The camp liar concocts a story of a fearful fight, and fills the air with the groans of the dying, and makes a weird picture out of the grisly, grinning silence of the ghastly dead. Kopjes are stained a rich ripe red with the blood of heroes, and arms, and legs, and skulls, and shattered jaw bones hurtle through the air midst the sound of bursting shells, like straws in a stable-yard when the wind blows high. The very poetry of lying is touched with a master hand when charging squadrons sweep across the veldt and the sunlight kisses the soldier’s steel. Then comes the pathos dear to the liar’s soul—the farewells of the dying, sobbed just seven seconds before sunset into comrades’ ears; the faltering voice, the tear-dimmed eyes, the death rattle in the throat, the last hand clasps, the last deep-drawn breath, in which—mother—Mary—and Heaven are always mingled; and then the moonlight and the moaning of the midnight wind!——The war correspondent leaps from the tent, springs into his saddle with his note-book in his; mouth and an indelible lead pencil in each hand, and rides over kopje and veldt ten dreary miles to gaze upon the scene of that awful battle, and finds—one dead mule, and a nigger driver, dead drunk. Then, if he has had a religious education, he climbs out of the saddle, sinks on his knees, and prays for the peace of the camp liar’s immortal soul. But if, as is often the case, he has had a secular upbringing, he spits on the dead mule, kicks the nigger, slinks back to camp by a roundabout route, and swears to everyone that he has been forty miles in another direction in a railway truck.
Four or five days later, just at that hour in the morning when a man clings most fondly to his blankets, another rumour breaks the early morning’s limpid silence, a rumour of a battle of great import raging eighteen miles away, just within easy riding distance for a smart correspondent. But the man of ink and hardships chuckles this time. He has been fooled so often by the imp of camp rumours; so murmurs just loud enough to be heard in heaven, “That infernal camp liar again,” and rustles his blankets round his ears and drops cosily back into dreamland; but when, later on, he learns that an important battle has been fought, and he has missed it all because he did not want to be fooled by the camp liar, then what he mutters is muttered loud enough to be heard in a different place, and the folk there don’t need ear trumpets to catch what he says either.