The firing ceased about three. There was no apparent reason why it should. The Boers had killed a few of us. Probably we had killed more of them. But mere loss of life does not make victory or defeat, and to all appearance we were both on much the same ground as at first, except that the Boers had lost a gun, and were not at all comfortable on the positions they had held. Our withdrawal, however, was due to deeper reasons. A messenger had brought news of the column which had unhappily been driven from Dundee—whether by the Boers’ 40-pounder, “Long Tom,” or by failing ammunition I will not try to decide. Anyhow, the messenger brought the news that the column was safe and returning unmolested on Ladysmith by the roundabout road eastward, near Helpmakaar. We had held back the enemy from intercepting them on their march. Our long and harassing fight, then, had been worth the sacrifice. It was a victory in strategy. Sir George White gave the order for the infantry to withdraw from the ridge by battalions and return to Ladysmith. By evening we were all in the town again.
Next day I determined to meet the Dundee force on its way. They were reported to have halted about twenty-five miles off the night before, near Sunday’s river, which, like all the rivers and spruits just here, runs southward through mountains into the Tugela and Buffalo. About six miles out we had a small force ready to give them assistance if they were pursued. Passing through that column halted by a stream, I went on into more open country, where there was an occasional farm with the invariable tin roof and weeping willows of South Africa. For many miles I saw small parties of our Lancers and Carbineers scouring the country on both sides of the track.
Then soon after I had crossed a wide watershed I came down into broken and rocky country again, well suited for Boers, and there the outposts ended. I had a wide view of distant mountains, far away to the Zulu border on the east, and northwards to the Biggarsberg and Dundee, a terrible country to cross with a retiring column, harassed by three days’ fighting. The few white farmers had gone, of course, but, happily, I came upon a Kaffir kraal, and a Kaffir chief himself came out to look at me. The Cape boy who was with me asked if he had seen any English troops that way. “Yes, there were many, many, many, hardly an hour’s ride further on. But he was hungry, hungry—he, the chief—and so were his wives—four of them—all of them.” He spoke the pretty Zulu language—it is something like Italian.
We went on. The track went steep down hill to a spruit where the water lay in pools. And there on the opposite hill was that gallant little British Army, halted in a position of extreme danger, absolutely commanded on all sides but one, and preparing for tea as unconcernedly as if they were in a Lockhart’s shop in Goswell Road. Almost as unconcernedly—for, indeed, some of the officers showed signs of their