To be under martial law, as we now are, does not make much difference to the ordinary man, but to the ordinary criminal it appears slightly advantageous. For his case is very likely to be overlooked in the press of military offences, and it is doubtful if any civil suits can be brought. At all events, a legal quarrel I had with a farmer about some horses has vanished into thin air; and so, indeed, have the horses. The worst offenders now are possible spies. A few Dutch have been arrested, but the commonest cases are out-of-work Kaffirs, who are wandering in swarms over the country, coming down from Johannesburg and the collieries, and naturally finding it rather hard to give account of themselves. The peculiarity of the trials which I have attended has been that if a Kaffir could give the name of his father it was taken as a sufficient guarantee of respectability With one miserable Bushman, for instance—a child’s caricature of man—it was really going hard till at last he managed to explain that his father’s name was Nicodemus Africa, and then every one looked satisfied, and he left the court without a stain upon his character.
So we live from day to day. The air is full of rumours. One can see them grow along the street. One traces them down. Perhaps one finds an atom of truth somewhere at the root of them. One puts that atom into a telegram. The military censor cuts it out with unfailing politeness, and a good day’s work is done. Heat, dust, and a weekly deluge with stupendous thunder complete the scene.
BATTLE OF ELANDS LAAGTE
Ladysmith, October 22, 1899.
It was a fair morning yesterday, cool after rain, the thin clouds sometimes letting the sun look through. At half-past ten I was some six or seven miles out along the Newcastle road—a road in these parts being merely a worn track over the open veldt, distinguishable only by the ruts and mud. Close on the left were high and shapely hills, like Welsh mountains, but on the right the country was more open. A Mr. Malcolm’s farm stood in the middle of a waving plain, with a few fields, aloe hedges, and poplars. The kraal of his Kaffir labourers was near it, and about a mile away the plain ended in a low ridge of rocky “kopjes,” which ran to join the mountainous ground on the left at a kind of “nek” or low pass over which the railway runs. Beyond that low ridge lay Elands Laagte, an important railway station with a few collieries close by, a store, a hotel, and some houses.