, whose husband was second in command of one of these regiments. It can easily be imagined that there was little else discussed then but warlike subjects, and these were two dreary and anxious months. We had little reliable news; the local newspapers had no special cables, and only published rumours that were current in the town. Mr. Rochfort Maguire, who was then staying with Mr. Rhodes at Cape Town, used frequently to telegraph us news from there. One day he would report President Kruger was climbing down; the next, that he had once more hardened his heart. And so this modern Pharaoh kept us all on tenterhooks. The drilling and exercising of the newly recruited troops were the excitements of the day. Soon Colonel Plumer[16] arrived, and assumed command of one of the regiments, which was encamped on the racecourse just outside the town; the other regiment had its headquarters at Mafeking. Colonel Baden-Powell and his Staff used to dash up and down between the two towns. Nearly all the business men in Bulawayo enlisted, and amongst the officers were some experienced soldiers, who had seen all the Matabeleland fighting, and some of whom had even participated in the Raid. Others who used to drop in for a game of bridge were Lord Timmy Paulet,[17] Mr. Geoffrey Glyn, and Dr. Jameson. To while away the time, I took a course of ambulance lessons, learning how to bandage by experiments on the lanky arms and legs of a little black boy. We also made expeditions to the various mining districts. I was always struck with the hospitality shown us in these out-of-the-way localities, and with the cosiness of the houses belonging to the married mine-managers. Only Kaffirs were available as servants, but, in spite of this, an excellent repast was always produced, and the dwellings were full of their home treasures. Prints of the present King and Queen abounded, and among the portraits of beautiful Englishwomen, either photographs or merely reproductions cut out of an illustrated newspaper, I found those of Lady de Grey,[18] Georgiana, Lady Dudley, and Mrs. Langtry,[19] most frequently adorning the walls of those lonely homes.

At last, at the end of September, a wire informed us that hostilities were expected to begin in Natal the following week, and I left for Mafeking, intending to proceed to Cape Town and home. On arrival at Mafeking everyone told us an attack on the town was imminent, and we found the inhabitants in a state of serious alarm. However, Baden-Powell's advent reassured them, and preparations for war proceeded apace; the townspeople flocked in to be enrolled in the town guard, spending the days in being drilled; the soldiers were busy throwing up such fortifications as were possible under the circumstances. On October 3 the armoured train arrived from the South, and took its first trip on the rails, which had been hastily flung down round the circumference of the town. This train proved afterwards to be absolutely useless when the Boers brought up their artillery. Night alarms occurred frequently; bells would ring, and the inhabitants, who mostly slept in their clothes, had to rush to their various stations. I must admit that these nocturnal incidents were somewhat unpleasant. Still war was not declared, and the large body of Boers, rumoured as awaiting the signal to advance on Mafeking, gave no sign of approaching any nearer.

We were, indeed, as jolly as the proverbial sandboys during those few days in Mafeking before the war commenced. If Colonel Baden-Powell had forebodings, he kept them to himself. Next to him in importance came Lord Edward Cecil, Grenadier Guards, C.S.O. I have often heard it said that if Lord Edward had been a member of any other family but that of the gifted Cecils he would have been marked as a genius, and that if he had not been a soldier he would surely have been a politician of note. Then there was Major Hanbury Tracy, Royal Horse Guards, who occupied the position of Director of Military Intelligence. This officer was always devising some amusing if wild-cat schemes, which were to annihilate or checkmate the Boers, and prove eventually the source of fame to himself. Mr. Ronald Moncrieff,[20] an extra A.D.C., was, as usual, not blest with a superabundance of this world's goods, but had an unending supply of animal spirits, and he was looking forward to a siege as a means of economizing. Another of our circle was Major Hamilton Gould Adams,[21] Resident Commissioner of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, who commanded the town guard, representing the civil as opposed to the military interests. In contrast to the usual practice, these departments worked perfectly smoothly together at Mafeking.

Colonel Baden-Powell did not look on my presence with great favour, neither did he order me to leave, and I had a sort of presentiment that I might be useful, considering that there were but three trained nurses in the Victoria Hospital to minister to the needs of the whole garrison. Therefore, though I talked of going South every day by one of the overcrowded trains to Cape Town, in which the Government was offering free tickets to any who wished to avail themselves of the opportunity, I secretly hoped to be allowed to remain. We had taken a tiny cottage in the town, and we had all our meals at Dixon's Hotel, where the food was weird, but where certainly no depression of spirits reigned. I even bought a white pony, called Dop,[22] from a Johannesburg polo-player, and this pony, one of the best I have ever ridden, had later on some curious experiences. One day Dr. Jameson arrived on his way to Rhodesia, but he was hustled away with more haste than courtesy by General Baden-Powell, who bluntly told him that if he meant to stay in the town a battery of artillery would be required to defend it; and of field-guns, in spite of urgent representations, not one had reached us from Cape Town. We used to ride morning and evening on the flat country which surrounds Mafeking, where no tree or hill obscures the view for miles; and one then realized what a tiny place the seat of government of the Bechuanaland Protectorate really was, a mere speck of corrugated iron roofs on the brown expanse of the burnt-up veldt, far away from everywhere. I think it was this very isolation that created the interest in the siege at home, and one of the reasons why the Boers were so anxious to reduce it was that this town was practically the jumping-off place for the Jameson Raid. So passed the days till October 13, and then the sword, which had been suspended by a hair, suddenly fell.

On that day Major Gould Adams received a wire from the High Commissioner at Cape Town to the effect that the South African Republic had sent an ultimatum to Her Majesty's Government, in which it demanded the removal of all troops from the Transvaal borders, fixing five o'clock the following evening as a limit for their withdrawal. I had delayed my departure too long; it was extremely doubtful whether another train would be allowed to pass South, and, even when started, it would stand a great chance of being wrecked by the Boers tearing up the rails. Under these circumstances I was allotted comparatively safe quarters at the house of Mr. Benjamin Weil, of the firm of the well-known South African merchants. His residence stood in the centre of the little town, adjacent to the railway-station. At that time bomb-proof underground shelters, with which Mafeking afterwards abounded, had not been thought of, or time had not sufficed for their construction. On all sides one heard reproaches levelled at the Cape Government, and especially at General Sir William Butler, until lately commanding the troops in Cape Colony, for having so long withheld the modest reinforcements which had been persistently asked for, and, above all, the very necessary artillery.

At that date the Mafeking garrison consisted of about seven or eight hundred trained troops. The artillery, under Major Panzera, comprised four old muzzle-loading seven-pounder guns with a short range, a one-pound Hotchkiss, one Nordenfeldt, and about seven ^{.}303 Maxims—in fact, no large modern pieces whatever. The town guard, hastily enrolled, amounted to 441 defenders, among whom nationalities were curiously mixed, as the following table shows:

British 378 Germans 4 Americans 4 Russians 6 Dutch 27 Norwegians 5 Swedes 2 Arabs and Indians 15 _

Total 441[23]

This force did not appear sufficiently strong to resist the three or four thousand Boers, with field-guns, who were advancing to its attack under one of their best Generals—namely Cronje—but everyone remained wonderfully calm, and the townspeople rose to the occasion in a most creditable manner.

Very late that same evening, just as I was going to bed, I received a message from Colonel Baden-Powell, through one of his Staff, to say he had just been informed, on trustworthy authority, that no less than 8,000 burghers composed the force likely to arrive on the morrow, that it was probable they would rush the town, and that the garrison would be obliged to fight its way out. He concluded by begging me to leave at once by road for the nearest point of safety. Naturally I had to obey. I shall never forget that night: it was cold and gusty after a hot day, with frequent clouds obscuring the moon, as we walked round to Major Gould Adams's house to secure a Cape cart and some Government mules, in order that I might depart at dawn. At first I was ordered to Kanya, a mission-station some seventy miles away, an oasis in the Kalahari Desert. This plan gave rise to a paragraph which I afterwards saw in some of the daily papers, that I had left Mafeking under the escort of a missionary, and some cheery spirit made a sketch of my supposed departure as reproduced here. Later on, however, it was thought provisions might run short in that secluded spot, so I was told to proceed to Setlagoli, a tiny store, or hotel as we should call it, with a shop attached, thirty-five miles south in Bechuanaland, on the main road to Kimberley, from which quarter eventually succour was expected. My few preparations completed, I simply had to sit down and wait for daybreak, sleep being entirely out of the question. In the night the wind increased, and howled mournfully round the house. At four o'clock, when day was about to break, I was ready to start, and some farewells had to be said. These were calm, but not cheerful, for it was my firm belief that, in all human probability, I should never see the familiar faces again, knowing well they would sell their lives dearly.

It was reported amongst my friends at home that, in order to escape from Mafeking, my maid and myself had ridden 200 miles. One newspaper extract was sent me which said, concerning this fictitious ride, that it "was all very well for Lady Sarah, who doubtless was accustomed to violent exercise, but we commiserate her poor maid." Their pity was wasted, for the departure of my German maid Metelka and myself took place prosaically in that most vile of all vehicles, a Cape cart. Six fine mules were harnessed to our conveyance, and our two small portmanteaus were strapped on behind. The Jehu was a Cape boy, and, to complete the cortege, my white pony Dop brought up the rear, ridden by a Zulu called Vellum. This boy, formerly Dr. Jameson's servant, remained my faithful attendant during the siege; beneath his dusky skin beat a heart of gold, and to him I could safely have confided uncounted treasures. As the daylight increased so did the wind in violence; it was blowing a perfect gale, and the dust and sand were blinding. We outspanned for breakfast twelve miles out, at the farm of a presumably loyal Dutchman; then on again, the wind by now having become a hurricane, aggravated by the intensely hot rays of a scorching sun. I have never experienced such a miserable drive, and I almost began to understand the feelings of people who commit suicide. However, the long day wore to a close, and at length we reached Setlagoli store and hotel, kept by a nice old Scotch couple, Mr. and Mrs. Fraser. The latter was most kind, and showed us two nice clean rooms. Here, anyway, I trusted to find a haven of rest. This hope was of short duration, for Sergeant Matthews, in charge of the Mounted Police depot, soon came and told me natives reported several hundred Boers at Kraipann, only ten miles away. He said they were lying in wait for the second armoured train, which was expected to pass to Mafeking that very night, carrying the howitzers so badly needed there, and some lyddite shells. The sergeant opined the Boers would probably come on here if victorious, and loot the store, and he added that such marauding bands were more to be feared than the disciplined ones under Cronje. He even suggested my leaving by moonlight that very night. The driver, however, was unwilling to move, and we were all so exhausted that I decided to risk it and remain, the faithful sergeant promising to send scouts out and warn us should the enemy be approaching. I was fully determined that, having left Mafeking, where I might have been of use, I would run no risks of capture or impertinence from the burghers, who would also certainly commandeer our cart, pony, and mules.

Then followed another endless night; the moon set at 1 a.m., and occasionally I was roused by the loud and continuous barking of the farm dogs. At four o'clock Vellum's dusky countenance peered into the room, which opened on to the stoep, as do nearly all the apartments of these hotels, to ask if the mules should be inspanned, for these natives were all in wholesale dread of the Boers. Hearing all was quiet, I told him to wait till the sergeant appeared. About an hour later I opened my door to have a look at the weather: the wind had dropped completely, the sky was cloudless, and a faint tinge of pink on the distant horizon denoted where the east lay. I was about to shut it again and dress, when a dull booming noise arrested my attention, then almost froze the blood in my veins. There was no mistaking the firing of big guns at no very great distance.

We are accustomed to such a sound when salutes are fired or on a field-day, but I assure those who have not had a like experience, that to hear the same in actual warfare, and to know that each detonation is dealing death and destruction to human beings and property, sends a shiver down the back akin to that produced by icy cold water. I counted four or five; then there it was again and again and again, till altogether I reckoned twenty shots, followed by impressive silence once more, so intense in the quiet peace of the morning landscape. On the farm, however, there was stir and bustle enough: alarmed natives gathered in a group, weird figures with blankets round their shoulders—for the air was exceedingly cold—all looking with straining eyes in the direction of Kraipann, from where the firing evidently came. I soon joined the people, white and back, in front of the store, and before long a mounted Kaffir rode wildly up, and proceeded, with many gesticulations, to impart information in his own tongue. His story took some time, but at last a farmer turned round and told me the engagement had been with the armoured train, as we anticipated, and that the latter had "fallen down" (as the Kaffir expressed it) owing to the rails being pulled up. What had been the fate of its occupants he did not know, as he had left in terror when the big gun opened fire. Curiously enough, as I afterwards learnt, these shots were the first fired during the war.

Remembering the sergeant's warning, I decided to start at once for Mosita, twenty-five miles farther away from the border, leaving Vellum to bring on any further intelligence when the sergeant, who had been away all night watching the Boers, returned. We now traversed a fine open grassy country, very desolate, with no human habitation. The only signs of life were various fine "pows"[24] stalking sedately along, or "korans," starting up with their curious chuckle rather like the note of a pheasant, or a covey of guinea-fowl scurrying across the road and losing themselves in the waving grass. Meanwhile the driver kept up an incessant conversation with the mules, and I found myself listening to his varying epithets with stupefied curiosity. During that four hours' drive we only met two natives and one huge herd of cattle, which were being driven by mounted Kaffirs, armed with rifles, to Mosita, our destination, where it was hoped they would be out of the way of marauding Boers. At last we reached the native stadt of Mosita, where our appearance created great excitement. Crowds of swarthy men and youths rushed out to question our driver as to news. The latter waxed eloquent in words and gestures, imitating even the noise of the big gun, which seemed to produce great enthusiasm among these simple folk. Their ruling passion, I afterwards found, was hatred and fear of the Boers, and their dearest wish to possess guns and ammunition to join the English in driving them back and to defend their cattle. In the distance we could see the glimmering blue waters of a huge dam, beyond which was the farm and homestead of a loyal colonial farmer named Keeley, whose hospitality I had been told to seek. Close by were the barracks, with seven or eight occupants, the same sort of depot as at Setlagoli. I asked to see Mrs. Keeley, and boldly announced we had come to beg for a few nights' lodging. We were most warmly received and made welcome. The kindness of the Keeleys is a bright spot in my recollections of those dark weeks. Mrs. Keeley herself was in a dreadful state of anxiety, as she had that very day received a letter from her husband in Mafeking, whither he had proceeded on business, to say he found he must remain and help defend the town; his assistance was urgently needed there in obtaining information respecting the Boers from the natives, whose language he talked like his own. She had five small children, and was shortly expecting an addition to her family, so at last I had found someone who was more to be pitied than myself. She, on the other hand, told me our arrival was a godsend to her, as it took her thoughts off her troubles.

Affairs in the neighbourhood seemed in a strange confusion. Mr. Keeley was actually the Veldtcornet of the district, an office which in times of peace corresponded to that of a magistrate. In reality he was shut up in Mafeking, siding against the Dutch. The surrounding country was peopled entirely, if sparsely, by Dutch farmers and natives, the former of whom at first and before our reverses professed sympathy with the English; but no wonder the poor wife looked to the future with dread, fearful lest British disasters would be followed by Boer reprisals.

Towards sunset Vellum appeared with a note from Sergeant Matthews. It ran as follows:

"The armoured train captured; its fifteen occupants all killed.[25] Boers opened fire on the train with field artillery."

In our isolation these words sank into our souls like lead, and were intensified by the fact that we had that very morning been so near the scene of the tragedy—"reverse" I would not allow it to be called, for fifteen men had tried conclusions with 400 Boers, and had been merely hopelessly outnumbered. The latter had, however, scored an initial success, and the intelligence cast a gloom, even where all was blackest night. Vellum brought a few more verbal details, to the effect that Sergeant Matthews had actually succeeded in stopping the armoured train after pursuing it on horseback for some way, expecting every moment to be taken for a Boer and fired on. He asked to speak to the officer in charge, and a young man put his head over the truck. Matthews then told him that several hundred Boers were awaiting the train, strongly entrenched, and that the metals were up for about three-quarters of a mile. "Is that all?" was the answer; then, turning to the engine-driver, "Go straight ahead." Here was a conspicuous instance of English foolhardy pluck.

The evening was a lovely one. I took a walk along the road by which we had come in the morning, and was soothed by the peaceful serenity of the surrounding country.

It seemed to be impossible that men were killing each other only a few short miles away. The herd of cattle we had passed came into view, and caught sight of the water in the dam. It was curious to see the whole herd, some five or six hundred beasts, break into a clumsy canter, and, with a bellowing noise, dash helter-skelter to the water—big oxen with huge branching horns, meek-eyed cows, young bullocks, and tiny calves, all joining in the rush for a welcome drink after a long hot day on the veldt.

The last news that came in that evening was that all the wires were cut north and south of Mafeking, and the telegraphists fled, as their lives had been threatened.


[15] Captain Gordon Wilson, Royal Horse Guards, now Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson, M.V.O.

[16] Now Major-General Sir Herbert Plumer, K.C.B.

[17] Now Marquis of Winchester.

[18] Now Marchioness of Ripon.

[19] Now Lady de Bathe.

[20] Died in Africa, 1909.

[21] Now Sir Hamilton Gould Adams, Governor of the Orange River Colony.

[22] Dutch for a peculiar kind of cheap brandy very popular with the Boers.

[23] This return was given me by Major Gould Adams.

[24] African wild-turkeys.

[25] This was incorrect. The officer in charge and two others were severely wounded, the driver and stoker killed by the explosion of the boiler.



"The days are so long, and there are so many of them." DU MAURIER.

During the weeks I remained at Mosita, the only book I had to read was "Trilby," which I perused many times, and the lament of the heroine in the line quoted above seemed to re-echo my sentiments. For days and days we were absolutely without news. It is impossible after a lapse of time to realize exactly what that short sentence really means. I must ask my readers to remember that we talked and thought of one topic only; we looked incessantly in the one direction by which messengers might come. Our nerves were so strained that, did we but see one of the natives running across the yard, or hear them conversing in louder tones than usual, we at once thought there must be news, and jumped up from any occupation with which we were trying to beguile the time, only to sink back on our chairs again disappointed. As for knowing what was passing in the world, one might as well have been in another planet. We saw no papers, and there was not much prospect of obtaining any. Before the war we had all talked lightly of wires being cut and railway-lines pulled up, but, in truth, I do not think anyone realized what these two calamities really meant. My only comfort was the reflection that, no matter how hard they were fighting in Mafeking, they could not be suffering the terrible boredom that we were enduring. To such an extent in this monotony did I lose the count of time, that I had to look in the almanack to be able to say, in Biblical language, "The evening and the morning were the sixth day."

At length one evening, when we were sitting on the stoep after supper, we descried a rider approaching on a very tired horse. Rushing to the gate, we were handed letters from Mafeking. It can be imagined how we devoured them. They told of three determined attacks on the town on the third day after I had left, all successfully repulsed, and of a bombardment on the following Monday. The latter had been somewhat of a farce, and had done no damage, except to one or two buildings which, by an irony of fate, included the Dutch church and hotel and the convent. The shells were of such poor quality that they were incapable of any explosive force whatever.[26] After nine hours' bombardment, although some narrow escapes were recorded, the only casualties were one chicken killed and one dog wounded. An emissary from Commandant Snyman had then come solemnly into the town under a flag of truce, to demand an unconditional surrender "to avoid further bloodshed." Colonel Baden-Powell politely replied that, as far as he was concerned, operations had not begun. The messenger was given refreshment at Dixon's Hotel, where lunch was laid out as usual. This had astonished him considerably, as presumably he had expected to find but few survivors. He was then sent about his business. Gordon, who imagined me at Setlagoli, concluded his letter by saying the Colonel had informed General Cronje of my presence at Mrs. Fraser's, and begged him to leave me unmolested. This news, which had come by a Daily Mail correspondent, on his way South to send off cables, was satisfactory as far as it went, and we at once despatched a trusty old nigger called Boaz with a tiny note, folded microscopically in an old cartridge-case, to give the garrison news of the surrounding country. This old man proved a reliable and successful messenger. On many occasions he penetrated the cordon into the beleaguered town, and during the first two months he was practically the sole means they had of receiving news. His task was of course a risky one, and we used to pay him L3 each way, but he never failed us.

Now commenced a fresh period of anxious waiting, and during this time I had leisure and opportunity to study the characteristics of these Boer farmers and their wives, and to learn what a curious race they are. Mrs. Keeley told me a great deal of their ideas, habits, and ways, in which low cunning is combined with extreme curiosity and naive simplicity. Many of the fathers and sons in the neighbourhood had slunk off to fight across the border, sending meanwhile their wives and daughters to call on Mrs. Keeley and condole with her in what they termed "her trouble," and to ascertain at the same time all the circumstances of the farm and domestic circle. A curious thing happened one day. Directly after breakfast an old shandrydan drove up with a typical Dutch family as occupants. Mrs. Keeley, busy with household matters, pulled a long face, knowing what was before her. No questions as to being at home, disengaged, or follies of that sort, were asked; the horses were solemnly outspanned and allowed to roam; the family party had come to spend the day. Seated gravely in the dining-room, they were refreshed by coffee and cold meat. Mrs. Keeley remarked to me privately that the best thing to do was to put quantities of food before them and then leave them; and, beyond a few passing words as she went in and out of the room, I did not make out that they went in for entertaining each other. So they sat for hours, saying nothing, doing nothing. When Mrs. Keeley wanted me to have lunch, she asked them to remove to the stoep, and in this request they seemed to find nothing strange. Finally, about five o'clock they went away, much to the relief of their hostess; not, however, before the latter had shrewdly guessed the real object of their visit, which was to find out about myself. Report had reached them that Mafeking was in the hands of the Dutch, that the only survivor of the garrison had escaped in woman's clothes, had been wandering on the veldt for days, and had finally been taken in here. "Ach!" said the old vrow, "I would be afraid to meet him. Is he really here?" This remark she made to Mrs. Keeley's brother, who could hardly conceal his amusement, but, to reassure her, displayed the cart and mules by which I had come. If in England we had heard of the arrival of a "unicorn" in an aeroplane, we should not have shown more anxiety or taken more trouble to hear about the strange creature than did they concerning myself. Their curiosity did not end here. What was Mr. Keeley doing in Mafeking? Was he fighting for the English? How many head of cattle had they on the farm? And so on ad libitum. Mrs. Keeley, however, knew her friends well, and was quite capable of dealing with them, so they probably spent an unprofitable day.

On another occasion an English farmer named Leipner looked in, and gave us some information about Vryburg. This town was absolutely undefended, and was occupied by the Boers without a shot being fired. The ceremony of the hoisting of the Vierkleur[27] had been attended by the whole countryside, and had taken place with much psalm-singing and praying, interlarded with bragging and boasting. He told me also that some of the rumours current in the town, and firmly credited, reported that Oom Paul had annexed Bechuanaland, that he was then about to take Cape Colony, after which he would allow no troops to land, and the "Roineks" would have been pushed into the sea. His next step would be to take England. Mr. Leipner assured me the more ignorant Boers had not an idea where England was situated, nor did they know that a great ocean rolled between it and this continent. In fact, they gloried in their want of knowledge, and were insulted if they received a letter in any tongue but their own. He related one tale to illustrate their ignorance: An old burgher and his vrow were sitting at home one Sunday afternoon. Seeing the "predicant"[28] coming, the old man hastily opened his Bible and began to read at random. The clergyman came in, and, looking over his shoulder, said: "Ah! I see you are reading in the Holy Book—the death of Christ." "Alle machter!" said the old lady. "Is He dead indeed? You see, Jan" (to her husband) "you never will buy a newspaper, so we never know what goes on in the world." Mr. Leipner said this story loses in being told in English instead of in the original Dutch. He reiterated they did not wish for education for themselves or for their children. If the young people can read and write, they are considered very good scholars. This gentleman also expressed great satisfaction at Sir Alfred Milner and Mr. Chamberlain being at the head of affairs, which he said was the only thing that gave the colonials confidence. Even now, so many feared England would give way again in the end. I assured him of this there was no possibility, and then he said: "The Transvaal has been a bad place for Englishmen to live these many years; but if Great Britain fails us again, we must be off, for then it will be impossible." I was given to understand that the Boers exhibited great curiosity as to who Mr. Chamberlain was, and that they firmly believed he had made money in Rand mining shares and gold companies; others fancied he was identical with the maker of Chamberlain's Cough Syrup, which is advertised everywhere in the colony.

Early in November we had a great surprise. Mr. Keeley himself turned up from Mafeking, having been given leave from the town guard to look after his wife and farm. He had to ride for his life to escape the Boers, who were drawing much closer to the town, and the news he brought was not altogether reassuring. True, he stated that the garrison were in splendid spirits, and that they no longer troubled themselves about the daily bombardments, as dug-out shelters had been constructed. The young men, he said, vied with each other in begging for permission to join scouting-parties at night, to pepper the Boers, often, as a result, having a brush with the enemy and several casualties. All the same, they would return at a gallop, laughing and joking. There had been, however, several very severe fights, notably one on Canon Kopje, where two very able officers and many men had been killed. In such a small garrison this loss was a serious one, and the death-roll was growing apace, for, besides the frequent attacks, the rifle fire in the streets was becoming very unpleasant. Intelligence was also to hand of the Boers bringing up one of the Pretoria siege guns, capable of firing a 94-pound shell. This was to be dragged across the Transvaal at a snail's pace by a team of twenty oxen, so secure were they against any interruption from the South. Against these depressing items, he gave intelligence of an incident that had greatly alarmed the Boers. It seemed that, to get rid of two trucks of dynamite standing in the railway-station, which were considered a danger, the same had been sent off to a siding some eight miles north. The engine-driver unhitched them and made good his escape. The Boers, thinking the trucks full of soldiers, immediately commenced bombarding them, till they exploded with terrific force. This chance affair gave the Boers the idea that Mafeking was full of dynamite, and later, when I was in the laager, they told me one of the reasons why they had never pressed an attack home was that they knew the whole town was mined. Mr. Keeley also told us of a tragedy that had greatly disturbed the little circle of defenders. The very evening that the victims of the Canon Kopje fight were laid to rest, Lieutenant Murchison,[29] of the Protectorate Regiment, had, in consequence of a dispute, shot dead with his revolver at Dixon's Hotel the war-correspondent of the London Daily Chronicle, a Mr. Parslow. I afterwards learnt that the court-martial which sat on the former had fourteen sessions in consequence of its only being able to deliberate for half an hour at a time in the evening, when the firing was practically over. The prisoner was ably defended by a Dutch lawyer named De Koch, and, owing to his having done good service during the siege, was strongly recommended to mercy, although sentenced to be shot. The most satisfactory points we gleaned were the splendid behaviour of the townspeople, and the fine stand made by the natives when the Boers attacked their stadt, adjacent to the town. The number of Boer field-guns Mr. Keeley stated to be nine, of the newest type, besides the monster expected from Pretoria. He also said more expert gunners and better ammunition had arrived. As to his own position, Mr. Keeley was by no means sure that either his life or his property were safe, but he relied on his influence with his neighbours, which was considerable, and he thought he would be able to keep them quiet and on their farms.

One night, just as my maid was going to bed, she suddenly saw, in the bright moonlight, a tall figure step out of the shadow of the fir-trees. For an instant a marauding Boer—a daily bugbear for weeks—flashed across her mind, but the next moment she recognized Sergeant Matthews from Setlagoli. He had ridden over post-haste to tell us the Boers were swarming there, and that he and his men had evacuated the barracks. He also warned us the same commando was coming here on the morrow, and advised that all the cattle on the farm should be driven to a place of safety. This information did not conduce to a peaceful night, but, anyway, it gave one something to think of besides Mafeking. I buried a small jewel-case and my despatch-box in the garden, and then we went calmly to bed to await these unwelcome visitors. Mr. Keeley had fortunately left the day before on a business visit to a neighbouring farmer, for his presence would rather have contributed to our danger than to our safety. When we awoke all was peaceful, and there was every indication of a piping hot day. Mrs. Keeley was very calm and sensible, and did not anticipate any rudeness. We decided to receive the burghers civilly and offer them coffee, trusting that the exodus of all the cattle would not rouse their ire. Our elaborate preparations were wasted, for the Boers did not come. The weary hours dragged on, the sun crawled across the steely blue heavens, and finally sank, almost grudgingly, it seemed, into the west, leaving the coast clear for the glorious full moon; the stars came out one by one; the goats and kids came wandering back to the homestead with loud bleatings; and presently everything seemed to sleep—everything except our strained nerves and aching eyes, which had looked all day for Boers, and above all for news, and had looked in vain.

We still continued to have alarms. One day we saw a horseman wrapped in a long cloak up to his chin, surmounted by a huge slouch hat, ride into the yard. Mrs. Keeley exclaimed it was certainly a Boer, and that he had no doubt come to arrest Mr. Keeley. I was positive the unknown was an Englishman, but she was so shrewd that I really believed her, and kept out of sight as she directed, while she sent her brother to question him. It turned out that the rider was the same Daily Mail correspondent who had cut his way out of Mafeking in order to send his cables, and that he was now on his way back to the besieged town. The growth of a two weeks' beard had given him such an unkempt appearance as to make even sharp Mrs. Keeley mistake him for a Boer. He had had an interesting if risky ride, which he appeared to have accomplished with energy and dash, if perhaps with some imprudence.[30]

It was the continued dearth of news, not only concerning Mafeking, but also of what was going on in the rest of South Africa, that made me at length endeavour to get news from Vryburg. As a first step I lent Dop to a young Dutchman named Brevel, who was anxious to go to that township to sell some fat cattle. This youth, who belonged to a respectable Boer family—of course heart and soul against the English—was overwhelmed with gratitude for the loan of the horse, and in consequence I stood high in their good graces. They little knew it was for my sake, not theirs, that they had my pony. By this messenger we sent letters for the English mail, and a note to the magistrate, begging him to forward us newspapers and any reliable intelligence. I also enclosed a cheque to be cashed, for I was running short of English gold wherewith to pay our nigger letter-carriers. I must confess I hardly expected to find anyone confiding enough to part with bullion, but Mr. Brevel duly returned in a few days with the money, and said they were very pleased to get rid of gold in exchange for a cheque on a London bank.

He also, however, brought back our letters, which had been refused at the post-office, as they would take no letters except with Transvaal stamps, and for ours, of course, we had used those of Cape Colony.

The magistrate wrote me a miserable letter, saying his office had been seized by the Boers, who held a daily Kriegsraad there, and that he had received a safe-conduct to depart. The striking part of the communication was that a line had been put through "On H.M. Service" on the top of the official envelope. I was really glad to find the young man had done no good with his own business, having failed to dispose of any of his cattle. He, a Dutchman, had returned with the feeling that no property was safe for the moment, and much alarmed by the irresponsible talk of those burghers who had nothing to lose and everything to gain by this period of confusion and upheaval. He also greatly disturbed Mr. Keeley by saying they meant to wreak vengeance on any who had fought for the English, and by warning him that a commando would surely pass his way. Further news which this young man proceeded to relate in his awful jargon was that Oom Paul and all his grandchildren and nephews had gone to Bulawayo; from there he meant to commence a triumphal march southward; that Kimberley had capitulated; and that Joubert and his army had taken possession of Ladysmith. To all this Mrs. Keeley had to listen with polite attention. Luckily, I did not understand the import of what he said till he had taken himself off, with an unusually deep bow of thanks to myself. The only comfort we derived was the reflection that these lies were too audacious to be aught but inventions made up to clinch the wavering and timid spirits.

No matter how miserable people in England were then, they will never realize fully what it meant to pass those black months in the midst of a Dutch population; one felt oneself indeed alone amongst foes. Smarting under irritation and annoyance, I decided to go myself to Vryburg—Dutch town though it had become—and see if I could not ascertain the truth of these various reports, which I feared might filter into Mafeking and depress the garrison. Mr. Keeley did not disapprove of my trip, as he was as anxious as myself to know how the land lay, and he arranged that Mrs. Keeley's brother, Mr. Coleman, should drive me there in a trap and pair of ponies. For the benefit of the gossips, I stated as an ostensible reason for my visit that I had toothache. I was much excited at the prospect of visiting the Boer headquarters in that part of the country, and seeing with my own eyes the Transvaal flag flying in the town of a British colony. Therefore I thought nothing of undertaking a sixty miles' drive in broiling heat and along a villainous road. The drive itself was utterly uneventful. We passed several Dutch farmhouses, many of them untenanted, owing to the so-called loyal colonial owners having flocked to the Transvaal flag at Vryburg. All these houses, distinguished by their slovenly and miserable appearance, were built of rough brick or mud, with tiny windows apparently added as an afterthought, in any position, regardless of symmetry. Towards sundown we arrived at a roadside store, where we were kindly entertained for the night by the proprietors, a respectable Jewish couple.

About five miles from Vryburg a party of thirty horsemen appeared on the brow of the hill; these were the first Boers I had seen mounted, in fighting array, and I made sure they would ride up and ask our business; but apparently we were not interesting enough in appearance, for they circled away in another direction. The road now descended into a sort of basin or hollow, wherein lay the snug little town of Vryburg, with its neat houses and waving trees, and beyond it we could see the white tents of the Boer laager. A young Dutchman had recently described Vryburg to me as a town which looked as if it had gone for a walk and got lost, and as we drove up to it I remembered his words, and saw that his simile was rather an apt one. There seemed no reason, beyond its site in a sheltered basin, why Vryburg should have been chosen for the capital of British Bechuanaland. The railway was at least a mile away on the east, and so hidden was the town that, till you were close on it, you could barely see the roofs of the houses. Then suddenly the carriage drove into the main street, which boasted of some quite respectable shops. The first thing that attracted our notice was the Court House, almost hidden in trees, through which glimmered the folds of the gaudy Dutch standard. Before the court were armed Boers, apparently sentries, whilst others were passing in and out or lounging outside. Another group were busy poring over a notice affixed on a tree, which we were told was the latest war news:



Price 3d.

VRYBURG, OCT. 31, 1899




It appears by telegram received this morning that the Burghers started firing on Mafeking with the big cannon. The town is on fire and is full of smoke.

The British troops in Natal met the Burghers at Elandslaagte. The battle-field was kept by the Burghers under General Prinsloo. Two were killed, four wounded.

We drove down the street, and pulled up at the Central Hotel, where I got capital rooms and was most civilly received by the manager, an Englishman. The latter, however, could hardly conceal his surprise at my visit at this moment. He at once advised me not to mention my name, or show myself too much, as that very day a new Landrost had arrived to take charge of the town, and strict regulations respecting the coming and going of the inhabitants and visitors were being made. He then gave me some splendid news of the Natal border, the first intelligence of the victories of Dundee, Elandslaagte, and Glencoe. To hear of those alone was worth the long drive, and he also showed me the Dutch reports of these same engagements, which really made one smile. On every occasion victory had remained with the burghers, while the English dead and prisoners varied in numbers from 500 to 1,300, according to the mood of the composer of the despatch. The greatest losses the burghers had sustained up to then in any one engagement were two killed and three wounded. The spoils of war taken by the Dutch were of extraordinary value, and apparently they had but to show themselves for every camp to be evacuated. They were kind enough to translate these wonderful despatches into a sort of primitive English, of which printed slips could be bought for threepence. The hotel manager said if they did not invent these lies and cook the real account the burghers would desert en masse. So afraid were their leaders of news filtering in from English sources that all messengers were closely watched and searched. In the afternoon I drove up to the little hospital to see three of the occupants of the ill-fated armoured train. They were all convalescent, and said they were being very kindly treated in every way, but that the Boer doctoring was of the roughest description, the surgeon's only assistant being a chemist-boy, and trained nurses were replaced by a few well-meaning but clumsy Dutch girls, while chloroform or sedatives were quite unknown.

It was grievous to hear of all the Government military provisions, police and private properties, being carted off by the "powers that be," and not a little annoying for the inhabitants to have to put all their stores at the disposal of the burghers, who had been literally clothed from head to foot since their arrival. The owners only received a "brief" or note of credit on the Transvaal Government at Pretoria, to be paid after the war. For fear of exciting curiosity, I did not walk about much, but observed from the windows of my sitting-room the mounted burghers patrolling the town, sometimes at a foot's pace, more often at a smart canter. I felt I never wished to see another Boer. I admitted to myself they sat their horses well and that their rifle seemed a familiar friend, but when you have seen one you have seen them all. I never could have imagined so many men absolutely alike: all had long straggling beards, old felt hats, shabby clothes, and some evil-looking countenances. Most of those I saw were men of from forty to fifty years of age, but there were also a few sickly-looking youths, who certainly did not look bold warriors. These had not arrived at the dignity of a beard, but, instead, cultivated feeble whiskers.

After I had seen and heard all I could, came the question of getting away. The manager told me the Landrost had now forbidden any of the residents to leave the town, and that he did not think I could get a pass. However, my Dutch friend was equal to the occasion; he applied for leave to return to his farm with his sister, having only come in for provisions. After a long hesitation it was given him, and we decided to set out at daybreak, fearful lest the permission might be retracted, as it certainly would have been had my identity and his deception been discovered, and we should both have been ignominiously lodged in a Boer gaol. As the sun was rising we left Vryburg. On the outskirts of the town we were made to halt by eight or ten Boers whose duty it was to examine the passes of travellers. It can be imagined how my heart beat as I was made to descend from the cart. I was wearing a shabby old ulster which had been lent me at the hotel for this purpose; round a battered sailor hat I had wound a woollen shawl, which with the help of a veil almost completely concealed my identity. It had been arranged that Mr. Coleman should tell them I was suffering from toothache and swollen face. The ordeal of questioning my supposed brother and examining our passports took some minutes—the longest I have ever experienced. He contrived to satisfy these inquisitors, and with a feeling of relief we bundled into the cart again and started on our long drive to Mosita. On that occasion we accomplished the sixty miles in one day, so afraid were we of being pursued.

On my return to Mosita I at once despatched old Boaz to Mafeking, giving them the intelligence of the victories in Natal. This proved to be the first news that reached them from the more important theatre of the war. Our life now became uneventful once more. One day an old Irish lady, wife of a neighbouring farmer, dropped in for a chat. She was a nice old woman, as true as steel, and terribly worried by these dreadful times. She had a married daughter in the Transvaal, and a brother also, whose sons, as well as daughters' husbands, would, she sorely feared, be commandeered to fight, in which case they might unknowingly be shooting their own relations over the border. It was the same tale of misery, anxiety, and wretchedness, everywhere, and the war was but a few weeks old. The population in that colony, whether Dutch or English, were so closely mixed together—their real interests so parallel—that it resolved itself locally into a veritable civil war. It was all the more dreadful that these poor farmers, after having lost all their cattle by rinderpest, had just succeeded in getting together fresh herds, and were hoping for renewed prosperity. Then came the almost certain chance of their beasts being raided, of their stores being looted, and of their women and children having to seek shelter to avoid rough treatment and incivility. Often during the long evenings, especially when I was suffering from depression of spirits, I used to argue with Mr. Keeley about the war and whether it was necessary. It seemed to me then we were not justified in letting loose such a millstream of wretchedness and of destruction, and that the alleged wrongs of a large white population—who, in spite of everything, seemed to prosper and grow rich apace—scarcely justified the sufferings of thousands of innocent individuals. Mr. Keeley was a typical old colonist, one who knew the Boers and their character well, and I merely quote what he said, as no doubt it was, and is, the opinion of many other such men. He opined that this struggle was bound to come, declaring that all the thinking men of the country had foreseen it. The intolerance of the Boers, their arrogance, their ignorance, on which they prided themselves, all proclaimed them as unfit to rule over white or black people. Of late years had crept in an element of treachery and disloyalty, emanating from their jealousy of the English, which by degrees was bound to permeate the whole country, spreading southward to Cape Colony itself, till the idea of "Africa for the Dutch, and the English in the sea," would have been a war-cry that might have dazzled hundreds of to-day's so-called loyal colonists. He even asserted that those at the head of affairs in England had shown great perspicacity and a clear insight into the future. If at the Bloemfontein Conference, or after, Kruger had given the five years' franchise, and the dispute had been patched up for the moment, it would have been the greatest misfortune that could have happened. The intriguing in the colony, the reckless expenditure of the Transvaal Secret Service money, the bribery and corruption of the most corrupt Government of modern times, would have gone on as before, and things would soon have been as bad as ever. Mr. Keeley was positive that it was jealousy that had engendered this race hatred one heard so much about; even the well-to-do Dutch knew the English were superior to them in knowledge and enterprise. At the same time any English invention was looked upon with awe and interest; they were wont to copy us in many respects, and if a Dutch girl had the chance of marrying an Englishman, old or young, poor or rich, she did not wait to be asked a second time. There is no doubt the women were a powerful factor in Boerland. Even a Britisher married to a Dutchwoman seemed at once to consider her people as his people, and the Transvaal as his fatherland. These women were certainly the most bitter against the English; they urged their husbands in the district to go and join the commandoes, and their language was cruel and bloodthirsty.

* * * * *

Towards the middle of November I decided that I could not remain in my present quarters much longer. My presence was attracting unwelcome attention to my kind host and hostess, albeit they would not admit it. From the report that I was a man dressed as a woman, the rumour had now changed to the effect that I was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, sent specially out by Her Majesty to inform her of the proceedings of her rebellious subjects. Another person had heard I was the wife of the General who was giving the Boers so much trouble at Mafeking. I determined, therefore, to return to Mrs. Fraser's hotel, which was always a stage nearer Mafeking, whither I was anxious to return eventually. As a matter of fact, there was no alternative resting-place. It was impossible to pass south to Kimberley, to the west lay the Kalahari Desert, and to the east the Transvaal. With many grateful thanks to the Keeleys, I rode off one morning, with Vellum in attendance, to Setlagoli, which I had left a month before. We thought it prudent to make sure there were no Boers about before bringing the Government mules and cart. Therefore I arranged for my maid to follow in this vehicle if she heard nothing to the contrary within twenty-four hours. Mrs. Fraser was delighted to see me, and reported the Boers all departed after a temporary occupation, so there I settled down for another period of weary waiting.


[26] The Boers used better ammunition later.

[27] Boer national flag.

[28] Clergyman.

[29] Mr. Murchison was shut up in the gaol awaiting Lord Roberts's confirmation of his sentence. When Eloff succeeded in entering Mafeking many months later, the former was liberated with the other prisoners, and given a rifle to fire on the Boers, which he did with much effect. I believe he was afterwards taken to a gaol in the Isle of Wight, but I do not know if his life-sentence is still in force.

[30] This gentleman on a later occasion again attempted to leave Mafeking on horseback, and was taken prisoner by the Boers and sent to Pretoria, leaving the Daily Mail without a correspondent in Mafeking. At the request of that paper I then undertook to send them cables about the siege.



"For a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which has wings shall tell the matter."—ECCLES. x. 20.

The day after my arrival at Setlagoli some natives came in with apparently well-authenticated news of an English victory near Vryburg. They also asserted that the line was already being relaid to Maribogo, and that the railway servants had returned to that station. I drove over at once to prove the truth of their statements; of course, I found they were all false, except the fact of the station-master having returned to the barricaded and desolate station. I discovered him sitting disconsolately at the door of his ruined house, gloomily perusing "Nicholas Nickleby." On returning home, I was delighted to find interesting letters from Mr. and Mrs. Rochfort Maguire, who were shut up in Kimberley, as was also Mr. Rhodes. The latter had despatched them by a boy, ordered to continue his journey to Mafeking with other missives and also with some colonial newspapers. These latter, only about a fortnight old, we fairly spelled through before sending them on. They were already so mutilated by constant unfolding that in parts they were scarcely decipherable, but none the less very precious. Two days later arrived a representative of Reuter's Agency, whom I shall call Mr. P. He had come by rail and horseback straight from Cape Town and he was also under orders to proceed to Mafeking; but his horses were so done up that he decided to give them a few days' rest. I took advantage of his escort to carry out a long-cherished desire to see the wreck of the armoured train at Kraipann. Accompanied by a boy to show us the way, we started after an early lunch. As it was a Sunday, there was not much fear of our meeting any Boers, as the latter were always engaged that day in psalm-singing and devotions. We cantered gaily along, passing many Kaffir huts, outside of which were grouped wondering natives, in their Sunday best. These kept up a lively conversation with our guide as long as we remained within earshot. I was always impressed with the freemasonry that existed in that country among the blacks. Everywhere they found acquaintances, and very often relations. They used to tell me that such and such a man was their wife's cousin or their aunt's brother. Moreover, as long as you were accompanied by a native, you were always sure of certain information concerning the whereabouts of the Boers; but to these latter they would lie with stupid, solemn faces. When we neared Kraipann, we came to a region of rocks and kopjes, truly a God-forsaken country. Leaving our horses in the native stadt, we proceeded on foot to the scene of the disaster. There was not much to see, after all—merely a pilot armoured engine, firmly embedded its whole length in the gravel. Next to this, an ordinary locomotive, still on the rails, riddled on one side with bullets, and on the other displaying a gaping aperture into the boiler, which told its own tale. Then came an armoured truck—H.M.'s Mosquito—that I had seen leaving Mafeking so trim and smart, but now battered with shot; and lastly another truck, which had been carrying the guns. This had been pushed back into a culvert, and presented a dilapidated appearance, with its front wheels in the air. The whole spectacle was forlorn and eerie. All the time I gave cursory glances right and left, to make sure no Boers were prowling about, and I should not have been surprised to have seen an unkempt head bob up and ask us our business. But all remained as silent as the grave. Swarms of locusts were alone in possession, and under the engine and carriages the earth was a dark brown moving mass, with the stream of these jumping, creeping things. I had soon gratified my curiosity, and persuaded my companion, who was busy photographing, also to leave this desolate spot.

The Boers continued to ride roughshod over the land, commandeering oxen and cattle, putting up to public auction such Government properties as they had seized at the different railway-stations, and employing hundreds of Kaffirs to tear up the railway-line. Our enemies were perfectly secure in the knowledge that no help could come for months, and the greater number believed it would never come at all, and that the "Roineks" were being cut to pieces in the South. They openly stated there would be no more railway traffic, but that in future trade and transit would be carried on by transport riding—i.e., by ox-waggon, their favourite amusement and occupation. In the meantime the cry of the loyal colonists went up from all sides: "How much longer can it last?"

After a few days Mr. P. duly returned from Mafeking, having had a risky but successful trip in and out of the town. He reported it all well, and that the inhabitants were leading a mole existence, owing to the constant shelling. The Boers evidently preferred dropping in shells at a safe distance to risking their lives by a storming attack. With great pride Mr. P. showed me a basket of carrier pigeons, by which he assured me I could now communicate swiftly and safely with the garrison. He was even kind enough to send off one at once on a trial trip, with a short note signed with his name, informing Colonel Baden-Powell that I was at Setlagoli, and that I would be able to forward any letters or information they might wish to send. I had never had any experience of such birds, and was delighted to think how much quicker they would travel than old Boaz. When the pigeon was released, however, I must confess it was rather disturbing to note that it did not seem at all sure of the direction it should take, circling round at least twenty times in the air. However, Mr. P. assured me this was their usual habit, and that this particular bird knew its business, having taken several prizes; so, as it eventually disappeared, I thought no more about it. The next day Mr. P. left for Cape Town, and passed out of our ken, but we were soon to be reminded of him in an unpleasant fashion.

On going into the dining-room to lunch one day, I saw little Mr.——, a kinsman of Mrs. Fraser's, and particularly short of stature, with an axe in hand, in the act of taking up the boards in a corner of the room, revealing as he did so a sort of shallow cellar, with no light or ventilation. Watching the operation was another man, an Englishman, the dispossessed manager of a local store, who had sought a temporary lodging at the hotel, and was a big, strong individual, over 6 feet in height. I inquired in amazement, of this strangely assorted pair, what they were trying to do. "We are going to hide, Lady Sarah," chirped the former. "The Boers are on the premises." So saying, he was about to descend into the cavity, and evidently expected the companionship of his tall friend. When I pointed out to them that they would probably suffocate in this modern Black Hole of Calcutta, the little man proceeded to dance round the room, still shouldering his axe, jibbering the while: "I will not go to fight; I am an American. I will not be put in the front rank to be shot by the English, or made to dig trenches." The whole scene was so comic that I sat down and laughed, and the climax was reached when the cock-sparrow, who had always talked so big of what he was going to do and to say to the Boers, crawled under the old grand piano in the farther corner of the big room. I was forced to tell him that no American or Englishman could be found in such an ignominious position, should the house be searched, and I even assured the little gentleman that I did not think it was the least likely his services would be wanted. The other man, whose position was more risky, I advised to lie down on the sofa and feign illness; and I really believe anxiety and worry had so preyed on him that he was as ill as he looked. When calm had been restored, I sat down to lunch, Mrs. Fraser coming in at intervals to report what our visitors were doing at the store. They had demanded coffee and many tins of salmon and sardines. Of these delicacies they seemed particularly fond, eating the latter with their fingers, after which they drank the oil, mixed for choice with golden syrup. After their repast they fitted themselves out in clothes and luxuries, such as silver watches and chains, white silk pocket-handkerchiefs, cigarettes, saddles, and even harness, taking altogether goods to the amount of about L50. This amusement finished, they proceeded to practise shooting, setting up bottles at a distance of about 50 yards. We followed all their doings from behind the green Venetian blinds, kept down on account of the heat. Up to this time none of them had come up to the house, for which we had reason to be grateful, as the "dop" they had found, and quickly finished, was beginning to affect their demeanour and spirits, particularly of the one named Dietrich, who appeared to be the boss of the party. At last the immediate reason for their visit filtered out. This slightly intoxicated gentleman inquired of Mr. Fraser where they could find a man named Mr. P. and the English lady of whom he had written. The old gentleman, who could be more than common deaf when he chose, affected utter vacancy at the mention of these individuals, merely stating that he knew a man of the name of P. fifteen years ago. Then the whole story was told. They had captured our pigeon, with its tell-tale note. This confiding bird had flown straight to the laager, had perched on the General's house, where it had been shot by this same Dietrich, and we owed the present visit to the information supplied therein by Mr. P., Dietrich informing us he attributed this occurrence to the Almighty working for the Boers. They stated they were now awaiting the arrival of the Veldtcornet and of Mr. Lamb, a neighbouring farmer, whom they had sent for, and they proceeded to make their preparations to spend the night. After supper we were relieved to hear Mr. Lamb's cheerful voice, as he rode up in the dark with the jovial Dietrich, who had ridden out to meet him, and who, it appeared, was an old friend of his. I must say the pleasure of meeting was more on the Dutchman's side than on the Englishman's. By this time the former was quite intoxicated, and Mr. Lamb cleverly managed to get him to his room, and after having, as he thought, disposed of him, he came and joined us on the stoep. There we freely discussed our visitors, and were having a cheery conversation, when I suddenly looked up, and round the corner of the verandah saw the unsteady form of a typical Boer—slouch hat, bandolier, and rifle, complete—staggering towards us, truly a weird apparition. The rising moon shining on the rifle-barrel made it glitter like silver. I confess I disappeared round the corner to my room with more haste than dignity. To Boers by daytime, when sober, I had by now become accustomed, but at night, after liberal doses of "dop," armed with a loaded rifle, I preferred their room to their company. Luckily, Mr. Lamb was equal to the occasion, and persuaded Dietrich to return to his quarters, in spite of his assurance that he (Dietrich) "was the man who watched, and who did not sleep." With the morning arrived nine or ten more, including the newly-appointed Veldtcornet, by name De Koker, who had been lately convicted of sheep-stealing. After a long idle morning and more refreshments, they all adjourned to the living-room, where, with much difficulty, one of them stumbled through the reading of a printed proclamation, which enacted that "This country now being part of the Transvaal, the residents must within seven days leave their homes or enrol themselves as burghers." Nothing was mentioned about fighting, so all there complied with what was required—namely, to sign their names on a blank sheet of paper. By evening all had left for Mosita, as Mr. P. had also mentioned Mr. Keeley's name in his unlucky note. Three, however, remained to keep a watch on myself, and one of these, I regretted to observe, was the jovially-inclined Dietrich. It can be imagined that our irritation with Mr. P. was great for having so foolishly mentioned names and places, and still more with the idiotic bird, the real origin of a very unpleasant two days. I reflected that, if these were the tricks carrier-pigeons were wont to play, I greatly preferred the old nigger as a letter-carrier in wartime.

We were not to wait long for more developments. Next day at dusk arrived a large cavalcade, which included Mr. Keeley, a prisoner. He went on with his escort at daybreak, leaving us full of sympathy for his poor wife. I sent by his bodyguard, under the command of another Dietrich, brother to the drunkard, who seemed a decent sort of man, a letter to General Snyman, begging for a pass into Mafeking to rejoin my husband. Mr. Keeley told me their Intelligence Department was very perfect, as they had been aware of every one of my movements since I left Mafeking, and even of my rides during the last fortnight. He also told me General Cronje and a great number of Boers had left Mafeking and trekked South. This encouraged me in my belief that it would be better for me to be in that beleaguered town than to submit to the possible insults of Boer sentinels at Setlagoli.

The next day was Sunday, and in the morning returned the energetic Veldtcornet De Koker. He had heard of my letter to Snyman, and, wishing to be important, had come to offer me a pass to the laager for a personal interview with the General, assuring me the latter was always very polite to ladies. He even wished to escort me there that very day. However, I had no mind to act hastily, so I made an excuse of the mules being away—also that I did not like to travel on a Sunday. This latter reason he fully appreciated, and arranged with me to come to his house the following day, for which purpose he left me a permit, vilely scrawled in Dutch. I mentally reserved to myself the decision as to keeping the rendezvous. We sat down to breakfast together, although, as he could speak no English and I could speak no Dutch, the conversation was nil. He was pleased with the cigarette I offered him, and observed me with some curiosity, probably never having seen anything approaching an English lady previously. Before he left, I complained, through an interpreter, of the insobriety of my self-constituted sentinel Dietrich, remarking it was quite impossible I could stand such a man dogging my footsteps much longer. He promised to report the matter, and insisted on shaking hands with great cordiality.

It was fortunate I had not accompanied De Koker, for that very evening back came Mr. Keeley, who had luckily succeeded in satisfying the suspicions of General Snyman, and who had received a permit to reside on his farm during the war. He brought me a letter in Dutch from the same authority, refusing, "owing to the disturbed state of the country," to give me a pass to Mafeking, and requesting me to remain where I was, under the "surveillance of his burghers." It was exactly the surveillance of one of his said burghers I wished to avoid; but there seemed no possibility of getting rid of Dietrich, who evidently preferred his comfortable quarters at the hotel to roughing it in the laager. I was exceedingly disappointed, and also somewhat indignant with Mr. Keeley, who firmly believed, and was much cast down by, some telegrams he had read out in the laager, relating the utter defeat of 15,000 English at the Modder River;[31] 1,500 Boers, he stated, had surrounded this force, of which they had killed 2,000. I stoutly refused to credit it till I had seen it in an English despatch. But all this was enough to subdue the bravest spirit; we had received practically nothing but Dutch information during the last six weeks, telling of their successes and English disasters; we had seen nobody but our enemies. Even if one did not allow oneself to believe their tales, there was always a sort of uncomfortable feeling that these must contain some element of truth. Fortunately, however, I was reading an account of the Franco-German War in 1870, and there I found that the same system of inventing successes was carried on by the French press right up to, and even after, the Emperor's capitulation at Sedan. So it was comforting to think that, if it had been necessary to keep up the spirits of paid and regular soldiers, it must be a thousand times more essential for the Transvaal authorities to do so, as regards their unpaid mixed army, who had no encouragement to fight but knowledge of successes and hopes of future loot. All the same, it was a great trial of patience.


[31] This news must have been a garbled account of the fighting with Lord Methuen's column.



"Ah, there, Piet! be'ind 'is stony kop, With 'is Boer bread an' biltong, an' 'is flask of awful dop; 'Is mauser for amusement an' 'is pony for retreat, I've known a lot o' fellers shoot a dam' sight worse than Piet."—KIPLING.

Provisions at Setlagoli and in the surrounding districts were now fast running out, and Mrs. Fraser announced to me one morning she had only full allowance of meal for another week. In that colony no meal meant no bread, and it was, in fact, the most important factor in the housewife's mind when thinking of supplies. While on this subject, I must remark what very excellent bread is that made by the Dutch; no matter how poor or dilapidated the farmhouses, large loaves of beautiful, slightly browned bread are always in evidence, baked by the mother or daughters. The non-existence of the railway was beginning to cause much distress, Dutch and English suffering alike. In fact, if it had not been for the locusts, unusually numerous that year, and always a favourite food with the natives, these latter would also have been starving. As every mouth to feed was a consideration, I determined to see if I could personally induce the Boer General to pass me into Mafeking. Under Mrs. Fraser's charge I left my maid, as I did not wish to expose her to any hardships in the laager; and to her I gave the custody of my pony Dop, to whom I had become much attached. After detaining me a prisoner, the Boers returned to Setlagoli specially to secure this animal; they had heard the natives speak of her in terms of high appreciation, and describe her as "not a horse, but lightning." Metelka, with much spirit, declared the pony to be her property, having been given her, she said, in lieu of wages. She further stated she was a German subject, and that if her horse were not returned in three days she should write to the Kaiser. All this was repeated to General Snyman by the awestruck Veldtcornet. After a week spent with the Boers, Dop arrived back at Setlagoli, carefully led, as if she were a sacred beast, and bringing a humble letter of apology from the Commandant.

But I am anticipating, and must return to my solitary drive to the laager, accompanied only by Vellum and another black boy. I took the precaution of despatching a nigger with a note to Mafeking, telling Colonel Baden-Powell of my plan, and that, having heard a Dutch woman called Mrs. Delpoort, in Mafeking, wished to join her friends in the Transvaal, I intended asking General Snyman to exchange me for her. The distance we had to drive was forty-five miles, along villainous sandy roads and under a burning African sun. We outspanned for the second time at the house of De Koker, who had been the first to advise me to visit the laager. His dwelling was situated close to the railway-line, or, rather, to where the railway-line had been. Here there was a great stir and bustle; men were hurrying in and out, nearly all armed; horses were tethered before the door; and, on hearing my cart drive up, the Veldtcornet himself came out to meet me, and gravely invited me to descend. I now saw the interior of a typical Dutch house, with the family at home. The vrow came forward with hand outstretched in the awkward Boer fashion. The Dutch do not shake hands; they simply extend a wooden member, which you clasp, and the greeting is over. I had to go through this performance in perfect silence with about seven or eight children of various ages, a grown-up daughter, and eight or ten men, most of whom followed us into the poky little room which appeared to serve as a living-room for the whole family. Although past ten o'clock, the remains of breakfast were still on the table, and were not appetizing to look at. We sat down on chairs placed in a circle, the whole party commencing to chatter volubly, and scarcely a word being intelligible to me. Presently the vrow brought me a cup of coffee in a cracked cup and saucer. Not wishing to give offence, I tried to swallow it; the coffee was not bad, if one could only have dissociated it from that dreadful breakfast-table. I then produced some cigarettes, and offered them to the male element. They were enchanted, laid aside their pipes, and conversed with more animation than ever; but it was only occasionally that I caught a word I could understand; the sentence "twee tozen Engelman dood"[32] recurred with distressing frequency, and enabled me to grasp their conversation was entirely about the war. I meanwhile studied the room and its furniture, which was of the poorest description; the chairs mostly lacked legs or backs, and the floor was of mud, which perhaps was just as well, as they all spat on it in the intervals of talk, and emptied on to it the remains of whatever they were drinking. After a short time a black girl came in with a basin of water, with which she proceeded to plentifully sprinkle the floor, utterly disregarding our dresses and feet. Seeing all the women tuck their feet under their knees, I followed their example, until this improvised water-cart had finished its work. The grown-up daughter had a baby in her arms, as uncared for as the other children, all of whom looked as if soap and water never came their way. The men were fine, strong-looking individuals, and all were very affable to me, or meant to be so, if I could but have understood them. Finally four or five more women came into this tiny overcrowded room, evidently visitors. This was the finishing stroke, and I decided that, rested or not, the mules must be inspanned, that I might leave this depressing house. One of the young burghers brought me the pass to General Snyman, the caligraphy of which he was evidently very proud of; and having taken leave of all the ladies and men in the same peculiar stiff manner as that in which I had greeted them, I drove off, devoutly thankful to be so far on my journey. About four in the afternoon we came to a rise, and, looking over it, saw the white roofs of Mafeking lying about five miles away in the glaring sunlight. Then we arrived at the spot where General Cronje's laager had been before he trekked South, marked by the grass being worn away for nearly a square mile, by broken-down waggons, and by sundry aas-vogels (the scavengers of South Africa) hovering over carcasses of horses or cattle. Mafeking was now only three miles distant, and, seeing not a solitary soul on the flat grass plains, I felt very much tempted to drive in to the native stadt; but the black boys resolutely declined to attempt it, as they feared being shot, and they assured me that many Boer sharpshooters lay hidden in the scrub. Thinking discretion the better part of valour, I regretfully turned away from Mafeking by the road leading up an incline to the laager, still several miles distant. The cart was suddenly brought to a standstill by almost driving into a Boer outpost, crouched under a ruined wall, from which point of vantage they were firing with their rifles at the advance trenches of the town. The officer in charge of this party told me I must stay here till sundown, when he and his men would accompany me to headquarters, as he averred the road I was now pursuing was not safe from the Mafeking gun-range. I therefore waited their good pleasure for an hour, during which time the firing from all round the town went on in a desultory sort of way, occasionally followed by a boom from a large Boer gun, and the short, sharp, hammering noise from the enemy's one-pounder Maxim. The sun was almost down when the burgher in charge gave the signal to bring up their horses, and in a few minutes we were under way. This time I was attended by a bodyguard of about eighteen or twenty burghers, and we went along, much to my annoyance, at a funereal pace. On our way we met the relieving guard coming out to take the place just evacuated by my escort. When seen riding thus more or less in ranks, a Boer squadron, composed of picked men for outpost duty, presented really a formidable appearance. The men were mostly of middle age, all with the inevitable grizzly beard, and their rifles, gripped familiarly, were resting on the saddle-bow; nearly all had two bandoliers apiece, which gave them the appearance of being armed to the teeth—a more determined-looking band cannot be imagined. The horses of these burghers were well bred and in good condition, and, although their clothes were threadbare, they seemed cheerful enough, smoking their pipes and cracking their jokes.

When we at last drew up at headquarters, I was fairly startled to find what an excitement my appearance created, about two or three hundred Boers swarming up from all over the laager, and surrounding the cart. The General was then accommodated in a deserted farmhouse, and from this building at last issued his secretary, a gentleman who spoke English perfectly, and to whom I handed my letter requesting an interview. After an interminable wait among the gaping crowd, the aforementioned gentleman returned, and informed me I could see the General at once. He literally had to make a way for me from the cart to the house, but I must admit the burghers were very civil, nearly all of them taking off their hats as I passed through them. Once inside the house, I found myself in a low, dark room, and in the farthest corner, seated on a bench, were two old gentlemen, with extra long beards, who were introduced to me as General Snyman and Commandant Botha.[33] I was at once struck by the anything but affable expression of their countenances. They motioned to me to take a chair; someone handed me a bowl with a brown mixture—presumably coffee—which I found very embarrassing to hold during our conversation. This was carried on through the secretary, and the General got more and more out of temper as he discovered what my request was. I informed him I had come at the suggestion of his Veldtcornet; that all my relations were in England, except my husband, who was in Mafeking; that there was no meal in the colony where I had been living; and that I was prepared to ask Colonel Baden-Powell to exchange me for a Dutch lady whom I heard wished to leave, if he (General Snyman) would accept the exchange. He promptly and with much decision refused. Then it occurred to me this old gentleman meant to keep me as a prisoner of war, and my heart sank into my shoes. The only concession I could obtain was that he would consider my case, and in the meantime he ordered that I should be accommodated in the field hospital. Accompanied by the secretary, and leaving the staring crowd behind, I drove off to a little house, about half a mile away, where we found our destination. I was shown into a tiny room, smelling strongly of disinfectants, which from the large centre-table I at once recognized as the operating-room, and here I was told I could sleep. I was too tired to care much. There was no bed, only a broken-down sofa, and in the corner a dilapidated washstand; the walls and windows were riddled with bullets, denoting where the young burghers had been amusing themselves with rifle practice. The secretary then informed me that they had to search my luggage, which operation lasted fully half an hour, although I had but one small portmanteau and a dressing-case. The latter two Dutch nurses were told off to look through, which, I am bound to say, they did most unwillingly, remarking to me they had not contemplated searching people's luggage as part of their already onerous duties. I had even to undress, in order that they might reassure the officials I had no documents on my person. Meanwhile the men examined my correspondence and papers almost microscopically. Needless to say, they found nothing. They had barely finished their researches, when a messenger came from the General to say, if Colonel Baden-Powell would exchange me for a Dutchman imprisoned in Mafeking, a certain Petrus Viljoen, he would consent to my going in. I found, on inquiry, that this man had been imprisoned for theft several months before the war, and I told them plainly it was manifestly unfair to exchange a man and a criminal for a woman; further, that I could not even ask Colonel Baden-Powell officially to do such a thing, and could only mention it, as an impossible condition, in a letter to my husband, if they chose to send it in. To this they agreed, so I indited the following letter, couched in terms which the secretary might peruse:

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