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The Siege Of Mafeking (1900) Part 8

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CHAPTER XXVI

FROM BAD TO WORSE

MAFEKING, _February 7th, 1900_.

At a moment when the entire garrison, perhaps, excluding the military chiefs, was eagerly anticipating some announcement which would determine the date of an immediate relief, intelligence has come to hand, in a communication from Field-Marshal Lord Roberts himself, informing the inhabitants of Mafeking that he expects them to hold out until the middle of May. Since the beginning of the year the town has lulled itself into a sense of security by endeavouring to believe that at some early date the garrison would be relieved. But now, if it were possible to find "a last straw" to break the spirits of the townsmen, it is contained in the unfortunate telegram which Colonel Baden-Powell received from Lord Roberts. To hold out until the middle of May, it can well be longer, is to ask us to endure further privations, and to maintain an existence in a condition which is already little removed from starvation, and at a moment when the great majority of the civilian combatants, if not of all classes, are "full up" of the siege. For the past month we have been living upon horseflesh, although at first these unfortunate animals were slaughtered only in the interests of the foodless natives, and whatever gastronomic satisfaction may be culled by us now in eating what in more ordinary circumstances has done duty as a horse, it is none the less a hardship and a damned and disagreeable dish.

The effect of the announcement has been to increase the gloom and depression which for some weeks has been noticeable among those civilians whose businesses have been ruined; who are separated from and unable to communicate with their families, and who themselves have been impressed into the defence of the town. During this state of war they are unable to earn anything, and it is quite beyond their power to pay even the most perfunctory attention to their businesses; but now with this statement buzzing in the brain like an angry bee, can they not be excused if they cry out, "Enough, enough," and feel depressed and sick of the whole siege? Within a few weeks we shall be entering the sixth month of the siege, and already the severity of our daily life is beginning to tell, and indeed has already told upon many. But now that we have come so far through the wood, when we have fought by day and by night, when we have been sick with fever and pressed by hunger, when we have been harassed by bad news, and the conviction, through the absence of any cheering information, that all was not well with us down below, it would be a monstrous misfortune if we cannot survive the pangs of hunger and the torments of starvation until the long-promised relief arrives in the middle of May. If we do succeed, those who come through alive will have a tale to tell, in which there will be much which will remain buried, since there are experiences which, when they have been lived through, it is impossible to talk about.



If we were only just ourselves, merely the defenders of a town against an enemy, we could endure our privations, our short rations, and our condemned water with even greater fortitude. The men live hard lives in Africa, and their constitutions are strong, their nerves firm. But they hate, as all men hate, in all parts of the world, that their womenfolk should suffer, and here is the misery of our situation, more especially that these gentle creatures should suffer before their own eyes, when they themselves can do nothing for them. Aye, indeed, there's the rub. A hard life is always hardest upon women, and, unlike the Australasian colonies, and Canada, or the Western States of America, and all places where women who lead colonial life have no black labour to rely upon, the women in Africa are curiously incapable, delegating a multitudinous variety of domestic duties to the natives they employ. Their sphere of daily activity, so far as it is in relation to their household, is reduced to a minimum, while consciously or through the absence of some active pursuit by which they could occupy their mind and exercise their bodies, their view of life is petty and impressed with prejudices and absurd jealousies.

Moreover, they are abnormally lazy; indeed, to one who has lived in Australasia, America, Africa, India, and elsewhere, and has experience of life in those colonies, the lassitude and indolence of the South African woman is one of the most striking aspects of the daily life in Africa. In Natal this weariness is called the "Natal sickness," and in Mafeking at the present juncture it is responsible for a great deal of the discontent, the unwillingness to make the best of an exceedingly trying situation.

Without the feminine element in Mafeking, the civil and military authorities would be in better accord, but with a pack of women and children in an insanitary laager, caring nothing for the exigencies of the situation, firmly believing that they are oppressed by design and deliberately maltreated, and, rising up in their wrath, smiting the Colonel, the Chief Staff Officer, indeed, the entire Headquarters'

Staff, or any military and official unit that comes unfortunately into contact with them, the worry and annoyance caused to the garrison at large by their presence here at this juncture is eminently worse than the most fearsome thing it is possible to conceive. Of course, one sympathises in all sincerity with these unfortunate non-combatants, for they live amid conditions which produce and promote typhoid, malaria, and diphtheria--diseases that have been peculiarly virulent, and from which many women and children have died.

Apart from the fatalities from shell and rifle fire, there is the list of those who have died from the hardships which they have had to experience. Strong men have dropped off from typhoid, women and children contracting the same disease, or one which by its nature is similarly fatal, have been unable to bear up. The smiling and happy children that one knew in the early days are no longer such; they are thin, emaciated, bloodless, and live amid conditions which have already wrought sad havoc among their companions. The mortality among the women and children must form part of the general conditions of the siege, but it is peculiarly disheartening to the townsmen as they stand to their posts and their trenches to be compelled to ponder and to reflect sadly that the fell diseases which have killed the wives and children of so many might, at any moment, attack those members of their own family who are confined in the pestilential trenches of the laager. The unfortunate condition of these poor people here, as well as in Kimberley, has brought the suggestion to my mind that it should not be too late for either the Commander-in-Chief, or some one identified with his authority, to make overtures to the Boers, so that we, and even the garrison in Kimberley, might be permitted to send, in the one case our women and children to Bulawayo, and in the other case, to Capetown. It could surely be arranged, and if it were possible it would ensure a little greater happiness, a little greater comfort, falling to the lot of these poor people, who are unable to take, through lack of adequate remedies, the simplest precautions against the dangers which assail their own health and the lives of their children. But if our friends the Boers think that because of these straits we are disheartened they make a very grievous mistake.

We propose to endure and we intend to carry the siege on until the end. Nothing so exemplifies the true tone of the garrison and the spirit of the men as this determination in which we one and all share and for which we mutually agree to co-operate.

Despite the heavy burden of domestic trouble which presses down upon the townspeople, there has been a remarkable absence of any open friction between the civilian element and military at present gathered in Mafeking. The military authorities should be the first to recognise this and to appreciate the ready acquiescence and assistance which they have received from the inhabitants of the town. That at least they do acknowledge the importance of duties fulfilled, and the spirit with which they have been carried out, should be a conclusion against which it would be absurd to tilt. Nothing can underestimate the consideration which the townspeople, under conditions adverse to their interests, and for which the military authorities are entirely responsible, have shown for the vigours of martial law and the present military domination. Compensation would be so materially insufficient that it cannot be said that any one individual has stayed here for the purpose of receiving such emoluments as would be to him some kind of a profit. The economy of Governmental compensation is never known to be satisfactory--Government in its impersonal attributes being universally recognised as a most niggardly paymaster. They therefore, those who have stayed, apart from the delusions under which they suffered, can be said to have remained because they wished, as colonists, to prove their loyalty; and yet, when one looks back upon the siege and considers carefully the manner in which they have been imposed upon by their own Government, it is very questionable if ever so great a test was applied to the spirit of mind and body which constitutes allegiance to a sovereign. Fortunately the town cannot say that it has performed more than its share of the defence work. Indeed, for the most part the services of the townsmen have been restricted, so far as was possible, to a connection with forts which have been constructed upon the boundaries of the town, and have not been thrust forward in preference to the men of the Protectorate Regiment, who, following the profession of arms, can properly be expected to bear the brunt of the fighting. It was thought at one time that the strange assortment of human nature which had collected in or was drawn to Mafeking might be difficult of management; but mixed as is the population here at present, the doubtful element, which is one that sympathising with the enemy might create dissatisfaction among others, has been singularly subdued. There are many instances here in Mafeking of men who have taken up arms in defence of the town in which their business and their domestic ties are centred, and who, to do this, have had to fight against their own blood relatives. We have had therefore, in a sense, many men who, while apparently loyal and engaged in manning the trenches, were yet under constant supervision, lest they should give way to their feelings and too openly proclaim their sympathies with the Boer cause; but there have been few desertions, and affairs in general between Englishman and Dutchman, between the civilian and military, have passed off with greater harmony than was altogether anticipated. Mistrust between Englishmen of pronounced Imperial sympathies and colonials suspected of Dutch leanings has been the cause of a certain amount of jealousy, which tended to make the defence of Mafeking a work of, by no means, a pleasant nature. However much this feeling of difference, creating and causing in itself an acute tension between the pro-Imperial and the colonial, has given rise to, or has been the sole cause of, any ill-feeling which may have marked the relations between the civil and military, it has at no time assumed proportions grave enough to foster the opinion that its prevalence might endanger in time the commonweal of the inhabitants and threaten with strife the daily intercourse of the various units in the garrison.

CHAPTER XXVII

THE FIRST ATTACK UPON THE BRICKFIELDS

MAFEKING, _February 14th, 1900_.

In the history of the siege of Mafeking there should stand forth an event as remarkable to posterity, if, perhaps, not quite so historical, as the famous ball which was given by the Duchess of Richmond on the eve of Waterloo. It may be, indeed, a trite comparison, since its only relationship is contained in the fact that the officers were called away to the field of battle; but, with so much uncertainty in European circles upon the conditions of the garrison, this fact and its issues tend to show the spirit with which the town is sustaining its precarious existence. Although we have some 3,000 Boers around us, with twelve different varieties of artillery, and despite the steady increase in fatalities from shot and shell which marks each day, we can yet stimulate our flagging spirits to a pitch in which a ball is accepted and welcomed as an essential to the conditions of the siege. A mere detail, yet one of sufficiently striking importance and showing how very sombre and how serious is the daily situation, will perhaps be found in the postponement of this ball from Saturday night until the succeeding evening--a proceeding which was rendered necessary by the death of a popular townsman from a 100-pound shell in the course of the previous morning. Recent Sundays have revealed a tendency, upon the part of the enemy, to ignore that generous and courteous concession to a beleaguered garrison which General Cronje granted, by professing his willingness to observe the Sabbath, insomuch that the Boers have maintained rifle fire until 5 in the morning, commencing again at any moment after 9 o'clock at night. This Sunday was no exception, and we had the usual matutinal volleys.

Towards 8 o'clock in the evening the streets near the Masonic Hall presented an animated, even a gay, picture. Officers in uniform and ladies in charming toilettes were making their way to the scene of the festivity, each with a careless happiness which made it impossible to believe that within a thousand yards of the town were the enemy's lines. Immense cheering greeted the strains of "Rule Britannia,"

played by the band of the Bechuanaland Rifles, and then the dance commenced. The town danced upon the edge of a volcano, as it were; and while it danced the outposts watched with strained eye for any sign of movement in the enemy's lines. As dusk closed in the outposts had reported to the colonel commanding that the advanced trenches of the enemy had been reinforced with some three hundred Boers, and that their galloping Maxim had been drawn by four men to a point adjacent to our outlying posts in the brickfields, while what appeared to be the nine-pounder Krupp had been put into an emplacement upon the south-eastern front. This news Colonel Baden-Powell did not permit to become known, since he very properly wished to allow the garrison to enjoy its dance if occasion offered; and accordingly the dance began.

It was early when the enemy sent their preliminary volley whistling over the town; in an instant the animation of the streets which had preceded the dance was apparent once more, as around the doors of the Masonic Hall a number of people collected from out of the ball-room.

Officers raced to their posts as orderlies galloped through the streets sounding a general alarm. We were to be attacked, and a man can serve his guns, can ply his rifle, can stand to his post in evening pumps and dress trousers as efficiently and as thoroughly as he can were he clothed in the coarser habiliments of the trenches. For a few minutes no one quite knew what would happen, and greater mystification prevailed as the noise of firing came from every quarter of our front. Urgent orders were issued, to be obeyed as rapidly; Maxims were brought up at a gallop, the reserve squadron was held in readiness, coming up to Headquarters at the double. The guns were loaded and trained, and within a few minutes of the general alarm, the ball-room was deserted and every man was at his post.

It was a fine night, and the moon was full. Here and there, silhouetted against the skyline, those who were watching could see the reinforcements marching to the advanced trenches. There had been little time to think of anything, to collect anything, the men who were sent forward simply snatching their rifles and ammunition reserves. For a brief moment there was exceeding confusion in the forts that had been ordered to furnish reinforcements for any particular trench; but this duty was performed so quickly, and the town was in such readiness to repel attack, that our mobilisation would have reflected credit upon the smartest Imperial force.

Presently there came a lull in the firing, and the ambulance waggon made its way to a sheltered point, prepared to move forward should it become necessary. I watched for a few minutes the scene in the Market Square, paying particular attention to Colonel Baden-Powell and his staff officers, who had congregated beyond the stoep of the Headquarters office. Now and again Lord Edward Cecil, the Chief Staff Officer, would detach himself from the group to send an instruction by one of the many orderlies who, with their horses, were in waiting. It was a cheering spectacle, the prompt and methodical manner in which our final arrangements were perfected. Then the staff group broke up, and the C.S.O. explained the possibilities of the situation. The enemy contemplated an attack upon our south-eastern front, concentrating their advance upon our positions in the brickfields. If such, indeed, were the case, we could promise ourselves a smart little fight, and one, moreover, at point-blank range. We had so fortified our trenches in this particular quarter that, happily, there was no prospect of any disaster similar to that which befell our arms at Game Tree. Towards midnight heavy firing broke out upon the western outposts, caused, as was afterwards proved, by the success of our native cattle raiders, who, managing to elude the vigilance of the Boer scouts, had driven some few head of cattle through their lines into our own camp. The sound of this firing drew the Chief Staff Officer to the telephone in the Headquarters bomb-proof, whereupon I made my way to the point against which we had assumed that the attack would be directed.

It was to an old post in a somewhat new shape, then, that I made my way, a journey which amply compensated for any lack of excitement in the events of the last few days. Fitful volleys from the Boers made it impossible to walk across the section of the veldt intervening between the rear of these advanced posts and the town, while at present, these posts form a little colony, connected as they are now among themselves, but cut off altogether from communication with the town until the pall of night comes to shield the movements of those compelled to make their way between the town and the brickfields.

Soon, those who are posted there hope to see a trench constructed, affording passage at any moment with the base; but until this happens it is a pleasant scramble, a little dangerous, and somewhat trying.

The ground is rough and stony, sloping slightly, in open spaces, to within a few yards of the Boer lines. It is commanded in many points, and upon this particular night it seemed to suit the purpose of the enemy to play upon it with their rifles at irregular intervals. To reach the river-bed was easy, to scramble up the river-bed with one's figure thrown out against the skyline is better appreciated in imagination; to put it into practice is to walk without looking where one is going, since one is continually sweeping the enemy's positions to catch the flash of the enemy's rifles. When the flash is caught, if the bullet has not hit one first, it is wiser to throw dignity to the wind and oneself upon the ground. In this position, prone and very muddy, even a little bruised, I found myself, until the fierce but whispered challenge of a sentry told me that my temporary destination had been reached. At this fort there was little to betray the excitement which consumed its gallant defenders, beyond the fact that the entire post was standing to arms. With a laugh and a jest we parted; and cut across what would have been the line of fire had a fight been raging at that moment. There was a low, elongated wedge a few yards distant upon the left, against which the moon threw black shadows. It was the Boer position, and as they had been firing frequently, warning to proceed cautiously was not altogether disobeyed. Inspector Marsh's post was then very shortly gained, and with this officer I passed the night.

It was 2 a.m. when Inspector Marsh turned out to make his last round before the men in his command stood to arms at daybreak. Whatever else was not evident, it was now certain that there would be no attack until the break of day, and so, upon returning to our post, we lay upon the stony ground and slept. It seemed that Time had scarcely scored an hour when we woke up, and, taking our rifles with us, buckling on our revolvers, stood to the loopholes. Day broke solemnly and with much beauty, night fading into grey-purple and soft, eerie shadows. Trees looked as sentinels, and there was no sound about us.

Indeed, the spectacle of a large number of men expecting each minute the opening volley of an attack, was thrilling, and in that cold air their martial effect was a sufficient and satisfying tonic against the river mists. We had been standing some few minutes when from up the stream came the croaking of the bullfrog, so loud and emphatic that the older veldtsmen knew it at once to be a signal. This had scarcely been passed round when from that black line upon the sky there broke a withering sheet of flame; it was a magnificent volley, and swept across our intrenchments. We held our fire, crouching still lower and peering still more anxiously through the sandbags. Dawn was rapidly advancing, and as the light became clearer the enemy heralded its advance with a merry flight of three-pounder Maxims. They burst among us, hitting nobody, and falling principally upon the trench occupied by Sergeant Currie and his Cape Boys. Then we fired, or rather our most advanced trench opened, and in that moment the engagement began.

However, beginning brilliantly as it did, under the snapping of the Mausers, the droning hiss of Martinis, and a roaring deluge of shells, it was short-lived. Sergeant Currie and his men bore the brunt of the rifle fire, replying shot to shot, undaunted and unchecked. The reverberating echoes of the firearms, of the exploding shells, to the accompaniment of the insulting taunts of the Cape Boys were somewhat deafening. When the advanced trenches of the enemy started, volleys came also from the ridge of the acclivity leading from the river-bed to the emplacement of the nine-pounder Krupp. Between them again, there were smaller trenches joining in the rifle practice, which, while it lasted, was so hot that it was not possible to creep through the connecting trenches, or, indeed, to move in any manner whatever.

Within three hours the enemy threw some thirty nine-pounder Krupp, some twenty-five five-pound incendiary shells, an overwhelming mass of three-pound Maxims, and a few rounds from the cavalry Maxim. Bullets innumerable had whizzed across us, to be answered by rifle fire as brisk again, and so rapidly returned that few of the defenders had even time to think.

But we wondered, as the day grew brighter and two hours' firing had passed, what would be the end, considering ourselves fortunate that the enemy made no attempt to rush any one of the brickfields in his command. Occasionally, as we fired, Inspector Brown, in charge of the river-bed work, exchanged signals with Inspector Marsh, the post commander, through a megaphone, much to the discomfiture of the Boers, who, as the stentorian commands rang out in any lull of firing, were sadly perplexed. These signals had, of course, been arranged beforehand, the men knowing that they were the merest pretext and one by which it was hoped to confuse the Boers. Upon the part of the enemy it must have been rather alarming to hear between some temporary stoppage in the firing a voice in thunderous tones crying out, "Men of the advanced trench, fix bayonets," an order which would be invariably followed by hearty cheering from the Cape Police and insults of an exceedingly personal character from the Cape Boys. However, everything draws to an end, and the Boers, abandoning their intention of turning us out of the brickfields, ceased fire, giving to ourselves an opportunity to prepare breakfast. We ate it where we had previously been firing, the men passing the tins of bully and the bread rations from one to another. Then just where we had been fighting, with the scent of the burst shells and the smoke of the rifles hanging in the air, thin spiral columns of smoke arose in the rear of the few brick-kilns, and coffee was presently brought to us. Until mid-morning we maintained our posts, but with the luncheon hour we took it easy, although preserving a watchful attitude towards the Boers. Thus passed the day with little further firing, and some sleeping, terminating in a merry dinner--under siege conditions--with Inspector Marsh and Inspector Brown, in the dug-out of their town post.

CHAPTER XXVIII

THE SECOND ATTACK UPON THE BRICKFIELDS

MAFEKING, _February 28th, 1900_.

In many ways this month has been the most eventful of any during the siege. Other months of the siege have secured for themselves a certain notoriety, because they have been identified with some particular engagement; but this month of February has seen our labour in the brickfields brought to a successful consummation, and, at a moment when the garrison was congratulating itself upon the triumphant issue of such an adventurous and adventitious undertaking, we have been brought face to face with the contingency that even yet it may not be possible to continue to occupy so advanced a post. If I return to the subject of the brickfields after such a short interval, it is because there, more than anywhere else in Mafeking, the clash of arms is predominant. These many days we have followed out our scheme, endeavouring to circumvent the enemy by pushing forward a line of entrenched posts until they should embrace an area which would enable us to outflank their main lines and enfilade their advanced trenches.

There was a moment when this was actually completed, a moment in which we who were in the advanced forts, knew that if we could but hold the position we held the invaders in such a fashion that they would be compelled to abandon their posts. But there was the shadow of uncertainty, since we were rather reckoning upon the hitherto recognised fact, that the Boers belonged to that class of fighting peoples who never purposely attack if they could secure their ends by entrenchments and delay. For one day we rather gloried in the work, until towards dusk we realised with a swift and fearful astonishment that the Boers were intending to sap us. We have supposed it to be by accident rather than by design that a man, in the uniform of some German regiment, appeared of a sudden to arise out of the ground at a point some thirty yards distant from what we had considered to be the end of the Boer trench. His presence explained much, since the night before we had been perplexed at hearing the sound of picking and shovelling a little in advance of our position. At that time we had concluded that the noises emanated from the natives, who were deepening and strengthening the advanced trench of the Boers; but with this figure suddenly appearing, we realised that there was quite a different story to be told, one which implied that our previous opinion of the enemy was in error, and that they intended to make us fight for our position or to turn us out. The situation was rapidly becoming as interesting as any which has developed from the siege. Sap and counter-sap were separated perhaps by eighty yards, and so gallantly and vigorously did the enemy work that we could see them approaching yard by yard. It was impossible for us in the time at our disposal to do very much to stop them; we could simply keep a look-out and drench their trenches with volleys upon the slightest provocation. It was useless to fire upon the natives working in the sap, since it was only possible to see the points of their picks as they were swung aloft, catching for a moment the radiance of the sun.

Still they came on, and one night we knew that before dawn they would be into us. That night no one slept in the advanced trenches, and Inspector Marsh, who has very generously permitted me to stop with him for the past month in his quarters in the brickfields, visited the posts hourly. Between two and three we slept, and for a short space there was a perfect calm in our lines. At half-past four we stood to arms, to hear that the enemy had made contact with our trench. As we found this out, news was brought that the big Creusot gun had taken up its position upon the south-eastern heights, and so commanded our entire area. The inevitable had arrived and perhaps for a brief moment we were all a little subdued. As the sun rose Inspector Marsh, commanding the south-eastern outposts, under directions from Headquarters, warned every man to take such cover as was obtainable.

The situation would have given satisfaction had there been any prospect of an equal contest, since man to man we were not unmatched, but it would be impossible for the occupants of these advanced posts to attempt conclusions with an enemy who could bring to their assistance a high-velocity Krupp and a 100 lb. Creusot. There was immediate excitement, and Inspector Marsh telephoned the news to Headquarters. For the moment that was all which could be done--inform Headquarters. Then, with our rifles in our hands, with an extra supply of ammunition by our sides, we waited the inevitable, and we waited until night; but upon that night nothing happened. As dusk drew down, and as the calm of night was broken only by the rumbling echoes and tremors of the work in the enemy's sap, we threw out a working party of some two hundred natives, starving and ill-conditioned, but the best that we could procure, intending to make the effort to check once and for all the advance of the Boers. We worked all night, and dawn was breaking as we drew off, but we had passed them. In a single night we had carried our sap some thirty yards beyond theirs, and at such an angle that we enfiladed their sap, while only eighty yards divided the pair. The Boer line of advance was deeper than ours by some five feet, but all that day white man and Cape Boy strove to deepen our new trench, and by night it was perhaps a foot deeper than it had been. It was dangerous work; it was exciting. The crackle of bullets was never absent; they struck all round one, and there were a few fatalities.

That night we worked again, and so did they. Indeed, each side volleyed heavily all night to protect their working parties. We were not extending our trench; it was already a hundred yards sheer into the open, but in the morning when we looked, the Boer trench was barely thirty yards away from ours. That day we did nothing but await the inevitable again. We slept, since it was certain that on the morrow a fight would come. Once more there was nothing for it but to wait in such readiness as we could be in, for anything that the enemy might attempt. They began at dusk by throwing dynamite bombs into our sap--some burst, some fell blind; but this work was futile, since they had not yet reached sufficiently near to effect any damage. When they did obtain such access, we also had a little pile of bombs. Tooth for tooth--we were not going to give up without fighting. Then the end came suddenly, for Headquarters telephoned that the big gun had taken up its original position, which was barely two thousand yards distant on our left flank. With this message we began to comprehend what the next day would bring forth.

The affair between the outposts began about a quarter to five in the morning. The first 100 lb. shell fell between our trenches and those of the enemy: it seemed that they had wished to secure the range. They had secured it. The three holes which form our advanced position contain no cover whatsoever, since there is none to put up, and whatever earth had been thrown up was commanded by the enemy's fort upon the south-eastern heights. Each hole contained a shelter from the sun, a corrugated iron arrangement, supported by props, with a sprinkling of earth on top. The shooting was magnificent, and it will be difficult to find, when the various comparisons be drawn, marksmanship more precise or more accurate. Each was wrecked in turn: a shell to a shelter. When this work had been accomplished, the big gun directed its attention to the brick-kilns, in which we had posted our sharpshooters. In a little time the three were heaps of ruins.

Between the intervals of shelling the Boers fired volleys from the three points: from the fort on the south-eastern heights, from the fort in the river-bed, and from their main trench. The company of Cape Boys in the advanced hole could not be expected to relish the triple fire, which was in turn endorsed by shells from the big gun. The holes are not very large, nor very wide, nor high: they are natural depressions in the soil, in which water had collected and caused a further subsidence. When the enemy volleyed from the advanced trench, they had to crouch under the lee of a bank that was facing the direction of the fort on the south-eastern heights; when they wished to avoid shell and rifle fire from this fort, they had to run the risk of finding shelter in the direct line of fire from the main trench. If they endeavoured to move to the second hole, they had to do so under fire from all three points. It was rather an unpleasant state of things for the Cape Boys, who, moreover, could find no point from which to return the fire of the enemy. In an hour some twelve shells had been thrown into the first hole, and there were five fatalities.

Whenever we endeavoured to occupy the sap the big gun shelled it, until it was no longer possible to maintain a post in a position so exposed. We fell back to the second hole, and the enemy began to shell other points in the brickfields. They sent two to Currie's post in the river-bed; they scattered them plentifully about the first, second, and third forts--entrenched posts by which it is hoped to keep back the Boers, should they successfully carry the Cape Boy holes. The situation was becoming serious, and we had been compelled to abandon the sap and evacuate the first hole. At the moment it was a question of whether the Boers were coming on, and as we waited in the expectation of seeing them advance down our own sap into our original position, the shelling ceased, for the Boers had gone to breakfast.

That was our supreme opportunity, and although they must have seen us from the south-eastern heights, we employed ourselves in saving from the wreck what was possible. All the shelters had been pounded into _debris_: rifles and bayonets lay about broken and twisted, here and there were remains of camp utensils, and blood-stained clothing. It was a scene of ruin, and as we crept into it upon our hands and knees the confusion of the place struck one sadly. Sergeant-Major Taylor had been hurt by the second shell, and has since died, while another of the wounded has also succumbed. While the firing lasted the position was untenable, and we fell back from the sap into the most advanced of the holes. Here the situation rapidly became impossible, for the character of the outwork prevented any one from taking cover. But despite the galling fire, the Cape Boys behaved with admirable courage and endurance, and it was only when three men in the advanced hole had been seriously wounded, that they fell back behind the bank of the second pit. In a little, when the gun had effectually driven us from the advanced hole, the enemy began to shell the forts in the rear. At that moment there were two things to be done: one was to bank up the mouth of the sap, since the enemy had already reached it and were firing down it, the other was to throw up a rampart across the mouth of the second hole. Under a heavy fire Corporal Rosenfeld, of the Bechuanaland Volunteers, and myself undertook and accomplished the one, while at night the work upon the rampart was begun. By morning it was finished, but in the night the enemy had occupied our sap. The length of the first hole then alone divided us. Within the next few hours, however, the position of affairs changed as rapidly again. At a moment when the enemy were least prepared a strong party rushed the hole and sap, expelling the Boers by vigorous use of bayonets and dynamite bombs. Since then the Boers have left our advanced works severely alone.

CHAPTER XXIX

THE NATIVE QUESTION

MAFEKING, _March 3rd, 1900_.

It has become altogether impossible to gauge with any degree of accuracy, the situation in relation to the fortunes of the Imperial arms, or as it might be found in the camp of the enemy without Mafeking. We do not lack here men who, from a previous knowledge of the Boers, consider themselves capable of estimating the purpose and designs of Commandant Snyman; but what seems to be precise and even an admirable forecast one week, is proved, by events in the succeeding week, to be irrelevant and unreliable. It has been our habit, when for any length of time the enemy has rested, to attribute their comparative cessation from hostilities to news of ill-omen, and in our fatuous presciency we have approximately given the date upon which the siege will be raised. But in light of the never-varying contradiction in sense which befalls our optimistical assurance, we must perforce, recognise the falsity of our deductions and cease from worrying.

Recently, indeed during the past week, we expected the Boers to celebrate Amajuba Day, and to this end, the garrison was held in a condition of complete readiness, so as to be able to at once repel the anticipated attack. The anniversary of this disastrous fight passed off, however, without incident, and as it happened that runners arrived from the North upon the same day, conveying to us the unconfirmed intelligence that a force under the ever-victorious General French had relieved Kimberley, the wise-acres here, both civil and military, were of opinion that the investing force, that has now surrounded us for six months, could not stomach such unfortunate information, and were as a consequence timorous of any renewed aggression. But now again our theories are erroneous, and the siege progresses to-day merrily and as pugnaciously as ever. With the tidings of Kimberley's good-luck, we looked to see the big Creusot gun removed across the border in its return to Pretoria, but alas! it still confronts us and still flings its daily complement of shells into the town. Indeed, without this piece of ordnance, life would become so strikingly original that the townspeople would break down under the strain. The uncertainty as to what direction it will take, as to the number of tolls which have been rung out from the alarm bell, as to whose house has been wrecked, or what family put into mourning, has buoyed up the townspeople to a pitch from which, when the cause is removed, there will be a pretty general collapse. With the advent of the news about the South, the Northern runners confirmed the fact of the presence of Colonel Plumer's force being near at hand.

But this has been the irony of our situation since the siege began.

There has ever been, it would seem, some worthy general or colonel within a little trifle of two hundred miles from us, bringing Mafeking relief, or if not for us, for the starving natives. This has always been so pleasant to reflect upon, just this little detail of two hundred miles. Colonel Plumer, we hear, is laying down "immense"

stocks of food-supplies at Kanya, so that the natives here, who are already so reduced that they are dying from sheer inanition, having successfully accomplished the journey, which is one of ninety miles, may feed to their hearts' content--provided that they are able to pay for the rations which are so generously distributed to them. Whatever motives of philanthropy direct the policy of the executive in this question of distributing food allowances to natives, it cannot be said that the Government or its administrators, err in their administration upon the side of liberality. Even here in Mafeking we have set a price upon the bowl of soup--horseflesh and mealie-meal mixed--which is served out to the natives from the soup-kitchen, finding excuses for such parsimony in the contention that, by charging the starving natives threepence per bowl of soup, when it is exceedingly doubtful if they have that amount of money in their possession, we can successfully induce them to remove to Kanya, and there live in a state of happy flatulency off the stocks which Colonel Plumer has been ordered to prepare against their reception. Of course, at a moment like this, it is injudicious to cavil at the procedure of the Imperial Government, but there can be no doubt that the drastic principles of economy which Colonel Baden-Powell has been practising in these later days are opposed to and altogether at variance with the dignity of the liberalism which we profess and are at such little pains to execute, and which enter so much into the pacific settlement of native questions in South Africa. The presence of a large alien native population gathered in Mafeking at the present juncture has been our own fault, since the authorities, in whom the management and control of the natives of this district is invested, advised the military authorities here to allow some two thousand native refugees from the Transvaal to take up their abode upon the eve of war in the Mafeking stadt, and it is through the tax which this surplus population put upon the commissariat that this particular question has required such delicate adjustment. With supplies which are rapidly diminishing, we are compelled to force nightly a moderate number to attempt the journey to Kanya, and if they have been signally unsuccessful in their essay to pass through the Boer lines, it is in part because the enemy, having promised them a free passage, maliciously fires upon them as they reach the advanced trenches. For the most part, therefore, we are no better off than we were, since those natives who escaped invariably return to Mafeking.

With the good news which we have received, a slightly better tone of feeling would seem to be about the community. We are simple people for the present, living as we do under the rigours of Martial Law, but we have such genuine faith in the supremacy of our flag, that now that we have heard of the general movement of troops, we are infinitely happier and inclined to forget for the moment the trials and difficulties of our position. There was a time when the townspeople were so disgusted with the conduct of the war, with the disgraceful and nefarious practices of the Colonial Government, with the abominable lethargy of the Imperial authorities, that five men out of every six had resolved to abandon a country where such misrule was possible, and to remove to some one other of our colonies, where life, upon a broader and happier basis, was the order. But with the inauguration of brighter things, such as the relief of Kimberley portends, this tone has disappeared, while there seems to be an almost unanimous desire to wait the arrival of the next intelligence. It is perhaps not altogether incorrect to say that the feeling of disgust, by which so many people were at one time swayed, existed chiefly among those who were connected to and related with families of Dutch origin, and who at some period discarded their Dutch allegiance, casting in their lot with the British. These people yet retained a certain sympathy with the Transvaal, and were as concerned as any Boer about the issues of the campaign. Upon the outbreak of war, many of these people took up their residence in border towns, and by these means Mafeking received a sprinkling of people who were, by protestation, Britishers, and by instinct, Dutch. These men were accepted, since as a rule they were known to be genuine in their avowal; but when they brought their families into Mafeking, their womenfolk, being wholly Dutch, were as a rule regarded in quite a different light. It must be remembered that inter-marriage is practised in the Transvaal to an extraordinary degree, and that the relationship of any one family with others can by this means permeate the entire country to such an extent that, while the woman might be the wife of an African Imperialist, she might be able to claim kinship with men who held high positions in the Republican service. These ladies, therefore, were quite open to the suspicion of wishing to convey to their relations in the Transvaal authentic information regarding Mafeking. As our condition has been precarious, and as important information was surreptitiously carried to the enemy, it was perhaps natural that we should take steps to confine these ladies within their laager, and to place a guard upon it--precautions which were neither valued nor appreciated by them, and from which they suffered no hardships other than those which might be expected to accrue from the enjoyment of the somewhat restricted liberty, with which they, together with the entire garrison, must perforce rest content.

CHAPTER XXX

POLITICAL ECONOMY

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