It was now more than six weeks since we had hurried from Bloemfontein to be in time for the expected operations for the relief of Mafeking. When Lord Methuen had moved from Boshof we had been sure that Mafeking was the goal, and I think that Lord Methuen himself had at least expected to conduct a turning movement on the Boer position at Fourteen Streams. It is easy to see now, when even Lord Roberts's strong march on Pretoria has been harassed and his communications interrupted, why such a movement of Methuen's small force could not have been successful; but we did not see it then. There was a great dearth of information, and the secret of the Flying Column was kept perfectly until within a few days of its departure. While we were waiting at Boshof in the blank days that followed the rear-guard engagement everyone suspected his fellow of some secret information, and men's most trivial movements were elaborately construed into indications that they meditated some independent action. Even Lord Methuen was so much in the dark that he used to say he liked to see the correspondents coming, as he supposed it meant that he should have something to do. Those of us who were there knew really nothing, and had only come prompted by a vague instinct that something was in the air.
Unavoidable as the delay in despatching a column to the relief of Mafeking seems to have been, I think that there was one moment at which, if Lord Methuen had had a slightly stronger force under his command, the course of the campaign on the north-west frontier might have been changed, and Mafeking relieved by pressure from the south. After my accidental discovery of the Boer laager near Spitz Kop there was a long discussion by Lord Methuen and his staff of the possibilities of surrounding and attacking the enemy. It was plain that this large force, commanded by young Cronje, had moved across from Fourteen Streams with the object of harrying us and perhaps retaking Boshof; and for a few days there was practically no force at Fourteen Streams. Now if Lord Methuen could have sent out a light column westward from Boshof to the rear of the laager, and also held the enemy in front with the remainder of his force, he might with good fortune have bagged the whole Boer force, which he knew from my information to be weak in guns. I know he was urged to do it; I know he wanted to do it; I know what the chance of a sensational success meant to a man whose successes had hitherto been unexciting and his one failure a spectacle; and I admired him for not running the risk. It would have been so easy to yield to the urgency of his staff and Intelligence Department, and success was almost certainly assured; but Lord Methuen, who has been foolishly accused of all kinds of rashness, chose in this case to read in that "almost" an assurance that he was not justified in taking the risk. He had no Horse Artillery; and the rapid and secret march to the rear of the laager might have been impossible with field-guns. So he decided at any rate; and decisions like these are among not the least important victories of a campaign.
Since the Boers were in the neighbourhood, and might at any moment make an attack, Major Pollock and I were anxious not to leave Boshof until it became absolutely necessary. We had a secret agent watching our interests at Kimberley in the person of a staff officer whose name I suppose I had better not mention; thus we witnessed, without misgiving, the sudden and hurried flight of all the other correspondents from Boshof, mystery written on their faces. Thus we spent two more peaceful days riding in the shady lanes and lying on the sunburnt kopjes, sweeping the horizon with the telescopes of Lord Chesham and his pleasant crew; thus we received a telegram from Kimberley advising us to "come here and attend to the business yourselves"; thus we rode away and closed what will remain in my memory as the pleasantest chapter in the campaign.
The diary that follows was written during the march of the Relief Column—not always under the most favourable circumstances. The imperfections of a document of this kind are so closely bound up with its only merit that I have decided to leave it exactly as it was written, and not to risk a sacrifice of reality in an attempt to abolish defects which, I hope, the reader will regard as being in the circumstances unavoidable.