The British private was even here imperturbable as usual. He sat on the rocks singing the latest he knew from the music-halls. He lighted his fires and made his tea, and took an intelligent interest in the slaughter of the oxen, for all the world as if he were at manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain. He is really a wonderful person. Filthy from head to foot, drenched with rain, baked with sun, unshorn and unwashed for five days, his eyes bloodshot for want of sleep, hungry and footsore, fresh from terrible fighting, and the loss of many friends, he was still the same unmistakable British soldier, that queer mixture of humour and blasphemy, cheerfulness and grumbling, never losing that imperturbability which has no mixture of any other quality at all. The camping ground was arranged almost as though they were going to stay there for ever. Here were the guns in order, there the relics of the 18th Hussars; there the Leicesters, the 60th, the Dublins, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and the rest. The guards were set and sentries posted. But only two hours later the whole moved off again for three miles’ further advance to get them well out of the mountains. Why, on that perilous march through unknown and difficult country, the Dutch did not spring upon them in some pass and blot them out is one of the many mysteries of this strange campaign.
Among them I greeted many friends whom I had come to know at Dundee ten days before. But General Symons and Colonel Gunning, whom I had chosen out as the models of what officers should be, were not there. Nor was the young officer who had been my host—young Hannah of the Leicesters—who at his own cost came out in the ship with us rather than “miss the fun.” A shell struck his head. I think he was the first killed in Friday’s battle.
I got back to Ladysmith late that night. Early next morning the column began to dribble in. They were received with relief. I cannot say there was much enthusiasm. The road by which I went to meet them is now swarming with Boers.
THE REVERSE AT NICHOLSON’S NEK
LADYSMITH, October 31, 1899.