London to Ladysmith via Pretoria/9
THROUGH THE DUTCH CAMPS
Pretoria: November 30, 1899.
The bitter wind of disappointment pierces even the cloak of sleep. Moreover, the night was cold and the wet clothes chilled and stiffened my limbs, provoking restless and satisfactory dreams. I was breakfasting with President Kruger and General Joubert. 'Have some jam,' said the President. 'Thanks,' I replied, 'I would rather have marmalade.' But there was none. Their evident embarrassment communicated itself to me. 'Never mind,' I said, 'I'd just as soon have jam.' But the President was deeply moved. 'No, no,' he cried; 'we are not barbarians. Whatever you are entitled to you shall have, if I have to send to Johannesburg for it.' So he got up to ring the bell, and with the clang I woke.
The first light of dawn was just peering in through the skylight of the corrugated iron shed. The soldiers lay in a brown litter about the floor, several snoring horribly. The meaning of it came home with a slap. Imprisoned; not able to come and go at will; about to be dragged off and put in some secluded place while others fought the great quarrel to the end; out of it all—like a pawn taken early in the game and flung aside into the box. I groaned with vexation, and, sitting up, aroused Frankland, who shared my blanket. Then the Boers unlocked the doors and ordered us to get ready to march at once.
The forage which we had spread on the floor rustled, and the first idea of escape crossed my mind. Why not lie buried underneath this litter until prisoners and escort had marched away together? Would they count? Would they notice? I did not think so. They would reason—we know they all went in; it is certain none could have escaped during the night: therefore all must be here this morning. Suppose they missed me? 'Where is the "reporter," with whom we talked last evening?' Haldane would reply that he must have slipped out of the door before it was shut. They might scour the country; but would they search the shed? It seemed most unlikely. The scheme pleased my fancy exceedingly, and I was just resolving to conceal myself, when one of the guards entered and ordered everyone to file out forthwith.
We chewed a little more of the ox, slain and toasted the night before, and drank some rainwater from a large puddle, and, after this frugal breakfast, intimated that we were ready. Then we set out—a sorry gang of dirty, tramping prisoners, but yesterday the soldiers of the Queen; while the fierce old farmers cantered their ponies about the veldt or closed around the column, looking at us from time to time with irritating disdain and still more irritating pity. We marched across the waggon bridge of the Tugela, and following the road, soon entered the hills. Among these we journeyed for several hours, wading across the gullies which the heavy rains had turned into considerable streams and persecuted by the slanting rays of the sun. Here and there parties of Boers met us, and much handshaking and patting on the back ensued between the newcomers and our escort. Once we halted at a little field hospital—a dozen tents and waggons with enormous red-cross flags, tucked away in a deep hollow.
We passed through Pieters without a check at the same toilsome plod and on to Nelthorpe. Here we began to approach the Dutch lines of investment round Ladysmith, and the advance of half an hour brought us to a very strong picket, where we were ordered to halt and rest. Nearly two hundred Boers swarmed round in a circle and began at once—for they are all keen politicians and as curious as children—to ask questions of every sort. What did we think of South Africa? Would we like to go in an armoured train again? How long would the English go on fighting? When would the war end? and the reply, 'When you are beaten,' was received with shouts of laughter.
'Oh no, old chappie, you can never beat us. Look at Mafeking. We have taken Mafeking. You will find Baden Powell waiting for you at Pretoria. Kimberley, too, will fall this week. Rhodes is trying to escape in a balloon, disguised as a woman—a fine woman.' Great merriment at this. 'What about Ladysmith?' 'Ten days. Ten days more and then we shall have some whisky.' Listen. There was the boom of a heavy gun, and, turning, I saw the white cloud of smoke hanging on the crest of Bulwana.
'That goes on always,' said the Boer. 'Can any soldiers bear that long? Oh, you will find all the English army at Pretoria. Indeed, if it were not for the sea-sickness we would take England. Besides, do you think the European Powers will allow you to bully us?'
I said, 'Why bully if you are so strong?'
'Well, why should you come and invade our country?'
'Your country? I thought this was Natal.'
'So it is: but Natal is ours. You stole it from us. Now we take it back again. That's all.'
A hum of approval ran round the grinning circle. An old Boer came up. He did not understand what induced the soldiers to go in the armoured train. Frankland replied, 'Ordered to. Don't you have to obey your orders?'
The old man shook his head in bewilderment, then he observed, 'I fight to kill: I do not fight to be killed. If the Field Cornet was to order me to go in an armoured train, I would say to him, "Field Cornet, go to hell."'
'Ah, you are not soldiers.'
'But we catch soldiers and kill soldiers and make soldiers run away.'
There was a general chorus of 'Yaw, yaw, yaw,' and grunts of amusement.
'You English,' said a well-dressed man, 'die for your country: we Afrikanders live for ours.'
I said, 'Surely you don't think you will win this war?'
'Oh, yes; we will win all right this time, just the same as before.'
'But it is not the same as before. Gladstone is dead, they are determined at home. If necessary they will send three hundred thousand men and spend a hundred millions.'
'We are not afraid; no matter how many thousand penny soldiers you send,' and an English Boer added, 'Let 'em all come.'
But there was one discordant note in the full chorus of confidence. It recurred again and again. 'Where is Buller?' 'When is Buller coming?' These merry fellows were not without their doubts.
'He will come when the army is ready.'
'But we have beaten the army.'
'No, the war has not begun yet.'
'It's all over for you, old chappie, anyway.'
It was a fair hit. I joined the general laughter, and, reviewing the incident by the light of subsequent events, feel I had some right to.
Very soon after this we were ordered to march again, and we began to move to the eastward in the direction of the Bulwana Hill, descending as we did so into the valley of the Klip River. The report of the intermittent guns engaged in the bombardment of Ladysmith seemed very loud and near, and the sound of the British artillery making occasional reply could be plainly distinguished. After we had crossed the railway line beyond Nelthorpe I caught sight of another evidence of the proximity of friends. High above the hills, to the left of the path, hung a speck of gold-beater's skin. It was the Ladysmith balloon. There, scarcely two miles away, were safety and honour. The soldiers noticed the balloon too. 'Those are our blokes,' they said. 'We ain't all finished yet,' and so they comforted themselves, and a young sergeant advanced a theory that the garrison would send out cavalry to rescue us.
We kept our eyes on the balloon till it was hidden by the hills, and I thought of all that lay at the bottom of its rope. Beleaguered Ladysmith, with its shells, its flies, its fever, and its filth seemed a glorious paradise to me.
We forded the Klip River breast high, and, still surrounded by our escort, trudged on towards the laagers behind Bulwana. But it was just three o'clock, after about ten hours' marching, that we reached the camp where we were to remain for the night. Having had no food—except the toasted ox, a disgusting form of nourishment—and being besides unused to walking far, I was so utterly worn out on arrival that at first I cared for nothing but to lie down under the shade of a bush. But after the Field-Cornet had given us some tea and bully beef, and courteously bidden us to share the shelter of his tent, I felt equal to further argument.
The Boers were delighted and crowded into the small tent.
'Will you tell us why there is this war?'
I said that it was because they wanted to beat us out of South Africa and we did not like the idea.
'Oh no, that is not the reason.' Now that the war had begun they would drive the British into the sea; but if we had been content with what we had they would not have interfered with us—except to get a port and have their full independence recognised.
'I will tell you what is the real cause of this war. It's all those damned capitalists. They want to steal our country, and they have bought Chamberlain, and now these three, Rhodes, Beit, and Chamberlain, think they will have the Rand to divide between them afterwards.'
'Don't you know that the gold mines are the property of the shareholders, many of whom are foreigners—Frenchman and Germans and others? After the war, whatever government rules, they will still belong to these people.'
'What are we fighting for then?'
'Because you hate us bitterly, and have armed yourselves in order to attack us, and we naturally chose to fight when we are not occupied elsewhere. "Agree with thine adversary whiles thou art in the way with him.'"
'Don't you think it wicked to try to steal our country?'
'We only want to protect ourselves and our own interests. We didn't want your country.'
'No, but the damned capitalists do.'
'If you had tried to keep on friendly terms with us there would have been no war. But you want to drive us out of South Africa. Think of a great Afrikander Republic—all South Africa speaking Dutch—a United States under your President and your Flag, sovereign and international.'
Their eyes glittered. 'That's what we want,' said one. 'Yaw, yaw,' said the others, 'and that's what we're going to have.'
'Well, that's the reason of the war.'
'No, no. You know it's those damned capitalists and Jews who have caused the war.' And the argument recommenced its orbit.
So the afternoon wore away.
As the evening fell the Commandant required us to withdraw to some tents which had been pitched at the corner of the laager. A special tent was provided for the officers, and now, for the first time, they found themselves separated from their men. I had a moment in which to decide whether I would rank as officer or private, and chose the former, a choice I was soon to regret. Gradually it became night. The scene as the daylight faded was striking and the circumstances were impressive. The dark shadow of Bulwana mountain flung back over the Dutch camp, and the rugged, rock-strewn hills rose about it on all sides. The great waggons were arranged to enclose a square, in the midst of which stood clusters of variously shaped tents and lines of munching oxen. Within the laager and around it little fires began to glow, and by their light the figures of the Boers could be seen busy cooking and eating their suppers, or smoking in moody, muttering groups. All was framed by the triangular doorway of the tent, in which two ragged, bearded men sat nursing their rifles and gazing at their captives in silence. Nor was it till my companions prepared to sleep that the stolid guards summoned the energy and wit to ask, in struggling English (for these were real veldt Boers), the inevitable question, 'And after all, what are we fighting for? Why is there this war?' But I was tired of arguing, so I said, 'It is the will of God,' and turned to rest with a more confident feeling than the night before, for I felt that these men were wearying of the struggle.
To rest but not to sleep, for the knowledge that the British lines at Ladysmith lay only five miles away filled my brain with hopes and plans of escape. I had heard it said that all Dutchmen slept between 12 and 2 o'clock, and I waited, trusting that our sentries would observe the national custom. But I soon saw that I should have been better situated with the soldiers. We three officers were twenty yards from the laager, and around our little tent, as I learned by peering through a rent in the canvas, no less than four men were posted. At intervals they were visited or relieved, at times they chatted together; but never for a minute was their vigilance relaxed, and the continual clicking of the Mauser breech bolts, as they played with their rifles, unpleasantly proclaimed their attention. The moon was full and bright, and it was obvious that no possible chance of success awaited an attempt.
With the soldiers the circumstances were more favourable. Their tent stood against the angle of the laager, and although the sentries watched the front and sides it seemed to me that a man might crawl through the back, and by walking boldly across the laager itself pass safely out into the night. It was certainly a road none would expect a fugitive to take; but whatever its chances it was closed to me, for the guard was changed at midnight and a new sentry stationed between our tent and those near the laager.
I examined him through the torn tent. He was quite a child—a boy of about fourteen—and needless to say appreciated the importance of his duties. He played this terrible game of soldiers with all his heart and soul; so at last I abandoned the idea of flight and fell asleep.
In the morning, before the sun was up, the Commandant Davel came to rouse us. The prisoners were to march at once to Elandslaagte Station. 'How far?' we asked, anxiously, for all were very footsore. 'Only a very little way—five hours' slow walking.' We stood up—for we had slept in our clothes and cared nothing for washing—and said that we were ready. The Commandant then departed, to return in a few minutes bringing some tea and bully beef, which he presented to us with an apology for the plainness of the fare. He asked an English-speaking Boer to explain that they had nothing better themselves. After we had eaten and were about to set forth, Dayel said, through his interpreter, that he would like to know from us that we were satisfied with the treatment we met with at his laager. We gladly gave him the assurance, and with much respect bade good-bye to this dignified and honourable enemy. Then we were marched away over the hills towards the north, skirting the picket line round Ladysmith to the left. Every half-mile or so the road led through or by some Boer laager, and the occupants—for it was a quiet day in the batteries—turned out in hundreds to look at us. I do not know how many men I saw, but certainly during this one march not less than 5,000. Of this great number two only offered insults to the gang of prisoners. One was a dirty, mean-looking little Hollander. He said, 'Well, Tommy, you've got your franchise, anyhow.' The other was an Irishman. He addressed himself to Frankland, whose badges proclaimed his regiment. What he said when disentangled from obscenity amounted to this: 'I am glad to see you Dublin fellows in trouble.' The Boers silenced him at once and we passed on. But that was all the taunting we received during the whole journey from Frere Station to Pretoria, and when one remembers that the Burghers are only common men with hardly any real discipline, the fact seems very remarkable. But little and petty as it was it galled horribly. The soldiers felt the sting and scowled back; the officers looked straight before them. Yet it was a valuable lesson. Only a few days before I had read in the newspapers of how the Kaffirs had jeered at the Boer prisoners when they were marched into Pietermaritzburg, saying, 'Where are your passes?' It had seemed a very harmless joke then, but now I understood how a prisoner feels these things.
It was about eleven o'clock when we reached Elandslaagte Station. A train awaited the prisoners. There were six or seven closed vans for the men and a first-class carriage for the officers. Into a compartment of this we were speedily bundled. Two Boers with rifles sat themselves between us, and the doors were locked. I was desperately hungry, and asked for both food and water. 'Plenty is coming,' they said, so we waited patiently, and sure enough, in a few minutes a railway official came along the platform, opened the door, and thrust before us in generous profusion two tins of preserved mutton, two tins of preserved fish, four or five loaves, half a dozen pots of jam, and a large can of tea. As far as I could see the soldiers fared no worse. The reader will believe that we did not stand on ceremony, but fell to at once and made the first satisfying meal for three days. While we ate a great crowd of Boers gathered around the train and peered curiously in at the windows. One of them was a doctor, who, noticing that my hand was bound up, inquired whether I were wounded. The cut caused by the splinter of bullet was insignificant, but since it was ragged and had received no attention for two days it had begun to fester. I therefore showed him my hand, and he immediately bustled off to get bandages and hot water and what not, with which, amid the approving grins of the rough fellows who thronged the platform, he soon bound me up very correctly.
The train whereby we were to travel was required for other business besides; and I noticed about a hundred Boers embarking with their horses in a dozen large cattle trucks behind the engine. At or about noon we steamed off, moving slowly along the line, and Captain Haldane pointed out to me the ridge of Elandslaagte, and gave me some further account of that successful action and of the great skill with which Hamilton had directed the infantry attack. The two Boers who were guarding us listened with great interest, but the single observation they made was that we had only to fight Germans and Hollanders at Elandslaagte. 'If these had been veldt Boers in front of you——' My companion replied that even then the Gordon Highlanders might have made some progress. Whereat both Boers laughed softly and shook their heads with the air of a wiseacre, saying, 'You will know better when you're as old as me,' a remark I constantly endure from very worthy people.
Two stations beyond Elandslaagte the Boer commando, or portion of commando, left the train, and the care and thought that had been lavished on the military arrangements were very evident. All the stations on the line were fitted with special platforms three or four hundred yards long, consisting of earth embankments revetted with wood towards the line and sloping to the ground on the other side. The horsemen were thereby enabled to ride their horses out of the trucks, and in a few minutes all were cantering away across the plain. One of the Boer guards noticed the attention I paid to these arrangements. 'It is in case we have to go back quickly to the Biggarsberg or Laing's Nek,' he explained. As we travelled on I gradually fell into conversation with this man. His name, he told me, was Spaarwater, which he pronounced Spare-water. He was a farmer from the Ermolo district. In times of peace he paid little or no taxes. For the last four years he had escaped altogether. The Field Cornet, he remarked, was a friend of his. But for such advantages he lay under the obligation to serve without pay in war-time, providing horse, forage, and provisions. He was a polite, meek-mannered little man, very anxious in all the discussion to say nothing that could hurt the feelings of his prisoners, and I took a great liking to him. He had fought at Dundee. 'That,' he said, 'was a terrible battle. Your artillery? Bang! bang! bang! came the shells all round us. And the bullets! Whew, don't tell me the soldiers can't shoot. They shoot jolly well, old chappie. I, too, can shoot. I can hit a bottle six times out of seven at a hundred yards, but when there is a battle then I do not shoot so well.'
The other man, who understood a little English, grinned at this, and muttered something in Dutch.
'What does he say?' I inquired.
'He says "He too,"' replied Spaarwater. 'Besides, we cannot see your soldiers. At Dundee I was looking down the hill and saw nothing except rows of black boots marching and the black belts of one of the regiments.'
'But,' I said, 'you managed to hit some of them after all.'
He smiled, 'Ah, yes, we are lucky, and God is on our side. Why, after Dundee, when we were retiring, we had to cross a great open plain, never even an ant-hill, and you had put twelve great cannons—I counted them—and Maxims as well, to shoot us as we went; but not one fired a shot. Was it not God's hand that stopped them? After that we knew.'
I said: 'Of course the guns did not fire, because you had raised the white flag.'
'Yes,' he answered, 'to ask for armistice, but not to give in. We are not going to give in yet. Besides, we have heard that your Lancers speared our wounded at Elandslaagte.' We were getting on dangerous ground. He hastened to turn the subject. 'It's all those lying newspapers that spread these reports on both sides, just like the capitalists made the war by lying.'
A little further on the ticket collector came to join in the conversation. He was a Hollander, and very eloquent.
'Why should you English take this country away from us?' he asked, and the silent Boer chimed in broken English. 'Are not our farms our own? Why must we fight for them?'
I endeavoured to explain the ground of our quarrel. 'After all British government is not a tyranny.'
'It's no good for a working-man,' said the ticket collector; 'look at Kimberley. Kimberley was a good place to live in before the capitalists collared it. Look at it now. Look at me. What are my wages?'
I forget what he said they were, but they were extraordinary wages for a ticket collector.
'Do you suppose I should get such wages under the English Government?'
I said 'No.'
'There you are,' he said. 'No English Government for me,' and added inconsequently, 'We fight for our freedom.'
Now I thought I had an argument that would tell. I turned th the farmer, who had been listening approvingly:
'Those are very good wages.'
'Where does the money come from?'
'Oh, from the taxes ... and from the railroad.'
'Well, now, you send a good deal of your produce by rail, I suppose?'
'Ya' (an occasional lapse into Dutch).
'Don't you find the rates very high?'
'Ya, ya,' said both the Boers together; 'very high.'
'That is because he' (pointing to the ticket collector) 'is getting such good wages. You are paying them.' At this they both laughed heartily, and Spaarwater said that that was quite true, and that the rates were too high.
'Under the English Government,' I said, 'he will not get such high wages; you will not have to pay such high rates.'
They received the conclusion in silence. Then Spaarwater said, 'Yes, but we shall have to pay a tribute to your Queen.'
'Does Cape Colony?' I asked.
'Well, what about that ironclad?'
'A present, a free-will offering because they are contented—as you will be some day—under our flag.'
'No, no, old chappie, we don't want your flag; we want to be left alone. We are free, you are not free.'
'How do you mean "not free"?'
'Well, is it right that a dirty Kaffir should walk on the pavement—without a pass too? That's what they do in your British Colonies. Brother! Equal! Ugh! Free! Not a bit. We know how to treat Kaffirs.'
Probing at random I had touched a very sensitive nerve. We had got down from underneath the political and reached the social. What is the true and original root of Dutch aversion to British rule? It is not Slagters Nek, nor Broomplatz, nor Majuba, nor the Jameson Raid. Those incidents only fostered its growth. It is the abiding fear and hatred of the movement that seeks to place the native on a level with the white man. British government is associated in the Boer farmer's mind with violent social revolution. Black is to be proclaimed the same as white. The servant is to be raised against the master; the Kaffir is to be declared the brother of the European, to be constituted his legal equal, to be armed with political rights. The dominant race is to be deprived of their superiority; nor is a tigress robbed of her cubs more furious than is the Boer at this prospect.
I mused on the tangled skein of politics and party principles. This Boer farmer was a very typical character, and represented to my mind all that was best and noblest in the African Dutch character. Supposing he had been conducting Mr. Morley to Pretoria, not as a prisoner of war, but as an honoured guest, instead of me, what would their conversation have been? How excellently they would have agreed on the general question of the war! I could imagine the farmer purring with delight as his distinguished charge dilated in polished sentences upon liberty and the rights of nationalities. Both would together have bewailed the horrors of war and the crime of aggression; both would have condemned the tendencies of modern Imperialism and Capitalism; both would have been in complete accord whenever the names of Rhodes, Chamberlain, or Milner were mentioned. And the spectacle of this citizen soldier, called reluctant, yet not unwilling, from the quiet life of his farm to fight bravely in defence of the soil on which he lived, which his fathers had won by all manner of suffering and peril, and to preserve the independence which was his pride and joy, against great enemies of regulars—surely that would have drawn the most earnest sympathy of the eminent idealist. And then suddenly a change, a jarring note in the duet of agreement.
'We know how to treat Kaffirs in this country. Fancy letting the black filth walk on the pavement!'
And after that no more agreement: but argument growing keener and keener; gulf widening every moment.
'Educate a Kaffir! Ah, that's you English all over. No, no, old chappie. We educate 'em with a stick. Treat 'em with humanity and consideration—I like that. They were put here by the God Almighty to work for us. We'll stand no damned nonsense from them. We'll keep them in their proper places. What do you think? Insist on their proper treatment will you? Ah, that's what we're going to see about now. We'll settle whether you English are to interfere with us before this war is over.'
The afternoon dragged away before the train passed near Dundee. Lieutenant Frankland had helped to storm Talana Hill, and was much excited to see the field of battle again under these new circumstances. 'It would all have been different if Symons had lived. We should never have let them escape from under our guns. That commando would have been smashed up altogether.'
'But what about the other commando that came up the next day?'
'Oh, the General would have managed them all right. He'd have, soon found some way of turning them out.' Nor do I doubt he would, if the fearless confidence with which he inspired his troops could have protected his life. But the bullet is brutally indiscriminating, and before it the brain of a hero or the quarters of a horse stand exactly the same chance to the vertical square inch.
After Talana Hill was lost to view we began to search for Majuba, and saw it just as night closed in—a great dark mountain with memories as sad and gloomy as its appearance. The Boer guards pointed out to us where they had mounted their big cannons to defend Laing's Nek, and remarked that the pass was now impregnable. I could not resist saying, 'This is not the only road into the Transvaal.' 'Ah, but you English always come where we want you to come.'
We now approached the frontier. I had indulged in hopes of leaving the train while in the Volksrust Tunnel by climbing out of the window. The possibility had, however, presented itself to Spaarwater, for he shut both windows, and just before we reached the entrance opened the breech of his Mauser to show me that it was fully loaded. So prudence again imposed patience. It was quite dark when the train reached Volksrust, and we knew ourselves actually in the enemy's country. The platform was densely crowded with armed Boers. It appeared that two new commandos had been called out, and were waiting for trains to take them to the front. Moreover, a strong raiding party had just come back from British Swaziland. The windows were soon blocked with the bearded faces of men who gazed stolidly and commented freely to each other on our appearance. It was like being a wild beast in a cage. After some time a young woman pushed her way to the window and had a prolonged stare, at the end of which she observed in a loud voice (I must record it)—'Why, they're not so bad looking after all.' At this there was general laughter, and Spaarwater, who was much concerned, said that they meant no harm, and that if we were annoyed he would have everyone cleared away. But I said: 'Certainly not; let them feast their eyes.' So they did, for forty minutes by the clock.
Their faces were plain and rough, but not unkindly. The little narrow-set pig-eyes were the most displeasing feature. For the rest they looked what they were, honest ignorant peasants with wits sharpened by military training and the conditions of a new country. Presently I noticed at the window furthest from the platform one of quite a different type. A handsome boyish face without beard or moustache, and a very amiable expression. We looked at each other. There was no one else at that side of the carriage.
'Will you have some cigarettes?' he said, holding me out a packet. I took one, and we began to talk. 'Is there going to be much more war?' he inquired anxiously.
'Yes, very much more; we have scarcely begun,' He looked quite miserable.
I said, 'You have not been at the front yet?'
'No, I am only just commandeered.'
'How old are you?'
'That's very young to go and fight.'
He shook his head sadly.
'What's your name?'
'That's not a Dutch name?'
'No, I'm not a Dutchman. My father came from Scotland.'
'Then why do you go and fight against the British?'
'How can I help it? I live here. You must go when you're commandeered. They wouldn't let me off. Mother tried her best. But it's "come out and fight or leave the country" here, and we've got nothing but the farm.'
'The Government would have paid you compensation afterwards.'
'Ah! that's what they told father last time. He was loyal, and helped to defend the Pretoria laager. He lost everything, and he had to begin all over again.'
'So now you fight against your country?'
'I can't help it,' he repeated sullenly, 'you must go when you're commandeered.' And then he climbed down off the footboard, and I did not see him again—one piteous item of Gladstone's legacy—the ruined and abandoned loyalist in the second generation.
Before the train left Volksrust we changed our guards. The honest burghers who had captured us had to return to the front, and we were to be handed over to the police. The leader of the escort—a dear old gentleman—I am ignorant of his official rank—approached and explained through Spaarwater that it was he who had placed the stone and so caused our misfortunes. He said he hoped we bore no malice. We replied by no means, and that we would do the same for him with pleasure any day. Frankland asked him what rewards he would get for such distinguished service. In truth he might easily have been shot, had we turned the corner a minute earlier. The subaltern apparently contemplated some Republican V.C. or D.S.O. But the farmer was much puzzled by his question. After some explaining we learnt that he had been given fourteen days' furlough to go home to his farm and see his wife. His evident joy and delight were touching. I said 'Surely this is a very critical time to leave the front. You may miss an important battle.'
'Yes,' he replied simply, 'I hope so.' Then we said 'good-bye,' and I gave him, and also Spaarwater, a little slip of paper setting forth that they had shown kindness and courtesy to British prisoners of war, and personally requesting anyone into whose hands the papers might come to treat them well, should they themselves be taken by the Imperial forces.
We were then handed to a rather dilapidated policeman of a gendarme type, who spat copiously on the floor of the carriage and informed us that we should be shot if we attempted to escape. Having no desire to speak to this fellow, we let down the sleeping shelves of the compartment and, as the train steamed out of Volksrust, turned to sleep.