ON THE BORDER OF THE FREE STATE—AN APPEAL TO THE COLONIAL BOERS—THE BEGINNING OF WARLIKE RUMOURS—A COMMERCIAL AND SOCIAL BOYCOTT—THE BOER SECRET SERVICE—THE BASUTOS AND THEIR MOTHER, THE QUEEN—BOER BRUTALITY TO KAFFIRS.
Oct. 14 (9.55 p.m.)
The most conspicuous feature of the war on this frontier has hitherto been its absence.
The Free State forces about Bethulie, which is just over the Free State border, and Aliwal North, which is on our side of the frontier, make no sign of an advance. The reason for this is, doubtless, that hostilities here would amount to civil war. There is the same mixed English and Dutch population on each side of the Orange river, united by ties of kinship and friendship. Many law-abiding Dutch burghers here have sons and brothers who are citizens of the Free State, and therefore out with the forces.
In the mean time the English doctor attends patients on the other side of the border, and Boer riflemen ride across to buy goods at the British stores.
The proclamation published yesterday morning forbidding trade with the Republics is thus difficult and impolitic to enforce hereabouts.
Railway and postal communication is now stopped, but the last mail brought a copy of the Bloemfontein 'Express,' with an appeal to the Colonial Boers concluding with the words:—
"We shall continue the war to the bloody end. You will assist us. Our God, who has so often helped us, will not forsake us."
What effect this may have is yet doubtful, but it is certain that any rising of the Colonial Dutch would send the Colonial British into the field in full strength.
Burghersdorp, through which I passed yesterday, is a village of 2000 inhabitants, and, as I have already put on record, the centre of the most disaffected district in the colony. If there be any Dutch rising in sympathy with the Free State it will begin here.
And so there's warlike news at last.
A Boer force, reported to be 350 strong, shifted camp to-day to within three miles of the bridge across the Orange river. Well-informed Dutch inhabitants assert that these are to be reinforced, and will march through Aliwal North to-night on their way to attack Stormberg Junction, sixty miles south.
The bridge is defended by two Cape policemen with four others in reserve.
The loyal inhabitants are boiling with indignation, declaring themselves sacrificed, as usual, by the dilatoriness of the Government.
Besides the Boer force near here, there is another, reported to be 450 strong, at Greatheads Drift, forty miles up the river.
The Boers at Bethulie, in the Free State, are believed to be pulling up the railway on their side of the frontier, and to be marching to Norvals Pont, which is the ferry over the Orange river on the way to Colesberg, with the intention of attacking Naauwpoort Junction, on the Capetown-Kimberley line; but as there are no trains now running to Bethulie it is difficult to verify these reports, and, indeed, all reports must be received with caution.
The feeling here between the English and Dutch extends to a commercial and social boycott, and is therefore far more bitter than elsewhere. Several burghers here have sent their sons over the border, and promise that the loyal inhabitants will be "sjambokked" (you remember how to pronounce it?) when the Boer force passes through.
So far things are quiet. The broad, sunny, dusty streets, fringed with small trees and lined with single-storeyed houses, are dotted with strolling inhabitants, both Dutch and natives, engrossed in their ordinary pursuits. The whole thing looks more like Arcady than revolution.
The only sign of movement is that eight young Boers, theological students of the Dopper or strict Lutheran college here, left last night for the Free State for active service.
The Boers across the Orange river so far make no sign of raiding. Many have sent their wives and families here into Aliwal North, on our side of the border, in imitation, perhaps, of President Steyn, whose wife at this moment is staying with her sister at King William's Town, in the Cape Colony.
Many British farmers, of whom there are a couple of hundred in this district, refuse to believe that the Free State will take the offensive on this border, considering that such aggression would be impious, and that the Free State will restrict itself to defending its own frontier, or the Transvaal, if invaded, in fulfilment of the terms of the offensive and defensive alliance.
Nevertheless there is, of course, very acute tension between the Dutch and English here. No Boers are to be seen talking to Englishmen. The Boers are very close as to their feelings and intentions, which those who know them interpret as a bad sign, because, as a rule, they are inclined to irresponsible garrulity. A point in which Dutch feeling here tells is that every Dutch man, woman, or child is more or less of a Boer secret service agent, revealing our movements and concealing those of the Boers.
If there be any rising it may be expected by November 9, when the Boers hold their "wappenschouwing," or rifle contest—the local Bisley, in fact—which every man for miles around attends armed. Also the Afrikander Bond Congress is to be held next month; but probably the leaders will do their best to keep the people together.
The Transvaal agents are naturally doing their utmost to provoke rebellion. A lieutenant of their police is known to be hiding hereabouts, and a warrant is out for his arrest. All depends, say the experts, on the results of the first few weeks of fighting.
The attitude of the natives causes some uneasiness. Every Basuto employed on the line here has returned to his tribe, one saying: "Be sure we shall not harm our mother the Queen."
Many Transkei Kaffirs also have passed through here, owing to the closing of the mines. Sixty-six crammed truckloads of them came by one train. They had been treated with great brutality by the Boers, having been flogged to the station and robbed of their wages.
1. This chapter has been deliberately included in this volume notwithstanding its obviously fragmentary nature. The swift picture which it gives of flying events is the excuse for this decision.