With Buller in Natal by G. A. Henty
Chapter XI. Back With the Army
While the letter was being passed round from hand to hand, a good deal to Chris's discomfort, he had time to look more closely than he had done before at his travelling companions. Three of them were young lieutenants, the fourth an older man, shrewd but kindly faced. In introducing him, his friend said: "This is our medico, Dr. Dawlish. I hope that you will have no occasion to make his professional acquaintance." When they had all read the letter, the senior lieutenant said: "Now, Mr. King, we won't ask much of you to-night; we shall have all to-morrow to listen to your story. We have all had a pretty hard day's work, and shall before long turn in. Perhaps you will tell us to begin with what your corps is, and how you became the officer." "There are twenty-one of us, sir, and we are all about the same age. We were great friends together at Johannesburg, where our fathers were for the most part connected with mining. As things went on badly, we decided to form ourselves into a corps if the war broke out. They chose me as their leader--for no particular reason that I know of--and with the understanding that if I did not quite give satisfaction, I should resign in favour of one of the others. We all came down with our families from Johannesburg when war was declared, and were grossly insulted and ill- treated by the Boers, several of the ladies, among them my mother, being struck on the face with their whips; which, you can imagine, quite confirmed our determination to fight against them. We had all obtained our parents' consent, and when we got to Pietermaritzburg, proceeded to get our horses and equipments. That is all."
"A great deal too short, Mr. King," the lieutenant said. "We want to know what steps you took, and how you managed it. Did you come down all the way by train?"
Chris related the events of the journey with more detail, and how, all being well furnished with money, they had lost no time in getting all they required, and going back by train to Newcastle.
"That is a good point to leave off," the officer said. "Tomorrow morning we will take your story in instalments, and I do hope you will give us the details as minutely as you can. They will greatly interest us, as we are going in for that sort of thing, and it will show us what can be done by a small number of young fellows accustomed to the country, well- mounted, and, I am sure, from what General Yule says, remarkably well led." All were provided with flasks, and after sampling the contents of these, they wrapped themselves in their rugs and were soon fast asleep. The other three lads did not get off so easily, the younger officers were all so delighted at the prospect of soon being engaged that they were in no way inclined to sleep, and it was not until the seniors had long been soundly off that they too agreed to postpone the rest of the boys' narrative until the next morning. The train travelled very slowly, and Pietermaritzburg--a distance of seventy miles--was not reached until day was breaking. Here there was a long pause, and all alighted to stretch their limbs. The lads ran to the end of the train; Jack was looking out.
"I thought that we should stop here, baas," he said; "and I have got the kettles boiling and ready."
"Good man!" Chris said. "How have the horses passed the night?"
"They have been very quiet, baas."
"That is good to know. Take the kettles off and put three good handfuls of tea in each."
"When they are emptied, fill them with fresh water and put them again on the stove. When they boil, bring them to our carriages, having of course put some tea in before you take them off the lamp. Now, give me one of those large loaves and the ham, and all the mugs and knives. We will start breakfast first in my compartment, Willesden; we will pass you in the ham when we have done with it. Anyhow, the kettles will hold enough for a mug for everyone in our three compartments, and by the time we have drunk that the second lot will be boiling. Open a couple of tins of milk, Jack, and then you can bring them along when you have taken the kettles. There is no extraordinary hurry, for I heard them say that we should wait here at least an hour."
There was some amusement among the soldiers and sailors as Jack, carrying the kettles, and Chris, Willesden, Brown, and Peters with ham, bread and butter, tin mugs, plates, and three open tins of preserved milk, came along down the platform.
"What have you got here?" the doctor asked in surprise, as they arrived at the carriage.
"Breakfast," Chris said. "It is in the rough, but you will get it rougher than this before you get to Ladysmith."
"Why, you must be a conjurer. Where did you get the water from? We were just discussing whether we should go out and try to fight our way to those barrels of beer where the Tommies are clustered, or content ourselves with spirit and water, a drink I cannot recommend in the morning."
There were exclamations of pleasure from all in the carriage as Jack was handing in the things.
"We shall not want the ham, Mr. King," the senior lieutenant said. "We provided ourselves with a great basket of eatables and a few bottles of wine, but the idea of making tea in the train did not, I think, occur to any of us."
Chris was not allowed to cut his ham, for the basket contained pies, chicken, and other luxuries; but the tea was immensely appreciated. By the time that the first mugs were empty Jack arrived with the fresh supply, and long before the train started breakfast was over, pipes had been lighted, and all felt thoroughly awake and cheery. "Do you always travel so well provided, Mr. King?" the doctor asked.
"We always carry tea, preserved milk, and preserved cocoa, and two or three gallons of paraffin for cooking with. In case we can't find wood for a fire, it makes all the difference in the world in our comfort."
"Now, Mr. King, we must waste no more time; so please begin at once, or there will be no time to hear all your story. Tell us something about your expedition to Komati-poort. The other we shall hope to hear on another occasion in our camp, where we shall all be glad to see you at any time."
Chris then related the idea he had formed at Maritzburg, of blowing up the bridge, and how he had carried out the adventure. He passed very briefly over the journey, but described fully how they had been obliged to relinquish their original project, owing to the bridge being so strongly guarded at both ends; and how, failing in that respect, they had determined to do as much damage as possible to the great assemblage of waggons filled with arms and military stores; and fully detailed the manner in which this had been accomplished, and the aspect of the yard on the following morning.
"Splendidly planned and carried out!" the commander of the party exclaimed, and the others all echoed his words. It was astonishing indeed to think that such a plan should have been conceived and carried out by a lad no older than some of their junior midshipmen, and assisted by only three others of the same age.
"The day before we started," the doctor said, "I saw in one of the Durban papers a telegram from Lorenzo Marques saying that there had been an explosion at Komati-poort, where a few waggons had been injured and two natives killed, but that the Boers had suffered in any way, and that the damage would be repaired and the line opened for traffic in a few hours."
"There is only one word of truth in that, sir," Chris said smiling, "and that is that no Boers suffered. I am convinced that is strictly true, for the eight Boers at the bridge were certainly instantaneously killed; and of the natives, whom I am sorry for, there were certainly eighteen killed, together with some eight or ten Portuguese employes. If I could by any possibility have got the natives out of the way I would have done so. As to the Portuguese I do not feel any great regret, for I believe all the officials in the custom-house on the railway are bribed by the Boers to break the official orders they receive as to observing strict neutrality, and aid in every way in passing the materials of war into the Transvaal."
There was no time for further conversation, for they were now within a short distance of the Tugela, and the train was winding its way between steep hills which could have been held successfully by a handful of men.
"The only wonder to me is," another officer said, "that the Boers did not take up and drag away the rails all the way from here to Estcourt. If they had lifted them out of their sleepers, they had only to harness a rail behind each horse and trot off with it. I know that there is a considerable amount of railway material at Durban, but I doubt if there is anything like sufficient to make twenty miles of road. And the business would have been still more difficult if the Boers had collected the sleepers in great piles and burned them. Of course they have destroyed a good many culverts and the bridge at Estcourt. It is wonderful that the railway people should have managed to get up a temporary trestle bridge so soon, and to make a deviation of the line to carry the trains over. It does their engineers immense credit. This pass is widening," he added after putting his head out of the window. "I fancy we shall be at Chieveley in a few minutes."
The train came to a stand-still at a siding a short distance outside the station, which was crowded by a long line of waggons with stores of all kinds. A number of sailors were unloading shells for their guns, and a crowd of Kaffirs, under the orders of military officers, were getting out the stores. As they alighted, after hearty thanks to the officer whose kindness had been the means of their getting forward so promptly, and who now went to report his arrival to Captain Jones, who was superintending the operations of the sailors, Chris and his party hurried to the rear waggon. It was a work of considerable difficulty to get the horses out, and could not have been accomplished had there not been a stack of sleepers near the spot. A number of these were carried and piled so as to make a sloping gangway, by which the horses were brought down. The sleepers being returned to their places, Chris and his friends mounted and rode to the camp, which was placed behind a long, low ridge which screened it from the sight of the enemy on the opposite hills, although within easy range of their heavy guns.
Here before daybreak on the 12th, Major-general Barton's Fusilier brigade, with a thousand Colonial Cavalry, three field batteries, and the naval guns, had marched north, and were the following night joined by another brigade with some cavalry. The next day the big naval guns had opened fire; but although their shell had reached the lower entrenchments of the Boers, their batteries on the hill had proved to be beyond their range even with the greatest elevation that could be given to them, while the Boer guns carried far beyond the camp.
Chris had learned at Estcourt, where the train stopped a few minutes, that Captain Brookfield's troop formed part of the Colonial Horse that had advanced with General Barton's brigade, and they soon discovered their position. Leaving the horses with the natives, they went to his tent.
"I am delighted to see you back," he exclaimed as they entered. "I heard in confidence from one of your party, when they joined me a week back, that you had gone on a mad-brained adventure to try and blow up the Komati-poort bridge. I was horrified! I had, of course, given you leave to act on your own responsibility, but I never dreamt of your undertaking an expedition of that sort. Of course you found it impossible to get there. A lad told me that you had reckoned on being away six or seven weeks, and it is less than a month since the date on which he told me you left. Anyhow, I heartily congratulate you on all getting back."
"We got there, sir, but nothing could be done with the bridge, it was so safely guarded. However, we did blow up two big cannon and a battery of small ones, some ten thousand rifles, and an enormous quantity of ammunition." "You don't say so, Chris? Then you had better luck than you deserved. One of the correspondents told me this morning that there was news in the town by a telegram from Lorenzo Marques that there had been an accidental explosion at Komati-poort, but it did not seem to be anything serious. Tell me all about it."
"I congratulate you most heartily," he said, when Chris had finished the story. "Of course you have written a report of it?" "Here it is, sir. I have made it very brief, merely saying that I had the honour to report that, with Messrs. Peters, Brown, and Willesden, I succeeded in blowing up, with two hundredweight of dynamite, the things I have mentioned to you, destroying a large quantity of rolling stock, badly damaging five locomotives, and destroying roads and sidings to such an extent that traffic can hardly be resumed for a fortnight. Is the general here, sir?"
"No, but he will be here this afternoon. Now, I will not detain you from your friends. No doubt they saw you ride in, and will be most anxious to hear of your doings. You will hardly know them again. When they came up to join us they adopted the uniform of the corps, feeling that it would be uncomfortable going about in a large camp in civilian dress. They brought with them uniforms for you all, for they seemed very certain that you would return alive."
"I am very glad of that, sir, for the soldiers all stared at us as we came up here. I suppose they took us for sight-seers who had come up to witness the battle."
As they left the tent they found the rest of their party, gathered in a group twenty yards away, and the heartiest greeting was exchanged. The delight of the party knew no bounds when they found that their four friends had not had their journey in vain. They had two tents between them, and gathering in one of them they listened to Peters, who told the story, as Chris said he had told it twice, and should probably have to tell it again. The four lads at once exchanged their civilian clothes for the uniforms that had been brought up. They were, like those of the other Colonial corps, very simple, consisting of a loose jacket reaching down to the hip, with turned-down collar and pockets, breeches of the same light colour and material, loose to the knee and tighter below it; knee boots, and felt hats looped up on one side.
The first step when they were dressed was to mount an eminence some distance in rear of the camp, whence they had a view of the whole country. In front of them was a wide valley with a broad river running through it. Beyond it rose steep hills, range behind range. It was crossed by two bridges, that of the railway, which had been blown up and destroyed, and the road bridge, which was still intact; though, as Sankey, who had accompanied them, told them, it was known to be mined. To the left of the line of railway was a hill known as Grobler's Kloof, on the summit of which a line of heavy guns could be seen. There were other batteries on slopes at its foot commanding the bridge, to the right of which on another hill was Fort Wylie, and in a bend of the river by the railway could be seen the white roof of the church tower of Colenso. There was another battery behind this, and others still farther to the right on Mount Hlangwane. Heavy guns could be seen on other hills to the left of Grobler's Kloof; while far away behind Colenso was the crest of Mount Bulwana, from which a cannonade was being directed upon Ladysmith and an occasional white burst of smoke showed that the garrison were replying successfully. On all the lower slopes of the hills were lines, sometimes broken, sometimes connected, rising one above another. These were the Boer entrenchments, and Cairns said that he heard that they extended for nearly twenty miles both to the right and left.
"It is believed that we don't see anything like all of them," he went on, "but we really don't know much about them, for the Boers only answer occasionally from their great guns on the hilltops, and although yesterday the sailors fired lyddite shells at these lower trenches, there was no reply."
"It is an awful place to take," Chris said, after examining the hills for a quarter of an hour with his glasses. "We have seen that the Boers are no good in the open, but I have no doubt they will hold their entrenchments stubbornly, and it is certain that a great many of them are good shots. I have gone over the ground at Laing's Nek, and that was nothing at all in comparison to this position. Do you know how many there are supposed to be of them, Cairns?"
"They say that there are about twenty-five thousand of them, but no one knows exactly. Natives get through pretty often from Ladysmith, but they know no more there than we do here. They are all jolly and cheerful there, in the thought that they will soon be relieved."
"I hope that they are not counting their chickens before they are hatched," Chris said. "I doubt very greatly whether we shall carry those hills in front of us, and if we do the ranges behind are no doubt fortified. How about crossing the river?"
"There are several drifts. There is one about four miles to the left of the bridge, called Bridle Drift. Waggon Drift is about as much farther on. There is a drift just this side of where the Little Tugela runs into it, and one just farther on; there is Skeete Drift and Molen Drift, with a pontoon ferry; there is an important one called Potgieter's Drift, where the road from Springfield to Ladysmith crosses; and another, Trichardt's, where a road goes to Acton Homes. I know there are some to the right, but I don't know their names."
"Well, that is comforting, because even if we take Colenso there would be no crossing if the bridge is mined. And as the town will be commanded by a dozen batteries, we should not gain much by its capture. Well, I tell you fairly that I am well satisfied that we belong to a mounted corps and shall be only lookers-on, for even if we win we shall certainly lose a tremendous lot of men. Is there no way of marching round one way or the other?"
"I believe not. The only way at all open seems to be round by Acton Homes; that is a place about fifteen miles west of Ladysmith, and on the principal road from Van Reenen's Pass. From there down to Ladysmith the country is comparatively open, but it is a tremendously long way round. I don't know how far, but I should say forty or fifty miles; and certainly the road will in many places be commanded by Boer guns; and they will most likely have fortified strong positions at various points. But, of course, the great difficulty will be transport; I am sure we have nothing like enough to take stores for the army all that distance. Besides, Chris, I don't see that we should gain any advantage from going to Ladysmith that way, we should be as far as ever from thrashing the Boers, and certainly could not remain in Ladysmith; we should eat up all the provisions there in no time."
"I don't like the outlook at all," Peters said.
"Ah, there is a general officer with a staff riding into the camp. Most likely it is Buller. We had better go down, for if Brookfield gives in my report he may want to speak to me."
The party went down the hill. When they reached their camp they were at once sent for to Captain Brookfield's tent.
"I am glad that you are back," he said. "Sir Redvers Buller has just ridden up on to the ridge, I will speak to him as he comes down. You had better come with me and stand a short distance off. Bring your rifles with you, and stand in military order; you three in line, and Chris two paces in front of you."
Having got their rifles they followed Captain Brookfield till he stopped at the foot of the slope below the point where the general and his staff were standing. Their leader advanced some fifty yards ahead of them. In a quarter of an hour the party were seen descending the hill. Captain Brookfield stepped forward and saluted the general as he came along a horse's length in front of his staff. Sir Redvers checked his horse a little impatiently.
"What is it sir?" he said sharply. "I cannot attend to camp details now."
"I command the Maritzburg Scouts," Captain Brookfield said. "Three of my men, with Mr. King, who commands the section to which they belong, have just returned. I wish to hand you Mr. King's report; it contains news which is, I think, of importance."
"Give it to Lord Gerard," the general said briefly, motioning to one of the officers behind him. "Please see what it is about, Gerard." And he then moved forward again, briefly acknowledging Captain Brookfield's salute. He had gone, however, but twenty yards when Lord Gerard rode up to him and handed to him the open dispatch.
"It is of importance, sir."
Supposing that it was merely the report of four scouts who had gone out reconnoitring, and with his mind absorbed with weightier matters, the general had hardly given the matter a thought. Without checking his horse he glanced at the paper, and then abruptly reined in his charger and read it through attentively. Then he turned to where Captain Brookfield was still standing and called him up.
"I do not quite understand this report, sir," he said. "Is it possible that your men have been up to Komati-poort? I gathered from your words that they had merely returned from reconnoitring."
"No, sir; they only came in this morning by the train from Durban with the naval detachment with details."
"But how in the world did they get to Komati-poort?"
"They started from Maritzburg, sir, and rode up through Zululand and Swaziland. Their object was to blow up the bridge, and to stop supplies of munitions of war continuing to pass up through Lorenzo Marques. I may say that they acted on their own initiative. The section to which they belong is composed entirely of gentlemen's sons from Johannesburg; they provide their horses and equipment, and draw no pay or rations, and when they joined my corps made it a condition that so long as not required for regular work they should be allowed to scout on their own account."
Before calling up Captain Brookfield the general had handed back the despatch to Lord Gerard, with the words, "Pass it round."
"Are those your men?" the general said, pointing to the little squad.
Sir Redvers rode up to them, and on returning their salute, said: "You have done well indeed, gentlemen; it was a most gallant action. Have you your own horse with you?" he asked Chris.
"Yes, sir." "Then mount at once and join me as I leave camp. Then you can tell me about this matter on my way back."
Chris was soon on horseback. He waited at a short distance while the general talked with General Barton, and as soon as he saw him turn to ride off cantered up and joined the staff. The general looked round as he did so. He beckoned to him to come up to his side.
"Now, sir, let me hear more about this. The captain of the troop that you belong to, tells me that you and twenty other young fellows, all from Johannesburg, formed yourselves into a party of scouts, and are making war at your own expense, and that although in a certain way you joined his troop you really act independently when it so pleases you."
"Yes, sir. We and our families have received great indignities from the Boers; and although we are conscious that we should be of little use as troops, we thought that we could do service as scouts on our own account, and have been lucky in inflicting some blows on them. I was fortunate enough to attract Colonel Yule's attention at Dundee, and he furnished me with an open letter addressed to you, and to officers commanding stations, saying that we had done so."
"Have you it about you?"
Sir Redvers held out his hand, and Chris handed him the letter. "So you went into the Boer camp! Do you speak Dutch well?"
"Yes, sir; we all speak Dutch fairly, and most of us Kaffir also, that was why we thought that we should be more useful scouting; until now we have all been dressed as young Boers, and could, I think, pass without suspicion anywhere."
"Now as to this other affair," Sir Redvers said, returning Colonel Yule's letter. "You had better take this, it will be useful to you another time. Now tell me all about it. Was it entirely your own idea?"
"I first thought of it, sir, and my three friends agreed to go with me. I did not want a large number. We started from Maritzburg with our own Kaffir servant, and two Zulus and two Swazis to act as guides, two ponies, each of which carried a hundredweight of dynamite; we had also a spare riding horse."
He then related their proceedings from the time of their start to their arrival at Komati-poort; their failure at the bridge in consequence of the strong guard that the Boers had set over it; and how, finding that the main object of their journey could not be carried out, they proceeded to wreck the station yard and its contents.
"Thank you, Mr. King," the general said, when Chris concluded by mentioning briefly how they had ridden down to Lorenzo Marques, and taken a ship to Durban, and come up by train. "I saw the telegram of the accident at Komati-poort. I imagined that it was probably more severe than was stated, but certainly had no idea that such wholesale damage had been effected, or that it was the work of any of our people. I think that it would be unwise for me to take any public notice of it at present; possibly there may be another attempt made to destroy that bridge. If nothing more is said about it, the Boers may in time cease to be careful, and a few determined men landed at Lorenzo Marques may manage to succeed where you were unable to do so. It would be worth any money to us to put a stop to the constant flow of arms and ammunition that is going on via Lorenzo Marques. I consider your expedition to have been in the highest degree praiseworthy, and to have been conducted with great skill." "My father is a mining engineer, and managing-director of several mines round Johannesburg, general. I have been working there under him and learning the business, and therefore know a good deal about dynamite, and what a certain quantity would effect."
"Have you thought of going into the army? because if so, I will appoint you and your three friends to regiments at once, and you will be gazetted as soon as my report goes home."
"I am very much obliged to you, general, but I have no thought of entering the army. I will, of course, mention it to my friends. I have never heard them say anything on the subject. We are fighting because we hate the Boers. No one can say, unless he has been resident there, what we have all had to put up with, for the past year especially. On the way down the Boers not only threatened to strike us, but struck many of the ladies, my mother among them, besides robbing everyone of watches and all other valuables. If it had not been for that, some of us might have changed our minds before we got down here. That settled the matter. And besides, sir, I hope that we shall be able to do more good in our own way than if we became regular officers, as we know nothing about drill and should be of very little good, whereas we do understand our own way of fighting. I can say so without boasting, for we have twice thrashed the Boers; once when they were twice our number, and the other time when they were nearly four times as strong as we were."
"Go on doing so, Mr. King; go on doing so, you cannot do better. However, if any of your three friends, or all of them, choose to accept my offer, it is open to them."
They were by this time close to Frere, and the general went on: "I am sorry that I cannot ask you to dine with me this evening, as we shall all be too busy for anything like a regular meal, for in a few hours there will be a general advance. Good-evening. When I am less busy I shall be glad to hear about those two fights that you speak of. You colonists have taught us a few lessons already."
Chris saluted, wheeled his horse round, and cantered back to Chieveley. There was much satisfaction among the whole of the party when Chris related what General Buller had said. None of his three companions had any desire to accept a commission. Willesden's father was a doctor with a large practice in Johannesburg, and the lad himself was going home after the war was over to study for the profession and to take his medical degree; while Brown and Peters were both sons of very wealthy capitalists.
"If I could not have done any fighting any other way I should have liked a commission very much. Of course I could have thrown it up at the end of the war. But I would a great deal rather be on horseback than on foot, and I own I have no inclination to fight my way across those hills. Talana was a pretty serious business, but it was child's play to what this will be."
"Very well," Chris said; "I did not think that any of you would care for it, although I could not answer for you. There is no need for hurry in sending in a reply; there will be time to do that when we get into Ladysmith. Then I will get Captain Brookfield to draw up the kind of letter that ought to be sent, for I have not the least idea how I should address a commander-in-chief. Of course, a thing of this sort ought to be done in a formal sort of way; I could not very well say, 'My dear general, my three friends don't care to accept your kind offer. Yours very truly.'" There was a general laugh, and then they talked over the coming fight, for it was now generally known that the attack was to be made in a couple of days at latest. The next morning General Buller's column started before daybreak, and were by nine o'clock encamped on the open veldt three miles north of Chieveley; Barton's brigade having already marched out to the site of a new camp, some five thousand yards south of Colenso. Although well within reach of their guns, the Boers made no effort to hinder the operation, or to shell the camp after it was formed. It was evidently their policy to conceal their guns until the last moment, and although a very heavy bombardment of their positions was maintained all day by the naval guns, no reply whatever was elicited, though through the glasses it could be seen that much damage was being done to the entrenchments.
"I don't like this silence," Chris said, as he and some of the others were standing watching the hills in front of them. "It does not seem natural when you are being pelted like that not to shy something back. I am afraid it will be a terribly hot business when they do open fire tomorrow."
There had been a discussion that morning whether the four natives Chris had engaged for his expedition should be taken on permanently, and they unanimously agreed that they should be. It was quite possible that all the colonial corps would at some time be called upon to act as infantry, and it would be a good thing to have six men to look after the twenty- five horses while they were away. Then, too, it would be very handy to have a stretcher party of their own. On the question being put to them, the four men had willingly agreed to follow the party whenever they went into a fight, to take two stretchers with which they could at once carry any who might be wounded back to camp. They were all strong fellows belonging to fighting peoples, and would, the boys had no doubt, show as much courage as the Indian bearers had displayed at Dundee and Elandslaagte. In the evening Captain Brookfield sent for Chris.
"The orders for to-morrow are out," he said, "as far as we are concerned. A thousand mounted infantry and one battery are to move in the direction of Hlangwane--that is the hill, you know, this side of the river to the right of Colenso. We shall cover the right flank of the general movement and endeavour to take up a position on the hill, where the battery will pepper the Boers on the kopjes north of the bridge. Two mounted troops of three and five hundred men will cover the right and left flanks respectively and protect the baggage. Half my troop are to accompany Dundonald, the other half will form a part of the force guarding the left wing. Your party will be with this force. You have had your share of fighting, and none of the others have yet had a chance."
"Very well, sir, I shall not be sorry to be on this duty; for naturally we shall have a good view of the whole fight, while if we were engaged we should see nothing except what was going on close to us."
"Yes, it will be something to see, Chris, and something to hear, for I doubt whether there has been so heavy a fire as that which will be kept up to-morrow, ever since war began. We have some twenty-three thousand men, and the Boers more than as many, and what with magazine-guns, machine-guns, and fast-firing cannon of all sizes, it will be an inferno."