The Siege Of Mafeking (1900) - LightNovelOnl.com
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MAFEKING, _March 15th, 1900_.
Colonel Baden-Powell has recently issued an order to all ranks in his command requesting the names of those who are willing to enlist in the special corps which are to be raised for purposes of patrolling the country when the war is terminated. If this be a sign of the times, a token by which we may read the lines of the policy by which Africa will be governed during the next few years, it is satisfactory at least to understand that we do not propose to take the risk of successful risings in the months to come in different Dutch centres.
This war has shown us the folly of courting "compromise and Exeter Hall" in dealing with dissatisfied areas of the Empire. We have policed Burma, we patrol Ireland (but in a different sense), and in India we have incorporated and turned into admirable efficiency many of the hill tribes, but we cannot translate the native-born Republican nor convert the rebel Dutch without the almost certain contingency arising of their proving traitorous. There are many who know the Boer, and, knowing him and appreciating his strange strategy, his curiously warped mind, his natural aptitude for breaking his bond, would not trust him in any transaction where integrity of character and probity were the essential complement. There has been much opinion among colonials that the Imperial Government might, anxious to be as conciliatory as possible, enrol the Dutch for constabulary duties, giving, indeed, to the younger generation the preference, and thus enabling them to possess an employment definite, if not altogether lucrative. But in this we should be perpetrating against the loyal colonists of Cape Colony a grave injustice, for until the present generation of Dutch has passed away, taking with it the memories of the war, it will be unsafe, it will be unwise, to employ in any administrative capacity whatsoever, those men who, themselves nursing a rancour against Great Britain, will omit no opportunity to foster the traditional hatred of their forefathers. We have in France, and in the French animosity against Germany, a case which is identical, proving, as it does, how the prejudices of a people can be nurtured and kept evergreen through the sheer force of malignant sentiment; and there can be little doubt that time, and time only, is capable of removing from the minds of the Republican Dutch that feeling of detestation and contempt which has maintained them in their attitude of hostility towards us for so many decades. To them, for many years to come, the British will be a nation of iconoclasts; we may banish them, we may wipe out all traces of their misrule, and so obliterate the signs of their existence that historians may find it difficult to believe that they once lived. We may do all these things, but it will be impossible to govern their instincts by Act of Parliament, to curb their impulses by the rulings of the High Commissioner. It would therefore be thrice foolish to employ them in their own country and among their own people, and such action would imply that we intended to ignore uses to which the younger colonists can be so conveniently put. In South Africa, as in Australasia and in Canada, there is a large army of young men who loaf their hours away in the idleness of an agricultural life rather than seek some trade in the offices of the big cities. They achieve little that is profitable upon their farms, clinging tenaciously to such a livelihood, since it possesses finer natural elements in its intimacy with the life of the veldt than any form of metropolitan activity could give to them. There are, of course, many men who have been driven to the towns through the failure of their holdings, but in this present state of war these especially, and all those others, have answered eagerly to the call for volunteers, and in proving themselves worthy, have rendered excellent services to the State. The great majority of these men would willingly take service in the forces to which the order of the colonel commanding makes reference, and by this we have at hand an army extraordinarily adapted to colonial purposes, and needing only to be called out. Moreover, at a time when the Empire has seen how its various units have hastened to the aid of the Mother-country, would it not be well to create in each colony a permanent militia from the men who have so unanimously come forward; a force which would be to the colonies what the Imperial army is to India, and which would supersede the local defence forces in Australasia, approaching in its conception a fixed soldiery rather than one to which is given a certain number of exercises in the year? There would be no lack of numbers in any of the colonies, and in Africa we could make use of the Zulu, the Matabele, and the Cape Boys. We have long rested in fancied security, and not until China falls a prey to Russia and India passes from us, need we fear that Australasia can be taken from us by the combined fleets of the Powers of Europe; nevertheless, since we must reorganise our army, it would be no mean policy to place, once and for all, upon their true foundation the defences of our colonies.
To those who know the life of the mounted police in Burma, of the constabulary in the West Indies, and of the police in Canada, the duties of the corps that are raised for South Africa will be at once comprehended. They would both police and administer the areas of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, and it may be that they will be affiliated with the British South Africa Police corps that are already enrolled. The life is enjoyable, there is much sport, and for a few years to come there is sure to be trouble, at odd intervals, among the Dutch. It is, perhaps, doubtful whether the man from home will be quite adapted to such work, since, in a very high degree, a knowledge of the Dutch language will be indispensable, and much valuable time will be lost in acquiring some smattering of this tongue and in teaching the recruits to ride, to shoot, and to drill. But life in the mounted constabulary has also possessed so great a fascination for the average Englishman that, should the Government decide to make eligible the men from home, any paucity among the colonial applicants can be at once remedied. Care, however, should be taken that the colonial men who came forward on behalf of the colony in its hour of peril, should be given the first refusal, and a greater financial consideration should be meted out than, with the exception of the Canadian police, has hitherto been customary. The economy of Africa is high priced, and it will be eminently difficult for men to live upon their pay should they have to forfeit any large proportion of it for extras, the cost of which might well be borne by the Government itself. There has been a great outcry about the higher rates of pay which are drawn by the colonial corps now serving at the front as compared with the wretchedly inadequate wages of the regulars, and it is a great pity that we, who can be so foolishly magnanimous, cannot disavow the petty economies of the service at a moment like the present. Five shillings a day is small enough when men have to provide their entire equipment, but to argue that because the War Office is supplying the kit the rate should be reduced, since the main source of expenditure be removed, is to incline towards a policy of expenditure which is penny wise and pound foolish. We read recently, and with infinite zest, that the artillery by which Mafeking is defended includes a battery of field guns and four heavy pieces. This, of course, is a grotesque exaggeration. We have no heavy ordnance, and our field pieces are obsolete muzzle-loading monstrosities. Had the War Office paid attention to its work, and supplied this advanced outpost of the Empire with efficient artillery, instead of rushing up to Mafeking an improvised field battery, it would be possible to ignore the attempt to curtail the pay of the colonial forces, since, if Africa had been prepared for war, it is improbable that Great Britain would have been compelled, in order to crush the combined forces of the Republics, to summon to her aid men from her colonial dependencies. But we did not do this, and if we be now reaping the fruits of an impotent administration, we should be sufficiently generous to accept the responsibility for the expenditure, and to desist from an endeavour to bolster up accounts by imposing upon the colonial contingents the effects of an economy which aims at sparing a few thousand pounds by saving some portion of their pay. Moreover, if it be true that the colonial contingents which have been enrolled since war began, are receiving ten shillings a day, why should not that rate be accepted as the standard of pay for all colonial forces under arms? In relation to Mafeking, where the question of compensation has become acute, such addition to the pay of the defenders of the town as would increase their rate to ten shillings would be a felicitous manner of recognising the gallant work which the garrison has performed, and provide at the same time, a practical exposition of official appreciation for the units of the defence.
If this be the one question of moment, in reference to the other problem--the pastoral and agricultural future of the country--there is little doubt that Africa--more especially these western districts, where agricultural and pastoral pursuits are widely followed--will require the assistance of the capitalist before the mere emigrant from England can make much headway. In a sense Mafeking is the central market for farm produce for areas which stretch far into the Transvaal, and which, lacking the propinquity of a local market, are compelled to send their products across the border. Many of these districts have proved to possess valuable mining qualities, so that it is possible we shall see in a few years the development of towns which, owing their existence to the mines, will attract the trade which now finds its bent in the Mafeking market. But the hope here is of railway communication with Johannesburg and Pretoria, and the consequent opening out and settlement of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and it is in this respect the capitalist will be the Alpha and Omega of the countryside; for the youngster who goes to Australasia with five hundred pounds and leases a property will be unable to obtain a hearing up here until the economy of daily life has been reduced to a less expensive order. There is a golden future here, but much gold will have to be poured into the lap of Mother Nature before any very satisfactory results are gained. The cost of transit is prohibitive, and there is a scarcity of water, which will make wells a necessity. There is much cheap labour, but the present mode of existence of the farming class is one which favours a bare sufficiency, and for the remainder a state of placid idleness.
The insufficient development of South Africa in respect to its agricultural and pastoral resources is largely due to the unprogressiveness of the Boer or South African farmer. He personifies useless idleness, and contents himself with raising a herd of a few hundred head of cattle; he seldom plants a tree; seldom digs a well; seldom makes a road; and has an unmitigated contempt for agriculture and agriculturists. His ploughs, harrows, and utensils of husbandry are clumsy, ill-formed, and, where they exist at all, are hopelessly antiquated. He cannot be prevailed upon to make any alteration whatsoever in the system of his agriculture. His ancestors were farmers, and he himself does not conceive it to be his duty to alter methods which were already obsolete when he was a child. The English farmer, with good training, active disposition, and accurate knowledge of how and where to institute radical reforms, possessing capital, might find both home and fortune in these areas. It is a good cattle country, and with a careful reorganisation in the management of the cattle-farms across the border--a reorganisation which should extend throughout all agrestic or nomadic communities in the Transvaal--it should receive material assistance from the farms of the western border of the Transvaal that are already stocked. The Dutch farmer, living the life of the patriarch of old, leaves everything to nature, and does not, as a rule, combine the varieties of farming which his property would sustain. He remains a stock-breeder, or a grower of cereals: the combination of the two is usually too complex.
It will be therefore a good thing should a different basis of management be inculcated, and when this be accomplished, greater facilities for stocking their farms will be held out to the intending colonists who may favour the country, but for the time the new-comers should check their eagerness, since, above all things, capital will be necessary to their salvation.
"A HISTORY OF THE BARALONGS"
MAFEKING, _March 22nd, 1900_.
Beyond a few successful cattle-raiding forays on the part of the Baralongs, we have done nothing these past days but maintain courageously the glories of our splendid isolation. In a way we have been compelled to depend to no small extent upon the prowess of the local tribe. The Baralongs have done well by us, and have served us faithfully, and with no complaint. They have fought for us; they have preyed upon the enemy's cattle, so that the white garrison might have something better than horseflesh for their diet; they have manned the western defences of the stadt, and they have suffered severe privations with extraordinary fortitude. There have been moments in the earlier stages of the war when they might well have considered the advisability of supporting a power that could not from the outset hinder their own arch-enemy, and one against whom they have been pre-eminently successful in other years, from invading the territories of the Empire. But whatever may have been the workings of the native mind, however they may have dallied with the treacherous overtures of the Boers, they have individually, and as a tribe, unanimously risen to the occasion, and given to the Great White Queen their absolute support. In the history of these people there is not much in the consideration which we have shown them to justify their allegiance, and if we have secured their loyalty at so critical a moment, let us hope that it may, in some way, epitomise the actions for the future, of the tribes that are allied with them, and, when the moment comes for compensation, let us at least remember the debt of honour which we owe them.
The Baralongs are, of course, identified with the Bantu peoples of Africa, but they come from a stock that is industrial as opposed to the military element of this race. The distribution of the military and industrial Bantu is significant, but in this latter we will consider one of the peaceable tribes. The military Bantu is found in possession of the most fertile regions, and it may be well to remember that they occupied the Southern extremity of Africa, contemporaneously with Europeans. They are now found between the Drakensberg Mountains and the Indian Ocean, fruitful areas about the Zoutpansberg and Kaffraria. It would seem that they held these grounds by right of might, and their district is in somewhat striking contrast to the regions in which the industrial Bantu are at home. These latter cling to the mountains, as in Basutoland, and are scattered over the high plateau which forms so great a part of the Free State and the Transvaal, or in the confines of the Kalahari Desert and those deserts and karoos which lie to the south of the Orange River. The desert has ever been their ultimate retreat, and as their more warlike kinsmen seized and held the finer qualities of the country, the arid and, so to speak, waste areas of Africa fell to the heritage of the industrial Bantu. Descendants from the same family, there is naturally an analogy between their tribal organisations which is yet curiously dissimilar.
They are both armed with the same weapon, but the assegai of the military Bantu is short-handled and broad bladed; while the assegai of the industrial Bantu is long and sharp, light in the blade, and intended mainly for purposes of the chase. Among the former the chief is a despot, against whose word there is no appeal; his town is designed with a view to defence; the chief's hut and the cattle-pens of the tribe are placed in the centre, and around these the remaining huts are built in concentric circles. The power of the chief among the industrial Bantu is limited; first by the council of lesser chiefs, secondly by the general assemblage of the freemen of the tribe. His town is intended to serve the requirements of a peaceful people, while outside the ground is cultivated in a rough and unscientific manner; they are even acquainted with the art of smelting ore and working in iron. The pursuit of the military Bantu is directed to the successful cultivation of a bare sufficiency of corn and cattle, and he pays little attention to anything which is beyond his immediate requirements. The Kaffirs, the Zulus, and the Matabele Zulus are among the warlike tribes of this dark-skinned race; but the chief seats of the industrial tribe are Bechuanaland and Basutoland, and it is with the peaceful Bechuanas, with whom are identified the Baralongs, that we propose to deal.
Historically, Bechuanaland will remain ever interesting to Englishmen as being the scene of the labours of Robert Moffat, David Livingstone, and John Mackenzie: three famous missionaries, who in their time did so much for the interests of our country in what was then the Dark Continent. The immense area lying to the north of Cape Colony possessed in itself one great political feature which made its possession of paramount importance. It was the natural trade route between that colony and Central Africa at a moment when Imperialism was a soulless conception, and when our ideas of the Empire in Africa shrank at the possibility of northern expansion. During all those years possession of Bechuanaland was the golden key to a future which, had we but realised it then, would have given us some right to claim the distinction of being a race of discoverers. We were, however, very diffident about accepting and recognising any greater responsibilities in relation to any enlargement of the areas of our African domains, and if a vindictive spirit had not encouraged the Boers to plunder and destroy the settlement in which missionary Livingstone abode, and thus driven him to pastures of a fresh kind, we might never have possessed the gate through which the stream of prosperity has flowed, until it reached to the limits of Central Africa. If the Boers had resolved to oust this intrepid Englishman, they failed lamentably, insomuch as they did but drive him to explore the interior, and to open up a magnificent reach of country to his fellow Englishmen. Bechuanaland lay at his feet when he first started forth, but to-day the point of exploration is many hundred miles in advance. Bechuanaland has flourished, and would have prospered more, had we but appreciated the doctrine of those Victorian statesmen who, recognising the wondrous wealth which lay in this new country, but fearing that the moment had not come for such gigantic undertakings, were regretfully compelled to delegate to posterity the duty of some day acquiring these very areas. Great Britain does not go very far back into the history of the native tribes of Bechuanaland. We are the later agents of a new civilisation, but we have yet to undo many wrongs to the lawful possessors of this proud heritage, to adjust many intricate questions, and to grapple, without fear and hesitation, with the problems which confront us--problems upon which it is surely not too much to say the effectual solidarity and stability of this great African Empire depends.
Tradition tells us that the Baralong branch of the Bantu came from the north under the leadership of Chief Morolong, and that the tribe settled, after a protracted exodus from the north, on the Molopo River under a chief who was fourth in descent from their first leader, Morolong. The combination of the military and industrial Bantu had been already broken by the character of the tribe itself. Before they had been settled very long, Matabele Zulus under Moselekatse attacked Mabua, and there was once again a complete division of tribe. They scattered in three directions. Thaba N'chu was selected by the leader of that party as their eventual resting-place. Two other sections, led by Taoane, the father of Montsioa, and Machabi, found their way into the country which lay between the Orange River and the Vaal. There they remained, leading a quiet and comparatively harmless existence until the Boers, under Hendrik Potgieter, entered into alliance with the Baralongs to attack Moselekatse. When the old lion of the north had been driven beyond the Limpopo, Taoane returned with his followers to the south bank of the Marico. By virtue of this conquest Potgieter issued a proclamation, claiming for himself and the Transvaal Government the country which had previously been overrun by the Zulu chief. Under this proclamation the Boers claimed to exercise sovereign powers over the Bechuana tribes, but upon the protest of the British Government this was withdrawn, Taoane and Montsioa, who had by this time succeeded his father, refusing to recognise the implied sovereignty of the Boers. By the intervention of the Imperial Government on behalf of the native chiefs of a territory which was practically unknown, it became the eventual channel through which we pushed a benign salvation, and an indifferent protection upon the natives of Bechuanaland until that time when we were enabled to assimilate the country. The attempt of the Transvaal Government to seize the areas of Bechuanaland was the rift in the silver lining of the clouds of Transvaal prosperity. The question became, between the two Governments, one of great moment, and its existence, since the Republic declined to ratify the award of the Keate Arbitration, was a bone of contention which was never altogether buried. The attitude of this Republic, the indirect assistance which the Transvaal offered to Moshette and Massou for the perpetuation of civil strife among the Bechuana chiefs, undoubtedly hastened the annexation by Great Britain in 1877 of the Transvaal territory. When this happened, despite the fact that the border was immediately delimited, Bechuanaland passed through a period of the greatest anarchy. The chiefs were warring amongst themselves, and although the two parties claimed the protection of either the Transvaal or the Imperial Government, the country was not definitely pacified till the despatch of the Warren Expedition, an expedient which by its success made Bechuanaland an integral portion of our African Empire. Montsioa, the Baralong chief, was fighting with his brother Moshette; Mankorane, the Batlapin chief, was engaged in struggle with David Massou, who was head of the Korannas. Of these four chiefs Montsioa and Mankorane sought the protection of the Imperial Government, while Moshette and Massou acknowledged the sovereignty of the Transvaal. European volunteers or freebooters who would be rewarded for their services by grants of land, assisted each of the four chiefs. At this juncture the Imperial Government changed its policy of administration in relation to the natives of Bechuanaland, and the result was that the High Commissioner of the Cape became supreme chief of the natives outside the Republic and the territories of foreign powers. In pursuance of the new policy Mr. Mackenzie arrived in Bechuanaland as British Resident, for the purpose of giving effect to the newly proclaimed Protectorate which had been established over the country outside the south-western boundary of the Transvaal by the consent of the delegates from the Republic, who had visited London to obtain certain modifications of the Convention of Pretoria. An extraordinary state of things awaited the arrival of Mackenzie, for the volunteers in the service of the Bechuana chiefs, Moshette and Massou, had established two independent communities, the "republics" of Land Goshen and Stellaland. The freebooters of Stellaland offered no resistance to the authority of the British Resident, but the burghers of Land Goshen celebrated the arrival of the Resident by a series of outrages and the contemptuous rejection of the demands made to them by these new officials. With the successful resistance of the filibusters from Rooigrond, the capital of Land Goshen, President Kruger issued a proclamation in the interests of humanity, by which he brought under the protecting wing of this South African State, the contending chiefs and their European advisers; thus the anomaly existed of a power endeavouring to assert its authority over rebels in a country in which we ourselves had assumed control. The mediation of the Transvaal Government was brought about, partly by the situation of Rooigrond, partly by the unjustifiable arrogance and assumption of the Transvaal President. The town had been so placed that it lay across the line of the new south-western boundary; the divisions lying partly in the Transvaal, partly in the Protectorate, and since it had become apparent that the Imperial or Colonial Government were unable to remedy the evils which arose from the depredations of marauders of Rooigrond, their leaders justified their actions by claiming that their town was the property of the Transvaal, and that they themselves were acting for that state, under the orders of General Joubert, and endeavouring to suppress conditions of anarchy in a country which, from the state of its existence, would appear to possess no controlling influences. If the outcome of this diplomatic feat were the proclamation of the Transvaal, it also aroused Great Britain to the true condition of affairs. The Transvaal had gone too far, and, in response to hints from the Imperial Government as to the feeling of the colony, resolutions were passed stating that public opinion in Cape Colony considered the intervention of her Majesty's Government for the maintenance of the trade route to the interior, and the preservation of native tribes to whom promise of Imperial protection had already been given, was an act dictated by the claims of humanity and by the necessities of policy. It was thus brought home to the Government that the Cape Colonists considered that it would be fatal to British supremacy in South Africa if we failed to maintain our rights which we derived from the Convention of London, and to fulfil our obligations towards the native tribes of the new Protectorate. After this assurance of moral support the Imperial Government despatched Sir Charles Warren, in order that he might remove the filibusters from Bechuanaland, pacify the country, and restore the natives their land, taking measures, in the meantime, to prevent a recurrence of the depredations and atrocities which had been enacted recently there.
When the forces were finally withdrawn Bechuanaland was created a Crown Colony, and at a subsequent date, it was incorporated into the Cape Colony. Since this time we have continued to perform the duties of a central authority in respect to the native tribes beyond the borders of the South African Republic, the expenses of administration being paid from the proceeds of the hut tax which is levied upon natives, together with the revenue derived from trading licenses, and paid for by European traders. In the settlement of Bechuanaland we reached a critical point in the history of England's administration in South Africa. We have been compelled to accept the responsibilities of such a central power as we have become, and we can no longer disregard the adjustment of those problems which so burdened that office. Now that our Imperial interests are so strong and our holdings in the country so great, let us no longer continue to oppose the means which will lead to that eventual federation of the Colonies and States of South Africa, the union which, once secured, will do so much to rectify the mistakes that we have made in our African policy.
'TIS WEARY WAITING
MAFEKING, _March 31st, 1900_.
We have lived for so many months now under the conditions which govern a town during siege that we almost accept existing circumstances as normal. We have ceased to wonder at the shortness of our rations, content to recognise that we might grumble from sunrise to sunset and gain nothing by it. We are no longer surprised at the enemy; they seem to take the siege as a joke, but it is a comedy which has a tragic lining. We have astounding spirit; there is no question of the gravity of our situation; there is no doubt that if we were to relax our vigilance for a moment, if we were to withdraw an outpost, diminish the establishment of some trench, the Boers would be in upon us before the garrison had realised that any such alteration in the defences had taken place. Nevertheless, there is really an admirable exhibition of almost uncomplaining acquiescence in the hardships which have fallen to our daily lot. Here and there there is grumbling, but the man who grumbles to-day rejoices to-morrow, since no siege can be endured with fortitude and determination if one dwells unduly long upon the difficulties and trials which beset us. Lately we had an exhibition, and many people in the garrison have consumed the past three weeks in a feverish and untiring activity to complete their exhibits. Ladies accomplished something rather fine in lacework, the men turned their attention to constructing models of the town's defences, and one and all entered into this little break in the monotony of the siege with the cheering intention of getting as much out of the event as was possible. Prizes varying from 5 to a sovereign were offered, and indirectly, each endeavoured to foster the spirit of the town. It had a beneficial effect, this artificial method of killing time, and it realised some 50 for the hospital. There have been other things besides the exhibition to stimulate the spirits of the garrison.
Native runners brought us the news of the fall of Bloemfontein, a feature in the campaign which adds fresh laurels to the reputation of Lord Roberts. His continued successes have been an _elixir vitae_, and, indeed, so freely have we imbibed of this new medicine, that there have been many who have found themselves possessed of a fresh strength. There is, however, one thing which does not give any satisfaction whatsoever to the little band of men who have held this outpost of the Empire during so many weary months, and this is embodied in the absence of any very definite signs of a speedy relief.
Lord Roberts has told us to hold out until the middle of May, but it is a weary wait, and we could well see the van of the column crossing the rise. Within the past few days the town has been swept by rumours about the propinquity of the southern column; we have understood Colonel Plumer has been within fifty miles of Mafeking for some weeks.
The rumours anent the southern relief place this column at any point within two hundred miles of Mafeking; some days it has reached Taungs, upon others it has not left Kimberley, again it is a week's march north of Vryburg, and in the meantime we receive telegrams from London congratulating us upon our successful and happy release. Where do these rumours come from? How comes it that London should be in ignorance of our condition?
We, who have followed with so much interest the fortunes of the campaign, sharing in the success of others with all sincerity and feeling reverses like personal insults, are disinclined to deny the existence of a relief column; but perhaps it is not altogether understood that, while we have food lasting till the middle of May, it is not impossible to feel famished upon our present rations at the end of March. Of food in the abstract there is an abundance, but the condition and quality of the ration is such that it cannot be reduced any further without immediately affecting the health of the garrison and proving a very serious obstacle to the successful execution of any work which may be detailed to the command. Experiments have been tried for the purpose of discovering whether it were possible to exist, and to work, upon an allowance of 8 oz. of meat and 4 oz. of bread, and, while it was proved that the garrison might exist upon such short commons, it would be very injudicious to issue this allowance, since it caused a serious deterioration in the stamina of the men; it has, therefore, been condemned. The bread is impossible, and, although every effort be made to improve it, it still resembles a penwiper more than a portion of bread. It is made from the common oats which one gives to horses. These oats are crushed, but, sift them as you please, treat them by every process which the ingenuity of the entire garrison can devise, they positively bristle all over with sharp-pointed pieces of the husks. Recently we have been promised Boer meal, but it would appear, according to Captain Ryan, that the Boer meal is to be held in reserve as long as possible. For the moment we rather hanker after that reserve, and we do not take much of the composite forage which is served us as bread. However, if we are eating the rations of horses, the unfortunate people of Kimberley ate the horses, and so, it would seem, our lot might be much worse. Horses have not become our daily ration yet, although they form the basis of a curious soup which is made and served out to the natives. The smell of that soup turns many weary pedestrians from their usual paths, although the spectacle of the starving natives swarming round the soup-kitchen is one of the sights of the siege.
But, doubtless, those people who send us ridiculous messages of congratulation may think that this is, after all, but the mere detail of the siege--the side issue which should be expected, and which should in any case be endured with a fine toleration. That is all right; we do not mind the bread, we do not mind the aroma of the soup-kitchen, but we do object to preposterous messages of congratulation telling us "the siege is over," at the very moment when the enemy is shelling us simultaneously from five different points.
The other day they endeavoured to concentrate their fire upon the centre of the town, and, if they did not do this altogether, they most certainly fired into Mafeking a weight of metal that has exceeded every other day's. We had from sunrise until dusk 79 Creusot shells, 100 lb. each; 35 steel-capped, armour-piercing, delay-action, high-velocity Krupp, 15 lb. each; 29 9-pounder Krupp; 57 3-pounder Maxims; and such a merry flight of 5-pounders that these shells have become a drug in the market, and to such an extent that we would very gladly exchange between here and London, a few such stormy petrels as a polite and cordial memento of the day of our deliverance. It is true that in part we are relieved, since we have chosen to take the initiative into our own hands and expelled the enemy from a position on the south-eastern facing of the town which they have occupied since the beginning of hostilities. This has given us immense relief, since it has practically placed the town beyond the effective range of the Mauser rifle and the Boer sharpshooters.
The trench was exceedingly well made, divided by traverses, protected with a rear bank and a strong head cover. It was a mercy that we did not attempt to storm it, and its remarkable strength and composite construction goes some way to explain the difficulty which we have experienced in making much impression, either by shell fire or storming party, upon the Boer entrenchments. We did this in a single night, having led up to such a climax by devoting our attentions to this particular quarter. We bombarded them by day, we sniped them by night, and sapped them in the intervals. For a brief moment the enemy checked us, but it was only for a moment, and our fire was so warm and so persistent that they relinquished their attempt to prevent our advance, leaving, however, in their trench at the moment of evacuation a little trifle, possibly forgotten in their scramble to the rear, of 250 lbs. of nitro-glycerine. The mine was at once located, the wires were cut, the trench was occupied, and in the morning when day dawned, instead of there being the roar of a great explosion, there was simply the ruddy blaze of our artillery fire from the gun emplacements which they had constructed and which we had converted to our own use. But we have taken care of that little mine, and possession of the trench leaves us masters of the situation. This, however, is the only relief that has come to Mafeking.
The Boer possesses a natural aptitude for digging ditches and throwing up earthworks, since his instinct tells him what not to do, much as this same intuition teaches him how to secure the natural fortifications of a kopje, and has made him, as the war has proved, a foeman worthy of our steel. We have despised the Boer; we have contumaciously called him a barbarian; but, nevertheless, these nomads of the South African veldt have given the mighty majesty of England a lesson which will take her many years to forget. Boer tactics are unique, but one has to witness them to believe in their feasibility.
Their horses are so trained that when the reins are thrown over their necks they remain immovable. Their fighting is based on this fact, combined with the dictates of common-sense and their empirical, yet successful manner of encountering us in the Gladstonian War. Each commando of one hundred men is their unit; these are concentrated in scattered groups in rear of their outpost lines, and upon coming in contact with the enemy they endeavour to encircle their adversary, cantering in eccentric circles until they are able to dismount in a fold of ground near some coign of vantage. They are extraordinarily adept at making the best of their cover, and they are most patient, waiting hours for a shot, prone upon the ground, under a scorching sun. It would seem that they have maintained their time-honoured system, applying to the present campaign tactics possessing great mobility, rapid powers of concentration on vulnerable points, and as rapid retreats therefrom if seriously threatened. This power of rapid movement incidental to all being mounted gives them great advantage, increasing their powers of offence and defence, and representing the crux of their theories of war. The Boer carries on his horse one hundred rounds of ammunition, and rations of sun-dried beef sufficient for four days. The horses feed upon the veldt. In four days the Boer can cover two hundred miles, and it is this ability to move from point to point with extraordinary despatch, that makes the Boer force a body of mounted infantrymen possessing great strategical value. It has been impossible not to admire the tactics which the Boers have pursued in investing Mafeking, and where they have detached a force for any special purpose the execution of their work has been accomplished with laudable celerity. They dismantle and re-set, at an emplacement some miles away, their big Creusot gun--a process which seldom occupies them longer than between dusk and dawn; sometimes we see them moving their guns northwards, and hear from natives that they arrived at a point some thirty miles from Mafeking by daybreak. It may be that in respect to the mobility of their forces we have much to learn, and let us at least profit by the lessons which are thus afforded us.
TWO HUNDRED DAYS OF SIEGE
MAFEKING, _April 15th, 1900_.
There is now happily no longer any doubt of the truth of the native reports of important successes having befallen our arms in the vicinity of Kimberley. We hear with infinite rejoicing that Kimberley has pulled through, and is no longer invested by the enemy, and almost so soon as these tidings reached us, natives brought in the unconfirmed news of the capture of Cronje. This has since been officially published, and the garrison here is beginning to feel at last that their turn is about to come! We have waited long for this moment, passing many black hours in the interval, but even now it seems that the power of England may be successfully defied by these federated South African Republicans. Yet we hope and, in the changing of the fortunes which we anticipate, we express and share in the felicitous congratulations which the Empire is offering to Lord Roberts. The shrewdness and tactical genius of this gallant veteran has been a source from which the entire garrison has drawn an inspiring hope which encouraged one and all to resist to the uttermost the attacks of the Boers.
We have already been besieged six months, and although the internal situation does not appreciably differ from that which existed on the first day of the siege, the signs of the times betoken the gravity of our condition. During recent days there have been two separate indications of the straits to which the siege has reduced us. Colonel Plumer endeavoured to pass into Mafeking a mob of cattle; the Almighty sent a flight of locusts in such numbers that for many miles the veldt was brown beneath the thousands which alighted upon it. Now the locust is an article of diet, though it has not yet attained the dignity of the position enjoyed by the nimble prawn. At present the locust is compared only to a tasteless prawn, but it may be that when the siege of Mafeking be raised and the world knows that no small portion of the garrison were reduced to locusts without wild honey, this somewhat unconvincing appetiser may be relegated to the office of a _hors d'oeuvre_. Dame Fashion is responsible for so much that she might well introduce to the social world such a toothsome delicacy. To catch your locust is almost as difficult as to eat it, but it may be done by turning out at night and throwing a blanket over any patch whose numbers suggest the possibility of a profitable return. This, of course, is not the native mode: the native, being as nimble as the locust, goes for them on the rush, and sweeps them into heaps before they have quite recovered from the shock of the surprise. By this method you certainly secure your locust, by the other you generally catch a cold, for the process of catching an individual locust is somewhat laborious. However, it may be done, more especially where there is the tedium of a siege to while away. Having caught your locust, you then immerse him in boiling water, a treatment which at once subdues him. You then proceed to sun-dry him and pluck away his wings and head. The locust is then ready for the table, when, after eating him, you discover that he has all the aroma and subtlety of chewed string. For all the world one might as well munch string, but since the possibilities of imparting to him an especial flavour be so numerous and so eminently calculated to test the qualities of the _chef_, he should again be commended to the notice of society in so much that it is possible to create an altogether original locust.
There is, of course, another way of eating locusts, and that is to eat them alive. This practice, however, is not held in any very great esteem, since the native who cannot afford to wait to cook his locust is _declasse_, even if he be starving. Personally, I rather like locusts if they be fried, more especially if they be curried, for just now the great thing is to eat, and, having digested what has been laid before you, discreetly to ignore any question which might verify the truth of your suspicions: therefore in eating curried locusts, you thank Heaven for the curry, and pass on quickly to the next course. To eat just now upon this basis is to enjoy consolation, which, in relation to our food, is our sole form of enjoyment, since when you know that you are eating horse and you imagine that you are eating beef, your imagination is necessarily so strong and so triumphant that the toughness of the horse becomes the tenderness of beef. Moreover, everything is only a question of comparison, and as a consequence the toughness of horse-beef and the tenderness of ox-beef necessitates merely an exchange of terms which imply similar standards of perfection.
The pleasures of the table, however, are as nothing compared to the delights of the bombardment by which the Boers assail the town almost daily. We have had more time these days to recognise the precise value of the enemy's shell fire and its wide area of demolition--more time because the Boers have withdrawn "Big Ben," and we no longer fear to walk freely in the streets, nor are we kept constantly upon the alert listening to the clanging of the alarm. The guns remaining do not appear to be able to reach the town from their distant emplacements.
They are an array of minor ordnance, uninteresting to us, since their attentions would seem to be directed upon the outposts and the outlying forts. "Big Ben," however, was no respecter of places, but gaily hurled defiance at us from a variety of points, maintaining with wonderful regularity an almost daily bombardment.
We who are anxious for his welfare, now spend many dreary hours upon the housetops, for, if we show appreciation of his presence by taking refuge in the cellars, we ascend to the highest points of our houses in order to make sure that he is gone. The sense of gratitude which inspires us to do these things is unrestricted, and were it not that there were smaller guns around us, we might have waved a parting salutation from a more adjacent point; but under the circumstances we are content, and although we feel sorry that he has left us, we shall more infinitely deplore his presence when he returns. It is almost pleasant in Mafeking just now, and if it were not for the scarcity of food, the coldness of the weather, the never-ending rains, the fever which exists (and of which we are all frightened), the entire absence of wood with which to make fires, and the appalling monotony of the days, the dreariness of the situation and the dulness of the people, we might be happy, possibly inclined to exchange our lot for that of anyone else who was not in Mafeking; but as it is, we are really rather anxious to get out and to see the siege raised. Our nerves are altogether raw, our tempers soured, our digestions failing. We were young men six months ago, impressed with the importance of our situation, invigorated with a determination to stick it out; but we have aged considerably since then, and we would willingly send the siege to the devil if we, by way of exchange, were permitted to indulge in the comparative comfort of another form of purgatory. It has become quite the accepted fashion to draw a simile between Mafeking and hell, and to give the early Christian fathers full credit for their powers; they were nevertheless quite incapable of imagining a punishment so deliberate as the mental and physical torture of a siege. To use a colonial colloquialism, "we went in blind," but one experience is sufficient to guarantee that every member of the garrison just now would put a thousand miles between him and the next beleaguered town. In the situation itself there is nothing to write about, it so constantly repeats itself until the absolute monotony of the days settles down upon the nerves, depressing one's spirit like a wet blanket. The Boers still fire at us, and we still sit tight, nursing our hopes by a sublime confidence in the relief column. If we be sceptical at times, we endeavour not to take our scepticism too seriously, and we talk airily about the date by which the van will have arrived here. But in reality there are but few people who believe in the practical existence of any relief column.
THE EPICUREAN'S DELIGHT
MAFEKING, _April 30th, 1900_.
We have duly celebrated the two hundredth day of the siege, and if one examines closely into the condition of a town which has withstood the attacks of the enemy during two hundred days, it is to find a spirit that is strong and self-reliant among the garrison and to realise the sadness of the picture which presents the aspect of a town slowly passing into ruin. The ravages of the siege have in no way been so prominent as has been the case during the last few weeks. Mafeking of yore was somewhat stately, although it was merely a colonial up-country centre, possessing nothing which was grandiose or even elegant. But its calm and unruffled dignity sprang from clusters of stately trees around which it had sprung up, and from which in these days of tempest and adversity it snatches something of their independence, something of their indifference to the press of battle.
But now it is almost a treeless town, and it is difficult to go anywhere without meeting the signs by which one may read the stress and privation which a siege imposes upon a beleaguered village.
Mafeking was never a tiny town; it rambles too far over the veldt to be considered even compact, but these natural features are now greatly aggravated by the ruin which has fallen upon the outlying areas of the town, causing even the most central streets to be disorderly in appearance. From a very early date in the siege we have been accustomed to the spectacle of ungainly structures stretching across those thoroughfares which were exposed to the enemy's fire. These traverses were among the earliest preparations of the war, but now, in addition to these, at frequent intervals in the streets one comes across shelter-pits which have been excavated in the various thoroughfares. These protections against the enemy's shell and rifle fire were not perhaps any lasting imposition upon the elegance of the place, but as the siege developed its effects became more formidable and were more calculated to leave traces of a permanent character.
To-day, perhaps, we are achieving to the end of this enforced vandalism, since we have already utilised the garden fences and demolished for the value of the wood which they may contain any houses which may have been damaged by shell fire. Indeed, just now, we are buying up the deserted huts of Kaffirs who have either been killed or who have made their way with safety through the lines. These huts comprise no small quantity of wood, so we are pulling them to pieces on account of the props which support the reed roofing. But before we ventured into the stadt for our wood, the trees in town were trimmed of their branches, or, as in many cases, chopped down altogether, and as a consequence the outward and visible sign of the results of the siege is an infinite sense of desolation. There is now no longer the gentle rustle of the trees as the night winds sigh through them; no longer do the birds scramble amid the branches, screaming merrily.
There is no bird life now, for we have been unable to consider sentiment in the ordering of our daily life. The best timber in the town enjoys no greater immunity, since young and old trees each serve their purpose. Where there was once order, there is now confusion.
Streets blockaded at one end are also furrowed by the many shells which have come into the town; the walls of the houses have been riddled with bullets, or wide, ragged holes gape where the projectiles of "Big Ben" pounded their way through. Telegraph poles and lamp posts are bent and twisted, some lying completely broken upon the roadside.
The roads and paths are covered with weeds, and everywhere the neglect of the seven months' siege is in evidence. It is a depressing spectacle, and it is well just now to close one's eyes to everything--to the famine which is stalking in our midst, to the fever which is raging round the outposts, to the ill-conditioned horses and cattle, to the weary, patient women, to the children who, unfortunately fortunate, have survived so much distress, and yet if one looks a little forward it is difficult to see that the remedy will be forthcoming. It has required the labour of years to rear the trees, and in many cases the houses that were wrecked and upon whose sites lie piles of rubble, represented the successful conception of a life's handiwork which, destroyed in the passing of a moment, can never be altogether replaced. There are many men and some few women who have lost everything they possessed, and even if they receive an adequate compensation will still feel the absence, in their new abodes, of those subtle sentiments which made the fruition of their efforts so dear and treasured to them. It is impossible not to feel this when one perambulates through the town; every spot recalls something to the mind of some one, an indelible association, emanating from the siege and which time cannot obliterate. Men remember where they stood when some particular house was shattered, others recall their proximity to a bursting shell, whose explosion tore up the roadway. It is these things which will never be effaced, since they are the impressions which have struck deep down upon the mind, leaving an afterglow. But as a rule we keep our cares, feeling that so many people have so much else to worry them, recognising also that upon one and each of us the siege hangs sorely. There can be no doubt that it has left its mark, not only upon the town, but upon the garrison. The men are just a little gaunt, just a little unkempt; the women are haggard and careworn, for it is difficult to keep up one's spirit when from day to day there comes no news, only that curious, ironical instinct, that perhaps it may be that we are not to be relieved at all. The garrison is famished, that is, in reality, the kernel of our situation. Our energies are exhausted because our vital processes are insufficiently nurtured. We are all listless; we all feel that the siege has been a strain of the most severe description, and we are holding ourselves in for the final rally, anxious to support the position, determined to hold the town and occupy till the end our posts. Yet there is a false note through it all, and in those moments when one finds oneself alone one realises how artificial is the gaiety which we profess, feeling, by intuition, that one's own emotions are alike those of one's neighbour. However, each one of us endeavours to make an effort to maintain in public some appearance of interest in the daily conditions of the siege. It is a difficult part to play, because, as I have said, there is so much that is unsatisfactory in our position. The signs of the times are read by little things, and if one goes for a walk round the outposts it is as well not to mention in the town the presence of the fever flags which float over certain areas near which it is not permitted to go. There are three such places; one is remote from our lines, well out into the veldt, where, isolated and apart, living in a world of their own making for the time being, is a family fighting against the ravages of diphtheria; between them and the stadt there is the smallpox reserve, where the yellow jack droops from the trees beneath whose shade the tents of the patients have been pitched.
Still nearer into town at the hospital the flag of mercy protects a building in which there is much malaria, some typhoid, and a few cases of enteric fever. This is the gamut of our sickness, and it is in these quarters that we, who are hale and hearty, look with anxious eyes. There are many there who will pay their lives as tributes to the siege, for, as in Ladysmith, so are we reduced to horseflesh, being fortunate enough to possess, however, a small store of medical comforts. The sick cannot be given very much, but we are very solicitous for their welfare, and only lately the garrison as a body, surrendered the ration of sugar to the needs of those who were ailing.
Our rations are sadly diminished; three-quarters of a pound of minced horse-meat occasionally interchanged with mule and donkey flesh; four ounces of horse forage, a microscopical quantity of tea and coffee, pepper and salt, comprises the daily issue. Few of us have extras, but there are many who indulge in experiments with certain toilet adjuncts of an edible nature. Scented oatmeal, violet powder, poudre de ris, and starch, have all been tested, and it would seem that starch is the more adaptable. Recently I was allowed to taste a starch blancmange, with glycerine syrup; it was excellent, and infinitely better than scented oatmeal porridge. We also fry our meat in cocoa-nut oil, in dubbin, and in salad oil--if we can "find" any.
Indeed, there is quite a boom in grease-stuffs for culinary purposes.
Aside from starch, violet face powder gives very fair results, but when used as an ingredient for brawn, it is a hopeless failure. It will be seen, therefore, that we are somewhat puzzled to know how to satisfy our appetites, and we attempt infinite devices in order to supplement our daily food supply; occasionally we shoot small birds and less frequently we catch fish, but the size of both birds and fish is such that a day's bag is seldom sufficient for a meal. If the Europeans be exerting themselves to discover new processes by which to cook inedible compounds, the natives also are at their wits' end, and have resource to a variety of dishes which under more favourable circumstances they would not touch. Pet dogs that are sleek, family cats that are fat, are stolen nightly from the hotels and empty houses, but they are invariably traced to native marauders, who, inspired by hunger, prowl around by night seeking what they may devour. These details give a somewhat gloomy aspect to our situation, and if the truth be told our plight is quite sufficiently serious, but it must not be imagined that by reason of these things we are faint-hearted; we are not so. If we can pull through, and we are proposing to make every effort, we shall be content, and we are content, even at the present crisis, to think that it is not altogether impossible that very earnest efforts are being made to expedite our relief, and so alleviate our distress. Our constitutions, perhaps, are somewhat impaired by the scarcity of food, by dysentery and by fever, but we are well enough if the pinch should come and the Boers again make a serious attack upon the town. We will beat them off; possibly we may laugh at their efforts. It is only at odd moments that we become depressed, when the intelligence does not seem satisfactory, when our personal worries press too closely upon us. In those moments we may perhaps take an unduly gloomy view of the situation, but it is not so quick set that it cannot be dissipated by the receipt of some good news, by a cablegram from the Queen, or a message from Lord Roberts. It is these things after which we hanker, and it is these things by which we keep up our hearts. That there should be any possibility of a weak spirit manifesting itself at this late hour need not be considered seriously for a moment, since above all else, the garrison and townspeople of Mafeking have devoted themselves to the work of holding this important outpost to the Empire until such moment as the relief may come. In the beginning we withstood six thousand men, just now there are not two thousand men around us, and if they have more guns now than they had, we have also strengthened our weak places and thrown out a chain of outposts through which it should be impossible for an enemy to penetrate. Thus we have made ourselves secure against everything but the menace of starvation, and if there be anxiety upon our behalf in the centres of the civilised world, the message which we send touches not upon the question of relief, but asks that it should be remembered that, even if our spirits endure, our foodstuffs will not last for ever. That is the gist of our prayer, and we trust that it may receive some hearing.