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South African Memories - Social, Warlike & Sporting From Diaries Written At The Time
by Lady Sarah Wilson
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The Boers, after setting fire to the stadt, had rushed it, surprising the occupants; and the horrible noise of their cheering arose again and again. Then a terrific fusillade broke out from this new direction, rendering the roadway a place of the greatest danger. My quarters were evidently getting too hot, and I knew that Weil's house and store would be the first objective of the Boers. I bethought me even novices might be useful in the hospital, so I decided to proceed there in one way or another. Although the rifle-fire was slackening towards the east, from the fort, on the west it was continuing unabated; and the way to the hospital lay through the most open part of the town. Calling to our soldier servant of the Royal Horse Guards to accompany me, I snatched up a few things of value and started off. "You will be shot, to a certainty," said Mr. Weil. But it was no use waiting, as one could not tell what would happen next. The bullets were fortunately flying high; all the same, we had twice to stop under a wall and wait for a lull before proceeding. Then I saw a native boy fall in front of me, and at the same moment I stumbled and fell heavily, the servant thinking I was hit; and all the while we could hear frightened cries continuing to emanate from the flaming stadt.

The day had fully broken, and never had the roads appeared so white and wide, the sheltering houses so few and far between. At length we reached the hospital trench, and the last 500 yards of the journey were accomplished in perfect safety. My dangerous experiences ended for the rest of that dreadful day, which I spent in the haven of those walls, sheltering so much suffering, and that were, alas! by evening crammed to their fullest capacity. It was a gruesome sight seeing the wounded brought in, and the blood-stained stretchers carried away empty, when the occupants had been deposited in the operating-room. Sometimes an ambulance waggon would arrive with four or five inmates; at others we descried a stretcher-party moving cautiously across the recreation-ground towards us with a melancholy load. It is easy to imagine our feelings of dread and anxiety as we scanned the features of the new arrivals, never knowing who might be the next. During the morning three wounded Boers were brought in—the first prisoners Mafeking could claim; then a native with his arm shattered to the shoulder. All were skilfully and carefully attended to by the army surgeon and his staff in a marvellously short space of time, and comfortably installed in bed. But the Boers begged not to have sheets, as they had never seen such things before. Among the English casualties, one case was a very sad one. A young man, named Hazelrigg, of an old Leicestershire family, was badly shot in the region of the heart when taking a message to the B.S.A.P. fort, not knowing the Boers were in possession. Smart and good-looking, he had only just been promoted to the post of orderly from being a private in the Cape Police, into which corps he had previously enlisted, having failed in his army examination. When brought to the hospital, Hazelrigg had nearly bled to death, and was dreadfully weak, his case being evidently hopeless. I sat with him several hours, putting eau-de-Cologne on his head and brushing away the flies. In the evening, just before he passed into unconsciousness, he repeated more than once: "Tell the Colonel, Lady Sarah, I did my best to give the message, but they got me first." He died at dawn.

All through the weary hours of that perfect summer's day the rifles never ceased firing. Sometimes a regular fusillade for ten minutes or so; then, as if tired out, sinking down to a few single shots, while the siren-like whistle and sharp explosion of the shells from the high-velocity gun continued intermittently, and added to the dangers of the streets. So the hours dragged on. All the time the wildest rumours pervaded the air. Now the Boers had possession of the whole stadt; again, as soon as night fell, large reinforcements were to force their way in. Of course we knew the Colonel was all the while maturing his plans to rid the town of the unbidden guests, but what these were no one could tell. About 8 p.m., when we were in the depth of despair, we got an official message to say that the Boers in the stadt had been surrounded and taken prisoners, and also that the fort had surrendered to Colonel Hore, who, with some of his officers, had been all day in the curious position of captives in their own barracks. Of course our delight and thankfulness knew no bounds. In spite of the dead and dying patients, those who were slightly wounded or convalescent gave a feeble cheer, which was a pathetic sound. We further heard that the prisoners, in number about a hundred, including Commandant Eloff, their leader, were then being marched through the town to the Masonic Hall, followed by a large crowd of jeering and delighted natives. Two of the nurses and myself ran over to look at them, and I never saw a more motley crew. In the dim light of a few oil-lamps they represented many nationalities, the greater part laughing, joking, and even singing, the burghers holding themselves somewhat aloof, but the whole community giving one the idea of a body of men who knew they had got out of a tight place, and were devoutly thankful still to have whole skins. Eloff and three principal officers were accommodated at Mr. Weil's house, having previously dined with the Colonel and Staff. At 6 a.m. Sunday morning we were awakened by three shells bursting close by, one after the other. I believe no one was more frightened than Eloff; but he told us that it was a preconcerted signal, and that, if they had been in possession of the town, they were to have answered by rifle-fire, when the Boers would have marched in. These proved to be the last shells that were fired into Mafeking.

The same morning at breakfast I sat opposite to Commandant Eloff, who was the President's grandson, and had on my right a most polite French officer, who could not speak a word of English, Dutch, or German, so it was difficult to understand how he made himself understood by his then companions-in-arms. In strong contrast to this affable and courteous gentleman was Eloff, of whom we had heard so much as a promising Transvaal General. A typical Boer of the modern school, with curiously unkempt hair literally standing on end, light sandy whiskers, and a small moustache, he was wearing a sullen and dejected expression on his by no means stupid, but discontented and unprepossessing, face. This scion of the Kruger family did not scruple to air his grievances or disclose his plans with regard to the struggle of the previous day. That he was brilliantly assisted by the French and German freelances was as surely demonstrated as the fact of his having been left more or less in the lurch by his countrymen when they saw that to get into Mafeking was one thing, but to stay there or get out of it again was quite a different matter. In a few words he told us, in fairly good English, how it had been posted up in the laager, "We leave for Mafeking to-night: we will breakfast at Dixon's Hotel to-morrow morning"; how he had sent back to instruct Reuter's agent to cable the news that Mafeking had been taken as soon as the fort was in their hands; how he had left his camp with 400 volunteers, and how, when he had counted them by the light of the blazing stadt, only 240 remained; moreover, that the 500 additional men who were to push in when the fort was taken absolutely failed him.[34] He was also betrayed in that the arranged forward movement all round the town, which was to have taken place simultaneously with his attack, was never made. The burghers instead contented themselves by merely firing senseless volleys from their trenches, which constituted all the assistance he actually received. This, and much more, he told us with bitter emphasis, while the French officer conversed unconcernedly in the intervals of his discourse about the African climate, the weather, and the Paris Exhibition; finally observing with heart-felt emphasis that he wished himself back once more in "La Belle France," which he had only left two short months ago. The Dutchman, not understanding what he was saying, kept on the thread of his story, interrupting him without any compunction. It was one of the most curious meals at which I have ever assisted. That afternoon these officers were removed to safer quarters in gaol while a house was being prepared for their reception.

As after-events proved, Eloff's attack was the

Boers' last card, which they had played when they heard of the approaching relief column under Colonel Mahon,[35] and of his intention to join hands with Colonel Plumer, coming from the North. After lunch, two days later, we saw clouds of dust to the south, and, from information to hand, we knew it must be our relievers. The whole of Mafeking spent hours on the roofs of the houses. In the meantime the Boers were very uneasy, with many horsemen coming and going, but the laagers were not being shifted. In the late afternoon a desultory action commenced, which to us was desperately exciting. We could see little but shells bursting and columns of dust. One thing was certain: the Boers were not running away, although the Colonel declared that our troops had gained possession of the position the Boers had held, the latter having fallen a little farther back. As the sun set came a helio-message: "Diamond Fields Horse.—All well. Good-night." We went to dinner at seven, and just as we were sitting down I heard some feeble cheers. Thinking something must have happened, I ran to the market-square, and, seeing a dusty khaki-clad figure whose appearance was unfamiliar to me, I touched him on the shoulder, and said: "Has anyone come in?" "We have come in," he answered—"Major Karri-Davis and eight men of the Imperial Light Horse." Then I saw that officer himself, and he told us that, profiting by an hour's dusk, they had ridden straight in before the moon rose, and that they were now sending back two troopers to tell the column the way was clear. Their having thus pushed on at once was a lucky inspiration, for, had they waited for daylight, they would probably have had a hard fight, even if they had got in at all. This plucky column of 1,100 men had marched nearly 300 miles in twelve days, absolutely confounding the Boers by their rapidity.

We heard weeks afterwards how that same day of the relief of Mafeking was celebrated in London with jubilation past belief, everyone going mad with delight. The original event in the town itself was a very tame if impressive affair—merely a score or so of people, singing "Rule, Britannia," surrounding eight or nine dust-begrimed figures, each holding a tired and jaded horse, and a few women on the outskirts of the circle with tears of joy in their eyes. Needless to say, no one thought of sleep that night. At 3.30 a.m. someone came and fetched me in a pony-cart, and we drove out to the polo-ground, where, by brilliant moonlight, we saw the column come into camp. Strings and strings of waggons were soon drawn up; next to them black masses, which were the guns; and beyond these, men, lying down anywhere, dead-tired, beside their horses. The rest of the night I spent at the hospital, where they were bringing in those wounded in the action of the previous afternoon. At eight o'clock we were having breakfast with Colonel Mahon, Prince Alexander of Teck, Sir John Willoughby, and Colonel Frank Rhodes, as additional guests. We had not seen a strange face for eight months, and could do nothing but stare at them, and I think each one of us felt as if he or she were in a dream. Our friends told of their wonderful march, and how they had encamped one night at Setlagoli, where they had been taken care of by Mrs. Fraser and Metelka, who had spent the night in cooking for the officers, which fact had specially delighted Colonel Rhodes, who told me my maid was a "charming creature." But this pleasant conversation was interrupted by a message, saying that, as the Boer laagers were as intact as yesterday, the artillery were going to bombard them at once. Those of us who had leisure repaired at once to the convent, and from there the sight that followed was worth waiting all these many months to see. First came the splendid batteries of the Royal Horse Artillery trotting into action, all the gunners bronzed and bearded. They were followed by the Canadian Artillery, who had joined Colonel Plumer's force, and who were that day horsed with mules out of the Bulawayo coach. These were galloping, and, considering the distance all had come, both horses and mules looked wonderfully fit and well. Most of the former, with the appearance of short-tailed English hunters, were stepping gaily out. The Imperial Light Horse and the Diamond Fields Horse, the latter distinguished by feathers in their felt hats, brought up the procession. Everybody cheered, and not a few were deeply affected. Personally, ever since, when I see galloping artillery, that momentous morning is brought back to my mind, and I feel a choking sensation in my throat.

About a quarter of a mile from town the guns unlimbered, and we could not help feeling satisfaction at watching the shells exploding in the laager—that laager we had watched for so many months, and had never been able to touch. The Boers had evidently never expected the column to be in the town, or they would have cleared off. We had a last glimpse of the tarpaulined waggons, and then the dust hid further developments from sight. After about thirty minutes the artillery ceased firing, and as the atmosphere cleared we saw the laager was a desert. Waggons, horses, and cattle, all had vanished.

After their exertions of the past fortnight, Colonel Mahon did not consider it wise to pursue the retreating Boers; but later in the afternoon I went out with others in a cart to where the laager had been—the first time since December that I had driven beyond our lines. I had the new experience of seeing a "loot" in progress. First we met two soldiers driving a cow; then some more with bulged-out pockets full of live fowls; natives were staggering under huge loads of food-stuffs, and eating even as they walked. I was also interested in going into the very room where General Snyman had treated me so scurvily, and where everything was in terrible confusion: the floor was littered with rifles, ammunition, food-stuffs of all sorts, clothes, and letters. Among the latter some interesting telegrams were found, including one from the President, of a date three days previously, informing Snyman that things were most critical, and that the enemy had occupied Kroonstadt. We were just going on to the hospital, where I had spent those weary days of imprisonment, when an officer galloped up and begged me to return to Mafeking, as some skirmishing was going to commence. It turned out that 500 Boers had stopped just over the ridge to cover their retreating waggons, but they made no stand, and by evening were miles away.

On Friday, May 18, the whole garrison turned out to attend a thanksgiving service in an open space close to the cemetery. They were drawn up in a three-sided square, which looked pathetically small. After the service Colonel Baden-Powell walked round and said a few words to each corps; then three volleys were fired over the graves of fallen comrades, and the "Last Post" was played by the buglers, followed by the National Anthem, in which all joined. It was a simple ceremony, but a very touching one. The same afternoon Colonel Plumer's force was inspected by the Colonel, prior to their departure for the North to repair the railway-line from Bulawayo. They were striking-looking men in their campaigning kit, having been in the field since last August. Some wore shabby khaki jackets and trousers, others flannel shirts and long boots or putties. However attired, they were eager once more for the fray, and, moreover, looked fit for any emergency.

The next few days were a period of intense excitement, and we were constantly stumbling against friends who had formed part of the relief column, but of whose presence we were totally unaware. Letters began to arrive in bulky batches, and one morning I received no less than 100, some of which bore the date of September of the year before. My time was divided between eagerly devouring these missives from home, sending and answering cables (a telegraph-line to the nearest telephone-office had been installed), and helping to organize a new hospital in the school-house, to accommodate the sick and wounded belonging to Colonel Mahon's force. All the while my thoughts were occupied by my return to England and by the question of the surest route to Cape Town. The railway to the South could not be relaid for weeks, and, as an alternative, my eyes turned longingly towards the Transvaal and Pretoria. It must be remembered that we shared the general opinion that, once Lord Roberts had reached the latter town, the war would be practically over. How wrong we all were after-events were to prove, but at the end of May, 1900, it appeared to many that to drive the 200 miles to Pretoria would be very little longer, and much more interesting, than to trek to Kimberley, with Cape Town as the destination. Mrs. Godley (to whom I have before alluded) had arrived at Mafeking from Bulawayo, and we agreed to make the attempt, especially as the Boers in the intervening country were reported to be giving up their arms and returning to their farms. In the meantime it had been decided that Colonel Plumer should occupy Zeerust in the Transvaal, twenty-eight miles from the border, while Colonel Baden-Powell and his force pushed on to Rustenburg. On May 28 Colonel Mahon and the relief column all departed to rejoin General Hunter in or near Lichtenburg, and Mafeking was left with a small garrison to look after the sick and wounded. This town, so long a theatre of excitement to itself and of interest to the world at large, then resumed by degrees the sleepy, even tenor of its ways, which had been so rudely disturbed eight months before.

FOOTNOTES:

[34] Later on, when I was at Zeerust, I met a telegraph clerk who had then been in the employ of the Boers, and he told me how indignant all were with General Snyman for deserting Eloff on that occasion. When one of the Veldtcornets went and begged his permission to collect volunteers as reinforcements, all the General did was to scratch his head and murmur in Dutch, "Morro is nocher dag" (To-morrow is another day).

[35] Now Major-General Mahon.



CHAPTER XIV

ACROSS THE TRANSVAAL TO PRETORIA DURING THE WAR

"There never was a good war or a bad peace."—BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

On Sunday morning, June 4, we packed into a Cape cart, with four siege horses in fair condition, and started to drive to Zeerust. It was a glorious day of blue skies and bright sun, with just enough breeze to prevent the noonday from being too hot. As we left Mafeking and its outworks behind, I had a curious feeling of regret and of gratitude to the gallant little town and its stout citizens: to the former for having been a haven in the midst of fierce storms during all these months; to the latter for their stout arms and their brave hearts, which had warded off the outbursts of the same tempests, whose clouds had hung dark and lowering on our horizon since the previous October. We also experienced a wonderful feeling of relief and freedom at being able to drive at will over the very roads which we had seen covered by Boer waggons, burghers, and guns, and, needless to say, we marked with interest the lines of their forts, so terribly near our little town. We noted the farmhouse lately the headquarters of General Snyman, standing naked and alone. Formerly surrounded by a flourishing orchard and a carefully tended garden, it was now the picture of desolation. The ground was trampled by many feet of men and horses; straw, forage, packing-cases, and rubbish of all kinds, were strewn about, and absolutely hid the soil from view. Away on the hill beyond I spied the tiny house and hospital where I had spent six weary nights and days; and between these two buildings a patch of bare ground nearly half a mile square, indescribably filthy, had been the site of the white-hooded waggons and ragged tents of the laager itself. The road was of no interest, merely rolling veldt with a very few scattered farmhouses, apparently deserted; but one noticed that rough attempts had been made in the way of irrigation, and that, as one approached the Transvaal, pools of water were frequently to be seen.

A shallow ditch was pointed out to us by the driver, as the boundary between Her Majesty's colony and the South African Republic, and after another eight or ten miles we saw a few white roofs and trees, which proved to be Otto's Hoep, in the Malmani Gold District, from which locality great things had been hoped in bygone days, before the Rand was ever thought of. At the tiny hotel we found several officers and men of the Imperial Light Horse, who, warned by a telephone message from Mafeking, had ordered us an excellent hot lunch. The proprietor, of German origin, could do nothing but stare at us while we were eating the meal, apparently amazed at finding his house reopened after so many months of inactivity, and that people were actually prepared to pay for what they had. We soon pushed on again, and just after leaving the hotel a sharp turn brought us to a really wide river, close to where the Imperial Light Horse were encamped. Our driver turned the horses' heads towards it, and without any misgivings we plunged in. The water grew deeper and deeper, and our thoughts flew to our portmanteaus, tied on behind, which were practically submerged. Just then the leaders took it into their heads they preferred not to go any farther, and forthwith turned round and faced us. The black coachman, however, did not lose his head, but pulled the wheelers round also, and we soon found ourselves again on the same bank from which we had started. Had it not been for a kind trooper of the Imperial Light Horse, our chances of getting across would have been nil. This friend in need mounted a loose horse, and succeeded in coaxing and dragging our recalcitrant leaders, and forcing them to face the rushing stream. Once again our portmanteaus had a cold bath, but this time we made a successful crossing, and went gaily on our way. The road was now much improved and the country exceedingly pretty. Many snug little houses, sheltered by rows of cypress, tall eucalyptus and huge orange-trees laden with yellow fruit, their gardens intersected by running brooks, appeared on all sides; while in the distance rose a range of blue hills, at the foot of which we could perceive the roofs of Zeerust.

As the sun was almost sinking, clouds of dust arose on the road in front, denoting a large body of men or waggons moving. A few weeks—nay, days—ago these would have been a burgher commando; now we knew they were our friends, and presently we met Major Weston Jarvis and his dust-begrimed squadron of the Rhodesian Regiment, followed by a large number of transport waggons, driven cattle, and donkeys. This living testimony that war was still present in the land only disturbed the peaceful evening landscape till the long line of dust had disappeared; then all was stillness and beauty once more. The young moon came out, the stars twinkled in the dark blue heavens, and suddenly, below the dim range of hills, shone first one light and then another; while away to the left, on higher ground, camp-fires, softened by a halo of white smoke, came into view. The scene was very picturesque. No cloud obscured the star-bespangled sky or the crescent of the Queen of the Night. Still far away, the lights of the little town were a beacon to guide us. The noise and cries of the camp were carried to us on the gentlest of night breezes, and, to complete the calm beauty of the surroundings, the deep, slow chime of a church-bell struck our ears.

We had reached our destination, and were in a few minutes driving through the quiet little street, pulling up in front of the Central Hotel, kept by a colonial Englishman and his wife. The former had been commandeered twice during the war, but he hastened to assure us that, though he had been at the laager, and even in the trenches before Mafeking, he had never let off his rifle, and had given it up with great pleasure to the English only the day before. This old-fashioned hostelry was very comfortable and commodious, with excellent cooking, but it was not till the next day that we realized how pretty was the town of Zeerust, and how charmingly situated. The houses, standing back from the wide road, were surrounded by neat little gardens and rows of cypresses. Looking down the main street, in either direction, were purple, tree-covered hills. A stream wound its way across one end of the highway, and teams of sleepy fat oxen with bells completed the illusion that we had suddenly been transported into a town of Northern Italy or of the Lower Engadine. However, other circumstances contributed to give it an air of depression and sadness. On the stoeps of the houses were gathered groups of Dutch women and girls, many of them in deep mourning, and all looking very miserable, gazing at us with unfriendly eyes. Fine-looking but shabbily-clad men were to be met carrying their rifles and bandoliers to the Landrost's late office, now occupied by Colonel Plumer and his Staff. Sometimes they were leading a rough-coated, ill-fed pony, in many cases their one ewe lamb, which might or might not be required for Her Majesty's troops. They walked slowly and dejectedly, though some took off their hats and gave one a rough "Good-day." Most of them had their eyes on the ground and a look of mute despair. Others, again, looked quite jolly and friendly, calling out a cheery greeting, for all at that time thought the war was really over. I was told that what caused them surprise and despair was the fact of their animals being required by the English: "requisitioned" was the term used when the owner was on his farm, which meant that he would receive payment for the property, and was given a receipt to that effect; "confiscated," when the burgher was found absent, which signified he was still on commando. Even in the former case he gave up his property sadly and reluctantly, amid the tears and groans of his wife and children, for, judging by the ways of his own Government, they never expected the paper receipt would produce any recognition. Many of the cases of these poor burghers seemed indeed very hard, for it must be remembered that during the past months of the war all their things had been used by their own Government for the patriotic cause, and what still remained to them was then being appropriated by the English. All along they had been misled and misinformed, for none of their leaders ever hinted there could be but one end to the war—namely, the decisive success of the Transvaal Republic. It made it easy to realize the enormous difficulties that were connected with what was airily talked of as the "pacification of the country," and that those English officers who laboured then, and for many months afterwards, at this task had just as colossal and arduous an undertaking as the soldiers under Lord Roberts, who had gloriously cut their way to Johannesburg and Pretoria. Someone said to me in Zeerust: "When the English have reached Pretoria their difficulties will only begin." In the heyday of our Relief, and with news of English victories constantly coming to hand, I thought this gentleman a pessimist; but the subsequent history of the war, and the many weary months following the conclusion of peace, proved there was much truth in the above statement.

Two days later we heard that Lord Roberts had made his formal entry into Pretoria on June 5, but our journey thither did not proceed as smoothly as we had hoped. We chartered a Cape cart and an excellent pair of grey horses, and made our first attempt to reach Pretoria via the lead-mines, the same route taken by Dr. Jameson and the Raiders. Here we received a check in the shape of a letter from General Baden-Powell requesting us not to proceed, as he had received information that Lord Roberts's line of communication had been temporarily interrupted. The weather had turned exceedingly wet and cold, like an English March or late autumn, and after two days of inactivity in a damp and gloomy Dutch farmhouse we were perforce obliged to return to our original starting-point, Zeerust. A few days later we heard that Colonel Baden-Powell had occupied Rustenburg, and that the country between there and Pretoria was clear; so we decided to make a fresh start, and this time to take the northern and more mountainous route. We drove through a very pretty country, with many trees and groves of splendid oranges, and we crossed highly cultivated valleys, with numerous farms dotted about. All those we met described themselves as delighted at what they termed the close of the war, and gave us a rough salutation as we went on our way, after a friendly chat. Presently we passed an open trolley with a huge red-cross flag flying, but which appeared to contain nothing but private luggage, and was followed by a man, evidently a doctor, driving a one-horse buggy, and wearing an enormous red-cross badge on his hat. At midday we outspanned to rest the horses and eat our lunch, and in the afternoon we crossed the great Marico River, where was situated a deserted and ruined hotel and store. The road then became so bad that the pace of our horses scarcely reached five miles an hour, and to obtain shelter we had to reach Eland's River before it became quite dark. A very steep hill had to be climbed, which took us over the shoulder of the chain of hills, and rumbling slowly down the other side, with groaning brake and stumbling steeds, we met a typical Dutch family, evidently trekking back from the laager in a heavy ox waggon. The sad-looking mother, with three or four children in ragged clothes, was sitting inside; the father and the eldest boy were walking beside the oxen. Their apparent misery was depressing, added to which the day, which all along had been cold and dismal, now began to close in, and, what was worse, rain began to fall, which soon grew to be a regular downpour. At last we could hardly see our grey horses, and every moment I expected we should drive into one of the many pitfalls in the shape of big black holes with which the roads in this part of the Transvaal abounded, and a near acquaintance with any one of these would certainly have upset the cart. At last we saw twinkling lights, but we first had to plunge down another river-bed and ascend a precipitous incline up the opposite bank. Our horses were by now very tired, and for one moment it seemed to hang in the balance whether we should roll back into the water or gain the top. The good animals, however, responded to the whip, plunged forward, and finally pulled up at a house dimly outlined in the gloom. In response to our call, a dripping sentry peered out, and told us it was, as we hoped, Wolhuter's store, and that he would call the proprietor. Many minutes elapsed, during which intense stillness prevailed, seeming to emphasize how desolate a spot we had reached, and broken only by the splash of the heavy rain. Then the door opened, and a man appeared to be coming at last, only to disappear again in order to fetch coat and umbrella. Eventually it turned out the owner of the house was a miller, by birth a German, and this gentleman very kindly gave us a night's hospitality. He certainly had not expected visitors, and it took some time to allay his suspicions as to who we were and what was our business. Accustomed to the universal hospitality in South Africa, I was somewhat surprised at the hesitation he showed in asking us into his house, and when we were admitted he claimed indulgence for any shortcomings by saying his children were ill. We assured him we should give no trouble, and we were so wet and cold that any roof and shelter were a godsend. Just as I was going to bed, my maid came and told me that, from a conversation she had had with the Kaffir girl, who seemed to be the only domestic, she gathered that two children were suffering from an infectious disease, which, in the absence of any medical man, they had diagnosed as smallpox. To proceed on our journey was out of the question, but it may be imagined that we left next morning at the very earliest hour possible.

This very district round Eland's River was later the scene of much fighting, and it was there a few months afterwards that De la Rey surrounded an English force, who were only rescued in the nick of time by the arrival of Lord Kitchener. At the date of our visit, however, all was peaceful, and, but for a few burghers riding in haste to surrender their arms, not a trace of the enemy was to be seen.

The next day we reached Rustenburg, where we stayed the night, and learnt that General Baden-Powell and his Staff had left there for Pretoria, to confer with Lord Roberts. Our gallant grey horses were standing the strain well, and the worst roads as well as the most mountainous country were then behind us; so, without delay, we continued on the morrow, spending the third night at a storekeeper's house at Sterkstrom. Towards the evening of the fourth day after leaving Zeerust, we entered a long wide valley, and by degrees overtook vehicles of many lands, wearied pedestrians, and horsemen—in fact, the inevitable stragglers denoting the vicinity of a vast army. The valley was enclosed by moderately high hills, and from their summits we watched helio messages passing to and fro during all that beautiful afternoon, while we slowly accomplished the last, but seemingly endless, miles of our tedious drive. At 5 p.m. we crawled into the suburbs of the Boer capital, having driven 135 miles with the same horses. The description of Pretoria under British occupation, and the friends we met there, I must leave to another chapter.



CHAPTER XV

PRETORIA AND JOHANNESBURG UNDER LORD ROBERTS AND MILITARY LAW

"With malice to none ... with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in."—ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

At Pretoria Mrs. Godley and I found accommodation, not without some difficulty, at the Grand Hotel. Turned for the moment into a sort of huge barrack, this was crowded to its utmost capacity. The polite manager, in his endeavour to find us suitable rooms, conducted us all over the spacious building, and at last, struck by a bright thought, threw open the door of an apartment which he said would be free in a few hours, as the gentleman occupying it was packing up his belongings preparatory to his departure. Great was my surprise at discovering in the khaki-clad figure, thus unceremoniously disturbed in the occupation of stowing away papers, clothes, and campaigning kit generally, no less a personage than my nephew, Winston Churchill, who had experienced such thrilling adventures during the war, the accounts of which had reached us even in far-away Mafeking. The proprietor was equally amazed to see me warmly greet the owner of the rooms he proposed to allot us, and, although Winston postponed his departure for another twenty-four hours, he gladly gave up part of his suite for our use, and everything was satisfactorily arranged.

Good-looking figures in khaki swarmed all over the hotel, and friends turned up every minute—bearded pards, at whom one had to look twice before recognizing old acquaintances. No less than a hundred officers were dining that night in the large restaurant. Between the newly liberated prisoners and those who had taken part in the victorious march of Lord Roberts's army one heard surprised greetings such as these: "Hallo, old chap! where were you caught?" or a late-comer would arrive with the remark: "There has been firing along the outposts all day. I suppose the beggars have come back." (I was relieved to hear the outposts were twelve miles out.) The whole scene was like an act in a Drury Lane drama, and we strangers seemed to be the appreciative audience. Accustomed as we were to a very limited circle, it appeared to us as if all the inhabitants of England had been transported to Pretoria.

Early next day we drove out to see the departure of General Baden-Powell[36] and his Staff, who had been most warmly received by Lord Roberts, and who, after receiving his orders, were leaving to rejoin their men at Rustenburg. As an additional mark of favour, the Commander-in-Chief and his retinue gave the defender of Mafeking a special send-off, riding with him and his officers some distance out of the town. This procession was quite an imposing sight, and was preceded by a company of turbaned Indians. Presently, riding alongside of General Baden-Powell, on a small, well-bred Arab, came the hero of a thousand fights, the man who at an advanced age, and already crowned with so many laurels, had, in spite of a crushing bereavement, stepped forward to help his country in the hour of need. We were delighted when this man of the moment stopped to speak to us. He certainly seemed surprised at the apparition of two ladies, and observed that we were very daring, and the first of our sex to come in. I shall, however, never forget how kindly he spoke nor the inexpressible sadness of his face. I told him how quiet everything appeared to be along the road we had taken, and how civil were all the Boers we had met. At this he turned to the guest whose departure he was speeding, and said, with a grave smile, "That is thanks to you, General." And then the cortege rode on. On reflection, I decided, rather from what Lord Roberts had left unsaid than from his actual words, that if we had asked leave to travel home via Pretoria, it would have been refused.

The rest of that day and the next we spent in seeing the town under its new auspices, and it certainly presented far more to interest a visitor than on the occasion of my last visit in 1896. In a suburb known as Sunny Side was situated Lord Roberts's headquarters, at a house known as the Residency. Close by was a charming villa inhabited for the nonce by General Brabazon, Lord Dudley, Mr. John Ward, and Captain W. Bagot. The surroundings of these dwellings were exceedingly pretty, with shady trees, many streams, and a background of high hills crowned by forts, which latter were just visible to the naked eye. From Sunny Side we were conducted over some of these fortifications: there was Schantz's Kop Fort, of very recent construction, and looking to the uninitiated of tremendous strength, with roomy bomb-proof shelters. Here a corner of one of the massive entrance pillars had been sharply severed off by a British lyddite shell. Later we inspected Kapper Kop Fort, the highest of all, where two British howitzer guns, firing a 280-pound shell, had found a resting-place. Surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge, the view from this fort was magnificent. The Boers were in the act of making a double-wire entanglement round it, and had evidently meant to offer there a stubborn resistance, when more prudent counsels prevailed, and they had left their work half finished, and decamped, carrying off all their ammunition. In the town itself General French and his Staff had established themselves at the Netherlands Club, from which resort the members had been politely ejected.

To outward appearances, civil as well as military business was being transacted in Pretoria with perfect smoothness, in spite of the proximity of the enemy. The yeomanry were acting as police both there and in Johannesburg. The gaol, of which we had a glimpse, was crowded with 240 prisoners, but was under the competent direction of the usual English under-official, who had been in the service of the Transvaal, and who had quietly stepped into the shoes of his chief, a Dutchman, when the latter bolted with Kruger. This prison was where the Raiders and the Reformers had been in durance vile, and the gallows were pointed out to us with the remark that, during the last ten years, they had only been once used, their victim being an Englishman. A Dutchman, who had been condemned to death during the same period for killing his wife, had been reprieved.

In the same way the Natal Bank and the Transvaal National Bank were being supervised by their permanent officials, men who had been at their posts during the war, and who, although under some suspicions, had not been removed. At the latter bank the manager told us how President Kruger had sent his Attorney-General to fetch the gold in coins and bar just before he left for Delagoa Bay, and how it was taken away on a trolley. The astute President actually cheated his people of this bullion, as he had already forced them to accept paper tokens for the gold, which he then acquired and removed. We also saw the Raad Saals—especially interesting from being exactly as they were left after the last session on May 7—Kruger's private room, and the Council Chamber. These latter were fine apartments, recently upholstered by Maple, and littered with papers, showing every evidence of the hurried departure of their occupants. Finally, specially conducted by Winston, we inspected the so-called "Bird-cage," where all the English officers had been imprisoned, and the "Staat Model" School, from where our cicerone had made his escape. These quarters must have been a particularly disagreeable and inadequate residence.

After a day in Pretoria we realized that, in spite of the shops being open and the hotels doing a roaring trade, notwithstanding the marvellous organization visible on all sides, events were not altogether satisfactory; and one noted that the faces of those behind the scenes were grave and serious. Louis Botha, it was evident, was anything but a defeated foe. This gentleman had actually been in the capital when the English entered, and he was then only sixteen miles away. During the previous week a severe action had been fought with him at Diamond Hill, where the English casualties had been very heavy. The accounts of this engagement, as then related, had a touch of originality. The Commander-in-Chief and Staff went out in a special train, sending their horses by road, which reminded one forcibly of a day's hunting; cab-drivers in the town asked pedestrians if they would like to drive out and see the fight. The real affair, however, was grim earnest, and many were the gallant men who lost their lives on that occasion. All the while De Wet was enjoying himself to the south by constantly interrupting the traffic on the railway. No wonder the Generals were careworn, and it was a relief to meet Lord Stanley,[37] A.D.C. to Lord Roberts, with a smiling face, who, with his unfailing spirits, must have been an invaluable companion to his chief during those trying weeks. One specially sad feature was the enormous number of sick in addition to wounded soldiers.

Of the former, at that time, there were over 1,500, and the recollection of the large numbers buried at Bloemfontein was still green in everyone's memory. The origin of all the sickness, principally enteric, was undoubtedly due to the Paardeberg water in the first instance, and then to that used at Bloemfontein; for Pretoria was perfectly healthy—the climate cool, if rainy, and the water-supply everything that could be desired. As additional accommodation for these patients, the magnificent and recently finished Law Courts had been arranged to hold seven or eight hundred beds. Superintended by Sir William Thompson, this improvised establishment was attended to by the personnel of the Irish hospital, and Mr. Guinness was there himself, organizing their work and doing excellent service.

One evening we were most hospitably entertained to dinner by Lord Stanley, Captain Fortescue, the Duke of Westminster, and Winston. As it may be imagined, we heard many interesting details of the past stages of the war. Winston, even at that early stage of his career, and although he had been but a short time, comparatively, with Lord Roberts's force, had contrived therein to acquire influence and authority. The "bosses," doubtless, disapproved of his free utterances, but he was nevertheless most amusing to listen to, and a general favourite. The next day we saw him and the Duke of Westminster off on their way South, and having fixed my own departure for the following Monday, and seen most of the sights, I determined to avail myself of an invitation Captain Laycock, A.D.C. to General French, had given me, and go to the Netherlands Club in order to peruse the goodly supply of newspapers and periodicals of which they were the proud possessors. It was a cold, windy afternoon, and, finding the front-door locked and no bell visible, I went to one of the long French windows at the side of the house, through which I could see a cozy fire glimmering. Perceiving a gentleman sitting in front of the inviting blaze, I knocked sharply to gain admittance. On nearer inspection this gentleman proved to be asleep, and it was some minutes before he got up and revealed himself as a middle-aged man, strongly built, with slightly grey hair. For some unknown reason I imagined him to be a Major in a cavalry regiment, no doubt attached to the Staff, and when, after rubbing his eyes, he at length opened the window, I apologized perfunctorily for having disturbed him, adding that I was acting on Captain Laycock's suggestion in coming there. In my heart I hoped he would leave me to the undisturbed perusal of the literature which I saw on a large centre table. He showed, however, no signs of taking his departure, and made himself so agreeable that I was perforce obliged to continue the conversation he commenced. I told him of the Mafeking siege, giving him my opinion of the Boers as opponents and of their peculiarities as we had experienced them; also of how, in the west and north, the enemy seemed to have practically disappeared. Presently, by way of politeness, I asked him in what part of the country, and under which General, he had been fighting. He answered evasively that he had been knocking about, under several commanders, pretty well all over the place, which reply left me more mystified than ever. Soon Captain Laycock came in, and after a little more talk, during which I could see that he and my new acquaintance were on the best of terms, the latter went out, expressing a hope I should stay to tea, which I thought exceedingly kind of him, but scarcely necessary, as I was Captain Laycock's guest. When he had gone, I questioned the latter as to the identity of his friend, and was horrified to learn that it was General French himself whom I had so unceremoniously disturbed, and to whom I had volunteered information. When the General returned with some more of his Staff, including Lord Brooke, Colonel Douglas Haig,[38] Mr. Brinsley Fitzgerald, and Mr. Brinton, 2nd Life Guards,[39] I was profuse in my apologies, which he promptly cut short by asking me to make the tea, and we had a most cheery meal, interspersed with a good deal of chaff, one of his friends remarking to me that it was probably the only occasion during the last six months in South Africa that General French had been caught asleep.

The following day, Sunday, we attended a very impressive military service, at which Lord Roberts and his Staff, in full uniform, were present, and at the conclusion the whole congregation sang the National Anthem with the organ accompaniment. The volume of sound, together with the well-loved tune, was one not soon to be forgotten.

In the evening I had a visit from a stranger, who announced himself to be Mr. Barnes, correspondent to the Daily Mail. This gentleman handed me a letter from my sister, Lady Georgiana Curzon, dated Christmas Day of the previous year, which had at last reached me under peculiar circumstances. It appeared that, when my resourceful sister heard I had been taken prisoner by the Boers, she decided the best way of communicating with me would be through the President of the South African Republic, via Delagoa Bay. She had therefore written him a letter as follows:

"Christmas Day, 1899.

"Lady Georgiana Curzon presents her compliments to His Honour President Kruger, and would be very much obliged if he would give orders that the enclosed letter should be forwarded to her sister, Lady Sarah Wilson, who, according to the latest reports, has been taken prisoner by General Snyman."

In this letter was enclosed the one now handed to me by Mr. Barnes. The President, in the novel experience of receiving a letter from an English lady, had sent for the American Consul, and had handed him both epistles without a remark of any kind, beyond asking him to deal with them. Thus the missive finally reached its destination. This visitor had hardly departed when another was announced in the person of a Dr. Scholtz, whom, with his wife, I had met at Groot Schuurr as Mr. Rhodes's friends. This gentleman, who is since dead, had always seemed to me somewhat of an enigmatical personage. German by origin, he combined strong sympathies with the Boers and fervent Imperialism, and I was therefore always a little doubtful as to his real sentiments. He came very kindly on this occasion to pay a friendly call, but also to inform me that he was playing a prominent part in the abortive peace negotiations which at that stage of the war were being freely talked about. Whether he had acted on his own initiative, or whether he had actually been employed by the authorities, he did not state; but he seemed to be full of importance, and proud of the fact that he had spent two hours only a few days before on a kopje in conference with Louis Botha, while the same kopje was being energetically shelled by the English. He gave me, indeed, to understand that the successful issue of the interview had depended entirely on the amount the English Government was prepared to pay, and that another L2,000,000 would have ended the war then and there. He probably did not enjoy the full confidence of either side, and I never verified the truth of his statements, which were as strange and mysterious as the man himself, whom, as events turned out, I never saw again.

It had been difficult to reach Pretoria, but the departure therefrom was attended by many formalities, and I had to provide myself, amongst other permits, with a railway pass, which ran as follows:

RAILWAY PASSES.

The bearer, Lady Sarah. Wilson (and maid) is permitted to travel at her own expense from Pretoria to Cape Town via the Vaal River.

O.S. NUGENT, Major, Provost Marshal (For Major-General, Military Governor of Pretoria).

To R.S.O. Pretoria June 25, 1900.

Everything being then pronounced in order, I said good-bye to Mrs. Godley, who was returning by road to Zeerust and Mafeking, and, accompanied by Captain Seymour Fortescue, who had a few days' leave, and by Major Bobby White, I left on June 25 for Johannesburg. The train was painfully slow, and rarely attained a speed of more than five or six miles an hour. At Elandsfontein the engine gave out entirely, and a long delay ensued while another was being procured. At all the stations were small camps and pickets of bronzed and bearded soldiers, and on the platforms could be seen many officers newly arrived from England, distinguished by their brand-new uniforms, nearly all carrying the inevitable Kodak. At length we arrived at Johannesburg as the daylight was fading, and found excellent accommodation at Heath's Hotel. In the "Golden City," as at Pretoria, the shops were open, and seemed wonderfully well supplied, butter and cigarettes being the only items that were lacking. I remember lunching the next day at a grill-room, called Frascati's, underground, where the cuisine was first-rate, and which was crowded with civilians of many nationalities, soldiers not being in such prominence as at Pretoria. The afternoon we devoted to seeing some of the principal mines, including the Ferreira Deep, which had been worked by the Transvaal Government for the last eight months. For this purpose they had engaged capable managers from France and Germany, and therefore the machinery was in no way damaged. At a dinner-party the same evening, given by Mr. A. Goldmann, we met a German gentleman who gave an amusing account of the way in which some of the city financiers had dashed off to the small banks a few days before Lord Roberts's entry, when the report was rife that Kruger was going to seize all the gold at Johannesburg as well as that at Pretoria. They were soon seen emerging with bags of sovereigns on their backs, which they first carried to the National Bank, but which, on second thoughts, they reclaimed again, finally confiding their treasure to the Banque de la France.

FOOTNOTES:

[36] Colonel Baden-Powell had been promoted to the rank of Major-General.

[37] Now Earl of Derby.

[38] Now Major-General Haig.

[39] Now Major Brinton.



CHAPTER XVI

MY RETURN TO CIVILIZATION ONCE MORE—THE MAFEKING FUND—LETTERS FROM THE KING AND QUEEN

"Let us admit it fairly, As business people should, We have had no end of a lesson: It will do us no end of good." KIPLING.

On June 27 I left Johannesburg under the escort of Major Bobby White, who had kindly promised to see me safely as far as Cape Town. We travelled in a shabby third-class carriage, the only one on the train, which was merely composed of open trucks. Our first long delay was at Elandsfontein, practically still in the Rand District. There the officer in charge came up with the pleasing intelligence that the train we were to join had broken down, and would certainly be four hours late; so we had to get through a very weary wait at this most unattractive little township, whose only interesting features were the distant chimneys and unsightly shafts of the Simmer and Jack and the Rose Deep Mines, and far away, on the horizon, the little white house, amid a grove of trees, which had been Lord Roberts's headquarters barely a month ago, and from which he had sent the summons to Johannesburg to surrender. All around, indeed, was the scene of recent fighting, and various polite transport officers tried to while away the tedium of our enforced delay by pointing out various faint ridges, and explaining that there the Gordons had made their splendid charge, or, again, that farther back General French had encountered such a stubborn resistance, and so on, ad libitum. In response I gazed with enthusiastic interest, but the flat, hideous country, which guards its deeply buried treasure so closely, seemed so alike in every direction, and the operations of the victorious army covered so wide an area, that it was difficult to make a brain picture of that rapid succession of feats of arms. At the station itself the "Tommys" buzzed about like bees, and the officers were having tea or dinner, or both combined, in the refreshment-room. One overheard scraps of conversation, from a subaltern to his superior officer: "A capital bag to-day, sir. Forty Mausers and ten thousand rounds of ammunition." Then someone else remarked that a railway-train from the South passed yesterday, riddled with bullets, and recounted the marvellous escape its occupants had had, which was not encouraging in view of our intended journey over the same route. A young man in uniform presently entered with a limp, and, in answer to inquiries, said his wounded leg was doing famously, adding that the bullet had taken exactly the same course as the one did not six weeks ago—only then it had affected the other knee; "so I knew how to treat it, and I am off to the Yeomanry Hospital, if they will have me. I only left there a fortnight ago, and, by Jove! it was like leaving Paradise!" Another arrival came along saying the Boers had received a proper punishing for their last depredations on the railway, when De Wet had brought off his crowning coup by destroying the mail-bags. But this gentleman had hardly finished his tale when a decided stir was observable, and we heard a wire was to hand saying the same De Wet was again on the move, and that a strong force of men and guns were to leave for the scene of action by our train to-night. At this juncture, seeing there was no prospect of any immediate departure, I installed myself comfortably with a book in the waiting-room, and was so absorbed that I did not even notice the arrival of a train from Heidelberg, till the door opened, and my nephew, the Duke of Marlborough, looked in, and we exchanged a surprised greeting, being totally unaware of each other's whereabouts. Except for meeting Winston in Pretoria, I had not seen the face of one of my relations for more than a year, but so many surprising things happen in wartime that we did not evince any great astonishment at this strange and unexpected meeting. In answer to my inquiries as to what brought him there, he told me he was returning to Pretoria with his temporarily incapacitated chief, General Ian Hamilton, who was suffering from a broken collar-bone, incurred by a fall from his horse. Expecting to find the General in a smart ambulance carriage, it was somewhat of a shock to be guided to a very dilapidated old cattle-truck, with open sides and a floor covered with hay. I peeped in, and extended on a rough couch in the farther corner, I perceived the successful General, whose name was in everybody's mouth. In spite of his unlucky accident, he was full of life and spirits, and we had quite a long conversation. I have since often told him how interesting was his appearance, and he, in reply, has assured me how much he was impressed by a blue bird's-eye cotton dress I was wearing, the like of which he had not seen since he left England, many months before. His train soon rumbled on, and then we had a snug little dinner in the ladies' waiting-room that the Station-Commandant, a gallant and hospitable Major, had made gay with trophies, photographs, and coloured pictures out of various journals. From a deep recess under his bed he produced an excellent bottle of claret, and the rest of the dinner was supplied from the restaurant.

The short African winter's day had faded into a blue and luminous night, resplendent with stars, and still our belated train tarried. However, the situation was improved, for later advices stated that the Boers had cleared off from the vicinity of the railway-line, and that we should surely leave before midnight. All these rumours certainly added to the excitement of a railway-journey, and it occurred to me how tame in comparison would be the ordinary departure of the "Flying Scotsman," or any other of the same tribe that nightly leave the great London termini.

At length, with many a puff and agonized groan from the poor little undersized engine, we departed into the dim, mysterious night, which hourly became more chill, and which promised a sharp frost before morning. As we crawled out of the station, our kind military friends saluted, and wished us, a little ironically, a pleasant journey. When I was about to seek repose, Major White looked in, and said: "Sleep with your head away from the window, in case of a stray shot"; and then I turned down the light, and was soon in the land of dreams.

The much-dreaded night passed quite quietly, and in the morning the carriage windows were thickly coated with several degrees of frost. The engines of the Netherlands Railway, always small and weak, were at that time so dirty from neglect and overpressure during the war, that their pace was but a slow crawl, and uphill they almost died away to nothing. However, fortunately, going south meant going downhill, and we made good progress over the flat uninteresting country, which, in view of recent events, proved worthy of careful attention. Already melancholy landmarks of the march of the great army lay on each side of the line in the shape of carcasses of horses, mules, and oxen. Wolvehoek was the first stop. Here blue-nosed soldiers descended from the railway-carriages in varied and weird costumes, making a rush with their billies[40] for hot water, wherewith to cook their morning coffee, cheerily laughing and cracking their jokes, while shivering natives in blankets and tattered overcoats waited hungrily about for a job or scraps of food. After leaving Wolvehoek, we entered on Commandant De Wet's hunting-ground and the scene of his recent exploits. There, at almost every culvert, at every ganger's house, were pickets of soldiers, all gathered round a crackling fire at that chill morning hour; and at every one of these posts freshly constructed works of sandbags and deep trenches were in evidence to denote that their sentry work was no play, but grim earnest.

We next crossed the Rhenoster Spruit, and passed the then famous Rhenoster position, so formidable even to the unskilled eye, and where my military friends told me the Boers would have given much trouble, had it not been for the two outspread wings of the Commander-in-Chief's army. A little farther on, the deviation line and the railway-bridge were pointed out as one of the many triumphs of engineering skill to be seen and marvelled at on that recently restored line. The achievements of these lion-hearted engineers could not fail to impress themselves even on a civilian. Many amongst them were volunteers, who had previously occupied brilliant positions in the great mining community in Johannesburg, and whose brains were the pride of a circle where intellectual achievements and persevering resource commanded at once the greatest respect and the highest remuneration. Some of these latter had family ties besides their considerable positions, but they gladly hastened to place their valuable services at the disposal of their Queen, and, in conjunction with the regular Royal Engineers, were destined to find glory, and in many cases death, at their perilous work. The task of the engineers is probably scarcely realized by people who have not seen actual warfare. We do not read so frequently of their doings as of those of their gallant colleagues on foot or on horse; but soldiers know that neither the genius of the Generals nor the intrepidity of the men could avail without them; and as the scouts are called the eyes, so might the engineers, both regular and volunteer, be termed the hands and feet, of an advancing force. The host sweeps on, and the workers are left with pickaxe and shovel, rifles close at hand, to work at their laborious task loyally and patiently, while deeds of courage and daring are being done and applauded not many miles away from them. This particular Rhenoster bridge was destroyed and rebuilt no less than three times up to the date of which I write, and the third time was only ten days previously, when Christian De Wet had also worked havoc among the mail-bags, the only cruel thing attributed to that commander, respected both by friends and foes. The sad, dumb testimony of this lamented misfortune was to be seen in the shape of thousands of mutilated envelopes and torn letters which covered the rails and the ground beyond—letters which would have brought joy to many a lonely heart at the front. It was really heart-breaking to behold this melancholy remnant of 1,500 mail-bags, and, a little farther on, to see three skeleton trucks charred by fire, which told how the warm clothing destined for the troops perished when De Wet and his burghers had taken all they needed. Many yarns were related to me about the chivalry of this farmer-General, especially respecting the mail-bags, and how he said that his burghers should not make fun of the English officers' letters, and therefore that he burnt them with his own hands. Another anecdote was remarkable—namely, that of an officer searching sadly among the heap of debris for some eagerly expected letter, and who came across an uninjured envelope directed to himself, containing his bank-book from Messrs. Cox and Sons, absolutely intact and untouched. It can only be conjectured whether he would as soon have known it in ashes.

On arriving in the vicinity of Kroonstadt, the most risky part of the journey was over, and then a wonderfully novel scene unfolded itself as we crawled over a rise from the desolate, barren country we had been traversing, and a tented city lay in front of us. Anyway, such was its appearance at a first glance, for white tents stretched far away east and west, and appeared to swamp into insignificance the unpretentious houses, and even a fairly imposing church-spire which lay in the background. I had never seen anything like this vast army depot, and examined everything with the greatest attention and interest. Huge mountains of forage covered by tarpaulin sheets were the first things to catch my eye; then piles upon piles of wooden cases were pointed out as "rations"—that mysterious term which implies so much and may mean so little; again, there was a hillock of wicker-covered bottles with handles which puzzled me, and which were explained as "cordials" of some kind. Powerful traction-engines, at rest and in motion, next came into sight, and weird objects that looked like life-boats mounted on trucks, but which proved to be pontoons—strange articles to perceive at a railway-station. Then we passed a vast concourse of red-cross tents of every description, proclaiming a hospital. As far as outward appearances went, it looked most beautifully arranged in symmetrically laid-out streets, while many of the marquees had their sides thrown back, and showed the patients within, either in bed or sitting about and enjoying the breeze and the rays of a sun never too hot at that time of year. "How happy and comfortable they look!" was my remark as we left them behind. Someone who knew Kroonstadt said: "Yes, they are all right; but the Scotch Hospital is the one to see if you are staying long enough—spring-beds, writing-tables, and every luxury." I was sorry time admitted of no visit to this establishment or to the magnificent Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein, farther south, to which I shall have occasion to allude in a later chapter. This last establishment was, even at that early stage of the war, a household word among the soldiers at the front, a dearly longed-for Mecca amongst the sick and wounded.

Our train had come to an abrupt standstill, and, on looking out, the line appeared so hopelessly blocked that the only way of reaching the station and lunch appeared to be on foot. We walked, therefore, upwards of half a mile, undergoing many perils from shunting engines, trains undecided whether to go on or to go back, and general confusion. It certainly did not look as if our train could be extricated for hours, but it proved there was method in this apparent muddle, and we suffered no delay worth speaking of. The station was densely packed with Staff officers and soldiers. Presently someone elbowed a way through the crowd to make way for the General, just arrived from Bloemfontein. A momentary interest was roused as an elderly, soldierly gentleman, with white hair and a slight figure, passed out of sight into one of the officials' rooms, and then we joined the throng trying to get food in the overtaxed refreshment-room. We had some interesting conversation with the officer in command of the station, and learnt how the Kroonstadt garrison were even then living in the midst of daily alarms from De Wet or his followers; added to these excitements, there was a colossal amount of work to be got through in the way of supplying Pretoria with food, by a line liable to be interrupted, and in coping with the task of receiving and unloading remounts, which were arriving from the South in large numbers. I saw some of these poor animals packed nine in a truck, marvellously quiet, and unmindful of strange sights and sounds, and of being hurled against each other when the locomotive jerked on or came to a stop. They were in good condition, but their eyes were sad and their tails were woefully rubbed. After seeing Kroonstadt Railway-station, I realized that the work of a Staff officer on the lines of communication was no sinecure.

Marvellous to relate, in the early afternoon we found our train in the station, and, climbing into our carriage once more, we proceeded on our road without delay, congratulating ourselves on our good fortune in not being held up at Kroonstadt, as had been the fate of many travellers going south. Immediately south of Kroonstadt we crossed the Vaal River, with its fine high-level bridge reduced to atoms by dynamite. This had given the engineers another opportunity to display their skill by a clever deviation of a couple of miles in length, winding down almost to the water-level, and then serenely effecting the crossing by a little wooden bridge, from which its ruined predecessor was visible about a quarter of a mile up the stream. Darkness and approaching night then hid the landscape. That evening we were told we need have no fears, for we were practically out of the dangerous zone. We dined comfortably in our compartment, and I heard many more reminiscences of the advance from two travelling companions who had taken part in it. Suddenly in the next compartment a party of Canadian officers commenced singing part-songs with real musical talent. We relapsed into silence as we heard the "Swanee River" sung more effectively than I have ever heard it before or since, and it reminded me that we, too, were going home. Presently we found ourselves joining in the chorus of that most touching melody, "Going back to Dixie," greatly to the delight of our sociable and talented neighbours. Daylight next morning brought us to Bloemfontein and civilization, and what impressed me most was the fact of daily newspapers being sold at a bookstall, which sight I had not seen for many months. On arriving at Cape Town, I was most hospitably entertained at Groot Schuurr by Colonel Frank Rhodes, in the absence of his brother. This mansion had been a convalescent home for many officers ever since the war began. There I passed a busy ten days in seeing heaps of friends, and I had several interviews with Sir Alfred Milner, to whom events of the siege and relief of Mafeking were of specially deep interest. I gave him as a memento a small Mauser bullet mounted as a scarf-pin, and before leaving for England I received from him the following letter:

"GOVERNMENT HOUSE, "CAPE TOWN, "November 7, 1900.

"DEAR LADY SARAH,

"How very kind of you to think of giving me that interesting relic of Mafeking! It will indeed revive memories of anxiety, as well as of the intensest feeling of relief and thankfulness that I have ever experienced.

"Hoping we shall meet again when 'distress and strain are over,'

"I am, "Yours very sincerely, "ALFRED MILNER."

Much of my time was also occupied in corresponding with Mafeking about the distribution of the fund which was being energetically collected in London by my sister, Lady Georgiana Curzon. Many weeks before we were relieved I had written to Lady Georgiana, then hard at work with the organization of the Yeomanry Hospital, suggesting to her to start a relief fund for the inhabitants of Mafeking. It had all along seemed to me that these latter deserved some substantial recognition and compensation beyond what they could expect from the Government, for damage done to their homes and their shops, and for the utter stagnation of the trade in the town during the siege. The nurses, the nuns and their convent, were also worthy objects for charity. This latter residence, but lately built, and including a nicely decorated chapel with many sacred images, had been, as I have said, practically destroyed; and the Sisters had borne their part most nobly, in nursing the sick and wounded, while many were suffering in health from the privations they had undergone. In response to my appeal, Lady Georgiana inserted the following letter in the Times just before the news of the Relief reached England:

"20, CURZON STREET, W., "May 11.

"SIR,

"I venture to address an appeal to the people of the United Kingdom, through the columns of your paper, on behalf of the inhabitants of Mafeking. Nothing but absolute knowledge of their sufferings prompts me to thus inaugurate another fund, and one which must come in addition to the numerous subscriptions already started in connection with the South African War. I admit the generous philanthropy of our country has been evinced to a degree that is almost inconceivable, and I hesitate even now in making this fresh appeal, but can only plead as an excuse the heartrending accounts of the sufferings of Mafeking that I have received from my sister, Lady Sarah Wilson.

"The last mail from South Africa brought me a letter from her, dated March 3. In it she implores me to take active measures to bring before the generous British public the destitute condition of the nuns, refugees, and civilians generally, in Mafeking. She writes with authority, having witnessed their sufferings herself, and, indeed, having shared equally with them the anxieties and privations of this prolonged siege. Her letter describes the absolute ruin of all the small tradespeople, whose homes are in many cases demolished. The compensation they will receive for damaged goods will be totally inadequate to cover their loss. Years must pass ere their trade can be restored to the proportions of a livelihood. Meanwhile starvation in the immediate future lies before them. The unfortunate Sisters in the convent have for weeks hardly had a roof over their heads, the Boer shells having more or less destroyed their home. In consequence, their belongings left intact by shot or shell have been ruined by rain. The destruction of their small and humble properties, in addition to their discomfort, has added to their misery; and yet no complaining word has passed their lips, but they have throughout cheerfully and willingly assisted the hospital nurses in their duties, always having smiles and encouraging words for the sick and wounded.

"Sitting at home in our comfortable houses, it is hard to realize the actual sufferings of these besieged inhabitants of Mafeking. My letter tells me that for months they have not slept in their beds, and although no opposition to the Boer forces in the first instance would have saved their town, their properties, and in many cases their lives, yet they one and all bravely and nobly 'buckled to,' and stood by that gallant commander, Baden-Powell. Loyalty was their cry, and freedom and justice their household gods. Have not their courage and endurance thrilled the whole world? I feel I need not ask forgiveness for issuing yet this one more appeal. It comes last, but is it least? A handful of soldiers, nearly all colonials, under a man who must now rank as a great and tried commander, have for six months repelled the Boer attacks. Could this small force have for one moment been a match for the well-equipped besiegers if the inhabitants had not fought for and with the garrison? Some worked and fought in actual trenches; others demonstrated by patient endurance their cool and courageous determination never to give in. Would it not be a graceful recognition of their courage if, on that glorious day, which we hope may not be far distant, when the relief of Mafeking is flashed across thousands of miles to the 'heart of the Empire,' we could cable back our congratulations on their freedom, and inform Mafeking that a large sum of money is ready to be placed by this country for the relief of distress amongst the Sisters, refugees, and suffering civilians of the town?

"I feel I shall not ask in vain, but that our congratulations to Mafeking will take most material form by generous admirers in the United Kingdom.

"Subscriptions will be received by Messrs. Hoare and Co., bankers, Fleet Street, E.C.

"I remain, "Your obedient servant, "GEORGIANA CURZON."

The fund had reached unhoped-for proportions. In our most optimistic moments we did not expect to collect more than two or three thousand pounds, but subscriptions had poured in from the very commencement, and the grand amount of L29,267 was finally the total contributed. This sum was ably administered by Colonel Vyvyan of the Buffs, who had been Base-Commandant of Mafeking during the siege. He was assisted by a committee, and the principal items allocated by these gentlemen were as follows:

L Widows and orphans 6,536 Refugees 4,630 Town relief 3,741 Seaside fund 2,900 Churches, convent, schools, etc. 2,900 Wounded men 2,245 Small tradesmen 1,765 Hospital staff, nuns, etc. 1,115 Colonel Plumer's Rhodesian column, etc. 1,000

Lady Georgiana Curzon's eloquent appeal proved to be the salvation of many a family in Mafeking.

The popularity of the fund was enormously helped by the interest of the then Prince and Princess of Wales, now our King and Queen, in the town and in the assistance of the same. This interest was evinced by the following letters, given to me later by my sister:

"TREASURER'S HOUSE, "YORK "June 20, 1900.

MY DEAR LADY GEORGIE.

"The Princess and I thank you very much for sending your sister's letters for us to read. They are most interesting, and admirably written. She has certainly gone through experiences which ought to last her a lifetime! If the papers are correct in stating that you start on Saturday for Madeira to meet her, let me wish you bon voyage.

"Ever yours very sincerely, "(Signed) ALBERT EDWARD."

The Princess of Wales had already written as follows:

"MY DEAR GEORGIE,

"I saw in yesterday's Times your touching appeal for poor, unfortunate, forsaken Mafeking, in which I have taken the liveliest interest during all these months of patient and brave endurance. I have therefore great pleasure in enclosing L100 for the benefit of the poor nuns and other inhabitants. I hope very soon, however, they will be relieved, and I trust poor sister Sarah will be none the worse for all she has gone through during her forced captivity. Many thanks for sending me that beautifully drawn-up report of your Yeomanry Hospital. How well you have explained everything! Hoping to meet soon,

"Yours affectionately, "(Signed) ALEXANDRA."[41]

Some fourteen months after my return home a Gazette appeared with the awards gained during the early part of the war, and great was my delight to find I had been selected for the coveted distinction of the Royal Red Cross. The King had previously nominated Lady Georgiana Curzon and myself to be Ladies of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, which entitles its members to wear a very effective enamel locket on a black bow; but, next to the Red Cross, the medal which I prize most highly is the same which the soldiers received for service in South Africa, with the well-known blue and orange striped ribbon. This medal was given to the professional nurses who were in South Africa, but I think I was, with one other exception, the only amateur to receive it, and very unworthy I felt myself when I went to St. James's Palace with all the gallant and skilful sisterhood of army nurses to share with them the great honour of receiving the same from His Majesty in person.

FOOTNOTES:

[40] Small kettles.

[41] I am allowed to reproduce the foregoing letters by the gracious permission of Their Majesties the King and Queen.



CHAPTER XVII

THE WORK OF LADY GEORGIANA CURZON, LADY CHESHAM, AND THE YEOMANRY HOSPITAL, DURING THE WAR—THIRD VOYAGE TO THE CAPE, 1902

"Fight the good fight."

On the pages of history is recorded in golden letters the name and deeds of Florence Nightingale, who, as the pioneer of scientific hospital nursing, did so much to mitigate the horrors of war. Her example was nobly followed half a century later by two other English ladies, who, although they had not to encounter the desperate odds connected with ignorance and old-fashioned ideas which Miss Nightingale successfully combated, did marvellous service by displaying what private enterprise can do in a national emergency—an emergency with which, in its suddenness, gravity, and scope, no Government could have hoped to deal successfully. I must go back to the winter of 1899 to call their great work to mind. War had already been waging some weeks in South Africa when the Government's proclamation was issued calling for volunteers from the yeomanry for active service at the front, and the lightning response that came to this appeal from all quarters and from all grades was the silver lining shining brightly through the black clouds that hovered over the British Empire during that dread winter. Thus the loyalty of the men of Britain was proven, and among the women who yearned to be up and doing were Lady Georgiana Curzon and Lady Chesham. Not theirs was the sentiment that "men must work and women must weep"; to them it seemed but right that they should take their share of the nation's burden, and, as they could not fight, they could, and did, work.

Filled with pity for all who were so gallantly fighting at the seat of war, it was the yeomen—called suddenly from peaceful pursuits to serve their country in her day of distress—who claimed their deepest sympathies, and, with the object of establishing a hospital for this force at the front, Lady Georgiana Curzon and Lady Chesham, on December 29, 1899, appealed to the British public for subscriptions. The result far exceeded their expectations, and every post brought generous donations in cash and in kind. Even the children contributed eagerly to the Yeomen's Fund, and one poor woman gave a shilling towards the cost of providing a bed in the hospital, "in case her son might have to lie on it." The Queen—then Princess of Wales—allowed herself to be nominated President; the present Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Connaught gave their names as Vice-Presidents of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospitals. The working committee was composed of the following: Adeline, Duchess of Bedford, the Duchess of Marlborough, the Countesses of Essex and Dudley, the Ladies Chesham and Tweedmouth, Mesdames S. Neumann, A.G. Lucas, Blencowe Cookson, Julius Wernher (now Lady Wernher), and Madame von Andre. Amongst the gentlemen who gave valuable assistance, the most prominent were: Viscount Curzon, M.P. (now Lord Howe), Hon. Secretary; Mr. Ludwig Neumann, Hon. Treasurer; General Eaton (now Lord Cheylesmore); and Mr. Oliver Williams.

Lady Georgiana Curzon was a born leader, and it was but natural that the capable ladies aforementioned appointed her as their chairman. Passionately devoted to sport though she was, she willingly forsook her beloved hunting-field, leaving a stable full of hunters idle at Melton Mowbray, for the committee-room and the writing-table. The scheme was one fraught with difficulties great and numerous, and not the least amongst them was the "red tape" that had to be cut; but Lady Georgiana Curzon took up the good cause with enthusiasm and ability, and she and her colleagues worked to such purpose that, on March 17, 1900, a base hospital containing over 500 beds (which number was subsequently increased to 1,000), fully equipped, left our shores. So useful did these institutions prove themselves, that as time went on, and the evils of war spread to other parts of South Africa, the committee were asked to inaugurate other hospitals, and, the funds at their disposal allowing of acquiescence, they established branches at Mackenzie's Farm, Maitland Camp, Eastwood, Elandsfontein, and Pretoria, besides a small convalescent home for officers at Johannesburg. Thus in a few months a field-hospital and bearer company (the first ever formed by civilians), several base hospitals, and a convalescent home, were organized by the Imperial Yeomanry Hospitals Committee, who frequently met, with Lady Georgiana Curzon presiding, to discuss ways and means of satisfactorily working those establishments so many thousands of miles away.

The Hospital Commissioners who visited Deelfontein in November, 1900, said it was one of the best-managed hospitals in Africa. A similar opinion was expressed by Colonel A.G. Lucas, M.V.O., when he visited it in the autumn, and this gentleman also reported most favourably on the section at Mackenzie's Farm. Through Colonel Kilkelly, Lord Kitchener sent a message to the committee early in 1901, expressing his admiration of the Pretoria Hospital. In this branch Lady Roberts showed much interest, and, with her customary kindness, rendered it every assistance in her power. At a time when military hospitals were being weighed in the balance, and in some instances found wanting, the praise bestowed on the Yeomanry Institutions was worthy of note. From first to last the various staffs numbered over 1,400 persons, and more than 20,000 patients were treated in the Yeomanry Hospitals whilst they were under the management of Lady Georgiana Curzon and her committee. Although sick and wounded from every force under the British flag in South Africa were taken in, and many Boers as well, a sufficient number of beds was always available for the immediate admittance of patients from the force for which the hospitals were originally created. The subscriptions received for this great national work totalled over L145,300, in addition to a subsidy of L3,000 from the Government for prolonging the maintenance of the field-hospital and bearer company from January 1 to March 31, 1901. The interest on deposits alone amounted to over L1,635, and when, with the cessation of hostilities, there was, happily, no further need for these institutions, the buildings, etc., were sold for L24,051. The balance which the committee ultimately had in hand from this splendid total of over L174,000 was devoted to the maintenance of a school which had since been established at Perivale Alperton, for the benefit of the daughters of yeomen who were killed or disabled during the war.

There has been ample testimony of the excellent way in which this admirable scheme was created and carried out. Numerous letters, touching in their expressions of gratitude, were received from men of all ranks whose sufferings were alleviated in the Yeomanry Hospitals; newspapers commented upon it at the time, but it is only those who were behind the scenes that can tell what arduous work it entailed, and of how unflinchingly it was faced by the chairman of the committee. Constant interviews with War Office officials, with doctors, with nurses; the hundreds of letters that had to be written daily; the questions, necessary and unnecessary, that had to be answered; the estimates that had to be examined, would have proved a nightmare to anyone not possessed of the keenest intellect combined with the strongest will. It involved close and unremitting attention from morning till night, and this not for one week, but for many months; and yet no detail was ever momentarily shirked by one who loved an outdoor life. Lady Georgiana realized to the full the responsibilities of having this vast sum of money entrusted to her by the British public, and not wisely, but too well, did she devote herself to discharging it.

Her services to the country were as zealous as they were invaluable. By her quick grasp of the details of administration, by the marvellous tact and skill she exercised, and by the energy she threw into her undertaking, every difficulty was mastered. At this present time many hundreds of men, who were ten years ago facing a desperate foe, can reflect gratefully, if sadly, that they owe their lives to the generous and unselfish efforts of a brave woman who is no longer with us; for, after all, Lady Georgiana Curzon was human, and had to pay the price of all she did. Her great exertions seriously told upon her health, as was only to be expected, and long before the conclusion of her strenuous labours she felt their effects, although she ignored them. Lady Chesham was no less energetic a worker, and had as an additional anxiety the fact of her husband and son[42] being both at the front. It was imperative that one of these two ladies, who were responsible for starting the fund, should personally superintend the erection and the opening of the large base hospital at Deelfontein, and as Lady Georgiana Curzon had made herself almost indispensable in London by her adroitness in managing already sorely harassed War Office officials, and in keeping her committee unanimous and contented, it was decided that Lady Chesham should proceed to the scene of the war. My sister gladly gave up this stirring role for the more prosaic, but equally important, work in London, and when I returned home, in July, 1900, I found her still completely absorbed by her self-imposed task. Already her health was failing, and overtaxed nature was having its revenge. During the next two years, in spite of repeated warnings and advice, she gave herself no rest, but all the while she cherished the wish to pay a visit to that continent which had been the theatre of her great enterprise. At length, in August, 1902, in the week following the coronation of Their Majesties, we sailed together for Cape Town, a sea-voyage having been recommended to her in view of her refusal to try any of the foreign health-resorts, which might have effected a cure. By the death of her father-in-law, my sister was then Lady Howe, but it will be with her old name of Lady Georgiana Curzon or "Lady Georgie"—as she was known to her intimates—that the task she achieved will ever be associated.

More than seven years had elapsed since my first visit, and nearly twenty-six months from the time I had left South Africa in the July following the termination of the Mafeking siege, when I found myself back in the old familiar haunts. Groot Schuurr had never looked more lovely than on the sunny September morning when we arrived there from the mail-steamer, after a tedious and annoying delay in disembarking of several hours, connected with permits under martial law. This delay was rendered more aggravating by the fact that, on the very day of our arrival,[43] the same law ceased to exist, and that our ship was the last to have to submit to the ordeal. Many and sad were the changes that had come to pass in the two years, and nowhere did they seem more evident than when one crossed the threshold of Mr. Rhodes's home. The central figure, so often referred to in the foregoing pages, was no more, and one soon perceived that the void left by that giant spirit, so inseparably connected with vast enterprises, could never be filled. This was not merely apparent in the silent, echoing house, on the slopes of the mountain he loved so well, in the circle of devoted friends and adherents, who seemed left like sheep without a shepherd, but also in the political arena, in the future prospects of that extensive Northern Territory which he had practically discovered and opened up. It seemed as if Providence had been very hard in allowing one individual to acquire such vast influence, and to be possessed of so much genius, and then not to permit the half-done task to be accomplished.

That this must also have been Mr. Rhodes's reflection was proved by the pathetic words he so often repeated during his last illness: "So little done, so much to do."

Groot Schuurr was outwardly the same as in the old days, and kept up in the way one knew that the great man would have wished. We went for the same rides he used to take. The view was as glorious as ever, the animals were flourishing and increasing in numbers, the old lions gazed placidly down from their roomy cage on a ledge of Table Mountain, the peacocks screamed and plumed themselves, and the herd of zebras grazed in picturesque glades. Nothing was changed there to outward appearances, and one had to go farther afield to see evidences of the dismay caused by the pillar being abruptly broken off. Cape Town itself, I soon noted, was altered by the war almost beyond recognition. From the dull and uninteresting seaport town I remembered it when we came there in 1895, it seemed, seven years later, one of the busiest cities imaginable, with the most enormous street traffic. The pavements were thronged, the shops were crowded, and numerous were the smart, khaki-clad figures, bronzed and bearded, that were to be seen on all sides. The Mount Nelson Hotel, which had been opened just before the war, was crowded with them—some very youthful, who had early acquired manhood and selfreliance in a foreign land; others grey-headed, with rows of medal ribbons, dimmed in colour from exposure to all weathers, whose names were strangely familiar as recording heroic achievements.

At that time Sir Gordon Sprigg, of the Progressive Party, was in power and Prime Minister; but he was only kept in office by the Bond, who made the Ministers more or less ridiculous in the eyes of the country by causing them to dance like puppets at their bidding. It was in the House of Assembly—where he was a whale amongst minnows—that the void was so acutely felt surrounding the vacant seat so long occupied by Mr. Rhodes, and it was not an encouraging sight, for those of his supporters who tried to carry on his traditions, to gaze on the sparsely filled ranks of the Progressive Party, and then at the crowded seats of the Bond on the other side.

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