President Kruger had been informed A of the chaotic state of affairs, and arrived at Glencoe early the next morning. The burghers were called together, and the President, leaning out of the window of his railway carriage, asked them to join him in singing a psalm. He then offered up a fervent prayer for guidance, after which he addressed the burghers, reproaching them for their want of confidence in an all-powerful Providence, and exhorting them to take courage afresh and continue the struggle for the sake of their posterity, which one day would judge their acts.
"Whither would you flee?" he asked us. "The enemy will pursue you, and tear you from the arms of your wives. The man who surrenders takes the first step into exile. Brothers! Stand firm, and you will not be forsaken!"
As the father of his people spoke, the doubts and fears that had filled the breasts of the multitude disappeared. Forgotten were the days and weeks of hunger, heat, and thirst; forgotten the ghastly shrapnel showers, the soul-crushing crash of the awful lyddite shell, the unnerving possibility of sudden death that for months had darkly loomed across their lives, and every man felt the glorious fires of patriotism rekindle in his bosom.
Then General Joubert spoke.
"If I be the stumbling-block in the way of our success, then I pray God to remove me," was the humble prayer of the warrior grown grey in wars, who now found himself too feeble to direct the forces with his wonted vigour. He then reminded us of brave deeds done in the past, and expressed his confidence in the future, provided we did not lose heart.
When the General had finished, he sent officers round to marshal the men into some sort of order. It was wonderful to see the change in the spirit of the burghers. Where but a moment before had been disheartened mutterings and sulky looks were now smiling faces and cheerful conversation. With alacrity the men came forward, gave their names, and that of their respective commandoes, and took in the positions assigned them. The danger was past. Even the news of Cronjé's surrender, which was soon after made public, did not have more than a transient effect. The anxiety as to his fate had been so keen that even to know the worst was a relief.
For two disquieting days, however, nothing was heard of the rearguard. To our relief it turned up on the third day. Several weeks of quiet followed, the British resting after their giant efforts, whilst we prepared to stem their further advance when it should take place. During this period of inaction on the part of the enemy I was sent down into Zululand, and stationed at a small spot named Nqutu, near Isandhlwana, Rorke's Drift, Blood River, and other scenes of stirring battles fought in former days. At Rorke's Drift could be seen, in good repair, the graves of the gallant men who fell in defending the passage through the river against the Zulus after the British disaster at Isandhlwana.
While at Nqutu we received news of the fall of Bloemfontein and the death of General Joubert, as well as of De Wet's victory at Sanna's Post, the latter the only bright gleam that relieved the daily darkening horizon of our future.
I now obtained a few days' leave of absence. My substitute left Glencoe early in the morning, accompanied by a mule waggon. The trolley duly arrived at sundown, but the substitute was absent. It appeared he had taken a short cut, as he thought, and had not been seen since. Bethune's mounted infantry was hanging about the neighbourhood, and we feared he might have been raked in. At midnight, however, he made his appearance, wet to the skin, after wandering to and fro in the chilly mist for hours. I immediately handed the books and cash over to him, and went to bed till four o'clock, when I saddled my horse and started for Glencoe, on leave and on my way home. Carefully nursing my mount, I reached Dundee at noon. After a short rest we went on, and reached Glencoe at one o'clock, none the worse for the morning's ride of almost fifty miles.
Here I learnt that a plan was afoot to attack the British camp at Elandslaagte, which lay quite open and unprotected, as if it were part of an Earl's Court exhibition. When I left by train next morning our guns were already in action.
Not being pushed home, however, the attack did not amount to much, except for its moral effect upon our men. It also gave the enemy the idea of finding a decent position for his camp.
Travelling with me in the train were several men on their way to the Free State, where our forces were being hard pressed. Before leaving I had also sent in a request asking to be transferred thither, as Natal was becoming really too dull.
At first sight Johannesburg did not seem much altered, but on driving through the deserted streets, all the shops barricaded, and tramway idle, the difference between the bustling city of old and this silent shadow of its former self was only too evident.
Another difference that thrust itself upon the observation was the alteration which had lately taken place in the sentiments of the remaining Uitlander inhabitants. These, upon their lavish protestations of friendship and fidelity, had been allowed to remain during the war. In our triumphs their sympathy was ever with us, but when Cronjé was captured, Ladysmith relieved, and Bloemfontein abandoned, their long-latent loyalty to the British Empire became too fervent to be restrained within the bounds of decency. "Remnants" of red, white and blue were ostentatiously sewn into a distant resemblance of the British flag; the parlour piano once more did its often unsatisfactory best with the British anthem; mamma's darling received strict injunctions not to play with that horrid little Dutch boy next door; and papa, jingling the sovereigns he had received in his latest deal with the Government, prepared to pat Lord Roberts on the back when he should enter the town.
But what can one say of those "oprechte [thorough] Afrikaners" who followed the same procedure? The Smits who became Smith, the Louw that suddenly shrank into Lowe (could he sink lower?), the Jansen transformed into Johnson, and the Volschenk merged into Foolskunk? What did John Bull think of all these precious acquisitions to his family?
In striking contrast was the bearing of some of the numerous British-born officials, British-born and with British sympathies, who nevertheless faithfully performed their arduous duties until their services were no longer needed, and then entered the new régime with conscience clear and not without some degree of regret for the old. Loyal to the old, they could be loyal to the new. That several of the British-born officials had played the despicable part of spy is undoubted, but their villainy served but as a foil to show more clearly the merits of those who remained honest men.
Before my leave had expired I returned to Natal, weary of miserable Johannesburg, and little thinking that I should not see my home again for years. Upon reaching Glencoe I found a telegram had just arrived, granting my request to be sent to the Free State. An hour later I was on my way, and the following evening the train landed me at Winburg, where a construction party was awaiting my arrival.