FROM THE LITTLE HILL near Bloemfontein Old Fort you command ninety miles of country towards Kimberley; and when Kimberley besieged uses her searchlight you can see the wheeling beam as clearly as Israel saw the Pillar of Flame. If you are loyal you ascend the hill singing with your friends, and gloat over the ringed city. If you are disloyal you creep up without music, lie down among the boulders, hidden from the police, and whisper to fellow-disloyalists: 'Kimberley's all right.'
Allen, of the Bloemfontein Banner, though he did not gloat, was loyal. He had sailed to Cape Town from Edinburgh forty years ago, a master-printer moved suddenly to take up the missionary work which in those days was Scotland's special field. There he met the Kaffir; saw through him with keen eyes, and, it is to be suspected, saw through the missionary; for he backslid to the stick and the case on an early upcountry paper. Then he married a Dutch girl — a connection of President Brand, and well-to-do. She led him across the Orange to a fat, lazy land full of cattle, slaves, and game; for the Free State 'farmers' had not yet discovered the European skin-market.
He farmed a little on his wife's property; shot many a head of buck; went to Kimberley when De Beers was 'Colesberg Kopje'; lost money in diamond mining, but made it helping to print the first paper on the fields; lost his wife of typhoid, refused more matrimony, and rediscovered his old love in the office of the young Bloemfontein Banner.
He was convinced that unless you treated Kaffirs much as the Dutch treated them, they were worthless; but he could not bring himself to the treatment which came so easily even to his adored Katie. Wherefore, he exchanged his farm for a little tin-roofed house on the outskirts of Bloemfontein, grew the roses of that favoured land, and for a few languid hours daily condescended to the Banner press-room.
It was an idyllic life, that began — after he had looked to his roses — with the little stroll through the broad streets where all Bloemfontein nodded friendlily; that led, with many street-corner conversations, across the market-square to his worn stool in the long, low Banner office. Here he crooned over the stick till lunch-time, locked up the page with old-fashioned wooden quoins, told the Kaffirs to pull a proof, corrected it, tolerant of many misprints (forty years in the Free State wear down Edinburgh standards), told another Kaffir to start the rheumatic old engine that temperately revolved the big press, and loafed out into the market-square.
The linen suit, long yellow beard streaked with white, the brown eyes behind the brass spectacles, the black velvet smoking-cap, and the green carpet-slippers were as well known in the square as the market building itself. When men saw the corner of Allen's shoulder prop the corner of the chemist's shop, where they sell Dutch and English medicines, they knew the Banner would be selling on the streets in ten minutes. When he shuffled between the ox-wagons, the bentwood pipe purring in his beard, Bloemfontein knew that Allen went to his roses and his evening's levee in the veranda. His wife's relations were many, and of exceeding friendliness. A few, nieces chiefly, were good-looking, and Allen's home offered an excellent base for large young women from small villages, who came to shop in the capital. One or other of them would housekeep for him the year round, and all Katie's kin were superb cooks.
As head of the Banner's press-room, Allen was supposed to be well-informed politically, and on occasion would speak a good word for a backward advertiser. His levees were attended by English shopkeepers, farmers who, at their wives' bidding, had stayed over to shop, and the small fry of casual stationmasters, guards, telegraphists, and subordinate civil servants. Then he would spread his slippered feet on the veranda rail, drink coffee, and, as a burgher of forty years' standing, would expound the whole duty of the Free State, which was to keep itself to itself, and 'chastise the Hollander.
In later years the Banner troubled him a little. He had seen it change from a leisurely medium for meditations on cattle-raising, reports of sermons, rifle meetings, and the sins of local officials, all padded with easy clippings out of English and Cape Town papers, to a purposeful, malignant daily under control of a German whose eyes, Allen said, were too close together, and whose aim in life seemed to be ridicule of the English.
Now Allen had no special love for the English, of whom there were many in Bloemfontein. He had seen them beaten in '81, and though at the time he tried to explain what the resources of England were, had seen them stay beaten before all his world. They irritated him in some of their manifestations as an over-pernickety breed who would not when they first arrived think at the standard ox-wagon pace of two and a half miles an hour. But the sun and the soft airs, the lazy black labour, and the much talk by the wayside soon wheeled them into line.
What need, then, to worry and taunt them as did Bergmann? — for none, having once drunk of the Orange River, would return to stoepless, umbrellaed, unhallowed, competitive days in dirt at elbow-push of hungry equals.
English folk might be strangers in the land, but who, if you came to that, were the Bergmanns, the Enselins, the Hoffmanns, the Badenhorsts, the Sauers, and a hundred others? Moreover, Bergmann, when he was not prying into folk's ancestry, had helped to found a thing called the Bond, and, by the same token, had been publicly rapped over the knuckles for it by none other than Allen's uncle-in-law, the great Sir John Brand, who had written a letter that made Bergmann furious.
Allen agreed with his uncle-in-law. His vision did not extend much farther than a ford across the Orange River and a Dutch girl's face under her cap, smiling at ruin as he clumsily whacked the oxen till they came up panting and wet-flanked into this, the land of his peace. For years Allen felt that Bergmann of the narrow eyes and the inveterate hate would trouble their large quiet, but — but he was accustomed to his seat in the Banner office, and his hands, itching for the type, drew him there daily. His tongue alone was unshackled by custom, and here the Scot in him died hard.
'I'm a student o' political economy myself,' he said one evening, in the face of a most wonderful sunset. 'An' I've obsairved from my visits to Pretoria that the Hollander is a swine. He's like the teredo in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. (There ought to be a copy of it in the office. Chambers is out of date.) Aye, Elsie' — this to his wife's second cousin, a lady with Pretoria graces —'I know ye marrit one, an' ye can e'en tell him when ye go home my opeenion of his nationality. The Hollander's the curse of the Transvaal. What for? Because the Transvaal's eegnorant. The Hollander edges in, an' edges in, an' takes the tickets an' runs the machinery o' State. My word, if I trusted your Gert, Elsie, that's the most eegnorant job—composer ever foaled, tho' I took him for the sake o' the family, an' he's some kin to Mrs. Bergmann too—I say, if I let your Gert order the new type, whaur'd I be? Preceesely whaur the Transvaal'll be before many years.'
He emptied his cup and went on.
'We must keep the Hollander out o' here. With our system o' education—an' for that we must thank old Brand, my Katie's uncle—they've precious little chance at our public offices. But they'll try, an' what they cannot wreck, they'll ruin. There's over-much runnin' to and fro o' Hollanders these days between Pretoria an' here.'
No one cared to speak out in Aunt Elsie's presence but three or four women of old Free State stock murmured assent. Time was when the Free State; better born and better educated, had been roughly looked up to by the unshorn Transvaal. Now the Transvaalers had grown rich beyond the wildest hopes of the Free State, and, if possible, ruder. In a hundred ways—principally by the Hollanders—it was borne in upon the Free State that she must take the second place in a new order. The Pretoria women, too, shopped at Johannesburg; and when one visited them they flaunted their crockery and their curtains in their sisters' faces. Husbands grew rich in Pretoria. 'Hollanders go away when they have made the money,' one of the company hinted. 'They are not good sons of the soil. Now, if we had not been cheated out of our diamond mines we should have been rich in the Free State too.'
'Yes, but we know how to spend it when it is made,' said Aunt Elsie, flushing angrily. 'We do not count each lump of sugar in the coffee. And our funerals! You should just see! I had four new black silk dresses this year when the typhoid was so bad. At the back of our house' — she leaned forward impressively, bulging in her French corsets — 'there is a heap this high' — she lifted an arm — 'of empty tins. All tinned things. Our English servant is so wasteful.'
'Ye've just hit it, Elsie. It's the tins do the mischief. Ye've never had more than the rudiments of airth-scratchin' — I'll not call it farmin'—up yonder, but ye're bywith that even. Last time I went to Groblaars after the buck, the whole deestrict was livin' on options fra' the minin' companies—options an' State grants. They'd done with the last pretence o' farmin' tobacco, mealies an' all. They'd not put their hand to a single leevin' thing, as I set here, except to order tinned goods fra' Johannesburg — tinned things an' sweeties. Ah, the tins!'
'That is why you have so much typhoid,' said the wife of a Bloemfontein saddler — an Old Colony girl, and shook her fingers daintily above the bowl of peach conserve.
'They'll pay for their tinned things. They'll have Hollanders. Bergmann's gone to his account, and I've naught to say of him. Mrs. Bergmann owns the Banner an' his picture's in the press-room. I asked him once if he wished to make the Free State a warld power. Almighty! The man was angry!' 'He only wrote the truth about the English. Bergmann was a verree great man. He started the Bond. He was a true patriot,' said Aunt Elsie.
'Ay. Verra like your husband in Pretoria, Elsie.' 'It is because you're English in your heart. All you Uitlanders are alike.'
'Take notice here, Elsie.' Allen wagged a typeblackened forefinger across the table. 'Bergmann picked up that talk about Uitlanders when he helped make the Bond that's the curse of Africa; though Brand, my Katie's uncle, told him he was sowin' seeds o' dissension where none should exist. He's talked Uitlander, an' I've set it up for him in Dutch an' English. Pretoria picked Uitlander up from Bergmann, because you're no' clever enough in Pretoria to do more than steal — you Hollanders. Pour you another cup o' coffee an' stop fiddlin' with your bonnet-strings, Elsie. Twenty year now — I mind the time there was none of it — you've been crying "Uitlander this, Uitlander that," till you're fair poisoned with it. There were no Uitlanders till Bergmann and the Bond that was his master, as he was mine, an' Pretoria created them an' stirred 'em up. Ye've heard o' Frankenstein's monster? It's a common slip ye're warned against in Edinburgh, not to let a contributor call him Frankenstein, an' was a shillin' fine in Blackwood's. Well, we'll let that pass. Ye've been at great pains to make a Frankenstein's -'
'Ah, you always talk so sillee, uncle. I do not understand.' 'Ye will, Elsie — ye will. I'm foreman o' the Banner press-room, an' Mrs. Bergmann's employee, because I just love the sound o' the type, an' I'm a burgher o' forty years to boot — that's more than most o' them are. An' I love my country. Wait a while, Elsie. Ye'll see the end o' what I've set up the beginning of.'
Young Dessauer, Mrs. Bergmann's second cousin, now editor of the Banner, was doing his best to out-Herod his deceased uncle, whose portrait, in grievous oils, adorned the press-room. He had all the old man's fluency, and none of his power.
Allen remembered — he had a long memory — the first time he had set up the phrases, 'our Nation' (upper case N), 'the Afrikander Nationality,' and the necessity for closer union.' Now, it seemed, he composed little else.
Young Dessauer spent half his time in company of Hollanders from Pretoria — smooth-faced Continentals in black Albert coats and white linen—who spoke all tongues except honest Taal, and visited the President eternally. The compositors of the Banner talked much of the import of the leading articles that appeared after these interviews.
'I've only one opeenion,' said Allen, correcting proofs by the window: 'if we go on as we're gaun, we cut our own throats, neither more nor less. We need no dealin's wi' the Transvaal.' This, of course, was duly reported to Dessauer, who spoke to Allen before the men. Said Allen, pushing up his spectacles: 'It's no odds to me if you dismiss me this day - except I'm thinkin' you'll find very few duplicates of Allen on the premises when ye want to make up the paper.'
'That is not thee point,' said young Dessauer, pulling up his collar. 'You are no true son of the soil if you talk treason in this way. And in this office!'
'And when did your father trek across the Orange?' said Allen. 'Fifteen years after me! He outspanned at my Katie's door in the big drouth, an' she took you from your mother's arms an' ye puked over the front of her frock. They'd gi'en you a bit o' biltong to chew, because your mother had no milk, and it wrenched your prood stomach, Dessauer. Well, I'm waitin' on ye. I was a burgher before ye were breeched. Maybe I'm too old to understand this talk o' treason ye're so dooms free with.'
'I was only saying you have no right to talk so - unpatriotically in this office.'
'If my country, that I've never set foot out of since the 'Sixties, is to be jockeyed into a war by you an' the likes o' you, an' that old fool that runs about writin' his name in the girls' plush autograph albums, I must not talk, eh? 'Fore God, man, don't I set up the mischief ye do? I helped Bergmann build his Uitlander bogey that served him so well. What more d'ye want? Ye'll stop my talkin' - me, a burgher o' the Free State that was married to Brand's niece, and out in Moshesh's war, and a Blackwood's man, before your mother met your father! Ye go too fast, Dessauer. This is the Free State—yet. We'll wait till the Transvaal have annexed us before we shut our mouths. Lock up the telegraph page!'
Said Mrs. Bergmann of the placid face and the white hair when this rebellion was reported: 'Yes — yes, nephew, he is no good in the politick, but he knows more about the paper than even I do. You know nothing, nephew, and he is cheap. Later on, when when things are different, we can teach him.'
The summer of that year was a sad time for the stranger in Bloemfontein. Thicker and thicker grew the press of agitated Hollanders at the President house; wilder and wilder grew Dessauer's lead and blacker grew Allen's face. Through many weeks he had heard nothing but appeals to God the Mauser — had set up fathoms of it — had seen advertisements give place to Government proclamations, and had wondered who paid for them.
Strangers from the North accused him of Uitlander sympathies in the market-square; his compositors were insubordinate, and old friends cut him in the street with ostentation. To be fair, these same friends would come by twilight among the roses, and in whispers ask what the Free State expected to gain from the war, and why — this in the smallest of whispers — the burghers had not been more freely consulted in the matter.
'It's too late to ask now. Ye've never read Carlyle's French Revolution. I have. You'd not understand if I explained, but we've been denouncin' each other for lack o' patriotism till we're just afraid to speak our own minds,' he answered. 'So, ye'll note, the State has been sold for a handful of Transvaal tobacco — and we'll not get the tobacco. We've asked the Hollander to put foot on our neck an' he's done it. He'll bring in the Transvaaler that's been livin' on other people these past ten years. He'll not reform now. Did ye note that Transvaal commando that's camped behind the station: So long as they can lift cattle on the border they'll leave us alone. If they come back they'll take our stock. Mark my word! If we win we'll be annexed by the Transvaal. If we lose—'
'But you must not say that England will win, uncle,' said the second Pretoria niece in charge, with a coquettish flirt of the head. 'That would be traitorous. Look how we beat England in the last war!' 'I'm saying nothing but that we'll be annexed by the Transvaal. We're annexed already, an' not a man of us lifted his voice. They'll strip us hoof, horn, an' hide. Here endeth the Free State!' He turned up the empty coffee-cup with a chuckle.
'I'll have to pay for this, but the truth's never economical.'
In default of pony, horse, and bridle, they commandeered Allen to the tune of 450 sterling, and a field-cornet of old acquaintance tried to improve the occasion by a few remarks on treason. 'Ye're a fool,' said Allen. 'I know how much of a fool ye are, an' that's more even than your mother knows. Ye're not a fool on your own account, which would be sense of a sort. Ye're a Hollander's fool sold like a Kaffir. An' ye may tell whom ye please. Now, if ye'll pack awa' wi' your folly on Niekirk's best pony, which I see ye've stole for your own ends, I'll e'en go to office an' set up young Dessauer's notion o' the Free State as a Warld-Power.'
A few days later, Aunt Elsie came down from Pretoria on a visit, and explained how a field-cornet, her own nephew, had taken from her farm near Bloemfontein three yoke of bullocks after, for due consideration, he had promised to spare them.
'That's the beginnin' o't,' said Allen grimly. 'Hoof, horn, an' hide, I think I said, Elsie?' 'How do I know what you said?' she answered pettishly. 'He gave me no commando—note. He drove them off the farm. He should have taken old Kok's who is rich.'
'But he's gaun to marry Annette Kok after the war,' Allen grinned.
'Oh, that is it—is it? — the rascal! But what should I do? My husband is so busy — so busy at Pretoria—' 'No? He'll not have gone on commando then?' 'And my brother, he is with Cronje. And my other brother, he is with Botha, and they will not write to me. They are so busy shooting rooineks— 'and I want my oxen back. Here am I — an official's wife — and they take my oxen, look you!'
'Why don't ye write to Botha or Cronje? — maybe they'll listen. You're the third woman o' our kin that's come to me to-day complainin' o' just this kind o' trouble. An' we're only at the beginnin'!
'Oh, but the war will be over in a few weeks. You think! Look how we have shot them everywhere. There are not enough more men in England to come. My husband says so.'
'Elsie, woman, ye don't know what war means nor I either. But we'll know before the end. And,' he added irrelevantly, 'ye've not even seen Edinburgh.'
The commandos went southward in trains — Free Staters and Transvaalers together, each boasting against the other what they would do with the rooineks. It was rumoured that the Old Colony had risen even to the sea; that the Bond had thrown off the mask and established a Federal Government in Cape Town, and that the Queen of England had refused to sign the declaration of war.
Men returned by scores from Colesberg and the South on the easily granted furlough of those early days, and, laughing, said there was no need to fight — their friends across the border were doing it all for them. Here and there a man had been wounded, but the game went beyond all expectation.
Kimberley was cut off from help; Mafeking hung like a ripe plum ready to drop at a touch; Ladysmith was, incidentally, surrounded while the commandos swept towards the sea. Molteno, Middleburg, Aliwal North, Burghersdorp, Hopetown, Barkly West — they gave the well-known tale of the districts — were up and out; and the others behind them only waited till the Federal commandos should come through.
'An' I'm no' fond o' the word Federal,' said Allen, as he set it up. 'It's the last step after annexation, instead o' the first to it.'
The wounded arrived from Belmont (a few of them — the rest were placed in outlying hospitals) and Graspan and Modder. Allen did not quite understand the drift of the telegrams describing these events. Many, who till then had written regularly to their wives, ceased, and though the authorities explained that they were busy, the women felt uneasy. Moreover, there was a rumour — they learned it from a Transvaal commando going South and forgetting to pay for chickens — that the Free Staters had not done so well at Modder.
Then came the week of joy — Colenso, Stormberg, and Magersfontein in three blinding flashes. The Federals could hardly believe their luck — seventeen guns (it was thirty by the time the news reached Bloemfontein), 4000 killed, wounded, and prisoners! Surely the English would now see the error of the cruel war that they had forced upon a God-fearing race. The Banner said so, demanding indemnities and annexations by the irreducible minimum.
'We're lyin' too much,' thought Allen, toying with the tweezers 'I've no supersteetious reverence for truth, but this is sheer waste. H'm! The English are fightin' us wi' native troops. Are they? It's no' likely.
They're floggin" prisoners an' burnin' an' ravishin' broadcast? No. That's no' likely either. Conteenuous black type tires the eye.'
He went on with his copy. 'We've blown the guts out of a Highland Brigade; wiped up half a regiment o' North Countrymen; an' got all the guns o' Buller's brigade. I'm thinkin' it's no good policy to offend Scotland.' He paused for a moment, penetrated with a new idea.
'Fore God, it's war! If we lose we'll not get what the Transvaal got in '61 . It's either us or Scotland — an' that means all England. I wish we had some news o' what they're sendin' by way of an army. They're a dour folk, the Englishry, when they're wrought to it.'
But that information was denied to the Bloemfontein Banner — whatever they might have known at Pretoria. Now and again a rumour broke through of a bay crowded with ships, of lines congested with troops, of a horrible silence of preparation, broken by words of caution from more far-seeing Bond friends in Cape Town. But no harm, so far, had befallen the Free State.
The men at the Front were all well - the field-cornets said so. They wrote little, but they fought with magnificent skill; never losing more than a score at the outside, and those, curiously, men of few kin. For visible sign of their success Bloemfontein could see the prisoners, and, better still, Kimberley searchlight whirling, whisking, and appealing. They made good jokes, men and maidens together, after dark, on the hill by the Old Fort, and the police, always armed, grinned tolerantly.
Thither, as was his custom in these later days, Allen with a lantern to guide his old feet among the rocks. The rumours troubled him. Young Dessauer's face when he filled out the telegrams did not accord with their joyful news. Officials talked fluently and uneasily, but their eyes had not the inward light of victory, and, above all, people were forbidden to go down to the railway-station and speak to the English prisoners.
The Stormberg captives, the men taken round Colesberg, the two companies forgotten in a retirement, and neatly caught while waiting to entrain, were entirely sullen and uncommunicative, or uttered foolish threats of vengeance; but the later varieties, gathered here and there to the westward, and sent under escort of a northern commando to wait their turn for the up-country trains, spoke in another key. They were not grateful for small attentions. They asked for accommodation as by right, and begged their guards to be civil while yet chance offered.
The effect of this loose talk was counteracted by over-much official explanation, and it disturbed Allen's mind. Telegrams came and went, commandos passed by day and night, firing out of the carriage windows in honour of Bloemfontein, and closed ambulance trains went northward. Nothing was constant except the flare from Kimberley—sometimes lifted like appealing arm, sometimes falling like a column, often broken as with horrible mirth.
'See! See!' said a girl, sitting on a camp-stool or hill. 'Now Rhodes is hungry! He shakes his finger'
'Oh, no,' said the boy with her. 'He is asking Cronje to stop firing while he eats his horse.'
'I wish we could hear the guns.'
'It is too far,' said the boy. 'Did you see Cronje's big gun go across from here? It was a fine rooinek-shooter. My brother' — he puffed his cigarette proudly — 'Is in the States Artillery.' 'I like the little buk-buk [pom-pom] guns best,' the girl replied. She opened a basket and ate a sandwich, brushing away the crumbs from her Sunday frock.
'I think I can hear guns,' she said and clapped her hands.
'That's only thunder on the veldt,' said Allen, coming up behind her. 'Good evening, Ada Frick.' 'Oah ! Is that you, Mister Allen? You have come to see how your friends over there get on? They are having—ah—how do you Uitlanders say it? — a hot time in the town to-night.'
The boy, annoyed at an interrupted flirtation, passed over to a Johannesburg policeman squatted in the shadow. Bloemfontein was then policed in large part from Johannesburg; and Bloemfontein did not like it.
'There is old Allen,' he said. 'You know about him? He is a traitor.'
'Get out — go down,' the man shouted. 'Yes, you with the white beard. You have no business here, you old rebel. Keep with the other Uitlanders !'
'Are you a Portugee, or a Hollander, or a Dane, or what?' Allen replied. 'You can't talk the Taal.' As a matter of fact he was a young German, rather in request at certain Bloemfontein tea-parties. He replied: 'Go away. We know all about you. You've come up here to signal to Kimberley with that lantern.' Allen laughed aloud. 'Then if you know that much, you may know I marrit President Brand's niece. I've not been reckoned a traitor for some few years. But we're all traitors now.'
'Huh!' said the girl, with a giggle. 'We all know that the Brand people were not true sons of the soil. That is not a good family to belong to, these times.'
Allen was used to personal insult — who had never known a hard word till six months ago — but the reflection on his Katie's kin cut him to the bone.
'At any rate,' he began, but bit off the sentence. After all, it was no fault of the girl's that she was tainted with native blood. A Frick — and all the earth that had eyes knew whence the Fricks had drawn their black hair crisping at the temple and the purplish moons at the base of their finger-nails — a Bloemfontein Frick, of too-patent ancestry, had derided Brand, whose statue stands at the head of the town!
He stumbled downward, raging, pursued by the laughter of the little company. 'Brand no son of the soil — Brand! An' a Zarp — a Johannesburger — to tell me I'm a traitor! I've never hoped the English 'ud win, but I hope it now — I hope it now! The damned, ungrateful half-breeds.' There was a light in the Banner press-room as he passed.
'More proclamations,' he said bitterly. 'They keep the job side busy these days. Maybe young Dessauer thinks he'll be made Secretary o' State if he does not press for the bill. What's here, Gert?' he asked at the door.
'The proclamation,' Gert grinned; and Allen watched his hands above the case.
'That's no English you're setting up. What is it?' 'Basuto,' said Gert. 'The Proclamation.' Evidently the youngster had private information, denied to his superior.
Allen's heart stood still. He had heard wild threats that, before long, the Basutos would be formally invited to rise against the English, but in Bloemfontein that talk was coldly received. They had, of course, employed Kaffirs to hold horses, dig trenches, bring up food and ammunition, in extreme cases to cover an advance, and always to haul guns. But no responsible man contemplated openly putting the war on a direct black and white basis, calling upon the black to rise against the white. Much of the fighting had, of design, been pitched between Zululand and Basutoland, that the two races from their hills might learn which was the power to be feared. That and the raiding of weak tribes was entirely fair, since all the world knew the English were using black troops from India and committing every horror.
But Allen, who set up young Dessauer's telegrams, and had talked to a few prisoners since October, did his own thinking by the composing-table, while Gert set Basuto in English type — all n's and m's. Admitting the charges against the English, the risk to the Federals from their own allies would be ... Allen thought of the outlying farms and shuddered. Then the shame of it struck him across the face. He did not believe in the Dutch treatment of the black; but that the black should be called in as an equal in this game — called in by bribes and sweet words — was a matter unbelievable. 'An' Brand was no true son o' the soil, Miss Frick !'
He mopped his forehead. 'First Bergmann an' the Bond; then the Transvaal an' the Hollanders; an' then the Basutos. We're doin' well! We're comin' on! We're gaun beggin' to the Basutos. If they rise — but why did they not rise before? They canna expect a Magersfontein every week o' the year. They've a bitter score against us. What good 'ud their help be? ... But if the English are usin' Gurkhas, why haven't the English used Basutos? 'Fore God, I'd shoulder rifle to-morrow if they did! They've had time enough. What's holdin' them? . . . Oh, some one will go to Hell for this.'
Gert pulled a proof on the roller-press. Mechanically Allen pulled another, driving the types almost through the cheap pulpy paper, and stuck it on an old job file. He relit his pipe and turned out to think. A man on horseback, his ankle rudely bandaged, crossed the empty market-square gabbling to a policeman.
'It stinks, it stinks, it stinks!' he cried thickly. 'Everything stinks. I have asked a hundred times for clean water. Get it.'
'Come back to the hospital! He has got fever. He has just run out from the hospital,' the policeman explained to Allen in the starlight, overlooking the fact that hospital patients are not, as a rule, booted, spurred, and plastered with dry mud.
'Hospital !' The man reined up sharply. 'That is a lie. I have come from Hell — from Cronje's head-laager, in Hell. They have all the guns in the world there, big and little — little and big. But they all stink. Cronje led us into Hell! I came out on my belly when the guns stopped.'
'Yes, yes. It will be all clean in hospital. You are waking the people. Come!'
The fevered wretch's face puckered with terror. 'You will only take me into another laager! Let me go. I will run! Tell me where to ride! For God's sake, where shall I ride? The veldt is alive with them, they are coming out of the ground. They are round the laager! Listen! Buk—buk—buk—buk,' he quacked horribly, imitating the sound of a pom-pom; then, wrenching his horse free, fled at a gallop across the stale dust.
'Run! run! run!' The shouts died away by the railway-station.
'What is it?' some one called from a hotel veranda. 'A typhoid man escaped from the hospital,' the policeman answered.
'But what did he say about Cronje ?' another voice demanded.
'Oh, he wanted to go and help Cronje shoot rooineks —a true patriot, even when he has fever.' The policeman mounted and cantered after his patriot.
'It does not coincide with the telegrams. The man's right. It all stinks—o' lies,' thought Allen. When he reached his roses, the Free State was poorer by the loss of one burgher.
Next day he set up telegrams describing a large capture of mules by Cronje. The wire came from Pretoria. That afternoon Miss Frick complained pettishly that the police would not let people go up the Old Fort Hill to watch Kimberley light.
Then came by, very drunk, and this was remarkable, Andrew Morgan, usually of irreproachable habits, who had wool interests in the town, and till that hour had walked discreetly. His tie was under one ear his hat was battered out of shape, and his merry legs strayed all whither over the pavement. He sat on the steps of the post office, smiling at the police and the women, who expected telegrams from their men.
"Shay, you bloomin' Dutchmen,' he hiccupped. 'Kimberlish relieved! No! You don't 'rest me for talkin' dispeckfully your dam' oxsh-wag'n Government. Bobbsh comin' here! Bombard whole boilin'! G'way, you nasty ugly Zarp! Ev'rybody Bloemfontein knowsh me! Given up wool-bushnesh. Housh agent now. Take any man's housh while he goes temp'rily Pretoria. What offersh? Yah !'
He resigned himself smiling to the embraces of the agitated Zarps; but his words, coming on the heels of many whispers, curdled the crowd as rennet curdles milk, and they drew together discussing and surmising between the ox-carts and the ammunition-wagons.
Forty-eight hours before he would have been a bold man who had dared doubt in public that Kimberley was all their own. Now people more or less faced the notion.
'What do you think, Mr. Allen?' said one of the two or three hundred Koopmans of the district. 'You see all the telegrams.'
'I think what I thought from the beginnin'. We've listened to lies too long to care for truth. But at the same time no one likes bein' lied to less than a liar.'
'Allen, you're an Uitlander at heart.' It was the old taunt—from a German this time.
'I'm a Free Stater: but it will be pairfectly surprisin' the number o' people that'll find they've always held Uitlander sympathies—before long.'
'They have not the men—they have not the men! All our predikants say so,' cried a farmer of a far north-eastern district.
'And there are all the Powers of Europe, too, France and Russia. They will never allow such things. But I wish my man would write.' This was the wife of a French photographer. 'No. All Europe is against them.'
'We'll see,' said an English bank employee. 'When they come —'
'When they come. But they will never come. Be careful!'
The bank clerk laughed. 'I told you from the beginning that they would come. And they will come. They will come here: and they will go on to Pretoria. We told you from the first.'
'They will not if you Free Staters fight, instead of running away,' shouted a wounded man of the Vryheid commando, and his hairy fellows applauded. 'You have good houses and plenty of cattle — you will not fight for them. You know the English will take them all — all — all!'
'You showed them the way,' Allen interrupted in the Taal. Many voices agreed; for the northern commandos had a keen eye for cattle, and did not always distinguish between the disloyal Dutch across the border and the agitatedly loyal Free Stater on the hither side.
'Then you should fight. If you don't fight, our President says it will be the worse for you. Almighty! My father did not get his farm by sitting still. No! He shot the black-stuff off it first, then he enjoyed God's blessing. Go you and do likewise. The northern commandos are taking all the weight of the war.'
'But it's all in our country,' said Allen, as the man swung himself on to his pony. 'Ye've forgotten that little matter—they haven't forgotten it by Jagersfontein.'
'You were right, Allen,' old Van Zoelen, that had been a member of the Raad, growled in his beard. 'We are much annexed by the Transvaal already. I said it would be so.'
As far as one can find out, this day was the beginning of the Bad Time in Bloemfontein. No two souls agree in any one account of it. It is said that Kruger came down from the North and, with Steyn, went westward, direct to Poplar Grove. It is said he did no such thing: that the first news came in from a broken commando of Transvaalers who had been peppered in the open from three consecutive kopjes by hidden infantry, and, seeing that the rooineks were not fighting fair, had come away. This, again, is denied by the Transvaalers, who assert that Kruger himself attempted to check a fleeing Free State commando after Poplar Grove, and even threatened to order his Johannesburg police to fire upon them. The Free Staters — some of them — admit that they told the President that if he gave such an order they would return the fire.
Then, they say, began systematic cattle-lifting on the part of some Transvaalers who had escaped from Cronje's laager and headed for the Vaal, driving everything with a hide on it before them. Then, they say, began the trouble with the foreign commandos — a matter now forgotten. And all this while there was no certain knowledge of any one thing under Heaven except that somewhere to the westward lay an Army!
Bloemfontein did not know what an Army was like, but her sons told her. She agreed — it was curious how quickly the crowds decided this — to disregard the wonderful telegrams of the Banner, who said that France, Russia, and Germany were in arms against England. Certainly, no true patriot could fail to believe that France, Russia, and Germany would in the end rescue a poor and pious State. But the question before Bloemfontein, who counted her distance from the Army in miles, was —would the Army bombard the city — as the city had sent men to bombard Kimberley, Mafeking, and Ladysmith? Also — this was not spoken above the breath — how soon could some sort of compromise be patched up which would remove these excellent Transvaal commandos — to fight, of course, fifty or a hundred miles farther on, but to fight and steal elsewhere?
Men poured in from the southern border with word that something very like another Army was forming in those parts. They told tales of a new brand of Englishry from across the water, who lay out all day with a pillow-case full of cartridges, quite happy if they bagged — that was their horrible word — two or three patriots in eight hours. Oh, yes, there were scores of victories to report — but they always fell to the other commando. Of course, the foreign Powers—
'But the Army is here,' said Bloemfontein sourly at last, watching President Kruger drive to the railway station. That was the time when Kaffir boys laughed at the Dutch women who tried to give them orders; when men thrust the keys of their houses upon strangers with English names, and begged them to look after their villas while they went North for a little; when young Kennedy, of the Royal Souvenirs, wounded and a prisoner in hospital, kissed the nun in the presence of the Sister-Superior, and all three laughed; when a Dutch predikant came by night to Mallett of the Wesleyan Church, and, weeping with rage, said he would burn his Bible if God forgot the Free State; when Joyce, at the saddler's shop, made the seventeen-foot Union Jack in a back chamber in ten hours; when the Fricks of all colours sat up in dreary assembly burning papers whose discovery might have damaged the health of Papa Frick; when seats in the Pretoria train sold at a premium, and the English of the town found their advice much sought after.
'Do — do you think they will bombard us?' asked Mrs. Zandt humbly of the thirteen-year-old daughter of the bank employee. She had come to borrow a Union Jack from the girl's mother. 'I'm afraid we shan't,' said the child, remembering many insults from the Zandt brood. 'I am afraid it is like what my father says.'
'Oh, whatt did your dear father say:' Mrs. Zandt clasped her hands. 'He says you will take out the keys to Us on a tea-tray when we come for them. I am sorry you will not be shelled—'
'Hush, dear,' said her mother, entering, 'you mustn't talk like that to Mrs. Zandt.'
'I don't care! She laughed when I told her about Uncle Tom being shelled in Kimberley. Now she comes to borrow the Flag.'
'But they are so close — so verree close! My God! My God! Did all my people die for this, Mrs. Pardrew?' Mrs. Zandt collapsed weeping on the sofa.
'I don't know,' said Mrs. Pardrew. 'I don't know whether my brother is alive, yet. Oh, go away! Don't cry here! You Dutch are so clumsy. What did you want to interfere in the war at all for, you sillies?' Little Jenny Pardrew's father spoke true. They gave up the keys decked with tricolour ribbons at the bidding of a solitary civilian first into Bloemfontein from no higher motive, he says, than to get rooms at the Club. They waved many Union Jacks, and those who could not go North discovered that their hearts had ever beaten for progress and reform.
Somewhere on the veldt ran one President babbling of foreign intervention . Behind him, more to be feared, was another threatening death to all who bowed the knee to the invader. North and East the Transvaal commandos were drawing off with Free State cattle because, their commandant said, the Free Staters were cowards.
Bloemfontein — and now she began to see why — had only a few wounded English prisoners in her. The bulk were at Pretoria — good hostages against evil treatment should that Army... It was impossible that the Army could reach Pretoria. But the Army was here — in the town and outside the town — a vast clay-coloured ring. Bloemfontein rose after a wakeful night, climbed the hill by the Fort, and looked down upon the tentless legions. They were wet, silent, and sulky — sulky even to Papa Frick, more English than the English, smirking across the green veldt, proud if he could catch the eye of the humblest 'Officier.'
'Well, they've come,' said Allen, slipping off his coat in the press-room. He had gone out to watch the entry of the troops and had seen the beginnings of an ugly Kaffir riot put down by the strong hand. This did not look as if the English had employed natives in the war. The press-room was empty; the gas-engine was cold, and the Kaffirs sat impudently on the composing-table. Allen nodded at Bergmann's portrait.
'It's a peety you're not alive, old man! Ye've done well for my country. I£ there's knowledge or device beyond the grave ye must be wrigglin' now. ... What'll we have in hand for today? 'Fore God, there's no paper, o' course. Gone like rats, all of them.'
Said a voice in Dessauer's room: 'You see the situation, madam. I'm only a special correspondent, but I have authority to inform you —er— that we, that is the Army, take over the paper. At least, the office, and the type, and the men. The name will not be continued.'
'I see,' said Mrs. Bergmann. 'I suppose it is all right. My editor has, unfortunately, gone away. He will come back when Bloemfontein is reoccupied. But now, of course, you are masters here. I suppose I can take away my private papers. I had come here for that. You see, we did not expect you here so soon.'
Vincent, of the Universal Press Agency, did not say that he had thrashed an exhausted pony down the street for the very purpose of forestalling Bergmann's widow. This was one of the occasions when the British Army had condescended to act on information received. 'I am afraid you —ah— cannot. An officer of the Staff will be here in a few minutes to seal everything.' Mrs. Bergmann turned white, and bit her lip. 'So there is nothing further. It would only be putting you out to ask you to stay here.' 'I see,' said Mrs. Bergmann, and rose up, her hands saintlily folded, the mirror of affliction. 'If you will be good enough to send here as many of the compositors and so on as may be in the town I should be very much obliged. We're anxious to print a little proclamation. The men will be paid their regular wages.'
Vincent entered the press-room, rubbing his hands joyously, and confronted Allen in green carpet-slippers, velvet smoking-cap, faded beard, brass spectacles and all. 'Hullo! What are you doing here;' 'Just waitin' for orders. I'm foreman.' Vincent glanced about with suspicion. A large and dusty man dropped from his horse and staggered in stiffly. It was the chief correspondent of the Transatlantic Syndicate. 'Hullo, Corbett ! We've comimandeered the Banner, lock, stock, and barrel—by order. You're on the staff, too — by my order.'
'I've got to describe the entry, my son. They've cut us down to two hundred and fifty words.' 'Nothing but official wires going tonight, Corbett. The Censor told me so. Hold the fort here while I go up to Government House and get the Little Man's proclamation for Brother Boer. He wants it printed in today's paper. He told me to organise a newspaper staff. You're on it.' 'Today's paper? Say, this is history,' said Corbett, with deep relish. 'We're making it. The Syndicate can wait. I'll hold the fort.'
'No one is to touch anything till Daubeny comes down. He'll seal up all the private papers of the office. I've broken the news to Mrs. Bergmann, and she don't like it. Lend me your pony and I'll appoint you editor.' Vincent stumbled out and galloped away. Corbett moved over to the file of the Banner as it lay by the window.
'H'm,' he said, critically scanning the previous day's issue. 'I guess this will be about the sharpest curve any paper's ever swung. Did you —' he looked at Allen with a smile — 'did you believe any of this stuff about our men burning and ravishing and being forced to fight under fire of their own guns?' 'My business was to set it up,' said Allen impassively, though his heart beat hard. 'Ain't you English?'
'I'm a burgher of the Free State since Eighteen Fifty odd. But — I was born in Scotland. You'll be an American?'
'Yes, I'm an American. What do you think of your war?'
'Just about what you'd think if ye'd seen the country ye loved an' lived in clean thrown away by a fool and a liar. That's the little an' the long o't. Tell me now,' Allen went on huskily, 'what truth is there in that' — he nodded toward the open file —'that the English used native Indian troops against us?'
'Oh, it's only a lie just as big as any of the others about the fifteen thousand Russians at Sand River, or the invasion of London, or your three killed and five wounded, or anything else. Have you been fed on that stuff since the war?' Corbett looked out of window at a widow in black. 'Poor devils! Poor devils!'
The woman entered — not that pious widow of saintly habit who had gone away ten minutes before, but a virago unchained. Gert and four compositors followed her. In the offing, alert, uneasy, expectant, hung a small crowd of black and half-breed boys who in time of peace hawked the Banner They watched with open mouths.
'We have come,' she shrieked, 'for some private letters of — of my dead husband. If you are anything like what they call an English gentleman.
Corbett's smooth face lit with the blandest of smiles. 'Well, madam, as Eugene Field said of himself, I was livin' in a tree when I was caught. I'm only a semi-civilised American. If you wish to appeal to my finer instincts, they perished long ago in the stress of this campaign. But if you will indicate in what manner—'
'Oh, you silly, talking fool. Do you know who I am? I am his widow.' She pointed to the picture on the wall.
'Was he killed in this war?' said Corbett. 'You have my sincerest—'
'No! No! No! I want some papers from this office. Gert, go to the office and get them.'
Corbett rolled one eye at the young Dutchman.
'Mister Gert?' he said. 'Happy to make your acquaintance. This places the affair on a different footing. May I ask —umm— where you come in?'
'Compositor,' said Gert of the black finger-nails without stirring.
'Then I'm afraid the lady will be likely to lose a comp if you act on her instructions. Nothing in the office must be touched till the arrival of—'
'I tell you in three weeks you will be driven out of Bloemfontein and shot to pieces! I tell you there will not be a rooinek left in the country! I tell you I will remember this when you go to prison for the winter! It will be cold in the iron sheds. You will see! Let me take away my private letters. You only want money. You can sell all the rest—'
'Hullo!' said the Honourable Wilfred Daubeny, Captain on the Staff of the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, torn by Vincent from his first fair meal in three weeks. He was as filthy as the rest of the Army. In one hand he held a stick of aventurine sealing-wax, and in the other a cheap glass seal of French manufacture, representing a dove with an olive-branch over the legend 'Amour' — all fished out of a Presidential pen-tray.
'Thank God!' said Corbett fervently. 'This gentleman, madam, will be only too happy to talk to you in the office — over yonder. Have you brought the proclamation, Vincent? We must set it up at once. Go on, Daubeny, you'll like her.'
He indicated the office at the far end of the press-room and wiped his brow. 'For undiluted craziness, Vincent, your war lays over our Cuban business. I can't say more than that.'
Vincent produced a printed sheet and paused, screwing up his short-sighted blue eyes. 'How the deuce does one commandeer a paper?' said he.
'There's no precedent, if that's what's troubling you,' said Corbett. 'The English are unhappy without precedents, I know. Let me try. Mister Gert & Co.! In the name of God and the Constitution of the United States — beg pardon, Vincent. I forgot it wasn't my war. Oh, yes. There's a foreman — so there is. What's your name?'
'That's a good start,' said Vincent. 'Now, Mr. Allen, set up this proclamation quick. It's for today.' 'Have you any preferences about type?' said Vincent. 'Here have I been a journalist all my life, and I don't know one type from another, Corbett.'
'There's Grady outside,' said the American. 'He's been in the business. Appoint him to the staff at once. Hi, Grady ! You're appointed sub-editor of the Bloemfontein Despatch. Come in and sub-edit.'
'I was looking for you,' said Grady of the Unlimited Wire, dismounting. 'Did you try to produce a paper without me? You're a lot of penny-a-liners. Not a bad plant either.' He sniffed round the office critically.
'When you've quite done your professional antics perhaps you'll help us bring out this dam' conciliatory proclamation,' said Vincent. 'Bobs wants it thrown broadcast at Brother Boer as soon as possible. It won't enlighten Brother Boer, but it will please Bobbins.'
'Leave me alone. I'm thinking.' Then to Allen, who was sorting the copy into takes, 'Just use your old advertisements and any standing matter you've got.
'It's no' just likely to suit the present situation. It's sayin' that ye used natives fra' Injia against us.'
'We didn't,' said Grady. 'Personally, I think it was a great mistake. A few Pathans would have done you a lot of good — but we happen to be a silly people. No, the standing matter is probably useless. Got any old ads. —stereo matter?'
'There's the National Museum notice — an' here's a Vereeniging coal advertisement,' said Allen. 'But they've commandeered all the coal there; an' it's a far cry to Vereeniging.' 'Never mind,' said Corbett, sitting on the table. 'We'll be at Vereeniging soon, and the National Museum's the one place I've always wanted to see. Look among the stereos.' 'Good old stereos!' said Vincent, turning over a pile of plated slabs. "'The natural food for a babe is mother's milk." My God! D'you remember those kids at Kimberley after the relief, Grady, an' the row of babies' graves?'
'Yes,' Grady answered, with a sudden ferocity. He had been five months in the field. 'And the refugee trains, too! Here, you' — to Allen, who jumped at the change of tone. 'Lord Roberts's proclamation goes, in English and Dutch, on the front page. Fill in the rest with old advertisements. Bring me a proof when you've done. You're responsible that the thing looks decent, and don't you try to play any tricks on us.' 'I'm not in the habit o' shirkin' my work,' said Allen stoutly.
'I'm sick of it,' Grady went on. 'Kimberley and Ladysmith had to stand it, and Mafeking's standing it now, but the minute these things get the worst of it they bang up a Union Jack and Bobs fawns on 'em, simply fawns on 'em! Look at this proclamation. He'll be sorry for it before he's done. I know the Dutch.'
Here the Honourable Wilfred Daubeny came out of Dessauer's office sucking a burnt thumb.
'She's a lunatic — an absolute ravin' lunatic,' he said; 'an' this beastly stuff has dropped all over me. Must I seal everything here? There isn't much wax left, and' — he looked round the office — 'what's the idea of the operations?'
'Steyn's forgotten to take away about a ton of most interesting documents from his house,' said Vincent. 'I saw the Intelligence Department looking almost intelligent over it this afternoon. Perhaps we shall find something nice here.'
Allen was setting up the sentence: 'The British Government believes that this act of aggression was not committed with the general approval and freewill of a people with whom it has lived in complete amity for so many years.' He glanced at the portrait of the late Mr. Bergmann, thought of the Basuto proclamation, and groaned.
'Any truth in the yarn that they've found a lot of cipher telegrams between Cape Town and Pretoria up at Steyn's place?' said Vincent.
'I believe so,' said Grady, 'but it was nothing compromising. It never is, worse luck! How's that proclamation coming on? Be quick there!'
'I think you'd better seal the door of the office when we've done, Daubeny,' said Vincent. 'Ritson, of the Intelligence, will be down tomorrow to search the place.'
'They'd climb in through the windows if they wanted to take anything away,' said Grady, jerking a thumb at Gert.
'Then Daubeny will put on a sentry till Ritson has done. One sentry for tonight on toast, Daubeny, Please. What the deuce do all these little nigger-boys want to look in at the windows for?'
'All right. Must I stay here till you've done? I'm awfully hungry.'
'You've no eye for history and the drama. Here we are commandeering the whole plant and outfit of a flourishing daily paper — it's never happened before — in the heart of a captured city at eight hours' notice, and you prefer to eat,' said Corbett.
'We'll be merciful. Proof's almost ready,' Grady replied, as Allen slid the takes into position. 'I don't know Dutch, but if I find out you've put any hanky-panky misprints into the Dutch version, friend, you'll hear about it.'
'Man — man,' said Allen suddenly, his mouth quivering under his beard, 'I'm a — I'm a Free State burgher.' 'Is that any recommendation?' 'An' — an' I was one o' Blackwood's men once. D'ye think I'd cheat in a professional matter?' Now Grady had been close friend of Hawke, who was crippled for life under cover of the white flag on the southern border. He answered that he had no belief whatever in anything alive within the bounds of the two States.
The formes were locked up; Allen for the first time in years started the gas-engine with his own hand, and the new-christened Bloemfontein Despatch slapped and slid through the presses.
'No lack of paper,' said Grady, looking at the huge block of damp sheets. 'I wonder how many lies they've worked off on Brother Boer since the war began. Your men' — he addressed himself to Allen' will come here tomorrow at nine on the usual wages, every man of them. By the way, how d'you sell your dam' paper?'
'Oh, they've some little native boys that usually cry it. They'll be waiting outside. Our regular subscribers are most likely on commando.'
'Splendid! Corbett, old man, run out and stop that buck-wagon. We'll send a batch of papers up to Government House to please the Little Man. What d'you say to issuing the first number of the new regime gratis to the populace?'
'No,' said Vincent. 'That would look as if we were anxious to obtrude Bobs' views on 'em. Charge the old rates. Here! I'll help fold the papers. Come on, Daubeny ! Make the comps work too. Shove the papers out on the pavement, and let the nigger-boys fight for 'em. Run, you little devils! A ticky apiece is the price, and no reduction.'
'It's History! It's Drama! And we're right in the middle of the stage!' cried Corbett on his knees among the folded papers. 'Where under the sun did those kids spring from? It's like New York. Here you are, sonny. Remember, it's Despatch, not Banner today.'
'Yes, Baas. Despatch,' said a half-naked imp, clasping his bundle to his bosom. 'I know Anglish.'
'Go ahead then! Six cen—threepence a copy: no reduction. Who says the Kaffir is not in the van of progress? Listen to 'em, boys! Just listen to 'em!'
'Despaatch! Bloemfontein Bannaar! Paaper ! Paaper ! Bloemfontein Despaatch!' Then, high and shrill, the voice of a small Dutchling: 'Lord Rabbat's Proclamation! Onlee one ticky! Bannaar!'
They cut across the crowd in the market-square like minnows in an aquarium; they yelled before the shuttered shops of those who feared looting; they burst through knots of soldiers; they importuned unhappy burghers on the pavement; they dodged under the wheels of ambulances; lone pickets penetrated dusty side-streets, or invaded the back-gardens of closed houses from the Raadzaal to the railway-station. The English had come, and the day of the Amabuna had ended. Wherefore, they vehemently proclaimed the news of their race's deliverance, while the Honourable Wilfred Daubeny, with the last of the sealing-wax, sealed the press-room doors.
Allen mechanically sought his corner by the chemist's shop, but in the roaring come-and-go of khaki there was no peace. He saw the English, and they were many, rejoicing as men rejoice who say 'I told you so,' and see their words come true. He saw the extremists sullen in the side-streets, each heartening his fellow with prophecies of the Federals' return. He heard the new 'loyalists" extra—loud tones raised to catch the ear of the passing soldier; and black-clad women weeping in the verandas. But these wept only for their sons and their husbands.
Here and there were the older men known to Allen since the days of Mosheshe's war, hunters once, farmers and wool-growers now, who had not believed in closer union with the Transvaal — who had seen their words overborne first by the Hollander and next by the Hollander-infected burgher; who had still to watch the ruin of their beloved land—knowing the ruin was irretrievable. Theirs was the greater pain.
'We've done well — we've done well,' said Allen brokenly, to Van Zoelen, whom he found staring through the shut gates of the Raadzaal, at the head of the town.
'We have done well,' said the old man. 'I spoke against it in my place there' — he pointed to the doors on which the English had not thought it worth while to put a sentry. 'You heard me?'
'God help us, Van Zoelen! That was a year ago! Given away for a handful of Boer tobacco, I said.... Think you they'll ever catch him?'
'No. He is away. He has done it all — all — all! He will get away. He and that other will get away! Martens was right. It is good to burn our Bibles these days. God has forgotten the Free State. They drove off all my cattle at Wonderhoek before they went North. They called my son a coward. They sjamboked my black-stuff, and then they rode away to—fight on their own border! If ever again I break bread with a Transvaaler—'
He leaned his head against the railings and tugged at his long beard. 'We owe them more than we can ever pay for sure,' said Allen, and went on to his roses. Walking with bent head, past the abandoned houses of old-time tea-parties, and the leisurely, shirt-sleeved, sluttish life of forty good years, he cannoned into a uniform.
'I beg your pardon,' said he.
'I'm sure I beg yours.' Allen glanced at the face. A photograph of it cut from an illustrated paper was pasted in an obscure corner of the press-room.
'You're General McKaye?' he said.
'They say so. Is there anything I can do for you?'
'Tell me now, did ye, or did ye not, use native troops fra' Injia against us?'
'Of course not, man.'
'You'll be a Highlander?' The tone implied the rest. 'I'm tellin' you,' said the General, with an equal simplicity.
'Then, in God's name, who kept the Basutos off us?'
'Lagden, of course, an' a dooms hard job it was. Where'll you be from in the Old Country?'
'Me? I'm a burgher of the Free State.'
The houses on either side were empty; hastily barricaded with corrugated iron that could be kicked in by a child. Some bunches of keys lay on his tea-table in the veranda with notes from the late owners. His wife's niece had gone three days before, leaving a black girl to see to the house.
Across the broad street with its patches of grass, a family of English sat out in their garden, drinking tea — not coffee — under the shadow of the Union Jack. A fat old woman in black walked aimlessly from one side of the way to the other, sobbing and waving black-gloved hands.
For the rest, the street was deserted, but through the hot air came the deep hum of many thousands encamped within rifle-shot. The little breezes were heavy with the smell of men and oxen and horses, and under the red flare of the sunset the veldt for mules and miles heaved and crawled with transport wagons.
A man on a spent horse rounded the corner. He kept the exact centre of the road — his rifle across his arm — sure signs he belonged to a Colonial corps.
'Will ye drink a cup o' coffee?' cried Allen.
'Will I? Try me.' He slipped from his beast and pushed through the heavy-scented rose-bushes with a creaking of leather accoutrements. 'Who are you?'
The soft gentle drawl betrayed the son of the Old Colony, even if the modelling of the forehead and the base of the nose had been overlooked.
'I'm a burgher of the Free State,' said Allen.
The boy — he was little older, for all his ten or twelve fights — dropped into the Taal at once, found a chair and stretched his legs on the rail. The muzzle of his rifle canted carelessly towards Allen's chest, and his hand played with the trigger-guard.
'Have you been out on commando, uncle?' he asked deferentially.
'No, I am a printer here.'
'So? Let me feel your trigger-finger. That's right. It is all soft inside. There was an old man at Colesberg very like you. I fired at him for half a day, but he was clever. A good shot, too. So now it is all done — eh? You think your Presidents will come back?'
Allen shook his head as he passed over the full cup.
'They all say that. I hope they will try again. We have not shot enough of you to make you soft yet.'
'They said here you used natives from India to fight us.'
'Almighty! I wish we had. The English stood up too much and got killed. They were fools! We could have managed Stormberg without fifty dead men. And — Paardeberg too.'
'Then you did not use natives?'
'Of course not. We are not so stupid as you, to play black against white. Uncle, there is a very bad time coming for the burghers when your Kaffirs get free from the gun-teams. You boasted too much. One should never boast before black-stuff. Either do or not do, but don't talk and not do.'
'You did not use natives from India, then;' Allen repeated heavily.
'What fools you Dutch are! You believe anything your predikants tell you. Here is our Army. Go and look at it. You were quick enough to kodak our dead on the Natal side, and to sell them in the shops. If there had been natives you could have kodaked them. That is just like you Dutch — at one time so clever with your guns and your pom-poms, and then just Dutch.'
'I was born a Scotsman,' Allen half-whispered to himself.
'Ah, but you are Dutch at heart, though. I believe that black-stuff are only black; and I think the English troops are spoiling them altogether. We shall never get the black-stuff to work for us again till they are well thrashed; but I don't believe they are only monkies. Yon do, uncle, and you have dealt that way with them. That is why there will be trouble, I think, before we can stop it. Eh?'
'I never thought that. I did not believe in the way we treat black-stuff. It is wrong.'
'Oh, that is what you say now the game is up. Go over to Tabanchu and tell it to the Basutos. Tell it to the Swazis. Tell it to the Zulus. There is trouble coming from there for us, uncle — not to count all the black-stuff that the Zarps used to rob on the goldfields.' He lit his pipe and admired his spurs for a moment. 'You were friendly with any of the Government men here, uncle? You heard them talk?' 'I have heard a great deal of talk.'
'Of course.... The President has carried off most of his letters with him — eh? It is a pity. The Imperial Staff are searching the house now. If they had let us Colonials in we should have known where to look.'
'What do you want, then?' Allen spoke listlessly; he was very tired. 'Ah, now you talk well, uncle. You speak like an opright burgher.' The boy laid his hand almost caressingly on Allen's knee.
'You see that the game is up. They all lied to you. Now you can speak the truth. Look!' He fumbled in his belt and drew out half a handful of English gold. 'I am "Wirt" Trollip's son. You have heard of him? He is not a poor man, eh? I can give you this. My father sent me on commando — with the corps, I mean — not poor. But he can give you twice as much again and nobody will know.'
'For anything that you care to tell me that you know about the ammunition that came up from Kapstaad before the war. Oh, I don't mean all the stuff that came up to Bloemfontein, but the big load that went up from Cape Town, and was kept at Belmont by our Government's order at the end of August.'
'I know nothing about it.'
The boy laughed and jingled the sovereigns. 'You have forgotten, uncle. We know now, of course, why you wanted the ammunition kept at Belmont. It was very useful, and you were very slim. But do you know if any letters were sent from our Government at Kapstaad about it — the ammunition at Belmont to your President here? Oh! I do not expect you saw the letters — but there must have been some joke about it in the market-square. It was so very convenient for you — the Belmont ammunition.'
'Oh, not now, of course. The joke is ours now, but — I will give you ten or twenty of these if you can remember any man who talked about that ammunition waiting for you at Belmont. The first we knew about it was when it was said in our Raad at Kapstaad that the ammunition had been stopped at Belmont, by our Government's order. You must have known much more here ... and ... they do not let us Colonials look for letters in the proper places. What is the matter, uncle?'
Allen leaned forward with his face in his hands, and rocked to and fro. The boy patted him on the back. 'It is not the little fish we want to catch,' said he, 'it's the big ones — kabeljous in our own water. If Frick were given a scare he might tell, but he is selling things to the troops. My father knows him. Come, uncle. The game is up. Tell me what you know. Nothing will happen. Why are you crying? I am not going to shoot you.'
'Hurt me? How could ye? — How?' Allen recovered himself in English. 'I can tell ye nothing, but — why should I feel hurt? We've earned it fairly. Only — only let me alone, child. Mind the step there, and don't hurt my roses.'
The newly created staff of the Despatch pranced joyously outside the press-room's sealed door till such time as Captain Ritson, of the Intelligence Department, should enter upon his search.
They counted sixty-seven pitched battles among the three of them and skirmishes innumerable. It was their business to run without ceasing from strife to strife at a rumour, in constant peril of death, imprisonment, disease, — and the wrath of criticised Brigadiers; seeing all things, foreseeing all things, fording all things, riding all things, proving all things, holding fast to the Wire.
Three continents waited on their words for the truth; and in their hands lay the reputation of every combatant officer. But they took it lightly—from the snubbings of the excited Aide-de-Camp, who does not understand how a newspaperman can be a human being, to the high-pitched blasphemies of a semi-delirious General trying to curse his command out of a trap into which, against all warning, he proudly marches in close order. Refreshed after sleep on a real bed, and meals at a table, they were saying what they thought of the campaign in language no Press Censor would have countersigned.
'And, by the way, I've done a bully leader for today,' said Corbett. "Tisn't often an American can lay down the law to a British annexation. Let it go in, Vincent. It's your war, but it's my fun.'
'Never!' Grady struck an attitude. 'We don't conquer States for the Transatlantic Syndicate to slop over.'
'Did you do a leader, then?' Vincent asked pointedly. 'Me? Are you mad or drunk? I went to bed — between sheets — at nine last night,' the fat Grady replied. 'Then Corbett gets it. I swear I'm not going to do leaders. They've given me about ten columns of camp and brigade orders. I rely on those. Mustn't spoil the public too early.'
'There's my friend from Blackwood's.' Corbett spied Allen at the head of his little band of compositors coming round the corner.
'See here, Mr. Allen, I've a most important leader I want you to set up at once. I'm sorry it's written in pencil, but — 'Mornin', Ritson.' The officer of the Intelligence Department cantered up. 'Break in Daubeny's seals and let's get to work. We want today's paper to be a beauty.'
'All right. I'll do the searching in half an hour, and then you can go on.' Ritson of the Intelligence passed into Dessauer's office with Grady and Corbett. Allen, in the unswept press-room, looked forlorn and very old. Vincent, quick to notice, gave him a most human 'Good morning!'
'Thank ye. What'll they be lookin' for there?' 'Oh, documents of sorts,' Vincent answered. 'I — I think I could show you one, maybe,' he whispered by the hand-press under Bergmann's picture. 'Which one d'you mean?' said Vincent quickly. 'A — well, it's not in English.' He had lain awake all night in a chair thinking his way to this end. Gert and the others were scrubbing yesterday's type before releasing it. 'It's here.' His face worked with an agony hidden from the other.
'I see. Thank you.'
'No thanks to me. I'm a burgher of the Free State — I've worked here since 'Seventy-five, but I'm not tryin' — I'm not tryin' to justify myself — only it's all wrong — to me.'
He hung with half-opened mouth on Vincent's next action. Would the man jingle sovereigns at him as the Colonial had done?
Vincent stepped into the editorial room, where the Intelligence officer was examining Dessauer's old bills, and gave him the news.
'He seems rather a decent old chap. I daresay you could make something out of him. He's horribly scared of something.'
'Thanks,' said Captain Ritson. 'I expected this. I'll settle it at once.'
He rose, walked down the composing-room to where Allen, surrounded by Gert and the others, dealt copy of Corbett's leader under a running fire of instructions from the American.
'Why, I'd ha' died,' said Corbett delightedly, 'sooner than let an Englishman write the first leader of a commandeered Cuba paper. The way you English miss your chances is stupefying! Are you through yet, Ritson?'
'I hear,' said Ritson, looking directly at Allen, that you can tell us where there is a copy of the proclamation in Basuto which was set up in this office. You will give it to me at once.' Allen turned towards Vincent like a hunted dog. This was ten thousand times worse than any offer of money. Gert, Mrs. Bergmann's pet employee, stood within arm's reach of him; the others, his subordinates, even closer. One cannot deny a quarter of a century of habit, use, and dear custom easily — in a loud voice before one's yoke-fellows.
In less time than the lifting of an eyebrow, Grady and Corbett, trained to the mastery of situations, had comprehended this last — the pity, the horror, and the loneliness of it. Moreover, Corbett had caught a sidelight in Gert's eye which did not promise well for the old man. Ritson, clean-shaven and precise under his Staff cap, waited for the answer.
'What are ye talkin' about?' said Allen, running a dry tongue over a drier lip. The merciless sun hit full on his face.
'It's no use trying to lie. I mean the Basuto proclamation.'
'Look here, Ritson,' said Corbett. 'We don't mind your searching the whole office, but we do object to your searching our men when we're trying to make their work. Mister Gert — happy to meet you again. Mister Gert! —looks rather guilty. Besides he's not a good comp. Take him into the machinery-room and shoot him. Run along, Gert.'
The face of the black-nailed Dutchman turned a cheerful grey-green. He was as ignorant of the etiquette of a conquering army — as that army itself.
'Of course, he doesn't know,' said Vincent. 'If Dessauer had any sense he'd have taken it with him.
How's your leader coming on, Mr. Allen?'
'I've just sorted it, sir. We'll have it set in twenty minutes — if —if I may go on with my work.' The yellow-veined hand on the justifying-table shook. Bergmann from the wall above the door seemed to be enjoying his woe.
'Look out for Gert!' said Grady to Ritson. 'He's edging off. A thorough quick search is the only thing, now that they've got the alarm. We'll all help.' He flung open the doors of a hanging cupboard with a crash, and broke up the little crowd.
'That's it,' said Corbett. 'Come here, Gert, with me. We'll investigate the composing-room. Don't be afraid. You shan't be shot till you've set up my leader.'
Grady, telegraphed to by Corbett, tucked two compositors under his wing, and motioned other two to follow Ritson. Vincent called Allen by eye.
"Fore God,' said the old man, trembling from head to foot and backing into the machinery-room. 'How could — how was I to up an' tell him there before them all? They were my subordinates! Could ye expect me to? He didn't know what it meant.'
'Hsh ! It's all right,' said Vincent tenderly. Then raising his voice: 'Mr. Allen, what have we in hand of old matter?' The others, shepherded by Grady, passed into the composing-room. 'Get it now,' said Vincent. Allen motioned to an old file of mixed job and proof-slips in a case-cabinet on the floor-level of the machinery and fouled with dust. 'The fourth from the bottom, I think,' he whispered. 'Ye'll no mind if—if I sit down for a minute.... I've no wish to curry favour — but you needn't believe that.'
The proof was found, slipped off, and into Vincent's pocket, and the file kicked back out of sight. Allen sat heavily on the wreck of a bottomless chair, and drummed on the arms with his knuckles.
'Ye — ye did not use the natives fra' Injia against us. . . . How could I up an' tell him there before Gert? ... I'm — I'm not as young as I was an' . . . there's a power o' thinkin' involved ... after twenty-five years.... But by all the rules, it's perfectly damnable. Ye'll admit that, sir?'
Vincent could not quite see the drift of the last remark, but echoed it at a venture. 'Don't think about it. We'll go on with today's make-up.'
They entered the composing-room together.
'I can't find anything,' said Ritson, and Allen winced at the voice.
Half an hour later the staff' of the Bloemfontein Despatch fell to work in Dessauer's office with much laughter and more zeal.
'Did Ritson get it after all?' said Grady of a sudden. 'He did,' said Vincent, and told the tale from beginning to end.
'Fellow-citizens!' Corbett rose ponderously in his place. 'I wish to say something right here. I love you all — God bless you! But I want to point out that for comprehensive, consistent, glass-eyed, bottle-bellied, frozen-headed folly, you English beat all God's suffering earth! Vincent is the King's Fool — the Imperial Ass. He has a scoop under his hand which — which — why, there isn't an adjective in the English language—'
'"Our glorious common heritage"'; don't forget that, old man,' Vincent chuckled.
'Yes, but you're the asses who graze on that common! I won't try to describe Vincent's scoop. Suffice it to say, as Grady always cables, he chucks that scoop away. Not with both hands merely, but with his teeth and his toe-nails, and the sweat of his brow, he climbs kopjes to thrust the scoop into the hands of the most effete, paralytic, and bung-eyed Government the century has produced! And what will that Government do with it? It will say: "Here is another link in the chain of evidence!" Then it will take and bury that proclamation in a sarcophagus lest anybody should accidentally find it out. It'll get up in the middle of the night and dig one out of solid granite with its own thick head. That proclamation should have been facsimiled in every paper in the universe. No! Your Government will put it away in a Blue Book, which will come out a year or two after Steyn is a virtuous Amsterdammer or — yes, I accept the amendment, Grady — we're as big fools as you are almost — a citizen of Hoboken. Nobody will read it. Nobody will know about it, and then the English will wonder why they're misunderstood! Hullo! Come in !'
'I've a darned good mind to distribute your leader,' said Vincent. 'But you're quite right, Corbett. We are the biggest fools unhung. What is it, Mr. Allen?'
'I wanted to let you gentlemen understand that I did — what I did just now as an individual. It's o' no earthly importance to anyone but myself — anything connected wi' me. I know that. But ye'll understand ... I'm not for takin' any oath of allegiance, or sayin' I'm glad to see you here, or hangin' out a Union Jack, or any o' that—like.'
Grady's eyebrows drew together — the vision of poor Hawke bleeding from the volley under the white flag was always with him. He would have spoken, but Vincent raised his hand. Allen clung to the edge of the thin plank door.
'Tak' it or leave it, as you will. God judge me, if He's not forgotten us — We deserve it.... But I did it as a Burgher of the Free State!'